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

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Liverpool edged out Manchester City on New Year’s Eve to win 1-0 and keep pressure on Chelsea as they head into the second half of the Premier League season just six points behind the Blues.

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Georginio Wijnaldum‘s early header was the only goal of the game as Man City huffed and puffed in the second half but couldn’t break down a stubborn Liverpool defense and City are now 10 points behind league-leaders Chelsea.

Jurgen Klopp got the better of Pep Guardiola in this battle between two managerial heavyweights.

Here’s what we learned from a tense game at Anfield.


CONTRASTING STYLES CLEAR

There’s plenty of mutual respect between Klopp and Guardiola about how their respective teams play the game.

But when it comes down to how their teams play, that could not be more different.

That was clear for all to see on Saturday as Liverpool came flying out of the traps, scored their goal and pinned City back for most of the opening 60 minutes. However, particularly in the second half, Guardiola’s side dominated possession and looked the more likely to score.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

City improved in the second half drastically because they stuck with their patient possession-first philosophy and because Liverpool tired and were unable to keep up their high-tempo approach. Both approaches are very different and both have their ups and downs.

Even though there were very few clear cut chances apart from Wijnaldum’s goal, it was in intriguing tactical battle as two teams challenging for the title are going about it in completely different ways. Of course, Klopp is eight months further along the line than Guardiola and that showed in this game but over the next two years these teams will challenge for the title.


SLOPPINESS CONTAGIOUS

Okay, we will cut both of these teams some slack but there’s no doubting that the number of turnovers in possession was abnormally high for both teams at Anfield on New Year’s Eve.

Part of that had to be fatigue as the busy festive season is in full flow with Liverpool playing twice in the past four days and City having one extra day of rest.

The other part of that was City still not being comfortable with what Guardiola is asking them to do on the ball, plus Liverpool’s high-press worked very well.

It’s safe to say neither manager will be totally satisfied with the performance but Klopp will certainly be happy with the three points as Liverpool has ground out wins in recent weeks.


CENTER BACKS SHINE FOR LIVERPOOL

One of the main reasons Liverpool is still in the title hunt with Chelsea is because they’ve shored things up at the back in recent weeks.

Klopp’s side have now kept three clean sheets in their last four games, as they’ve secured big 1-0 wins against Everton and Man City. Their two center back against City, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, were key to victory as they locked Sergio Ageuro down and did all of the simple things well.

Unlike City’s central defenders John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi who made mistakes with passes out of the back, Liverpool’s two bruising center halves cleared their lines and never truly let City get in behind.

The big Achilles heel for Liverpool was always going to be in defense as they’ve had so many issues with changing goalkeepers and not spending big money on defenders. If they can stay this solid in the big games, they have the players going forward to hurt and score goals against the PL’s best defenses.

As for City, oh what Guardiola would do to have his captain and defensive leader Vincent Kompany back fit and at the top of his game in central defense. Instead Kompany was in the stands with the City fans at Anfield as he watched his side go 10 points behind Chelsea.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.