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Chelsea skates through in FA Cup; Spurs held; Palace upset

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Premier League sides didn’t have a particularly elementary journey through Saturday’s FA Cup schedule, and it didn’t look any easier on Sunday as all four teams in play through the early slate had difficulties.

Chelsea got by a pesky Nottingham Forest side 2-0, but Tottenham Hotspur was held to a 1-1 draw, Crystal Palace was dumped out by Derby County, and Sheffield United had a nervy finish against a far inferior opponent.

[ FA CUP: Roundup of Saturday’s action ]

The Blues got going in a hurry as Callum Hudson-Odoi put the Blues 1-0 up just seven minutes in on a beautiful set of one-touch passing that ended with the 19-year-old cutting in on his left and slicing a low shot into the bottom corner. Pedro had a chance on the break to double the lead, but was unable to get by his defender despite the two-on-one advantage. That nearly proved costly as Forest earned a 23rd minute penalty, but VAR wiped it off for offside.

Chelsea remained the better attacking side, and they profited past the half-hour mark with Ross Barkley turning in a rebounded Hudson-Odoi shot. The initial effort was parried by Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Jordan Smith who pushed it the other way, but right to the feet of Barkley who barely had time to react on the doorstep, just barely keeping his feet to turn the ball into the net. Ryan Yates headed in for Nottingham Forest in the 67th minute but it was ruled out as the flag went up.

Tottenham dominated the match against Middlesbrough but failed to create much throughout the first half, with a cross to the far post for Ryan Sessegnon the best chance, although the former Fulham youth product failed to get a touch to Serge Aurier‘s delivery. Spurs’ lack of creativity would come back to haunt them as Middlesbrough came out of halftime firing, and former Manchester United youth product Ashley Fletcher found the back of the net to put the hosts 1-0 up at Riverside Stadium. It didn’t last long, though, as Jose Mourinho rang the changes, bringing on Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela, and it paid instant dividends. Lucas Moura headed in from a deep Aurier cross that the Middlesborough defense misread.

Spurs had chances to win the game, none better than Aurier’s slash with two minutes to go. The shot was from a tight angle, but with acres of space to shoot, he rifled the ball miles over the bar instead of testing Middlesbrough keeper Tomas Mejias. They instead will return to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for a replay after the scoreline finished level.

10-man Crystal Palace was upset at Selhurst Park by Derby County, falling 1-0 on a goal by Chris Martin just past the half-hour mark. The task was tougher after Luka Milivojevic was sent off in the second half a nasty kick out at Tom Huddlestone, spotted by VAR.

Sheffield United got more fight than expected from non-league side AFC Fylde, but snuck through by a 2-1 final with Callum Robinson and Leon Clarke on the scoresheet. Robinson’s strike came just eight minutes in and came benefit of a deflection off his mark Neill Byrne. Fylde marked the day with a goal in the 78th minute, but couldn’t find what would have been a shocking equalizer.

Jordan Hugill scored a brace as Queens Park Rangers hammered Swansea City 5-1. Bright Samuel, Lee Wallace, and Josh Scowen tacked on the additional scores, while George Byers picked up a consolation for the visitors.

Kenneth Zohore‘s 32nd minute strike gave West Brom a 1-0 victory at Charlton Athletic. Zohore played a fabulous one-two with Kyle Edwards, receiving the ball back at the near post and poking it through the legs of a charging Dillon Phillips.

Conor Chaplin gave Barnsley a 3-1 road victory over Crewe Alexandra with a 75th minute header that wrong-footed goalkeeper William Jaaskelainen.

Barnsley and Coventry City will require a replay after a 2-2 draw. A 52nd minute own goal saw Coventry City draw level shortly after the second-half restart, and neither side could find a winner.

League Two side Northampton Town advanced after putting four past Burton Albion in a 4-2 victory. They held a 3-1 lead at halftime and cruised from there, advancing past their League One opposition.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”