MLS Preview: Columbus Crew at Sporting KC

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In a match with major mid-season implications for either side, Sporting KC will head to Columbus with an opportunity to muddy the waters further in the Eastern Conference.

With table-watching still a bit irrelevant as we reach the halfway point, both teams have something relatively important riding on this match.

For Sporting, they will look to improve on their spotty home form.  They’ve been fine on the road, but the dropped points at home have made this season that much harder for the squad, who’ve picked up just 2 points and netted just twice in their last three home matches.

It’s been a tough go recently for Kansas City both home and away, with just three draws and a loss to show for their last four matches. Much of that can be attributed to the losses of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, who will return from international duty for the trip to Columbus.  Zusi is fresh off signing his new contract extension with KC.

(MORE: Graham Zusi signs multiyear extension with Sporting KC)

It’s been a season of good not great for Sporting, with results there but also much left on the table.  That feeling was most evident their last time out, having taken a 2-goal lead on FC Dallas before before letting it slip away after falling a man down. While it’s typically a good result to get a point on the road at the league leaders, the manner of the defeat was more painful than anything.

In a bit of team news ahead of the match, Sporting KC have recalled striker Dom Dwyer from Orlando City FC.  The 22-year-old soared in the USL, exploding for 15 goals in just 13 matches during his spell with OCFC.  With the prospect of three matches in nine days as well as loss of C.J. Sapong to suspension and both Mechack Jerome and Peterson Joseph leaving early for Haiti Gold Cup duty, Peter Vermes thought it prudent to bring in the in-form Dwyer.

For Columbus, this match is the first of two tricky road ties, ones that give them the chance to not only gain ground on those above, but also to prove to the MLS community that the devastating injuries suffered in the last month can be overcome.

It will be their second match since Glauber became the second victim of an ACL tear on the Columbus squad this season.  Without the Brazilian or Eddie Gaven, the Crew crumbled at home to the red-hot Chicago Fire, conceding two goals in three minutes early in the second half.

All is not lost for Columbus, who are within close range of the table’s playoff sector and can take advantage of Sporting’s recent woes.  Federico Higuain is starting to find his real value as a set-up man rather than a goal-scorer, and his ability to strike from set pieces and particularly the penalty spot has been priceless.

Crew manager Robert Warzycha has a bit of a lineup decision to make.  Jairo Arrieta has returned from international duty with Costa Rica, so it remains to be seen who will play in front of Higuain – Arrieta, or his placeholder during international duty Dominic Oduro.  However, with Ben Speas also returning for selection from a bout with an illness, it remains to be seen who will be put up front and who will go out wide.  Oduro made himself very clear this week, saying how he believes he’s most effective up front.

With points for the taking, both teams will look to put recent inconsistencies behind them and grab the bull by the horns.

10-man Arsenal wins thriller over Aston Villa

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Remember how many joked that Arsenal was just gonna have to go outscore everyone due to their firepower up top and not much at the back?

They did it again Sunday, coming back from a goal down and a man down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, and Nicolas Pepe scored to help overcome Ainsley Maitland-Niles‘ pair of early yellow cards as Arsenal moved fourth with 11 points.

John McGinn and Wesley Morales provided Aston Villa 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the game. Villa remains 18th with four points.


Three things we learned

1. David Luiz might be a Chelsea secret agent: The ex-Chelsea man was again heavy in blame in the concession of an Arsenal goal, as his sleepy, tepid attempt to stop Jack Grealish‘s cut back to Wesley ended with the latter smashing the ball into the goal moments after the Gunners had equalized from the spot. The veteran defender has been almost automatic for a big error per game.

Also, don’t just hate on Luiz. Look at this defending on the first Arsenal goal.

2. Aubameyang in the rarest of airs: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played for two attack-forward teams, and drawn so many, “Yeah, buts” from critics, but the Gabonese wonder has been absolutely sensational. He has seven goals in seven matches this season across all competitions, and where would the Gunners be without him?

3. Gunners step up late: Down a man and 72 hours after playing in Germany, the Gunners had to find a hero. They found two, one likely and the other not so much. Chambers found a wonderful Guendouzi pass and outworked two Villa defenders to level the score at 2, and Aubameyang slashed a free kick home in the 84th.

Man of the Match: It was probably Pepe, who got his first Arsenal goal to go with an industrious day down the right. His vision is exceptional, perhaps outdone only by his freakishly athletic skill set. But you’re forgiven if you plug Aubameyang’s name in this space. And McGinn was terrific in defeat, but flubbed a chance to make it 3-3.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Ainsley Maitland-Niles could’ve had Arsenal ahead in the first minute, but he sent Saka’s cross high into the stands despite his station unmarked near the spot.

