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.

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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.

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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. 

Five-star Spurs thump Red Star Belgrade

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Erik Lamela set up two early goals and later scored as Tottenham Hotspur broke out of its funk to record a 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday.

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Heung-Min Son scored twice and Harry Kane also scored as Spurs earned their first win of the group stage. Tanguy Ndombele joined Lamela with two assists.

Red Star is now 1W-12L ahead of the return fixture in Serbia.


Three things

1. Sweet release for Harry Kane: Tottenham’s talisman was ready from the first minute, and delivered a perfect header off a ninth minute corner kick for 1-0. There wasn’t much to worry about the rest of the way as Kane scored twice while taking six shots against a team which won’t be pleased to have to do it again come two weeks time in Serbia.

2. Well, actually, for almost everyone: Considering Spurs were an absolute shambles against Bayern Munich and have not impressed in domestic play, the win could be a welcome and positive kick in the pants for many Tottenham men. Serge Aurier‘s day against Bayern was possibly the worst performance of any Spurs player this year, and the Frenchman had an assist and was better versus Red Star (the right opponent at the right time, we might add). Dele Alli had one of his better games in a while, and Tanguy Ndombele hasn’t been poor but his two-assist night is a welcome sign.

3. Lamela helps pulls the strings: The Argentine was simply sensational early (and pretty good late, as he scored in the second half). Kane will get the love for the corner kick goal. but the second assist was all about Lamela.

Look…

at this…

ball.

 

Man of the Match: Lamela

 


The basics provided Tottenham’s opener, with Kane running off the near post to meet a corner kick and turning a header across goal and inside the far post. Pretty stuff, and good timing. Nerves settled after nine minutes.

Son made it 2-0 seven minutes later, getting on the end of a bouncing Erik Lamela cross to volley home.

Spurs’ third first-half goal was Son again, as the South Korean raced 60 yards to become a back post option after Tanguy Ndombele caused a turnover at midfield.

If anyone deserved Spurs next marker, it was Lamela. The Argentine made it so after Harry Kane’s classy long pass to Serge Aurier was turned onto his path in the 57th.

Sterling runs riot as Man City clobbers Atalanta

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Raheem Sterling scored three goals and set up two others as Manchester City came back from an early deficit to clobber Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Sergio Aguero scored City’s other two goals, but the Premier League champions face an anxious wait after Rodri limped off before halftime.

Phil Foden was sent off in the 82nd minute after picking up his second yellow card.

Ruslan Malinovskiy’s early penalty was all Atalanta could muster, as the Serie A side remains winless in the group stage.


Three things

1. Sterling’s star show: Stymied on an opening dribble, Sterling took over once City went behind on Fernandinho‘s conceded penalty.

He was everywhere.

The English winger set up Aguero’s first goal was a stylish cross from the inside of his boot, then drew a penalty with a quick dribble toward the spot. He then showed clinical finishing in a second-half hat trick which took less than 11 minutes but missed wide with a bid for a fourth goal on a Phil Foden-inspired breakaway in the 75th.

2. Rodri injury breaks up new partnership: Pep Guardiola again deployed Fernandinho and Rodri as his center back pair, the former notably conceding a penalty on the edge of the 18 before the latter left the match after 40 minutes with injury. It looked to be a muscle injury, though there wasn’t a terrible limp from the Spaniard. If he’s out for any long period of time, City’s ambitions will be heavily taxed.

3. One win for an easier December: Man City’s 3-0 start to the group stage means it can be choosy with its lineup for the return fixture in Italy, which comes three days before a massive visit to Liverpool in the Premier League. By the same rationale, City’s visit from Chelsea on Nov. 23 comes four days before Shakhtar Donetsk comes to town. Neither Liverpool nor Chelsea will be in better UCL shape than City in both cases, guaranteed.

Man of the Match: Sterling.


A cutting ball down the left allowed Atalanta a cross to Timothy Castagne, who had an edge on Benjamin Mendy but was bothered enough to head his over the goal.

Ilicic then came from the right to drive a low shot that Ederson collected before it could roll inside the near post.

City found its footing in the second 20 minutes, though Raheem Sterling’s seeing eye pass through the six was a yard behind a stretching Sergio Aguero.

Pierluigi Gollini that made a fantastic save on a longer Aguero drive before the Argentine had another chance and lashed it over the goal. Closer.

Fernandinho conceded a penalty to the Serie A visitors against Ilicic on a dribble into the 18. Ederson went the wrong way as Malinovskiy hammered home from the spot.

Aguero got his breakthrough in the 34th, reaching his right leg out to push a well-chopped Sterling cross past Gollini.

Sterling then won a penalty with a mazy dribble toward the spot, and Aguero beat Gollini to the far post.

Rodri was injured before halftime, and Guardiola brought on John Stones.

The second half started with another injury, as Marten De Roon raked Aguero near his right achilles. The Argentine stayed on.

De Bruyne then tried his luck off another play inspired by Sterling and Aguero, but fired wide from outside the 18.

Sterling wound up with his two goals thanks to sensational team play. The first came when Riyad Mahrez spotted Kevin De Bruyne, who passed to Phil Foden. The youngster took the extra pass and Sterling smashed home.

Then Sterling held up play inside Atalanta’s half before zipping onto an inch-perfect Gundogan through ball and slamming past Gollini.

A missed breakaway, cued by Foden, was the only sour note for Sterling as he missed a bid for four.

UCL AT HALF: Rodri injured; Spurs, Man City lead

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We’ve got goals in the UEFA Champions League!

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All six 3 p.m. ET kickoffs have seen at least one marker, with five between the two Premier League sides in action.

Juventus 0-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

Turin has been hushed for the moment, as Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russian visitors a lead despite Juve’s 12-2 shot advantage.

Man City 2-1 Atalanta

Influential midfielder Rodri has left Manchester City’s match against Atalanta with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

Partnered with Fernandinho at center back again, Rodri, 23, has played in every match save one for City, and had gone 90 minutes in the last five prior to Tuesday’s 40-minute performance.

City went behind when Fernandinho conceded a penalty, but Raheem Sterling has sent Sergio Aguero up for two goals as the hosts have a lead at the Etihad Stadium.

Spurs 3-0 Red Star Belgrade

Tottenham didn’t have any problems dispatching its tepid league form for its Serbian visitors, as Erik Lamela set up Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son for early goals before the South Korean completed a brace before halftime.

Look at the industry on his third:

Galatasaray 0-1 Real Madrid

Some nerves settled for Zinedine Zidane as Toni Kroos’ deflected strike gives Real a halftime lead.

Olympiacos 1-1 Bayern Munich

Youssef El-Arabi gave the hosts a lead, but Robert Lewandowski scored for the 12th-straight game and 17th time this season to level the line.

Club Brugge 0-1 PSG

Mauro Icardi the lone goal scorer in Belgium.

LIVE, UCL: Tottenham, Man City both in action

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Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday, but both Premier League clubs face very different situations.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Spurs host Red Star Belgrade knowing they have to win to give themselves a decent chance of reaching the last 16, while Man City can make it three wins from three if they take care of Atalanta at home.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid head to Galatasaray, Juventus host Lokomotiv Moscow, PSG face Club Brugge and Bayern Munich take on Olympiacos.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s late games, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have you covered with a roundup of the action right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group A
Club Brugge v. PSG
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid

Group B
Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

Group C
Man City v. Atalanta

Group D
Juventus v. Lokomotiv Moscow