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Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Dortmund

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WEMBLEY — Tottenham Hotspur against Borussia Dortmund was one of the most eagerly anticipated games in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

It delivered. Big time.

[ RECAP: Spurs 3-1 BVB ]

Three stunning goals were scored inside the opening 15 minutes with Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane netting after driving runs, then Andriy Yarmolenko curling in a beauty at the other end. Dortmund had a goal incorrectly chalked out for offside and then Kane grabbed a second and Tottenham’s third in the second half to finish off the German side as Spurs won 3-1.

USMNT youngster Christian Pulisic caused havoc on Dortmund’s left and might have had a goal before half time but it was ruled out for offside, somewhat controversially.

These two teams epitomize the value of bringing through young, hungry players in a high-pressing system and the result was a pulsating clash.

Here’s what we learned at a lively Wembley.


KANE’S POWER UNSTOPPABLE

Harry Kane was at his very best on Wednesday as he scored twice to fire Spurs to victory, their first this season at Wembley as they got their UCL campaign off to a flier.

Kane, 24, has only played in four UEFA Champions League games in his career but he has now scored four goals as the England international proved he belongs on Europe’s biggest stage.

He epitomized Spurs’ endeavor to put right last seasons Champions League exit at the group stage as he chased, bullied and battered Dortmund’s makeshift backline.

Kane smelt blood and his first goal summed up his display. He bundled over two Dortmund players when the odds were stacked against him, then raced through on goal and hammered home at the near post.

His penchant to score goals of any kind saw him then calmly drill home with his left foot in the second half to seal victory and Kane is well and truly up and running in September with six goals in four appearances for club and country. He could have had a hat trick as he dragged another effort but the local lad was given a standing ovation late on as he was substituted.

The reigning two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner looks hungrier than ever.


ABSORBING, ATTRACTIVE ENCOUNTER

The only other time Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund have played one another was back in 2016 as Spurs were demolished 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League Round of 16.

Spurs were completely outclassed on that occasion but Wednesday’s win proved how far they have come.

Since then Spurs have largely kept all of their important players plus invested wisely in the likes of Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier and Heung-min Son, while Dortmund have lost stars such as Ousmane Dembele, Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan.

It showed, but Dortmund were well in this game up until the 60th minute when Kane made it 3-1.

As you can see from above, the first 45 minutes was largely dominated by Dortmund as they possessed the ball and forced Spurs to sit back. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men were patient and showed maturity to allow Dortmund to have the ball and were dangerous on the break. There really wasn’t much in this game.

Dortmund scored a perfectly legitimate equalizer through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just before Spurs made it 3-1 and had they made it 2-2, Spurs could hardly have complained.

This was an energetic, pulsating clash to watch as two of Europe’s most exciting teams collided.

With Real Madrid in Group H alongside them they will likely battle it out for second spot. With Dortmund having several defensive injuries for this game, the return leg in November at the Westfalenstadion will be a similarly lively, even and absorbing encounter.


PULISIC DOES EVERYTHING BUT SCORE

The kid just always has a way of making you shake your head in disbelief.

In the first half Christian Pulisic, just a week shy of his 19th birthday, tore Tottenham apart on multiple occasions as he found space between Serge Aurier and Toby Alderweireld.

Cutting in off the left the USMNT star produced a strong display, creating a chance for Aubameyang which was brilliantly cleared and then Pulisic couldn’t quite get on the end of a cross from Aubameyang to score himself.

He did score right on the break but it was disallowed for offside and he was a constant menace on the left flank. In the second half Aurier got more of a grip on him and Pulisic’s crosses were a little off but he was still dangerous.

With Ousmane Dembele sold to Barcelona, Pulisic now has a regular starting spot in Dortmund’s team and he is playing like a seasoned pro despite the fact this is only at the start of his second full season as a first-team player.

The Pulisic hype train left the station a long, long time ago but it continues to gather momentum, and passengers, each time he steps up to the big occasion. He did himself proud, once again, even though Dortmund lost.

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

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MANCHESTER — One moment helped to swing the game in Manchester City’s favor, but in truth they were too good for Liverpool on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A goal from Sergio Aguero set Man City on their way and then two goals from Gabriel Jesus, after Sadio Mane‘s straight-red, either side of half time sealed the win for City with substitute Leroy Sane adding another two late on to rub salt in the wounds.

With the 5-0 win Pep Guardiola‘s men momentarily moved top of the Premier League table with 10 points from their opening four games, while Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool (who suffered their heaviest defeat since he took charge) remain on seven points after their first defeat of the campaign.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a one-sided encounter at the Etihad Stadium.


MANE’S RED CARD CORRECT

There is only one place to start. Yes, it was a red card.

Sadio Mane was sent off in the 37th minute (see video above) with Liverpool already 1-0 down. Sure, they may have already been trailing and Man City were clicking through the gears, but any hope Liverpool had of getting back in the game was dashed by Mane’s ridiculously rash challenge.

A day after he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for August after scoring in each of the first three games, Mane was the villain.

The margins were close but he had time to pull out of a high challenge with his foot raised.

As the ball was clipped over the top he raced clear but Ederson too raced off his line and got their first. Mane could have pulled out of the challenge or continued with his head. He wasn’t brave enough and paid the price for having his foot shoulder high. Yes, Ederson did bring his head down but not enough to warrant Mane’s foot being that high.

Mane was in on goal but his exuberance got the better of him. It may not have been deliberate but it was clearly reckless. With Ederson stretchered off the pitch in a neck brace the contact was heavy and Mane, when he looks at it again, can have no real complaints with the decision.

After the red card Liverpool collapsed with their fragile defense (which saw Ragnar Klavan come in for Dejan Lovren) caving in as Jesus, Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne ran riot. Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to lick their wounds after suffering a first defeat of the season (and the heaviest since their 6-1 pummeling by Stoke City at the end of the 2014-15 season) but they can be comforted by the fact that they created good chances in the first half which Mohamed Salah should have done better with.

This was a reality check for Liverpool after they blitzed Arsenal before the international break and perhaps points to the madness of Klopp not strengthening his defense, Virgil Van Dijk aside, in the final days of the transfer window.


MAN CITY FLUID, BALANCED IN 3-5-2 LED BY KDB

Man City look so much better in a 3-5-2 formation. With Pep Guardiola spending big on two attacking full backs over the summer in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy (particularly superb with his crosses from the left) this system gives them balance and allows the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to roam free. And that they did.

De Bruyne was particularly superb, grabbing wonderful assists on City’s opening two goals and then launching the attack for the third.

Just over 12 months into the gig Guardiola has finally found his best team with KDB pulling the strings in a central role.

John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi still have their moments in defense, especially without Vincent Kompany around on Saturday to steady the ship, but Ederson, until his injury appears to give City’s defense confidence.

With Aguero and Gabriel Jesus combining menacingly in attack, it will be difficult to understand why Pep, who has been a master tinkerer in his time so far at City, would deviate far from this system and these players. Last season City’s big problem was beating the teams around them in the top six. They has just two wins versus the top six last season in 10 games, with only Arsenal below them in the top six “mini-league” in 2016-17. Just as everyone thought they would (thanks largely to a record summer spending spree) they are figuring things out.

Guardiola’s side have quietly gone 12 games without defeat in the Premier League, dating back to last season, and have also lost just once (at champions Chelsea) in their past 24 PL games. If that’s the kind of form they’ve had while they figure things out, then we are in for a treat now everything appears to be slotting into place.


AGUERO’S CLASS CONSTANT

Kevin de Bruyne didn’t really need to lift his head up as the ball dropped to him in midfield. He already knew where Aguero was heading to.

With his 124th Premier League the Argentine, 29, became the highest-scoring non-European in Premier League history. The way he nonchalantly rolled around Simon Mignolet and slotted home oozed class. You get the sense that Guardiola finally trusts in Aguero after spells of leaving him on the bench, even at the start of this season.

Starting up front with Gabriel Jesus the duo were distant early on, too stretched and too easy to mark. Pep Guardiola then signaled to Jesus to get closer to Aguero, moving past and underneath him. Within 60 seconds City went 1-0 up with Aguero’s goal.

