Quick Six: Januzaj’s breakout, best striker tandem, and other Premier League storylines

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1. A NEW STAR IS BORN AT UNITED?

Out of the darkness came a new hero, an unlikely 18-year-old thrust to instant stardom amid the uncertainty that’d enveloped the start of David Moyes’s tenure. Can Adnan Januzaj really be the savior he’s being portrayed as after his two goals in Sunderland delivered Manchester United from   potential disaster?

Here’s teammate Michael Carrick after United’s 2-1, come-from-behind victory:

“In some ways I think he’s gone on the big stage now,” he said. “We noticed a big improvement with him [in pre-season] and he just looked a proper player. At half-time we told him to get in the box a bit more because there were chances for him.

“He’s got so much ability, he’s got a great attitude. He can be anything he wants to be – he’s that good.

“It’s just a start, I’m sure he’s not going to get carried away with it.”

Many outlets have taken the “anything he wants to be” part and ran with it. After all, narratives  have to be fueled, never mind Carrick was perfectly sanguine will delivering his player speak. Januzaj is a teammate, he’s young, and he was just coming off a two-goal performance. Of course you’re going to get some distortable quotes out of Carrick.

With Januzaj, there’s as much sizzle as steak right now. It’s impossible to miss the potential in the Belgian/Albanian/Serbian/Kosovar (he’d be eligible to represent any of those nations), but Januzaj’s new star’s also a function of United’s current plight. He’s the contract to the conflict between expectations and form.

That conflict was apparent on Saturday. For the first 45 minutes, a Sunderland team that was hard work and little else was the better side. In the second half, Manchester United woke up. In time, this will look like a good win — three points where other sides may get none — but considering what Manchester City and Arsenal showed on their trips north, United’s Black Cat test illustrated just how far behind they are.

[MORE: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United: Januzaj’s second half double lifts Red Devils.]

2. SUÁREZ, STURRIDGE SHINE, BUT ONE PIECE MISSING FOR LIVERPOOL

Whether they maintain this level or not, Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge are the Premier League’s best striking duo at the moment. The tandem combined for two Liverpool goals in the Reds’ 3-1 win over visiting Crystal Palace, and after the weekend’s dust settled, Liverpool sat second, with only goal difference keeping them from the top.

Brendan Rodgers seems eager to temper any undo enthusiasm, though:

“It reminded me of a performance I had when I first became a manager, when I knew it had to be about more than just winning. At Watford we beat Swansea 2-0 at Vicarage Road. Everyone was elated and it was named the performance of the week but I was so disappointed because we didn’t keep the ball well. This was like that. Our movement and combinations in the final third was good but the lack of control behind that was very disappointing.”

It’s harsh, but there were obvious weaknesses in the Reds’ side on Saturday. Against one of the league’s worst teams, Liverpool too often allowed Crystal Palace to hit their defensive line with speed, the Eagles’ lack of execution (and talent) in the final third the only thing that kept this match from turning into a shootout.

That problem gets solved to a certain extent when Lucas Leiva returns. Without their suspended ball-winner, Liverpool moved Jordan Henderson in from right-wing back, pairing him at the base of midfield with Steven Gerrard. The result was unconvincing. Thankfully, they were only playing Crystal Palace.

The issue does, however, inform the debate as to whether Liverpool are title contenders. Or Champions League contenders, for that matter. With the Reds off to a 5-1-1 start, there are a lot of discussions surrounding the team, all of which come down to quality and depth. Even if you think the Reds have the quality to compete with the preseason contenders (a tough but not impossible argument to make), Saturday illustrated how thin they are. Lose one guy and things don’t exactly fall apart (they did still win 3-1, after all), but holes start to surface.

[MORE: Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace: “SAS” on the scoresheet again as Reds romp.]

3. MAYBE POCHETTINO WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON

Mauricio Pochettino didn’t say he was going to get Southampton into Champions League this year, and to the extent he said it was a goal, he did so in relation to Europa League. Teams don’t really shoot for the latter, the Saints boss explained. Champions League is everybody’s ambition.

