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

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.

Serie A: Napoli rout Inter, leaving UCL race wide open heading into final week

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The race for the third and four places in Serie A, and with it, a berth in the UEFA Champions League next season, remain open heading into the final week of the season, thanks to a stellar performance from Napoli.

Playing at home in the Stadio San Paolo, Napoli thrashed Inter Milan, 4-1, to keep Inter in fourth place in the table on 66 points. That’s just one point ahead of AC Milan in fifth place, which jumped up after a 2-0 win over Frosinone, and three points ahead of AS Roma, which succumbed to a scoreless draw with Sassuolo this weekend. Atalanta meanwhile came ten minutes from beating Juventus in Turin, and even with a point in a 1-1 draw, Atalanta is still only in third place by 66 points.

[READ: Bayern Munich still too good for the rest this season]

Piotr Zielinski made a statement with a 30-yard blast past Samir Handanovic in the 16th minute to put Napoli up 1-0 and then Dries Mertens and a pair of goals from Fabian Ruiz gave the Neapolitans a massive lead, while leaving Inter in a precarious position. Mauro Icardi scored late to give Inter a small reprieve, but the defeat was set and it leaves Inter essentially needing to win in the final week of the season to secure a place in the Champions League next year.

Elsewhere, Josip Ilicic scored his 12th league goal of the season as Atalanta took Juventus down to the wire in Juve’s final home match of the season. Juventus fans serenaded Andrea Barzagli, playing his final game for the Bianconeri, and even had a message of support for Daniele De Rossi.

Gianluigi Buffon was even in attendance.

Also in action in Serie A, Parma beat Fiorentina, 1-0 and Empoli defeated Torino, 4-1.

Report: Former Chelsea great Clarke set to be new Scotland manager

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The Scotland FA is set to appoint a former Chelsea star as its new men’s national team manager.

Former Chelsea midfielder, and West Bromwich Albion and Reading manager Steve Clarke is reportedly in talks with the Scotland FA to take over the national team. Clarke has a difficult job ahead, with Scotland already having lost, 3-0, at Kazakhstan in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

 

Although Scotland finished top of their group in Level C of the UEFA Nations League and earned promotion to League B, the team’s play was very up and down under Alex McLeish, back in the job after a one-year spell in 2017. McLeish eventually lost the federation’s support after the 3-0 defeat at Kazakhstan, ranked then 117th in the world, made Scotland look like Europe’s whipping boy. Though Scotland saved some face with a 2-0 win over San Marino, the damage was done.

Clarke, after disappointing tenures at West Bromwich and Reading in his first full managerial roles, has since found success in Scotland. He’s led Kilmarnock this season to third place in the table and a spot in the Europa League, an impressive feat considering the club’s budget is dwarfed by Celtic and Rangers. Aberdeen have impressed, while both Hibernian and Hearts of Midlothain have also recently spent big on new signings, yet Kilmarnock finished above them this season.

Clarke, who only played a half dozen times for Scotland during his playing career, will now have to galvanize the squad ahead of two crucial qualifications in June and quickly imprint his tactical ideas and plan in a short amount of time. During his time at Chelsea, Clarke won the FA Cup, League Cup, and UEFA Cup Winners Cup between 1987 and 1998. He was also assistant coach under Jose Mourinho and played a key role in some of their most successful seasons.

Germany: Below-par Bayern Munich still too good for the rest

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BERLIN (AP) Even a below-par Bayern Munich side was just too good for the rest.

Bayern’s record-extending seventh consecutive Bundesliga title confirmed the distance between the Bavarian powerhouse and its rivals after a season in which it failed to impress as before.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

For the first time in ten years the title race went to the last day of the season, with Niko Kovac’s side missing the chance to wrap it up a week earlier after being held to a goalless draw in Leipzig. His team wasn’t going to miss another chance as it routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 to clinch a 29th German championship on Saturday.

In the end, Bayern’s 5-0 win at home over Borussia Dortmund, its closest and only challenger, on April 4 illustrated the gulf in class between the sides and effectively decided the league outcome. Bayern should have won by more after racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, but Kovac’s team eased off in the second half with Dortmund in damage-control mode.

It proved to be the title that Dortmund gave away. Lucien Favre’s side had a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage, but buckled under the pressure of a title challenge and gave away points in games it should have won.

Dortmund developed an unfortunate tendency to concede late goals, and was frustrated in successive draws against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and lowly Nuremberg, which was relegated at the end of the season.

Bayern President Uli Hoeness had suggested in February that Bayern could “sacrifice the championship for one year” to give veteran players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha a worthy farewell.

“I have won more than 50 titles in my lifetime, so one or another doesn’t matter,” Hoeness said at the time.

Hoeness needn’t have worried. On Saturday, he was able to give the players a perfect sendoff, with Robben and Ribery both coming on as substitutes to score in their final Bundesliga appearances.

Beer flowed among the tears and confetti and the Bayern veterans bade their farewells and celebrated another championship – for Ribery it was a record ninth league title in 12 years at the club.

It was a happy end to a difficult season. The 36-year-old Ribery made no secret of his wish to stay at Bayern and will have heard how the 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro, who also scored Saturday, agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Werder Bremen the same day.

Kovac has had to endure ongoing speculation over his future after ambiguous comments from his superiors.

“We’ll see,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said to repeated questions over Kovac’s future recently, while chairman Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge could only say he has “no problem” with Kovac.

Kovac himself said on Saturday that he was sure he would remain after receiving first-hand information from those responsible, but the lack of public endorsement from the club has done little to stop the speculation.

Even a win over Leipzig in the German Cup final next Saturday might not be enough for Kovac, who has fans’ backing but has struggled for authority at the club since Bayern went four games without a win in late September-early October.

The club lashed out at the media on Oct. 19 for “derogatory, slanderous reporting” of its poor form, while Hoeness was booed and whistled at the club’s AGM in November for the first time over sponsorship deals with Qatar, his railing against the media, and personal tirades against former players and coaches.

Amid the squabbling, Bayern has lost its aura of invincibility. The side’s meek Champions League exit to Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat at home highlighted the need to refresh the squad.

The process is already underway with World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard arriving from Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart, respectively, to shore up the defense. The 23-year-old Hernandez is costing a Bundesliga-record 80 million euros ($90 million) while Pavard is joining from Stuttgart for a reported 35 million ($40 million).

Bayern is also reportedly interested in Germany striker Timo Werner, while Hoeness has hinted at a host of other signings.

After strengthening in the summer, Bayern is likely to be even harder to catch for Dortmund and the rest next season.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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