Quick Six: Top stories from this weekend in the Premier League

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1. FULHAM HAS FINALLY SEEN ENOUGH

The line of succession was outlined the moment Rene Meulensteen was appointed first team coach at Craven Cottage. With hindsight, the only question is what took so long. Fulham had lost four-in-a-row ahead of Saturday’s visit to Upton Park, leaving the Cottagers with three harbingers of a coaching change: the team was trending downward; that trend appeared to be more than an aberration; and there was no reason to believe improvement was imminent.

All of which was verified in Saturday’s 3-0 loss. The Hammers had slowly sunk toward the drop and came into yesterday’s game even on points with Fulham. Instead of using the game to show he has the resourcefulness to keep Fulham up, Jol saw his team concede three times in the second half, full-time coming without the Cottagers having put a shot on goal.

At that point, new owner Shad Khan’s credibility was at stake. Jol should have been let go weeks ago, but after Fulham’s lopsided loss to another bottom-dweller, there was no argument for keeping the Dutch boss. If he wasn’t fired, fans would have every reason to doubt being competitive is high on Khan’s agenda.

So the predictable finally happened. Meulensteen’s set to take over. Whether that means improvement remains to be seen, but at least they’re trying. Having seen enough, Fulham’s no longer willing to see how bad things will get under Jol.

[MORE: West Ham 3-0 Fulham: Hammers heap more misery on Jol after emphatic win (video)]


2. THE SEASON OF RAMSEY CONTINUES

We’re running out of different ways to say this, so there’s no point in trying: Aaron Ramsey is having a great season. Through 13 rounds, he’s been the league’s best player. That nobody saw this coming makes his rise all the more irresistible.

His Man of the Match performance at Cardiff provides some natural perspective. A one-time prospect in the Bluebirds’ academy, Ramsey was the subject of a minor bidding war between Arsenal and Manchester United before moving to North London, a decision that sparked five years of uncertainty, misfortune, and scrutiny. Coming into his sixth season at the Emirates, it was unclear how much of a role he should play in Arsène Wenger’s team.

[MORE: Cardiff City 0-3 Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey fantastic against his old side (video)]

The Arsenal boss maintained his faith, loyalty that’s been rewarded with the 22-year-old’s breakout. With Saturday’s double, Ramsey moves to eight league goals in 13 games. Coming into the season, he’d only scored seven times in 91 Premier League appearances.

Beyond the numbers, he’s become the man who balances the team. Shuttling from deep next to Mikel Arteta, Ramsey’s become increasingly adept at reading his team’s rotations, often left unmarked coming into the attack from deep. His versatility also helps augment Arteta, whose holding role is complemented by Ramsey’s ability to share in the position’s dirty work.

Saturday was just another example of how far Ramsey’s come. Still writing the first chapters of his career, the Welsh international didn’t have an obvious role at the beginning of the season. Now he may be England’s best at his position, indispensable to a team that continues to validate their contenders’ credentials.


3. COMEBACK CAN’T CURTAIL VILLAS-BOAS’S OBSTINANCY

Tottenham was destroyed last week at the Etihad, a performance that not only saw the squad roundly criticized but André Villas-Boas’s tactics picked apart. He was naïve in playing a high, unprotected defensive line, and against the league’s best attack, Spurs were picked apart. According to reports, his job was being reevaluated.

Since then, Spurs collected an obligatory win in Europa League and took a point off of last year’s champions, and while you could argue the team should have gotten more from each, the last week has certainly been progress. Instead of letting that 6-0 at Manchester City capsize them, Spurs have stayed afloat, even if they’re still a bit adrift.

[MORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Manchester United: Rooney double spoils two Spurs leads]

That’s part of the reason why André Villas-Boas’s petulance is so telling. Rather than trying to gather some momentum – some positivity that can be put back into the team – he’s entertaining the darkness. On Thursday, he allowed some of his focus to go to a Tromsø fan, while after today’s game, he chose to spark a public feud with The Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton and Martin Samuel.

On one level, it is refreshing to see a manager speak his mind, and while doing so, Villas-Boas does a good job of articulating why he’s taken exception with The Daily Mail’s coverage. It’s direct, relatively dispassionate, and a reminder the authority that comes with a prominent byline doesn’t always meet with accord from the soccer community.

On the other hand, time and place. As Tottenham boss, he should have bigger fish to fry. His team had just come back twice to draw Manchester United, 2-2, yet they’re still in ninth place. In league, they’re still winless in four. Should confrontations with Daily Mail columnists and Tromsø season ticket holders even be on his radar?