Of course, people ran with it. That’s what happens. A coach of a club like Southampton even mentions Champions League? It goes at the top of the story. Southampton must be targeting Champions League! Welcome to the soccer world.

After this weekend’s action, however, Pochettino’s words took on a different context, with Southampton’s 2-0 win over Swansea vaulting the Saints into fourth place – above Manchester City, Tottenham, and Manchester United.

Seven weeks into the season, it’s too early to know whether Southampton can keep this up, even if a win at Liverpool and five clean sheets provide some reason to think this form can persist. But beyond that Liverpool win, there aren’t many eye-opening results among this year’s score lines. The schedule just hasn’t been that hard.

Don’t overlook Sunday’s result, however. Three years ago, Swansea were Southampton, albeit with a different style. They were the team whose results outstretched their stature while their methods underscored their results. They were the club giving reason to believe there was staying power behind their run.

Sunday’s game may have been a symbolic passing of that torch, with Swansea stumbling to 15th place. Then again, it might be us reading too much into early season results. Regardless, Pochettino continues to give us reason to talk about Southampton.

[MORE: Southampton 2-0 Swansea: Saints go fourth with fifth clean sheet.]

4. MARTIN JOL: STILL WAITING TO EXHALE?

If Martin Jol didn’t win, he was probably gone. We didn’t have any proof, but everything about Fulham’s situation told us the Dutch boss was in a win-or-else situation. His team was drastically under-performing, form that extended from that persisted from the end of last season. They were coming off a bad loss at home (to Cardiff City) and the new owner is coming to town with his NFL team this week. If Jol didn’t beat Stoke at home, Shahid Khan was unlikely to see a silver lining to this cloud he inherited as coach.

Thanks to Darren Bent’s 83rd minute goal, Jol’s likely to get a reprieve, his team having beaten the visiting Potters 1-0. The question is whether he should. Fulham still sit 18th and are coming off a victory that was more obligatory than convincing. A one-goal win at home to visiting Stoke with the squad Jol has? That’s seems like a minimum standard, not a reason to let up. If we had doubts about the Cottagers before, what about the Stoke result makes us believe Fulham are on the right track?

When you’re struggling, you’re thankful for every win you get, so it’s understandable Fulham and their fans have loosened their grips since Saturday. But once the international break’s over, the reality may set in. A one-goal home win over Stoke is obligatory. It’s not progress.

[MORE: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Cottagers snare needed win.]

5. BACK TO EARTH FOR EVERTON

How good are Everton? Now we know. Their 3-1 loss at Manchester City wasn’t just their first in league since Roberto Martínez took over. It was a reminder of the limitations he’s inherited.

Take the first goal Everton allowed, a great piece of work from David Silva to Yaya Touré to Álvaro Negredo. The speed, timing, and execution of the move was world-class. It took world-class talents to execute it, and it would have taken world-class talents to stop it. Manchester City had them. Everton did not. Goal, Citizens.

City’s second goal was a brilliant piece finish from Sergio Agüero, who beat Tim Howard far post from a sharp ankle. Everton doesn’t have the type of talent that can finish that ball, and the closest player they have is on loan from Chelsea.

Then there was the penalty that led to the third goal, with Seamus Coleman judged to have taken down Pablo Zabaleta. Coleman’s a fine player, but he didn’t have enough to stay in front of Zabaleta without leaning into him. You could argue that the penalty was soft, but another defender may have avoided that position to begin with.

Not many, though. Most defenders are going to get caught by that Zabaleta run, just as very few strikers will finish like Aguero and only a series of elite players can complete City’s first goal.

But that’s the difference between that level and Everton’s. The Toffees have very good players and a seemingly excellent coach, but sometimes, talent wins out.

[MORE: Manchester City 3-1 Everton: The last of the unbeatens fall.]

6. FOR SPURS, LACK OF GOALS WORSE THAN THE WEST HAM LOSS

The scoreline’s troubling: 0-3 at home to West Ham United. That Spurs could only put four shots on Jussi Jääskeláinen should be just as worrisome. This is a team that came into the game with six goals in six games, and on Sunday, André Villas-Boas’s squad didn’t do enough to improve that record.

