Look ahead, Premier League: Another chance for a Liverpool breakthrough

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Somewhere over the course of the winter it’s become acceptable to see the Brendan Rodgers Project in a new light. Though the first-year boss ambitiously (if perhaps slightly disingenuously) said his team could finish second this season, most onlookers saw this as another year of transition for the Reds. Disappointments like last Sunday’s at Oldham Athletic still dot Liverpool’s record, but the quality of their play has been encouraging. At their best, Liverpool looks like a Champions League contender, even if that status is still at least a season away. But with that quality apparent now, fans have been left yearning for the type of win that will validate suspicions the team can be as good as they  look.

That win almost came mid-week, but conceding a two-goal lead in London means fans are still wait for Brendan Rodgers’ big breakthrough. After an hour at the Emirates, it looked set to arrive, but goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott salvaged a point for Arsenal. Against the Premier League’s top six, Liverpool is now 0-4-4 this season.

For all the beautiful soccer Rodgers has instilled at Anfield, it’s fair to ask when it means if they aren’t beating top competition. The former Swansea boss was brought in to build something better than Kenny Dalglish had last season. If that requires a transition year, fans seem ready to be patient, but when the results start to hint at a roadblock that defies their talent — the type of block that hints at something mental rather than physical — curiosity’s natural. And at some point, that curiosity becomes a concern.

Rodgers isn’t quite there, yet. Even after capitulating mid-week, he’s still focuing on the positives.

“Normally you would be bitterly disappointed not to have won but I can only be proud of the players,,” Rodgers silver—linings it after the match. “I thought they were absolutely magnificent.”

Those players get their next chance for a breakthrough Sunday at Eastlands. There they’ll face a Manchester City side whose last two performances should engender hope. Their 1-0 win on the 26th at Stoke City came only after Pablo Zabeleta’s late right place, right time goal. Three days later, the Citizens were drawn at Loftus Road, the title aspirants dropping points against the Premier League’s worst team.

The problem’s up front. It’s been 328 minutes since Edin Dzeko scored at Arsenal on Jan. 13, the last time a City forward got on the scoresheet. The last time one of the team’s strikers scored against 11 men in league  was Jan. 1 (Dzeko against Stoke City). Sergio Aguero’s “struggling”, down to 8 goals in 20 games after scoring 23 times in his first Premier League season. Carlos Tévez hasn’t scored in league since Dec. 1, and Mario Balotelli’s no longer on the books.

But if his strike corps is a problem, manager Roberto Mancini’s not admitting it.

“Now we have three strikers,” Mancini said when asked if City tried to acquire another forward. “We have only Premier League and FA Cup, I think that could be enough.”

On Sunday, it just might. In Liverpool’s eight games against the top six, they’ve given up multiple goals seven times, including their Aug. 26 meeting with City. Their 30  goals allowed puts them a respectable eighth in the Premiership, but having conceded half those in  eight games against the league’s best, their defensive record only feeds into the theme: The next step for The Brendan Rodgers project is a breakthrough against one of the league’s top teams.

Elsewhere in England

Saturday

Queens Park Rangers (20th) vs. Norwich City (14th) – Must wins don’t exist in February, but how can QPR be confident they’ll stay up if they can’t beat Norwich City at home? The Canaries last league win was Dec. 12.

Arsenal (6th) vs. Stoke City (10th) – Now four points and two places out of a Champions League spot, the Gunners can’t afford to drop points in these types of games. The last time Stoke took points at Arsenal was 1981 (eight matches).

Everton (5th) vs. Aston Villa (19th) – Not so long ago, this was a battle for non-Big Four supremacy (when there was a Big Four). Now Everton’s competing for Champions League while Villa looks to have reached new lows. In the drop with the worst goal difference in the league, Aston Villa’s no longer one of Everton’s peers.

Newcastle United (15th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) – Who knows what to expect from Chelsea? Would anybody be surprised if they lost this one? Newcastle’s been reinforced by Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoann Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy in the winter window, giving the Magpies the talent to take advantage of the Blues, particularly if a newly healthy Yoann Cabaye can tilt the battle in the middle. But this is stills not a match Chelsea should be losing. While Newcastle’s intriguing, they aren’t on Chelsea’s level.

Reading (17th) vs. Sunderland (11th) – How has this happened? Reading hasn’t been much different after their rough start, yet they’re getting better results. Seven points in their last three and have allowed them to claw out of the drop. The pack has come back to them, something you can also say about Sunderland. They also have seven in their last three, they’ve climbed to 11th, and while they’re now finding more goals (and turning draws into wins), it’s difficult to say things have truly turned around. Both these teams are  taking advantage of a weak bottom half.

West Ham United (13th) vs. Swansea City (8th) – The Hammers have hit a wall. After a strong start to the season, they closed January with three loses in four, conceding 12 times. Swansea ran out 3-0 winners in the teams’ August meeting. Undefeated in league since Dec. 16, this could be another convincing result for Swans.

Wigan Athletic (18th) vs. Southampton (16th) – Two weeks ago this would have been one of the more obscurely attractive matches in the schedule, but with Nigel Adkins asked to give way for Mauricio Pochettino, we’re no longer guaranteed two styles that augur a beautiful game.

Fulham (12th) vs. Manchester United (1st) – I refuse to say anything predictive about #FlawedButFabulous. Fulham, on the other hand, are another illustration of England’s weak bottom half. As much as they’ve struggled this season, they’re still 12th.

Sunday

West Bromwich Albion (9th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (4th) – Lewis Holtby’s arrival will probably mean an even greater playing time struggle for Clint Dempsey, but the German playmaker is exactly when Spurs need. This Sunday’s match may provide a perfect example. On the road against a team whose tactics could have previously exposed Spurs’ occasional lack of creativity, Holtby may provide a dimension that forces opposing managers to reconsider laying of Spurs and daring them to craft a killer ball.

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

You can watch all the games live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Arsenal welcome Crystal Palace, Man United head to Burnley, West Ham host Bournemouth, Stoke and Huddersfield clash, while Leicester welcome Watford and Everton do battle with West Brom.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Brighton 0-4 Chelsea: Magic Hazard runs the show

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  • Chelsea snap run of five-straight draws
  • Brighton have one win in last 13 PL games
  • Hazard scores twice, rips Brighton apart
  • Chelsea have won 11 of last 16 games

Chelsea beat Brighton and Hove Albion 4-0 at the Amex Stadium on Saturday as Eden Hazard scored twice and tore the Seagulls apart.

Two goals in the opening six minutes from Hazard and Willian set Chelsea on their way to victory, then Hazard capped the win off with a fine individual goal late on and Victor Moses added a fourth.

Brighton battled hard and hit the woodwork and had penalty shouts but Chris Hughton‘s men were outclassed by Hazard in dazzling form.

Without the suspended duo of Alvaro Morata and Pedro, plus injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea deserved the win and moved level on 50 points with second-place Manchester United, while the Seagulls are just three points above the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Less than three minutes into the game Chelsea took the lead as Moses’ cross from the right deflected into Hazard’s path and the Belgian took a touch to settle himself before he rifled home.

It got worse soon after for Brighton as Chelsea pounced to double their lead via Willian. The Brazilian surged forward, played the ball into Eden Hazard and he then flicked the ball into Michy Batshuayi with the back of his heel and Batshuayi followed suit to play in Willian who fired home. 2-0 with six minutes on the clock.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Brighton responded well and should have had a penalty kick as Willy Caballero rushed off his line and appeared to catch Ezequiel Schelotto, but no penalty kick was given and Chelsea cleared the danger. Moments later a high ball into the box caused Cabellero problems again as he flapped at a cross but his defense bailed him out.

On the break Batshuayi had an effort stopped by Mat Ryan as Hazard ran riot, while at the other end Caballero then made a superb save to deny Tomer Hemed and Shane Duffy nodded wide as Brighton had their chances in a action-packed first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

In the second half, Brighton continued to push for a goal back and Davy Propper‘s header hit the post and came out. Andreas Christensen was then forced off after being involved in a nasty clash of heads as David Luiz came on.

