Quick Six: Chelsea’s second halves, Fulham helps Cardiff, and the rest of the headlines from this weekend’s Premier League action

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1. CHELSEA MASTERS OF SECOND HALVES, PREMIER LEAGUE

Half time on Saturday at Stamford Bridge brought plaudits for the way Tim Sherwood had prepared his team. The second half brought reality. Jan Vertonghen’s slip and corresponding back pass allowed Samuel Eto’o to open the scoring in the 56th minute, with a red card three minutes later to Younes Kaboul leading to a penalty conversation from Eden Hazard and a late brace from Demba Ba.

(MORE: Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Blues blitz Spurs to extend their lead at the top)

Playing down a man, things got out of hand for Spurs, producing a final score that doesn’t reflect the quality they showed over the first 55 minutes. From Chelsea’s point of view, the result builds on the second half dominance they showed at Fulham, where Andre Schürrle scored three times between the 52nd and 69th minute. Go back one earlier, and John Terry’s scoring a stoppage time winner against visiting Everton.

The explanatory mechanism here is José Mourinho; or, more readily, his style. Avoid mistakes, make adjustments, wear down your opponent, and seize your opportunities. No doubt that’s a greatly oversimplified view of what’s happening with the Blues, but over the last three weeks, that’s how life at Chelsea has played out. The Eto’os, Willians, Schurrles that Mourinho brought in have produced an intensity and depth’s led to wins like these.

The end result: Chelsea are now seven points clear in the Premier League, and while much of that is do to having played more games than Liverpool (one), Arsenal (one), and Manchester City (three!), Mourinho is still putting pressure on the chasers. As the season enters its final two months, perfection may be required to prevent Chelsea from re-claiming the title.

source: AP

2. FULHAM SPARKS CARDIFF’S HOPES OF SURVIVAL

Through much of what’s become a nightmare season, Fulham could placate itself with the league’s inability to distance themselves from the bottom dwelling Cottagers. After Sunday’s loss in Cardiff, however, that’s no longer the case. Even if Felix Magath’s team wins next week against visiting Newcastle, they’ll still be in last place. Important side note: The last time Fulham won a Premier League game, True Detective wasn’t on television.

(MORE: Cardiff City 3-1 Fulham: Bluebirds win the relegation dogfight)

This has gotten really bad. On form as well as record, the Premier League had two clearly inferior teams before Saturday’s kickoff at Cardiff City Stadium, yet Ole Gunnar Solksjær’s team proved a clear step ahead of their relegation rivals. Two goals from Steven Caulker and an own goal from Sascha Reither sent Fulham to a 3-1 defeat – a result that leaves them five points from safety.

The obligatory caveat is the ‘one hot stretch’ rule, but how is that stretch going to come? Or, as important, who cares enough to fight for those results? Fulham looks is a collection of players already looking toward their next moves, and perhaps rightly so. Almost all of them have the talent to hook up with another Premier League team. Together, however, they’re about to end the Cottagers’ 13-season run in the top flight.

3. WEST BROM GIVES MAN UNITED REASON TO SMILE

That’s more like it, was David Moyes’ reaction after his Red Devils took a 3-0 win out of the Hawthorns, but given how poorly the Baggies have played under Pepe Mel, the result looks more obligatory than a sign of progress. With West Brom slipping closer and closer to the drop (and a series of games in hand for Sunderland looming large), the hasty dismissal of Steve Clarke looks like a terrible idea. The backbone the former boss had in place could have carried West Brom into the summer, when Richard Garlick could have made a more prudent move.

(MORE: West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Manchester United: Baggies in real danger after loss (video))

With that in mind, we should hold off praising Manchester United too much. Yes, in accordance with a long-standing tradition was put in place in August, we have to overreact to every United result, but 28 games into the season, the Red Devils have a well-established record of slightly above-averageness. Likewise, West Brom has an ever-growing collection of performances that hint it’s barely a Premier League-quality club.

