three things

Three things we learned from Arsenal v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Arsenal blew Tottenham Hotspur away in the 194th North London derby on Saturday with the Gunners riding a furious first half display to grab a deserved 2-0 victory.

Goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez did the business for Arsenal who have now won 11-straight games at the Emirates, their best-ever run at the stadium, and have now started the campaign with six wins from six at home for the first time in a decade.

Here’s what we learned from a one-sided NLD.


ARSENAL REWARDED FOR BRAVE SELECTIONS

Arsenal fans had been calling for all three of their top attacking talents to start and Wenger listened. Maybe he should listen to them more often…

From the start Arsenal looked the more adventurous, dangerous and incisive and both Alexandre Lacazette‘s runs in-behind opened up space for Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to have space in front of Tottenham’s back three. After causing Manchester City problems before the break when Lacazette, Sanchez and Ozil were on the pitch, Wenger got the message loud and clear.

Arsenal went for it and they were rewarded.

The Gunners’ rampant start was in danger of being in vein but Skhodran Mustafi’s wonderful header, from an Ozil free kick, gave Arsenal the lead their positive start deserved and Sanchez’s clever finish from Lacazette’s pull back gave the scoreline the look it deserved at half time.

In the second half Tottenham had more of the ball and Wenger responded by pulling off Lacazette with 20 minutes to go and bringing on Francis Coquelin. That decision was booed but Wenger couldn’t help but try and edge his side over the line.

This was Arsenal’s first derby victory in seven PL outings against Spurs and amid talk of power shifting in North London to Tottenham following their finish above Arsenal in the PL table last season, the first time in 20 years, a positive display from the start put Tottenham back in their place.

Wenger was able to put out his first choice starting lineup for one of the first times this season and it showed that 1-11, this Arsenal team is at least capable of reclaiming a place in the top four. Maybe that will then convince Ozil and Sanchez to sign new deal and end their contract sagas.

Regardless of that, the search for consistency, especially away from home, is now the key. Going all-out attack is Arsenal’s best chance of any success this season.


MIDFIELD BATTLE NO CONTEST

Granit Xhaka is much-maligned but in the first half especially he and Aaron Ramsey disrupted Tottenham’s flow and knocked Spurs out of their stride.

Time and again they dispossessed Mousa Dembele and Moussa Sissoko in central midfield for Spurs, with Tottenham’s back three on the back foot and unable to deal with the runs of Lacazette, Sanchez and Ozil with Hector Bellerin and Ramsey pouring forward whenever they could.

In the second half Spurs had more of the ball and pushed Arsenal back but the damage was done. Harry Winks came on for the disappointing Dembele to try and wrestle the tempo of the game back but it was all too little, too late.

Xhaka and Ramsey worked as a perfect pivot in the first half to give Arsenal the platform for victory.


RUSTY SPURS STUNNED

Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane and Dele Alli had recovered from injury in time for the North London derby. It showed.

All three looked sluggish with Lloris already in the back of the net by the time Sanchez could smash home Arsenal’s second, Dele spending must of his time on the floor looking for free kicks and Kane (who had his right thigh heavily bandaged) well off the pace as he dragged efforts wide, was booked for a late challenge on Granit Xhaka and had an off day at the worst possible time.

Both Dele and Kane were hauled off 15 minutes from time looking jaded and frustrated. The gamble to rush them back to full fitness didn’t pay off.

Mauricio Pochettino had a face like thunder for much of the game with the Spurs boss patrolling the edge of his technical area with venomous steps.

Spurs have now lost against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal so far this season. They only lost four games the whole of the 2017-18 campaign.

It’s still too early to say Tottenham’s title hopes were all but ended with this defeat at their bitter rivals, but they could well be 11 points behind leaders Manchester City by the time Saturday is over. That is a huge deficit to recover and their displays against the top teams so far this season have been full of trepidation and mistakes.

You can certainly understand the move to rush Kane and Dele back but it may not have been Pochettino’s best decision.

Three things we learned from Chelsea v Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Blues breathed new life into their Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Rivalry renewed – Conte v Mourinho ]

Alvaro Morata’s second half header was enough to beat Jose Mourinho’s men with United starting the game well but then pinned back by Chelsea after the opening 30 minutes.

The win sees Chelsea move just one point behind second-place United heading into the international break, while Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table has now been increased to eight points.

Here’s what we learned from a lively encounter in west London.


MORATA A MENACE

Even though he was adjudged to have fouled Phil Jones early on as the United center back shanked a clearance into his own net to score a spectacular own goal, Alvaro Morata had set the tone early.

The Spaniard was a menace for United’s defense all afternoon.

After his comments during the week to the Italian media which seemed to suggest he wasn’t enjoying life in London, Morata needed a big display. He delivered.

Morata’s towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross — the fifth time he and his countryman have linked up this season for a goal and an assist — won the game for Chelsea to lift some of the growing gloom around Antonio Conte‘s side following their 3-0 shellacking at AS Roma on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Morata had missed chances at Roma and at Bournemouth in recent weeks but despite his wastefulness he has eight goals in 15 games for Chelsea. Not a bad ratio for a striker still adjusting to life in the PL.

More impressive than his goal was Morata’s ability to bully United’s defense. In the first half he charged into Jones with a good old fashioned shoulder barge and sent the bustling United center back to the ground.

At times this season Morata’s inability to mix it up in the Premier League has been questioned. As a direct replacement for Diego Costa (a man who “mixed it up” for a living) Morata was said to be soft. On Sunday he was not with the only blot on his copybook getting it all wrong as he raced in on goal in stoppage time when he only had David De Gea to beat.


UNITED TOO CONCERNED WITH CHELSEA

Eden Hazard was a marked man on Sunday with Phil Jones, Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly rotating the man-marking job on Chelsea’s playmaker.

Despite early promise where Romelu Lukaku had a smart turn and shot saved and then Marcus Rashford nodded just over, United were never in the game after the opening 30 minutes. Don’t let the scoreline fool you.

Mourinho was ushering Bailly to step high on Hazard when United had the ball in Chelsea’s half from the very first whistle.

Once again, in a big game, United’s approach was too defensive and this time they didn’t get the result they wanted.

After a 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho’s defensive masterclass didn’t work against Chelsea.

Maybe if he focused more on getting the ball to Lukaku and Rashford and involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the game they’d have forced the issue more than they did. Lukaku was a spectator for most of this game and will no doubt receive plenty of criticism for once again not delivering in a big game against a top six side, but he had little to no service.

Then again, this was a Mourinho team set up to play away from home in a defensive formation with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at wing back, three center backs and two holding midfielders. What else did we expect?


KANTE CONTINUES TO MAKE CHELSEA TICK

The last month has been a long one for Chelsea. That’s because they’ve been without N'Golo Kante.

In the six games Chelsea were without Kante in October, they only kept one clean sheet.

Kante, the reigning PFA Player of the Year, returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday and dominated midfield. The French international was everywhere, snapping at the heels of Lukaku and Rashford whenever they dropped back and stepping into defensive gaps when Gary Cahill or Azpilicueta surged forward.

He also kept Nemanja Matic (who has been a pivotal figure for United since he transfer from Chelsea in the summer) quiet as the diminutive Frenchman dominated in midfield.

We all know how important Kante is but his first lengthy injury spell of the last two seasons since he arrived in the PL proved it.

Chelsea are a completely different team with Kante in midfield and their defensive solidity is down to him. No one player makes a team but one player can make a heck of a difference. See: Kante, N’Golo.

Three things we learned from Man United v. Tottenham

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Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on Saturday as Jose Mourinho’s men silenced plenty of their critics.

[ RECAP: United beat Spurs 1-0 ]

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs missed Harry Kane horribly but still had chances to win the game in the rain in Manchester.

Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense encounter at Old Trafford.


LUKAKU PUTS BIG GAME RECORD BEHIND HIM

Romelu Lukaku has now scored just 15 goals in 59 appearances against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League and he was well-shackled by Spurs defense on Saturday, but he did make a big difference. In the end.

There were moans and groans around Old Trafford on a few occasions where Lukaku failed to control the ball or made the wrong run or didn’t envisage a ball from his teammates. There were also a few boos when Marcus Rashford was taken off in the second half as he looked much more likely to hurt Tottenham and get on the scoresheet than his strike partner as Mourinho went with two up top.

It took until the 73rd minute for Lukaku to get a real sight of goal as he beared down on Jan Verongthen and drilled a shot across goal which Hugo Lloris palmed away. He then went even closer late on as he sent Jesse Lingard‘s cross against the foot of the post with a towering header.

Finally, Lukaku had woken up. His flicked header to Martial for the game-winner proved he stuck with it despite not getting any luck in front of goal and for the second-game running in the PL he had an assist.

We make a lot about Lukaku’s lack of goals in the big games but remember, he played for Everton and West Brom in the PL for most of his appearances against the big boys. He will get more chances to score now he’s at United but he’s showing that he can deliver in key moments even if he’s not hitting the back of the net.


