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PST Roundtable: PL at the 3/4 mark

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The Premier League season is paused at just more than the three-quarter mark — 76.05 percent, to be a bit more formal — and we’ve got a good handle on who’s good and who isn’t.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

That said, the number also gives an idea of why there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for the table and award winners once the season presumably resumes for the stretch run.

It would be natural to speculate on the front-runners and Championship-bound sides if there were matches this weekend, so why not do it now?

We’ve quizzed our PST staff on a handful of questions in roundtable form, though there was no table and my desk is decidedly rectangular.


Liverpool players have won Player of the Year for the past two seasons despite not winning the league. Are the tables flipped this year? Who is on track for PL Player of the Year?

Joe Prince-WrightKevin De Bruyne should probably win it but I expect Jordan Henderson or Sadio Mane to win it. Liverpool will win the league by a mile and both have been influential. When they’ve been out injured Liverpool have missed them and I’d probably say Mane should win it.

Andy Edwards: This is a weird one, because Liverpool have been so thoroughly outstanding in every way, on every level, that it would be difficult to pick just one of them for Player of the Year. Is Sadio Mane deserving? Sure is. What about Mohamed Salah? Also yes. Virgil Van Dijk? Yet again, yes. Trent Alexander-Arnold? You can make a strong case that he’s perhaps done the most to lift Liverpool another level higher from a “non-traditional” award-winning position. All of that is to say, simply deliver the award to Melwood Training Ground and let the players decide amongst themselves.

Daniel Karell: Remember when the U.S. women’s national team won the 1999 SI Sportsperson of the Year award? I think we’re going to have to do that for Liverpool. While Virgil Van Dijk, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane would all be worthy of the trophy individually, it’s truly been a team effort this season and the culmination of 5 years of growth, smart transfer dealings, and hard work. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been immense at times, as has Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Allison Becker. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a cop-out answer but I think it’s just hard this year to pick just one who has been better. Jamie Vardy currently leads the Premier League in goals, and while he’s been terrific, he hasn’t also been playing in the Champions League like Salah, Mane, and Van Dijk have, for example. 

Kyle Bonn: It has to be Kevin de Bruyne, right? Yea, it does.

Nick Mendola: Kevin De Bruyne and it’s not particularly close. He has a fine chance of setting the league assist record, and he’s two away becoming the only player in the Top Five twice. There are words to be said for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, and Raul Jimenez, but no true decent arguments outside of “it should come from the champion,” which we covered in the question.


Who’s on track for your Best XI?

Joe Prince-Wright: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Maguire, Saka; J. Henderson, Ndidi, De Bruyne; Mane, Firmino, Vardy

Andy Edwards: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Moutinho, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane

Daniel Karell: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; De Bruyne, Maddison, Jorginho; Vardy, Aubameyang, Salah

Kyle Bonn: D. Henderson; TAA, Van Dijk, Maguire, Robertson; Ndidi, De Bruyne, J. Henderson, Grealish; Mane, Vardy.

Nick Mendola: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Soyuncu, Robertson; Ndidi, Rodri, De Bruyne; Salah, Jimenez, Mane.


What’s the best goal you’ve seen this season?

Joe Prince-Wright: I think that has to be Heung-Min Son’s incredible solo goal. Clear winner for Goal of the Season.

Andy Edwards: Heung-min Son’s solo goal versus Burnley

Daniel Karell:  I mean…it’s got to be Heung-min Son against Burnley. Honorable mention though to Kevin de Bruyne vs. Newcastle and Moussa Djenepo vs. Sheffield United.

Kyle Bonn: Three goals so far stand out in my mind: Heung-Min Son’s dizzying run vs. Burnley, Jahanbakhsh’s bike against Chelsea, and Jordan Ayew’s little zig-zag against West Ham. The Spurs’ man’s goal wins for the sheer distance he covered.

Nick Mendola: Son. Solo. Next.


What are your Top 3 moments of the season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: Woah. What a question. In no particular order: Christian Pulisic’s hat trick for Chelsea v Burnley. Leicester winning 9-0 at Southampton. Liverpool destroying everyone but I particularly enjoyed their 4-0 win at Leicester.

Daniel Karell: The season being postponed for the Coronavirus: Only a global pandemic could upstage the season Liverpool was having. Then Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Man City, which proved that the Reds have fully passed Man City in the pecking order. Finally, I’m biased, but for me it’s the malaise and slide that Arsenal is in. How the mighty have fallen.

Kyle Bonn: Lot to potentially go into the pot here, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Leicester City demolishing Southampton 9-0, Newcastle ridiculous late 2-2 draw with Everton on Lejeune’s double, and Southampton exacting revenge on Leicester City for the aforementioned demolition with a 2-1 road win. I think Liverpool could potentially have three on here as well, one for the Sadio Mane header against Aston Villa, one for the late Lallana goal against Manchester United to draw, and one for the loss to Watford that ended the unbeaten league season.

Nick Mendola: Two of my three involve the soon-to-be champs, and the first took 24 seconds to reshape the season. It was the time that passed between Trent Alexander-Arnold’s would-be handball penalty for Man City and Fabinho’s rocket to beat Claudio Bravo. ‘Member? Insane. Maybe we should’ve called “Game: Blouses” on the whole season there, citing a season of fate.

The second is Watford’s beatdown of Liverpool to end the Reds’ unbeaten season is here because of its complete nature. The worn-down Reds capitulated to Ismaila Sarr in a way that lives very large.

Third could be anything: Liverpool coming back to beat West Ham. Leicester City hanging nine on Southampton. Hometown kid Matty Longstaff using all five-foot-nothing of his teenage body to piledrive Newcastle past Manchester United on his Premier League debut with his brother next to him in the midfield.

It’s been a season, team.


Grade VAR on a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor and 10 being perfect). What can be changed to make the VAR system more efficient and consistent?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’d give it a 6/10. People forget the small errors which still pop up but a lot of decisions which would have previously been wrong are now correct. I think letting referees use the pitch side monitors will improve the system and the respect for on-field officials. Too much of the control is sent to Stockley Park.

Andy Edwards: 5, dead center of the spectrum. My biggest gripe: it’s been used to micromanage and legislate the smallest of margins far too frequently. We all understand the Laws of the Game are the rules by which the game must be officiated, but what of the Spirit of the Laws of the Game? There must exist a gray area of sorts, as there is with everything in life, where intent and advantage are considered and weighed en route to the final decision. If a player is offside by 2 millimeters, is that an advantage which has a decisive impact in favor of the attacker? In most cases, it’s probably not.

Daniel Karell: 5. It’s decent, but the fact that refs refuse to use the monitors means that they’re just constantly second guessing themselves and it’s affecting how they call games in general. Make a call, and if the VAR says, hey, you might want to look at this, take a look at it to be sure. You can’t go wrong.

Kyle Bonn: VAR so far gets a 4 out of 10 for me. It gets a 3/5 on intent and ability, as the system for the most part has demonstrated the ability to serve as intended when used properly, with a few tweaks necessary such as pitchside monitors and rules like the handball rule needing amending. It gets a 1/5 on execution, with the Premier League struggling mightily to grasp the spirit of the technology. The offside line has done its job, despite the bad publicity, but the “clear & obvious error” has been grossly misinterpreted and calls have been changed or even investigated when not needed.

Nick Mendola: I’m going with five, and it’d be much higher if the PL learned from the NHL’s biggest mistake with replay: offside(s). At least in hockey there’s a blue line to help. The “moment the ball is struck” is such a poor reference point. Let the linespeople live here.


 

BONUS: Who is the best referee in the Premier League and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Mike Dean because he is not only a pretty fair referee, overall, but he jokes with the players and seems to have their respect. Don’t @ me.

Daniel Karell: I don’t know who the best is, but Mike Dean is towards the bottom.

Kyle Bonn: Mike Dean, because he has supreme control of the pitch and makes the fewest amount of obvious errors.

Nick Mendola: I find Michael Oliver the most consistent.

Liverpool find another way to win in West Ham comeback

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Sadio Mane punched in a back-post winner as poor Liverpool found a way to keep its unbeaten Premier League season alive with a 3-2 defeat of West Ham United at Anfield.

The Reds improve their record to 26-1, leading second-place Manchester City by 22 points.

[ MORE: Klopp reacts to comeback ]

West Ham threw away a 2-1 lead when star goalkeeper Lukasz Fabinaksi fumbled an easy save, and Mane made the most of the disorganized Irons defense late in the match.

The Irons remain a point off safety with 24 points.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Team of destiny Liverpool again wins while miles off its best: Liverpool center back Joe Gomez and to a lesser extent his partner Virgil Van Dijk had poor days, and Jurgen Klopp‘s attackers’ finishing touches were largely absent. Still, the defiant league leaders found their way to three points are now 11 matches from history.

When you can play way off your standard and still out-attempt a Premier League side 25-7, well, you’re pretty good.

2. Fabianski gifts Reds equalizer: Lukasz Fabianski has saved West Ham so, so many times, and he made some nice saves on the day including a wonderful stop on Trent Alexander-Arnold. But his howler of the highest variety on Salah’s tepid low shot is about as bad as it gets for a keeper short of turning and firing into your own goal.

3. Amazing Alexander-Arnold: The right back was again phenomenal an easy Man of the Match in assisting two goals. He would’ve had three if Mane stayed onside in a late lapse of judgment.


If a game had the makings of a 4-4, it was this one; Liverpool has quality players, obviously, but has been prone to lapses. There are fewer of the former and more of the latter for West Ham, but the attackers have high potential.

Liverpool took the leader when Wijnaldum turned a header inside the near post, but Issa Diop answered with a header of his own off a corner kick. The West Ham center back started in the six and darted back in front of Joe Gomez to nod home.

Chances for Sadio Mane after fooling Robert Snodgrass with a dribble and Trent Alexander-Arnold from the right led to near misses.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Roberto Firmino was sent through by Trent Alexander-Arnold and missed a chance badly to start the second half, and Mohamed Salah soon saw a shot blocked by West Ham.

West Ham was stout at the back and looked prepared on the counter, but Liverpool can only blame itself for the second goal. Fornals hung out between Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, with Fabinho also in the vicinity of Declan Rice‘s cross.

Lukasz Fabianski made a wonderful flying save on an Alexander-Arnold knuckler outside the box, and Liverpool move into the final half-hour up one.

The keeper made a huge error to allow to Liverpool 2-2, a Salah shot squirting through the player’s hands and legs.

Michail Antonio flubbed a 72nd-minute point blank chance.

Liverpool blew chances to make it 3-2 through Van Dijk and Salah as the match reached the final quarter-hour.

Alisson collected a low drive from Sebastian Haller.

Alexander-Arnold set Mane up for a back post finish to put Liverpool ahead, and the same pair saw a fourth goal chalked offside as the Senegalese lazily lost his focus.

Substitute attacker Jarrod Bowen was saved by Alisson when Antonio played him through in the 88th minute.

West Ham had a few more big chances, Noble seeing a rip deflect wide for a final corner. It was cleared by Andy Robertson.

Super sub Mane gives Liverpool win at Norwich City

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Sadio Mane’s late winner off the bench withstood VAR to keep Liverpool’s unbeaten league season in tact with a 1-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The goal, Mane’s 100th in England, gives Liverpool a 25-point lead atop the Premier League table, second-place Man City holding a game-in-hand.

Liverpool will tie the English top-flight record for most consecutive wins if it claims a win on Feb. 24 versus West Ham United.

Last place Norwich City remains seven points back of safety, though their performance will keep hope alive for its supporters.


Three things we learned

1. Super sub Sadio winner withstands VAR review: Mane used a small shove — but a shove nonetheless –of a Norwich City defender to get himself a bit of space, and slotted past Krul in the 78th minute. The Video Assistant Referee did not see enough to overturn the goal, assisted by Jordan Henderson‘s able long ball.

2. Carrow Road feeds the desperate Canaries: The hosts were up for this one from Moment No. 1. Daniel Farke‘s men were very sound in the first half and opened up zero chances of real danger, and would’ve been ahead 1-0 had they converted an early opportunity. Liverpool could not take advantage of the chances earned by their pressing high up the field, and needed to go their bench for a look.

3. Norwich the latest to waste a gilt-edge chance provided by Liverpool: Maybe it was winter break rust, but the Reds back line fell asleep but lived to tell the story thanks to Lukas Rupp‘s soft pass and Alisson Becker’s quick hands.

Man of the Match: Naby Keita and Trent Alexander-Arnold were Liverpool’s best players on the day, but it can’t be taken away from Mane.


A lively Carrow Road saw Liverpool with the ball in the early stages, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hitting a low shot to Tim Krul in the seventh minute.

Despite a wealth of possession for Liverpool, Norwich got a glorious chance. Lukas Rupp had Alisson Becker beaten when he laid off for Teemu Pukki, but the pass was weak and the Liverpool goalkeeper snared it.

That was really it for first half danger. Liverpool had all nine of the match’s shots but only Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early attempt went to Krul.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Reds threatened in the second half, with Krul denying Mohamed Salah then getting back into position to make a fine save on Naby Keita.

Alex Tettey hit the outside of the post in the 73rd minute, though it looked like Alisson had the angle covered if the effort was accurate.

That’s when Mane got his goal.

Pukki belted a shot into the chest of Alisson in the 89th minute.

Henderson puts Liverpool ahead at half, Mane limps off

Sadio Mane injury
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Sadio Mane walked off the Molineux pitch with an injury in the 33rd minute of Liverpool’s visit to Wolves on Thursday.

The Senegalese winger sat on the turf until the ball was played out by Wolves, then stood up and took a couple of steps before sitting down again.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

It certainly didn’t look like anything major, but Mane’s quick and decisive exit certainly won’t ease the concerns of Reds supporters.

Takumi Minamino took his place, making a Premier League debut with Liverpool leading 1-0 on a Jordan Henderson goal.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Henderson rose high to nod a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick towards goal, and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio could get a hand on it to redirect it into the side netting.

Klopp reacts to incredible unbeaten league year

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It was just too easy.

Liverpool swarmed over Sheffield United with class and precision, posting a 2-0 win at Anfield on Thursday.

The win came with all the trimmings. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored as the Reds out-attempted the Blades 19-3.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Liverpool had 74 percent of the ball and attempted nearly 1000 passes, completing better than 90 percent of them.

It was no contest, nearly from Moment No. 1, and made Liverpool unbeaten in league play over a calendar year. From the BBC:

“It says a lot of positive things. I have not enough words for it, it is exceptional. We did not think about the year tonight. Our New Year starts at the end of May, so we have season resolutions not New Year resolutions.”

The Reds, of course, will keep taking it one match at a time.

It will be stunning if Liverpool fails to win its first title of the Premier League era. The 13-point lead with a match-in-hand would have to combine a stunning turn of form with someone else going darn near invincible.

That term, though. Trent Alexader-Arnold has it in his head, and the Reds are clearly cognizant of what it would mean to complete the unlikely task of going unbeaten over a league campaign.

“So far we are invincible but we have only just passed the halfway mark so there’s still a long way to go,” said Alexander-Arnold. “It is harder than what people say. We got beaten once last season and that wasn’t enough. We need to keep our concentration in every game.”

The match wasn’t all good news. Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita pulled up in warm-ups and needed to be replaced by James Milner in the Starting XI.

Klopp said Keita will miss the FA Cup derby tie against Everton with a groin injury.

The boss also had big praise for Jordan Henderson.