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Robbie Earle talks Man City, Liverpool ahead of massive match

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Prior to Liverpool’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City this Sunday, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Robbie Earle about the makeup of each side.

Q: How would you compare Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s goalkeeping situations?

Robbie Earle: It’s probably an area where I think both teams could and should do better and probably need to strengthen. If you look at City, it’s Claudio Bravo or more likely [Willy] Caballero will start, but it seems like City are starting their second-string goalkeeper. There was the high-profile exit of Joe Hart out of the club and then they bring in Claudio Bravo who is having a tough time with things. Then you have to go to the second string, but I think Caballero has provided a little bit of stability back there.

For Liverpool obviously we have the high-profile omission of [Simon] Mignolet and [Loris] Karius got in. Then Karius dropped and Mignolet regained the spot. In an ideal world I’d say for both clubs to be as successful as they want to be, they might need to upgrade in both those departments. It’s almost a draw in the goalkeeping departments.

Q: What are your thoughts on the backlines of the two clubs?

RE: The two clubs in some ways are very similar and I think the high-profile managers are both better attacking than defending in the way they play. You know on any given good day they can tear anyone apart in the Premier League, but it’s that consistency in defending. Again you look at City, there have been so many changes with a back four, back three, different partnerships. I feel a bit sorry for John Stones. He made a big-money move to Man City, there’s a lot expected and he’s had so many partners: [Pablo] Zabaleta, [Bacary] Sagna, [Aleksandar] Kolarov, [Nicolas] Otamendi, Fernandinho’s played there. You know the one guy they probably wanted to get him next to in terms of learning and where they saw their first choice center backs would have been Vincent Kompany. He’s spent very little time on the pitch so I feel a little bit sorry for John Stones. He’s had to grow up really quickly and become at times the focal point of a defense where he’s still at the stage of his career when he is learning the game and understanding about his decision-making. City, I think over the next 18 months, will see a few big changes in their defensive setup and personnel.

Liverpool are similar. No disrespect to James Milner but they’ve gotten away with playing a midfield player at left back. [Joel] Matip is the John Stones of Liverpool in that he hasn’t had a regular partner. It’s been a very changeable thing that back four and it’s an area of the pitch I think that’s very important. I’m still not sure Liverpool have got it quite right in terms of the personnel. I still feel that they’re going to need to go spend and buy a top draw center back and left back. We’re at the stage where Lucas Leiva, a player that probably couldn’t get into Liverpool’s midfield, is playing in the back four. That tells you where they are really.

Q: How do you think the midfields of Man City and Liverpool match up?

I’d say Liverpool are probably a little more athletic, certainly if [Jordan] Henderson is playing. It looks like [Emre] Can might play against Man City, but when you think of [Georginio] Wijnaldum and [Adam] Lallana both have started to show that they can score goals and have more productivity. Lallana has dropped off a bit, he was on a really hot run a few weeks ago, but they come with an energy and a vibrancy that if you don’t match it, if you’re not prepared to go toe-to-toe, they run all over teams from that area of the pitch. I think you have to at least match that.

[ MORE: Liverpool embracing underdog role v. Man City ]

City will try to do that more with technique and ability. It’ll probably be Fernandinho holding. At the moment it looks like they’ve played Yaya [Toure] next to him or [Kevin] De Bruyne and David Silva slightly advanced of the holding midfielder playing. De Bruyne and Silva both are great technicians, will keep the ball and that’s where they can keep it away from Liverpool. Liverpool’s midfield are all better with the ball than they are without it, but you can probably say the same thing about Man City, so possession and who has control of the game in that central area is probably going to be the key to the game.

Q: Which group of forwards do you trust more?

RE: You’d probably say as we are talking now, City are more in form with [Sergio] Aguero who’s a proven master marksman in the Premier League. His goal record stands for itself. And then in the wide areas [Leroy] Sane is getting better and better. We did a little piece on him a couple of weeks ago in terms of his positioning, his ability to create goals, to score goals from the left hand side. Then you have Raheem Sterling on the other side. Those three probably right now are in slightly better form than [Roberto] Firmino, [Philippe] Coutinho and [Sadio] Mane who are very different in the way they play.

It’s more about movement, it’s about clever, front-foot play between those three, but what I would say with those three is generally on the big days, their record against the top six is five wins and four draws. Those front three have come good on those days when they’ve needed them to. The front three are excellent in creating chances for each other and lots of interchanging. Mane will come from the wide positions, Firmino drops deep and Coutinho finds those seams inside. Their movement and intelligence is what will threaten the defense and it could be a game where, although both teams’ defenses are the weaker part of their game, who defends better on the day will win.

Q: Do you have a preference between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola?

RE: They are very different. Klopp is much more open, in your face, heart on his sleeve, emotional on the sideline. He’s the driving force at Liverpool. I think he’s the most important member of the Liverpool squad. If Liverpool are going to finish in the top four, Jurgen Klopp is going to have to be outstanding in his coaching.

[ MORE: Joe Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks]

Pep Guardiola has to get a better understanding of the Premier League and what it requires week in and week out and I think it’s coming. It’s not just the big games which you know they are probably up for, but days when they play Burnley and Bournemouth and those places that sometimes they can have a banana skin. He’s a lot more considerate in the way he behaves and acts on the training field. In terms of who’d you have, it’s a difficult one. Pep’s a little bit more on the intellect and intelligence but I like Klopp. If I was a player, I’d have to say Klopp.

Q: Who wins this weekend’s match?

RE: It’s a tough one. For no other reason than form and their record against the top six teams, I just don’t think Liverpool will get beat. I think at worst Liverpool come with a draw. They’re good against the best teams and they’ll have a week of preparation whereas City have played in the Champions League. I just think Liverpool will at least get a draw, if not a win. So, I’ll slightly favor Liverpool, but with no real certainty. City could end up winning three-nil and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.

Montreal to nab Algerian DP Taider from Bologna

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The loss of Swiss power Blerim Dzemaili is a big one for the Montreal Impact, but another World Cup player may be taking his place in Quebec.

[ MLS: Club-by-club SuperDraft needs ]

Tutto Bologna reports that Algerian playmaker Saphir Taider, 25, is set to sign with the Impact on a contract through 2020.

On loan to Montreal last season, Dzemaili went back to Bologna. Taider is coming back the other way and will reportedly be a Designated Player.

Taider isn’t as consistent a player as Dzemaili, but presents a skill set that should be a massive problem for MLS midfields.

He has 42 caps with five goals for Algeria, and was once property of Juventus. He spent parts of four seasons at Inter Milan, with loan stints back to Bologna, at Sassuolo, and a unremarkable time at Southampton.

2018 MLS SuperDraft club-by-club needs

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Six MLS teams have three picks between Friday’s first and second rounds of the SuperDraft, while two teams — Portland and Philadelphia — aren’t scheduled to select anyone at all.

[ MORE: USL granted second tier status ]

Atlanta United
Picks: 14, 36
Needs: They’ve signed a number of defenders this offseason, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them take someone to do the dirty work — at back or center defensive mid.

Chicago Fire
Picks: 15, 38
Needs: A youngster behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the center of the park. Maybe Joao Moutinho from Akron, though he shouldn’t drop this far.

Colorado
Picks: 25, 27
Needs: Attacker — The club has a number of good defenders and new coach Anthony Hudson has brought a few in, too. Forward or attack-minded midfielder seems the player here.

Columbus
Picks: 21, 32, 44
Needs: Attacking talent — Justin Meram wants out, Federico Higuain is quite the veteran, and Ola Kamara may be wanted by La Liga clubs. Trading up may be the call.

DC United
Picks: 3
Needs: FW, CAM — An electric attacker is atop DC’s wish list, and there are a few in this draft, but DC will also like the idea of trading down to scoop a couple picks. Thought of them when I saw this Tweet;

FC Dallas
Picks: 11, 29, 34
Needs: Anywhere — FCD’s academy has been so productive that the club can take massive home run swings and be happy just hitting on one.

Houston Dynamo
Picks: 20, 43
Needs: Defender — There’s an outside shot for a midfielder or goalkeeper here, but with Erick Torres, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis, it’s fair to assume attacker isn’t the desired outcome.

LAFC
Picks: 1, 24
Needs: Everywhere (It’s their first year, after all). Selecting first overall, LA would do well do deal for more picks, though it’s probably hard for Bob Bradley to overlook center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce of Stanford as a center back for a decade.

LA Galaxy
Picks: 2, 40
Needs: CB, ST –An out-and-out big body center forward is a good idea, especially with no guarantees that Gyasi Zardes comes back from the form wilderness.

Minnesota United
Picks: 5, 28, 41
Needs: Center back, full back, defensive mid — The Loons are pretty set at forward and playmaking midfielder, and have Alex Kapp as a young backup to Bobby Shuttleworth between the sticks. Anywhere else is possible.
Would love to land: Joao Moutinho, Akron

Montreal Impact
Picks: 4, 7, 37
Needs: Expect the Impact to take a swing at an attacker with one of their first two picks, and go best available player with the other.

New England Revolution
Picks: 8, 9
Needs: Center midfield — Whether a box-to-box CDM or an heir to Lee Nguyen, New England needs presence in the middle of the park.

Nguyen (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

New York City FC
Picks: 19, 42
Needs: Defender — Finding functional, U.S. born backs is always a good idea. When your parent club keeps finding you legitimate elite attacking prospects, there’s every reason to choose backs.

New York Red Bulls
Picks: 16, 31, 39
Needs: Forward — RBNY has produced Homegrown talent everywhere, but it’d be interesting to see them find someone to develop behind Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Orlando City
Picks: 6
Needs: Anywhere but midfield — With Sacha Kljestan, Josue Coleman, Yoshimar Yotun, and a number of X-factors, it seems more likely Orlando looks to find a defender or forward.

Philadelphia Union
Picks: None
Needs: Assuming they find some picks, defenders and a developmental center forward could be the play.

Portland Timbers
Picks: None
Needs: Could go anywhere given the shift in manager, but a winger seems possible.

Real Salt Lake
Picks: 10, 33
Needs: Center midfield, goalkeeper — An heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman and Nick RImando seems appropriate here.

San Jose Earthquakes
Picks: 12, 30, 35
Needs: Who knows who Mikael Stahre wants, and really the Quakes seem halfway decent all over the park. A young, shifty forward would be the play if available.

Seattle Sounders
Picks: 22, 45
Needs: Forward — Don’t really need anyone, but Clint Dempsey‘s getting a bit older. Jordan Morris isn’t and Will Bruin’s here, too, so any position is possible.

Sporting KC
Picks: 13, 18
Needs: Like TFC and Vancouver below, KC can take the best players available.

Toronto FC
Picks: 23, 46
Needs: Maybe wingback depth or a Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore understudy? Best available player is the call here.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Picks: 17, 26
Needs: Another team that can go best available player, though wide midfielders or backs seem a decent shout.

Man City defensive leader Otamendi signs through 2021-22

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Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi is a part of the long-term, signing a new deal to keep him with the Etihad Stadium through the 2021-22 season.

[ MORE: Fred to Man City? ]

The 29-year-old Argentine center back has authored four goals this season, and has found a groove in Pep Guardiola‘s system.

Otamendi leads the team in aerials won (3), interceptions (1.7), clearances (3.5), and offsides drawn per game (1.1) while also five times being named Man of the Match for City. He leads the team in yellow cards, too, with seven.

Here’s Otamendi, from ManCity.com:

“My only aim is to help the team and give all I can for this Club. I am learning every day under Pep and enjoying my football and I feel I can still improve as a player. I’m a family man who enjoys being at home and I love living in Manchester, you sort of get hooked by it.”