Liverpool freeze as Solskjaer stakes claim

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MANCHESTER — Like a rabbit startled in the headlights, Liverpool were at sixes and sevens throughout their draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Mohamed Salah was ineffective and hauled off. Roberto Firmino was injured. The midfield was cumbersome. United’s injuries confused the heck out of Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Against a United side which was missing two key players (Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial through injury) and then had to make three subs due to injury in the first half, the 0-0 draw feels like a big opportunity missed for the new Premier League leaders.

Yes, they now have a one point lead at the top of the table but they’ve drawn four of their last five games in all competitions and their rampant attack has ground to a shuddering halt. This was the first away game this season they have failed to score in and the likes of Mane and Salah were off, while their midfield three couldn’t get a hold of the game amid United’s constant string of first half injuries.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Klopp was far from happy with the result but pointed at Bayern Munich last week and now Manchester United playing very defensive against his side.

“Of course there is pressure. Actually, from my point of view, it is very positive pressure,” Klopp said. “But I don’t have to play. I sit here and say dumb things. That is easy. The boys, we all have to learn in this situation. The only way we can do it is with passion. The heart and soul of this club is passion, that is what we do. Wednesday night we have another chance and then there’s a derby. They are always emotional games. Today it was a bit constructive, the game was here and there, we had to fight. But it was a different fight than we expected and we didn’t adapt exactly like we should have. But you can now say that is not ‘class’ or whatever, but we know where we are coming from. We know where we are now. Let’s make sure we use this situation as good as possible. We will see where it ends. Today was not brilliant. We lost here more often than we drew. It feels like we should have won.”

As for Solskjaer, you could argue this was another huge hurdle he has got over as he pushes to be named United’s new manager on a permanent basis. The way he reorganized the team on the fly given all of the injuries showed he has another string to his bow after big wins against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham so far.

This performance lacked the attacking swagger and incisiveness of those displays, but it was the gritty underbelly which impressed him most.

Solskjaer was a little disappointed that his team didn’t take big chances in the second half to win the game, but given all of the injuries his side endured he was happy with how deep they dug amid major adversity.

“They dominated possession but we had the biggest chances,” Solskjaer said. “I don’t think it was a case of them not wanting to win the game. I think it was because we defended so well. They couldn’t get through. We should have, could have, won it, with the chances we have. We take it. Four clean sheets in a row domestically. That is fantastic defending.”

Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay were superb for United, the former locking down Salah and the latter shielding a solid back four, and United coped with a dire situation very well.

As well as their three first half injuries, Marcus Rashford should have been taken off for United but he had to stay on. Even though they were hampered on the pitch, United were driven on by their fans as Solskajer’s name was sung loud and proud throughout the game. The fans are certainly backing him to get the job, and understood the important role they had to play after a freak set of injuries disrupted the game.

“I’ve never seen the like of this before. Having three hamstrings in the first half, Rashy was kicked and did his ankle straight away. We should have took him off as well, but we couldn’t. Could we?” Solskjaer said. “We played with ten-and-a-half, but the fans made up for it. Rashy’s attitude made up for it to be fair. He worked the line well. We had to put him through the middle because we couldn’t risk them coming down the sides. It was a difficult game in that respect.”

United showed a different side to Solskjaer’s management and this draw against a Liverpool side who are top of the table was another feather in his cap.

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

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With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM