Quick Six: Imperious Liverpool, undeniable Hazard, and the rest of the Premier League’s weekend headlines

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1. Liverpool bombard Arsenal, cast doubt on Gunners’ title hopes

Describing a performance as imperious has become a Premier League cliché – something people use to buy credibility in the conversation, whether the description is justified or not. On Saturday, however, to the extent that word can ever be applied to a soccer game, Liverpool truly were imperious. From the first moments of their visit from Arsenal, the Reds assumed an arrogant, domineering authority, seemingly without predictability or reason. While the reasons became evidence as the match went on, the match’s first 20 minutes carried a type of shock and awe that would make Donald Rumsfeld blush. Scoring four times in just over 19 minutes, Liverpool went on to win, 5-1.

After the match, Brendan Rodgers was asked about Liverpool’s title chances. With his team having just routed the league leaders, it seemed a reasonable question, even if Rodgers confessed the title’s not on his team’s mind. In reality, despite carrying title contender’s form, the Reds have no realistic chance of claiming this year’s crown. Their odds of passing third place Manchester City and second place Arsenal and first place Chelsea and maintaining their current form are probably on the order of 100-to-1.

[RECAP: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: Rampant Reds tear leaders apart (video)]

The telling part of Saturday’s game was on the other side of the ball. Arsenal’s problems defending set pieces gave Liverpool two in the first 10 minutes, but given the nature of each goal, the Gunners can console themselves some bumper stick logic (“S— Happens”). Martin Skrtel looked offside on the first and executed a low-percentage header on the second, and while good defenses could still adjust and stop both, they’re goals you’re not going to give up that often.

The third and fourth goals, however, highlighted the problem with Arsenal. With Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere as the two in their 4-2-3-1 formation, the Gunners have no true destroyers. They don’t even have a defensively inclined player, perhaps highlighting the importance of the suspended Mathieu Flamini. When Liverpool was able to quickly transition through the middle of the park, the midfield provided no protection for a good-not-great defense that was picked apart. Arsenal just doesn’t have the kind of talent along the backline that’s going to consistently make up for mistakes like Saturday’s.

[ANALYSIS: Three things we learned in Liverpool’s battering of Arsenal]

The game was an aberration for Arsenal, so we should be careful not to be too firm in our conclusions. Still, the Gunners looked like a team that’s one transfer window away from matching Chelsea and Manchester City. Unable to weather the loss of Flamini, and without the talent at the back to make up for Mesut Ozil’s giveaways, Arsenal were outgunned at Anfield.

2. Eden Hazard vaults Chelsea top

When Chelsea visited Newcastle on Nov. 2, the Magpies appeared to have figured them out. Alan Pardew’s team was content to sit back and absorb Chelsea’s pressure, evidently wagering the Blues would be unable to break them down. Second half goals from Yoan Gouffran and Loïc Rémy allowed that bet to pay off, with Newcastle ending the Blues’ nine-game unbeaten run.

To the extent Newcastle tried the same approach Saturday, Chelsea were able to show how far they’ve come. Though it took them half an hour to break through, the Blues controlled the match from the opening kickoff, the positioning of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian behind Samuel Eto’o eventually able to exploit angles that would win them the game. On their opener, those angles presented themselves on the right ahead of Hazard’s one-timer from just inside the box. On their second, a give-and-go with a clever Eto’o backheel set up another clinical finish from Hazard.

[RECAP: Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle: Hazard’s hat trick sends Blues top (video)]

The Beligan completed his hat-trick in the second half after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa conceded a penalty, with the subsequent conversion pushing Hazard to 12 goals on the year. Though that only ranks fourth in the Premier League, the 23-year-old has been one of the league’s two best players over the last two months (at least), with his uptick in form coinciding with Chelsea’s continued improvement. As Hazard has responded to José Mourinho’s call to greatness, the Blues have steered clear of the problems that plagued them at St. James’ Park.

As a result, Chelsea finds itself alone atop the Premier League after 25 rounds, with their Monday win over Manchester City leaving little doubt as to who’s the best team in the Premier League. Should they maintain this level, Chelsea is going to reclaim the title. The doubts won’t come unless Chelsea falls off.

[REACTION: Jose Mourinho plays down Chelsea going top, how long will he keep doing this?]

