Three things we learned: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League table with a resounding, humiliating drubbing of Manchester United on Sunday.

The 3-1 scoreline didn’t do justice to the gulf which now exists between the two teams. Sadio Mane‘s first half goal set Liverpool on their way, while Jesse Lingard equalized after a mistake from Alisson. But two deflected strikes from Xherdan Shaqiri won it for Liverpool in the second half, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side were deserved winners and remain the only unbeaten team left in the Premier League.

As for Jose Mourinho and United, they sit in sixth place and are now 11 points off the top four as so many of their problems were ruthlessly exposed.

Here’s what we learned from a tense encounter between two bitter rivals, as Liverpool’s fans have the bragging rights and will enjoy a sensational festive period.


LIVERPOOL’S FRONT THREE FINALLY BREAK UNITED DOWN

Ahead of this clash Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had all failed to score or grab an assist for the Reds against Manchester United in 855 minutes in the Premier League. Mane changed that early on and both Firmino and Salah looked sharp throughout. United’s five-man defense sat deep and try to stop their runs over the top but Mane timed his perfectly to put Liverpool ahead. Mane then set up Shaqiri to score Liverpool’s second with a surging run down the left, and a lovely flick from Firmino set up Shaqiri to score his second and Liverpool’s third. United’s defense was makeshift with Chris Smalling going down in the warm-up and the likes of Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot chucked in at the deep end, but Liverpool’s famous front three finally fired on all cylinders against their bitter rivals.


MOURINHO IS NO LONGER KLOPP’S KRYPTONITE

Jurgen Klopp had failed to beat Jose Mourinho since he took charge of Manchester United, but at the fifth time of asking he recorded his first win against Mourinho’s United. Three of those matches have been draws, most of which United have played for, and last March United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford in a proper smash and grab. But Klopp wasn’t to be denied on Sunday as the progress his team has made over the past 12 months is clear for all to see. Aside from Alisson’s howler they didn’t look like conceding, as Liverpool have now let in just seven goals in 17 games so far this season. As for United, Mourinho’s strength has become their biggest weakness as the Red Devils have now conceded more goals in their opening 17 games of the season than they did in the whole of last season. This defeat was only his third in 17 away games at Liverpool in his career, and it was perhaps the most damaging of all.


SHAQIRI, Fabinho PROVE STRENGTH OF LIVERPOOL’S SQUAD

Last year Liverpool would have drawn this game on Sunday, just like they did at home against Manchester United in their previous two PL encounters, but Shaqiri scored twice after coming off the bench to underline the new strength of this Liverpool squad. Shaqiri made a huge difference, with his pace and power and two deflected efforts leading Liverpool to victory. But it was all over the pitch where Liverpool showed they have built a better, and deeper, team than Man United. Nathaniel Clyne came in for his first start since last May with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez out and excelled. Fabinho was superb in place of Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren held his own with Joel Matip and Gomez out. Now 19 points ahead of United, Liverpool’s strength in depth is clear for all to see and along with Man City they’re the genuine title contenders.

As for United, they were riddled with defensive injuries and it showed. United’s problems were compounded by having the likes of Paul Pogba as an unused substitute as Mourinho’s squad have reportedly turned against him and the players who do want to play just simply aren’t good enough.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa