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Three things we learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Manchester United fought back from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Jose Mourinho reached yet another major cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will have to cope with yet another season of heartache in cup competitions as their long wait for a trophy goes on. Dele Alli got them off to a perfect start but Alexis Sanchez’s fine header and a cool finish from Ander Herrera means United will play the winner of Chelsea versus Southampton in the other semifinal on Sunday.

Here’s what we learned from an enthralling encounter at Wembley.


ERRATIC POGBA DELIVERS

For the first 25 minutes Paul Pogba was all over the place, was caught out for the long ball down the left on Tottenham’s opener and he had every right to be concerned about getting the hook at half time. Then he turned on the style to drag the Red Devils back into the game.

Pogba’s topsy-turvy season continued after his Man of the Match display at Bournemouth in midweek, which came after Mourinho hooked him off early in the home defeat to West Brom and 10 days after his two goals at Manchester City in the stunning comeback win. Mix in with all of that Pep Guardiola‘s comments that Pogba was offered to Man City in January and more reports earlier this week that he will leave United this summer and the $130 million signing from Juventus in 2016 has had a turbulent few weeks to say the least.

Yet moments like the way he won the ball back from Mousa Dembele (never an easy task) then delivered a pinpoint cross for Sanchez to head home must be exactly why Mourinho is left infuriated by Pogba so often.

Pogba had an effort from distance in each half saved well by Vorm and after the goal it was as if a penny had dropped and he realized he could be the hero, his contribution could lead United one step closer to a piece of silverware this season. That not only meant he flourished in attack but he tracked back and started to do the dirty work.

Consistency is the main thing lacking with Pogba’s game and at the age of 25 and for his price tag, wages and reputation, he should be able to deliver week in, week out. That lack of focus and ability to do the dirty things like track runners and keep his possession is what will end up costing Pogba his United future under Mourinho.

Pogba showed with his surging run and assist at Bournemouth on Wednesday and then his fine cross for Sanchez that he has the ability to decide games on his own.

Now, if he’s given the chance to stay at United beyond this season, he must do it more often. His flashes of brilliance in recent weeks at least mean he has put himself in the shop window. The Mourinho v. Pogba battle will continue but the French midfielder had a positive impact as United reached the FA Cup Final for the second time in the last two seasons.


MOURINHO’S FAITH IN SANCHEZ REWARDED

Most of the talk leading up to this game was about how Alexis Sanchez was likely to be benched by Mourinho.

He wasn’t and, once again at Wembley, he made the difference. Sanchez scored a fine header to equalize which was his sixth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley. He is a man for the big occasion and he delivered once again in the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt that Sanchez has got off to a slow start at United. He has given the ball away more than any of his teammates since he arrived in January and he has scored just two goals in the Premier League and was rested at Bournemouth last time out.

Sanchez still gave the ball away and still did some things which made you raise your eyebrows but he is battling through a tough spell to start life at United.

That was summed up by his role in United’s winner. The Chilean chased down a lost cause from Lukaku’s flick on and put Kieran Trippier under pressure to win the ball, then roll it cross for Herrera to eventually hammer home.

Sanchez rewarded Mourinho for keeping faith in him and there’s no doubt that once he becomes more comfortable at United over the summer then he will be back to his best in 2018/19.


SAME OLD STORY AS SPURS RUN OUT OF STEAM

Tottenham could have easily been 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes but they didn’t make the most of their fast start and they weren’t clinical enough with good chances wasted by Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen.

Spurs have now lost their last eight FA Cup semifinals on the trot (the longest run of semifinal defeats in club history) as their wait for a first trophy now spans over a decade.

Playing basically at home after spending the entire season at Wembley as their temporary home, Spurs’ fast start showed how comfortable they are becoming with the big occasions. Yet that initial hope faltered, just like it did in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg defeat against Juventus last month. You can’t say that Spurs “bottled” this but they lost all of their early momentum as soon as United were level.

Mauricio Pochettino said in the week that winning the FA Cup “wouldn’t change anything” for Spurs and their main focus is to win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. That, of course, would be fantastic, but surely Pochettino can’t be that naive not to realize that winning a piece of silverware and getting that particular curse off of Spurs’ back would help his players…

Yes, Spurs have had a fine season, once again, and barring a late collapse they will finish in the top four for the third-straight campaign. That is their main aim each season. But at some point they have to start delivering on the big stage and no matter what you think of the FA Cup it is still one of the three major trophies dished out at the start of each domestic season in England.

And it is one of the three trophies Spurs haven’t won out of their last 30 attempts, dating back to the League Cup in 2008.

 

Three things we learned: Tottenham v Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Tottenham 3-1 on Saturday to edge closer to the Premier League title.

A dominant display saw Pep Guardiola‘s men bounce back from three-straight defeats in style, with goals from Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling doing the damage, as they will soon be crowned as the Champions of England.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley.


CITY ANSWER CRITICS: BUT CAN THEY BE MORE CLINICAL?

After the week they’ve had, Pep Guardiola’s men showed plenty of guts to dominate the first half and they deserved to lead by more than one goal at half time. Still, they got the job done and now thy could seal the title on Sunday if (a big ‘if’) Man United lose at home to West Brom.

With 87 points on the board and 93 goals scored, City have shredded opponents time and again and their performance under the Saturday night lights summed up their two previous outings. Wonderful first half displays where they could have been home and dry but then they unnecessarily got themselves in trouble.

Raheem Sterling scored once but could have had four on Saturday, and that was the case against Man United last weekend in the shock 3-2 defeat after leading 2-0.

It seems ridiculous to say that City could be more clinical as they’ve scored 130 goals in all competitions this season, but given the sheer amount, and quality, of chances they create each game, the fact they’ve scored just six times in their last four outings is low, very low, for City.

They’ve missed Sergio Aguero big time with the Argentine suffering from a knee injury and out of the squad altogether on Saturday, with the jury still out as to whether Jesus can replace him long-term. The Brazilian shanked an effort badly wide in the second half when clean through and Sterling delayed his shot after rounding Lloris and then having another effort blocked wide. City are an unstoppable attacking  unit and they moved one win closer to the title, but they could’ve easily won by five or six on Saturday.


DE BRUYNE SHOWS POTY CLASS

Kevin De Bruyne may well win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award this season (the votes for that award where collected a while back before Mohamed Salah went on his amazing goalscoring spree) and it will be richly deserved.

Amid Salah’s recent heroics, KDB’s brilliant season has become somewhat of an afterthought but the Belgian midfielder ran the show at Wembley, particularly in the second half, as he danced around tackles and responded well to crunching tackles from Eric Dier and Dele Alli in particular.

De Bruyne doesn’t have any weaknesses and his full repertoire was on show on Saturday with flicks, driving runs, and majestic passes. KDB has been consistently excellent and although he may lose some of the POTY awards to Salah, he’s been at a higher level all season long and delivered once again against one of the big boys.

It is a joy to watch KDB in full flow.


LLORIS BECOMING A LIABILITY

Hugo Lloris has made big mistakes in each of his last three Premier League games. The apocalypse is nigh.

So often a bastion of reliability, Lloris is having perhaps the worst spell of his Tottenham career since he joined in 2012 from Lyon. The Spurs and French national team captain is not playing well but it shouldn’t cost Spurs their top four spot as they still have a seven point cushion over Chelsea with five games to go.

But this really isn’t a new thing. Before this game Hugo Lloris had made 5 defensive errors which led to goals, with only Petr Cech having more (6) in the PL. Yet when you think about it, which goalkeepers in the PL are better than Lloris? David De Gea, Ederson and Thibaut Courtois, and that’s about it. This seems to be nothing more than a small blip in form for the Frenchman but the variety of his mistakes (flapping at a cross to let Morata score for Chelsea, hitting the ball off Diouf against Stoke and then lunging into a tackle to give away a penalty) will be concerning.

Lloris, 31, is entering his prime as a goalkeeper and the quintessential sweeper keeper is always eager to launch himself off his line whenever he can, as he did earlier in the first half to great effect. It is too harsh to call Lloris a liability but with mistakes in each of his last three games you can feel Tottenham’s fans not being as confident as they once were as he let in Sterling in the second half, flapped a bit to let in Sterling for City’s third and was too close to call on some of his passes.

Three things learned: Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — What. A. Game.

Manchester United denied bitter rivals Manchester City winning the Premier League title on Saturday as they overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.

Remember: Man City only needed a win against their bitter rivals to secure the trophy in the fastest-ever time in top-flight history.

Goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan had City 2-0 up inside 30 minutes but United came roaring back in the second half. Paul Pogba scored twice in three minutes at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head, while Chris Smalling scored the winner to stun the home fans inside the Etihad.

City cannot clinch the PL title in their next game at Tottenham and Pep Guardiola‘s men now need two more wins to secure the title, assuming that United keep winning.

Here’s what we learned from a bonkers game in the Manchester Derby.


DESIRE TAKES OVER FOR MAN UNITED

Manchester United were dead and buried and half time. Dead and buried. Trailing 2-0, they should have been at least 4-0 down after letting Raheem Sterling go clean through and then he missed two sitters.

United were dragged back into the game by not only their fine attacking play but also their pride as they cut City’s lead atop the table to 13 points.

It was one of the great turnarounds in Premier League history.

Jose Mourinho’s side have heard all season long just how good City are and now they had the perfect chance to deny City winning the title. It didn’t start well, at all, but United have made a huge statement against a City side which was understrength given their their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday.

United, and Mourinho, played the role of party poopers expertly. This was just their fourth win in their last 14 games against City, as the power continue to shift to City. But it was more than that. It was about pride and delaying the inevitable.

City’s fans were already in full party mode in the 30th minute when they went 2-0 up but they will now have to wait until Apr. 22 at the earliest to seal the title.

Mourinho has now won just five times in 21 meetings with Guardiola but there’s no doubt this will have been the sweetest victory.


PAUL POGBA GIVES TIMELY REMINDER OF HIS TALENTS

On the eve of the Manchester Derby, Guardiola revealed that Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, had offered Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba to Man City in the January transfer window.

Pep had played the mind games and Pogba was in the middle.

Much-maligned in recent months at United for his displays on the pitch and attitude off it amid reports of a relationship breakdown with Mourinho, Pogba inspired United’s fight back with two goals of real quality.

Pogba drove United on from midfield and proved he can flourish in a more attacking midfield role. For all of his critics, Pogba turned up when it mattered most.

In the first half he was part of the problem as he allowed City’s midfielders, particularly David Silva, to run the show. City in full flow aren’t easy to stop but Pogba looked flustered in the first half after a testing time.

Yet Pogba’s complete turnaround after the break summed up United’s incredible revival. It was perhaps sink or swim time for Pogba with regards to his United future. He proved there’s still plenty of fight left in him despite a turbulent week. And maybe, just maybe, Guardiola will give Raiola a call back in the summer…


CITY DO A “CITY”

Sandwiched in-between two UCL quarterfinals against Liverpool (and trailing 3-0 from the first leg at Anfield on Wednesday), this was always going to be a tough game for City.

But there was something so poetically “Man City” about this. Their fans will tell you that doing “a City” is to crumble right at the time you don’t expect them to. To falter when it seems like that could never possibly happen. It happened so many times over their history it became a trait and it reared its ugly head again on Saturday, just when everyone seemed to be getting ready to pop the Champagne bottles.

Guardiola clearly prioritized the second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday with Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Kyle Walker and others not starting.

It all seemed to be going so well but backfired badly as United fought back valiantly and capped off a bad week for City. Before this game they had won 14-straight at home in the league and were unbeaten in their last 27 home games.

United knocked them off their perch in dramatic fashion as City lost back-to-back games for the first time under Guardiola.

City will win the title this season but this shocking defeat showed that there’s still some of the old City in their locker despite all of the money spent and all of the changes over the last decade.

Three things learned: Everton v. Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Everton and Liverpool played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, with Jurgen Klopp‘s much-changed side huffing and puffing against a resolute, if uninspiring, Everton.

Sam Allardyce‘s side now haven’t won any of their last 17 derbies against Liverpool as Yannick Bolasie had a shot saved by Loris Karius superbly and Cenk Tosun went close late on.

Without the injured Mohamed Salah, Liverpool failed to really take the game by the scruff of the neck despite having large spells of possession.

Here’s what we learned from an edgy encounter at Goodison.


AGITATION GROWS AT EVERTON

“You hardly touched the ball!” sung the Liverpool fans towards the Everton supporters midway through the second half.

Of course, they did touch it, many times, but you get what they’re saying. Everton’s fans appear to be fed up with Sam Allardyce’s direct style of play and the odds of him being in charge next season appear to be growing by the day.

This was a perfect audition for what Everton could become under Big Sam but instead he stuck to his principles as his team set up to defend and did just that with an unadventurous plan. Even a few decent chances at the end of the game which fell to Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin couldn’t lift the mood among Everton’s supporters.

Their lack of ambition was summed up when Wayne Rooney and Yannick Bolasie were both taken off in the second half and Idrissa Gueye and Calvert-Lewin came on. Rooney, playing in a central midfield role, was livid with the decision and the decision to take Bolasie off was cheered by the home fans after several slack moments despite his curling shot almost giving the Toffees the lead in the first half.

Allardyce has Everton into the top 10 of the Premier League and away from the relegation zone which was his remit when he took over. But that’s not enough for Everton’s fans who were promised a push for UEFA Champions League under new owner Farhad Moshiri.

As Liverpool fans sung sarcastic songs about Allardyce and his style of play, it seemed clear that most of the home fans inside Goodison feel the same. Tosun had little support the entire game and Everton’s defenders were clearly told to lump the ball forward rather than to build from the back. Everton were set up to defend and not to lose but against a Liverpool side who had clearly prioritized their UCL quarterfinal second leg at Man City on Tuesday with their team selection, this was a chance for Allardyce’s side to make a statement. They didn’t. At all.

Big Sam has defended the job he’s done at Everton since he arrived. In the week he compared their situation to that of West Brom’s who sit bottom of the table but where above Everton in the table when he took over.

Ye it’s not about where Everton are in the table. Their performance in Saturday’s Merseyside Derby against a much-changed Liverpool side  proved that Allardyce’s methods aren’t what the fans want and this relationship isn’t working out despite Everton clear of relegation danger.


SOLANKE READY TO STEP UP

Dominic Solanke‘s fourth start in the Premier League was a big moment for him. With Solanke and Danny Ings starting in place of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, they had huge boots to fill but Solanke was up to the task.

He nodded wide early on and had a snapshot from close range which Jordan Pickford saved superbly, but it was his ability to hold the ball up and link up with Sadio Mane and Ings which impressed.

Despite failing to score in 23 appearances this season in all competitions (19 of them have been as a second half sub, often late in the game) at 20 years of age Solanke is ready to step up and play regularly in the Premier League.

His pace and power caused Everton’s robust defense problems and even if he can’t get ahead of Firmino and Salah at Liverpool, a loan move to another PL club will surely be on the cards for next season. Klopp has been reluctant to loan youngsters out but Solanke has shown considerable progress this season and the next step must be to play regularly in the PL. He can do it. And score goals. No question.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE NOW LIVERPOOL’S FOCUS

With a top four spot all but secure with five games to go, with got a glimpse of Klopp’s mindset for the final weeks of the Premier League season: the UEFA Champions League will be the focus.

Ings, Solanke, Ragnar Klavan and Georgino Wijnaldum all came in to the starting lineup and youngsters Curtis Jones, Conor Masterson and Rafael Camacho were all on the bench.

Klopp’s comments after Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Man City at Anfield on Wednesday suggested he wasn’t happy with an early kick off on Saturday for this game but he was in a position where he could afford to rotate his team with the second leg in Manchester in mind.

Those who came in did well but tired late on and with the Premier League title gone, Liverpool’s focus is now on at least making the final four of the Champions League rather than finishing second in the PL.

Three things Learned: Liverpool-Man City

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Liverpool battered Manchester City 3-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield on Wednesday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men have one foot in the last four of the European Cup.

An incredible first 30 minutes saw Liverpool score three times as Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane were on target against a stunned Man City side who didn’t muster a single shot on target.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-0 Man City ]

Pep Guardiola‘s City never recovered from Liverpool’s fast start and didn’t muster a single shot on target in the first half as they missed Sergio Aguero and put in a shaky defensive display.

Here’s what we learned from another famous European night for Liverpool at Anfield.


ENGLISH TRIO STIFLE CITY’S MIDFIELD

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and James Milner stifled Manchester City’s star midfield duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne on Wednesday as the English trio pressed high in the first half and didn’t stop running until the final whistle.

It was a bold move for Klopp to tell his players to press high from the start, but he stuck to his philosophy and it paid off handsomely with Milner, the Ox and Henderson setting the tone for a near-perfect display.

Sure, Liverpool sat back and City had plenty of the ball in the second half but the damage was done early on by the home side.

If Liverpool were going to have any chance of beating City, that had to play this way. Their second goal summed up their approach perfectly as James Milner snapped in with a challenge and the onrushing Oxlade-Chamberlain, just as he did in January, rifled home at the Kop.

In the 4-3 league win against City in January, Liverpool played this way but it didn’t work as well. Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum didn’t have the defensive discipline of Milner and Henderson and that allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain the chance to surge forward and create problems.

Man City didn’t get going in the first half and that was because Liverpool’s midfield didn’t let them.

Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner set the tone for a special win as Liverpool are dreaming of the UCL semifinals.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised about this win. After all, Klopp has now beaten Guardiola six times as a manager which is more than any other coach.

Klopp’s heavy metal style destroyed Guardiola’s Man City masterpiece, especially in the midfield area they almost always dominate.


Kyle Walker, CITY FREEZE AS PEP HANDS INITIATIVE TO LIVERPOOL

You can’t complain about the way Guardiola has set up Man City this season. They’re 16 points clear atop the Premier League with just one defeat all season. But Pep got it badly wrong on Wednesday.

And his demeanor on the sidelines suggested that he knew he had got it wrong.

From the off Man City’s manager handed the psychological initiative to Liverpool as he decided to start Ilkay Gundogan on the right of midfield over Raheem Sterling. Not only did City lose Sterling’s pace and attacking intent but it also unsettled Kyle Walker behind him at right back and that had a huge impact on City’s entire defense.

On Liverpool’s first goal Walker tried to cheat as he didn’t get over close enough to get to Salah and then as the loose ball fell to him in the box from Firmino’s shot, he hesitated and allowed Firmino to knick in and tee up Salah to make it 1-0. Walker was also caught out and unable to challenge Mane for Liverpool’s third goal and his shaky display spread to the rest of the City backline as both Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany failed to cope with the movement and pressure from Liverpool’s entire attacking unit.

Pep admitted his mistake in the second half as Sterling came on after 57 minutes for Gundogan but the England winger, who has scored 21 goals this season, struggled to make an impact just days after he played a key part in City ripping Everton apart.

City have given themselves a mountain to climb for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium next Tuesday but given the fact they smacked 10-man Liverpool 5-0 earlier this season, Guardiola will know his team are capable of turning this around.

But his tactical gamble and City’s defense freezing has dug them a heck of a hole to get out of.


LIVERPOOL FEED OFF ANFIELD CAULDRON

It felt like Klopp’s entire project at Liverpool was building towards this night. When he was hired in October 2015, phrases such as “heavy metal football” and “full throttle” hung in the air.

For better and for worse it has been that way ever since and Wednesday felt like the night  Klopp’s philosophy and planning all come together perfectly.

This was a huge statement from Klopp.

Before the game Liverpool’s fans lined the cramped streets around Anfield to welcome their team bus in as it obviously inspired them to a rapid start. Unsavory scenes involving Man City’s team bus having debris thrown at it by Liverpool fans was strongly condemned by the club in a statement as City’s players appeared to be rattled.

Thanks to the fast start and early goals, the atmosphere at Anfield was consistent with so many special European nights on that hallowed turf in the past. It helped their players focus on keeping a clean sheet after their incredible start and not conceding an away goal was hugely important.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 15 European games at home and they will hope one more famous Anfield night is coming up as they dream of winning a sixth European Cup.

If Klopp’s project continues on this trajectory, there will be plenty of special European nights for his team to enjoy in the future.