3. DRAW WITH COTTAGERS HEIGHTENS RED DEVILS CONCERNS

source:  There are few sports where such an asymmetrical approach can be rewarded, but in soccer, sometimes you can sit in your own penalty box, wait for opponents’ mistakes, and get a result. On Sunday, Fulham stubbornly offered of the most extreme examples of this approach, spending much of the game playing with a line of six 12 yards from goal. Aesthetics be damned, Fulham earned a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

Across the penalty area, the Cottagers at times had four defenders and their 4-4-2’s wide midfielders lined up within the width of the six-yard box. As a result, Manchester United were able to exploit the flanks to pump in 81 crosses – the highest total recorded across Europe’s top-five leagues since companies started tracking such things. Unfortunately, almost none of those crosses generated even half-chances, with the Red Devils spending most of the game indulging Fulham’s predilections.

[RECAP: Manchester United 2-2 Fulham: Darren Bent denies Old Trafford comeback as United continue to falter]

Until 12 minutes from time, Fulham were being outplayed, riding their luck with a couple of great saves from Maarten Stekelenburg. But Steve Sidwell’s 19th minute goal (a result of some of the most absent-minded defending you’ll see) was still holding up. It was not only the difference between the sides, it was Fulham’s only shot on goal.

Then a ball fell for Juan Mata outside the six, who fired it far post for Robin Van Persie. In the 78th minute, United had finally broken through. When a deflection on a shot from the edge of the area got Michael Carrick on the scoresheet, the Red Devils were in front with 10 minutes to go.

But just like everything else in 2013-14, things didn’t work out for United. Four minutes into stoppage time, Carrick had a ball taken off of him at the edge of his defensive third. A save from David de Gea on Kieran Richardson couldn’t stop the ball from dropping for Darren Bent at the right post, with the Fulham sub’s header stealing a point at Old Trafford.

[REVIEW: Premier League Roundup: Chelsea go top, Liverpool hammer Arsenal, big wins at the bottom]

It was another microcosm of the Moyes era. Instead of making adjustments and asking his team to take advantage of the space in front of a receding defense, the United boss saw his team pump cross after aimless cross into the penalty box’s chaos. Eventually his team went in front, the probabilities associated with having the ball in the Fulham end for two-thirds of the match seeming to bear out. Still, the shortcomings of his approach left United within striking distance of an inferior opponent, allowing another team to steal points from the Theatre of Increasingly Unpleasant Dreams.

It was the seventh time in 13 games United dropped points at home, leaving the club in seventh place – nine back of fourth. Given that gap and the 13 games left in the season, the Red Devils’ hopes of reclaiming a Champions League spot have effectively evaporated. Moyes has pulled a Rafa on United, just without all the glory that came before Liverpool’s fall.

4. Manchester City fail to show up at Carrow Road

Ahead of kickoff on Saturday, Manchester City knew a win would leave them first in the Premier League. With Arsenal routed by Liverpool, the Citizens could reclaim the spot they lost after Monday’s defeat to Chelsea, and although they would have to do so without Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho (both injured), a Norwich City team that came in two points above the drop should have been nothing more than a speed bump.

Unfortunately, City never found first gear, leaving their 68-goal form in Manchester while they put only two shots on goal. The only saving grace was their opponent doing the same, though a ball in the back of Joe Hart’s net gave the Sky Blues a scare before the goal was waved off. Going the last 47 minutes without drawing a save from John Ruddy, City were left with a 0-0 draw and a ticket to third place.

[RECAP: Norwich City 0-0 Manchester City: Norwich hold fast to keep City to a draw (video)]

The team was without Agüero. Fernandinho missed his second straight match, and Samir Nasri’s also out. Three of the team’s first choice front six were unavailable, but with a squad that features Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic and James Milner in reserve, Manuel Pellegrini should have still found a way to three points. As the previous 24 matches showed, Norwich just aren’t that good.

On Saturday, however, they were good enough to take a point from City. As a result, Pellegrini needs to regroup, with one point in two games casting Manchester City’s title hopes in a new, less favorable light.

5. Monk claims South Wales Derby in Swansea debut

This is the Swansea City team we expected to see all season, one that should have built on last year’s League Cup triumph. Instead, the Swans entered Saturday’s derby one point above the drop, with interim manager Gary Monk tasked with picking up the pieces after Michael Laudrup’s mid-week dismissal. What resulted was one of Swansea’s best performances of the season, perfectly timed to compound the worries of their relegation-embattled rivals.

In every phase of the game, Swansea was better than Cardiff, who only mustered one shot on the returning Michel Vorm. In contrast, Swans’ early energy generated an opportunity for Wayne Routledge through the right of defense – a chance that was hit right at David Marshall. Scoreless in 13 months, the Swansea winger was made to wait for his breakthrough.

Less than two minutes into the second half, it happened, with Routledge burying a near-identical chance to open the scoring. Goals by Nathan Dyer and Wilfriend Bony added to the Bluebirds’ misery, with a re-inspired Swansea team earning a 3-0 win for their new boss.

[RECAP: Swansea City 3-0 Cardiff City: Swans compound Cardiff misery (video)]

In the process, Swans sent their rivals to their worst loss under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a defeat that leaves Cardiff three points adrift. Were it not for Fulham, the Baby-faced Assassin would be shooting from the bottom of the table.

6. Tottenham hands Everton Champions League blow

source: Getty ImagesFor Liverpool, the title’s a long shot because of the teams, not the points. It’s one thing to close a six-point gap. It’s another, much more difficult thing to do so as part of a four-team race – particularly when you sit last in that race.

After Sunday’s loss at White Hart Lane, Everton find themselves in a similar position, albeit in a different race. Thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor’s seventh goal of the season, Spurs were able to claim a 1-0 victory over the Toffees, reclaiming fifth in the process. Three points behind the Reds, Spurs now have a two-point edge on Everton in the race for England’s last Champions League spot.

[RECAP: Tottenham 1-0 Everton: Adebayor goal from nothing puts Spurs past Everton]

Perhaps predictably, Everton controlled large portions of the game, limiting Spurs to two shots on goal. Also predictably, the Toffees were bound to be undone by a counter or a set piece, with a quick second half leading to Sunday’s only goal. After Kyle Walker’s restart found Adebayor isolated against Seamus Coleman, the Togoan was able to beat Tim Howard for the match’s only goal.

If Everton only had to overcome a five-point gap to claim a Champions League spot, Blues’ fans could rest their hopes on a Liverpool slip, as unlikely as that is. Now, having allowed Spurs to pass them, that slip would have to be accompanied by a downturn for Tottenham (as well as a Toffees’ surge). While that’s not impossible, 13 games leaves very little time for everything to fall into place.

USMNT striker Sargent out for rest of 2019

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American forward Josh Sargent will be shut down for the rest of 2019 thanks to a groin injury.

Werder Bremen said the injury first arose during USMNT duty and has bothered the 19-year-old in recent weeks.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sargent has two goals and three assists in 13 matches this season, playing mostly a center forward or primary striker role.

Here’s Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt:

“Since this is a small, deep-set muscle, the problems only occur at certain, very specific loads, which is why he was able to play and train for so long with problems. We will now give Josh’s injury time to properly heal, then he will get back to training in January.”

There are four more match days in the Bundesliga before the league goes on holiday break until mid-January.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 15

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The congested schedule means we’ve had two match days since we last took stock of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got a brand new Top Five (well, in terms of the four behind eventual champions Liverpool) and two teams dipping to season lows on our ol’ litmus test.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — As many losses as goals (9), and that figure is one more than the Hornets’ total points. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the verge of full-time manager No. 3, as full-time manager of Watford is a bit more like seasonal help.
Last week: 18
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

19. Everton — A top half team in terms of talent seeks the manager who can organize its way out of the drop zone. Might it be this guy? Better than the alternatives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Leicester City

18. Norwich City — The first team to 10 losses is four points shy of 17th.
Last week: 16
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Everton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Arsenal

17. West Ham United — A gigantic ball of “blah.” Should thank Everton for existing so people aren’t more focused on this particular collection of currently squandered talent.
Last week: 20
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Bournemouth — It’s just not good enough, is it? To have held onto Callum Wilson and get another step up in class from Philip Billing and still be so wildly inconsistent.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Spurs

15. Southampton — It really feels like the Danny Ings revival show could rival any story for the best individual one in the league this season. Happy to see Ralph Hasenhuttl get some good performances, as he was being scapegoated in a hurry.
Last week: 19
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

14. Aston Villa — Allowing a league-worst 18.8 shots per game, but staying in the mix thanks to Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings.
Last week: 13
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 11 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Arsenal — The Gunners back line gets a lot of heat, and rightly so, but maybe a little help from the midfield would be nice considering Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz have combined for 39 blocks. Sokratis is third in the PL and Luiz fourth.
Last week: 12
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Southampton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Norwich City


12. Brighton and Hove Albion — First win ever away to Arsenal is another feather in the cap of Graham Potter, especially nice considering they had lost four on the bounce.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

11. Newcastle United — No one is punching above its weight more than Steve Bruce‘s Magpies, and they’ve been aided in a big way by Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian goalkeeper has a league-best 44 saves from shots inside the 18.

