‘Historic’ game as Liverpool stun Man City

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LIVERPOOL — We were treated to one of the truly great Premier League games on Sunday.

The roar from the Kop grew louder and louder in a stunning nine-minute spell in the second half as Liverpool ripped apart Manchester City and handed Pep Guardiola‘s men their first defeat of the season in the Premier League.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 4-3 Man City | 3 things ] 

Games, and atmospheres, like the one we witnessed at Anfield on Sunday are what the Premier League is all about. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, true soccer purists, were expected to tell their teams to go all-out attack and that’s exactly what they did, even if the defending was shambolic at times.

Like a great defensive duel in Serie A and a titanic tussle in La Liga, the end-to-end, pulsating nature of this game summed up what should be adored about the Premier League. This was not a defensive stalemate between top four rivals scared of losing. Both teams played their part in a mouth-watering, absorbing seven-goal thriller and both wanted to win. It was all wonderfully refreshing and lived up to the drama of recent end-to-end encounters in the PL between Chelsea and Arsenal and Arsenal and Liverpool over the festive period.

All-out attack is now becoming the go-to mode for these heavyweight encounters.

With a tight game locked at 1-1 heading into the final 30 minutes, first Roberto Firmino chipped home to put Liverpool 2-1 up. Two minutes later Sadio Mane lashed home to make it 3-1. Then Mohamed Salah scored from 40-yards out to put Liverpool out of sight. Or so they thought…

Manchester City came roaring back late on — well, more so Liverpool forgot how to defend — scoring with six minutes to go and then in the first minute of stoppage time to make it 4-3 and all of a sudden the jubilant Anfield turned into a palace of nerves. The agony and ecstasy of the Premier League was bundled up into 90 minutes of pure, exhilarating action.

Speaking after the game, Klopp hailed the play from both teams and believes this is a game we will be talking about two decades from now as his side extended their unbeaten run to 18 games in all competitions and moved up to third in the PL table.

“You can watch it as a manager or as a football fan and I prefer to do that – wow! What a game!” Klopp told the BBC. “Two teams, full throttle. This was a historical game you will talk about in 20 years because it looks like City will not lose another one this year. People watched this game all over the world and this is why – take your heart, throw it on the pitch and play like this, both teams.”

All of the talk before this game was about two blockbuster attacks going all out for the win. It’s tough to deliver that when the expectations were so high, but both teams did and their philosophy and identity is now firmly embedded.

Despite the disappointment of losing their unbeaten run of 30 Premier League games and seeing their hopes of an unbeaten season fall, Pep Guardiola saluted Liverpool as his side showcased their defensive deficiencies and succumbed to the cauldron of noise created at Anfield.

“My first words is congratulations to Liverpool for the victory. It was a good game,” Guardiola said. “They start well. We lose a lot of balls, the wide players so aggressive without the ball. After that we start to play much better. We have good chances and especially in the second half we start good. We play good until the goal from Firmino and after that we lost a bit our control for many reasons. You have to try and be stable. We lose that a little bit but we are still fighting and we found two goals so it is our first defeat. You need to live those situations to realize what we have done. Football is unpredictable. You lose today against a fantastic team. You have to be sure to win the next one and fight til the end to win the Premier League.”

Guardiola’s men hadn’t lost all season but they’ve shown signs of cracking against the likes of Crystal Palace and second-tier Bristol City in recent weeks as teams brave enough to attack them came close to ending their run.

Liverpool were brave enough, and good enough, to prevail. They tried to go toe-to-toe with City in September at the Etihad but they lost 5-0 after Sadio Mane was sent off in the first half and Guardiola’s men ruthlessly punished them. Liverpool fought fire with fire again and it was the only way they were going to win.

“You have actually non alternatives to beat City,” Klopp said. “Yes, you can win the lottery and they tackle each other and you can stand deep in your own box and hope in the end that nothing happens but that’s actually not really likely. We are Liverpool. We should not try this way. Then you don’t have a lot of alternatives. You need to be brave. You need to play football. I’m really happy about that.

“Pressing in the second half, around the goals, was on a different planet. Just outstanding. Playing football first half, against a really good organized team. If you talk about City, you always talk about how good they are out playing wise but they are brilliantly organized. Against an organized team like that, playing football in the spaces we played, with the situations we created, chances and good moments, there is no alternative to play against them. That’s why we tried it again.”

Man City will still be at least 12 points clear atop the Premier League table at the end of Week 23, and they are still the overwhelming favorites to win the Premier League title.

Liverpool may well be the best of the rest as they sit level on 47 points with second-place Manchester United who are above them only on goal difference. Despite selling Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool for $197 million, this performance showed that Klopp doesn’t need to replace him right away as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dazzled with his opening goal and a superb all-around display.

With Virgil Van Dijk (out injured for Sunday’s game) set to shore up Liverpool’s defense, the Reds will only improve and their attack showed it can rip apart any defense in the Premier League.

Liverpool have won more points, and games, against the so-called “top six” since Klopp arrived in October 2015 and their devastating attacking display on Sunday created an incredible atmosphere at Anfield, which rivaled some of the great occasions of the past.

Klopp summed up how we all felt as his team were rewarded for their bravery.

“It was just a joy to watch,” Klopp said. “It is just a nice a commercial for Premier League football. The whole world was watching and if is somebody didn’t like football up until now then probably they will say ‘ah, that’s why you watch it all the time.’ So, I’m really happy about it.”

So was the rest of the watching world.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”