Guardiola delivers glimpse of Man City’s future

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LONDON — We got a glimpse of Manchester City’s future in their 4-0 win at West Ham United on Wednesday.

And it looked sparkling.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Post-game at the London Stadium Pep Guardiola could hardly contain his excitement when speaking about the form of young forwards Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus as they carved open West Ham’s defense time and time again with their pace and intense pressing which kept forcing turnovers.

“These three guys are the future for the club. All of them, their average age is just 20 years old. You cannot see in Europe at the big clubs, there are not strikers as young as Man City have. That is good for the future of the club,” Guardiola said. “We are delighted because Sane is already a part of the team. He arrived a little bit like ‘where am I?’ and now his performance in the last three or four months showed us his potential.”

Asked about 19-year-old forward Gabriel Jesus — the Brazilian international scored and grabbed an assist in an impressive first start in the Premier League — Guardiola believes this is only the beginning for the striker they signed for $34 million from Palmeiras.

“He helps us a lot in the first press. He is so intense, so aggressive in that moment,” Guardiola said. “In the long balls he is a fighter and he is able to keep going and fight against guys taller than him. Of course he is young. We can’t forget he is  just 19 years old. But he is a striker for Brazil, because in the first assist against Crystal Palace he gave it to Sterling, today it was to Kevin. He is a guy who when he arrives there he will attack the ball and he will score goals.”

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Alongside 22-year-old Raheem Sterling and 21-year-old Leroy Sane, Jesus led a devastating forward line which is set to terrorize defenses for years to come.

Even though they are 10 points off leaders Chelsea (Guardiola played down their title chances this season) in attack things are slotting together superbly, even if defensively there are still big issues to sort out. That was always going to be why Guardiola would get more time to overhaul this ageing City team despite poor results littering his first-ever campaign as a Premier League  manager.

His team has shown in big wins throughout this season that his philosophy is working, but they need to be more consistent. With this young forward line they looked fluid, in-sync and fired up.

Sergio Aguero’s shocked expression on the bench said it all after the third goal went in. He knows he has massive competition to keep his place in the team with Gabriel breathing down his neck and the Argentine international perhaps has the strongest competitor for a starting spot that he’s ever had since arriving at the Etihad Stadium.

With Kevin De Bruyne in an attacking midfield role, the fluid three of Jesus, Sane and Sterling interchanged and tore West Ham’s creaking defense apart with clever runs, inch-perfect passes and high-pressing. That’s the future of City under Guardiola as he finally has a first line of defense which can force opponents into mistakes and then punish them. He hasn’t always had that with Aguero and Co. up top.

Aguero isn’t the only member of City’s old guard to sense change in the air.

Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta joined Aguero on the bench, yet Guardiola poured cold water on suggestions that Aguero would have to spend more time on the bench in the coming weeks and emphasized his importance to the team. It isn’t quite time for the old guard to pass the baton but it’s getting there. This moment has been coming for City.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Man City v. West Ham ] 

Guardiola also emphasized impressed he was with the high-pressing of his young attacking talent, plus the shield Yaya Toure provided.

“Every time we win the ball we had three strikers so so quick, so Leroy, Gabriel and Raheem make runs in-behind and it was so so dangerous,” Guardiola said. “When people want make high-pressing we are able to eliminate the first step and create a chance. Yaya was again exceptional and helps us a lot for the future and the next games.”

Toure is rolling back the years in midfield but up front Gabriel has burst onto the scene with plenty of promise. Guardiola wasn’t 100 percent certain what he would be getting when the Brazilian teenager arrived in January fresh from winning the Brazilian title with Palmeiras.

It’s safe to say he’s happy with how things are developing.

“You never know. It is like a watermelon. You have to open it and see how it turns out,” Guardiola said of Jesus. “The perspective was good. That is why we pushed him. He is a young, young talent. He has a huge mentality. So aggressive, he wants to become a good player and when that happens that helps a lot. When he has dreams and something to do in the future in his own career, that helps a lot. Gabriel, in those terms, he wants to become something in world football and of course we are going to try to get it for us.”

On this showing, City’s young front three have the potential to push them to the very top of world football and become something Guardiola has dreamed of.

He’s getting there, with the youngsters leading the way.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 3-1 NYCFC

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The game in 100 words (or less): Revenge, at the hands of a 3-1 scoreline. The match started out a little too fast for Atlanta, one of the quickest teams in MLS, but they settled things down and finished ruthlessly. NYCFC, meanwhile, defended miserably and failed to match the intensity of the hosts. First-round draft pick Julian Gressel was an utter menace down the right, and Miguel Almiron was decisive in front of net. NYCFC took advantage of the weekly Atlanta defensive mistake for a lifeline with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – A big deflection off a NYCFC midfielder sprung an Atlanta attack, but the hosts took the chance well. Gressel latched onto the ball on the right edge of the box, and he cut the ball back where three Atlanta attackers were waiting unmarked. It came to Almiron, and while his finish was less than ideal, some ugly goalkeeping saw the ball slip under the armpit of a diving Sean Johnson who overshot the effort.

19′ – It came unraveled for NYCFC in a heartbeat. The right side of the defense fell asleep for a split second, allowing Hector Villaba to burst through on a ball by Yamil Asad, and Villaba finished expertly into the far top corner with Maxime Chanot unable to catch up.

23′ – Not even a half-hour gone and the game was already wrapped up, with the third goal sporting the most glaring defensive mistake by the visitors. As Gressel battled with Alexander Callens for a loose ball down the right, Callens appeared to have the edge, but instead of playing the ball, he went down under the slightest contact from Gressel. When the referee let play continue, Gressel was all by himself, and with a 4-on-1 developing, he found Almiron for the easiest of finishes.

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Man of the match: Juilan Gressel.

Goalscorers: Almiron (16′, 23′), Villaba (19′), Harrison (71′).

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.