What did we learn from PL Saturday?

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24 goals were scored across the seven Premier League games on Saturday, with plenty of drama and memorable moments dished out.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wins for Liverpool and Chelsea meant their 100 percent record remained intact, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal impressed as the top six all played.

[ MORE: 3 things learned, Spurs v Liverpool ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from a wild Saturday across the Premier League’s seven games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


Eden Hazard is otherworldly

We weren’t sure if Eden Hazard would be a Chelsea player by the time the 2018-19 season kicked off. Chelsea fans are sure glad he is.

The Belgian wizard scored a hat trick in their comeback 4-1 win against Cardiff on Saturday, with Hazard showing off his vast array of skills throughout as he dazzled defenders at will. He has been simply dazzling this season and unlike plenty of other stars who went deep in the World Cup, Hazard is showing no signs, so far, of any fatigue.

His new manager, Maurizio Sarri, rested him after he returned from the World Cup, with Hazard not starting either of their opening two games of the season. But five goals in his three starts means he now leads the Premier League in goals and Hazard looks at his very best and that rest seems to have paid off.

Speaking about Sarri’s new style of play, which has amassed five wins on the spin to open up the season, Hazard is enjoying life under the Italian coach.

“[Maurizio Sarri] just wants us to play and to find space between the lines so then Jorginho, Matteo Kovacic, Cesc Fabregas can find us. We have a lot of freedom on the pitch, and at the moment when we try and do something it’s coming off,” Hazard said. “I’m always happy when I’m playing football I just want to do my best for this club who have done a lot for me. I’m always trying to do more – create more chances, score more goals, and today a hat-trick so I will try to do this more.”

More of the same please, Eden. If he can deliver, like he did in 2014-15 and 2016-17, then Chelsea will be serious title contenders this season.


United take care of business, answer critics

Jose Mourinho hasn’t been impressed with his recent critics but he can only do so much talking.

His team did the talking for him on Saturday as they beat red-hot Watford and made it back-to-back wins in the Premier League after back-to-back defeats. Okay, they’ve beaten Burnley and Watford away from home (tough places to go, in fairness) but there’s a chance for positivity to build at United in the coming months with an easier schedule of games coming up at home and abroad.

This United team will not wow you. They will not get you off your seat that often apart from David De Gea making a wonder-save or perhaps a crazy flick from Paul Pogba or volley from Alexis Sanchez.

But they are almost mechanical in the way they create chances and relentlessly grind down their opponents. United may not be serious title contenders this season (their defensive displays suggest that) but they proved they can hang in the top four battle and then try to win a trophy. We all know Mourinho is good at the latter and if he wins enough of those in the next few years, we will hear no more complaining from him. Well, at least for a few weeks.


Bournemouth can make top six challenge

The way Bournemouth set the tone and ruthlessly punished Leicester in the first half of their 4-2 win on Saturday proved that Eddie Howe‘s young side are growing up. Fast. Bournemouth raced into a 3-0 lead and their attacking trio of Ryan Fraser (two goals), Josh King (1 goal) and Callum Wilson (1 assist) tore apart Leicester’s cumbersome defensive line. At times over the past four years since they were promoted to the Premier League, you could argue that Howe’s side are lovely to watch but aren’t clinical enough. Yes, defensively they still leave a little to be desired (Leicester scoring twice late on proved that) but overall this Bournemouth team has the potential to do what Burnley did last season and challenge for a spot in Europe. Seriously.

They have a settled, balanced squad and every single player knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Do not underestimate how important that is. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Howe has assembled a young, hungry group and one which players want to be part of instead of moving on at the first opportunity. With three wins and 10 points on the board, Bournemouth’s fans will be thinking they are a quarter of the way to the magic 40-point marker already. That is true. But they should also be aiming a lot higher than that this season.


Sluggish Spurs suffering

Mauricio Pochettino predicted this would happen and he had a look on his face which basically said ‘I told you so’ when speaking to the media after Tottenham’s defeat to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Klopp hails Liverpool’s progress ]

The 2-1 scoreline didn’t tell the whole story. Tottenham were sloppy early on and Roberto Firmino could’ve scored twice inside three minutes. That trend continued at the end of the first half after a brief improvement, with Georginio Wijnaldum scoring the opener and Spurs didn’t really have an answer. Yes, Lucas Moura hit the post after a mazy run, but that was about it. Any result other than a defeat would’ve been way to kind on Tottenham despite their late flourish.

