Three things we learned: West Ham v. Liverpool

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LONDON — Liverpool dropped two more points in the Premier League title race, as they drew 1-1 at West Ham United.

Pressure does strange things to teams at this part of the season.

Monday’s trip to the London Stadium offered Jurgen Klopp‘s men the chance to open up a five-point gap atop the table, but a spirited Hammers side cancelled out Sadio Mane‘s controversial opener as Michail Antonio grabbed them a well-earned point. And West Ham could’ve easily won the game had they taken their chances.

With Liverpool now drawing to both Leicester and West Ham in their last two games, Manchester City can jump top of the table with a win at Everton on Wednesday and put the pressure back on the Reds.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the London Stadium, as the title race is well and truly on.


LIVERPOOL SHOULD BE HAPPY WITH A DRAW

In the first half West Ham should have been at least 3-0 up. Liverpool were all over the place from defensive set piece situations, holding a high line for no apparent reason. Antonio scored from one situation. Declan Rice somehow nodded wide from another and both Aaron Cresswell and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez drilled just wide from counters which stretched Liverpool’s defense easily. It was as if Liverpool’s defenders were keen to keep their high-line no matter what, and in the second half they were lucky both Felipe Anderson and Mark Noble lost their cool in the penalty box when big chances arrived. Liverpool had chances themselves, as they always do, but this was far from a game where they played well and had to settle for a draw against a stubborn West Ham side. Klopp’s men got away with one by not losing at West Ham and now they are just three points ahead of Man City atop the Premier League table, and must expect City to beat Everton on Wednesday and slip to second place, albeit with a game in hand. Injuries are impacting Liverpool, but Klopp’s men are showing signs that they are cracking under the pressure. The nervous tension emanating from Liverpool’s fanbase is seeping into the previously carefree players. The 29-year wait for a league title is weighing heavy on everyone connected with Liverpool right now.


WEST HAM COUNTER TO PERFECTION

Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and now Liverpool have all failed to win at the London Stadium and for Pellegrini this was a perfect response after three-straight defeats for the Hammers in embarrassing fashion. Like Leicester City, the Hammers are one of those teams outside of the top six who frighten the life out of the big boys. When they aren’t forced to possess the ball, create chances and take the games to opponents, that is when they are at their best. Sure, Manuel Pellegrini has brought a certain panache and control to their game since arriving in the summer, but the fact that both Marko Arnautovic and Samir Nasri were missing through injury did them a favor. Anderson, Antonio and Chicharito pounced when they could on the counter and the pace of full backs Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks was helpful in supporting attacks and stopping Mane and Salah from running riot. In truth, West Ham’s wasteful finishing let Liverpool off the hook. Yes, West Ham’s fans want them to be more attractive to watch but when they counter this well, it’s hard to see them not deploying these kind of tactics on a regular basis against the big boys. They lost their impetus when Andy Carroll came on late in the game and that proved what direction the Hammers must move in going forward. They have the squad to hurt teams on the counter and must realize, and play to, their strengths.


INJURIES MOUNT UP FOR KLOPP

The news that Joe Gomez now requires surgery on a fractured leg was bad enough for Liverpool fans to wake up to Monday, but when Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren and particularly Georginio Wijnaldum missed the game at West Ham due to injury, the alarm bells were ringing. A midfield trio of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Adam Lallana should have had enough quality to wrestle control of this game but Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Declan Rice won that battle rather easily. Joel Matip appears to frighten the life out of his fellow defenders when he plays and even the usually placid Virgil Van Dijk was caught out as Liverpool’s undoubted defensive leader failed to settle things down. James Milner, playing at right back, was targeted throughout and both Snodgrass and Anderson had a field day drifting out to his flank. Liverpool’s squad is not quite large enough to deal with injuries to five key players, as Milner and Henderson at right back in recent games has shown. Letting Nathaniel Clyne leave on loan in the January window and not adding another defender as back up could be the difference for them in this title race.

