Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend

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1. CHELSEA LOSES CONTROL OF TITLE DESTINY

Before we could build the hype for Chelsea’s trip to Liverpool – a match that had the potential to decide this year’s title – an unlikely antagonist intervened. Dormant for most of the season, Sunderland decided to wake up, first taking an unlikely point from Manchester City before pulling the upset at Stamford Bridge.

This was more than your any given sunday-type scenario. José Mourinho had gone 77 Premier League matches without a loss at the Bridge. With City having lost at Anfield, the Blues’ title destiny was back under their control. The season was developing to fit the story England wanted – their favorite manager’s triumphant return.

Instead, after the Black Cats’ 2-1 win in London, two other narratives are taking over. With every result, the Liverpool story is taking hold. At some point, perhaps after Sunday in Anfield, we’ll start talking about this race as if it’s over, but if it were Manchester City, United, or Chelsea in first (a team that had won a recent title), we might already crowned a champion. That Liverpool hasn’t been here before makes us more cautious.

Sunderland’s is the other story taking hold. For most of the season, Gus Poyet’s side has had two matches in hand, games that have given fans reason for hope. But those wishes were overshadowed by form that had left the team winless since Feb. 1.

Now, after a week in which the Black Cats took four points from the league’s second and third place teams, survival is more than hypothetical. Still holding a match in hand, Sunderland’s one win from safety.

2. Mourinho changes up his interview game

What would a Quick Six be without mocking our fascination with José Mourinho quotes, though this week, the Special One decided to change things up. Rather than weaving an obviously false, self-serving view of the Premier League world, the manager’s frustration took over. After referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a late, controversial penalty, Mourinho elected to congratulate him (as well as everybody else he could think of) rather than risk a fine.

Seemingly innumerable times this season, this space has asked we bother listening to José Mourinho at all. We have our answer. For all the fantasy he projects in his typical post-match interviews, something clever is always one question away.

Perhaps full sarcasm isn’t the most original response, but in the wake of Saturday’s loss, it told us a lot about Mourinho’s mindset. In that way, it may have been his most useful interview of the season.

3. Suárez enters the 30 club; Sterling steals the show

Robin van Persie. Cristiano Ronaldo. Thierry Henry. Kevin Phillips. Alan Shearer. Andy Cole. They’re the six players who had reached 30 goals in a Premier League season. After of Sunday’s game at Carrow Road, there’s a seventh on the list. Luis Suárez, with three matches to play, has joined what’s proved to be an elite club.

Despite the milestone, Suárez found himself playing second fiddle during Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich City. With two goals and assist, Raheem Sterling gave a Man of the Match-caliber performance, one that made up for any slack left in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. Up to nine goals on the season, the 19-year-old will likely be the team’s fourth double-digit scorer.

It’s a symptom of the progress the Reds have made this season – a testament to what Brendan Rodgers has done with his squad. In recent seasons, the Reds had one or two players you could envision in a table-of-the-table squad. Now they are a top of the table squad, one that’s capable of creating 30 goals for Luis Suárez, another 20 for Daniel Sturridge, and getting a quickly emerging Raheem Sterline to double digits on the season.

source: AP4. Norwich City approaching the Championship

The Canaries put up more of a fight than many expected, getting a Robert Snodgrass goal in the 77th minute to pull them within one. Without a result, however, the team remains within reach of every club in the drop. Even Sunderland, in last place, can pass Norwich next week thanks to its superior goal difference.

Unfortunately for Norwich, things don’t get much easier going forward. A trip to Old Trafford next weekend gives them some hope of a point, but even with the Red Devils’ struggles, the Canaries are underdogs. Closing out the season against Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich will have to summon the spirit of Sunderland to stay out of the drop.

With Cardiff City and Fulham two points back, Sunderland three, Norwich has become the league’s best bet to go down, even if they don’t sit in the drop. Whereas a month ago nobody looked capable of climbing out of the bottom three, Norwich seems destined to assure one team’s survival.

5. Moyes’ unwelcome, unfair reception at Goodison

Everton may not have been pining for David Moyes to stay, but when the club’s long-time boss left for Manchester United last year, there wasn’t a huge push to kick him as he was walked out the door, either. By the time the Scottish manager returned to Goodison on Sunday, though, the mood had changed. Having seen what the squad is capable of under Roberto Martínez, the Everton faithful are no longer conceding the benefit of the doubt.

Symbolically, it was the low point of what’s destined to be Moyes’ only year at Manchester United. It’s one thing to fail in a new role, to see the person who took your place take your old job to new heights, and to suffer a defeat upon returning to your old haunts. It’s entirely different to return to visit your old office and be ridiculed. For as poor a fit as Moyes has been at United, Goodison’s reaction was too much.

It’s easy to pile on to Moyes right now. Manchester United fans are right to see him as a symbol of an unnecessarily exaggerated fall. But given his service to Everton, Sunday’s reaction went too far. If nothing else, Moyes deserved respect for the decade he gave to the club.

6. Aston Villa’s conditional takeover

The news came Thursday night, but over the last two days, the seeds of speculation have taken hold, so much so that Randy Lerner took to the club’s website to address the uncertain situation around his club. Aston Villa appears destined to be sold, but only if the club stays up, a situation that puts even more pressure on Paul Lambert to keep the Lions in the Premier League.

Lambert had already been the subject of increased criticism from Villa supporters, with the team’s uneven form and new relegation worries making it difficult to tell if the club was making progress. On Sunday, Lerner sought to assure fans that, for was difficult as recent seasons have been, Lambert was operating within parameters set by ownership. Blame Paul if you want, it implied, but know he’s acting under my commands.

That there may be a different person giving those commands next year has given supporters hope. Even the few Lerner supporters that remain would concede the owner’s plans since Martin O’Neill left had been either non-existent or more humble than many would expect. Recently a consistent contender for European spots, Villa is now obliged to relegation battles. For those keen to note this is the biggest club in Birmingham, the current state is unacceptable.

The new owners are supposed to be more ambitious. They want to invest. They want to compete, all of which makes the next three games even more important. If Lambert doesn’t keep them up, Lerner can’t sell the club.

Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available

Havertz to Chelsea
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In the latest transfer news Kai Havertz to Chelsea looks to finally be moving towards an end game, while Aaron Ramsey is free to leave Juventus.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting in west London, Kai Havertz to Chelsea could be confirmed as RMC Sport report that the Blues have agreed a five-year contract with the Bayer Leverkusen and Germany star.

Per the report, Chelsea will now negotiate the $117 million transfer fee with Leverkusen and want to pay in plenty of instalments.

Havertz, 21, scored for Leverkusen in their 2-1 UEFA Europa League quarterfinal defeat against Inter Milan on Monday and that looks like being his final game for Bayer. Kai Havertz to Chelsea can now move to the next stage as the Bundesliga club had previously said they wanted to finish their season before discussing a move.

Our partners at Sky Sports have also stated that Havertz has made it clear he wants to sign for Chelsea and join the ‘project’ that Frank Lampard is building, with Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech already signed up to bolster their attack.

With Havertz edging closer to a move to Chelsea, surely Lampard will now switch his attention to defensive reinforcements. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck has said Lampard’s first season at Chelsea was ‘very successful’ but without defensive reinforcements this summer, Chelsea will do very well to improve on their fourth-place Premier League finish in 2019-20.

Havertz, Ziyech and Werner will boost their attack and finish off the many chances Christian Pulisic and Co. created, and as long as new defenders are coming in, Chelsea will continue to move in the right direction.

Aaron Ramsey
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Switching our attention to Turin, it has been reported that Aaron Ramsey is free to leave Juventus.

New Juve boss Andrea Pirlo has reportedly made Ramsey, 29, available for transfer along with the likes of Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi (who seems to be heading to Inter Miami in MLS), Gonzalo Higuain, Daniele Rugani and Mattia De Sciglio.

Ramsey only arrived at Juve last summer after 11 years at Arsenal but the Welshman has struggled for minutes and is one of Juve’s highest earners on close to $330,000 per week.

It is believed several Premier League clubs are interested in signing Ramsey but with the central midfielder having a four-year contract at Juve, it seems likely he will only leave the Serie A champions on loan rather than a permanent basis.

Ramsey left Arsenal with class and is still lauded by their fans, and if Mikel Arteta can’t seal another loan deal for Dani Ceballos then maybe a loan move for Ramsey would make sense? Stranger things have happened and a player of Ramsey’s quality, if he is available on loan, would mean plenty of clubs in the Premier League and across Europe would want to sign him. As long as he can stay fit, the timing of his runs from midfield and his quality on the ball is exactly what Arsenal need. He would have to up his tenacity under Arteta but he could do that.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Chelsea hail ‘successful’ season. Was it?

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Chelsea have labelled their 2019-20 season as being a ‘very successful’ one.

But was it?

All in all, I’d give them a 7/10. Slightly better than we expected, and that’s about that. So often it was a case of one step forward, one back for this young squad.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Bruce Buck, the chairman at Chelsea, was very pleased with Frank Lampard’s first season in charge of the Blues and believe there is a bright future for the west London club.

“In the round we think it was a very successful season,” Buck said. “I think obviously we would have been a little bit happier if we had won the FA Cup. But I’m sure the manager and the players were gutted not to lift the trophy. Frank Lampard is a very positive force for Chelsea. He’s Chelsea through and through and that continues to show through. He carries a lot of credibility. It’s an exciting time for Chelsea.”

It sounds like Buck is overcooking this a little, but you’d expect him to. He is Chelsea’s chairman and there have been plenty of strides made forward this season in trying circumstances with a top four finish, reaching an FA Cup final and making the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League.

Below is a look at the key takeaways from Chelsea’s 2019-20 season.


Frank Lampard overachieved

Frank Lampard had a transfer ban to deal with until January, and even though it was lifted no new players were bought. Instead, Chelsea prioritized signing Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner for 2020-21 and both deals look like being bargains long-term. Chelsea are now backing Lampard in the transfer market based on his fast start as boss. As for Lampard as a coach, tactically his team are exciting to watch and pour forward in numbers. Defensively he leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the huge individual mistakes his team made were no fault of his own but his playing philosophy means Chelsea will continue to take risks and unless they upgrade their defense significantly, they will continue to concede plenty of goals. We saw how Bayern Munich ruthlessly exposed their defensive unit and those results will be a reminder to Lampard of just how far they have to go.

This was Lampard’s first season as a coach in the Premier League and a fourth-place finish is successful, but with Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester set to come back even stronger next season, Chelsea will have a battle to replicate this finish and perhaps were a little lucky that their London rivals struggled so much early on in 2019-20. The way Chelsea faded towards the end of the campaign will also be an issue for Lampard to address and his reaction after the defeat at Sheffield United was telling. The Chelsea legend has said his side are a work in progress so many times and he knows where their weaknesses lie. Is he the man, long-term, to improve this young squad? We will soon find out what Lampard learned from his first season in charge in the Premier League.


Young players: Ups and downs expected

Part of that regression late in the season was due to Chelsea having such a young squad. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori all started regularly early in the season and were full of confidence after impressive loan spells in the Championship in 2018-19. By mid-December that confidence and zest vanished and even though Mount rallied late in the season, all three struggled for form after fast starts to the campaign. Christian Pulisic struggled to start with but then found his feet, although injuries hit him hard, as the streaky season for the USMNT star summed up the form of most of Chelsea’s youngsters. As to be expected, they are progressing and next season most of them will be better suited to the PL and be more consistent throughout the 38-game season. Tomori, Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and maybe even Mount could find themselves on the outside looking in though, as Lampard has brought in more experience in attack and is looking for new defenders. Lampard may move away from most of the young players he was forced to used.


Big upgrades needed defensively

Nothing new here, but the major flaws of this Chelsea team have been apparent since Antonio Conte’s second season in charge. Defensive mistakes cost Chelsea dear this season. Kepa Arrizabalaga was lacking in confidence in goal and that spread through the entire defensive unit. Lampard has to sign two new center backs, a left back and a new goalkeeper if Chelsea are going to become genuine title contenders in the next few seasons. Chelsea need to spend big, defensively, if they’re going to do any better than fourth place. It really is as simple as that.


Fourth place just about right

All in all, like I said, 7/10 feels like a fair assessment of this Chelsea side. They’re in transition and aren’t the finished article and to seal a top four spot with a squad littered with young players, plus N’Golo Kante not as his best due to injuries and after losing Eden Hazard, that was an overachievement. In the end it was a toss of a coin between Chelsea, Leicester and Man United to see who didn’t finish in the top four and Chelsea making felt just about right given some of their big wins, and performances, during the season. Lampard and his players should be congratulated on an above average season but that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. The hard work for Chelsea has only just started.

German health officials block soccer clubs’ plans for fans

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BERLIN (AP) Bundesliga fans in the stands in September? Not yet.

[ MORE: Bundesliga schedule  ]

German health officials have blocked professional soccer clubs’ plans to allow fans at Bundesliga games when the new season begins in September.

“Thousands of fans in the stadiums – that doesn’t fit with the current situation with infections. Now it’s about not taking any unnecessary risks,” national health minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The 36 clubs in Germany’s top two divisions had been planning on having limited numbers of socially distanced and seated supporters at games, and had produced a proposal last week that included prohibiting away fans, restrictions in standing areas of stadiums, and a ban on sales of alcohol. They mooted personalized tickets to help with contact tracing, though those plans have been criticized by fans.

“The league’s concept is good in theory,” Spahn said. “But what’s decisive is what happens every day in practice.”

In a follow-up tweet, Spahn added, “We feel that we have to stay alert. Having spectators in the stands would be the wrong signal in the current situation.”

Germany’s 16 state health ministers met on Monday and agreed that having fans in stadiums for league games was not a priority.

Germany has registered 217,835 coronavirus infections, and a relatively low number of deaths at 9,203 compared to neighboring France, Spain and Italy, but there has been some concern over a recent increase in the daily rate of new infections.

Last week, Germany recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months. The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded last Wednesday – the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said on Monday the ministers came to a unanimous position that stadiums should remain closed to Bundesliga fans based on the current pandemic situation.

“In terms of health policy, we are currently not in favor of opening the stadiums until Oct. 31, at least. Then you can discuss the situation again,” Kalayci said.

Bavarian governor Markus Soder had been one of those most vocally in favor of the Bundesliga resuming without fans after its two-month break last season, but he said allowing fans to attend games when the new season begins on Sept. 18 would send the wrong signal.

“It would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events,” Soder said.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP