What did we learn from PL Saturday, Week 3?

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The third Saturday of the 2018-19 Premier League season produced six intriguing games as we had plenty of red cards, controversy and late drama.

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Manchester City were held, Liverpool marched on and Arsenal is off and running under Unai Emery, while there was late drama at Southampton and Bournemouth. With a sprinkling of red cards to keep things interesting.

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Below is a look at what we learned from the action on Saturday across England.


VAR needed next season
It’s easy to say “these things even themselves out over the course of a season” but if Manchester City end up not winning the Premier League title by a point (as crazy as that seems) then they’ll look back at Willy Boly‘s opener for Wolves on Saturday as being crucial. Boly’s goal clearly came straight off his hand and into the net but the officials on the pitch were unsighted and awarded the goal. The reigning champions dropped their first points of the season at Molineux and they couldn’t really complain as the newly-promoted side put in a mature, energetic display as they picked the right moments to press City and carved out several opportunities to win the game. But the VAR argument is one that will not go away anytime soon as Serie A, the Bundesliga and MLS have adopted video assistant referees and the World Cup proved it could work smoothly and quickly. PL clubs voted last season to test the system more before it is implemented but right now it seems like there’s no way that VAR isn’t introduced for the 2019-20 campaign. It simply has to be to correct clear and obvious mistakes like this one.


Liverpool perfect, and scary


Three wins from three. Top of the league. Zero goals conceded. It wasn’t a vintage display against Brighton but Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool have an aura about them building. All great teams have it. Just like the Manchester United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson in the late 1990s, the Arsene Wenger Arsenal teams of the mid 1990s and the Chelsea sides in Jose Mourinho’s first spell, teams now turn up at Anfield trying to keep the score down and expecting to lose. Brighton did just that and were pretty solid for the first half apart from one error as they tried to play a short free kick in front of their own back four and were ruthlessly punished. Yves Bissouma was pounced on and Mohamed Salah stroked home 29th goal in his 29th Anfield appearance for Liverpool. It really is as easy as that for Liverpool right now as they’re looking more assured defensively with Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson standing tall, while the front three allow them to hit teams on the counter whenever they do decide to venture forward out of their defensive shell. Yes, Liverpool have only played West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton so far, but those are the kind of teams they slipped up against last season. An aura of invincibility is surrounding the Reds early in the season after a summer of heavy spending which strengthened their weaknesses significantly.


Arsenal remain unbalanced


Don’t let the scoreline deceive you. Arsenal’s 3-1 home win against West Ham was far from straightforward. The Gunners were, once again, their own worst enemies as they were caught on the counter on numerous occasions when they gave the ball away high up the pitch. Full backs Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin were given no real cover by the midfielders in front of them and the lack of pace of center back duo Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis just isn’t conducive to playing the high-line that Unai Emery wants. Arsenal’s new manager got his first win on the board in the Premier League after the defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City to open up his first season in England but admitted they “need the balance” and “in the first half we suffered more than we want.” Emery is sticking to his philosophy of slow build-up play out wide and then being more direct which is all well and good, but when it breaks down Arsenal look so vulnerable. Felipe Anderson, Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic had a field day in the first half with the space afforded to them but couldn’t take advantage of it. The win will give Arsenal’s players confidence but there’s no denying that when the Gunners play against better teams, they could concede two or three goals each game. Emery is right to stick to his coaching philosophy but plenty of patient is needed.


Red cards galore as tempers flare


There were four red cards among the four 10 a.m. ET games and all four seemed pretty much spot on. Richarlison has a bit of a temper and Adam Smith suckered him in as they came together, then Everton’s Brazilian star moved his head closer as the red mist descended. Was it soft? Yes. Could he have any complaints? Not really. Smith himself then saw red in the same game and he could have no complaints either as Theo Walcott raced towards goal and he clearly pulled him back.

As for the other red cards, Jonathan Hogg was in a very similar situation as Huddersfield’s midfield came together with Cardiff’s Harry Arter but he was slightly more aggressive and was sent off. While Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was shown two yellows and he can have no complaints as he surged into the box, then looked for the penalty kick as he went down easily and was shown a second yellow for simulation. Yes, we need VAR for clear and obvious mistakes to be cleaned up, but the referees did their jobs well on Saturday with all four red cards dealt with correctly.


Southampton, West Ham may not be in trouble
It’s still early in the season, so let’s not get too carried away about which teams are hurtling towards relegation. But the signs aren’t good for either West Ham or Southampton on paper. But if you dig a little deeper, both teams should have got more than they did during Week 3. The Hammers threatened on the break at Arsenal but Manuel Pellegrini‘s men look so slack defensively as they’ve conceded nine goals in their first three games, losing all three. That said, they have faced Liverpool and Arsenal in two of their opening encounters. Southampton can’t say the same as Mark Hughes‘ men blew a lead against Leicester and were the masters of their own downfall as Hojbjerg was stupidly sent off and they let in two soft goals to lose at home. Yet Saints went close through Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond looked particularly bright as they failed to make the most of their chances. Southampton have now lost against Everton and Leicester and drawn with Burnley and that shows us where they’re at. A team who will be battling to be out of relegation trouble all season long, just like they did last season as they survived by the skin of their teeth. The Hammers look to at least have the attacking talents to turn things around when their fixtures get a little easier, but both teams lack ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch which is a worrying trend. But it’s early in the season and both will be hungry to turn some promising displays into points. Fast.

