David Luiz

Xhaka slams ‘bulls***’ criticism of Arsenal

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Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Arsenal

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Arsenal looks to rise back to third in the Premier League table as they travel to Bramall Road to take on Sheffield United live on NBCSN at 3:00 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Blades have lost their last three home games but have looked up for the task against other top Premier League sides this season and are hoping to finally secure the upset they’ve been searching.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gunners have named a nearly unchanged side from the pre-international break win over Bournemouth, with just Joe Willock coming in for Dani Cabellos in midfield. Alexandre Lacazette returns to the bench for an opportunity at a late appearance that would mark his first minutes since September 1. Kieran Tierney remains on the bench with Sead Kolasinac preferred at left-back, while Calum Chambers starts at right-back with Hector Bellerin not named in the squad.

[MORE: Preview Sheffield United v. Arsenal ]

For Sheffield United, Lys Mousset comes into the squad for Oli McBurnie, who misses out thanks to a knee injury picked up on international duty, while his DUI charge last night certainly didn’t help his chances for selection. David McGoldrick is Mousset’s strike partner with Callum Robinson dropped to the bench as well, while captain Billy Sharp can only make the bench. Chris Wilder deploys a three-at-the-back system yet again with George Baldock and Enda Stevens playing out wide on the flanks.

LINEUPS

Sheffield United: Henderson; Baldock, Stevens, Fleck; O’Connell, Basham, Lundstram, Egan, Norwood, McGoldrick, Mousset.
Bench: Freeman, Jagielka, Besic, Moore, Robinson, McBurnie, Sharp.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, David Luiz, Sokratis, Chambers; Guendouzi, Xhaka, Willock; Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe.
Bench: Martinez, Holding, Tierney, Torreira, Ceballos, Martinelli, Lacazette.

PL Preview: Sheffield United v. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal has 1 loss in its last 11 Monday matches
  • Sheffield United has 7 goals this PL season from 7 different goalscorers
  • The Blades have not lost 4 home league games in a row since 1965

Arsenal has the opportunity to jump third in the Premier League table and earn early title considerations as they visit pesky Sheffield United on Monday, with kickoff set for 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Sheffield United v. Arsenal ]

The Gunners are currently fifth with 15 points but can leap in front of both Chelsea and Leicester City with victory at Bramall Lane. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in fabulous goalscoring form with seven strikes through the first eight matches of the Premier League season, set to lead the lines again on the road.

Unai Emery has one big question ahead of the match, with Alexandre Lacazette close to a return from his ankle injury but still unsure of his fitness level. The Frenchman netted twice in three matches to start the season but has not featured since September 1. If he is only fit for the bench, 18-year-old Bukayo Saka could see another start on the wing after a bright performance against Bournemouth, or Emery could choose to move Dani Ceballos out to the wing and slide Lucas Torreira into the midfield. Mesut Ozil could also be an option but he has been a periphery player for Emery this year.

Sheffield United sits 15th in the table, just a point above the relegation zone, but the Blades have been a difficult out for Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester City already this season and seem poised to pull off a surprising result at some point soon. A trio of internationals returned from duty this past week with injuries, leaving Chris Wilder with some decisions to make. The most obvious seems to be leaving striker Oli McBurnie on the sidelines having been charged with a DUI over the last 24 hours as well as picking up a knee problem over the international break. That would most see either Lys Mousset or Billy Sharp to take the striker role alongside Callum Robinson.

The Blades have been better on the road than at home, having lost their last three at Bramall Lane. Wilder must figure out how to galvanize his team to play in front of the home fans instead of just playing road spoiler where they almost seem more comfortable.

Injuries/suspensions

Sheffield United: QUESTIONABLE – John Fleck (knee), Oli McBurnie (knee), David McGoldrick (groin).

Arsenal: QUESTIONABLE – Alexandre Lacazette (ankle).


Projected lineups

Sheffield United: Henderson; Stevens, O’Connell, Egan, Basham, Baldock; Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram; Robinson, Sharp.

Arsenal: Leno; Tierney, Luiz, Sokratis, Bellerin; Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ceballos; Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe.


