Premier League Playback: Is Diego Costa clever or a cheat?

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MASTER OF THE DARK ARTS DIVIDES OPINION

Technically, Diego Costa didn’t commit a single foul for Chelsea in their 2-0 win Arsenal on Saturday. Well, not one that was spotted by either Mike Dean or his officiating crew.

He is the ultimate master of “the dark arts” and although Dean didn’t spot Costa’s actions in initiating a battle with Arsenal — because Costa’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt — the TV cameras did and the Spanish striker has now been handed a violent conduct charge by the English FA which will likely see him given a retrospective ban of up to three games.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win ]

Many would argue that is fair, but with Costa using every trick in the book to circumnavigate the rules and get away with winding up the opposition time and time again, would everyone be this vocal about his actions if another player had acted in this manner?

[ MORE: Mourinho has dig at “crying” Wenger ]

Costa, 26, has divided opinion throughout most of the soccer world regarding his bullish forward play, although if you love or hate his combative style, everyone can surely agree that had Dean or the assistant referees seen either of the swings with his flailing arms which connected with Laurent Koscielny‘s face, Costa would have seen red and Chelsea, not Arsenal, would have been the team down to 10-men at a pivotal stage of the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Gabriel ended up being the man to get sent off, something Arsene Wenger accepted had to happen as the Brazilian center back tried to stand up for his center back partner and teammate, Koscielny, and was initially booked for his part in the scuffle with Costa. Gabriel and Costa have previous. They are old sparring partners from La Liga and often clashed during games between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal. As the duo walked to the halfway line to restart play after a lengthy delay, Gabriel stupidly kicked out at Costa right under Dean’s nose. The ref had to send Gabriel off, and Costa once again looked like the victim when everybody inside the stadium and watching on TV screens across the world could see he was the instigator.

In his post-match press conference Jose Mourinho was angry that the media focus had switched to Costa, instead of Gabriel’s naivety.

“I think you should speak about Gabriel Paulista,” bellowed Mourinho. “Good player, you should speak about him and his mistake. If you want to speak about Diego Costa with me, it is just to say he played like he has to play. That is why you have full stadiums, you sell to television stations all around the world for millions, because the game has to be played like that.

“That is why tomorrow, I go to [Rugby World Cup]. It is comparable in terms of dedication and passion, I go to New Zealand vs. Argentina. I love it. Diego… fantastic. For me, the man of the match.”

Arsene Wenger was far from impressed, calling Costa’s actions “disgusting” and then launched a scathing attacking in his press conference.

“He can do what he wants and he stays on and everybody else who responds to him, they have to be sent off,” Wenger sneered. “I think it is unacceptable, his behavior. If you look at the pictures of what he did to [Laurent] Koscielny before he pushes him down, he hits him in the face. He always gets away with it. It is surprising. I don’t understand Mike Dean’s decision at all. Why does Diego Costa stay on the pitch?”

So, what is it? Is Costa clever, or is he a cheat? Many old school types defended Costa and called for physical play to remain in the game, while his own teammate Kurt Zouma (even if it was a little lost ini translation) said “everyone knows Costa likes to cheat” in this interview. Soccer is a contact sport but, overall, you can’t excuse these actions even if Costa received a standing ovation from the home fans when he was substituted in the 82nd minute without committing a foul, technically. Every time he touched the ball in the second half he was booed by Arsenal’s 4,000 traveling fans and abusive chants were directed at him.

[ MORE: Premier League Standings | schedule | stats ] 

At one point, Costa lost the ball in front of the away section and turned around to the Gunners faithful who were berating him and gave an Eric Cantona-esque pose with his chest puffed out and a deadpan expression on his face. He enjoys playing the villain. He takes on the burden of being the nuisance and embraces it. He is the guy who has battled his way through the trials and tribulations of the pro game and made it all the way to the top. To stay there, he has to continue to be a lethal finisher (something which evaded him this season with just two goals so far) but also by mixing it up and never giving defenders an easy time. You know what you are going to get when Costa is around. So Arsenal should have been prepared and Gabriel should have kept his cool.

