Mauricio Pochettino

AP Photo/Dave Thompson

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

1 Comment

Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Lovely Lloris!

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Leave a comment

An error from each time in its own box and outstanding goalkeeping gave Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid a 1-1 draw in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday at the Bernabeu. (video)

Raphael Varane recorded a 28th minute own goal, but Serge Aurier gave away a penalty as Cristiano Ronaldo equalized for Real Madrid at home in the 43rd minute.

Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas were the stars of the show, with Lloris making the lion’s share of saves.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Both teams are well-positioned to advance, with seven points. Spurs have the tiebreaker advantage, but both Tottenham and Real are six points clear of Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia after a surprising draw in Cyprus.

Early nerves were apparent for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, but Tottenham grew into the game and took an early lead.

Concerned with the presence of Harry Kane, Real defender Raphael Varane saw a cross move off his pegs and behind Keylor Navas to put Spurs ahead.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The lead was short-lived, however, as Spurs back Serge Aurier cut short Toni Kroos’ rare foray into the 18, and Ronaldo buried the ensuing penalty kick.

Lloris made an outstanding save on a point-blank Karim Benzema header in the 54th minute.

A moment later, offside Ronaldo flashed a sitter over the goal before the whistle alerted viewers to his offense.

Ronaldo had another chance stymied by Lloris as Real really began to pile on pressure past the hour mark.

Kane had a 71st minute chance against the run of play off a gorgeous pass from Fernando Llorente, but Navas got low quickly to redirect Kane’s point-blank shot wide of the far post.

Navas made another save when Llorente cued up Christian Eriksen for a chance, and the Dane then sent in a corner that led to a Davinson Sanchez’s header wide of goal.

Llorente was quite good in the second half in this surprise two-striker move from Mauricio Pochettino, and the Spurs boss also deployed Danny Rose for a season debut off the bench.

PL roundup: Man City, Spurs capitalize on dropped points-a-plenty

Leave a comment

What Saturday’s feature fixture left viewers desperately wanting, the rest of the Premier League’s big boys provided in spades… for better and for worse.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City scored seven all by themselves, Chelsea and Arsenal each fell away from home in London derbies, and then you have a somewhat forgotten Tottenham Hotspur side which finally got its first home win of the season and climbed into the top-three.


Manchester City 7-2 Stoke CityRECAP

It’s time for the rest of the PL to face a very sobering fact: there might not be any stopping this edition of Man City. Pep Guardiola‘s side might score 125 goals this season (currently on pace for 123). Only three sides have cracked the century mark since the turn of the millennium — Man City (103) and Liverpool (102) in 2013-14, and Chelsea (103) in 2009-10. The goals come from everywhere (six different scorers on Saturday), just as the assists do (five different assisters).

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 BournemouthRECAP

They needed four tries to do it, but Tottenham have won their first PL game at Wembley Stadium this season. Considering Mauricio Pochettino‘s side’s struggles at their temporary home, it’s shocking to see them already four points clear of Chelsea, the defending champions (and the only side to beat Spurs through eight games), and Arsenal in the table. Spurs’ 100-percent away record won’t last forever, making points at home all the more important going forward, even if they’re won by grinding out 1-0 victories over relegation-threatened sides like Bournemouth.

Crystal Palace 2-1 ChelseaRECAP

First goal of the season: check. First point: check. First win: check. Saturday was a big day for Roy Hodgson’s Palace, who shocked the world by knocking off Chelsea at Selhurst Park, courtesy of goals scored by Cesar Azpilicueta (own goal) and Wilfried Zaha (deployed as a striker, alongside fellow winger Andros Townsend). Just like that, the Eagles are within four points of safety, though at some point they’ll need to do some serious work on that -16 goal differential.

Watford 2-1 ArsenalRECAP

Arsenal took a 1-0 lead into the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s clash at Vicarage Road, and walked away without a single point to show for their efforts. Troy Deeney equalized from the penalty spot in the 71st minute and Tom Cleverley slammed home a rebound in the 91st to push the Hornets into fourth place in the league table. You could say Marco Silva‘s first season at the club is going quite well.

Liverpool 0-0 Man UnitedRECAP

Jose Mourinho showed he’s still go it, assuming “it” means the ability to play for a 0-0 draw and fail to entertain anyone in his side’s biggest game of the season thus far. While the Red Devils looked most every bit City’s equals through seven games, this might have been the day it all became clear: City simply have another gear (or two, who knows) that not even their neighbors can call upon.

Swansea City 2-0 HuddersfieldRECAP

The start to life in the PL was brilliant for Huddersfield (two wins from their first two games), but the season-long reality has quickly set in for David Wagner‘s side, as they’ve gone winless in their last six games, including a 2-0 humbling at the Liberty Stadium. Chelsea’s on-loan striker Tammy Abraham scored both Swans goals (his third and fourth this season) to push Paul Clement‘s side all the way up to 13th.

Burnley 1-1 West Ham UnitedRECAP

With West Ham leading 1-0 after 19 minutes, Andy Carroll took it upon himself to bring Burnley right back into the game, by way of two nearly identical yellow cards in the span of two minutes (25th and 27th). The Hammers held on for quite some time, but Chris Wood, the Clarets’ late-game hero, struck again in the 85th minute. Burnley currently sit seventh, ahead of Liverpool on goal differential. West Ham are 14th.

Best Stats of Premier League Week 7

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Week seven of the Premier League season saw plenty of new milestones hit and droughts broken.

Harry Kane continued his torrid run for Tottenham and England while Romelu Lukaku set a new record for most goals in his first seven appearances with a new club as Manchester United continue to fly high.

Here’s a look, via our friends at Opta, at some of the most interesting stats of the weekend that you can use to impress your friends – and maybe even significant others.

[ MORE: PL Playback – Opening Power Rankings ] 


  • Since Mauricio Pochettino took charge in 2014-15, Spurs have won the most points vs newly-promoted teams in the Premier League – 55.
  • Harry Kane has now scored against 25 of the 26 teams he’s faced in the @PremierLeague, only failing to net against Cardiff.
  • Harry Kane now has 13 goals for club & country in September 2017; his best ever goal tally in a single month of his career. This equals the highest tallies in a single month by both Lionel Messi (13 in March 2012) & Cristiano Ronaldo (13 in Oct 2010).
  • Bournemouth are unbeaten in all four Premier League meetings with Leicester City (W1 D3 L0).
  • Romelu Lukaku has scored 19 goals in his last 21 PL apps – in comparison, Palace have scored 18 in their last 21 PL games.
  • Swansea have never kept an away clean sheet at West Ham, conceding 74 goals in 31 games in all comps (W2 D7 L22).
  • West Brom have won four of their last five top-flight contest against Watford at the Hawthorns, losing the other in April 2016.
  • Southampton have failed to score in 10 of their last 14 PL games & have scored just 8 goals from 180 shots in these games (4.4%).
  • Saido Berahino is now without a goal in 31 hours & 23 minutes of Premier League football (Stoke & WBA combined).
  • Marcus Rashford has now been involved in nine goals in his last 10 competitive games for Manchester United (five goals, four assists).
  • This is the first time that Marcus Rashford has assisted two goals in a single game for Man United.
  • No player has scored more goals in their first 7 Premier League apps for Man United than Romelu Lukaku (7, level with Andrew Cole).
  • Crystal Palace are only the second team to lose their opening seven games in a Premier League season, after Portsmouth in 2009-10.
  • Chelsea have dropped eight points in four Premier League home games so far in 2017-18; two more than in the whole of 2016-17 (6).
  • Kevin De Bruyne has scored nine of his last 11 Man City goals from outside the box, including each of the last four.
  • Nacho Monreal has scored his first Premier League goal since 16th March 2013 vs Swansea; 1660 days ago.
  • Since 2016-17, Alexis Sanchez has been involved in 35 PL goals (24 goals 11 assists), more than double any other Arsenal player.
  • Arsene Wenger has now beaten 45 different opponents in the Premier League, more than any other manager (Alex Ferguson, 44).
  • Everton have lost their last four Premier League games on a Sunday by an aggregate score of 1-12.
  • Burnley have already won more games (2) and points (8) in 4 PL away games this season than they did in the whole of 2016-17.
  • Coutinho has now scored 17 goals from outside the box since his PL debut, at least three more than any other player.

PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

Leave a comment

Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here