Start date for the Next Premier League season confirmed…
The Premier League has today announced the next league campaign will begin on 12 September. A conclusion date has also been revealed.
The Premier League’s statement reads:
‘Premier League Shareholders today agreed to start the 2020/21 Premier League season on 12 September.
‘The final match round of the campaign will take place on 23 May.
‘The Premier League will continue to consult The FA and EFL regarding the scheduling of all domestic competitions.’
The Reds, one month after wrapping up the 2019-20 title, finally got their hands on the Premier League trophy on Wednesday night.
- Brighton v Arsenal game on Saturday is postponed
- Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi also tests positive
- Premier League to hold emergency meeting on Friday
Premier League clubs are preparing for the football season to be suspended after the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday night and their match on Saturday against Brighton was postponed.
Arsenal confirmed their first team squad and coaches would now self-isolate, and they would be unable to play some fixtures on the scheduled dates. In the early hours of Friday, Chelsea announced their players are self-isolating after Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive.
Meanwhile, having earlier declared that the weekend’s top-flight games would go ahead as planned, the Premier League has called an emergency meeting with its clubs on Friday regarding future fixtures this season.
One club executive told the Guardian they expected the season to be suspended for several weeks in the light of the Arteta news, and didn’t rule out the possibility of the whole season being voided.
On Thursday it was also reported that the Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, is self-isolating after a member of his family fell ill, and three Leicester players have also undergone tests for Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms.
As things stand, the Premier League is the only major top-flight league in Europe not to shut down or close its doors because of the coronavirus. The top divisions in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States have all been suspended amid the outbreak, while the German Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 are holding matches behind closed doors.
Fixtures in the Scottish Premiership also appear set to be postponed after this weekend’s Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic, following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned from Monday.
Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.
Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.Advertisement
The scale of the problem for global sport due to the rapid spread of the virus was once again illustrated in a fast-moving 24 hours as:
- European football’s governing body, Uefa, moved closer towards postponing the 2020 European Championships, the final of which is due to be held at Wembley, until 2021. Uefa officials will discuss the future of the tournament next week.
- Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Manchester City next Tuesday was delayed after a basketball player from the Madrid team, which shares the same training facility, tested positive for the virus.
- This weekend’s Formula One season-opening Australian GP in Melbournewas called off after a staff member from the McLaren team tested positive for Covid-19.
- President Trump called for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July to be postponed for a year.
- Men’s tennis was shut down for six weeks, with the prestigious Miami Open and Monte Carlo tournaments cancelled.
- The Pro-14 rugby tournament for clubs from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and South Africa was suspended until further notice.
- Irish racing was told that it must be held behind closed doors until 27 March.
- In the US, major league basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer were all suspended, with the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournaments cancelled.
This summer’s European Championships were already expected to be the most complicated ever staged, because 12 stadiums in 12 different countries were being used, starting in Rome on 12 June and ending on 12 July with the final at Wembley. But the spread of the coronavirus has now put its future in doubt. Delaying Euro 2020 could free up space in the calendar for the European leagues to finish their seasons this summer.
The Euro 2021 women’s tournament in England is not due to start until 11 July, so one plan being discussed is for the men’s competition to take place beforehand. A final decision will come when Uefa meets with representatives from the clubs, leagues and the players’ union Fifpro on Tuesday.
Insiders have also told the Guardian that “everything will be on the table” at the meeting – including drastic plans to make the rest of this season’s Champions League and Europa League ties into one-legged games staged in neutral venues.Advertisement
Uefa confirmed the talks were “in the light of the ongoing developments in the spread of Covid-19 across Europe and the changing analysis of the World Health Organisation.”Play Video2:16 Coronavirus and football: how players, fans and managers have been reacting – video report
The International Olympic Committee has insisted that it is still full steam ahead for the Olympics in Japan in July despite calls from Trump for a postponement until 2021.
At a briefing at the White House, Trump said: “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place,” he said. “If you cancel it, do it a year later. That’s a better alternative rather than having it with no crowd.”
But the IOC said it remained “absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts” in its commitment to deliver a safe Olympic Games this year.
In the cricket, England’s tour of Sri Lanka was continuing. But a spokesperson for the ECB said “this is a highly evolving situation and circumstances are changing rapidly, sometimes several times a day”.
Olivier Giroud’s absence is a mystery, Hugo Lloris proves his worth and Manchester United’s defence continues to wobble.
1) Lloris quick to deliver emphatic reminder of his pedigree
The debutant Steven Bergwijn will rightfully claim the headlines for Spurs but the contribution of Tottenham’s current third-longest serving player against Manchester City should not be forgotten. Hugo Lloris made one of the saves of the season to deny Sergio Agüero in the first half, somehow getting a big toe to turn a deflected shot on to the post, before he also denied Ilkay Gündogan from the penalty spot (the fourth spot-kick City have missed in their past six). Lloris rode his luck – he was clearly off his line when palming Gündogan’s effort away and fortunate not to concede another penalty when challenging Raheem Sterling for the rebound – but his performance is a reminder that the World Cup-winning captain is a big-game player. His return to form in time for the Champions League knockouts bodes well for José Mourinho. Michael Butler
• Match report: Tottenham 2-0 Manchester City
2) Firmino helps Liverpool switch into cruise control
Liverpool hit a few more milestones on Saturday – including a 20th consecutive Premier League home win that opened up a 22-point gap at the summit, the biggest lead witnessed at the end of a day’s play in English top‑flight history – but Jürgen Klopp took greater satisfaction from several key players hitting their stride. Fabinho rediscovered his rhythm in the second half as he continued his recovery from injury, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino flourished as an awkward afternoon became a procession. And Firmino created three of the goals to overtake Salah, Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané on Liverpool’s assist list this season. “He is just exceptional,” Klopp said. “But even a player like Bobby needs an address where he can send the ball. How he uses the skills of his mates is special. I do not know a player like him.” Andy Hunter
• Match report: Liverpool 4-0 Southampton
3) What can Giroud do to force himself into Lampard’s plans?
Chelsea could have had a commanding lead in the first half at Leicester on Saturday but they were scruffy in the final third, which has been the case too often this season. If they slip out of fourth spot then critics – and possibly Frank Lampard – will point to their failure to sign a striker last month. But is Lampard making the best use of the ones available to him? Tammy Abraham, who hurt his ankle against Arsenal, did not look in top condition at Leicester and it is hard to believe Olivier Giroud would not have been sharper. But the Frenchman, having been denied a move to clubs who would have used him, was not in the squad. He must not be impressing Lampard in training, though Abraham relishes working with him. “He’s like a big brother to me,” the 22-year-old said. “His attitude has been great. In training we are always doing finishing and we have a competition after training as well. He has been encouraging many of the young lads.” Paul Doyle
• Match report: Leicester 2-2 Chelsea
4) Lindelöf clutching at straws after shaky display
Manchester United were again amateurish under the high ball as the Harry Maguire-Victor Lindelöf centre-back axis failed to deal with regulation crosses put in by Wolves’ João Moutinho. It is a curiosity given that Maguire’s forte is supposedly the basics of defending and Lindelöf’s technical prowess is meant to complement this. Even stranger, then, that the Swede should talk up a display in which he and Maguire might have allowed at least three goals from aerial deliveries. Lindelöf. “He’s a fantastic player – we train every day [together] and play a lot of games now so for every game that we play we get better and better. Hopefully we can keep improving. They didn’t create a lot of chances, and we kept another clean sheet.” Regarding the latter point: only just. And, given United’s difficulty in scoring, they really have to tighten at the back. Jamie Jackson
• Match report: Manchester United 0-0 Wolves
5) Is Lerma’s reputation preceeding him?
Jefferson Lerma has enough bookings to build a yellow brick road, 66 across the past four and a half years (22 in a Bournemouth shirt) and, as much as Eddie Howe would rather the Colombia midfielder was not suspended for the trip to Sheffield United on Sunday, he is equally loth for Lerma to lose his edge. Lerma was superb against Aston Villa until he received his first red card for Bournemouth after picking up the second of two cautions for fouls on Jack Grealish, retribution which his manager felt was a consequence of the player’s reputation. “I think some of the bookings this season have been very harsh,” Howe said. “I think other players wouldn’t have ended up with the same punishment that he has. Unfortunately for Jeff he has put himself in that position and it is very difficult I think to change people’s opinions. I think referees are looking out for him.” Ben Fisher
• Match report: Bournemouth 2-1 Aston Villa
6) Burnley have risen to a tough challenge
Burnley have never beaten Arsenal in the Premier League and, perhaps more remarkable still, this was Sean Dyche’s first point against them in 10 attempts. It probably felt more glass half‑full than half‑empty, all the more so because this fixture came at the end of a challenging sequence. Burnley could have found themselves among the relegation candidates had they failed to take anything from games against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal, yet they ended up with a more than respectable seven points. “That’s a really healthy return and the players can have a rest now before we start again,” Dyche said. “They deserve it. There’s some tough challenges in the Premier League and we’ve shown we can hold our own against some of the best teams around.” Paul Wilson
• Match report: Burnley 0-0 Arsenal
7) O’Connell the unsung hero in Blades backline
Dean Henderson’s form in goal for Sheffield United – the clean sheet at Selhurst Park was his ninth in the Premier League this season, the joint-most in the division – has brought him international recognition with England but Gareth Southgate might well be advised to keep his eye on another member of the Blades’ defensive unit. Though Henderson has excelled, clean sheets are not down to a goalkeeper alone and United are among the Premier League leaders in terms of shots against, allowing fewer than 12 per game on average. The Republic of Ireland international John Egan in the heart of defence has been key to that, but perhaps even more vital have been the contributions of Jack O’Connell on the left of the back three. The 25-year-old, excellent again in south London, surely can not be too far away from Southgate’s thoughts. John Ashdown
• Match report: Crystal Palace 0-1 Sheffield United
8) Bruce’s aversion to buying a striker looks no less puzzling
For prolonged periods it was hard to discern that Norwich were bottom and Newcastle en route to 10th but, as Steve Bruce acknowledged, the Premier League is all about “small margins”. A combination of an excellent goalkeeper in Martin Dubravka and the sensible decision to revert to Rafael Benítez’s five‑at‑the‑back system promises to keep Newcastle safe but Bruce’s side do not score enough goals to feel properly secure. Benítez’s successor believes a lack of midfield creativity – and possession – explains why the £40m Joelinton has scored only one league goal all season, and he has a point. Even so, Tynesiders remain puzzled as to why he prioritised reinforcing midfield above recruiting a striker last month. Bruce did not bid for Jarrod Bowen, who eventually left Hull for West Ham, claiming he was “no better” than forwards he already possessed. Newcastle fans wonder if he was right. Louise Taylor
• Match report: Newcastle 0-0 Norwich
9) Plenty more firefighting for Pearson to do
The relegation battle is increasingly intriguing and Watford are right in it. They are in 19th place, two points from safety, with a negative goal difference surpassed only by Norwich. After the Hornets’ start to the season, this should not be surprising – but such has been Nigel Pearson’s impact it’s sometimes easy to forget. Watford endured a second consecutive defeat on Saturday against Everton and, as against Aston Villa, it didn’t feel like the right result: 2-0 up and cruising, Watford should have gone on to win. But bad marking and, with the late winner, risky play from a high defensive line were punished ruthlessly by Carlo Ancelotti’s men. Such mistakes cannot be repeated and – with Manchester United, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester in their next five games – Pearson’s relegation challenge has only just begun. Paul MacInnes
• Match report: Watford 2-3 Everton
10) Soucek could prove crucial for embattled Hammers
The manner of West Ham’s collapse here left them scratching for positives but there was a clear one in their midfield debutant, Tomas Soucek. The 24-year-old Czech looks cut out for better sides than this and was particularly instrumental in a first‑half performance that should have set them up for a comfortable win. Soucek is an imposing figure at 6ft 4in and won most of his aerial challenges in an enjoyable midfield battle; even more important was the energy he offered in an all-action display that could have brought a goal. His early header, well saved by Mathew Ryan, came from a free‑kick he had won with a dynamic burst into space. There is much more to come from Soucek but the worry is that, with a devilish set of fixtures ahead, he will have to wield an extraordinary influence if a traumatic end to the season is to be avoided. Nick Ames
• Match report: West Ham 3-3 Brighton
An unusual quandary for Manchester City, crunch games at Bournemouth and Newcastle, plus the rise of Wilfried Ndidi.
