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‘Benitez wins football matches’ – Three things learnt from Newcastle United 3-0 West Ham United

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United managed to win their first Premier League match of the season as they piled more pressure on West Ham United. This was billed as a contest between two struggling teams and it was clear they were both lacking in confidence during the early exchanges. The Magpies will never be completely out of games this season as long as Rafa Benitez is at the helm, as he organises them well. It was a well-deserved victory and it now looks a lot brighter on Tyneside. Here are three things that we learnt:

Rafa Benitez knows how to win football matches

The Newcastle manager has been widely discussed in the media recently, with some suggesting his complaints about a lack of signings are covering his own shortcomings. This was a stark reminder to his critics and Mike Ashley that he is the most valuable asset at St James’ Park. If they lost him, they would be in a very difficult position.

Against West Ham, he set the team up well and as ever with Benitez, the unit is more important than any single individual. They didn’t concede many clear-cut chances and when they did fall for the visitors, it was a result of an individual error rather than the team being cut open. Joselu and Ciaran Clark were both underwhelming signings, but they scored goals to give the home side three points. They show that the Magpies’ boss still has an eye for a player, even if his budget is a small one.

Slaven Bilic is running out of time

The Croatian has been under pressure for months and many were surprised he was kept on for the coming season. It was a show of faith from the West Ham board, especially as they gave him a significant budget to spend on the playing staff. However, the early signs are that it was the wrong decision. Bilic needed to get off to a quick start, but he has now led the team to three successive Premier League losses.

Their defensive problems needed to be addressed and they were better in that respect today, as Newcastle created few clear-cut chances. However, that came at a cost of the Hammers not threatening themselves, as they didn’t manage to have one shot on target during the first-half. The scheduling wasn’t kind to the West Ham boss as they have played their first three matches away from home, but that is no excuse. This was a match against another struggling team and they should have been looking to take something from the game. Bilic is surely now a man on borrowed time.  

Matt Ritchie belongs at this level

After leaving Bournemouth to drop down to the Championship last season, Ritchie’s ambition was questioned. He left a Premier League side to become part of a project at St James’ Park. It is too soon to say whether it was the correct decision or not, but the winger was excellent on Saturday and proved that he can star at the highest level.

His work rate was commendable as he covered every blade of grass, contributing to the attack and defence. The second goal underlined what he offers, as he harried an opposition player to win the ball back and produced a good cross to set up Ciaran Clark. Ritchie is not a player to get supporters off their seats, but his consistency and determination make him crucial for this Newcastle side.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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Champions League

Porto 0-5 Liverpool: Three talking points from Estádio do Dragão

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Estádio do Dragão, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool dismantled Champions League opponents Porto.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Sadio Mane plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool produced a five-star performance to thrash Porto and virtually seal their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Mane opened the scoring on 25 minutes before adding two more in the second half which, coupled with goals from Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, made it a hideously one-sided affair at the Estádio do Dragão.

Porto offered precious little resistance during the 90 minutes and were completely outclassed by a Liverpool side bursting with confidence.

The return leg at Anfield in three weeks’ time will be nothing more than a formality to confirm the Reds’ place in the last eight.

Here are three talking points, as Jurgen Klopp’s men sounded a warning to the European elite…

Mane emerges from the shadows of Salah and Firmino

Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’ has been a member short since Philippe Coutinho’s big-money switch to Barcelona in January.

But there has been no sign that the Reds’ form is suffering as a result. If anything, they look stronger by the game.

By his own high standards, Mane has had a relatively quiet campaign thus far and been overshadowed somewhat by the exploits of Salah and Firmino, both of whom were also on the scoresheet against Porto.

But the Senegalese forward returned to his dazzling best on the European stage to help Liverpool take total control of this last 16 tie.

Although he had a helping hand from the Porto keeper for his first goal, which really should have been stopped, Mane took his next two with great precision to round off a sensational evening for the visitors.

Klopp will be delighted that the former Southampton man proved to be so influential in arguably their most important game of the season.

Free-scoring Liverpool will take some stopping

It is not just Liverpool’s performances in the Champions League that have drawn widespread praise, but the amount of goals they have scored in the process.

No club have netted more than the Reds, with the five they bagged in their first knockout fixture since 2009 leapfrogging them above French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

It is now 28 goals in total for Klopp’s free-scoring charges, whose attacking weaponry proved too hot to handle for their Portuguese opponents.

As they showed against Sevilla in the group stage, Liverpool’s defensive frailties can sometimes undermine them.

And when, as expected, they line-up in the quarter-finals, they are likely to face a side with much more to offer in attack than Porto did.

However, new signing Virgil van Dijk, who made his Champions League debut for the Reds, should bring stability and leadership to the back line.

On this evidence, they look like viable contenders for the main prize.

Klopp’s reign is delivering the goods

When Klopp joined Liverpool in the autumn of 2015, many Liverpool supporters believed he would bring them immediate success.

The gregarious German is still yet to win silverware at Anfield, but there is no denying the club are taking significant strides forward under his management this season.

Some of the money they received from Barcelona for Coutinho has already been reinvested into the squad and more high-profile arrivals are likely to follow in future transfer windows.

Liverpool remain prone to suffering off-days against lesser opposition, perhaps more so than any of their main domestic rivals, but they possess the armoury to blow away teams of the highest quality.

Even Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders, recently succumbed to the Reds’ attacking might.

As always, the proof will come at the end of the season.

But under Klopp, Liverpool are playing an attractive brand of football that is illuminating Europe.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.

It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.

But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.

Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.

Here are three talking points…

Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again

Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.

Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.

Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.

Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.

Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

With him in their ranks, anything is possible.

Conte relieved as the pressure lifts

One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.

The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.

Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.

Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.

Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.

Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.

Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat

In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.

The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.

Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.

His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.

Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.

Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.

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Arsenal

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: Unstoppable Harry Kane the difference again for Spurs

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Tottenham stole a march over London rivals Arsenal to further cement their hold on a top four place.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Harry Kane was the match-winner as Tottenham Hotspur beat fierce rivals Arsenal to tighten their grip on qualification for next season’s Champions League.

The England striker headed home Ben Davies’ cross for his 23rd Premier League goal of the campaign, just after half-time.

Spurs deserved to win the match – and Kane perhaps should have added to his tally – although substitute Alexandre Lacazette squandered two late opportunities to snatch a point for the Gunners.

Victory moved Tottenham above Chelsea and into fourth spot in the table but crucially, their advantage over sixth-placed Arsenal now stands at seven points.

Having missed out on the top four last season, the Gunners face another uphill battle following their third successive away defeat.

Here are three talking points from an enthralling north London derby…

Dominant Spurs show their mettle

During a tricky spell of results, doubts were cast over Tottenham’s top-four credentials. They have surely now been banished.

Runs of fixtures don’t come much trickier than Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Not only did Spurs come through unscathed with seven points from a possible nine, but the football they played showed they are more than a match for any Premier League team – and arguably the best suited to challenge the supremacy of Manchester City.

The margin of victory over Arsenal may have been only a single goal, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men were dominant in every department.

They peppered Petr Cech’s goal and the ingenuity and creativity of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen perfectly complemented Kane’s ruthlessness.

Defensively, they are very sound and the depth of the squad was highlighted by the options Pochettino had on his bench.

Now nine games unbeaten, Spurs are peaking at the right time.

Arsenal’s top-four hopes suffer hammer blow

From the positivity that emerged from Arsenal’s thumping of Everton last weekend, this was a reality check.

The big trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were in the starting XI once again, but they couldn’t have the influence that tore the Toffees to shreds seven days earlier.

With 11 games remaining, the Gunners are somewhat cut adrift in the race for the top four.

There is no denying this defeat was a hammer blow to their ambitions.

Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification last season for the first time since Arsene Wenger took the reins and revolutionised the club.

Despite the investment made during the summer and in January, it looks like the same fate will befall them this campaign.

Success in the Europa League – mirroring Manchester United last season – increasingly appears to be their most likely route back into Europe’s showpiece competition.

Unstoppable Kane is the difference once again

It feels like every time Spurs win, Kane is the man they have to thank.

The 24-year-old moved to 101 Premier League goals and decided the outcome of this derby with a towering header that gave Cech no chance.

Is there no stopping this prolific goalscorer, who continues to go from strength to strength?

In truth, Kane could have walked away with a hat-trick, but his seventh goal in as many north London derbies was sufficient to claim the three points.

Kane is not just a traditional number nine – his all-round game is mightily impressive.

This was a man-of-the-match display in which he showed off all facets to his game.

From spraying 40-yard passes, holding up the ball and pulling defenders out of position, to possessing an unerring ability to find himself in space, this was a complete performance by a remarkable player.

Keeping Kane at the club could well be the biggest challenge Tottenham face this summer, if suitors come calling.

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