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

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Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-1 at Anfield on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s side rode a red-hot start to beat Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners and leapfrog them in the standings.

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A goal each from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane did the damage in a superb first half from the home side and even though Arsenal improved after the break (mostly because they brought on Alexis Sanchez at half time) they couldn’t draw level and Georginio Wijnaldum‘s late goal sealed the win.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Anfield.


LIVERPOOL, ANNOYINGLY, RISE TO THE OCCASION AGAIN

Jurgen Klopp must be scratching his head once again after Liverpool dominated a top six opponent. Well, at least for the first half but that turned out to be enough.

Liverpool have lost five times in 27 Premier League games this season and all five defeats have come against teams in the bottom half of the PL table. It’s tough to explain why that’s the case but you can see that in big games at Anfield and away from home they’ve risen to the occasion as they’re momentarily in third place with both Arsenal and Manchester United dropping points this weekend.

Here’s a look at their results against the current top six this season…

  • vs. Chelsea (1 win, 1 draw)
  • vs. Tottenham (1 win, 1 draw)
  • vs. Arsenal (2 wins)
  • vs. Man City (1 win, next game on Mar. 19)
  • vs. Man United (2 draws)

Before the game Klopp stated that he may need up to six new players in the summer. You can see what he is talking about. Liverpool must improve in defense. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet got lucky on a couple of the crosses he came for but he pulled off a fine save from Olivier Giroud‘s header. Mignolet and Lorus Karius are on thin ice. Liverpool need a new center back and left back to bolster their defense, while in midfield they seem to be overrun in the areas just in front of their back four with Georginio Wijnadlum better in attack and the likes of Emre Can or Jordan Henderson not true holding players.

In attack Klopp’s side look stacked, even with Daniel Sturridge a spectator on the bench for much of this season. If they can sell Sturridge and bring in a predatory finisher then that will take them to the next level.

Saturday’s win against Arsenal proved once again that Klopp’s side have plenty of potential to do more than just challenge for the top four. Imagine if Liverpool would have won half the games they lost against Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull and Leicester? Up next for Klopp’s Jekyll and Hyde team is Burnley at Anfield. Time to show if they have the focus to rise to the smaller occasions.


SANCHEZ OMISSION BIZARRE

With his current contract situation hanging over not only his head but that of Wenger and the entire club, you have to wonder exactly why Alexis Sanchez was left out of the Arsenal starting lineup at Liverpool.

He came on at half time and made a huge difference, cutting in from the left flank as Nathaniel Clyne couldn’t get forward and Sanchez teed up Welbeck to make it 2-1 and gave Liverpool’s defense plenty of problems and had a late shot blocked when it looked like he was about to make it 2-2.

Sanchez turned the game and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. He’s been involved in more goals — 17 goals and now nine assists — than any other PL player this season.

The decision to not start Sanchez surely couldn’t have been with the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Bayern Munich in mind. Beating a rival for a top four finish should be the priority and Arsenal — they’re trailing Bayern 5-1 from the first leg — need a minor miracle to make it through to the quarterfinals. Combined with Mesut Ozil’s illness which meant he didn’t travel to Anfield, it almost seemed like Wenger was trying to make a point that Arsenal would be just fine without Sanchez and Ozil next season if they don’t end up signing new contracts at Arsenal.

They won’t be fine. The first 45 minutes proved that.


MANE THE MAN

So many eyebrows were raised when Mane signed for Liverpool from Southampton for $42 million in the summer. Klopp spoke about how he missed out on Mane in the past and he didn’t want to make that mistake again.

Yeah, it was money extremely well spent.

The Senegalese flyer, still just 24, is Liverpool’s leading scorer with 12 goals and he also has five assists. He is the hub of their flowing attack and we all know how badly he was missed at Liverpool when he went to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Imagine if Mane had a target man to work off of at Liverpool. Could he be even more potent?

With Graziano Pelle at Southampton he had a bonafide big man to work with as Mane would latch onto Pelle’s flicks and buzz in and around him to devastating effect. The movement of Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana seems to suit him well too but you get the sense that Mane’s pace would be suited better to playing with more space behind defenses that a more direct style would foster.

The big issue with Mane has been consistency. At Saints he blew hot and cold throughout the season but at Liverpool he has cranked things up a notch. That said, he was way below his usual high standards in the defeat at Leicester just five days ago and then pretty much tore apart Arsenal on his own in the first half. Like Liverpool this season, Mane’s consistency is the only thing holding him back.

As the stat above suggests, Mane can be one of the most deadly players in the PL when he’s at it. His biggest challenge is finding consistency as Liverpool’s leading man.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

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That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.