Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Liverpool

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LONDON — In a battle between two Premier League title contenders, Liverpool proved they’re the real deal and Tottenham showed they are perhaps on the slide this season.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool were comfortable throughout as they beat Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday at Wembley, with a goal in each half from Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino doing the trick. Erik Lamela pulled a goal back but it was too little too late for Mauricio Pochettino‘s sluggish Spurs.

Tottenham have now lost back-to-back PL games and concerns about them sustaining a top four challenge this season are starting to linger.

Here’s what we learned from the clash at Wembley.


LIVERPOOL UNDERLINE TITLE CREDENTIALS

Five wins from five so far this season, and this was the best of the bunch.

Liverpool defended resolutely, dominated midfield and launched searing counter attacks as they beat title rivals Tottenham with ease at Wembley. Klopp’s side set the tone early on, with James Milner, Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum forcing Mousa Dembele, Harry Winks and Eric Dier into several giveaways.

The only question mark remains is about Liverpool’s composure. They had the chance to put the game to bed multiple times but failed to score again on the break and were almost made to pay after Lamela’s late goal, then some pressure from Spurs. Klopp looked frustrated on the sidelines as his team failed to manage the game effectively, but they’d done enough over the course of the 90 minutes to ease to victory.

Liverpool have only started a top-flight season with five victories on two previous occasions (1978-79, 1990-91) and on both occasions they finished in the top two that campaign, winning the title in 1979. There’s still a long way to go but ahead of a pivotal two months where they face Chelsea in the PL and League Cup, Man City in the league and PSG and Napoli and the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool have put down a marker as they continue to lead the Premier League.

Their display at Tottenham proved their early season promise can correctly be converted into talk of a serious, and sustained, title push.


POCH’S CONCERNS COMPOUNDED

Mauricio Pochettino raised plenty of eyebrows when he called out his team for not being at their best in the aftermath of their big win at Manchester United late last month. Prothetic Poch knew exactly what was coming up.

A defeat at Watford arrived just before the international break and Spurs’ sluggish start and finish to the first half handed Liverpool the initiative as Tottenham lost back-to-back PL games for the first time since May 2016.

There are a few factors to explain this sticky patch for Spurs: 1) most of their squad had no preseason and Pochettino’s high-pressing tactics need a rigorous preseason. 2) there is still some uncertainty in the air over their delayed move back to their new White Hart Lane home. 3) injuries to Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris were huge in this loss to Liverpool.

The latter reason is something which will be sorted out in the next few days when Dele and Lloris return. Without the former they lacked a presence between midfield and attack and Harry Kane in particular was isolated. Without Lloris, well, they probably wouldn’t have concede the first goal as Michel Vorm flapped at a corner and couldn’t keep out the header.

The other issues are more difficult to solve. Only three of Spurs’ starting lineup didn’t play in the latter stages of the World Cup this summer and fatigue will continue to creep in over the next few months as the busy Champions League and cup schedule intensifies. Harry Kane once again struggled through and doesn’t look to be at his best.


SALAH QUIET AS FIRMINO, MANE SHINE

Mohamed Salah isn’t quite having a Sophomore slump, but he isn’t the main man right now for Liverpool. And that’s great news for Klopp. So often last season Liverpool ran out of ideas if Salah wasn’t on form.

With the Egyptian star feeling his way into the new season with just two goals to his name so far, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino carried the threat against Spurs.

The former didn’t score but opened up so much space behind Tottenham’s usually stout defensive line. He took a little too much time to supply a finish or a pass for his teammates on a few breakaways, but Mane’s pace caused all kinds of problems and his cross led to Firmino’s goal.

As for the Brazilian striker, he continues to almost, quite amazingly, fly under the radar. He looked sharp throughout with his twists and turns and almost flicked home twice in the opening two minutes.

Mane and Firmino are carrying Liverpool’s main offensive threat right now but the good news for Klopp is that Salah is just getting warmed up.

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”

Pogba, Fernandes lead Manchester United cruise at Aston Villa

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Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are loving life.

Heck, all of Manchester United is feeling mighty good after the Red Devils won yet another game with ease, this one a 3-0 defeat of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Fernandes had a goal and an assist, joining Mason Greenwood and Pogba on the score sheet in a cruise past the relegation-threatened Villans.

United moves six points ahead of sixth-place Wolves and within a point of fourth-place Leicester City. The two sides meet to finish the Premier League season, and the Red Devils will meet Southampton, Crystal Palace, and West Ham before that.

Villa is four points behind safety and still meets Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY


Three things we learned

1. Bruno and Pogba unfair: The are systems that will make Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba work a whole lot harder than what’s demanded by Aston Villa, of course, but don’t let that deter you from witnessing the special combination play between the Portuguese midfielder and his World Cup-winning French teammate. Fernandes had a goal and an assist, the latter a training ground routine that Pogba scored with class, and United looks a new team. No team has benefited more from the break than United.

2. He’s got the look: The stories out of the Manchester United training ground have been coming for years and we’re now getting an eyeful of what they’ve been promising about Mason Greenwood. The 18-year-old strikes a ball like it’s his job, or even better like he’s an artisan. Few players on earth possess a way about them that the ball’s path off their foot just looks different. His strike to beat Pepe Reina was absolutely marvelous and we can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

3. Villa through the ugly stretch (hopefully): Dean Smith’s men have tried to escape the drop zone by getting points against a rough stretch of opponents and it has not gone well. Draws against Sheffield United and Newcastle have been joined by losses to Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool, and now Manchester United. Villa finds itself four points adrift with four opponents to play: Palace, Everton, Arsenal, and West Ham. There are points there. Will Villa take them?

Man of the Match:

Fernandes — The way he won his penalty was unsavory but that doesn’t change his status as the best player on the pitch.

Aston Villa – Manchester United recap

Jack Grealish missed a back-post chance to give the hosts an early lead, as United was a bit uneven over the opening 20 minutes.

VAR helped United to a penalty soon after that, won and converted by Fernandes off Ezri Konsa.

United had a chance to double the lead in the 36th minute when Mason Greenwood got past Douglas Luiz to pump a hard shot saved by Pepe Reina.

Fernandes missed with a bullet header in the 45th minute off a Luke Shaw cross, but United scored just before halftime when Greenwood took an Anthony Martial layoff and blasted a shot past Reina. He has such a sweet stroke.

Pogba made it 3-0 with a tremendous strike in the 58th minute, Fernandes spotting the Frenchman above the arc and Villa giving him ages to address the ball.

Martial smashed the ball off the bottom of the bar at the hour mark, United threatening to put a cartoonish figure on the scoreboard..

WATCH: VAR controversy sees Mourinho call out referee Oliver (again)

Jose Mourinho Michael Oliver
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Imagine the sound VAR Michael Oliver made when he saw the call he had to make against Jose Mourinho in Thursday’s 0-0 draw between Bournemouth and Tottenham.

Mourinho can’t get over his thing with referee Michael Oliver, who was again in the middle of controversy during a Tottenham Hotspur match.

“The same referee that was the VAR against Sheffield United,” Mourinho said. “In the world everybody knows that is a penalty. And I say everybody, I mean everybody.”

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Harry Kane was shoved to the turf by Joshua King very early in the contest but also made contact with teammate Jan Vertonghen.

Most expected to see a penalty given, but referee Paul Tierney didn’t think it was a foul and Oliver saw nothing on the video worth overruling.

From Football.London:

“The game had the most important moment, you know when, you know who, and I don’t want to say anything more in relation to that because everyone knows and I don’t need to say much more. Everybody knows.

“The performance was not good enough, but good enough to win. I am not saying a strong performance or a sharp one but good enough to win. In a way they surprised us with the way thy played, since Bournemouth were in the Premier League I don’t remember them playing the way they did, but that is an option for them because they have a point they wanted. They played direct, only direct, they didn’t move the ball in the first phase like they used to do and they made it difficult for us in their approach.”

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

Spurs, Bournemouth split points in drab draw

Bournemouth - Tottenham recap
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Twelve minutes of stoppage time barely injected life into a scoreless, slumberous slog between Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Thursday.

Hugo Lloris made a terrific stop on Harry Wilson deep in 12 minutes of stoppage time to keep Spurs’ sheet clean.

Tottenham has 49 points, six back of fifth-place Manchester United who plays Thursday and behind three teams in the race for Europa League places.

BOURNEMOUTH – TOTTENHAM FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs face Arsenal at the weekend in a statement North London Derby between Mikel Arteta and Jose Mourinho, before Newcastle, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace complete the fixture list.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Bournemouth’s 28 points are three back of safety. The Cherries finish with Leicester City, Manchester City, Southampton, and Everton.


Three things we learned

1. South coast snooze: Bournemouth fans wouldn’t have minded the point, but the journey to a rare clean sheet was just about as boring as you’ll see apart from an early penalty controversy, a gnarly injury, and a goal being pulled off the board by handball when Callum Wilson’s clever 90th-minute goal took a turn off Josh King and into the goal.

2. Scary incident for ex-Spurs man Smith: There was a lengthy delay around the hour mark when Cherries defender Adam Smith was involved in a violent collision at midfield, requiring plenty of medical attention. The former Spurs man was given oxygen and needed a stretcher to get off the pitch. Hopefully the long time right back is doing alright.

3. Mourinho’s offense looks toothless: First, let’s admit that Harry Kane had a goal egregiously taken away from him via the rulebook when Lucas Moura’s unwitting handball led to a goal against Sheffield United. But Spurs have five goals in five matches since the Premier League’s return. As much as it’s nice to see three clean sheets in four outings, Mourinho has to find a way to get his men moving.

Man of the Match:

Hugo Lloris – The Frenchman’s incredible stop of a surging Harry Wilson deep in stoppage time was a welcome moment for a sleepy match. Lloris made the only two saves of a slumberous affair.

Bournemouth – Tottenham recap

Harry Kane was not given a penalty in the opening minutes as he was shoved to the turf but also collided with a teammate while tracking a pass. Referee Paul Tierney didn’t see anything in it, and surprisingly neither did VAR.

The Cherries had a good spell of play after that, a mini-vibe of how Spurs looked after the Harry Kane goal was took off the board against Sheffield United.

The game flowed back into Spurs control for the final stanza before halftime.

Spurs let Bournemouth stick around and Harry Wilson’s nice run led to nothing in the 68th minute as the match looked destined for goose eggs, sadly enough.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]