What we learned in Premier League

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Week 17 in the Premier League set things up very nicely for the festive period, with some upsets and the title race well and truly on and the chasing pack changing all of the time.

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Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the 10 games which took place over the weekend.


Liverpool’s squad is now incredibly strong
The way Jurgen Klopp‘s side battered bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday proved just how far they have come over the past 12 months. Last season they finished behind United, and just about halfway through this campaign they are 19 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s side. Much of that improvement is down to Alisson, Virgil Van Dijk and the entire defensive unit, but the squad Klopp has now assembled is the strongest Liverpool have had in almost a decade. And perhaps ever. Fabinho, in for the injured James Milner, was a monster in midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri had a huge impact as he jumped off the bench and scored with two deflected strikes. Nathaniel Clyne, starting his first PL game of the season, was also phenomenal stepping in after injuries to Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Everyone connected with Liverpool knows this season is their best chance of ever winning the Premier League. They are a better team than they were in 2013-14 and defensively they will not lose games, and points, by themselves. They also have to take Manchester City head on, something they proved they could do last season when they beat them in the league at Anfield and in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds. With a one point lead, the outcome of Liverpool’s trip to Man City on Jan. 3 will be huge in the title race.


Southampton have lift off under Hasenhuttl
The scenes at St Mary’s at the final whistle on Sunday looked as if Southampton had just secured safety from relegation on the final day of the season. But you could forgive the home fans, and players, for celebrating as their dramatic 3-2 win over Arsenal was their first home win since April. New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of his first Saints home game and ahead of it he gave each season ticket holder a beer voucher and asked them them to join them in his boat and to grab an oar. They did. And they’ve been craving, as have the players, a chance to return to the high-pressing tactics which fuelled their rise under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman. Last week I visited Saints’ training ground to chat with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a young Dane who has been tasked with leading Hasenhuttl’s revolution. On the training pitches Hasenhuttl has dissected them into small boxes which the players must stay into as he develops their defensive organization. It is working, even if small errors defensively almost cost them a big win against Arsenal. In truth, with the squad Southampton have there is no way they should be anywhere near the bottom three. Hasenhuttl is truly living up to the “Klopp of the Alps” nickname, as the similarities between him and Liverpool’s manager are clear for him to see.

Having Danny Ings fit again made a huge difference as his two goals against a makeshift Arsenal defense set them on their way. Hasenhuttl’s wild celebrations show he has already lifted the entire club and his vision for the way he wants them to play is clear. Sunday marked the first time Southampton had beaten a top six team in over two seasons, and ahead of games against Huddersfield and West Ham it gives them the perfect early Christmas present.


Tottenham maturing perfectly
It may be cliche, but I’m going to say it anyway: winning games when you’re not playing well is the sign of a good team. If you think Manchester United’s treble winning team in 1999 played fluid, attractive soccer every time they stepped onto the pitch then your mind is playing tricks on you. Like that United team, Spurs have the knack of hanging in games and delivering late goals to win or draw. They did that against a stubborn Burnley outfit on Saturday at Wembley as Christian Eriksen popped up in stoppage time to grab a 1-0 win which caps off a perfect week after their draw at Barcelona to surprisingly reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino have yet to hit top gear this season but they’re in third place, have the excitement of their impending stadium move back to White Hart Lane to come and they’ve gained more points than ever before at this stage of a PL season. What can they attribute this to? One word: continuity. While everyone else was saying Spurs will fall by the wayside due to playing at Wembley again, no new signings in the summer and so on and so forth, Pochettino’s young squad have matured and have got on with their job. They know exactly what is expected of them each time they step on the pitch.


Crystal Palace can win without Wilfried Zaha
For the first time in 14 Premier League games without Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace won a game. Previously they’d lost 12 and drawn two of the games where he’d been missing, but Roy Hodgson‘s side were good value for their victory against Leicester on Saturday as they made it back-to-back home wins in the PL. Make no mistake about it, Zaha is still Palace’s main man and as soon as he is fit he will be in their starting lineup. But Palace looked solid with Andros Townsend off Jordan Ayew up top and that could point to Hodgson’s putting Zaha back out on the wing when he does return. He seems better suited to running at defenders, cutting inside and then smashing home a shot or setting up others than standing up top as the central striker where he is a little easier to mark. With top clubs linked with moves for Zaha all of the time, it is also proved, whether they like to admit it or not, that Palace can survive without their talisman. They held on in the second half to beat Leicester and with their defensive unit back to its solid best, they can now focus on Zaha delivering the moments of magic which make all of the difference.


West Ham will be top six contenders
Much has been made about the potency of Marko Arnautovic, Robert Snodgrass, Felipe Anderson and Javier Hernandez in recent weeks as West Ham have now rattled off four-straight wins, and rightly so. But the key to their turnaround under Manuel Pellegrini this season has been their rock solid defense. Sure, they’ve been smacked by Manchester City, Liverpool and had a few growing pains with defeats against Wolves and Bournemouth at home, but Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop are proving they were sound buys in the summer. With a hugely favorable schedule coming up between now and early January, Pellegrini’s men should really be on 36 points by the time the FA Cup weekend rolls around in early 2019. From their stadium capacity set to increase to 60,000 to new signings settling in well and Pellegrini bringing a clear and detailed plan, everything is moving in the right direction at West Ham after a few seasons of turmoil after their move from Upton Park. All of the talk has been about Wolves, Bournemouth and Watford challenging for a top seven finish, but the Hammers have the best chance as long as their defensive unit stays fit and in form.

Fernandes, Solskjaer react to playmaker’s star show: “He wants the ball all the time”

Bruno Fernandes
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried to put words to the virtuoso performance of Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes on Sunday.

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Fernandes won and converted a penalty for his first United goal, then set up Anthony Martial for a goal and directly assisted Mason Greenwood‘s marker late in the 3-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford.

The 25-year-old barely put a foot wrong on the day, converting all three of his dribble attempts and winning all seven of his ground duels.

“He has given everyone a boost,” Solskjaer said. “He wants the ball all the time, he wants to conduct the play. I am very pleased for him. He has done something to the crowd. He shows the attributes of a Manchester United player. He is a great addition to the squad.”

The Portuguese had shown signs of his prowess in his first four appearances for United, but Sunday was a whole new sort of contribution.

Fernandes was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, with a gulf to second.

“This is the day every player wants to have. I feel lucky to score, I feel lucky to win the game. We all gave our best and we all deserved the win. I just need to help the team, it’s what I want to do, it’s what I need to do. I hope Martial scores more goals too like he did tonight.”

If he puts up a few more days like this, especially with Scott McTominay returning to do more grunt work behind him, United’s going back to the UCL.

Everton’s Calvert-Lewin opens scoring with overhead kick (video)

Overhead kick
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Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a spectacular goal, and Arsenal’s chaotic defending gave him a big assist.

The Everton man had the Toffees up 1-0 inside of the first minute when he hammered an overhead kick past Bernd Leno.

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Calvert-Lewin was first to react when David Luiz could only pop a swirling Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick high into the air.

The forward’s foot flew past Luiz’s mane — it withstood VAR review — after the Gunners looked confused by Sead Kolasinac following his mark into the 18.

The goal is Calvert-Lewin’s 12th of the PL season. He’s scored four in his last five league outings, and 10 in his last 12.

He has seven goals in nine matches under Carlo Ancelotti.

Wolves’ red-hot Jota too much for Norwich City

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Diogo Jota scored twice and helped produce the third goal of Wolves 3-0 battering of Norwich City at the Molineux Stadium on Sunday.

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Mexican star Raul Jimenez scored the other goal for Wolves.

Wolves rise eighth with 39 points, five points off fourth and two back of fifth-place Manchester United.

Norwich City remains seven points back of 17th place with a league-worst goal differential sinking to minus-27.


Three things we learned

1. Red-hot JotaWolves’ 23-year-old attacker was coming off a hat trick versus Espanyol in Europa League play, and had two goals by the half-hour mark at the Molineux. That gives him five PL goals amongst his 14 in all competitions as Wolves threaten both the Europa League and, somehow, remain alive in the top four race.

2. Abject Norwich defending: Daniel Farke‘s men have been praised for continuing their forward-thinking, attack-minded football in the Premier League, but maybe they simply didn’t have the protectors to bunker down in front of Tim Krul. That’s a bit unfair, because it’s admirable that Farke wishes to entertain, but there’s no debating the mess that is the Canaries defense this year.

3. Jimenez is Mexico’s best: Club Leon’s coach made headlines this week when he called LAFC’s Carlos Vela the best Mexican player, and perhaps he’s No. 2, but there’s no North American in the world doing what Raul is doing in Europe. Jimenez went over 3,300 season minutes on Sunday, adding another goal to give him 22 with 10 assists. Only Rui Patricio, Conor Coady, and Joao Moutinho have played more than the El Tri star.

Man of the Match: Jota


Norwich City had two promising moments in the first seven minutes, as Max Aarons hit a terrific through ball that died with a Teemu Pukki extra touch. Then Pukki forced Rui Patricio into a save.

Kenny McLean cranked a shot to Patricio off a Puuki pass in the 11th minute.

A Norwich giveaway allowed Diogo Jota to dance into the 18, but he instead dribbled himself out of room and was tackled.

Jota made amends in the 19th minute, lashing home after a terrific team goal.

It might’ve been 2-0 had Alex Tettey not darted between Jota’s 23rd-minute pass to Raul Jimenez.

Jota got his second in the 30th off a corner kick, as Romain Saiss slashed a pass across the six that any of three Wolves would’ve put in for a two-goal lead.

Tim Krul made a great save on a Ruben Neves free kick after Jota was injured drawing the set piece atop the 18.

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Jota smashed the post moments before Jimenez deposited Wolves’ third goal of the game, a 3-0 lead arriving in the 50th minute.

Fernandes runs the show as Manchester United crushes Watford

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Bruno Fernandes scored a goal and helped set up two as Manchester United beat Watford 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Anthony Martial recorded United’s second goal with a magical finish off his own rebound after Fernandes sent him through on goal, while Mason Greenwood added a late goal after a 1-2 with the Portuguese.

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United is now fifth with 41 points, three points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Watford had a goal chalked off by VAR, and remains in the bottom three with 24 points. That’s one point off 17th and two off 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Bruno as advertised: There was no question Fernandes addressed a need for the Old Trafford set, but few would’ve seen the Portuguese revolutionizing the team’s attack so quickly (and also underlining how badly United has missed Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba). It’s not silly to say Fernandes could’ve had four assists on the day. Magnificent stuff from the 25-year-old. No surprise he has Cristiano Ronaldo’s endorsement.

2. Greenwood shows another glimpse: The Mason Greenwood hype train hasn’t been as pronounced as Marcus Rashford’s of years past, and we’re grateful for that. But his shoulder move and sick cut before dribbling 50 yards to combine with Fernandes on the third goal of the game was gorgeous stuff. More hope for the future.

3. This: It’s easy to forget the heights of which somewhat-mercurial Anthony Martial is capable.

Man of the Match: Fernandes had four key passes and was perfect in his take-ons and ground duels. Incredible show.


Poor communication between Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic sprung Troy Deeney toward goal, but United left back Luke Shaw saved his teammates further blushes with a block.

Abdoulaye Doucoure then ran onto a dummied Gerard Deulofeu pass but found himself closed down by David De Gea.

United should’ve been up through Wan-Bissaka when Foster parried a cross onto his path, but the English back struck the ball tamely into the outside of the goal.

Bruno Fernandes led a terrific 38th-minute move, and Daniel James eventually teed up Fred for a shot that curled wide of the goal.

The January signing danced past Ben Foster and hit the deck when the Watford goalkeeper went to ground. VAR stayed with the call on the field, and Fernandes finished well with a little hop step.

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Deeney looked to have made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute, thumping a. ball into the top of the goal when a corner kick was turned off the post by Craig Dawson‘s arm. It was attached to his body, but that does not matter in the attacking box.

Martial instead made it 2-0 off a Fernandes feed, collecting his own rebound before dribbling Watford dizzy and spinning a chip into the goal.

Fernandes spotted Maguire with a seeing-eye cross in the 69th, but the defender’s header was poor.

Greenwood scored his goal in the 75th, carrying the ball 50 yards before working a 1-2 with Fernandes and finishing with aplomb.

Odion Ighalo came close to getting on the board for his new club against his old one, but Adam Masina deflected his shot off the post.