Three things we learned from Man City v. Liverpool

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Manchester City and Liverpool played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp saw their teams go all-out in their pursuit of securing a top four finish in the Premier League.

[ RECAP: City, Liverpool draw

James Milner‘s penalty kick was canceled out by Sergio Aguero’s equalizer as both teams created numerous chances but somewhat canceled one another out.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Here’s what we learned from an intense, gripping battle in the rain in Manchester.


PK CALLS SHAPED THE GAME

Referee Michael Oliver will need a lie down after this game.

There were three big penalty calls which shaped the outcome of this match and Oliver got all three wrong. First, Georginio Wijnaldum went down under a challenge from Yaya Toure in the box and no penalty kick was given when it seemed like it should’ve been. Then at the other end a huge moment arrived as David Silva‘s cross found Raheem Sterling at the back post but James Milner slid in and made no contact with the ball. Again, Oliver should’ve awarded a penalty kick but he didn’t.

Then, at the start of the second when Oliver should’ve waved away a penalty kick call he awarded it. Gael Clichy slipped and then launched into a challenge on Roberto Firmino. Yes, it was a clumsy tackle but Clichy got the ball first. Milner stepped up to score the PK and put Liverpool ahead and perhaps Oliver got out of jail because City equalized and both managers will be fairly happy with the point.

That said, the way Guardiola was talking to Oliver and the other officials at the final whistle, it seemed like he was the unhappy manager. He had every right to react that way.


CLASSIC ENCOUNTER, STICKING TO PHILOSOPHIES

In the first half Pep Guardiola had a huge smile on his face as he embraced Jurgen Klopp on the sidelines. Respect.

Two of the greatest managers in the world right now have both found it tough going at times this season but there’s one thing we know about them both: they will die by their philosophies.

For better or worse they are stubborn and want their teams to play open, attacking soccer as they often neglect defense. That approach resulted in a humdinger of a game which ebbed and flowed back and forth as chances came and went and moments of brilliance in the final third were not finished off.

Two moments of magic encapsulated why Guardiola and Klopp must stick to what they know best.

First, Adam Lallana spurned a great chance as he launched a lung-bursting counter. He played the ball to Firmino, who passed to Wijnaldum who then lobbed the ball over City’s defense to Firmino and his clever flick with the outside of his boot had Lallana clean through six yards out. Lallana then missed the ball completely.

At the other end moments later Aguero and Sane combined with a wonderful backheel from the latter and then the loose ball fell to Kevin De Bruyne who hit the post.

It may not be perfect right now, especially in defense, but the longer Guardiola and Klopp stay with their respective teams the better they will get and the more pieces of the jigsaw they can put in place. In this day and age everyone wants to win now but both of these managers deserve extra time to get these projects fine-tuned and add the players they need

Finishing in the top four of the Premier League will allow them both to do that as the dangling carrot of the UEFA Champions League next season will help recruit world-class players. Maybe defenders will be a little scared to play for either of these teams though…


TOP-HEAVY CITY

Yaya Toure was overrun in midfield and it was a plan which didn’t work out for City.

Guardiola played Fernandinho at right back and left Toure in midfield on his own to try and shut down Lallana, Wijnaldum and Emre Can on his own. With Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva just in front of him, those two aren’t known for their defensive abilities and as Ilkay Gundogan told Rebecca Lowe at half time in the NBC studio, Guardiola prefers KDB in a deeper role due to his ability to keep the ball.

When Fernando came on and De Bruyne was shifted out wide, City looked more balanced and able to cope with Liverpool’s attack.

We are in March and Guardiola still hasn’t got the balance of his team right. City have so many great attacking talents but they are still top-heavy.

Much has been made about the defensive mistakes from the likes of John Stones and Claudio Bravo this season but City need to get better protection for their defense, especially against the better teams who can hurt them.

For more on Man City v. Liverpool listen to the latest 2 Robbies podcast.

Russia banned from 2020 Olympics, 2022 World Cup

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Russia has been banned from competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted unanimously to ban the nation from international sport for four years for doping offenses.

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Individual Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral banner at this summer’s Olympics. The men’s national soccer team will also still be allowed to compete at the 2020 European Championship, where they will be one of the 12 host nations this summer.

The punishment was agreed by WADA’s executive committee at a special meeting at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. It is the most severe sanction yet against the country after accusations of systemic doping and deleting laboratory evidence.

[ MORE: Man arrested in connection to racist abuse at the Manchester derby ]

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said, “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.

“As a result, the WADA executive committee has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.