Man Utd boss Louis van Gaal 'cannot imagine' 26-year title wait

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal "cannot imagine" it will take the club 26 years to become champions again.

United went that long before winning the league under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993, a barren run Liverpool will equal if they fail to finish top this season.

"I cannot imagine that shall happen," said Van Gaal. "We are in transition but we have the infrastructure and are going the right way."

Liverpool and United meet in the Premier League at Anfield on Sunday.

Van Gaal has won all three competitive meetings with Liverpool, including a victory at Anfield last season, since becoming United manager in 2014.

But a run of one win in eight Premier League games sees United in sixth spot, three places and three points above Sunday's hosts. If they fail to win at Anfield it will be United's worst run since 1989-90.

"You could still say we have underperformed because Manchester United has to be in the first three in the Premier League," said Van Gaal. "The same thing counts for Liverpool."

The Dutchman also said he was backing captain Wayne Rooney to improve an indifferent record at Liverpool.

Having scored only once in 10 weeks from 17 October, Rooney has netted four goals in his past three games, including two in the 3-3 drawat Newcastle on 12 January.

But not since March 2012 has he scored in four consecutive club games and the 30-year-old does has generally struggled at Anfield, managing one goal in his 10 visits.

"Wayne has to break that record," said Van Gaal. "Then I am very pleased.

"When he scores, it makes it easy for me. I have put all my money on Wayne."

Source: bbc.com

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Chelsea and West Brom charged by FA for players' conduct

Chelsea and West Brom have been charged by the Football Association because of the conduct of their players in a 2-2 draw on Wednesday.

The charge relates to the reaction of players when Baggies midfielder Claudio Yacob escaped a second yellow card for a foul on Diego Costa.

The clubs were deemed to have failed "to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion".

They have until 18:00 GMT on 20 January to respond.

Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink believed Yacob should have been dismissed and spoke with fourth official Jon Moss during the game.

"I told him: 'This is one of the worst referees of the Premier League I have experienced,"' said Hiddink, speaking on Friday before Saturday's match against Everton.

"He said to me 'you haven't seen me yet', which was a beautiful remark I think."

Source: bbc.com

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Troubled ex-NFL star Lawrence Phillips dies in prison

An former US professional football player whose career was cut short by disciplinary problems has been found dead inside his California prison cell.

Officials believe Lawrence Phillips, 40, killed himself early on Wednesday.

In the 1990s, he was a star player at the University of Nebraska, making him a sought-after rookie in the NFL.

Phillips played for the St Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers until 1999, but he was plagued by trouble on and off the field.

After his NFL career, Phillips continued to have problems with the law.

Eventually, he was sent to prison after being convicted of assault for driving his car into a group of teenagers. In another case, he was convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend.

Accused of murder

Phillips - who was serving a term of more than 30 years - had been placed in a cell alone after he was accused of killing his former cellmate.

On Tuesday, a judge found that there was enough evidence to try Phillips in the death of Damion Soward, 37.

It is unclear how he took his own life.

"He was an intelligent person and had some good qualities," Tom Osborne, Phillip's coach at Nebraska, told the Associated Press news agency.

"Yet he had some anger issues and couldn't overcome the demons in his life.''

Source: bbc.com

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Defoe hat-trick sinks Swansea at the Liberty Stadium as Ayew scores

Jermain Defoe struck a hat-trick as Sunderland dragged 10-man Swansea closer to the bottom three in a game packed with refereeing controversy.

Defoe pounced on Lukasz Fabianski's mistake to score, but Swansea equalised with Gylfi Sigurdsson's penalty.

Kyle Naughton was controversially sent off for a foul on Yann M'Vila but Andre Ayew put the Swans ahead by half-time.

Patrick van Aanholt's deflected shot levelled and Defoe struck twice to secure a second successive league win.

Relive Sunderland's victory at the Liberty Stadium.

Sunderland have now leapfrogged arch rivals Newcastle into 18th in the Premier League table, just one point and one place below Swansea.

Despite Defoe's heroics, it was referee Graham Scott who found himself as the centre of attention, with doubts hanging over three of the six goals as well as the seemingly harsh dismissal of Naughton.

Fury in the stands and on the touchline

oining the select group of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes, Sunderland's Sam Allardyce became only the fifth manager to reach 450 Premier League games.

The former Bolton and Newcastle boss did not have to wait long to celebrate the landmark, as Defoe put Sunderland ahead after just three minutes.

Fabianski inexplicably hit his goal-kick straight to Adam Johnson and was then only able to parry Fabio Borini's shot, allowing Defoe to tap in from what appeared to be an offside position.

Allardyce's elation soon turned to anger, however, as Swansea equalised in similarly dubious fashion.

Referee Scott awarded the hosts a penalty for what seemed like a Wes Brown trip on Ayew, but replays appeared to show the Ghanaian forward had fallen over his own feet.

Sigurdsson confidently converted the spot-kick, much to Allardyce's visible fury on the touchline.

Scott on the spot

If Defoe's opener and Sigurdsson's equaliser were debatable, Naughton's dismissal was a controversial flashpoint which prompted a vitriolic backlash from the home crowd.

The Swansea right-back won the ball from M'Vila but, having done so with studs showing, Scott showed him a red card.

Swansea interim manager Alan Curtis - who waited to confront the official at the interval - claimed Scott got "all the major incidents wrong", adding Naughton "clearly won the ball".

Despite the setback, his side initially responded well to their numerical disadvantage as Ayew latched on to Fabianski's clearance and scored with a powerful drive.

The Swans were not ahead for long though, as four minutes after the restart Van Aanholt's 20-yard shot deflected off Federico Fernandez and flew into the top corner.

Swansea's slide continues

While Allardyce was presiding over his Premier League milestone, this was Curtis' first since being named Swansea's manager for the rest of the season.

Curtis' side defended raggedly throughout and there was a certain inevitability - and, once more, controversy - to Sunderland's third goal.

Defoe was offside as he collected Johnson's through ball but linesman Mark Perry did not raise his flag and the Sunderland striker finished calmly.

The England international striker was then perfectly placed to slide in from Van Aanholt's excellent cross to put the game beyond doubt with his fifth goal in two games.

Swansea, who are 17th in the Premier League table, remain just one point above Sunderland and Newcastle immediately below them.

What did the managers say?

Swansea manager Alan Curtis: "The first goal and third are clearly offside decisions. You can recover but when you play with 10 men for an hour, that's the one that killed us more than anything."

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce: "We manipulated or played with the situation as it panned out. That's all we can do. We have taken the opportunity rightly or wrongly to win the game. For us it's an unbelievable win. Today it's an enormous, enormous, enormous three points to give us encouragement and hope going forward."

The stats you need to know

  • This is just the second time in 16 league meetings that Sunderland have beaten Swansea. The Black Cats last won in the Welsh city in 1963.
  • Jermain Defoe has scored in back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since February 2015, when he also scored against Swansea.
  • Defoe scored his fourth Premier League hat-trick, only 11 players have more.
  • Sunderland have scored seven goals in their last two Premier League games, more than their previous eight matches combined (6).

Up next?

Sunderland will look to make it three Premier League wins from three when they travel to Tottenham on Saturday at lunchtime, while Swansea host Watford at the Liberty Stadium on Monday night.

Source: bbc.com

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Man City draw with Everton at Etihad

Manchester City missed the chance to make up ground in the Premier League title race as they were held to a goalless draw by a stubborn Everton.

Manuel Pellegrini's side dominated the second half but were repeatedly denied by away keeper Tim Howard.

It was a supreme defensive display from the Toffees, who had been the better attacking side in the first half.

They also rode their luck, as City were denied a late penalty for a foul on Raheem Sterling by John Stones.

For Everton, it is a point won - and a confidence-boosting one, following a run of seven games in which they have won just once.

But it is two key points dropped for City and they remain three points behind joint league leaders Arsenal, held 3-3 by Liverpool, and Leicester, 1-0 winners at Tottenham.

Look back at all the action from the Etihad

Listen: Is Pellegrini 'too nice' to win the title this season?

Football Daily podcast - Does anyone want to win the league?

City miss out

Sergio Aguero

The game began in a half-full Etihad Stadium as traffic problems prevented many fans arriving by kick-off.

However, you would forgive many of the City supporters who did eventually make it to the ground for wishing they had not. Before the break, the home side looked sluggish and were outworked by a dynamic away side.

They did produce a couple of chances - the best of them a Yaya Toure header from eight yards that was palmed away by Howard - but could easily have trailed.

They improved in the second half as Sergio Aguero became more involved, but still struggled to break their opponents down, even after the introduction of David Silva with 15 minutes to go.

The game would end in desperate, vain calls for a penalty for Stones' admittedly risky sliding challenge on Sterling.

Pellegrini fumes at penalty decision

City boss Manuel Pellegrini was adamant that Stones' challenge should have been penalised and his side awarded a "clear penalty".

"Everyone in the stadium could see it was a penalty - it was so near to the referee and so clear," said the Chilean. "Both Raheem's legs were taken by Stones but if he doesn't whistle we can't say anything."

Unsurprisingly, Everton boss Roberto Martinez had an opposing view of the incident and praised the "maturity" of referee Roger East.

"We have been on the back end of receiving a penalty, in the last seconds against Stoke," said the Spaniard.

"Stones goes to slide to block the ball, Sterling does not play the ball and waited. In my eyes it is an area that is not certain if it's a penalty or not.

"I believe the referees should control their emotions and the referee did exactly that. It is impossible to be 100% certain and I am pleased he did this and showed his maturity."

Everton edge part two

his game was the second part of a fixture trilogy between these sides in January, falling between the two legs of a Capital One Cup semi-final.

A week ago, Romelu Lukaku's winner gave Everton a 2-1 victory at Goodison Park, and they impressed again in a performance that showcased both sides of their game.

In the first half, the Toffees were patient and precise when they had the ball and hard-working when they did not. But for some wayward shooting, they would have led at the break.

Gerard Deulofeu and Lukaku were both denied with shots from an angle in the box, while the latter set up Leon Osman for the best chance - a volley from 15 yards that flew just past Joe Hart's far post.

After the break, Roberto Martinez's side were firmly on the back foot and spent long spells without the ball but demonstrated discipline and commitment to limit City to only a few goalscoring chances.

The stats you need to know

  • Everton have lost just one of their 10 Premier League away games this season (W3 D6)
  • This was only Everton's second Premier League clean sheet in their past eight games
  • Man City had 22 shots but only five of them were on target
  • Everton had two shots on target, the second of them coming in the 18th minute
  • Sergio Aguero has scored in just four of his 14 Premier League appearances this season and just once in his past five PL games
  • Joe Hart made his 250th Premier League appearance for Man City in this game

What next?

Manchester City are at home again on Saturday, with Crystal Palace the visitors.

Everton face another tough away trip on the same day, as they travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea.

Source: bbc.com

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WBA frustrate Chelsea

James McClean's late equaliser earned West Brom a share of the points as they refused to accept defeat at Chelsea.

The Blues went ahead when Cesar Azpilicueta turned in fellow full-back Branislav Ivanovic's low cross.

Craig Gardner's skimming shot levelled, but it seemed Chelsea had done enough when Gareth McAuley prodded Willian's cross into his own net.

But when the home defence failed to clear McClean made them pay with a pinpoint shot into the bottom corner.

The Republic of Ireland international's leveller was the final twist in an often ill-tempered game with Chelsea striker Diego Costa at the centre of several flashpoints, including a confrontation with several West Brom players after the final whistle.

Relive the action from Stamford Bridge

Normal service resumes for Costa

After only four goals in his first 21 games of the season, Costa has come to life in the wake of Jose Mourinho's departure as manager - doubling that tally in his past four appearances.

But, even at his best, the Spain international bristles with aggression as well as attacking threat.

From gliding past Jonny Evans and rifling over the top in the first minute, he was never far from incident - exchanging words and clashing shoulders with Jonas Olsson and Claudio Yacob and picking up a booking himself for a crude challenge on Craig Gardner.

He forced Boaz Myhill into a sprawling save with his side 2-1 up deep into the second half, but he could not deliver a third goal that would have killed off the contest and wrapped up the points.

Chelsea's creaking spine

Chelsea's title win last season - in which they were out-scored by second-placed Manchester City - was based on a steely defence.

But that, along with many other aspects of their play, has deteriorated sharply this term.

Despite the imposing pairing of John Terry and Kurt Zouma at centre-half, supported by 6ft 6in goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the hosts never looked comfortable when the ball was played into their box from out wide.

After allowing Craig Dawson and McClean to win headers in dangerous positions earlier in the match, their lack of conviction was punished as McClean threaded an 86th-minute shot into the bottom corner after a bout of penalty-area pinball.

That goal - combined with Pedro's cheap concession of possession and Zouma's failure to close down Gardner for West Brom's first - will give Blues interim boss Guus Hiddink plenty to muse on as he tries to shore up his rearguard and Chelsea's position in the table.

Thibaut Courtois

Chelsea faced 23 crosses into their box during the match

Baggies pull away from the basement

After their Boxing Day defeat by Swansea, West Brom were just three points from the relegation places, but home wins against Stoke and Newcastle followed by this point at Stamford Bridge have improved that cushion to more comfortable nine.

Tony Pulis' tactics - his side have played the highest proportion of long passes in the top-flight this season - have been criticised,  but his record of never having been relegated as a manager looks unlikely to be spoiled by this typically well-drilled and solid Baggies side.

Salomon Rondon, well supported by McClean, was a willing runner in attack and the proceeds from the potential sale of the unsettled Saido Berahino might yet fund an evolution in the Baggies' style.

Managers' reaction

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink: "West Brom always bounce back, there is great character. It was an intense game.

"Diego Costa controls himself, he is very dangerous. The player is concentrated on his job and doing very well.

"Tony Pulis made a wise decision when he took over the role of the referee and took off Claudio Yacob. The referee forgot to do it."

West Brom manager Tony Pulis: "We are pleased. It was a tough game, you have to ride your luck and work hard and we did that.

"We were disappointed with one or two of our players because they got wound up and kept the crowd going. You have to be sensible and you have to play with your head.

"There is a couple of weeks to go. Saido Berahino's situation is up in the air. The chairman is running the club diligently, the finances are up to him."

The stats you need to know

  • Chelsea still haven't won back-to-back league games this season, last doing so in May 2015.
  • The Blues have conceded two or more goals in 12 fixtures this season, twice as many as in the whole of last season.
  • West Brom avoided defeat at Stamford Bridge for only the second time in the Premier League. They have drawn twice and lost eight times at Chelsea.
  • The Blues scored with their only shot on target in the first half and had just two in the whole game.

What's next?

Chelsea have a couple of testing Premier League encounters up next, taking on Everton at home on Saturday before travelling to leaders Arsenal on Sunday, 24 January. West Brom play Southampton away in the league on Saturday, before an FA Cup third-round replay at Bristol City on Tuesday.

Source: bbc.com

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Leicester beat Premier League top-four rivals Tottenham to go joint top

Robert Huth scored a late winner as Leicester beat Premier League top-four rivals Tottenham.

The Foxes, who are now level on points with leaders Arsenal, looked like they were heading for a fourth league game without a goal until unmarked Huth headed home Christian Fuchs' corner.

Harry Kane had Spurs' best chance when his effort was touched on to the bar by keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Foxes striker Jamie Vardy returned from groin surgery but had a quiet game.

It was the second of three meetings between the clubs in 10 days, following Sunday's 2-2 FA Cup draw - with their replay to be shown on BBC One, next Wednesday.

Foxes breathe new life into challenge

There had been fears Leicester's slide was beginning after three games without scoring - and they looked like making that four in a row before Huth's late goal.

But this win - which takes them seven points above fourth-placed Spurs and eight clear of West Ham in fifth - will give them real hope of finishing in the Champions League places, if not higher.

They were characteristically short of possession with only 39% - their average of 40.62% is the third lowest in the league - but they have shown they are far from a two-man team with Riyad Mahrez and Vardy, their two stars of the campaign, subdued throughout.

Do Spurs need a new striker?

Maybe, but it was wasteful finishing rather than the lack of a second striker that cost Spurs against the Foxes.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has continually insisted it is not urgent they sign a new striker to partner Kane, who is their top scorer with 11 league goals.

The England international was their sole striker against Leicester but Spurs' formation meant Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli got forward to support him regularly.

Those four had a combined 18 shots, although Kane's effort which Schmeichel touched on to the bar was one of only five shots on target the team managed.

Boof'

Former England captain Alan Shearer on Match of the Day: "It's a remarkable story for Leicester. Only Manchester City have scored more goals than them.

"It was a good old-fashioned proper plant your feet, arch your back and get your neck muscles going header from Huth. Look at the power. Boof."

Ex-Germany midfielder Dietmar Hamann: "It's a blip for Spurs. They're still in a good position and favourites to reach the Champions League. The worry is the lack of form from Christian Eriksen, who hasn't scored in the league since October. They are over-reliant on Harry Kane. If he gets injured they'll be in trouble."

'So much work to do'

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri told BBC Match of the Day: "We wanted to win but we knew it was a difficult match. Tottenham started very well and put us under pressure but we didn't lose our confidence or shape and it was difficult for them.

"In the second half it was an open match. We both had chances and we scored the goal. Unfortunately it's January, not May. There's so much work to do. We have to remain calm and believe in what we're doing."

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino: "I'm disappointed. We created the better chances. You need to score. We need to keep calm and try to improve.

"All the stats are positive for us. It's difficult to explain - we deserved more and to win the game. In football you can get punished for one little mistake. We are going to try to analyse the game. We were unlucky tonight."

The stats you need to know

  • Leicester have now secured more points this season (43) than they did in the whole of the 2014-15 Premier League campaign (41)
  • Robert Huth's goal ended Leicester's run of 374 minutes without a goal in the Premier League
  • The Foxes earned their first league win at White Hart Lane since October 1999
  • Spurs have won just one of their past four Premier League home games (D1 L2)
  • Claudio Ranieri has never lost a Premier League match as a manager against Tottenham (W7 D3)
  • Since breaking the Premier League record for goals in consecutive games, Jamie Vardy has scored just one goal from six shots on target in seven games

Next up for both sides

Both sides will be confident of wins on Saturday in the Premier League. Leicester visit bottom side Aston Villa, while Tottenham host third-from-bottom Sunderland.

The Foxes and Spurs then meet again next Wednesday in their televised FA Cup third-round replay.

Source: bbc.com

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Arsenal pay the price for frailty inj their game against Liverpool

Arsenal had their advantage at the top of the Premier League cut after Joe Allen's late equaliser gave Liverpool a deserved point in an Anfield thriller.

Olivier Giroud's second-half strike - his second of the night and 18th of the season - looked to have put the Gunners on course for a crucial victory, but substitute Allen rewarded the hosts for a display bursting with energy and spirit with a low 90th-minute finish.

Roberto Firmino twice gave Liverpool the lead in a breathless first half, the second a spectacular 20-yard drive, but Arsenal took advantage of poor defending from Jurgen Klopp's side to level through Aaron Ramsey and Giroud.

Giroud also missed an open goal in the first half, while Firmino glanced a shot off the bar in a wide open game.

With 10 minutes remaining, Arsenal's lead at the top of the table was four points. Yet Robert Huth's late winner for Leicester City at Tottenham and Allen's late strike left Arsenal only ahead of the Foxes on goal difference.

Relive the drama from Anfield

Joe Allen celebrates scoring for Liverpool against Arsenal

Joe Allen's goal was his first in the Premier League since April 2015

Arsenal pay the price for frailty

The visitors looked to have finally established supremacy in this topsy-turvy encounter when Giroud turned to put them ahead 10 minutes after the break - but then failed to press home the advantage and paid a heavy price.

And it will be a matter of concern to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger that on nights like this at places like Anfield, they did not show the necessary ruthlessness to close out a game that was within their grasp.

The Reds deserve great credit for the way they responded to the disappointment of going behind after leading twice - but Arsenal showed no assurance or authority when the pressure mounted in the closing stages and there was an inevitability about Allen's equaliser.

Arsenal, when they should have been pressuring a desperately poor and under-strength Liverpool defence, instead allowed themselves to be pushed back. This was two points lost and Klopp will be the much happier manager.

Two sides to Olivier Giroud

For such a regular goalscorer, Giroud remains a maligned figure by some Arsenal fans who regard him as just short of the highest class - and yet his strike rate speaks eloquently on his behalf.

He showed a poacher's instinct to touch home his first from Ramsey's corner then showed good awareness and movement to turn Kolo Toure and score his second.

And yet those who remain unconvinced by Giroud will point to his astonishing first-half miss when he somehow failed to convert Hector Bellerin's pass from a matter of inches in front of the Kop.

Here, though, he demonstrated again that he will get goals and that is the best answer he can give to those who still doubt the France striker's pedigree.

Mignolet on borrowed time

Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet is poised to sign a new five-year contract at Anfield and has won the consistent backing of manager Klopp despite his fragile form.

And yet he was once again a very obvious weakness behind a Liverpool defence that was an accident waiting to happen for large portions of this enthralling game.

The 27-year-old Belgian was beaten too easily inside his near post when Ramsey equalised Firmino's opener, then was hopelessly stranded as Giroud's faint touch allowed a corner to sneak in. It was desperately poor keeping.

For all Klopp's public assurances - he would not do otherwise - he must surely be concerned at Mignolet's obvious frailty, alongside the glaring inadequacy of his deputy Adam Bogdan, as proved by his errors at Watford and Exeter City.

Liverpool have recalled 22-year-old Welsh keeper Danny Ward from a successful loan spell at Aberdeen so he is now in the mix - but Klopp has to consider a more reliable, experienced long-term solution after Mignolet's latest blunders.

What the managers said

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: "We started so good and played good football. It showed all of us how good we could be.

"Then we concede a goal from a set play and we have to work at it. Organisation is one thing and sometimes we have a little problem with concentration.

"We gave them two easy goals after we had to work really hard for our goals. We had many moments which I am happy with."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "I'm very disappointed but, overall, I cannot fault the effort and commitment of the team.

"We had a difficult start. At 3-2, we should have made it 4-2 and didn't make the right decision in the final third.

"Liverpool fought until the last second."

The stats you need to know

  • Olivier Giroud has scored in four times in his past four Premier League games against Liverpool
  • The Frenchman has scored 11 goals in his past 11 appearances away from home in all competitions
  • Roberto Firmino ended a seven Premier League game run without a goal, last scoring v Man City in November
  • Two of Joe Allen's past three Premier League goals have come in 3-3 draws, also v Palace in May 2014
  • Aaron Ramsey has been involved in five goals in the past four Premier League games versus Liverpool (two goals, three assists)
  • This was the first Premier League fixture at Anfield to see both sides score twice in the first 25 minutes
  • The last 10 Premier League meetings between these clubs at Anfield have seen 41 goals scored
  • James Milner made his 300th Premier League start in this fixture. He provided his first Premier League assist v Arsenal in his 23rd game against them.

What next?

Liverpool don't have long to recover before they entertain fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday (14:05 GMT). Arsenal's next game is a trip to Stoke, where they have failed to win on their past five Premier League visits, on Sunday (16:15 GMT).

Source: bbc.com

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Fifa sacks secretary general Jerome Valcke

World football's governing body Fifa has dismissed secretary general Jerome Valcke.

The Frenchman, 55, was provisionally suspended from football for his alleged involvement in a scheme to profit from the sale of World Cup tickets.

He was released from his duties on 17 September after being accused of a series of Fifa ethics code breaches.

Appointed in 2007, the former right-hand man of Fifa president Sepp Blatter has denied any wrongdoing.

"The duties of the secretary general will continue to be assumed by the acting secretary general, Dr Markus Kattner," read a Fifa statement.

Fifa's ethics committee said on 7 January that it had decided to open "formal adjudicatory proceedings" against Valcke after studying a report submitted by its investigatory chamber.

Valcke has also been accused of being party  to a potential £6.8m ($10m) bribe paid to Jack Warner, the former head of the North and Central America football governing body Concacaf, in return for his vote and backing to South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

Fifa's ethics committee has already recommended that Valcke should be banned from all footballing activities for nine years.

Blatter and vice-president Michel Platini were both suspended for eight years in December following a Fifa ethics investigation.

Valcke has now been sacked twice by Fifa.

He joined the organisation in 2003 as director of marketing and TV, but was dismissed in 2006 over a scandal involving its long-time sponsorship partner Mastercard.

He was found to have negotiated with Mastercard's rival Visa in violation of the former company's right of first negotiation, which cost Fifa $90m (£61.3m) in a settlement.

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 live sports correspondent Richard Conway:

Sources close to the world governing body have told the BBC that a culmination of factors made his departure "inevitable".

Abuse of expenses and misuse of Fifa's hired private jet are believed to be just two of the reasons behind his sacking Valcke.

However, it is believed other significant factors were taken into account.

For example, Valcke's role in an alleged £6.8m ($10m) bribe - made by South Africa to Jack Warner - has also come under scrutiny, although the Frenchman has denied any wrongdoing.

Source: bbc.com

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West Ham win at Bournemouth to move fifth

Dimitri Payet inspired a West Ham comeback to secure victory over Bournemouth which moves them to fifth in the Premier League.

Harry Arter had given the hosts the lead with a 25-yard strike.

But West Ham were much improved after the break thanks to the inventive Payet who deservedly scored a wonderful free-kick into the top left corner.

Payet then fed Enner Valencia for a tap-in before the winger produced a stunning free-kick late on.

With Manchester United drawing 3-3 at Newcastle, the victory for Slaven Bilic's men - which seemed unlikely at the break - moves the Londoners to within a point of Tottenham in fourth.

The win, West Ham's first away from home in six games, also equals a club record eight-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.

Payet shines for gutsy Hammers

Bournemouth deserved their lead at the break, but West Ham immediately played with more intensity in the second half and, such is their character, have now secured eight points in the league this season from losing positions, a haul only Leicester, with 10 points, can better.

The Hammers have had to cope with injures to key players in recent months - Andy Carroll being the latest injury worry after lasting just 12 minutes of this match - but Payet's recovery from an ankle problem is a much welcome boost for the Londoners.

Making his first Premier League start since 7 November, the Frenchman orchestrated West Ham's comeback. His free-kick was sublime, while it was his skill inside the box which created the second goal.

"It's scary how good he is. He's a top player. He's a player who makes all the others better," said manager Slaven Bilic after the match. "It's all about the team, but he's the player who is the most decisive for us."

Missed chances from record signing

Bournemouth's club-record signing Benik Afobe started for the Cherries following the striker's £9m move from Championship side Wolves.

Boss Eddie Howe had warned before the match not to expect too much from the new signing, to allow him to adjust to the pace of the Premier League.

But the former Arsenal striker should have done better with the chances created for him in the first half. With the hosts in command, the 22-year-old - who scored 23 goals in 48 games for Wolves - failed to hit the target with a header from six yards out and then messed up another scoring opportunity, hesitating to allow Adrian to gather on the floor after being put through by a wonderful Junior Stanislas pass.

Howe reflected on the positives, saying: "The pleasing thing was that he was at the end of those chances and we know with his quality he'll put them away."

Scoring has been a problem for the Cherries, which is why they have spent about £16m on strikers in the past week, with Lewis Grabban re-signing for about £7m on Monday. Howe also said further additions will be made to the squad this month.

And although Afobe should have been more clinical, Arter's strike did at least ensure Howe's side scored for the first time in four league matches.

The stats you need to know

  • Harry Arter scored his first-ever Premier League goal in his 11th appearance in the top-flight.
  • A league-high 26% of the Cherries' Premier League goals have come from outside the box (6 of 23).
  • Eddie Howe's side scored for the first time in their last four top-flight games, thus ending their longest PL drought of the campaign (3 games).
  • Dimitri Payet has scored or assisted more goals for West Ham this season (all competitions) than any other player (six goals, five assists).
  • Bournemouth have thrown away a joint-league-high 12 points from leading positions this season in the Premier League (along with Newcastle United).
  • What next?

    West Ham face relegation-threatened Newcastle at St James' Park on 16 January, while Bournemouth - just three points from relegation - face fellow strugglers Norwich at home (16 January) and Sunderland (23 January) in successive league matches.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Aston Villa secured their second win this season

Bottom club Aston Villa secured their first win under Remi Garde after an awful mistake by Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Hennessey allowed Joleon Lescott's header from a corner to squirm from his grasp and trickle over the line.

Palace almost took the lead when Wilfried Zaha hit a post after just 42 seconds at Villa Park.

In a much improved Villa display, returning striker Libor Kozak forced a fine save when the game was goalless.

Bold Garde rewarded for team selection

Garde deserves credit for his side's first win since the opening day of the season after making sweeping changes to the team defeated at Sunderland last time out in the Premier League.

Keeper Brad Guzan and defender Micah Richards were among those left on the bench, with striker Kozak starting for the first time in the league since Boxing Day 2013.

Palace started brightly, Zaha hitting the base of the post in the opening minute after Jason Puncheon's threaded pass before Bakary Sako fired over from 25 yards and Damien Delaney got between two defenders before shooting just wide.

Villa settled with Kozak impressing in attack and forcing a fine save from Hennessey before the Wales international failed to hold Lescott's tame header, the ball dropping between his feet and rolling over the line.

Can Villa stay up?

This was a long overdue committed performance, one which Villa fans have been crying out for.

But despite a highly encouraging result, Villa remain in deep trouble at the bottom of the table, eight points from safety with 17 games remaining.

Yet Garde's new-look team showed more heart and energy in these 90 minutes than they had displayed in the previous 19 games since the opening day win at Bournemouth.

A huge turnaround in fortune is needed to get out of the mess they are in but this was a move in the right direction, a far cry from the lacklustre performance in the FA Cup third round draw at League Two Wycombe which angered their fans so much. 

Palace's season at a crossroads

What has happened to Palace?

Away wins at Chelsea and Liverpool seem a long time ago and Alan Pardew's side are now without a win in four league games.

