Vincent Kompany

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Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

[ MORE: Klopp left fuming at defending ]

Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

Sneaky good: Early “stars” of the Premier League

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I have a “smell test” for players who leap off the pitch when taking the eyeball test during Premier League play.

If, upon moving to advanced statistics sites for performance reviews, these players are still shining, then there’s a good chance they are as important to their club as it seems at first blush

[ MORE: Stats of Premier League wkend ]

Of course guys like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, and Sergio Aguero are going to pass muster. But what about some guys a bit off the radar?

Are there names the numbers say we should be watching a bit more closely, so it’s not a surprise when guys like Idrissa Gana Gueye or Sam Clucas net surprising transfer fees or international acclaim?

It seems logical, and we’ve to a pair of sites which use different algorithms to rank Premier League players and saw who turned up high in both…

Lukasz Fabianski, Swansea City
WhoScored: 37th
Squawka: 1st

Paul Clement‘s side sits 14th with only two goals scored, which is possible when your backstop doesn’t allow much to beat him. Fabianski was outstanding as Swans held Spurs scoreless this weekend.

Ben Davies, Tottenham Hotspur
WhoScored: 15th
Squawka: 16th

The 24-year-old defender is averaged 3.3 key passes per game, better than everyone in the league not named Mesut Ozil, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. They aren’t defenders.

Maya Yoshida, Southampton
WhoScored: 56th
Squawka: 14th

Playing behind Oriol Romeu — and without Virgil Van Dijk — Yoshida has a goal to go with his six clearances and 3.8 aerials won per game

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Crystal Palace
WhoScored: 22nd
Squawka: 26th

The on-loan Chelsea man was wanted by Rafa Benitez at Newcastle and a number of other locations, and has thrived despite only appearing in three matches and being on a troubled team. He’s averaged 4.7 dribbles a game and has been fouled 4.3 times per match.

Christopher Schindler and Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield Town
WhoScored: 10th (CS), 14th (AM)
Squawka: 24th (CS), 37th (AM)

It’s possible that Town has just been an analytics darling, as Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre also have good marks, but the Terriers have conceded just three times this season in front of Jonas Lossl. These two are a big part of the limited chances faced by the keeper, and Mooy has been holding it down for a continent the last two years.

Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City
WhoScored: 11th
Squawka: 4th

His goal this weekend shows his capacity in the final third, but Otamendi has been a steady part of the defense as Pep Guardiola sorted out mercurial youngster John Stones and dealt with the health of Vincent Kompany.

Jamaal Lascelles, Newcastle United
WhoScored: 35th
Squawka: 49th

His numbers may be tilted by a pair of match-winning goals for high-flying Newcastle, but the big man had to get in the box to get them.

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

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MANCHESTER — One moment helped to swing the game in Manchester City’s favor, but in truth they were too good for Liverpool on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A goal from Sergio Aguero set Man City on their way and then two goals from Gabriel Jesus, after Sadio Mane‘s straight-red, either side of half time sealed the win for City with substitute Leroy Sane adding another two late on to rub salt in the wounds.

With the 5-0 win Pep Guardiola‘s men momentarily moved top of the Premier League table with 10 points from their opening four games, while Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool (who suffered their heaviest defeat since he took charge) remain on seven points after their first defeat of the campaign.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a one-sided encounter at the Etihad Stadium.


MANE’S RED CARD CORRECT

There is only one place to start. Yes, it was a red card.

Sadio Mane was sent off in the 37th minute (see video above) with Liverpool already 1-0 down. Sure, they may have already been trailing and Man City were clicking through the gears, but any hope Liverpool had of getting back in the game was dashed by Mane’s ridiculously rash challenge.

A day after he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for August after scoring in each of the first three games, Mane was the villain.

The margins were close but he had time to pull out of a high challenge with his foot raised.

As the ball was clipped over the top he raced clear but Ederson too raced off his line and got their first. Mane could have pulled out of the challenge or continued with his head. He wasn’t brave enough and paid the price for having his foot shoulder high. Yes, Ederson did bring his head down but not enough to warrant Mane’s foot being that high.

Mane was in on goal but his exuberance got the better of him. It may not have been deliberate but it was clearly reckless. With Ederson stretchered off the pitch in a neck brace the contact was heavy and Mane, when he looks at it again, can have no real complaints with the decision.

After the red card Liverpool collapsed with their fragile defense (which saw Ragnar Klavan come in for Dejan Lovren) caving in as Jesus, Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne ran riot. Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to lick their wounds after suffering a first defeat of the season (and the heaviest since their 6-1 pummeling by Stoke City at the end of the 2014-15 season) but they can be comforted by the fact that they created good chances in the first half which Mohamed Salah should have done better with.

This was a reality check for Liverpool after they blitzed Arsenal before the international break and perhaps points to the madness of Klopp not strengthening his defense, Virgil Van Dijk aside, in the final days of the transfer window.


MAN CITY FLUID, BALANCED IN 3-5-2 LED BY KDB

Man City look so much better in a 3-5-2 formation. With Pep Guardiola spending big on two attacking full backs over the summer in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy (particularly superb with his crosses from the left) this system gives them balance and allows the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to roam free. And that they did.

De Bruyne was particularly superb, grabbing wonderful assists on City’s opening two goals and then launching the attack for the third.

Just over 12 months into the gig Guardiola has finally found his best team with KDB pulling the strings in a central role.

John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi still have their moments in defense, especially without Vincent Kompany around on Saturday to steady the ship, but Ederson, until his injury appears to give City’s defense confidence.

With Aguero and Gabriel Jesus combining menacingly in attack, it will be difficult to understand why Pep, who has been a master tinkerer in his time so far at City, would deviate far from this system and these players. Last season City’s big problem was beating the teams around them in the top six. They has just two wins versus the top six last season in 10 games, with only Arsenal below them in the top six “mini-league” in 2016-17. Just as everyone thought they would (thanks largely to a record summer spending spree) they are figuring things out.

Guardiola’s side have quietly gone 12 games without defeat in the Premier League, dating back to last season, and have also lost just once (at champions Chelsea) in their past 24 PL games. If that’s the kind of form they’ve had while they figure things out, then we are in for a treat now everything appears to be slotting into place.


AGUERO’S CLASS CONSTANT

Kevin de Bruyne didn’t really need to lift his head up as the ball dropped to him in midfield. He already knew where Aguero was heading to.

With his 124th Premier League the Argentine, 29, became the highest-scoring non-European in Premier League history. The way he nonchalantly rolled around Simon Mignolet and slotted home oozed class. You get the sense that Guardiola finally trusts in Aguero after spells of leaving him on the bench, even at the start of this season.

Starting up front with Gabriel Jesus the duo were distant early on, too stretched and too easy to mark. Pep Guardiola then signaled to Jesus to get closer to Aguero, moving past and underneath him. Within 60 seconds City went 1-0 up with Aguero’s goal.

Jesus scored twice, and had one disallowed for offside, while Aguero had another chalked off for a correct offside call. They ran riot.

The way Aguero then raced free in the second half but instead of rounding Mignolet, as he could have easily done, he squared to Jesus to slot home and make it 3-0.

Aguero has been greedy over the years. Which top striker hasn’t? But he is showing Pep, most importantly, that he is now more of well-rounded team player who can still score the goals City need.

Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Jurgen Klopp has never lost to Manchester City as Liverpool manager
  • Sergio Aguero needs 1 goal to become PL’s all-time non-European goalscorer
  • Aguero has scored in all 5 PL matches vs. Liverpool at the Etihad
  • Sadio Mane has scored in four consecutive PL matches

Two Champions League hopefuls square off at the Etihad on Saturday when Liverpool travels to Manchester to take on Pep Guardiola and Man City at 7:30 am E.T. live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Both teams have picked up two wins and a draw through three league games thus far, but both will be without players who have proven key in the past. Philippe Coutinho will miss out, Jurgen Klopp confirmed, as the Liverpool star returns to fitness after missing the first few league games towards the end of the transfer window. Klopp said Coutinho probably could have played off the substitutes bench, but that he preferred to rest him this week and then play the Brazilian in the starting lineup.

[MORE: Premier League stats ]

On the other side, Raheem Sterling is suspended for City after receiving his red card last time out for celebrating a winning goal with fans who had entered the pitch. Defender Vincent Kompany is also injured, as the Belgian continues to struggle with a myriad of injury problems that have plagued the most recent few years of his career.

One man who could feature is new Liverpool signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came to Liverpool on a permanent basis from Arsenal at the deadline, and has yet to play for the Reds.

What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola on playing Liverpool: “Every time I play Jurgen’s teams I learn a lot. Top manager, top club, top players. It will be a nice game tomorrow.”

Jurgen Klopp on his managing style: “I really am a relaxed person – the opposite of how I am during the game. It’s my job to be part of the game. You need to adapt as a player to my coaching style. Usually when a manager shouts as loud as I do, he’s angry – but I’m not angry, I’m just emotional and very loud!”

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Prediction

Both these teams are on attacking highs now, and both have occasionally shaky defenses, so this should be an incredibly entertaining match. Manchester City has the depth, while Liverpool has the form. At the moment, all things seem to cancel out, and the best bet is a high-flying 3-3 draw with plenty of entertainment. Look for goals!

Kompany out injured for Man City; Hazard to return for Chelsea

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Manchester City have been dealt a major blow ahead of their clash against Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live

Pep Guardiola has confirmed that captain Vincent Kompany will not play against Liverpool after the Belgian center back suffered a calf injury during international duty.

“I do not think  will be available tomorrow. I am sad for Kompany. The last seven, eight, nine games last season he played no problem, but we will get him fit as soon as possible,” Guardiola said.

Kompany, 31, had looked to have put his long line of injuries behind him but just three games into the new campaign a familiar problem has developed.

Guardiola confirmed Tosin Adarabioyo and Eliaquim Mangala will be available to slot into the team if needed when questioned about why City didn’t sign a new center back in the transfer window, while John Stones is likely to slot in alongside Nicolas Otamendi against Liverpool.


While there is bad news for one title hopeful in Man City, good news has arrived for Antonio Conte and Chelsea.

The Italian manager confirmed Eden Hazard will return against Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com) after missing the opening month of the season with an ankle injury.

Hazard, 26, injured his ankle while on international duty with Belgium in June and required surgery but Conte confirmed Hazard is available this weekend.

“He is improving a lot and I think now I can count on him. I have to decide the right minutes but he is available,” Conte said.

Despite not playing for Chelsea this season Hazard did appear for Belgium against Gibraltar and Greece over the international break and he is now available for the reigning champs as they head to the King Power Stadium.

This is a huge bonus for Chelsea as their chief attacking talent returns.