The main problem area was in midfield. Mousa Dembele, Harry Winks and Eric Dier couldn’t get out of the space in front of their own defense and kept having the ball nicked off them by Naby Keita, James Milner and Wijnaldum. On the rare occasion they did escape midfield with the ball, not having Dele Alli fit and available for this game was a huge blow. Alli’s ability to drift behind Kane and in-between the lines was badly missed as Christian Eriksen in a slightly deeper role just didn’t work out and Spurs’ entire pressing system faltered.

Spurs have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since May 2016, which is quite remarkable in itself. Pochettino must rally his troops ahead of the return of Dele and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from injury, but also rejuvenate a sluggish side which looks tired (Harry Kane and their two center backs, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld in particular) after the vast majority of their starting lineup played at the World Cup for over a month.

Add in no new signings this summer and the constant issue with the stadium at White Hart Lane being delayed, and prophetic Poch has some big issues to sort out. He knew that anyway but he still hasn’t been able to address them. That is the most worrying thing for a team, and manager, who have always provided the correct answer when faced with adversity over the past three seasons. It is time for Spurs to do that again.


Zaha best player outside a top six club

It is the debate which has rumbled on for some time and it is why Crystal Palace keep giving Wilfried Zaha new deals as the big boys circle. But it is quite clear that in the PL he’s the best player not playing for a ‘top six’ team. That shouldn’t be an argument any more. It’s quite simple. Look at Exhibit A, above, as Zaha’s magnificent run and spanked finish led Palace to victory at Huddersfield on Saturday. Of the last 12 Premier League games that Zaha hasn’t been available for Palace, they’ve lost every single one of them. Case in point.

With Zaha’s brilliance comes greater scrutiny and he is targeted by defenders in the same vein as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Eden Hazard. The best players are the best because they find a way to get around the reducers and studs. Zaha’s complaints about his treatment are valid but as long as he keeps producing displays of the quality he has this season, he will be the number one target for opponents when they play Palace. The big boys will come calling again but isn’t in nice to see a player of his quality as the talisman for a club outside of the big boys? There’s something Alan Shearer or Matt Le Tissier-esque about Wilf.

WATCH: Fort Lauderdale striker scores screamer from half

Fort Lauderdale screamer
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Every goalkeeper could use a reminder to be wary of adventuring too far from his box, and USL League One provides us our latest lesson for backstops.

Ricky Lopez-Espin scored a terrific insurance goal for Fort Lauderdale CF on Saturday night, a marker which would stand as the difference in 2-1 defeat of Georgian outfit South Tormenta FC.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid confirms positive COVID tests ]

The win pulls FLCF, first called Inter Miami II, off the bottom of the League One table early in this restarted season.

It was quite a hit, a turnover near midfield allowing Lopez-Espin the chance to spy the keeper off his line and rip a rocket out of reach.

Miami-born Lopez-Espin played college soccer at Creighton and was a Real Salt Lake draft pick. The 24-year-old played twice for RSL and later suited up for Real Monarchs and Lansing Ignite.

Two positive COVID tests for Atletico Madrid ahead of Champions League

Atletico Madrid coronavirus
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Atletico Madrid announced two positive coronavirus tests from its crew set to travel to Portugal for this week’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

The team says it will test all of its players and staff again to assure that there are no positive COVID-19 cases affecting the tournament.

Atleti asked for extreme privacy regarding the individuals who tested positive.

The match with RB Leipzig is Thursday in Lisbon, the second of four quarterfinals on the docket.

The positive tests are a stark reminder that while the top leagues in European soccer have done a very good job at isolating and keeping tests down, an incredibly contagious virus like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the competition at any time.

From Atleti’s web site, via Sky Sports:

“Today, two positives appeared among the known results, which are now isolated in their respective homes and were reported immediately to the Spanish and Portuguese health authorities, UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Federation and the Superior Council of Sports.

“As such, a corresponding protocol planned for these circumstances has been activated, which requires new tests to be undertaken to first team players, members of the Lisbon travelling party and those who are in close contact with the positive cases, and which will result in changes in the timings of training sessions, in the structure and development of the journey and the accommodation in the Portuguese capital.”

Atalanta plays PSG on Wednesday, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich meet Friday, and Man City battles Lyon on Saturday.

It will feel like smooth sailing once the tournament begins and players hit the proverbial bubble. Until then, though, this proves that there are no guarantees.

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
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When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

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Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.