At the other end Willian had his free kick pushed onto the post by Ryan as Chelsea looked to end any hope of a Brighton comeback.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hazard (who else?) did just that in the closing stages as he sauntered towards goal and send Ryan the wrong way with a fine finish to make it 3-0.

Charly Musonda then made a great impression as he jumped off the bench and clipped a fine ball forward for Moses who controlled and finished for Chelsea’s four goal to hammer the final nail in Brighton’s coffin.

Report: Arsenal bid $61 million for Aubameyang

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It has begun.

According to German outlet Kicker, Arsenal have made an opening offer of $61 million to Borussia Dortmund for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Dortmund’s star striker, 28, has been left out of their last two matchday squads amid discpilinary problems and question marks over his future at the Westfalenstadion.

The leading goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season (31 goals in 32 games) has been linked with a move to Arsenal over the past week as they get ready to sell Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United. Reports linking Aubamyenag to Arsenal have seen Dortmund’s sporting director hit out at Arsene Wenger and called the Gunners’ behavior disrespectful.

Talking of disrespect…

Aubameyang was spotted playing five-a-side with friends in Dortmund on Friday while his teammates drew 1-1 with Hertha Berlin (something his manager Peter Stoeger had a less than positive reaction to) as the Gabonese striker wore a BVB shirt with Ousmane Dembele’s name on the back. Dembele was suspended by the club back in the summer as he tried to force through his move to Barcelona, which eventually happened for a fee of $130 million.

I’m sure the Dortmund hierarchy were pleased about that…

When it comes to Aubameyang and where he would fit in at Arsenal, this would be a great fit. He’d be the target forward they’ve needed for some time and imagine Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang in tandem, plus Mesut Ozil and maybe his former teammate at Dortmund, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, (if his move from Man United goes through) threading through balls.

Aubameyang is prolific and has scored 141 goals in 212 games for Dortmund over the past five seasons, including 21 goals in 23 games in all competitions this season.

Olivier Giroud was said to be offered as part of the deal, but his name isn’t mentioned in this report and the Frenchman is said to want to stay at Arsenal at least until the end of the season.

It’s likely Arsenal will have to pay closer to $70 million for a player who has three years left on his current contract, but his goal output is certainly worth that amount, even if his off-pitch antics and somewhat disruptive nature could be an issue for Wenger. At this point, Arsenal need all the help they can get to finish off games they dominate.

Barcelona issue statement on Antoine Griezmann

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Hmm, this is an interesting tactic from Barcelona.

On Saturday the Catalan club released a statement about Atletico Madrid and France striker Antoine Griezmann.

The forward has long been linked with a move to Barca and media reports in Spain have gone into overdrive regarding a move to the Nou Camp for the 26-year-old.

Below is the statement from Barca in full.

FC Barcelona strongly denies the information that has appeared over the course of the last few hours in different media regarding Atletico Madrid player, Antoine Griezmann, and an alleged deal with our club.

FC Barcelona expresses its objections in the face of these events and reiterates its full respect for the institution of Atletico Madrid.

This feels very similar to the situation with Virgil Van Dijk between Liverpool and Southampton.

Media speculation reached incredible levels back in June 2017 that VVD had agreed to sign for Liverpool, but the Anfield club then issued a public apology to Saints and ended their pursuit of Van Dijk. He then signed for Liverpool in January in a $100 million move.

With Atletico said to be incredibly unhappy that Griezmann continues to be linked with a move to Barca, plus reports suggesting the Madrid club want to report Barcelona to FIFA for an alleged approach for their star striker, it’s not too surprising to see Barca take this very unusual approach to try and calm the situation down.

Will it work? Who knows. Is it likely Griezmann will end up at Barcelona anyway? This statement suggests that the two clubs are in dialogue and Barcelona are trying to patch up their relationship to try and move for Griezmann in the summer.

Call me cynical, but that’s the way I see this.