City vs. United: Premier League will be decided in Manchester, again

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When Manchester City pasted Manchester United 6-1 last October, it was still too early in the Premier League season to know if the campaign would become a two-team race. But after Chelsea’s winter swoon took them out of title contention, England’s most decorated team (United, 19 titles) was left to defend their title against a rival who had not won the first division since 1967-68.

This year there’s no illusion that the title will be settled outside Manchester. Second place City, defending their first Premier League title, remain undefeated and have a six-point lead on Chelsea and Tottenham. United, three points clear of their rivals at the top of the league, have already won three more matches than anybody else in the league. With the exception of Chelsea’s strong start, there’s been no indication anybody can keep up with the Manchester sides, and with the teams combining for 21 wins and six draws in 30 games, there’s little hint either club will come back to the pack.

MORE: Key man in Sunday’s Manchester Derby

Early Sunday morning, the teams wage their first of two league derbies this year (8:30 a.m. Eastern kickoff), a match that you could see as one of only two big, title-relevant matches of the Premier League season. Sure, history and locality mean matches like Arsenal-Tottenham and Liverpool-Manchester United will always be important, but if you discard folklore and narrow your focus to this Premier League season, the two Manchester derbies start to look disproportionately important. Like Spain’s Clasicos.

While it will take much longer than two years to establish the type of two-tier league Spain’s evolved into, this year’s developments in the Premier League combined with the 19-point gap the Manchesters put on the league last year is noteworthy. If you look at the underlying numbers, goals scored and goals against, the numbers are even more troubling. Last year City and United put up differences of +64 and +59. The next-best mark was Arsenal and Spurs’ +25. Last year, the Premier League was Spain.

If Chelsea can’t get their management issues worked out — if Arsenal and Liverpool don’t recover and if Tottenham can’t cease their window they’ve opened for themselves — we could see a small fissure form between the Manchesters and their competition. It will be small and less entrenched than chasms that exist in Spain and (to a lesser extent, now) Ukraine, but it will soon become something England’s other powers will have to overcome.

MORE: Chelsea finally comes good in Premier League

Within the derby, Manchester United, despite their lead in the standings, finds itself trying to make up ground. Their late-season collapse this spring allowed City to win the title at their expense. Though United has recent wins over City in the FA Cup and Community Shield, the Citizens won both the teams’ Premier League meetings last season and defeated the Red Devils when the clubs met in April 2011’s FA Cup semifinal. Recent big games — the ones both teams have really wanted to win — have gone to City.

source:  There are a number of reasons to think Sunday’s meeting will be different. This time, Manchester United have Robin van Persie, the former Arsenal-man quickly becoming the focal point of Manchester United’s attack. Any doubt that the Red Devils needed a player of van Persie’s potency has been assuaged by 13 goals in 19 all-competition appearances. Add his presence to the a United team who, after losing last year’s race to their noisy neighbors, have no confusion about where their focus should lie and a City side that has struggled to regain last year’s stride may have trouble replicating last year’s dominance.

There is another side to that coin, though. For all his production with Manchester United, van Persie has not scored in his last eight matches against Manchester City. And although Nemanja Vidic could return to Alex Ferguson’s back line, Manchester United’s defense (11th in the Premier League) is among the worst competing for a major European title. It’s rare that a team so flawed can compete for a crown like the Premier League’s, but with the firepower at Ferguson’s disposal, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where they can best City.

And within the current landscape of the Premier League, that’s may be all either Manchester club has to do: Beat their rival. Last year, Manchester City took all six league points. Had Manchester United drawn one of those two games, the Red Devils would have won a 20th title. And already three points up on City (nine points ahead of the rest of the league), a draw may be all United needs to take control of this year’s Premier League.

“Proud” hat trick hero Kane raves at shorthanded Spurs win

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This could’ve gone much worse for Spurs.

Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen were suspended, and Christian Eriksen was sick.

