Van Dijk: Five point gap over City is irrelevant at this stage

Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk has dismissed the five-point lead they hold over title rivals Manchester City as irrelevant at this stage of the season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side briefly saw their advantage extended to eight points after beating Sheffield United in the early kick-off but City came through a slightly-less exacting test against Everton in the evening to reduce the gap.

But even though Liverpool have a 100 per cent record from their opening seven matches Van Dijk stressed no one inside the dressing room was giving it a second thought.

The Reds know from recent experience that the situation can change quickly. They had a seven-point lead over City before the two met at the Etihad Stadium on January 3, only to lose as Pep Guardiola’s side began their fightback.

“It’s far too early. We’re almost in October and the busy period will come,” said the Holland captain after Liverpool registered their 16th successive Premier League victory.

“There are still so many games left and the only thing we focus on is the game ahead of us. We don’t want to look at the others because there’s no point doing that.

“Everyone realises that as well because last season we saw how it turned quickly. We just want to focus on the game ahead of us.”

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Victory at Bramall Lane also extended the club record for successive away wins to eight and they have not lost outside of Anfield in the league since that defeat at the Etihad almost 10 months ago, their best run since 1989.

But attention quickly turns to Wednesday’s visit of Red Bull Salzburg as Klopp’s side look to register their first Champions League win of the season after defeat in their opening game against Napoli.

“It’s the media who love statistics. The reality is we have nothing at the moment. We want to continue to do well and there’s still plenty of room for improvement,” added Van Dijk.

“We have to be confident; you have to think you’re going to win every game otherwise you might as well stay at home. We have the quality, we have the players.

“We’ll take this, recover and then prepare for Salzburg and that will be a tough game as well. We have to win every game, that’s how it is.”


One Liverpool player ‘mocked the dressing room’ under Houllier

El Hadji Diouf refused to speak English in the Liverpool dressing room and “mocked” his fellow team-mates, according to former Liverpool winger Bernard Diomede.

Gerard Houllier signed Diomede – who is now 45 – from Auxerre in 2003 before he moved to French club Ajaccio after failing to make his breakthrough with the Reds.

Diomede may have only made a handful of appearances for Liverpool but he was in the Anfield dressing room long enough to notice Diouf‘s poor attitude.

When asked by L’Equipe (via Sport Witness) to name something crazy that happened during his career, Diomede said: “El-Hadji Diouf in Liverpool. When you arrive in England, you are nobody. Especially in a club with strong identity with Gerrard, Fowler, Owen, Carragher.

“He, he feared no one, was like at home and did not respect the rules: you had to speak English and he spoke French, he kept it up all the time, mocked the dressing room, on the bus. It was reframing in the training: a player missed the pass so that behind takes a tackle.”

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Man Utd need to recruit a new forward in January – Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to bolster his Manchester United forward line in January after admitting there were no viable replacements for Romelu Lukaku or Alexis Sanchez over the summer.

Around £140million was spent during the last transfer window to bring in defenders Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka plus winger Daniel James.

However, Lukaku was sold to Inter Milan while Sanchez was allowed to join the Serie A giants on a season-long loan, with United’s inability to bring in a striker leaving Solskjaer short of attacking options for this campaign.

The United manager said: “When we let Alexis and Romelu go, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that it’s forwards that next time we’re going to recruit. We’re looking for some creativity and goals.

“But there’s no point getting players in that you’re not 100 per cent sure about because when you get players in, you need the right ones that are going to stay here for a longer period.

“That’s the long-term thinking that we have to show. I can’t think ‘I need a player because this is my reputation’. No, it’s the club.

“There were strikers (available) but they weren’t the ones we wanted. We couldn’t get the one we wanted.”

United’s decision to allow two experienced Premier League campaigners to move on has been compounded by injuries to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, both of whom are unlikely to feature for the visit of Arsenal on Monday.

Since thumping Chelsea 4-0 on the opening weekend of the season, United have scored on only four more occasions in their subsequent five top-flight fixtures.

Solskjaer admitted their struggles to find the back of the net is a cause for concern, as he said: “We need to score more goals, definitely. We’re working on improving the relationships, the patterns, the understanding.

“We’ve started at one end with the foundations, I think that we’ve done great defensively but we’re not happy with the return going forward.”

United have won just two of their opening six league matches and are already 13 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool, albeit having played one less match.

Asked whether he still sees United as a top-four side, Solskjaer replied: “I think so, yeah.

“The top two last season (Manchester City and Liverpool) were too far ahead from the rest of us. I think we should be in and around the places behind there.

