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.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.