Arlo White, Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon were all on the call for NBC Sports at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Here’s what they made of it all.

The fallout has continued since the final whistle in West London as Chelsea grabbed a vital three points and are not just a victory behind Arsenal in the standings as Mourinho’s men look to clamber back into the top four and kick-start a proper defense of their title. They are only eight points behind Manchester City after their shock defeat to West Ham United, but with Costa likely to be missing for the next three games after his FA charge, Mourinho will have to rely on Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao to lead Chelsea’s attack. Sure, Costa has been nowhere near prolific since this time last year, but his impact in leading the line in an aggressive manner creates plenty of space for Chelsea’s other attackers to explore and his presence will be missed.

Call him the villain, call him “disgusting” and call him whatever you want. One thing is for sure: it wont faze him and when Costa’s ban is over, he’ll come powering back with his flailing arms and a multitude of subtle ways to get under the skin of opposition defenders. Referees always have an extra eye on Costa, and more so than ever after this episode he will be a marked man. Will he keep finding new ways to wind up opponents, or will he finally change his ways?

Premier League Schedule – Week 6

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 WBA Recap, watch here
B’mouth 2-0 S’land Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Liverpool 1-1 Norwich Recap, watch here
Man City 1-2 West Ham Recap, watch here
Newcastle 1-2 Watford Recap, watch here
Saints 2-3 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Stoke 2-2 Leicester Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-0 Everton Recap, watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Palace Recap, watch here

MARTIAL LAW

Anthony Martial has arrived in the Premier League in some style.

Just 19, the French striker has scored three times in his first 110 minutes as a Manchester United player in the PL, and his two goals at St Mary’s against Southampton on Sunday grabbed all three points for the Red Devils in a thrilling 3-2 win.

Martial signed for United on Deadline Day in a $55 million move which caused the French media to spit out their espresso and croissants in shock. He had only scored a handful of goals for AS Monaco in Ligue 1 and United had made him the most expensive teenager in world soccer history, with the deal potentially rising above $80 million as several add-ons were included. Martial’s signing now looks more like a masterstroke than a gamble, as the man who is from the same Paris suburb as Thierry Henry has many similarities to one of the greatest strikers in PL history.

[ MORE: Can Martial be a United hero? ]

His movement on the shoulder of the last defender unnerves opponents. His pace means when he is in the clear, nobody will stop him. And the most impressive thing about Martial so far is his composure. The goals he scored against Liverpool and Southampton weren’t instinctive. He had bags of time to construct each one and composure reminiscent of Henry shone through in all three of his PL goals so far.

There is a lot of pressure on Martial’s shoulders to deliver early in his Old Trafford career as Wayne Rooney continues his goal drought (11 PL games and counting now), Memphis Depay is still settling in and that means Martial is Louis Van Gaal‘s biggest goal threat. After Sunday’s win against Saints, United moved up to second after four wins from their opening six games of the season. They now sit just two points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City and Van Gaal has said his team “can challenge for the title” this season. If they’re going to be successful, Martial will have to play a huge part as he looks like United’s biggest threat in attack, by a country mile. In defense, United look set with a settled back line (despite the horrific double fracture Luke Shaw suffered to his right leg last week) and David De Gea made two sensational saves to help United to victory on Sunday as the Spanish goalkeeper is once again proving why he’s regard among the top three goalkeepers on the planet. Now De Gea has signed a long-term deal at United and is focused on success with them after seeing his move to Real Madrid collapse on transfer deadline day.

What does LVG think about the teenage sensation he plucked from France?

“He is doing great – three matches in a row and three goals,” Van Gaal said. “When you are 19, you cannot expect consistency. Emotionally they shall have a lot of dips so that I expect also from him but that is not a big problem for me. He adapts to the system of how we want to play, that is also important. Not every player can but he shows he wants to do that. He scores goals. That is the most important thing, that as a striker he scores goals. He can improve I think but he has a high level of talent.”

