Premier League Preview: Tottenham vs. Manchester City

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  • Manchester City can take first place from Arsenal with a win at White Hart Lane
  • Spurs have yet to lose in Premier League play under Tim Sherwood
  • City on pace of league record 108 goals.

With a league record goal-scoring pace and the division’s best difference (+38), City has long been considered the best team in the Premier League (if we can call two months “long”). That they’ve gained that status while sitting second is a testament to Arsenal’s consistency, though after the leaders’ slip on Tuesday against Southampton, City has its opening. Beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane, and Manuel Pellegrini’s team climbs to the top.

Given what we saw in the team’s first meeting, City should be heavily favorited to make that jump. On Nov. 24 at the Etihad, the Citizens posted a 6-0 pasting on Spurs, the first of two lopsided victories that led to André Villas-Boas’s dismissal. While Tottenham have been a better team under Tim Sherwood, it’s unclear they are six goals better than they were in Manchester.

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Under Sherwood, Spurs have already had to travel to Old Trafford and the Emirates (splitting those games), but with City’s visit to White Hart Lane, the new boss faces his toughest challenge yet. Like the rest of the league, a defense of Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Vlad Chiriches and Danny Rose will be hard pressed to contain the likes of Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Yaya Touré and Edin Dzeko, particularly behind a midfield that’s not playing a typical defensive midfielder. Sherwood’s back-to-basics approach may have served his team well thus far, but against a team of City’s talent, he may need something clever.

Whether he can come up with it will hint at his ability to guide Spurs into Champions League. No, he doesn’t need to win on Wednesday to keep Tottenham’s top four hopes alive, but from a man who has never coached at the top level before, it would be nice for Spurs fans to see something that shows he can get the tough points. Sherwood has a result at Old Trafford, but does he have the tactical savvy to carve out results against Liverpool and Everton? To steal points from Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea?

While results have trended upward since Villas-Boas’s dismissal, Spurs’ performances have been more steady than convincing. On Wednesday, the team gets a chance to show it can do more than keep up with the top four. They get to do some damage.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, about having never won a title in Europe: ““I am not only thinking just to win a title here for myself because I think it is important the club wins a title. But to win the title, you must win more points than the other clubs. I think in the second half every team will drop points, it is important for us to drop fewer.”

Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood, on the importance of a result on Wednesday: “It would provide them with huge belief. To walk away with three points, it would make the players realise that they could go out and compete. It is one thinking it and another going out and doing it. I trust the players can out and do it on the night. The players are well grounded however and won’t get too high or too low depending on the result.”

Prediction

It’s not that I don’t think Spurs can win. I just think it’s reaching to pick them. We know there’s inherent variability in sports, and in a low-scoring game like soccer, it’s easier for that variability to turn a result. But to predict how that variability will present itself? That’s beyond me. City, 2-1.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: