What did we learn from the Premier League?

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

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Liverpool went top of the PL table, while big wins for Watford, Brighton and Bournemouth continued their fine form early in the season.

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Below is a look at the key takeaways from a day littered with fine goals and displays.


Liverpool’s offense is clicking through the gears

Here we go. Here they come. After a run of five games where they scored just three goals, Liverpool’s offense is back to its best as they beat Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday with Mohamed Salah grabbing a goal and two assists, plus Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri were on the scoresheet. Scoring eight goals in their two games over the past four days, any talk about Liverpool’s defense being their main strength this season will surely dissipate, for now. Yes, they’ve improved drastically in defense since Virgil Van Dijk arrived in January. In fact, the goal they conceded against Cardiff was the first they’ve let in during a home league game since February. But the main concern in the early months of this season was about the attacking prowess of Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino and if they could repeat their gaudy numbers from 2017-18.

Everything points to them being able to do just that, or at least get very close, with Salah in particular looking back to his best after a slow start to the season. With Shaqiri in the mix and Daniel Sturridge now fit, Liverpool’s attack has a fresh look to it and there will be more options for rotation as the season continues. With 26 points from a possible 30 so far, things have started very well for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. The Reds are looking good in the UEFA Champions League once again and seem set to push Manchester City all the way. If they’re going to win one of those big competitions this season, they need Mane, Salah and Firmino on form more than they need a vastly improved defense.


Southampton drifting into another relegation scrap

Mark Hughes and Southampton are in a bad place right now. Saints have won just one of their opening 10 games this season despite not having a particularly tough schedule, and the 0-0 draw with Newcastle at home on Saturday marked the fifth-straight game where they have failed to score. With just one win at home in their last 16 PL games, the warning signs have been there for a while and the regression has been steady and true ever since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Saints seem to be sleepwalking into a perilous situation for the second season on the trot.

With reports linking former AS Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim with Saints, it appears Hughes may already be running out of time and the good faith (and long-term contract) he received for keeping them in the PL at the end of last season has already evaporated. The fact Southampton stuck with Mauricio Pellegrino for 30 games last season before bringing in Hughes may also work against the current manager, as it is unlikely Les Reed and Ralph Krueger will wait that long this season to try and address a worrying trend. Southampton were for so long the model club as managers and players only left when they were sought after by huge clubs paying big cash. Now, Saints are stuck with a squad of players who are woefully underperforming and a manager who has resorted to making them hard to beat without solving their attacking issues.

Saints play Man City, Man United, Watford, Fulham and Tottenham in their next five games and anything other than six points from that haul will see them dragged into a severe relegation battle for the second-straight season. With the players they have, that just isn’t good enough. Negativity is rife at St Mary’s and the fact Saints have won just once at home in the last 12 months tells the whole story. Confidence is low and the goals aren’t flowing and there is only so much a manager can do in that situation. Saints are symptomatic of a team who have drifted due to managerial changes and new players not adding the quality they need.


Fulham’s defensive frailties too severe for Slavisa to sort out

Every time Fulham walk out onto the pitch it seems like they’re going to concede at least three goals. In truth, the stats say it’s just a little under that. 2.8. My apologies… Despite conceding 28 goals in their opening 10 games of the season, Slavisa Jokanovic is sticking with his philosophy and is asking his players to push up the pitch and try to pass around their opponents. Bournemouth did that much better than Fulham on Saturday, as the Cherries won 3-0 at Craven Cottage and ruthlessly exposed the Cottagers’ deficiencies.

Will Jokanovic be given the chance to turn things around in west London? He seems unlikely to change his tactics and despite Fulham’s American owner Shahid Khan giving his Serbian coach the dreaded vote of confidence earlier this week, time is not on Jokanovic’s side. Unless he changes his entire coaching philosophy, Fulham aren’t going to stay in the PL this season. They create chances galore but they’re so wasteful in attack and describing their defending as haphazard is incredibly kind.

“We made good work and tried to stop conceding so many, we weren’t very successful today but the players are fighting well. We have enough quality to score but we can’t find a way to find a clean sheet. The Premier League is tough not just for us but for many clubs. We are making expensive mistakes,” Jokanovic told the BBC. “I am not thinking about my future. I will be ready for the next challenge. I am living my present and that is today a very hard defeat. I must be brave and keep going and encourage my team.”

So, he will not change his style of play. And that style is a mishmash of being too cautious and throwing caution to the wind, while also changing goalkeepers and defenders on a weekly basis.

Bedding in so many new players was always going to be tough (Fulham brought in 12 players and spent over $130 million after gaining promotion) and quite simply this squad isn’t built to defend in a 4-5-1 formation and scrap for 1-0 wins. And therein lies the problem. Do you stick with Jokanovic at least until January when you can bring in some new players? Or do you cut him loose now and bring in a more solid, stable coach to try and give the team some much needed balance? Fulham haven’t been terrible in most of their games this season but they haven’t been ruthless enough in either box and that is what will end up costing Jokanovic his job.


Watford, Bournemouth will battle for Europe due to attacking talents

Each racking up 3-0 wins on Saturday, Watford and Bournemouth have a clinical edge to thank for their fine starts to the campaign. Promoted together in 2014, these two teams are similar in many ways and have had clear plans for progression in place. The main difference is that the Hornets have had four managers in four years but had a clear recruitment policy in place, while Bournemouth stuck with Eddie Howe throughout and he has added quality youngsters in key positions. The different ways they’ve built these teams is to be admired and both have reliable defensive units but going forward is where they’ve made the biggest improvements. Watford’s attack is about power and pace. Bournemouth is about passing and pressing. The difference for both of these teams this season after they meandered around in midtable in 2017-18 is one thing: finishing.

They both conceded big chances on Saturday as they’re always adventurous in attack, but both were clinical when they got chances themselves and punished their opponents. Roberto Pereyra, Issac Success and Gerard Deulofeu scored for Watford and Bournemouth’s goals came from Callum Wilson (two) and David Brooks with Ryan Fraser playing a pivotal role. With Troy Deeney and Josh King not available, they also have options in reserve and the pace, trickery and sheer hunger their forwards are showing are the reason they’re snapping at the heels of the top four. They have squads to sustain their top eight push and like Burnley did last season, these two teams seem focused on battling for seventh place along with Everton and Wolves. European qualification for either Watford or Bournemouth would be a huge reward for having a clear plan in place.

Burning Question: Who is the best player in North America right now?

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It’s a question many have tried to answer recently, and now it’s ProSoccerTalk’s chance to give a verdict of their own: Who is the best player in North America right now.

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Knowing the loyalty of the devout Liga MX fan, the following statement may make a few onlookers cringe, or become enraged: Carlos Vela is currently the best player in North America. Period.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t take more than 15 seconds to generate such an answer. The question should instead be: What player comes at a touching distance from 31-year-old Vela?

Carlos Vela has been on a legendary streak since arriving in Los Angeles from San Sebastian, scoring for fun. Literally, scoring for fun – when he wants, how he wants: long or short range chips, stunning volleys, headers, from the spot, 30-yard runs leading to gentle tap-ins, free kicks, you name it. In numbers, it reads more like a humble 57 goals in 71 appearances.

That’s a healthy goal-per-game-ratio.

And to be clear, goalscorers aren’t the only type of players that qualify for the sweepstakes – supreme talent doesn’t discriminate. But in this case it just happens to be that an inverted winger, with a penchant for goal, happens to outdo not only every player in MLS, but in every other North American top-flight contest, including Liga MX.

And perhaps scoring goals isn’t his ultimate quality – Vela’s dynamism, agility and tenacity are at the core of his magic. There’s a reason why he’s considered the most talented Mexican player of his generation.

Still tough to accept? Ask yourself this: Who was the last player in North America that Josep Maria Bartomeu and Barcelona went after?

You guessed right – Vela. The Spanish giants know a thing or two about scouting elite talent, don’t they?

Transfer news: Kane to Real Madrid, Alexis Sanchez to West Ham

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

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According to Sport, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has his sights set on signing Tottenham striker Harry Kane this summer.

With Luka Jovic failing to impress at the Santiago Bernabeu, Los Blancos are set to make some moves to consolidate the presence up top. Kane, 26, and Wolves striker Raul Jimenez are some of the few names to have been mentioned thus far.

Kane, who has a running contract with Spurs until 2024, recently mentioned that he wouldn’t rule out a move out of north London, if Tottenham were unable to capitalize on winning silverware.

“I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, I want to get better, I want to become one of the top, top players,” Kane said earlier this month. “It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever – but it’s not a no either.”

As far as transfers go, nothing gets bigger and more “ambitious” than a summer blockbuster move to Real Madrid. Kane has a promising project spearheaded by Jose Mourinho himself at his boyhood club, but the opportunity to represent Real Madrid – at such a prime age, with an astronomical amount of hype – may only come around once.


Alexis Sanchez’s time at Inter Milan is coming to a close, and his next destination may be a Premier League team not named Manchester United, according to FC Inter News.

The 31-year-old Chilean’s agent, Fernando Felicevich, has reportedly been inquired by West Ham, who are considering placing a bid to lure the winger out of Old Trafford.

Sanchez arrived at Inter last summer on loan but has failed to impress when healthy, recording a mere goal and three assist in 15 appearances this season. With the possibilities of Sanchez remaining at Manchester United past the summer getting slimmer by the day, the Hammers are hoping to land the South American at a reduced price.

Sanchez, one of United’s highest earners, is reportedly also gathering interest from other unnamed Premier League and Bundesliga sides.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: FC Energetik-BGU edge FC Minsk, moves to top of league

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Sunday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Energetik-BGU 2-0 FC Minsk 

FC Energetik-BGU are the new leaders of the Belarusian Premier League, following a 2-0 victory over FC Minsk, who were atop of the table prior to Sunday’s bout.

Aleksey Nosko broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, while winger Jasurbek Yakhshiboev sealed the victory for the hosts in stoppage time.

With the victory, Energetik-BGU are the only unbeaten team in the league after three matchweeks, winning all three matches. The positive spell began with a 3-1 against Belarus giants BATE Boristov. Since, Energetik-BGU have scored three goals, while managing to concede none.

Slutsk, who also featured on Sunday, moved up to second on the table following a hard-earned 3-2 victory over Isloch, which saw them play the final minutes of the match with 10 players.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Smolevichi-STI 0-0 Vitebsk

Isloch 2-3 Slutsk

Spanish players criticize league’s call for furloughs

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MADRID (AP) Soccer players in Spain on Sunday criticized the Spanish league’s decision to ask clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs during the coronavirus crisis.

The league on Friday said the furloughs were needed because there was no agreement on the size of the salary cuts players must take to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic.

“It is strange that the Liga supports (the furloughs),” Spain’s players’ association said in a statement.

It said the league should have created a financial cushion for this period considering it always boasted about its “economic control measures” and the “well-balanced economy” of the Spanish clubs. The association said it also should be taken into account that the league has been temporarily suspended and not yet canceled.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players said they agree with a salary reduction to help the clubs during the crisis, but not to the extent the league wants, which could amount to nearly half of the total losses if the competition is not resumed.

Players said they want to keep negotiating directly with the clubs instead of being forced into furloughs.

“The clubs and the players have been reaching agreements regarding the salaries,” the players’ association said. “What footballers are not going to do is relinquish labor rights.”

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are among the Spanish clubs requesting furloughs, but both directly negotiated the amount of the salary reduction with players — 70% in both cases. Both clubs and their players are contributing to guarantee the wages of non-playing employees being furloughed.

The government furloughs help reduce the clubs’ labor costs while also guaranteeing players their jobs once the crisis is over.

Spain has more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 12,500 deaths. The nation is expected to remain in a lockdown until April 26.

There is no timetable for the return of the Spanish league.

Players maintained their position to only resume competing when health authorities deem it safe for everyone’s heath, a view also shared by the Spanish league.

The league has suggested it will recommend teams start mini-camp while the lockdown is still in place, if it’s possible to do so within the restrictions imposed by authorities.

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