In that context, a 3-0 for the Red Devils isn’t surprise, particularly considering West Brom have been trended downward ever since Mel came on board. Whereas their entire body of work hints the Baggies are among the league’s 17 best, recent returns say this is one of the first division’s worst teams. They’re down to 10 games to prove otherwise.

(MORE: David Moyes on Manchester United’s win vs. West Brom: “That’s more like it”)

4. JON WALTERS GOOD; JOHN WALTERS BAD

Walters’s foul on Alexander Tettey seemed more instinctual than a sign of maliciousness, but contrary to contrarian thinking, some soccer instincts can be rather dangerous, and danger is something players are asked to avoid. When the Republic or Ireland international saw straight red in the 78th minute at Carrow Road, I sympathized, knowing I would also recoil and try to protect myself in the same situation. I also know that a recoil that leaves my spikes in another man’s g will send me walking. Stoke finished the match with 10.

Thankfully for Mark Hughes’s club, Walters had just blasted a penalty conversion past John Ruddy, pulling the Potters even with the Canaries. After twelve minutes of holding off there hosts, and Stoke City had another result. Though Norwich had been terrible in its previous match, losing at Aston Villa, 4-1, Stoke City isn’t beyond seeing the value in a road result. With a point at Carrow Road, Stoke have only lost one in six, a run that’s pushed them to 12th in the Premier League.

(MORE: Norwich City 1-1 Stoke City: Result helps neither side feel safer)

This is the best Stoke could have hoped for in their first season without Tony Pulis. Much of the squad still reflects their old boss’s style and preferences, meaning Hughes was always destined to go through a transition season. If that transition means mid-table safety with minimal relegation drama, break out the bunting and book the aircraft carrier: Mission accomplished.

5. J-ROD GOAL ENOUGH FOR SAINTS AT PALACE

The middle of the season has been about adjusting expectations around a Southampton team that teased Champions League relevance in the season’s opening months. The team’s fall to ninth place has left the Saints a relatively forgotten side, albeit one that continues to play some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League. Not going to Europe but also not battling the drop, Southampton is left to play out of string of games that will serve as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, and Luke Shaw’s auditions for World Cup 2014.

That’s not to say the team’s no longer capable of strong results. On Saturday, at a Crystal Palace seem seemingly capable of drawing anybody at anytime (see: Swansea, last weekend), Mauricio Pochettino’s side got a well-earned goal from Rodríguez, whose ability to fight through Julian Speroni showcased one of the individual talents that have distinguished Southampton from the league’s bottom half. Able to hold the Eagles at arms’ length for the final 53 minutes, Southampton snapped their two-game losing run, defeating Palace, 1-0.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-1 Southampton: Rodriguez’s bizarre strike seals Saints’ win)

Given Pulis’s arrival at Palace, Saturday’s was a result that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Teams with more talent than the Saints have struggled with the refurbished Eagles, yet Southampton were able to seal their result early. They may not be competing for anything, but the Saints are still showing signs of progress.

source: AP

6. FA cup conflicts? not a problem, unless you’re Arsenal

Manchester City was either terrible, has a very specific Wigan problem, or fell victim to a Latics team that is secretly upper-Premier League quality. In terms of the first division’s title race, however, Sunday’s upset loss to Wigan has a huge silver lining. Where fixture congestion posed a problem for the Citizens’ quest to claim a second Premier League title, the team will soon be down to one competition. No FA Cup semifinals. No final. Likely, no more Champions League (already trailing 2-0 ahead of a trip to Barcelona). In a short period of time, Manuel Pellegrini will be able to leverage his club’s depth to pursue their main goal.

Arsenal, however, remains in the race for the FA Cup, their emphatic, 4-1 victory Saturday over Everton making the Gunners favorites to claim their first honor since 2005. While memories of the 2011 League Cup will keep Arsenal fans from being too assumptive, their club will be heavy expected to move past Wigan next mont. Survive those giant killers, and Hull or Sheffield United will meet them in the final.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.