Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Liverpool
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Atleti ends Liverpool hopes of UCL repeat

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Marcos Llorente scored twice in extra time, the first off an extra-time blunder from Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian, as Atletico Madrid knocked the reigning champions out of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

The match finished 3-2 to Atleti, 4-2 on aggregate, as Alvaro Morata scored late to pour salt in Liverpool’s wounds.

[ MORE: Klopp, Milner react | Simeone, too ]

The Reds forgot their finishing boots on a dominant day, out-attempting Diego Simeone’s visitors 34-9. Atleti goalkeeper Jan Oblak made nine saves.

Roberto Firmino’s goal in the fourth minute of extra time joined Georginio Wijnaldum‘s first-half goal to give Liverpool an advantage it held for less than two minutes.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Gini and The Ox run the show, but miserable finishing kills Reds: Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rewarded Jurgen Klopp for his risk of removing off-kilter star Fabinho from the Starting XI. The pair teamed up on the opening goal but it was more than that that earned them headlines. Wijnaldum was the best player not named Jan Oblak in the first half, while Oxlade-Chamberlain was a menace to Atleti’s midfielders in the second frame. While Jordan Henderson was understandably a bit rusty at times, his center midfield mates delivered the goods.

That said, Liverpool’s finishing was a combination of truly poor and terribly unlucky. Even when the Reds went ahead in stoppage time, it was Firmino cashing in a rebound after his first shot toward a gaping half of the goal hit the post. Robertson headed off the cross bar. Mohamed Salah shot ball after the ball almost directly to Jan Oblak or over the goal. This won’t go down as “Atleti is so hard to break down,” though Simeone’s men obviously are a tough team; The Reds just didn’t finish enough of their many, many chances.

2. Oblak almost everywhere: Not sure where exactly the joke is here, but Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper blocked nearly everything that came his way, inspiring “Oh” and “Oh” from the Anfield faithful. The Slovenian shot-stopper

3. Adrian gives it away: Spanish keeper Adrian had very little to do on the day in filling in for the injured Alisson Becker, but ultimately will go down as the man responsible for Liverpool’s failure to defend its UCL crown. He made three saves on the day, but his poor pass up the middle of the pitch to Joao Felix will be what everyone remembers as Liverpool again loses a big UCL match due to a goalkeeper error (and terrible finishing).

Man of the Match: It’s Oblak. Yes, Llorente scored twice. Sure, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum were incredible. But the Slovenian commanded his box in the face of extreme adversity and congestion.


Liverpool entered the match with predictable vigor, Jan Oblak’s first duty coming off a Georginio Wijnaldum header of a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross.

Atleti found its footing soon after, Kieran Trippier unable to turn a long diagonal ball off a free kick back toward goal.

Salah tempted the frame with a 20-yard attempt in the 10th minute, and Oblak made a sprawling denial of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain four minutes later.

Atleti won a corner in the 17th, but Felipe nodded short of the near post.

Salah took advantage of a Renan Lodi slip to cue up Sadio Mane, but his bounding shot was blocked and collected by Oblak.

The Atleti keeper then made a fantastic save on Roberto Firmino after an incisive Alexander-Arnold cross.

Wijnaldum leveled the tie in the 43rd minute, and the goal had been coming. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross found a wide-open Wijnaldum at the spot for a powered-down header that bounced past Oblak.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Salah stung Oblak’s palms early in the second half, and the Atleti keeper stopped an offside Mane with a fantastic left-hand save in the 50th.

Oblak got low to palm away an Oxlade-Chamberlain drive, conceding a corner.

Joao Felix had a chance out of nothing, and Adrian bumbled the ball but saved his error by blocking Correa’s chop at the rebound.

Robertson was celebrating a would-be go-ahead goal off a Salah cross, but it hit the cross bar in the 67th minute. Oblak made another fine save before the rebound was blocked by a defender.

An 81st-minute corner routine set up Robertson for glory, but he blazed clear of the frame from 18 yards.

Wijnaldum couldn’t finish with a back post header off a James Milner cross, and Mane smashed an overhead kick over the bar.

Saul Niguez was offside when he headed a stoppage-time free kick home, and the match moved to extra time.

Oblak made another save to start stoppage time, his ninth of the match. Firmino then took his rebound off the post to make it 2-0.

But wait, Atleti had an answer when Adrian’s clearance went right to Joao Felix. A few touches later it was 2-1 through Llorente’s low drive, and he added another through a well-worked counterattack to stun the reigning champs.

Morata blazed past the Liverpool back line to seal the result deep in the second period of extra time.

WATCH: Wijnaldum levels Champions League tie for Liverpool before half

Georginio Wijnaldum
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Liverpool’s on the front foot at Anfield.

The Reds got a Georginio Wijnaldum header before halftime to level their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie with Atletico Madrid at 1-1 on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Wijnaldum had probably been Liverpool’s best player in the half, winning seven of his 11 duels and claiming two tackles in the midfield.

He also put both of his shots on target, the second clearly more impactful than the first.

Liverpool worked down the right flank to free up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the English midfielder swung a cross to the penalty spot.

Wijnaldum was there unmarked, and the Dutchman pounded his header off the turf and past Atleti keeper Jan Oblak.

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?

(Here is the legend for StatsZone dashboards used in this article)

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.

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ] 

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.

Super sub Mane gives Liverpool win at Norwich City

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Sadio Mane’s late winner off the bench withstood VAR to keep Liverpool’s unbeaten league season in tact with a 1-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The goal, Mane’s 100th in England, gives Liverpool a 25-point lead atop the Premier League table, second-place Man City holding a game-in-hand.

Liverpool will tie the English top-flight record for most consecutive wins if it claims a win on Feb. 24 versus West Ham United.

Last place Norwich City remains seven points back of safety, though their performance will keep hope alive for its supporters.


Three things we learned

1. Super sub Sadio winner withstands VAR review: Mane used a small shove — but a shove nonetheless –of a Norwich City defender to get himself a bit of space, and slotted past Krul in the 78th minute. The Video Assistant Referee did not see enough to overturn the goal, assisted by Jordan Henderson‘s able long ball.

2. Carrow Road feeds the desperate Canaries: The hosts were up for this one from Moment No. 1. Daniel Farke‘s men were very sound in the first half and opened up zero chances of real danger, and would’ve been ahead 1-0 had they converted an early opportunity. Liverpool could not take advantage of the chances earned by their pressing high up the field, and needed to go their bench for a look.

3. Norwich the latest to waste a gilt-edge chance provided by Liverpool: Maybe it was winter break rust, but the Reds back line fell asleep but lived to tell the story thanks to Lukas Rupp‘s soft pass and Alisson Becker’s quick hands.

Man of the Match: Naby Keita and Trent Alexander-Arnold were Liverpool’s best players on the day, but it can’t be taken away from Mane.


A lively Carrow Road saw Liverpool with the ball in the early stages, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hitting a low shot to Tim Krul in the seventh minute.

Despite a wealth of possession for Liverpool, Norwich got a glorious chance. Lukas Rupp had Alisson Becker beaten when he laid off for Teemu Pukki, but the pass was weak and the Liverpool goalkeeper snared it.

That was really it for first half danger. Liverpool had all nine of the match’s shots but only Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early attempt went to Krul.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Reds threatened in the second half, with Krul denying Mohamed Salah then getting back into position to make a fine save on Naby Keita.

Alex Tettey hit the outside of the post in the 73rd minute, though it looked like Alisson had the angle covered if the effort was accurate.

That’s when Mane got his goal.

Pukki belted a shot into the chest of Alisson in the 89th minute.