LLORIS LEADING SPURS’ YOUNG GUNS

Speaking about youngsters, a fine crop of them are emerging at the same time at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino has a penchant for nurturing young talent and during Sunday’s win against Crystal Palace he fielded a team with the youngest average age (24 years, 118 days) in the PL in 2015-16. Son Heung-Min shone on his PL home debut, as the $30 million signing from Bayer Leverkusen has now scored three goals in two games at home (including his brace in the Europa League last Thursday) and looks likely to provide Harry Kane with the support he needs. When you look around the team, Eric Dier (21), Kane (22), Ryan Mason (24) and Dele Alli (19) are all English and are all key figures in Spurs’ squad after plenty of necessary trimming was performed over the summer.

On Sunday, just before Son netted the game’s only goal against a plucky Palace outfit, the joint-eldest Spurs player on the pitch kept the scores level with a wonderful save. Hugo Lloris, 28, is Tottenham’s captain for a reason. He leads by example on and off the pitch and the French national team skipper made a stunning save from Bakary Sako in the 66th minute as he sprung to his right and pushed Sako’s powerful drive onto the post. It was the kind of save we’ve all come to expect from Lloris as the former Lyon goalkeeper isn’t the tallest or most physically imposing goalkeeper out there, but his reflexes and ability to spring off his line are sensational.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Pochettino had the following to say to the BBC about Lloris after the game, as the goalkeeper who is entering his fourth season at Tottenham is rumored to be interesting Europe’s biggest teams. If Spurs’ young crop is to blossom and seriously challenge for a top four finish and for domestic trophies, Lloris needs to remain in North London.

“We need to recognize Lloris is one of the very best in the world. His performance was unbelievable, top class.”

EXPLAINING WEST HAM’S AWAY-DAY MAGIC

As we mentioned earlier, Man City were stunned at home by the Hammers on Saturday as their lead at the top of the PL has been cut to two points. They conceded their first goals and dropped their first points of the season.

In truth, it was a tired display from City as their exertions from playing Juventus on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League seemed to have taken its toll. The Hammers took full advantage of that and inside the first 30 minutes were 2-0 up as Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho scored. Making sense of Slaven Bilic’s 100 percent record away from home in his debut season as West Ham boss is difficult.

West Ham have now gone to Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City in their opening three road games of the season and have won all three. They are only the fourth team in PL history to win at all three of those away grounds in the same season.

The simplest way to sum up their away-day success is that they can defend and bunker in, but now, unlike seasons gone by in the Sam Allardyce era, they possess exciting attacking talents who will pick the right pass, finish off a chance and make the most of the three or four clear-cut chances they may get every game. Dmitri Payet, Moses and Manuel Lanzini have added class and Bilic’s boys sit in third and are three points off City at the top. In theory, they have two more tricky away games to come this season against Manchester United and Chelsea. After that, and especially after their fine start to the campaign away from home, the Hammers will fancy their chances against anyone on the road. In a season which will be all about the countdown to the East London club moving out of their famous Upton Park home and into the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season, the focus is currently on success in other stadiums for the Hammers.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

FOLLOW LIVE: Seattle v. Portland, ATLUTD v. DCU on a busy MLS Sunday

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Strap yourself in for a very busy Sunday of soccer, as four MLS games are set to consume your attention for the rest of the day.

[ FOLLOW: MLS scoreboard, for the next 7.5 hours ]

The day begins with Atlanta United hosting D.C. United in a 3-versus-2 matchup in the Eastern Conference, and ends with the Seattle Sounders hosting the Portland Timbers in arguably the biggest and best rivalry in MLS.

In between all that, a suddenly resurgent Orlando City SC hosts the New York Red Bulls, and FC Cincinnati hosts the red-hot (unbeaten in nine games) New England Revolution, in case you feel the need to cram a little more soccer into your afternoon/evening.

Sunday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. D.C. United — 4 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati v. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Orlando City SC v. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders v. Portland Timbers — 9:30 p.m. ET

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.