Eden Hazard reaching peak form and other Chelsea talking points from Liverpool draw

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A late equaliser from Willian rescued a point for Chelsea at Anfield after Mohamed Salah opened the scoring for Liverpool.

The hosts looked set for three points after the Egyptian buried his 10th Premier League of the campaign but were pegged back in the 85th minute.

Here’s what we learned from the encounter.

HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS AHEAD

It didn’t quite happen for him at Anfield but the signs are ominous, Eden Hazard is reaching peak form and defenders everywhere should be concerned. Despite Salah’s excellent display and goal, the Belgian was the best player on the pitch and did eventually manage an assist off Willian’s goal.

With Antonio Conte opting for legs in midfield, Danny Drinkwater replaced Cesc Fabregas in the starting line-up to operate alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’golo Kante. As a result, the bulk of the creative responsibility was laid at Hazard’s feet and he certainly did his fair share.

The Chelsea star made five key passes, more than any other player in the game and completed a remarkable nine dribbles, the most by any player in a single Premier League match this season.

He was the one who constantly looked like making something happen and had Liverpool scrambling every time he received the ball. Chelsea had to settle for a draw on Saturday but with a run of good fixtures to come, Hazard is set to run riot.

CHRISTENSEN SETS THE BAR FOR ACADEMY HOPEFULS

Conte has put faith in Andreas Christensen, preferring him to the more seasoned David Luiz or new signing Antonio Rudiger. It’s paid off for the Italian with the young Dane impressing of late, slotting into Chelsea’s three-man central defence with ease.

Against Liverpool, Christensen had his hands full with the likes of Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to deal with but passed the test, largely managing the threat posed by the trio where possible.

The 21-year-old’s successful run in the team is also a sign of hope for Chelsea academy stars vying to establish themselves in the first team. With John Terry being the last academy product to do so though, there prospects would have seemed bleak but Christensen’s emergence proves not only that it is possible but that the club’s loan policy can work.

WILLIAN OUT WITH A POINT TO PROVE

Of late, Conte has preferred a 3-5-1-1 system with Hazard operating in behind Alvaro Morata and Fabregas linking up with the duo when possible. Willian and Pedro have been subjected to the bench as a result, even with Drinkwater replacing Fabregas for the clash with Liverpool.

However, Willian seems determined to win his place back. The Brazilian scored a brace in midweek against Qarabag in the Champions League and was by far the best player.

With Liverpool looking to see out a 1-0 win at Anfield on Saturday, he came off the bench to score a crucial equaliser even if the manner of it was suspect as he seemed to try to hang a ball up at the far post for Morata to attack but miscued it and ended up chipping Simon Mignolet from outside the box instead.

Nevertheless, Willian continues to remain a threat and will give Conte a selection headache. With the busy December fixtures to come though, the Italian tactician may welcome such a problem as he looks to rotate his squad.

Willian (C)

Willian (C)

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Mata suffers Mkhitaryan form and other things learned from Man United's win over Brighton

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Manchester United edged a narrow 1-0 win at Old Trafford against Brighton on Sunday.

Ashley Young‘s shot from distance deflected off Lewis Dunk and looped into the back of the net to decide the encounter.

Here’s what we learned from the encounter.

MATA PERFORMS MKHITARYAN DISAPPEARING ACT

Jose Mourinho finally decided to drop Henrikh Mkhitaryan over the past couple of games given his poor form, choosing to play Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial together instead. He may need to find an alternative for Juan Mata now. It’s a shame Andreas Pereira is on loan to Valencia and in fine form too.

Mata was completely ineffective against Brighton. Despite playing in his favoured attacking midfield role with United enjoying the lion’s share of possession, he was unable to influence the game in the final third.

He spent most of his time on the pitch fluttering around, struggling to find space between the lines and ending up playing too high or dropping too deep.

It’s surprising from the Spaniard as well, who normally provides a steady flow of goals and assists regardless of the playing time he is afforded.

Mata is one of the more honest footballers you will find though and wasn’t lacking in effort but the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked far more threatening for United when he replaced him in the 62nd minute does speak volumes.

Reports of Mourinho swooping for Mesut Ozil in January have been doing the rounds and if things keep going the way they are with Mata and Mkhitaryan, that may well be on the cards.

NOT AN EASY CLEAN SHEET

David de Gea went the whole game without having a real save to make but that doesn’t mean United’s defence didn’t get stretched on occasion.

The more Pascal Gross got on the ball, the more likely United were to be carved open. He was excellent on the night, as he has been all season, completing 90.5% of his passes and making three key passes, more than any other player in the game.

It’s another clean sheet for United, who continue to boast the league’s best defensive record but the fact of the matter is that they were more than a little suspect on the break, particularly without their first-choice centre-backs in Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.

Brighton were very much the better side in the closing stages and United ended up holding on to a slender one-goal advantage.

Pascal Gross (L)

Pascal Gross (L)

UNITED OVER-RELIANT ON POGBA

There’s no doubt that Paul Pogba was a big miss for United in the last month or so. His return to action last week against Newcastle was indicative of that. He made them tick and team suddenly had a bit of swagger about them.

Against FC Basel in midweek, they created chance after chance in the opening hour under his influence and were quickly rendered second best once he was substituted.

On Saturday at Old Trafford, there was a sense of the United players looking to him to make something happen.

He had 129 touches in the game, 34 more than Nemanja Matic and made 110 passes 24 more than the Serbian.

Though while he did well to spread play and orchestrate the game when deeper, he was usually crowded out in the final third and sometimes tried to force the issue to no effect.

Paul Pogba (C)

Paul Pogba (C)

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Mourinho warns Man United's Mkhitaryan to cut 'disappearing' act

Simon Peach 25/11/2017
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Mourinho has called out Mkhitaryan for his under performance.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has warned under-performing Henrikh Mkhitaryan to cut out the “disappearing” acts.

The 28-year-old has had a fair share of highs and lows since last year’s big-money switch from Borussia Dortmund, with the attacking midfielder currently going through a challenging period.

Last season he recovered from an inauspicious start to play a key role in United’s Europa League triumph, but this term a promising start to the campaign has markedly tapered off.

That drop-off led Mourinho to omit him from the last two matchday squads and the Portuguese wants a reaction as he prepares to bring the Armenian back into the fold in Saturday’s Premier League clash against Brighton.

“I was not happy with his last performances,” the United boss said. “I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five.

“He started the season very well and after that step by step he was disappearing.

“His performance levels in terms of goal scoring and assists, high pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a number 10, were decreasing step by step.

“That was enough because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

Hard work on the training ground can only go so far, though, as it is not the “best habitat to analyse the players” when there are so many games.

“I would say on the pitch – pitch, match, and sometimes in a couple of minutes you see things,” Mourinho said.

Mkhitaryan has been off the boil of late for Manchester United.

Mkhitaryan has been off the boil of late for Manchester United.

“You don’t need sometimes to play 40, 50, 60 minutes for the coach to have feelings and have data to analyse.

“So I would say it’s on the pitch, especially on the pitch. Tell me on the pitch what you want to do the next match.”

Mourinho certainly will not shy from telling his players what to do, especially after slipping back into old habits as a lack of cutting edge saw them lose a match in Basel they dominated.

The 1-0 midweek loss does not seriously hamper their chances of Champions League progress, but underlines why his exciting attacking options cannot be considered the best he has had.

“No, because a team that plays the way we play so many times, I think we should score more goals than we do,” he said.

“The team that excites more is the team that after five chances is winning 4-0. That’s a team that excites more.

“I think they give what they can. I cannot complain about the dedication or the motivation. They all try to give their best.

“I think we had an improvement with (Anthony) Martial. He’s scoring more goals than last season. That’s why he is playing more. He has more minutes on the pitch.

“The other players are what they are. They have different kinds of qualities.

“Sometimes they produce a lot, and we have lots of chances and we don’t score enough.

“The reality is that in the Premier League by not scoring enough we are still, I think, the second or third team with the most goals scored. So not dramatic.”

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