Five things we learned in the Premier League today

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Today proved telling in the Premier League.

Manchester United looked to have broken through against a stubborn Fulham side, only to see it all slip away again at the end.

Meanwhile, one frustrating moment undid Everton at White Hart Lane, but both sides impressed as they search for an outside shot at the top four.

So what did we learn from today’s action? Plenty.

Manchester United gave their critics even more fodder, Tim Sherwood continues to prove his doubters wrong, and Fulham grabbed Premier League safety by the shoestring, but they still have plenty to do as they attempt the Mt. Everest-like climb out of the basement.

1) Manchester United is simply not good enough for the Champions League.

To put it simply, there are too many great teams in the Premier League this season, and Manchester United isn’t one of them. Aging players like Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher wouldn’t start for Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester City, let alone captain them.

Fletcher was to blame on Fulham’s first goal, with his horrible tracking of Steve Sidwell, despite looking back at the midfielder three times before his run.  Look at the previous Fulham results to the other top sides: Arsenal won collectively 5-1 over their two fixtures with Fulham.  Liverpool beat them 4-0. Manchester City put up four on this defense. Hell, even Hull City packed it on with six.

This Manchester United side is good, but not great, and the Champions League is for great teams. For the first time in Premier League history, Manchester United will not make the top 4. They’re currently nine points back, and it appears their challenge for Europe’s top competition may be too far out of reach.

2) Fulham are still in deep doo-doo, but they’re not done yet

Fulham showed a ton of heart today at Old Trafford, remaining composed even four minutes deep into extra time.  It’s the first time anyone’s really been able to say that all season. Things still look incredibly bleak for Rene Meulensteen’s bunch who sit four points from safety, but it’s not over just yet.

Being harsh on them today, they probably needed three points to ward off many of the worrywarts, and even Meulensteen may rue the two points dropped today come May. But the performance showed that this team still has heart, and still has fight – something that’s been impossible to say this year before today.

The visitors made EIGHTY-FOUR clearances today at Old Trafford and the Premier League’s most porous defense showed their new look may be a vast improvement.  Add Kostas Mitroglou on the other end in an attack that already boasts the classy addition of Lewis Holtby, and they could possibly make a run.

But first, they have to deal with Liverpool and Chelsea in the next three weeks. Yikes.

3) Tim Sherwood is the real deal

What Tim Sherwood has done at Tottenham Hotspur cannot be understated.  A relative unknown to anyone outside White Hart Lane at the time of his appointment, he has taken a mentally broken side and revitalized them.

There’s a big difference between the temporary boost a team often sees at the time of a managerial switch and what Sherwood is accomplishing at Spurs.  Andre Villas Boas benefited greatly from Daniel Levy’s brilliant summer transfer window, but the Portugese manager never could quite make things fit with the vast quantity of new players.

Sherwood, in under two months, has managed to do what Villas Boas could not.  He’s revitalized Emmanuel Adebayor, slotted Roberto Soldado into a more fitting role (which, with his form this year, has sometimes been on the bench), and has found the key to unlocking Christian Eriksen’s Premier League success.

While Adebayor’s revival will undoubtedly get the headlines, and deservedly so, flying under the radar is Sherwood’s ability to find the proper use of Eriksen.  A lost child in a supermarket under Villas Boas, he’s been freed of his touchline shackles and allowed to roam the pitch more freely under Sherwood and the results have been bright.

Expect more victories under Sherwood, and while it would seem the top four may elude them once again if Liverpool continue on this torrid run, but the future is bright.

4) Everton are a quality side, but…

Today Everton produced enough to challenge a Tottenham Hotspur side, and Roberto Martinez’s tactics relied on pressure and hard work to earn the ball and create chances.

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Steven Naismith was no Romelu Lukaku up front today for Everton as they fell 1-0 to Tottenham despite playing well enough to earn a point.

Unfortunately, they were undone by one key miss: Romelu Lukaku.  Without a true striker, especially their loanee who’s been stellar up front this year, Everton were forced to start Steven Naismith at the top of their attack, and they paid the price.  Naismith was wasteful, and often undid much of his own hard work with a lack of finishing.

The forward finished without a shot technically, but he botched a few chances, and in the end finished with 10 of his 16 completed passes headed backwards.

