Three things learned from Arsenal v. Liverpool

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LONDON — The festive season got off to an incredible start at the Emirates Stadium on Friday as Arsenal and Liverpool went hell for leather and delivered an early Christmas present.

Liverpool were 2-0 up after 52 minutes with goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah and it looked like they’d be heading for a routine away win.

Then the craziest five minutes the Emirates has ever seen arrived with Alexis Sanchez pulling one back, Granit Xhaka hammering home from distance when Simon Mignolet should’ve done better, and then Mesut Ozil dinking home to create pandemonium and make it 3-2.

Roberto Firmino made it 3-3 with less than 20 minutes to go and that’s how it would finish despite chances for both teams to win it late on.

Here’s what we learned from an encapsulating encounter at the Emirates.


DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES GALORE

Both Arsenal and Liverpool had conceded the highest number of goals in the top seven going into this game. Yep. We can all see why.

Performances littered with defensive mistakes from both teams show exactly why they’re so far behind leaders Manchester City.

This game could have easily finished 5-5 and Liverpool will be ruing their missed opportunities, especially Salah, as they should have been at least 4-0 up at half time.

Yet Arsenal hung in there, probably knowing that a Liverpool defensive collapse was coming. They didn’t have to wait long. With three goals in five minutes, Arsenal turned the game on its head as Joe Gomez was caught sleeping, Mignolet made a hash of a long-range effort and then Ozil breezed through the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

For Arsenal, they were too slow to track Coutinho’s run for his header and Wilshere was guilty of failing to follow Salah’s run when he put Liverpool 2-0 up.

Both clubs prefer to attack. We get it. But so many basic defensive errors were on show to remind us of their weaknesses.

This performance highlighted exactly why both of these teams will not be challenging for the title this season and why they deserve to be in a top four battle.


WILSHERE CONTINUES TO SHAKE OFF RUST

The mutiny at Arsenal was in full flow once again as the half time whistle approached.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners’ two wantaway stars, were being called every name under the sun by their supporters for not trying hard enough and Arsene Wenger had abuse hurled at him readily.

After the break things changed rapidly in that crazy five minute spell and one player who received plenty of praise from the fans was Wilshere.

Optics can be deceiving with Wilshere running hard, trying to shut down Liverpool’s midfield but he struggled to cope with the power of Can and the trickery of Firmino, Coutinho and Salah dropping deeper.

Wilshere did dig in and win the ball back on multiple occasions, but he was also guilty of giving the ball away cheaply and being caught in possession.

As the game wore on Wilshere improved and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines he is starting to shake off the rust.

He isn’t back to his best but he’s getting there.


COUTINHO ON ANOTHER PLANET

Philippe Coutinho played a different game to the other players on the pitch on Friday.

The Brazilian is in simply irresistible form as he smashed a shot just wide, then whipped in two delicious crosses before heading in the opener in the first half and dictated the tempo of Liverpool’s attacks all night long.

Coutinho, 25, is untouchable as he speeds up and slows down the entire game at will.

He gave Arsenal’s defense a torrid time and in this kind of form it is easy to understand why Barcelona will push so hard to sign him in the next two transfer windows.

Coutinho is on another planet.

Is Jose Mourinho the right man for Tottenham?

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The “Special One” has returned. The circus is back in town.

At this point in his career, it’s no secret what Jose Mourinho is. The fiery, outspoken manager who has battled with reporters, sparred with club officials, and worn his emotions on his sleeve has made a triumphant return to the Premier League, waiting in the wings for the perfect job to emerge before pouncing like a jungle cat.

In true Mourinho fashion, he was appointed Tottenham manager less than 12 hours after Mauricio Pochettino‘s shocking dismissal. Before fans could even grasp the firing of their beloved boss who took the club to new heights, they were served with more head-spinning news: the club had called in The Greatest Show on Earth.

So is signing up for the Mourinho Redemption Tour the right move? It’s certainly left a lot of folks scratching their heads. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is most known for his shrewd transfer market dealings and ability to milk every last drop from the club coffers, but if there’s one thing the head man loves to maintain, it’s control. Many reports spoke of minor feuds with Pochettino that may have hastened his demise as results began to spiral out of control.

There is no controlling Jose Mourinho, that has never been a secret. The Portuguese boss has feuded with the best of ’em – Roman Abramovich (twice), Florentino Perez, Massimo Moratti, and Ed Woodward all asked for his help, and all eventually had enough. Levy must know his days of true authority at Spurs are behind him.

There were other solid options on the market. Massimiliano Allegri, a manager Spurs had quite openly courted multiple times over the last decade – including while Pochettino was in his early days as Tottenham boss – is out of work and seemed like the most logical option. His defensive prowess would likely help patch this floundering Spurs squad, and his pragmatic approach at Juventus seems most similar to what Pochettino brought to the table, meaning there would be as little upheaval as possible while still providing the change Levy desired. Carlo Ancelotti is under fire at Napoli and likely could have been convinced to join. Rafa Benitez is looking for his next top-level job. Julian Nagelsmann may have been convinced to leave RB Leipzig at the end of the season. Eddie Howe has been a rising Premier League star for years.

It is thanks to Pochettino that these names are even considered a possibility, that Spurs is considered a very coveted job – certainly far more than just five-and-a-half years ago when they hired an Argentine who had only previously led the likes of Espanyol and Southampton. Now, those in line to replace him bring already trophy cabinets already bursting at the seams.

Yet with all those options, it took Daniel Levy 12 hours to push the big, red button labeled “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.”

Levy knows what he’s getting himself into – he has to, right? Because there’s no secret what Jose Mourinho is. It’s hard to say Mourinho is “wrong” for this job, but it’s most certainly not what anyone expected Levy to want for his club, or for himself. Clearly, he was frustrated with Pochettino’s inability to secure a trophy – for all his hard work building the club, Pochettino still could not get his hands on the hardware. Mourinho is good for hardware, of that there is no question, but if this goes south all too soon, there will be nobody else to blame.

Daniel Levy has welcomed in the Ringling Brothers. Jose Mourinho is the Greatest Show on Earth. He asked for this. Things are about to change in North London.

Jose Mourinho appointed new Tottenham manager

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Jose Mourinho has been appointed the new head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, set to take over less than 12 hours after Mauricio Pochettino was fired on Tuesday, the club confirmed in a statement early on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pochettino paid the price for Levy’s mistakes ]

Mourinho was the first name linked to the newly vacant managerial post at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and chairman Daniel Levy wasted no time whatsoever. Given his expedient appointment, Mourinho is likely to take Wednesday’s training session and be in the dugout when Tottenham visit West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

The former Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid (among others) manager has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract which will run through the 2022-23 season. Levy described Mourinho as “one of the most successful managers in football.”

“In Jose we have one of the most successful managers in football. He has a wealth of experience, can inspire teams and is a great tactician. He has won honors at every club he has coached. We believe he will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”

Mourinho, on his appointment: “I am excited to be joining a club with such a great heritage and such passionate supporters. The quality in both the squad and the academy excites me. Working with these players is what has attracted me.

What did we learn about USMNT during Nations League?

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The inaugural Nations League group stage is complete, and the U.S. men’s national team managed to finish top of Group A (on the final day of play) and secure its place in the semifinals next June.

[ MORE: USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis ]

So, what did we learn from the final four (semi-competitive) games of 2019?

No matter the competition, the chance creation isn’t there

Inevitably, eventually, the USMNT ends up attacking its opponents in one of two ways: with long, direct balls up to the forward line, or exclusively through wide attackers and constant crosses into the box. In beating Canada and Cuba by a combined score of 8-1 during this international window, Gregg Berhalter’s team relied almost exclusively on these “tactics.” Predictably, it’s also the default setting when facing tougher competition, such as Mexico and Uruguay earlier in 2019.

Neither of those plans are bad plans, per se, only neither of those plans are what the federation has pursued as its stated goal for the last decade: possession-based soccer featuring ample chance creation from midfield.

Five coaches have taken charge of the USMNT this decade, all with varying levels of promising the above stylistic improvements. Upon completing the USMNT’s final game of the decade, it’s fair to say that all five failed.

The worst part of all is that the presence of Christian Pulisic hardly cures anything. Sure, he’s the craftiest attacking player the U.S. has ever produced, but even a primary playmaker like Pulisic requires a stable midfield behind him to filter the ball upfield and give him a stage on which to perform. Weston McKennie was stellar against Canada on Friday, but he’s proven that, at just 21 years old, he can’t be counted on to that degree game in and game out.

The good news: they’re both 21 years old and have north of 50 caps between them. One day — and it could come soon — everything should click for each of them, at which point we could see them move to operate at a totally different level.


The full backs are suddenly a bright spot

Perhaps it’s a tad hasty to claim the full backs are trending positively, but the current crop of right backs sure looks deeper and more talented than ever before. Sergiño Dest chose to play for the USMNT and is now cap-tied, Reggie Cannon is coming along nicely, and DeAndre Yedlin has proven himself, at the very least, a non-problem plenty of times.

That’s three more reliable full backs than the USMNT has had since Steve Cherundolo retired in 2012. Unfortunately, they all play on the same side of the field.

Tim Ream and Daniel Lovitz, who started at left back  don’t inspire the most confidence or excitement at left back, but perhaps a defense-first option is the way to go given the attacking instincts of all three players on the opposite side.

If Berhalter has truly settled on John Brooks and one of Aaron Long or Matt Mizaga as his starting center backs, then the USMNT heads into 2020 with a relatively stable, non-fluid situation along the backline since… maybe the 2010 World Cup.

Small victories, but victories nonetheless.

USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis (video)

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The U.S. men’s national team ticked all the boxes — most notably, the one reading “win and advance” — in its 4-0 victory over Cuba to reach the semifinals of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League as the winners of Group A.

[ MORE: Miami and Nashville stock rosters in expansion draft + trades galore ]

Jordan Morris continued his scintillating late-season surge, carrying over his red-hot form for MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders, and scored his second and third goals of the current international break to put the game out of reach before halftime. Josh Sargent also scored twice, once in each half.

The goals started extremely early and showed little sign of letting up from there. Josh Sargent put the Yanks ahead in the 36th… second. A mass scramble ensued after Paul Arriola crossed the ball into the six-yard box and Sargent got the final touch to tally his fourth senior goal.

Morris got the USMNT’s second in the 26th minute, when he tucked home a simple one-on-one chance set up by Jackson Yueill’s diagonal ball into the box, with a bit of help from Weston McKennie’s head.

Morris got his second of the game 13 minutes later, once again the result of a penalty-area scramble and a bit of pinball in the box. Aaron Long took two chances to get the ball across the face of goal, and once he finally did it looped over the goalkeeper’s head and found Morris crashing the back post. The ball appeared goal-bound without a touch from Morris, but better safe than sorry.

Sargent finished the scoring and bagged his second of the game, and the fifth of his international career, off a clever backheel by Tyler Boyd in the 66th minute. McKennie crossed the ball from right to left, overhitting it just a bit, but Boyd was able to touch it before crossing the endline and find Sargent in all kinds of space atop the six-yard box. He took the chance with his left foot and left very little to doubt.

The result sent the USMNT miles ahead of Canada in the final group standings. Despite finish tied on nine points, the Americans finished with a +12 goal differential compared to their northern neighbors’ +6.