What did we learn from the Premier League?

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What did we learn from the eight Premier League games on Saturday?

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Week 6 gave us plenty of gifts (noticeably lopsided wins) as three big boys eased to victory, while another stumbled.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Below is a look at the key takeaways.


Mohamed Salah shaking off some rust
He scored a tap-in against Southampton on Saturday and almost scored an audacious back heel, but there are signs that Mohamed Salah is still shaking off some rust after his shoulder injury at the end of last season. The Egyptian magician looked frustrated in a more central role against Saints with Roberto Firmino switched out to the flank. Salah scored a goal when offside late on and seemed to rush a few chances where last season he was calmness personified. Salah has scored three goals in the current PL campaign but he hasn’t quite looked himself thus far with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino stepping up and delivering.

Jurgen Klopp won’t be too concerned about giving Salah a rest in the League Cup against Chelsea this week, especially with Xherdan Shaqiri impressing in a 45 minute cameo on Saturday too. Salah isn’t at his marauding best, as we pointed out following Liverpool’s win at Tottenham last week, but the fact that is the case and Liverpool have won their opening seven games of the season (in all competitions) is testament to how solid the rest of the team have been. At times last season you could accuse Liverpool of being a one man team. Not anymore. That’s a good thing, even if Salah isn’t firing on all cylinders. Liverpool changed up their system against Saints in the first half and Klopp wasn’t too happy with the way it was working so changed things back to a 4-3-3 in the second half. The team, and Salah, looked more comfortable in that system and ahead of a huge few weeks with games against Chelsea, Man City and Napoli coming up, the Reds are on fire. Even if their star man isn’t. Yet.


Wolves the real deal

They’ve played Manchester City and Manchester United this season and drawn with both 1-1. And on both occasions after those draws with the Manchester giants Wolves have felt a little hard done by that they didn’t nab all three points with David De Gea forced to make several key saves to keep Wolves at bay. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have brought in plenty of top class players over the summer, including Raul Jimenez, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho, and it was the latter who curled home a beauty after Jimenez’s layoff to grab Wolves a deserved point at United.

There is a serious debate to be had that the runaway winners of England’s second-tier last season could be one of the best newly-promoted teams in history. Of course, nothing will beat Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest who won the top-flight in 1978, the season after they were promoted. Wolves aren’t going to win the title this season but they have shown they can easily be the best of the rest in the PL and finish in the top seven. The depth in their squad is impressive and so too is the understanding of what Santo wants them to do each week. They have a settled squad littered with quality and a solid 3-4-3 system which suits them. Name a better newly-promoted team in the PL era. I’ll wait.


Tottenham ease the pressure. For now…

It has been a rough few months for Tottenham Hotspur. After three-straight defeats, they needed a response at Brighton & Hove Albion. They got it. Harry Kane‘s first half penalty kick and a second half strike from Erik Lamela got Mauricio Pochettino‘s men back to winning ways after plenty of critics suddenly poked their heads over the fence to tell them what has been going wrong. Of course, a lot of the issues at Spurs are nothing to do with Pochettino and his players. With no money spent on new signings this summer and a long delay to their new stadium at White Hart Lane, chairman Daniel Levy has a lot to answer for.

On the pitch, Spurs showed plenty of grit to get by Brighton in the pouring rain on the South Coast with the bright lights and the TV cameras fixated on their every move and waiting for them to slip up and lose a fourth-straight game. They were in control throughout, with the only moment of worry when Anthony Knockaert didn’t make the most of a glorious opportunity in the second half. After a narrow defeat at Watford, a loss to red-hot Liverpool by one goal and a late collapse against Inter Milan at the San Siro, the narrative around Spurs seemed to shift from ‘they’ll get it right and prove their doubters wrong’ to ‘well, that is it they’re finished’ in a matter of days. Pochettino’s side reminded everyone not to write them off and even though Kane and Co. don’t seem anywhere near their best (we can save the tiredness debate for another week), they did what they had to do to silence their doubters. At least for another few days.


Legends return: Sir Alex Ferguson and Clint Dempsey
It was wonderful to see returns for two legendary figures on Saturday who have both been struggling with health issues over the past few years. Firstly, Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have made a superb recovery from a brain hemorrhage in May which required surgery and time in intensive care. The most successful manager in British history returned to Old Trafford on Saturday for the first time since April and Fergie received a warm welcome back and looked emotional to return to Theatre of Dreams.

And another legendary figure (okay, not quite on Fergie’s level, but still a hero) returned to the Premier League with Clint Dempsey heading back to Fulham for their draw against Watford. Dempsey, 35, retired late last month and Fulham’s all-time leading goalscorer in the Premier League was on hand to head back to Craven Cottage to see his former team.

Deuce looked as chilled as ever and Fulhamerica is still going strong.

Olivier Giroud signs new contract at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud‘s meaty French forehead will remain in the Premier League for at least another season.

Giroud, 32, was set to be out of contract this summer but he has signed a new deal at Chelsea which is a big relief given their FIFA transfer ban for the next two transfer windows.

Reacting to his contract extension, the 2018 World Cup winner was delighted to remain at Stamford Bridge.

“I am very happy to sign a new contract. I really wanted to stay at least one more year – I have felt a part of the team, the family, since the beginning and hopefully there will be more trophies to come,” Giroud said.

This is a good deal for everyone involved. Giroud had options from across Europe and the Premier League for next season, and he will still have those next summer, but it feels like he has been underused so far during his time at Chelsea as Alvaro Morata was their main man in 2017-18 despite his struggles up front.

Giroud has proven himself as a reliable striker at Chelsea following his move from Arsenal — where he scored 105 goals in 253 appearances and won three FA Cups across six seasons — in January 2018 and helped the Blues win the FA Cup in 2017-18.

He has mainly been used in the Europa League and cup competitions during the 2018-19 season and has scored 10 times in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League final (he is the leading scorer in the competition) against Arsenal next Wednesday.

Giroud has scored 17 times in 62 appearances since making the move across London, which is a decent return considering he has mostly been used as a substitute.

Gonzalo Higuain will likely not be returning for a second spell on loan at Chelsea from Juventus, so Giroud will get more minutes in the 2019-20 campaign and he’s shown he can slot into this Maurizio Sarri side seamlessly. His intelligent hold-up play has seen him develop a telepathic understanding with Eden Hazard and even if Hazard leaves, as expected, this summer, you can see Giroud striking up a similar rapport with Christian Pulisic next season.

Giroud is probably one of the most underrated strikers in the world game, as he is third all-time leading goalscorer for France, behind only Thierry Henry and Michel Platini. If you whip a dangerous cross into the box, he will get on the end of it and often finish it.

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

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Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.