League Cup semifinal preview: Stoke City vs. Liverpool

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The best part about the League Cup is that no matter how early you enter the tournament, you’re never more than 720 (regulation) minutes from lifting a trophy at Wembley Stadium.

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When Stoke City and Liverpool take the field at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday, that number will have been whittled all the way down to 270, with a special day out in the capital city just 180 minutes away (League Cup semifinals are contested over two legs). Manchester City and Everton will face one another in the second semifinal, beginning on Wednesday.

Liverpool hoped to have striker Daniel Sturridge (hamstring) back in time for Tuesday’s clash, but manager Jurgen Klopp announced on Monday that the 26-year-old has suffered another setback in his bid to return from injury, despite proclaiming himself “good to go” barely a week ago.

Meanwhile, Stoke manager Mark Hughes is feeling quite confident given his side’s recent run of results (six wins in their last 10 games – all competitions), coupled with Liverpool’s struggles (two wins in their last seven). Said Hughes: “We are very strong at the moment at home and playing exceptionally well there. We are giving good teams like Liverpool real problems. Teams have to be at their best to withstand us at home. It is a game of significance for us, and these are the games we want to be involved in. Hopefully it is the first of many.”

Stoke defender Geoff Cameron will be available for Tuesday’s first leg after the club successfully appealed the red card levied against the U.S. national teamer on the weekend.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Saturday ]

Injuries/suspensions: Stoke — QUESTIONABLE: Stephen Ireland (hamstring), Peter Crouch (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring), Martin Skrtel (hamstring), Danny Ings (knee), Joe Gomez (knee), Jon Flanagan (knee); QUESTIONABLE: James Milner (calf), Divock Origi (hamstring)

Path to semifinals: Stoke — Luton Town 1-1 (7-8 PKs) Stoke; Fulham 0-1 Stoke; Stoke 1-1 (5-4 PKs) Chelsea; Stoke 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday | Liverpool — Liverpool 1-1 (3-2 PKs) Carlisle United); Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth; Southampton 1-6 Liverpool;

League meeting this season: Stoke 0-1 Liverpool (Aug. 9)

League Cups won: Stoke (1) — 1971-72 | Liverpool (8) — 1980–81, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1994–95, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2011–12

Bayern Munich activates clause to make Coman permanent

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Bayern Munich has announced its decision to make Kingsley Coman’s loan from Juventus a permanent move.

Coman, 20, operates as a right wing and striker, and can also play on the left. He’s made 40 Bundesliga appearances with six goals and six assists over two seasons for Bayern.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

It’s a $24 million option, and will bind Coman to Bayern through the 2019-20 season.

From FCBayern.com:

“Kingsley Coman is a crucial player for the future of our team, so we’ve decided to exercise the option,” commented Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Kingsley is a promising player with great potential. We’re convinced he’ll help us in the coming years.”

Coman, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich are all under the age of 22.

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

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The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

Liverpoolfc.com
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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

liverpoolfc.com