Martinez has proved a fantastic hire in replace of David Moyes, and the addition of Lacina Traore will surely help Everton make it through however long Lukaku is out with little damage, but a loss today to a team so close in the table hurts dearly.

Long story short: Everton will be fine, and are easily a top-7 side, but any more wasteful performances and it doesn’t matter who their manager is or how great his plans are fit to beating the opponent.

5) This miserable season at Manchester United still is mostly not David Moyes’ fault

Looking at everything going wrong at Manchester United, little of it has anything to do with David Moyes.  He ultimately may be the sacrificial lamb in a year that is wholly unacceptable by United’s standards, but peering around the squad, Sir Alex Ferguson and the rest of the United front office handed Moyes a group of players doomed to fail.

Nemanja Vidic is aging. So is Patrice Evra. Robin van Persie’s age hasn’t affected his output, but it has affected his ability to stay match fit.  Ashley Young has never fit in at Manchester United despite their refusal to replace him. Shinji Kagawa may not actually be the right style for the Premier League.  And Wayne Rooney can only carry so much on his back.

While his insistence to play Adnan Januzaj on the wing can certainly be criticized (and rightly so), his tactics against Fulham today or mostly throughout the season cannot.  Manchester United pumped a total of 82 crosses into Fulham’s box, and while it took a while to click, it eventually worked, and noting Fulham’s lack of outside defending in recent months, the plan makes perfect sense.  What did United in was a pair of terrible mistakes at the back, something that cannot be fixed by the manager.

Moyes did incredibly well to bring in Juan Mata, and the Spaniard has arguably been the best player at Old Trafford since his arrival, including setting up United’s breakthrough today.  Bringing in Marouane Fellaini was ultimately a failure, but hindsight is 20/20, and at the time they desperately need a physical midfielder (they still do).

If I was a Manchester United fan, I’d be pointing equal fingers at whoever handed Moyes this aging, fragile defensive unit that has let them down time and again this season.

Honorable mention: Dan Burn is the real deal

Whether or not Fulham stay up this season (chances are they still won’t) the 6-foot-5 21-year-old has opened plenty of eyes. He was a force in preventing Manchester United from landing 64 of their 82 crosses.  He made 22 clearances against the Red Devils – a staggering number – including 15 with his head.

What seemed like a desperate move in recalling Burn from his season-long loan spell at Birmingham has turned into a master-class decision by Meulensteen.  The move likely cost Fulham a bit of cash to cancel his loan, and upset a great deal of Birmingham City brass.

However, with Brede Hangeland aging and slow to react, Burn has emerged as not just Fulham’s best defender, but possibly a solid option for a top team in the future.  He’s reminding many Fulham fans of the Hangeland of old, something that many at Craven Cottage could get very used to.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Analyzing chaos at Everton, Arsenal

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In the latest The 2 Robbies podcast, Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss Everton’s decision to sack Marco Silva after their 5-2 defeat to Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby (0:50), Arsenal’s shocking defeat at home to Brighton (14:00) and Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford thanks to a brace from Marcus Rashford (22:25).

Plus, thoughts on Gabriel Jesus‘ long-term role at Manchester City (29:00), Jamie Vardy and Leicester City can’t stop winning (35:10), back to winning ways for Chelsea (39:00) and the Underappreciated Performances of the week (43:40).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Projected lineups: Man City v. Man United

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A feisty Manchester Derby takes center stage at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Man City and Man United need the points for their respective title and top four bids.

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With key players missing or injury doubts for both teams, there is plenty of debate about who will line up for Man City and Man United.

Below we look at how Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should set up their teams and give our own analysis of the situation.


Man City

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — FernandinhoAngelino

—- Rodri —- Silva —-

—- Bernardo —- De Bruyne —- Sterling —-

—– Jesus —–


Man United

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Young —

—- McTominay —- Fred —-

— James — Lingard — Rashford —

—– Martial —–


Analysis: Man City have a few big decisions to make in defense, with either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi expected to partner Fernandinho at center back, with Otamendi likely to get the nod after playing against Burnley in midweek. At full back Pep has been rotating his options with Angelino maybe edging ahead of Mendy, while Walker seems to be winning the battle with Cancelo. For now. Midfield picks itself with Rodri the holder and Kevin De Bruyne playing ahead of him, but the big decisions is who out of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan starts alongside Rodri. Up top Riyad Mahrez is pushing Bernardo Silva for a start with Raheem Sterling on the other flank and Gabriel Jesus continuing up top with Aguero out injured.