Yes, be concerned about the lopsided nature of the loss, but also grasp this basic fact: Until this team starts scoring goals, they can’t be considered a serious contender for the league’s top four spots. Once it happens, we can make an assessment about this crew Levy, Baldini, and Villas-Boas have assembled. Right now, we have no idea what that end product will look like. .

In the interim, Spurs have given away three points they should have had. What are the odds they’ll want those back at year’s end? Especially if Liverpool challenges for top four? And Southampton proves as pesky as their rhetoric?

Today’s game was only one result. These things happen. Six goals in seven games? That’s the bigger problem.

[MORE: Tottenham 0-3 West Ham: Three second half goals give Hammer upset.]

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.

Three things learned: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday, with Zinedine Zidane’s side winning a third-straight European cup.

A game packed full of drama saw Mohamed Salah leave the pitch in tears early on after picking up a shoulder injury, while Real took the lead via Karim Benzema’s quick thinking after a horror moment for Loris Karius.

Liverpool reacted well to those blows as Sadio Mane equalized but then Gareth Bale jumped off the bench to score a stunning overhead kick goal, then Karius made another howler to allow Bale to score another and seal a record 13th European title for Real.

Below is a look at what we learned from an encapsulating game as the curtain came down on the European season in style.


BALE’S BRILLIANCE WORTHY OF WINNING ANY FINAL

This is the stuff of dreams for Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was left out of the starting lineup in Zidane’s only big decision of the game as Isco and Karim Benzema were favored to partner Cristiano Ronaldo in attack ahead of him.

Bale made Zidane question his call after jumping off the bench to change the game.

He not only scored that stunning goal but he also sent in a fabulous cross with the outside of his foot to pick out Benzema who nearly scored another late on. Then scored another from distance as his dipping shot caught out Karius who had a nightmare to spoon it into his net. Bale than raced clear late on but a fine tackle from Dejan Lovren denied him a hat trick with Ronaldo wide open.

Bale has scored in one previous Champions League final (2013/14) and last season he came off the bench late on after recovering from injury to play a bit-part. On Saturday he stole the show.

All of the talk will be about Bale this summer and if he will remain at the Santiago Bernabeu or head to the Premier League.

If he does end his five-year stay in Madrid this summer, Bale went out in style as he’s collected four Champions League winners medals and this will be the sweetest of the bunch.


SALAH’S INJURY; KARIUS HOWLERS HIT LIVERPOOL HARD

Mohamed Salah left the field in Kiev in tears in the first half and most of the soccer world was crying with him.

Salah (Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season with 44 goals in all competitions) tangled with Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid’s captain locked his right arm in to the Egyptian forward who slammed into the pitch.

Take a look at the incident below as Salah’s World Cup dream with Egypt is in serious doubt.

Liverpool’s main man tried to carry on but as his adoring fans sung his chant which dominated the Premier League this season, the magician couldn’t carry on.

Salah’s absence made a huge difference and helped swing the game in Real Madrid’s favor with the Reds having just seven touches in Real’s half in the 14 first half minutes after Salah went off compared to 111 before that.

Obviously you cannot legislate for the kind of mistakes Karius made and Jurgen Klopp will have to answer questions about losing his sixth major final on the spin.

Karius may never get over the two huge mistakes he made but Liverpool did have chances as Mane hit the post as well as scoring, but losing Salah so early obviously had a huge impact on their chances.

Liverpool have had a stunning season in the Champions League and nobody thought they could get to the final. They’ve come up short but they can hold their head high and start to build for next season.


ZIDANE, REAL ARE TRUE LEGENDS

Zidane looked like he had just popped down the shop for a newspaper and a pint of milk at the final whistle.

The legendary player is now a legendary manager as he led his star-studded team to a third-straight European title and got the big calls correct. He started Benzema ahead of Bale and unleashed the angry Welshman to pummel Liverpool’s defense in the latter stages. It worked a treat and this Real team will go down in history.

Zidane watched on with a smile on his face in the closing stages as his team turned on the style and in truth they could’ve won by five or six. Even though they struggled in La Liga this season, Real turned it on when it mattered time and time again in the Champions League.

Let’s take a look at the records Real have now extended as they are truly the Kings of Europe

  • Real Madrid have won a record 13 European titles
  • Real made their 16th appearance in a European Cup final, more than any other team in history
  • They are the first team since Bayern Munich (1974-1976) to win three-straight European titles
  • Zinedine Zidane is just the third manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti), but the first to win it in three consecutive seasons

Player ratings, UCL final: Bale the hero, Karius the zero

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Real Madrid were crowned champions of Europe (again, for the third straight season) on Saturday, spearheaded by an all-time great goal scored by Gareth Bale and an all-time shocking performance from Loris Karius.

[ MORE: Benzema’s opener | Mane’s equalizer | Bale’s winner ]

Liverpool

GK – Loris Karius – 0/10: A goalkeeper has never committed a worse, more egregious, more senseless error in the history of soccer. Just watch it (unless you’re a Liverpool fan). Then he did this, in the same game. He can’t go back to Liverpool.

RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6/10

CB – Dejan Lovren – 6.5/10

CB – Virgil Van Dijk – 6.5/10

LB – Andrew Robertson – 6.5/10: Robertson’s heroic sliding block to snuff out Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakaway in the 75th minute kept Liverpool’s hopes and dreams alive.

CM – Jordan Henderson – 7/10

CM – James Milner (83′) – 6/10

CM – Georginio Wijnaldum – 6/10

RW – Mohamed Salah (31′) – 5/10: Injured by a highly questionable “challenge” from Sergio Ramos (WATCH HERE) inside the opening half-hour, the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner was unable to find his footing (through little fault of his own) during a cagey opening 25 minutes.

CF – Roberto Firmino – 5.5/10: A brilliant season for the Brazilian ends with one of his least impactful, quietest outings of the campaign. To Madrid’s credit, they put him on an island up top and denied any and all service to the frontman.

LW – Sadio Mane – 7/10: Scored Liverpool’s only goal (WATCH HERE), but was rendered largely ineffective following Salah’s departure, as Madrid were able to shift their defensive focus to the other side of the field.

Sub – Adam Lallana (31′) – 5.5/10

Sub – Emre Can (83′) – N/A

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Real Madrid

GK – Keylor Navas – 7.5/10: Navas made a pair of truly world-class saves in the first half to keep the game scoreless, at a time when the Reds were beginning to find their way and build up a head of steam.

RB – Dani Carvajal (37′) – 5/10

CB – Raphael Varane – 8/10: Kept Firmino in his hip pocket all game long.

CB – Sergio Ramos – 6/10: Responsible for the injury to Salah (no matter your feelings his about intent), but Ramos managed to avoid getting sent off over 90 minutes, which is a big win for him.

LB – Marcelo – 6.5/10:

CDM – Casemiro – 6.5/10

CM – Luka Modric – 7/10: Bossed the midfield and marshaled (par for the course) with four tackles and completed 94 percent of his 72 passes attempted. Madrid’s metronome, oftentimes their most important players lying in the shadows.

CM – Toni Kroos – 6/10

CAM – Isco – 7.5/10 (61′): Far and away Madrid’s best player for the entirety of the first half, and was inches from putting Los Blancos ahead in the 48th minute, when he lifted the ball over Karius and was denied by the crossbar.

FW – Karim Benzema (89′) – 7/10: Scored the game’s opening goal, could have scored a second goal late in the second half if not for a great save by Karius, and continues to (somehow) remain underrated when he so consistently shows up in the big games.

FW – Cristiano Ronaldo – 6/10: Little to no impact from minute 1 to 90. All that was missing was an 89th-minute goal to make it 5-1 and a wild shirt-off celebration like he’d scored the winner.

Sub – Nacho (37′) – 6/10

Sub – Gareth Bale (61′) – 10/10: When you score a goal like this, you got a 10/10 every time, no matter anything else you did while on the field (he scored again in the 83rd minute).

Sub – Marco Asensio (89′) – N/A