three things

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Man United

Leave a comment

LONDON — Man United beat Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Monday night to breathe new life into their top four hopes.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side beat yet another top four side as headers in each half from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire did the damage.

Frank Lampard and his Chelsea side were upset with the officiating as Maguire was lucky to not be sent off for kicking out at Michy Batshuayi with VAR used in the first half, while in the second half VAR chalked off Kurt Zouma‘s goal for a push in the box and Olivier Giroud‘s late strike was also millimeters offside.

Here’s what we learned from a wild clash at Stamford Bridge.


VAR WORKS IN UNITED’S FAVOR

United should have been down to 10 men in the first half as captain Harry Maguire kicked out at Michy Batshuayi. In a near identical incident in December, Heung-Min Son was sent off for kicking out at Antonio Rudiger. VAR should have sent Maguire off and he ended up scoring a superb header which sealed the win.

Chelsea also had complaints over Zouma’s goal which was ruled out for a push on Brandon Williams by Cesar Azpilicueta but replays showed that Azpilicueta was pushed by Fred first. That said, Apzilicueta’s two-handed shove wasn’t really needed after the initial push from Fred. There was also an incident where Willian was booked for going over on the edge of the box when Bruno Fernandes dangled out a leg as Chelsea’s coaching staff were livid. As for Giroud’s late goal, half his foot was offside and it just wasn’t Chelsea’s night when it came to all of these close calls plus injuries.


WASTEFUL CHELSEA IN ‘TOP FIVE’ DANGER

Chelsea had better chances than Man United in the run of play but Michy Batshuayi had a nightmare, plus Willian and Pedro had games to forget on the wing. With Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi out injured there weren’t many options for Lampard to choose from but perhaps Giroud showed enough as he scored (but it was ruled out by VAR) in his brief cameo and surely he will now start if Abraham is out long-term. Chelsea are still in fourth but have won just four of their last 14 games in the Premier League and with Spurs (who they host on Saturday) just one point behind them and United three points behind them, the chasing pack are closing in. All season long Chelsea have squandered chances and even if the Champions League qualification goes down to fifth place due to Man City’s European ban, they may still miss out. They were unlucky with injuries to N’Golo Kante and Andreas Christensen in this game but Chelsea were wasteful and a fired up Man United made them pay.


UNITED’S COUNTER STUNS ANOTHER GIANT

With Chelsea pinning their hopes on a rusty Giroud, Man United’s top four hopes are being held together by plenty of wins against top six teams (albeit a fortuitous one this time) as their main forward Martial delivered when his team needed him most. The Frenchman has been a little inconsistent in Marcus Rashford‘s absence through injury but he stood tall against Chelsea with a fine header and he, along with Bruno Fernandes, showed that extra bit of quality in the final third which Chelsea were missing. Man United’s season is well and truly alive thanks to their first-ever Premier League double over Chelsea and it came thanks to another fine counter-attacking display against a side who took them lightly. Imagine what they can achieve with Paul Pogba and Rashford back in the team.

Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Newcastle

Leave a comment

LONDON — Arsenal beat Newcastle United 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium and it is time to have a look at three things we learned from Mikel Arteta‘s second home win as Gunners boss.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe struck in quick succession in the second half to surge past a spirited Newcastle side who hit the post and looked a threat on the break throughout but Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette finished things off in style late on.

Here are three things we learned from north London.


STRETCHED ARSENAL FINALLY THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND

Arteta has brought in a new pragmatism to Arsenal but it seems like they’ve gone too far to the defensive side of the spectrum. They started with pretty much six attacking players on the pitch if you count Bukayo Saka who is operating out of position at left back but had no real attacking spark in the first 45 minutes.

Arsenal were slow, predictable and languid in possession and with Arteta wanting them to press high up the pitch the gap between midfield and attack was just too big. Yes, they were playing against a Newcastle side who put 10 men behind the ball whenever they could but there was a severe lack of intensity. Newcastle threatened with counters as the pace of Almiron and Saint-Maximin caused problems but Arsenal were playing it safe with plenty of sideways passes and didn’t take enough risks. Then it all changed.

Whatever Arteta said at half time worked a treat as Arsenal were a totally different team in the second half and their increased intensity caught Newcastle cold. In the space of a few minutes Saka tricked his way past several tackles, Pepe scored one and set up and another, Aubameyang nodded home and Nketiah hit the bar and should have had another. It will take time for Arteta to turn this Arsenal side into what he wants them to be but he has improved them defensively. They have conceded just four goals in their last six Premier League games and Arteta is making Arsenal hard to beat, while knowing they have the attacking weapons to fire them to victories. They are seven points off the top four and six off fifth (which now looks likely to secure Champions League qualification given Man City’s European ban) and Arsenal have lost just once in eight PL games under Arteta. They are becoming tougher to beat and Arteta’s message is getting through to the players, at least for a 20-30 minutes at a time.


CEBALLOS CAN BE ARSENAL’S TEMPO SETTER

Dani Ceballos doesn’t possess the pace to have a huge impact in the final third but in a deep-lying role he is pretty effective. The Spanish midfielder is finally fit and Arteta lined him up in a defensive midfield role alongside Granit Xhaka. Ceballos demanded the ball at every opportunity and has the quality to see passes and find the likes of Ozil with ease. Having the right partner alongside him in the engine room will be key to seeing if he can flourish is a No. 6 role with Lucas Torreia and Mateo Guendouzi more defensive-minded. Granit Xhaka was alongside him and he isn’t exactly the true destroyer who would allow Ceballos to pick up the second balls and get attacks going. If you look at Man City’s midfield, Ceballos can be Arsenal’s Ilkay Gundogan. The difference is, Gundogan has Fernandinho alongside him breaking up the play. Arteta has clearly taken inspiration from his last three seasons as an assistant coach at Man City as his decision to push Ceballos a little deeper looks like it will work. Ceballos has to be playing regularly if he’s going to play for Spain at EURO 2020 and that dangling carrot will also benefit Arsenal as he tries to secure a permanent move from Real Madrid as his loan spell is over in January. Ceballos is finally fit and it seems like he has finally found his spot in the Arsenal lineup as he received a standing ovation when he came off with 10 minutes to go and got a big huge from Arteta.


ALMIRON, SAINT-MAXIMIN A JOY TO WATCH

On paper, Newcastle under Steve Bruce should not be exciting to watch and for vast swathes of the game they aren’t. That said, whenever Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin pick up the ball the excitement is palpable and those two alone make it worthwhile watching this Newcastle side. Time and time again they broke free, surged upfield and took on four Arsenal defenders on their own only to look up and not have another teammate within 25 yards of the goal. Joelinton just can’t keep up with their speedy attacks and if Newcastle had a forward who could keep up with them, he’d get four or five big chances per game. Saint-Maximin hit the post late on and Newcastle were unlucky to not be ahead after a fast start and several superb counter attacks led by the aforementioned duo.

Three things learned: Liverpool v. Man United

Leave a comment

LIVERPOOL — The title procession continues for Liverpool as they beat Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Virgil Van Dijk‘s early header and Mohamed Salah‘s late goal was enough to make it 21 wins out of 22 for Jurgen Klopp‘s side who missed several glorious chances as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s injury-hit United somehow hung in there.

For the first time this season Anfield sung loud and proud: “We’re going to win the league!” The Liverpool fans now realize this is as good as a done deal as it gets.

What did we learn from a tense clash as bitter rivals collided?


MAN UNITED HUMBLED BY BITTER RIVALS

Chants from Liverpool’s fans early in the game reminded their counterparts from Manchester United that they are the current Champions of Europe and the World. Nobody connected with United needed reminding of that after this utterly dominant display. How Liverpool didn’t win 5-0 is beyond me but United at least kept grinding away despite the obvious gulf in class between the two teams. Sadio Mane was denied by David De Gea, Liverpool had two goals chalked out by VAR, Henderson’s shot was pushed onto the post by de Gea and Salah missed a glorious chance. The manner in which Liverpool cut through United’s midfield like it wasn’t there and created chance after chance showcased just how far they’ve climbed ahead of their rivals.

United were without arguably their two best players in Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford and they hung in there with a 5-4-1 formation which had Luke Shaw at center back and Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka providing the width. United played scared in the first half, like most teams do against Liverpool, but the sheer lack of control they had on the game until the final 20 minutes was astonishing. They only looked dangerous in attack when Liverpool gave the ball away and in two spells just before half time and in the final 10 minutes. United have a plan to get back among the Premier League’s elite but on this showing that is much further away from happening than we all thought. Man United have now failed to win on any of their last five trips to Anfield and even though they had a few moments where they showed promise in attack, the scoreline severely flattered them.


VAN DIJK’S DOMINANCE STILL SURPRISING

When Virgil van Dijk rose into the scarlet sky above Anfield to power home a header to make it 1-0 time seemed to stand still. As he so often does, VVD defied gravity as he hung longest in the air to beat Brandon Williams (a severe mismatch) and also Harry Maguire to score. Van Dijk’s dominance is somehow still surprising and awe-inspiring. It shouldn’t be. The man who finished only second to Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or voting led Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory last season and since his arrival from Southampton in January 2018, Liverpool have become a totally different team. One which feeds off and now exudes the same confidence their silky Dutchman displays every single time he steps on the pitch. In tight situations he has held their defense together and he makes everybody around him better. They have now secured seven-straight shutouts with Joe Gomez alongside him as Joel Matip has been out injured.

If Liverpool, as expected, win the Premier League this season and make a deep UCL run, there’s no doubt Virgil van Dijk will be crowned the best player on the planet when all is said and done in 2020. His positioning is flawless, he is calm on the ball and he pushes on the team when they need it. When we look back on the success of this Liverpool team, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk will usurp that of Salah, Mane and Firmino.


TIME TO ORDER THE RED RIBBONS

Liverpool are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 16 games to go and they have a game in hand. They are going to win the title for the first time in over 30 years. We all know that, even if their fans and everybody around the club refuses to admit it. When the notion of winning the title was raised in the pubs around Anfield before the game, people were told to be quiet. But others are so confident they are predicting a title win after a win at Everton on March 14. Liverpool have lost just one Premier League game in their last 61, away at Man City last season, and they’ve now gone 39 games unbeaten.

There is just no way this Liverpool side will cough up the kind of points they need to in order to let their grasp on the title slip, plus they know Man City are out of form and out of luck with injuries, while Leicester City have totally come unstuck. If you are a Liverpool fan the final months of the season are about to be as much of a cakewalk to the title as possible and this brilliant, perfectly balanced, dynamic and devastating team will receive the guard of honor for the final two months of the 2019-20 campaign. Records will tumble, unbeaten runs will continue and Liverpool will win the title.

Three things we learned: Leicester v. Liverpool

Leave a comment

Liverpool beat Leicester City 4-0 on Boxing Day to extend their lead atop the Premier League table to 13 points, as the Reds also have a game in hand over the Foxes and have taken 52 points from a possible 54 points.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Man City sit in third and 14 points behind Liverpool as the halfway point in the season is almost here and at this rate Liverpool will have the title wrapped up by March…

Jurgen Klopp‘s side were dominant throughout as Roberto Firmino set them on their way, James Milner scored a penalty kick and then Firmino and the brilliant Trent Alexander-Arnold finished things off.

Here’s what we learned from a one-sided encounter at the King Power Stadium.


FIRMINO HAS FOUND HIS MOJO

In the last week the real Roberto Firmino has returned. With winning goals in the Club World Cup semifinal and final, he helped Liverpool become world champions and his powerful header and calm finish on Boxing Day at the King Power Stadium has gone a long way to making Liverpool Premier League champions. Before this purple patch Firmino had scored just once in 17 games in all competition for Liverpool, as his excellent early season form had evaporated and it was put down to a busy summer with Brazil at the Copa America.

Firmino has rediscovered his mojo and his penchant for delivering in the big moments has returned. Seeing his pearly whites on full show is always a good sign that he is back to his best and he even popped up with a few other chances on Boxing Day but didn’t bury them. Firmino’s hunger, and mojo, has returned.


FOXES FLAT AS TITLE HOPES ALL BUT OVER

They’ve now drawn with Norwich and been hammered by Man City and Liverpool in their last three games and Leicester City’s bubble has burst. They may still finish in the top four this season, which would be an incredible achievement, but against Liverpool they were their own worst enemies as they gave the ball away time and time again and never looked like threatening the league leaders.

This was a humbling day for former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, as the focus will now switch to regrouping and making sure they can finish in the top four with a solid second half of the season but they are only 10 points clear of fifth place Tottenham. The way they were battered by Liverpool could be more harmful than just a single defeat, and it will be Rodgers’ job to now pick his young side up after so many had off days, with the likes of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans totally dominated. This Leicester side had the best defensive record going into this game but they were simply ripped to shreds.


FIT-AGAIN KEITA, TAA ADD EXTRA DIMENSION TO RAMPANT LIVERPOOL

Liverpool’s machine continues to roar on as they took a huge step towards winning their first league title in over 30 years. They were dominant throughout against Leicester and a few different players are stepping up time and time again this season. Naby Keita has been sublime since returning from injury, while Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form has been otherworldly. His goal and two assists were added to by his incredible long-range passes, and TAA is still just 21 years old, which is amazing.

He and Keita add an extra dimension to Liverpool and even though Salah and Mane were fairly quite on Thursday, it didn’t matter. With Jordan Henderson digging deep in midfield, Keita’s forward runs and dribbling add an extra cutting edge. We often focus on individuals but this is a total team effort. Liverpool have lost just one of their last 57 Premier League games and have won 26 of their last 27 PL outings, with the only dropped points coming away at Man United earlier this season. They are a winning machine and key cogs, and new ones, are coming to the fore time and time again.

Three things learned: Arsenal v. Man City

Leave a comment

LONDON — Manchester City swept Arsenal aside on Sunday in the Premier League to win 3-0 as festive cheer was in short supply amongst the home fans at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Kevin De Bruyne‘s masterclass saw him score twice and grab an assist as Man City ran riot in the first half and Arsenal’s injury-hit defense never recovered.

Here’s what we learned as interim Arsenal boss Freddie Ljungberg saw his side dominated by Pep Guardiola‘s Man City.


DE BRUYNE ON ANOTHER LEVEL

KEVINNNNN! Kevin de Bruyne was on another level on Sunday as he ripped Arsenal apart in the first half. He scored twice, cracking finishes with either foot, forced a superb save from Bernd Leno who tipped his shot onto the post, and he set up Raheem Sterling as City destroyed Arsenal. KDB has been fit for most of this season and he is the main reason why you think City could still surge towards an unlikely title push in the second half of the campaign, or more likely have a serious chance of winning the UEFA Champions League.

A fit and fired up De Bruyne is exactly what Man City need right now.

We’ve all seen the clips of him getting angry in the past (“Let me talk! Let me talk!”) and when the Belgian wizard is fired up he’s a joy to watch. In the second half Arsenal’s fans let out gasps as he nutmegged Guendouzi on the left flank to find Raheem Sterling who was 30 yards to his left and behind him. His vision is incredible and his driving runs scythed through the heart of the Gunners time and time again. Whatever Man City win, or don’t win, this season the main positive is that Kevin de Bruyne is fully fit and back to his best. Everyone’s a winner (except their opponents) when KDB is firing on all cylinders like this.


LJUNGBERG FAILING HIS ARSENAL AUDITION

Arsenal’s fans aren’t angry at their team anymore. They are just disappointed. Any teenager who’s had a similar run in with their parents can tell you exactly how horrible that feels.

Freddie Ljungberg has drawn against Norwich and Standard Liege, beat West Ham and now lost to Brighton and Man City in his first five games in charge. It’s hardly promising stuff from the Arsenal interim manager. His two week audition has seen Arsenal reignite their attacking prowess, one of his core philosophies as a coach, but defensively they remain woeful. Yes, injuries at the back, which now include Sead Kolasinac, have hampered the team but they are too naive, too idealistic. Ljungberg wants them to attack but this is no different than Arsene Wenger and the same as Unai Emery. Nothing has changed. Instead of setting his team up to be tough to beat and battling for every ball, they are too easy to pass through. There is no ‘going back to basics’ but instead the status quo remains intact.

Whispers around the press room before the game suggested that Ljungberg will be given until the end of the season to lead the Gunners while the hierarchy wait to appoint the perfect candidate. With a top four place still, quite remarkably, on the line, Arsenal’s dilly-dallying will surely cost them any chance they have to reach the top four. Tottenham’s rapid response to fire Mauricio Pochettino and hire Jose Mourinho has worked, with Spurs just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea and building momentum. Arsenal are just seven points off the top four but stuck in neutral and will be until Ljungberg is either given the rest of the season or a new man arrives. The team, fans and the entire club is stuck in limbo.

The fans seem to have checked out already. On Sunday it was so quite that at times you could heard the Arsenal players, mostly Calum Chambers, calmly giving out instructions to other defenders. There was an acceptance that Man City were so far and above Arsenal that the home fans might as well stick around to watch City play. They ignored the chants/taunts from the away end telling them they should have “gone Christmas shopping!” and watched on in despair as Arsenal’s injury-hit defense crumbled and their managerless side limp on. The damage was done in the first half and although it was 0-0 for the second half, that was more about Man City coasting than Arsenal improving.


CITY CAN STILL SALVAGE THEIR SEASON 

Man City are still 14 points behind leaders Liverpool but they’re now able to eat away at that gap a little with Liverpool on Club World Cup duty next week. They face Leicester City next and can move to within one point of the second-place Foxes with a win at the King Power Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s men will never stop believing they can win every single game between now and the end of the season, and they could quite easily do that.

Defensively they weren’t that troubled on Sunday, but they still have up gilt-edged chances as Gabriel Martinelli was denied early on and Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had chances in the second half. The back four of Kyle Walker, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamandi and Benjamin Mendy just did okay, and that was enough thanks to the brilliance of Kevin de Bruyne. But Mendy in particular was suspect defensively and City still have a soft underbelly. Their squad strength will come to the fore in the next few weeks over the festive season and in early January, just like last season, we will get a better idea as to whether or not they can salvage their season by becoming genuine contenders in the Premier League and Champions League.