KANE’S ABSENCE BLUNTS SPURS

Harry Kane is the hottest striker on the planet right now, so of course Tottenham missed him.

Kane’s hamstring strain kept him out of the game at Old Trafford and the Premier League’s leading scorer doesn’t only offer goals but also a figurehead to Spurs’ attack.

After a sluggish start Spurs recovered well in the first half with Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli making runs in-behind but so often the ball was not sticking up top and that forced Mauricio Pochettino to bring on Fernando Llorente in the second half.

Kane may be fit enough to play against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and when he returns Tottenham’s attack will look totally different. Spurs coped well without their talisman for vast swathes of their defeat at United with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen both having one big chance.

If Kane would’ve been fit enough to play, you have to wonder how different this game would’ve been as his presence on the pitch would surely have given Tottenham more belief that they could win the game.


3-5-2 WORKED FOR UNITED

During preseason I caught up with Man United’s Dutch defender Daley Blind and he told me that Mourinho had been working on the 3-5-2 formation a lot at their training camp in Los Angeles.

All of that work was for a moment like this.

With no Kane in the lineup for Spurs, Mourinho wanted to get on top of Heung-min Son and Dele Alli whenever he could and stop Spurs from playing out of the back with Lukaku and Rashford up top. It worked very well early on, but then Spurs figured it out and had a little more composure on the ball and United were outnumbered in midfield.

In the second half Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera were pressing high and snapping into tackles and stopped Tottenham from dictating the tempo.

Mourinho’s men may not play with this formation each and every week but with solid veterans Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young at full back, United looked like a solid outfit and Lingard and Martial made a huge difference off the bench.

Three things from the USMNT’s blowout of Panama

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The United States men’s national team now stands a result away from Russia, as Bruce Arena’s men responded with an emphatic beatdown of Panama in Orlando.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Jozy Altidore scored twice, Christian Pulisic had a goal and an assist, and Bobby Wood also scored in the win.

Here are three matters of import from Friday’s blowout, with a trip to Trinidad and Tobago on the docket for a Tuesday match.


Pulisic

We don’t need more than one word, but will provide several more on the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund man.

Christian Pulisic has been a regular in our “3 Things” posts following Hex matches, but there’s little debating the topic now: He’s the best player on the USMNT, and not far from being the best player in CONCACAF.

The teenager has revolutionized this team and almost single-handedly saved its World Cup hopes, by extension salvaging the eight-cycle progress of the USMNT. (Of course this assumes the Yanks get the appropriate result in T&T).

The 8th minute finish was all you need to see from Pulisic, who had the calm to carry around Jaime Penedo and then slot home from a difficult and acute angle.

He’s here. And he’ll have to fall off precipitously to not become the best player in American history (Sorry, Clint).

[ WATCH: Pulisic scores | Feeds Jozy for 2-0 ]

By the way, he’s not hurt, as he told Julie Stewart-Binks on television after the match:

“I just got kicked in the calf there at the end, but I’ll be alright.”


CONCACAF killers get rest

The beauty of the Yanks’ waxing Panama is that both Pulisic and Jozy Altidore were able to leave the matches without putting in a full 90 (or even 65).

Altidore is a handful for any team in this confederation to deal with, and we’ve covered Pulisic in depth above.

The possibility of starting a similar lineup on Tuesday, with perhaps Clint Dempsey in for Bobby Wood, should go a long way toward assuring a fresh and ready road win and qualification for Russia.

Again, that’s assuming no significant let down in mentality, no “job’s done” from the gents. Right now, in the afterglow of Friday’s light show, that seems downright impossible.


It’s not over (and it wasn’t perfect)

The score line masked a fairly sloppy defensive first half. The pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler was a choice for familiarity over prowess, with Arena not starting ready and willing Geoff Cameron.

The bad news? A better finishing team punishes at least two of the errors from Gonzalez and Besler in the first half of what could’ve been 4-2 at the break.

[ MORE: U-17 World Cup Day 1 roundup ]

Besler was a warrior, and be better if paired with Geoff Cameron on Tuesday (AP Photo/John Raoux).

Gonzalez was megged by 900-year-old Blas Perez, and Besler’s twin mistakes weren’t as glaring but weren’t welcome. Granted an elbow made sure both his eyes were bandaged, but this side needs to schedule November friendlies against decent attacks to see if Matt Miazga and some of its other center back options are legit for the roster in Russia.

The chances were wide open in the first half, and it’ll be harder if those chances are handed to Kevin Molino and Joevin Jones.

