Two gaffes, one huge miss see Diego Lugano undermine West Brom, rekindle concerns for Uruguay

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After watching one of their starting center backs undermine their chances today at Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion fans won’t be the only ones regretting the performance of Diego Lugano. For those hoping Uruguay can recreate 2010’s magic at this summer’s World Cup, outings like today’s from the veteran defender are cause for concern. Is this somebody La Celeste can count on in Brazil?

Those doubts are nothing new, with Lugano’s play having prompted questions ever since he left Fenerbahçe for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2011. On Wednesday, however, there was no doubt about the extent to which he hurt his club team. Committing three major errors over a span of 50 minutes, Lugano was the biggest difference between a one-goal loss and a victory in Albion’s West Midlands derby.

The first mistake came in the 12th minute, with the Baggies in control after taking a shock 2-0 lead. Off a long ball from Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Lugano headed back toward his own goal from the edge of West Brom’s defensive third. His ball went straight to Andreas Weimann, who lobbed Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster to bring Villa back into the match.

Lugano’s second gaffe came 10 minutes into the second half when a Villa mistake defending a restart left him with an open header at Guzan’s left post. From eight yards out, Lugano only needed to redirect his shot on goal, with Villa’s transitioning goalkeeper unlikely to be in position to stop a ball put on target. Instead, Lugano pushed his shot wide of the right post, leaving the shootout tied, 3-3.

Just after the hour, Lugano committed his decisive error. On a cross sent in from Villa’s right, Lugano wrapped his right arm around Christian Benteke’s shoulders and neck, pulling the forward to the ground as Leandro Bacuna’s ball went through the area. With a foul so blatant, all discretion was taken out of Mark Clattenburg’s hands. Lugano cost his team a point, gifting Benteke the penalty that led to the game’s decisive goal.

Even from a player who has become highly scrutinized over the last two-plus years, this was an especially bad day, one that would be unfair to pick apart were it not for its place in a bigger context. At one time the cornerstone of his national team’s defense, Lugano is clearly in the sunset of his career, a decline that’s led him from PSG to West Bromwich (via Málaga). Like most players his age, he’s lost a step, something that’s make him much more mistake prone.

For West Brom, the solution’s obvious. Gareth McCauley has started 20 times this year but hasn’t appeared since Pepe Mel took over. Today, he was on West Brom’s bench, having returned from a hamstring problem. While Mel may have wanted to give a player of Lugano’s reputation another chance in the team (Lugano’s only made five starts), Wednesday should be enough to convince the Baggies’ new boss to turn back to Steve Clarke’s duo. While Lugano’s unlikely to be that bad in his next start, the performance was consistent with somebody who was unable to win more time under the previous boss.

For Uruguay, the solutions aren’t as obvious. While Atlético Madrid’s Diego Godín is an obvious choice at one center back position, there’s no clear candidate to take over for Lugano at the other, part of the reason the then-rarely used Baggie was still in Óscar Washington Tabárez’s starting XI during Uruguay’s World Cup playoff against Jordan. Among the inexperienced (José María Gutíerrez, Gastón Vila, Emiliano Velazquez), rarely played (Sebastián Coates, Martín Caceres), or potentially too old (Andrés Scotti, 38), there’s nobody whose play screams ‘this man should unseat the captain of the national team.’

For West Brom, Wednesday’s Lugano problem doesn’t have to be a big deal. Pepe Mel can move on. For Uruguay, it’s a bigger problem. This is a team that can again be a dark horse contender at a World Cup, but unless Lugano can recapture some of his Fenerbahçe self, Tabárez as a potentially debilitating problem at the back.

Newcastle not apologizing after smash-and-grab win

Isaac Hayden on Newcastle's late winner
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Just how fortunate was Newcastle to beat Chelsea on Saturday?

Their stoppage time match-winner thought he was being subbed off minutes earlier, and wasn’t even supposed to be forward for the decisive set piece.

