Philippe Coutinho had an extremely difficult first season at Barcelona, but he put those struggles behind him when his country needed him the most. Missing the injured Neymar, Coutinho stepped up and delivered a brace as Brazil downed Bolivia 3-0, with Gremio winger Everton adding the cherry on top.
The first half Brazil completely dominated, but were wasteful as they looked to create the perfect goal. They put 12 shots towards net but only found the target with one in the first 45 minutes, failing to find the breakthrough.
After the break Brazil boss Tite made changes tactically and Brazil was far more dangerous, paying off almost immediately. A Richarlison cross in the box clipped the arm of Adriano Jusino and using VAR the referee gave the penalty. Coutinho arrived at the spot to dispatch the penalty with a low, driving effort and open the scoring.
The Barcelona frontman wasn’t done, making a wonderful late run to meet Roberto Firmino‘s cross at the far post and heading in Brazil’s second just three minutes later.
After the second goal, Brazil immediately shut it down, controlling possession and passing around at a slow tempo. Bolivia hardly saw a touch of the ball after Brazil took its 2-0 lead, with the hosts winning every aerial battle and getting to every loose ball. They finished the game with a passing advantage of 553-145. Gabriel Jesus came on for the final 25 minutes in place of Firmino, and Everton replaced David Neres. The latter would prove fruitful, as the 23-year-old danced past two defenders into the box and delivered an absolutely beautiful curler that left Carlos Lampe with no chance.
The win is the fourth in a row for Brazil who has now kept three straight clean sheets as well. Bolivia, meanwhile, is in real trouble given the monumentally difficult group they were drawn in, with Peru and Venezuela also real threats to reach the knockout stage.
The hosts are set to kick off the 2019 Copa America as Brazil takes on Bolivia in Sao Paulo.
Neymar will not take part in the tournament after suffering an ankle injury in the warmup friendlies. That increases the importance on Philippe Coutinho and Richarlison who look to shoulder the brunt of the creativity.
As Tite takes charge of his 39th match as manager of Brazil, Champions League winners Liverpool is heavily represented as Roberto Firmino leads the lines and Alisson starts in goal. Dani Alves captains the side as club teammate Neymar was stripped of the armband before his injury.
PSG teammates Marqinhos and Thiago Silva both start as the center-back partnership, while Casemiro and Fernandinho start together in central midfield. Everton winger Richarlison is in the lineup as well, opposite Ajax attacker David Neres. Miranda, Arthur, Willian, and Gabriel Jesus are all on the bench for Brazil as Tite rotates the attackers.
For Bolivia, Marcelo Moreno of Chinese club Shijiazhuang Ever Bright leads the attack up front supported by a trio of central midfielders in Raul Castro, Fernando Saucedo, and Leonel Justiniano as Bolivia looks to attack through the wide areas with Alejandro Chumacero and Erwin Saaedra.
Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).
Cardiff City Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18
How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.
Huddersfield Town Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20
How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11
How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14
How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15
How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16
How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17
How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7
How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13
How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19
How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12
How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9
How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.
West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10
How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4
How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5
How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3
How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2
How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6
How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1
How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.
Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…
Manchester United have been linked with a move for Ajax captain and center back Matthijs de Ligt, even though it had been previously reported United weren’t keen on signing the young center back several years ago.
De Ligt, still just 19 years old, starred for Ajax during their incredible run to the UEFA Champions League semifinal but it seems like their entire squad will now be broken up over the summer with Frenkie de Jong already going to Barcelona and Hakim Ziyech also set to move on. His leadership skills are immense and he scored some massive goals from set pieces throughout Ajax’s run in Europe, as he also led them to the Dutch title.
With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly around at United, the fact they are chasing one of the best center back products in the game suggests one or more of those players will be moved on this summer. Defensive solidity has not been a United hallmark for quite some time and if they were to sign de Ligt it would be a massive coup. Barcelona are the favorites to sign de Ligt, but this latest report suggests it is far from a formality.
Mitrovic, 24, scored 11 times for Fulham this season but couldn’t stop them being relegated after the newly-promoted side struggled to adjust to life back in the PL. Although the Serbian striker looked out of sorts in the final months of the season and scored just once in his final 13 games of the campaign, he was always a handful for opposition defenders.
The former Newcastle striker arrived at Fulham last summer for a fee of $25 million and the Cottagers could expect to recoup most of that if Mitrovic was sold. That said, if he stays at Fulham he has already shown how lethal he can be in the Championship as his loan move to Craven Cottage in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign was a huge success as his goals propelled Fulham to promotion.
Staying with transfers within the Premier League, Man United are said to be interested in signing Newcastle youngster Sean Longstaff, 21, after he impressed in his first full season in the Premier League.
Multiple reports claim United are interested in Longstaff, but Sky Sports say Newcastle have yet to be approached by the Red Devils and they do not want to sell the man they gave a new contract to in December.
Longstaff, a defensive midfielder, suffered a serious knee injury which put a swift end to his superb first season in Newcastle’s first team. The Newcastle academy product looked at home in the PL with his range of passing, reading of the game and tough-tackling and he could fit the bill as United aim to replace midfield terrier Ander Herrera who is leaving the club.
If United are to keep Paul Pogba around and have him at his best, they need players in midfield who can win the ball back and get Pogba further up the pitch. Longstaff is certainly capable of doing that and he fits the bill for United as their main aim this summer is to add young, hungry British players with Declan Rice, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all linked with moves to Old Trafford.