Atleti escapes major punishment for fans’ Griezmann threats

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid escaped major punishment Wednesday after its fans made threatening chants against former player Antoine Griezmann during last weekend’s La Liga match against Barcelona.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The Spanish league had denounced the club after some fans chanted “Die Griezmann” in Sunday’s match, won by Barcelona at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.

The Spanish soccer federation said it would fine Atletico $333 because the game was disrupted, but it did not cite the chants against Griezmann. The fine was prompted mainly because fans threw objects — including an umbrella — onto the field.

The Spanish league had denounced the club to the federation’s anti-violence committee, saying about 2,000 fans from Atletico’s “ultras” section made the chants for about 20 seconds before the start of the second half, and again later in the game.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Griezmann left Atletico for Barcelona at the end of last season in a transfer worth more than $132 million.

The France forward was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball at the Metropolitano on Sunday. It was his first match at Atletico’s stadium since leaving the club.

Klopp to take first team to Club World Cup, leave youth for EFL Cup

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Jurgen Klopp has chosen his strongest possible Liverpool squad to take to the Club World Cup later this month, leaving a reserve- and youth-laden team behind to compete in the EFL Cup during the same period.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Liverpool will head to Doha, Qatar, for the Club World Cup, where they’ll play their semifinal fixture against one of Monterrey (Mexico), Al-Saad (Qatar) or Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia) on Dec. 18. The day prior, on Dec. 17, the Reds will also play away to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. With the club’s star-studded first team in Qatar, progression to the semifinals of the League Cup will be down to a team full of teenage prospects.

Only defender Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho, both of whom are currently injured and unavailable, were left out of the Club World Cup squad.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Players suffering from illness or injury prior to Liverpool’s first Club World Cup game can be replaced in the squad up to 24 hours before kickoff.

Liverpool’s Club World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Defenders: Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams

Forwards: Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi

Hazard has muscle tear, could miss El Clasico

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard has a more serious right-leg injury than the bruise that was first diagnosed, and it could rule him out of El Clasico against Barcelona on Dec. 18.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Madrid said Thursday that new tests found a micro-tear of a muscle that had gone undetected since the injury occurred on Nov. 26 in a 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.

Hazard joined Madrid from Chelsea this year on a club-record transfer of $113 million, plus add-ons. He missed the first three games of the season after injuring a thigh muscle in the preseason.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Madrid said it will also likely be without left back Marcelo for Saturday’s home game against Espanyol because of a muscle injury.

Madrid is in second place in the Spanish league behind Barcelona on goal difference.

Alli: “Arrogance, over-confidence” cost Spurs in Man Utd loss

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Tottenham Hotspur suffered their first loss of the Jose Mourinho era on Wednesday — a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford — which suddenly resurgent star Dele Alli believes was down to his side’s “arrogance” and “over-confidence.”

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Speaking after Wednesday’s game, Alli, who scored a sensational solo goal (WATCH HERE) to bring Tottenham level in the first half, revealed that he foresaw and tried to combat those destructive feelings, as well as the mindset of Man United playing at home against another of the “top-six sides” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I tried to fight exactly that state of mind. I tried to tell them exactly the way United approach these matches at home — against Liverpool [1-1 draw], against Chelsea [4-0 win], always they start strong with people running, pressing, trying to lift the morale of the supporters.

“Normally they come from bad results against smaller teams so when they face the big teams people think it’s going to be more difficult for them. It’s not more difficult for them because the style changes and they feel comfortable against this style of play.

“In the second half, we knew what we were going to do with the result at 1-1. After one minute you concede a goal. We have to blame ourselves. I think United must obviously be happy with the points, and overall they deserved it.”

Two takeaways form Alli’s comments:

1. Alli appears to have taken a much larger role in leadership within the team, taking it upon himself to “try to tell [his teammates]” what to expect and how to approach a given game. Given his red-hot form of late (four goals in four games), Alli’s confidence has clearly been restored by Mourinho’s arrival.

2. Speaking of positive feelings restored, the fact that Spurs felt “arrogant” or “over-confident” this season is news itself, the surest sign that the season can be salvaged, and an indication that three wins from Mourinho’s first three games were more than the standard “new manager bump.”