Isaac Hayden opened the day at center midfield and prepared to sub out of the match when he learned he was moving to right wing back for an exhausted Emil Krafth.

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“I thought I was coming off,” Hayden said, via the BBC. “I didn’t have a clue what was happening but he said just do a job for the team and I’m pleased to have done that.”

The former Arsenal and Hull City man, by the way, also hadn’t scored in about a year when he defied orders to join the fray for a stoppage-time corner kick.

That set piece was only partially cleared, but Hayden nodded in a wonderful Allan Saint-Maximin cross to win it for the Magpies.

“I wasn’t supposed to go up for the corner. I was supposed to stay back and be the last defender but I was on a yellow card so I couldn’t foul anyone so I thought I might as well go up.”

Newcastle was all grins after the match, with manager Steve Bruce having a dig at Matt Ritchie for doing a post-match television interview.

“It was a dreadful corner from Matt Ritchie and then he has the cheek to go on the telly,” Bruce said.

The manager said Newcastle is close to “one or two signings” and may have to add left back to its shopping list, saying Jetro Willems‘ in-game injury “looks serious.”

He also said their tough, packed-in approach on defense must now be joined by an uptick in quality.

Newcastle’s 29 points are seven clear of the Bottom Three and also four away from a Europa League spot. Bruce adds that the club is still in a race to avoid relegation rather than looking at higher goals.

“I’d love to give them a day off but we are in tomorrow. Always for a team in the bottom half, it’s always the accumulation of points over the year and let’s get to 40 points as soon as possible. I make no apology for that.”

Newcastle stuns misfiring Chelsea in stoppage time

Newcastle United stuns Chelsea
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Chelsea couldn’t find a clinical edge and Isaac Hayden scored in stoppage time as Newcastle United beat Chelsea 1-0 at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

The visitors had 70 percent of the ball and a massive edge in shots, but couldn’t capitalize on the few chances they found behind the back line.

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Isaac Hayden powered a header home off a stoppage-time set piece to give the Magpies a shocking win and 29 points, seven clear of the Bottom Three.

Chelsea stays on 39 points, five ahead of fifth-place Manchester United. The Red Devils play Liverpool on Sunday.


Three things we learned

1. Fortunate Magpies get big payoff late: Hayden had not scored in a year and turned Saint-Maximin’s desperate cross of a poorly-cleared corner kick past Kepa Arrizabalaga. A solid if unspectacular midfielder, Hayden has dealt with a lot and might’ve left the Northeast due to family reasons. He’s stayed, Steve Bruce has him confident, and the Magpies have a win against all odds.

2. Newcastle’s low block heroics highlight Chelsea need: Frank Lampard‘s attackers were limited to shots from distance, as Steve Bruce’s men might be even better than they were under Rafa Benitez when asked to defend deep. A lot of this is due to spending on attackers who keep defenders honest, but that doesn’t excuse Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s inability to produce much. The former had Dubravka beaten but failed to find finish on the day.

The defense-first style can be boring to, well, everyone including the home fans and managers loathe when it’s employed against them. But Newcastle has now beaten Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United this year, also drawing Man City. The expected goals table says Newcastle is having one of the luckiest seasons on record, but don’t bother the Geordies with that right now.

3. Lampard waits for Abraham: Related to point No. 1, Lampard showed faith that his struggling striker would show up late. After all, the 22-year-old has 13 goals and three assists this year. Abraham got behind the Magpies back line twice and also flicked a ball off the bar, but it was the right move to get Michy Batshuayi out there. Alas, it probably should’ve come before the 80th minute.

Man of the Match: Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez were the key parts of the aforementioned low block, and we’d give the honors to Clark. But Hayden, man.


Newcastle loan star Jetro Willems are stretchered off the pitch with his head in his hands are an innocent play out wide, a new worry for the injury-ravaged Magpies.

Then Isaac Hayden pulled up lame after being stretched in a 50-50 with Mason Mount.

