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The Way Back (?) for Sunderland

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Sunderland’s gone.

The Stadium of Light side’s decade-plus stay in the Premier League is over, squashed by a series of insipid results in a last-place season.

The latest loss was Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, one in which the Black Cats battled but couldn’t find the necessary moments that provide points.

[ PL PREVIEW: Watford vs. Liverpool ]

It’s a long road back for Sunderland, one of three teams who will not be considered instant favorites to return to the top flight. Here’s three distinct parts of a path back to the top for the Black Cats. It could take a while.

1) Embrace the fate… — First and foremost, Sunderland needs to accept that its failure was all its own doing. This wasn’t “unlucky”. The Black Cats’ five wins came against teams that hardly lit the league on fire this season: Hull City, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Leicester City, and Watford. They have a minus-34 goal differential, are one of three teams to allow 60-plus goals and have scored a joint-lowest 26. Bad.

2) …And that it’s bigger than Moyes, Big Sam, almost any manager — It’s cute to point to the “heroics” of former managers Sam Allardyce, Paolo Di Canio, or Gus Poyet, but those bosses had more to work with than David Moyes did in this season.

You have to go 65 players to reach Sunderland’s top player through advanced stats site WhoScored, and 39 on Squawka. The former is Jordan Pickford, a player who will be in significant demand as an England U-21 player. The latter is a 34-year-old striker Jermain Defoe, and his rating is based on a hot start to the season (Defoe didn’t score following a brace on Feb. 4, a run that include nine goalless matches for his side).

Both seem gone, and other strong players seem close behind: Papy Djilobodji, Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone, and Didier N’Dong will have suitors, and represent some of the only strong buys in recent years. Will any consider staying?

And Patrick Van Aanholt isn’t coming through that door, while Adnan Januzaj, Jason Denayer, Seb Larsson, and Jan Kirchhoff are out of contract. The Black Cats are going to have to find a way to attract talent to the Northeast when London is the center of football.

3) Follow your neighbors – Now here’s where David Moyes, or whoever, has to convince Ellis Short to open his pocketbook. Newcastle United did it last summer with Rafa Benitez, and pretty much cruised to promotion at its first chance.

Newcastle had better resources to exploit in selling Giorginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, and Andros Townsend to the tune of nearly $90 million, and did it along with the feat of convincing notorious bottom-liner Mike Ashley to reinvest almost all of it to get PL somewhat outcasts Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, DeAndre Yedlin, Ciaran Clark, and Isaac Hayden, who have shined in the promotion bid (A clever loan for Christian Atsu didn’t hurt).

They also convinced players who would shine in the Championship: Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey, and Ayoze Perez to stick around.

Sunderland doesn’t have any elite young attacking talents and will only make so much money off Khazri, Djilobodji, Defoe, and Kone. And Moyes’ embarrassing “slap” comments make it harder to expect enthusiasm if Sunderland keeps him on board.

But let’s assume there isn’t a better candidate than Moyes to guide the ship — and Sunderland hasn’t had a wealth of options in hiring its bosses at Premier League level — it makes sense to give him and his staff the chance to bring in players who are not his former also-rans at Everton.

Completely speculating, but if Sunderland finds its Ritchie and Gayle, maybe it can buck the trend. It wasn’t Newcastle alone, as there’s a decent standard of finding players from the upper levels to get there: Glenn Murray helped Brighton this year, and Joey Barton and Michael Keane at Burnley in 2016.

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”

Pogba, Fernandes lead Manchester United cruise at Aston Villa

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Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are loving life.

Heck, all of Manchester United is feeling mighty good after the Red Devils won yet another game with ease, this one a 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Fernandes had a goal and an assist, joining Mason Greenwood and Pogba on the score sheet in a cruise past the relegation-threatened Villans.

United moves six points ahead of sixth-place Wolves and within a point of fourth-place Leicester City. The two sides meet to finish the Premier League season, and the Red Devils will meet Southampton, Crystal Palace, and West Ham before that.

Villa is four points behind safety and still meets Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY


Three things we learned

1. Bruno and Pogba unfair: The are systems that will make Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba work a whole lot harder than what’s demanded by Aston Villa, of course, but don’t let that deter you from witnessing the special combination play between the Portuguese midfielder and his World Cup-winning French teammate. Fernandes had a goal and an assist, the latter a training ground routine that Pogba scored with class, and United looks a new team. No team has benefited more from the break than United.

2. He’s got the look: The stories out of the Manchester United training ground have been coming for years and we’re now getting an eyeful of what they’ve been promising about Mason Greenwood. The 18-year-old strikes a ball like it’s his job, or even better like he’s an artisan. Few players on earth possess a way about them that the ball’s path off their foot just looks different. His strike to beat Pepe Reina was absolutely marvelous and we can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

3. Villa through the ugly stretch (hopefully): Dean Smith’s men have tried to escape the drop zone by getting points against a rough stretch of opponents and it has not gone well. Draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle have been joined by losses to Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool, and now Manchester United. Villa finds itself four points adrift with four opponents to play: Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham. There are points there. Will Villa take them?

Man of the Match:

Fernandes — The way he won his penalty was unsavory but that doesn’t change his status as the best player on the pitch.

Aston Villa – Manchester United recap

Jack Grealish missed a back-post chance to give the hosts an early lead, as United was a bit uneven over the opening 20 minutes.

VAR helped United to a penalty soon after that, won and converted by Fernandes off Ezri Konsa.

United had a chance to double the lead in the 36th minute when Mason Greenwood got past Douglas Luiz to pump a hard shot saved by Pepe Reina.

Fernandes missed with a bullet header in the 45th minute off a Luke Shaw cross, but United scored just before halftime when Greenwood took an Anthony Martial layoff and blasted a shot past Reina. He has such a sweet stroke.

Pogba made it 3-0 with a tremendous strike in the 58th minute, Fernandes spotting the Frenchman above the arc and Villa giving him ages to address the ball.

Martial smashed the ball off the bottom of the bar at the hour mark, United threatening to put a cartoonish figure on the scoreboard..

WATCH: VAR controversy sees Mourinho call out referee Oliver (again)

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Imagine the sound VAR Michael Oliver made when he saw the call he had to make against Jose Mourinho in Thursday’s 0-0 draw between Bournemouth and Tottenham.

Mourinho can’t get over his thing with referee Michael Oliver, who was again in the middle of controversy during a Tottenham Hotspur match.

“The same referee that was the VAR against Sheffield United,” Mourinho said. “In the world everybody knows that is a penalty. And I say everybody, I mean everybody.”

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Harry Kane was shoved to the turf by Joshua King very early in the contest but also made contact with teammate Jan Vertonghen.

Most expected to see a penalty given, but referee Paul Tierney didn’t think it was a foul and Oliver saw nothing on the video worth overruling.

From Football.London:

“The game had the most important moment, you know when, you know who, and I don’t want to say anything more in relation to that because everyone knows and I don’t need to say much more. Everybody knows.

“The performance was not good enough, but good enough to win. I am not saying a strong performance or a sharp one but good enough to win. In a way they surprised us with the way thy played, since Bournemouth were in the Premier League I don’t remember them playing the way they did, but that is an option for them because they have a point they wanted. They played direct, only direct, they didn’t move the ball in the first phase like they used to do and they made it difficult for us in their approach.”

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

Spurs, Bournemouth split points in drab draw

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Twelve minutes of stoppage time barely injected life into a scoreless, slumberous slog between Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Thursday.

Hugo Lloris made a terrific stop on Harry Wilson deep in 12 minutes of stoppage time to keep Spurs’ sheet clean.

Tottenham has 49 points, six back of fifth-place Manchester United who plays Thursday and behind three teams in the race for Europa League places.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Bournemouth’s 28 points are three back of safety. The Cherries finish with Leicester City, Manchester City, Southampton, and Everton.


Three things we learned

1. South coast snooze: Bournemouth fans wouldn’t have minded the point, but the journey to a rare clean sheet was just about as boring as you’ll see apart from an early penalty controversy, a gnarly injury, and a goal being pulled off the board by handball when Callum Wilson’s clever 90th-minute goal took a turn off Josh King and into the goal.

2. Scary incident for ex-Spurs man Smith: There was a lengthy delay around the hour mark when Cherries defender Adam Smith was involved in a violent collision at midfield, requiring plenty of medical attention. The former Spurs man was given oxygen and needed a stretcher to get off the pitch. Hopefully the long time right back is doing alright.

3. Mourinho’s offense looks toothless: First, let’s admit that Harry Kane had a goal egregiously taken away from him via the rulebook when Lucas Moura’s unwitting handball led to a goal against Sheffield United. But Spurs have five goals in five matches since the Premier League’s return. As much as it’s nice to see three clean sheets in four outings, Mourinho has to find a way to get his men moving.

Man of the Match:

Hugo Lloris – The Frenchman’s incredible stop of a surging Harry Wilson deep in stoppage time was a welcome moment for a sleepy match. Lloris made the only two saves of a slumberous affair.

Bournemouth – Tottenham recap

Harry Kane was not given a penalty in the opening minutes as he was shoved to the turf but also collided with a teammate while tracking a pass. Referee Paul Tierney didn’t see anything in it, and surprisingly neither did VAR.

The Cherries had a good spell of play after that, a mini-vibe of how Spurs looked after the Harry Kane goal was took off the board against Sheffield United.

The game flowed back into Spurs control for the final stanza before halftime.

Spurs let Bournemouth stick around and Harry Wilson’s nice run led to nothing in the 68th minute as the match looked destined for goose eggs, sadly enough.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]