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.

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

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

Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat. What now?

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Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT hit a new low on Tuesday as they lost 2-0 to Canada in Toronto and it could have been worse.

Much worse.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Totally outplayed in their CONCACAF Nations League game, pressure is mounting on Berhalter as the U.S. men’s national team perhaps haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Two years after their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as they lost at Trinidad & Tobago, in many ways the performance against Canada was worse.

What progress has been made since that fateful night in Couva in 2017?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking to reporters after the damaging defeat at BMO Field, Berhalter threw his players under the bus. Big time.

“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

USMNT fans are calling for Berhalter to be fired just 10 months into his reign, and his possession-based style isn’t sinking in with his young, hard-working squad. Berhalter wants the USMNT to play like Barcelona but right now they look more like Burton Albion. And that’s being kind.

The youngsters coming through are being asked to overcomplicate things and aren’t playing to their strengths. After a heavy defeat to Mexico last month and a damaging loss to Canada, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup would now be a huge achievement for the USMNT. It should be a given.

Where do we go from here?

The fact USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart may well have to get the thumbs up from Berhalter’s brother, Jay, who is the expected incoming new CEO of U.S. Soccer, adds to the anger from U.S. fans.

It is unlikely Berhalter will be removed anytime soon and that U.S. Soccer will stick with him after waiting a year for him to take charge.

Former interim coach Dave Sarachan did the best job he could do from November 2017 to November 2018, but that lost year waiting for Berhalter has sent this young group of players spiralling backwards.

The lack of progression is clear for all to see, but Berhalter doesn’t want anyone pointing to the shocking defeat in Canada as a true reflection of where this team is at.

“I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”

Berhalter is under pressure and things have got worse for the USMNT since their embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure two years ago.

Is it time to pull the plug on Berhalter? After the performance against Canada his players appear to think so, and so too do the fans.

U.S. Soccer have a big decision to make, as things look like they will get a lot worse before they get any better.

State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

[ USMNT-CANADA: Time for change? | Player ratings ]

Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.