Given their injury issues, which have eased a little, Man United’s lineup choices are a little simpler. De Gea will have Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire and probably Young ahead of him, while McTominay’s return in midfield is a big boost and he will likely line up with Fred. Up top they are sweating on the fitness of Anthony Martial who missed the midweek win against Tottenham and is questionable to start, but Rashford, Lingard and James are expected to start behind either Martial or Mason Greenwood.

Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester

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Brendan Rodgers has been rewarded for his incredible start to the 2019-20 season with Leicester City, with the club extending his stay in charge by three-and-a-half years to 2025.

The Northern Irishman has signed a new five-and-a-half year contract with the Foxes, as he’s led them to second place in the table through the opening 15 games of the Premier League season as they’ve won seven in a row.

Rodgers had been linked with the vacant position at Arsenal in recent days and seemed to confirm that there was a release fee of $18 million in his old Leicester contract. It is believed that clause has either been removed or the amount has been increased substantially.

Rodgers spoke to the media about his decision to sign a new deal with the Foxes and believes there is plenty more to come as they aim to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League.

“It’s something we’ve been speaking about for a few weeks. I’m delighted to commit the next five-and-a-half years to here,” Rodgers said. “I was honored that the club was happy with our work since we came in. I’ve got a great team here at the stadium and the training ground. My commitment is to the players and the team. The key thing for me was the potential here at Leicester City. Since we came in we’ve identified a way of playing that improves the players and gets results.”

After joining Leicester from Celtic in February in a midseason move which was lambasted by many, Rodgers has 17 wins from 26 Premier League matches in charge with Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans in particular playing superbly since he arrived at the King Power Stadium.

Rodgers has the Foxes playing with an increased swagger on the ball but they have also kept their ruthless streak as Vardy has scored in each of his last seven goals (netting nine times in that run) and leads the PL with 14 goals this season.

It may be too much for Leicester to push Liverpool all the way for the Premier League title this season — they are currently eight points behind the league leaders — but with Rodgers locked down to a new deal and so many young players in incredible form, the future is very bright for the Foxes.

Leicester seem set to become genuine top four contenders for the next few seasons, at least, and locking Rodgers into this deal sets everything up.

Chelsea transfer ban reduced after appeal

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Chelsea will be able to sign new players in January after their transfer ban from FIFA was reduced to one transfer window after their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

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The Blues had previously been banned for two transfer windows, summer 2019 and winter 2020, for 150 rule breaches involving 69 academy players over a period of several years, but they will now be able to sign new players from Jan. 1 when the next transfer window opens.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was obviously delighted with the outcome, as he can now reinforce his young squad and has plenty of cash in the bank after a no-spend summer (the deal for Christian Pulisic was sealed last January and Mateo Kovacic arrived permanently after his loan move saw a clause triggered which made it a permanent move).

“It’s a positive outcome for us,” Lampard said. “It allows us the potential to look at the market going forward. So I’m pleased from a footballing level. It was never my business to get involved in the reasons why or the legal side of it.”

Which areas should Chelsea strengthen in now they can buy again? And which players will be their top targets?

It is clear that left back is an area where Lampard will want to add a new starter as both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmeri are fine as back ups neither have made the position their own this season. Up top is another key location where Lampard will look to strengthen as Olivier Giroud seems to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge and that would leave just Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi as the options at center forward.

Elsewhere, Chelsea look pretty set, although a new center back could be handy but isn’t necessary given the fact that Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have both been superb for most of this season and Andreas Christensen is also around with Cesar Azpilicueta also able to slot in at center back with Reece James developing well at right back.

After 12 months without spending and having transfer fees from the sale of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Tomas Kalas and many other fringe players which brought in an incredible $180 million, Lampard will have money to spend.

Chelsea have been linked with moves for Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Nathan Ake and Ben Chilwell, among many others, as plenty of star players will fancy a move to Stamford Bridge given Lampard’s promising start to life as their manager.

The big question now is: Given Chelsea’s great start to the season as they sit in the top four with their young team progressing together as a group, do they risk bringing in new additions to potential upset the team spirit? Is it better to wait until the summer when the likes of Pedro and Giroud, and maybe Willian, could all leave Stamford Bridge?