Three things we learned from Liverpool’s huge win vs. Manchester City

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LIVERPOOL — Following Liverpool’s dramatic 3-2 win over Manchester City on Sunday, the home side took a massive leap towards winning their first-ever Premier League title.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are rampant, after they sealed their tenth-straight win to keep them top of the standings on an emotional game at Anfield with the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster being remembered.

But what did we learn from Liverpool’s win? Here’s three things that stuck out.

Liverpool’s midfield just as good as S.A.S.

On Sunday Liverpool’s game-winner Philippe Coutinho curled in a deft finish to seal a massive three points late on. However the little Brazilian was getting stuck in more than anybody else in Red, as his teammates were inspired by his uncharacteristic feisty side. Smashing into City’s left back Gael Clichy at every opportunity, Coutinho was a beast, and the home fans around me at Anfield were applauding and cheering his relentless high-pressure. The diminutive playmaker came up with the game-winning goal so he will, of course, get all the headlines.

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Liverpool launched themselves ahead, as their midfielders flew out of the traps.

Yet Steven Gerrard put in another monumental display in the middle, Jordan Henderson worked tirelessly to overcome City’s marauding attackers and Raheem Sterling was a wizard on the wing. The teenager’s composure when put clean through in the first six minutes was marvelous and with Roy Hodgson watching on, Sterling looks to be a shoe-in for England’s World Cup squad. We often talk about Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez (but of whom failed to score but created plenty of problems) and rightly so after their 52 goals combined this season, but Liverpool’s midfield came up big when it really mattered.

David Silva can still win City the title

Missing vast swathes of the season through injury, in recent weeks David Silva has been the difference for City. His class shone through and he single-handedly dragged Man City back into the game in the second half. Even when Liverpool were 2-0 up and cruising midway through the first half, every time Silva got on the ball Liverpool’s defense dropped off and a sense of nervousness came over the home fans. Silva proved why in the second half, as he scored the first, his shot was deflected in for the second and his probing passes and clever runs had Liverpool reeling. You sensed he would be the game-winner and in the 75th minute he sent a stretching toe poke just wide of Simon Mignolet’s post as the Kop breathed a huge sigh of relief with the ‘Silva show’ in full flow.

That miss woke Liverpool up and Coutinho’s winner came moments later. Despite this damaging loss, if City win out they can still put pressure on Liverpool and win the title. With six games to go they are seven points behind the Reds, but have two games in hand. If Silva’s star continues to shine brightly in the final few weeks of the season, they have half a chance.

Still question marks over Liverpool’s defense

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Liverpool’s defense still looked leaky, but a mistake from Kompany saved them.

As mentioned, Silva orchestrated City’s surging second half comeback, yet that came after some slack defending from Liverpool which let the Citizens back into the game. Time and time again in the first half they gave the ball away just in front of their own back four and they started doing that in the second half too. Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were solid, yet unspectacular, and every time they got on the ball and were urged forward by the home crowd, they hesitated. Full backs Jon Flanagan and Glen Johnson also looked nervy, as James Milner skinned Flanagan several times in the second half, while Johnson failed to deal with Nasri on a regular basis as the English right back stuck out a lazy leg to deflect a shot past his own ‘keeper for City’s second goal.

In the end a defensive mistake from City sparred Liverpool’s blushes, but the fact that they almost chucked a 2-0 lead away, at home, in the biggest game of the season, shouldn’t be overlooked. In the run-in they must get better at the back, but with their incredible offensive power the Reds may neglect their defensive duties. That could cost them in four tight games to come.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

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Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.