Five things we learned from midweek PL

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Before we start with the specifics, we learned that the midweek games were crazy in the Premier League.

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For the first matchday since 2010 all 20 teams scored, as there were upsets, goals galore, huge mistakes and plenty of talking points.

Lets dig in on five specific things we learned from what occurred over the past 48 hours.


1. Gutsy Liverpool prove the strength of their squad
Trailing at Burnley in the second half, this was a huge test of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. They passed with flying colors. Klopp left Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of his starting lineup and it looked like they could pay the price. But Salah and Firmino came on in the second half after James Milner pulled Liverpool level and the rest is history. Alisson made a fine save late on to keep the score at 2-1 and Xherdan Shaqiri finished plucky Burnley off. Klopp hit out at Burnley’s rough tactics after the game as Joe Gomez suffered a lower leg fracture in the first half, and it was a gruelling test to win at Burnley even if the Clarets are nowhere near the team they were last season. Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Joel Matip, Alberto Moreno, Naby Keita and others stepped up to help Liverpool get the job done as they sit two points behind leaders Manchester City heading into the busy festive period. Liverpool’s squad this season is so much stronger than last year and they have considerable, and game-changing, options on the bench each game.


2. Man United’s defensive issues likely to cost them top four spot
Jose Mourinho wanted two new center backs in the summer and he didn’t get them. At every opportunity Manchester United’s manager is reminding Ed Woodward what a monumental mistake he made for not releasing the funds for United to buy new defenders. Then again, Mourinho did want Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to join United… Before the game against Arsenal he said he had no center backs fit. He played three of them in Bailly, Smalling and Rojo on Wednesday. Individuals aside, the 2-2 draw with Arsenal underlined the good and the bad about United. The good: they have a wealth of attacking options who are actually scoring goals and creating opponents problems. The bad: they can’t defend for toffee. That is very unlike a Mourinho team. David De Gea‘s blunder and an own goal from Marcos Rojo gifted Arsenal two goals at Old Trafford and Mourinho lambasted the defensive play of his side. If they’re going to reach the top four this season at all (not just by Mourinho’s previous prediction of early January) they will have to shore things up defensively. As bad as United have been this season, and leaving the Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situation to one side, they are only eight points off the top four. But they do have the sixth-worst defensive record and also have a negative goal difference. That says it all.


3. Chelsea’s title charge may already be over
The way Chelsea folded at newly-promoted Wolves on Wednesday suggests they are nowhere near ready for a title push. Maurizio Sarri said he is “very worried” after watching his side surrender a 1-0 lead as they were pushed over and roughed up by a hungry, out-of-form, Wolves to lose 2-1. Chelsea’s tremendous early-season form relied heavily on Eden Hazard and the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored since early October and unlike Liverpool, those who Sarri brought into the team at Wolves struggled. Alvaro Morata had another off day, Cesc Fabregas was overpowered and Andreas Christensen was hardly rock solid. 10 points behind Man City who they face on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, it is fair to say Chelsea’s title bid is pretty much over before it ever began.


4. Hasenhuettl has plenty of defensive work to do too
Southampton’s new manager Ralph Hasenhuettl met the media on Thursday and he has quite the way with words. He also knows the one area where he needs to improve the team immediately: defense. It is often cliche to say a manager ‘needs to sort the defense out’ when he first comes in midseason, but this is so very true in this case. Saints lost 3-1 at Tottenham and trailed 3-0 early in the second half before Spurs stopped playing. Hasenhuettl has a bloated squad at Saints and the likes of Yoshida, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bednarek and Hoedt have all been used this season without finding a successful combination. Sorting out their backline is the main issue for Hasenhuettl early on as Saints have let in seven goals in their last three games in the PL, although they have scored five in that period. Going forward they have weapons to hurt their opponents but building a solid foundation is key. Then, and only then, will Hasenhuettl be able to promote his 4-2-2-2 formation which relies on high-pressing and relentless running. Southampton will be hoping Hasenhuettl has the same impact as the last manager they brought in midseason, Mauricio Pochettino back in January 2013.


5. Fulham improving slowly under Claudio Ranieri
Even though they coughed up a late goal at home against Leicester, the signs are good for Fulham under Claudio Ranieri. Fulham led the Foxes 1-0 and although they will be disappointed to not open up with two wins from Ranieri’s first three games in charge, there are encouraging signs that the players are grasping his ideas. Fulham’s defense has conceded just three times over the past two games and after the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea at the weekend, Ranieri revealed he was more pleased with how his team played there than he was in the 3-2 home win against Southampton on his debut. They look solid in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Chambers and Seri shoring things up in front of the back four. Ranieri is getting this Fulham side back to basics and the pace of Kamara and Sessegnon on the break works well with Mitrovic’s hold-up play. Working Andre Schurrle back into the team will also help, but shoring up Fulham’s defense is key to Ranieri’s philosophy.

