PL roundup: Race for 2nd gets tight; Swans’ sad song

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Get caught up on all eight of the Premier League’s Boxing Day fixtures…

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Liverpool 5-0 Swansea CityFULL RECAP

No team in the PL (this side of Manchester City’s rabid pursuit of an unbeaten 38-game season) routinely overwhelms and engulfs opponents so casually as Liverpool. They did it to Arsenal last Friday (before giving it all back in five minutes’ time), just as they did to the Gunners back in August, just as they did it to a hopeless, destined-for-relegation (20th place, five points adrift of safety) Swansea side on Tuesday. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (twice), Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bagged the goals and extended the Reds’ unbeaten run to 11 PL games (seven wins). More importantly, due to another result in the northwest of England, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is now just five points back of second-place Manchester United. The gap between second and sixth is now just nine points, and would shrink to six if Arsenal beat Crystal Palace on Thursday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 SouthamptonFULL RECAP

Harry Kane‘s calendar year of 2017, following Tuesday’s hat trick:

  • 39 PL goals (in 36 games) — top PL scorer in a calendar year
  • 8 hat tricks (all competitions)
  • 6 PL hat tricks — five more than any other player
  • 1st player since David Villa (2009) to score more goals than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a calendar year

For those keeping track at home, he’s now just seven short of the century mark in the PL — his stated goal for the 2017-18 season — and the ETA isn’t moving forward in weeks anymore, but months instead.

Chelsea 2-0 Brighton & Hove AlbionFULL RECAP

Somehow, Chelsea appear to be the side to which no one is paying much attention right now — with the headlines being dominated Man United’s failed challenge to Man City, and the three-way battle for fourth, it would appear being comfortably the third- (coming for second-)best team in the PL this season is a bit of a non-story for some. Alas, Antonio Conte‘s side is cruising right along and moved to four games unbeaten with a comfortable victory over Brighton on Tuesday. Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso got the goals, and the Blues now trail United by just a single point for second.

Manchester United 2-2 BurnleyFULL RECAP

In an attempt to distract the public from his side’s failed PL title bid, Jose Mourinho, who this summer became the first manager in world football history to spend 1 billion pounds on players throughout his managerial career, has taken issue with the way Man City have gone about spending to build arguably the best squad in PL history. This, of course, occurred only moments after United came back from 2-0 down to draw Burnley at Old Trafford. Mourinho remains as predictable as his sides are expensive and stodgy.

Bournemouth 3-3 West Ham UnitedFULL RECAP

Bournemouth and West Ham began the day in 18th and 17th place, respectively, and that’s exactly where the two sides finished after a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium. The game swing back and forth for the whole of 90 minutes, as the Hammers went 1-0 ahead early on, the Cherries responded and jumped out to a 2-1 lead then fell 3-2 behind, and the points were ultimately split following a controversial, 92nd-minute equalizer.

Watford 2-1 Leicester City — FULL RECAP

Watford’s bid for a top-half finish got a big boost on Tuesday, as Marco Silva‘s 10th-place side beat Claude Puel‘s 8th-place Leicester City at Vicarage Road and snapped a four-game losing skid that saw the Hornets drop from top-six contention down to the double-digit places. Leicester went ahead through Riyad Mahrez in the 37th minute, but Molla Wague equalized just before halftime and Kasper Schmeichel scored an own goal in the 65th. When you’ve lost four in a row, you’ll take a victory any way you can get it.

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Speaking of top-half dreams — no, not Stoke — 11th-place Huddersfield dropped a pair of points against relegation-threatened Stoke. Tom Ince put David Wagner‘s Terriers ahead after just 10 minutes, but Ramadan Sobhi equalized for the Potters right on the hour mark. At this point of the season, both sides will take every point they can get as the march toward 40 continues.

West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

After a torrid start to the season, Everton are suddenly seven games unbeaten in the PL (four wins) and miles clear (up to 9th) of the relegation zone. Who says “the Sam Allardyce effect” isn’t real? Speaking of which, that’s back-to-back 0-0 draws for the Toffees — against Chelsea, and now West Brom. 18 games without a win for West Brom.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.