Boxing Day Roundup: Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, keep rolling as strugglers also shine

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This ‘Christmas Cracker’ just kept on giving more delight on Thursday, as a Boxing Day Bonanza ensued in the Premier League.

Massive wins for Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle saw the chasing pack stay together at the top.

However, the little guys also plucked up some courage and dug deep to grab three points, as Sunderland, Fulham and Crystal Palace all prevailed away from home to boost their survival hopes.

City downed Liverpool on Boxing Day at the Etihad as Manuel Pellegrini’s men sent out a message with two-straight home wins against league leaders Arsenal and now Liverpool. Will the Citizens now reach the summit? They’re only one point behind the Gunners and always looks so dangerous in every game they play.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

This year Boxing Day marked the first time in over five years that 10 PL matches were all played on the same day (excluding the final day of every campaign) and we had bucket loads of controversy, stunning goals and talking points to chew on as our Christmas dinner was still being digested.

What a magnificent day of action it was, let’s roundup all the action with recaps, analysis, video highlights and much more from every single game that place on another famous Boxing Day slate of matches.

Let’s get to it.

Man City 2-1 Liverpool

Another stirring comeback saw Manuel Pellegrini’s side make it nine wins from nine at home. Liverpool went ahead early on as Philippe Coutinho finished off a lovely move, but City hit back through Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo to lead 2-1 at the break. That was how it would remain after Raheem Sterling spurned a great chance to level from close range, in a truly encapsulating game between two sides that will be scraping it out at the end of the season.

Hull City 2-3 Man United

Hull were 2-0 up at home against United within the first 15 minutes as goals from James Chester and David Meyler put the Tigers in dreamland. However Untied came roaring back as Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney leveled things before the break, and Chester went from hero to villain as his own goal handed United all three points. Superb comeback from the Red Devils.

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal

After a slight scare at the start of the second half when Carlton Cole put the Hammers ahead, Arsenal got their heads down and ground out a vital win away at Upton Park. Two strikes from Theo Walcott put them ahead, before German international Lukas Podolski came off the bench to seal the three points and put Arsenal top of the league.

Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace

A marvelous stoppage time strike from Dwight Gayle handed Crystal Palace all three points as the Eagles climbed out of the drop zone. Villa were poor and Paul Lambert’s time is running out, but Tony Pulis’ is orchestrating Palace’s great escape expertly.

Cardiff 0-3 Southampton

Three goals in 13 first half minutes saw the Saints tear apart Cardiff in a rampant first half display. A Jay Rodriguez double and a strike from Rickie Lambert gave the Saints their first win in seven games, as Malky Mackay’s problems worsen on and off the pitch.

Chelsea 1-0 Swansea

The Blues made hard work of this, but Jose Mourinho’s men dominated for large spells and really should have won by a wider margin. Eden Hazard’s strike turned out to be the game winner, as Chelsea keep up the chase on those above them.

Everton 0-1 Sunderland

One incident changed the entire complexion of this match, as USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard was sent off in the 23rd minute for taking down Sunderland’s Ki following a defensive mix up. The Black Cats South Korean midfielder then got up and slotted home the PK, which turned out to be the game-winner despite 10-man Everton’s constant barrage of efforts that Vito Mannone heroically stopped. Massive win for Gus Poyet’s Sunderland.

Newcastle 5-1 Stoke

The Potters lost the plot at St. James’ Park, as Oussama Assaidi’s opener gave Stoke the lead but two quick-fire red cards and manager Mark Hughes being sent to the stand by Martin Atkinson changed the entire game. Loic Remy missed a penalty, but then scored the equalizer before half time. Newcastle accelerated away against the brave 9-men of Stoke in the second half, as Remy added another, before Yohan Cabaye, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Demba Cisse rounded things off.

Norwich 1-2 Fulham

Massive win for the Cottagers, as Scott Parker’s late stunner gave them a vital win away at Carrow Road. Norwich went ahead through Gary Hooper’s deflected effort, but Pajtim Kasami’s free kick made it 1-1 at the break. Parker’s late strike sent Fulham wild as they close the gap on everyone around them at the bottom.

Tottenham 1-1 West Brom

Spurs struggled against a plucky West Brom side at White Hart Lane as Christian Eriksen’s sublime free kick was cancelled out a minute later by Jonas Olsson in the first half. Tim Sherwood’s first game as new head coach ended in a draw, and he’ll be disappointed his side didn’t take all three but relieved they didn’t throw it away.

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

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

Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat. What now?

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Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT hit a new low on Tuesday as they lost 2-0 to Canada in Toronto and it could have been worse.

Much worse.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Totally outplayed in their CONCACAF Nations League game, pressure is mounting on Berhalter as the U.S. men’s national team perhaps haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Two years after their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as they lost at Trinidad & Tobago, in many ways the performance against Canada was worse.

What progress has been made since that fateful night in Couva in 2017?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking to reporters after the damaging defeat at BMO Field, Berhalter threw his players under the bus. Big time.

“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

USMNT fans are calling for Berhalter to be fired just 10 months into his reign, and his possession-based style isn’t sinking in with his young, hard-working squad. Berhalter wants the USMNT to play like Barcelona but right now they look more like Burton Albion. And that’s being kind.

The youngsters coming through are being asked to overcomplicate things and aren’t playing to their strengths. After a heavy defeat to Mexico last month and a damaging loss to Canada, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup would now be a huge achievement for the USMNT. It should be a given.

Where do we go from here?

The fact USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart may well have to get the thumbs up from Berhalter’s brother, Jay, who is the expected incoming new CEO of U.S. Soccer, adds to the anger from U.S. fans.

It is unlikely Berhalter will be removed anytime soon and that U.S. Soccer will stick with him after waiting a year for him to take charge.

Former interim coach Dave Sarachan did the best job he could do from November 2017 to November 2018, but that lost year waiting for Berhalter has sent this young group of players spiralling backwards.

The lack of progression is clear for all to see, but Berhalter doesn’t want anyone pointing to the shocking defeat in Canada as a true reflection of where this team is at.

“I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”

Berhalter is under pressure and things have got worse for the USMNT since their embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure two years ago.

Is it time to pull the plug on Berhalter? After the performance against Canada his players appear to think so, and so too do the fans.

U.S. Soccer have a big decision to make, as things look like they will get a lot worse before they get any better.

State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images
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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

[ USMNT-CANADA: Time for change? | Player ratings ]

Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.