What we learned in the Premier League

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Seven games took place in the Premier League on Saturday and we learned plenty at both ends of the table.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Huddersfield and Fulham will both be frustrated as their bad luck continued, while Liverpool and Chelsea held their nerve and there were big wins for Watford, Southampton, Burnley and West Ham.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Here’s a look at the key takeaways from Saturday’s PL action.


Liverpool respond with gritty away win
It wasn’t pretty but Liverpool regained a seven-point lead atop the Premier League table as Mohamed Salah won and converted a penalty kick to beat Brighton 1-0. This was the kind of test Liverpool had to pass if they’re going to win the Premier League this season. After back-to-back defeats against Man City (in the Premier League) and Wolves (in the FA Cup), this was a big statement from Liverpool. Playing at a well-organized Brighton is always tough but Jurgen Klopp‘s side made relatively light work of it as their defensive injuries didn’t hamper their charge towards the Premier League title. Of course, there are bigger tests ahead but they don’t arrive for a while. The next time they play a top six side is the trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United on Feb. 24. Between now and then there are plenty of tricky tests against teams they are supposed to beat sandwiched between their UEFA Champions League last 16 clashes against Bayern Munich. Liverpool were far from their best at Brighton, but they got the job done with minimal fuss as they were back to being ruthlessly efficient, and solid, just as they were at the start of the campaign. That is a very good sign for Klopp after the disappointment of the last week.


Emery’s Ozil problem not going away
Arsenal lost 1-0 at West Ham on Saturday and Unai Emery‘s post-game press conference was dominated by one person: Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker was not in Arsenal’s 18-man squad for the London derby and Emery said that was because “the players who were here are the players who deserved to be in this match.” That is yet another ominous statement from Emery for Ozil, as the highest-paid player in Arsenal’s history is the biggest headache Arsenal’s new manager has. The defending wasn’t as bad as it has been at times this season in the defeat at West Ham, but you could say that Ozil’s creativity would have been handy as Arsenal had plenty of the ball but couldn’t break down a stubborn West Ham defense. They are now six points off fourth-place Chelsea and could be overtaken by Manchester United in the next few weeks, and all of the momentum Emery had from that 22-game unbeaten run has evaporated with away defeats at Southampton, Liverpool and now West Ham, as they’ve had no victories in their last four PL away games. This poor away form is all getting very similar to Arsene Wenger‘s final season in charge…

Talking of Wenger, he oversaw Ozil, 30, signing a new bumper contract in January and he is guaranteed huge sums of cash. Ozil has only appeared in 16 games in all competitions this season and Emery clearly doesn’t trust him, as he’s said before, in away games against feisty, dedicated opponents. Ozil is a luxury player who is excellent, when given the chance, against lesser opponents at home but it doesn’t appear that the high-pressing, more defensive style Emery prefers can carry any passengers against more aggressive opponents. If Arsenal aren’t going to use Ozil, they have to loan him out or sell him in January. With his huge wages that will be tough and an argument can be made that Arsenal needed him at West Ham to unlock a defense and create chances in only the way he can. Emery’s issue with Ozil, on or off the pitch, has to be resolved one way or another as it threatens to derail their season.


Puel’s time at Leicester coming to an end
The boos rang out at the King Power Stadium as Leicester City lost 2-1 to Southampton, with Claude Puel‘s time in charge of the Foxes surely coming to an end soon. After their big wins against Chelsea, Man City and Everton over the festive period, all was well. But three-straight defeats to Cardiff, fourth-tier Newport County in the FA Cup and now an injury-hit Saints (who played over 55 minutes with 10-men) have cemented what many Leicester fans have been saying: Puel is not getting the best out of this team consistently. His decision to play three defensive midfielders against Saints was baffling, as the likes of Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes sat on the bench and made a big difference in the second half. Leicester play extremely well against the big boys as they have less of the ball and their squad of players have perfected the art of counter-attacking. Against the teams they are supposed to beat they just aren’t able to break them down, as Puel’s belief in ball rotation, slow build-up and keeping possession doesn’t play to the strengths of this squad. After a testing year off the pitch for Leicester, Puel has brought some stability. He is a good, honest man who has brought plenty of Leicester’s young players to another level but it looks like he may get the hook soon. There is no chance of Leicester being relegated this season, so now is a good time to bring in a manager who can get the best out of this group and kick them on in their pursuit of Europa League qualification.


Huddersfield, Fulham in danger of being cut adrift
The bad luck continued for two relegation battlers as Fulham scored two own goals to lose at Burnley and Huddersfield had a penalty kick awarded, then overturned at Cardiff. In two six-pointers they both came up short and all of a sudden Huddersfield are eight points from safety and Fulham are five points (basically six points, given their goal difference) from staying up. Given their respective schedules in the next few weeks as they play plenty of the big boys, they are likely to be cut adrift. David Wagner is doing all he can with limited resources at Huddersfield, while the jury is out as to whether Claudio Ranieri was ever the right hire for Fulham. Both teams have shown they can hang in games but the little things are going against them as Saturday proved. Their fortunes will have to change quickly if they’re going to drag themselves out of the relegation zone with 16 games to go. There is almost a resignation among the Huddersfield fans that they are doing down, while Fulham will be at that stage very quickly. 

Pep’s not-so-subtle warning to Barcelona: “Don’t talk too loudly”

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Manchester City and Pep Guardiola are currently neck-deep in legal troubles after UEFA handed the Premier League side a two-year European ban last week, leading a handful of clubs and figures from around the continent to delight over their current predicament.

[ MORE: Guardiola will not leave Man City: “Truth will prevail” ]

Guardiola’s message for those folks, including some longtime friends and former co-workers at Barcelona? Essentially, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.

Earlier this week, allegations were made that Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who voiced his full support of the punishment handed down by UEFA, was involved in a campaign to bash a number of key players and figures at the club while also attempting to boost his own reputation.

“I don’t know if they spy me, but they know me. It is not necessary to spy me. If they are happy we are suspended, I say to the president of Barcelona, give us two appeals. I ask right now the people trust what they have done. Don’t talk too [loudly], Barcelona. That is my advice because everybody is involved in situations. We are going to appeal and hopefully in the future we can play Champions League against Barcelona.”

Players ‘absolutely dead’: Mourinho finds no faults in Spurs’ performance

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Jose Mourinho can find few, if any, faults in Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 defeat to RB Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday, as he is simply making do with the very limited and exhausted tools presently at his disposal.

[ MORE: Spurs fall under nonstop pressure from RB Leipzig (video) ]

“[Lucas] Moura was absolutely dead, [Steven] Bergwijn was absolutely dead, [Giovani] Lo Celso was absolutely dead,” Mourinho said as he ran through the list of players forced to play all 90 minutes despite desperately needing a reprieve.

Given his side’s current injury list — Harry Kane, Son-Heung Min, Moussa Sissoko and Juan Foyth are all out, while Lo Celso, Erik Lamela and Ben Davies have only just returned to the team in recent days — Mourinho was emphatic in stating his players “did everything they could do” — quotes from the BBC:

“What do you mean by ‘the real Spurs?’ Come on, let’s be loyal to the boys and tell them they did everything they could do.

“Lamela — you know how many training sessions with the team? Zero. Direct from injury to recovery with physios and then direct to 20 minutes in the Champions League.

“There are two perspectives — an amazing group and amazing guys, but another side you see how we are at the moment. It’s a situation like going to fight with a gun without bullets.

“You can say we had luck in some moments, but a great goalkeeper made two magnificent saves. I’m not worried with the 1-0. We can go there and win. What worries me is that these are our players for the next however many matches.

“Moura was absolutely dead, Bergwijn was absolutely dead, Lo Celso was absolutely dead. We are really in trouble. If it was just this game I’d say no problem but we have FA Cup and Premier League games.

“I know Lamela could only give us 20 minutes and I knew Ndombele could not play for 90 minutes. I tried to manage the pieces I had. Don’t tell me Lamela and Ndombele could have started the game, they couldn’t have started the game.

“Here we go, Chelsea [Spurs’ opponent at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday], drinking sparkling water with lemon. Saturday morning [looking at the interviewer — the game was moved for television coverage] — thank you very much for the choice.”

Tottenham’s recent “winter break” was reduce from 14 to 10 days when they were forced to face Southampton in a fourth-round FA Cup replay two weeks ago today.

Anger, confusion surrounds Man City’s European ban

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MANCHESTER — There was anger and plenty of confusion in the air as Man City played their first game since their ban from European action was confirmed.

The name of their owner, Sheikh Mansour, was sung loud and proud, so too Pep Guardiola‘s, as there was an extra level of defiance among City’s fans who held up anti-UEFA banners, some of which were confiscated, as anti-UEFA chants ruled supreme.

Chants of ‘F*** UEFA, F*** UEFA” and “F*** off UEFA, we will see you in court!” were plentiful, especially after Rodri’s goal gave Man City the lead.

West Ham’s fans responded by signing “cheating b*******, you know what you are!”

City’s 2-0 win against West Ham was secondary. Pretty much everything else is secondary after the seismic news arrived late last week. City’s fans didn’t seem to know what to think or what to say. Guardiola revealed he will not be leaving the club. That was at least some clarity as the Etihad Stadium was shrouded in mist, rain and cloud on Wednesday.

The weather summed up the mystery shrouding Man City’s future in European competitions after being given a two season ban which is due to start in the 2020-21 campaign. City will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but as things stands the reigning Premier League champions will not be in Europe until Sept. 2022 at the earliest.

[ MORE: Key questions answered

“It is not finished. The club believes it is unfair so we are going to appeal and we are going to wait,” manager Pep Guardiola said afterwards. “So all we can do on the pitch is all we have done in the last four years and try and win games. We are going to wait. I trust 100 percent my club what they have done, they explained to me what happened. They have explained to me the reasons why and we are going to see.”

Man City’s fans were a little more emphatic.

“I just laughed out loud. I had a laugh. It is UEFA. They are corrupt,” lifelong Man City Chris Hyde said ahead of the game against West Ham.

UEFA delivered its verdict last Friday after an extensive investigation into what they call “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play rules. City were also fined $32.4 million for the breach as UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found the reigning Premier League champions guilty of serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations.

The Manchester club were previously charged by UEFA in 2014 as they were fined and had a limited number of players in their squad for UEFA competitions for FFP breaches. This new charge comes after Football Leaks documents published by Der Spiegel in 2018 accused Man City of wrongdoing.

On the day of the West Ham game the CEO of the City Football Group, Ferran Sorriano released a lengthy statement via the club media channel in which he said the allegations against the club are “false” and “simply not true” and that he hoped for a quick resolution by the end of the season.

“The most important thing I have to say today is that the allegations are not true,” Sorriano said. “They are simply not true. The owner has not put money in this club that has not been properly declared. We are a sustainable football club, we are profitable, we don’t have debt, our accounts have been scrutinized many times, by auditors, by regulators, by investors and this is perfectly clear.”

He also had this message for fans.

“The fans can be sure of two things. The first one is that the allegations are false. And the second is that we will do everything that can be done to prove so,” Sorriano said. “We know the fans are supporting us. We can feel it. Man City fans have gone through challenges over the decades. This is just another challenge. We will stick together, we will go through it and we will not let the fans down.”

How have the fans reacted? Do they feel let down by the Man City hierarchy?

“No, not at all,” Paul Drew, a well-spoken Mancunian and lifelong Man City said defiantly. “I don’t think there is any antipathy or anger towards the senior leadership. It has been managed pretty well but it is just the way it is.”

City are a club which is used to falling down.

Ask any City fan over the age of 30 and they will tell you all about the heartache, near misses, relegation to the third-tier and the constant hard-luck stories. They revel in those struggles and believe the decades of agony make their recent success even sweeter.

“We take the mick out of ourselves because we have to. I hate to coin the phrase but: ‘Typical City.’ We are the only team that can be one of the most successful and best teams ever and then screw it up ourselves!” Hyde laughed when discussing the allegations.

When you walk around Manchester there are nods to Man City’s past everywhere. Many fans wear retro jerseys from the third-tier days and still talk about Gillingham, Paul Dickov and Shaun Goater (who was on the pitch at half time as a guest) fondly. The fanbase is one which embraces tough times and many don’t regard being kicked out of the UEFA Champions League for two seasons as a big issue.

There is a sense that City are being picked on by UEFA. There is anger and confusion as every club will have fans sticking up for themselves not matter how stacked the evidence is against them.

Are City’s fans angry about their team being banned from European action?

“Very much so. I hope it is articulated in the right way because it just doesn’t feel fair,” Drew said.

There is a sense this situation could actually make their fanbase more defiant, more supportive and rally behind their team in their time of need as reports have surfaced detailing possible Premier League points deductions and in extreme cases relegation to the fourth-tier of English soccer.

“It would make the fanbase stronger. That is the good thing,” Drew explained. “We are often criticized for not being a big club until the last 10 or so years but the past 120 years we have been something like the top six supported clubs in England. It might dent the international fanbase a little bit, I don’t know, but certainly the domestic fanbase not at all. It might even encourage it.”

Hyde agreed.

“It is just annoying. We are City fans we will just have a laugh at it. We will laugh it off. At the end of the day it is a load of millionaires talking about how they’ve spent their money. We won four league titles, we are in the Champions League, let’s have a bit of fun! It is a bit different than 10 years ago.”

There is a sense of confusion around what is fact and fiction. City’s fans, the club, pundits, UEFA, everyone seems to be saying something slightly different.

“It doesn’t feel fair,” Drew said. “I get the principles of Financial Fair Play but when you’ve got an owner who gifts the club money and might ultimately reap the profits that’s fine, when you are leveraging buyouts of clubs built on debt and paying interest on that debt, have money from the fans which other clubs do as well, how is that even comparable? It is Financial Fair Play but aimed at the wrong people.”

Guardiola has hope City will not be banned and in turn every single Man City fan, and player, will be sharing a similar view.

“We spoke. We made a deal. We are going to fight, like we fought every single day, until the end of the season,” Guardiola said of his talks with the players. “We are optimistic that in the end the truth will prevail, and if next season we qualify for the Champions League that we will be there.”

Guardiola will not leave Man City after UEFA ban: ‘Truth will prevail’

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MANCHESTER — Pep Guardiola has spoken for the first time since Man City were handed a two season ban by UEFA and was in defiant mood as he said he will stay at the club and that “the truth will prevail” as he believes in City’s hierarchy.

After being given a two season ban due to start in the 2020-21 campaign, City will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but as things stands the reigning Premier League champions will not be in Europe until Sept. 2022 at the earliest.

Following Man City’s 2-0 win against West Ham, Guardiola was asked about the ban and was open and honest.

“It is not finished. The club believes it is unfair so we are going to appeal and we are going to wait,” Guardiola said. So all we can do on the pitch is all we have done in the last four years and try and win games. We are going to wait. I trust 100 percent my club what they have done, they explained to me what happened. They have explained to me the reasons why and we are going to see.”

UEFA delivered its damning verdict last Friday after an extensive investigation into what they call “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play rules. City were also fined $32.4 million for the breach as UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found the reigning Premier League champions guilty of serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations.

The Manchester club were previously charged by UEFA in 2014 as they were fined and had a limited number of players in their squad for UEFA competitions for FFP breaches. This new charge comes after Football Leaks documents published by Der Spiegel in 2018 accused Man City of wrongdoing.

Asked what impact the news of the ban had on himself and the players, Guardiola remained defiant.

“We spoke. We are going to fight, like we fought every single day, until the end of the season. We are optimistic that next season that in the end the truth will prevail, and if next season we qualify for the Champions League that we will be there,” Guardiola said.

Does he plan to stay at the club?

“If they don’t sack me and that can happen, I will stay here. First because I want to stay, it is something special, more than the contract I have. I want to stay to continue to help the club and maintain this level as long as possible,” Guardiola said.

Guardiola was then asked about reports that he told the players in a private meeting that he would still be in charge even if they were relegated to League Two.

“Why should I leave? I said a month ago, I love this club, I like to be here. Why should I leave? We spoke with the players, in the next three months we will focus on what we have to do and after we will see the sentence. Personally, I will be here,” Guardiola added.

Above is Pep’s interview in full.