What did we learn from the Premier League? (video)

Leave a comment

What a day in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saturday saw eight games take place with two seven-goal thrillers, narrow wins for Manchester United and Liverpool, plus 27 goals in what proved to be a seismic day in the relegation battle and top four race.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below is a look at the key takeaways from an intense, enthralling day across the league.


Arsenal’s hunger breaths new life into their season
Unai Emery‘s Arsenal showed incredible desire from the first whistle to beat a lackluster Chelsea side and the way Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set the tone in attack was superb. The duo hunted down Chelsea’s defense and stopped Jorginho getting on the ball to set up attacks. Even when Chelsea did penetrate the Arsenal midfield, their defense stood tall with Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis solid in the shutout victory. With Arsenal now just four points behind Chelsea, you have to say that Emery has shown more progression with his Arsenal side than Maurizio Sarri has with Chelsea over the past few months. It has been a big call from Emery to leave Mesut Ozil out, but the way his players have defended as a group suggest that he got it spot on and Arsenal’s philosophy as a team is now clear. Between now and the end of the season, if Arsenal’s defenders stay fit then you’d expect them to overtake Chelsea and be right in the top four race alongside Manchester United and Tottenham. Arsenal simply had to beat Chelsea, and after a few disappointing defeats they showed the hunger and desire required to win a massive London derby.


Sarri under pressure at Chelsea already as false nine falters again
“It would appear that this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.” Those were the words of Maurizio Sarri after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal which left them in fourth place but just four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. The Italian coach only arrived in the summer but he is already under pressure at Chelsea and stayed in the locker room for a long time talking to his players after the game, then used a translator (something he doesn’t always do) to answer questions from the media as he wanted to get his message across loud and clear. He certainly did that. Sarri’s persistence to play Eden Hazard as a false nine just isn’t working and Chelsea didn’t have a focal point in attack and were way too easy to defend against for Arsenal. That has become a running theme in recent weeks and with Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out and Gonzalo Higuain said to be arriving soon, Sarri is pinning all his hopes on Higuain and Hazard to rescue this season. Jorginho has ever ran out of steam or other teams have worked out how to get at the deep-lying playmaker (probably a combo of both) and right now there is no Plan B to Sarri-ball. Maybe Christian Pulisic will have a different manager by the time he arrives at Chelsea in the summer…


Cracks appearing in Liverpool’s makeshift defense
There is no two ways about it, Jurgen Klopp was a relieved man after Liverpool’s thrilling 4-3 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield. In the end Liverpool came away with the victory to extend their lead atop the Premier League table to seven points, but they rode their luck and fell behind in the first half against Palace. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend pulled their full backs all over the place and Liverpool’s makeshift defense were pushed to its limits. Before Saturday they had conceded just three PL goals at home all season long. Palace scored three and could have had more with James Milner — playing out of position at right back due to injuries — sent off after a difficult time trying to lock down Zaha in particular. Mohamed Salah dragged Liverpool over the line again, but there’s no doubt that with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold out injured Klopp will have to get creative with his defensive lineups in the coming weeks. The saving grace for Liverpool is that they are out of both of the domestic cup competitions and that could be key in the title race with Man City.


Solskjaer can do no more as United edge towards top four
Seven wins from seven games in all competitions, what more can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do as Manchester United’s caretaker boss? They’re back in the top four race and now face Burnley, Leicester and Fulham before a crunch clash with Liverpool next month. United sit just three points off the UEFA Champions League places and if Solskjaer can get them in the top four and go deep in the UCL and FA Cup this season, his chances of getting this job on a permanent basis will increase significantly. The two players who have shone brightest since he replaced Jose Mourinho are two who became the biggest enigmas under the Portuguese coach: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. The former has scored five goals and has four assists in the PL since Solskjaer arrived, while Rashford has now scored in five of his six PL games in charge. The latter looks sharp, confident and Solskjaer revealed how he is helping him calm his finishing down in front of goal. At 21 years of age Rashford has the world at his feet and right now he, and Solskjaer, can do no wrong.


Southampton’s resurgence continues
Ralph Hasenhuttl has won more Premier League points than Pep Guardiola since he arrived at Southampton on Dec. 8. Think about that. He took over a team which had won just once in 15 games to start the season and they’ve now beaten Arsenal, Huddersfield, Leicester and Everton in his first eight outings in England. The Austrian coach is fired up on the touchlines and that passion has translated to his players in a very Jurgen Klopp-esque way. Saints beat Everton 2-1 on Saturday and they should have won by four or five goals after hitting the post twice and totally dominating the Toffees. In their next three games they have Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City and a chance to push themselves up into midtable and away from the relegation battle for the first time this season. It is hard not to believe Hasenhuttl when he says “we have built something up here and I hope we can carry on like this.” Right now, Saints have a clear plan on how they want to play, they’re fitter, hungrier and are full of talented youngsters who are being given the chance to shine. Hasenhuttl’s revolution is built on high-pressing and speed in attack. Defensively Saints are improving and right now they are finally, after two years of standing still, reaching their potential.


Classic PL encounter as Wolves, Leicester slug it out

Wolves and Leicester just went at it at Molineux and the 4-3 win for Wolves will go down as a classic Premier League game. Wolves raced into a 2-0 lead, Leicester fought back to 2-2, they traded another goal each and neither team had control throughout. Wolves’ stoppage time win, which saw Diogo Jota complete his hat trick, left Claude Puel clutching his face in despair and Nuno Espirito Santo running onto the pitch to celebrate with his players. The true end-to-end nature of the Premier League was on display in this Midlands derby which was aided by two teams chasing seventh place and with little to lose. The result was an absorbing clash which was summed up perfectly by Man of the Match Jota: “This is the Premier League.”

Jose Mourinho appointed new Tottenham manager

Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho has been appointed the new head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, set to take over less than 12 hours after Mauricio Pochettino was fired on Tuesday, the club confirmed in a statement early on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pochettino paid the price for Levy’s mistakes ]

Mourinho was the first name linked to the newly vacant managerial post at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and chairman Daniel Levy wasted no time whatsoever. Given his expedient appointment, Mourinho is likely to take Wednesday’s training session and be in the dugout when Tottenham visit West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

The former Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid (among others) manager has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract which will run through the 2022-23 season. Levy described Mourinho as “one of the most successful managers in football.”

“In Jose we have one of the most successful managers in football. He has a wealth of experience, can inspire teams and is a great tactician. He has won honors at every club he has coached. We believe he will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”

Mourinho, on his appointment: “I am excited to be joining a club with such a great heritage and such passionate supporters. The quality in both the squad and the academy excites me. Working with these players is what has attracted me.

What did we learn about USMNT during Nations League?

Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The inaugural Nations League group stage is complete, and the U.S. men’s national team managed to finish top of Group A (on the final day of play) and secure its place in the semifinals next June.

[ MORE: USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis ]

So, what did we learn from the final four (semi-competitive) games of 2019?

No matter the competition, the chance creation isn’t there

Inevitably, eventually, the USMNT ends up attacking its opponents in one of two ways: with long, direct balls up to the forward line, or exclusively through wide attackers and constant crosses into the box. In beating Canada and Cuba by a combined score of 8-1 during this international window, Gregg Berhalter’s team relied almost exclusively on these “tactics.” Predictably, it’s also the default setting when facing tougher competition, such as Mexico and Uruguay earlier in 2019.

Neither of those plans are bad plans, per se, only neither of those plans are what the federation has pursued as its stated goal for the last decade: possession-based soccer featuring ample chance creation from midfield.

Five coaches have taken charge of the USMNT this decade, all with varying levels of promising the above stylistic improvements. Upon completing the USMNT’s final game of the decade, it’s fair to say that all five failed.

The worst part of all is that the presence of Christian Pulisic hardly cures anything. Sure, he’s the craftiest attacking player the U.S. has ever produced, but even a primary playmaker like Pulisic requires a stable midfield behind him to filter the ball upfield and give him a stage on which to perform. Weston McKennie was stellar against Canada on Friday, but he’s proven that, at just 21 years old, he can’t be counted on to that degree game in and game out.

The good news: they’re both 21 years old and have north of 50 caps between them. One day — and it could come soon — everything should click for each of them, at which point we could see them move to operate at a totally different level.


The full backs are suddenly a bright spot

Perhaps it’s a tad hasty to claim the full backs are trending positively, but the current crop of right backs sure looks deeper and more talented than ever before. Sergiño Dest chose to play for the USMNT and is now cap-tied, Reggie Cannon is coming along nicely, and DeAndre Yedlin has proven himself, at the very least, a non-problem plenty of times.

That’s three more reliable full backs than the USMNT has had since Steve Cherundolo retired in 2012. Unfortunately, they all play on the same side of the field.

Tim Ream and Daniel Lovitz, who started at left back  don’t inspire the most confidence or excitement at left back, but perhaps a defense-first option is the way to go given the attacking instincts of all three players on the opposite side.

If Berhalter has truly settled on John Brooks and one of Aaron Long or Matt Mizaga as his starting center backs, then the USMNT heads into 2020 with a relatively stable, non-fluid situation along the backline since… maybe the 2010 World Cup.

Small victories, but victories nonetheless.

USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis (video)

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. men’s national team ticked all the boxes — most notably, the one reading “win and advance” — in its 4-0 victory over Cuba to reach the semifinals of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League as the winners of Group A.

[ MORE: Miami and Nashville stock rosters in expansion draft + trades galore ]

Jordan Morris continued his scintillating late-season surge, carrying over his red-hot form for MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders, and scored his second and third goals of the current international break to put the game out of reach before halftime. Josh Sargent also scored twice, once in each half.

The goals started extremely early and showed little sign of letting up from there. Josh Sargent put the Yanks ahead in the 36th… second. A mass scramble ensued after Paul Arriola crossed the ball into the six-yard box and Sargent got the final touch to tally his fourth senior goal.

Morris got the USMNT’s second in the 26th minute, when he tucked home a simple one-on-one chance set up by Jackson Yueill’s diagonal ball into the box, with a bit of help from Weston McKennie’s head.

Morris got his second of the game 13 minutes later, once again the result of a penalty-area scramble and a bit of pinball in the box. Aaron Long took two chances to get the ball across the face of goal, and once he finally did it looped over the goalkeeper’s head and found Morris crashing the back post. The ball appeared goal-bound without a touch from Morris, but better safe than sorry.

Sargent finished the scoring and bagged his second of the game, and the fifth of his international career, off a clever backheel by Tyler Boyd in the 66th minute. McKennie crossed the ball from right to left, overhitting it just a bit, but Boyd was able to touch it before crossing the endline and find Sargent in all kinds of space atop the six-yard box. He took the chance with his left foot and left very little to doubt.

The result sent the USMNT miles ahead of Canada in the final group standings. Despite finish tied on nine points, the Americans finished with a +12 goal differential compared to their northern neighbors’ +6.

Miami and Nashville stock rosters in MLS expansion draft

Photo credit: Minnesota United / Twitter: @MNUFC
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer expansion teams Nashville and Miami filled out their rosters for next season via the league’s expansion draft Tuesday.

[ REPORT: Spurs, Mourinho in discussions to replace Pochettino ]

The two teams selected five players each from a pool of 222 left unprotected by their current MLS teams.

Miami added defender Ben Sweat, a Florida native, from NYCFC with its first selection. Sweat, a first-round draft pick by the Columbus Crew in 2014, has played three seasons in New York. This past season he appeared in 18 games with 13 starts.

Miami also added Cincinnati defender Alvas Powell, LAFC midfielder Lee Nguyen, Columbus midfielder Luis Argudo and Seattle backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith.

“We’re excited about what we were able to accomplish with this draft,” said Inter Miami Sporting Director Paul McDonough. “We feel we are gaining momentum ahead of the 2020 season.”

With its first pick, Nashville selected Minnesota striker Abu Danladi, who played in 24 games this past season with four starts and a pair of goals.

[ MORE: Pochettino paid the price for Levy’s mistakes ]

Nashville also selected Portland defender Zarek Valentin, New England defender Jalil Anibaba, Atlanta forward Brandon Vazquez and Sporting Kansas City defender Jimmy Medranda.

Nashville traded Valentin to the Houston Dynamo for goalkeeper Joe Willis. The expansion team also acquired goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas from Sporting Kansas City in exchange for allocation money and a 2020 International roster spot, and got allocation money from Cincinnati in exchange for Vazquez.

Nashville also acquired defender Daniel Lovitz from the Montreal Impact in exchange for allocation money and a 2020 international roster spot.

[ MORE: Where to next for Pochettino? ]

Miami traded allocation money for Cincinnati’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, a Nashville native, helped to announce Nashville’s picks at an expansion draft party. Earlier this week, Nashville announced it would host Atlanta United in the team’s first official match on Feb. 29.

Inter Miami’s first home match will be March 14 against the LA Galaxy at the new Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

The Galaxy also re-signed midfielder Sebastian Lletget.