Quick Six: Everton’s CL reality, leaders hold serve, and the rest of the PL’s weekend headlines

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1. Everton win gives life to Champions League hopes

This is really happening. For as much as we’ve talked about Everton having control of its Champions League destiny, it never felt real… until now. Before the Toffees routed Arsenal at Goodison Park on Sunday, this looked like another Arsenal close call; another plucky-but-short season from the Toffees; another reminder of the difference between the Premier League’s mammoth and merely big clubs. If decades of Everton failure against Arsenal told us anything, it’s that certain teams are allowed to be good, just not too good.

(MORE: Everton 3-0 Arsenal: Everton’s Champions League dreams in sight with big win)

So much for that. Everton’s 3-0 win over Arsenal wasn’t just plucky. It was convincing, leaving no doubt as to which team is the fourth-best I’m England. The top three: they’re title contenders. After that drop off, Everton is the best. They proved so on Sunday.

One point back of Arsenal with a game in hand, Everton’s focus now shifts to the run-in. Can they fulfill the Champions League promise they flashed on Sunday? Here are the remaining games for each team:

Arsenal
(33 games, 64 points)
Everton
(32 games, 63 points)
vs. West Ham
at Hull City
vs. Newcastle United
vs. West Bromwich Albion
vs. at Norwich
at Sunderland
vs. Crystal Palace
vs. Manchester United
at Southampton
vs. Manchester City
at Hull City

There are enough stumbling blocks along Everton’s road to give Arsenal fans hope, but those fans may also remember Mathieu Flamini’s own goal at home against Swansea, a reminder of the team’s extraordinary ability to turn its back on success. With the team also still active in the FA Cup, their last five games won’t be distraction free.

Perhaps a Gooner’s worst nightmare: Arsène Wenger uses his chance at silverware to condone his team’s waning league results.


source: AP

2. Not even Stan Kroenke would take this lying down

Let’s not talk “crisis” – the unimaginative cliché that correlates so well with “Ctrl+W”. Let’s talk about the real implications of today’s result, even if our limited knowledge of Arsenal’s inner-workings means the conversation’s no less speculative. But given the well-established suspicions about the Gunners, it’s at least worth considering how the next four or five months will test conventional wisdom.

That wisdom holds that Stan Kroenke, Arsenal’s majority shareholder, is less concerned with the team’s silverware drought than its place in Champions League. Call it a financial concern, one that explains why, despite Arsenal’s wane from perennial title contention, Wenger has remained beyond reproach.

A dip to fifth will test that hypothesis. If Arsenal loses that Champions League money and looks toward a 2014-15 season where Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United will challenge for that all-important fourth place spot, Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis may look at this season as a clear sign of unacceptable regression. Particularly as Roberto Martínez, an ideal fit for Arsenal’s job, sees his name linked with places like Barcelona, the pressure to make a move could be greater than ever.

Provided Arsenal don’t finish fourth, of course. But if they miss the top four for the first time in the Premier League era, the conversation might start. Hey, Arséne: That Paris Saint-Germain job, huh? Or Barcelona – what a fit, right? We just don’t want to ruin what we’ve got.

It will be difficult for Arsenal to improve on Wenger, but as results continue to diminish (and the outcomes of big games become more disturbingly lopsided) the risks gain a different, more tolerable context. Arsenal’s brain trust could be tempted to move on.


3. Top three hold serve

All three contenders at the top of the table held serve, something we shouldn’t taken for granted in light of Chelsea’s recent results. But in that same light, the Blues may have posted one of the weekend’s most impressive results. A 3-0 win at home to Stoke looks obligatory, but Mark Hughes’s team has seen steady improvement throughout the season. Given the Potters’ 3-2 win over Chelsea at the Britannia, a devil’s advocate could have expected more. Thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah, Frank Lampard, and Willian, the Blues slayed that demon early.

