What we learned in Premier League

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Week 17 in the Premier League set things up very nicely for the festive period, with some upsets and the title race well and truly on and the chasing pack changing all of the time.

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Here’s a look at the key takeaways from the 10 games which took place over the weekend.


Liverpool’s squad is now incredibly strong
The way Jurgen Klopp‘s side battered bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday proved just how far they have come over the past 12 months. Last season they finished behind United, and just about halfway through this campaign they are 19 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s side. Much of that improvement is down to Alisson, Virgil Van Dijk and the entire defensive unit, but the squad Klopp has now assembled is the strongest Liverpool have had in almost a decade. And perhaps ever. Fabinho, in for the injured James Milner, was a monster in midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri had a huge impact as he jumped off the bench and scored with two deflected strikes. Nathaniel Clyne, starting his first PL game of the season, was also phenomenal stepping in after injuries to Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Everyone connected with Liverpool knows this season is their best chance of ever winning the Premier League. They are a better team than they were in 2013-14 and defensively they will not lose games, and points, by themselves. They also have to take Manchester City head on, something they proved they could do last season when they beat them in the league at Anfield and in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds. With a one point lead, the outcome of Liverpool’s trip to Man City on Jan. 3 will be huge in the title race.


Southampton have lift off under Hasenhuttl
The scenes at St Mary’s at the final whistle on Sunday looked as if Southampton had just secured safety from relegation on the final day of the season. But you could forgive the home fans, and players, for celebrating as their dramatic 3-2 win over Arsenal was their first home win since April. New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of his first Saints home game and ahead of it he gave each season ticket holder a beer voucher and asked them them to join them in his boat and to grab an oar. They did. And they’ve been craving, as have the players, a chance to return to the high-pressing tactics which fuelled their rise under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman. Last week I visited Saints’ training ground to chat with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a young Dane who has been tasked with leading Hasenhuttl’s revolution. On the training pitches Hasenhuttl has dissected them into small boxes which the players must stay into as he develops their defensive organization. It is working, even if small errors defensively almost cost them a big win against Arsenal. In truth, with the squad Southampton have there is no way they should be anywhere near the bottom three. Hasenhuttl is truly living up to the “Klopp of the Alps” nickname, as the similarities between him and Liverpool’s manager are clear for him to see.

Having Danny Ings fit again made a huge difference as his two goals against a makeshift Arsenal defense set them on their way. Hasenhuttl’s wild celebrations show he has already lifted the entire club and his vision for the way he wants them to play is clear. Sunday marked the first time Southampton had beaten a top six team in over two seasons, and ahead of games against Huddersfield and West Ham it gives them the perfect early Christmas present.


Tottenham maturing perfectly
It may be cliche, but I’m going to say it anyway: winning games when you’re not playing well is the sign of a good team. If you think Manchester United’s treble winning team in 1999 played fluid, attractive soccer every time they stepped onto the pitch then your mind is playing tricks on you. Like that United team, Spurs have the knack of hanging in games and delivering late goals to win or draw. They did that against a stubborn Burnley outfit on Saturday at Wembley as Christian Eriksen popped up in stoppage time to grab a 1-0 win which caps off a perfect week after their draw at Barcelona to surprisingly reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino have yet to hit top gear this season but they’re in third place, have the excitement of their impending stadium move back to White Hart Lane to come and they’ve gained more points than ever before at this stage of a PL season. What can they attribute this to? One word: continuity. While everyone else was saying Spurs will fall by the wayside due to playing at Wembley again, no new signings in the summer and so on and so forth, Pochettino’s young squad have matured and have got on with their job. They know exactly what is expected of them each time they step on the pitch.


Crystal Palace can win without Wilfried Zaha
For the first time in 14 Premier League games without Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace won a game. Previously they’d lost 12 and drawn two of the games where he’d been missing, but Roy Hodgson‘s side were good value for their victory against Leicester on Saturday as they made it back-to-back home wins in the PL. Make no mistake about it, Zaha is still Palace’s main man and as soon as he is fit he will be in their starting lineup. But Palace looked solid with Andros Townsend off Jordan Ayew up top and that could point to Hodgson’s putting Zaha back out on the wing when he does return. He seems better suited to running at defenders, cutting inside and then smashing home a shot or setting up others than standing up top as the central striker where he is a little easier to mark. With top clubs linked with moves for Zaha all of the time, it is also proved, whether they like to admit it or not, that Palace can survive without their talisman. They held on in the second half to beat Leicester and with their defensive unit back to its solid best, they can now focus on Zaha delivering the moments of magic which make all of the difference.


West Ham will be top six contenders
Much has been made about the potency of Marko Arnautovic, Robert Snodgrass, Felipe Anderson and Javier Hernandez in recent weeks as West Ham have now rattled off four-straight wins, and rightly so. But the key to their turnaround under Manuel Pellegrini this season has been their rock solid defense. Sure, they’ve been smacked by Manchester City, Liverpool and had a few growing pains with defeats against Wolves and Bournemouth at home, but Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop are proving they were sound buys in the summer. With a hugely favorable schedule coming up between now and early January, Pellegrini’s men should really be on 36 points by the time the FA Cup weekend rolls around in early 2019. From their stadium capacity set to increase to 60,000 to new signings settling in well and Pellegrini bringing a clear and detailed plan, everything is moving in the right direction at West Ham after a few seasons of turmoil after their move from Upton Park. All of the talk has been about Wolves, Bournemouth and Watford challenging for a top seven finish, but the Hammers have the best chance as long as their defensive unit stays fit and in form.

Perez powers Irons past Cardiff City

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  • West Ham wins 2nd in four days
  • Two for super sub Perez
  • Antonio also scores

Lucas Perez scored two goals in five minutes to lead West Ham United to a 3-1 win over Cardiff City at the London Stadium on Tuesday.

Robert Snodgrass had two assists, and Michail Antonio also scored for the Irons. Josh Murphy scored in stoppage time for Neil Warnock‘s Bluebirds.

West Ham is now 12th with 18 points, while Cardiff is 16th with 11.

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Felipe Anderson set Marko Arnautovic up for a dangerous early chance, but the Austrian couldn’t find the frame with his effort.

It was an eventful half for Arnautovic who conceded a penalty before leaving the match with an injury.

Arnautovic shoved Junior Hoilett over, but Lukasz Fabianski saved Joe Ralls‘ penalty and it stayed scoreless into the break.

Perez put the Hammers ahead just after halftime with a strong finish, giving Robert Snodgrass a second assist in as many starts.

He’d score his second within minutes, and Snodgrass later garnered a second assist when Antonio headed his corner kick home to make it 3-0.

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Chicharito scores twice, heats up as West Ham begins nice run of fixtures

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez had some kind of day on Saturday at St. James’ Park.

West Ham United’s Mexican forward scored a pair of goals sandwiched around two flubbed, straight-forward chances as the Irons beat Newcastle United 3-0.

[ RECAP: Newcastle 0-3 West Ham ]

Hernandez, 30, made a perfectly-timed run into his office to nod an opener past Martin Dubravka before bursting onto a Marko Arnautovic flick for his second.

That goal was a marvel, the strong El Tri star roasting Fabian Schar before hitting a hard low shot into the goal.

It was a rare start for Hernandez, who said he’s had to relax and wait for his turn atop the attack.

From the BBC:

“I know I am doing well on the training ground. I have been patient. In this world when you have confidence it is easier to perform like I did today. I missed two but we did a good job, my team-mates.

“We have a big squad, with people waiting for an opportunity. We have another opportunity at home next up.”

Here’s Pellegrini:

“We arrive with the World Cup and Javier (Hernandez) was five weeks ill. It is not easy to recover his best moment but he is a scorer. When I start with him today because before that he could not play a complete game. I am happy for him.”

Felipe Anderson also scored for the Irons, who move into 13th place with 15 points. This is part of a promising run of fixtures of Pellegrini’s men, who next host Cardiff City and Crystal Palace before visiting Fulham and returning home for Watford before trips to Southampton and Burnley.

Chicharito brace leads West Ham at Newcastle

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  • Two goals for Chicharito
  • Newcastle out-attempts WHUFC 16-7
  • West Ham goes 13th
  • End of NUFC’s three-match win streak

Javier Hernandez scored a pair of goals to lead West Ham United to a 3-0 win over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Felipe Anderson added a third goal in stoppage time to give the Irons their second away win of the season.

Both teams started the day with 12 points, and West Ham is up to 13th with the win.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Irons led after 11 minutes of play, with Robert Snodgrass‘ right wing cross meeting the well-timed run of El Tri poached Hernandez for 1-0.

Newcastle came close to scoring via free kick, a sweeping left-footed cross from Matt Ritchie headed to West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski from Ayoze Perez.

The Spaniard missed a header in the 27th minute, and badly flubbed a stoppage time chance before Pablo Zabaleta slid to block an in-tight Salmon Rondon chance.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Chicharito missed two golden chances to make it 2-0, losing a Marko Arnautovic square pass in his feet before firing a 1v1 chance wide of Martin Dubravka‘s near post.

Fabian Schar won a corner when Perez slipped him deep into the right side of the box, but his shot was saved for a corner by Fabianski.

Instead, Chicharito made it 2-0 in the 64th when he perfectly timed his run to meet a headed flick from Arnautovic before beating Fabianski to the near post.

Mohamed Diame could reach a chance to make it 2-0 in the 66th.

Dubravka then stymied a Felipe Anderson breakaway.

Newcastle kept trying to find a way back, with missed crosses and low-percentage shots telling most of the story.

What have we learned about each PL club?

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As we are now a third of the way into the 2018-19 Premier League season, now seems like a good time to take stock of each team ahead of the busy festive period.

And that is exactly what we shall do ahead of a busy festive period which will help to define their campaigns.

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Below are 20 searingly hot takes on each PL club and what we’ve learned from their opening 13 games of the season.


Arsenal: They have more grit than the last decade, Lucas Torreira is the central midfield player they’ve been missing for the last decade and Unai Emery isn’t scared to drop big names: we’re looking at you, Mesut. Top four seems genuinely achievable and that would be a remarkable first season for Emery who has already changed the philosophy of this team.


Bournemouth: Callum Wilson, David Brooks, Josh King and Ryan Fraser are the best attacking foursome outside of the top six and Eddie Howe‘s side are set for a top 10 finish. The Cherries are also one of the most wasteful teams in the PL despite


Brighton & Hove Albion: Glenn Murray is a machine and the 35-year-old seems to be actually getting younger, as his seven goals so far show. We’ve learned that Brighton remain great at home and terrible on the road.


Burnley: That they’re relegation candidates and are leaking goals like a shoddy sieve. Sean Dyche can point to the Europa League hangover, but their incredible 2017-18 campaign seems like it was a flash in the pan. The Clarets are now returning to their mean of being the plucky underdogs.


Cardiff City: Harry Arter personifies this Cardiff team and they are horrible to play against, especially at home. Neil Warnock‘s men aren’t pushovers and won’t go down without a huge fight. Plus, they’re better going forward than we previously thought. Also, Warnock remains must-see in his pre and post-match interviews.


Chelsea: Jorginho is the man their team is built around and also their kryptonite. If you can shut him down like Spurs did, you can shut down Sarri-ball. Perhaps not genuine title contenders after all, unless Eden Hazard goes on another tear. Also, figuring out the best place to play N'Golo Kante is vital as he just isn’t dominating games in a more advanced role like he was as a true defensive midfielder in the past.


Crystal Palace: Without Wilfried Zaha they may never score a goal, but even with him they don’t seem as fluid as last season. Zaha seems to be battling small injuries constantly and that is not good news for Palace. Roy Hodgson may not last the season despite his incredible turnaround in 2017-18.


Everton: Marco Silva‘s revolution is coming along quicker than we thought after a slow start and the Toffees have finally found a way to get Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Walcott and Bernard all into the team at the same time. We’ve also learned that the $55 million spent on Richarlison was a bargain. Sixth place is achievable and their defense is now stronger with the additions of Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina, plus Jordan Pickford and the resurgence of Michael Keane.


Fulham: Claudio Ranieri has the ability to save their season after Jokanovic’s gung-ho approach left them bottom of the table. We’ve already seen it from their nail-biting 3-2 win against Southampton: Fulham haven’t got the players to implement Ranieri’s defensive strategy. Expect plenty of moves in the January window to add defensive reinforcements. Going forward they’re more than fine as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle are delivering the goods.


Huddersfield Town: We’ve all written them off incorrectly. A striker still hasn’t scored for David Wagner‘s side but they are more than capable of picking up points at home. A relegation scrap is on its way and the Terriers are looking forward to it.


Leicester City: Their kids are more than alright as Chilwell, Maddison and Gray are all now regulars in the starting lineup. Jamie Vardy is still plugging away but other veterans from their title-winning season are finding it tough to get minutes. They are now a solid, steady midtable team and Claude Puel should be applauded for steering the players through a tough time off the pitch.


Liverpool: That they are the real deal and the only genuine contenders to Man City for the title. That is due to their newfound defensive solidity as Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk must start together each week at center back. We’ve also learned that Jurgen Klopp has tweaked his “full throttle” style slightly and they are capable of picking and choosing their moments better.


Manchester City: They may be better than last season. It will be tough for them to surpass their record 100 point tally, but across the board they’ve improved drastically. In defense the partnership between Laporte and Stones looks formidable and City’s attackers have all upped their game after Riyad Mahrez‘s arrival.


Manchester United: Top four is as good as it will get and they still don’t have a long-term plan in terms of player recruitment or a playing style. In Jose Mourinho’s third season, it’s crazy they are this far off the title contenders and some of their defeats and performances this season have been way below what should be expected. That said, the old United spirit of launching late comebacks has returned.


Newcastle United: Whatever happens, Rafael Benitez deserves the freedom of Newcastle for working for Mike Ashley given the restraints placed upon him. With little money to spend, the Magpies have hit form in recent weeks after a poor start. Rafa never stopped believing and they should pull clear of the bottom three in the next few months.


Southampton: They’re in a mess. Off the pitch former chairman Les Reed has been fired, leaving them without a figurehead and on the pitch they’ve won just once. Although they’re playing well in stages, Mark Hughes‘ defense are making basic errors and his attack are missing big chances. Not a great combination as Saints’ player recruitment has once again failed to live up to is previous high standards. Another relegation battle awaits.


Tottenham Hotspur: That Mauricio Pochettino can work miracles and improve players quickly. We all know they didn’t sign anyone over the summer, but Poch has improved Moura, Foyth and Sissoko so they could come in and help Spurs deal with injuries. They are third, have had their best-ever start to a PL season and have a chance of reaching the UCL last 16. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but Spurs have a nice habit of grinding out wins. Not quite title contenders, but closer than anybody else to Man City and Liverpool.


Watford: Their model isn’t for everyone but it works and Javi Gracia has brought a calmness to the club. Constantly chopping and changing bosses and players, Watford often start the season superbly and then falter. Gracia has them inside the top 10 and they’re genuine contenders for a Europa League spot if they can have a solid second half of the season. A robust midfield and defense has allowed Pereyra and Deulofeu to express themselves in attack.


West Ham United: We haven’t learned a lot, in all honestly. We know they have quality players but this squad is unbalanced and it is down to Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson to create the goals which will get them out of trouble. Under Manuel Pellegrini they haven’t improved defensively, which will be a concern given the big bucks they’ve spent.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: We’ve learned that we can expect inconsistency from a team back in the top-flight with plenty of expectation on their shoulders. After their heavy-spending in the summer, they have lots of players still getting used to the PL. An incredible start has given way to a wobble in recent weeks. A midtable finish should be easily achievable. We’ve also learned that Matt Doherty may be one of the best right wing backs in the PL.