Klopp, Wenger dismiss defensive flaws

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LONDON — On Friday night under the lights in north London with the world watching on, two of the Premier League’s great entertainers lived up to their reputations to deliver an early Christmas present.

It was beautiful. It was ugly. It was exactly what we’ve come to expect from both Arsenal and Liverpool.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The 3-3 draw showcased the good and bad of both teams and underlined why neither will seriously challenge for the Premier League title unless something changes drastically in their soccer DNA.

Speaking to reporters after the game, both Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp saluted their teams attacking instincts but stopped short of slamming their defensive displays even though both clubs have conceded the most goals among the current top seven in the PL table.

“We defended well but you know with their quality going forward they can always score a goal,” Wenger said when asked if he should have ‘parked the bus’ after going 3-2 up. “I hoped that we could score one as well. I think in the second half we were not much in trouble. They  have quality everywhere going forward and it is difficult to say that you can guarantee you don’t concede a goal.”

Saluting the spirit of his team for their comeback, Wenger conceded that the game could have been over at half time and it should have been.

Liverpool’s counter-attacking unit was rampant with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings and popping up to head home the opener. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane should have both scored and Arsenal were hanging on for dear life as their fans ripped into Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and took aim at Wenger.

“It is true that I am frustrated after 3-2 that we couldn’t keep the result but overall what can you say,” Wenger said. “It was a fantastic game with quality going forward on both sides. Us more on quick combination. Them more on fantastic counterattacking pace. That’s why it was always an interesting game.”

For neutrals, sure. But fans of both Arsenal and Liverpool have seen this kind of game far too often for their liking.

Both managers saluted the attacking play of the other and therein lies the problem. The defensive frailties of both Arsenal and Liverpool remained unchecked. Their defensive players aren’t up to scratch and unlike Chelsea last season and Manchester City this season, they’re unwilling to adopt their philosophy and change personnel defensively to solve the issue.

Klopp believes his team need to learn from their five minutes of madness which saw them concede three times just one minute after they went 2-0 up. But how many more times does a collapse of this nature need to happen for the message to sink in?

“On the whole we had more chances. It is not too cool but we had five minutes where we had obvious problems. That’s how it is. We had individual problems. In this case it is not about team defending,” Klopp said. “First goal, that’s why we shouldn’t invite crosses because when the ball is in the box it is at least 50/50, a misjudgment, obviously. Misjudgment the second goal. Third goal, a misjudgment and too deep and offside blah, blah, blah and let them go in the box and make it too easy.

“After these five minutes we reacted much better and deserved, in the end, the point. That is the minimum that we deserved tonight. The result is not what we wanted. The performance for 89 minutes is what we wanted because we played for 94. The five minutes were decisive tonight. Difficult to explain but good to learn from because we need to react differently as individual players in situations like this. We need to be much more angry than sad or disappointed. We gave them and we opened the door for them in those five minutes and they, all respect, they took the chance.”

Liverpool fought back to at least grab a point after their defensive collapse but it is a scene becoming all too familiar this season.

Klopp reacted angrily even when Roberto Firmino made it 3-3, slamming his water bottle into the ground and then apologizing to Arsenal’s fans around him who had been hurling abuse his way. The German coach called it an “aggressive celebration” and you can understand why he’d be incandescent with rage.

During this encounter, Liverpool’s collapse to draw at Sevilla after being 3-0 up in the UEFA Champions League earlier this season sprung to mind, so to did the hammerings at Tottenham and Manchester City this season. So far in 2017-18 they have conceded 12 goals in their three visits to fellow top six contenders.

Still, Klopp believes that Liverpool do not have a problem controlling games from a defensive standpoint and insists that individual mistakes are costing his team dear. Asked about James Milner‘s comments after the game that Liverpool need to learn how to be ‘boring’ in certain situations, Klopp only half agreed.

“He’s 100 percent right. Controlling the game, that’s what he means. But that was not the situation. It was not that we gave the game away,” Klopp said. “It was just that pretty much everybody was in and around the box, the cross comes in the box and we know that, we are professional football players. Everybody saw it. Joe Gomez makes a step in the right direction, shoots the ball to Tottenham and they can play with it. That was not a situation. It was a non situation but because we didn’t react well they had a goal. It was nothing about controlling the game. You can’t avoid all crosses in 95-96 minutes. Second goal, Xhaka shoots a few more times in his life like this and Simon Mignolet saves the balls in 99.99 percent of all situations. Not tonight. So, we have to take that. It is what it is.

“It is not about controlling. Yes, we need to control games but I thought we did control the game but then we opened the door for them. We should have scored. We all know that. We don’t have to talk too much about defense because it was not defense, it was individual. That is possible. Usually not all in one night. We should have scored another four and that is a big compliment for the team. Coming here and playing this kind of football and creating these kind of chances, that is not easy as well. We did it. And that is why everyone in this room thinks that if there would have been a winner tonight, it should have been Liverpool but now we have a point. Okay. That’s it.”

It should have been Liverpool. It could have been Arsenal. It was neither. Given their defensive mistakes, neither side deserved to win.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.

Report: Dest will announce international decision this week

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Ajax defender Sergino Dest is expected to make a decision on his international future this week, according to a report in Holland.

Dest turns 19 on Nov. 3 and has two caps for the United States men’s national team after a sensational career with the program’s youth club.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

But he’s also eligible to represent his birth nation of the Netherlands, and is the starting right back for its most celebrated club.

The back turned down a call-up from Gregg Berhalter last month as a cap in the CONCACAF Nations League would’ve tied him to the USMNT for the rest of his life.

It’s natural to feel that Dest would be inclined to choose the Netherlands, as Ronald Koeman‘s team is firing on all cylinders and Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT has been mostly miserable against significant competition. Berhalter also played Dest at left back in both of his caps versus Mexico and Uruguay, playing Reggie Cannon at Dest’s preferred right back.

But Dest has more history with the USMNT set-up, and the Yanks could still use him at the Olympics this summer (The Netherlands have not qualified for Tokyo). They have a puncher’s chance, but the timing of the announcement seems to lean toward Koeman.

The Dutch can qualify for EURO 2020 with a draw or better against Northern Ireland, meaning Koeman could blood a number of youngsters against minnows Estonia at Ajax’s home Johan Cruyff Arena four days later.

Not to mention the report is coming out of Holland. You’d feel a whole lot better if an American outlet was reporting it, but maybe that’s just negativity following the USMNT’s recent play. The Dutch set-up has a much better history than the USMNT. There’s a lure there, and we can hope that Dest feels tied into the USMNT.