Granit Xhaka was a marked man before he came to England. With four dismissals over the last two club seasons, Arsenal fans were aware they were bringing in a talented passer and midfield destroyer, but also a man who had trouble staying on the pitch.
That has manifested itself in the Premier League, and has been maybe even exacerbated.
With his second straight red card of the season, Xhaka’s disciplinary issues are a hindrance to the Gunners and leaves Arsene Wenger with a big decision to make – to continue Xhaka’s selection in the matchday squad when he returns from suspension, or leave him on the sidelines as to not risk again falling down to 10 men.
Over the last 2-1/2 calendar years dating back to the start of the 2014/15 Bundesliga season when he was with Borussia Monchengladbach, Xhaka has been sent off six times in league play, once in the Europa League, and another for his international team during 2018 World Cup qualifying this past summer. The league record alone is more than any other player in the top 5 European leagues.
While obviously the sheer numbers are a major issue, the true problem is in the eye test. Xhaka isn’t learning from his mistakes. No, his dismissal against Burnley wasn’t the most malicious of challenges, but it was a textbook straight red card. The Swiss international passed the ball straight to Steven Defour, and long after the Burnley midfielder unloaded the ball to a teammate, Xhaka went lunging in with both feet showing studs, forcing referee Jon Moss to show him the showers after a quick conference with the assistant referee who was in perfect position to make the call.
If the 24-year-old wishes to find his way back to the field in Arsenal colors, he needs to start learning from his actions, or he will end up on the bench, either through suspension or selection. It nearly cost Arsenal a chance at second place against Burnley, with the Clarets energized by their man advantage. He has four domestic matches to think about what he’s done.
Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.
Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.
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An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.
Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.
Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.
Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.
Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.
The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.
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He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.
From The Liverpool Echo:
“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”
“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”
Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.
He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.
- Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
- Fourth meeting since 1990
- Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L
Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).
The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.
Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.
What they’re saying
Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit: “I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”
Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes: “It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”
The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.
- Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
- Tigers two points clear of drop zone
- Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L
After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.
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Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.
Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.
What they’re saying
Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting: “After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”
Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles: ““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”
Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.