What did we learn on Boxing Day?

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Boxing Day 2018 in the Premier League was absolutely wild. And it could turn out to be an incredibly pivotal day as we’ve now hit the halfway point of the 2018-19 season.

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Another shock loss for Man City was compounded by big wins for Liverpool, Tottenham and Man United in the top six. At the bottom, Fulham, Huddersfield and Burnley are in the relegation zone and struggling for confidence.

[ MORE: PL Grades at midway ]

Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the nine PL games played on a crazy Boxing Day.


Man City imploding

Two defeats on the spin to Crystal Palace and Leicester have Pep Guardiola and Man City reeling as they’re now seven points behind Liverpool who sit on top of the Premier League table. They’ve now lost three of their last four PL games, and perhaps some of the desire they had last season is no longer there. City’s home game against Liverpool on Jan. 3 now likely represents a final chance to peg the Reds back. That seems crazy to write with half the season left, but if City were to lose and fall 10 points behind Liverpool, the way Jurgen Klopp‘s men are playing there would be no way back. City lost 2-1 at Leicester as a stunner from Ricardo Pereira did the damage. There is no doubt that Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are struggling after their returns from injury, while having David Silva only fit enough to come off the bench and Fernandinho out shows that City aren’t coping well with injury absences, especially from a defensive standpoint. Yet with the strength of their squad this is still a huge surprise. Nobody saw this coming from City, and even Guardiola seems to look surprised although he continues to say he is happy with the way his team are playing. The same intensity levels just aren’t there, and the fact that six of his 11 defeats as a PL manger have come in December could point towards fatigue playing a huge part as he demands high-pressing and a high tempo all season long. He may well be happy, but City are losing games and making defensive mistakes that Liverpool and Tottenham are not. The reigning champs are in freefall.


Liverpool, Spurs keep on trucking

As City slip up, Liverpool and Spurs just keep on winning. Liverpool secured an eighth-straight win as they hammered Newcastle 4-0 and have now gone the first half of the season unbeaten. Spurs have won five on the spin and have scored 11 goals in their last two games as they’ve battered Everton 6-2 and Bournemouth 5-0 over the festive period. Mauricio Pochettino‘s stock continues to rise (at Man United and elsewhere) and his players have pushed Spurs up to second in the table, as they continue to defy the odds. Both Liverpool and Spurs have in-form attackers aplenty and they’re also sturdy defensively. Right now Liverpool are the bookies’ favorites to win the league and Spurs are genuine title contenders. This title race could be between Jurgen Klopp and Pochettino with Guardiola looking on enviously. With their high-tempo, full-throttle play, both Liverpool and Spurs have been relentless in recent weeks and they show no signs of taking their foot ff the accelerator. Liverpool have Arsenal and Man City coming up next. Tottenham have Wolves and Cardiff. Maybe, just maybe, Spurs are the darkhorses we should all be keeping a closer eye on.


Pogba the key man for Solskjaer

This managing thing is easy, right? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it two wins from two to kick off his caretaker reign, as he received a wonderful reception in his first game in charge at Old Trafford. United beat Huddersfield 3-1 and the scoreline suggests an easier time for the Red Devils than it was. David De Gea made a wonderful stop at 1-0, but then Paul Pogba took the game over. He swept home to make it 2-0 and curled home a wonderful second to make it 3-0. Solskjaer said that Pogba is “happy now” and with two goals and three assists in the two games since Jose Mourinho was fired, it is clear that the Frenchman was shackled by United’s former coach. Solskjaer has United playing open, attacking soccer and the mood around United has changed completely. With games against Bournemouth and Newcastle coming up, United are well and truly back in the top four hunt. But we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. With all due respect, they have beaten Cardiff and Huddersfield. The first big test for Solskjaer arrives on Jan. 13 with a trip to play Tottenham at Wembley. Only then will we be able to see how much these confidence-boosting wins have helped their progression.


Burnley, Huddersfield, Fulham could be cut adrift
Burnley were hammered 5-1 at home by Everton. Huddersfield have lost six straight games. Fulham haven’t won in six. They are all in real danger of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table after the festive period. And there are some huge clashes against one another coming up. Fulham’s game against Huddersfield on Dec. 29 is massive for both teams. The Cottagers were unlucky in their 1-1 draw against Wolves on Boxing Day, as Aleksandar Mitrovic went close on several occasions and Claudio Ranieri has clearly made them a better defensive unit. Huddersfield host Burnley on Jan. 2 in what will be a huge scrap and once again pivotal in deciding which team is going to dig themselves out of danger. Huddersfield are dangerous without being clinical, while Burnley’s previously staunch defensive unit now has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. With Southampton, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City all showing signs of progress in recent weeks, that is further bad news for Burnley, Huddersfield and Fulham. Their revival for the second half of the season starts now. It simply has to.


Race for seventh place is on

Everton and Leicester were always going to be the safe bets to be the ‘best of the rest’ in the Premier League, and big wins for both on Boxing Day underlines their status as the favorites to finish seventh and secure a Europa League spot. Everton hammered Burnley 5-1 and Marco Silva‘s men were unlucky a few days ago to miss chances, have decisions go against them and face a ridiculously clinical Spurs. The Toffees will be right up there with Richarlison and Gyfli Sigurdsson delivering goals and assists. They just have to sort out their defense. As for Leicester, Claude Puel was under pressure this time last week. He has now led Leicester to back-to-back wins against Chelsea and Man City. What a strange game this is. The Foxes are back to being their clinical best and against the top teams they are forced to sit back, defend and then counter. That suits their players down to the ground. What doesn’t is Puel’s penchant to have his teams possess the ball and against the teams in the bottom half of the table, as Leicester often run out of ideas in attack and are frustrated. They must play on the counter more often if they’re going to seal seventh place. With Watford, Bournemouth and Wolves all in the hunt too, the battle for seventh and the Europa League has perhaps never been this muddled. It’s fantastic.

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From AtlUtd.com:

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.

Men In Blazers Podcast: De Gea heroics; Liverpool, Man City wins

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Rog and Davo applaud David De Gea‘s goalkeeping heroics in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Plus, wins for Liverpool and City in the title race.

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