The best scoring chance of the early stages came in the 22nd minute, as Kepa Arrizabalaga may have got a finger to Joelinton‘s header off the bar.

Chelsea took hold of the match at the half-hour mark, an offside Tammy Abraham flicking off the bar before Martin Dubravka saved N’Golo Kante’s effort in the 34th.

Newcastle held firm against the attack through five minutes of stoppage time.

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The Magpies opened up a little bit in the second half, and Willian missed a chance to open the scoring in the 53rd.

Cesar Azpilicueta was lively in both halves, and hammered a shot to Dubravka in the 55th.

Newcastle’s physical and aggressive back line held firm, big challenges and clearances from Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez on show.

Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin teamed up to tee up Joelinton, but the Brazilian drove his 88th minute shot wide of the goal.

Soon after, Saint-Maximin sent a half-desperation, half-pinpoint cross to the back post for Hayden to turn past Arrizabalaga. Insane.

Nuno proud of Wolves comeback; Hasenhuttl fumes at VAR

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It is safe to say that the managers of Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers had contrasting emotions after the dramatic 3-2 victory for the visitors at St Mary’s on Saturday.

Saints led 2-0 at half time but a stunning second half comeback, led by Mexico’s Raul Jimenez who scored twice, grabbed Wolves all three points.

With his squad banged up and missing Ruben Vinagre, Willy Boly and Diogo Jota among others, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was beaming at the final whistle after a lengthy celebration with the Wolves fans in the away end.

“It was amazing, the second half,” Santo smiled. “They [the players] realized the first half was not good. They reacted very well. I am very proud of the players and I was proud even in the first half because I am very aware of how we were doing things. Let’s keep on going.”

As for Southampton’s perspective, Ralph Hasenhuttl was not a happy man.

But not because of how his team played. He was fuming at the officials and VAR due to the decision to award a penalty kick to Wolves for their second goal. Referee Darren England didn’t award a penalty kick as Jonny went down in the box under contact from Cedric and then Jack Stephens but VAR intervened and awarded the spot kick.

“For me it is absolutely not a clear wrong decision. I think the referee was right in that moment,” Hasenhuttl fumed. “Cedric was in front of him and it wasn’t a clear wrong decision, in my opinion. The referee was right. I don’t know why they overruled in that moment. I cannot understand it. I really can’t. Cedric was in front of the ball so he [Jonny] had no chance to get to the ball. You can give it, yes, but it is not a clear wrong. I heard that VAR was overruling when it is clearly wrong. For me, it was not clearly wrong. This is what I cannot understand.”

Cedric’s nudge on Jonny probably wasn’t a foul and although Stephens didn’t make contact, his challenge was reckless. Hasenhuttl is perhaps looking to detract a little of the attention away from his players who crumbled after leading 2-0.

In truth, that lead was flattering in a pretty even game that Wolves had dominated early, and although Southampton’s incredible run of form (six wins in nine PL games before this) is over, they are still six points above the relegation zone.

This was a big moment in the season for both teams. Had Saints won they’d have been level with Wolves but a massive comeback victory now propels Nuno’s boys up to sixth and in with a chance of a top four finish.

That will surely persuade their owners to spend money in the final days of the January transfer window as their tired and stretched squad will also have to cope with the latter stages of the Europa League in the coming months.

U.S. teen Vassilev makes Premier League debut for Villa

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Look closely at Jack Grealish‘s equalizer for Aston Villa on Saturday and you’ll find an American making a run to create space.

That’s Indiana Vassilev, who made his Premier League debut in the 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.

Vassilev, who turns 19 next month, was credited with seven touches in 23 minutes, connecting on 3-of-4 passes.

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The Georgia-born left winger made his FA Cup debut versus Fulham on Jan. 4 and his League Cup debut versus Leicester City on Jan. 8.

He has six goals and two assists in 13 appearances for Villans’ Premier League 2 side.