Shipped from abroad: Reflections on an English Premier League Saturday

Leave a comment

These days, everything that happens with Liverpool spurs perspective. Coming into Saturday’s match, that perspective was a wide one, seeing the Reds in their worst form for 50 years. After Luis Suarez’s late equalizer got them a point from visiting Aston Villa, the perspective shifts, through it doesn’t narrow. Nothing from today’s match helps focus on the now.

Instead, it’s a wide, sorrowful view that sees a home point from the league’s 15th place side as a cause for relief. And describing Villa as a 15th place side is the most flattering way you can describe Alex McLeish’s team, at this point. They’re not good, and as such, don’t expect LFC supporters to take much solace from this result. At least it’s not a loss will be the refrain.

That won’t console for long. We’re now one week away from Liverpool’s Merseyside Derby at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinals, a must-win match in the hearts of supporters who, after Saturday, can ask “If we need a late goal to draw Villa at home, are we going to be able to get past Everton?”

Liverpool has one more match to find something: Tuesday at Blackburn. Unfortunately, these are just the types of matches where the Reds have stumbled – matches where they have to impose instead of react. Based on what we saw today, dropping points at Ewood almost has to be expected.

Elsewhere in the Premier League

All results: Sunderland 0-0 Tottenham; Chelsea 2-1 Wigan; Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa; Norwich City 2-2 Everton; Bolton 0-3 Fulham; West Brom 3-0 Blackburn; Stoke City 2-1 Wolverhampton.

Stuff that stuck out:

  • Chelsea moves back into fifth and are now only three points behind Spurs. If Arsenal fall to Manchester City tomorrow, the Blues will be two back of a Champions League spot. Unfortunately, Newcastle’s staying right with them (and are in two fewer competitions). They could beat out Arsenal or Tottenham and still end up in Europa.
  • Two goals from Nikica Jelavic have me convinced I was wrong. Bought from Rangers at the end of the winter transfer window, I thought he was a reach – especially for the €6.6 million that’s hard to come by at Goodison. He had a good goal return in Scotland, but I put no stock in it. To the eye, he seemed little better than other options. He’s now up to five goals in 10 matches with the Toffees, and while that may be nothing but a decent start, it’s enough to convince me I’d judged too harshly.
  • Clint Dempsey’s double (in Fulham’s 3-0 win at Bolton) could have led this post, but his goalscoring exploits have become so common that we no longer have to break out the confetti to celebrate his exploits. The guy is fifth in the league in goals, behind only van Persie, Rooney, Aguero and Ba. It’s an amazing status commensurate with a year so successful that “Clint Dempsey scores!” is no longer the story. Instead, it’s “Clint Dempsey scored again.” A more subdued message? Sure, but at this point, it’s also more meaningful.
  • Here’s that full goalscorers list:
Player Club Goals
van Persie, Robin Arsenal 26
Rooney, Wayne Manchester United 21
Aguero, Sergio Manchester City 17
Ba, Demba Newcastle 16
Dempsey, Clint Fulham 15
Ayegbeni, Yakubu Blackburn 14
Adebayor, Emmanuel Tottenham 13
Balotelli, Mario Manchester City 13
Dzeko, Edin Manchester City 13
Holt, Grant Norwich City 13

Up next: Manchester United’s at QPR tomorrow ahead of Manchester City’s visit to Arsenal.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.