What they’re saying

Sheffield United manager Wilder on team form: “I thought we played well against Liverpool but we need to pick up something from the game this time and we believe we can do that. We went after Liverpool when we could and picked our times, and we will do that against Arsenal.”

Arsenal boss Emery on Mesut Ozil: “I am really happy with the players. The last two, three, four weeks, every player – and Mesut Ozil – is working very well. This is why we can be positive and we can think we are going to do something important this year.”


Prediction

This game has the potential to be a lot of fun as both sides play a fluid style of possession and pace. Arsenal will have to keep an eye on Robinson as the 24-year-old has the ability to find spaces between defenders, and David Luiz in particular hasn’t been in great form. Still, Sheffield United has a few key injuries that threaten the midfield, and that will ultimately doom them to a 3-1 loss as Aubameyang picks up two more goals.

David Luiz is already Arsenal’s lovable new leader

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David Luiz is a lover.

He’s a man who enjoys the beautiful things in life and exploring all that the world has to offer. In the same way he marauds all over the pitch, Luiz is just as adventurous taking in new surroundings.

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The way he plays reflects his personality. Courageous, full of energy and a little unpredictable. Chatting with him is both enjoyable and full of surprises.

Ahead of their trip to Sheffield United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) his attitude is very much: ‘Why not me? Why not us? Let’s do this!’

Over the international break Luiz, 32, traveled with his fiancee and mom to Rwanda, in partnership with Arsenal’s sponsor Visit Rwanda, as he visited the African country which has transformed itself over the past 25 years after it was torn apart by genocide in 1994.

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Luiz was humbled as he paid his respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. He was in a reflective mood as he discussed the work Rwanda has done to get to this stage.

“After 25 years you can see how things have improved and how people have love for their country and you can feel love from the people,” Luiz said of Rwanda’s rebuild. “I am in love with this country and I will recommend Rwanda to all of my friends to take a trip, and I’m going to be here again, for sure.”

Luiz is a people person. There’s no other way to put it.

From leading celebrations with teammates during and after games, to sticking his head out of his car window as he drives through London to sign autographs and pose for photos, he just loves life.

“I feel a connection because I’m a guy who likes to feel a connection from the people. They are so friendly, they respect you and the way they look at you, they want you to feel at home,” Luiz said of his trip around Rwanda.

During his time in the African country he also visited Volcanoes National Park and planted new indigenous trees as he was mesmerized by its beauty.

The boy from Brazil had never stepped foot in a jungle before, and he and his family got the chance to meet the endangered Mountain Gorillas up close in their natural habitat after a long trek through Rwanda’s jungles.

“I am Brazilian, but I never had the opportunity to walk in a real jungle!” Luiz said. “To see the gorillas so near with my family and experience the wildlife, the culture and do something completely different. It was amazing to see all of the gorillas with their babies, their families. It was incredible. For me it has been an emotional trip in a positive way.”

Luiz is an emotional, thoughtful person and his passion for not just football but life shines through when you chat to him. He has a keen interest in helping the environment in any way he can and wants to leave behind a better world.

His summer arrival at Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows and he has always been a bit of a wildcard, but his experience was supposed to gel the defensive unit together. It was a big deal for him to leave Chelsea, where he was expected to be a key player under Frank Lampard, but he is certainly glad he swapped London giants.

“I really love the spirit of the club. Everyone loves the club and loves to work at this club. I love people,” Luiz explained. “To see everyone who works in the kitchen, everyone who works on the pitch, they are all in love with the club. This is amazing because this is what I enjoy and I enjoy to be with these kind of people.”

The people at Arsenal aside, have the Gunners got the players to improve things defensively and finish back in the top four after a three-season hiatus?

Luiz bristles a little when asked if Arsenal can improve enough defensively to finish in the top four this season.

“We talk about this with every single club. Arsenal is no different,” Luiz said. “I think Unai is working very well with the plan to defend and then the plan to attack. I always say, defending starts with the strikers and through the whole team, and you can see with modern football that the goalkeeper is now like a No. 6. We are going to try and improve, we are already doing well and the last few games have showed that we are stronger in a defensive way. I want this club to improve in every part of the game.”

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Luiz’s game has evolved over the years. His marauding runs from center back aren’t as often as they once were but that doesn’t mean his swashbuckling style has disappeared forever.

We have already seen Luiz take chances on the ball and bring his Brazilian flair to Arsenal’s defense, especially on the ball with goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Is Luiz, the oldest player in Arsenal’s squad, going to change his game now?

“It is the same. But this year my game depends on the team. I have to be someone who can adapt in a quality way, especially because I am a specialty player,” Luiz said. “You have to feel the moment. We need to play games, we need to win trophies. Everything was good where I was at clubs winning titles, so I can’t think in a different way. I want to win titles with Arsenal. I want to improve and adapt myself for the style of Arsenal, as a club and how the manager wants us to play. I think we can do that together.”

Luiz has settled in very quickly at Arsenal.

He is popular with his teammates and  scored the winning goal last time out in the Premier League, a deft header as the Gunners edged past Bournemouth 1-0.

“I’ve had a good relationship with players at all of the clubs, big clubs, I’ve been at during my career. I’m trying to do what I’ve done everywhere. I am working hard to improve myself and the team to have the ambition to win titles. I think this club deserves to shine again,” Luiz said. “We have an amazing team, amazing coaching staff, I think we can have this ambition and this as a goal. And then to achieve these kind of things you need to work hard.”

The hard work never stops for Luiz. He comes across as a professional, humble man, even if his lively demeanor on the pitch and off it can be misconstrued as overconfidence.

When asked if Arsenal can win the Premier League title this season, Luiz’s tone changed from being the fun-loving, mercurial defender we all know to being all business.

The man who has won the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League (twice), three FA Cups and  French and Portuguese league titles wants more silverware.

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He wants it with Arsenal and after starring in Chelsea’s surprise title win in 2016-17 under Antonio Conte, could he help the Gunners pull off an even bigger shock to launch a title push as extreme darkhorses this season?

“For me, if you start something, and we’ve just started the Premier League and all of the competitions, if you don’t think you can win the competition then you won’t start anything in your life,” Luiz said in a defiant manner. “The ambition has to be there, the dream has to be there. Also, you have to be humble and have the humility to understand how you can achieve this kind of thing. This is what you have to do every single day. To understand the plan, to work hard and understand that if you have the opportunity you have to give your best. After that, if you don’t achieve you have to understand why you didn’t achieve these kind of goals. But my vision, my ambition and my will is always to fight for the title. And between the club, the players and the coach, we have the possibility to fight for the title.”

Luiz is a many of many layers. He can be the joker, the thinker and the ultimate professional. All at the same time.

Arsenal will need him to be all of the above, and to be at his best on the pitch, if they’re going to seriously challenge Liverpool and Man City for the title this season. That may not happen, but with Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham all in transition, the Gunners all of a sudden seem to have the edge in the top four battle.

Luiz is up for the challenge and his distinguished career proves he will often prove you wrong and surprise you at the same time.

Just like in Rwanda, Luiz is eager to be a big part of the process and help the development and progress of Arsenal’s youngsters any way he can as they currently sit in third.

“I think we’ve started really well and we just lost one game in the Premier League. I think the team is improving and now we are in third in the table but we want to finish this season fighting for the title,” Luiz said. “This is our goal. I’m trying to my best for the team and for every single player and I’m so happy to be here with all of the talent we have in the club.

“Myself, as a senior play, I have over 600 games in my career, so I’m going to help the young players develop a lot and help the team… I think I’m continuing that role. I’ve been doing that the last few years already and to have the pleasure to do that. I’ve been doing that because it’s a pleasure and I like to see them enjoy improving and finding out the importance of how to play the game. I’ve played a lot of games in my career, and the only game I haven’t played in is the World Cup final, so I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”

Watching Luiz play is never boring, and Arsenal aren’t either.

In many ways this is a match made in heaven.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 8

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Maybe it was mid-week European action — don’t tell Wolves — but a wild weekend of results have shook up our Premier League Club Power Rankings.

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low


20. Watford — On an 189-minute league goal drought after managing just two shots on target against Sheffield United. Still fourth in the league in shots-per-game and mid-table in passing and possession, but the moral victories are almost meaningless after eight weeks

Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Sheffield United
Up next: Oct. 19 at Spurs

19. Norwich City — Now allowing a league-worst 17.9 shots per match after allowing Villa to put 12 of its 22 attempts on frame in a 5-1 loss that could’ve easily been 7-2.

Last week: 17
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 5-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: Oct. 19 at Bournemouth

18. Southampton — Are long-time servants Maya Yoshida and Ryan Bertrand pull out of early season slumps? Stats say Yoshida may, but that Bertrand’s decline has been steady.

Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: Oct. 19 at Wolves

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — Lewis Dunk gets all the plaudits, but Dan Burn has been very good alongside him and is keeping Shane Duffy on the bench (which is wild, considering the quality of the Irishman).

Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 3-0 v. Spurs
Up next: Oct. 19 at Aston Villa

Also, allow us to get excited about 19-year-old Aaron Connolly, who took his first Premier League start and looked the real thing.

16. Manchester United — I say this without reservation: This is the worst edition of Manchester United I have ever seen. Forget the injuries for a moment, they had no plan to deal with a struggling Newcastle and were bossed by a center midfield pair with a combined age of 40. Additionally, Allan Saint-Maximin is a wonderful dribbler, but the Red Devils’ bids to stop him will have pretty much anyone on Liverpool licking their chops. Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba are needed so badly, and one of them would be thrilled to skip town.

It’s difficult to put them below Newcastle, but hey, a result is a result. Next time head it home, Harry.

That said, as much as I wouldn’t bet anything on the Red Devils to get a result versus Liverpool, you wouldn’t be stunned if Pogba pulled one of his world-beater games out at Old Trafford against the best team in the league now, would you?

Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Newcastle United
Up next: Oct. 20 v. Liverpool

15. Newcastle United — This team looks far too wide open to stay above the line for too long, but let’s be real: The Longstaff brothers’ day against Manchester United was the best example of why we follow sports. A club which has been buried in controversy for the better part of a decade sees a 19-year-old hometown kid star in his first PL appearance next to his brother, aged just 21, and returning hometown star Andy Carroll. And that post-match presser? Brilliant.

Plus, if we told you before the season, in a vacuum, that the Magpies would beat Spurs and Man Utd in the first 8 matches of the season while hanging with Liverpool? Also, that they’d do it with 37.6 season possession? What a weird side.

Last week: 19
Season high: 15
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Manchester United
Up next: Oct. 19 at Chelsea

14. Everton — How did the Toffees respond to their promising show against Man City? By going right back to their disappointing ways. Seemingly, Everton can only be bothered to get up for the high visibility games. Fortunately for their supporters, a visit from West Ham gets the 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday treatment coming out of the international break.

Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 14
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Burnley
Up next: Oct. 19 v. West Ham

13. Tottenham Hotspur — What a mess. Mauricio Pochettino needs to be doing better with this bunch, but let’s be clear about something: The fault likes with the players and in the board room far more than the boss. I heard someone compare this Spurs’ team to Jurgen Klopp‘s last season at Borussia Dortmund and that’s ringing pretty true.

Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 13
Last match: Lost 3-0 at Brighton
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Watford

12. Sheffield United — Someone tell the Blades they were just promoted. A week after a hard-luck 1-0 loss to Liverpool, Chris Wilder‘s men couldn’t get the job done but held 61 percent possession on the road and really should’ve scored an easy away win to Watford. Arsenal and West Ham are next, and you fear that this “should be” three points counting as a mere one could sting for a few weeks.

Last week: 10
Season high: 10
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: Oct. 21 v. Arsenal

11. Aston Villa — Dean Smith‘s men had been so much better than their record indicates, so it felt good to see them deliver a 5-star showing against Norwich City. Stacking another three points from Brighton’s impending visit is imperative, with Man City, Liverpool, and Wolves next on the PL docket.

Last week: 15
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 5-1 v. Norwich City
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Brighton

10. Burnley — If Sean Dyche‘s teams were a vehicle, they’d be a pair of tractor trailers on a two-lane highway. It doesn’t really matter what you’re driving if they won’t get out of the way. Burnley is 7th on the table and unbeaten in four matches despite completing an absolutely putrid 64.4 percent of their passes. That’s as bad as it gets, and they are 7th. If I ever have an inoperable and fatal disease, I’m going to shrug, call Sean Dyche, and start planning my next decade on Earth.

Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Everton
Up next: Oct. 19 at Leicester City

9. West Ham United — Vicente Guaita was very good for Palace, but it still feels like Manuel Pellegrini‘s men should be a step above taking one point from Bournemouth and the Eagles. Instead, they feel stuck in the same rut they’ve been for ages.

Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: Oct. 19 at Everton

8. Bournemouth — Respectable score lines against West Ham and Arsenal, to be sure, but Eddie Howe and Co. will feel aggrieved not to take advantage of the wide open table with a banner result or two. There’s a good chance to stack points in the next four outings: Norwich, Watford, Man Utd, and Newcastle, but here’s a worry: Half of their 12 goals have come off set pieces. Obviously that’s a nice thing, but is it even half-sustainable?

Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Arsenal
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Norwich City

7. Wolves — The rest of the perceived contenders’ inability to rise to the occasion means Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are just two points back of a Top Seven place after back-to-back defeats of Watford and Man City.

Last week: 16
Season high: 7
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-0 at Man City.
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Saints

6. Crystal Palace — Roy Hodgson should get a knighthood. Is he knighted already? How do these things work? Anyway, the Eagles have bounced back from a moribund performance at Spurs to claim seven of nine points. Given the status of the league, getting to the January window with a mid-table place and sight of the Top Seven would given decent reason to dream of something special.

Last week: 10
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at West Ham
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Man City

5. Leicester City — Yes, Sadio Mane’s embellishment was embarrassing and, yes, the Foxes came within a breath of a point at Anfield, but it’s alarming how statistically bossed Leicester City was by a Liverpool team who played at midweek. Kasper Schmeichel was outstanding as the Foxes were out-attempted 18-2 and gave away a number of dangerous free kicks. That’ll happen against Liverpool, but we expected better from Brendan Rodgers in his return to Anfield.

Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 10
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Liverpool
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Burnley

4. Arsenal — The clean sheet against Bournemouth was a very nice thing, and Unai Emery will love that some of his bad actors from early in the season — namely David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos — were very steady at the Emirates Stadium. Calum Chambers at right back and Matteo Guendouzi at center mid were fantastic. It’s not implausible to peg either Arsenal or Chelsea as the third-best team in the league.

Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 7
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Bournemouth
Up next: Oct. 21 at Sheffield United

3. Manchester City — Failed to channel any semblance of last season’s SDB — sans de Bruyne — form in a loss to Wolves. And, with the wisdom of last season in his noggin, why didn’t Pep Guardiola start Bernardo Silva? Still a wonderful team by the numbers, it’s Palace away, Villa home, Southampton home before a trip to Anfield. Nine points are necessary, even if Palace has been a challenging side for Guardiola through the years.

Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Wolves
Up next: Oct. 19 at Crystal Palace

2. Chelsea — Frank Lampard is able to bring Christian Pulisic and Michy Batshuayi off the bench, and has not even been able to deploy Ruben Loftus-Cheek yet. The Blues will be favored to win almost every league match between now and then end of the UCL group stage, and the Nov. 23 visit to Man City carries intrigue given Chelsea deserved a point at Liverpool and we’re pretty sure that Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi may be ground into dust from overuse.

Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 4-1 at Southampton
Up next: Oct. 19 v. Newcastle United

1. Liverpool — Look: Liverpool has to win the league this year. Almost everyone else is performing at a substandard level while the Reds sit eight points clear despite not really finding their top gear yet. If Virgil Van Dijk stays healthy for most of the year and Liverpool doesn’t end its drought well, maybe there’s some sort of curse at play here.

Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: Oct. 20 at Manchester United