What we learned from Saturday’s Premier League games

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Eight games took place in the Premier League on Saturday as Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool secured wins, while a dramatic draw between Chelsea and Manchester United took center stage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

All of that means that Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea remain unbeaten and this is just the third time in history that three teams are without a defeat throughout the opening nine weeks of a season.

Below is a look at the key takeaways from another frantic day across the PL.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights


Mourinho should loosen Man United’s shackles

Manchester United have been at their best this season when they’re in desperation mode. That was the case at Chelsea on Saturday, as Jose Mourinho’s men fought their way back into the game in the second half and Anthony Martial finished superbly twice to put them 2-1 up. Of course, United conceded twice from set piece situations as Paul Pogba lost his man Antonio Rudiger for the first and a lofted second ball into the box in the 96th minute eventually saw Ross Barkley equalize. That will annoy Mourinho but what will please him is that he was rewarded for starting with an attacking lineup with Pogba, Martial, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford all in the starting XI. United pinned Chelsea back in the second half and the hard-working displays of Rashford and Martial out wide stopped Chelsea’s full backs from joining the attack.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned | Mourinho reacts to draw ]

The main takeaway from this draw at Chelsea is that perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem at United. Mourinho was set to be sacked two weeks ago and we will never know if that dramatic 3-2 comeback win against Newcastle saved his job. What we do know is that the fact United were disappointed to not grab all three points at Chelsea shows they’re moving in the right direction. Will Mourinho now set up his team in a more attacking system from here on out? Let’s not push it now, but the signs are promising that they can get back on track.


Tottenham win ugly once again

Spurs have been far from scintillating this season but after their 1-0 win at West Ham, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have ground out four wins on the spin and have now won seven of their opening nine games of the campaign. For a team missing Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose from their starting lineup at West Ham, that’s not bad. Hugo Lloris denied Marko Arnautovic on three occasions in the second half in a feisty London derby as two squad players delivered on the key moment. Moussa Sissoko did well on the right and crossed for Erik Lamela to nod home what turned out to be the game-winner. Harry Kane wasn’t at his best but he didn’t need to be as Spurs dug deep to grab another ugly win. It hasn’t been pretty from Tottenham so far but they’re two points behind leaders Man City and given the issues surrounding their stadium delay and not strengthening the squad this summer, this is probably the best start to the season Spurs could have put together. With Eriksen back fit and Dele Alli close behind him, Tottenham need two big wins in the UEFA Champions League against PSV Eindhoven to keep their season on track.


Man City’s embarrassment of riches runs riot

Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho were all on target on Saturday as Pep Guardiola‘s Man City smashed Burnley 5-0. Yes, Burnley were poor. But this was like watching vintage City from last season, as shellackings of minnows happened time and time again. Mahrez and Fernandinho scored sublime goals, while Sane and Silva finished off flowing City moves. With Kevin De Bruyne making his long-awaited return from injury as a second half sub, plus Raheem Sterling was left on the bench and Guardiola had the luxury of giving David Silva and Aguero rests in the second half.

Atop the Premier League table with 23 points from their opening nine games of the season there’s a sense that the best is still to come from City. That is a scary thought for not only the rest of the Premier League but also for Europe.


Delight for Cardiff; misery for Fulham, Newcastle

Cardiff City are off and running back in the Premier League as Neil Warnock‘s men beat Fulham 4-2 in the Welsh Capital. A six-goal thriller explains the defensive issues both teams have but Cardiff scored as many goals on Saturday as they had in their previous eight games back in the top-flight. As for Fulham, they have the leakiest defense in the PL with 25 conceded and Slavia Jokanovic’s seat just got a little hotter with the Cottagers having just one win on the board so far this season.

Newcastle would love to have a win on the board so far but that’s not the case for Rafael Benitez’s team who have become just the fourth team in English top-flight history to lose their first five home league games of the season. Newcastle sit bottom of the PL and were booed off by their fans after losing 1-0 against Brighton at St James’ Park. With owner Mike Ashley watching on, tensions are high on Tyneside with the home fans enraged that more money wasn’t spent in the summer after Benitez guided the Magpies to a tenth place finish last season. Right now, Newcastle and Fulham look likely to battle it out with Cardiff and Huddersfield to stay out of the three relegation places. That is a desperate situation for a massive club in Newcastle and a newly-promoted club in Fulham who spent a record amount on new players over the summer.


Trouble is never too far away from Mourinho

To be fair to Mourinho he wasn’t the instigator here at all. Seriously.

Marco Ianni, Chelsea’s second assistant coach, will be lucky to not escape a touchline ban as he celebrated in front of Mourinho and Man United’s bench, punched the air in delight and let Barkley’s last-gasp equalizer get the better of him.

Speaking after the game, Mourinho revealed that Maurizio Sarri and Ianni had apologized and he accepted it.

“Bad education,” Mourinho said of Ianni’s actions. “But I also made mistakes in football matches and I will make more. So when after the game he came to me to apologize, I accepted his apology and nothing more to say.”

For once, Mourinho was in the right as Sarri admitted his assistant had made “a big mistake” and the matter would be dealt with internally. Of course, the emotion of a late equalizer has got to us all but the melee around the tunnel at Stamford Bridge could have been even uglier than it already was.

Spurs issue injury update ahead of wild month

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Tottenham Hotspur has weathered an injury crisis to stay in the thick of the Premier League title race, and is getting some of its men back in the fold.

Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele have been boosted by the international break, Mauricio Pochettino revealed on Thursday.

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Dele Alli, Danny Rose, and Jan Vertonghen are going to require a bit more healing, though, via the BBC:

“Still maybe 10 days more for Dele Alli and Danny Rose is the same, one week more. Jan Vertonghen is a little bit longer. But the most important thing is that we start to recover players. It will be a tough month of competition for us.”

Spurs are two points back of the trio leading the Premier League ahead of a tricky month for all contenders.

Tottenham visits improving West Ham United on Saturday before heading to PSV Eindhoven and hosting Manchester City. A League Cup date with West Ham follows before a visit to Wolves and a return date with PSV. Then Palace, and another international break.

Get well soon, right?

UEFA Nations League preview: Germany, England, Russia in focus

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One of the unique challenges presented by the three-team groups of the League A and B of the UEFA Nations League is the seriousness of two-match weeks for one team in each group per international break.

With the tournament in its first edition, perhaps the strategy will change over time. But for now, the results have been mixed for the “two-fers.”

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine both went 2-0 and are enjoying the driver’s seats. Italy went 0-1-1 and put itself in a deep hole, while Turkey and Wales came away with a win and a loss. Iceland went 0-2, but was probably the long shot of a group with Belgium and Switzerland.

There aren’t conclusions to draw yet, so let’s take a look at the eight teams playing two matches over the next week within the top two leagues.

LEAGUE A

Germany: Joachim Loew will have been accepting of a home draw with France, but it puts pressure on the Germans to get at least that at the Stade de France on Oct. 16. First, though, a Saturday trip to Johan Cruyff Arena to face a Dutch side which really needs to find a win. After the World Cup failure, there’s special attention on Loew’s men even in a nascent competition.

Switzerland is off to Brussels and Reykjavik for a four-day span. The first one could make the second must-win as opposed to draw-acceptable: Belgium has already won at Iceland, and is home for two of its remaining three tilts.

Poland is home for both of its matches and will stay in Chorzow for visits from Portugal and Italy. There’s still no Ronaldo in the Portugal side, something that may well change when the reigning EURO champs have their two-match week. The time is now for Poland to go atop the table, and hope Portugal slips up in Italy come November.

England will not have Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy, and will have a host of green players during visits to monsters Croatia and Spain. Gareth Southgate is going to have a very good idea of where his project’s depth and youth stand — as well as Harry Kane‘s energy levels — as it hopes to cement its spot in League A for another cycle by defeating both. Tall asks, for sure, and England may be content to put its eggs in the Croatia basket since both sides lost to Spain in the first week.

LEAGUE B

Czech Republic is away to Slovakia and Ukraine in a group which staged a pair of tight encounters to start the league.

Russia can clinch the Group 2 with home wins over Sweden and Turkey.

Northern Ireland is away to Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Winning the former is almost as important as challenging perfect BNH in the latter.

Republic of Ireland is home to Denmark and Wales after getting thrashed by the Welsh in Cardiff during Week 1. Handing L’s to both feels necessary.

PL Preview: Tottenham vs. Cardiff City

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Winless in the league through the season’s first seven matches, Cardiff City will look to take advantage of a banged up Tottenham Hotspur as they meet at Wembley Stadium on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Tottenham vs. Cardiff live on NBCSports.com ]

Tottenham will be without defender Jan Vertonghen who has picked up a hamstring problem and could miss as much as six weeks. Along with the Belgian defender, Spurs will miss Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele who are all sidelined with various injuries. Spurs will especially miss the creativity of Eriksen, who has been out since suffering what Pochettino called an “abdomen problem” he picked up after the 2-1 victory over Brighton in late September.

Spurs have been all over the place with results of late, but they’ve done enough to put themselves into fourth place in the Premier League table. They fell to Barcelona in midweek Champions League play, carved up by Lionel Messi and company. However, they’ve been perfect through Premier League play aside from a two-game losing skid back in early September.

For Cardiff City, manager Neil Warnock is fearing the sack if the Premier League new boys can’t pick up points, and fast. With just two points through the first seven matches, Cardiff sits in 19th, level on points with Huddersfield Town and Newcastle. They are without midfielder Aron Gunnarsson this weekend who is on his way back from a knee injury, while Junior Hoilett is reportedly fit and ready to go.

What they’re saying

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on playing a weaker team: “The most difficult game is the game that everyone believes, outside of the team, that you must win. For us it’s so important to be motivated at the same level. If not we’re going to struggle.”

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock on the possibility of being fired: “If we don’t get results, no doubt it will become someone else’s problem. Every manager is under pressure. You do find every big agent is pushing managers’ names. I have heard two or three be mentioned already for my job, but that’s not just me, every manager gets that.”

Prediction

This Tottenham team is banged up, but right now Cardiff City is just not scoring enough to be trusted against such a disciplined team like Tottenham. An early goal will put Cardiff out of its comfort zone, and it will be elementary from there in a 2-0 Spurs win.

Unprecedented compliment? Winks says Messi ‘completed football’

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Many compliments have been paid to Lionel Messi during his years as a Barcelona superstar and world soccer icon, but few have phrased it the way one of his young English opponents did on Wednesday.

[ JPW: Messi’s Wembley masterclass ]

Harry Winks, 22, went 90 minutes in Spurs’ 4-2 loss to Barcelona at Wembley on Thursday, and suffice it to say he was impressed by Messi.

Winks called Messi “the greatest player to ever play,” though he admitted he was “gutted” to lose the match after Spurs fought valiantly without Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Jan Vertonghen (and with a clearly rusty Hugo Lloris).

And then he proffered this thought, via The London Evening Standard:

“The only way I can really describe [facing him] is he’s just completed football. The man just knows where everybody is. His weight of pass is just exceptional. He’s just special. But everyone who has played against him has said the same thing for years.”

For people like us who consider it an achievement to complete a difficult crossword puzzle, the idea of completing football is almost unfathomable but very well put by Winks.

Winks was called into the England squad on Thursday.