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

Infantino says closing stadiums only a short-term coronavirus solution

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has stated that he does not support playing closed-door games as a long-term solution to avoiding the threat of coronavirus.

Serie A will play games behind closed doors for the second straight weekend thanks to the rapid spread of the disease that has infected over 800 people in Italy. Most notably, the game between title contenders Inter and Juventus will be played in front of an empty Allianz Stadium in Turin.

“I don’t think it is sustainable in the long term to play behind closed doors,” Infantino said before a meeting in Northern Ireland. “Every competition organizer ultimately has to decide what is best for him. Obviously, on the short term it can be a solution [to play without fans] in order to move on. But you cannot imagine a few months of a competition being played, several matches being played, behind closed doors.”

Infantino went on to say he “wouldn’t exclude anything” when asked about possible solutions for international fixtures coming up in March, but admitted “I hope we will never have to get into this direction. We cannot underestimate and say it’s nothing but we don’t have to overreact and panic.”

Meanwhile, English tabloids reported Friday that the Premier League could close up shop early, costing Liverpool its league title should it take place before Liverpool is mathematically crowned champions. However, the Liverpool Echo reported that the Premier League is still considering all possibilities as solutions for coronavirus prevention and that scenarios like that are at this point considered “still at a hypothetical stage.”

Some Premier League clubs confirmed they are banning handshakes around the training ground, while others have told players to tone down fan interaction for the time being. Other leagues around Europe have taken more drastic measures, such as the Swiss league which has completely shut down until at least mid-March on instruction from the government.

French goalkeeper throws ball into own net

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There’s own-goals, and then there’s own-goals. French goalkeeper Brice Maubleu scored an own-goal.

The Grenoble goalkeeper, taking on fellow Ligue 2 side Caen on Friday, threw the ball into his own net in the 18th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish.

It appeared that Maubleu was attempting to distribute the ball to one of his defenders only to pull back at the last minute, and upon his attempt to halt the throw, he instead tossed it back towards his own net. The 30-year-old captain attempted to scramble back and stop the ball, and he very well may have, but the referee gave the goal and replays were inconclusive.

You can watch video of the brutal own-goal here.

Maubleu confirmed that was his intention after the fact. “There are dark evenings and this is one of them,” the Grenoble captain said after the match. “On the goal, I wanted to quickly set Jerome (Mombris) away, but I saw that he was not looking at me so I revised my decision and then the ball left my hands”

Maubleu recalled when French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda did something similar while playing for Marseille in 2012, throwing the ball right to an opposition attacker who easily buried the ball into the empty net. “This happens sometimes and people think that it can’t possibly happen to others. In the end, I play the ball thinking that all was still ok but apparently the ball had already gone in,” Maubleu said.

“I am disappointed because it gave our opponent a two-goal lead. I will have to quickly get back working and move on, because it will likely do the rounds on social media. The goalkeeper position is exposed and there are risks. After that, I was back in my match and made saves even though those won’t be remembered.”

The 30-year-old Maubleu has played for just Tours FC and Grenoble in his career, making two Ligue 1 appearances in 2009 before spending the rest of his time in Ligue 2.

Arsenal posts loss as Champions League absence felt

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Arsenal announced Friday a loss of £27.1 million ($34.6 million) for the most recent fiscal year, citing the combination of high player wages and a lengthy absence from the UEFA Champions League competition as the main contributing factor for the poor financial performance.

The loss is the club’s first since 2002, according to Chairman Sir Chips Keswick.

Arsenal Holdings plc released the after tax total for the fiscal year ending May 31 2019, down from a $72.1 million profit the previous year. Commercial revenues were up significantly, increasing profits from $495.6 million to $504 million. Still, operating profits rocketed to $295.8 million thanks to what the club called “continued investments in player wages.”

“Our player trading profit for this financial year was limited and this combined with a second consecutive season of Europa League football has meant the club recorded its first overall loss since 2002,” Keswick said in a club statement. “For 2019-20 we will see increased commercial revenues from Adidas and our renewed deal with Emirates, but another season outside the Champions League will continue to apply pressure to our financial results.”

The Gunners were shockingly eliminated from the Europa League on Thursday at the hands of Olympiakos in extra-time, meaning the only way they end the Champions League drought will be to charge into the Premier League top four. Currently Arsenal sits ninth in the table, six points off fourth-placed Chelsea.

Back in July, Arsenal director Josh Kroenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – warned that the club “had a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget.”

3 things to know about Inter Miami and Nashville S.C.

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The Major League Soccer gets under way this weekend, and for those fans who would like to get a better feel for the league as a whole, a good place to start is the two new clubs.

