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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

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.

Finlay goal gives Minnesota win over former club Columbus (video)

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It had to be him.

As Columbus continues to search for itself under new management, it’s no surprise that one of its old heroes broke its heart on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Man City 6-0 Watford ]

Ethan Finlay, he of the 166 Crew appearances before being traded to Minnesota United, said earlier this week, “I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to beat up on them pretty bad.”

So of course Finlay scored a 70th minute tap-in to give his Loons a 1-0 win over Columbus on Saturday in St. Paul. It wasn’t “pretty bad,” but it probably felt pretty good.

The goal was Finlay’s first of the season for United, keeping the hosts unbeaten at home.

Columbus falls to 1-5 away from home under Caleb Porter, and has won just once in its last seven outings.

Brighton ready to pay release clause for Swans manager

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Brighton and Hove Albion is ready to bring one of England’s brightest managerial prospects into the Premier League.

The Seagulls are set to pay a $3 million release clause to lure Graham Potter away from Swansea City, one year after the manager left Swedish club Ostersunds FK.

[ RECAP: Man City 6-0 Watford ]

Potter was 35 when he was hired by the Swedish club in 2010, and helped Ostersunds to three promotions before moving to Wales in 2018.

Swans finished 10th this season, its first in the Championship after relegation from the Premier League.

Brighton regressed in a big way during the second half of this season, and remains in the top flight largely because Cardiff City was unable to take advantage of the Seagulls’ huge struggles.

The report says Swansea offered Potter a new deal to stay at the Liberty Stadium, but the manager wants to try the Premier League.

If he takes the job, Potter will manage against one of his former clubs; Potter played eight times for Southampton in the Premier League.

Pep: Domestic treble harder than winning Champions League

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Manchester City won its third tournament of the season on Saturday, battering Watford 6-0 at Wembley Stadium to add an FA Cup to its League Cup and Premier League titles.

[ RECAP: Man City 6-0 Watford ]

In doing so, City is the first club to win a domestic treble. Manager Pep Guardiola wants to win every competition he enters, but said winning all three is extra special.

“I love the Champions League but it is more difficult to do what we have done than to win the Champions League,” Guardiola said.

Wait, what?

From ManCity.com:

“It’s not easy being there every three days. We lacked a little bit of energy but it’s normal. It’s been so tough this week. We could not have had more energy but we kept it at the right time.”

Well, that makes sense. Whereas Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp risked less with his cup lineups, knowing his desire for the Premier League and Champions League, Guardiola’s lineups were aimed at winning everything.

And that’s largely why they’ve done it. City might’ve needed penalty kicks to beat Chelsea in the League Cup Final and a John Stones clearance to win the Premier League (or a Vincent Kompany thunderbolt), but the treble is impressive.

AC Milan boss Gattuso insists fifth “not a failure”

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For a solid four months, it appeared AC Milan was on track for a return to the Champions League for the first time in six years. Then, it all fell apart.

Still, manager Gennaro Gattuso is insisting their season is not a failure, adamant that a fifth-placed finish would not be considered a disappointment for the club. His reasoning will not be exactly endearing to fans.

“Fifth place absolutely wouldn’t be a failure, not because I want credit myself, plus what would Roma and Lazio say?” Gattuso said during his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s game against Frosinone. “There’s regret because for two months we’ve had our fate in our hands and we dropped so many points, but it’s not a failure.”

Milan was as high as third place in the Serie A table in mid-March and seemed close to wrapping up a return to Champions League play, but a stretch of one win in seven league matches saw them tumble down into the crowded battle below, with Atalanta, Roma, Torino, and Lazio all in a pack. AC Milan now sits sixth, and while they still remain in the mix for the fourth position, they would need to make up a three-point deficit in just two matches. Fifth-placed Roma drew today, so they can jump to fifth with a win against Frosinone.

Milan was a European powerhouse for decades until the club declined following its 2007 Champions League victory, ultimately falling out of the running for Europe’s top competition, with just a few Europa League appearances since 2014. Gattuso’s comparison to Lazio and Roma, two strong Italian clubs without Milan’s history, is bound to infuriate fans, along with his acceptance of the club’s shortcomings.

The late-season collapse has called Gattuso’s job security into question, but he said that will wait until the end of the season. “Both the club and I have put aside our small talk to reach our objective,” Gattuso said during the presser. “There will be time to talk about the future.”

“There are two games left and we’re still playing for our objective.”