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.

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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.

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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.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.