Player ratings: USMNT loses late vs. Italy

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The USMNT closed off another year with a sour taste in its mouth, losing track of Italy’s Matteo Politano as the Azzurri finally found a way past American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath with a stoppage time winner in Belgium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]


Starting XI

Ethan Horvath — 8 — Very good after a nervy moment early, the Club Brugge man will have shown a new coach he should be in consideration for the top job. Could do little on the goal.

Shaq Moore — 7 — Quite decent despite playing 4/5 of the match on his non-preferred left side.

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 5.5 — Beaten a couple of times, but a clean sheet against Italy in Europe is what it is.

Aaron Long — 6 — Left in no man’s land by Lletget in stoppage time.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — The standout of a decent night for the three center backs, even chipped in with a header on goal in the first half.

Reggie Cannon (Off 76′) — 6.5 — A decent performance with promising moments moving forward for the FC Dallas right back.

Kellyn Acosta (Off 83′) — 7 — I though the Colorado Rapids midfielder was the Yanks’ best field player on the day, with quite decent service on set pieces to boot.

Marky Delgado (Off 62′) — 5 — Inconspicuous

Tyler Adams — 6 Busier than Delgado, but was a bit overran and will take this as a learning experience.

Christian Pulisic (Off 83′) — 6 — Just fine. Saddled with either a second striker or 3+1 attacking midfielder role, Pulisic was understandably troubled by Leonardo Bonucci (though we have to imagine the Italian wasn’t happy to deal with him either).

Josh Sargent (Off 62′) — 5 — Good energy, but clearly taking a step up in class from Hertha Berlin’s reserves. Hesitated to pull the trigger to find Reggie Cannon’s adventurous run in the early second half.

Subs

Wil Trapp (On 62′) — 5 — Looked confused at times in the middle of the park, troubling for a player who’s received plenty of time to get used to these situations.

Bobby Wood (On 62′) — 6 — Just fine.

Jorge Villafana (On 76′) — 6 — An improved performance from last week versus England, albeit in a cameo.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 83′) — 4 — How a clean sheet is quickly undone against Italy: Lletget leaves Politano, who starts a quick exchange between Marco Verratti, Moise Kean, and himself to win it in stoppage time. Maybe harsh on a man who waited almost 2 years between caps, but true.

Romain Gall (Off 83′) — 6.5 — Lively in limited time, Gall earned a corner with a wayward shot from distance (though his ensuing corner service left plenty to be desired).

Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat, as they conceded in the 94th minute.

Matteo Politano struck with 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out the calendar year with a disappointing performance and, eventually, defeat.

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.6 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


Italy finally finds way past Horvath, USMNT

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The United States men’s national team closed out its 2018 with almost as many questions as it closed out 2017, losing 1-0 on a stoppage time goal in Belgium.

Actually, there may be more questions after the result, as goalkeeper Ethan Horvath made a statement between the sticks with more than a half-dozen saves in place of injured Zack Steffen.

Italy scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, a terrific team goal completed by two tremendous touches from scorer Matteo Politano.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The first half-hour was marked by significant Italian possession, and most notable for some dogged interventions from alert USMNT goalkeeper Horvath.

The Club Brugge man played well in Belgium, stopping Leonardo Bonucci point-blank on the Italians’ best chance of the first half.

Horvath was busy again in the 44th minute, reacting quickly to an untouched Marco Verratti free kick.

Fortunately for the U.S., there were few ideas on display from Roberto Mancini’s men.

Verratti headed over the goal within the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Americans had a chance for an unlikely opener with a 56th minute free kick. Nothing.

Horvath was back in the spotlight with an in-tight leg save after Walker Zimmerman put off a driving Kevin Lasagna in the 59th after Bonucci sent him over the top of the defense.

A Kellyn Acosta free kick found Zimmerman at the back post, but Salvatore Sirigu was there for his first save of the afternoon.

Hoffenheim’s Vincenzo Grifo forced Horvath into a flying save in the 70th minute, and Mancini’s men couldn’t do anything with the ensuing corner. He’d then stymy another 1v1 chance on the left side in the 72nd.

Lasagna probably should’ve given Italy a winner in the final 10 minutes, but he smashed the ball over the bar.

Substitute Romain Gall forced a corner kick out of a diving Sirigu in the 90th minute, but the youngster’s corner didn’t clear Italy’s line.

Verratti and substitute Moise Keane played Politano on goal, with Sebastian Lletget leaving Politano after the Inter man started the play and Aaron Long unable to switch in time.

Nashville signs Mexican striker for MLS 2020 debut, loans him to USL

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Nashville has its first official Major League Soccer signing, and it’s raided a USL rival to land him for the 2020 season.

[ REPORT: New Chelsea deal for Kante? ]

Daniel Rios is the debut member of their MLS side, and the 23-year-old Mexican striker will spend the 2019 season on loan to USL side Nashville SC.

Rios is bringing an outstanding 2018 season west from North Carolina, where he scored 20 goals and 13 assists for NCFC.

A former Mexico U-20 player, Rios was on loan to NCFC from Chivas Guadalajara.