4. HULL CITY SNARE FIRST EVER WIN OVER LIVERPOOL

Though the final score exaggerates the gap between the teams, Liverpool were less threatening than normal on Sunday, their 3-1 loss at Hull seeing their only goal come from a direct kick. With Daniel Sturridge set for a prolonged absence, Brendan Rodgers needs to find a second person to score open play goals. With nine each, Luis Suárez and Sturridge have accounted for 18 of the team’s 23 Premier League goals.

Yet on a day the Tigers recorded their first ever win over Liverpool, Hull City deserves the bulk of the stage. While two of their goals seemed pure, deflection-aided luck, their crucial second rewarded a match’s worth of persistence, the home side having out-worked their higher-ranking visitors throughout. Keeping themselves in position to lose, Liverpool allowed Hull City’s luck to pay off. David Meyler’s 72nd minute tiebreaker proved decisive.

With three points, Hull are now in 10th place, having passed the likes of Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Swansea City with their jump into the top half. While it’d be foolish to predict Steve Bruce’s side can maintain that standing, it’s not too much to ask whether 17 early points have paved their way to an unlikely survival. Now seven up on 18th place Fulham, Hull may have accumulated enough to scrape their way to survival.

[MORE: Hull City 3-1 Liverpool: David Meyler winner downs Reds at KC Stadium (video)]


 

5. CHELSEA OVERCOME EARLY GOAL, GO SECOND

Sunday gave us another reminder that Southampton have been playing a little over their heads, the Saints’ 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge dropping Mauricio Pochettino’s team to seventh place. After back-to-back losses to Arsenal and Chelsea, we have a better idea of who Southampton really are: A very good side that’s likely to finish just inside the top half. It’d be a great step forward for a team that was struggling at the bottom of the table a year ago.

Chelsea, however, may have shown us something new on Sunday – a team capable of living up to their preseason hype. Although they went down through Jay Rodrgues just seconds into the game, the Blues controlled the final 90-plus minutes. It may have taken them 55 minutes to break through, but when full-time came with a two-goal gap, Chelsea had the win they deserved. Southampton finished the game with only one shot on target.

[MORE: Chelsea 3-1 Southampton: Stirring comeback sends Blues second]

It’s tempting to see this game as part of the Juan Mata narrative, with the restored Spaniard playing a key role on Sunday, but it’s probably best to focus on the simpler conclusions. Bouncing back from an embarrassing mid-week loss at Basel, Chelsea gave their second-straight convincing league performance. These heights at least hint the Blues are getting closer to realizing their potential.

When you see performances like today’s, you’re reminded quality isn’t a problem. Consistency, however, is. Against West Ham and Southampton, we saw a title contender, but against Basel, Chelsea looked fatally flawed. Slowly realizing who his best players are, José Mourinho will likely make the Southampton performances more relevant than the Basels.


6. FOUR-IN-A-ROW FOR SIXTH PLACE NEWCASTLE

With their win, Chelsea sit second place, but highlighting the crowd that’s cued up behind, the Blues are as close to sixth place Newcastle as they are Arsenal. At 27 points, Chelsea are four back of the league-leading Gunners, and after Newcastle’s 2-1 win over visiting West Brom, a Magpies side that’s won four-in-a-row is only one point out of a Champions League spots.

[MORE: Newcastle 2-1 West Brom: Sissoko’s sizzling strike sends Magpies fifth (video)]

Usually when a team goes on this type of run, the fixture list is providing some help. That’s not the case with Newcastle. Their November surge has featured wins over Chelsea and Tottenham, with the worst of their vanquished foes being 14th place Norwich. In that span, they’ve outscored their opposition 7-2.

Saturday featured a more controlling Newcastle that we’re used to seeing, a team that’s allowed 18 goals in 13 games holding their opponents to only one shot on target. That Chris Brunt’s shot happened to go in made the match close, though with Moussa Sissoko responding four minutes later, Newcastle had restored their lead, building on Yoann Gouffran’s opener on their way to a 2-1 win.

Considering how this team’s played since moving to a 4-4-2 formation – Alan Pardew electing to make the difficult choice of sitting Hatem Ben Arfa to opt for a more consistent, stalwart group – and there’s no reason Newcastle can’t make their mercurial 2012-13 season look like a blip. After threatening to claim a Champions League spot in 2011-13, Newcastle battled relegation, and while breaking into the league’s top four this season isn’t going to happen, the Magpies appear poised to reestablish their place among the clubs competing for Europe.