“Chelsea are going through a similar period of rebuilding; Arsenal Tottenham, us. You’ve got Leicester, there are loads of teams wanting those positions and that’s where we’ll be in and around.”

United’s modest start to the season has led to scrutiny on Solskjaer’s methods but the unrepentant Norwegian said: “You evaluate every single game and you look through the games but I’m not doubting myself.

“If I doubt myself then I think the rest of the world would, as well. We have loads of discussions and we believe in what we’re doing.”

Neither is the former striker constantly seeking the wisdom of the great Sir Alex Ferguson, with Solskjaer adding: “I’ve got a great staff, we’re not going to bring Sir Alex back up again here now.

“Of course I speak to Sir Alex but it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to him.”


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Martial billed as 'French Ronaldo' after emulating former Man Utd star's solo strike at Fulham

Juan Mata is the man to have compared an Old Trafford colleague to an iconic figure of the club’s past, with a stunning goal netted at Craven Cottage

Anthony Martial has earned the nickname “French Ronaldo” from Manchester United team-mate Juan Mata after starring against Fulham.

The Frenchman has enjoyed a welcome return to form over recent weeks.

Having been one of those to struggle for regular starts under Jose Mourinho, questions had been asked of the 23-year-old’s future.

He has, however, been given freedom to express himself by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and responded with a series of eye-catching performances.

Those showings have earned him a new long-term contract, with United moving to ensure that they remain the ones to benefit from his undoubted ability.

Martial’s most recent moment of inspiration was delivered during a Premier League trip to Fulham.

He helped the Red Devils to a convincing 3-0 win which has lifted them back into the top four.

His strike was the second of a productive afternoon at Craven Cottage and the best of the bunch as he drove at the hosts from deep, shrugging off challenges before producing a composed finish.

Mata was among those quick to salute a stunning strike, both at the time and afterwards on social media when posting: “Listen Anthony Martial, you are very good at playing football, you know that right? #FrenchRonaldo”

Martial’s strike drew immediate comparisons to one delivered by a five-time Ballon d’Or winner during his time with United.

Almost 12 years ago to the day, Ronaldo produced a moment of magic for the Red Devils at Fulham.

On February 24, 2007, the Portuguese snatched a late winner in west London.

He picked up the ball on the same left-hand side of the field before surging past defenders and firing into the same bottom corner.

Martial has some way to go before he can claim to have made a similar impact at Old Trafford, but he is heading in the right direction.

He has already matched his 11-goal return from the whole of the 2017-18 campaign and is just six short of his personal best – recorded in his debut season with United.

Solskjaer will be hoping that he continues to deliver the goods as there are bigger tests than Fulham fast approaching.

Next up for United is the first leg of a Champions League last-16 encounter with Paris Saint-Germain.

They then have meetings with Chelsea and Liverpool to come in the FA Cup and Premier League.

Umtiti back in Barcelona training

Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti appears to be closing in on a return from a lengthy knee injury.

Samuel Umtiti’s bid to be fit for the Champions League last-16 trip to Lyon has gathered momentum with the defender returning to Barcelona training.

France international Umtiti completed part of Friday’s session as he steps up his recovery from a persistent knee problem, which has blighted his season.

The centre-back has not featured since November’s 1-1 draw with Atletico but recently declared his desire to be available for the Lyon tie.

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Umtiti joined Barca from the Ligue 1 side in 2016, where in five years as a player and made 170 first-team appearances.

Therefore, the 25-year is especially keen to return in time for the encounter at Groupama Stadium on February 19.

Clement Lenglet has been Ernesto Valverde’s preferred partner for Gerard Pique in Umtiti’s absence. 

The defender started in the 1-1 midweek draw against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, and has been a regular in the side for the past few months.

The experienced Thomas Vermaelen filled the role at home to Valencia last weekend and could be considered an option to face Lyon if Umtiti does not recover in time.

It is not all good news on the injury front for the La Liga leaders, however, with midfielder Athur expected to miss around a month after sustaining a hamstring injury.

Barca will be hoping to return to winning ways this weekend when they face Valencia. The Spanish champions ended a run of eight straight games without a win in the 2-2 draw, but had to come from two goals behind to earn any points.

The Catalan side take a six-point advantage at the top into Sunday’s visit to Athletic Bilbao, who are only three points clear of the relegation zone.

Barcelona could be on for another historic treble this season, with Valverde’s men still fighting for trophies on three fronts.

However, if they are to do this, much could depend on the fitness of Lionel Messi.

The Argentine was used in Wednesday night’s draw with Real but did not seem fit and struggled to create his usual magic.

Road relief for Mkhitaryan & Lacazette as Arsenal cure travel sickness

The Gunners edged their way to a 2-1 win over Huddersfield, with that success their first away from home in the Premier League for over two months

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexandre Lacazette have expressed their relief at seeing Arsenal edge out Huddersfield and collect the side’s first Premier League away win since November.

The Gunners have prevailed on their travels in the Europa League and FA Cup since then, but league points have been hard to come by.

But their barren run was ended in their most recent outing, with a welcome 2-1 victory secured over Huddersfield to offer a cure to the travel sickness.

Mkhitaryan, who was making his first appearance since Arsenal’s Carabao Cup derby clash with Tottenham in December, said afterwards: “Not the game, but the result [we wanted], yes.

“The last away game we won was two months ago, so it was an important win for us and we are happy to get the three points.”

He added after seeing Alex Iwobi and Lacazette find the target and keep Arsenal within one point of the Premier League’s top four: “I think it was very important to score the two goals in the first half, and apart from that we had other chances to score but I think we were a bit unlucky. In the second half we had a few chances we couldn’t realise, but the most important thing was that we won.

“We will try everything to win every game because every point is important so now we can be focused on the Europa League and then back on the Premier League after that.”

Iwobi broke the deadlock inside 16 minutes, before Lacazette doubled Arsenal’s lead shortly before half-time.

The Frenchman helped to provide attacking spark in the absence of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and is pleased to be back to winning ways on the road.

He said: “Yes [it’s been on our minds] a little bit but we knew we had the quality to win today, it’s about us and we did that.

“I think we should have had more situations to score more goals but we played against a strong team today in the second half. We were in a difficult moment so these three points are good for us.”

An own goal from Sead Kolasinac set up a nervy finish for the Gunners, but they were able to get over the line.

Arsenal’s attention can now turn to continental matters as, having slipped out of the FA Cup, their next two outings will be home and away legs against BATE in the last-32 of the Europa League.

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Five things we learned from the FIFA 19 eClub World Cup: Tekkz and Nicolas99fc still rule the world

One of the biggest tournaments of the year brought in a new format, new faces but it was the same usual two who lifted the trophy

The Sky cameras were rolling as the best FIFA players in the world gathered for the FIFA eClub World Cup which featured a fascinating and refreshing 2v2 format. Every participating football club and esport organisation sent two representatives, one on each console. Each match was a best of three which featured 1v1 matches on each console and a 2v2 on a chosen console used as a tiebreaker.

It was a format that proved popular with both players and spectators, making for a fantastic tournament. To make sure you’re up to date, Goal has listed the five biggest takeaways from the weekend of action.

Before the tournament started, there was only one duo that everyone considered the favourites. The esport club KiNG managed to create the ultimate pairing, teaming the best Xbox player in the world, Donovan ‘Tekkz’ Hunt, with the best PlayStation player in the world, Nicolas ‘Nicolas99fc’ Villalba.

The duo secured their places on top of the Global Series Rankings by earning another 1,500 points each, as well as a share of $40,000 in prize money. There was no doubt they deserved it as both players won their individuals matches in the final against Dijon.

Nicolas99fc showed why he is nicknamed the ‘iceman’ with two slick goals against Aurelien ‘Moolzn’ Cheron – both coming from fake shots before calmly slotting into the bottom corner.

With that result, a draw would have been enough for KiNG to secure the title but that’s never been Tekkz’s style. The young Englishman oozed class, showboating on the pitch with beautiful passing and exciting skills. Tekkz put five past Nathan ‘Herozia’ Gil with the pick of the bunch being a long move of first-time passes which resulted in a cheeky lobbed pass which was finished off with an exquisite volley.

 Team Vitality’s B team is better than their starters 

Going into the tournament, Team Vitality was kind enough to offer the services of two of their players to Ligue 1 club Dijon FCO. It was a move that came back to haunt them as Vitality’s chosen team lost to Moolzn and Herozia in Group C, knocking them out of the tournament while Dijon went all the way through to the final.

Of course, this was actually a big win for Vitality as two of their younger players got some stage experience and even some TV time which is great for their exposure. However, most importantly, the duo will have shot up in the Global Series Rankings with 850 points each which could be crucial when trying to qualify for the FIFA eWorld Cup later this year.

While Tekkz has continually impressed and performed well in tournaments, the F2 man won’t have been pleased with his recent results. In his last three tournaments before the eClub World Cup, Tekkz has bowed out in the semi-finals. However, the curse has finally been lifted and for the first time in 2019, the Englishman has lifted a trophy.

Even after just winning the final, Tekkz couldn’t help but mention that he had won his individual game in the semi-final, telling Goal: “Yeah it felt good, in the last few tournaments I’ve lost in the semi-finals. Two of them, I got really unlucky but another one I did deserve. If we lost fair and square then there’s nothing you can do but we managed to play well in the 2v2 and I won my personal 1v1s so I’m very happy.”

It’s a result that will put the rest of the FIFA world on alert as the No.1 ranked player is finding championship form once again. 

While the tournament proved to be a popular event, the eClub World Cup still had its controversies. The tournament pit the rosters of football and esport clubs against each other to decide the ultimate organisation but some felt that meaning was lost when clubs were allowed to field players from other teams.

In fact, around 41% of the players competing at the finals were not representing their original clubs including all four grand finalists. Some took to Twitter to air their grievances including Fnatic Roma’s team director Colin ‘CoJo’ Johnson who said:

“Blatant insult to all the real teams who have been grinding for years to help build this scene up to what it is like Ajax, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Hashtag. These are the two best players in the world no doubt, but I didn’t think that was what this competition was about. Demotivating.”

After Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing left the organisation, Tassal ‘Tass’ Rushan has been FaZe Clan’s one-man army in FIFA. The former Hashtag United player has been inconsistent in recent times but appeared to capture his old form with free agent Lev ‘xLev’ Vinken by his side.

FaZe went on an incredible run which included a huge victory over Ajax during the quarter-finals in what may have been the most dramatic game of FIFA ever. The series went down to a 2v2 decider and it looked like FaZe would win 2-1 until Ajax popped up with a last minute equaliser.

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The game then went into extra time which saw both teams score again, keeping things level. However, disaster struck for FaZe as they gave away a penalty in the dying moments of additional time. Yet, FaZe were able to save the penalty and would go on to win the penalty shootout.

Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be for Tass as he and xLev crashed out of the semis against Dijon but the duo should be proud of their performances. Tass looked particularly strong over the weekend and will be a name to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season.

No Aubameyang, Ramsey or Ozil – but Arsenal find a way to win to end away-day blues

The Gunners remain in the top-four hunt thanks to their first away win since November although they had to do it without a trio of big names

Arsenal fans feared the worst when the team bus disgorged their players outside the John Smith’s Stadium and there was no sign of Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Mesut Ozil.

Away form has been so bad under Unai Emery in recent weeks that the Gunners could have done with any extra boost available to them even against the worst team in the league.

Alas, this game came too early for both Ramsey and Xhaka – who are suffering with knee and groin injuries, respectively – while Aubameyang and Ozil were ruled out through illness.

The latter has started only 13 of Arsenal’s 26 league games this season, a surprisingly low number considering the investment in the German’s contract last year.

Furthermore, he has been involved in no game where Arsenal have switched to a back three/back five formation, other than a 20-minute spell as a substitute at Southampton.

Here, Emery again went with his three-man backline, which has been a feature of their play in other way fixtures such as at Bournemouth, Manchester United, Southampton and West Ham, as well as against Huddersfield back in December when they claimed all three points.

The last time Arsenal had won away was down in Bournemouth and results since then have been mixed. However, Emery clearly sees merit in this system and persists with it.

The major plus point in a formation like this is the space it leaves for the wing backs to counter. While Hector Bellerin is injured, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is more than capable of deputising on the right. The homegrown prospect has been struggling with injuries of his own but was back in the line-up here and was accomplished.

On the other side was Sead Kolasinac, who provided the first goal for Alex Iwobi.

The Nigerian featured in a two-man supply line to Alexandre Lacazette alongside the returning Henrikh Mkhitaryan, fit again after a foot injury.

And those two, as well as Maitland-Niles, combined to create the second. Lacazette’s movement got him enough space inside the area and allowed him to find his 10th Premier League goal of the season.

There were to be moments of frustration for Emery, who at times was visibly angry at the choices his players were making in the final third. However, the goals came at good times – right at the start and right at the end of the first half, and that should please the Spaniard.

He won’t have been happy with the amount of the ball that Huddersfield enjoyed and indeed for the second half his side were second best. The Terriers look a very different team under Jan Siewert than under David Wagner, trying to have more possession than the opposition and press high.

It meant Arsenal were under pressure for spells in the game, with Huddersfield having more shots and more territory than might be expected against a top-six team. By the end they had more passes than Arsenal, more territory and more shots at goal.

Bernd Leno was assured when he needed to be until injury time when Adama Diakhaby prodded home and ended Arsenal hopes of a first away clean sheet of the season.

