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Quick Six: Januzaj’s breakout, best striker tandem, and other Premier League storylines

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1. A NEW STAR IS BORN AT UNITED?

Out of the darkness came a new hero, an unlikely 18-year-old thrust to instant stardom amid the uncertainty that’d enveloped the start of David Moyes’s tenure. Can Adnan Januzaj really be the savior he’s being portrayed as after his two goals in Sunderland delivered Manchester United from   potential disaster?

Here’s teammate Michael Carrick after United’s 2-1, come-from-behind victory:

“In some ways I think he’s gone on the big stage now,” he said. “We noticed a big improvement with him [in pre-season] and he just looked a proper player. At half-time we told him to get in the box a bit more because there were chances for him.

“He’s got so much ability, he’s got a great attitude. He can be anything he wants to be – he’s that good.

“It’s just a start, I’m sure he’s not going to get carried away with it.”

Many outlets have taken the “anything he wants to be” part and ran with it. After all, narratives  have to be fueled, never mind Carrick was perfectly sanguine will delivering his player speak. Januzaj is a teammate, he’s young, and he was just coming off a two-goal performance. Of course you’re going to get some distortable quotes out of Carrick.

With Januzaj, there’s as much sizzle as steak right now. It’s impossible to miss the potential in the Belgian/Albanian/Serbian/Kosovar (he’d be eligible to represent any of those nations), but Januzaj’s new star’s also a function of United’s current plight. He’s the contract to the conflict between expectations and form.

That conflict was apparent on Saturday. For the first 45 minutes, a Sunderland team that was hard work and little else was the better side. In the second half, Manchester United woke up. In time, this will look like a good win — three points where other sides may get none — but considering what Manchester City and Arsenal showed on their trips north, United’s Black Cat test illustrated just how far behind they are.

[MORE: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United: Januzaj’s second half double lifts Red Devils.]

2. SUÁREZ, STURRIDGE SHINE, BUT ONE PIECE MISSING FOR LIVERPOOL

Whether they maintain this level or not, Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge are the Premier League’s best striking duo at the moment. The tandem combined for two Liverpool goals in the Reds’ 3-1 win over visiting Crystal Palace, and after the weekend’s dust settled, Liverpool sat second, with only goal difference keeping them from the top.

Brendan Rodgers seems eager to temper any undo enthusiasm, though:

“It reminded me of a performance I had when I first became a manager, when I knew it had to be about more than just winning. At Watford we beat Swansea 2-0 at Vicarage Road. Everyone was elated and it was named the performance of the week but I was so disappointed because we didn’t keep the ball well. This was like that. Our movement and combinations in the final third was good but the lack of control behind that was very disappointing.”

It’s harsh, but there were obvious weaknesses in the Reds’ side on Saturday. Against one of the league’s worst teams, Liverpool too often allowed Crystal Palace to hit their defensive line with speed, the Eagles’ lack of execution (and talent) in the final third the only thing that kept this match from turning into a shootout.

That problem gets solved to a certain extent when Lucas Leiva returns. Without their suspended ball-winner, Liverpool moved Jordan Henderson in from right-wing back, pairing him at the base of midfield with Steven Gerrard. The result was unconvincing. Thankfully, they were only playing Crystal Palace.

The issue does, however, inform the debate as to whether Liverpool are title contenders. Or Champions League contenders, for that matter. With the Reds off to a 5-1-1 start, there are a lot of discussions surrounding the team, all of which come down to quality and depth. Even if you think the Reds have the quality to compete with the preseason contenders (a tough but not impossible argument to make), Saturday illustrated how thin they are. Lose one guy and things don’t exactly fall apart (they did still win 3-1, after all), but holes start to surface.

[MORE: Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace: “SAS” on the scoresheet again as Reds romp.]

3. MAYBE POCHETTINO WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON

Mauricio Pochettino didn’t say he was going to get Southampton into Champions League this year, and to the extent he said it was a goal, he did so in relation to Europa League. Teams don’t really shoot for the latter, the Saints boss explained. Champions League is everybody’s ambition.

Of course, people ran with it. That’s what happens. A coach of a club like Southampton even mentions Champions League? It goes at the top of the story. Southampton must be targeting Champions League! Welcome to the soccer world.

After this weekend’s action, however, Pochettino’s words took on a different context, with Southampton’s 2-0 win over Swansea vaulting the Saints into fourth place – above Manchester City, Tottenham, and Manchester United.

Seven weeks into the season, it’s too early to know whether Southampton can keep this up, even if a win at Liverpool and five clean sheets provide some reason to think this form can persist. But beyond that Liverpool win, there aren’t many eye-opening results among this year’s score lines. The schedule just hasn’t been that hard.

Don’t overlook Sunday’s result, however. Three years ago, Swansea were Southampton, albeit with a different style. They were the team whose results outstretched their stature while their methods underscored their results. They were the club giving reason to believe there was staying power behind their run.

Sunday’s game may have been a symbolic passing of that torch, with Swansea stumbling to 15th place. Then again, it might be us reading too much into early season results. Regardless, Pochettino continues to give us reason to talk about Southampton.

