Philippe Coutinho

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Jupp Heynckes calls Aubameyang, Dembele behavior “unacceptable”

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Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes has labeled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s and Ousmane Dembele’s behavior at rival club Borussia Dortmund “unacceptable” and suggested such players would not be signed by Bayern Munich.

“It’s unacceptable how certain players act in professional football,” Heynckes said speaking to the media ahead of Bayern’s on Sunday against Werder Bremen. “It’s just not right. These situations have always happened, but now they have reached a whole new dimension.”

Aubameyang has not yet left Borussia Dortmund, but reports all over Europe suggest he is pressing the club to leave, with Arsenal linked, as well as a move to China. The Gabonese international has been suspended by the club for missing meetings and training, and reports say he has handed in a transfer request.

Dembele left for Barcelona back in the summer, and was similarly suspended for missing training in hopes of forcing a move. The 20-year-old later admitted that he intentionally missed training with the intent of pushing the club to sell him.

“The Dembele and Aubameyang situations have to be viewed in a critical light,” Heynckes added, also hitting out at former Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who the Reds insist they did everything in their power to convince him to stay before he ultimately left for Barcelona. “I am very critical of this because players are very privileged. The Coutinho transfer was similar but solved more elegantly.”

The 72-year-old, in his fourth stint as Bayern Munich manager, said he would not sign these players if up to him, and suggested that Bayern Munich has a higher standard.

“Ethics and morals form part of our job and we have to look at the bigger picture and what’s happening in society. You have to consider how difficult it is for others to earn their monthly income. Clubs signing these players have to expect that this behavior will continue at their club. I don’t want to speak of solidarity, but it’s a team sport where you cannot afford to set your own individual targets. Clubs should think twice about signing these players. Honestly, I would reject it.”

Heynckes said that clubs shouldn’t take a hard stance with a player, instead hoping to placate them with a softer touch.

“Banishing the player to the stands is not the way,” Heynckes said. “You have to work at it, communicate and care for the player. You need a clear direction and I think we have that at Bayern Munich.”

Premier League Power Rankings

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With the festive season over and things starting to settle down, now seems like a good time for our first batch of Power Rankings of 2018.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings – 2017-18 ]

The last time we fired this baby up was in early December, and you can see the ranking of the clubs back then in the parenthesis after their club name in the list below.

We have some massive movement, both up and down.

Here is the latest batch of Premier League Power Rankings as we sort the 20 clubs based on their current form.


  1. Liverpool (5) — What a few weeks for Liverpool. They won four of their last five games and Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are scoring goals, plus Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is stepping up with Philippe Coutinho gone. Jurgen Klopp‘s masterplan is showing significant progress. With Virgil Van Dijk on board, Liverpool will be serious title contenders next season.
  2. Tottenham Hotspur (9)Harry Kane leads the PL in goals (shock) and is now getting plenty of help from Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen. Spurs are pushing towards the top four and the only way they will not qualify for the UCL again is if their defensive lapses crop up.
  3. Manchester City (1) — A draw away at Crystal Palace and a loss at Liverpool has seen City stumble of late but they’re still going to win the league. Defensive lapses have cost them but Kevin De Bruyne and Co. still look like they will score two or three goals every game.
  4. Manchester United (2) — Jose Mourinho’s men are looking much better with Paul Pogba back in the team. Four assists in his last two games show Pogba’s importance and United have the best defense in the league.
  5. Crystal Palace (14)Roy Hodgson is working his magic and Palace are pushing for the top 10. One defeat in their last 13 PL games has seen the Eagles soar to 12th place after their disastrous start to the season.
  6. West Ham United (19) — The Hammers are flying under David Moyes with Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini in form up top. All of a sudden a top 10 finish is very doable.
  7. Chelsea (3) — Four-straight draws in all competitions and three 0-0 stalemates on the spin mean Antonio Conte is under pressure. Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata’s partnership is struggling.
  8. Leicester City (6)Riyad Mahrez is the main man and Claude Puel‘s side began 2018 with a big win v Huddersfield and a draw at Chelsea, where they should have won. Leicester back to their best.
  9. Bournemouth (12) — Really good few weeks for Eddie Howe. Unbeaten in four PL games and big wins against Everton and Arsenal at home. The Cherries have rediscovered their scoring touch.
  10. Arsenal (4) — Wow. What a poor few weeks for the Gunners. One win in the last five in the PL, out of the FA Cup and Sanchez on his way. Ouch. Arsene Wenger is now allow back on the sidelines after his ban. Is that a good thing?
  11. West Bromwich Albion (18)Alan Pardew has his first win as West Brom boss and the Baggies ended their 21-game winless streak. They’re tougher to break down and have regained their threat from set pieces.
  12. Swansea City (20) — Plenty of confidence in the air in South Wales as Carlos Carvalhal has four points from his first three games in charge. Need new faces in January but Swansea have given themselves a chance.
  13. Newcastle United (15) — Solid and steady but badly need attacking reinforcements in January. Two wins and two draws in last five show how steady and tough to beat they’ve become but Rafael Benitez’s needs extra attacking flair.
  14. Everton (10) — No wins in six and just four shots on goal in their last five games has Sam Allardyce‘s boys bang out of form after a good start. Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott should help them kick on again.
  15. Watford (7) — No PL team has picked up less points than Watford over their last 10 games. Another second half of season slump. Marco Silva‘s fine start evaporating.
  16. Huddersfield Town (16) — No win in their last five games and David Wagner‘s side have conceded seven goals in last two defeats. The Terriers are set for a proper relegation scrap.
  17. Stoke City (13)Paul Lambert has one heck of a challenge on his hands. Stoke in bottom three, have worst defense in Europe’s top five leagues and you struggle to see where their goals will come from. Not a great combo.
  18. Brighton and Hove Albion (17) — 1 win in last 12 games and they’ve failed to score in eight of those games. Ice cold. Slipping fast.
  19. Burnley (9) — Six games without a win and their goal threat has dried right up. Sean Dyche‘s still 7th, but they’re in a huge slump.
  20. Southampton (11) — On the current longest winless run in the PL. Mauricio Pellegrino‘s job will be in serious jeopardy very soon. They keep taking leads but throwing them away and look defensively fragile. Just one point above the drop zone.

It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.

‘Historic’ game as Liverpool stun Man City

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LIVERPOOL — We were treated to one of the truly great Premier League games on Sunday.

The roar from the Kop grew louder and louder in a stunning nine-minute spell in the second half as Liverpool ripped apart Manchester City and handed Pep Guardiola‘s men their first defeat of the season in the Premier League.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 4-3 Man City | 3 things ] 

Games, and atmospheres, like the one we witnessed at Anfield on Sunday are what the Premier League is all about. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, true soccer purists, were expected to tell their teams to go all-out attack and that’s exactly what they did, even if the defending was shambolic at times.

Like a great defensive duel in Serie A and a titanic tussle in La Liga, the end-to-end, pulsating nature of this game summed up what should be adored about the Premier League. This was not a defensive stalemate between top four rivals scared of losing. Both teams played their part in a mouth-watering, absorbing seven-goal thriller and both wanted to win. It was all wonderfully refreshing and lived up to the drama of recent end-to-end encounters in the PL between Chelsea and Arsenal and Arsenal and Liverpool over the festive period.

All-out attack is now becoming the go-to mode for these heavyweight encounters.

With a tight game locked at 1-1 heading into the final 30 minutes, first Roberto Firmino chipped home to put Liverpool 2-1 up. Two minutes later Sadio Mane lashed home to make it 3-1. Then Mohamed Salah scored from 40-yards out to put Liverpool out of sight. Or so they thought…

Manchester City came roaring back late on — well, more so Liverpool forgot how to defend — scoring with six minutes to go and then in the first minute of stoppage time to make it 4-3 and all of a sudden the jubilant Anfield turned into a palace of nerves. The agony and ecstasy of the Premier League was bundled up into 90 minutes of pure, exhilarating action.

Speaking after the game, Klopp hailed the play from both teams and believes this is a game we will be talking about two decades from now as his side extended their unbeaten run to 18 games in all competitions and moved up to third in the PL table.

“You can watch it as a manager or as a football fan and I prefer to do that – wow! What a game!” Klopp told the BBC. “Two teams, full throttle. This was a historical game you will talk about in 20 years because it looks like City will not lose another one this year. People watched this game all over the world and this is why – take your heart, throw it on the pitch and play like this, both teams.”

All of the talk before this game was about two blockbuster attacks going all out for the win. It’s tough to deliver that when the expectations were so high, but both teams did and their philosophy and identity is now firmly embedded.

Despite the disappointment of losing their unbeaten run of 30 Premier League games and seeing their hopes of an unbeaten season fall, Pep Guardiola saluted Liverpool as his side showcased their defensive deficiencies and succumbed to the cauldron of noise created at Anfield.

“My first words is congratulations to Liverpool for the victory. It was a good game,” Guardiola said. “They start well. We lose a lot of balls, the wide players so aggressive without the ball. After that we start to play much better. We have good chances and especially in the second half we start good. We play good until the goal from Firmino and after that we lost a bit our control for many reasons. You have to try and be stable. We lose that a little bit but we are still fighting and we found two goals so it is our first defeat. You need to live those situations to realize what we have done. Football is unpredictable. You lose today against a fantastic team. You have to be sure to win the next one and fight til the end to win the Premier League.”

Guardiola’s men hadn’t lost all season but they’ve shown signs of cracking against the likes of Crystal Palace and second-tier Bristol City in recent weeks as teams brave enough to attack them came close to ending their run.

Liverpool were brave enough, and good enough, to prevail. They tried to go toe-to-toe with City in September at the Etihad but they lost 5-0 after Sadio Mane was sent off in the first half and Guardiola’s men ruthlessly punished them. Liverpool fought fire with fire again and it was the only way they were going to win.

“You have actually non alternatives to beat City,” Klopp said. “Yes, you can win the lottery and they tackle each other and you can stand deep in your own box and hope in the end that nothing happens but that’s actually not really likely. We are Liverpool. We should not try this way. Then you don’t have a lot of alternatives. You need to be brave. You need to play football. I’m really happy about that.

“Pressing in the second half, around the goals, was on a different planet. Just outstanding. Playing football first half, against a really good organized team. If you talk about City, you always talk about how good they are out playing wise but they are brilliantly organized. Against an organized team like that, playing football in the spaces we played, with the situations we created, chances and good moments, there is no alternative to play against them. That’s why we tried it again.”

Man City will still be at least 12 points clear atop the Premier League table at the end of Week 23, and they are still the overwhelming favorites to win the Premier League title.

Liverpool may well be the best of the rest as they sit level on 47 points with second-place Manchester United who are above them only on goal difference. Despite selling Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool for $197 million, this performance showed that Klopp doesn’t need to replace him right away as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dazzled with his opening goal and a superb all-around display.

With Virgil Van Dijk (out injured for Sunday’s game) set to shore up Liverpool’s defense, the Reds will only improve and their attack showed it can rip apart any defense in the Premier League.

Liverpool have won more points, and games, against the so-called “top six” since Klopp arrived in October 2015 and their devastating attacking display on Sunday created an incredible atmosphere at Anfield, which rivaled some of the great occasions of the past.

Klopp summed up how we all felt as his team were rewarded for their bravery.

“It was just a joy to watch,” Klopp said. “It is just a nice a commercial for Premier League football. The whole world was watching and if is somebody didn’t like football up until now then probably they will say ‘ah, that’s why you watch it all the time.’ So, I’m really happy about it.”

So was the rest of the watching world.

Three things we learned from Liverpool v. Man City

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LIVERPOOL — What. A. Game. Manchester City’s unbeaten run is over.

Liverpool battered Man City 4-3 at Anfield on Sunday (City scored twice in the dying stages) as Jurgen Klopp taught Pep Guardiola a lesson once again as no manager has beaten Guardiola more than Liverpool’s German boss.

A second half blitz from the Reds destroyed City and ended their bid of becoming just the second team in Premier League history to go an entire season unbeaten.

Here’s what we learned from an absorbing encounter at Anfield as Liverpool beat the PL leaders in stunning fashion.


NO COUTINHO? NO PROBLEM

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped up to make an early claim as the heir to Philippe Coutinho‘s crown at Liverpool.

With Coutinho sold for $197 million to Barcelona last week, the big question around Liverpool was who Jurgen Klopp would try to sign to replace Coutinho. But with Adam Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain around, Klopp seems keen to give them a chance to stake their claim as Liverpool’s new No.10 who can feed Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

The Ox took his chance.

Yes, he isn’t the same cerebral playmaker as Coutinho, but he has the power, drive and pace to get at the opposition. Liverpool used him in what he regards his best role in the center of the pitch and the Ox scored a sublime opening goal. He won the ball, drove into space and drilled home to give Liverpool the perfect start.

Oxlade-Chamberlain also rattled into tackles, whipped in testing deliveries for Man City’s defense and went close early in the second half with another driving run that forced a save from Ederson.

Yes, Coutinho is a special talent who is tough to replace, but the Ox’s performance proved he is more than capable of at least softening the blow of his exit to Barcelona.


MAN CITY  OWN WORST ENEMIES AS UNBEATEN RUN ENDS

It was a devastating nine-minute spell from Liverpool which ended Manchester City’s 30-game unbeaten run in the Premier League.

But Pep Guardiola’s men were their own worst enemies as they lost for their first time in 23 games this season and there hopes of replicating Arsenal’s Invincibles were over.

On paper this trip to Liverpool and the game at Tottenham in April were their toughest games remaining.

Guardiola’s side looked shaky from the start but recovered well in the first half when they equalized and could have taken the lead early in the second half had Nicolas Otamendi’s header gone in and not hit the bar.

Still, Ederson looked shaky all game long as he came and half cleared crosses and took chances with his feet as he handed Salah the chance to lob into an empty net for Liverpool’s fourth.

John Stones was caught flat at the back and bullied by Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s second and slack passing between Fernandinho and City’s defense set up Sadio Mane for a fine third.

City have bent but not broken in games against Crystal Palace and Newcastle away from home in recent weeks but against a top four opponent with a potent attack their deficiencies were magnified and ruthlessly exposed.

Guardiola’s men will still be at least 12 points clear by the end of Week 23 and should still win the league comfortably, but the cracks are starting to show.


LIVERPOOL MAKE THEIR CLAIM FOR SECOND

With Liverpool now 18 games unbeaten in all competitions and up to third in the table, only behind second-place Manchester United on goal difference, Klopp’s boys are making their claim to be the best of the rest after City.

Once again they dismantled one of the big boys.

Since Klopp took charge of Liverpool in 2015, Liverpool have won more points in games between the “big six” than any other side (42) and have more wins in those games than any other team. Consistent against midtable teams has been their Achilles heel but there’s no doubting than can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the PL and deliver.

They were at their ruthless best on Sunday, ripping City apart time and time again in the second half as they finished their chances this time, unlike the first half they mostly dominated in the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season as the game changed when Mane was sent off.

There is a growing optimism around Liverpool and among their fans that Klopp’s long-term plans are coming to fruition. With Virgil Van Dijk on board (although he didn’t play on Sunday due to injury) their defense will improve drastically and going forward they can destroy anyone, as City witnessed.

With Chelsea and Man United struggling for form, it seems like Tottenham and Liverpool are the obvious choices to battle for second behind City this season.