There was also some decent and brave defending in the piece from the maligned Shkodran Mustafi and returning captain Laurent Koscielny.

Luckily for Arsenal, there is a lack of composure in that Huddersfield attack and a more confident team in front of goal would probably have taken something from the game.

This is a team that have now managed only six goals at home in the league all season, and taken only five points in front of their own fans.

Still, the win means that an Arsenal side who have been in uneven form are still very much in the mix for the top four. They have gone fifth with this win and will stay there at least until Chelsea’s challenge at Manchester City on Sunday.

An away game against the champions was a bridge too far for Emery and Arsenal last week; a defeat which left fans jaded and wondering about the direction the club was going.

Huddersfield are the other end of the Premier League spectrum and more important challenges are to come for Arsenal. What will not please the manager or the fans is the inability to kill the game off.

However, given they were shorn of key players through injury and illness, and weighed down by a pretty poor recent away record, Arsenal will nonetheless happily accept the boost, especially with winnable home games against Southampton and Bournemouth on the horizon.

They were good without being great; functional without being flowing. But at this stage of the season and fit players in short supply, they’ll take whatever they can get.

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Man Utd’s ‘future captain’ admits his leadership needs work

Harry Maguire believes he can contribute at both ends of the pitch and improve his leadership qualities for Manchester United.

Maguire scored three times for Leicester last season and also grabbed England’s first goal in their World Cup quarter-final victory over Sweden in 2018.

The 26-year-old defender has yet to score for United since his £80million move to Old Trafford in the summer and was annoyed with himself for missing a good chance to equalise in last week’s defeat at West Ham.

“I see myself as a threat,” Maguire told United Review, the club’s official matchday programme, ahead of Monday’s game against Arsenal.

“I’ve had a couple of headers this year up to now and I’m sure to get on the end of many more crosses and create chances in the box. It’s something I take pride in as I work on it on the training pitch.

“I like to say I’ll chip in with some goals to help the team out in terms of getting some good results.”

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United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits he is already thinking of Maguire as a future captain of the side, but Maguire feels he needs to become more of a vocal presence on the pitch before that can happen.

“It’s something I still want to improve on, my leadership qualities on the pitch and especially my talking,” he added. “I want to demand more from the players, demand standards, but I’m obviously not concentrating on that at the moment.

“I am fully focused on improving the team and getting this club back to where it should be.”

One part of his game Maguire will not be changing is his willingness to bring the ball out from the back and link play with the midfield and forwards.

“I definitely feel like it’s the modern game, bringing it out from the back and it’s something I do thrive on,” Maguire added.

“I want to step in and help the team going forward by starting attacks well and threading balls through the lines, to try and get people on the half-turn to play forward.

“I think it’s a big part of the game now, for centre-backs not just to defend, but to have a big part in keeping the ball, controlling the game and starting attacks.

“My game will improve the more I know my team-mates and the more I experience I have of playing with them, the position they take up, the way they want to receive the ball and the areas in which I receive the ball so I know where my team-mates will be without having to look and try to find them.

“It will improve and I’m sure I’ll improve throughout the season, playing with my team-mates more and improving my relationship with Vic (Victor Lindelof). We will improve as a team as well and we’ve got to improve.”

United’s defeat at West Ham means they have taken just eight points from their first six Premier League games of the season and they needed penalties to see off League One Rochdale in the Carabao Cup third round in midweek.

Mata: ‘I’ve never seen any player like Man Utd new boy’

Juan Mata admits he has been blown away by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and says he has never seen a player like him.

The right-back has been an ever-present since moving to Manchester United from Crystal Palace in a £50million deal during the summer.

Veteran midfielder Mata has been particularly by Wan-Bissaka’s one-on-one defending in training and has backed the 21-year-old to get even better.

“He’s very, very good in defensive duties, very good in tackling,” Mata told The Times.

“I’ve never seen any player like him, he’s unbelievable. Even in training you think you’re past him and then he comes and takes the ball straight.

“He has very long legs! I can only see him improving. Like Anthony (Martial), he’s a shy, reserved guy but confident on the pitch.”

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Wan-Bissaka was one of three new additions at Old Trafford this summer, with Harry Maguire and Daniel James also joining the Red Devils.

“They’ve had a positive impact,’ Mata added, before insisting Maguire has the potential to become a future United captain. ‘Why not?

“He has experience, his physical presence is important, centre back is a good position to be a commanding personality in the team and he has international experience.

“He’s come to a big club, really having a chance to make that next step towards to even more. Daniel also has made a very good start of the campaign, and everyone can see how quick he is.”