Three things we learned from Liverpool’s win vs. Arsenal

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Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-1 at Anfield on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s side rode a red-hot start to beat Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners and leapfrog them in the standings.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

A goal each from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane did the damage in a superb first half from the home side and even though Arsenal improved after the break (mostly because they brought on Alexis Sanchez at half time) they couldn’t draw level and Georginio Wijnaldum‘s late goal sealed the win.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Anfield.


LIVERPOOL, ANNOYINGLY, RISE TO THE OCCASION AGAIN

Jurgen Klopp must be scratching his head once again after Liverpool dominated a top six opponent. Well, at least for the first half but that turned out to be enough.

Liverpool have lost five times in 27 Premier League games this season and all five defeats have come against teams in the bottom half of the PL table. It’s tough to explain why that’s the case but you can see that in big games at Anfield and away from home they’ve risen to the occasion as they’re momentarily in third place with both Arsenal and Manchester United dropping points this weekend.

Here’s a look at their results against the current top six this season…

  • vs. Chelsea (1 win, 1 draw)
  • vs. Tottenham (1 win, 1 draw)
  • vs. Arsenal (2 wins)
  • vs. Man City (1 win, next game on Mar. 19)
  • vs. Man United (2 draws)

Before the game Klopp stated that he may need up to six new players in the summer. You can see what he is talking about. Liverpool must improve in defense. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet got lucky on a couple of the crosses he came for but he pulled off a fine save from Olivier Giroud‘s header. Mignolet and Lorus Karius are on thin ice. Liverpool need a new center back and left back to bolster their defense, while in midfield they seem to be overrun in the areas just in front of their back four with Georginio Wijnadlum better in attack and the likes of Emre Can or Jordan Henderson not true holding players.

In attack Klopp’s side look stacked, even with Daniel Sturridge a spectator on the bench for much of this season. If they can sell Sturridge and bring in a predatory finisher then that will take them to the next level.

Saturday’s win against Arsenal proved once again that Klopp’s side have plenty of potential to do more than just challenge for the top four. Imagine if Liverpool would have won half the games they lost against Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull and Leicester? Up next for Klopp’s Jekyll and Hyde team is Burnley at Anfield. Time to show if they have the focus to rise to the smaller occasions.


SANCHEZ OMISSION BIZARRE

With his current contract situation hanging over not only his head but that of Wenger and the entire club, you have to wonder exactly why Alexis Sanchez was left out of the Arsenal starting lineup at Liverpool.

He came on at half time and made a huge difference, cutting in from the left flank as Nathaniel Clyne couldn’t get forward and Sanchez teed up Welbeck to make it 2-1 and gave Liverpool’s defense plenty of problems and had a late shot blocked when it looked like he was about to make it 2-2.

Sanchez turned the game and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. He’s been involved in more goals — 17 goals and now nine assists — than any other PL player this season.

The decision to not start Sanchez surely couldn’t have been with the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Bayern Munich in mind. Beating a rival for a top four finish should be the priority and Arsenal — they’re trailing Bayern 5-1 from the first leg — need a minor miracle to make it through to the quarterfinals. Combined with Mesut Ozil’s illness which meant he didn’t travel to Anfield, it almost seemed like Wenger was trying to make a point that Arsenal would be just fine without Sanchez and Ozil next season if they don’t end up signing new contracts at Arsenal.

They won’t be fine. The first 45 minutes proved that.


MANE THE MAN

So many eyebrows were raised when Mane signed for Liverpool from Southampton for $42 million in the summer. Klopp spoke about how he missed out on Mane in the past and he didn’t want to make that mistake again.

Yeah, it was money extremely well spent.

The Senegalese flyer, still just 24, is Liverpool’s leading scorer with 12 goals and he also has five assists. He is the hub of their flowing attack and we all know how badly he was missed at Liverpool when he went to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Imagine if Mane had a target man to work off of at Liverpool. Could he be even more potent?

With Graziano Pelle at Southampton he had a bonafide big man to work with as Mane would latch onto Pelle’s flicks and buzz in and around him to devastating effect. The movement of Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana seems to suit him well too but you get the sense that Mane’s pace would be suited better to playing with more space behind defenses that a more direct style would foster.

The big issue with Mane has been consistency. At Saints he blew hot and cold throughout the season but at Liverpool he has cranked things up a notch. That said, he was way below his usual high standards in the defeat at Leicester just five days ago and then pretty much tore apart Arsenal on his own in the first half. Like Liverpool this season, Mane’s consistency is the only thing holding him back.

As the stat above suggests, Mane can be one of the most deadly players in the PL when he’s at it. His biggest challenge is finding consistency as Liverpool’s leading man.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.