Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. PREMIER LEAGUE’S BEST ROUT LEAGUE LEADERS

Arsène Wenger can complain about the officiating all he wants, but there was no way Arsenal was winning yesterday’s game. Nobody in England can beat City when Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho, and David Silva play like that. Even on a day when Yaya Touré was flawed and an injured Sergio Agüero had to be pulled shortly after half time, City’s star power dwarfed that of the Premier League leaders’.

[MORE: Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal: Pulsating clash swings City’s way as offense explodes (video)]

Not that Arsenal shouldn’t have been better. Beyond mistakes from Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Özil, as well as the wall they seemed to hit halfway through the second half, the Gunners’ game plan could have been better. Wenger will understandably be criticized for selecting an attacking team, but deploying his midfield such that Aaron Ramsey played high, ostensibly to help with Touré and Fernandinho, needed to be coupled with some kind of pressure through the middle. The times Silva dropped to tip the balance in the middle, Mathieu Flamini was abandoned in front of the defense, the time given City’s midfield allowing Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy to push forward early, stretching the defense. You often see teams have trouble deal with opponents’ width, but on Saturday, Arsenal played into City’s lack of traditional width and were exploited.

Four days after beating the world’s best team, Saturday left no question: City is England’s best team, even if the standings don’t reflect it. Their road ailments cured while their home swagger has been preserved, City’s flipped the script. Instead of this winter’s story being their chase of Arsenal, the next few months will be defined by the field’s ability to find City’s kryptonite before they fly away from the pack.

2. LIVERPOOL SHREDS TOTTENHAM: BALANCING CREDIT AND BLAME

Let’s revisit last week’s thoughts on Spurs and Liverpool. Before Liverpool’s 5-0 rout today at White Hart Lane, the general feeling was Tottenham were back on track. Where they that convincing? No, but they appeared to have moved on from their embarrassment at the Etihad. In as much as they were headed in the right direction, they were technically back on track (as much as you can be technical about an idiom).

[MORE: Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool: Reds pummel erratic Tottenham defense to go second.]

As for Liverpool? They were still putting up huge wins, but they were doing so in the same way they’ve always done under Brendan Rodgers. The manager’s approach leaves the Reds winning by three, foul-goal margins where other (sometimes, better) teams either let up or don’t have the attacking prowess to pile on. That same style, however, might lead the Reds to be out-gunned against better teams.

That was all before Sunday, when Luis Suárez’s two goals, two assists lifted Liverpool that five-goal in in North London. Not only did the attack persist against a higher-ranked opponent, but the defense held up, conceding no shots on goal. This clearly dispels both of last week’s notions, right?

To a certain extent yes, but against a Spurs team that looked every bit as bad as the one that lost at Manchester City, it may be too assumptive to separate them from the Norwich and West Hams of the world. On talent, yes, Spurs are in a different class. In performance? They’re still better, but not so much that we should throw out every assumption we made about Liverpool.

But that imperfect, still-building Liverpool team, one that was without Daniel Sturridge and Steve Gerrard today at White Hart Lane? They’re clearly a Champions League threat, one whose greatest credential is their ability to get three points against the league’s weaker teams. Where other teams night be lured into a draw (or, as we say with Chelsea last week at Stoke, a loss), Liverpool’s more likely to take care of business. Their performance at Arsenal hinted they may not be title contenders, but they’re certainly a team whose strengths can carry them into the top four. They are, after all, in second place.

3. LOSS TO CARDIFF COSTS STEVE CLARKE HIS JOB

Steve Clarke is a very good coach, one who was crucial on staffs for José Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish. Yet this season, his second at West Brom, we saw a coach undone by his higher ups.

Last year, with a team mostly assembled by his superiors, Clarke pushed the Baggies to eighth, their best finish in 22 years. This year, forced into the transfer market to strengthen his squad and replace Romelu Lukaku (17 goals in 2012-13), Clarke’s support failed. The likes of Nicolas Anelka, Stephane Sességnon, Scott Sinclair, Markus Rosenberg, Victor Anichebe and Diego Lugano – all acquired since Clarke took over – have been busts. For a team like West Brom, these were significant investments, yet none of them are paying off on the field.

Yet when you watched West Brom play, you saw the coach’s virtues. Well organized, willing, almost always executing a clear plan in attack, the Baggies carried all the indicators of a well-run team. Unfortunately, after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Cardiff City, that team will be run by somebody else.

[MORE: Cardiff City 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Whittingham’s header the difference (video)]

After four losses in a row, West Brom had dropped to 16th, only two points above the drop. Their last win was a 2-0 victory on Nov. 2 over visiting Palace. Their last win over a team out of the league’s relegation spots? Their Sept. 28 win at Old Trafford.

