How do you give up three to Stoke? Liverpool found out

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If Stoke City’s capable of putting on displays like Wednesday’s at the Britannia, Tony Pulis’s entire approach will need to be question. The Potters’ manager usually employs a rugged, defensive style that sacrifices aesthetics for the practicalities, recognizing a squad built around size and strength should stick to what it does best. On Boxing Day, they were compelled to change.

With Liverpool going up in the second minute, Stoke were forced out of their shell. Once there, the Potters proved capable of getting through Liverpool’s thin midfield and at a central defense that is proving increasingly problematic for Brendan Rodgers. The result was offensive explosion, the league’s worst attack depositing three goals behind Pepe Reina en route to a 3-1 win.

MORE: Everton prove viable without Fellaini

It was difficult to tell if the result was more Stoke’s quality or Liverpool’s failings. As in most games, both the winner’s virtues and loser’s errors were on display. The Potters showed a ability going forward they rarely endeavor to display, with John Walters’ two goals earning him deserved Man of the Match honors. Simultaneously, Reds’ central defenders Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, less than two weeks after struggling in a loss to Aston Villa, continued to show their limitations.

Both players are international quality defenders, but paired in the middle of Liverpool’s defense, they often seem too similar to complement each other. When Jamie Carragher was capable of starting in the middle, Liverpool had a central half that could do more of the tracking. Without him, Agger and Skrtel are often left a step behind.

Stoke’s first goal saw Agger slow getting under a header which, put back toward goal, allowed Walters to equalize after a Skrtel slip. Stoke’s second allowed target man Kenwyne Jones to put the Potters in front, while Agger failed to close down Walters ahead of the final goal.

MORE: Fabulous and flawed, Manchester United stay top

But only so much time can be spent dwelling on Liverpool’s failings before Stoke’s best performance in two years ges overshadowed. Walters complemented his trademark industry with surprisingly clinical finishing. The much-maligned Jones was able to compete with Liverpool’s physical defenders, while Steve N’Zonzi exhibited a class on the ball the midfielder’s rarely has license to show.

The only down point was Ryan Shawcross’s early foul on Luis Suárez, conceding a penalty kick for Steven Gerrard. Ultimately, the early Liverpool goal helped Stoke. Forced to go get a goal, Stoke played with a quality few knew they had.

MORE: Hart, Mancini failings on display at Sunderland

You have to trust Tony Pulis knows his squad best, but after Wednesday’s show, many will rightfully ask why Stoke can’t play that way more often. They were markedly better than a team which came into the day eighth in the Premier League, and while you wouldn’t recommend Stoke try to go blow-for-blow against teams like Tottenham (who they frustrated to a standoff last week), against most of the Premier League, a performance like today’s gets full points.

Maybe Pulis knows today was an aberration, but given how infrequently Stoke try to show their quality, it’s natural for onlookers to have doubts. With Pulis unlikely to change a successful approach any time soon, all we can do is hope the Potters give up more early goals, forcing them to play a more progressive style.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.