John McGinn forced Bernd Leno into the first save of the match two minutes later at the other end. The same keeper would stop the same shooter in the 11th minute.

Aubameyang couldn’t get purchase on a headed pass from Sead Kolasinac in the 16th minute after a Nicolas Pepe cross.

McGinn’s third bite at the apple was wide open and successful, as Anwar El Ghazi‘s cross spotted his run at the penalty spot and Leno had little hope of interfering with the opportunity. 1-0, 20’.

Maitland-Niles then slid into a challenge and caught a stamp during his foul. A second yellow was awarded and Arsenal was down a goal and a man.

Villa couldn’t find a second goal despite numerous chances, and Matteo Guendouzi won a straight-forward penalty off barging defender Bjorn Engels. Pepe converted the goal.

But Villa restored its lead within a minute, Jack Grealish blazing down the left side to cut back to the middle, where Wesley darted in front of sleepy David Luiz to finish the chance.

Chambers was the next to finish off a terrific pass from Guendouzi and even better work from the fullback. And Aubameyang’s free kick… holy smoke (embedded atop the page).

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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LONDON — Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men stay top of the Premier League table with a perfect record after six wins from six. 

First half goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino set them on their way, with a disallowed goal for Chelsea, via VAR, causing plenty of debate. N’Golo Kante’s sublime strike in the second half set up a tense finish and Chelsea should have at least grabbed a point.

Here’s what we learned from a dramatic encounter at Stamford Bridge.


VAR DELIVERS ALMIGHTY MOMENTUM SWING

In the space of about 60 first-half seconds Chelsea went from scoring a deserved equalizer to trailing 2-0. An almighty momentum swing was delivered, courtesy of VAR, and Chelsea never quite recovered. The fact Mason Mount‘s toe was offside made the pill even tougher to swallow, as just like the incident involving Heung-Min Son for Spurs at Leicester on Saturday, it knocked the stuffing out of Chelsea.

They had recovered after going 1-0 down to a piece of magic from Alexander-Arnold, but after prolonged celebrations following Cesar Apzilicueta’s ‘equalizer’ the moans and groans around the Bridge reflected how the home players felts as their shoulders slumped in unison. Premier League teams are still dealing with the momentum swings VAR decisions bring, and Chelsea’s youngster didn’t cope well with it at all. Initially.

In fairness, they roared back in the second half and should have grabbed a point from this game. But VAR is delivering the correct decisions, no matter how close the calls are, and players aren’t quite able to cope with the loss of momentum.


LIVERPOOL GRIND OUT YET ANOTHER WIN

Liverpool have now lost just once in their last 45 PL games, and are unbeaten in 23, their longest run in PL history. The last time they were unbeaten in 23 league games was back in 1990.

1990 was the last time they won the title.

It is now six wins from six this season and 15 victories Premier League victories in a row for Jurgen Klopp’s side. And just like the rest of this season, so far, Liverpool barely had to get out of second gear. That is the scary thing about this team.

The fact Jordan Henderson was barking at Alexander-Arnold for a slightly misplaced pass when Liverpool were 2-0 up tells you about the desire of this team. They aren’t happy with simply winning. They are becoming perfectionists and their five point lead atop the table feeds into that narrative. They are perfect six games in, and bigger tests than beating an inexperienced Chelsea side await. But the ease with which Liverpool are brushing aside their opponents is becoming all too familiar.

We are only six games into the season but Klopp’s side are a well-oiled machine who will push Manchester City all the way for the title once again. They were far from their best at Chelsea but they have a very handy habit of winning regardless of their performance.


DEFENSIVE ISSUES HOLDING CHELSEA BACK

Sure, Emerson Palmeri and Andreas Christensen went off injured in the first half and Antonio Rudiger is out, but the basic errors Chelsea are making continue to cost them. Lampard’s men could do nothing about TAA’s moments of magic from a free kick but to allow Firmino a free header six yards out is just not on. Chelsea have now conceded the second-highest number of goals (13) in the Premier League this season and unless they can somehow shore up their leaky defense a top four finish seems unlikely.

N’Golo Kante’s stunning strike gave the scoreline the look it deserved and his return from injury solidified midfield, as Liverpool’s famed speed on the counter barely surfaced. Chelsea are a work in progress under Lampard and the biggest area he has to work on is at the back. After creating numerous chances going forward, they won’t be worried about scoring goals this season. Keeping them out is their Achilles heel.