Also, according to Understat’s xG numbers, they should’ve lost to the Blades. In fat, the xG table says they should be dead last. Life’s funny like that. It’s Steve Bruce’s world and we’re living in it.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

https://understat.com/match/11786

10. Sheffield United — Just lost for the first time since September. That’s amazing.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 3-3 v. Manchester United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

9. Burnley — Striker Chris Wood has been credited with 12 “big chances missed” by Sofascore, more than any player in the league.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 3-0 at Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday v. Crystal Palace

8. Spurs — Jose Mourinho learned Wednesday that Moussa Sissoko is nice for the squad, but not to be leaned on.
Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

7. Crystal Palace — Wilfried Zaha‘s 68 dribbles are 13 more than anyone else in the league.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

6. Manchester United — Ole had himself a moment in outfoxing Mourinho without Pogba or Martial.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Drew 3-3 at Sheffield United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. Sunday v. Aston Villa

5. Chelsea — We told you, Frank. WE TOLD YOU.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

4. Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte is still two months away and that’s two months too long.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United

3. Wolves — This is going to sound nuts, but there are days I’d rather see Liverpool on my schedule than Wolves. The Reds are obviously better weaponized, but Wolves come at you in waves, man, and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing it without his best center back.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Sheffield United

2. Leicester City — How’s this for an unsustainable stat? Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira rank first and second in the league in tackles, with 67 and 62.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 2-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton
1. Liverpool — Big Virgil Van Dijk is on track to become the first Premier League player to complete 1000 passes this season, currently at 953.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton and Hove Albion

Report: Everton targeting former Porto, Fener boss Pereira

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Everton might be looking to the Chinese Super League for its next manager.

Vitor Pereira is the top target for the Merseyside set, report our partners at Sky Sports, as the Toffees begin life after Thursday’s firing of Marco Silva.

Pereira, 51, has been in management since 2002, leading Porto, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce, and current club Shanghai SIPG amongst others.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He’s won titles in Greece, China, Saudi Arabia, and his native Portugal, but there are suitors beyond the Toffees’ reported interest.

The 51-year-old is currently one of the highest paid coaches in the world and was recently offered the job of managing the Chinese national team.

It is understood he is currently considering a new contract offer from Shanghai, which will guarantee he earns £30m a year.

Duncan Ferguson is the interim boss as Everton hosts Chelsea this weekend.

MLS teams no longer will play every opponent each season

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer is breaking away from soccer’s tradition of having each team play every opponent in its league.

MLS is expanding to 26 teams in 2020 with the additions of Miami and Nashville but will keep a 34-game regular-season schedule. A team will play each of its 12 conference opponents home and away, and will face only 10 of the 13 teams in the other conference.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Nashville opens Feb. 29 at home against Atlanta and David Beckham’s Inter Miami starts March 1 at Los Angeles, the league said Thursday in announcing all home openers. Defending champion Seattle opens March 1 against Chicago.

Other Feb. 29 openers are Colorado at D.C., New England at Montreal, LA Galaxy at Houston, Toronto at San Jose, Philadelphia at Dallas, Salt Lake at Orlando and Kansas City at Vancouver. Games the following day include New York City at Columbus, Cincinnati at New York Red Bulls and Minnesota at Portland.

Home openers on March 7 are Chicago at New England, Red Bulls at Salt Lake, NYC at Toronto, Cincinnati at Atlanta, Houston at Kansas City, Orlando at Colorado and Vancouver at LA Galaxy. Four more home openers are set for March 14: Dallas at NYC, LA Galaxy at Miami, D.C. at Cincinnati and San Jose at Philadelphia.

The final home openers are Red Bulls at Minnesota on March 15 and Atlanta at Chicago on March 21 as the Fire return downtown to Soldier Field, their home from 1997-2005. The played in suburban Bridgeview from 2006 through last season.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports