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Liverpool is lost without lynchpin Jordan Henderson

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Liverpool’s nearly historic run of Premier League performances is over. It has been for some time now.

Jordan Henderson is injured.

“Cum hoc ergo propter hoc.” Correlation does not imply causation. But in this case, could it be? Is a hamstring injury to Liverpool’s captain actually a major contributor to the Reds’ cavernous dip in form?

It is this particular author’s opinion that Jordan Henderson is the most underrated player in the Premier League at this current juncture. His distribution, calmness on the ball, and leadership quality is undervalued by nearly every fan on the planet – even Liverpool ones. At the start of the season, I wrote that Henderson was the second-best midfielder in the English top flight. Even now I can admit that may have been ambitious, but knowing what we know now, it wasn’t that far off the mark. Yet even Liverpool fans hammered me for my pick.

According to sofascore’s player aggregation, Jordan Henderson has scored as the 11th best player in the entire league this season, and it’s largely thanks to his versatility. There is only one midfielder in the entire league this season with at least 50 tackles, 25 key passes, an 80% pass completion rate, and beaten one-on-one fewer than 30 times: Jordan Henderson. Throw in nearly a 60% long-ball completion rate, 327 passes in the opposition final third (16th in the Premier League among midfielders), and eight big chances created (sixth among midfielders), Henderson can literally do it all, at least on paper.

Take a look at Jordan Henderson’s performance in his most recent full 90 minutes of Premier League play against Norwich City a few weeks ago. Then take a look at Fabinho, his replacement, from the two most recent performances – the near-miss against West Ham followed by the brutal loss to Watford. What do you notice, right off the bat?

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Even today against Bournemouth, which Liverpool again eeked out a narrow victory which saw them slightly lucky, Fabinho was toothless in midfield, and while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to provide some creativity moving forward, two players are attempting to do the work that one Jordan Henderson can accomplish.

These are small, single-match examples, but you can see that Henderson’s directional passing is far and away more progressive than Fabinho’s. The Brazilian struggled to move the ball forward, even in a game where the Reds scored three goals. With less volume, Henderson still managed to move the Reds into dangerous positions all while keeping safe possession. Fabinho was completely unable to unlock Watford – his passing map looks like it was up against a brick wall – while Henderson found joy against an equally-defensive Norwich City side.

And yet the most compelling argument may be this: Liverpool has, to put it simply, completely fell apart once its captain got injured. Since yanking his hamstring in the 80th minute of the Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid, the 29-year-old has missed four matches – three in the Premier League and one in FA Cup play. Liverpool has stunk in all four. The Reds needed a second-half comeback to beat West Ham (that quite frankly should have been a warning sign, in hindsight), they were absolutely battered by relegation-threatened Watford, they were soundly beaten by Chelsea in the Magical Cup, and then today’s lackluster performance against Bournemouth that managed to scrape out three points. How do you argue with results?

It may be that Henderson’s true influence goes far beyond his play on the field. NBC analysts Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discussed this very thing on the most recent episode of their podcast The 2 Robbies, where they broke down what has gone wrong for Liverpool of late.

“The things that we take for granted from Liverpool were not there,” Robbie Earle said of Liverpool’s loss to Watford. “The things that make them different and special…there are things that are a given, and they weren’t there. It’s maybe a little reminder to this football club that despite great names and huge club and great history, every single week in the Premier League you have to earn it.”

He went deeper, acknowledging that Henderson may not be a brilliant footballer in terms of a flashy style, but his personality is critical to the squad.

“I get the sense that James Milner, Jordan Henderson…not on their watch,” Earle said. “Not if they’re in the team. In terms of Liverpool great footballers, they wouldn’t be at the top of the list, they might not even be in the top 10. But in terms of influence across this team, numbers one and two.”

“The one bit that’s been a constant, the one bit that’s been how they keep on this drive and determination was missing. There was a great shot of Milner and Henderson sitting in the stands [of the Watford loss], and in my mind I was just going ‘not on their watch.'”

While Henderson was still out injured against Bournemouth on Saturday, Milner returned and delivered one of his trademark work-rate moments with a game-saving goal-line clearance in the 61st minute.

Robbie Mustoe agreed, and praised Henderson’s ability to influence his teammates to work hard for 90 minutes, something that is clearly missing of late.

“Football is incredibly infectious,” Mustoe said to follow up Earle’s point. “If somebody is closing the ball down and working really really hard, you automatically do the same thing. If there’s a drop-off in somebody’s performance, they make a couple of sloppy passes and then somebody else does it, it becomes infectious as well. Once that starts, you’ve got to stop it, and Henderson will point his finger or get a hold of somebody and make sure that person doesn’t do it again and that it doesn’t become infectious within the team.”

They weren’t the only ones, either. England recognized Jordan Henderson with its Player of the Year award last calendar year, while Gary Lineker noted Henderson’s absence from the Liverpool side as well.

So, this one can admit that maybe ranking Jordan Henderson as the second-best midfielder was slightly overzealous. Yet, the argument could be there that maybe Jordan Henderson is indeed the most important midfielder in the entire English top flight, and that certainly counts for a lot, as Liverpool may be finding out the hard way.

Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract

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Arsenal is close to making their biggest signing of the summer and it’s not a new face: The Gunners are nearing a new contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Sky Sports.

The deal would give Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta long-term access to a player he wants “to build the squad around.”

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

The move is a break from tradition for the Gunners, who will give a massive raise to an older player.

Aubameyang is no ordinary veteran, though, the 31-year-old scoring 29 times in 44 matches across all competitions this season.

The Gabonese star won a share of the Golden Boot during the 2018-19 season, his first full season at Arsenal.

Aubameyang has not scored less than 22 league goals in any of his last five seasons, including the 23 he scored between Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal in 2017-18.

Recently, he led the Gunners to a record 14th FA Cup with a Man of the Match performance that included a brace.

Aubameyang has 252 goals across his last three stops at Arsenal, Dortmund, and Saint-Etienne.

The only danger here would be Aubameyang’s big money becoming an albatross akin to what happened to Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

For now, though, there’s no sign of Aubameyang slowing down and the Gunners can save those worries for a later date, as attracting a player of his character without Champions League football is a tall task.

And perhaps Aubameyang cementing his time at the Emirates will sway a star currently on the fence about a season in the Europa League.

Bayern Munich – Chelsea: How to watch, team news, prediction

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea: This is a bold statement, but Chelsea overturning its 3-0 first-leg deficit over Bayern Munich on Saturday would be a bigger flip than what Liverpool did to Barcelona in last season’s Champions League.

Yeah, Liverpool’s 4-0 second leg win over Barcelona came against a Messi-led team but Chelsea would be doing it to a Bayern team which hasn’t lost in ages and has three away goals heading into the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Does Man Utd need Sancho? ]

Bayern is on a 26-match unbeaten run with just one draw, though Hansi Flick’s men have been away from serious match action since a July 4 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the German Cup Final.

Team news

Chelsea’s disadvantage is made more severe by who isn’t available to Frank Lampard. Marcos Alonso and Jorginho are suspended, while Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta limped off the pitch at the FA Cup Final and Billy Gilmour is a long-term absence. Plus, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are doubts and who knows what’s happening with Willian (though he seems likely to at least be in the 18).

Benjamin Pavard is out for Bayern Munich, while questions surround the status of Kingsley Coman.

First leg

February’s first leg at Stamford Bridge looked more like a London vacation for Bayern, Robert Lewandowski setting up ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry for two of the Bavarians’ three goals in a clean sheet win for Manuel Neuer.

Bayern Chelsea
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 25: Serge Gnabry after scoring the first goal in West London (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

Odds and ends

Chelsea is +700 to win the leg, let alone the tie, and Bayern is -278 to grab a second win over Chelsea, according to DraftKings. Bayern is a wild minus-10000 (yes, four zeroes) to advance compared to Chelsea’s +5300.

Prediction

Shorthanded Chelsea will still be firing a bit more early and should find a way onto the score sheet. Bayern will figure it out, though, and we see a 1-1 draw on the cards (if not a 2-1 Bayern win). The Bundesliga side is very, very good.

How to watch Bayern Munich – Chelsea

When: 3 pm ET Saturday
Stream: CBS All Access

Transfer news: Updates on Silva, Hojbjerg; Leeds chase defenders

Silva to Lazio
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There are updates on David Silva to Lazio, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to Tottenham, and more in Thursday’s Premier League transfer rumors.

[ MORE: Does Man Utd need Sancho? ]


Silva to Lazio latest

Last week’s report keeping David Silva in sky blue, albeit in another country, has been buttressed by Thursday news out of Italy.

Sky Sports says Lazio is increasingly confident of bringing the living Man City legend to Rome.

Silva is set to star in Friday’s UEFA Champions League second leg against Real Madrid, a result and three more wins from a European Cup to add to his World Cup, two EUROs, Copa del Rey, and 15 trophies with City.

Lazio faded down the stretch after challenging Juventus for the scudetto for much of the 2019-20 season. The club has rumor mill mainstays Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic under contract as well as Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, the quartet combining for 58 goals and 30 assists.

Silva’s not going to hurt that production, given six goals and 11 assists for Pep Guardiola this season.

Leeds linked with defenders

Marcelo Bielsa is readying his back line for the test of 19 other Premier League attacks, one with an eye for the future.

Fulham teenager Cody Drameh and Rangers veteran left back Borna Barisic are being linked with a move to the Peacocks.

Barisic, 27, has surged back into the Croatia set-up since arriving Glasgow from NK Osijek in 2018. He had two goals and 14 assists for Steven Gerrard last season.

Drameh is just 19 and yet to make his first team debut for Scott Parker’s also-promoted Cottagers. An England U-18 right back, he registered seven assists in 17 PL2 appearances for Fulham last season.

Barisic to Leeds
Rangers’ Borna Barisic (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Hojbjerg to Tottenham, Walker-Peters to Southampton update

There are 18 million reasons for Southampton to be okay with wantaway former captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg taking the next step in his career.

That’s the transfer fee reportedly set for St. Mary’s as Spurs purchase the Danish midfielder.

The Express says that Everton had a $33 million bid accepted for Hojbjerg but that Tottenham interest swayed the player.

Spurs have also agreed a fee with Saints over Kyle Walker-Peters, who spent the second half of the 2019-20 season on loan to Southampton.

For some reason, the clubs wanted the deals kept apart, though it’s difficult not to read them as basically a swap given Walker-Peters’ reported $15 million deal.