Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 2

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1. THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH AARON RAMSEY CAN DISGUISE WITH ARSENAL

I haven’t met the person who, after this week, isn’t slightly happy for Aaron Ramsey. I’m not sure I want to. A standout four days for the 22-year-old comes after a five years of promise, injury, doubt, and criticism. For one week, however, the Wales international has lived up to the hype that accompanied him from Cardiff City in 2008.

Back then, an 17-year-old Ramsey was the subject of a bidding war, most notably between Arsenal and Manchester United. He eventually chose North London, embarking on a career that was momentarily sidetracked two years later, his leg broken by a Ryan Shawcross tackle. Returning to the Gunners 14 months later, Ramsey won a role in Arsène Wenger’s squad only to become one of many faces not quite good enough to meet supporters’ ambitions. That he was bought so young, had trouble nailing doubt a specific role, and saw more time in the wake of Cesc Fábregas’s departure made him a de facto symbol of Arsenal’s plight.

But if Ramsey truly is a symbol, then things are looking up for the Gunners, because for two straight matches, he’s been great – arguably the club’s best player. On Wednesday in Istanbul, Ramsey helped create one and scored another as Arsenal downed Fenerbahçe, 4-0. Saturday at Craven Cottage, he was similarly controlling, leaving the injured Mikel Arteta far from the minds of the Arsenal faithful as the Gunners ran out 3-1 winners.

That’s not to say all is well with Arsenal. The problems brought up in the wake of their loss to Villa are still there. If Arsène Wenger chooses to bask in the glow of Ramsey’s glory, he’ll overlook the fact the club still need a central defender, midfielder, better goalkeeping, and potentially help in attack if they’re truly going to compete on all fronts.

But at a time when the club’s fans needed something, anything to show hope need not be lost, a long-held prospect has emerged. And after all he’s been through, why not Aaron Ramsey? Somebody we can all get behind.

source: Reuters2. FOR SPURS, LIVERPOOL, STAR POWER’S OVERRATED

Perhaps Tottenham do need a Gareth Bale-like presence, but the idea that they’re a one-man team is being debunked. Whereas last year Spurs seemed incapable of winning unless their star got on the scoresheet, now they don’t even need him in the team. After their 1-0 win over Swansea City, André Villas-Boas’s side is perfect through two rounds.

But Spurs aren’t the only team thriving without their leading man. With Luis Súarez suspended, Liverpool have also opened with two wins, their second coming Saturday at Aston Villa. Daniel Sturridge (right) has picked up the scoring slack, scoring in each of Liverpool’s 1-0 wins, but perhaps more importantly, Simon Mignolet has proven a prescient signing in goal.

Of course Liverpool and Spurs would be better if they had last year’s stars. And eventually, Liverpool will have theirs. But for all the talk of these clubs being one-man teams last year, it hasn’t taken long for Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers to remind us: There are other ways to win soccer games.

3. MANUEL PELLEGRINI MAY NOT BE ALEX FERGUSON

Given how effusive we were on Monday after City’s trouncing of Newcastle, it behooves us to take a step back from our Manuel Pellegrini praise. And given how long I’ve doted on the former Villarreal, Real Madrid, Málaga boss, I may be due for two, maybe three steps away from the champagne. No, Richard, Pellegrini is not going to redefine English football.

source: Getty ImagesSunday seemed a classic “you don’t know what you’re getting into game,” one a new coach could overlook. On talent, there isn’t much room for Cardiff City to compete with the Sky Blues, but the style of game in the English leagues (or, more readily, the culture) somehow creates an environment where results like this are more likely. Where pace, power, and passion are such integral parts of the sporting ethos, you’re not going to be able to knock the ball around for an hour, take a 1-0 lead, and consider your opponents convinced.

And there’s no reason to think Manchester City assumed as much, yet the match played out that way. Eight minutes after Edin Dzeko opened the scoring, Cardiff had their first of three second half goals, going on to a 3-2 win.