Jesus scored twice, and had one disallowed for offside, while Aguero had another chalked off for a correct offside call. They ran riot.

The way Aguero then raced free in the second half but instead of rounding Mignolet, as he could have easily done, he squared to Jesus to slot home and make it 3-0.

Aguero has been greedy over the years. Which top striker hasn’t? But he is showing Pep, most importantly, that he is now more of well-rounded team player who can still score the goals City need.

Three things from the USMNT’s draw in Honduras

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It wasn’t a good night for the United States men’s national team, but the point it stole from San Pedro Sula puts it back on track to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Match Recap | Player ratings ]

The Yanks will finish the international break outside the automatic qualifying places if Panama wins vs. Trinidad and Tobago later Tuesday.

Jims and Joes, not X’s and O’s

If there’s anything to glean from this miserable night at the San Pedro Sula, it’s that two coaches have failed to figure out how to get through to this batch of USMNT players.

Jurgen Klinsmann clearly had lost the team following losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, and Bruce Arena was given credit for steadying the ship over a 14-match unbeaten run leading that included a Gold Cup title.

But even that tournament with a mostly B-team wasn’t convincing, and Arena — admittedly a U.S. Soccer legend — got the plot completely wrong twice in the last week with World Cup hopes on the line.

Looking past Friday’s mess in the midfield and porous defensive set-up, Tuesday’s performance was again about lineup choices. Arena pulled the plug on Geoff Cameron coming off a poor Friday, and also left Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson out of the lineup.

Arena didn’t have the option of Jozy Altidore, the CONCACAF killer whose foolish yellow card cost him a one-game suspension, and there was logic to starting Clint Dempsey next to Sounders teammate Jordan Morris. Dempsey also happens to be the best attacker in USMNT history, so there’s a possible pass to be given there.

But Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi were miserable on the right side of the defense, and Darlington Nagbe was bossed out of the game aside from one early and electrifying dribble.

Arena plugged in high-motor Paul Arriola and Cameron with not much cooking in the second half, and put eventual equalizer Bobby Wood into the fray with under 20 minutes to go. The subs fixed things, in a sense, but in a way there’s little credit for that: At least Cameron and Wood should have been given a starting role.

Here’s Morris on Wood, who understandably seemed a bit put-off after the match:

“He’s a great player. I love playing with Bobby. He fights, he works. He’s good in the box.”
Yep, like he was before the match. Full disclosure: at halftime I questioned the use of Morris over Wood, and the former ran his shorts off in the second frame. The equalizer doesn’t happen without both players.
All that said, and it needed to be said, it’s paramount we look past the manager and directly at these players. The performances for these last two qualifiers, and really five of the eight, have not been good enough for where the program believes it should be. Debate those expectations all you will, but it’s just not good enough.

Soft first half, especially in the middle

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The United States looked motivated to start the match, but the pace and hustle slipped away as the half wore on. The Yanks completed a total of 37 first half passes according to the CONCACAF site, and had just 40 percent of the ball.

The midfield was largely non-existent. Bradley completed eight of just 13 passes in the match, and Kellyn Acosta failed to complete a single pass (0-for-2). Darlington Nagbe was tidy with his passing (14-of-15), though we’ve covered his flaws elsewhere. Winning 50-50 balls was a daunting proposition against a Honduras side which very much deserved three points on the night.

Third is a must

For everyone assuming that a Top Four finish will be enough for the U.S. because of a fairly soft Asian confederation, those thoughts got a swift kick to the rear end following Australia’s failure to hammer Thailand on Tuesday.

That, coupled with sent the Socceroos into the third place game against Syria, one they’ll be expected to win, and Australia is the sort of team that can go heart-for-heart with a typical U.S. side and perhaps bring a more talented side to the party (one that could hardly be a longer trip for the away sides).

And given the political climate in both countries, Syria would be a trickier test than it appears on paper (or on the Internet). Get it done versus Panama at home, and breathe a sigh of relief that the country’s soccer status hasn’t been set back a decade.