1) Ndidi to eclipse Kanté again?
Credit to Leicester. Or should that be shame on Chelsea? Wherever you choose to put the emphasis, the fact is that Wilfried Ndidi is now a more influential Premier League midfielder than N’Golo Kanté. The Frenchman has been good this season, of course, but Frank Lampard, like Maurizio Sarri, has not been getting the best out of him. Ndidi, meanwhile, has been outstanding and, if he dominates central midfield again on Saturday, then Leicester will probably put their Carabao Cup disappointment behind them, take a significant step closer to Champions League qualification, and make the jostling for fourth place very interesting. PD
- Leicester v Chelsea, Saturday 12.30pm (all times GMT)
2) Walker-Peters has work to do
Ralph Hasenhüttl deserves acclaim for the way that Southampton have tightened up since that historic mullering by Leicester in October. But they have still conceded more goals in their last two league matches than Liverpool have in their last 10. And their defence is likely to have a new look at Anfield on Saturday, with Kyle Walker-Peters set to step in on the right-hand side for the Arsenal-bound Cédric Soares. Japhet Tanganga did a fair job containing Liverpool’s wingers earlier this month but his solitary lapse was punished by a goal that gave the league leaders victory at Spurs. Southampton hope that the player who left White Hart Lane after being overtaken by Tanganga can do better against the champions-elect and reignite his career with help from Hassenhüttl. PD
• Liverpool v Southampton, Saturday 3pm
3) How do City prime themselves for Europe?
Manchester City are in an awkward position. With 14 games still to go, they’ve no chance of winning the league, no chance of finishing outside the top four, and next to no chance of not finishing second. So, though they’re still in both domestic cups, their focus is on winning the Champions League. The question is how they go about it: do they give everything in every game, or do they save themselves so that they’re fresh when they need to be? On the one hand, it’s hard to turn it on just like that, but on the other, it’s hard to turn it on when you’re knackered, and neither approach can compensate for the defensive deficiencies that have cost them in each of the last three seasons. Against Spurs, they should expect to have no choice, because their opponents need points, and José Mourinho needs to make one – not just because his genetic code dictates he can do no other. Since he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino, his team have produced few decent performances never mind any signature performances, playing joyless, guileless football in the process. They and he need something, and soon. DH
Tottenham v Manchester City, Sunday 4.30pm
4) Chase for Europe continues at Old Trafford
By any measure this is a massive game between two clubs hoping to secure European football next season – Wolves and Manchester United drew 1-1 at Molineux in August and there is still nothing to separate them, level-pegging as they are on 34 points, with the dream of fourth place or the relative nightmare of mid-table still possible. It might be key that Wolves have had 10 days to prepare, the benefit of losing to these opponents in the FA Cup third round, while United have had to negotiate two testing cup matches. Given their poor recent league results – their last two games ended in 2-0 defeats to Liverpool and Burnley – United and their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, could not afford to take the visit to Tranmere lightly, while the Carabao Cup semi-final would have demanded full focus even if the opposition had not been Manchester City. But this game could turn out to be much more important than either of those. SB
• Manchester United v Wolves, Saturday 5.30pm
5) Coincidences abound at Vicarage Road
After three months out with injury Danny Welbeck is expected to return to the Watford squad for this game, against Everton, a side he was repeatedly linked with last season. Perhaps the greatest tactical problem Watford have faced this season is a complete inability to attack cohesively without Troy Deeney to knit the forward line together, but Welbeck has the technical quality to improve an unhealthy over-reliance on their captain – if he can stay fit. The game will also feature a winger who used to play for Everton and Barcelona but is now with Watford and one that used to play for Watford, now plays for Everton and is rumoured to be wanted by Barcelona. In geographical coincidence news, Everton’s last visit to London was when they drew with Crystal Palace on the first day of the season, since when they have not played, even in the cups, anywhere between Birmingham and the south coast. They play Watford, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in their next five away games. SB
Watford v Everton, Saturday 3pm
6) Howe has striking headaches against buoyant Villa
Bournemouth’s 3-1 win over Brighton last week merely confirmed that Graham Potter’s team are in a world of bother, not that Eddie Howe’s side are too good to survive this season. There is no reason to back them to win Saturday’s relegation showdown with Aston Villa – except, of course, that Villa have been prone to shooting themselves in the foot, including when these sides met at Villa Park in August. But Dean Smith’s team are getting things together and go into this game looking as strong as they have at any other point in the campaign, with a relatively new formation and plenty of confidence following consecutive last-gasp wins over Watford and Leicester. They are likely to create a lot of chances for their new striker, Mbwana Samatta, while Howe must decide whether to keep waiting for Dominic Solanke to locate the net or to give a first Premier League start to Sam Surridge instead. PD
• Bournemouth v Aston Villa, Saturday 3pm
7) Norwich need to roll back the months
When these sides met in August with the sun on their backs, Norwich romped to a 3-1 victory inspired by a Teemu Pukki hat-trick, and Newcastle looked much the likelier to figure in the relegation battle. Five months on, and it’s Norwich who face the survival battle, while Newcastle have moved into the middle tier and could be about to escape Mike Ashley’s frying pan for the ethical fire. On the field, things have begun to tick for Newcastle, which makes this another formidable assignment for Daniel Farke’s side, who haven’t been playing that badly – they were frankly robbed at Tottenham – but are carrying an air of loveable-but-doomed about them. So they need to take points, preferably three, from fixtures such as this. Unlike Newcastle, Norwich have had a quiet transfer window and with Spurs and Liverpool up after this, the Canaries need to tighten , buckle up and win here. TD
• Newcastle v Norwich, Saturday 3pm
8) Dyche seeks to stem the flow
There are seven clubs that Sean Dyche has faced as a manager without so much as drawing. Six of those – including Sheffield United, who will visit Turf Moor in April – he has only faced once, but the other is Arsenal, who he has come up against 10 times already in league and cup without success of any sort. He has come close on occasion – the Laurent Koscielny stoppage-time handball winner of 2016, say, or the two stoppage-time Alexis Sánchez penalty winners of 2017 – but always, somehow, the Gunners have prevailed. With Arsenal still inconsistent as Mikel Arteta beds in and suffering a string of defensive injuries – though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return from suspension – and Burnley having beaten Leicester and Manchester United in their last two league games, perhaps this will be the time. “There’s been a lot of last-minute goals and it would be nice to get one against them,” said Jack Cork. “They are going through a transitional stage and it would be good to get them at a time where they’re a little bit vulnerable and try and get at them.” SB
- Burnley v Arsenal, Sunday 2pm
9) A fun clash of the frail?
If you were to organise a conference for the latest round of football’s interminable Entertainment v Efficiency debate, the ideal venue would be Brighton. Graham Potter’s funky new side have played some lovely stuff but continually found ways not to win. And now look at them! They have fewer points than Chris Hughton’s bores had at this stage last season and find themselves going to West Ham feeling almost as vulnerable as their hosts. A clash between two teams who are far from clinical, often short on aggression and always liable to make a defensive blunder could be, in its own inefficient way, highly entertaining. PD
• West Ham v Brighton, Saturday 3pm
10) How will Wilder manage change?
It’s a long time since a promoted side has imposed itself on the Premier League as brilliantly as Sheffield United. Though Wolves’ patient possession game worked very well last season, Blades’ fast, aggressive approach is far more interesting to watch and has also been accomplished without the involvement of Jorge Mendes. Most particularly, what they are doing and what we are enjoying is a triumph for Chris Wilder, who understands football in all its aspects: his adult response to Oli McBurnie enjoying himself is every bit as important as all the cogitation and innovation. But this week he has set himself a new challenge: can he integrate an expensive outsider? Attracting a talent of Sander Berge’s calibre looks like being yet further testament to the work he has done, but disturbing the balance of something which already works is always a risk. We have no reason to think that Wilder will not find a way – beginning at Selhurst on Saturday. DH
• Crystal Palace v Sheffield United, Saturday 3pm
Grealish, Saka and Chalobah shine in draws, while Newcastle are ready for reinforcements after a late win.
