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.

Borussia Dortmund sign Hazard

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Hazard has signed for Borussia Dortmund from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Thorgan Hazard, of course.

He is the second Hazard brother to make a move this summer after Kylian, 23, moved from Chelsea to Cercle Brugge, and with Eden Hazard linked with a move from Chelsea to Real Madrid in the coming weeks, it could be a hat trick of switches for the Hazard family.

As for Thorgan, 26, his fine form out wide for Monchengladbach in 2018-19 has seen Dortmund snap him up for a fee reported to be $38 million, as he looks like being a direct replacement for Christian Pulisic who has officially arrived at Chelsea after the end of the 2018-19 Bundesliga season.

Here’s what Thorgan had to say about his arrival at the Westfalenstadion.

Hazard scored 12 goals in 29 appearances across all competitions and has become a regular in the Belgium national team setup alongside his brother, the captain. In his five seasons at Monchengladbach he’s scored 45 goals in 176 games in all competitions and the former Chelsea loanee has certainly carved out a very good career for himself since he made a permanent move from Chelsea to ‘Gladbach in 2015.

Entering the prime of his career, Dortmund will be a great spot for him to develop further and play a leading role in their push to win the Bundesliga next season and make a deep run in the UEFA Champions League.

Off the back of signing Hoffenheim defender Nico Schulz, Dortmund aren’t messing around this summer as they spent almost $30 million to bring in the German defender.

With most of that Pulisic money already spent, Lucien Favre will be able to kick his team on to the next level next season and push Bayern Munich all the way.

Just how wrong? Revisiting Premier League predictions

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Own it.

That’s how I look at Premier League predictions. When you’re right, be happy about your good fortune. When you’re wrong, raise your hand.

But there’s another level to it: Why was I right or wrong? Did a team let me down, or did I vastly overrate/underrate their potential?

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).

Cardiff City
Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18

How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.

Huddersfield Town
Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20

How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.

Watford
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11

How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.

Bournemouth
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14

How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.

Burnley
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15

How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.

The face Sean Dyche makes before he fist fights an entire village. Terrifying. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Southampton
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16

How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.

Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17

How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.

Wolves
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7

How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.

Newcastle United
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13

How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.

 (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Fulham
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19

How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.

Crystal Palace
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12

How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.

Leicester City
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9

How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.

West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10

How wrong was I? Not really. I thought it would take Manuel Pellegrini some time to put his men together, but I didn’t predict the Irons would get a total of 37 appearances from Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere, Manuel Lanzini, and Carlos Sanchez.

Everton
Predicted finish: 7
Actual finish: 8

How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.

Richarlison (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4

How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.

Arsenal
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5

How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.

Chelsea
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3

How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.

Liverpool
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2

How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).

Manchester United
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6

How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?

Manchester City
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1

How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.

Towsend smash v. Man City win Goal of Season (video)

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Even Vincent Kompany‘s thunderbolt couldn’t stop Andros Townsend from winning the Premier League’s Goal of the Season.

The winner was chosen by a public vote combined with a “panel of experts,” according to Crystal Palace’s web site.

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Townsend walked onto a popped-up headed clearance well outside the 18 and smashed a volley home against Manchester City three days before Christmas.

Palace posted this quote from Townsend, “Everything about the game, the opponent, the strike, it was perfection. I think it was a strike like that needed to beat the champions away from home. I’m thankful it kind of dropped nicely for my left foot, I hit it clean and the rest is history.”

The goals were similar, and Townsend does have a knack for scoring beauties. Perhaps it shows something that beating Man City stands out a bit more to voters and the panel than a defender scoring for the champions. We think Kompany’s was a tiny bit better, but we’ll forgive the voters.

Sky: Chelsea set to appoint Cech as sporting director

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Petr Cech is staying in London.

The longtime Chelsea goalkeeper is set to return to the club as sporting director following Arsenal’s Europa League Final against… well… Chelsea.

Cech, 37, is calling time on his legendary playing career and will not simply be drumming into the sunset.

[ MORE: Man Utd nears $20m signing ]

He’ll return to a club with which he earned 15 trophies including two Champions Leagues. The three-time Best European Goalkeeper also won three trophies with Arsenal.

It would be pretty surprising if Unai Emery selected him over Bernd Leno for the final in Azerbaijan, but Cech is certainly respected worldwide and will be the type of personality to bring some stability to Chelsea.

Will he have to hire a manager, though?