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

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Seven games took place in the Premier League on Saturday, as the games returned after the two-week international break.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

With seven games to go for most teams, the business end of the campaign has now arrived and the spring sunshine in England saw both Manchester clubs win, Huddersfield go down and plenty of teams jostling for Europe.

Here’s a look at what we learned from another intriguing day of action as we enter the home stretch of the season.


Problems for Ole to sort out
Manchester United are in the top four and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrated getting the job on a permanent basis with a win. But he is far from happy. The Norwegian coach has seen his United side labor in recent weeks, and that was the case once again in their 2-1 win against Watford at Old Trafford. United were outplayed for large periods and the Hornets didn’t take their chances.

“Watford started off really well and we struggled to get to grips with their tempo,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports afterwards. “We defended great, and after about 20 minutes, I felt we were more comfortable. It was more a draw, performance wise. We’ll take the three points. Some of the players who went away maybe played too much.”

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial scored in either half to paper over the cracks, but there are issues for Solskjaer to sort out. A lot of his players were coming off injuries and a long international break, but there is certainly a growing trend of teams sitting deeper against them and nullifying the threat of their devastating counter attacks. So United have to develop a Plan B under Solskjaer. Also, if you can get at United’s midfield trio of Herrera, Matic and Pogba, like Watford did very well, then you can stop their counter attacks at the source. Solskjaer has already said United will do business and spend money well this summer. His top priority should be shoring up his defense and bringing in a new holding midfielder to help not only plug the gaps in front of the back four, but dictate the tempo of games. At the same time Solskjaer knows he has to sort a few things out, he also knows he has that classic Sir Alex Ferguson knack of winning games when his team doesn’t play at  its best. That is priceless.


City put the pressure on Liverpool
The way Manchester City played in the first 30 minutes at Craven Cottage, you just felt like you were watching the best team in Europe, if not the world. Sure, they were playing 19th-placed Fulham, but the Cottagers were petrified of giving the ball away and did so twice early on. Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero (his minor injury was the only negative for City) punished them on both occasions and that was that. City should have won by four or five, but it was a case of job done ahead of a busy few months which could see them win an unprecedented quadruple. They have now go back to the top of the table and all eyes will be on Liverpool who play against Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday, then travel to in-form Southampton on Friday. Over to you, Jurgen Klopp and Co.


Leicester in fine fettle under Rodgers
With four wins from five games since Claude Puel was fired, Leicester have certainly got that ‘new manager bump’ those in charge crave when making the switch. But aside from a sudden jolt up the table this Leicester team are showing real progress in less than two months of working with Brendan Rodgers. This is exactly why he left Celtic. Leicester demolished Bournemouth on Saturday to make it three wins in four under Rodgers, with Jamie Vardy scoring his fifth goal in five games and Wes Morgan popping up to score in back-to-back PL games. The old guard is still there, but Rodgers’ young talents are the reason why Leicester’s fans can be so optimistic about the future. Maddison, Chilwell, Gray and Tielemans all impressed, and all are 22 years of age or younger. It will be intriguing to watch Rodgers nurture this young side into one that can become ‘the best of the rest’ in the PL. With Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea to play in their final three games of the season, Leicester may struggle to finish seventh and qualify for the Europa League this season. But the future is looking very bright as Rodgers has found a nice mixture of counter-attacking play coupled with composed possession.


Relegation picture getting clearer
Huddersfield’s fairytale is over, as the Terriers were relegated from the Premier League on Saturday. It was the second earliest relegation in PL history, and it has been expected since January when David Wagner left. Huddersfield staying up last season, after their unexpected promotion to the top-flight, defied the odds but they simply ran out of steam. Their decision to not spend beyond their means on their playing squad was what ultimately cost them. Huddersfield are a well-run club with loyal fans and a clear playing philosophy. They will be pushing hard in the second-tier next season. With one team gone and Fulham about to go, all eyes are now on Cardiff City. Neil Warnock‘s men are now five points from safety and although they have two games in hand on Burnley who sit one place above them in the table, they have to play Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Liverpool in their final eight games. With wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Burnley on Saturday, it appears that the relegation picture has just become a lot clearer. Unless, of course, Cardiff can upset Chelsea on Sunday…

Mancini says he wants Balotelli back with Italy on merits

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Italy coach Roberto Mancini says he prefers to recall Mario Balotelli for his qualities as a player, not as a message against racism.

Balotelli has not been called up by Mancini in more than a year but Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina has said naming him in the squad would send a strong message after the Brescia forward was racially abused recently.

Mancini said Monday that “if Balotelli gets another chance, it will be because he deserves it from a technical point of view.”

Balotelli was included in Mancini’s first two squads but again was omitted from upcoming European qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia.

Balotelli has long said his goal is to rejoin the national team for next year’s European Championship.

The 29-year-old striker has scored two goals in seven matches this season.

Cardiff City parts ways with Neil Warnock

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Cardiff City has fired manager Neil Warnock with the 70-year-old boss in his fourth season with the club.

The Bluebirds sit 14th in the Championship table, on a six-match run that features just a single win.

Warnock’s tenure at Cardiff City featured promotion from the Championship in 2017/18 via a second-place finish in the league table. It wouldn’t last long, as they were relegated the next year, finishing 18th, two points back of Brighton Hove & Albion in safety.

“I am leaving my beloved Bluebirds after over three years of which have been some of the best days in my long football career,” Warnock said, with the club officially stating the decision came via mutual consent. “It is a shared belief that this is the right time for a new voice as we believe this squad of players is more than capable of getting success.”

“On behalf of Cardiff City Football Club, I thank Neil for his invaluable contribution to the future of this great Club,” said Cardiff City FC Chairman Mehmet Dalman in a club statement. “He not only gained promotion in his first season but played a pivotal role in uniting the fans and the club. I am personally upset by his departure and wish him the very best for the future.”

At 70 years old and completing his 17th managerial stint with 15 different clubs, it is possible that Warnock’s managerial career is complete. The Sheffield-born former Barnsley player, who turns 71 in less than a month, has taken charge of 112 Premier League games and overseen a record eight promotion campaigns in his career to date.

At Cardiff, Warnock took charge of 144 matches total, with 59 wins. He was in the position for the death of Emiliano Sala, which he called “by far the most difficult week of my career.”

Arsenal front office gives Unai Emery vote of confidence

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The Arsenal front office has publicly issued support for manager Unai Emery despite the negative run of results that has left fans wondering what is next for the Gunners.

Speaking at a pre-planned meeting with over 200 Arsenal staff members in attendence, head of football Raul Sanllehi and the managing director Vinai Venkatesham were the ones to deliver Emery’s vote of confidence.

“We are as disappointed as everyone else with both our results and performances at this stage of the season,” they said in the meeting as quoted by The Guardian and Goal.com. “We share the frustration with our fans, Unai, players and all our staff as they are not at the level we want or expect. Things need to improve to meet our objectives for the season, and we firmly believe Unai is the right man for the job, together with the backroom team we have in place.”

“We are all working intensively behind the scenes to turn things around and are confident we will. We never take our fantastic support for granted. We hope we can all stick together and get behind the team in this challenging period, as together we are stronger.”

Calls for Emery’s job have grown louder in recent weeks as the club flounders in both Premier League and Europa League competition. The Gunners have failed to win its last four league matches in a row with losses to Sheffield United and Leicester City sandwiching a pair of draws with Crystal Palace and Wolves. They also looked lackluster in a 1-1 draw against Vitoria Guimaraes in European play.

Most alarmingly, Arsenal continues to throw away winning positions, coughing up leads in both recent Premier League draws as well as the Vitoria Guimaraes match. They also threw away a two-goal lead to Watford earlier this season, and nearly lost at home to newly-promoted Aston Villa, requiring a last-gasp winner from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Granit Xhaka affair has also blighted Emery’s time, with the Swiss midfielder looking to earn his place back in the squad after being stripped of the captain’s armband for negative gestures towards the booing Arsenal crowd.

How should Liverpool and Egypt manage Salah injury?

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Mohamed Salah has struggled with a nagging ankle injury the last month, and the recurring problem reappeared during the 3-1 win over Manchester City.

Soon after Salah scored Liverpool’s second goal in the massive victory, he was caught by Fernandinho and lay clutching his left ankle in clear pain. The Egyptian received treatment and stayed on the pitch, but was withdrawn in the 87th minute for Joe Gomez who came on as an extra defender with Liverpool looking to see the game out.

After the game, Salah was seen with ice strapped to his ankle, and an ESPN report claims that Liverpool “has major concerns” over the winger’s recurrence. With international duty coming up, it remains to be seen how both club and country maintain his health.

Last month, with the injury still fresh following a challenge by Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury that started this mess, Liverpool reportedly requested that Egypt leave Salah out of the squad for friendlies against Botswana and Liberia. The national team begrudgingly accepted the club’s request, although there were reports in Egypt that manager Hossam El-Badry was unhappy. Now, with Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on the horizon this international break, Egypt will very much want its star forward in the lineup. Salah has apparently chosen to report for international duty and assess his new knock with his Egypt team doctors, and the club will have no choice but to accept that decision and wait on the results.

And yet, he now appears to be walking wounded again. Should Egypt call up Salah for a massive qualifier against Kenya on Thursday, and again for the follow-up against lowly Comoros? They produced a pair of 1-0 wins in the friendlies last time out, but with a stronger opponent in this international break’s opener, Salah’s presence would be a boost. Still, if he is less than 100%, he could be a hindrance to the squad, and harming his long-term fitness could be of concern not just to his club, but country too.

Obviously, Liverpool will hope he is omitted, but the club is in a tough position having already requested he sit last break. Salah’s overall performance has dropped since initially picking up the injury against Leicester City last month, although he still does have three goals and two assists on the board across all competitions. If he does play for Egypt this week, how should the club proceed? With Premier League games Crystal Palace, Brighton, Everton, and Bournemouth coming up, it’s possible that Jurgen Klopp saves Salah for Champions League meetings with Napoli and RB Leipzig that feel more threatening. Still, leaving the club vulnerable in the Premier League risks potentially allowing Manchester City to climb back into the title race, squandering the momentum built up this weekend.

Deciding how and when to deploy Mohamed Salah could be one of the more difficult decisions Jurgen Klopp makes over the next few months, and it could seriously affect Liverpool’s chances to secure its first Premier League title. It remains to be seen how much – if at all – Fernandinho’s challenge has worsened the issue, and