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

Luis Enrique to return as Spain boss five months after resigning

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Luis Enrique will be named manager of the Spanish national team on Tuesday, five months to the day after stepping down from the same position to care for his nine-year-old daughter as she battled bone cancer.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Robert Moreno is set to step aside to make way for Enrique. Moreno was previously an assistant on Enrique’s staff and had initially been put in charge of La Roja through the 2020 European Championship.

Enrique’s daughter, Xana, passed away in late August after a five-month battle.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Moreno managed the team during Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Romania to complete an unbeaten EURO 2020 qualifying campaign, but the 42-year-old was seen leaving the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in tears after the game. Neither Moreno nor any of the players spoke to the media.

He previously said that he would step aside should Enrique find himself able to return. Moreno insisted that friendship came first, above all else.

Preview: USMNT’s must-win Nations League finale v. Cuba

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The scenario is simple for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cuba (7:30 p.m.ET): Gregg Berhalter’s side will finish top of Group A with a victory, and only a victory. Period. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video) ]

Friday’s victory over Canada righted the wrongs of last month’s defeat north of the border and laid the foundation for the Americans to reach the semifinals in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, provided they take care of business in George Town, Cayman Islands, in what is set to be the final game of Berhalter’s first calendar year in charge. Despite trailing Canada (+6 goal differential)  by three points heading into Friday, the Yanks (+8) already have the tiebreaker in their favor.

Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes (twice) and Aaron Long scored to give the USMNT its 4-1 triumph over their northern neighbors. More importantly, it was a largely dominant display after going 1-0 up inside two minutes and carrying a 3-0 led into halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The USMNT will once again be without Christian Pulisic (hip injury), leaving the attacking options on the roster quite thin. Morris, who got a goal and an assist against Canada, will likely start on the left again, with Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola playing centrally and on the right respectively. Zardes is the presumed starter up top, unless Berhalter opts for the youthful inexperience of Josh Sargent in a must-win game.

Berhalter appears to have settled on a pretty consistent backline, with Sergiño Dest and Aaron Long manning the right side and John Brooks and, at least on Friday, Tim Ream on the left. Weston McKennie’s place deep in midfield has been cemented for quite some time, but he’s partnered close to a half-dozen players alongside him this year alone. The 21-year-old Schalke midfielder was stellar against Canada, frequently starting counter-attacks and carrying the ball into the final third.

Projected USMNT lineup

I___________I
Guzan

Dest —— Long —— Brooks —— Ream

McKennie —— Roldan

Arriola —— Lletget —— Morris

Zardes

Man Utd debt climbs to $500m as club spends to halt decline

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United’s attempt to strengthen its underperforming squad has proved costly with debt rising more than 55 percent in a year to $498 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The cost of signing Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James ahead of the new season in the first quarter of the financial year was around 140 million pounds.

Although United reported record revenue last season of $812 million, the New York Stock Exchange listed business is now expecting the 2019-20 figure to drop to between $725 million and $750 million.

That is due to United missing out on Champions League television and prize money after finishing sixth last season. United could miss out again with the side in seventh place, nine points behind fourth-placed Manchester City after 12 of the 38 games.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

“Our ultimate aim is to win trophies, play fast, fluid, attacking football, with a team that uses graduates from our academy along with world-class acquisitions,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “We know this will not be achieved overnight, however we have made investments across the club that we believe will set us on the right path.

“We know our academy is a strong competitive advantage and an area we will continue to invest in as it is at the heart of the club.”

EURO 2020: Spain, Sweden finish top; Norway, Romania reach playoffs

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MADRID — Spain finished its qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championship with a 5-0 rout of Romania in what could have been the farewell match for coach Robert Moreno on Monday.

Moreno did not show for the post-match interview and there were widespread reports in Spanish media he would not continue at the helm of “La Roja.”

The Spanish soccer federation did not immediately say why the coach did not talk to the media. It said a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday.

Moreno took over the job after Luis Enrique resigned in March to take care of his sick daughter. Moreno had been Luis Enrique’s assistant until then.

Gerard Moreno scored twice for the hosts, who had already secured a spot in the tournament but needed the victory to be among the top-seeded teams in the draw this month.

Spain also got on the scoreboard through Fabian Ruiz, Mikel Oyarzabal, and an own-goal by Romanian defender Adrian Rus.

“It was important to finish with the three points in front of our crowd,” said Ruiz, who scored his first goal with the national team. “We need to keep this same dynamic going into the Euros next year.”

Spain ended as the Group F winner with eight wins and two draws, at Norway and Sweden. “La Roja” finished five points in front of second-placed Sweden.

Romania, which had already been eliminated, ended in fourth place with four victories and two draws in 10 matches.

Spain, coming off routing Malta 7-0 in Cadiz, outscored its opponents 31-5.

It was in control from the start on Monday, with Romania threatening only a few times in front of a crowd of 36,198 at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, including many Romanians.

Ruiz opened the scoring from close range in the eighth minute, and Moreno added his goals with a header in the 33rd and strike from the six-yard line in the 43rd.

Rus found his own net while trying to intercept a cross into the area in first-half stoppage time, and Oyarzabal closed the scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the box in second-half injury time.

It was the second Spain match at Atletico’s Metropolitano stadium, the other a 6-1 rout of Argentina ahead of last year’s World Cup.