Although West Brom had only lost twice by more than one goal, they had all the hallmarks of a team ready to change course. They were plummeting, there was no obvious, transient cause for the slide, and there was no indication it would turn around. Management could justify thinking another man would do more.

They would have also been justified sticking it out. They could have tried to address the problem (Clarke’s transfers) in the January window while keeping a clearly good coach. They could have built on their manager’s strengths while providing him help with his weaknesses. Or course, while doing so, they may have flirted with relegation. For a team that finished eighth last year, that’s unacceptable.

Perhaps in his next job, Clarke will build on these lessons. And hopefully, he will get another job. For now, West Brom are moving on.

4, VILLA THE PERFECT TONIC FOR UNITED

United were coming off a mid-week win in Champions League, so the Red Devils had already began moving beyond last week’s disappointments to Everton and Newcastle, but after today’s visit to Villa Park, David Moyes’s team can actually try to consolidate some momentum. Whereas their Champions League match with Shakhtar Donetsk could have gone either way, Villa were never going to beat Manchester United, permitting the Red Devils their most-lopsided league win since August.

And that certainty – the contrast between Villa’s Sunday performance and the teams that won at Arsenal and Southampton – has become their paradox. When they’re playing well, a strong midfield and swift attack is capable to protecting a subpar defense, taking advantage of their opponent’s possession to generate goals. It’s a method which, when employed correctly, can beat anybody.

When Villa aren’t on top of their game, though? You get results like today’s. Danny Welback had a brace and Tom Cleverley added a third to give United their first league win in over a month. There worst of their duel personalities emerging, Paul Lambert’s team made the Red Devils look good.

Perhaps this was the type of opponent United needed – somebody that would remind them they are, in fact, good. With the win, they jump a spot in the league, passing Sotuhampton for eighth place. Villa, in the meantime, stay where Jekyll balances Hyde: 11th place.

5. RUNNING OUT OF EXCUSES TO DOUBT EVERTON

At the beginning of the year, Everton’s two problems were an inability to convert possession into goals and (related) being left with one point in games where they should have claimed three. It’s why, despite losing only once (every other team’s lost at least three times), the Toffess sit fifth, though as Saturday at Goodison showed, those early season problems may be in the past.

Despite not playing up to the same standards they showed at Old Trafford and the Emirates, three late goals allowed Everton to cruise past Fulham, 4-1. The Cottagers may have made a mistake trying to play with their hosts, but under a new manager, that was understandable. Rene Meulensteen may have been willing to sacrifice one game’s chances to reinforce his team’s new approach.

[MORE: Everton 4-1 Fulham: Coleman and Barry ensure normality at Goodison Park over Fulham (video)]

But that approach led to four goals for Everton, the third time in five games Roberto Martínez’s side has scored at least three times. Those games gave Everton 11 points, including results against Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal.

Along the way, the Toffees are starting to eliminate excuses for excluding them from top-four conversation. They can’t score enough? They can’t win enough? Or they can’t do so against the best teams? None of that is true. And against Fulham, Everton also showed they can avoid a let down. This is a team that will stick around.

6. THE LINE BETWEEN FANDOM AND NUISANCE

At the point where players have to apologize to fans for not clapping their acknowledgments, support becomes a burden. The tedium of protocol and kissing the rings of the entitled become nuisances, and people ostensibly there to embolden their team become weight on an anchor.

You’ll never hear a club say that about their fans, who they do truly value. And as Mesut Özil’s apologies to Arsenal fans showed, players will often do whatever necessary to avoid the issue. But at the point when kowtowing to the extremes becomes part of the job — when just wanting to leave the field becomes cause for strife between teammates — the costs of the charade begin to surface. When applauding traveling fans becomes obligatory instead of spontaneous, what should be earnest gesture becomes farcical and contrived, serving nobody.

[MORE: Per Mertesacker incensed with Mesut Ozil after refusing to clap away fans]

Fans are an integral part of sport, but when the (perhaps only perceived) obligations to them spark divisions between teammates, it’s worthe revisiting their role. Supporters are there to support, not define. They’re compelling, necessary, but also ancillary. They shouldn’t be the issue moments after 6-3 loss.

And it’s unclear Arsenal’s fans never intended to be. Maybe this is Per Mertesacker buying myth more than the reality. Regardless, Mesut Özil was shamed for wanting to get off the field after a three-goal loss. Is that something Arsenal fans really wanted?

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.