Victory at Villa Park would have put them level on points with sixth-placed Manchester United but talk of Palace gate-crashing Europe next season is premature after a lacklustre display.

There are some big tests around the corner for Pardew's men and they will certainly have to perform much better than they did against Villa.

What the manager said

Aston Villa manager Remi Garde: "We won only 1-0 but we created many good opportunities.

"We earned our luck by being very aggressive on the ball. We didn't sit back after we scored, we tried to score a second. We had a very good attitude."

Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew: "A lot of things went wrong.

"We lacked energy, we lacked quality, one of our poorest displays of the season. Villa really deserved their victory - they worked so, so hard.

The stats you need to know

  • Aston Villa recorded their first Premier League win in 20 attempts, having lost 14 of the previous 19.
  • The past eight league meetings between Villa and Crystal Palace have produced just 11 goals.
  • Palace have failed to score in four successive top-flight matches for the first time since February 1998.
  • This was Villa's first home Premier League win over Palace since March 1998.
  • Palace have kept just two clean sheets in their last 16 Premier League away matches.
  • Villa have only scored a first-half goal in two of their last 16 Premier League games and in none of their past six.

What's next?

Despite victory, it does not get any easier for Aston Villa with second-placed Leicester City visiting Villa Park on Saturday (17:30 GMT). On the same day, Palace are at third-placed Manchester City (15:00 GMT).

Source: bbc.com

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Newcastle strike late in thriller

Paul Dummett's late strike rescued a point for Newcastle as Manchester United missed the chance to go level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham.

It was a remarkable end to a game that had seen the away side lead twice.

Wayne Rooney's penalty and Jesse Lingard's finish put them 2-0 up before Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic's penalty levelled the scores.

Rooney's second looked to have won it for Louis van Gaal's side but Dummett salvaged the draw in the last minute.

The point earned is not enough to lift Newcastle out of the bottom three - they remain a point and place behind 17th-placed Swansea - but it represents another notable improvement following three successive 1-0 league defeats.

For Louis van Gaal's side, it will represent two points lost and a step backwards after back-to-back Premier League and FA Cup victories had offered improvement on a winless December.

Let us entertain you

Wayne Rooney

Following criticism of Manchester United's attacking prowess, in a season that had seen them score just 24 goals in 20 league games prior to Tuesday, Van Gaal himself admitted on Monday that he has been "very bored" at times watching his side.

He can have no such complaints after this hugely entertaining, see-saw game, which produced some of their best attacking play of the season.

Rooney was magnificent.

The England striker gave them the lead from the spot after Mike Dean's controversial call to award a penalty against Chancel Mbemba after his arm blocked Marouane Fellaini's back-post header from a corner.

But it was his role in setting up Lingard for the second - holding the ball up before rolling a perfectly timed pass into the winger's path for a low, angled finish - and his superbly struck 20-yard second, after Memphis Depay's shot had deflected to him, that really showcased the 30-year-old's talent, the latter of which drew a rare smile from his manager.

However, United's attacking display was let down by key misses from Lingard, who blazed over from inside the box at 2-1, and Fellaini, who headed straight at Rob Elliott from point-blank range when his side led 3-2.

Ultimately, though, Van Gaal will be left bemoaning an area in which his side have largely excelled this season, as a series of defensive lapses cost them victory.

Resilient Newcastle show improvement

Newcastle have been one of the early movers in this transfer window, signing midfielders Henri Saivet and Jonjo Shelvey, both of whom greeted the crowd before kick-off.

But on the evidence of this display, at least, the current squad is not lacking in fight.

At 2-0 down they refused to crumble, hitting back soon after Lingard's goal as Wijnaldum - who had earlier seen a 12-yard shot saved by David de Gea - made no mistake from a similar range after latching on to Mitrovic's downward header.

The supplier turned scorer after the break to make it 2-2, dusting himself off after being grappled to the ground by Chris Smalling in the box to roll in his fourth goal of the season from the penalty spot.

Even when they fell behind again with 11 minutes to go, Newcastle dug deep and were rewarded when the away side failed to properly clear a ball into the box and Dummett's fierce strike from the edge of the box found the net via Smalling's chest.

Analysis - former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer

"What a fantastic match. Credit to both sets of players and managers as they both wanted to win and gambled to win. I think a draw was a fair result.

"How on earth can you work football out?

"Newcastle got some confidence and they shoved themselves 10 yards up the pitch, particularly in the first half. They got the goal just before half-time and I'm sure Steve McClaren told them to do the same as they had in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

"It was a great atmosphere in the stadium and I just wanted more.

"The one concern is that we have seen Newcastle performances like this against Tottenham and Liverpool but what they have to do now is go into games against lesser teams and produce that kind of performance."

What they said...

Newcastle United boss Steve McClaren:"The crowd responded magnificently and we wanted to show everyone what we are about.

"People said that United were boring and that we lack character - but we kept fighting until the end and we have got a goal that feels like a winner.

"People thought it would be a 0-0 and it was a classic at 3-3. It must have been a great game for the neutral - it was a heart attack for the coaches."

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal:"Of course it feels like a defeat.

"We have given it away - I have told that to my players. When the referee gives a penalty for nothing - it is a duel I think and you cannot decide who is worse - but we gave it away.

"We could have scored six goals easily here and we did not. If we had, it would have been three successive wins at the start of the year going into Liverpool."

The stats you need to know

  • Rooney has also assisted eight Premier League goals against Newcastle, his most against a single opponent
  • Rooney's penalty goal was his 19th in the Premier League for Man United, putting him ahead of Ruud van Nistelrooy (18)
  • This is only the second time this season that Manchester United have scored twice in the first half of a Premier League game (also two v Everton in October)
  • Newcastle recovered from a two-goal deficit to avoid defeat for the first time in a Premier League game since September 2014 against Hull (a 2-2 draw)
  • The Magpies scored more than twice in a Premier League game this season for only the second time (also 6-2 against Norwich)

What next?

Newcastle are at home again on Saturday, with West Ham the visitors to St James' Park.

Manchester United travel to Anfield to face Liverpool on Sunday in a 14:05 GMT kick-off.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Pistorius seeks to appeal against murder conviction

The South African athlete Oscar Pistorius is to seek an appeal against his conviction for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius killed Ms Steenkamp in February 2013 after firing four times through a locked toilet door.

A manslaughter verdict was overturned last month and a murder verdict introduced in its place.

The athlete's defence has lodged papers at the Constitutional Court, urging a review of his murder conviction.

He is currently under house arrest after spending one year of his original five-year sentence in jail.

South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in December that the lower court had not applied correctly the rule of dolus eventualis - whether Pistorius knew that a death would be a likely result of his actions.

The making and unmaking of Oscar Pistorius

Last month, Justice Eric Leach said that having armed himself with a high-calibre weapon, Pistorius must have foreseen that whoever was behind the door might die, especially given his firearms training.

Pistorius has always maintained he believed he was shooting at an intruder.

His lawyers say the appeals court made fundamental errors, claiming in appeal papers that the court "acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it rejected the factual finding of the Trial Court and replaced it with a contrary factual finding of its own".

Pistorius's lawyer, Andrew Fawcett, says the appeal is now in the hands of the director of public prosecutions, who must decide whether there are grounds for appeal. If so, the case will go before the Constitutional Court.

The South African made history by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics, in London in 2012. He competed in the 400m, wearing carbon-fibre blades to run against able-bodied athletes.

Source: bbc.com

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Louis van Gaal: Some Man Utd games have bored me

Louis van Gaal admits he has been "very bored or angry" during some Manchester United games this season.

The Old Trafford boss said he had "enjoyed" some matches during a campaign defined by the Dutchman's possession-based tactics.

United are out of the Champions League and fifth in the Premier League.

Home supporters booed Van Gaal's team off at half-time in Saturday's FA Cup tie against Sheffield United, with thousands leaving early.

Asked why many fans had gone before Wayne Rooney's 93rd-minute penalty secured a 1-0 third-round win, Van Gaal replied: "'They are not thinking that we would score, I think, and maybe also because of the traffic."

Van Gaal suggested United fans should be "happy" with their team's current form, despite the home side not managing a shot on target until the 69th minute against their League One opponents.

Van Gaal refused to react to former United midfielder Paul Scholes, who said both the players and manager looked "bored" and there was "no spirit".

But the 64-year-old later admitted: "There are matches that I have enjoyed. And there are also matches where I'm very bored or angry because we are not disorganising our opponent's defence, but that is football."

United travel to the Championship's second-placed side Derby County in the fifth round.

'I don't believe in yelling from the sidelines'

Scholes is one of several ex-United players to be very critical of United's style of play.

"There's nobody having a go at each other, there's no smiling, there's no entertainment," the 11-time Premier League winner said. "I think even Van Gaal on the bench looks bored, but he'll come out and say he's happy."

Van Gaal said he never discusses such comments with assistant manager Ryan Giggs - an ex team-mate of Scholes - and defended his absence form the touchline during matches.

"I'm not Sir Alex, as you know," said Van Gaal. "Everybody is different and I don't believe in yelling from the sidelines. I believe in communication during the week, during the preparation and I believe in my players who have to perform.

"A lot of managers are [yelling from the sidelines] but I doubt if they have real influence."

Source: bbc.com

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Messi wins fifth Ballon d'Or award

Lionel Messi wins Ballon d'Or over Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or award for the world's best player for the fifth time.

The 28-year-old Argentine had 41.33% of the vote, with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo (27.76%) second and Barca's Neymar (7.86%) third.

Either Messi or Ronaldo, who became a three-time winner last year, have won the past eight awards.

United States midfielder Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final, won the women's award.

England coach Mark Sampson was beaten to the women's football coach of the year award by USA boss Jill Ellis.

Messi's 2015 in numbers

  • 61 games, 52 goals and 26 assists.
  • A goal every 101 minutes and an assist every 202 minutes.
  • Best minutes-per-goal rate - 80 - of anyone scoring a minimum of 10 goals across Europe's top five leagues during 2015.
  • Directly involved in 49 goals in La Liga - 34 scored and 15 assists - which was the joint-most with Ronaldo in 2015 across the top five European leagues.
  • Scored in all six club tournaments in 2015, as Barcelona won five of them.

Lionel Messi extended his record haul of world player of the year awards with his fifth after winning the treble - La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League - with Barcelona in 2014-15.

Portugal captain Ronaldo, 30, scored 57 goals in as many games in 2015 - including a record 16 in the Champions League - but that was not enough to win him Ballon d'Or number four.

Barcelona striker Neymar, 23, was the first Brazilian to finish in the top three since Kaka won the 2007 award. He scored 45 goals in 62 games and is joint top scorer in this season's La Liga with 15, level with team-mate Luis Suarez.

"It's a very special moment for me to be back here on this stage, winning again another Ballon d'Or after seeing Cristiano win it," Messi said.

"It's incredible that it's my fifth. Much more than anything I would have dreamed of as a kid."

Women's world player of the year

Carli Lloyd

USA's World Cup-winning midfielder Carli Lloyd, 33, won the women's world player of the year award after scoring a hat-trick in the final against Japan, including a sensational strike from the halfway line. She earned the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament.

Former Germany striker Celia Sasic finished second despite retiring halfway through 2015 at the age of 27. In the first half of the year she was top scorer in the World Cup with six goals and won the Champions League with Frankfurt.

Japan midfielder Aya Miyama, 30, captained her country to the World Cup final, where they lost to the USA. She was third.

None of the shortlisted trio had won the award before.

Lloyd said: "It has been a dream ever since I started with the national team. Keep your dreams and just go after them."

Fifa/Fifpro World XI

Real Madrid had as many players as Barcelona, four, in the world team of the year despite not winning a trophy.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was German champions Bayern Munich's only representative. The Premier League was the only of Europe's top five leagues to not have anyone in the team.

Fifa/Fifpro World XI

World coach of the year - men's football

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique won the world coach of the year award after leading his side to five of the six trophies on offer in 2015, including the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

He beat Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, who was second, and Chile's Copa America-winning coach Jorge Sampaoli to the award.

World coach of the year - women's football

United States coach Jill Ellis was named women's football world coach of the year after leading her country to World Cup glory in the summer.

England coach Mark Sampson finished third with 10.68% of the vote after their third-place finish in Canada. Second was Japan coach Norio Sasaki, whose side beat England in the semi-finals, but lost to USA in the final.

"It is a true honour," said Ellis. "To Fifa, to our own federation, thank you for your belief, your vision and your investment in women's football."

Puskas award - goal of the year

Atletico Goianiense's Wendell Lira won the goal of the year award for a spectacular overhead kick in Brazil's Goiano state league game against Goianesia.

Messi's run from halfway and finish in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao was second, with Roma full-back Alessandro Florenzi's 55-yard goal against Barca third.

Fair play award

Former Leeds and South Africa captain Lucas Radebe announced the winner of this year's fair play award - all football clubs and organisations supporting refugees.

There was no shortlist for this award.

How does voting work?

Journalists, national team coaches and captains vote for their top three in all categories, apart from the Puskas and fair play ones.

They select their first, second and third choice for each award, with five, three and one points given to each place respectively.

The winner is the person with the most points. In the event of a tie, it goes to the player or coach with the most first places.

The Puskas award, for the "most beautiful goal" of 2015, is voted for by users of the Fifa and France Football websites.

Source: bbc.com

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Ghana's Otto Addo takes up coaching role in Denmark

Former Ghana international Otto Addo has been appointed assistant coach of Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjælland.

The 40-year-old has previously worked as a scout for the Black Stars as well as an assistant at German side Hamburger.

"We have been looking for an addition to the team and with Otto on board we have a coach who understands the European and African mentality," Head of Football Carsten Jensen told the club website.  

Addo played for Ghana between 1999 and 2006, when he featured at that year's World Cup in Germany.

One of a small but increasing number of Africans working as a coach in European football, he has welcomed his appointment.

"I'm really thrilled for this new opportunity and I'm looking forward to meeting the other coaches and players," Addo told the club website.

"I'm really excited with the big Danish talent here that can be supplemented by players from Right to Dream, this will give us an unique chance of developing people to the highest level."

Right to Dream is a football academy that started in Ghana and which now has bases in seven different African countries.

A former Bundesliga player with Hannover and Borussia Dortmund among others, Nordsjælland are hoping that Addo can pass on his experience to the club's next generation.

Addo won the German league with Dortmund in 2002, the same year that the team were beaten by Dutch side Feyenoord in the Uefa Cup final, with Addo a second-half substitute.

"Otto brings valuable experience with the German-mentality with more than 300 games in the Bundesliga and playing in the World Cup," added Jensen.

"This mentality should help all our players to understand what it takes to play at the top level."

The Danish Superliga is currently on a winter break but resumes in late February.

Nordsjælland, whose sole title came in 2012, currently sit eighth in the 12-team league.

Source: bbc.com

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Minnesota Vikings beaten by Seattle Seahawks in -21C

Fans, players and officials braved one of the coldest NFL games in history as Minnesota Vikings lost to Seattle Seahawks in an NFC Wild Card game.

