What we learned in the Premier League

1 Comment

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. 

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

LA Galaxy moves third in West with 1-0 win over Orlando

Associated Press
Leave a comment

A Jonathan dos Santos howitzer was enough to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 win over Orlando City at home to move them into third place in the Western Conference standings.

The win not only boosted the Galaxy back up the standings but also stopped a brutal four-game losing skid that had threatened to erase the fabulous winning start to the season. It marks the club’s first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Minnesota United in late April.

The winner came in the 19th minute, a blast for his second goal of the season and first since mid March.

The clean sheet did not come easily. Dave Bingham stopped a Nani penalty in the 32nd minute after dos Santos tackled Sebastian Mendez in the area. Perry Kitchen – off the bench for his 2019 debut – was on hand to clear off the line after Bingham whiffed on a 68th minute Sacha Kljestan cross, while Bingham came up big three minutes later to stop a header by Chris Mueller off a corner.

Los Angeles’s victory moves them to 25 points, one behind Seattle who has a game in hand, and two ahead of Houston who has played three fewer games. For Orlando, they remain on 15 points, good for 10th in the East.

Ligue 1: PSG, Lille stumble to finish line

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Paris Saint-Germain’s late-season stumble came to a final conclusion on Friday as the Parisian giants lost to Stade de Rimes 3-1 on the road to close out the Ligue 1 season.

Kylian Mbappe scored in the 59th minute, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Baba Rahman, Mathieu Cafaro, and Pablo Chavarria all who found the back of the net for the hosts. The loss marks PSG’s third in the final seven weeks of the season, and fourth in the last 10. They had not lost a single league match all season until a 2-1 result against Lyon in early February, the first of five eventual league defeats.

PSG finished the year 16 points atop the league table, but having wrapped up the title weeks ago, the club’s poor finish to the year could weigh on Thomas Tuchel’s job security moving forward. Tuchel responded to continued questions about his precarious position with a joke, saying, “Honestly, I am worried… I get the impression that everybody knows something that I do not!”

Still, the bright spot was Mbappe’s goal, his 33rd of the league campaign, the most for any Frenchman in the domestic top-flight since 1966.

Elsewhere, second-placed Lille saw an eight-match unbeaten streak come to a close as they fell on the final day of the season to Stade Rennes by a 3-1 scoreline. Loic Remy scored a 35th minute equalizer for Lille but Ismaila Sarr’s 59th minute strike proved the difference, while M’Baye Niang’s second of the day – a 75th minute penalty – added icing on the cake. Still, Lille’s season is considered an unabashed success, finishing 16 points back of PSG and three above third-placed Lyon to qualify for the Champions League group stage.

Lyon saw victory on the road to close out the season thanks to a 91st minute winner from Tanguy Ndombele who gave the visitors a 3-2 win at Nimes. A second goal from Maxwel Cornet had brought Lyon level just two minutes prior, and Ndobele’s near-post flick on a Leo Dubois cross completed the comeback win. They finish safely in third, ending the season on a six-game unbeaten streak with five wins in that span. Two games in early April – losses to 20th-placed Dijon and 15th-placed Nantes – likely cost them a shot at second place.

Monaco is safely in the top flight next season, but barely, as they fell at Nice 2-0 on the final day to finish just two points above the relegation zone. They finish with just one win in the final nine matches, and were saved by a seven-match unbeaten run through February and March that 15 of their 36 points on the season.

Marseille finished the season with a 1-0 win over Montpellier thanks to a 58th minute Florian Thauvin strike, but it wasn’t enough as St. Etienne finished five points clear in fourth on 66 points, with Marseille on 61 in fifth, missing out on a Champions League place.

Rapinoe kicks FIFA, says women’s soccer not treated equally

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. star Megan Rapinoe gave FIFA some kicks two weeks ahead of the World Cup, maintaining the sport’s top executives are not doing enough to close a huge gender disparity in investment.

“They have essentially unlimited resources. I don’t think that it’s really been a huge change at all,” the 33-year-old Californian said Friday, two days ahead of the Americans’ send-off match against Mexico. “Sort of the incremental change that we’ve seen is just not enough.”

A champion at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 World Cup, the Seattle Reign midfielder has been the most outspoken American player.

FIFA doubled prize money for the women to $30 million this year from the amount four years ago and the amount for the winning team to $4 million. That remains a fraction of the money at last year’s men’s World Cup, where France received $38 million from a $400 million pool. FIFA has raised the men’s pool to $440 million for 2022.

“I would like to see a major paradigm shift and sort of a major overhaul,” Rapinoe said. “There’s been such a lack of investment for all of these years and such a lack of care and attention that doubling or tripling or quadrupling investment, care, attention to the women’s game I think would be appropriate.”

Rapinoe also criticized FIFA for allowing three major finals to take place on the same day, splitting focus that could otherwise be solely on the women. The women’s final in Lyon, France, will kick off at 11 a.m. EDT and be followed by the Copa America championship match in Rio de Janeiro at 4 p.m. EDT and the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Chicago at 9 p.m. EDT.

“It’s ridiculous and disappointing, to be honest,” Rapinoe said.

FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, the sport’s highest-ranking woman executive, and the FIFA media office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Players on the U.S. team have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, charging institutionalized gender discrimination. The USSF countered that pay and benefits for members of the men’s and women’s teams, bargained by separate unions, can’t be compared and said there was no basis for allegations of illegal conduct.

“It’s not this divide. It’s very much a cohesive unit,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “It doesn’t enter the locker room. It doesn’t enter the meeting space. We’re working together and making this work and, yeah, I understand. I’m a woman. I have a young daughter. I understand a lot of the bigger social issues out there in terms of that. But I also know right now the job is to get the team focused and they are focused.”

Preparing for her third World Cup, Rapinoe is among three American co-captains, joined by two-time FIFA player of the year Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. With short, spikey dyed blond hair, Rapinoe is the most recognizable U.S. women’s player.

Before the 2012 Olympics, she came out as gay . She knelt during the national anthem three years ago in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and this year became the first openly gay woman to appear in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue .

Rapinoe is not surprised at attacks on LGBTQ rights and abortion rights.

“Equality for all requires people who have more of it right now to give up some which I think, obviously, is a good thing for everyone,” she said. “But some people don’t want to give that up, so they’re doing everything they can to keep all of it to themselves. I don’t think it’s surprising. I think those people are probably going to do everything they can to keep all the power that they have for as long as they possibly can.”

She maintains inequality for women in sports goes beyond soccer.

“I think it’s pretty clear women in sport have not been treated with the same care and financing and all of that that men’s sports has,” she said. “So I don’t think anyone’s really arguing about that anymore.”