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Sadio Mane nets brace as Liverpool beat Watford, remain top of table

Sadio Mane nets brace as Liverpool beat Watford, remain top of table

ESPN

LONDON -- Chelsea recovered from their Carabao Cup final heartache and eased the pressure on Maurizio Sarri, as a second-half strike from Pedro Rodriguez and a comical own goal by Kieran Trippier secured a 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.

Positives

Sarri's job was potentially on the line as Chelsea's top-four hopes dangled by a thread heading into Wednesday night's match, but victory has provided a significant boost to both. Champions League football may yet be back at Stamford Bridge next season and the current man in the home dugout has fresh hope of surviving this season.

Negatives

A few too many last-ditch tackles were required for Sarri's comfort in the first half as Tottenham threatened, and Gonzalo Higuain's lethargic, disjointed display after hitting the post early will be a concern -- particularly as he should have been relatively fresh after coming on as a substitute at Wembley.

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Welcome to the 2018 FC 100
ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.



How Mourinho unravelled at Man United
Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.




The greatest game never played
When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.



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ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
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ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Manager rating out of 10

8 -- Sarri took a potential risk in going back to his regulars for this game, but their performance was a vindication of his faith. The decision to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga could have also backfired, but instead he should emerge with his authority enhanced. This was a big, big result.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Willy Caballero, 7 -- All eyes were always going to be on him as soon as Sarri's decision to drop Kepa became known, and he was solid without having much to do in the way of saves. Every time he came for a cross or corner -- long regarded as a weakness in his game -- he did so confidently.

DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 8 -- His leadership credentials were questioned like never before after "Kepa-Gate" and while he wasn't exactly the most vocal man on the pitch here, he certainly led by example with an aggressive, tireless performance. How his legs didn't fail him after 120 minutes on Sunday is remarkable.

DF Antonio Rudiger, 9 -- Has been Chelsea's most reliable defender for most of this season and was so again here, matching Kane in the air and on the floor. His athleticism and anticipation were also important in keeping track of Son Heung-Min, and he wasn't shy in directing the rest of his back four to the right spots.

DF David Luiz, 8 -- Made a couple of crucial blocks to deny Harry Kane and Son in the frantic start to the match and marshalled his back line very well, favouring sensible over spectacular passes and standing up to the threat of Kane as well as Spurs' midfield runners. He tends to show up for the big games.

DF Marcos Alonso, 7 -- Very fortunate to be restored to the team in light of Emerson's impressive showing at Wembley, he nevertheless rewarded his head coach's faith with his most solid performance in weeks. Very rarely exposed his team and his physical presence was useful as Spurs pressed in the second half.

MF N'Golo Kante, 9 -- His consistent brilliance, even in the more advanced role many claim he should not be playing, has become so routine that it might be easy to miss if he weren't so obviously everywhere on the pitch at once. He won the ball off Spurs players, ran through their lines and generally dominated.

MF Jorginho, 7 -- Mercifully not booed as he was when coming on as a substitute against Malmo, but the loud groans that greeted his every mistake cannot be helping his confidence. Still did a lot more good than bad for his team, and might have got his first assist had Higuain managed to stay onside in the second half.

MF Mateo Kovacic, 9 -- This is the player Chelsea thought they were getting from Real Madrid last summer. His energy matched his usual tidiness on the ball as he covered the space between Hazard and Alonso brilliantly, throwing himself into tackles and getting his team on the front foot at every opportunity.

FW Pedro Rodriguez, 9 -- A frustratingly familiar night in the final third all changed for him in the 57th minute when he ducked inside Toby Alderweireld and poked the ball through the legs of Hugo Lloris. His defensive work rate never wavered and included one spectacular recovery tackle to foil Christian Eriksen in Chelsea's box.

FW Gonzalo Higuain, 5 -- Moved a half-step slower than everyone else in Chelsea's attack, perhaps lacking a little sharpness after being a substitute in the Carabao Cup final. Unlucky to hit the post early, curled another decent shot wide and mistimed a second-half run as he raced onto an inviting Jorginho pass.

FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- He predictably gave Trippier all he could handle in the first half and Tottenham's defence could never relax while he was on the pitch, though he also frustrated Sarri at times with his lack of defensive effort. Clearly feeling the effects of his Wembley exertions, Willian replaced him on the hour.

Substitutes

FW Willian, 7 -- Came on to provide fresh energy and defensive work rate on the left flank in place of Hazard, and it was his decision to press Trippier that helped lead to Chelsea's farcical second goal.

MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 7 -- Seems to have finally earned the trust of Sarri in central midfield and provided further evidence that he deserves it, using his strong frame and cool touch to steady Chelsea in the final minutes.

FW Olivier Giroud, 7 -- He brought Higuain's pretty underwhelming night to a mercifully early end and even played an unexpected role in winning the game for Chelsea, flicking a goal kick on to set up the confusion between Trippier and Lloris.

LIVERPOOL, England -- Liverpool responded to questions about their Premier League title credentials by producing their biggest win of the season in a 5-0 thrashing of Watford on Wednesday evening.

Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk both scored braces at Anfield, while Divock Origi also got in on the scoring action.

Positives

There have been legitimate questions asked about what Liverpool would do if they were ever without Roberto Firmino. They had to face that reality here, although Mane ensured there was no reason to panic. Playing the No. 9 role, Mane scored his 13th and 14th goal of the Premier League season. It is now his most prolific league campaign.

Meanwhile, after back-to-back goalless draws, Liverpool's mojo returned, breezing past a team that had only lost just one of their last 10 away matches.

Negatives

Manchester City beat West Ham United 1-0 to ensure Liverpool's lead at the top remains just one point. On the pitch, there were certainly no negatives for Liverpool. Having been accused of cracking up in the title race, this performance was the perfect response.

Manager rating out of 10

9 -- The appearance of Origi was not a surprise due to Firmino's injury, but the sight of the Belgian on the left of the front three was unexpected to say the least. That setup, however, allowed for Mane to take up a central role -- to devastating effect. It was outside-the-box thinking from Jurgen Klopp.

Editors' Picks


Watch on ESPN networks in the U.S.
ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule



Welcome to the 2018 FC 100
ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.



How Mourinho unravelled at Man United
Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.




The greatest game never played
When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.



- Follow Transfer Talk LIVE
- Fantasy: Set lineups, check scores!

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Alisson, 7 -- Despite being a spectator for most of the night, Alisson was still alert to deny Andre Gray from point-blank range in the 76th minute.

DF Trent Alexander-Arnold, 8 -- Secured a hat trick of assists with some excellent delivery -- a quality Liverpool could have done with in their 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Sunday. A superb return to the side from the 20-year-old.

DF Joel Matip, 7 -- Made an important last-ditch tackle to stop Troy Deeney from pulling one back.

DF Virgil van Dijk, 8 -- The centre-half has been accused of not scoring enough goals for a man of his size. He answered those critics emphatically with two towering headers. World class at both ends of the pitch.

DF Andrew Robertson, 6 -- Solid defensively while helping out Origi as much he could in an attacking sense.

MF Fabinho, 8 -- The Brazilian continues to show his incredible ability to pickpocket opponents and make crucial recovery tackles.

MF James Milner, 7 -- Set Liverpool's energetic tone from the first second when he nearly forced Ben Foster into an error.

MF Georginio Wijnaldum, 7 -- A tidy performance as always from Wijnaldum as it was noticeable how he looked to get forward a lot more.

FW Sadio Mane, 9 -- Appeared to thrive with the responsibility of being Liverpool's attacking focal point. One of the smallest players of the pitch scored with a leaping header before grabbing his second with an outrageous back-heel.

FW Divock Origi, 8 -- Earned just his second Premier League start of the season because of his attitude in training, according to Klopp. Willing and able on the left-hand side, he fully deserved his goal.

FW Mohamed Salah, 8 -- Much improved from his extremely poor performance at Old Trafford. Incredibly unfortunate not to score or have an assist to his name. Watford's Adam Masina will be having nightmares about the Egyptian continually running at him.

Substitutes

MF Jordan Henderson, 6 -- Helped keep Liverpool on the hunt for more goals.

MF Adam Lallana, N/R -- Interesting to see him leading the line in the closing stages.

MF Naby Keita, N/R -- Liverpool's competition for places is now beginning to show. Keita is in good form, but has found himself on the bench for the last two games.

Manchester United won their eighth successive away game with a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace to further strengthen Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's case for the permanent manager position.

The Norwegian, who turned 46 on Tuesday, had to deal with an injury crisis in the build-up and despite missing a host of senior players, he was able to mastermind an impressive win at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace -- who haven't won a league fixture against United since May 1991 -- started the game unbeaten in six matches but two goals from Romelu Lukaku and a late third from Ashley Young after Joel Ward had pulled one back for the hosts helped United stay a point behind Arsenal in the race for a top four finish.

Positives

With a host of players missing, Solskjaer said in the build-up he wanted Lukaku to take his chance and the Belgian did not disappoint. He got his first league goal since Jan. 2 with a neat, side-footed finish in a tight area then used his strength to hook in United's second after half-time. He's in the team to score goals and he did that here.

Negatives

Alexis Sanchez and Fred failed to take their chances but Solskjaer will also be concerned that his team had a significant wobble in the second half. Ward's goal was a bad one to concede with so many opportunities to clear the danger before the Crystal Palace defender was allowed space to score with a diving header at the back post. It was only when Young scored the third that the points were safe and there will have been plenty of nerves on the touchline before it went in.

Manager rating out of 10

Editors' Picks


Watch on ESPN networks in the U.S.
ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule



Welcome to the 2018 FC 100
ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.



How Mourinho unravelled at Man United
Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.




The greatest game never played
When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.



- Follow Transfer Talk LIVE
- Fantasy: Set lineups, check scores!

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

8 -- The length injury list meant Solskjaer had some tricky decisions to make with his team but a 3-1 win away from home suggests he picked well. His decision to play Diogo Dalot as a right winger seemed a strange one but it worked and he helped Young keep a lid on Wilfried Zaha.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating.)

GK David De Gea, 7 -- Took a nasty knock on the knee when he collided with the post. Didn't have much to do and could do nothing about Ward's goal after being left exposed by some sloppy defending.

DF Ashley Young, 8 -- Only had one blip against Palace danger man Wilfried Zaha in the build-up to Ward's goal and scored his second of the season to make the game safe on 83 minutes.

DF Luke Shaw, 8 -- His dangerous corner created the first chance of the game for Lukaku and he played a key role in the Belgian scoring the opener with a surging run from left-back.

DF Victor Lindelof, 7 -- Kept Michy Batshuayi in check and played a part in United's second goal by holding off Ward to head the ball back towards Lukaku.

DF Chris Smalling, 7 -- Will be disappointed with Palace's goal along with the rest of the back four but United have only conceded once in the four games he has started under Solskjaer and he's establishing himself as first choice under another manager.

MF Scott McTominay, 7 -- Retained his place after stepping in against Liverpool. Did the dirty work in midfield without ever needing to be flashy.

MF Fred, 6 -- Making his first Premier League start since Boxing Day because of injuries to Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Started nervously and never seemed to catch up.

MF Paul Pogba, 7 -- Sporting a new haircut, the Frenchman shook off an early knock and could have scored immediately after half-time with a close range header.

FW Diogo Dalot, 7 -- Asked to play in an unfamiliar role on the right of United's front three to help deal with the injury crisis. Offered protection for Young and get forward. Created one good chance for Paul Pogba.

FW Alexis Sanchez, 5 -- Handed a rare start with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard both sidelined but the Chilean did not make the most of his chance and was substituted in the second half.

FW Romelu Lukaku, 8 -- Should have scored in the opening 10 minutes but made up with for with the first goal on 33 minutes and another in the second half with a good finish from a loose ball in the penalty area.

Substitutes

FW Marcus Rashford (for Alexis Sanchez, 77), N/R -- Gave United an outlet when they were under pressure.

DF Eric Bailly (for Diogo Dalot, 77), N/R -- Helped United settle down.

MF James Garner (for Fred, 90), N/R -- Came on for his senior debut with the points secured.

MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester City maintained the pressure on Premier League leaders Liverpool with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over West Ham United on Wednesday. The champions wasted a number of good chances but secured the three points with a penalty from Sergio Agüero after Bernardo Silva was clumsily fouled by Felipe Anderson.

After a gruelling 120 minutes against Chelsea on Sunday, Pep Guardiola said he didn't want to see his players using tiredness as an excuse. And his side had to use every ounce of strength to ensure they collected the three points, with fatigue clearly setting in during the final 10 minutes and with just the safety of a one-goal margin.

City would have won the game comfortably had they converted two early chances. Riyad Mahrez was far too casual with a first-time volley fired over the bar and David Silva scuffed a low shot against the post from six yards. It became an awkward and nervy night with Guardiola needing to drag on his most reliable performers in Raheem Sterling and Silva to get the job done.

8 -- Guardiola tried to freshen up his starting lineup as much as possible following Sunday's Carabao Cup triumph, making five changes, and his side started firmly on the front foot dominating the first 45 minutes. He made quick changes in the second half with Sterling and Silva replacing the disappointing Mahrez and Leroy Sane, and the Portuguese instantly won a penalty with both substitutions making a huge impact.

GK Ederson, 7 -- A mostly quiet evening but made an important save from Andy Carroll when called upon.

DF Danilo, 7 -- Kept Felipe Anderson extremely quiet but his passing was too loose on occasions.

DF Vincent Kompany, 7 -- First Premier League start since his strong performance in the win over Liverpool and carried on where he left off.

DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 -- Up against the aerial threat of Carroll and didn't put a foot or a header wrong.

DF Oleksandr Zinchenko, 6 -- Growing in confidence as a left-back. Very good going forward but switched off for West Ham's best opportunity.

MF Ilkay Gündogan, 8 -- Back in the base of midfield and looked far more comfortable in the role as he pushed City forward.

MF Kevin De Bruyne, 7 -- Got into some great attacking positions but nothing is coming off for the assists king at the moment.

MF David Silva, 7 -- Dictated the play superbly from outside the box but hit the post from close range early on when he should have scored.

Editors' Picks


Watch on ESPN networks in the U.S.
ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule



Welcome to the 2018 FC 100
ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.



How Mourinho unravelled at Man United
Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.




The greatest game never played
When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.



- Follow Transfer Talk LIVE
- Fantasy: Set lineups, check scores!

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

Fear, paranoia, difficult behaviour and constant battling with club officials and players led to the inevitable, writes Rob Dawson.

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

FW Riyad Mahrez, 5 -- First Premier League start this year and it was a frustrating display that saw him caught offside on too many occasions. Replaced early in the second half.

FW Sergio Agüero, 7 -- Great link-up play with his back to goal and patiently waited for his chance, which he finished coolly from the spot.

FW Leroy Sane, 6 -- Plenty of good attacking play down the wings but the Hammers' defence made a habit of stopping his low crosses.

FW Raheem Sterling, 7 -- Instantly offered City more threat down the flanks.

FW Bernardo Silva, 7 -- Changed the game with his driving run that led to the penalty.

MF Phil Foden, N/R -- Energetic cameo when City needed it.

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