EPL

Premier League data dive: Liverpool title blow after rare Salah miss, Conte's Spurs thwarted

By Sports Desk December 28, 2021

Liverpool suffered a major blow to their title hopes when they stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Ademola Lookman scored, netting in consecutive Premier League appearances for the first time in his career, having grabbed a goal in the 6-3 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City.

The former Everton player's contribution, after a rare penalty miss from Mohamed Salah, means City's lead in the title race stands at six points at the halfway stage in the season.

West Ham and Crystal Palace also won on Tuesday, while Southampton battled for a point against Tottenham.

After a big result in the context of the title race, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of Tuesday's Opta data.

Leicester City 1-0 Liverpool: Salah miss hurts as ex-Everton man Lookman sinks Reds

After converting 15 consecutive Premier League penalties, Salah missed at Leicester, and it was that kind of frustrating game for Liverpool.

It was just Salah's second ever miss from the spot in the English top flight and his first since October 2017 against Huddersfield Town. From then on, he had been immaculate, so when Kasper Schmeichel pulled off a save at the King Power Stadium it was a major surprise. Having said that, since the start of 2020, Schmeichel has saved more penalties in the Premier League than any other goalkeeper, with the latest stop his third in this period.

The result was also a major turn up, Leicester winning consecutive league matches against Liverpool for the first time since April 1999, thanks to Lookman's second-half strike.

Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 29 Premier League games and for the first time in 28 away fixtures across all competitions, as Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers celebrated a big win against one of his former clubs.

The Reds had been unbeaten in 35 December games since a 4-3 loss to Bournemouth in 2016, but their year ends on a negative note.

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham: Kane scores again but Spurs denied a winner

Tottenham's Harry Kane has made a habit of getting the better of Southampton's defence during his stellar career, but this time he had to settle for a penalty equaliser at St Mary's Stadium. By firing past Fraser Forster to level up after James Ward-Prowse's opener, Kane ensured Antonio Conte became the first Tottenham manager to go unbeaten in the first seven league games of a Spurs career.

Kane has now been directly involved in 17 goals in 12 Premier League starts against Southampton (11 goals, six assists), and he was only denied a winner by a controversial VAR offside call.

A fine early strike from Ward-Prowse gave the Saints midfielder a goal for a third successive game. The last time he scored in three straight matches was back in March 2019, and the third goal in that run also came against Spurs.

Perhaps Southampton fans were not expecting their team to hold on. After all, the last time they won their final game of a calendar year was all the way back in 2010, when they beat Huddersfield Town 4-1 in a League One fixture.

The dismissal of Mohammed Salisu, who fouled Son Heung-min to give away the penalty that Kane tucked away, certainly hurt Southampton. Indeed, since Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first Premier League game in charge of Southampton in December 2018, only Arsenal (13) have been shown more red cards in the competition than Saints (11).

Crystal Palace 3-0 Norwich: No Zaha, no Gallagher, no problem for Eagles

Wilfried Zaha was suspended and Conor Gallagher was also absent, but Palace were three goals to the good by half-time against bottom side Norwich.

It was Odsonne Edouard who stepped up to shine, scoring the home side's opening goal from the penalty spot before claiming assists as Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jeffrey Schlupp boosted the lead.

His three goal involvements followed the former Celtic striker having just four (three goals, one assist) across his previous 15 games in the Premier League.

Palace finished the day in 10th place and have impressed many under the leadership of manager Patrick Vieira, losing just once and scoring 18 goals in their 10 Premier League home games since the Frenchman came in, taking 17 points from those fixtures.

This was just Palace's fourth win in their last 25 games without star man Zaha (D3, L18), but they have not lost in their last five when he has been absent.

Norwich have conceded a league-high six penalties this season and have only scored eight goals in 19 games – the joint-lowest tally in a top-flight season after as many matches, alongside Leicester in 1977-78.

Watford 1-4 West Ham: Worrying times for Ranieri

Despite impressive wins over Everton and Manchester United early in Claudio Ranieri's reign, the Italian's Watford team are in trouble now after a fifth consecutive defeat.

An early opener here from Emmanuel Dennis was a red herring. Watford were mauled as Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Mark Noble and Nikola Vlasic scored for the Hammers.

The result means West Ham won 22 Premier League games in 2021, and only in 1959 (23) have they enjoyed more top-flight league wins in a calendar year.

West Ham have also clawed back 12 points from losing positions this season, more than any other side.

Captain Noble netted the Hammers' third from the penalty spot, his first Premier League goal for 706 days since he scored in January 2020 against Leicester.

It was Noble's fifth successful penalty against Watford in the competition, with only the Premier League's record scorer Alan Shearer having put away more spot-kicks against a team in the competition, netting seven against Everton.

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  • Guardiola suits Brazil and would get the best out of Neymar, says Julio Cesar Guardiola suits Brazil and would get the best out of Neymar, says Julio Cesar

    Pep Guardiola would be an ideal coach for Brazil as his style of play would benefit the likes of Neymar and Vinicius Junior, according to Julio Cesar. 

    Brazil are on the hunt for a new boss with Tite leaving the role after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and Guardiola has been linked with the position.

    The Catalan is under contract at Manchester City, who he could lead to Premier League glory on Sunday, until June 2023 but has previously expressed a desire to move into international management.

    Julio Cesar thinks he would be a great fit for the Selecao as his possession-based approach would help Brazil's most talented players.

    "He has all the qualities to do it. He is one of the best in the world, his style of play is very Brazilian," Julio Cesar told Stats Perform courtesy of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. 

    "Everyone knows that Brazilian players love to keep the ball; the majority of them also play in Europe and they are learning to play better on the pitch.  

    "We have so much quality on the Brazilian national team: Neymar, Raphinha, [Lucas] Paqueta, Vinicius Junior. All these players are very talented and having a manager like Guardiola would give these players the opportunity of playing the ball more. 

    "Every player would love to work with a manager like him. It wouldn't be a bad idea, although we also have really good managers in Brazil. He is a big name in the football world and it wouldn't be a bad thing having him representing our national side. I like the idea." 

    Tite's only previous World Cup campaign with Brazil ended in a quarter-final defeat to Belgium in Russia four years ago. 

    He steered the Selecao to Copa America glory in 2019 but they were unable to defend their title two years later, with Argentina defeating them in the final. 

    Julio Cesar already believes Tite will leave a lasting legacy but has no doubt that leading Brazil to glory in Qatar would achieve him an even higher status. 

    "This is what the World Cup gets you, it will level you up. If you can bring the World Cup to Brazil, you can leave with your head held high, you have done your job," he said. 

    "He won the Copa America in 2019, he got to the final again against Argentina. He did very well so far, even in the [World Cup] qualifiers he got first place ahead of Argentina.

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  • French Open: Swiatek and Alcaraz are killing it on tour, and next step is slam domination French Open: Swiatek and Alcaraz are killing it on tour, and next step is slam domination

    Miami. That's where this started. Where Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek were both champions at the same tournament for the first time.

    Expect it to become, if not the norm, a regular occurrence over the coming years. Like Serena and Roger, and like Pete and Steffi before them, Carlos and Iga could well become the tennis royalty that reign above all others on the tour.

    The 19-year-old Alcaraz heads to Roland Garros with four titles on the ATP tour this season, while 20-year-old Swiatek has five on the WTA circuit. Those are both tour-leading figures, with Alcaraz triumphing in Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid, while Swiatek has won in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.

    It is a global game, and these two are world leaders, based on their recent form. The Miami Open was as recently as April, and now the French Open awaits.

    Swiatek has shown she can win big in Paris already, storming to the title without dropping a set as the world number 54 in October 2020, against all expectations. Nobody, Swiatek included, saw that coming, but the emergence of Alcaraz has been longer heralded, and now that is happening too.


    "Practically unstoppable". "An overwhelming favourite". What the greats say about Swiatek and Alcaraz

    Martina Navratilova, who landed the French Open singles at the height of her career in 1982 and 1984, won 74 consecutive tour matches in the latter year. That puts Swiatek's current streak of 28 into some perspective, albeit the young Pole is just seven away from matching the longest run on the WTA circuit since the start of the year 2000.

    According to Navratilova, the Roland Garros tournament starts with an obvious prime contender.

    "It's Swiatek against the field," she said, describing the Polish player as an "overwhelming favourite".

    "Clearly, the pressure is not bothering her," Navratilova added, as quoted by the WTA website. "She’s just embracing that. It's great to see – when you are the favourite, and you keep on winning."

    When Novak Djokovic lost to Alcaraz in the Madrid semi-finals, the disappointed Serbian said: "He held his nerves very well. For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive."

    This is greatness recognising potential greatness.

    Rafael Nadal had been beaten by Alcaraz in the previous round and accepts there is a changing of the guard in motion.

    "When adrenaline goes up, he's practically unstoppable," Nadal said of his fellow Spaniard, "but then in some moments he commits errors, but it's logical because he plays with a lot of risk. It's his way of playing, and in that sense I think he has the level to be able to win against anyone in the world."


    Handling the pressure, in their own words...

    Swiatek, a natural introvert, travels with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, and is learning on the move how to handle the pressures of life at the top. Winning her last five tournaments points to a remarkable mentality, with Swiatek now firmly established as the WTA number one.

    "I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely and not think I have to win some tournaments, or I have to win some matches, or I have to save some points," Swiatek said in Rome.

    "This year, the pressure that I always put on myself, it's a little bit lower. For sure the expectations around are higher, but I never had a problem to cut it off and not to think about it. Also I'm gaining experience at that. I think with more and more tournaments, it's going to get better and better for me to cope with all of that."

    Alcaraz, who has become physically mightier in the past 12 months, appears to have the mental steel that a champion requires, albeit he has yet to win one of the four majors.

    He is embracing the hype around his French Open prospects by encouraging title talk.

    In Miami, he said: "This year, I think that people are going to think that I'm going to be one of the favourites to win Roland Garros, but I always said that I have a different view. I don't have it as tension; I have it as a motivation. I really look forward to going to Paris, to fighting for the grand slam, and I am really looking forward to showing my great level in a grand slam too."

    After triumphing in Madrid, he went a step further, telling Tennis TV: "Yes, I think I'm ready to win a grand slam."


    What can they achieve?

    Alcaraz and Swiatek would not be the youngest champion duo in a single edition of the French Open – Michael Chang was 17 years and three months when he triumphed at Roland Garros in 1989, and women's champion Arantxa Sanchez was only three months older.

    They would be the youngest champion pairing this century, however. Currently, the youngest winners at the same French Open in the 21st century are Nadal and Henin, who turned 19 and 23 respectively during the 2005 tournament.

    World number six Alcaraz is a long way off number one in the ATP rankings, but at the start of the year he sat 32nd, an awful long way from sixth spot. He is skipping steps as he races up the ladder and seems destined for the top.

    He sits third in the Race to Turin, which ranks performances in the calendar year rather than on a rolling basis and decides the line-up for the end-of-season ATP Finals. There, Alcaraz is closing on leader Nadal and just a sliver (3,490 to 3,460 points is the margin) behind second-placed Tsitsipas, who has played 11 tournaments to Alcaraz's seven.

    For Swiatek to be champion, she must break the run that has seen eight different women crowned in the last eight years: Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova.

    The men's singles has been rather more predictable over the same period, with Nadal winning five times, Djokovic twice and Stan Wawrinka once. Nadal in 2005 was the last teenager to scoop the men's title.

    The last woman to truly dominate at Roland Garros was Justine Henin, who won four years out of five from 2003 to 2007.

    Swiatek can make it two from three, and if she reaches the title match, it would be a brave person to back against her given she has won 16 consecutive sets in finals.

    With her five titles already this year, Swiatek is one away from becoming the first woman to beat that total in a season since Serena Williams won seven in 2014.

    She is a red-hot favourite, while Alcaraz is a serious contender. A repeat of Miami would shock nobody who has been paying attention.

    As the Big Three of the men's game begins to break up, and the Williams sisters dot the i's and cross the t's of their careers, the future of tennis looks to be in secure hands.

  • Eriksen has 'an idea' but yet to decide future as Man Utd and Tottenham speculation persists Eriksen has 'an idea' but yet to decide future as Man Utd and Tottenham speculation persists

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    Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest when playing for Denmark against Finland at Euro 2020 last July and was brought back to life on the pitch.

    However, the 30-year-old was unable to play for Inter on medical grounds as Italy prevent players from competing after having a cardioverter-defibrillator fitted.

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    "I don't know what the future holds," he told BBC Sport. "It will be a decision from a sporting perspective but also be a family perspective going into the decision of where we're going to go."

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    "I have an idea, but what's going to happen I don't know. But Brentford are definitely in the category of one of the clubs."

    Eriksen also reiterated his hopes to compete for trophies at the top level with whoever he opts to join.

    "I've always wanted to win trophies. I'm always on the competitive side, I always want to be the best version possible in any way, playing at the highest level possible," he added.

    "In the end it takes time and also it changes perspective if something like that happens and how my family reacts.

    "Just the feeling of being with my family is more important, not that it wasn't important before, but you just realise: 'Oh, this is something that I care about even more now'."

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