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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.

Chivas Guadalajara wins 12th Liga MX title

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A nail-biting finish saw Chivas Guadalajara lift the 2016/17 Liga MX title, beating Apertura champions Tigres to earn the club’s 12th Liga MX title.

The title makes Guadalajara the joint-most successful club in Mexican top flight history, even with Club America on titles.

With the aggregate score at 2-2 coming into the second leg at Chivas Stadium, the home side took the lead on an 18th minute expert finish by former Tigres youth product Alan Pulido. Oswaldo Alanís delivered a brilliant deep, looping ball to the far post, and under one-on-one pressure with a defender, Pulido struck it first-time and buried the ball into the far corner.

The game waited until midway through the second half for the next strike, as the eventual winner would fall to Jose Vazquez. The 29-year-old charged down a bounding ball that Tigres failed to clear, and his effort on net took a sizeable deflection off the midsection of a visiting defender, leaving the ball to trickle in uncontested.

Despite a 4-2 aggregate lead, it was by no means comfortable down the stretch for Chivas. Tigres pulled one back in the 88th minute on a fabulous strike by Ismael Sosa from just outside the top of the box. The visitors pressed for a stunning late equalizer, but it wasn’t to be.

The title is sweet for Chivas, who has endured a decade of struggles since winning its last championship, even coming close to relegation at times. In addition, the starting lineup for the second leg was fully domestic from top to bottom, with all 11 players from Mexico. On that same note, Pulido outdueled expensive Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, putting in on of the most impressive shifts of the match.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Houston Dynamo

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The game in 100 words (or less): The goalkeepers starred as the first Texas derby of the season ended goalless in Frisco, leaving both teams winless for at least three matches. A relatively slow start to the match gave way to an electric pace before halftime, as both goalkeepers made incredible saves, and FC Dallas had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. The second half saw two more fantastic stops, and each team had little else to offer the game.

Three moments that mattered

27′ – A pair of incredible saves, one on each end. In a game that had slogged through the opening half-hour and just seen FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman off injured, the match sprung to life. First, Kellyn Acosta delivered a beautiful free-kick from just off-center to the right. Tyler Deric was there, acrobatically reaching the top-right corner with his fingertips to deny the USMNT youngster. The save was so good, Acosta appeared to be prematurely celebrating a goal before he was forced to pull up after seeing the stop.

Then, immediately down the other end, Alberth Elis charged down a loose ball and ripped a shot on net, but Jesse Gonzalez produced an equally stunning save to keep the game scoreless.

66′ – FC Dallas dominated the opening stages of the second half, but they’d need their goalkeeper again to keep the score level. Alex delivered a dangerous cross from the left flank, and while it went over the head of Cubo Torres, it fell to Mauro Manoutas sliding in at the back post who met it on the slide. Unfortunately for Houston, Gonzalez was in the right place to make an admittedly awkward save.

80′ – In a 0-0 game, with no goals to speak of, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mauro Diaz. The 26-year-old made his return from an Achillies tear, subbing on with 10 minutes remaining for the first time since early August. He received a standing ovation from the FC Dallas home crowd.

Honorable mention – Kellyn Acosta delivered this eye-popping through-ball just before halftime. Feast your eyes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jesse Gonzalez

Goalscorers: None

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.