Lampard’s side were applauded off the field at the final whistle and the home fans are encouraged by the progress this young side is making. It wasn’t enough to get the past Liverpool, but if Chelsea can cut out silly defensive errors, the rest of their game is looking good.

Liverpool hangs on for win over wasteful Chelsea

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Liverpool built a two-goal lead, then rode its luck to keep its perfect season alive.

Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold scored first half goals as the Reds beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

N’Golo Kante scored a sensational goal to bring the Blues within one, but Chelsea couldn’t finish several terrific opportunities to tie the match.

Now 6-0, the Reds restored their five-point lead over second place Man City, while the Blues sit 12th with eight points.


The main takeaways

1. Alexander-Arnold at both ends: TAA’s exceptional work in the attacking third is nothing new, and it says something that it comes as little surprise when he produces something sublime like the opening goal off a set piece, but Alexander-Arnold’s goal line clearance in the 68th minute adding some icing to the cake as Chelsea looked pull a goal back from its 2-0 deficit. A fine performance from the right back.

2. Liverpool gets big let-off: Liverpool’s defending and passing was poor over the final 30 minutes or so, and if the Reds have something resembling a weakness it is their overall back line when the opposition is in the Liverpool half. Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount should’ve both troubled Adrian in the latter stages, but were let off the hook by a Chelsea team with only one sub available to it after the break. More on that below.

3. Bats, not the Yank: Frank Lampard opted against starting Christian Pulisic again on Sunday, and two defensive subs in the first 42 minutes meant there was only one left for the second half. Lampard chose target forward Michy Batshuayi over Pulisic, Ross Barkley, and Pedro. Batshuayi drew a free kick upon introduction, and coudn’t flash an opener header on frame in the 88th.

Man of the Match: Firmino, whose steady presence, strong dribbling, and — most importantly — powerful header steadied the match for a time, moments after VAR denied the Blues an equalizer.

Honorable mention: Kante was everywhere, stopping Mohamed Salah‘s long dribble toward goal late as a highlight. Another highlight, this. See ya later Fabinho.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A foul-heavy, physical start yielded a free kick atop the Chelsea 18 after Andreas Christensen got tangled with Sadio Mane.

A training ground play had Salah roll a shot pass for Alexander-Arnold to belt past Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 15th minute.

An injury to Emerson Palmieri then introduced Marcos Alonso to the match, a 16th minute substitution adding insult to the, well, you know.

Adrian saved Tammy Abraham‘s 1v1 chance in the 24th minute, a misstep from the youngster and great moment for Liverpool’s No. 2 backstop.

Azpilicueta looked to have leveled when he mopped up a sloppy final third performance from the Reds celebrated back line, but VAR ruled Mason Mount as offside.

Liverpool then made it 2-0, adding insult to insult, when unmarked Firmino hammered a header into the goal.

A calamitous first half continued with Christensen waylaid by an injury, as he subbed off for Kurt Zouma. Forty-two minutes in, two subs down.

The game could’ve been effectively put to bed on a 46th minute set piece, but Virgil Van Dijk‘s back post effort tame and allowed Arrizabalaga to make a fine save.

Chelsea found some footing in the second half, and Liverpool was cautioned for time wasting. N’Golo Kante dragged a shot wide in the 59th minute.

Kante was the next man on the score sheet, turning Fabinho and dribbling free into the 18 to blasting a 71st minute effort past Adrian. Game on.

But Batshuayi couldn’t flash a late header on goal, and Mason Mount butchered a difficult near-post chance to make it 2-2 late. Liverpool escaped, and is starting to feel a bit like the dreaded term: Team of Destiny.

Pellegrini: West Ham focused on week-to-week, not table

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Manuel Pellegrini knows a thing or two about the patience required in building a contender over the long-term, and says this West Ham team has the ingredients to make a serious run in the Premier League.

The Irons hammered Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday at London’s Olympic Stadium, an impressive feat even given the Red Devils’ struggles.

[ RECAP: West Ham 2-0 Man Utd ]

It nets West Ham a fifth-straight result following a blowout loss to Man City to start the season.

“We have more quality, but we’re also more consistent and more solid,” Pellegrini said. “The international break was important for us because we had all the defenders and worked a lot to be more concentrated, to make better tackles and better movements.”

That doesn’t mean they can afford to look past anyone, especially an in-form Bournemouth team with top-half designs of its own under Eddie Howe.

“I think we must try to beat Bournemouth 1-0 in our next league game and then see what happens. We’re not thinking about the future.”

West Ham supporters certainly are, and if the attacking weapons are many if Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko have shaken their injury woes to join Sebastien Haller and Felipe Anderson as terrific components of the system.