Quick Six: Liverpool thwarts Manchester City, Hillsborough remembered, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

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1. Kompany error moves Liverpool one step closer to history

Maybe it was the occasion that left Manchester City stalled in the blocks, but until the teams returned after halftime, Liverpool were the decidedly better side at Anfield. It was only after the wakeup happened that it felt almost inevitable, with the Citizens pulling back Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel’s goals by the 63rd minute. With David Silva picking up the slack from Yaya Touré’s departure, the Citizens looked set to embrace their talent’s promise.

It’s a subtle irony that one of the team’s most talented players, captain Vincent Kompany, undid that promise, but for well over a year now, the Belgian rearguard, whose authoritative steps into midfield leave him capable of dominating, has been an accident waiting to happen. In the 78th minute on Saturday, that accident came via a shanked clearance and some Philippe Coutinho opportunism, sending City to a 3-2 loss.

(MORE, Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City: Reds seal dramatic win to stay top)

It’s tempting to see Sunday’s match through that lens — the one forged by Kompany’s error — but that shortchanges Liverpool. The Reds put themselves in position to capitalize on the mistake, and while City’s reaction continues to feed the feeling that they are the more talented, more capable side, talent and capability came up short. Instead, it was Liverpool’s early poise and late execution that pushed its own talent seven points clear of City.

On a 10-match winning streak, the Reds are closing in on their first title in 24 years, a relevance not even Liverpool fans could have predicted eight months ago.

2. Title picture: A little clearer, but still unresolved

The anticipation we felt ahead of Sunday’s showdown usually gives way to clarity, but although Liverpool  have a more firm grasp on the title, the race is far from over, a status that serves as an anticlimax to Sunday’s dramatic result. Thanks in part of Chico Flores’s early red card at the Liberty Stadium, Chelsea was able to stay within two points of the top, a 1-0 win at Swansea City giving the Blues their 23rd win of the season.

(MORE, Swansea City 0-1 Chelsea: Ba breaks through vs 10-man Swans)

The results help bring April 27 into focus, with Chelsea’s visit to Anfield giving us our second Match of the Season this month. With a win, only games against Norwich City and Cardiff City will stand between the Blues and another title, provided they also defeat Sunderland on Saturday. Yet with that Liverpool showdown wedged between Champions League semifinal matches, timing works against Chelsea. Over the course of nine days, José Mourinho’s regulars will be forced to push through any end-of-season fatigue and challenge for both titles.

It’s a schedule that also puts stress on the Sunderland and Norwich matches, where Chelsea will have to rotate players in preparation for its more important games. While that makes it more likely the Blues will slip between now and season’s end, the team’s mid-week performance against Paris Saint-Germain serves as a warning. José Mourinho’s team can’t be counted out.

3. England COMMEMORATES 25th anniversary of Hillsborough

Between previous anniversaries, continuing controversies, and the increased talk of bringing standing areas back into English League soccer, the tragedy that befell 96 people in Sheffield hasn’t been far from our thoughts. Yet there was still an indelible poignance about how the league celebrated the disaster’s 25th anniversary, something that went beyond the moment of silence and the seven-minute delay to each match’s kickoff.

It was the unanimity. It was the solemnity. It was the reflection of a soccer generation that’s been brought up in the memory of Hillsborough, one that’s seen England’s football culture remake itself in the wake of the loss.

It was the accord amongst supporters around the country who acknowledged the families’ unimaginable loss. It was the lesson, that no one should have to hear why a loved one will never come home from a match.

Of course, the most poignant of the remembrances at Anfield, from the chilling moment of silence to the unforgettable rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. The video, above, captures the weekend’s spirit, one that saw a soccer nation come together to acknowledge the 96 it lost.

4. Win at Sunderland sees Everton claim fourth place

It was easy to forget, in the wake of last week’s win over Arsenal, that Everton had yet to actually claim fourth place, but with the Gunners creating more drama for themselves in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal, the Toffees were finally able to take hold of the Premier League’s last Champions League spot. With Wes Brown’s 75th minute own goal in Sunderland, Roberto Martínez’s team moved two points ahead of Arsenal, making up the game in hand that made last week’s result so important.

(MORE: Fabianski the hero, as Arsenal beat Wigan on penalties to reach FA Cup final)

(MORE, Sunderland 0-1 Everton: Are the Black Cats sunk? (video))

With a match against Manchester City still on the schedule, Everton’s two-point lead isn’t exactly safe, but it also may be too much to expect an Arsenal team that’s winless in four (in league) to win out. The Gunners’ run-in is easy, but they also have two matches on the road, where the team has a negative goal-difference this season. This isn’t a Premier League titan cleaning up against the league’s weaker sides. It’s a team lacking drive and identity being asked to summon a drive it lacks.

In theory, Everton can still draw a match and control its own destiny, provided Arsenal doesn’t make up the six-goal deficit it has in goal difference. More practically, the Toffees may have a little more breathing room. As Saturday’s match against Wigan shows, Arsenal is capable of playing down to its competition.

source: AP5. Are these the last days of Arsène Wenger?

Arsenal eventually came back to eliminate Wigan, but the game was far closer than most expected. The Latics went up through Jordi Gomez and eventually took the Gunners to penalty kicks, where two Lukasz Fabianski saves got Arsène Wenger’s side into the final. Against a team Arsenal’s talent should have easily managed, the Gunners produced another inexplicable result.

It’s starting to become easier to imagine Wenger moving on: even if Arsenal does finish fourth; even if the Gunners do win the FA Cup. While he is one of the most important people in the club’s history, he’s also somebody who, at this point in his career, seems incapable of getting his squad up for big games, be they against the Chelseas and Manchester Citys of the world or the Wigans and Birmingham Citys. Even when he comes close (against Bayern in Champions League), Arsenal’s left with little more than moral victories. When we see Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals, we’re reminded: Wenger’s rivals wouldn’t settle for so little.

With Arsenal outside the top our, struggling with a paved road to the FA Cup, it’s easier to convince Stan Kroenke the Gunners need to move on. The unsigned contract extension, the one Ivan Gazidis said was a done deal, may yet disappear. Whether it’s through Wenger leaving or the club making the call, an Arsène-less Arsenal becomes easier to imagine with each passing result.

6. Relegation battle: Progress for Fulham, Cardiff City

Whereas last week’s win left Fulham treading water, there was no mistaking the progress in this weekend’s result. Faced with a must-win against visiting Norwich City, Felix Magath’s team delivered, its 1-0 victory pulling it within two points of the 17th place Canaries. A horrible goal difference means the Cottagers need three points to reach safety, but having won three of five, those results are no longer mere hopes. Where we’ve been waiting for months for a relegation battler to go on a run, Fulham has finally delivered.

(MORE, Fulham 1-0 Norwich City: Great escape is on for the Cottagers (video))

After Cardiff’s Saturday upset at Southampton, though, the Bluebirds aren’t far behind, their 29 points leaving them four points from safety. And with teams like Aston Villa and Swansea City (both losers this weekend) volunteering to join the relegation battle, the league’s bottom three have more targets than just Norwich and West Brom. Instead of needing one of two teams to stumble, Fulham and Cardiff have four candidates to potentially take their places.

(MORE, Southampton 0-1 Cardiff City: Cala’s the man as Bluebirds bag huge win)

With Fulham involved, the term “Great Escape” is being thrown around, but there’s nothing remarkable about it. Under Magath, the Cottagers now look like a decent team. The same can’t be said for Norwich, Swansea, or Aston Villa, right now.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

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We’re a full month into the 2018-19 Premier League season, which means we can begin — yes, only just now — to make more definitive statements about where everyone is headed for the season.

Not much change at the top of the power rankings this week, but plenty of movement in the middle and bottom thirds…

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

20. Burnley — Bottom of the table after four straight losses, Sean Dyche worked an unthinkable miracle last season but he might not survive another month of results like the one just completed.
Last week: 16
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

19. Cardiff City — Nailed-on favorites to be relegated before the season started, the Bluebirds haven’t shown anything to suggest they’ve got a trick up their sleeves. Their stay in the PL will, however, be lucrative, if brief.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20

18. Huddersfield Town — Teams wishing to avoid relegation must beat other sides in the relegation battle — Cardiff, for example. The Terriers couldn’t do it a couple weeks ago, followed by five more points dropped against Everton and Crystal Palace.
Last week: 18
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

17. Newcastle United — Three straight losses is better than four, but not by much. The Magpies get something of a free pass for facing Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal in consecutive games. The fact they lost each game by one goal (all 2-1)? Encouraging.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 18

16. West Ham United — The four teams below them in these rankings — and the real-life table — have been so bad that all the Hammers needed was one win to move from last place (with zero points) to outside the relegation zone.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Fulham — Lost 3-0 to Man City this weekend. They’re supposed to lose 3-0 to Man City.
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 17

14. Southampton — Only six goals conceded in five games is a top-six defensive record that could keep Saints up on its own. Only six goals scored, however, is firmly in the bottom half — dull and painful to watch, at best; a half-dozen defensive mistakes from relegation, at worst.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. Leicester City — Hammered by Bournemouth at the weekend, the Foxes undid any goodwill they might have accumulated in a narrow defeat to Liverpool pre-international break. Plus side: games against the Reds and Man United out of the way.
Last week: 10
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back draws, against Fulham and Southampton, in games Chris Hughton would have targeted as winnable fixtures.
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

11. Crystal Palace — Snapped a three-game losing skid by beating Huddersfield, now the Eagles need to avoid being the lesser side against which Newcastle breaks out of its early-season slumber.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 13

10. Everton — Sure, half the team was out due to injuries or suspension, but losing 3-1 to the last remaining team without a point remains an unavoidably bad look.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 11

9. Wolves — After spending wildly in the summer, Wolves took just two points from their first two games in the PL. Back-to-back wins, against West Ham and Burnley, have shown they’re perhaps a cut above the relegation battle.
Last week: 8
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

8. Spurs — Back-to-back defeats, against Watford and Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is outside the top-four (and -five) just like that. Harry Kane isn’t scoring (just two goals this season — zero in the defeats), and no one else has stepped up to fill the void.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

7. Manchester United — Wins over Burnley and Watford are nice, but let us know when they’re ready to handle a giant like Brighton.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Bournemouth — Pop quiz: Who’s the fifth-place side in the PL table right now, ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal? ‘Tis the Cherries.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 12

5. Watford — No longer perfect, no longer unbeaten. The hard work begins now, with a winnable trip to Fulham. The fall from fourth — where the Hornets currently reside — could be quick.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — The only non-top-two team with three straight wins. The problem is, of course, the season-opening losses to Man City and Chelsea have them sitting seventh nonetheless.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 9

3. Chelsea — Pop quiz no. 2: Who’s the current PL leaders? ‘Tis the Blues, so why aren’t they no. 1 (or 2) on this list? Does Arsenal count as a signature win in their second week under a new manager? Probably not, so we are in a holding pattern until they take on Liverpool in 10 days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 4

2. Man City — It still feels blasphemous to not have them no. 1, but Pep Guardiola knows it’s not necessary to blow the doors off everyone in August and September in order to win the title; that it’s more important to pace yourself for the whole of 10 months, if you want to win the Champions League.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — Speaking of signature wins, going away to Spurs and completely controlling and dominating the game was a surefire signal of intent from Jurgen Klopp‘s men. What they did against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily count for these rankings, but it shows they’ve got staying power.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Juve’s Douglas Costa banned 4 games for spitting

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus winger Douglas Costa has been banned for four Serie A matches after a spitting incident on Sunday.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

The Brazil international was sent off near the end of Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sassuolo after he spat at midfielder Federico Di Francesco. Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

The Italian soccer federation announced his ban Tuesday, with the winger set to miss matches against Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Costa has already apologized for the incident on social media — via Google Translate:

“I would like to apologize to all of Juventus fans for this misleading reaction in today’s game. I also apologize to my teammates, who are always with me in good times and bad. I was ugly, I am aware and I apologize to everyone for it. I make it clear that this isolated attitude does not match what I have always shown in my career.”

Zlatan gets Thor treatment for game day giveaway (video)

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There’s something about Zlatan Ibrahimovic saying, “This is the new Greek god. This is Zlatan,” that leads you to believe it’s not the first time he’s had this thought.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

Ibrahimovic is the subject of a classic Costacos Brothers poster to be given away at the LA Galaxy’s Sept. 29 match against Vancouver.

If you’re not familiar with the Costacos Brothers, well, your bedroom growing up really missed out.

From “Kelly’s Heroes” to “Czechmate,” the Costacos were trusted with plenty of creative license in a bygone era.

Bygone for everyone besides Zlatan. Bit jealous we can’t get our hands on one.

Pulisic “a bit lucky” on 20th birthday match-winning goal

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BRUGES, Belgium (AP) Christian Pulisic celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring on his return from injury to give Borussia Dortmund a late 1-0 win at Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday.

“It was great to come back after injury to and to be back with the team,” said Pulisic, who also made his 100th appearance for the club.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The American, who hadn’t played since Aug. 26 due to muscular problems, came on with around 20 minutes remaining and scored in the 85th when Matej Mitrovic’s attempted clearance rebounded off his shin and looped in over Brugge goalkeeper Karlo Letica.

“It was a bit lucky but I’ll take it on my birthday,” said Pulisic, who had missed two Bundesliga games for Dortmund and the U.S. friendlies against Brazil and Mexico.

“I just saw the ball getting played through. I think the defender tried clearing it but I was in the right spot at the right time,” Pulisic said. “I think we deserved the goal at the time.”

Pulisic, who also netted against Benfica in March last year, is only the third American to score multiple Champions League goals after Fabian Johnson – who had two for Borussia Moenchengladbach – and DaMarcus Beasley, who scored six in stints at PSV Eindhoven and Rangers.

“I’m just going to enjoy the rest of the night with the team,” Pulisic said of his birthday celebrations.

Mario Goetze made a rare start for Dortmund but was unable to provide much of a spark against the spirited hosts. Leticia saved his effort in the first half. It was Dortmund’s only shot on target apart from Pulisic’s goal.

“It was a lucky win, a dirty win,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said.

The win means Dortmund has already bettered its Champions League campaign from last season, when it earned just two points in six group games.

Brugge was back in the Champions League group stage after a one-year absence and created the better chances.

In the other Group A game, Atletico Madrid beat Monaco 2-1.

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