Throw in one more thing: Major League Soccer’s regular season ends on October 22, meaning some players will be in the throes of a playoff race but only eight MLS teams will have been active in the previous 2.5 weeks.

Follow @NicholasMendola

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

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LONDON — Chelsea had fun in the west London sun on Sunday as they breezed past a jaded Everton side 2-0.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton reveal transfer plans ]

First half goals from Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata did the business for Antonio Conte‘s side who put in their best display of the embryonic Premier League season to right the ship ahead of the international break.

The reigning champs are almost back to their best.

Here’s what we learned from Stamford Bridge.


CHELSEA’S RAPID RECOVERY

Whether they were actually hurtling towards another season of turmoil can be debated, but the signs were not good for Chelsea over preseason and early in the campaign.

Things looked a lot better for Antonio Conte in the bright sunshine at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Those reports of him being the favorite to be the next PL boss to leave his position and Chelsea seeking out Thomas Tuchel to replace him all seem rather silly now.

On Sunday they showed why there are the reigning Premier League champions in a dominant display despite still missing plenty of key players like Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Diego Costa.

This recovery has been a rapid one.

On the opening day they lost 3-2 to Burnley in a bizarre game where they went down to nine men. They followed that up by beating Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley in a gritty, yet truncated display.

This performance suggested the Blues are back to their best and they could have won by a more comfortable margin had Morata, Pedro and Victor Moses converted second half chances.

Chelsea have recovered rapidly from what many were calling an early-season meltdown. In the final days of the transfer window it appears they will strengthen further with a tough UEFA Champions League group stage challenge coming up, but with star players to return and new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Morata and Antonio Rudiger settling in well, things are slowly but surely coming together for Chelsea.


STATIC MORATA DELIVERING

With two goals and two assists, all with his head, in his first two Premier League home games it is safe to say Alvaro Morata is settling in rather well at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s most-expensive signing took time to adapt after arriving from Real Madrid for $96.5 million in July but he was given a standing ovation as he was subbed off late on in Sunday’s win.

The scary thing is that Morata has plenty of room for improvement.

He doesn’t charge around like Diego Costa up top and Conte cajoled his Spanish international striker on multiple occasions to try and close down Everton’s defense when they had the ball.

Morata is arguably a much better finisher than Costa and his ability in the air is well-suited to Chelsea’s game with crosses coming in from Marcos Alonso, Willian, Pedro and Fabregas.

As he came off Morata looked either slightly miffed at being substituted or perhaps it was disappointment in his own display.

That proves he knows he can deliver a better all-around performance but while he irons out the kinks and gets used to leading the line in the PL it won’t do him any harm to keep scoring and assisting.


EVERTON’S STRIKER SHORTAGE

Everton boss Ronald Koeman cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as Stamford Bridge sweltered in the afternoon sun.

His Toffees looked like a side which had played at Man City on Monday and then in the Europa League on Thursday before traveling back from Split, Croatia. In midfield they were sluggish with Tom Davies and Idrissa Gana Gueye giving the ball away and the former was hooked off at half time.

Jordan Pickford‘s kicking was off and center backs Michael Keane and Ashley Williams collided on more than one occasion as they tried to clear the ball. Simply put, it was an off day for an Everton side who looked to be feeling the effects of three away games in seven days.

Yet up front is where the biggest problem remains for Koeman.

In their first three PL games all they have is Wayne Rooney‘s two goals in his opening two PL games back at Everton. Sandro Ramirez cut an isolated figure up top on his own with Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson in support of him. Rooney was booked and looked agitated throughout as he snatched at a shot and was heckled by the home fans just a few days after announcing his retirement from the English national team. The hope is that Rooney’s England retirement would rejuvenate his club career and provide the goals Everton need to achieve their lofty ambitions.

They will need a lot more than that and reports linking them with an outrageous move for Chelsea’s wantaway striker Diego Costa seem far-fetched but given the financial muscle the Toffees have shown this summer nothing seems too outlandish at Goodison Park right now.