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig, Dortmund keep pace with Bayern

Bundesliga
(Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)
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There were plenty of young American players on show Saturday as the Bundesliga title race continues with at least three contestants.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

RB Leipzig smashed Schalke and BVB took care of business at Werder Bremen to stay close to Bayern Munich.

Borussia Monchengladbach slipped a bit off the pace with a draw, but still has a match-in-hand on the three teams ahead of it.

Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland scored his 40th goal of a season spread between BVB and Red Bull Salzburg to salt away a two-goal win a relegation-threatened Bremen.

Dan-Axel Zagadou scored BVB’s other goal, with Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hazimi getting assists. Dortmund is four points back of leaders Bayern and three back of Leipzig. They face Bayern on April 4 and Leipzig on May 9.

American teen Giovanni Reyna followed up his first UCL assist at midweek by making another substitute appearance. He completed all 12 of his passes, making one key pass and winning 2-of-3 duels in 13 minutes.

Fellow USMNT man Josh Sargent played 11 minutes for the hosts, converting his only dribble attempt and winning his only 50-50 while registering an interception.

Schalke 0-5 RB Leipzig

Five different players scored for the visitors in a humbling of David Wagner‘s top four hopefuls in Gelsenkirchen.

Marcel Sabitzer’s last name sounds like a weapon, and he put Schalke on notice with a bullet after 55 seconds before Timo Werner, Marcel Halstenberg, Angelino, and Emil Forsberg joined in on the fun.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie was subbed off in the 55th minute with the score 1-0, so he was spared a bit.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 3-2 Paderborn — Friday
Hertha Berlin 0-5 Koln
Freiburg 0-2 Fortuna Dusseldorf
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Hoffenheim
Bayer Leverkusen v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v. Mainz — Noon ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 23 15 4 4 65 26 39 8-2-2 7-2-2 49
 RB Leipzig 23 14 6 3 61 25 36 7-3-1 7-3-2 48
 Borussia Dortmund 23 13 6 4 65 32 33 8-3-0 5-3-4 45
 Mönchengladbach 22 13 4 5 43 25 18 8-2-1 5-2-4 43
 Bayer Leverkusen 22 12 4 6 38 29 9 5-4-2 7-0-4 40
 FC Schalke 04 23 9 9 5 32 32 0 5-5-2 4-4-3 36
 1899 Hoffenheim 23 10 4 9 34 36 -2 5-1-6 5-3-3 34
 SC Freiburg 23 9 6 8 31 33 -2 5-2-4 4-4-4 33
 VfL Wolfsburg 22 8 7 7 28 28 0 3-5-3 5-2-4 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 8 4 10 37 35 2 6-3-2 2-1-8 28
 FC Augsburg 22 7 6 9 34 45 -11 5-3-3 2-3-6 27
 1. FC Union Berlin 22 8 2 12 27 35 -8 6-0-5 2-2-7 26
 1. FC Köln 22 8 2 12 33 42 -9 5-1-5 3-1-7 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 23 7 5 11 27 43 -16 3-2-7 4-3-4 26
 FSV Mainz 05 22 7 1 14 31 48 -17 3-1-7 4-0-7 22
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 23 5 5 13 23 46 -23 3-2-6 2-3-7 20
 Werder Bremen 23 4 5 14 25 53 -28 1-2-8 3-3-6 17
 SC Paderborn 23 4 4 15 29 50 -21 2-1-9 2-3-6 16

What we learned in the Premier League

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What did we learn in the Premier League on Saturday?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There were six Premier League games across three time slots and plenty had huge implications in the top four battle, European battle and relegation scrap.

Here’s a look at the big talking points from around the Premier League as the drama really never stops.


VAR steals the show

In both Chelsea’s win against Tottenham and Bournemouth’s hammering at Burnley, VAR stole the show. And not in a good way. Spurs’ Giovani Lo Celso somehow stayed on the pitch but Stockley Park later said he should have been sent off. Bournemouth were hard done by as two goals were chalked out at Burnley and the second one was in such a cruel manner as they had a goal taken away and a penalty awarded against them which put the game to bed.


Giroud now the main man

Chelsea have been missing a target man and Olivier Giroud stepped up against Spurs to put them in the driving seat in the Premier League’s top four race.. Big time This is just what he does. For some reason Giroud has been the third-choice striker all season at Chelsea and he looked likely to leave in January. Chelsea will be glad he didn’t. Tammy Abraham is young and has cooled down after a red-hot start to the season and Michy Batshuayi doesn’t have Giroud’s composure or experience in key moments. Giroud jumped off the bench on Monday against Man United and scored but was just offside and he has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. We spoke with Giroud after his display against United and he said he was fired up and ready to start, especially with a place in France’s EURO 2020 squad on the line. With Bayern Munich coming up in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, surely he has to lead the Chelsea line. With his clever runs and flicks, Giroud linked up defense and attack perfectly. This is just what he does and it is a mystery as to why he hasn’t played more this season.


Man City’s tough week ends well

It has been a rough seven or so days for Man City off the pitch but on it they have pretty much wrapped up second place in the Premier League. After their two-season European ban their fans have been revolting against UEFA and Pep Guardiola has insisted he will stay at the club. Winning away at Leicester City with another clean sheet showed plenty of character after a win against West Ham on Wednesday. After Sergio Aguero had a late penalty kick saved it would have been easy for City to sulk. Even if VAR, or a lack of it, may have helped them on a Kevin De Bruyne possible handball, they dug deep to get a late win which they deserved. They now sit seven points above third-place Leicester and Man City will finish second this season. Liverpool’s title party should start soon if it hasn’t already as they can go 22 points clear once again with a win on Monday against West Ham. Man City are hanging in there and ahead of their game against Real Madrid on Wednesday they are showing plenty of grit to put the UEFA troubles to one side.


Villa, Bournemouth in big trouble

Aston Villa and Bournemouth are in real trouble and their final 11 games are horrendous. Where are Villa and the Cherries going to get their points from? Villa were awful as their seething manager Dean Smith saw his side totally outplayed by Saints. Bournemouth were unlucky due to VAR but with Chelsea and Liverpool in their next two and Spurs, Everton, Man City, Leicester and Man United still to come, where are Bournemouth’s points going to come from? Villa are in a similar predicament and also have the distraction of the League Cup final against Man City at Wembley next weekend.

Man City grabs late winner at Leicester City

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Gabriel Jesus‘ 80th-minute goal gave Manchester City a 1-0 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The three points give Man City 57 on the season, seven more than third-place Leicester City. Liverpool leads the league with 76 points and a match-in-hand.


Three things we learned

1. Ederson flashpoint: James Maddison swept a cross over the Man City back line and Iheanacho raced into the 18 to head it on goal. Iheanacho didn’t get much of it and Ederson did before his parry landed flush with Iheanacho’s chin. Social media was a buzz with cries for a red card, but it’s difficult to see what Ederson could’ve done other than allow Iheanacho to head home.

2. Moral victory for Leicester in loss: Brendan Rodgers‘ men were absolutely clobbered in three previous matches with their perceived top three rivals, but Leicester was good money for a point on Saturday. The Foxes should be encouraged despite the death of their top two hopes. Still holding a 10-point lead on fifth and sixth, Leicester may well focus a bit more on the FA Cup.

3. Striker swap pays off: Aguero had one goal ruled out for offside and saw his penalty saved by Ederson, and Guardiola’s decision to give Gabriel Jesus a run paid off within minutes. The soon-to-be 23-year-old Brazilian striker got his 10th goal of the PL season to go with five assists when he swept a low shot past Schmeichel. His 17 goals in all competitions have him four goals from equalling his best Man City campaign.

Man of the Match: Leicester fans won’t like it, but ex-Foxes star Riyad Mahrez was everywhere. He edges six-save Kasper Schmeichel, as well as Ricardo Pereira and Rodri.


Vardy let Man City off the hook for a giveaway that sent him 1v1 with Ederson, pushing a shot past the keeper but off the post.

Former Leicester star Riyad Mahrez forced Kasper Schmeichel into a parry at the other end.

Man City was all over the Foxes, and Rodri claimed a loose ball to set up a bounding Benjamin Mendy shot that led to a corner.

Mahrez set up De Bruyne for a shot near the top of the 18, but the Belgian struck wide of the near post.

The Foxes earned a dangerous free kick against the run of play, but James Maddison’s 29th-minute shot turned off the wall and into the hands of Ederson.

There was a 39th-minute flashpoint went Ederson went fists first into Kelechi Iheanacho‘s head in a bid to parry a Maddison cross. The Brazilian got the ball first, but Iheanacho spent a lot of time on the turf with a clear injury.

Aguero had the ball in the goal off a De Bruyne-led counter-attack but was a yard offside and the match soon met halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Leicester came out of the team room with vigor, and Ederson had to stymy a 46th-minute cross from newly-introduced Harvey Barnes.

Aguero’s rough day continued when he saw his penalty saved by Schmeichel, but Jesus gave City all three points on a rough-and-tumble day in Leicester.

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ] 

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.