Sunday's temperatures were -21C (-31C wind chill) at kick-off, making it the joint third coldest game in history.

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a last-gasp field goal as the Seahawks won 10-9 to set up a play-off game with the Carolina Panthers.

Free hand warmers and coffee were handed out to fans before the game.

Walsh said he "didn't do my job".

He added: "It's my fault. I don't care if you give me a watermelon, I should be able to put that through."

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer agreed: "It's a chip shot, he's gotta make it."

In Sunday's other game, Green Bay came from 11-0 down to beat Washington 35-18 and will play Arizona Cardinals.

Kansas City and Pittsburgh both won on Saturday.

Who plays who now?

Saturday, 16 January:

AFC: Kansas City at New England

NFC: Green Bay at Arizona

Sunday, 17 January:

AFC: Pittsburgh at Denver

NFC: Seattle at Carolina

How cold was it?

The coldest NFL game in terms of air temperature was 1967's 'Ice Bowl' between Green Bay and Dallas, which at kick off was -25C (-44C wind chill).

Supporters were encouraged to bring blankets and "styrofoam, cardboard or newspapers to place under their feet" to prevent prolonged contact with the concrete floor in the stands.

The Vikings said it was the coldest game in their history, beating the previous record from 3 December 1972, when the air temperature was -18C and the wind chill was -28C.

The Vikings are currently playing at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota's football team, while a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome, their home from 1982 to 2013, is under construction.

NFL UK

A security guard keeps warm

A security guard keeps warm

Source: bbc.com

 

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FA Cup holders Arsenal beat Sunderland at Emirates Stadium.

FA Cup holders Arsenal came from behind to record a comfortable third-round win against Premier League strugglers Sunderland at Emirates Stadium.

The visitors took a surprise lead when Jeremain Lens struck inside the box.

Arsenal equalised through Joel Campbell's half-volley, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the woodwork.

Substitute Aaron Ramsey tapped in late on to put Arsenal ahead before Olivier Giroud's close-range finish wrapped up a 13th consecutive win in the FA Cup.

Reaction to Saturday's FA Cup third-round games

Wenger has his eye on the prize

Arsenal, who beat Aston Villa 4-0 in last season's final, have won the FA Cup 12 times - more than any other side.

Six of those have come under Arsene Wenger, who will become the competition's most successful manager with one more victory.

Arsenal may be top of the Premier League, but Wenger underlined his intention to take the FA Cup seriously by naming a strong side, with first-team regulars Petr Cech, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Theo Walcott all included.

It was a decision that paid off. After Sunderland's unexpected opener, Walcott provided the assist for Arsenal's equaliser and Hector Bellerin played a key role in their next two goals as the hosts' experienced men carried them forward while the visitors' mix of fringe and youth players wilted.

A defeat, but some positives for Sunderland

Sunderland's priority is clear - Premier League survival - and that was reflected in Sam Allardyce's team selection, with the Black Cats showing seven changes.

After five successive defeats, Sunderland secured a morale-boosting 3-1 win against Aston Villa last time out.

They looked to have continued their momentum when they stunned Arsenal to take the lead, Lens taking advantage of some uncharacteristic hesitancy in the Gunners' defence to score.

That was only Lens' third goal in 17 appearances for Sunderland, but his overall play will have been encouraging for Black Cats fans as his pace and physical presence caused the hosts a number of problems.

He possesses the ability to be an important player for Sunderland in their battle against relegation. The question is, can he perform like he did against Arsenal on a consistent basis?

What they said

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: "It was a test for us to come from behind. There was a great mental response and there is a special solidarity in the team.

"You always worry because, no matter how long you are in this job, you never know what is next. The experience we had up front today helped. I am very happy overall."

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce: "In the end they had better finishers than we had today. We were fine for 70 minutes and I am just a little sad at the goals we allowed Arsenal to score. We made it easy for them in the end.

"We move on. The squad has shown they can play at this level. Lens is strong on the ball as well as talented. Hopefully we can push on and see a bit more from him."

The stats you need to know

  • Arsenal have not lost an FA Cup tie in 13 games since Blackburn beat them 1-0 in February 2013 at the Emirates in the fifth round.
  • No manager has won the FA Cup more times than Arsene Wenger (six). His first game in the competition was against Sunderland in the third round in 1997.
  • Arsenal have not been defeated in the third round since losing a replay to Sheffield United 1-0 at Bramall Lane in January 1996 (W18 D5).

What next?

Arsenal travel to Liverpool in the Premier League on Wednesday, while Sunderland are at Swansea on the same day.

The FA Cup fourth-round draw takes place on Monday and is live on The One Show on BBC One from 19:00 GMT.

Source: bbc.com

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Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal to win Qatar Open title

World number one Novak Djokovic claimed his first title of the year with an impressive 6-1 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal in the Qatar Open.

The Serb continued his recent dominance of the 14-time Grand Slam winner with a ninth victory in 10 meetings - the last five in straight sets.

The 28-year-old broke twice in both sets as Nadal, 29, had no answer to the pace and power of his groundstrokes.

Djokovic is preparing to defend his Australian Open title from 18 January.

Djokovic - a class apart

This was Djokovic's most convincing victory against Nadal in their 47 meetings, a head-to-head he leads for the first time.

Nadal made just 13 unforced errors but was bullied off the court by an inspired opponent who gave him perhaps the most uncomfortable 73 minutes he has faced on court.

Djokovic, who has reached the final of every event he has entered since losing to Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals of last year's Qatar Open, lost just nine points on his own serve.

Nadal, meanwhile, won only 48% of points on his own first serve and made nine winning returns compared to 30 from Djokovic.

'Perfect tennis'

Djokovic, for whom this was a first Qatar Open title, said: "I played very much perfect tennis.

"From the beginning, I hit every shot the way I imagined I would hit it. Those two sets give me a great feeling.

"It gives me a lot of confidence and satisfaction, particularly against Rafa."

Source: bbc.com

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Messi scored a hat-trick as Barcelona Win

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as Barcelona secured a comfortable victory over Granada to return to the top of La Liga.

The Argentine scored twice in the first 15 minutes and added another after the break to take his season's tally to 18, as Barca made it 20 games unbeaten.

Messi put Barcelona in command with composed close-range finishes to Luis Suarez-inspired moves.

He followed up to add a 58th-minute third, before Neymar lobbed the fourth.

Victory increased Barcelona's advantage over Real Madrid to five points - the side from the Spanish capital host Deportivo La Coruna in Zinedine Zidane's first game in charge later on Saturday.

Barca's hold on top spot could be short-lived as they will surrender their position if Atletico win at Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Messi broke the deadlock in the eighth minute against a side who were beaten 6-0 at the Nou Camp last season.

A clever dummy from Suarez allowed league debutant Arda Turan to thread a fine ball to the Argentine to slot home.

The second came six minutes later, as Neymar eased through before passing to Suarez, who knocked the ball down for Messi to finish.

Granada came into the contest more in the second half, with striker Isaac Success posing a threat, and David Lomban hooking a chance over the bar.

Normal service was soon resumed however, as Messi claimed his third - and 11th goal in eight La Liga appearances against Granada - following up after a dummy by Turan let in Neymar to shoot against the frame of the goal.

Neymar capped another impressive individual display by adding a fourth goal with seven minutes left thanks to a precise lob after good work by Messi and Suarez.

Source: bbc.com

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Bale scored a hat-trick as Real Win

Gareth Bale scored a hat-trick as Zinedine Zidane began his reign as Real Madrid boss with a comprehensive win over Deportivo La Coruna.

Karim Benzema claimed his 100th league goal for the club with an early opener in the first game since the departure of previous manager Rafa Benitez.

Bale headed the second and found the bottom corner after the break before sealing his treble with another header.

Benzema hit a fifth to leave Real two points behind league leaders Barcelona.

Zidane's side could have enjoyed a bigger winning margin, with Cristiano Ronaldo heading against the post in the first half.

Barca's comfortable 4-0 victory over Granada put added pressure on Real at the outset, and they could have been behind before Benzema opened the scoring.

Deportivo had lost just once in nine league games and started confidently, carving the Real defence wide open to create a chance for Lucas Perez, but his shot was blocked by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Real made the most of their escape, and were two goals up inside the first quarter of the contest.

Zinedine Zidane

From Toni Kroos' 15th minute corner, Benzema flicked home a Sergio Ramos shot, despite Deportivo's justifiable claims that Bale was offside and interfering with play.

Bale doubled the advantage in the 23rd minute, heading home an inviting Dani Carvajal cross.

It was almost three before the interval as Ronaldo headed a Bale cross against a post at the culmination of another flowing team move.

Ronaldo turned provider after the break to find Bale, who coolly picked his spot from the edge of the area.

A richly deserved hat-trick arrived in the 64th minute thanks to another imperious leap to head home from close range.

It was Bale's last significant contribution before he was substituted to a standing ovation from the 70,000 crowd in the Santiago Bernabeu, while Ronaldo twice went close to making it five late on.

Benzema did just that in stoppage time, following up to find the net off the underside of the bar after Ronaldo had again been denied.

Source: bbc.com

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United edged League One Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup fourth round through a late penalty

Wayne Rooney scored a last-minute penalty as a poor Manchester United edged League One Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup fourth round.

The hosts, 47 places above their opponents in the football pyramid, had only two shots on target throughout.

Substitute Memphis Depay curled just wide in the second half, but it looked like the visitors would earn a replay.

However, after Memphis was fouled inside the area, Rooney stepped up to score and send the hosts through.

Read about how the game unfolded

Reaction to Saturday's FA Cup third-round games

Van Gaal's 'Mark Robins moment'?

Just two weeks ago Louis van Gaal's future as Manchester United manager appeared to be in huge doubt.

The Red Devils had failed to win in seven games but, after surviving a 2-0 defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day, Van Gaal has overseen an improvement in both results and, in patches, performances.

After a combined 31 shots on goal in their last two games against Chelsea and Swansea, Manchester United seemed a livelier prospect, despite their plentiful possession still having no end product.

And, at Old Trafford on Saturday, Memphis fizzed an effort just wide in the second half, only for the home fans to burst into ironic cheers, rather than roar encouragement.

A drab draw against a League One side would likely have seen Van Gaal come under criticism once again, but Rooney's strike could give him some breathing space.

Back in 1990, Mark Robins scored a goal in the FA Cup for Manchester United that is said to have saved Sir Alex Ferguson from the sack.

Van Gaal may have just had his 'Robins moment'.

'I'd get rid of Van Gaal'

Sheffield United looked to have secured a lucrative replay at Bramall Lane but, as the game entered the 90th minute, Memphis broke into the area and fell as he was challenged by midfielder Dean Hammond.

His acrobatic reaction suggested the hosts may have got lucky when referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot, but replays showed there was limited contact.

"I thought it was a penalty but it was an absolute shocking performance from Manchester United," BBC Radio 5 live pundit Robbie Savage said.

"For me, Van Gaal, I'd get rid of him."

Blades caution proves costly

Two years ago Sheffield United reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and had forged a reputation as seasoned giant killers.

In recent years, they have beaten Aston Villa, West Ham and Southampton in cup competitions and, given the sense of unrest at Old Trafford, they will have fancied their chances of claiming a higher division scalp.

They had the game's first shot on target, which came in the 67th minute after Chris Basham fired straight at David De Gea, but retreated into their own half as they looked to keep Manchester United out and take the tie back to South Yorkshire.

That perhaps proved their undoing as the hosts pressed in the closing stages, leading to the moment when Memphis was brought down inside the box.

A little more conviction, and the result could have been different

'Man Utd players looked bored'

"There just seems to be an acceptance of bad performances," former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes told BT Sport.

"Every time you come to Old Trafford you see negative football."

Read more from Scholes

What they said

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: "You have to see also how the opponent is playing. Everybody shall give applause to Sheffield United. They were very organised but it is much more difficult to attack than to defend.

"Again a clean sheet is also the benefit of our organisation. I'm very disappointed that we are not creating too many chances, that we have to improve."

Sheffield United boss Nigel Adkins on BT Sport: "The players have worked extremely hard against superior opposition.

"The grit, desire and character gave the supporters something to cheer about. The supporters have got right behind the players and there is a togetherness at the football club."

The stats you need to know

  • Wayne Rooney has scored nine goals in his last 10 FA Cup games for Manchester United.
  • Manchester United have lost once in 37 FA Cup ties against lower-ranked sides - v Leeds United in 2010.
  • Manchester United have progressed from 29 of their last 31 third round ties in the FA Cup.

What next?

Manchester United travel to Newcastle in the Premier League on Tuesday, while Sheffield United are back in League One action as they face 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan.

The draw for the FA Cup fourth round takes place on Monday and is live on The One Show on BBC One from 19:00 GMT.

Source: bbc

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Oscar and Diego Costa: Guus Hiddink describes Chelsea bust-up

The training ground incident between Oscar and Diego Costa was described as "two wolves bumping chests" by Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink.

The pair faced up to each other after a challenge from midfielder Oscar into the back of striker Costa on Thursday.

"Oscar apologised in front of the group and they all started laughing, jokes were made," said Hiddink.

The Premier League champions face League One side Scunthorpe in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday.

Oscar tweet snip

Oscar laughed off the incident on Twitter

Chelsea have struggled in the league this season, lying in 14th place, and sacked manager Jose Mourinho last month after he won the title for the club in the previous season.

The Telegraph reported  the two players had to be separated following an "outrageous" challenge from Brazilian Oscar at Chelsea's Cobham training ground.

But Hiddink - who won the FA Cup in his previous spell in charge of the Blues in 2009 - played down the incident.

"It's a pity that our photographer had a day off or he could have shot beautiful pictures from the two", he said.

"They were jesting a bit after a charge from behind from the smaller of the two, Oscar. Costa took a charge from behind and it was overdone, especially when you know Oscar is not the biggest tackler of the team.

"They stumbled over the ground, stood up, as a normal reaction, they jested a bit, but we came in between them to say that there was no need to hit each other.

"Those things happen when you're close on the edge. Oscar apologised for over-reacting, then they looked at each other and started laughing. It was a normal battle."

Source: bbc.com

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Again? Luis Suarez banned for two games

Luis Suarez has been banned for two matches for his part in a scuffle between Barcelona and Espanyol players after their Spanish Cup tie.

The Uruguayan striker, 28, is alleged to have threatened opposition players in the tunnel following Wednesday's game, which Barcelona won 4-1.

The ban applies to Copa del Rey matches only, including the return leg of the last-16 fixture on Wednesday.

Barcelona, who are second in La Liga, are appealing the decision.

"Barcelona is expected to argue that the player, as he later stated, did not use the allegedly offensive words that were attributed to him in the referee's official notes following the match," the club said in a statement. 

During an ill-tempered contest at Nou Camp, the visitors had Hernan Perez and Pape Diop sent off, with the latter dismissed for an abusive comment aimed at former Liverpool striker Suarez.

According to referee Juan Martinez Munuera's report, quoted by Catalan newspaper Sport,  Suarez waited in the tunnel and shouted: "I'm waiting for you, come here! You're a waste of space."

