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.

Mourinho: Manchester United ‘scored four goals, drew 2-2’

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Jose Mourinho had the one-liner after Manchester United gifted a pair of goals to Arsenal, twice battling back to level the score in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

“We scored four goals, and we drew 2-2,” he said.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-2 Arsenal ]

David De Gea mishandled a bouncing shot for Arsenal’s first goal and Marcos Rojo gave the ball away before conceding an own goal with a last ditch effort, but Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard scored equalizers for Mourinho’s men.

“As always we made mistakes, and we paid for those mistakes,” Mourinho said. “Many many times we make mistakes behind and we pay for that. Today was more of the same but we had great spirit. We were a team with people really ready to have a go and fight hard.”

Mourinho left Paul Pogba on the bench to start the game, and handed starts to several unusual players including Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, and Rojo.

He praised their efforts, in what may’ve been a small dig at Pogba (but perhaps we’re reading a bit into it).

“The feeling of our players going to the limit, being really tired, people that didn’t play all season some of them. Diogo it’s the first start, Rojo the first minute, Bailly after so, so long, Chris Smalling playing in conditions only he, myself, and the medical department know. Everybody giving everything. They were dangerous only when we lost the ball, and we lost the ball badly in dangerous areas.”

United is eight points back of the Top Four, and hosts Fulham on Saturday.

Arsenal unbeaten in 20 after Man Utd draw

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  • De Gea error gifts opener
  • Martial, Lingard score
  • Rojo giveaway previews own goal

Jesse Lingard scored a minute after Marcos Rojo conceded an own goal as Manchester United twice equalized in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Wednesday at Old Trafford.

Arsenal has not won a Premier League match at United since 2007, and drops fifth with 31 points. United stays eighth, tied with two teams on 23 points.

Shkrodan Mustafi gave Arsenal a lead, helped by a rare David De Gea error, but Anthony Martial had it 2-1 at the brek.

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The Goal Decision System helped Arsenal ahead in the 26th mintue when David De Gea couldn’t handle an up-bounding Mustafi header and Ander Herrera‘s clearance was just past the goal line.

United had an answer in the 31st as Leno palmed a Marcos Rojo free kick toward the end line but Herrera kept it in bounds with an industrious effort that went right to Martial.

Rob Holding was stretchered off the field soon after, forcing Stephane Lichsteiner to take his place.

Things took a scrappy turn with five yellow cards, three to United. Nemanja Matic joined Rojo, Jesse Lingard, Mustafi, and Hector Bellerin in the book.

Arsenal found the goal next through a double Rojo error. The Argentine gave the ball away, then charged down Alexandre Lacazette and pushed the ball into his own goal. 2-1, 69′

But Lingard scored in less than a minute! Sead Kolasinac‘s sloppy touch of a loose ball allowed Lingard to poke an equalizer through Leno’s legs.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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PL Preview: Man United vs. Newcastle

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Manchester United’s search for an end to the four-match winless streak now features a brand new dark cloud hanging over Old Trafford as the Red Devils host Newcastle at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Manchester United vs. Newcastle ]

A major report by The Mirror on Friday claims that Jose Mourinho will be fired following Manchester United’s match no matter the result, surely to dominate the pre-match chatter. Mourinho has had a tumultuous season, as feuds with players like Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial bled over into the media.

United has not won since a Champions League win over Young Boys on September 19th, a run of four matches across all competitions without a win. That stretch has seen them lose to West Ham in Premier League play and Championship side Derby County on penalties in League Cup play, plus draws against newly-promoted Wolves in the league and most recently a boring 0-0 finish against Spanish side Valencia.

Ander Herrera has missed much of the start to the season with an ankle injury, and was thought to be on his way back, possibly returning in this weekend’s match, but the BBC reports he will remain on the sideline. Marcos Rojo and Jesse Lingard also miss out for Manchester United.

For Newcastle, Solomon Rondon is out with a thigh injury, while Paul Dummett and Federico Fernandez are likely to miss out with hamstring problems. The Magpies have only won once in their past 36 visits to Old Trafford, but could have a great opportunity to buck that trend as they face a wounded giant. Newcastle has yet to win a single Premier League match this season, with just two points through the first seven games of the campaign.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on Newcastle’s results: “The results they had against the top teams didn’t get them points yet this season but gave them very, very close results and very difficult matches for the opposition, so we expect a difficult match.”

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez on Manchester United’s struggles: “In all my time in England, I don’t remember any fragile Manchester United team. All of them have been really strong every year with good managers, good players, so I don’t see any fragile Manchester United team.”

Prediction

The new report about Jose Mourinho gives this match an entirely different feel. Could Mourinho indeed save his job with a win? Is it already over for the Portuguese boss? Will the players play for him with his job on the line? Will they throw him under the bus? There’s so much unknown here. What we do know is that both these teams come into the match in poor form, and something has to give. That something feels far more likely to be Manchester United than Newcastle, even if Mourinho is right that the Magpies have deserved more from a number of results. Still, this match has a 1-1 draw all over it, a fitting end to Mourinho’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Report: Manchester United staff thinks Mourinho to be fired soon

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According to the Daily Mail, there are Manchester United staff members who believe Jose Mourinho could be fired this week.

The report states that both staff members and players on the roster were “openly discussing” Mourinho’s job status on the train ride home from the team’s most recent failure, a 3-1 loss to West Ham in London.

Manchester United sits nine points adrift of the top of the Premier League table, the club’s worst start in 29 years to this stage. The Red Devils fell to Derby County on penalties in their previous match to fall out of the League Cup in the third round, and have losses to Tottenham and Brighton earlier in the season.

Mourinho has most come under fire for his treatment of French midfielder Paul Pogba, who has been criticized and benched at times this year by the Red Devils boss, and Alexis Sanchez is the latest star to feel Mourinho’s heat. The Manchester United defense has also struggled mightily, with Mourinho unable to find his best defensive lineup. He has rotated between Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly, and even young Scott McTominay, some of whom have dealt with injuries over the course of the young season. He has also missed key midfield cog Ander Herrera who should return soon from an ankle injury.

The Portuguese manager was meant to bring the club back to the heights of Sir Alex Ferguson, and they finished second in the Premier League table last season, but with the massive gap behind champions Manchester City, it was tough to enjoy the growth of the team. This year, they have taken a significant step back, with Mourinho unable to shake the narrative that his squads implode in his third season at the club.

The biggest hurdle to Manchester United making a change is Mourinho’s contract, which has a year-and-a-half left on it and pays him a whopping $19.5 million a year, all coming on an extension signed earlier this calendar year. United would have to pay the remaining amount on his deal should they cut him loose. Mourinho even joked about his contract a few weeks ago, saying “do you know how much they would have to pay me?” when asked if he’s worried about his job security.