[MORE: Southampton 2-0 Swansea: Saints go fourth with fifth clean sheet.]

4. MARTIN JOL: STILL WAITING TO EXHALE?

If Martin Jol didn’t win, he was probably gone. We didn’t have any proof, but everything about Fulham’s situation told us the Dutch boss was in a win-or-else situation. His team was drastically under-performing, form that extended from that persisted from the end of last season. They were coming off a bad loss at home (to Cardiff City) and the new owner is coming to town with his NFL team this week. If Jol didn’t beat Stoke at home, Shahid Khan was unlikely to see a silver lining to this cloud he inherited as coach.

Thanks to Darren Bent’s 83rd minute goal, Jol’s likely to get a reprieve, his team having beaten the visiting Potters 1-0. The question is whether he should. Fulham still sit 18th and are coming off a victory that was more obligatory than convincing. A one-goal win at home to visiting Stoke with the squad Jol has? That’s seems like a minimum standard, not a reason to let up. If we had doubts about the Cottagers before, what about the Stoke result makes us believe Fulham are on the right track?

When you’re struggling, you’re thankful for every win you get, so it’s understandable Fulham and their fans have loosened their grips since Saturday. But once the international break’s over, the reality may set in. A one-goal home win over Stoke is obligatory. It’s not progress.

[MORE: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Cottagers snare needed win.]

5. BACK TO EARTH FOR EVERTON

How good are Everton? Now we know. Their 3-1 loss at Manchester City wasn’t just their first in league since Roberto Martínez took over. It was a reminder of the limitations he’s inherited.

Take the first goal Everton allowed, a great piece of work from David Silva to Yaya Touré to Álvaro Negredo. The speed, timing, and execution of the move was world-class. It took world-class talents to execute it, and it would have taken world-class talents to stop it. Manchester City had them. Everton did not. Goal, Citizens.

City’s second goal was a brilliant piece finish from Sergio Agüero, who beat Tim Howard far post from a sharp ankle. Everton doesn’t have the type of talent that can finish that ball, and the closest player they have is on loan from Chelsea.

Then there was the penalty that led to the third goal, with Seamus Coleman judged to have taken down Pablo Zabaleta. Coleman’s a fine player, but he didn’t have enough to stay in front of Zabaleta without leaning into him. You could argue that the penalty was soft, but another defender may have avoided that position to begin with.

Not many, though. Most defenders are going to get caught by that Zabaleta run, just as very few strikers will finish like Aguero and only a series of elite players can complete City’s first goal.

But that’s the difference between that level and Everton’s. The Toffees have very good players and a seemingly excellent coach, but sometimes, talent wins out.

[MORE: Manchester City 3-1 Everton: The last of the unbeatens fall.]

6. FOR SPURS, LACK OF GOALS WORSE THAN THE WEST HAM LOSS

The scoreline’s troubling: 0-3 at home to West Ham United. That Spurs could only put four shots on Jussi Jääskeláinen should be just as worrisome. This is a team that came into the game with six goals in six games, and on Sunday, André Villas-Boas’s squad didn’t do enough to improve that record.

Yes, be concerned about the lopsided nature of the loss, but also grasp this basic fact: Until this team starts scoring goals, they can’t be considered a serious contender for the league’s top four spots. Once it happens, we can make an assessment about this crew Levy, Baldini, and Villas-Boas have assembled. Right now, we have no idea what that end product will look like. .

In the interim, Spurs have given away three points they should have had. What are the odds they’ll want those back at year’s end? Especially if Liverpool challenges for top four? And Southampton proves as pesky as their rhetoric?

Today’s game was only one result. These things happen. Six goals in seven games? That’s the bigger problem.

[MORE: Tottenham 0-3 West Ham: Three second half goals give Hammer upset.]

Exasperated Klopp: “We were not physical enough” vs Leicester

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Liverpool players make their way back to the half way line after they let in their first goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 27, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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A desperate Leicester City battered Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on Monday, leaving Reds boss Jurgen Klopp to question how his side lost to another relegation candidate.

That’s four teams in the Bottom Seven to beat the Reds this season, and the fifth is 11th place Burnley.

[ RECAP: Leicester 3-1 Liverpool ]

Klopp said he could explain the loss in German, but the challenge of doing it in English was proving difficult.

“The language issues always come a little bit more when you have to explain defeats and it’s really difficult to find the right words. It was not an over aggressive game from Leicester. Even for this level we were not physical enough today.”

Liverpool did look soft without midfielder Jordan Henderson, and did have multiple midfielders in the back line with Lucas Leiva at center back and James Milner on the right.

But moreover, the players failed to follow some of Klopp’s guidelines. For example, Christian Fuchs was able to launch several of his big throws into the 18. One helped Leicester to a goal.

“We gave throw-ins away like we never spoke about it. It does not make much sense to give away 20 throw-ins to Fuchs from that position.”