The two city rivals were involved in another tense derby, in which Barcelona star Neymar was the alleged target of racist chanting during a 0-0 draw at Espanyol's stadium, on 2 January.

Source: bbc.com

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Louis van Gaal unfazed by Pep Guardiola's plans

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal says he is unfazed by Pep Guardiola's desire to manage in the Premier League.

Bayern Munich coach Guardiola, 44, has announced he will leave the German club in May after three seasons.

The former Barcelona boss has been linked with both Manchester clubs as well as Chelsea and Arsenal.

"He has that ambition and he wants to sniff the culture of England and the Premier League. It is very good he wants to do that," said Van Gaal.

"I'm at the end of my career so for me it's not so interesting.

"For me, it's interesting how I take care of Manchester United in my contract."

Van Gaal, 64, is contracted at Old Trafford until the end of next season but his position has come under scrutiny after an eight-game winless run in the Premier League that ended with last weekend's 2-1 victory over Swansea.

Why is Guardiola in demand?

  • Barcelona's most successful manager with 14 trophies in four years, including three La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues.
  • Took a year's break before joining Bayern in 2013, following the club's Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup treble under Jupp Heynckes.
  • Won the league twice in his two full seasons with Bayern, who are eight points clear in his third campaign. He is yet to win the Champions League with the German club and has been knocked out at the semi-final stage twice.
  • They face Italian giants Juventus in the last 16 of Europe's elite club competition in February and Guardiola said: "Winning the Champions League would make my time here complete."

Source: bbc.com

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Yaya Toure angered by African player of the year award snub

Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has reacted angrily after failing to win the Confederation of African Football's player of the year award.

Toure captained Ivory Coast to 2015 Africa Cup of Nations victory but came second to Gabon and Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

"I think that's what makes the shame of Africa," he told Radio France International. 

"To behave in this way is indecent! But what can we do?"

'Yaya will look after himself'

Toure had won the CAF award for the previous four years and was recently crowned BBC African footballer of the year for 2015.

Aubameyang, 26, became the first player from Gabon to win the award.

He has scored 18 goals in 17 Bundesliga games this season and a total of 68 goals in 119 games since joining the German club from French side St Etienne in 2013.

However, Gabon were eliminated at the group stage of last year's Africa Cup of Nations.

"We Africans, we do not show that Africa is important to us," added 32-year-old Toure.

"We give more priority to what's going on elsewhere than in our own continent. This is what is appalling.

"I give an example: it's Lionel Messi who wins all the trophies but it's Ronaldo who is Ballon d'Or. What would you say? It would be unfair."

"Yaya will look after himself, and let Africa look after itself. Like I'm often told, you shouldn't worry too much about Africa, because Africa will be the first to let you down."

Source: bbc.com

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Caf Player of the Year is Aubameyang

Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has narrowly beaten Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure to the Confederation of African Football's player of the year award.

The Borussia Dortmund striker earned 143 points, with Manchester City midfielder Toure finishing runner-up with 136 points.

Ghana and Swansea midfielder Andre Ayew came in third with 112 points.

Herve Renard, who managed Ivory Coast to their Africa Cup of Nations victory, won the coach of the year award.

The Frenchman, who led Zambia to victory in the tournament in 2012, is the first person to coach two different countries to the title.

More to follow.

Source: bbc.com

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Qatar Open: Rafael Nadal beats Andrey Kuznetsov to reach semis

World number five Rafael Nadal beat Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3 5-7 6-4 to reach the semi-finals of the Qatar Open.

Nadal was made to work for his victory by the world number 79, but prevailed in just over two hours.

He will next face Ukraine's Illya Marchenko, who upset Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3 7-6 (3).

Britain's Kyle Edmund plays Czech world number six Tomas Berdych later on Thursday.

Edmund could face Serb Novak Djokovic in the last four, after the world number one beat Argentina's Leonardo Mayer 6-3 7-5.

Source: bbc.com

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Michel Platini will not stand in Fifa presidential election

Suspended Uefa president Michel Platini says he will not stand in the Fifa presidential election next month.

Platini, along with Fifa president Sepp Blatter, has been banned from football-related activities for eight years by world football's governing body.

Both men were found guilty of breaches surrounding a £1.3m ($2m) "disloyal payment" made to Platini in 2011.

They are appealing against their bans, but Platini says the timing of the 26 February election means he cannot run.

"I'm withdrawing from the race for the Fifa presidency," the 60-year-old Frenchman told the Associated Press.

"The timing is not good for me. I don't have the means to fight on equal terms with the other candidates.

"I have not been given the chance to play the game. Bye bye Fifa, bye bye Fifa presidency."

'Injustice is revolting me'

Platini, president of European football's governing body since 2007, had submitted his candidacy for the Fifa presidential election but could not stand while suspended.

He and Blatter, 79, plan to take their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"I've spent more time in hearing rooms than on football pitches speaking about 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or football news," added Platini.

"I'm taking this philosophically. Let's wait and see what happens. But injustice is revolting me and I'm trying to fight it."

Platini and Blatter claimed the payment was honouring an agreement made in 1998 for work carried out between 1998 and 2002, when Platini worked as a technical adviser for Blatter.

Fifa's ethics committee said there was "not sufficient evidence" to establish the payment was a bribe, but both men demonstrated an "abusive execution" of their positions.

"I can't have any regret in that story because things fell upon my head while I haven't done anything wrong," added Platini.

"I'm struggling to understand what happened, unless there was a will somewhere to prevent me from bidding."

'Maybe I'll come back in 20 years'

The English Football Association had previously backed Platini for the Fifa presidency, but suspended its support in October pending the outcome of the ethics inquiry.

FA chairman Greg Dyke said recently the organisation had yet to decide who to now support.

"I had 150 associations thinking that I'm the right person to solve Fifa problems," said Platini.

"It won't happen. But there is no age limitation, so maybe I'll come back in 20 years. Who knows?"

Who will be the next Fifa boss?

There are five candidates to succeed Blatter, who has been Fifa president since 1998:

  • Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa - 50, Bahrain, president of Asian Football Confederation;
  • Tokyo Sexwale - 62, South Africa, politician, businessman and former political prisoner;
  • Prince Ali bin al-Hussein - 40, Jordan, a former Fifa vice-president and 2015 Fifa presidential candidate;
  • Gianni Infantino - 45, Switzerland, Uefa general secretary and a member of Fifa's reform committee;
  • Jerome Champagne - 57, France, a former Fifa assistant general secretary and former French diplomat.

Voting will take place by secret ballot, with all Fifa's 209 member states having a vote each.

Source: bbc.com

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Everton on top in semi-final tie as they beat Man City 2-1

Everton hold the advantage in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Manchester City after Romelu Lukaku's 19th goal of the season gave them victory at Goodison Park.

City looked to have secured a draw with 14 minutes left, when Jesus Navas finished a sweeping counter-attack following brilliant work by Sergio Aguero.

That equaliser cancelled out Ramiro Funes Mori's opener for Everton on the stroke of half-time.

Argentine Funes Mori pounced after Willy Caballero saved Ross Barkley's shot - although City were nursing an understandable sense of injustice with Lukaku standing in an offside position in front of the keeper.

Everton refused to be sunk by Navas's sucker punch and responded within two minutes, Lukaku heading in his 12th goal in 12 games from Gareth Barry's perfect cross.

Ramiro Funes Mori

Man City's rough luck?

Everton had efforts from John Stones and Lukaku rightly ruled out for offside - and it looked like a case of third time lucky for Martinez's team when Funes Mori struck just before half-time.

Caballero did well to block Barkley's shot, even though the giant figure of Lukaku was clearly standing offside, and appeared to be in the City keeper's line of vision.

Lukaku did not touch the ball, and did not appear to make a movement towards it, so the debate centred on whether he was interfering with an opponent by obstructing Caballero's view.

Referee Robert Madley waved away City's protests and Everton grasped at their good fortune - but the visitors had every right to feel they were hard done by.

That was not the only frustration for City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who felt his side had a strong penalty appeal rejected when Navas went down under a Kevin Mirallas challenge.

"Everton's first goal was absolutely offside and it was a clear penalty when Jesus Navas was fouled," Pellegrini said. "I didn't speak to the referee after the game - they were both clear.

"To lose 2-1 is a bad result but it just means we have to win 1-0 at home. I still think we are able to play in the Capital One Cup final."

Law 11: The offside rule

Under the old rule, a player was allowed to stand in an offside position as long as they were deemed to be not actively interfering with play.

But under this season's changes, a player will now be ruled offside if they clearly make an attempt to play the ball, or if the offside player makes an action which impacts his opponent's ability to play the ball.

Gareth Barry's masterclass

When the 34-year-old former England midfielder struggled last season, many thought this model professional's distinguished career at the top was coming to a close.

Barry has demonstrated that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated by having an outstanding campaign this term - and all that experience was on show here.

He was the perfect partner for the abrasive, energetic Mo Besic, the rough diamond whose early tackling and positive approach kept Everton going through a slow start and roused a subdued Goodison Park.

Barry, in turn, showed all his class as he strode through midfield making crucial interceptions, breaking up play and barely wasting a pass.

Barkley had a frustrating evening further forward but once again he never stopped driving at City's defence and epitomised Everton's approach after the early exchanges, even though he promised more than he delivered, with several strikes either wide of the target or saved by Caballero.

Toure's disappearing act

While Barry and Besic ran the show around him, City midfielder Yaya Toure looked every day of his 32 years and more besides.

A lumbering figure, he had no impact on the game and his contribution was summed up when an attempted forward run in the first half was halted by the pace and power of Besic, who caught the giant Ivorian to tackle and rob him, leaving him stranded on the ground.

Even as City chased their way back into the game in the second half, Toure was nowhere to be seen. Normally such an influence, he was little more than a passenger.

Toure is still capable of moments of brilliance, as he showed when scoring in Saturday's win at Watford - but are the years finally catching up with the man who has been City's talisman so often?

The stats you need to know

  • Lukaku has netted four goals in five League Cup appearances this season.
  • Navas scored his first goal for City since September 2014 (v Sheffield Wednesday) - a wait of 66 games in all competitions for the club.
  • This is the first time Pellegrini has lost to Everton as Manchester City boss (W4 D1).
  • Roberto Martinez won just his second game against Manchester City as a manager, the other being the 2013 FA Cup final (W2 D2 L11).

What next?

Both teams are in FA Cup action this weekend, with Everton hosting Dagenham and Redbridge, and Manchester City travelling to Norwich. City and Everton meet again in the Premier League at Etihad Stadium next Wednesday.

Source: bbc.com

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2015 NFL playoffs: Strengths and weaknesses of each NFC team

The 2015 NFL playoffs are upon us. Beginning this weekend, the top teams in the NFC and AFC will fight for the right to meet in Super Bowl 50. Before the action kicks off with Wild Card Weekend, I thought I'd examine the strengths and weaknesses of all 12 playoff teams, in an effort to paint a more complete picture of the combatants about to square off for football's ultimate prize. Below, you'll find the strengths and weaknesses of each team in the NFC field, listed according to playoff seeding.

Check back Wednesday for the strengths and weaknesses of each team in the AFC field.

 

1) Carolina Panthers

Next matchup: vs. Redskins/Packers/Seahawks, Sunday, Jan. 17, 1:05 p.m. ET, FOX

Biggest strengths: The Panthers' defensive front seven (defensive line and linebackers) are arguably the best unit in the NFL. Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly command the headlines with their spectacular play and sideline-to-sideline dominance, but Carolina's defensive line also routinely owns the line of scrimmage behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. The Panthers rank fourth in run defense (allowing 88.4 rushing yards per game) and sixth in sacks (44). Given the importance of creating chaos at the point of attack, the Panthers' defense is capable of sparking a deep postseason run.

Biggest weaknesses: Despite Cam Newton's MVP-caliber campaign, the Panthers' passing game remains the biggest weakness on a squad that finished the regular season with a 15-1 record and led the NFL in scoring (31.2 points per game). The team lacks a true WR1; opponents will make a concerted effort to neutralize tight end Greg Olsen (the only player who cracked 1,000 receiving yards this season) with brackets and double coverage down the field. Although Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess and Corey Brown have produced a handful of splash plays throughout the season, the jury is still out as to whether they can produce in a pressurized environment with a potential title on the line.

 

2) Arizona Cardinals

Next matchup: vs. Vikings/Redskins/Packers, Saturday, Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC

Biggest strengths: The Cardinals' high-powered offense is problematic for opponents due to their talent and depth on the perimeter. The WR corps, in particular, is full of versatile athletes capable of working between the hashes on a variety of intermediate routes (Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd) or stretching the field on an assortment of vertical routes (John Brown and J.J. Nelson). With quarterback Carson Palmer thriving as a pinpoint passer in Bruce Arians' scheme, the Cardinals' "bombs away" attack has all of the necessary components to attack defenses at every level.

Biggest weaknesses: The Cardinals' offensive line woes haven't prevented Arians' troops from lighting up scoreboards around the NFL, but the unit remains a huge question mark heading into the playoffs. Despite surrendering just 27 sacks during the regular season, the Cardinals' front line has been pummeled by ultra-athletic pass rushers off the edges. Thus, Arians could be forced to abandon his vertical passing game when facing a defense with multiple disruptors at the point of attack.

 

3) Minnesota Vikings

Next matchup: vs. Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, NBC

Biggest strengths: At a time when most offenses are building around their quarterbacks and dynamic passing games, the Vikings have the luxury of utilizing an old-school approach headed by workhorse runner Adrian Peterson. The three-time rushing leader remains the most dominant playmaker at the position at age 30, exhibiting a hard-hitting running style that makes him nearly impossible to contain with an eight- or nine-man front. Given the Vikings' sterling record when Peterson notches 20-plus carries (8-1) or surpasses the 100-yard mark (7-0), Peterson is the key to the team's playoff hopes.

Biggest weaknesses: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the X-factor for the Vikings heading into the tournament. The second-year pro has been an efficient game manager for the team, but he needs to become more of a playmaker for the Vikings to advance. Bridgewater needs to push the ball down the field effectively to prevent opponents from condensing the field with loaded boxes and tight coverage. If Bridgewater is unable to find a way to utilize Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs as vertical threats, the Vikings' playoff journey could be short.

 

4) Washington Redskins

Next matchup: vs. Green Bay Packers, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX

Biggest strengths: It is no coincidence quarterback Kirk Cousins has played well since DeSean Jackson returned to the lineup after a first half interrupted by a hamstring injury. The spectacular playmaker is the most explosive big-play receiver in the NFL, and his presence gives the Redskins one of the most dynamic WR corps in the game. With Jackson joining tight end Jordan Reed and receivers Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon on the perimeter, Cousins has a plethora of options to target to exploit the most vulnerable defender in the back end. This is a huge advantage for a team that's beginning to steamroll opponents with an electric "dink-and-dunk" passing game.

Biggest weaknesses: The Redskins' opportunistic defense has keyed their surprising playoff run by getting timely stops in key moments, but opposing coaches will attack the front line to see how well it holds up against a punishing ground attack. The Redskins surrender 4.8 rush yards per attempt, tied for 30th in the NFL, which is significant in a conference defined by physicality and toughness. Given the number of top rushing offenses (Carolina, Seattle, Minnesota and Arizona) in the NFC bracket, the Redskins' front seven will need to show opponents they can stop the run to move on in the tournament.

 

5) Green Bay Packers

Next matchup: at Washington Redskins, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX

Biggest strengths: Despite his subpar performance for most of the regular season, Aaron Rodgers remains the driving force of the Packers' playoff future. The former MVP is not only capable of getting red hot from the pocket, but he is a magical playmaker capable of helping Green Bay score points in bunches. If he can achieve synergy with an underperforming receiver corps that desperately misses Jordy Nelson, Rodgers could spark a playoff run on the heels of a pass-first offense that's a threat to find the end zone from anywhere on the field.

Biggest weaknesses: The Packers' injury-riddled offensive line has struggled against premier pass rushers. The unit surrendered 51 sacks during the regular season (fifth-most in the NFL), and the lack of solid pass protection has disrupted Rodgers' timing and rhythm from the pocket. Most importantly, the leaky pocket has forced Rodgers to quickly abandon his reads and grounded the potent aerial attack. If the Packers are unable to fix their offensive line heading into the playoffs, Green Bay could be one and done.

 

6) Seattle Seahawks

Next matchup: at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET, NBC

Biggest strengths: For all of the questions regarding the Seahawks' defense in the middle of the season, the unit remains the stingiest in the NFL. The Seahawks not only have the top scoring defense (17.3 points allowed per game), but they have the top run defense (81.5 rushing yards allowed per game) and the second-ranked pass defense (210.2 passing yards allowed per game). While the numbers certainly jump off the stat sheet, it has been the complementary play of the front seven and secondary that makes the Seahawks' defense a destructive force heading into the playoffs. From Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin wreaking havoc off the edges to Bobby Wagner pummeling opponents venturing over the middle to the "Legion of Boom" suffocating pass catchers down the field, the Seahawks trot out a dynamic defense that ranks as the best in the NFL.

Biggest weaknesses: Offensive line coach Tom Cable has worked miracles reshaping the Seahawks' line on the fly, but the unit remains a weakness on a team loaded with all-stars. The front line has struggled creating a consistent push on the ground, and its inconsistent pass protection has forced quarterback Russell Wilson to run around like a madman on the perimeter. Although the unit has shown significant improvement down the stretch, the Seahawks will have to work around the front line's flaws to make a sustained run in the postseason.

Source: nfl.com

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Lord Coe to double IAAF anti-doping budget to help rebuild trust

IAAF president Lord Coe will double the world governing body's anti-doping budget as part of his plan to rebuild trust in athletics.

Since Coe was elected, Russia have been barred from world athletics for alleged involvement in widespread doping.

Coe's predecessor Lamine Diack is the subject of a police investigation, while IAAF official Nick Davies has stepped aside over a separate matter.

Coe said: "Be under no illusion about how seriously I take these issues."

The 59-year-old Briton, a former Olympic 1500m champion, was elected president of the IAAF in August.

He said: "I am president of an international federation which is under serious investigations and I represent a sport under intense scrutiny."

As well as taking the IAAF's anti-doping budget to £5.45m, Coe wants to appoint a new chief executive by the middle of 2016, establish a separate integrity unit for athletics before this summer's Olympics, and double the international testing pool of athletes to 1,000.

The integrity unit, one of Coe's election manifesto promises, will review issues such as doping, corruption, betting and age manipulation.

"My vision is to have a sport that attracts more young people," said Coe.

"The average age of those watching track and field is 55. This is not sustainable."

He said the key was to create "a sport that people trust once more".

Coe added: "Athletics must be a sport that athletes, fans, sponsors, media and parents alike know is safe to compete in on a level playing field and one in which clean effort is rewarded and celebrated."

Diack is being investigated over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheats.

Davies, the IAAF's deputy general secretary, stepped aside while the organisation's ethics board looks into a plan to delay naming Russian drug cheats before the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. He denies any wrongdoing.

Source: bbc.com

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Liverpool earn slender cup lead

Liverpool hold a precious advantage going into the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg after Jordon Ibe's goal gave them victory at Stoke City.

Jurgen Klopp's side take the lead to Anfield for the return on 26 January despite losing influential midfield man Philippe Coutinho and defender Dejan Lovren to hamstring injuries before half-time.

Ibe, on for Coutinho, struck at the far post in the 37th minute after clever build-up work by Adam Lallana and Joe Allen.

Stoke failed to reproduce the form that has brought them home wins against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in recent times and, when they did force an opening, Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet saved well from Glen Johnson and Joselu.

Substitute Jon Walters wasted their best chance deep into stoppage time and Liverpool are now favourites to meet either Everton or Manchester City at Wembley.

Relive Liverpool's win

Liverpool's split personality

Liverpool league cup wins

Klopp left the media to guess at the "three words" he delivered to his players after a dismal performance in defeat at West Ham United on Saturday.

He had no need to rein in his message here as Liverpool bristled with an intensity from the first whistle that shocked Stoke City in such a manner they struggled to recover any rhythm or composure.

It was another example of the two-faced nature of Liverpool's performances under Klopp since he arrived to succeed the sacked Brendan Rodgers in early October.

This display, full of steely resolve and the incessant pressing Klopp demands, was more akin to the outstanding away victories at Chelsea (3-1), Manchester City (4-1) and the 6-1 win at Southampton in the quarter-final.

And yet Klopp has still had to suffer the frustration of Liverpool barely turning up in losses at Newcastle United, Watford and West Ham.

This was more like the model of what he will expect on a consistent basis when he has really settled into his work at Liverpool - and it has given him a big opportunity of marking his first season with a Wembley appearance.

Stoke City fluff their lines

This was a huge night at the Britannia Stadium as Stoke's players attempt to write their names alongside those who famously won the League Cup for the Potters against Chelsea at Wembley in 1972.

And anticipation had been elevated by the impressive form shown by Mark Hughes' side, a potent blend of silk and steel that arguably had them as favourites before the game.

It was to be a disappointing 90 minutes for the hosts as Liverpool appeared to stun them from kick-off by pressurising them into mistakes, and they simply never recovered enough to build up a head of steam.

Mignolet made a couple of important stops and Stoke felt they had penalty claims when Alberto Moreno tangled with Glenn Whelan, but Liverpool closed down their big players such as Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic to deserve their victory.

No-one should dismiss Stoke's chances as they have shown so much quality already this season - but they have left themselves a huge task in the return.

Klopp's injury curse

After young Belgian striker Divock Origi went lame in the Boxing Day victory against Leicester City at Anfield, Klopp pointed out in colourful terms that "hamstring" was his least favourite word of 2015.

It is not shaping up any better in 2016 as Coutinho and Lovren both limped off clutching their hamstrings before half-time - adding to Liverpool's already lengthy injury list. They may be joined by Kolo Toure, who ended the game clutching the back of his right leg.

Klopp's "gegenpressing" style, intense and physical as opponents are put under pressure, is demanding and requires high levels of fitness - and maybe it is taking some getting used to for his new charges.

And there is no doubt Liverpool are also suffering a run of bad luck that is filling up the treatment room at their Melwood training headquarters.

Martin Skrtel, as well as Origi, is nursing a hamstring problem while James Milner has only just returned from a similar injury.

Joe Gomez and Danny Ings suffered long-term knee ligament problems before Klopp's arrival while Jordan Henderson's heel problem is a recurrence of a problem he had earlier in the season.

Jordan Rossiter was sidelined by a hamstring problem after initially suffering the injury with England's youngsters while Daniel Sturridge's many problems have already occupied much of Klopp's early time at Anfield.

The German is waiting for the day when he will have all his Liverpool players fit - but that day looks as far away as ever.

What they said

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes said: "People might want to criticise what we did in the first half but sometimes you have to credit the opposition.

"They restricted what we wanted to do in terms of getting people around the ball and restricting space and they did that to good effect and we had to improve in the second half.

"The key from our point of view is that we didn't concede again and the danger was that if we over committed and conceded another one that would have been a huge task to go to Anfield and claw it back."

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told BBC Radio 5 live: "The only thing we can criticise is our finishing again. We had a good structure, played football good, everything was good but we don't make enough goals.

"The biggest problem for us is we have two and maybe three injured players again."

Stats you need to know

  • Stoke have progressed from both of their semi-finals in the League Cup
  • All three of Jordon Ibe's goals this season have arrived in cup competitions
  • Stoke have played Liverpool six times in the League Cup, drawing one and losing five

What next

Liverpool travel to League Two Exeter City in the FA Cup on Friday night, before Arsenal and then Manchester United visit Anfield in the Premier League. Stoke travel to League One Doncaster in the FA Cup on Saturday, before entertaining Norwich and Arsenal in the league.

Source: bbc.com

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"we'll shoot ourselves if England exit early"

Greg Dyke says England have 'got to get out' of Euro 2016 group

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke says "we'll all shoot ourselves" if England fail to progress from their group at Euro 2016.

Roy Hodgson's side have been drawn alongside Wales, Russia and Slovakia for the tournament in France, which starts on 10 June.

"We've got to get out of that group," said Dyke. "If we don't, that really is bad news for English football."

Dyke added he believes England can win the World Cup again "one day soon".

The 68-year-old was speaking at the start of a year of events to mark the 50th anniversary of England's 1966 World Cup success.

And he said the "building blocks are in place" to emulate that achievement.

"We owe it to a generation of teenage dreamers to show we can do it again," he added.

"The FA is the richest FA in the world, the most income. The FA has to take some of the blame.

"We should have won a tournament in the last 50 years. We haven't. But we will win in the next 50 years, hopefully long before."

England are ninth in the Fifa world rankings and have not gone past the quarter-finals of a World Cup since 1990.

They went out of the 2014 World Cup without a win, but Dyke stood by Hodgson.

England won all 10 of their Euro 2016 qualifiers and progress from the group in France "should not be the definition of success", added Dyke.

Greg Dyke says England have 'got to get out' of Euro 2016 group

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke says "we'll all shoot ourselves" if England fail to progress from their group at Euro 2016.

Roy Hodgson's side have been drawn alongside Wales, Russia and Slovakia for the tournament in France, which starts on 10 June.

"We've got to get out of that group," said Dyke. "If we don't, that really is bad news for English football."

Dyke added he believes England can win the World Cup again "one day soon".

The 68-year-old was speaking at the start of a year of events to mark the 50th anniversary of England's 1966 World Cup success.

And he said the "building blocks are in place" to emulate that achievement.

"We owe it to a generation of teenage dreamers to show we can do it again," he added.

"The FA is the richest FA in the world, the most income. The FA has to take some of the blame.

"We should have won a tournament in the last 50 years. We haven't. But we will win in the next 50 years, hopefully long before."

England are ninth in the Fifa world rankings and have not gone past the quarter-finals of a World Cup since 1990.

They went out of the 2014 World Cup without a win, but Dyke stood by Hodgson.

England won all 10 of their Euro 2016 qualifiers and progress from the group in France "should not be the definition of success", added Dyke

Greg Dyke and Roy Hodgson

He was joined at Tuesday's launch by 1966 World Cup winners Sir Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters and George Cohen.

Dyke said: "It is important to remember and pay tribute to each and every player in the final and also in the squad.

"We hope the celebrations cement the '66 winners their place in history and hope a new generation will hear their story and be inspired by it."

What next for Dyke?

Dyke said a decision on whether to extend his three-year contract - which expires in the summer - will be made in the coming days.

One of the aims of his tenure has been to increase the number of English players in the Premier League, with the objective of seeing England win the World Cup in 2022.

He added: "It is ridiculous. The figures in terms of the numbers of kids who don't make it out of academies, who just disappear, is quite frightening.

"It's not that they go and play in the lower league, they just don't play at all. And they're the cream of their generation."

Source: bbc.com

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Neymar: Barcelona star says he did not hear alleged racist abuse

Barcelona forward Neymar said he was not aware of the racist chanting allegedly aimed at him during Saturday's derby at Espanyol.

Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta told Spanish media  after the 0-0 draw that the 23-year-old Brazilian was subjected to abuse from a supporter.

Neymar is reported to have told TV station La Sexta:  "I did not hear anything.

"It is difficult for things to bother me, I just play football."

Espanyol president Joan Collet said: "I was there, just like 30,000 people and nothing happened.

"The whole thing blows up for one shout, but there was nothing generalised, it's a lie."

Source: bbc.com

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Zinedine Zidane replaces Rafael Benitez as Real Madrid coach

Rafael Benitez has been sacked as manager of Real Madrid after just seven months in charge, with club legend Zinedine Zidane replacing him.

Spaniard Benitez, 55, was relieved of his duties following a meeting of the club's board on Monday.

Real B team coach Zidane, 43, has been promoted to first-team boss.

The Frenchman, a former Real player and World Cup winner, said: "I am going to put my heart and soul into this job so that everything works out well."

Benitez's final game was Sunday's 2-2 draw with Valencia, which left them third in La Liga, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.

Zidane is the 11th coach to be appointed in Florentino Perez's 12 years as club president across two spells. The length of his contract has not been made public.

His first match in charge will be Saturday's home La Liga game against Deportivo la Coruna.

Benitez's Real Madrid record

Season Managed Won Drew Lost Win %

 2015-16

   25

  17

  5

  3

  68

Why sack Benitez?

Perez is yet to explain why the board of directors took the "difficult" decision to dismiss Benitez, who once coached the club's youth teams.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, he said: "Let me make clear that this is a great professional and a great person.

"I want to acknowledge the dedication of Benitez during his time as coach of Real Madrid."

Benitez lost only three of his 25 games in charge of Los Blancos and also took them into the last 16 of the Champions League with two games to spare.

An 8-0 home win over Malmo and a 10-2 victory against nine-man Rayo Vallecano - the first time Real had reached double figures since 1960 - were amongst his most notable successes, but it would seem a combination of factors both on and off the pitch led to his downfall.

One was the 4-0 home defeat by Barcelona in the first El Clasico of the season in November. His defensive tactics were also criticised,  while there were reports of a rift with star forward Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez

Benitez managed Real Madrid's second team for two years from 1993

The right replacement?

For a man with no experience of managing at the top level, Zidane's appointment could be considered a risk - but he has long been seen as a future Real boss.

Zidane has been coach of the club's B team - who are second in the Spanish third tier - since 2014. Prior to that he was an integral member of the backroom staff under then Real boss Carlo Ancelotti, who led the team to 'La Decima' - the club's 10th European Cup.

During his playing career, the Frenchman was one of Real's key 'Galacticos' - a label given to the expensive players signed by Perez during his first spell as president in the early to mid-2000s.

In 2001, Real paid Juventus a then world record fee of £45.8m for the midfielder, who had already won the World Cup and European Championship.

At the Bernabeu, he played alongside players such as Luis Figo, Raul and Ronaldo, and also featured in the same midfield as England captain David Beckham.

In the five years before his retirement, he helped Real win the league in 2003 and was named Fifa world player of the year for a third time.

But perhaps his defining moment came during the 2002 Champions League final, when he scored a stunning volley against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park.

Source: bbc.com

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Ivory Coast footballer, Steve Gohouri, dies at the age of 34

Former Wigan Athletic defender Steve Gohouri has died at the age of 34.

Gohouri made 42 appearances for Wigan between 2010 and 2012 and also won 12 caps for Ivory Coast.

On 12 December, Gohouri was reported missing after attending the Christmas party of his German club TSV Steinbach. He was meant to visit his family in Paris but never arrived.

German police confirmed his body had been found in the River Rhine in the western city of Krefeld.

In a statement they also said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Gohouri's death.

Wigan Athletic tweeted: "We are saddened to hear reports of our former defender Steve Gohouri passing away. Our thoughts are with his family."

Gohouri moved from Ivory Coast to France as a five-year-old, where he was raised in the suburbs of Paris.

He began his football career in France but played for clubs in Israel, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Greece and Germany.

He signed for then Premier League Wigan from Bundesliga stalwarts Borussia Monchengladbach in January 2010.

Source: bbc.com

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Chelsea earn first win under Guus Hiddink's second spell

Chelsea secured their first victory in Guus Hiddink's second spell as boss to move six points clear of relegation with a deserved win at Crystal Palace.

Oscar put the Blues ahead against the run of play, tapping home after being put through by Diego Costa.

Once they scored Chelsea dominated, deservedly doubling their advantage with a spectacular Willian strike.

Costa sealed the win with a tap-in for a goal his performance deserved after Palace failed to clear Willian's shot.

Interim boss Hiddink, who guided Chelsea to third in the Premier League, a Champions League semi-final and the FA Cup in his first spell at the club, remains unbeaten since taking over from Jose Mourinho last month.

The Blues' four-match run without defeat is their longest this season and moves last year's champions to 14th in the league, still 12 points adrift of a Champions League spot.

Costa leads by example

John Mikel Obi heatmap

John Mikel Obi was superb for Chelsea and this heatmap shows the midfielder dominated the area in front of his own defence

Chelsea's away form in the first half of the season has been dire, with just six points collected on their travels. Only bottom two clubs Aston Villa and Sunderland have fared worse.

In beating seventh-placed Palace for their first away win since August, the Blues made a convincing case that the second half of the season might be more fruitful.

Hiddink said he needed leaders to pull the club out of relegation trouble and in Costa the Dutchman had a player in that mould, driving his team forward at Selhurst Park and playing a part in all three goals.

Like the rest of the Blues squad during this season's dreadful title defence, the Spaniard - who had missed the goalless draw at Manchester United because of suspension - has been below par, but he gave one of his best displays of the campaign.

John Mikel Obi also shone, providing much-needed ballast to the Chelsea midfield.

Injury worry for Blues

The one disappointment for Hiddink was the injury to Eden Hazard, which ended the Belgian's match after just 15 minutes.

Before the match Hiddink had said last year's player of the season was "back in shape" after suffering a hip injury against Leicester and sustaining a knock in Monday's draw at Manchester United.

Ultimately, Chelsea did not need Hazard against Palace with the impressive forward trio of Costa, Willian and Oscar creating plenty in his absence.

Palace struggling in front of goal

It was Palace's first defeat in seven matches and they clearly missed key players, although Eagles boss Alan Pardew admitted that even with the likes of suspended Yohan Cabaye in the team his men would have struggled against Chelsea in such form.

The hosts, though, are a far less formidable side without the creativity of top scorer Cabaye in midfield, the pace of Yannick Bolasie on the flanks and Connor Wickham up front.

Palace are now without a win or a goal in their past three games, with Bolasie and Wickham not having played since the goalless Boxing Day draw against Bournemouth.

However, Pardew's side had their chances with Wilfried Zaha - making his 200th appearance for the club - shooting wide with the score goalless and scuffing another opportunity just before Willian scored.

What the managers said

Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink: "Do not go over the top, it is the first win after a worrying period with two draws so the team desperately needed the win and it was convincing.

"Everyone knows we have a lot of quality in our team, but sometimes champions have a tendency to be complacent and it can be difficult to get back and then wonder why we were champions.

"There is a long way to go, mathematically the possibility of Champions League is still there. The league is so strong but as long as we play like we did today I will be happy."

Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew: "We were not at our strongest, we were missing key players and could not play our natural game.

"We will be looking at the market in case something comes through. It is important we kick into gear in the second half of the season. Things did not go our way and we have to respond and I have every confidence in this group that we will be in and around the top 10."

The stats you need to know

  • This is Chelsea's first away victory in their last eight Premier League away matches (losing four and drawing three) and the first since August when they beat West Brom 3-2 at the Hawthorns.
  • Crystal Palace have enjoyed just two wins in their last seven home league games (drawing two and losing three).
  • Oscar has netted two in his last four in all competitions for Chelsea after scoring just one in the 14 before that.
  • Diego Costa's assist was his first in his last 20 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea.
  • Seven of Willian's eight goals for Chelsea this season in all competitions have come from outside the box.
  • Costa has had a hand in four goals in his last two league games (three goals, one assist), the same total he managed in his previous 14 league appearances this season.
  • Chelsea registered their biggest league win in almost a year, since beating Swansea 5-0 on January 17th 2015.

Source: bbc.com

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Christian Benteke scored the only goal as Liverpool ended 2015 with a victory.

Christian Benteke scored the only goal as Liverpool ended 2015 with a victory, leaving Sunderland in deep trouble.

Benteke netted early in the second half, running on to Adam Lallana's pass to neatly net from inside the area.

Vito Mannone made a stunning save to tip Liverpool midfielder Roberto Firmino's shot on to a post before pushing away the Brazilian's header.

Jermain Defoe forced Simon Mignolet into an excellent save, but Sunderland have now lost their past five games.

Fabio Borini also went close against his former side, shooting straight at Mignolet and striking an effort narrowly wide.

Back-to-back Benteke winners lift Liverpool

This was the Reds' second successive 1-0 win, having beaten Leicester by the same scoreline on Boxing Day, with Belgium striker Benteke the match-winner both times.

Since signing for £32m in the summer, the former Aston Villa man has not been a regular starter, but has now scored six times in seven games against Sunderland, more than against any other side.

But, having missed from close range against Leicester, he once again spurned a straightforward chance, running through on goal before striking at Mannone.

Liverpool were not at their best, but their control and another clean sheet will please boss Jurgen Klopp. His side moved up to seventh - level on points with Manchester United.

Sunderland have mountain to climb

The home side were much improved from their 4-1 defeat by Manchester City and looked confident in the opening 45 minutes, but once again their defensive frailties came to the fore.

They switched off straight after the interval, giving the ball away on the edge of the centre circle for Liverpool to break quickly and score just 22 seconds into the second half.

It means the Black Cats have conceded 38 goals in their 19 Premier League games this season - more than any other team - and are now seven points from safety.

Having had a bid accepted for Lorient centre-back Lamine Kone, manager Sam Allardyce will hope the Ivorian can help plug a leaky defence and raise the confidence of his lowly team.

Should Lens have been sent off?

With five minutes left, Sunderland midfielder Jeremain Lens left Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho writhing in agony with a late tackle.

The visiting side's staff became involved in heated exchanges with their Black Cats counterparts, and Lens was booked. Sakho stayed on and finished the match.

Klopp said: "I don't want to say now, 'Come on, give him a red card'. I have no problem with this player, but if you go like that, everything can happen. That's not allowed. For me, that's a red card, finish, that's it."

Allardyce responded: "He's a soft German. It's not a red card, it's a yellow. It's a foul.

"There was some foul and abusive language towards my staff that I didn't like. It was all right, though, because we all shook hands and got on with it, which is what we have got to do."

What they said

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce: "There is some encouragement - seeing the lads battling and fighting for themselves and trying to get a win or at least a point - but a bit of misfortune just after half-time took it away from us. I thought the lads tried their best and you can't ask for more than that."

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: "It is not the best we can do, we know this, but we had to fight. We knew about Sunderland's situation. Everyone wants to end the year positively. We can and Sunderland can't but we take these points, go home, sleep two times and onto the next game."

What next?

Second-bottom Sunderland host bottom side Aston Villa on Saturday (15:00 GMT), while Liverpool travel to West Ham on the same day (12:45).

Source: bbc.com

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Loic Remy: Chelsea striker a target for Aston Villa, says Remi Garde

Aston Villa boss Remi Garde will try to sign Chelsea striker Loic Remy on loan in the January transfer window.

Garde wants the 28-year-old Frenchman to strengthen a Villa side four points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League - and 11 from safety.

"Loic is special because he knows the country and the league and he would be an interesting player for the team," Garde said.

"He is part of some players I'll try to attract to Aston Villa for sure."

Countryman Garde was assistant manager at Lyon when Remy started his career at the Stade de Gerland.

The Villa boss will hope the forward can add goals to a side that has scored just 15 times in 19 league games, the lowest in the division.

Remy joined Chelsea in a £10.5m move from QPR last year.

He has started only one Premier League game this season, scoring twice in the League Cup and once in the league.

'We need all our players at the moment'

However, Garde may face a tough task in convincing Chelsea, who are just three points above the relegation zone in 14th place, to allow Remy to leave.

"We need all the players here until the end of the season," said Blues caretaker boss Guus Hiddink.

"Chelsea are still in a position where we have to improve to get up the table, so we need all our players at the moment. So we don't talk about the rumours."

Hiddink was responding to speculation over the future of 28-year-old Blues midfielder Cesc Fabregas, with Italian clubs Juventus and Inter Milan reportedly keen on the Spaniard.

"Cesc is coming in with a smile, which is what I always like," Hiddink added. "Players come in with a smile and not a worn-out face."

Source: bbc.com

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Leicester City played out a goalless draw with Manchester City at the King Power Stadium.

Leicester City missed the chance to return to the top of the Premier League as they played out a goalless draw with Manchester City at the King Power Stadium.

Claudio Ranieri's side can take great heart, however, from a highly impressive response to only their second league defeat of the season at Liverpool on Boxing Day - but Arsenal stay top on goal difference.

Leicester and Manchester City both had chances in an entertaining encounter, with goalkeepers Kasper Schmeichel and Joe Hart excelling with a succession of saves.

Man of the moment Jamie Vardy missed Leicester's best chance when he shot over the top after racing clear in the first half while the normally lethal Sergio Aguero was off target from inside the six-yard box as both sides pushed for the win.

Relive the action as Leicester frustrated Manchester City.

Aguero still searching for spark

Aguero's frustrating season continues as he was replaced by Wilfried Bony after just 62 minutes with Manchester City pressing strongly for a breakthrough.

The 27-year-old Argentine is a striker of undisputed world class but his edge has been blunted by a succession of niggling injuries that have interrupted his season.

Aguero has scored seven Premier League goals this term - and five of those came in the space of 20 minutes in the 6-1 win against Newcastle United at the Etihad in early October.

He had a couple of opportunities here, none better than when he stole in on a corner seconds after the break but his touch was too heavy at the near post and he was well off target.

Aguero is a player of such quality that it is only a matter of time before the brilliance returns but he seems to be struggling for full fitness - and as City search for the victories that will give them consistency, it is a vital missing ingredient.

Leicester not going away

It is the question that has been asked all season - how will Leicester City react to a defeat?

After the 1-0 defeat at Liverpool on Boxing Day, the visit of Manuel Pellegrini's expensively assembled squad was both a test and an opportunity.

They answered the question emphatically with a performance bursting with spirit and energy, roared on by the trademark vibrant atmosphere at a packed King Power Stadium.

This was a night when Ranieri's undercard once again came to the fore and outshone the pair he calls "the pinnacle of the iceberg" - Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

N'Golo Kante, a £5.6m summer signing from French club Caen, has been winning plaudits and he looked a bargain again here.

Kante almost broke the deadlock with a flashing 25-yard shot just wide then showed remarkable pace to catch Raheem Sterling in a footrace to stop a City attack.

Wes Morgan was once again a powerhouse in defence alongside Robert Huth, while Christian Fuchs ran a marathon down the left, almost creating a first-half goal for Marc Albrighton with a superb cross.

Vardy and Mahrez deserve every headline written about them this season - but there is much more going on under the pinnacle of the Leicester iceberg.

Manchester City's travel sickness continues

While Manchester City may be formidable at home, there is a missing link away from home that is undermining their chances of taking the Premier League title back from Chelsea.

This goalless draw leaves their league away record this season as won three, drawn three and lost three with eight goals scored and eight conceded - not title-winning form.

City's last away league victory was at Crystal Palace on 12 September after starting with impressive victories at West Bromwich Albion and Everton.

There is still time to put it right - but the lack of punch away from home must be a concern for Pellegrini because it is often on travels where titles are won.

Manager reaction

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri: "I think we made a very good match. It was difficult. We played well, we created some chances. I wanted to see how my players responded after the Liverpool defeat and they responded well.

"Every match is difficult for us. This league is very crazy...nobody wants to win the league. It's very strange. We're the basement and the other teams are a villa with a swimming pool. It's not easy for us but we want to fight with everybody. It's a miracle what we're doing."

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "I think we did more than Leicester to win the game. We had more possession, more attempts, more options but it was a tough game against a tough team playing away. This is a crucial period. I think at the end of January we will know exactly what position we are in. "

Source: bbc.com

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No reason to resign. I'll keep my job

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal says he will not resign after his side drew 0-0 with Chelsea on Monday.

United have now failed to win in eight games in all competitions - the first time that has happened since 1990 - and are five points behind fourth place.

But Juan Mata and Anthony Martial both hit the woodwork in an improved United display against Chelsea.

And Van Gaal said: "When the players give such a performance with a lot of pressure, there's no reason to resign."

'Players are willing to fight'

It has been a testing week for Van Gaal, who before Christmas walked out of a news conference after criticising the media for speculating about his position.

The Red Devils then lost 2-0 at Stoke, while United scarves with the name of recently sacked Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho on them were sold outside Old Trafford before Monday's game.

Van Gaal, though, is confident he has the support of both the players and the club's board.

"The crisis here is the environment and you [the media] are part of that," added Van Gaal.

"The players are willing to fight for every metre. The manager is willing to fight. The members of staff are willing to fight and the board has every confidence in the staff and the manager."

'If it happened to Mourinho, it can happen to me'

However, with United sixth and bottom of the Premier League form table, Van Gaal accepts he is not immune from the sack.

"In this crazy football world it can happen every day and also with me," he said.

"When it happens to Jose Mourinho then it can happen with me."

Source: bbc.com

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Peyton Manning: Wada expects allegations to be investigated

Allegations that American football legend Peyton Manning took human growth hormone should be investigated, says the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

Wada also described the allegations, which Manning dismissed as "complete garbage", as "very concerning".

Al Jazeera reported that Denver Broncos quarterback Manning was treated with human growth hormone (HGH) during his recovery from neck surgery in 2011.

Its source - Texas-based pharmacist Charlie Sly - has since recanted.

The Al Jazeera documentary linked players from the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) with performance-enhancing drugs.

"Al Jazeera's allegations are very concerning, particularly as it relates to the NFL's and MLB's testing programmes," David Howman, director-general of Wada, said in a statement.

"While the NFL and the MLB are not signatories to the world anti-doping code, in recent years Wada has been working with them and other professional leagues in the United States to try to bring them closer to Wada's programme.

"As it relates to the particular allegations by Al Jazeera, Wada expects that they will be carefully investigated by the relevant authorities and that, if warranted, necessary and appropriate steps would be taken."

The NFL collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2011, banned HGH but players were not tested for it until 2014. No NFL player has tested positive for HGH.

MLB said it would investigate allegations made in the documentary that several of its players took banned hormone supplement Delta-2.

Source: bbc.com

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Manchester United held by Chelsea at home

Manchester United were unable to ease the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal despite a much-improved performance as they were held to a draw by Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal's future was shrouded in uncertainty after a run of four straight defeats - and while a draw offers minor relief, United were still unable to secure the victory the 64-year-old Dutchman so desperately needs.

United's luck was out as both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial struck the woodwork inside the first 15 minutes and only a brilliant reflex save from Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois stopped Ander Herrera from six yards after the break.

Chelsea, under the temporary control of Van Gaal's fellow countryman Guus Hiddink, had chances of their own and United needed the brilliance of keeper David de Gea as he saved athletically from John Terry's early header then made a double save from Pedro and Cesar Azpilicueta after the break.

And as United ran out of momentum and ideas - although they were unlucky not to get a penalty when Willian handled - Nemanja Matic missed the best chance of the game when he raced clear, only to shoot hopelessly over the top.

Van Gaal feels Old Trafford support

The merchandisers outside Old Trafford may have been hawking scarves proclaiming Jose Mourinho as the next Manchester United manager, but those inside 'The Theatre Of Dreams' gave their embattled manager commendable support.

Few Mourinho scarves were on view and Van Gaal was able to acknowledge warm applause from plenty of United fans as he made his way from the tunnel at the Stretford End to his technical area before kick-off.

United's vibrant start, out of character with the timidity of recent weeks, instantly lifted the spirits and volume of support that were out-of-sorts and subdued before the start, and the fans remained solidly behind their team throughout.

There was certainly no hostility on view towards Van Gaal, although there were some signs of frustration as the game edged into the last 20 minutes with no sign of a breakthrough.

The final whistle was greeted with some jeers but this was more out of frustration that United could not find a winner, which also saw Wayne Rooney miss a late chance.

Van Gaal's name was not heard in any chants but there was no groundswell of hostility towards the manager fighting for his job.

Source: bbc.com

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Real Madrid: Spanish court dismisses Copa del Rey appeal

Real Madrid remain excluded from the Copa del Rey after losing an appeal against their punishment for fielding an ineligible player.

The 19-time winners were expelled for playing winger Denis Cheryshev against Cadiz in the last 32 on 2 December.

Cheryshev should have been serving a one-match ban for yellow cards he was shown while on loan at Villarreal.

Spain's Administrative Court of Sport dismissed Real's appeal after "analysing all the parties' arguments".

The club can still appeal against the verdict, but would need to take the case to Spain's normal law courts - effectively starting litigation against the Spanish football federation.

Real, third in La Liga behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, last won the Copa del Rey in 2014.

Source: bbc.com

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Arsenal beat Bournemouth to reclaim top spot

Mesut Ozil inspired Arsenal to reclaim top spot in the Premier League, at least for 24 hours, as they won their first league meeting with Bournemouth.
After a tense opening, Ozil's corner was met with a firm header by defender Gabriel for his first goal in English football.
Ozil made it 2-0 after the break from a slick one-two with Olivier Giroud.
Bournemouth showed plenty of spirit, but could not find their way through as Arsenal closed out the victory.
More to follow.

Source: bbc.com

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Revenge Or Repeat Bout: Banku Wins Again...By TKO

Braimah Kamoko aka Bukom Banku, Ghana's undefeated Cruiserweight Champion, has once again triumph over his biggest foe, Ayittey Powers, this time by technical knockout, at the Boxing Day slugfest dubbed #RevengeOrRepeat held at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium.

Although Ayittey Powers' cornermen threw in the towel at the end of the 5th Round, it was a closely fought contest.
Powers failed to answer the bell for the sixth round after a rather impressive challenge in the early rounds with some overhead punches but his strength worn as the fight progressed.

Despite the disappointing end of the fight, Powers performance was far better than what he exhibited on May 26, 2014 at the Accra Sports Stadium in their first clash.

Banku improved to 27-0-0 while Powers dropped to 25 loses, a draw and 21 wins, 17 of which came by way of knockout.

''I am 37 years and want to end my career in six years after a bout in Tamele. My next move is to fight Nathan Cleverly (a Briton) for the world title,’ Banku said after the exciting fight.

'I could have ended the fight early but I do not want to kill my brother,’ the former light heavy weight champion bragged after the fight.

Banku, in a rather confident mood sized his opponent after a first round balanced game and accelerated early in the second with calculated attack while Powers, who appeared stamina suspect preferred to hung on to the ropes to indulge in in-fighting.

That benefitted him briefly but he was soon to consign his energies to clinching and occasional overhead punches.

Banku responded with incessant pummelling and uppercuts and forced Powers to drop his guard a couple of times.

Banku was in his best elements in the fifth round which he had predicted to end the fight and rightly dazed Powers who failed to answer the call for the sixth round.

Banku was presented with a brand new SUV Range Rover, a ticket for a holiday trip to South Africa and a cash prize of Ghc100,000 donated by Joy Industries, producers of Joy Dadi Bitters.

The LandMark Production also featured a bunch of embarrassing undercards with the exception of Malik Jabir versus Fatiou Fassinou of Benin in an international Lightweight Contest, Nigerian Isaac Ekpo versus David Okine’s bout in the International Super Middleweight contest and Maxwell Awuku versus Kpodonu Nazel of Benin in an International Super lightweight contest.

Fatiou won a unanimous point decision over ring-rusted Jabir, Ekpo registered a second round technical knockout over Okine while Awuku won a fifth round technical knockout over Nazel.

In the other undercards, Patrick Allotey had a third round TKO over Fuseini Ahmed,

Raphael Mensah won a unanimous point decision over Justin Savi, Habib Mohammed won a second round TKO over Kwesi Tutu, Obodai Sai run over Gabreil Adoku and Shereff Quaye had a fifth round TKO over Raymond Ansah.
 
Source: peacefmonline.com
 
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Man Utd players trying their best for Louis van Gaal, says Carrick

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick says it is "disrespectful" to claim the club's players are not trying their best for manager Louis van Gaal.

United's Boxing Day defeat at Stoke was their fourth in a row and extended their winless run to seven games.

Van Gaal, who says he could quit, was at United's training ground on Sunday.

"It is a bit disrespectful when people say the lads aren't trying for the manager," said Carrick. "That hurts us - it's not the type of people we are."

The United vice-captain added: "We haven't won games and it is fair enough if people criticise things that have gone wrong on the pitch.

"It is a horrible run, and it is a horrible feeling. It hurts badly.

"The run we've been on is just not good enough. We can't hide from it, we're not going to hide from it. That is how it is and we all need to be better."

United have lost four successive competitive matches for the first time since November 1961, and their winless streak of seven games - which has seen them knocked out of the Champions League and slip out of the top four in the Premier League - is their worst run since the 1989-90 season.

Van Gaal's side face Chelsea at Old Trafford on Monday, with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger available again after returning from a three-match suspension.

The Dutchman admitted it would be hard to lift his players for the game against Chelsea.

"When you lose four matches in a row it's much more difficult," said Van Gaal.

But asked whether he thought the players still believed in him, the 64-year-old added: "Until now, I can say 'yes'."

'Depay needs the cover of experienced players'

One United player to have suffered from a lack of form in recent weeks is Netherlands striker Memphis Depay.

The 21-year-old, at fault for Stoke's opening goal, was withdrawn at half-time on Saturday and has scored just two league goals since arriving from PSV Eindhoven for £31m in June.

Chelsea's interim manager Guus Hiddink believes Depay is suffering from the pressure of having to adjust to English football.

"He has this talent but he's also now having a confrontation with the demands of the Premier League, which are much higher in the intensity of the game for 90 minutes," the Dutchman said.

"He has this talent, but he's also giving interviews saying: 'Hey, I have to get used to another way of playing, the intensity of the games every three days, plus the intensity of the game.'

"Those guys, they need a bit the cover of experienced players."

Source: bbc.com

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Making profit our priority not EPL trophy

Title hopefuls Arsenal got thrashed by Saints on Christmas day as most of their supporters, especially Eric in Austin Texas - USA, is not so much worried. He is content with making profit as a shareholder of the club than winning the EPL trophy. However, Ansah-Nyampong, a die-hard supporter of the club could not take it no more as he drove to his house crying like a “baby” after seeing his darling club going through the hustle to be on top of the EPL this festive week. Not even the friend, Kwabena Ben, who was naming his baby boy on that faithful day could prevent him from crying or going home.

His team, Arsenal, missed the chance to go top of the Premier League as they were thrashed by Southampton at St Mary's. Saints full-back Cuco Martina marked his first league start with a stunning goal, curling in from 30 yards out.

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott missed free headers, before Shane Long finished from close range and Jose Fonte headed in the third.

Striker Long struck the post with three minutes remaining, but managed to add a fourth through the legs of Petr Cech.

It could have been even worse for the visitors. Virgil van Dijk had a header ruled out for offside, while Dusan Tadic's dipping strike was pushed away by Cech.

Super Saints but Gunners sinners

Arsenal had lost just one of their previous 11 league games and recorded an impressive victory over Manchester City on Monday but Arsene Wenger's side could not back that performance up with victory on the south coast.

Theo Walcott heatmap

Playing from the left, Walcott failed to make any impact in the final third of the pitch. A lot of his touches came in his own half

Having seen leaders Leicester beaten by Liverpool earlier in the day, the Gunners would have gone top with a win but were resoundingly beaten by a rampant Southampton side.

Playmaker Mesut Ozil - who has received plenty of plaudits for his impressive performances this season - was kept quiet by the Southampton midfield, while former Saint Walcott posed little threat, attempting only 20 passes before being substituted.

Going into the game, Arsenal had conceded the joint-fewest number of goals (14) in the league this season and their second-half capitulation will be a big worry to Wenger.

Arsenal need to win games against teams in the bottom half of the table if they are to take the title, but did not come close to capitalising on the points dropped by Claudio Ranieri's side.

'Bully' Wanyama gives Arsenal no respite

The pressure was starting to grow on Southampton boss Ronald Koeman after five winless games left them just four points above the relegation zone.

But they were marshalled brilliantly in the middle of the park by the superb Victor Wanyama, who made a match-high six tackles and 10 interceptions, often bullying the opposition players.

Cuco Martina goal

The graphic doesn't do justice to Cuco Martina's stunning strike

The opening goal was stunning. There seemed to be no danger when defender Per Mertesacker headed the ball away, and Martina steadied himself before unleashing an outside-of-the-foot drive which started wide of the post before swerving into the net.

Arsenal posed little threat and the hosts added to their tally with a slick counter-attacking move.

There was a hint of controversy in it though, as Long and Laurent Koscielny came together in the build-up, leaving the Frenchman on the ground, allowing Long to stride forward unchallenged and stroke in from Sadio Mane's pass.

Defender Fonte added a bullet header and Long grabbed his second to complete a comprehensive victory for Southampton who managed their first clean sheet in six games.

Man of the match - Shane Long

Shane Long

Republic of Ireland international Shane Long grabbed two goals and could have had a third when he hit the post. He was a constant menace to the Arsenal defence.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman: "You don't expect a 4-0 win against Arsenal. Of course we have a good football team, but we have struggled in recent weeks. But the second half was perfect. It was a tough night for Arsenal, we caused them a lot of problems. It was an amazing result."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "We lost too many challenges and that explains why we lost the game. But that's one aspect, so well done to them.

"The second aspect is that on the first three goals we were really unlucky with the decision of the referee. The first goal was offside, the second goal was a foul and the third goal was a goal kick, so if you're a bit below par and on top of that you have the first three goals against you in the decision-making then it's even more difficult."

The stats you need to know

  • This was Arsenal's heaviest Premier League defeat since a 6-0 away loss at Chelsea in March 2014
  • Arsenal have conceded five Premier League goals from outside the box in 2015-16 so far; two more than in the whole of the 2014-15 season
  • Southampton winger Sadio Mane has six assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season - he had only three in 30 league games last season
  • Shane Long has scored five and assisted two more goals in his last seven Premier League starts for Southampton

What next?

It's a quick turnaround for both sides. Southampton travel to West Ham on Monday (17:30 GMT), while Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways when they host Bournemouth on the same day (also 17:30 GMT).

Source: bbc.com

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Diego Costa scored twice as Oscar slipped on his run up to his 80th-minute penalty

Diego Costa scored twice as Guus Hiddink's second spell as Chelsea boss started with a draw against Watford.

It could have been more for Hiddink, in charge after Jose Mourinho's sacking, had Oscar not missed a late penalty.

Spaniard Costa hooked in the opener for the Blues before Nemanja Matic's handball allowed Troy Deeney to level from the penalty spot.

Odion Ighalo's deflected shot gave the visitors the lead, only for Costa to fire in and earn Chelsea a point.

Relive Chelsea's draw with Watford

Catch up on all the Premier League reaction

The Blues have won just one of their last five Premier League games and are 15th in the table, just two points above the relegation zone.

Watford's run of four successive victories came to an end, but they remain seventh.

Costa full of beans

Hiddink, placed in interim charge at Stamford Bridge this week almost seven years after his first stint as manager, should have been celebrating a win upon his return to the champions.

But after Valon Behrami cut down Eden Hazard in the penalty area, Brazilian Oscar slipped on his run up to his 80th-minute penalty and hit the ball against his standing leg, slicing it clear of the crossbar.

But while Chelsea were not as fluid as they were in last week's 3-1 win over Sunderland, overseen by caretaker boss Steve Holland, they will have been buoyed by the return to form of Costa.

With just three Premier League goals this season before the game, he showed the predatory instincts that saw him score 21 times last term.

The 27-year-old opened the scoring by turning to half-volley in from six yards after John Terry knocked down Willian's corner and then timed his run perfectly to take in Willian's superb throughball and angle his shot past Heurelho Gomes for the equaliser.

Hiddink quietening Chelsea complainers?

Costa was one of three players, along with Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, who were berated last week by some Chelsea fans who were convinced the squad had cost Mourinho his job after losing nine of this season's first 16 league games.

But there was an air of positivity around Stamford Bridge, as Hiddink, who led the Blues to victory in the FA Cup final in 2009, was warmly greeted by home supporters.

The Dutchman told his players to look at themselves in the mirror this week, but barely changed the starting line-up, only bringing Gary Cahill in for Kurt Zouma in central defence.

But he seemed to give his full-backs - in particular Branislav Ivanovic - the licence to push forward and add width to his side, as he looks to pull Chelsea away from the drop zone and towards the top four before the end of the season.

Source: bbc.com

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