The good news is that Cameron and Tim Ream are both available for Tuesday in Trinidad and Tobago, should that be Arena’s plan (he’s liked his rotation).

The better news is the desperation and energy on display from not just Pulisic and Altidore, but Paul Arriola and DeAndre Yedlin. If Michael Bradley is the cylinder in the engine of the U.S. midfield and Pulisic is the motor, then Arriola was a firing piston.

Even experienced old hats like Tim Howard were fired up for this one, and will be sure to have the men ready on Tuesday.

Three things we learned from Newcastle v. Liverpool

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NEWCASTLE — Liverpool and Newcastle played out an entertaining, tight 1-1 draw at St James’ Park on Sunday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men will once again rue a defensive mistake for handing the Magpies a point.

Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner was canceled out by Joselu‘s goal as Rafael Benitez got the better of the tactical battle.

Here’s what we learned as Liverpool were frustrated by the Magpies.


SAME OLD STORY FOR LIVERPOOL

Liverpool’s defensive issues are systematic. Not in terms of how Jurgen Klopp has his defense, or his entire team set up tactically, but due to the fact his defenders continue to make elementary mistakes.

He is not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary but it is the ordinary things they continue to get wrong. Especially for Newcastle’s goal.

It was as if Jonjo Shelvey was Moses as he picked up the ball 20 yards inside his own half. With a wave of his gifted right foot he parted the Liverpool defense as Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were caught square. The fact that it was Joselu bearing down on Simon Mignolet‘s goal will have filled the hearts of Liverpool’s fan with hopes.

The Spaniard has been wasteful but to sum up the calamitous defending from Liverpool, just as it looked like Matip had done enough to put him off the ball bounced off Joselu’s shin via a tackle from Matip and dribbled into the net.

Klopp turned to his bench in disbelief as Liverpool had, once again, shot themselves in the foot. Their ability to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of minutes is as impressive as it is frustrating.

There remains only one answer for Klopp: he needs to get better defenders as soon as the January window opens. Between now and then it is likely defensive mistakes will cost his team any chance they thought they had at challenging for the Premier League title.


COUTINHO’S STUNNERS MASKS SUBDUED

The Brazilian magician was at it again. Coutinho scored his second stunner in as many Premier League games as he jinxed inside and curled home a powerful effort into the top corner to make it 1-0.

Yet apart from that he struggled to impose himself. Coutinho was asked to play out on the left hand side in the second half due to his inability to dictate the tempo of Liverpool’s attack and get on the ball.

It didn’t work. Klopp urged him to tuck inside and defend when Newcastle had the ball and although he trotted back into position, you could tell Coutinho’s heart wasn’t in it as he put his thumb up.

With Daniel Sturridge, Mohamaed Salah and Sadio Mane all missing glorious chances, Coutinho made something out of nothing but Liverpool needed more from their talismanic playmaker as their much-lauded attack again wasted opportunities and only had two efforts on target the entire game.

It’s easy to blame his failed move to Barcelona leading to a perceived lack of motivation early in the season, but Coutinho is certainly playing like a man who doesn’t care for too much other than adding to his already impressive highlight reel.


BENITEZ’S PLAN BACKED 100%

Sunday was a special day for Benitez. Facing the club he led to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, Benitez was applauded by both sets of fans.

“Rafael’s Barmy Army” was the chant cascading down from the stands at St James’ Park for the final 15 minutes of the game as the home supporters showed their appreciation for his tactical plan and his players carrying it out to perfection.

Newcastle’s supporters went one better before the game as they unfurled a banner, which you can see below.  The general meaning of the message is that they will support him wherever they go, in spite of the lies. Reading between the lines they are quite simply backing their manager after many reported disputes with the hierarchy at Newcastle over their lack of transfer funds made available.

The home fans sung his name time and time and time again during the game and if the passionate Geordies are on your side, Benitez can push on knowing the unity he needs off the pitch is there, at least from the supporters.

With over 52,000 fans backing his team at home, Benitez will make St James’ Park a tough place to travel to all season.

His pragmatic, defensive approach got the best of his limited squad and they deserved their point against Liverpool, their second biggest test of the season so far after hosting Tottenham Hotspur back in August.

This isn’t a return to the heyday of Kevin Keegan and the entertainers era of the mid 1990s but it’s a start. After picking up 10 points in their first seven games back in the Premier League and sitting in ninth place heading into the international break, the newly-promoted side are proving they can first solidify themselves in the top-flight and then kick on.

Benitez’s clear plan is working and the Newcastle supporters are fully behind him. That much is clear. Now, he needs the board to back him and bring in three of four players with more quality, especially in the final third.