It wasn’t good enough, and it’s baffling to see Liverpool this season. A club that took four of six points from Chelsea has lost to a quartet of relegation battlers. This isn’t good.

Liverpool continues to wilt against lesser lights

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 27, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Plenty will be said about Leicester City’s performance in Monday’s 3-1 defeat of Liverpool at King Power Stadium, but the visitors’ problems are screaming at a similar volume.

The Reds play a bit like a team expecting it to be easier, which is baffling given its struggles in 2017. When the calendar turned, Liverpool had just toppled Manchester City 1-0.

[ RECAP: Leicester 3-1 Liverpool ]

It’s been a horror story this new year. The Reds needed a replay to beat Plymouth in the FA Cup en route to being bounced by Wolverhampton in the fourth round. They lost 2-0 to Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal. And as for league form? Woof.

Liverpool in the Premier League, 2017
Jan. 2 – at Sunderland, D 2-2
Jan. 15 – at Man Utd, D 1-1
Jan. 21 – vs. Swansea City, L 2-3
Jan. 28 – vs. Chelsea, D 1-1
Feb. 4 – at Hull City, L 0-2
Feb. 11 – vs Spurs, W 2-0
Feb. 27 – at Leicester, L 0-2

In total, that’s two wins and four draws in 12 matches. The Reds have allowed two or more goals on five occasions, and four times they’ve been held off the score sheet.

The answers weren’t there. They haven’t been for most of the year. Nathaniel Clyne‘s bright work on the right rarely found a willing receiver, as Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum failed to make much of an impact. Yes, Jordan Henderson was missing but that shouldn’t sink a side into the abyss.

The Reds were late to the party, though at least they bothered to show up unlike the 2-0 loss at Hull three weeks ago. Liverpool has lost at Hull, Bournemouth, Burnley, and Leicester this season, with an additional home loss to Swansea City.

Those are 15 points surrendered to the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 19th place teams, plus recently promoted Burnley (11th). For good measure, the Reds drew 2-2 at 20th place Sunderland. That leaves Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough as the lone members of the Bottom Seven to not take a point from Liverpool.

The Reds have been the team version of Moussa Sissoko, well up for the big boys but yawning at the task of playing lesser lights (Granted Monday’s match was under the bright lights). How else do you explain a team with the record above also boasting an unbeaten mark against the Top Seven (5W-4D)?

Liverpool needs a change in attitude. And don’t be fooled if they beat Arsenal this weekend or Man City in two weeks. See if they show up at home to Burnley on March 12.

Leicester City 3-1 Liverpool: Champions Awakened

Leicester players celebrate after Leicester's Daniel Drinkwater scored during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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  • First match since Ranieri firing
  • Vardy nabs brace
  • Coutinho ruins clean sheet

Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater helped the King Power Stadium to a taste of the Leicester of old, as the Foxes opened the post-Claudio Ranieri era with a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool on Monday.

Philippe Coutinho scored the lone goal for the visitors.

Leicester climbs back out of the drop zone and into 15th with 24 points. Liverpool remains fifth place with 49 points.

The two goals were Vardy’s first time on a Premier League scoresheet since netting a hat trick in a 4-2 win over Man City on Dec. 10.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Robert Huth flicked a long Christian Fuchs throw towards the frame, and Simon Mignolet leapt to corral the goal-bound ball.

Another big Fuchs throw led to a corner when Mignolet denied Shinji Okazaki‘s flying header.

Vardy then forced Mignolet into a close-range save when the Leicester striker bodied Lucas Leiva and beat Joel Matip to attempt a shot.

Vardy found his mark with a long ball from a field player. Marc Albrighton spied an opening from his own half and played Vardy on goal, with the English striker beating Mignolet to the near post.

The danger wasn’t over. Vardy lost his dribble and backheeled to Wilfried Ndidi for a shot that Mignolet stopped in the six.

Drinkwater made it 2-0 with a volley from outside the 18 that sent King Power Stadium into bedlam. Commentator Arlo White noted that the press area was shaking following the celebration.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool looked gun shy well into the second half, with Philippe Coutinho giving the hint of urgency on a 55th minute rip corralled by Schmeichel.

The Reds then allowed Riyad Mahrez and Christian Fuchs to work the left side before the latter crossed in front of Emre Can, where Vardy flew to power a header home.

Coutinho made it 3-1 on a layoff from Can to give Liverpool a bit of life and the Brazilian his first Premier League goal since Nov. 6.

The Reds didn’t quit, though they found it hard to invade the Foxes’ 18. Leicester wasn’t much help in the matter, doggedly staying with their marks and spaces as the match edged toward stoppage time.

WATCH: Drinkwater rocket doubles Leicester City lead

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Leicester City’s first half of Premier League play without Claudio Ranieri has gone very, very well.

Marc Albrighton set up Jamie Vardy for an early goal before Danny Drinkwater scored a beauty of his own, and the Foxes have a 2-0 lead over Liverpool at King Power Stadium.

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The Foxes got a roar and a standing ovation from the KP at the break, as the champs look prepared to make their stay in the drop zone a brief one.