Five things we learned from midweek PL

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Before we start with the specifics, we learned that the midweek games were crazy in the Premier League.

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For the first matchday since 2010 all 20 teams scored, as there were upsets, goals galore, huge mistakes and plenty of talking points.

Lets dig in on five specific things we learned from what occurred over the past 48 hours.


1. Gutsy Liverpool prove the strength of their squad
Trailing at Burnley in the second half, this was a huge test of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. They passed with flying colors. Klopp left Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of his starting lineup and it looked like they could pay the price. But Salah and Firmino came on in the second half after James Milner pulled Liverpool level and the rest is history. Alisson made a fine save late on to keep the score at 2-1 and Xherdan Shaqiri finished plucky Burnley off. Klopp hit out at Burnley’s rough tactics after the game as Joe Gomez suffered a lower leg fracture in the first half, and it was a gruelling test to win at Burnley even if the Clarets are nowhere near the team they were last season. Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Joel Matip, Alberto Moreno, Naby Keita and others stepped up to help Liverpool get the job done as they sit two points behind leaders Manchester City heading into the busy festive period. Liverpool’s squad this season is so much stronger than last year and they have considerable, and game-changing, options on the bench each game.


2. Man United’s defensive issues likely to cost them top four spot
Jose Mourinho wanted two new center backs in the summer and he didn’t get them. At every opportunity Manchester United’s manager is reminding Ed Woodward what a monumental mistake he made for not releasing the funds for United to buy new defenders. Then again, Mourinho did want Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to join United… Before the game against Arsenal he said he had no center backs fit. He played three of them in Bailly, Smalling and Rojo on Wednesday. Individuals aside, the 2-2 draw with Arsenal underlined the good and the bad about United. The good: they have a wealth of attacking options who are actually scoring goals and creating opponents problems. The bad: they can’t defend for toffee. That is very unlike a Mourinho team. David De Gea‘s blunder and an own goal from Marcos Rojo gifted Arsenal two goals at Old Trafford and Mourinho lambasted the defensive play of his side. If they’re going to reach the top four this season at all (not just by Mourinho’s previous prediction of early January) they will have to shore things up defensively. As bad as United have been this season, and leaving the Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku situation to one side, they are only eight points off the top four. But they do have the sixth-worst defensive record and also have a negative goal difference. That says it all.


3. Chelsea’s title charge may already be over
The way Chelsea folded at newly-promoted Wolves on Wednesday suggests they are nowhere near ready for a title push. Maurizio Sarri said he is “very worried” after watching his side surrender a 1-0 lead as they were pushed over and roughed up by a hungry, out-of-form, Wolves to lose 2-1. Chelsea’s tremendous early-season form relied heavily on Eden Hazard and the Belgian has been off the boil in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored since early October and unlike Liverpool, those who Sarri brought into the team at Wolves struggled. Alvaro Morata had another off day, Cesc Fabregas was overpowered and Andreas Christensen was hardly rock solid. 10 points behind Man City who they face on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, it is fair to say Chelsea’s title bid is pretty much over before it ever began.


4. Hasenhuettl has plenty of defensive work to do too
Southampton’s new manager Ralph Hasenhuettl met the media on Thursday and he has quite the way with words. He also knows the one area where he needs to improve the team immediately: defense. It is often cliche to say a manager ‘needs to sort the defense out’ when he first comes in midseason, but this is so very true in this case. Saints lost 3-1 at Tottenham and trailed 3-0 early in the second half before Spurs stopped playing. Hasenhuettl has a bloated squad at Saints and the likes of Yoshida, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bednarek and Hoedt have all been used this season without finding a successful combination. Sorting out their backline is the main issue for Hasenhuettl early on as Saints have let in seven goals in their last three games in the PL, although they have scored five in that period. Going forward they have weapons to hurt their opponents but building a solid foundation is key. Then, and only then, will Hasenhuettl be able to promote his 4-2-2-2 formation which relies on high-pressing and relentless running. Southampton will be hoping Hasenhuettl has the same impact as the last manager they brought in midseason, Mauricio Pochettino back in January 2013.


5. Fulham improving slowly under Claudio Ranieri
Even though they coughed up a late goal at home against Leicester, the signs are good for Fulham under Claudio Ranieri. Fulham led the Foxes 1-0 and although they will be disappointed to not open up with two wins from Ranieri’s first three games in charge, there are encouraging signs that the players are grasping his ideas. Fulham’s defense has conceded just three times over the past two games and after the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea at the weekend, Ranieri revealed he was more pleased with how his team played there than he was in the 3-2 home win against Southampton on his debut. They look solid in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Chambers and Seri shoring things up in front of the back four. Ranieri is getting this Fulham side back to basics and the pace of Kamara and Sessegnon on the break works well with Mitrovic’s hold-up play. Working Andre Schurrle back into the team will also help, but shoring up Fulham’s defense is key to Ranieri’s philosophy.

Report: Nantes ponders cancelling Miazga loan for poor play

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According to independent French journalist Mohamed Toubache-Ter, Ligue 1 club FC Nantes is considering cancelling the loan of Matt Miazga during the January transfer window due to poor play.

Toubache-Ter was first to the news that Miazga would go out on loan from Chelsea this summer, originally thought to be to fellow French side Caen before Nantes came in last-minute with a better offer.

Since arriving on August 6 and riding the bench during the season opener, Miazga has played the full 90 minutes in every league match for the club before a yellow card suspension served on October 20. However, the 23-year-old was dropped out of the squad completely for Saturday’s 2-1 win over Amiens, and was not included in the Nantes squad for the club’s upcoming Coupe de la Ligue match at Montpellier on Tuesday. It was reported that he was not present with the team at the airport for the trip.

Miazga has been an important part of the recent USMNT youth reload, and he has played well overall in his seven caps over the last calendar year since the United States missed out on World Cup qualification. However, at Nantes, the club sits in the bottom half of the Ligue 1 table and has conceded 17 goals, three behind Amiens for most in the French top flight.

Cancelling a loan deal is somewhat complicated, and often results in a penalty fee being paid and it could sour relationships for future loans. Therefore, this is far from a certain thing. However, if the front office feels like Miazga’s presence is hurting the team or better options are likely on the way in January, the club may feel making the move is worth any potential hassle.

Miazga’s competition at Nantes includes the pair that started the Amiens match – 25-year-old Brazilian Diego Carlos and 28-year-old Senegalese CB Kara Mbodji – plus 31-year-old Frenchman Nicolas Pallois who was on the bench for that league tussle. All three were included in the Coupe de la Ligue squad for this week.

The American was originally sent out on loan because he was considered nowhere near the current Chelsea squad that includes David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, and Gary Cahill.

PL Preview: Chelsea vs. Liverpool

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  • Chelsea will make late calls on Pedro (shoulder), Andreas Christensen (illness), Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Antonio Rudiger ahead of Saturday evening’s match. 
  • Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Georginio Wijnaldum (knock) are available. Defender Virgil Van Dijk is doubtful with a rib injury. 
  • Liverpool are looking to win their first seven matches of a top-flight campaign for only the second time, after doing so in 1990/91. Chelsea are the only side to win their opening seven PL fixtures, in 2005/06.
  • Chelsea can claim consecutive home Premier League victories over Liverpool for the first time since a run of three wins between October 2004 and September 2006. 

Liverpool puts its 100 percent record on the line Saturday as it faces a rematch with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) just three days after the Blues topped the Reds, 2-1 in comeback style in the Carabao Cup.

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With Liverpool leading 1-0 at Anfield on Wednesday, Chelsea hit the knockout blow after goals from Emerson and Eden Hazard to give the Reds a setback. However, it’s the matchup on Saturday that really matters in the Premier League title push, with Liverpool looking to stay on top. However, it will be that much tougher without the defensive talisman that is Virgil Van Dijk, who is doubtful for the game.

Maurizio Sarri has transformed Chelsea from a direct side to one who dominates and passes through the midfield. Will Liverpool have a better idea of how to counter that after seeing it just a few days ago? Or will Hazard rise to the challenge yet again on the road?


What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri on if Eden Hazard is currently the world’s best player: “Maybe, I don’t know. He is for sure one of the best, but I am absolutely convinced he can improve. If he is able to improve during training, maybe he will be able to use himself at 100 per cent. We have seen only 70, 75, 80 per cent of his potential. If he is able to improve he will be the best in the world. It’s very difficult to compare him with other players. He is a genius. He is unique. Technically I think he is the best, and so I want him to be the best in the world.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on possibly opening a 5-point lead in the table: “I don’t think in these categories because it is difficult enough to try and win the game, or even to get a point at Chelsea. So, I don’t think about a five-point gap – and a five-point gap 31 matchdays before the end [of the season] is nothing. We play them again, so it is absolutely nothing. It’s only about getting points for our account. I thought the Chelsea game [in midweek] was just an unbelievably interesting game, in the analysis as well. We needed time to adapt, yes. We had a new formation, yes, and without the ball, against the ball in defending, it’s a little bit more complicated than with the ball.”

Prediction

If Virgil Van Dijk is out, expect Chelsea to whip a lot of balls into the box, seeing if either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata can get on the end of them. This game should have end-to-end action with plenty of goals, but we think both sides will share the spoils. Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool

Hazard’s magnificent goal puts Chelsea past Liverpool (video)

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Eden Hazard and Emerson scored goals as Chelsea overcame a marker from ex-player Daniel Sturridge to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in League Cup play on Wednesday.

The two teams meet again on Saturday at Stamford Bridge (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Both sides kept stars on the bench or off the 18, as Hazard and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah were used as substitutes. Roberto Firmino and N'Golo Kante also came off the bench, while Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson Becker, and Kepa Arrizabalaga were rested.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box scores ]

Chelsea nearly gave away the farm in the 46th minute on a terrible back pass by Andreas Christensen.

Daniel Sturridge read it well and ran onto a 1v1 chance that Wily Caballero slapped to the side but still on the striker’s path. Sturridge couldn’t get his body around the shot and missed the wide open goal.

Alvaro Morata nearly nodded Willian‘s cross into the Liverpool goal moments later.

Ross Barkley made a worse play than Christensen before him, but Caballero again rescued the Blues to keep it 0-0 in the 53rd.

Sturridge got his goal in the 59th minute, leaving his feet to thump a Naby Keita rebound past Caballero.

But Chelsea equalized through Emerson, who poked past Mignolet after the goalkeeper pushed Barkley’s header to the top of the six.

It didn’t take longer for Chelsea to go ahead through substitute Hazard, who started and finished an exceptional goal with, well, just scroll back up to the top of the page. Hazard cooks Alberto Moreno at the end, as the Liverpool man raises his hands to say, “At least I didn’t foul him.”

10 potential breakout Premier League players

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We know about the superstars. We know about the big-money transfers. We know about the young wonderkids.

But who are the players that have yet to reach the highest heights that could see a breakout performance? Harry Kane went from Spurs youth product to household name with 21 blasts in 2014/15. N'Golo Kante rocketed to stardom by leading Leicester City to a stunning Premier League title. Kevin De Bruyne made Chelsea sorry with 21 assists for Man City in 2016/17, cementing him as one of the best attacking mids in England. Jordan Pickford went from Premier League bottomfeeder to World Cup starter thanks to his performance last year with Everton.

So who makes the leap this coming season? We detail a few of the possible choices, will full knowledge that the true breakout star emerge come from a place nobody saw coming.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Liverpool’s outstanding young star was a true unknown midway through last season. The 19-year-old earned a starting spot in February and never gave it up, garnering respect from pundits and fans alike. At his tender young age, TAA started a Champions League final at right-back, tasked with marking the immortal Cristiano Ronaldo. He performed spectacularly. If that moment isn’t too big for the youngster, then what is? It’s not a question of if Trent will become a star, it’s when.

Harry Maguire

A relatively run-of-the-mill center-back at Leicester City before this summer, Maguire earned himself global notoriety at the World Cup, displaying aerial prowess and superior marking ability. Now, it’s up to the 25-year-old to back up that one month performance as more than a flash in the pan, whether he begins the season at King Power Stadium or at Old Trafford. Maguire set himself up perfectly with a summer to remember, but he needs a longer boost at the club level to become a true global household name.

Ryan Sessegnon

Ryan Sessegnon took the Championship by storm last season, but will need to replicate his success to earn true praise (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images).

At 17 years old last season, young Ryan Sessegnon became the first Championship player to ever be named to the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist. Beginning his career at left-back, it became clear that Sessegnon’s true value was higher up the pitch, and Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic obliged. With the freedom to maraud forward, Sessegnon couldn’t stop scoring. He bagged 20 goals and nine assists last season in Championship play, but his young legs tired as the season came to a close. If he has rested up and fires goals in the Premier League like he did last season a level below, he will be worth a fortune in a year’s time.

Lucas Torreira

New Arsenal defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira is just what the doctor ordered for the Gunners. Last season Arsenal maintained plenty of possession but struggled to cover the counter when they gave the ball away. With Unai Emery now in charge at The Emirates, the 22-year-old simply needs to beat out Granit Xhaka for minutes in the middle of the pitch. If he can earn his place in the lineup, Torreira showed in Serie A last season what he can bring to the Gunners, ranked the #10 overall player in the league last season by Squawka Statistics’ player metrics. He proved at the 2018 World Cup that his season was not a fluke, and now he’s ready to do big things in London.

Matteo Guendouzi

Matteo Guendouzi could be an impact player in the Arsenal midfield if his preseason performances are any indication (Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images).

Arsene Wenger may be gone from Arsenal, but that isn’t stopping the Gunners from plucking up premiere French young talent. Guendouzi is just 19, yet was a standout performer in Arsenal’s preseason run-up to the league campaign, and his David Luiz curls give him the edge needed to be a recognizable figure off the pitch. Costing just $10 million, his transfer from French club Lorient was utterly unnoticed, and that could make him one of the steals of the summer if he can earn regular playing time behind Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Andreas Christensen

The Danish center-back was a critical figure last season at Chelsea, earning significant playing time. However, he dipped in form through the final third of the season, and wasn’t that spectacular at the World Cup. 2018-19 appears to be a critical season for the 22-year-old, but if Christensen can recapture the form that earned him a starting role under Antonio Conte, he can develop into one of the best center-backs in the Premier League.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Spending much of his young career either out on loan or a bit-part player at Chelsea, the Blues youth product has been on these lists and has yet to make the jump into a significant role. However, England manager Gareth Southgate saw enough ability to use him in a repeated substitute role at the World Cup this summer, and that might be the signal flare Maurizio Sarri needed. Working against Loftus-Cheek is a crowded Chelsea midfield, competing for time with Cesc Fabregas, Mateo Kovacic, Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Ross Barkley, but if he can come up with the goods this year, he will have pedigree to back up his hype.

Jean-Michael Seri

With one Fulham player already on this list in Sessegnon, a new White makes the cut in new Ivory Coast international Jean-Michael Seri. The 27-year-old midfielder was a passing wizard in his three seasons at French club Nice, and he reportedly picked the Cottagers over Champions League clubs in England, Italy, and Germany. In Ligue 1 play, he was seventh in the league in completed through balls, and third if you don’t count absurdly dominant PSG. He was third overall in the league in key passes from open play. His xGBuildup, a stat that compiles the xG of every possession the player touches the ball not including shots and key passes, was better than Paul Pogba last season. Seri could be critical in Fulham’s attempt to play a Manchester City style in the top flight, and if he excels, he could be a valuable asset to not just survival but even greater accomplishments.

Diogo Jota

Like Sessegnon, Jota rocked the Championship but needs to prove he can have success at the highest level (David Rogers/Getty Images).

Wolves obliterated the Championship last season from start to finish, and a big reason why was the 21-year-old Portuguese winger. His pace was blistering, and with it he racked up 17 goals and drawing comparisons to Eden Hazard. Of the 16 games Jota scored in last season, Wolves won 12 and lost just one. He’s critical to the newly promoted side, and if he continues his form from last year, he could earn himself a look not just for Premier League Young Player of the Year, but also in the Portuguese national team, where he’s played significantly at the youth level but has yet to crack the senior squad.

Naby Keita

With so many Liverpool stars around him, it would be easy for Naby Keita to enter the Reds starting lineup in his first season and fly under the radar. Don’t expect that to happen. The 23-year-old enters into a logjammed midfield with Fabinho making his way from Monaco, Jordan Henderson coming off a spectacular World Cup, Girginio Wijnaldum having a great preseason, Adam Lallana healthy and James Milner continuing to grind games out. He has plenty of talent around him, and with any luck can be a more well-rounded N’Golo Kante, even if those are massive shoes to fill.

Bonus +1! Kepa Arrizabalaga

What would this list be without the new Chelsea goalkeeper? A relative unknown until recent weeks, the 23-year-old has suddenly become the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. He will have a massive weight upon his shoulders to replace Thibaut Courtois, and if he performs, would help Chelsea fans forget the Belgian’s departure altogether. Kepa is relatively untested with just two full top flight seasons under his belt. Yet so was Courtois when Chelsea brought him in and loaned him to Atletico Madrid where he helped bring the Spanish side to the Champions League final. His first Premier League season could go a long way to defining his future.

Others to consider: James Maddison, Jorginho, Bernardo Silva, Xherdan Shaqiri