Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend

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1. CHELSEA LOSES CONTROL OF TITLE DESTINY

Before we could build the hype for Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool – a match that had the potential to decide this year’s title – an unlikely antagonist intervened. Dormant for most of the season, Sunderland decided to wake up, first taking an unlikely point from Manchester City before pulling the upset at Stamford Bridge.

This was more than your any given sunday-type scenario. José Mourinho had gone 77 Premier League matches without a loss at the Bridge. With City having lost at Anfield, the Blues’ title destiny was back under their control. The season was developing to fit the story England wanted – their favorite manager’s triumphant return.

Instead, after the Black Cats’ 2-1 win in London, two other narratives are taking over. With every result, the Liverpool story is taking hold. At some point, perhaps after Sunday in Anfield, we’ll start talking about this race as if it’s over, but if it were Manchester City, United, or Chelsea in first (a team that had won a recent title), we might already crowned a champion. That Liverpool hasn’t been here before makes us more cautious.

Sunderland’s is the other story taking hold. For most of the season, Gus Poyet’s side has had two matches in hand, games that have given fans reason for hope. But those wishes were overshadowed by form that had left the team winless since Feb. 1.

Now, after a week in which the Black Cats took four points from the league’s second and third place teams, survival is more than hypothetical. Still holding a match in hand, Sunderland’s one win from safety.

2. Mourinho changes up his interview game

What would a Quick Six be without mocking our fascination with José Mourinho quotes, though this week, the Special One decided to change things up. Rather than weaving an obviously false, self-serving view of the Premier League world, the manager’s frustration took over. After referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a late, controversial penalty, Mourinho elected to congratulate him (as well as everybody else he could think of) rather than risk a fine.

Seemingly innumerable times this season, this space has asked we bother listening to José Mourinho at all. We have our answer. For all the fantasy he projects in his typical post-match interviews, something clever is always one question away.

Perhaps full sarcasm isn’t the most original response, but in the wake of Saturday’s loss, it told us a lot about Mourinho’s mindset. In that way, it may have been his most useful interview of the season.

3. Suárez enters the 30 club; Sterling steals the show

Robin van Persie. Cristiano Ronaldo. Thierry Henry. Kevin Phillips. Alan Shearer. Andy Cole. They’re the six players who had reached 30 goals in a Premier League season. After of Sunday’s game at Carrow Road, there’s a seventh on the list. Luis Suárez, with three matches to play, has joined what’s proved to be an elite club.

Despite the milestone, Suárez found himself playing second fiddle during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich City. With two goals and assist, Raheem Sterling gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance, one that made up for any slack left in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Up to nine goals on the season, the 19-year-old will likely be the team’s fourth double-digit scorer.

It’s a symptom of the progress the Reds have made this season – a testament to what Brendan Rodgers has done with his squad. In recent seasons, the Reds had one or two players you could envision in a table-of-the-table squad. Now they are a top of the table squad, one that’s capable of creating 30 goals for Luis Suárez, another 20 for Daniel Sturridge, and getting a quickly emerging Raheem Sterline to double digits on the season.

source: AP4. Norwich City approaching the Championship

The Canaries put up more of a fight than many expected, getting a Robert Snodgrass goal in the 77th minute to pull them within one. Without a result, however, the team remains within reach of every club in the drop. Even Sunderland, in last place, can pass Norwich next week thanks to its superior goal difference.

Unfortunately for Norwich, things don’t get much easier going forward. A trip to Old Trafford next weekend gives them some hope of a point, but even with the Red Devils’ struggles, the Canaries are underdogs. Closing out the season against Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich will have to summon the spirit of Sunderland to stay out of the drop.

With Cardiff City and Fulham two points back, Sunderland three, Norwich has become the league’s best bet to go down, even if they don’t sit in the drop. Whereas a month ago nobody looked capable of climbing out of the bottom three, Norwich seems destined to assure one team’s survival.

5. Moyes’ unwelcome, unfair reception at Goodison

Everton may not have been pining for David Moyes to stay, but when the club’s long-time boss left for Manchester United last year, there wasn’t a huge push to kick him as he was walked out the door, either. By the time the Scottish manager returned to Goodison on Sunday, though, the mood had changed. Having seen what the squad is capable of under Roberto Martínez, the Everton faithful are no longer conceding the benefit of the doubt.

Symbolically, it was the low point of what’s destined to be Moyes’ only year at Manchester United. It’s one thing to fail in a new role, to see the person who took your place take your old job to new heights, and to suffer a defeat upon returning to your old haunts. It’s entirely different to return to visit your old office and be ridiculed. For as poor a fit as Moyes has been at United, Goodison’s reaction was too much.

It’s easy to pile on to Moyes right now. Manchester United fans are right to see him as a symbol of an unnecessarily exaggerated fall. But given his service to Everton, Sunday’s reaction went too far. If nothing else, Moyes deserved respect for the decade he gave to the club.

6. Aston Villa’s conditional takeover

The news came Thursday night, but over the last two days, the seeds of speculation have taken hold, so much so that Randy Lerner took to the club’s website to address the uncertain situation around his club. Aston Villa appears destined to be sold, but only if the club stays up, a situation that puts even more pressure on Paul Lambert to keep the Lions in the Premier League.

Lambert had already been the subject of increased criticism from Villa supporters, with the team’s uneven form and new relegation worries making it difficult to tell if the club was making progress. On Sunday, Lerner sought to assure fans that, for was difficult as recent seasons have been, Lambert was operating within parameters set by ownership. Blame Paul if you want, it implied, but know he’s acting under my commands.

That there may be a different person giving those commands next year has given supporters hope. Even the few Lerner supporters that remain would concede the owner’s plans since Martin O’Neill left had been either non-existent or more humble than many would expect. Recently a consistent contender for European spots, Villa is now obliged to relegation battles. For those keen to note this is the biggest club in Birmingham, the current state is unacceptable.

The new owners are supposed to be more ambitious. They want to invest. They want to compete, all of which makes the next three games even more important. If Lambert doesn’t keep them up, Lerner can’t sell the club.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”