EPL

Villa boss Smith to 'reprimand' internal Grealish leak

By Sports Desk February 21, 2021

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith said he will reprimand any potential internal leak after news of captain Jack Grealish's injury emerged well in advance of Sunday's 2-1 Premier League home loss to Leicester City.

Grealish was left out of the Villa line-up due to a leg knock picked up at training, although that became public knowledge ahead of the fixture, leaving Smith irritated by the advantage it may have offered the Foxes.

The England international is a key figure for Villa, having played every league game this season until Sunday, scoring six goals while he is also equal second for most assists this campaign with 10.

"I was made aware on social media there were rumours he was not going to play," Smith told BBC Sport.

"If that is coming out of our training ground I will find out where it is coming from and reprimand whoever it is coming from.

"It is something I would not be happy with."

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  • Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia

    Pep Guardiola will manage Sergio Aguero carefully, as he explained the difficulties of keeping each player in his Manchester City squad satisfied.

    City made it 20 successive wins in all competitions on Saturday, as they edged past West Ham 2-1 in the Premier League thanks to goals from defenders Ruben Dias and John Stones.

    Aguero made just his fourth start of the season in total – and his first since October – with the City great, who is out of contract at the end of 2020-21, having struggled with injuries through the course of the campaign.

    The 32-year-old failed to have an attempt and created just one chance before he was taken off in the 61st minute, having had 32 touches – less than any other outfield player to have started the game for City.

    Guardiola, however, insisted Aguero will need time to pick up his sharpness, though the striker's minutes will have to be managed precisely. 

    "Sergio has been out for more than a year, he played cup games but got injured again, then it was surgery," Guardiola told a news conference.

    "With Sergio, at this part of this season, having that special talent and special quality is going to help.

    "So it's good that he played 60 minutes, that's good for his legs. In the next games, we might need him for 10, 15 minutes or from the beginning. 

    "It's not easy for him but he just has to play better and better and he can help us in the sense of his ability."

    Guardiola concedes Aguero wants to play more, but reiterated that he has to balance his squad, namechecking Eric Garcia, whose stay at City is set to end at the culmination of the campaign.

    Barcelona have been heavily linked with a move for the 20-year-old, who ended last season as the club's first-choice centre-back alongside Aymeric Laporte.

    Garcia has made just three league appearances this season, and last featured for City in an FA Cup win over Swansea City in early February.

    "There are other players who want to play too, so I know Sergio is so important for us. What he has done for this club – he has scored the most important goal for us," Guardiola continued.

    "We want to help him and see him good but, at the same time, Raheem [Sterling] didn't start, Phil [Foden], Bernardo [Silva] didn't. So I try to handle it so everyone can be involved.

    "You cannot imagine how I feel about Eric Garcia, he's like a son. Last season, during lockdown he was the best defender that we had.

    "He'd never make a mistake like Ruben, John and Aymeric have not this season. He was the reason we qualified for the Champions League, clubs like Bayern and Barcelona wanted him and that's not because he was an average player.

    "In the last two games he was not selected, that's why it's difficult to put all of the players in. Players have to be patient and at the end all you judge is the performance. If the players are performing well they will have more chance to play again."

    Asked if sentiment will come into play with Aguero's game time as his time at City potentially draws to a close, Guardiola replied: "From day one, my message here is what happened before is over – we learn from this and onto the next one.

    "It's not just for Sergio, it's for everyone. I think about who is best in this position, who is in the best condition. If I am fair to one player, I am unfair to another one, that is the difficulty.

    "Now it's for him to prepare if we need him, at the end there will be games that are tough and difficult and we will need a goal! Who is the best guy to do that – it's him.

    "Every player needs time, especially him but everyone needs time. We have trophies to fight for, soon we'll be going to Goodison Park for a quarter-final, the second leg of the Champions League. 

    "Many nice things to fight for and everyone needs to be ready."

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    Jurgen Klopp claimed Liverpool did enough to warrant their win over Sheffield United, but he knows Thursday's clash with Chelsea presents an altogether tougher challenge.

    Liverpool stopped the rot in the Premier League on Sunday, ending a four-match losing streak by clinching a 2-0 win at Bramall Lane.

    Curtis Jones opened the scoring with his second league goal, before Roberto Firmino's wayward effort diverted in off Kean Bryan. That brought up Liverpool's 7,000th top-flight goal - only Everton have scored more.

    Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke both missed good chances for the home side, who suffered their 21st Premier League defeat of the season, with the Blades the first side since Newport County in the fourth tier in 1970-71 to lose as many as 21 of their first 26 matches in an English Football League season.

    Liverpool's focus now switches to a clash with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea at Anfield.

    Tuchel succeeded Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before going on to coach Paris Saint-Germain and now the Blues, who drew with Manchester United on Sunday.

    A win would see Liverpool move above Chelsea, though a fifth straight home defeat could see the Reds' Champions League hopes take another blow.

    "Very important. Many people have written us off, that's completely fine," Klopp told Sky Sports.

    "Tonight we showed that we are still there, but on Thursday we play Chelsea and we have to show it again. But with all the problems we have we are still around the exciting places. That's where we want to be, what we will fight for.

    "I have never thought about controlling the situation. We have to win football games and the rest is controlled by itself. It's always like this, there's no way without results to get into the Champions League.

    "It's normal and right that we get criticised, but if it's just about the performance it makes it so tricky. We cannot fight like other teams, sit deep, let them come and hit on the counter-attack.

    "That's not how we can get back on track, we have to keep being dominant and deal with the situation, disappointments and frustration in the games. In other games we might have reacted differently. Tonight we stayed on track and scored in the right moment, it always helps.

    "I think we could have scored three goals in the first half. It just shows what we created was really, really good. The finishing was good enough today, but we know we can improve that."

    Liverpool kept a first Premier League clean sheet since January 17, with Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips starting together for the first time in defence, in front of Adrian, who stood in for Alisson.

    Kabak led the way for tackles (three) and clearances (four – level with Adrian) in Liverpool's team, though he did still have some shaky moments.

    With Jordan Henderson set to miss a prolonged spell, Klopp is hoping to have Fabinho – himself a makeshift defender – fit to feature against Chelsea, while at the other end of the pitch, Diogo Jota is also set to return, having missed Sunday's match through illness.

    "Probably [Jota and Fabinho] both back for Chelsea," Klopp said.

    "Diogo was with us in the hotel but got sick, so he wasn't with us in the squad. I would think that he is ready for Thursday but I don't know at the moment.

    "Fabinho has had two training sessions with the team, he should be closer, ready for the squad I am sure."

  • Premier League data dive: Man Utd's 'big six' struggles continue, Liverpool return to winning ways Premier League data dive: Man Utd's 'big six' struggles continue, Liverpool return to winning ways

    Manchester United lost further ground to Premier League leaders Manchester City as they played out a 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. 

    The Red Devils are now 12 points behind Pep Guardiola's seemingly unstoppable side, who are well on their way to a third title in four seasons. 

    Elsewhere, Liverpool returned to winning ways against Sheffield United and Arsenal came from behind to beat Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. 

    A Gareth Bale-inspired Tottenham cruised past Burnley 4-0, while Crystal Palace and Fulham played out a dour 0-0 draw.

    Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United: Red Devils' 'big six' struggles continue

    While this result stretched United's unbeaten away run in the league to a whopping 20 matches – the joint-fifth-longest run in top-flight history – there was still a sense of disappointment at full-time. 

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have now failed to score in their last six league meetings with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Tottenham, with each of their last four such matches finishing goalless. 

    This fixture has now finished 0-0 in both matches in a single league campaign for just the second time, the other occasion coming back in 1921-22. 

    It marked the first time Chelsea have drawn 0-0 against an opponent home and away in the Premier League in the same season for the first time since 2008-09 against Everton, while United last did so against Aston Villa in 1996-97.

    Thomas Tuchel can at least toast becoming just the second coach to not concede a single goal in his first four home matches in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers in 2011-12 with Swansea City. Including his final two such matches in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Tuchel has gone six games without conceding at home in league competition.

    Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool: Klopp's men get back on track

    After four consecutive top-flight defeats champions Liverpool got their top-four bid back on track at Bramall Lane. 

    Curtis Jones opened the scoring with his second goal for the Reds. In doing so, he became the youngest Liverpool player (20 years and 29 days) to score an away Premier League goal since Raheem Sterling in December 2014 against Burnley (20y 18d).

    Their second – an own goal by Kean Bryan – was their 7,000th in the English top-flight, becoming only the second team to reach that tally after Merseyside rivals Everton (7,108).

    Adrian was in goal for Jurgen Klopp's men and the Spaniard has now been on the winning side in 10 of his 12 Premier League starts for the club, although this was only his third clean sheet. 

    The Blades, meanwhile, have now lost 21 games this season. They are the first side since Newport County in the fourth tier in 1970-71 to lose as many as 21 of their first 26 matches in an English Football League season.

    Tottenham 4-0 Burnley: Brilliant Bale torments sorry Clarets

    Bale was at his best as Tottenham registered their biggest Premier League home win since they thumped the Clarets 5-0 in December 2019. 

    His first came after just 68 seconds, which was the fastest goal Burnley have ever conceded in a Premier League match. The previous quickest was a Yerry Mina effort after 99 seconds for Everton in December 2018.

    Harry Kane doubled Spurs' advantage to continue his fine run against Sean Dyche's side. No player has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley than Kane (eight, level with Riyad Mahrez), with the England striker involved in 10 goals in his last six league appearances against them (seven goals, three assists).

    Lucas Moura added a third before Bale wrapped up the scoring to take his goal involvements to seven in his last four appearances in all competitions. 

    At the back, Hugo Lloris celebrated his 100th clean sheet in the competition. He became the 16th goalkeeper to reach that landmark, while he is the ninth quickest to reach it (285 games).

    Burnley, meanwhile, have now lost 12 of their last 15 away top-flight matches against Spurs, shipping 48 goals and conceding at least four goals in seven games.

    Leicester City 1-3 Arsenal: Gunners storm back to end 'top three' hoodoo

    Arsenal ended a four-game winless run against the Foxes in the Premier League, securing their first victory against them in the competition since October 2018. 

    It started poorly for Mikel Arteta's side, though, with Youri Tielemans scoring his sixth goal of the season early on. That is as many as he had scored in his first two seasons at the club combined. 

    David Luiz pulled the Gunners level before Alexandre Lacazette put them ahead from the penalty spot. The France international has converted all five of his penalties for Arsenal across all competitions, while only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13) has now netted more goals for the Gunners than Lacazette (11) this term.

    Nicolas Pepe sealed the three points and has now equalled his Premier League goal tally from last season, scoring five this campaign in 13 fewer appearances (18 this term, 31 last season).

    The result marked Arsenal's first away victory against a team starting the day in the top three of the Premier League since January 2015 (2-0 v Manchester City) – they were winless in their last 14 such games ahead of this clash (D3 L11).

    Crystal Palace 0-0 Fulham: Lucky Eagles escape with a point

    It should come as no surprise that this game ended goalless given Fulham's penchant for draws this season. 

    Just one of the Cottagers' first 21 Premier League games under Scott Parker ended level, but the stalemate at Selhurst Park was their 10th draw in their last 15 top-flight matches. 

    They were comfortably the better side and attempted 16 shots. Fourteen of those came in the second period – the most they have had in the final 45 minutes of a Premier League away game since 2003-04 without scoring.

    Palace, meanwhile, have somehow managed to pick up four points from their last two league games despite attempting just six shots (facing 41), having only nine touches in the opposition box (compared to 70 by their opponents), and completing just 442 passes (compared to their opponents' 1065).

    Indeed, they managed just 33 attempts in their five Premier League matches in February – the lowest recorded by a team in a single month of at least five games since the start of the 2003-04 campaign.

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