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.

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”