Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: Reds seal dramatic win to stay top (video)

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LIVERPOOL — At an emotional Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool took a giant leap towards lifting their first league title in 24 years after they beat Manchester City 3-2 in a pulsating clash, winning 10-straight Premier League games.

The Reds raced into an early 2-0 lead thanks to Raheem Sterling’s cool finish and Martin Skrtel’s deft header, as the home fans were treated to a masterclass for most of the first half. However Man City weren’t out of it, as two goals in five second half minutes turned the match on its head.

First the hugely impressive David Silva slotted home from close range, then Silva and Samir Nasri combined to see the former’s cross deflect off Glen Johnson’s leg and into the net for the equalizer. City were in the ascendancy after that goal and it looked like there would only be one winner.

However an awful error from Man City’s captain Vincent Kompany, who horribly sliced a routine clearance, let in Philippe Coutinho to curl home the game-winner and send Liverpool’s fans delirious. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, as the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster was marked with a superb Liverpool win that puts them within touching distance of their first-ever PL title.

Liverpool is now seven points clear of City in top spot, though City have two games in hand, and is five points clear of Chelsea with four games to go.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

The game started at a rapid pace, as Luis Suarez was booked for a clumsy tackle on Martin Demichelis, as Liverpool took the lead with virtually the first attack of the game. Suarez wrestled off a City defender before slotting the ball perfectly into the run of Sterling, who kept his composure by taking the ball around Joe Hart and slotting into an empty net.

City were struggling to handle with Liverpool’s relentless earlier pressure and in the 15th minute the Reds almost doubled their lead. Sterling was set free down the right and his pinpoint cross found Daniel Sturridge in the box, but he flicked an effort goalwards that flew just wide of the far post. In the 18th minute Liverpool were handed a huge boost as City’s midfield man-mountain, Yaya Toure, was forced off after appearing to pull his groin following a shot from distance. The home fans sensed the importance of Toure’s withdrawal.

As the first half wore on City played their way into the game with Silva getting on the ball more and more in the final third. Yet just when City were coming back into things, Liverpool went 2-0 ahead. First Hart saved superbly from Steven Gerrard’s header six-yards out, as somehow the England international tipped the ball over, then from the resulting corner Skrtel flicked home Gerrard’s set piece to extend the home side’s lead.

source: AP
Coutinho was the game-winner, as Liverpool saw off City in an emotional encounter.

Soon after yet another innovative Liverpool attack tore City apart, but Kompany got a toe on Sturridge’s clever pass just as Suarez was preparing to finish. Liverpool were slack in possession on a few occasions in front of the back four, with Edin Dzeko being let clean through after a mix up but captain Gerrard arrived in the nick of time to knock the ball out for corner. City tried to get a goal back before the interval as Kompany’s header was hacked off the line and then Simon Mignolet saved superbly from Fernandinho’s vicious volley, as an emotionally charged and hugely eventful first half at Anfield came to a close.

In the second half Liverpool started brightly but a real moment of controversy arrived in the 50th minute as Suarez took a tumble on the edge of the box and replays showed it wad a clear case of simulation. The Liverpool forward was lucky to still be on the pitch after he was booked in the first half.

City settled into the second half well, as James Milner came onto the pitch and made an instant impact. The right winger latched onto a through ball and played in Silva to slot home in the 57th minute to give City hope. Two minutes later the away side poured forward and Silva’s cross flashed through the six-yard box but evaded Dzeko’s lunge. However the away side didn’t need to wait long to draw level, as Silva and Sami Nasri combined to see Silva’s cross deflect off Johnson and into the net to make it 2-2 with less than 30 minutes to go. Sturridge was forced off with an injury in the aftermath, as the Reds were rocking.

Sergio Aguero arrived off the bench for the final 25 minutes, as Man City’s top scorer joined the fray knowing one-goal could see his side take a massive step towards their second PL title. Aguero squirmed clear of Skrtel in the 76th minute and the Argentine played in the onrushing Silva, but his toe poke rolled agonizingly wide as City came close to taking the lead for the first time in the match.

They were made to pay for that miss as Kompany scuffed a clearance straight to Coutinho, who curled in a first-time effort to bag all three points for the Reds. A late red card for Jordan Henderson piled on the pressure, but Liverpool held on to seal a big win in their quest for the title.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Sakho, Skrtel, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Moses, 89′), Sterling (Lucas, 90′), Suarez, Sturridge (Allen, 66′)

Goals: (Sterling, 6′), Skrtel (25′), Coutinho (78′)

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Toure (Javi Garcia, 18′), Fernandinho, Navas (Milner, 50′), Nasri, Silva, Dzeko (Aguero, 68′)

Goals: Silva (57′), Glen Johnson, own goal (62′)

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”