Perhaps there’s nothing Pellegrini could have done to prevent that, but his substitutions didn’t help. Nor did his willingness to roll the dice with Javi Garcia at the back. Ultimately, in his second game in England, Pellegrini lost with a vastly more-talented side.

source: Getty Images4. PROMOTED SIDES BREAK THROUGH

Give Cardiff City credit. They played well; better than most thought them capable of. Perhaps Manchester City could have done more, but Cardiff did well to stick around. And once City cracked — once the visitors ground their gears while trying to find cruise — the Bluebirds pounced. Even if City played better, Cardiff may have found a way to win their first Premier League match at home.

Hull City, on the other hand, had to hang on after losing a man before the half hour mark, though by the time Yannick Sagbo saw himself dismissed, Robbie Brady had already converted from the spot. What followed was less of a siege than a persistent probing, Norwich unable to exert enough pressure to crack the Tigers. They held the ball of 61 percent of the time, brought on the newly acquired Johan Elmander, but couldn’t many more than four shots on goal, a paltry amount considering the 73 minutes with a man advantage.

The only thing that prevented a clean sweep for the promoted club was a comeback at the Britannia, with Stoke City handing Crystal Palace their second straight loss. Regardless, both Cardiff City and Hull City are not only into the win column, they’re outside of the drop zone. For now.

source: Getty Images5. FOUR GAMES, TWO POINTS IN THE NORTH EAST

It should go without saying Newcastle’s first two games have not been good enough. Their first, a thrashing at the boots of Manchester City, can’t be explained by the Yohan Cabaye controversy. Their second, a 0-0 draw against visiting West Ham United, saw the home side fail to register a shot on goal. Alan Pardew’s contract may run through 2020 (no joke), but the same questions of his performance that hovered at the end of last season are about resurface.

Sunderland, in the meantime, also earned a point on Saturday despite the fact they failed to carryover any of the control they showed against Fulham. The nearly didn’t need it, though, with a third minute goal from Emanuele Giaccherini holding up for 85 minutes. If it wasn’t for a goal two minutes from time from Jose Forte, the Black Cats would have completed their smash and grab.

Despite the draws, both teams clearly have a long way to go. While Sunderland has shown some promise, they’ve played two drastically different games, leaving questions as to what they truly have at the Stadium of Light. Newcastle, on the other hand, have played two games they’ll want back.

6. TOO EARLY TO PASS JUDGMENT ON ASTON VILLA, SWANSEA CITY

source: Getty ImagesVilla’s first week has seen them face three European aspirants, with Paul Lambert’s team losing the one game they may have expected to win nine. That they got a surprise result at Arsenal last Saturday means the Liverpool loss stings a little less, though with three points from matches with the Gunners, Chelsea, and the Reds, Villa can be happy with their returns. Had they taken one point from those three games, fans could have rationalized the results.

It does put Lambert in a strange position. He’s trying to evaluate what he has with his team, but he doesn’t have a good point of comparison. Against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool, Villa were always going to be outgunned. That they did, much of the time, look outgunned not only wasn’t a surprise but also led to 270 minutes where it’s hard to gauge his team’s absolute quality. Lambert will have to rely on his experience to fill in the gaps.

Michael Laudrup’s in the same situation. Swansea’s faced Manchester United and Tottenham, two teams they weren’t expected to beat. That they didn’t take points won’t be seen as a disappointment; however, Swansea’s also left with a skewed perception of self, one that won’t help them determine how they stack up against the other Europa League-aspirants.

USWNT’s 28-game run snapped in hammering by France

AP Photo/David Vincent
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Kadidiatou Diani scored twice and France ended the U.S. national team’s 28-game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 victory Saturday in Le Havre, France.

The top-ranked United States had not lost since falling 1-0 to Australia in 2017, The Americans were 25-0-3 over the span.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto also scored for third-ranked France. It has won eight straight matches.

It was the first of 10 matches the United States will play before the World Cup. The Americans are the defending champions and could meet France again in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

France went up in the ninth minute on Diani’s goal off a cross from Delphine Cascarino. Diani scored again in the 57th minute to make it 2-0. The 23-year old plays for Paris Saint-Germain.

Katoto, Diani’s PSG teammate, added a goal in the 78th minute.

Mallory Pugh scored for the United States in the final moments.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis had to tinker with her starting lineup and rested stars Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz as a precaution because of minor injuries. Also held out was Kelley O’Hara, still recovering from ankle surgery.

