John Stones

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Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

[ MORE: Klopp left fuming at defending ]

Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

Sneaky good: Early “stars” of the Premier League

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I have a “smell test” for players who leap off the pitch when taking the eyeball test during Premier League play.

If, upon moving to advanced statistics sites for performance reviews, these players are still shining, then there’s a good chance they are as important to their club as it seems at first blush

[ MORE: Stats of Premier League wkend ]

Of course guys like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, and Sergio Aguero are going to pass muster. But what about some guys a bit off the radar?

Are there names the numbers say we should be watching a bit more closely, so it’s not a surprise when guys like Idrissa Gana Gueye or Sam Clucas net surprising transfer fees or international acclaim?

It seems logical, and we’ve to a pair of sites which use different algorithms to rank Premier League players and saw who turned up high in both…

Lukasz Fabianski, Swansea City
WhoScored: 37th
Squawka: 1st

Paul Clement‘s side sits 14th with only two goals scored, which is possible when your backstop doesn’t allow much to beat him. Fabianski was outstanding as Swans held Spurs scoreless this weekend.

Ben Davies, Tottenham Hotspur
WhoScored: 15th
Squawka: 16th

The 24-year-old defender is averaged 3.3 key passes per game, better than everyone in the league not named Mesut Ozil, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. They aren’t defenders.

Maya Yoshida, Southampton
WhoScored: 56th
Squawka: 14th

Playing behind Oriol Romeu — and without Virgil Van Dijk — Yoshida has a goal to go with his six clearances and 3.8 aerials won per game

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Crystal Palace
WhoScored: 22nd
Squawka: 26th

The on-loan Chelsea man was wanted by Rafa Benitez at Newcastle and a number of other locations, and has thrived despite only appearing in three matches and being on a troubled team. He’s averaged 4.7 dribbles a game and has been fouled 4.3 times per match.

Christopher Schindler and Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield Town
WhoScored: 10th (CS), 14th (AM)
Squawka: 24th (CS), 37th (AM)

It’s possible that Town has just been an analytics darling, as Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre also have good marks, but the Terriers have conceded just three times this season in front of Jonas Lossl. These two are a big part of the limited chances faced by the keeper, and Mooy has been holding it down for a continent the last two years.

Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City
WhoScored: 11th
Squawka: 4th

His goal this weekend shows his capacity in the final third, but Otamendi has been a steady part of the defense as Pep Guardiola sorted out mercurial youngster John Stones and dealt with the health of Vincent Kompany.

Jamaal Lascelles, Newcastle United
WhoScored: 35th
Squawka: 49th

His numbers may be tilted by a pair of match-winning goals for high-flying Newcastle, but the big man had to get in the box to get them.

Watford 0-6 Man City: Aguero’s hat trick leads rout

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  • Aguero scores 10th hat trick
  • Man City with 15 goals in last 3 games
  • Watford suffer heaviest ever PL defeat
  • Man City momentarily top of PL

Manchester City’s stacked offense is purring as they beat Watford 6-0 at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Sergio Aguero scored a hat trick, while goals from Gabriel Jesus, Nicolas Otamendi and Raheem Sterling put plenty of gloss on the scoreline after another scintillating display from Pep Guardiola‘s boys.

With the win City move on to 13 points for the season, while Watford remain on eight points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

Man City dominated play early on with Watford struggling to get any real foothold in the game.

Kevin De Bruyne clipped in a great ball to Raheem Sterling but the winger couldn’t sort his feet out as a good chance came and went.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite all of Man City’s possession Watford went close as Jose Holebas’ free kick found Richarlison but his header was off target and soon City were ahead.

Kevin de Bruyne’s fine free kick found Aguero who nodded home the opener and four minutes later David Silva crossed for Aguero to tap home his and City’s second.

City made it 3-0 before the break as Aguero turned into the provider to slot the ball into the path of his Brazilian forward partner Jesus. Although he looked in an offside position, the goal stood as Watford were simply battered by City’s star men.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Watford improved in the second half, presumably after a half time rollicking from Marco Silva, but City looked increasingly dangerous on the break as Aguero put a shot wide.

Free-scoring John Stones almost grabbed another headed goal but Heurelho Gomes tipped his effort over but soon after his center back partner put City 4-0 up.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Silva had a shot tipped over by Gomes and from the resulting corner he sent in a cross for Otamendi to nod home.

There was time for Aguero to complete his hat trick, his 10th for Man City, as he jinxed past four defenders before putting in a shot off the far post.

In the final minute of the game Sterling made it 6-0 after winning a penalty and converting the spot kick to compound Watford’s misery.

Champions League wrap: Ronaldo leads Madrid; Besiktas posts big W

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Four terrific goals at Wembley Stadium were met by plenty more around the continent as the second batch of UEFA Champions League groups kicked off play on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]


Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Borussia DortmundRECAP

Son started the scoring with a terrific solo run down the left flank, turning the corner on Sokratis and then blasting a shot over the shoulder of Roman Burki.

Yarmolenko looked an able addition with a wonderful curling rip from atop the 18 to make it 1-1.

That’s when Kane gave the match its third goal within the first 15 minutes, and Burki was again victimized short side. Kane’s shot swept around Burki and may’ve even just kissed the post on its way to Spurs’ 2-1 lead. He’d add a second later.

Feyenoord 0-4 Manchester CityRECAP

A John Stones brace? Why not?

This one was supposed to be a tougher ask for City, but Pep’s men have pulled into a controlling position through Stones’ second minute marker and a Sergio Aguero goal off a Kyle Walker cross in the 10th.

Gabriel Jesus deposited a rebound to make it 3-0 after ex-Liverpool man Brad Jones pushed Benjamin Mendy‘s shot back away from goal. Stones nabbed the club’s fourth goal in the second half, nodding a David Silva cross home.

Liverpool 2-2 SevillaRECAP

Sevilla’s attack was always going to ask questions of the Reds’ defense, and it’s Wissam Bin Yedder’s fifth minute goal that has Liverpool trailing at Anfield.

Predictably, Liverpool had an answer, and it was Roberto Firmino who knotted the score line with a 21st answer goal. Then Mohamed Salah, no stranger to European competition, did some work of his own to make it 2-1 before the break.

It looked set for 3-1, but a Sadio Mane-won penalty was put off the post by Firmino. That would come back to haunt the Reds, as Joaquin Correa was given acres of space to level the score in the 72nd minute.

Porto 1-3 Besiktas

Anderson Talisca, Cenk Tosun, and ex-Liverpool man Ryan Babel scored as Turkey’s powers opened their bid for a winnable group. It won’t be easy, and Dusko Tosic’s own goal briefly had it level in Portugal.

Real Madrid 3-0 APOEL Nicosia

Cristiano Ronaldo is okay when it comes to this UEFA Champions League thing, you know? The Portuguese 32-year-old scored two on the day, the second a penalty kick.

Sergio Ramos added to the fun with an overhead goal, as the reigning champs twice-over look fine at home.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Napoli

Raise your hand if you had Napoli down early in Ukraine. Those with ’em up have Taison to thank for the 15th minute opener, and feel downright psychic thanks to Facundo Ferreyra‘s second-half insurance goal. Arkadiusz Milik pulled one back for the visitors with a 71st minute penalty kick.

RB Leipzig 1-1 Monaco

Emil Forsberg scored for the hosts just after the half-hour mark at Germany’s Red Bull Arena, with Youri Tielemans not needing long to answer for the 2017 semifinalists.

Maribor 1-1 Spartak Moscow

Alexander Samedov, Russia’s lone goal scorer against Mexico at this summer’s Confederations Cup, scored Spartak’s goal at the Ljudski Vrt, but the hosts’ Damjan Bohar netted in the 85th minute to split the points.

Pep: Man City’s attacking away win is huge

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Spirits are high in Manchester City camp after Pep Guardiola‘s corps of backs helped the team to a 4-0 away win versus Feyenoord in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

John Stones scored twice, and both Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker had assists in the win, prompting Mendy to call out Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus (who also scored in the win).

[ RECAP: Feyenoord 0-4 Man City ]

As for the architect, Pep Guardiola pointed out that the road victory is a huge step for the club after going winless away from the Etihad Stadium last campaign.

And he pointed out that folks who were critical of his splashing cash on Mendy, Walker, Bernardo Silva, Danilo, and Ederson this summer just saw why City keeps spending big.

“We have made a huge effort to buy five players to make that step forward, like all the big teams have done in Europe. It’s important to see if we can go away and play with an attacking mentality, not conceding counter-attacks.”

Most expected City to pick up a win on Wednesday, but this sort of decisive victory with so many new faces on the road staked a claim to the group.