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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.

UEFA Champions League last 16 draw

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The draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League took place on Monday and it was a mixed bag for the four Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City will play Schalke, while Manchester United were handed a tough draw after finishing second in their group as they face PSG.

Tottenham have also been handed a tough, but very likeable draw for the neutral, as they’ll play Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. And Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be heading back to Germany as the current PL leaders will play Bayern Munich.

Below is the draw in full, as the first legs will be played on 12–13 & 19–20 Feb. 2019 and the second legs on 5–6 & 12–13 Mar., 2019. The teams drawn first in the list below will play the first leg at home, with the second legs away.

And remember, VAR will be used in the UCL for the first time for all knockout round games. Get your VAR hand signals ready…


Last 16 draw for UEFA Champions League, 2018-19

Schalke v. Manchester City
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Manchester United v. Paris Saint-Germain
Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
Lyon v. Barcelona
Roma v. Porto
Ajax v. Real Madrid
Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

England captain Kane finishes 3rd for Sportsman of the Year

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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Geraint Thomas has been voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year after becoming the third British cyclist to win the Tour de France.

In a public vote, Thomas beat five-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton — a former winner of the BBC award — into second place, while England soccer captain Harry Kane, who led his team to the World Cup semifinals, was third.

The 32-year-old Welshman joined Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Chris Froome (2013, ’15, ’16, ’17) as Britons to win the Tour de France. Wiggins has won the BBC award, but Froome never has.

“It’s been an amazing year for British sport,” Thomas said, “and long may it continue.”

Liga MX: America wins at Cruz Azul to capture Apertura title

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Club America had a tall mountain to climb following their scoreless draw, at home, with Cruz Azul in the first leg of Liga MX’s Apertura final on Thursday, but climb that mountain they did with a 2-0 victory at Estadio Azteca on Sunday.

[ LA LIGA: Lionel Messi’s hat trick paces Barcelona in rout of Levante ]

Midfielder Edson Alvarez scored both goals in the game — five minutes into the second half and one minute before full-time — as America claimed their record 13th league title (first since 2014).

Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona committed a costly error to set up Alvarez for the opener, and ultimately the winner. Alvarez’s second came courtesy of a bit of fortuitous timing, as Corona made the initial save on Cecilio Dominguez’s shot, but the rebound fell to Alvarez for a straightforward finish.

It was the second league title of manager Miguel Herrera’s career, and his first since his first stint with America, in 2013.

Cruz Azul saw their title-less streak reach 21 years, in heartbreaking fashion, after finishing top of the table in the regular season. They are now the first team in Mexican history to lose six straight finals appearances.

La Liga: Messi’s hat trick paces Barcelona in rout of Levante

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SATURDAY: Atletico Madrid pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back ]

Levante 0-5 Barcelona

Lionel Messi recorded his 43rd hat trick for Barcelona (all competitions) on Sunday, leading the way in a 5-0 rout away to eighth-place Levante. The five-goal hammering could be seen as a measure of revenge for Barca’s only La Liga defeat last season, a 5-4 defeat to Levante on the penultimate weekend, with the title already wrapped up and sans Messi.

“We had circled this match on the calendar after what happened here last season,” Barca manager Ernesto Valverde said after the game.

While the goals will get most of the headlines, it was Messi’s assist — the first one, to clarify — that was perhaps most impressive. Dribbling down the left side of the penalty area, he drew three defenders into his orbit before threading a chipped cross between two of them and setting up Luis Suarez for a difficult acrobatic finish.

Messi then proceeded to score the game’s next three goals before setting up Gerard Pique for the fifth — his second assist of the day — to play a key role in all five goals.

The victory restores the three-point lead which Barca held coming into the weekend, prior to Atletico Madrid pulling level on points on Saturday.

Sevilla 2-0 Girona

Sevilla reclaimed second place from Atleti (level on points) with a 2-0 victory over Girona. Ever Banega (penalty kick) and Pablo Sarabia scored the goals nine minutes apart early in the second half to extend Pablo Machin’s side’s unbeaten run to seven league games.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 1-3 Real Betis
Huesca 2-2 Villarreal