Ajax Amsterdam v SC Heerenveen - Eredivisie

Christian Eriksen’s potential for Borussia Dortmund a particularly cloudy picture

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Christian Eriksen has been an “it” player for so long, it’s difficult to know where his skill set ends and his reputation begins. That’s what happens to players who break into Ajax’s first team at 18. They have their skills exaggerated, the influence of Dutch mystique leading those who ascribe the 1970’s antiquated notions to cast Eriksens as new models off an exaggerated assembly line. And as a player like Erikson contributes (24 goals in three season), wins awards (Dutch Player of the Year, 2011), and garners links to bigger clubs, he becomes the latest variable in an overused equation.

Perhaps it was that equation ID’d Eriksen as a breakout candidate at last year’s European Championships. Too bad that breakout never happened. With Denmark only playing three games at Euro 2012, we shouldn’t read too much into Eriksen’s output. Still, a player who was expected to be Morten Olsen’s best failed to have an impact. Now with only three goals in 34 international appearances, Eriksen has yet to show he can produce outside Holland’s attacker-friendly environment.

It all makes Eriksen’s path look a little like Eden Hazard’s, part of the reason why he’s been linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur. Both players had great success at club level around 20 years old, though Hazard’s production was greater than Eriksen’s while playing in a more difficult league. As young attacking midfield, both have struggled for country while dominating for club, and while Hazard’s exploits in Ligue 1 paved a move to one of the world’s big spenders, Eriksen’s play at a lower level built links to other impressive (if more financially constrained) teams.

But comparisons like that only compound the distortion around players like Eriksen. Too often we have difficulty developing a constructive conversation around players whose hype transcends their skills. After a player like Eriksen sits on the rumor mill for three years, a momentum develops, creating résumés built on Wikipedia links to Daily Mail conjecture. There’s little disincentive to overhype talent or links when there’s so much demand for gossip.

At some point, as voices become more authoritative amid the growing chatter, we’re left talking about an abstractions – breakout players who were never been capable of breaking out. In the case of Eriksen, the conversation now hinges on pure speculation. What would he do if he wasn’t playing on his league’s most talented team? What would he do if he wasn’t playing in such an attack-centric league? These sorts of questions are asked about every player, but when that player comes from a league (Eredivsie) and club (Ajax) who many fans view in light of old, romantic statures, it becomes more difficult to engage the counterpoint. It becomes more difficult to see past the abstractions.

What’s particularly interesting regarding Eriksen are the small, meaningful steps he’s taken in the last 12 months to make those abstractions real. Already a valuable contributor for Ajax, the Danish international went from eight all-competition goals in 2011-12 to 13 last season. Although his assist totals took a small step back, Eriksen proved a more decisive force around goal. On a team that scored 10 fewer goals in league, it’s little surprise a 21-year-old’s more team dependent numbers (assists) regressed while his goal rate improved.

It’s tempting to wonder if, with that improved ability to dictate his own destiny,  Eriksen would have had more to say at last summer’s championships.

Now, with that added layer to his game, Eriksen is ready to leave the Netherlands, with Borussia Dortmund reportedly tabbing the Danish attacker as Mario Götze’s replacement. Atletico Mineiro’s Bernard has also been linked with the spot (and it’s not beyond Dortmund to buy both), but in the scenario reported today by France Football, Eriksen would go to Dortmund, highly-touted 19-year-old Adam Maher would move to Ajax from AZ, and Earnie Stewart would get a huge chunk of change for his club’s troubles.

It’s difficult to image a better scenario for Eriksen. What Marco Reus was to BVB last year — a highly talented attacker adapting to a new team while playing new to a world class talent — Eriksen could be to this year’s. And while few would choose Eriksen over Götze, if Reus rises to the increased challenge, Dortmund may see little drop off. In time, as Eriksen adjusts to higher expectations and a more difficult league, Dortmund could do as they’ve always done over the last three years: move forward.

Yet all that falls into the same trap. We’re placing Eriksen in the context of Hazard and Reus, forgetting his Euro 2012 disappointments, the regression of the Dutch league, and his inability to make an impact at the international level. We forget the picture surrounding the 21-year-old is more clouded than his transfer hype would have us believe.

Like all transfers, Eriksen’s will carry significant risk. And it’s only after he moves to a place like Dortmund that we’ll be able see through these clouds and distinguish the skills from the hype.

Three things we learned from Leicester’s huge win vs. Man City

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Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ] 

Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.

LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING

They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.

It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.

This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.

GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE

City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.

Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.

With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.

HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO

When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.

Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City: Foxes on fire, six points clear at top

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  • Huth scores twice
  • City had 4 shots on target
  • Leicester 6 points clear at top

“We’re going to win the league!” was the chant from Leicester’s fans throughout their clash at second-placed Manchester City on Saturday and after this showing they have to be the favorites.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Leicester beat Man City 3-1 and dominated the game from start to finish with Robert Huth scoring less than three minutes into the game and then Riyad Mahrez scoring less than three minutes into the second half. Huth added another on the hour mark and City were stunned by the Foxes as Sergio Aguero’s late header was nothing more than a consolation.

With the win Leicester increased its lead at the top of the table to six points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side have 53 points for the season and go into their clash at Arsenal next week as the favorite to win the Premier League.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The Foxes had a dream start as Mahrez’s free kick from the right was swept home by Huth from close range and inside three minutes Leicester was 1-0 up. The home fans inside the Etihad were stunned.

City responded well to going behind with Raheem Sterling causing problems with his pace, but it could have been 2-0 to Leicester inside 10 minutes. A good ball from Marc Albrighton found Jamie Vardy in-behind but Joe Hart denied him as he rushed off his line, then Nicolas Otamendi denied Shinji Okazaki‘s follow-up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Leicester continued to look dangerous on the break with City failing to make the most of their superior possession. That said, Silva did roll a shot just wide of the far post which took a nick off a Leicester defender as City turned up the heat. Vardy then beat Otamendi for pace and drilled the ball across goal for Okazaki but he couldn’t get enough on his effort and the ball skipped wide.

City then went close as Pablo Zabaleta was brought down by Christian Fuchs right on the edge of the 18-yard box although replays suggested it was on the line and should have been a penalty kick. From the resulting free kick Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a great free kick that Huth somehow managed to deflect over his own cross bar.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Less than three minutes into the second half Leicester went 2-0 up as Kante’s driving run and through ball saw Mahrez skip passed Otamendi easily and he coolly sent Hart the wrong way with a composed finish. 2-0 to the Foxes as their fans were in dreamland. Outgoing Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini was in the middle of a nightmare as his side were all over the place.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed to get back into the game and substitute Fernando headed downwards but Kasper Schmeichel scrambled the ball away to safety. Terrific stop from the Danish goalkeeper.

At the other end Okazaki saw his effort blocked by Demichelis — even though the ball looked to come off the Japanese striker last — and from the resulting corner the Foxes went 3-0 up as Huth rose highest and headed home majestically. Scenes at the Etihad as the home fans were stunned into silence.

Man City never recovered from the third goal — Hart denied Vardy his first goal of the game and Leicester’s fourth, while the PL’s top scorer also fired into the side-netting late on — and home fans streamed towards the exit way before the final whistle. Those that did missed Aguero’s header which made it 3-1 but that was no more than a consolation even if he had another good chance and Leicester withheld some late pressure.

Ranieri’s side had put in a memorable display as they extended their lead at the top with ease against a lackluster City outfit.

Watch Live, Stream: Spurs-Watford, Liverpool-Sunderland; every 10am ET game

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Erik Lamela (4th R) of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on December 28, 2015 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate involving some of the big boys.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Spurs could move up to second with a win, while the Hornets have won just one of their last seven games.

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the sidelines after going down with appendicitis. The Black Cats desperately need points in their battle against relegation.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

A simply must-win game for Villa if they’re going to get themselves off the foot of the table. The Canaries are hover just two points above the drop zone.

Stoke City vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Two teams hoping to make a charge towards the top six clash. Both have plenty of injuries. This will be tight. Will Martinez be getting out his best dance moves at full time?

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Three games unbeaten for the Swans as they ease relegation fears but they still aren’t out of it. Palace have lost five on the spin and are without a win in seven games.

Newcastle vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Magpies are still in the bottom three and will see this as a must-win. West Brom haven’t won in four and are just above the drop zone.

VIDEO: Mahrez strokes a beauty; Leicester cruising at Man City

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Riyad Mahrez is hot again, and so is Leicester City.

The Algerian playmaker has an assist in three-straight matches, and added his first Premier League goal since a Dec. 19 brace against Everton as the Foxes are cruising at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday morning

[ WATCH LIVE: Man City vs. Leicester City ]

Mahrez makes his move into the box to lash a classy “no look” shot past Joe Hart, and temporarily — at least — keep Leicester six points clear of hosts Manchester City atop the PL table.

Robert Huth has scored on either side of Mahrez’s goal, and it’s 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.