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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

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.

Jamaica upset Mexico to reach 2nd straight Gold Cup final, face USMNT

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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

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It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”