Premier League Playback: Man United hit rock bottom, Hazard the hero, Liverpool dark horses?

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UNITED’S PREDICTABILITY PROVES THEY AREN’T LEARNING

“Today is probably as bad as it gets. We completely dominated the game, being 1-0 down was bad enough and it could’ve been 2-0 at one point. I mean the amount of chances, the play and attempts we had… how we didn’t win the game comfortably I have no idea.”

Sadly for fans of Manchester United, those sentiments uttered by David Moyes following Sunday’s damaging 2-2 draw with Fulham have come all too often this season.

As the Red Devils season hit a new low, they’re now nine points off the top four with 13 games to go, Moyes’ side examined many of the key factors why they are languishing in seventh spot and are 16 points away from league leaders Chelsea.

Defensive frailties, offensive predictability and a lack of belief.

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Click to enlarge: Average position of Fulham’s players vs. United. Source: Opta

As you can see from the diagram on the left, the average position of both teams shows that not one of Fulham’s players were in United’s half. But somehow the Red Devils conceded twice, and despite their record haul of crosses, 75 percent possession and 22 attempts at goal, they only bagged two goals to leave over 75,000 at Old Trafford scratching their heads.

On Sunday cross after cross came in as United’s predictability, often a trait of Moyes’ management of Everton, came to the fore. The Red Devils sent in 81 crosses, more than any PL team in a single game since Opta started keeping records of that component in 2006. But the crosses often hit the first man, or found one of Fulham’s white shirts who piled into the box as United’s attackers wandered around with no real gumption to get on the end of the deliveries. Look at the image below on the right, the ball often got to the byline but was just hung up aimlessly. They played into the Cottagers hands time and time again, as only one of United’s 10 outfield players didn’t attempt a cross, Nemanja Vidic.

That leads us nicely into the problems in defense, which were highlighted by both of Fulham’s goals. Granted, they came against the run of play to snatch a point, but the ease in which Fulham exposed United’s defense, skippered by the outgoing Vidic who announced he will leave United at the end of this season, was shocking.

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Click to enlarge: The cross graph from United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. Red balls indicate blocked crosses.  Source: Opta.

For Fulham’s opening goal Steve Sidwell’s run wasn’t even a complex or well-crafted one, it was straight as a dye and cut through United’s defense like a knife through butter. Juan Mata and Darren Fletcher were both caught napping, Patrice Evra didn’t tuck in  from left back to close the gap Sidwell ran into, and Fulham were 1-0 up. As easy as that.

Then came the assault on the Cottagers goal, as they held out until the 78th minute 1-0 up, but Robin van Persie re-directed Mata’s shot to make it 1-1, then United went ahead just over a minute later. Michael Carrick’s 79th minute goal hit the back of the net via a deflection to hand United a lead they’d relentlessly pushed for. As the ball went in, Moyes turned to the directors box and punched the air with fury, delighted and relief.

Sir Alex Ferguson was in there somewhere, and that act of jubilation from Moyes seemed to also vent his frustration as the Red Devils continue to underwhelm across the board. Ferguson was watching on from the comfort of his warm, padded seat, with the husky voice of Simply Red’s lead man Mick Hucknall sat next to him but Fergie must feel a little uneasy at the squad he left Moyes to inherit. At this rate, Hucknall better take his boots with him the next time he turns up at Old Trafford…

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Click to enlarge: Average position of United’s players vs. Fulham. Source: Opta

Because all of Moyes’ jubilation was for ‘nowt,’ as they say in Northern England. Another huge defensive lapse cost United all three points in the 94th minute as, just like the first goal, basic errors at the back saw them come unstuck. Vidic had to head the ball clear but instead knocked it down to Carrick who was stripped of the ball, and suddenly Fulham had a four on four break in the final minute while United were 2-1 up at home.

As you can see on the left, both United’s full backs were bombing on throughout the game, leaving the duo of Vidic and Chris Smalling incredibly exposed.

That should not happen, and the Cottagers took full advantage of it as Darren Bent nodded home from close range following Kieran Richardson’s shot being parried away by David De Gea. Silence at Old Trafford.

Not for the first time this season, and probably not the last either. United have now hit rock bottom and the only way is up. But just how far is that?

If they keep putting in performances like that, chances of reaching the top four and Champions League soccer is a million miles away. If it hasn’t vanished already.

Premier League Schedule – Week 25

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 3-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Man United 2-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-0 Man City Recap and watch here
Southampton 2-2 Stoke Recap and watch here
Sunderland 0-2 Hull Recap and watch here
Swansea 3-0 Cardiff Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Everton Recap and watch here

HAZARD: BALLON D’OR PRETENDER?