MLS to seek training compensation; players oppose move

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With teams spending millions of dollars annually on their youth academies, the league has decided it will now fight to recover some of that investment should a youth player sign their first professional contract abroad.

MLS announced in a statement that it will now work to acquire training compensation and solidarity payments from international clubs when players from team academies sign with clubs or transfer to other clubs abroad, while also agreeing to pay those fees when signing players from abroad. In the past, MLS had refused to pay training compensation and solidarity payments – in opposition to FIFA regulations – over fears for an anti-trust lawsuit from the MLS Player’s Association or others as well as possibly violating U.S. child labor laws, per ESPN.

U.S. Soccer even forbade these solidarity payments and training compensation on these grounds, but now have stated that they won’t enforce their decree from 24 years ago.

If a player signs their first professional contract outside of the country they were developed in, training compensation is provided to all clubs that helped develop the player between the player’s age 12 and 21 years. If a player then is transferred at any point from one country/federation into a different one (like Christian Pulisic from the Bundesliga to the Premier League), up to five percent of the transfer fee will be distributed to clubs that helped develop the player between the ages of 12 and 23.

In response to the MLS decision, the MLS Players Association has come out in total opposition of this decision, pointing out the hypocrisy of MLS choosing to apply some FIFA rules but not all of them.

In addition, the players association believes that this doesn’t work to help develop better soccer players in the U.S., only to make it harder for them to move abroad. In theory, a team abroad now will know it may have to pay thousands, or millions to sign a young American, and may hurt that player’s chances from moving to a country with a higher competition level.

“Today’s announcement by MLS regarding training compensation and solidarity payments is a step backward for the development of soccer in the United States and Canada,” the MLS Players Association said in their statement. “It is an effort by the league to inhibit player choice, does nothing to address the development of youth soccer, and makes plain MLS’ selective application of international rules to suit its own agenda.

“Despite claims to the contrary, this move is not about improving youth development. Rather, it is simply about trying to force players to sign with MLS by limiting opportunities abroad. Limiting opportunities to train and play in other environments does not further the development of young professionals. The MLSPA strongly supports efforts to improve youth development, but we do not believe that placing the burden to fund these efforts solely on players is a sensible approach. A levy on professional clubs and/or the Federation that is unrelated to individual player transactions would spread that burden across the industry, which would be a far better approach to funding development.

“The fact that training compensation and solidarity payments are paid elsewhere in the world under applicable FIFA regulations is an indefensible justification for MLS’s change in position on these issues. The league routinely ignores regulations that protect players under contract with MLS – like those requiring guaranteed contracts, prohibiting unilateral options and limiting the length of contracts – yet is now attempting to rely upon these same regulations to limit opportunities for players in youth academies.

“We will review these changes, including the Consent Decree entered into by the US Federation on this subject, and will explore all of our options with other stakeholders.”

It appears that MLS is only interested in fighting for training compensation when it benefits them. The most recent famous case is Weston McKennie, who spent seven years with FC Dallas but left on a free transfer in 2016, with FC Dallas not recouping a dime and McKennie soon establishing himself as a first team player in the Bundesliga.

In a Q&A, MLS stated that it won’t pay training compensation for players it signs through the draft or acquires into its youth academies. In addition, if a player was developed with both an MLS club and an independent youth club, MLS said it would only seek the training compensation for themselves and not for other clubs.

MLS states intention to expand to 30 teams

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In a move that was more a matter of when, then if, MLS announced on Thursday it plans to continue expansion to 30 teams.

The league released a statement stating that the decision to expand to 30 teams was approved by the league’s board of governors at a recent meeting in Los Angeles. In addition, the board of governors approved the MLS commissioners office to move forward into “advanced discussions” with Sacramento and St. Louis over expansion bids, enabling those market’s to make formal presentations to the league. The governors also approved a $200 million expansion fee for the No. 28 and No. 29 expansion teams, with the fee yet to be determined for No. 30.

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While it doesn’t confirm that Sacramento and St. Louis will be the next MLS expansion markets, it certainly puts them in the front seat for spots No. 28 and No. 29, with a plethora of other cities in the mix for the latter two slots and the – for now – final No. 30 spot.

As of the 2019 MLS season, the league has 24 teams. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will make it 26 in 2020, and Austin FC will make it 27 teams in 2021.

Other previous MLS expansion possible markets have included Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa, Louisville, and more.

While MLS continues to focus on expanding across the country, it may be losing sight of some of its established teams in major markets. The Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have all experienced poor attendance so far this season, and little has been said about how best to correct this problem.

There’s no doubt that soccer is big in both cities, but fans aren’t making the trek out to see their local teams play, which is a big problem in MLS, especially with the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga all expanding marketing operations into the U.S.

U.S. National Soccer Team players association speaks out against U.S. Soccer

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Even though the U.S. Men’s National Team doesn’t have to play multiple matches per year on artificial turf like the U.S. Women’s National Team, the USMNT players are taking a stand against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

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In a statement, the U.S. National Soccer Team players association said that it opposes playing on both turf or grass laid on top of turf due to player safety concerns. Since Nippert Stadium is an artificial turf surface, it’s expected that U.S. Soccer will pay to fly in and lay down grass on top of the field ahead of the USMNT’s friendly match with Venezuela on June 9.

“In the view of the Players Association, this is just one more example of a serious problem that the United States Soccer Federation is not advancing the interests of the sport of soccer or the interests of the players or the fans, but is solely focused on generating ever-increasing revenues and profits for the Federation, its employees, its sponsors, and private businesses associated with the Federation,” the the players said in its statement, after corresponding with U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro via e-mail.

The players association highlighted a section of the U.S. Soccer press release in announcing the friendly match in Cincinnati, noting the strong FC Cincinnati fan support. This backed the players association’s point that U.S. Soccer is more interested in revenues than player safety.

Even with all of our society’s technological advances, it appears that only old-fashioned planting and allowing grass to gain roots deep in the soil is the best way to ensure a strong, stable field, and not one that will come up with a quick change of direction. Issues at Yankee Stadium recently highlighted this problem.

New York City FC captain Alex Ring, who played in that match, said he slipped on some of that temporary sod and suffered an injured ankle, but soldiered on to play through the pain for the final hour of the game.

“It hurts, unfortunately,” Ring told reporters on April 6, via Front Row Sports. “What can I say? I can’t complain about the pitch, but it happens after 30 minutes and you play the whole game with a sore ankle, it’s not the best.”

While coming to Cincinnati and bringing the USMNT to cities it has never been before – this will be the first USMNT trip to Cincinnati – is an important mission for U.S. Soccer, it’s also surprising because the beautiful pitch at Crew Stadium, the heart and soul of U.S. Soccer, is right up the road. Of course, Crew Stadium’s capacity is much smaller than Nippert Stadium, which I’m sure had something to do with this decision.

The USMNT hasn’t had to play on grass laid on top of turf since the 2017 Gold Cup semifinals against Costa Rica, which was played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is an indoor facility and thus uses artificial turf.

For U.S. Soccer, that now means all of its senior national team players are against the federation’s current position. The USWNT has made its sentiments known about playing on turf, even before Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in a match on a turf pitch in bad shape, and they’ve even recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Soccer is engaging in gender discrimination against the USWNT players.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s a bad look for U.S. Soccer that all of its main players are against the federation in one form or another, and together they could use their media platforms to make an even bigger statement.

Europa League Roundup: Arsenal shutout Napoli; Eintracht, Valencia advance

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What road problems?

For the second consecutive match, Arsenal picked up a 1-0 win on the road, this time against even tougher competition. Arsenal beat Napoli, 1-0, and 3-0 on aggregate to advance to the Europa League semifinals. Alexandre Lacazette scored a terrific free kick from 30-yards out, taking advantage of Alex Meter shifting the wrong way.

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In the second half, with Napoli needing four goals and pushing, Arsenal relied heavily on its centerback trio of Sokratis, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saed Kolasinac helping in defense.

It’s a reversal of Arsenal’s recent fortunes, where before Monday, they hadn’t won on the road since February, including in the Europa League to Rennes. However, the 2-0 scoreline from the first leg really gave Arsenal the push and momentum it needed to get past a struggling Napoli side under Carlo Ancelotti.

Elsewhere, Valencia took care of languishing Villarreal in style with a 2-0 victory, winning 5-1 on aggregate, but the real drama took place in Germany.

With Eintracht Frankfurt trailing before kickoff by a pair of goals, the Eagles – well, both Benfica and Eintracht are the Eagles – managed to secure a 2-0 result to advance in the Europa League. Sebastian Rode’s second-half finish off an Ante Rebec pass has kept Eintracht’s season alive in Europe, where Luka Jovic can continue to market himself to the world’s biggest clubs.