Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Manchester City

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  • Liverpool, at the top of the Premier League, has a four-point lead on Manchester City.
  • Manchester City hold matches in hand, having played 31 games (to Liverpool’s 33).
  • Liverpool have won nine Premier League games in a row.

A month of anticipation and a slip from previously league-leading Chelsea have set the stage for what should be the most important game of the Premier League season, but whereas a typical battle of titans would see one team adjust to the other’s approach, both Liverpool and Manchester City should prove unrelenting when the teams kick off Sunday at Anfield. The Citizens will view themselves as talented enough to impose their game on Liverpool, while the Reds’ flexibility and aggressive approach has proved profitable all season long.

Coverage begins tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN, with the match also available to stream live via NBC Sports Live Extra.

The match also takes place on the weekend English soccer observes 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, one where 96 people in the Liverpool end of Hillsborough Stadium died during an FA Cup semifinal between the Reds and Nottingham Forest. Prematch ceremonies featuring Liverpool legends Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush as well as Manchester City icon Mike Summerbee will accompany a minute of silence, with the game starting seven minutes late to commemorate the moment the 1989 semifinal was stopped in Sheffield.

In the teams’ first meeting, Manchester City took a 2-1 Boxing Day win over Liverpool, with first half goals from Vincent Kompany and Álvaro Negredo pulling back Philippe Coutinho’s 24th minute opener. Since then, Liverpool’s only lost two games, dropping 2-1 results at Stamford Bridge (Dec. 29) and the Emirates (Feb. 16, FA Cup). The team’s last loss at home, its only one this season, came Sept. 27 against Southampton when the Saints became one of two teams to hold the Reds scoreless this season.

With the quality Manchester City has in attack, the Citizens won’t have to rely on a shutout to take points from Anfield. Between Sergio Agüero, Edin Dzeko, and Negredo, City have a combined 35 goals from its forwards (though Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge have combined for 49). The midfield of David Silva, Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, and Samir Nasri have accounted for 33 goals, with Touré’s 18 tallies pacing the league’s midfielders. While Liverpool’s 90 goals in 33 games puts them on track to set a Premier League record, Manchester City are capable of keeping up.

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That’s why the teams’ defenses could prove the difference. City’s has been much derided because of the presence of Martín Demchelis, a weakness that isn’t reflected in the numbers. The Citizens’ 29 goals allowed are second fewest in the league to Chelsea’s 24. Liverpool, on the other hand, has had to overcome a more suspect defense, one that has conceded 40 times this season.

Those goals are part of the reason why a draw may hurt Liverpool more than City. With the goal difference tiebreaker currently in the Citizens’ hands, a point at Anfield will leave the Sky Blues within a manageable four with two games in hand. A loss on Merseyside, however, means the Manchester City no longer controls title fate.

What they’re saying:

Brendan Rodgers, manager, Liverpool (from The Guardian): “If you become fearful, that’s the first class ticket to fail. So for us, and for me, it’s exciting. It’s the joy of going and playing. This is why we work. It’s nothing to be frightened of. Nothing to be frightened of! We’ve an army of supporters behind us who are incredible. We’ve got a team high in confidence and belief, knowing we can beat anyone.”

Manuel Pellegrini, manager, Manchester City (via Sky Sports): “Of course if you defend with 10 players near your box, you are not going to have space for the other team. But the most important thing about these two teams is they play attractive, offensive football. Both teams are very close for this.

“Both teams have scored a lot of goals during the season but if we are with Liverpool and Chelsea at the top of the table, it is because we also know how to defend.”

Prediction: When you go player-for-player, it’s hard not to favor Manchester City, but Liverpool has transcended those expectations all season, hinting there’s something about the team’s talent, approach, or execution that we’re missing. While few still doubt the team’s rightful place in the title race, Manchester City is still favored to win the league, meaning a lot of people still aren’t convinced the Reds are as good as their record.

To a certain extent, I’m part of that group, but it’s impossible to look beyond Liverpool’s home form. It’s difficult to look at a run that’s seen them go undefeated in league since the calendar turned. It’s hard to look at that +50 goal difference and say ‘this team isn’t quite on the same level.

While ‘this one could end 4-3’ has been the type of refrain we’ve heard throughout the week, both defenses should prove slightly more resilient in the face of this challenge. I see a 2-2, with enough chances to leave each side convinced they could have won.

 

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”

Wenger discusses future of Sanchez, Ozil at Arsenal

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With just 18 months left on their current contracts, the futures of both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal is becoming a daily topic.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

This week alone Sanchez has been linked with a move to China on Wednesday, plus Real Madrid and Chelsea on Thursday, while another report from the Telegraph suggest the Gunners are willing to listen to offers for 28-year-old Ozil who isn’t willing to back down on his hopes of getting a $487,000 week contract at Arsenal where he is currently the top earner on $180,000.

To try and clear up any of the speculation Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger, who only has a contract at the Emirates until the end of the current season, has been speaking to the media about the reports.

Asked if Arsenal was willing to break their transfer structure, he said they’ll “do the maximum of what we can for every single player” to remain at the club.

He then reinforced the notion that Sanchez and Ozil would remain at Arsenal for at least 18 months, and hopefully much longer.

“Eighteen months is quite long in football. They have 18 months on their contracts and are completely committed to do well as long as they are here,” Wenger said. “Beyond that we will try to extend their contracts but I can’t make that a subject of every press conference as that is normal. These players have 18 months, they will be staying 18 months and hopefully much longer. I don’t believe that it is a problem.”

“A contract is between two parties and on my side the best position is to achieve it early. You have to accept that negotiations are private and secret and we don’t have to explain what we do with negotiations.”

Asked about the astronomical sums of cash reportedly being offered to Sanchez to go and play in the Chinese Super League — reports state the Chilean star has offers of $505,000 per week on the table — Wenger believed it was true but questioned why either would leave England.

“Why should you go to China when you are playing in England? We live in a world where the great players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil earn a lot of money and have the privilege to choose where they want to play,” Wenger said. “The commitment of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is absolute total and I’m very pleased with that. We are professionals and the first quality is to give 100 percent, it is here and now, that is what it means to be professional and to be fully committed to the cause.”

So, Wenger is confident the superstar duo will stay. Should he be?

With Paul Pogba earning over $368,000 as the current top earner in the Premier League, it’s easy to see why Ozil and Sanchez believe they’re worth more than Pogba is currently earning at Manchester United.

Sanchez, 27, has been ripping it up this season, scoring 11 times in 14 PL outings and Ozil has already matched his goal tally from last season with eight strikes in all competitions.

Arsenal’s wage structure is said to be set at $250,000 per week, with an insistence on no player earning more than Wenger does.

Unless they change that stance it’s difficult to see how Sanchez and Ozil will remain at the Emirates Stadium with so many suitors from across the Premier League, Europe and worldwide willing to double, or even treble, their current wages.

Of course the Premier League is the most-watched in the world and there are many advantages to playing in it for Sanchez, Ozil and other superstars but money talks. If these huge offers from the Chinese Super League are true, why wouldn’t players move there to cash in on their relatively short playing careers?

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

Follow @NicholasMendola