Three things learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool took another huge step towards winning their first-ever Premier League title on Saturday, as Jurgen Klopp’s men demolished Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield.

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Unai Emery‘s Arsenal took the lead through Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but a quick double from Roberto Firmino and a goal each from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah did the damage before half time, with Firmino completing his hat trick after the break.

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Here’s what we learned from a lopsided encounter at Anfield, as Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the table.


FIRMINO HAUNTS ARSENAL AGAIN

Roberto Firmino had been going through a bit of a barren stretch before facing Arsenal on Saturday, but the Brazilian once again destroyed the Gunners with ease. Firmino hadn’t scored in his last five games for the Reds, but he scored twice in 60 seconds in the first half to swing the game in Liverpool’s favor. He then completed his hat trick in the second half to make it 5-1.

Firmino’s direct running twice caught out Arsenal’s defense, as it hurried them into making a hash of the clearance for his first and then he ripped up their entire defensive unit for his majestic second.

Robbie Fowler is the only Liverpool player to have scored more than Firmino’s eight goals against Arsenal in the Premier League, and the livewire has now been involved in 11 goals (eight goals, three assists) in seven games against the Gunners.

He may not have been red hot in recent months, but Firmino turned up when Liverpool needed him most to start their rout. When he’s at his best, he brings out the best in Salah and Mane too. He may not get all of the credit he deserves, but Firmino is pivotal if Liverpool is going to win the title this season. The no-look finish on his first goal proved his trademark swagger is finally back and that is great news for Klopp.


ARSENAL’S RAGGED DEFENSE STILL THEIR BIGGEST PROBLEM

The Gunners have looked solid enough when they have their best defensive unit fit and available. But that wasn’t the case, once again, at Liverpool as a makeshift defense which included veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner and a banged up Shkodran Mustafi (replaced at half time by Laurent Koscielny) and Sokratis at center back. Can we judge this Arsenal team based on the defense they put out? We can, even though they have struggled against the big boys in recent years, and especially Liverpool’s jet-fuelled offense.

They’ve now won just one of their last 13 PL away games against teams starting the day top of the table, losing the last seven on the trot by an aggregate score of 3-22. And they’ve now lost their last six PL games at Liverpool, conceding at least twice on each occasion.

Even if this is an Arsenal defense missing Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding, they should be able to not implode in the manner they did at Anfield. This theme cannot continue, especially away from the Emirates Stadium.

Having conceded three goals at Southampton, two at Manchester United and another at Brighton in their last three Premier League away games before visiting Anfield, Arsenal have now conceded 11 goals in their last four PL away games and picked up just two points in that run. Emery’s men were on a run of 22 games unbeaten in all competitions until two weeks ago, and a lot of that was down to a newfound defensive toughness.

That has evaporated as injuries have stacked up, but with Lucas Torreira struggling as their midfield terrier in front of the back four once again, Arsenal must plug the gaps which keep on appearing in their backline away from home. A porous defense away from home led to the eventual demise of Arsene Wenger last season and it threatens to derail the progress made by Emery early on this season too.


RAMPANT LIVERPOOL CONTINUE TITLE CHARGE

Liverpool have now won nine PL games on the spin and they’re unbeaten through their first 20 games. Heading into their clash at Manchester City on Jan. 3 (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they are momentarily 10 points clear of City — who play on Sunday against Southampton — and Klopp’s side may well have the chance to all but end the challenge of their rivals with Tottenham (nine points back) slipping up this weekend too.

Who on earth can stop them? In truth, it is one team: themselves.

They are simply in imperious form. Unbeaten in 31 games at home, the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield was in April 2017. Klopp’s men have an air of confidence each time they walk out onto the pitch and they have the ability to rotate their squad with Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri coming in, and a wealth of options in midfield and attack. If injuries are kind to Liverpool, the strength in depth they have this season proves they can go all the way with Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson coming off the bench against Arsenal, as the likes of Naby Keita and Daniel Sturridge watched on from the sidelines.

Klopp’s team are a well-oiled machine and although they will be focusing on one game at a time between now and May, they are surely now allowed to dream of winning the title. Everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club is in dreamland. But if City beat Southampton tomorrow and then beat Liverpool, the lead atop the table for Klopp’s men will be back to four points. Lot of ifs there, but given their long wait for another league title and previous heartbreaks, nobody connected with Liverpool will be allowing complacency to creep in.


Luis Enrique to return as Spain boss five months after resigning

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Luis Enrique will be named manager of the Spanish national team on Tuesday, five months to the day after stepping down from the same position to care for his nine-year-old daughter as she battled bone cancer.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Robert Moreno is set to step aside to make way for Enrique. Moreno was previously an assistant on Enrique’s staff and had initially been put in charge of La Roja through the 2020 European Championship.

