After fifth goal in four games, perspective still needed on Adam Johnson-for-England

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His goal wasn’t a spectacular one. It was a chance almost any other attacker in the Premier League would have converted, given the chance. After Asmir Begovic spilled Fabio Borini’s shot into the right of the six-yard box, Johnson was given an open goal in the 17th minute against Stoke. One touch, a tap, and the Sunderland winger converted one of the easiest chances of the round, scoring the only goal as the Black Cats climbed out of the bottom three.

Never mind the goal didn’t show any extraordinary ability. Put aside the fact the tap in from a few yards out should say little about Johnson’s place among his country’s best attackers. With five goals in four games, the talk putting Adam Johnson in the conversation for Brazil is going to continue. If he maintains anything close to this form — if he continues playing with the confidence he’s gained since Gus Poyet arrived at Sunderland — it will be impossible for Roy Hodgson to keep him out of England 23 for this summer’s World Cup.

Before diving into that, let’s stop and consider our undo obsession with the English national team. This isn’t an English site. A huge majority of our reader base is American. The team’s not transcendently good, and there isn’t an overwhelming demand for discussion about it. Why we should be that concerned with the English national team, let alone somebody fighting for a spot on the back-end of the roster? Why should we care?

We can because discussion of the Three Lions is part of English soccer, just as La Roja is woven into La Liga, the Nationalmannschaft helps defined discussions of the Bundesliga, and the Azzurri is always relevant to Italy’s Serie A. In choosing to become Premier League follower, we’re also choosing to expose ourselves to the England national team. There’s unbreakable link with which discussion of Adam Johnson’s international future becomes no less obscure than debates about David Moyes’ performance. It’s just part of the deal.

Still, it might help if we applied some perspective on Johnson’s rise. Before this hot stretch (which started on Jan. 11), Johnson had one league goal in 18 games. Since he’s established his place in the Black Cats team, becoming the team’s leading scorer in the process, but to dwell on the last three league games while ignoring the previous 18 is just bad process. As hot as he’s been over the last two-plus weeks, the rest of Johnson’s 2013-14 tells us more about the player’s value.

That value’s remained relatively unchanged ever since Johnson first garnered attention with Middlesbrough. Fast, capable of beating a left back one-on-one, the former Manchester City winger provides game breaking ability. Occasionally you’ll encounter a team that can’t match up with a quick right wing. Against those sides, Johnson can define games.

source: AP
After his 17th minute goal against Stoke City, Adam Johnson’s up to six league goals this season, twice as many as anybody else in the Sunderland squad. (Photo credit: AP.)

Unfortunately, at the highest levels, those teams are pretty rare – part of the reason why Johnson’s no longer at the Etihad. The one elite skill he has isn’t enough to keep him in teams with more well-rounded talents.

For a team like Sunderland, however — a team unlikely to lure the likes to David Silva and Jésus Návas to the northwest — Johnson can be a very nice piece. Keep throwing him out there, and he’ll give you a couple of stellar performances per season, maybe even lead your team in goals. Against the right opposition, he’ll look like an England international.

We might be in the middle of one of those hot stretches now, something to keep in mind as Johnson’s England credentials are lauded. But for a better test of his international viability, we should expand our scope beyond four games. We should check back in spring. If Johnson really has become a consistent goal scoring threat, his numbers in March will say so. And if they do, we should consider the possibility Johnson’s now a different player than the one that’s been on the fringes of England squad since 2010.

Until then, Sunderland get to enjoy the benefits of Johnson’s unexpected surge. England-caliber or not, Johnson’s scored as many league goals as Steven Fletcher, Fabio Borini, and Jozy Altidore combined. Without him, the Black Cats would still be in the drop.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

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Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

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Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

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Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.