On Saturday Chelsea brushed aside Newcastle 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, going top of the PL stansings in the process, as the Belgian boy-wonder Eden Hazard bagged his first-ever Blues hat trick. Afterwards Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho reserved special praise for the 23-year-old trickster, the player he often refers to as ‘The Kid.’

“I think a team is made of 11 guys, but obviously he is special. I think in this moment he’s the best young player in the world.”

After two quick one-twos in the first half with Branislav Ivanovic and Samuel Eto’o, Hazard put Chelsea 2-0 up with fine finishes as he scampered past Newcastle’s defenders as if they weren’t there.

His eyes were locked on the prize and as his scything runs cut out the entire heart of the Magpies defense, Hazard continue on his path to greatness. The Kid is turning into a man before our eyes.

Earlier in the week Hazard spoke of his admiration for FIFA World Players of the Year Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and how he needed to score more goals to be in that bracket. Scoring your first-ever hat trick for Chelsea immediately after stating that shows the mark of the young man. He know has 15 goals on the season and has lit up Chelsea’s rise to the PL summit. The Blues paid French side Lille $48 million for Hazard’s services in 2012. Pretty soon, that fee could look like a snip. Warning Messi and Ronaldo… there’s a Hazard coming your way.

HOW LIVERPOOL HAMMERED ARSENAL

With Steven Gerrard delivering pinpoint crosses for Liverpool’s juggernauts to attack, it’s no surprise the Reds got off to a flying start with two goals inside the first 10 minutes from big center half Martin Skrtel on Saturday. Add in the lighting quick trio of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge and it was an absolute nightmare start for Arsenal that didn’t get any better.

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Liverpool had a dream first 20 minutes at Anfield, they surged into a 5-0 lead just after half time and embarrassed title hopefuls Arsenal on Merseyside. Gerrard sprayed the ball around masterfully from the holding role as he was at the center of it all, but the quartet of Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho tore Arsenal apart, as the cumbersome duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were once again exposed due to their lack of pace on the turn. Here are three things we learned from Liverpool’s demolition of the Gunners, as the away side ran around like loose cannons on Saturday.

High-pressure play has evoked high hopes for the rest of the season at Anfield. With Liverpool just six points off top spot and both Manchester City and Chelsea still to play at home, can Brendan Rodgers’ team come from nowhere to win this PL title?

PALACE, FULHAM: TRANSFER WINDOW WONDERS

Holtby’s delicate chip into Sidwell for Fulham’s first goal in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford showed what the young German is capable of. His driving runs and artful weaving on the ball see him stand out above the crowd. But often at Spurs he didn’t have moments of substance, yet he already looks like the main man in a Fulham shirt and is driving the Cottagers on. The German international linking up with new $18 million poacher Kostas Mitroglou, expected to make his Fulham debut on Wednesday against Liverpool, should have fans of the Lillywhites licking their lips. Maybe, just maybe, Fulham can salvage their season as another deadline day buy Johnny Heitinga looked solid at the back against United.

RECAP: Transfer window grades for all 20 PL teams

Elsewhere, within 30 minutes of their debuts Thomas Ince and Joe Ledley had both scored to put Crystal Palace 2-0 up vs. West Brom. Talk about making an instant impact. Tony Pulis has often been lauded for his ability to rummage around in the transfer bargain bin hurriedly on deadline day, and being able to pull out a gem or two.

He’s done it again. And now the Eagles are surging towards safety as the cavalry have well and truly arrived, as the 3-1 victory vs. WBA was a fifth home win in seven attempts for the Eagles, since the former Stoke boss arrived in November.

To watch that big win for Palace, and all the other goals and action from Round 25, here’s the PL video highlights below. Enjoy.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week. Due to midweek action, it will be back on Thursday. Double helpings…

PL AT HALF: Chelsea battering West Brom; Liverpool, Man City up

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Goals? Where we’re going there are loads of goals.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Chelsea

Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard assisted each other to give Chelsea a 2-0 lead, and Marcos Alonso‘s too back post goal off a Cesc Fabregas free kick has the boo birds out at the Hawthorns.

Leicester City 0-1 Manchester City

Claude Puel would’ve been pleased with the Foxes’ muster against the Premier League leaders, who lost John Stones to an apparent hamstring injury. But the 45th minute saw a terrific team goal from Man City, as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling moved the ball through traffic for David Silva, who slid across for Gabriel Jesus and 1-0.

Burnley 2-0 Swansea City

Jack Cork scored against his old side to complete a week which saw him earn his first England cap. Ashley Barnes has a goal and an assist as the Clarets are cruising at Turf Moor.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton

James McArthur and Wilfried Zaha gave Palace leads. Everton sandwiched a Leighton Baines penalty goal in between the Eagles’ markers thanks to an Oumar Niasse dive, then Niasse scored before half to level the score line.

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Mohamed Salah has two, including a wonderful 31st minute goal from distance to put the Reds in front of Saints at Anfield.

Bournemouth 2-0 Huddersfield Town

Callum Wilson has a pair as the Cherries continue their up turn in form.

Wenger believes Ozil, Sanchez will stay at Arsenal

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LONDON — Fresh from Arsenal’s first Premier League victory over North London rivals Tottenham since 2014, there was a spring in Arsene Wenger‘s step as he strode into his post-match press conference.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Arsenal’s boss saw his attack-minded lineup dominate Tottenham at home  as the Gunners secured an 11th-straight home win and sixth-straight of the 2017-18 season to breath new life into their season.

With a dangerous three-pronged attack of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette destroying Spurs’ usually rock-solid defense on numerous occasion, Arsenal gave a taste of what can be achieved this season.

Consistency is key for Arsenal but keeping Sanchez and Ozil is more important. Their futures at Arsenal remain uncertain with the duo free to talk to non-English teams in  January about a free transfer on July 1, with both likely to see what other clubs can offer them outside of the Premier League.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Wenger reaffirmed his belief that Sanchez and Ozil want to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of their contracts next summer despite the situation being totally out of his hands.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

So, Wenger is bracing himself for Sanchez and Ozil to be offered big contracts from European giants as soon as Jan. 1 rolls around, then a barrage of transfer offers from other PL giants as they believe the duo will be available in cut-price deals. At this point, the Gunners must keep hold of the duo until the end of the season, even if it means they leave on a free.

With Sanchez scoring a cheeky goal, racing free on numerous occasions and forcing Hugo Lloris into numerous saves, his signature on a new deal is essential for Arsenal to haul themselves back into the top four on a consistent basis.

His desire and hunger was evident and he even had time to joke around in the second half, diving on his stomach to the delight of the home fans as he tried to slide towards a loose ball in the pouring rain in north London.

You can never question the Chilean’s desire but his displays have become more erratic over the past 12 months with this contract saga hanging over his head. Sanchez’s goal against Spurs was his first in 12 games against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League.

Ozil’s display yielded an assist and numerous eye-catching balls as Lacazette’s runs allowed Arsenal’s two contract rebels to have plenty of space in front of Spurs’ back three.

Wenger pointed to the fact that he has never once questioned their commitment and although Ozil and Sanchez’s futures remain uncertain, he believes they will continue to put their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause.

“I know them well and I know when it is their turn to go on the football pitch they want to win a football game. They’ve shown their commitment again today. I’ve never questioned their commitment,” Wenger said. “They can have bad games but the problem is, but the problem is that when a player goes to the end of a contract and has a bad game everybody says ‘of course, because he goes.’ Their interest is to play anyway.”

Man City: John Stones limps off with leg injury

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One Man City center back took a yellow card in the third minute, while another is in even more trouble on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

John Stones pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 28th minute of Man City’s visit to Leicester City.

[ MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Spurs | 3 things ]

Running stride for stride for Demarai Gray, Stones grabbed at his upper left leg and crumpled to the pitch.

Eliaquim Mangala replaced the improving English big back, and City will hope Stones’ absence isn’t as long as some hamstring ailments.

Defiant Pochettino: “Football was fantastic” in loss

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Mauricio Pochettino is defiant following Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal in the North London Derby on Saturday.

The Spurs manager thinks his team was pretty good in the loss, and it’s true that both Petr Cech and Shkrodan Mustafi intervened critically for the victors.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

But overall Arsenal was better on the day, which makes Pochettino’s almost buoyant post-match interview a bit awkward.

“It was an even game in terms of shooting, on target, possession,” Pochettino said.

“I’m disappointed for the rest of my team. You saw what happened. I’m disappointed because the small details went against us. … It’s true that they scored and we didn’t but I’m very proud cause the football was fantastic.”

We won’t go as far as to say we watched different games — Pochettino knows a bit more about the game than us — but that’s quite a spin we doubt his players will buy. Back to work for Spurs with a visit to Dortmund before West Brom visits next weekend.