Enrique’s daughter, Xana, passed away in late August after a five-month battle.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Moreno managed the team during Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Romania to complete an unbeaten EURO 2020 qualifying campaign, but the 42-year-old was seen leaving the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in tears after the game. Neither Moreno nor any of the players spoke to the media.

He previously said that he would step aside should Enrique find himself able to return. Moreno insisted that friendship came first, above all else.

Preview: USMNT’s must-win Nations League finale v. Cuba

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The scenario is simple for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cuba (7:30 p.m.ET): Gregg Berhalter’s side will finish top of Group A with a victory, and only a victory. Period. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video) ]

Friday’s victory over Canada righted the wrongs of last month’s defeat north of the border and laid the foundation for the Americans to reach the semifinals in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, provided they take care of business in George Town, Cayman Islands, in what is set to be the final game of Berhalter’s first calendar year in charge. Despite trailing Canada (+6 goal differential)  by three points heading into Friday, the Yanks (+8) already have the tiebreaker in their favor.

Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes (twice) and Aaron Long scored to give the USMNT its 4-1 triumph over their northern neighbors. More importantly, it was a largely dominant display after going 1-0 up inside two minutes and carrying a 3-0 led into halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The USMNT will once again be without Christian Pulisic (hip injury), leaving the attacking options on the roster quite thin. Morris, who got a goal and an assist against Canada, will likely start on the left again, with Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola playing centrally and on the right respectively. Zardes is the presumed starter up top, unless Berhalter opts for the youthful inexperience of Josh Sargent in a must-win game.

Berhalter appears to have settled on a pretty consistent backline, with Sergiño Dest and Aaron Long manning the right side and John Brooks and, at least on Friday, Tim Ream on the left. Weston McKennie’s place deep in midfield has been cemented for quite some time, but he’s partnered close to a half-dozen players alongside him this year alone. The 21-year-old Schalke midfielder was stellar against Canada, frequently starting counter-attacks and carrying the ball into the final third.

Projected USMNT lineup

I___________I
Guzan

Dest —— Long —— Brooks —— Ream

McKennie —— Roldan

Arriola —— Lletget —— Morris

Zardes

Man Utd debt climbs to $500m as club spends to halt decline

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United’s attempt to strengthen its underperforming squad has proved costly with debt rising more than 55 percent in a year to $498 million.

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The cost of signing Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James ahead of the new season in the first quarter of the financial year was around 140 million pounds.

Although United reported record revenue last season of $812 million, the New York Stock Exchange listed business is now expecting the 2019-20 figure to drop to between $725 million and $750 million.

That is due to United missing out on Champions League television and prize money after finishing sixth last season. United could miss out again with the side in seventh place, nine points behind fourth-placed Manchester City after 12 of the 38 games.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

“Our ultimate aim is to win trophies, play fast, fluid, attacking football, with a team that uses graduates from our academy along with world-class acquisitions,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “We know this will not be achieved overnight, however we have made investments across the club that we believe will set us on the right path.

“We know our academy is a strong competitive advantage and an area we will continue to invest in as it is at the heart of the club.”

EURO 2020: Spain, Sweden finish top; Norway, Romania reach playoffs

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MADRID — Spain finished its qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championship with a 5-0 rout of Romania in what could have been the farewell match for coach Robert Moreno on Monday.

Moreno did not show for the post-match interview and there were widespread reports in Spanish media he would not continue at the helm of “La Roja.”

The Spanish soccer federation did not immediately say why the coach did not talk to the media. It said a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday.

Moreno took over the job after Luis Enrique resigned in March to take care of his sick daughter. Moreno had been Luis Enrique’s assistant until then.

Gerard Moreno scored twice for the hosts, who had already secured a spot in the tournament but needed the victory to be among the top-seeded teams in the draw this month.

Spain also got on the scoreboard through Fabian Ruiz, Mikel Oyarzabal, and an own-goal by Romanian defender Adrian Rus.

“It was important to finish with the three points in front of our crowd,” said Ruiz, who scored his first goal with the national team. “We need to keep this same dynamic going into the Euros next year.”

Spain ended as the Group F winner with eight wins and two draws, at Norway and Sweden. “La Roja” finished five points in front of second-placed Sweden.

Romania, which had already been eliminated, ended in fourth place with four victories and two draws in 10 matches.

Spain, coming off routing Malta 7-0 in Cadiz, outscored its opponents 31-5.

It was in control from the start on Monday, with Romania threatening only a few times in front of a crowd of 36,198 at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, including many Romanians.

Ruiz opened the scoring from close range in the eighth minute, and Moreno added his goals with a header in the 33rd and strike from the six-yard line in the 43rd.

Rus found his own net while trying to intercept a cross into the area in first-half stoppage time, and Oyarzabal closed the scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the box in second-half injury time.

It was the second Spain match at Atletico’s Metropolitano stadium, the other a 6-1 rout of Argentina ahead of last year’s World Cup.