(MORE: Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City: Blues back on top)

Manchester City’s 4-1 over Southampton was also impressive, but given some of the idealistic naiveté we’ve seen from the Saints, the game at the Etihad always had a chance to break this way. But against a talented team capable of capitalizing on a poor performance, City deserves credit for maintaining their standard. With a fixture list impacted by the two games in hand they have to make up, the Citizens will be challenged to bring this energy to their remaining seven games.

(MORE: Manchester City 4-1 Southampton: Citizens go second despite early scare (video))

And then there’s Liverpool, who so many expected to struggle at West Ham today. It was a somewhat patronizing evaluation, as if playing a beautiful, progressive style is inconsistent with being able to handle Andy Carroll. Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sahko may not be the league’s best defensive pairing, but they’re not weaklings. If there’s one thing they can to, it’s muscle up to a big, slow target man. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool won 2-1, albeit with two goals from the spot.

(MORE: West Ham 1-2 Liverpool: Contentious battle sees Liverpool through to top)


 

4. The hype begins now

Here’s where City’s early exit from Champions League becomes a blessing. Had they defeated Barcelona in the Round of 16, the Citizens would be playing mid-week ahead of Sunday’s big game at Anfield. Given the long odds of any non-Bayern Munich team winning Champions League, it would likely be a waste of resources. For credibility’s sake alone, Manuel Pellegrini would be compelled to play a strong team on Tuesday or Wednesday. While City’s squad has enviable depth, the game would still be a distraction. Champions League may carry more glory, but City’s chances to win the Premier League are far better.

None of which has anything to do with Sunday’s actual game. Ever since Liverpool claimed first place, City’s visit to Anfield has loomed large. With the Reds in the midst of a charge that’s seen them win nine-in-a-row, Manchester City’s games in hand appear to be the major obstacle between Brendan Rodgers and a breakthrough title. If, however, Liverpool could beat City at Anfield? Those games in hand could prove irrelevant.

Let the hype begin now. Chelsea and Manchester United’s mid-week exploits in Champions League will serve as a brief distraction, but all along, our attentions will slowly be drifting to Anfield. Premier League fans have been subtly hyping this came for weeks. They don’t have to be subtle, anymore.


5. No ground gained at the bottom

Fulham seemed to get a huge boost to its survival pursuit, taking a 2-1 result out of Villa Park. Then West Brom won, and all of the Cottagers’ strides were put in a different perspective. While Fulham did climb out of the cellar, passing both Sunderland and Cardiff City, they didn’t move closer to safety. They still need to gain six points on 17th place, even if 17th is now Norwich City, not West Brom.

(MORE: Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham: A vital three points could help Cottagers reach safety (video))

The news is worse for Cardiff, whose embarrassing loss at home felt like a ticket to the Championship. Against a Crystal Palace team that had scored only 20 goal this season, the Bluebirds conceded three times. Four games after earning what seemed a key win over the Cottagers, Ole Gunner Solksjær’s team is now below Fulham in the standings.

(MORE: Cardiff City 0-3 Crystal Palace: Puncheon at the double (video))

For last place Sunderland, there’s still hope, even if they’ve gone two months without a Premier League win. With seven points in their three games in hand, the Black Cats will be safe. How likely is it that a team that’s only earned 25 points in 30 games can take seven in three? Well, that’s why they call it hope.

(MORE: Norwich City 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: Amalfitano opener proves enough for West Brom this time (video))

(BREAKING: Chris Hughton sacked as Norwich City manager)


source: AP6. Jay Rodriguez falls

If Rickie Lambert was the attacking darling of last season’s Southampton squad, Jay Rodriguez snatched that title this year, no small feat considering the love Adam Lallana has rightfully received. But with 15 goals this season, the 24-year-old Rodriguez has carved out a spot among the Premier League’s goal scoring leaders, winning a place with the growing Saints contingent likely to represent England at this summer’s World Cup.

Now all that needs to be written in the past tense. Rodriguez was stretchered off from Saturday’s game with a knee injury everybody suspects to be a major one. Though at the time of this writing Southampton had yet to clarify the extend of the problem, players reacted with that knowing regret we only see with a severe injury. Let’s just hope they’re wrong.

(MORE: Jay Rodriguez’s World Cup dream in ruins after knee injury)

Though he’s an important part of Southampton’s team, given what the Saints are fighting for right now, they’re unlikely to truly miss Rodriguez in the near-term. And while England can use all the talented attackers it can get, it was still uncertain what role he would play for Roy Hodgson this summer.

The big loss here is to Rodriguez himself. Experiencing his first prolonged spell of top flight success, Rodriguez was taking advantage of his career’s emerging prime. Now he could be sidetracked for up to a year. While he will still be young enough to comeback, reclaim some of this momentum, and challenge for a place at another major tournament, it’s always sad to see a player lose some of the best time of his career. Especially when he’d just started tasting success.

Bale’s agent denies loan reports; ‘not many clubs can afford him’

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Gareth Bale‘s agent Jonathan Barnett has called recent reports claiming the Real Madrid superstar could be loaned elsewhere “ridiculous” on the basis that “there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

[ MORE: Daniel Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Bale ]

Bale has reportedly been unhappy in Madrid and at odds with manager Zinedine Zidane, leading to months of speculation that he could leave the Santiago Bernabeu. However, due to his nearly $600,000-per-week wages, very few — if any — clubs in the world can afford his wages, let alone the transfer fee required as well.

Therefore, a loan move would seem to make sense, only Barnett seems to be offended that a player of Bale’s caliber would ever be discussed as a loan candidate — quotes from the BBC:

“Why would one of the best players on Earth go on loan? That’s ridiculous. At the moment, he is going to be playing football for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract.

“He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid.”

“Things can change, but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

Bale’s contract runs through the summer of 2022. He has scored just two goals in nine league games this season.

Bayern signs Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid on Wednesday to help ease its defensive worries after a spate of injuries.

[ MORE: Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

The Bavarian powerhouse said the 24-year-old Odriozola signed a deal to the end of the season after successfully passing a medical examination.

“We decided to fulfill our head coach Hansi Flick’s wish to strengthen the defense and decided for Alvaro Odriozola,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “We’re very happy with the transfer and thank the management at Real Madrid for the very friendly and cooperative talks.”

Bayern defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez are out with injuries and 23-year-old Benjamin Pavard — a center back — had been filling in at right back. Odriozola’s arrival will free the French player to return to his usual position.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Madrid paid a reported $33 million to sign Odriozola from Real Sociedad in 2018, but the winger has barely played since. He made only four league appearances this season, with Dani Carvajal preferred at right back.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane gave the go-ahead for Odriozola’s transfer on Tuesday. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao were also reportedly interested.

Odriozola has one goal in four appearances for Spain.

Bayern is hoping to claw back a four-point deficit on Bundesliga leader Leipzig to claim a record-extending eighth straight title.

Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter ‘still confident in this deal’

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Christian Eriksen met with chairman Daniel Levy on Tuesday in his latest attempt to secure his Tottenham Hotspur exit during the January transfer window, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Eriksen already has a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan in place, but the Danish playmaker and the Serie A club are hopeful of completing the signing this month. Inter submitted a $14.5-million bid (plus bonuses) for Eriksen earlier this week, but Levy is said to be holding out for his $22-million valuation, fully guaranteed, of the player.

Eriksen’s agent is also expected to meet with Levy following Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Norwich City (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) in yet another attempt to broker a deal between the two clubs.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this month, as he told Sky Italia, “We’re waiting and we’re still confident in this deal.”

In the Mixed Zone: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…


10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…

10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.

10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.

10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…

10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.

10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…

10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.

“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.

Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”

BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.

10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.

10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.

10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…

10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.

11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.

11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Here he is speaking in French because he can.

11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?

11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.