Defender Tierna Davidson came in for Emily Fox in the 53rd minute, marking her first appearance since she fractured her left ankle in a match for Stanford in September.

Davidson decided to leave the Cardinal with a year of eligibility remaining to focus on making the World Cup team. She was the first overall pick in last week’s National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Chicago Red Stars.

The match at La Stade Oceane was sold out with over 25,000 in attendance. The stadium is one of the nine venues that will host World Cup games. The Americans’ next visit to the stadium will be for the final match of the World Cup group stage against Sweden.

“I’m not worried,” Ellis said following the loss. “We know who we are and what we can do.”

Next up for the United States is a match against Spain on Tuesday at Estadio Joss Rico Perez in Alicante. The U.S. women trained in Portugal ahead of the two-match European trip.

Serie A: Roma climb into 4th; anti-racism showing at Inter

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Roma 3-2 Torino

Nicolo Zaniolo announced himself as one of Europe’s most promising young talents, with the opening goal in Roma’s 3-2 victory over Torino, a game in which the 19-year-old was the best, most dangerous attacker for the whole of 90 minutes.

Zaniolo was initially denied by Salvatore Sirigu, but the young Italian managed to collect the rebound and put it home on the rebound, all while on the ground. Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 not long after the half-hour mark, and Roma appeared to be on their merry way to a third straight victory.

The score was 2-2 by the 67th minute, thanks to Tomas Rincon and Cristian Asnaldo. Stephan El Shaarawy had other ideas, though, as he slammed home the winner, courtesy of a perfect through ball from Lorenzo Pellegrini, in the 73rd.

Now fully recovered from a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma sit fourth in the table, a point ahead of capital rivals Lazio.

Inter Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Elsewhere in the top-four, third-place Inter Milan were held to a scoreless draw by 12th-place Sassuolo, but the game’s real story took place in the stands.

With Inter serving the second of its two-game ban on fans being allowed inside the San Siro due to racist chants, more than 10,000 local children were invited to attend as part of an initiative against discrimination. Brothers Universally United hung anti-discrimination signs around the stadium and the players word “BUU No to discrimination” on their shirt sleeves.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Parma

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Frosinone v. Atalanta — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET

La Liga: Atleti cut into Barcelona’s lead; Real Madrid move into 3rd

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huesca 0-3 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid cut Barcelona’s lead in the title race to two points with a resounding victory away to 20th-place Huesca. Barcelona will host 15th-place Leganes on Sunday.

Lucas Hernandez opened the scoring in the 31st minute, and while his finish inside a heavy fog would ultimately be enough for Diego Simeone’s side, Santiago Arias (52nd) and Koke (71st) tacked on insurance goals in the second half.

Real Madrid 2-0 Sevilla

In a battle of two sides level on points in a battle for third place, Real Madrid turned in one of their better performances on the season en route to a 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Sure, Los Blancos didn’t break the scoreless deadlock until Casemiro unleashed his long-range blast in the 78th minute — thus the result was in doubt for much of the game — but Madrid were in complete control despite the goal coming late on. Sevilla managed just four shots over 90 minutes and held just 31 percent of possession.

Even still, the score remained tight at 1-0 until stoppage time, when Luka Modric 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric put the game to bed.

Now in sole possession of third place — three points clear of Sevilla, but still seven back of Barcelona — Santiago Solari’s side appears to have righted the ship enough that they’ll cruise to a top-four finish.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-2 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Villarreal v. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Rayo Vallecano v. Real Sociedad — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Barcelona v. Leganes — 2:45 p.m. ET

USMNT youngster joins NYCFC on loan from Benfica

Photo credit: @NYCFC
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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. national player Keaton Parks has been acquired by New York City FC on loan from the Portuguese club Benfica for the 2019 season.

The 21-year-old Texan is a versatile central midfielder. He joined Varzim of Portugal in 2015 when he turned 18 and then signed with Benfica in 2017.

He made his national team debut in May, entering in the 62nd minute of a 3-0 victory over Bolivia in Philadelphia.

New York sporting director Claudio Reyna said Saturday that Parks “comes to us highly motivated” and can “make a strong impact” in midfield.