[ MORE: MLS Week 1 preview ]

Inter Miami and Nashville S.C. will both get a difficult welcome to the U.S. top flight this weekend, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United on Saturday while Miami travels to LAFC on Sunday. Neither clubs are expected to be immediate playoff contenders, but as both their debut opponents will tell them, there doesn’t always have to be a learning curve for new introductions.

[ MORE: 2020 MLS season predictions ]

So, with that in mind, let’s learn more about the two expansion clubs that take the MLS total to 26.

INTER MIAMI

Seven years after David Beckham retired from Major League Soccer franchise and began pursuit of club ownership, his team finally takes the field. It has been a brutally long journey for the South Florida side, but the beginning is finally here. The roster looks solid and the coaching staff is well built, so don’t be surprised if they put up a fight in the playoff race.

1. The team is stocked with MLS veterans

Inter Miami had a clear strategy while building its initial squad – hoard experience. The team acquired USMNT midfielders Lee Nguyen and Wil Trapp, former champions AJ DeLaGarza and Alvas Powell, longtime NYRB goalkeeper Luis Robles, journeyman Juan Agudelo, and former NYCFC defender Ben Sweat. The players may or may not click together, but if one thing is for certain with Inter Miami, the club doesn’t feel as brand new when looking at the roster.

2. Matias Pellegrini will lead the way

While the squad is loaded with domestic experience, the club looked abroad for its first two Designated Players. 26-year-old Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro joined from Monterrey for a hefty fee, and he will be critically important moving forward in midfield. Young striker Julian Carranza is injured for the first month but will be a major factor up front as well. However, 19-year-old Matias Pellegrini will likely be the club’s most important player. The Argentine is an electric player, and how he integrates with a squad full of veterans will make Inter Miami an intriguing watch early in the campaign; if he doesn’t hit the ground running, the Inter Miami attack will sputter.

3. Depth is a strength

This team may need time to gel, but it is a well-constructed roster that is built to weather a storm. The only position that looks thin is center-back where Powell and Nicolas Figal are backed up by just inexperienced Grant Lillard, 19-year-old Christian Makoun, and 20-year-old Andres Reyes. Everywhere else is covered by experience. DeLaGarza provides excellent cover for Sweat and recent college graduate Dylan Nealis. Nguyen may not be an everyday starter any more but he is as good as bench options come. Robbie Robinson will likely begin the season up front but eventually take a back seat to Carranza and be a solid option off the bench, while Jerome Kiesewetter brings European experience as well.

NASHVILLE S.C.

Making less of a splash than Inter Miami is new Western Conference members Nashville S.C. Unlike Inter Miami, Nashville isn’t starting completely from scratch, having two years in USL under their belt. Still, there are plenty of questions to be asked about how Nashville can compete on a consistent basis this season.

1. This team is strong defensively, and not so much up front

This squad is clearly built for one thing – defensive strength. Nashville brought in USMNT veteran Walker Zimmerman from LAFC who will be partnered with 26-year-old former LA Galaxy defender Dave Romney. Dax McCarty provides good cover in midfield, and while Daniel Lovitz can get forward, the full-back group doesn’t exactly scream “attack attack attack.”

On that sense, going forward may be an issue. Nashville scored nine goals in preseason, but playing against other sides’ backups for much of the time it’s hard not to take that with a grain of salt. Dominique Badji’s MLS numbers with Colorado and FC Dallas are mediocre at best and Hany Mukhtar’s production abroad doesn’t jump off the page either. David Accam can create for himself but only has 17 assists in 124 career MLS appearances, so while goalscoring can be there, the creativity is lacking greatly. Abu Danladi hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations thus far and will be hoping a change of scenery can unlock a new level, but it’s hard to see the season-long consistency there.

2. The roster is full of scrappy players

A number of guys on the fringe of the Nashville S.C. roster may actually end up contributing more than expected. Randall Leal is an exciting player who could find himself a fan favorite with his swashbuckling style of play. With the expected inconsistency up front, Daniel Rios could get a look if he can translate his USL goalscoring numbers (40 goals in 62 games) to the MLS level – obviously a major question, but also one deserving the time of day. McCarty is a well-liked player who puts in a shift in midfield, and his partner Anibal Godoy plays the crunching style expected of a Central American defensive midfielder. This team will be a grind to break down.

3. Nashville probably needs to look for a few more pieces

With only Mukhtar signed on as a Designated Player, Nashville is probably a few more key contributors away from a playoff spot. Should they hold down a respectable start to the campaign, a summer signing could push this team into contention, but as it stands the cohesion brought on by two years in USL likely won’t be enough to see them keep pace with the stronger teams in the West. With an opening trio of games against Atlanta United, Portland, and Toronto FC, it will be difficult for the new boys to hit the ground running this season, and at times it could feel like a slog.