Koeman’s insistence that he still needs a striker in the final four days of the transfer window is legitimate. Rooney teed up Sandro in the second half but the Spaniard hesitated and had his shot blocked when clean through. Sigurdsson and others buzzed around but there was no cutting edge, no real threat up top in a narrow 3-4-2-1 formation for the Toffees.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman are top young talents who possess pace and can possible score 5-10 goals per season, at best. But if Everton are to challenge for the top four, as they hope to, they’ll need more than that.

There is a Lukaku-sized hole in Everton’s attack and no matter how many top-class attacking midfielders they have, they’ve simply lacked a cutting edge in the final third and weren’t near Chelsea’s box often enough.

Three things from Everton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City (video)

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Manchester City was down a man for almost 45 minutes, but you could hardly tell as the Etihad Stadium club came back to draw Everton 1-1 on Monday.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-1 Everton ]

An entertaining affair had a bit for everyone, as Wayne Rooney made Premier League history and Everton teammate Morgan Schneiderlin joined City’s Kyle Walker as players to earn iffy second yellow cards.

All that and more, below:

Bittersweet draw for Koeman

Most teams will be quite pleased to take a point at Manchester City.

Most teams don’t have the aspirations of the financial outlay of 2017-18 Everton.

And most teams won’t have played almost a full half with one more man than City, only to manage maybe one more moment of danger against Pep Guardiola‘s men.

So, yes, this Toffees draw feels a bit like a loss. Wayne Rooney had sent Everton into a moment of historical hysteria with a quality first half marker, his 200th Premier League goal off a feed from continuously impressing youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

And when Kyle Walker was given a rather cheap second yellow card in the 44th minute, the Toffees would’ve felt good money for an away win in their quest to join the Premier League’s Top Four contenders.

But City controlled the rest of the match, and it could be argued that a lesser keeper than Jordan Pickford would’ve conceded an equalizer much earlier in the match. Man City was humming.

“Even with one less player on the pitch, they have that high quality on the ball and they can make it difficult. We had a tactical good game, unlucky, the goal. They didn’t create a lot of open chances, but still had the domination of the game and in the counter attack we had some opportunities, but finally it’s a good point and we worked hard for that result.”

The Toffees have loads of promise, and their resilience in holding firm for most of the match is laudable (Mason Holgate‘s clearance into the path of Raheem Sterling is unlucky). Yet three points to start a vicious run of fixtures would’ve been much preferred to the lone marker that made it to the table.

Off day + 10 men = Still a point for City

On a day when Sergio Aguero struggled to find his feet and Walker got his dicey sending-off, Man City was still the better of the two teams and that has to make Pep Guardiola a pleased man.

David Silva remains an important part of City’s attack, and Kevin De Bruyne was pretty good in the draw, but plenty of the hosts’ men didn’t have their A-games.

Aguero had a soft header cleared off the line and wasted a gorgeous first half chance by taking an extra touch. When he was on, like his silky outside of the boot pass to David Silva, the receiver hit the post. Bernardo Silva and Danilo also missed chances that would’ve been fine goals on another day.

Without the “City: Down to 10 men (Walker 44′)” graphic atop the screen, an unknowing viewer would have been stunned upon counting less than 11 City players.

Don’t sleep on Rooney’s day (or Calvert-Lewin moving forward)

Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in the history of English football, and he rightfully joins Alan Shearer as the only players to score 200 goals in the Premier League era.

“To join Alan Shearer with that amount of goals, it’s obviously a big moment and hopefully (there’s) a lot to come,” Rooney said after the game.

While his simple finish through Ederson’s legs lacks the glory of some of his goals (for a reminder, watch below), it’s surprising how many people have absolutely written off England’s all-time scoring leader as a gimmicky signing.

Rooney has two goals in two games, and he linked up well with Calvert-Lewin again on Monday. Koeman was impressed.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Everton manager. “I know the player. I know how eager he was to come back to Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin did well. He ran a lot and made it difficult for the Manchester City defenders. Then you can come out of your box and control.”

Perhaps it’s Manchester United overload, or England’s often over-celebrated national team, but Rooney isn’t the sort of player you see every day. Congrats to him on a big day.