PL roundup: Race for 2nd gets tight; Swans’ sad song

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Get caught up on all eight of the Premier League’s Boxing Day fixtures…

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Liverpool 5-0 Swansea CityFULL RECAP

No team in the PL (this side of Manchester City’s rabid pursuit of an unbeaten 38-game season) routinely overwhelms and engulfs opponents so casually as Liverpool. They did it to Arsenal last Friday (before giving it all back in five minutes’ time), just as they did to the Gunners back in August, just as they did it to a hopeless, destined-for-relegation (20th place, five points adrift of safety) Swansea side on Tuesday. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (twice), Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bagged the goals and extended the Reds’ unbeaten run to 11 PL games (seven wins). More importantly, due to another result in the northwest of England, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is now just five points back of second-place Manchester United. The gap between second and sixth is now just nine points, and would shrink to six if Arsenal beat Crystal Palace on Thursday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 SouthamptonFULL RECAP

Harry Kane‘s calendar year of 2017, following Tuesday’s hat trick:

  • 39 PL goals (in 36 games) — top PL scorer in a calendar year
  • 8 hat tricks (all competitions)
  • 6 PL hat tricks — five more than any other player
  • 1st player since David Villa (2009) to score more goals than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a calendar year

For those keeping track at home, he’s now just seven short of the century mark in the PL — his stated goal for the 2017-18 season — and the ETA isn’t moving forward in weeks anymore, but months instead.

Chelsea 2-0 Brighton & Hove AlbionFULL RECAP

Somehow, Chelsea appear to be the side to which no one is paying much attention right now — with the headlines being dominated Man United’s failed challenge to Man City, and the three-way battle for fourth, it would appear being comfortably the third- (coming for second-)best team in the PL this season is a bit of a non-story for some. Alas, Antonio Conte‘s side is cruising right along and moved to four games unbeaten with a comfortable victory over Brighton on Tuesday. Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso got the goals, and the Blues now trail United by just a single point for second.

Manchester United 2-2 BurnleyFULL RECAP

In an attempt to distract the public from his side’s failed PL title bid, Jose Mourinho, who this summer became the first manager in world football history to spend 1 billion pounds on players throughout his managerial career, has taken issue with the way Man City have gone about spending to build arguably the best squad in PL history. This, of course, occurred only moments after United came back from 2-0 down to draw Burnley at Old Trafford. Mourinho remains as predictable as his sides are expensive and stodgy.

Bournemouth 3-3 West Ham UnitedFULL RECAP

Bournemouth and West Ham began the day in 18th and 17th place, respectively, and that’s exactly where the two sides finished after a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium. The game swing back and forth for the whole of 90 minutes, as the Hammers went 1-0 ahead early on, the Cherries responded and jumped out to a 2-1 lead then fell 3-2 behind, and the points were ultimately split following a controversial, 92nd-minute equalizer.

Watford 2-1 Leicester City — FULL RECAP

Watford’s bid for a top-half finish got a big boost on Tuesday, as Marco Silva‘s 10th-place side beat Claude Puel‘s 8th-place Leicester City at Vicarage Road and snapped a four-game losing skid that saw the Hornets drop from top-six contention down to the double-digit places. Leicester went ahead through Riyad Mahrez in the 37th minute, but Molla Wague equalized just before halftime and Kasper Schmeichel scored an own goal in the 65th. When you’ve lost four in a row, you’ll take a victory any way you can get it.

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Speaking of top-half dreams — no, not Stoke — 11th-place Huddersfield dropped a pair of points against relegation-threatened Stoke. Tom Ince put David Wagner‘s Terriers ahead after just 10 minutes, but Ramadan Sobhi equalized for the Potters right on the hour mark. At this point of the season, both sides will take every point they can get as the march toward 40 continues.

West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

After a torrid start to the season, Everton are suddenly seven games unbeaten in the PL (four wins) and miles clear (up to 9th) of the relegation zone. Who says “the Sam Allardyce effect” isn’t real? Speaking of which, that’s back-to-back 0-0 draws for the Toffees — against Chelsea, and now West Brom. 18 games without a win for West Brom.

Report: Barcelona to edge out Man United, sign Fernandes

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Maybe Bruno Fernandes won’t be staying at Sporting Lisbon after all, as Barcelona have reportedly made a late bid to sign him ahead of Manchester United.

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According to our partners Sky Sports in the UK, Barcelona “have proposed signing him this summer until 2025 but will loan him to Valencia until the end of the 2020-21 season.”

The report adds that with Barca in talks to sign Valencia striker Rodrigo, they are hoping buying and then loaning Fernandes helps to sweeten the deal.

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

This is all very bizarre and all very Football Manager.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has looked a beaten man in recent days when it comes to talking about the pursuit of Fernandes which has been going on since last summer. United are said to be $26 million short of matching Sporting Lisbon’s valuation of Fernandes and even though the Portuguese playmaker would make a big difference for them in the final months of the Premier League season, it is unlikely the deal will happen and Barca seem ready to nip in at the 11th hour to seal the deal.

Speaking to journalists earlier on Tuesday, Solskjaer bemoaned the January window and how difficult it is to do business and shocked everyone as he revealed that Alexis Sanchez will be welcomed back with open arms in the summer when his loan with Inter Milan ends.

“Well, we’ve got players here we are working hard to get back and if there is something out there then the club are pursuing that and looking at it. Of course, it is the difficult window, it has always been,” Solskjaer said. “” can’t remember how many good ‘uns or deals we’ve brought in January. Henrik [Larsson] was good, Nemanja [Vidic] and Patrice [Evra] were two good ones. Henrik as a loan. Alexis… It is hard because some of the clubs don’t want to lose their players. Alexis will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong.”

It looks like Solskjaer may have to rely on Alexis Sanchez to provide a creative spark for the 2020-21 campaign as Fernandes could well be heading to the Nou Camp instead of Old Trafford.

After chasing Fernandes since the summer, this would be a massive blow for United and Solskjaer.

Liverpool issue injury update on Sadio Mane

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has issued a positive injury update on Sadio Mane but he is still expected to miss the next two Premier League games.

Mane, 27, injured his hamstring against Wolverhampton Wanderers last week and Liverpool feared the worse but the Senegalese winger hasn’t completely torn a muscle.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s trip to West Ham to Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Klopp confirmed Mane will be out against West Ham and is probably going to miss the home clash with Southampton on Saturday.

“Sadio will not be involved for West Ham and probably not for Southampton,” Klopp said. “After that he should be then fine. The week we have then after that is for him perfect to get back on track. He has a small muscle tear, which is serious enough to keep him out. We were lucky with the injury as well, so it was not that serious. But of course, when you have three games in a week then that means he is out for these three games.”

Overall, this is good news for Liverpool. Mane has been superb this season and is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer, coming up big so often in tight victories.

With the Reds 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 15 games to go they have the ability to rest Mane and give him as much time as possible.

Klopp has already revealed he will not play his first team in the FA Cup fourth round replay against Shrewsbury Town and he will not be there himself (Neil Critchley will manage the U23 side in the game) as the squad has a week off during the mid-season player break.

Mane will be back in mid-February and that is a much better diagnosis than most Liverpool fans were expecting.

USMNT looks toward Olympic qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.

Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.

“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.

Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.

“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.

Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.

“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.

If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.

“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.

Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.

On other topics:

-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”

-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”

-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”

-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.

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

Tottenham sign Lo Celso, close in on Bergwijn

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Tottenham Hotspur have signed Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis, triggering a clause which turns his loan into a permanent transfer for $35.3 million.

Lo Celso, 23, arrived on loan this summer and after injuries disrupted his first few months in England he has settled in very nicely in recent weeks with a surging run to set up Heung-Min Son to score at Southampton at the weekend showcasing his ability.

The Argentine playmaker has signed a contact through 2025 and is the direct replacement for Christian Eriksen who is Inter Milan bound.

Spurs are also closing in on a deal for Steven Bergwijn as PSV Eindhoven left the winger out of training and he has flown to London for a medical.

Bergwijn, 22, is a rising star in the Dutch Eredivisie and according to our partners at Sky Sports he will join Tottenham for $32.5 million, rising to $35 million with add-ons.

With Christian Eriksen’s move to Inter Milan completed on Tuesday, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has brought in a younger, promising attacking player to help freshen up the attack alongside Lo Celso.

Tottenham have got their dominoes in order and now they are falling.

Bergwijn is highly-rated and scored 16 goals in a struggling PSV side last season and has six goals to his name in 29 appearances in all competitions so far in 2019-20. He has recently broken into the Dutch national team and is regarded as one of the top young wing talents in Europe.

This is exactly the kind of transfer Spurs need to be making. Mourinho loves to have tricky and direct wingers in his teams to feed off a central striker and Bergwijn is on the up and is hungry to prove himself in England. It makes total sense with Eriksen on his way out for about $22 million, so it could be yet another shrewd bit of business from Levy and Co.

Aside from Bergwijn there is a push for a striker to arrive on a short-term deal with Harry Kane out injured until April, but given the form of Heung-min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli in attack, perhaps Mourinho and Levy will resist the urge to bring in a short-term solution up top.

Krzysztof Piatek, Willian Jose, Edinson Cavani and many others have been mentioned as potential stop gaps for Kane but the fluid movement of Son, Moura and Alli could be the way to go in attack. With Bergwijn added to the mix alongside the January loan addition of midfielder Gedson Fernandes, Spurs are getting younger and things have been freshened up quite nicely by Mourinho.

All things considered, not a bad window for Spurs, as they sit six points off the top four with 14 games to go and are still in the FA Cup and now have a plan without Kane for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and the final months of the season.