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.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow