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Shipped from Abroad, England: Paths of Villas-Boas, Rodgers diverge

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On a weekend where José Mourinho was left searching for answers in Spain, two of his former associates diverged in England. Previously, Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers had been sprinting hastily down the same pothole-ridden road, winless starts with new clubs leaving supporters checking their gardening supplies, looking for the crumbled paper pouch holding rashly discarded seeds of doubt.

Villas-Boas gave Spurs supporters reason to abandon the search. Thanks to two goals from Jermain Defoe, Tottenham posted their first victory of the season, a 3-1 win over Reading. Given the Royals are newly promoted (and yet to win on their return), Spurs’ win might be seen as obligatory, given their top four aspirations. But the three points were also just deserts for a squad that had performed better than their 0-1-2 (W-D-L) record. Beguiling swoons late in matches had undermined Villas-Boas’s first games, but after Tottenham scored twice in the final 20 minutes at the Madejski, the biggest qualm with the new manager’s regime was obliterated. Spurs can move on.

Closing the deal

Even though Spurs scored twice in Sunday’s final hour, a late goal from Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu continued Tottenham’s pattern of conceding in a match’s last 10 minutes.

Score
(Spurs-opponent)
Date Opponent at 79′ Final
Aug. 18 at Newcastle 1-1 1-2
Aug. 25 West Brom 1-0 1-1
Sept. 1 Norwich 1-0 1-1
Sept. 16 at Reading 3-0 3-1

Liverpool, however, can not. A late Luis Suárez goal earned the Reds a good point at Sunderland, but the accomplishment is overshadowed by Liverpool’s record: 0-2-2. Their 17th place standing is Hodgsonian, even if their soccer is not. Showing continued (if subtle) progress in Rodgers’ system and style, Liverpool outshot Sunderland 23-7 (6-1 in shots on target), dominating the Opta possession, 66-34. Those numbers mean nothing as they concern Saturday’s final score, but they are hints – clues in the mystery that is Brendan Rodgers’ start. Results have eluded him, but there’s reason to believe they’ll come.

Just like Villas-Boas had his boogeyman, Rodgers has his. Spurs’ boss lifted The Curse of the Late Match Swoon (which would have been the title of the eighth Harry Potter book), but Rodgers can’t seem to find a non-Suárez scorer. Of Liverpool’s three goals on the season, Suárez has two, with nobody looking likely to join him. Raheem Sterling continues to enthrall with his pace and skill, but he’s lacking in final product. At 17, he can’t be expected to become the complete package overnight. Liverpool’s other attacker, Fabio Borini is a more worrisome case. Productive in Italy after being sold by Chelsea, Borini (21) is now scoreless in eight Premier League appearances, which wouldn’t be so troublesome if there were signs the drought would end.

After a Thursday trip to Switzerland to face Young Boys, Liverpool returns home for the season’s first North West Derby. It’s a game for which Steven Gerrard has typically stepped up, though Rodgers’ team doesn’t need Gerrard heroics. They need the plan to click. They need to start getting goals from the people who are supposed to score them. A few from Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen would be nice, but Liverpool needs long term, consistent help for Suárez. That would be more valuable than  an veteran inspiration.

Mixed starts for Premier League’s promoted sides

Of the three clubs that sit below Liverpool in the table, two were in the Championship last season. Reading’s opening day draw at home to Stoke is their only point, while Southampton has had to play Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal (losing 6-1 on Saturday) en route to four straight losses.

A season after all three promoted teams stayed up, this year’s trio are off to a 2-7-2 start. If it wasn’t for West Ham United, it’d be much worse. Their point at Norwich on Saturday pushed them to 2-1-1 on the season, though the Hammers were always bound to be a special case.

Like Newcastle three years ago, West Ham should have never one down. They were too big, too well-resourced – too talented. Left to the guidance of Avram Grant, new owners David Gold and David Sullivan saw the tactics of neglect sink the team into 20th place despite.

West Ham had the talent to be a decent Premier League side, and although Scott Parker has since moved on, they still do. That they had to go through a promotion playoff this spring to get back to the Premiership shows how much they’d taken the second division for granted. Now that they’re back in the top tier, there’s no reason West Ham can’t finish mid-table.

How they stand

Champions: 1. Chelsea (4 gp/10 pts), 2. Manchester United (4/9), 3. Arsenal (4/8), 4. Manchester City (4/8)

Europa:5. Swansea City (4/7), 6. West Bromwich Albion (4/7), 7. West Ham United (4/7)

Relegation:18. Queens Park Rangers (4/2), 19. Reading (3/1), 20. Southampton (4/0)

Results:
Norwich City 0-0 West Ham United
Arsenal 6-1 Southampton
Aston Villa 2-0 Swansea City
Fulham 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
Manchester United 4-0 Wigan Athletic
Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Chelsea
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool
Reading 1-3 Tottenham
Everton-Newcastle (Monday)

Elsewhere in England

  • See that top our to the right? Boy, that didn’t take long.
  • Despite their first blemish, Chelsea stay on top of the league after their 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers, a team that gave up five the last time they played a Loftus Road. Most disappointing for Chelsea: The nil-nil was a fair result.
  • Roberto Mancini decried Peter Crouch’s handball, but unfortunate goals happen to everybody. It’s not fair, but it’s something millions-approaching-billions in player expenditures could theoretically overcome. Instead, Manchester City was held to a 1-1 at Stoke.
  • Manchester United was shutout by Everton to begin the season. Since, they’ve scored a league-leading 10 goals, four of which came against Wigan on Saturday. Wayne Rooney is not missed.
  • Aston Villa got a highlight reel shot from Matthew Lowton and a late insurance tally from Christian Bentenke to post the first win of the Paul Lambert era. The bigger story: The Swansea goal machine was held under two for the first time this season.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.