[ RECAP: APOEL 0-3 Spurs ]

Never mind all that: Harry Kane was healthy, and scored three goals as Spurs kept pace with group mates Real Madrid in filing a 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Kane said he was very proud of the side’s performance, as youngster Anthony Georgiou and seldom-used Georges-Kevin N’Koudou put in shifts in the win. From the BBC:

“We weren’t pleased with the first-half and a couple of chances could have gone the other way. We were more clinical and in the Champions League that is what you have got to be.

“We are missing a few players but the lads who stepped in were fantastic. We have a solid squad and you have to be ready. 3-0 away in the Champions League no matter who you play is a good result.”

Kane has 11 goals in September between club and country, and has six hat tricks in 2017. There may not be a finer big striker firing in Europe right now, and both England and Spurs will hope to ride him well into 2018.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Liverpool: Frustrated Reds come back for point

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A point from far from home is not the end of the world, but Liverpool will rue its missed chances in a 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Goalkeeper Artyom Rebrov had a stellar day for Spartak before being injured and then replaced by Aleksandr Selikhov, who was also strong for the Russians.

Fernando (not that one) scored a free kick for Spartak, while Philippe Coutinho bagged the equalizer that keeps the Reds ahead of Spartak on goal difference. Both sides are three points behind Sevilla.

Liverpool visits Maribor on Oct. 17, while Spartak will host Sevilla.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Roberto Firmino saw a promising header saved, and Brazilian attack partner Philippe Coutinho cleared a launch pad for countryman Fernando with a needless foul minutes later.

The 25-year-old ex-Sampdoria man that curled a free kick over the wall, and not too near to a post. Loris Karius was too slow to move, and the ball found its way to the back of the net. 1-0.

Sadio Mane was lively as usual, and let fly with a low drive for Spartak backstop Rebrov to collect inside the six.

Coutinho made amends with a solidly struck equalizer just after the half-hour mark, working a 1-2 with Mane and lacing a shot beyond the hopes of Rebrov.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spartak wasn’t sleeping to start the second half, and both Karius and his Russian counterpart Rebrov had work to do early.

Rebrov needed to be substituted following a collision with Mohamed Salah and long delay. A Man of the Match candidate, would the goalkeeper swap tilt the scales?

Manchester City 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk: KDB pulls the strings

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A Man of the Match performance from Kevin De Bruyne was just enough to send Man City past plucky Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

David Silva assisted De Bruyne’s second half goal, and Bernardo Silva set up Raheem Sterling for the second just before time.

Alone in first, City will host Napoli on Oct. 17 while Shakhtar is off to Feyenoord.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Kevin De Bruyne set Sergio Aguero up for a chance that was well-covered by Shakhtar backstop Andriy Pyatov.

De Bruyne had the best chance of the first half, working himself into a “Surely” position only to miss his mark with a shot and leave the match scoreless.

At the other end, Ederson made an excellent save on Marlos.

Fittingly, De Bruyne helped set himself up for the opener, winning the ball and working a 1-2 with David Silva to finish with style.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Leroy Sane won a penalty for City, but Sergio Aguero’s tame effort was saved. At the other end, John Stones was directing traffic when a ball hit his arm. No call from the officials.

APOEL Nicosia 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur: Kane nets hat trick

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Cyprus has been kind to Harry Kane.

The English striker scored thrice for Spurs, who join group mates Real Madrid on six points after a 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

The Bernabeu is next for Spurs, an Oct. 17 date with 2-0 Real Madrid, while APOEL will host Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Hugo Lloris flubbed an early clearance and was fortunate to see the back-bounding ball dribble wide of his left post.

Carlao could’ve given APOEL a surprise lead close to halftime but headed wide of the net from within 10 yards.

Kane nearly added an assist to his ledger at the start of the second half, but Son Heung-min just missed his effort wide of the frame.

He scored another goal anyway, and another one. Moussa Sissoko set Kane up for the second of the night, a relatively simple finish for the striker, and Kane completed his trio of goals when he headed Kieran Trippier‘s cross home.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]