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Manchester City is panicking

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Manchester City fell to Manchester United 2-1 in Saturday’s derby, and one thing was blatantly obvious above all others.

Pep Guardiola‘s side has begun to panic, and there may not be a way back from that headspace this season.

Down 2-0 to the Red Devils at home, Guardiola grabbed the big red metaphoric button, opened the plastic cover, and set off all the alarm bells at The Etihad. At the end of the 90 minutes, Manchester City delivered 47 crosses, completing just seven of them. They forced Manchester United to make 40 clearances in the penalty area, and the Red Devils were up to the task, only conceding on a corner that resulted in a bullet header by Nicolas Otamendi, who was afforded the chance at an attacking move thanks to the dead ball set-piece.

This isn’t a terribly new thing for Man City, but it has reached troubling levels. City – a squad with spectacular dribblers like Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, plus world-class passers like Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva – leads the English top flight with 29 crosses per game, six more than any other team. Some of that is down to their gargantuan possessional advantage that lends itself to more deliveries of all kinds into the box, but that number is beyond reasonable explanation.

The trend has cropped up in big games over the past month or two, and it has not been helpful. Against Liverpool, Man City delivered 32 crosses, of which just five found its mark. In the Champions League disappointment against Shakhtar Donetsk, they delivered 29 crosses officially, but the strategy was far beyond that, forcing Shakhtar into 34 clearances. Against Wolves in the 2-0 defeat, they blasted 36 crosses into the area in a game that was scoreless until the final 10 minutes.  Panic.

A deeper dive is even more troubling. Even with all those crosses flying into the opposition box – again, attempting 26% per game more than any other Premier League side – they have just one player among the top 20 in accurate crosses. Kevin de Bruyne leads the Premier League with 45 total completed crosses this season, but even he has done so at just a 28% clip, which is nothing more than bang-on average. The rest of the list is completely devoid of any Man City players, forced to drop all the way to 40th in the league where Angelino, Olkesandr Zinchenko, and Ilkay Gundogan all sit with eight at a combined 29% success rate.

Clearly, strategy does not fit Man City’s strengths – the squad, as mentioned previously, is full of passers, dribblers, and general movers of the ball. They are not a crossing team. They are a spectacular passing team, with de Bruyne leading the league in key passes plus Sterling, Silva and Mahrez all in the Premier League top 20. Man City has six players in the top 10 in accurate final third passes. Yet here they are, blasting crosses into the box.

Pep Guardiola has talked repeatedly about how Manchester City is “still not ready” to win the Champions League, and yet it feels like instead the window may have closed. The team that won back-to-back Premier League titles in record-setting fashion may be in decline.

Injuries have no doubt had an effect. Leroy Sane’s knee injury has proven a much bigger absence than expected, while goal machine Sergio Aguero now finds himself on the sideline. As a result, Guardiola has leaned heavily on de Bruyne, a dangerous prospect given the Belgian’s own recent injury history.

Determining a fix is more complex than asking City to “go back to what they do best,” but any remedy certainly starts there. The problems are also not deep-rooted, as Manchester City still leads the league with 44 goals scored through 16 games, and a 45.89 xG proves that number is not a fluke. Still, the baffling tweak up front has left the team begging for goals when it needs them the most, unable to provide the killer instinct that flowed through the veins of the recent title teams.

Arteta, Xhaka: Arsenal “showed big character” in comeback at Chelsea

Granit Xhaka says Arsenal has big character
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Granit Xhaka was a center back for the day after David Luiz was sent off in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

The Swiss midfielder’s tumultuous season is most certainly in heady territory since Mikel Arteta was hired in December.

Xhaka was ebullient after the Gunners twice came back following Luiz’s red card, which preceded a Jorginho penalty.

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“We played very well after the red card,” Xhaka beamed. “So difficult, but we showed great team spirit.”

Arteta agreed.

“I am proud,” the manager said. “I said to them I believe they can get back in the game and I’m very pleased. … Tonight is going to be a great experience for (the young players) as in football anything can happen.”

He went on to discuss the Gunners oft-debated character, as the 10th place Gunners sit 10 points behind fourth place Chelsea and will finish the match week at least four points off fifth.

“After this game nobody will have to speak about us: We showed big character,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people say we have no character in the team, so after this game we showed we have.”

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things learned ]

Arsenal visits Bournemouth this weekend in the FA Cup, and will like the look of their next two Premier League fixtures at Burnley and home to Newcastle.

The Top Four is a longshot, but you wouldn’t bet against the Gunners’ attack surging them into or near fifth. Baby steps.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — 10-man Arsenal fought back twice to draw 2-2 at London rivals Chelsea on Tuesday in a wild encounter at Stamford Bridge.

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Jorginho gave Chelsea the lead from the penalty spot after David Luiz was sent off but Gabriel Martinelli made it 1-1, then Cesar Azpilicueta put Chelsea back ahead and late on Hector Bellerin drew Arsenal level again in dramatic fashion.

With the point Arsenal are on 30 points and sit in 10th place, while Chelsea are on 40 points in fourth.


3 things we learned

1. Gutsy Arsenal pass a huge test: This was brilliant from Arteta‘s Arsenal, who were down to 10 men for over an hour. Bellerin didn’t stop running. Saka was superb at left back. Xhaka played brilliant at center back after a red card for Luiz. This was a landmark moment for Arsenal in their rebuild under Arteta. With all the players they were missing (Chambers, Sokratis, Aubameyang and Kolasinac to name a few) they showed true guts to come back and grab a draw in a London derby. They are 10 points behind Chelsea in the table but Arteta has them playing with an intensity which suggests they are trending in the right direction.

2. Chelsea miss Pulisic: The Blues had plenty of the ball but lacked creativity in the final third. I’m going to say it. They are missing USMNT playmaker Christian Pulisic who is out injured for the next few games. Willian and Hudson-Odoi were handled easily by Arsenal, while Frank Lampard‘s youngsters just ran out of ideas as Tammy Abraham missed a sitter and Chelsea, at times, looked like they were playing with 10 men. Pulisic’s trickery would have caused Arsenal problems and he would have run at the heart of Arsenal’s defense. Once again Chelsea slipped up at home and their top four hopes are in danger. Pulisic’s stock has risen without doing anything.

3. Martinelli ready for the big time: He is 18 years old and he’s now scored three goals in his five PL starts. His goal was a beauty as he put Kante under pressure and slotted home after running half the pitch. His composure is brilliant and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suspended, Martinelli has staked his claim that he is ready for the big time week in, week out. How can Arteta leave him out now?

Man of the Match: Hector Bellerin – Wore the captains armband with pride and marshalled the defense superbly, then cut in from the right late on to score an equalizer. After his injury nightmare in recent years, that was a lovely moment and Bellerin deserved it for his hard work.


Chelsea came flying out of the traps as Mateo Kovacic had a shot well blocked and then Andreas Christensen headed a corner wide after he got free at the back post.

Tammy Abraham then sent a header straight at Bernd Leno then Callum Hudson-Odoi whipped a cross onto the top of the bar as the Blues dominated with Mikel Arteta screaming at his team from the dugout.

A massive moment then arrived as Shkodran Mustafi‘s awful back pass set free Abraham and he rounded Leno but David Luiz took him out to concede a penalty kick and he was also sent off.

Jorginho calmly slotted home the penalty kick to make it 1-0 and Chelsea had Arsenal on the ropes as Leno then denied Callum Hudson-Odoi.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Chelsea dominate with Cesar Azpilicueta popping up in the box and causing problems while Abraham made a nuisance of himself.

But then disaster struck for the Blues, N’Golo Kante slipped at a crucial moment and Martinelli ran in on goal from the halfway line as the Brazilian teenager kept his cool to slot home and make it 1-1. Cue scenes in the away end.

Moments later Lacazette offside lashed home but he was clearly offside as the 10 men of Arsenal took the game to Chelsea.

Chelsea finally put Arsenal under pressure late on as Ross Barkley flicked Jorginho’s long ball goalwards but Leno saved superbly down low.

In the final five minutes all hell broke loose as first Apzilicueta flicked home a short corner to make it 2-1 but moments later Arsenal were level again.

Bellerin cut in from the right and sent a low curling shot into the far corner to send the away fans wild as Chelsea’s supporters couldn’t believe it.

Michy Batshuayi almost grabbed a win for Chelsea but he couldn’t get on the end of a low cross as a wild game ended level.

Newcastle reacts after must-watch bicycle kick inspires stoppage time draw

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Newcastle United did it again.

Three days after scoring an unlikely stoppage-time win over Chelsea, the Magpies claimed a point at Everton via two stoppage-time goals in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park.

Both came from center back Florian Lejeune — who had not scored in 41 Premier League appearances — and one of them was a bicycle kick. Shoulder shrug emoji.

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The goals came in the third and fourth minutes of stoppage time in a match Everton absolutely dominated in building a 2-0 lead.

Really, this is improbable stuff. Here’s Steve Bruce, via the BBC:

“When we scored Mike Dean said there are 40 seconds left and you’re thinking ‘Can we score in 40 seconds?’ We rode our luck certainly but they never gave up,” Bruce said, later adding, “It’s a wacky game that’s for sure, but it’s great. It just shows you shouldn’t leave a game early.”

Magpies captain Jamaal Lascelles admitted that Everton deserved a win on the day, calling it “probably one of the weirdest game I’ve been involved in.”

Given Newcastle’s xG- and logic-defying year, he shoould substitue “season” for “game” there.

By the way, here’s Lejeune’s incredible first goal. Remember, he’s a center back with no PL goals when this happens.

Aston Villa scores at the death to beat Watford

Aston Villa v. Watford match recap and highlights
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Tyrone Mings scored deep in stoppage time as Aston Villa leapt out of the Bottom Three with a huge 2-1 comeback win over Watford at Villa Park.

Douglas Luiz also scored for Villa, whose 25 points find them in 15th.

Troy Deeney scored for Watford, whose resurgence stalls at 23 points and 19th place.

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American teen Indiana Vassilev again came off the bench for Villa, playing 13 minutes.


Three things we learned

1. Mings continues MVP season: You read all the time about Jack Grealish because the hometown hero and captain is gathering so many great attacking moments for Villa, but Tyrione Mings has been so, so good at the back. His 95th minute winner was deserved after another fine day at the back with 91 touches and a six-for-six record on duels.

2. Don’t get us wrong, Grealish is solid: The Villa captain passed at 86 percent and scooped up four key passes while completing five of eight dribbles. Grealish got stuck into 21 duels, winning 13, and was fouled an absurd seven times.

3. Deeney a villain to the Villans: Troy Deeney has scored 43 Premier League goals, making his career-high six against Aston Villa good for 14 percent of his top-flight outfit. Those six have come in four matches. Four. Adding to the storyline is Deeney’s status as a Birmingham City supporter.

This is a delightful cross from Gerard Deulofeu, too.

Man of the Match: Mings


Watford had less of the ball but took a lead in the 38th minute, Gerard Deulofeu continuing a lively day by assisting a powered Deeney header.

Deulofeu looked to have Abdoulaye Doucoure for a possible second only to go it alone and fire wide of the frame.

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Villa had more of the ball in the first half and nearly all of the danger in the second, but Watford’s calm back line had plenty of blocked crosses and clearances.

The Villans got their just desserts.

Luiz was at the back post to thunder home a loose ball before celebrating with the Villa faithful, and who else but Mings saw a stoppage time winner turn off him and past Ben Foster?