Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. REASON TO HOPE FROM TOTTENHAM

If Wednesday’s League Cup exit gave fans reason to doubt, Sunday’s win at St. Mary’s will be cause for belief. Against a Southampton side whose defensive prowess once vaulted them into the top four, Tottenham scored three times, and while Jos Hooiveld’s own goal boosted that mark, Tim Sherwood’s side showed a restored Emmanuel Adebayor (two goals), 4-4-2 formation, and midfield chosen with attacking intent might reverse Spurs’ fortunes. Their 3-2 win at Saints, their first League game since Villas-Boas’s departure, was their best win of the season.

There were a few other take homes, ones that undermine any premature Spurs reborn narrative. Southampton, who haven’t won since Nov. 9 (and haven’t beaten a team in the league’s top half since Sept. 29), were just as culpable for the result. Only two games into Sherwood’s stewardship, it’s still too early to draw conclusions about turned corners, though the collapse the team was experiencing under their former boss has stopped. Spurs may have steadied the ship, but it’s also too early to tell where it’s going.

Though many noted Villas-Boas’s virtues when he left, change for change’s sake may have been enough. At home to West Brom and Stoke over the week, the now seventh placed Spurs may have acted just in time. Sunday’s performance gives them reason to believe things are getting better, something that clearly wasn’t happening under their former manager.

[MORE: Southampton 2-3 Tottenham: Adebayor double gives Sherwood first Premier League win (video)]

2. First place: Liverpool

Nowhere in the world do they laud a temporary first like they do in England. Elsewhere, Liverpool reaching the top of the table would be reported while noting the match day’s not over, and in many places that cover the Premier League, they’re showing that kind of restraint. But with Arsenal hosting Chelsea on Monday, the Reds could finish Round 17 where they started: Second place.

Yet after their 3-1 win versus Cardiff City, Liverpool’s potentially fleeting position is being lauded as progress. And to a certain extent, it is, provided the right context can be applied. Luis Suárez continues to remind England what they’re in store for next summer, scoring his 18th and 19th goals of the season. An improving Reds defense only conceded once up three goals. In a league where only Manchester City seems to be hitting its stride, Liverpool’s form may be enough to keep them in the race. With questions having evolved from whether they’re Champions League contenders to doubts about their title credentials, the Reds have certainly earned their accolades.

[MORE: Liverpool 3-1 Cardiff City: Yet another side undone by Luis Suárez (video)]

That, instead of premature celebrations about first place, is Liverpool’s real progress. Most expected Brendan Rodgers’ team to move forward in 2013-14, but with Spurs having brought in so much new talent, few saw the Reds doing more than pestering the top five.

After 17 games, Liverpool has transcended those expectations, and although they may yet regress once the calendar turns, the ease of Saturday’s win highlights how far they’ve come.

3. Days and nights of Vincent Tan

The flip side of Saturday’s match at Anfield: the chaos that is Cardiff City. Had the Bluebirds lost to Liverpool under any other circumstances, the defeat would have been seen as an expected one. That it came after a fortnight where Malky Mackay declared the need for reinforcements, was publicly rebuked by ownership, and was asked to resign made the defeat into a plot point in a larger drama. How long until Mackay is written out?

Public perception has fallen in favor of Mackay, a sentiment with which I don’t necessarily disagree. There is, however, a scenario where Tan’s predilections make sense. If Mackay (and Ian Moody) really did drastically overspend this summer, Tan had reason to be concerned. Not only has Mackay not made good on that investment (Cardiff four points above the drop), but he’s show his truculence in the face of a fired Head of Recruitment. Now, asking for more money (and doing so through the media), it might be fair for Tan to ask whether another man can stick to budgets, not complain in the press, and produce a better product on the field. Didn’t Steve Clarke just become available?

It all depends on which side you believe. Of course, you can choose to believe neither and just see how things unfold. Regardless, the soap opera being directed by Vincent Tan is bound for another turn, even if Cardiff’s benefactor hopes to calm things down.

4. MANCHESTER City wants all the goals

Four years ago, Chelsea set a record for goals in a Premier League season, scoring 102 times. After 17 rounds, Manchester City’s already halfway there. When James Milner’s 83rd minute score made it 4-2 at Craven Cottage, City had their 51st goal of the season, putting them on pace to score 114 times over 38 rounds.

[MORE: Fulham 2-4 Manchester City: Visitors proving they can win on the road (video)]

Odds are they’ll slow up a little, regression and all. Yet through 17 rounds, they’ve already built up a bit of a cushion. When they slow up, they’ll still have to creep far under Chelsea’s 2.68 goals per game to fall short of the Blues’ mark. After yesterday’s outburst on the Thames, City’s averaging an even three-per-match.

If anything, City is trending the other way. Over their last six matches, the Citizens have scored 19 times, putting up six against the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal. Though losing Sergio Agüero until late January could slow them down, an attack led by Edin Dzeko and Álvaro Negredo still scored four times at Fulham. And without Agüero in Munich, City managed three on Bayern.

Like others who changed managers this offseason, City has needed time to adjust. Unfortunately for the rest of England, that adjustment period seemed to be over. Though they’ll sit third come Monday evening, City is the best team in England. And if Arsenal loses, they’ll only be one point out.

5. THE TOFFEES Barkleys OF EVERTON

Everton are improved at every level of the field. Even players like Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, and Sylvain Distin — players who’ve been held over from David Moyes’ time at Goodison — are performing better this year. Forging the league’s best defense (16 goals allowed), Roberto Martínez’s team sits fourth in the Premier League, its 2-1 win over Swansea leaving the Toffees in a Champions League spot pending tomorrow’s result.

[MORE: Swansea 1-2 Everton: Stunners see visitors steal points with Barkley’s winner (video)]

In a World Cup year, however, it’s no surprise that a young Englishman has garnered much of the attention, though 20-year-old Ross Barkley is one of a litany of players who’ve fueled Everton’s rise. But as a long-discussed product of the team’s academy, the attacking midfielder is a natural source of speculation. Carrying the hopes of a local and national fan base, Barkley represents England’s latest Wilshere-esque conundrum: Is he really as good as the hype suggests?

On Sunday, however, Barkley’s impact was undeniable. With the match drawn in the 84th minute, the World Cup hopeful delivered a moment to match his manager’s superlatives – a free kick fired against the bottom of the crossbar and beyond the line, delivering all three points for Everton.

In Wales, Barkley lived up to the hype, something no player’s capably of doing on a regular basis. But with a few more performances like today’s (one that was excellent beyond the match-winner) Barkley will become the new Wilshere, even if the Everton product is only one year younger.

6. surge becomes baseline

Newcastle’s 3-0 win at Selhurst Park quelled any momentum the Eagles had built since Tony Pulis’s appointment. More than that, it affirmed the Magpies as more than mere upstarts. It’s one thing to get a team up for performances against Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United, but it’s another for Newcastle to dominate games they can control. Ahead for 65 minutes on Saturday, Newcastle’s sixth win in eight was never in doubt, hinting at a level of control that goes beyond a mere hot streak.

[MORE: Crystal Palace 0-3 Newcastle United: Magpies flying-high after yet another win (video)]

Given the highs of this run (those wins over Chelsea, Spurs, and United) as well as the more mundane results (Saturday at Palace), can we say this is more than a surge? This doesn’t look like a team running on momentum or emotion, producing transcendent results. Even in their one loss in that stretch, a 3-0 defeat at Swansea, they looked fine. At what point do we say this is the real Newcastle, admitting the early season performances that had made Pardew’s job a point of speculation were probably the aberrations?

Perhaps, 17 games into the season, it’s too early to do that, but it’s worth considering: What does Newcastle have to do to prove themselves contenders for a (say) top-third spot? At some point we should answer that question, let the season play out, and stop doubting the Magpies if they happen to reach that mark.

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

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A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

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Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal