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Three things we learned from Man City vs. Tottenham

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur played out an entertaining, dramatic, controversial 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

City were 2-0 up and flying early in the second half after mistakes from Hugo Lloris were punished by Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne but Tottenham came roaring back as Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son scored to seal a comeback draw, and amongst all that a clear push on Raheem Sterling in the box went unpunished.

Here’s what we learned from a gripping encounter.


WASTEFUL CITY PUNISHED

Sure, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City will point to the horrendous referring decision moments before Tottenham’s equalizer but they only have themselves to blame for not beating Spurs.

With City leading 2-1, Raheem Sterling surged into the box and was pushed by last-man Kyle Walker when he was clean though on goal and about to shoot. No penalty kick was awarded by referee Andre Marriner and moments later Son equalized to deny City victory. Pep Guardiola was livid, and rightly so, as Sterling should’ve won a PK and Walker should have been sent off.

End of discussion.

Despite that inept moment from the officials, City didn’t help themselves in this game.

They led 2-0 early in the second half and City should have been up by a few goals at half time as Hugo Lloris saved from David Silva, plus Pablo Zabaleta drilled a shot wide, then Sergio Aguero had a header and left-footed shot saved by Lloris.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It was a brave, energetic display from City who at times had four men in forward positions and forced Tottenham to ditch their 3-4-3 system midway through the first half. Such was City’s dominance, Spurs could’ve had no complaints had they trailed 4-0 before Dele Alli scored.

Guardiola looked devastated at the final whistle. After their humiliating defeat at Everton last time out, he knew his team missed a glorious opportunity to make up points on those teams around them after Liverpool and Manchester United dropped points on Saturday.

This was more like the City side we expected under Pep, but with much focus on their poor defending (goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has now conceded 16 goals from the last 24 shots on target he’s faced, by the way) this season it was once again their wastefulness in front of goal which cost them dear.


INJURY ISSUES PILE UP FOR SPURS

After losing Jan Vertonghen for at least the next six weeks, the last thing Mauricio Pochettino wanted to see was Toby Alderweireld limping off clutching his hamstring. That’s what happened on Saturday.

[ MORE: Spurs unveil stunning areas of new stadium ]

On Thursday I was chatting to a few Spurs officials at an event to promote the incredible features at their new stadium at White Hart Lane. It became clear that many people within the organization believe they’d be a lot closer than seven points off PL leaders Chelsea had injuries been kind to them this season.

When you look at it, they have a point.

Alderweireld missed a few months. Harry Kane too. Now Vertonghen. Erik Lamela is also out. Mousa Demble was banned for the opening month (that was his own fault due to a suspension) of the season and Dele Alli was nursing knocks in September.

Unlike many of their competitors for the title, Spurs have yet to have a run of games with a full fit starting XI. The fact that Vertonghen was missing on Saturday was a huge handicap as they needed him to be a key part of their three-man defense which has allowed Spurs to flourish in their six-game winning streak.

The fact that Spurs fought back from a 2-0 deficit to grab a point with both of their center backs missing, their ever reliable captain Lloris dropping two clangers, a tactical switch in the first half and another defender coming off at half time says it all.

Spurs stood tall through adversity and will no doubt be the happier team as they momentarily closed the gap to Chelsea to six points and sit in second place with 16 games to go. Pochettino won’t be happy, but he’ll take it.


CHELSEA THE BIG WINNERS

Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players will have a broad smile on their face on Saturday evening.

The Blues can move eight points clear of their closest rivals by the close of play on Sunday as Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all dropped points on Saturday.

There is no doubting that Chelsea was the big winners on Saturay without even kicking a ball. Now, if they can get Diego Costa focused and back among the goals then everything is set up for a season-defining stretch in 10 days time.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Chelsea face Liverpool on Jan. 31 at Anfield and four days later host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. If results continue to go their way between now and the conclusion of that pivotal stretch, Conte’s boys may have the title wrapped up by the time April rolls around.

With Spurs’ injury issues in defense, Chelsea’s biggest rivals to their title challenge look like they will have to overcome severe adversity to hunt them down.

Conte and Co. will sleep well ahead of their clash against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Three things we learned: Man United vs. Liverpool

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Manchester United and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday as James Milner‘s penalty kick in the first half was canceled out by Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late header as the points were shared between the bitter rivals.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Jurgen Klopp looked like he’d get the better of Jose Mourinho for most of the match but Liverpool and United both remain firmly in the top four hunt.

 [ MORE: Klopp blasts “long ball” United

Here’s what we learned from a cagey encounter between these rivals at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Watch full match replay ] 


EMOJI GAME NOT STRONG FOR POGBA

Simply put, if you choose one of the biggest games on the planet to launch your own emoji, then make sure you play well.

Pogba, 23, didn’t do that and the most-expensive player in the world had a nightmare in several key scenarios during the game.

He lost Dejan Lovren time and time again on corner kicks in the first half and then was played through by Henrikh Mkhitaryan but scuffed his effort wide when he looked certain to score.

At the other end, Pogba then panicked when he lost sight of the ball as a corner came in and Lovren got the wrong side of him. He put his arm out and it was a clear handball as referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Pogba looked mortified.

As his new emoji spun around the adverting boards, Pogba’s head must have been spinning. For the rest of the game he tried to make up for his monumental mistake but the Frenchman was caught in possession on multiple occasions and when that happened he looked like a horse galloping in quicksand as he tried to retreat and gain the ball back from Liverpool’s small, speedy attackers.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Man United, Liverpool ] 

Following his slow start to life back at Old Trafford, Pogba had been mercurial in recent weeks as United won nine-straight games in all competitions. Against Liverpool his display stunk of someone trying too hard to impress and knowing everyone was watching him. That intense pressure shouldn’t impact Pogba, but it did. Big time.

After the initial deluge of #Pogba on the advertising boards int he first half, we didn’t see it in the second half. Brand Pogba took a big hit on Sunday.


LIVERPOOL LET OFF THE HOOK

United let Liverpool’s defense off the hook throughout this game.

Both Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan surged through huge gaps in Liverpool’s defense in the first half both Pogba dragged his effort wide and Mkhitaryan was denied by the brilliant Simon Mignolet in goal for Liverpool.

Mignolet also denied Ibrahimovic’s powerful low free kick in the first half and in the second half a giveaway from Trent Alexander-Arnold let Mkhitaryan race free down the right but his cross was missed by Anthony Martial under pressure.

United had the better scoring chances, by far, but looked rushed, panicked and like Pogba’s performance it seemed like the pressure was a little too much for them to handle.

For the equalizer Wayne Rooney, who had jumped off the bench at half time, used plenty of his experience to cross in and another sub, Marouane Fellaini, saw his header hit the post before Antonio Valencia pulled the ball back for Ibrahimovic to brilliantly head home. United let a much-changed Liverpool side off the hook. Simple as that.


KLOPP, MOURINHO STALEMATE… AGAIN

Klopp has now lost just one of his seven games against Mourinho as a manager and the Liverpool boss got his tactics spot on for most of the game on Sunday.

Lining up with a diamond in midfield from the start, Adam Lallana nullified Michael Carrick‘s influence and Klopp’s gameplan worked well up until the 60th minute. Mourinho had to go more direct, and it worked, but a draw was what neither manager wanted but had to begrudgingly accept. More often than not, they cancel each other out and Mourinho and Klopp now drawn four of their seven games against one another.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

For Liverpool, they are now seven points off leaders Chelsea but they are also just five points ahead of sixth-place United. It is all to play for with 17 games of the Premier League season to go as Liverpool and United drew their two games against each other this season.

What now for United? They sit 12 points behind leaders Chelsea but more importantly four points away from the top four and are just two points behind fifth-place after Man City’s defeat at Everton earlier on Sunday. United remain in the hunt but Klopp will be the happier manager after this draw at Old Trafford.

Three things we learned: Southampton’s win vs. Liverpool

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Oriol Romeu of Southampton holds off Adam Lallana of Liverpool during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints are one step closer to Wembley Stadium.

MORE: Lackluster Liverpool struggling

They beat Liverpool 1-0 at St Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal as they take a lead with them to Anfield for the second leg in two weeks time.

Here’s what we learned from a chilly night at St Mary’s.


SAINTS STAND UP

After three-straight defeats in the Premier League it would’ve been easy for Saints’ players to sulk ahead of this semifinal, their first in the League Cup since 1987. They didn’t.

They came out fighting and without captain Jose Fonte, who has put in a transfer request and is unavailable for selection throughout the January transfer window, they were lacking their leader.

The rest of the squad stood up and were counted in front of a sold-out St Mary’s.

In midfield Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie set the tone, snapping in to tackles and disrupting Liverpool’s groove with brilliant displays. In defense Virgil Van Dijk has probably just allowed Daniel Sturridge to jump out of his back pocket and Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana were both too narrow and clogged up the space behind Sturridge. More on that later.

Saints did a great job to not only shut down Liverpool but when they won the ball back they kept it as Romeu and Clasie took the extra touch and second to steady themselves. Saints didn’t do that in their 0-0 draw against Liverpool at home in November as they somehow held on for a point. They looked more composed and confident this time out and if it wasn’t for a combination of Karius and slack finishing on the break it could’ve been even better for Southampton as Jay Rodriguez led the line confidently.

The fact Southampton’s fans will be upset they only beat Liverpool 1-0 says it all. The slump has been stopped and this big semifinal win against a team contending for the PL title will give Claude Puel‘s men confidence they can go to Anfield and get a draw or win they need to make their first major final since 2003. Saints’ players dug deep and put in a performance Puel would be proud of.


KARIUS PROVES HIS WORTH

Loris Karius may have kept his team in this tie.

In the first half the German goalkeeper made two fine stops from Redmond, early in the half and then just before half time, as two cutbacks evaded everyone and found Saints’ winger at the back post but he was twice denied.

Karius, 23, has had plenty of critics in his first season in England and has lost his place as first-choice to Simon Mignolet after some shaky displays and mistakes in the Premier League against Bournemouth and West Ham.

This performance may not win him back his place as Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper but it will go a long way to reminding Klopp just how talented he is. One slip up by Mignolet and Karius has to be straight back in.


MANE MISSED; ONE EYE ON UNITED

Liverpool badly missed former Southampton attacker Sadio Mane on Wednesday.

Mane, 24, is at the African Cup of Nations in Gabon with Senegal and his raw pace would have made a massive difference against his former club.

Liverpool looked stagnant in attack with Lallana and Firmino dropping deeper and deeper to get the ball but often stopped by Romeu and Clasie and there weren’t enough runs in-behind to stretch Southampton’s defense. Sturridge cut a frustrated figure up top on his own as he got his big chance to start and show his best ahead of the derby against Manchester United on Sunday.

This touch map sums up just how ineffective Sturridge was and it is unlikely he will lead the line against the Red Devils.

With a massive Premier League clash at United coming up, Sturridge is not on form and Liverpool may look to start Coutinho behind Firmino as they look to reignite their fluid attacking unit.

Did Klopp’s side have one eye on a game which could go a long way to not only deciding their title aspirations but also their top four hopes? They played like it.

Three things we learned from Tottenham’s win vs. Chelsea

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Chelsea 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Wednesday as Spurs ended Chelsea’s incredible winning streak at 13, with the Blues falling one win short of setting the all-time top-flight record for consecutive wins in a single season.

[ RECAP: Spurs 2-0 Chelsea ]

Dele Alli scored two near-identical headers either side of half time to set Spurs on their way and the north London club never looked back and Chelsea never really threatened apart from dangerous counters at the start of both halves.

Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham are now back in the title race as they sit seven points behind leaders Chelsea, while Antonio Conte‘s boys will have to pick themselves and go again with their lead at the top now just five points and the chasing back hunting them down.

What a start to the second half of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


RED-HOT ALLI

We thought Dele Alli was good last season…

Alli, still just 20 years old, ended Chelsea’s winning streak as his cleverly peeled away behind Chelsea’s center backs twice and beat Victor Moses to head home. Chelsea had not conceded a headed goal in the Premier League all season and Alli outfoxed them twice.

Alli has now scored a brace in each of his last three PL games and seven in his last four games. He is flourishing in a role behind Harry Kane and they’re on the same wavelength. Alli had a slow start to this season with just three goals from his first 15 PL games but now he is on fire and is showing increased maturity and calmness in and around the box which evaded him at times last season.

Earlier this week reports suggested that Real Madrid is lining up a $63 million bid for Alli. His recent form suggests such talk is not only worthy but the fee is also way below his true valuation.

Pochettino said Alli is going nowhere and believes he can become the best attacking midfielder in Europe for the next decade. It’s hard to argue with that and it’s hard to believe that Alli was playing for MK Dons in England’s third-tier just 18 months ago.


SPURS WIN WING-BACK BATTLE

Danny Rose and Kyle Walker got the better of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso as both teams deployed wing backs. As the game wore on Spurs’ wide men were more adventurous and that led to Alli’s goals.

Twice Walker surged at Alonso and twice he cut the ball back to an unmarked Eriksen who whipped in delicious crosses to the back post. Moses was concerned about the onrushing Rose on both goals and left too much space for Alli to get in behind Cesar Azpilicueta and Spurs’ man of the moment capitalized on those defensive mistakes.

In the early stages Alonso and Moses looked better in attack with Walker and Rose reluctant to surge forward. A quiet word from Pochettino midway through the first half saw Walker push up higher on Alonso and he had plenty of joy for the rest of the game.

Chelsea have looked incredibly comfortable with the 3-4-3 formation but Tottenham looked even more snug as the most consistent full backs in the PL stepped up and nullified the main weapon which has seen the Blues take the PL by storm in recent months.


TITLE RACE WELL AND TRULY ON

Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and even Manchester United celebrated Tottenham’s win almost as fervently as Spurs’ fans on Wednesday.

The title race is back on.

With Chelsea rattling off 13 wins in a row and 16 wins from 19 before their derby defeat on Wednesday at Tottenham, the Blues looked capable of running away with the title this season.

Now, their lead has been cut to five points and Man City are also just seven points behind, while Arsenal is eight points back and Manchester United is 10 points.

Chelsea’s back-to-back games against Liverpool and Arsenal at the end of January and start of February are now looking  particularly pivotal in the title race if they drop points against Leicester an Hull before those massive clashes. .

The Premier League title race has been blown wide open by Tottenham’s victory.

Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win vs. Man City

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Liverpool edged out Manchester City on New Year’s Eve to win 1-0 and keep pressure on Chelsea as they head into the second half of the Premier League season just six points behind the Blues.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Georginio Wijnaldum‘s early header was the only goal of the game as Man City huffed and puffed in the second half but couldn’t break down a stubborn Liverpool defense and City are now 10 points behind league-leaders Chelsea.

Jurgen Klopp got the better of Pep Guardiola in this battle between two managerial heavyweights.

Here’s what we learned from a tense game at Anfield.


CONTRASTING STYLES CLEAR

There’s plenty of mutual respect between Klopp and Guardiola about how their respective teams play the game.

But when it comes down to how their teams play, that could not be more different.

That was clear for all to see on Saturday as Liverpool came flying out of the traps, scored their goal and pinned City back for most of the opening 60 minutes. However, particularly in the second half, Guardiola’s side dominated possession and looked the more likely to score.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

City improved in the second half drastically because they stuck with their patient possession-first philosophy and because Liverpool tired and were unable to keep up their high-tempo approach. Both approaches are very different and both have their ups and downs.

Even though there were very few clear cut chances apart from Wijnaldum’s goal, it was in intriguing tactical battle as two teams challenging for the title are going about it in completely different ways. Of course, Klopp is eight months further along the line than Guardiola and that showed in this game but over the next two years these teams will challenge for the title.


SLOPPINESS CONTAGIOUS

Okay, we will cut both of these teams some slack but there’s no doubting that the number of turnovers in possession was abnormally high for both teams at Anfield on New Year’s Eve.

Part of that had to be fatigue as the busy festive season is in full flow with Liverpool playing twice in the past four days and City having one extra day of rest.

The other part of that was City still not being comfortable with what Guardiola is asking them to do on the ball, plus Liverpool’s high-press worked very well.

It’s safe to say neither manager will be totally satisfied with the performance but Klopp will certainly be happy with the three points as Liverpool has ground out wins in recent weeks.


CENTER BACKS SHINE FOR LIVERPOOL

One of the main reasons Liverpool is still in the title hunt with Chelsea is because they’ve shored things up at the back in recent weeks.

Klopp’s side have now kept three clean sheets in their last four games, as they’ve secured big 1-0 wins against Everton and Man City. Their two center back against City, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, were key to victory as they locked Sergio Ageuro down and did all of the simple things well.

Unlike City’s central defenders John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi who made mistakes with passes out of the back, Liverpool’s two bruising center halves cleared their lines and never truly let City get in behind.

The big Achilles heel for Liverpool was always going to be in defense as they’ve had so many issues with changing goalkeepers and not spending big money on defenders. If they can stay this solid in the big games, they have the players going forward to hurt and score goals against the PL’s best defenses.

As for City, oh what Guardiola would do to have his captain and defensive leader Vincent Kompany back fit and at the top of his game in central defense. Instead Kompany was in the stands with the City fans at Anfield as he watched his side go 10 points behind Chelsea.