1) Saka’s swap could fill a gap for Arsenal
Arsenal’s injury problems at left‑back have led them to explore signing Layvin Kurzawa from Paris Saint-Germain. But what if the solution lies closer to home? Bukayo Saka is 18 and earlier this season was being rightly lauded for his rich promise as a flying winger. But he has filled in at full‑back four times in the past month, most recently against Sheffield United on Saturday, and looks the part. Saka is tenacious, diligent, has speed and energy to burn and a knack of picking out teammates with his deliveries. “I think he could,” Mikel Arteta said when asked if Saka could carve out a long-term future in the role. “He is someone that’s never played there before but he’s really trying to do it as well as possible. You can see that he’s got many strengths to play in that position.” Club and manager might have hit upon something far more exciting than they expected. Nick Ames
• Match report: Arsenal 1-1 Sheffield United
2) Grealish’s positive attitude gives Villa confidence
England fans will have only Gareth Southgate to blame if Jack Grealish is not in their next squad. The player could hardly do more to prove he deserves a chance. His terrific goal at Brighton was the latest evidence of his exceptional ability. He has the skills and attitude to fit into a variety of positions and has shown at Aston Villa that he thrives on responsibility. “He’s turned into an all-round player,” said Dean Smith, Villa’s manager. “He keeps pushing us as coaches to make him better. When you’ve got that attitude, that application, then he’s going to be a top player. People will take notice of him, that’s for sure, and he’s doing what he can to get himself noticed for the England squad.” Grealish has scored seven league goals this season – his best haul. With him and Villa’s new striker, Mbwana Samatta, the club can be confident of climbing out of relegation trouble. Paul Doyle
• Match report: Brighton 1-1 Aston Villa
3) Rodgers detects Leicester’s lack of confidence
Brendan Rodgers was not being peevish when he said Leicester deserved to win this game. They created most of the chances and, but for an exceptional goalkeeping performance by Nick Pope, would probably have gone home with something. “Somehow we lost,” the Leicester manager said. Crucial saves from Pope were the most obvious reason, particularly when denying Jamie Vardy from the penalty spot in the second half, though Rodgers also thought he could detect a drop in desire and motivation. Leicester’s passing ability was superior but they were unable to make it count. While they remain a good bet for a top‑four finish it is possible they are finding it hard to keep up their earlier pace. “The character is strong but maybe the confidence isn’t as strong as it has been,” Rodgers said. “I’m sure we’ll get it back.” Paul Wilson
• Match report: Burnley 2-1 Leicester
4) De Gea’s meekness becoming a regular failing
Roberto Firmino’s disallowed goal could be argued over for eternity but there is no debating that it involved a desperately timid piece of goalkeeping from David de Gea. The Spaniard was impressive thereafter but he plays in an unforgiving position and what will stick in the mind is his meekness in coming to meet a high ball – strikingly similar to his costly mistake against Everton last month. Watford, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Portugal have also benefited from De Gea blunders in recent memory and they are only the most glaring. The 29-year-old has been a rare jewel in the rubble of the post-Ferguson years but it is no exaggeration to say that he is in danger of becoming a liability. His club can, however, lay claim to a keeper with the joint‑most clean sheets in the division: Dean Henderson. Time for De Gea to worry? Alex Hess
• Match report: Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United
5) Hodgson decides not to throw at Stones
Roy Hodgson felt compelled to defend John Stones after the defender had another shaky outing that culminated in him allowing Wilfried Zaha to force Fernandinho’s late own-goal equaliser. Hodgson, who gave Stones his international debut when England manager, said: “John is a good player – young, too. He still has his best years ahead of him, he’s still learning the game, learning it in a fantastic environment with very good players around him. I still think that John Stones is every bit that we expected him to be. But he’s playing in a very important goldfish bowl at the moment. Every mistake or every good thing is magnified 10 times over. He’s very much a player that City and England will have good use from in the future. It’s for Pep to decide.” Guardiola voiced rare public criticism of the “mistake” that prompted Fernandinho’s blunder. Jamie Jackson
• Match report: Manchester City 2-2 Crystal Palace
6) Reinforcement can add to Newcastle’s happiness
Matt Ritchie celebrated Isaac Hayden’s last-gasp winner by kicking the corner flag into the crowd – where it hit a Newcastle fan in the groin, leaving him in agony. Frank Lampard and Chelsea probably felt much the same after monopolising possession and having 19 shots on target. What the bald statistics do not reveal is the visitors often passed sideways and created mainly half‑chances. While Reece James shone for Chelsea at right‑back the other contenders for man of the match were all Newcastle players. They should shortly be joined by the Austria winger Valentino Lazaro after a provisional loan agreement was reached with Internazionale. Lazaro can expect some expert “out of possession” training‑ground tutelage from Steve Bruce and his assistant Steve Agnew. The defensive masterclass here was not accidental. Louise Taylor
• Match report: Newcastle 1-0 Chelsea
7) Duda adds sparkle to Norwich’s fight against relegation
The January transfer window has offered little of note so far but one move that flew under the radar when it went through last week was Norwich’s signing of Ondrej Duda on loan from Hertha Berlin. On the face of it a slight, technical midfielder is hardly the sort of player required in a relegation dogfight – especially by a team who have conceded the most goals in the division and already possess Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendía. Yet Duda – who scored 11 times in the Bundesliga last season – slotted into the team alongside both and was his side’s standout performer, dictating the tempo with his crisp passing and denied a debut goal only by the illegal acrobatics of Steve Cook. If Norwich go down, they will go down playing sparkling football. But if Duda plays like that every week, they might just get the best of both worlds. Alex Hess
Match report: Norwich 1-0 Bournemouth
8) Nuno accepts Wolves have to invest in transfer window
After a stirring comeback victory it would have been easy for Nuno Espírito Santo to be cavalier but the Wolves head coach acknowledged such a result does not alter the need for reinforcements. The shirt numbers of his substitutes at St Mary’s read akin to lottery numbers and the average age was 22. As it happened, Nuno’s tactical switch changed the game – Adama Traoré caused havoc centrally – but Wolves had few options on a bench which featured two teenagers, including Ryan Giles who was recalled from Shrewsbury last week. Wolves rallied but Nuno recognised he needs to add to his supporting cast, with backup for the match-winner, Raúl Jiménez, in short supply after Patrick Cutrone joined Fiorentina on loan. “This window is not the best one to do things but we need to,” he said. “We already have a good team but we need to improve.” Ben Fisher
• Match report: Southampton 2-3 Wolves
9) Chalobah rules roost in midfield for Watford
Watford looked the equals of Tottenham during this largely drab draw. Their midfield three outfought their opponents but they had more to their game than just strength. Most intriguing of the trio was Nathaniel Chalobah. The 25‑year‑old’s fitness history is chequered but even when fit he has struggled to play under some of Watford’s frequently changing managers. Nigel Pearson trusts him, however. “He’s been fabulous again,” he said. “He’s a gifted player but he’s had to find a way of regaining his form. It’s been a difficult year or so for him [but] he’s the type of player that is very important for us.” From the base of Watford’s midfield Chalobah was effective in breaking up Spurs’ attacks but his distribution high up the field was also crucial. He has a broad range of attributes for an English defensive midfielder and another manager who trusts him is Gareth Southgate. Paul MacInnes
• Match report: Watford 0-0 Tottenham
10) Bench shows West Ham’s lack of options
The West Ham fans who protested against David Sullivan and David Gold before this draw with Everton will be paying close attention to whether the board reacts to a growing injury list by backing David Moyes in the transfer market. Missing Felipe Anderson, Michail Antonio and Andriy Yarmolenko, West Ham lacked ideas in the second half and did not have many attacking options on a bench containing three centre‑backs, an untried youngster, a left-back and Albian Ajeti, a forward whose only contribution was jutting his head into Mason Holgate’s jaw after replacing Manuel Lanzini. Moyes admitted concern about the lack of support for the £45m striker Sébastien Haller. With a trip to Leicester on Wednesday, a double‑header with Liverpool, games at Arsenal and Tottenham and visits from Chelsea and Wolves, West Ham need reinforcements. Jacob Steinberg
• Match report: West Ham 1-1 Everton
Alex Iwobi is drifting, Pellegrino is on dangerous ground and Manchester United produced a classic performance.
1. Iwobi missing something vital in his make up
It always feels unfair to single out a young player, not least one who seems with each performance these days to become a one-man Arsenal social media event, a living banter-meme. Just check out Alex Iwobi on Twitter the next time Arsenal are playing – and hope he never makes the mistake of searching his own name. But watching him against Watford it was tempting to wonder about stalled progress, and a comfort zone at the wrong moment in his career. He has been more productive since Christmas, has made an effort to make more decisive forward runs. But he remains a strange footballer, a creative midfielder who seems to be always shuttling in vaguely the right area, but who somehow ends up doing very little actual creating. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown the fruits of moving on to develop. Iwobi still seems unsure of his place in the pecking order, too mannered to have any real sharp edges, and in danger of becoming a poster boy for late-Wenger drift. Barney Ronay
2. Alli can shine in Kane’s absence
Mauricio Pochettino will have hoped he would never have to do without Harry Kane. But after the England striker limped off against Bournemouth he put his plan C into action as Fernando Llorente was left on the bench, with Erik Lamela coming on to form a potent front three to provide guile, speed and movement. The upshot was that Tottenham did not miss their talisman and they came from behind to win. Dele Alli was afforded the central role from where he converted a cross like a natural No 9, while Son Heung‑min reached 12 goals for the season, leaving the manager relieved and relatively optimistic, even if he needs to do without Kane for an extended period. In what has been a tough season for Alli, he may well be able to revel in being the focal point of a team living in Kane’s prolific shadow. Will Unwin
3. Conte at ease before Barcelona return
Chelsea should have won this by a country mile but were pegged back by the spirit of Crystal Palace and, specifically, Wilfried Zaha. When asked if he was disappointed at the way his team relaxed in the game, Antonio Conte said: “Sometimes you can think the situation is easier than it is.” That was about as far as the criticism got. To hear the Italian soft-pedalling on a matter is unusual given the voracity with which he has torn into so many aspects of his own club this season. Chelsea have largely performed to their capabilities in the bigger matches, so getting the players up for Barcelona on Wednesday should not require a confidence boost from the manager. Instead it was as if the Italian wanted a break from any of the nitpicking. Even the toughest, most obdurate of characters needs a day off sometimes. Paul MacInnes
4. Hodgson talking tough over relegation
The good news for Crystal Palace came with confirmation that Yohan Cabaye, Mamadou Sakho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will resume full training on Monday morning, alongside the excellent Wilfried Zaha, ahead of the critical trip to Huddersfield on Saturday. More troubling had been the team’s slapdash first-half performance which even Zaha could not rectify. “There were a lot of players who didn’t give me the sort of commitment and desire,” Roy Hodgson said. Christian Benteke was the one player hooked at the break, “but it would be unfair to put it totally on him”. The manager retains belief in his group and has urged his players to show more mental courage, and Palace will attack a more appealing run-in with gusto. “We certainly won’t go gently out of the league,” he said. “We’re going to make it as big a fight as we can. They’re going to have to bash us over the head to get us down.” Their recovery must begin in west Yorkshire. Dominic Fifield
5. Tosun and Walcott make their mark
Sam Allardyce took extra satisfaction in Everton’s win not only because of the team’s first clean sheet since Boxing Day but also the impact of two January signings, Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott, who both helped to quell discontent around Goodison Park. Tosun sealed victory with his second Everton goal – created by the crucially fit-again Leighton Baines – and showed the work-rate and commitment that supporters have craved from the team this season. After a slow start to his Everton career, the Turkey international is beginning to repay a transfer fee that could rise to £27m. “We had a winter break in Turkey but in England they don’t,” the striker said. “I had seven or eight days off and then played the Tottenham game without being in the best shape. I was not good physically but the training in Dubai and here made me better. Now I feel better physically and I feel sharper. I hope it will be better in the next few weeks.” Andy Hunter
6. Mawson deserves England call
The only upside for Swansea to Jordan Ayew’s 11th-minute sending off against Huddersfield was that it gave them another chance to demonstrate the defensive fortitude that they have developed under Carlos Carvalhal. They rose well to that challenge and truly earned their point, even if Huddersfield would have won if Tom Ince or Steve Mounié had finished more sharply, or if Scott Malone had been able to connect with the ball from close range after being picked out by Ince. Overall, Swansea’s three central defenders kept Huddersfield at bay, with Alfie Mawson particularly defiant. It was further evidence that Gareth Southgate should include the 24-year-old in the England squad to be announced this week, especially if the manager intends deploying a back three at times at the World Cup in Russia this summer. Paul Doyle
7. Sánchez shows his worth
Manchester United’s win was their most accomplished of the season, a classic demonstration of how José Mourinho feels all opposition should be dispatched. United were mentally tough, muscular and executed their chances ruthlessly. Unlike Manchester City, who fashion a glut of opportunities each time they step on to the turf, Mourinho’s blueprint relies on a killer touch in the rare openings his team manage. What he requires, then, to challenge seriously for the title next season is to up creativity and the goal return. The solution may be Alexis Sánchez, who again misfired but never stopped niggling away at Liverpool. There is no question about his attitude, so once form is discovered how high United might fly will fascinate. Last season the Chilean scored 30 in 51 outings for Arsenal. Imagine what that weight of goals could do for the Mourinho project. Jamie Jackson
8. Pellegrino rolls the dice
Where do Southampton go from here? On Saturday Mauricio Pellegrino pressed football’s equivalent of the nuclear button and accused his underachieving players of “giving up”. After one win in 17 league games, the Championship beckons and the fans are calling for the manager’s head. Pellegrino says senior professionals have much for which to answer. “I observed some players who gave up,” he said following a comprehensive Newcastle victory. “I’m really disappointed. We were never a threat to Newcastle. I must apologise to our supporters because we did not represent our club well enough. You can have good players but without personality it’s really difficult to compete. We have to switch on our spirit. The players are intelligent, they know what they did.” Pellegrino can only hope his side are shamed into improvement. Louise Taylor
9. Vardy keeps confounding the doubters
The sight of Jamie Vardy filing a contender for goal of the season with a brilliantly executed, controlled volley provided a gentle reminder, for anyone who needed one, that the 31-year-old is one of the Premier League’s outstanding strikers. Only Harry Kane, Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah have scored more league goals than Vardy this season, and it is tempting to wonder whether the England international would have a few more to his name if he was playing for a top-six club. Vardy may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those who dismissed him as a one-season wonder after Leicester’s title triumph or, in Michael Owen’s case, as someone who is “not a natural finisher” could not have been more wrong. He has scored 51 Premier League goals in the past two and a half years and his latest – with his weaker foot, no less – was technically superb. Stuart James
10. West Ham protests overshadow another Hart mess
In different circumstances the story would have been a poor display by Joe Hart. The West Ham goalkeeper looked nervy on his first league start since 29 November and he was slightly fortunate that attention had turned to the crowd trouble at the London Stadium by the time his failure to hold Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot allowed Chris Wood to score Burnley’s third goal. Yet the protests against West Ham’s board by furious supporters did not completely overshadow Hart’s shoddiness. “I want Joe to have an opportunity to play,” David Moyes said. “But you cannot keep making mistakes. Joe is mentally strong. He has played for big teams in big games. He has a lot of England caps. Goalkeepers live with times when they will mistakes.” Yet Hart has made too many this season. It is impossible to see him keeping his spot as England’s No 1 at the World Cup. Jacob Steinberg
SOURCE: The Guardian UK – Sports
Liverpool will play on white and green
Green and white for #LFC today.
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) March 10, 2018
And now Jurgen Klopp, slightly more hyper but smiling nonetheless, has his say: “It’s always the same. You always have to bring through your own skills but you have to respect the quality of your opponent as well. We cannot be blind and go into the game and say come on, let’s play football and enjoy the game … it will be hard work, United is a group of unbelievably strong players. Mata is on the pitch, and he can change the game completely. Rashford’s speed on the wing changes the game a little bit. Lukaku is always a threat. We have to be really strong with and without the ball. I have tried to find a good set-up for this game, a good mixture.”
A relaxed-looking Jose Mourinho speaks to Sky Sports! “Juan Mata offers experience, and has the capacity to move into areas where he can connect our game, because he is very intelligent. Liverpool are a very strong team in fast counter attack, in transition, so the more times we lose the ball, the more chances they have for that transition. If we are more consistent, we try to reduce the possibility of their super-dangerous counter-attack. So let’s see if Mata can help us! They are not the kind of team to sit in a low block waiting for us. Is this aggressive defence? I don’t know. The objective is to be in front of them at the end of the season, not today. We want to win the game. Paul Pogba is injured, yesterday in training. He was in an unlucky situation. I really don’t know when he is back.”
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The big news for Manchester United: there’s no Paul Pogba. Their record signing is out injured, with Juan Mata, who has given Liverpool no little grief in the past, taking his place as midfield schemer. There are two other changes to the XI named at Crystal Palace on Monday: Eric Bailly replaces Victor Lindelof at the back, while Marcus Rashford comes in at the expense of Jesse Lingard.
Liverpool make five changes to the team that drew with Porto in midweek. Captain Jordan Henderson isn’t risked after suffering a dead leg during the closing stages of that particular non-event; he’s on the bench with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain taking his place. Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are restored to the defence, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez dropping to the bench while Alberto Moreno misses out altogether. And Mo Salah returns, Adam Lallana also just one of the subs today.
This will be the 200th meeting of these grand old clubs. Manchester United are well out in front in terms of victories: 79 to 65. The first match, for the record, was a Test Match play-off in April 1894 between Second Division champions Liverpool and First Division stragglers Newton Heath. Liverpool won the game, played on neutral territory at Ewood Park in Blackburn, 2-0, and with it a place in the following season’s top flight at the Manchester club’s expense. Patrick Gordon and Harry Bradshaw scored the first-half goals that did for the Heathens; the second half was a bit of a non-event, according to this paper, the play being “moderate” because the players were “suffering from excitement”. What price similarly modest, highly strung play today? The more things change, etc.
- Troy Deeney 42 pen
- Daryl Janmaat 84
- Gerard Deulofeu 88
- Roberto Pereyra 90 +0:47
- Eden Hazard 82
Antonio Conte had shivered through much of this contest, hands planted deep in the pockets of his puffa jacket and that distant, rather haunted look in his eyes which tends to mark out Chelsea managers under the cosh.
The Italian had been emotionless as Eden Hazard belted his team level eight minutes from time and, perhaps more significantly, just as motionless as Watford ran riot in what time remained. A third chaotic defeat in four games has reinforced the sense this campaign is veering away from the champions.
They were poor throughout here but, having gleaned improbable parity, would still find time to wilt. Daryl Janmaat’s wonderful exchange with Roberto Pereyra and smart finish across Thibaut Courtois would restore the lead Watford’s dominance merited, and there was still time for the game’s outstanding performer, Gerard Deulofeu, to roll in the hosts’ third. As perverse as it seems at a club still in the top four and involved in the Champions League and FA Cup, Conte is witnessing the unravelling of his team’s campaign.
There had been a nervousness to Chelsea from the outset which betrayed just how brittle their confidence had been rendered by recent setbacks, with those jitters exacerbated by events over the opening period.
They had rather grimaced into the contest, undermined by a lack of conviction, a sloppiness in possession and indecision across the backline which had Conte blanching in his technical area while Watford swarmed over his players sensing vulnerability.
By the break they were wheezing in deficit, down to 10 men and fortunate still to be clinging to any hope of parity. In so many ways, their struggles had been personified by the nightmare endured by Tiémoué Bakayoko. As cameos go, his 30 minutes on the pitch plumbed the depths.
Focus will be drawn to the two bookings the £40m midfielder picked up for clumsy fouls on Etienne Capoue and Richarlison that had him dismissed on the half-hour, but that only told half of the story. His 28 touches had been littered with errors, from a weak header that was picked up by Abdoulaye Doucouré, a former team-mate at Rennes, to misplaced and sloppy passes presented to Gerard Deulofeu, Capoue and Richarlison. All four errors led directly to shots at goal. As the Frenchman trudged down the tunnel bravely offering the away support a clap – the chorus bellowed back was far from friendly – after his red, it was tempting to wonder which team benefited more from his departure.
Watford cared little. They had been aggressive and energetic, inspired by Deulofeu’s trickery and deceptive pace on his home debut, and deservedly led. The chances presented them by Bakayoko should have yielded an advantage but, just as Chelsea’s reshaped lineup was contemplating reaching the break unscathed, Daryl Janmaat slid a pass down the right beyond Gary Cahill and Deulofeu had space in which to run at pace.
Thibaut Courtois slid out and made no contact with the ball with the Spaniard, seeking out the contact, sprawling over the goalkeeper. There were few Chelsea protests as Troy Deeney converted the penalty low to his left.
It was only the captain’s third league goal of a stop-start season, all spot-kicks rammed home against top six opponents. Conte was rather subdued by his standards on the sidelines, as if resigned to another setback, though his frustration surfaced at Richarlison’s foul, prompting words of warning from Mike Dean.
The Chelsea support had chorused the Italian’s name – their faith remains – but the rot has set in this year, the odd flare of quality aside. Pedro and Willian had blazed shots into the Rookery but, having surrendered a man, their ambitions had been limited to the counterattack.
The hosts duly revelled in the ascendancy. Watford’s own campaign had been threatening to unravel, that dreadful run of one win in 12 league games having cost an apparently distracted Marco Silva his position, but Javi Gracia will hope this is a sign of things to come.
In Deulofeu they may have plucked a player from La Liga who can set them apart from those labouring in the relegation scrap: it was his low, skimmed drive which had Courtois plunging desperately to his left only for the ball to bobble wide. Richarlison, too, caused the Belgian to panic and he was relieved to see the shot veer behind. The goalkeeper was more decisive in pushing away Doucouré’s fine attempt.
Such profligacy did not feel critical at the time only for Hazard, gathering possession and cutting infield, to conjure that stunning equaliser out of nothing, the ball dipping deliciously under Orestis Karnezis’ outstretched left hand to nestle in the corner of the net. Briefly, tantalisingly, Chelsea sensed a point. As it was, this was never likely to be their night and Roberto Pereyra’s fine goal in added time proved it.
Things looked so good for both these clubs last May. Antonio Conte was basking in leading Chelsea to the title in his first season while Watford secured the services of Marco Silva ahead of a host of other suitors. Wind the clock forward nine months, however, and things have unravelled both in west London and Hertfordshire, with Silva gone and replaced last month by Javi Gracia and Conte seemingly talking his way to the exit door at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea do, however, remain in the top four but Spurs are breathing down their necks and Conte’s side could use a return to winning ways on Monday after the disastrous defeat to Bournemouth. Paul Chronnell
Monday 8pm Sky Sports Premier League
Venue Vicarage Road
Last season Watford 1 Chelsea 2
Referee Craig Pawson
This season G17 Y63 R4 4.18 cards/game
Odds H 5-1 A 4-7 D 3-1
Subs from Gomes, Bachmann, Janmaat, Zeegelaar, Deeney, Carrillo, Okaka, Sinclair, Pereyra, Kaboul, Ndong, Lukebakio
Doubtful Gomes (back), Kaboul (foot)
Injured Britos (foot), Chalobah (knee), Hughes (hamstring, all 24 Feb), Femenía, Wagué (both hamstring, unknown)
Discipline Y42 R4
Leading scorer Doucouré 7
Subs from Caballero, Eduardo, David Luiz, Zappacosta, Ampadu, Scott, Sterling, Fàbregas, Palmieri, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
Doubtful David Luiz (match fitness), Willian (hamstring)
Injured Christensen (hamstring, 12 Feb), Morata (back, 16 Feb)
Discipline Y29 R3
Leading scorer Morata 10
Full-time: Watford 4 (four)-1 Chelsea
GOAL! Watford 4-1 Chelsea (Pereyra 90+1)
90 mins: If anyone out there knows Guus Hiddink, just tell him to keep his phone on tonight.
GOAL! Watford 3-1 Chelsea (Deulofeu 88)
GOAL! Watford 2-1 Chelsea (Janmaat 84)
GOAL! Watford 1-1 Chelsea (Hazard 82)
59 mins: Some rough-housing between Luiz and Doucoure ends in the Chelsea man booting his opponent in the back of the leg. Free-kick to Watford, yellow card to Luiz.
Half-time: Watford 1-0 Chelsea
GOAL! Watford 1-0 Chelsea (Deeney 42)
PENALTY TO CHELSEA
21:32′ | RED CARD – Bakayoko
21:25′ | 23 mins: Azpilicueta attempts to bypass the midfield problem by playing a big, booming pass from deep on the right, but it’s too far ahead of any forward it might have been aimed towards and Watfordkeeper Karnezis gathers.
21:23′ | 20 mins: A brief pause as Deulofeu gathers himself following taking a ball to the chops. Chelsea really can’t get going here: Watford have pressed relentlessly, and when one of your two central midfielders is a walking mistake, it’s understandable that they can’t get beyond 30 yards from their own goal.
21:21′ | 18 mins: …which they make an awful mess of, taking it short entirely pointlessly, and Holebas loses the ball then fouls Kante before he can cross. But Watford win it back, Richarlison jinks outside the box and lets fly with a strong shot, but it’s blocked.
21:18′ | 17 mins: Richarlison has started in spunky form: he runs at Azpilicueta again down the Watford left, and while his drilled cross is blocked he does win them a corner…
21:16′ | 15 mins: Richarlison jazzes down the left after a bobbling ball falls past Azpilicueta and into his path, but ultimately the cross he hits after cutting back onto his right foot is too strong.
21:15′ | 12 mins: Finally a chance for Chelsea: Moses crosses from the right, it’s half-cleared by Holebas and it falls to Willian, who absolutely leathers it but just a little too high, and it sails into the stands.
21:14′ | 10 mins: Great, great chance for Watford. A corner comes over from the left, Deeney loses his marker with troubling ease and finds himself free about eight yards out, but he can’t get anything significant on a volley and it skews wide. Chelsea are, in the words of an Australian cricketer, under the pump here.
21:11′ | 9 mins: Another chance for Watford, and again they mither Chelseaout of possession in midfield. Deulofeu runs into the box from the right, shoots but it goes into the side-netting.
21:11′ | 8 mins: Watford on top in the early stages: the ball breaks to Doucoure on the edge of the box, and in that wonderfully lissom-legged way of his shoots, but drags that one wide.
21:09′ | 7 mins: Speaking of Tiemoue, Matt Dony writes: “Dropping Bakayoko would effectively be a tacit acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, selling Matic to a direct rival might not have been the best plan. ie Exactly what many, many people said back in August. But then, hey, Conte hardly seems too worried what people think at the moment, so what do I know?”
21:08′ | 5 mins: Bakayoko plays a near suicidal, blindingly casual pass sort of towards Cahill, but the buzzing Deulofeu nips in to intercept, but his touch is heavy and takes it through to Courtois.
21:07′ | 3 mins: Courtois is rushed into a booted clearance by the insistent Deulofeu, but he successfully gets the ball away from bother and into the stands. As the ball bobbles around the Chelsea box shortly afterwards, the crowd demand a handball: no players join in, but replays show the ball did strike Cahill on the hand, but he was looking the other way & couldn’t really stop.
21:06′ | 1 min: And we’re away, the Chelsea fans announcing with some gusto where their bread is buttered if there is any schism between manager and board.
(It’s with Conte)
21:05′ The players are out on the pitch, and we will have some football shortly.
21:03′ Of all the managers in the Premier League, who do you think would be the least bothered if he got sacked? Jose Mourinho could move out of the Deluxe Travel Tavern, I guess. Javi Gracia probably knows it’s coming in the next 9-12 months anyway. Sam Allardyce could top up his furious sense of grievance against the world and all that have wronged him. And then there’s Antonio Conte.
The accepted wisdom is that Conte will probably leave Chelsea in the summer anyway, sick to his very back teeth of the machinations at Stamford Bridge, not getting the players he ever wants and suffering the indignity of having to manage Ross Barkley. Plus, as is entirely understandable, maybe he just wants to go home.
So, while his professional pride might take a small kick in the pants,he might be handed some fat stacks of cash for something he was going to do anyway, just a few months earlier than planned. He’s certainly been moping around with a face like a smacked bum in recent weeks, the demeanour of a man who is quite simply tired of this guff.
By Jide Alaka
The transfer saga that has led the January transfer window was finally put to bed on Monday.
Manchester United got Alexis Sanchez while Arsenal got Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a straight swap, but which of these teams got the better deal?
Firstly, the two unveilings revealed which team was more prepared to receive. Manchester United released a video of Sanchez on a grand piano with the iconic No.7 while Mkhitaryan was spotted looking not so happy with a numberless jersey.
For all the posturing, Arsene Wenger does not know immediately where the Armenian midfielder will fit into whereas you can be sure that Sanchez will go straight into United’s team, relieving Juan Mata of his place on the right flank.
Technically, what do these two players have to offer their new teams?
Sanchez is a leader
One of the reasons why Sanchez left Arsenal is because the team was rudderless, stranded in mid-table mediocrity under a manager who seems to have lost the will to win. Leaders supposedly don’t settle for crumbs and at 29, Sanchez wants to leave the game in a blaze of glory. After Chile failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the forward must have told himself – ‘find a team where you can influence a trophy-winning run’.
Sanchez is unpredictable
There are so many sides to the Chilean’s game that will benefit Mourinho and United. Against Burnley last weekend, United huffed and puffed for a 1-0 win because Burnley were ready with a game plan. In Sanchez, United have recruited a player who can spark a fire that will burn in different directions. He can’t be shoehorned into any corner because he plays the game on instinct.
Sanchez offers goals and assists
Over the past three seasons, the Chilean is fourth in the EPL’s goal scoring column and No.1 for creating chances and assists. He shoots from long range; he can accomplish intricate passing movements, score tap-ins – he can do the lot.
Lets we forget, we hear he is on an excess of £500,000 a week, which would make a comfortable retirement plan.
Mkhitaryan will add to Arsenal’s defensive woes
If the Gunners are complaining of an imbalance in their play whenever Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey play together in midfield then they are in for more complaints, as the Armenian is not renowned for his tackling. On getting Mkhitaryan, Wenger revealed he was thinking of playing him with Ozil in the same line-up, which means their offensive impetus, will increase but at the same time, they will be weaker defensively.
Mkhitaryan seems a replacement for the departing Ozil
If one looks at the likely departure of Ozil [maybe to United], one can only presume Wenger has got a replacement that may have cost Arsenal between 80 and 100 million Pounds Sterling in the summer. The German midfielder could also have been sold in the January window but Wenger is adamant that he prefers that his contract run out.
Mkhitaryan does not disrupt Wenger’s plans
The way Wenger sees the game is probably the same view Mkhitaryan holds – play the game as beautifully as possible – the trophies and titles are an aside. You will not see the Armenian giving away a technical foul to stop an opponent from scoring though he will do his best to mark. All he desires is playing ‘wow’ football for the fans to gush about. For this, they have the right player.
What this Arsenal team genuinely needs is a leader that would stay consistent on the pitch and not let standards drop. In Mkhitaryan, they definitely do not have this kind of player.
So, who got the better deal? Definitely, Mourinho’s United did! Can they catch Manchester City? I don’t think so.
For Liverpool, it is jarring inconsistencies like this that have blighted Jürgen Klopp’s attempt to transition his side into title contenders. Liverpool severely lacked their mojo on a night when they were humbled by Swansea City, the Premier League’s bottom club, whose manager Carlos Carvalhal, said his team had to make do with buying sardines not lobster. A courageous performance to earn only their fifth league win all season dragged Liverpool behind the trawler.
For Swansea, six months into the season, perhaps this is liftoff. Alfie Mawson’s first-half strike from Sam Clucas’s corner handed them victory and destroyed the myth that Liverpool’s set-piece woes would instantly end with Virgil van Dijk in defence.
There was a befitting minute’s applause in memory of Jimmy Armfield and Cyrille Regis before the kick-off.
Liverpool, who had warmed up a few hours earlier by training along the M4 at Port Talbot Town, took time to get into their stride. With Jordan Henderson again absent with a hamstring injury, Emre Can was captain for the match – the sixth player to do so in as many matches – after Dejan Lovren, who led Liverpool in that boisterous display against Manchester City at Anfield eight days ago, missed the trip through illness.
Mohamed Salah soon threw off his gloves while Can instigated Liverpool’s first glimpse of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal. His diagonal pass picked out Sadio Mané, who had crept in behind his marker, Mike van der Hoorn. But by the time Mané latched on to the ball, the Swansea goalkeeper was there to smother. Andrew Robertson’s devious low ball into the box, which bobbled clear off Mawson, was another reminder of Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Swansea gave their own warning when Jordan Ayew lashed the ball home after Clucas evaded Joe Gomez. The only problem was that Ayew, after dribbling beyond Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, also ran the ball out of touch before shooting.
Swansea were looking organised but Carvalhal also his full-backs, Martin Olsson and Kyle Naughton, to fly forward as well as defend. But when Mawson tugged at Salah’s shirt 25 yards from goal, you could forgive the home support for fearing the worst. Swansea shuddered but survived, although the resulting corner had Van Dijk nodding a header just wide.
It was role reversal a moment later when the Dutchman, a £75m club-record signing, lofted the ball over the Swansea backline, only for Salah, first time, to volley over. Van Dijk’s centre-back partner, Jöel Matip, then rampaged forward unchallenged, playing a give-and-go with Salah, but the defender got himself in a tangle.
If that was an unfamiliar sight when Mawson steered home only the seventh league goal Swansea have scored a home this season . Van Dijk’s headed clearance from Sam Clucas’s corner cannoned off Federico Fernández and into Mawson’s path, who showed rapid reactions to get away a shot that squeezed into the corner of Loris Karius’s goal.
Mawson exploded with joy while Carvalhal demanded his players prolong the celebrations inside Liverpool’s half. You could hardly blame them. Mané could have equalised but horribly miscued his effort from Salah’s curling cross. If that typified Liverpool’s frustrations, Robertson and Matip were later booked.
Ayew led the Swansea line admirably but, in light of little support, was also guilty of overplaying the ball. At one point, at the start of the second half, he raced beyond Mané before becoming unstuck in the box.
Klopp was not drawn into changing personnel at the interval but his team’s intentions altered. They were camped inside Swansea’s half for much of the second period, leading to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flighting a superb ball in for Roberto Firmino, who wrestled in between Van der Hoorn and Fernández before the Swansea captain hacked the ball away.
Liverpool dominated possession as the hosts retreated further and further. Robertson, left alone too often by Nathan Dyer, twice found space and would have seemingly rippled the net but for Naughton’s magnificently-timed interception inside the box. Salah then scooped over as Liverpool changed up through the gears.
When Ki Sung-yueng clumsily upended Mané, Swansea surrendered a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Liverpool’s players formed a five-strong queue but it was Salah whose beautiful curling effort brought a fingertip save out of Fabianski.
Swansea, understandably, were a nervous wreck but continued to fight their corner. Carvalhal then substituted Tom Carroll in place of Dyer in an attempt to seize back some semblance of control.
As Carvalhal paced the touchline, Klopp sought changes in the shape of Adam Lallana and Danny Ings. The latter jinked away from Van der Hoorn before blasting at Fabianski, who cradled the ball. Then Van Dijk fired over from distance. For Swansea, the final few minutes felt like a lifetime, but they cherished every moment.
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK
Gareth Barry broke Ryan Giggs’ Premier League appearance record as the West Bromwich Albion midfielder played his 633rd game in Monday’s clash against Arsenal.
Barry was named Albion captain at the Emirates Stadium in honour of his milestone moment and received a warm reception from both Arsenal and West Brom fans before kick-off.
The 36-year-old, who drew level with former Manchester United star Giggs when he played in West Brom’s goalless draw against West Ham last weekend, was making his 601st start in the top-flight.
Barry made his debut for Aston Villa at the age of 17, appearing as a substitute in a 3-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday on May 2, 1998.
It was fitting that his landmark appearance came against the Gunners as their manager Arsene Wenger twice tried to sign him during his long career.
Instead, Barry went on to play for Manchester City, with whom he won the title in 2012, and Everton before joining West Brom on a free transfer this summer.
Now in his 21st season as a professional, Barry, who also has 53 England caps, this week admitted he could carry on playing until he is 40.
That could take him past Giggs again as the Welshman, who played 40 times in the old First Division before the Premier League was introduced in 1992, made 672 top-flight appearances.
The Spaniard headed the Blues into the lead four minutes before the break – his third league goal in four games – before N’Golo Kante doubled Chelsea’s advantage at his former stomping ground with a low shot in the 50th minute.
Thibaut Courtois’ foul on Jamie Vardy in the area handed Leicester a lifeline, with the striker converting his resulting spot-kick, but the Premier League champions held on for the win.
Much of the pre-match talk surrounded the return of Eden Hazard from an ankle injury and Danny Drinkwater, who completed a deadline-day move from Leicester to the champions.
Despite Hazard impressing for Belgium with his two substitute appearances against Greece and Gibraltar during the international break, the winger was left on the bench along with Drinkwater.
Instead, Conte opted to start Cesc Fabregas – who scored in the 2-0 win over Everton – and Pedro alongside Morata as Willian was also left out of the line-up for the visitors.
But after a lively start which included Vardy driving Riyad Mahrez’s through-ball wide of the far post, the Blues found the opener through their new striker Morata.
The Spaniard, who joined Chelsea from Real Madrid this summer, put the visitors in front in the 41st minute after superbly heading Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross from the right past Kasper Schmeichel.
It was a carbon copy of Chelsea’s second goal against Everton before the international break, which handed Conte’s side the confidence they needed to go on and score another shortly after the break.
The goal came from Kante, who had earlier received a warm reception from the Leicester fans, after he latched onto the ball in midfield and then succumbed to the chants of ‘shoot!’ from the travelling fans.
The France international appeared to surprise everyone with his seemingly speculative effort, which hurtled along the pitch past several players and into the bottom corner.
But if Chelsea thought the three points were already secured with Kante’s low strike then the champions were handed a major scare when a penalty was awarded for Courtois’ foul on Vardy in the area.
In his attempt to clear the ball, the Chelsea goalkeeper caught Vardy, who went on to make no mistake from the spot as the striker smashed a powerful effort past Courtois in the 62nd minute.
Conte reacted to the scoreline by bringing on Willian, new signing Davide Zappacosta and finally Hazard – who hadn’t played for Chelsea this season due to ankle surgery earlier in the summer.
And Hazard and Zappacosta immediately combined to nearly produce a goal when the Belgian’s pass found the Italian, whose low effort flew wide of the post.
Morata was then left incensed when his header hit Harry Maguire’s outstretched arm in the box but saw no penalty given, but Chelsea held on to secure the three points.
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Standard
There are title defences. And then there are Chelsea title defences. As an exercise in exploring how quickly a steamrollering champion team can be reduced to a frazzled, meandering rabble, Chelsea’s opening 45 minutes of the Premier League season here against Burnley is likely to take some beating.
A red card for the captain, Gary Cahill, on 13 minutes was followed by goals from Sam Vokes, Stephen Ward and Vokes again as Burnley produced a performance as controlled and incisive as Chelsea were flaccid.
Reduced to 10 men and 3-0 down at the break against a team they had not lost to since 1971, Chelsea did rouse themselves in the second half, Álvaro Morata scoring his first goal for the club before Cesc Fàbregas was also sent off, shown a second yellow card for a lunging challenge.
David Luiz pulled back another to make it 3-2 at the end and draw a roar of defiance around Stamford Bridge. But really this was a disastrous start for the champions, and an opening day defeat that some will suggest came heavily trailed.
It is no secret there has been discontent around the place, not least friction between manager and club hierarchy. So profound was the ambient gloom during a summer when Chelsea replenished rather than expanded their squad that casual observers might have assumed Antonio Conte’s team would start here already trailing on minus five points, or with the kit-man squeezed into a spare pair of shorts at kick-off.
The Chelsea team sheet did have an air of shoulders being shrugged towards the directors’ boxes. Jérémie Boga made his debut in midfield, nine years after joining the club as an 11-year-old and moving from Marseille to New Malden. Antonio Rüdiger started in a three-man defence and Michy Batshuayi led the attack, albeit only in name during 59 largely feeble minutes on the pitch. On the bench Kenedy emerged from his doghouse to sit alongside an assortment of kids, a record signing No9 and the substitute goalkeeper.
For Burnley Jack Cork made his debut as Sean Dyche packed the centre of the pitch. And Burnley were hugely impressive here, starting in a rush and pressing hard and high up the pitch. Albeit the game had barely got out of second gear when Cahill received a straight red for a challenge on Steven Defour. Cahill overstretched as he missed the ball. His studs were visible. Craig Pawson produced the card instantly. Modern precedents suggest it was fair, although it was hardly a vicious foul.
Moments later Vokes had the ball in the net from an offside position after a bout of headed pingpong as Chelsea struggled to rejig. And on 24 minutes Burnley went ahead via another soft goal on the weekend the world forgot how to defend. Matthew Lowton advanced unimpeded down the right and floated in a cross that was missed by David Luiz and Vokes beat Thibaut Courtois with a faint contact that dribbled perfectly into the far corner.
The Burnley end rejoiced, Dyche punched the air and Chelsea continued to play like a team still sleepwalking through the dog days of summer, astonishingly short on passing rhythm or any kind of combinations going forward without Eden Hazard on the pitch.
In the shakeup after Cahill’s red, Conte had taken off Boga and brought on Andreas Christensen to keep his defence the same shape but there was a striking feebleness to Chelsea’s right side as Burnley went 2-0 up five minutes before half-time. Not that anything should take away from the quality of Ward’s goal after a short free-kick, the left-back weaving into the area then spanking a wonderful shot into the far corner.
Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. At least, this often seems to be the case when David Luiz is involved. Within three minutes it was 3-0: another simple cross from the right by Defour, another terrible piece of marking by the Brazilian and another headed finish by Vokes in hectares of space.
Chelsea came haring out early after the break and to their credit they rallied. Alonso had a fierce free-kick well saved by Tom Heaton. Morata added some guile, holding the ball up well and producing a neat finish after Willian’s cross from the right.
And by the end Stamford Bridge was in uproar for the right reasons as Chelsea pressed hard, Burnley hung on with great heart and the home crowd could at least cheer their bloodied champions from the pitch at the end of a wild season’s opener.
Chelsea celebrated their Premier League title triumph with a hard-earned victory over Watford in an ill-tempered but thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Manager Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players were able to take the acclaim on a lap of honour after the final whistle – but they were made to work for the win by a fired-up and physical Watford.
John Terry, who will leave at the end of the season after more than two decades at the club, celebrated his first league start since September by scoring Chelsea’s 100th goal in all competitions this term. It came after 22 minutes before he then gifted Watford’s Etienne Capoue an instant equaliser with a poor header.
Cesar Azpilicueta restored Chelsea’s lead with a crisp finish before half-time and the contest looked over when Michy Batshuayi, who scored the title-winning goal at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, added a third just after the break.
Watford, however, showed commendable fight. Daryl Janmaat’s fine solo effort put the visitors within reach before substitute Stefano Okaka, who was given his Italy debut by Chelsea boss Conte when he was in charge of the national side, took advantage of defensive uncertainty to slam in an equaliser.
Chelsea, as so often this season, found a way to win as substitute Cesc Fabregas struck from the edge of the area with three minutes left – while Watford’s misery was compounded when Sebastian Prodl was sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time.
Conte can do no wrong and he was being cheered at Stamford Bridge within seconds of appearing in his technical area after winning the Premier League at the first time of asking.
This was a night for Chelsea to bask in the glory of their success and hard work this season, and after a slow start, the crowd warmed to the occasion.
For Conte, it was also the opportunity to give some of his shadow squad game time, with the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Nemanja Matic given the night off and Diego Costa, Fabregas, Pedro, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso on the bench.
It was not simply a matter of giving Terry a game and showcasing younger talent such as Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah – this was a selection with a glance towards the forthcoming FA Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley.
Chelsea’s lack of familiarity showed in an uncharacteristically shoddy defensive performance while the lack of spark in some of the display was perhaps the result of mental and physical energy expended in getting the title win over the line.
The perfectionist Conte will be unhappy with parts of this performance, but he will also see the bigger picture.
Chelsea restored their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points with a convincing win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte’s side had seen their advantage cut by Tottenham after the Blues’ loss at Manchester United – but this was an emphatic response to follow on from Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final win against their London rivals.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were both back in the starting line-up after Wembley and were key figures, the Belgian putting Chelsea ahead with a low shot after five minutes.
Former Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu bundled in an equaliser for Saints before Gary Cahill headed the title pace-setters back in front right on half-time, a moment that effectively decided the destination of the points.
Costa confirmed Chelsea’s supremacy with a header early in the second half before scoring his second with a low shot late on.
Ryan Bertrand, another former Chelsea man, was on target in the dying seconds – but the victory was secured for Conte’s men and now Spurs must respond at in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday (20:00 BST kick-off).
Conte gets Hazard and Costa calls spot on
Conte manoeuvred his resources to perfection in the victory against Spurs at Wembley – and did it again here as Hazard and Costa made decisive contributions to a vital Chelsea win.
Conte raised eyebrows when he left his two most dangerous attackers out of his starting line-up on Saturday but used them as game-changers to great effect, deploying them as substitutes after an hour and Hazard then scoring the goal that swung the match in favour of his side.
Hazard and Costa were back from the start against Southampton and illustrated why they have been such integral components of Chelsea’s rise to the top of the table this season.
The pair combined in the fifth minute for Hazard to score and Spain striker Costa was simply too strong for Bertrand when he arrived on the end of Cesc Fabregas’ cross to score the third goal early in the second half.
And they were at it again soon afterwards – a neat exchange with Pedro leading to Costa getting his second and Chelsea’s fourth with a powerful low drive in the closing moments.
Conte has put the Blues right back on track after their loss at Manchester United with wins in the FA Cup semi-final and here at Stamford Bridge – and his shrewd use of two of his most vital assets has helped him achieve it with a superb piece of management.
Chelsea survive test of nerve
Southampton – and of course Tottenham – would have been hoping anxiety and pressure might just have played a part in a shock result at Stamford Bridge.
And for a spell those factors came into play as the Saints recovered from Chelsea’s perfect start to equalise through Romeu and then exert a measure of control.
However, the hosts kept their nerve to run out comfortable winners and avoid the sort of slip-up that would have played into the hands of Spurs.
Stamford Bridge ended the game in celebratory mood and the feeling that Chelsea’s equilibrium had been restored after those recent slips at home to Crystal Palace and away to Manchester United.
Can Tottenham respond?
“We’ve put pressure on Spurs,” said goalscorer Hazard.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will have felt the door had opened when Chelsea lost at Old Trafford and the gap at the top of the table was reduced to only four points. Suddenly the pressure was on Conte and his players.
The tables have now been turned and it will be Spurs and their manager who will be feeling the heat and the need to win when they travel to in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Spurs have reeled off seven straight league wins – their best sequence since 1967 – but all the self-belief built up during that run will be required to face Sam Allardyce’s rejuvenated side, who have beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in recent weeks.
They will not only have to respond to the Blues’ win that restored their seven-point lead, but also to the disappointment of losing the FA Cup semi-final to their London rivals at Wembley on Saturday.
These are defining moments in the Premier League season – with a huge weekend ahead as Chelsea travel to Everton and Spurs face Arsenal in the north London derby on Sunday.
Hull City forward Oumar Niasse has had a three-match ban overturned after his red card against Watford was rescinded.
The 27-year-old Senegal international was shown a straight red card for a tackle on M’Baye Niang during Hull’s 2-0 win over the Hornets on Saturday.
However, Hull, who are two points above the relegation zone with four games to play, made a successful appeal to the Football Association.
It means Niasse will be available for Hull’s trip to Southampton on Saturday.
Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho says he is ready to fight for his place in the team, amidst competition from Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
The Nigeria international, 20, has scored seven goals this season but has found first-team chances harder to come by than during his debut campaign.
Despite only five Premier League starts this season, Iheanacho welcomes the extra competition and insists he is improving by playing alongside great players.
“I cannot pretend that I don’t hear what people back home [in Nigeria] say about my lack of regular football but I will continue to fight,” Iheanacho told BBC Sport.
“I don’t worry about those comments. All I need to do is to keep working, keep doing well and keep improving every day.
“Sergio Aguero and Gabriel [Jesus] are really really great players that we need in our team.
“As a young player, I’m happy playing alongside these fantastic players because I learn and get better every day.
“It’s a big thing for my career to compete with these players. I’m okay with the way things are going and I wish Gabriel a quick recovery to return and help the team.”
Iheanacho scored 14 times and produced seven assists last season even though 25 of his 36 appearances were as a substitute.
That feat saw him finish as City’s third-highest scorer in all competitions, behind Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne.
At international level, Iheanacho has scored five goals in eight appearances for Nigeria since making his senior debut against Swaziland in November 2015.
He starred as Nigeria won the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates for a record fourth-time.
He emerged as the tournament’s outstanding player, being voted the Most Valuable Player.
Iheanacho scored six goals to secure the Silver Boot as the competition’s second-highest goal-scorer.
Arsenal kept alive their hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League with a narrow victory at second-bottom Middlesbrough.
A dull opening was brought to life when Alexis Sanchez’s superb free-kick gave Arsenal the lead just before the break.
Middlesbrough responded soon after the restart when Alvaro Negredo volleyed in Stewart Downing’s pinpoint cross.
However, Mesut Ozil secured the much-needed three points for Arsenal with a first-time strike at the near post.
The win – only Arsenal’s third in their past nine league games – moves the Gunners up to sixth, seven points behind fourth-place Manchester City and with a game in hand.
Middlesbrough remain deep in relegation trouble, six points from safety.
Wenger springs a three-man surprise
The Gunners have not lost five successive away games in the league since 1984 and manager Arsene Wenger took significant measures to avoid that happening against Boro by playing a three-man defence for the first time since 1997.
Rob Holding, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel were the centre-backs at the Riverside Stadium but struggled with the change in system as Middlesbrough looked lively in the early stages but lacked the quality in the final third to exploit the gaps in Arsenal’s defence.
“I felt it added a bit more stability on the long balls,” Wenger said after the game when explaining his tactical switch. “We faced a direct game and we have been punished a bit on that. It gave the opponents more of the ball but against Crystal Palace we had 70% possession but lost.”
Middlesbrough have scored the fewest amount of Premier League goals at home all season – just 12 prior to Arsenal’s visit – and with the quality of Sanchez and Ozil in attack the visitors were always capable of snatching a lead. That proved to be the case when they scored from only their second shot on target just before the break, Sanchez expertly steering a free-kick over a packed wall and into the far corner.
Arsenal’s lack of experience playing 3-4-3 was evident early in the second half when Downing charged away down an exposed right flank on the counter before providing the perfect ball for Negredo to poke in his ninth of the season.
The game opened up after that but Ozil’s goal midway through the second half ensured Arsenal escaped with the points. It was a welcome win for under-pressure Wenger but not quite the sign of a return to form. Holding, Koscielny and Gabriel failed to make a single tackle in the first 60 minutes and stronger sides than Middlesbrough will not be as forgiving.
Sanchez smiling again
Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure at times this season, with reportssuggesting he is keen to leave the Gunners in the summer.
However, his celebrations after Arsenal’s goals on Monday did not look like those of an unhappy player.
He hugged and high-fived his team-mates and was seen smiling broadly at the final whistle, celebrating with the fans.
It is unlikely to be enough to convince Arsenal fans he will stay at the club, but it will no doubt have been pleasing for Wenger.
Is there hope for Middlesbrough?
Middlesbrough are the only side in English league football not to have won a league game during 2017 and that awful run of form has put them perilously close to an immediate return to the Championship.
Performances have improved since Steve Agnew replaced Aitor Karanka on a caretaker basis last month and this display was perhaps their best so far under the Englishman.
But wins are needed and needed quickly. Five wins and a draw from their final six games would take them to 40 points – generally perceived as the minimum to avoid relegation – but with games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool still to come they need to significantly improve in the final third to have a chance of pulling off an unlikely escape.
Man of the match – Alexis Sanchez
What they said
Middlesbrough caretaker boss Steve Agnew: “We are bitterly disappointed with the result but the players gave everything they had. We couldn’t ask more of them.
“We played on the front foot, put them under pressure. I felt we might get the second goal after Negredo scored.
“The ball just wouldn’t drop in the box for us. We put them under tremendous pressure.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “We responded well. I think it was not perfect but the commitment and focus was there. At 1-1 we found a response and managed to win.
“It was a big test, Middlesbrough gave everything. It’s one of their last chances to stay in the league.
“It [the top four] is mathematically still alive. We knew we needed to win. Now we have a little break with the FA Cup and then we come back again to the league.”
Sanchez to outdo Adebayor? The stats
- Arsenal picked up only their second win in their past nine away league games (D1 L6), though both victories came against teams currently in the relegation zone (Swansea were beaten 4-0 on 14 January).
- Alexis Sanchez has scored more away goals in the Premier League this season than any other player (13).
- Indeed, only Emmanuel Adebayor (14 in 2007-08) has scored more away goals in a single Premier League campaign for Arsenal than Sanchez this season.
- Middlesbrough are winless in 15 league games – their longest such run in the division.
- Only Thierry Henry (12) has scored more direct free-kick goals in the Premier League for Arsenal than Sanchez (five, level with Robin van Persie).
- Mesut Ozil has scored in two of his past three league games for Arsenal, the same number he’d scored in in his previous 16.
- Ozil also made four tackles, his joint-most in a Premier League game (last doing so against Man City in December 2015).
- Arsenal’s opener was their 3,000th away goal in English league football (now 3,001) – the second side to reach that figure (Manchester United, 3226).
Middlesbrough continue their search for a first league win of the year on Saturday when they travel to Bournemouth (15:00 BST). Arsenal, meanwhile, now switch their focus to the FA Cup. They face Manchester City in the semi-final on Sunday (15:00).
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/BBC
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is set to miss the last seven games of the season with a knee injury.
Mane, 24, was taken off after colliding with Leighton Baines in Saturday’s 3-1 home victory over Everton.
Manager Jurgen Klopp said he was “pretty sure” Mane needed surgery, leaving it “pretty much impossible for him to play again this season”.
The £34m signing from Southampton has started all but five of Liverpool’s league games this campaign.
|Mane starting||Liverpool over 2016-17||Without Mane starting|
|2.3||Goals per game||1|
|1.2||Goals conceded per game||1.8|
|2.2||Points per game||0.5|
Of those, three were drawn and two were lost. The Reds are third in the Premier League table with seven games left.
Klopp also said Adam Lallana was “much better but is not in training” as the midfielder continues his recovery from a thigh injury suffered on England duty in March.
Captain Jordan Henderson, who has been out since February, is “in a good way, but I don’t know when he can be part of training again”, the German added.
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/BBC
Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League was cut to seven points after they suffered a shock home defeat by Crystal Palace and Tottenham beat Burnley.
Antonio Conte’s side had won their past 10 league games at Stamford Bridge and had not lost there in any competition since 16 September, but saw that run ended by a battling Eagles side.
The Blues struck first, when Cesc Fabregas turned home Eden Hazard’s cross after five minutes, but they were quickly behind.
Wilfried Zaha produced a fine solo finish to turn and fire home from the edge of the box and, 91 seconds later, set up Christian Benteke to put Palace ahead with a delicate dinked effort.
Chelsea piled on the pressure and had 24 shots at goal, their second-highest total in 29 league games this season.
But they could find no way past Eagles keeper Wayne Hennessey, who made 11 saves in total to ensure his side won a fourth successive game.
Chelsea cannot find a way through
The international break cannot have helped Chelsea’s rhythm but that did not seem a problem when Hazard, back from a calf injury, and Fabregas combined early on.
Putting Pedro in as right wing-back in place of the absent Victor Moses did not seem to cause the leaders too many issues either, as many of their best attacks came down that flank.
A drop in energy levels might have played a part in places, however. N’Golo Kante, who played 90 minutes for France against Spain in midweek, was noticeably below par in the centre of midfield.
More than 10 minutes of stoppage time was played before the game ended, but Chelsea did not appear any more likely to score and were reduced to hopeful balls into the box as Hazard’s influence faded.
Antonio Conte’s side remain in a strong position at the top of the table but, if tiredness was an issue against the Eagles, it could affect them again in the next few days.
Chelsea’s lack of European involvement means they are not used to playing in midweek, and only 13 different players have started 22 league games for them since 1 October.
With two games in the next seven days, at home to Manchester City and away at Bournemouth, Conte may have to test the strength in depth of his squad for the first time.
Hennessey the hero
Despite their lack of sparkle, Chelsea’s defeat was not down to a lack of chances – but, when they did break down Palace’s determined defence, they found Hennessey in inspired form.
His best save was an instinctive stop from Diego Costa in the first half but every facet of the Wales international’s game was tested as Chelsea tried to find a way back into the game after going behind.
Hennessey had to move quickly to keep out Marcos Alonso’s dangerous cross-shot, dash from his line to prevent Costa from stretching to poke the ball home, and was also tested from distance by Nemanja Matic.
He was helped by his defenders when dealing with the sheer number of crosses from the home side – 35 in total, 12 more than they have previously made in any league game under Conte – but superbly marshalled a back-line that changed twice during the game because of injuries to James Tomkins and then Scott Dann.
Man of the match – Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
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‘We must accept this result’ – what the managers said
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte speaking to Match of the Day: “This is football. We must accept this result.
“We scored our goal after five minutes and then we conceded two in a few minutes. When you concede goals in that way you must understand the situation and improve on these mistakes.
“In every game in England, anything can happen. The league is so strong. We faced a team today with strong players. I think they showed they were a good team.
“Now we have to think about the next game. If we had won we would have been happy but now it’s important to focus on Manchester City.”
Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce: “I think our performance is typical of what seems to be the character of the side. It’s the first time we’ve gone behind so early. The determination has shone through. We knew we were going to be pegged back.
“The defence was outstanding, the goalkeeper was outstanding. We could have scored more.
“It’s a sweet three points, to come to the champions – or who I think are going to be champions – and win. This is what the Premier League is about. There can be a shock anywhere. It will make people sit up and say wow.”
What next? Man City come to Stamford Bridge
Palace remain four points clear of the relegation zone, with a game in hand on third-bottom Hull, and a vastly superior goal difference. They are on the road again in midweek, and travel to Southampton on Wednesday (19:45 BST).
Chelsea have a chance to make immediate amends on home turf when they host Manchester City on the same night (20:00).
Allardyce beats Chelsea again – the stats you need to know
- Allardyce is the first manager to win a Premier League game against Chelsea with four different clubs.
- Fabregas scored in his 43rd Premier League game, but this was the first time he had been on the losing side.
- Benteke has scored in his past three Premier League appearances at Stamford Bridge, each with a different club (Aston Villa, Liverpool and Crystal Palace).
- Chelsea conceded two goals in the opening 11 minutes of a Premier League home game for the first time since October 1995 (v Manchester United).
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/BBC/Sky Sports/REX Features
Liverpool have been given a pre-Merseyside derby boost with Daniel Sturridge’s return to training, but the chances of captain Jordan Henderson making the visit of Everton on Saturday are unlikely.
Sturridge has not featured since Feb. 4 because of a virus, which forced him to be sent home from a training camp in Spain last month, and then a hip injury, which meant he missed the club’s trip to Tenerife last week.
However, the England international was pictured taking part in an outdoor session at the club’s Melwood training ground on Thursday to raise hopes of him making the squad for the 228th Merseyside derby.
Henderson’s prospects are less encouraging, though. The Liverpool captain has not played since the Feb. 11 victory over Tottenham because of a foot problem.
Although he did travel to Tenerife with the squad, his involvement was limited and Press Association Sport reports he is highly unlikely to be ready to face Liverpool’s neighbours in the lunchtime kickoff.
Brazil internationals Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino returned home reporting no problems after the club chartered a private jet to bring back the pair immediately after the World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has yet to be on the losing side in seven Merseyside derbies and says he enjoys the hostility of the occasion.
The Belgium international has conceded just one goal in the last three home games against Everton, whose last win in the fixture came at Goodison Park in October 2010.
“It’s always a bit hostile, but like in any other derby game that’s something you relish — two groups of fans who are cheering their team on,” he told Liverpool’s official website.
“It’s a bit special, of course, in Liverpool because in some families you have got both Everton and Liverpool supporters. Although it’s a derby I don’t think there is so much hatred between the two clubs.
“In the time I’ve been here, we’ve always had great results against Everton at home. It’s always a big fixture to look forward to. On the day itself, it’s nice to be part of it. It is pretty special.”
Liverpool plan to honour the memory of Ronnie Moran at the weekend. The former captain, coach and caretaker manager died aged 83 last week and among the tributes will be a mural on the Kop at Anfield.
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Today