Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win vs. Tottenham

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Liverpool rode a relentless wave of early attacks to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 at Anfield on Saturday and snapped their worrying slump.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sadio Mane grabbed both goals in the battle between the top four contenders as Spurs’ awful record at Anfield continues and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men lost for the first time in 10 Premier League matches.

Here’s what we learned from a frantic encounter on Merseyside.


MANE IS THE MAN

When he’s good, he’s very good. Sadio Mane was the Sadio Mane on Saturday, ripping apart Tottenham’s defense every time he picked up the ball in the first half.

In truth, he could’ve had four goals in about five first half minutes… but he had to settle for two in Liverpool’s first Premier League win of 2017.

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His two goals in two minutes proved to be decisive and the Senegalese forward is a sight for sore eyes for the Anfield faithful. There’s no coincidence that Liverpool’s terrible run of 1 win from 10 games in all competitions (before their victory over Tottenham) coincided with Mane’s absence due to him playing at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal.

Now he’s back, Liverpool’s attack looks so much more dynamic. His pace forces defenders to try and drop deep and when they don’t the first goal happens. One direct ball and bang, 1-0. When Tottenham’s defense then decided to sit back, that gave plenty of room for the likes of Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho to roam in.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies- Sadio sinks Spurs ] 

Mane is the missing piece of the jigsaw and Liverpool missed him badly during his time away at AFCON.

Now he’s back, the Senegalese flyer will try and propel them to a top four finish. His tally of 11 PL goals (Liverpool’s highest scorer) will go a long way to doing that, but his electric pace frightens the life out of opposition defenders and allows plenty of space for his teammates to exploit.

Mane showed glimpses of his devastating finishing ability and directness at Southampton over the past two seasons — the fastest hat trick in PL history against Aston Villa in 2015 proved that — but he’s been so consistent for Liverpool this season and the 24-year-old can rip apart opponents in the blink of an eye. He is consistent, quick and is fine-tuning his calm finishing.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Liverpool buying Mane for $42 million in the summer was an absolute steal.


SPURS HURT BY INJURIES

It’s easy to blame injuries for a lacklsuter performance and defeat, but Spurs were missing two of their key defensive players and it showed.

Both Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen were out for the trip to Anfield and that allowed Liverpool to completely eviscerate the left-side of Tottenham’s defense. Usually, in a 3-4-3 formation, Rose would be the left wing back and Vertonghen the left-sided center back.

Liverpool went down that channel and doubled up on left back Ben Davies time and time again in the first half. They targeted the area and it worked as Liverpool has now gone nine games unbeaten against Tottenham in the PL and Spurs have lost 16 of their 25 visits to Anfield in the PL era.

Yes, Liverpool were missing starting center back Dejan Lovren on Saturday. But that was it. They were at full strength apart from that.

If Tottenham had Rose flying down the flank to counteract the attacking instincts of Mane and Nathaniel Clyne, plus Vertonghen in defense alongside Toby Alderweireld, I’d speculate that this game would’ve ended in a draw. There’s no way with those two on the pitch that Spurs would’ve been caught cold and exposed so ruthlessly for Mane’s two goals.

Those defensive issues spread through the team. Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele were overrun in midfield which led to Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli being isolated in attacking areas. Liverpool did a job on Spurs. That job centered on them getting behind the left-side of their weakened defense.


REALITY CHECK FOR BOTH

This result and the past few weeks have acted as a reality check for both teams.

Liverpool and Tottenham are challengers for the top four. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Now, myself and many others were waxing lyrical about Tottenham before this game and I firmly believe that if Chelsea slip up then Spurs can catch them. Yet after this defeat, if Chelsea win at Burnley on Sunday they’ll open a 12-point gap on second-place Tottenham and third-place Arsenal with 13 games to go. Liverpool and Man City will be 13 points back of Chelsea.

The title is Chelsea’s. Let’s be real.

Now, for Liverpool and Tottenham there should be no shame in challenging for a top four finish. Especially this season.

[ MORE: Mourinho discusses United catching Chelsea ]

With Manchester United gaining momentum week by week as they’re 16 games unbeaten in the PL, plus Arsenal hanging around and Manchester City figuring things out, the race to finish in the top four is intensifying. Five into three doesn’t go and Liverpool and Spurs are two of the five teams vying for a top four finish. Liverpool needed this win big time to keep themselves in the top four hunt after being overtaken by Man United before kick off. There will be plenty of movement in and out of the top four in the final months of the season.

The fight for a top four spot could well become the theme of the 2016-17 season with Chelsea galloping away.

As Klopp and Pochettino continue to mold their young teams into their aggressive, direct philosophy of play, they are still battling side-by-side with the financial powers of Man City, Chelsea and Man United. That notion should not be overlooked.

It’s been a disappointing few weeks for Liverpool and now Spurs will have to pick themselves up for the upcoming FA Cup and UEFA Europa League games knowing their title hopes have faded drastically. That’s okay.

This reality check was much-needed for both clubs. At this stage in their projects, finishing in the top four is bang on schedule.

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.