Playback: Blueprint on how to beat Man City

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BLUEPRINT EMERGES TO BEAT MAN CITY

Manchester City will probably still win the Premier League this season, but a blueprint has emerged as to how you can hurt them.

Pep Guardiola‘s men lost 4-3 at Liverpool on Sunday with Jurgen Klopp fighting fire with fire and ending City’s bid to go the entire PL season unbeaten in the process.

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

City lost for the first time this season at the 23rd attempt but teams are, finally, figuring out how you can stop them. Well, at least for large spells of a game. If you’re going to listen to anyone about how to get the better of a Guardiola team, it’s Klopp. No manager has beaten Guardiola more in his managerial career.

Speaking to our analysts on the pitch at Anfield after the game, Klopp said time and again how you have to be “brave” but also “press at the right time” to shut down City’s slick passing game. Liverpool’s gameplan worked perfectly but they still only won 4-3 as City were brave themselves and kept getting on the ball to cause havoc.

[ MORE: “Historic” game to live long in memory

Liverpool started brightly, pressing high and getting at City’s full backs with Sadio Mane pushed high on Kyle Walker and Mohamed Salah on Fabian Delph. City couldn’t get the ball out of their own half and Ederson was forced into poor clearances and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given too much space and rifled home a fine opener.

Is this a crisis for Guardiola and Man City? Nope. When you look at their remaining schedule, the only game you can see them being seriously tested in is their trip to Tottenham in mid-April.

But what is the blueprint for success against the team who’ve looked unbeatable for most of the season?

Here are four fundamentals you have to do well to have a chance of beating Man City:

1. Isolate City’s full backs in one-on-one battles: This is easy to do for Liverpool because of the pace and danger of Mane and Salah but the likes of Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Bristol City have all had success doing this in recent games. If you are brave enough to let your wingers step high on the man with the ball, you can get success. Walker and Delph (or Danilo, who replaced the injured Delph) aren’t as comfortable as City’s other players on the ball and will give it away under intense pressure.

2. High-press, high-press, high-press: The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva can find gaps in the tightest defenses, so why sit back and let City wait for one tiny defensive lapse to punish you? If you press City high, Ederson and their center backs will give you the ball back and you can pounce further up the pitch. Of course, you aren’t going to be able to press for the entire game but if you can split the game into four quarters, you can have a chance as long as you do number three…

3. Take your chances: Easy to say but tough to do. Liverpool could have led City 2-0 in the return game at the Etihad earlier this season but Mohamed Salah missed big chances after another fast start from Klopp’s men. Liverpool had seven shots on target and scored with four of them. They also hit the post through Mane and in a 20 minutes spell from the 55th minute they tore Man City apart. For all the talk about their poor defending, City had conceded the fewest goals in the PL heading into this game.

4. Allow City the first pass centrally, then pounce: Look at Liverpool’s four goals. Man City created their own problems in all four and they were caught out for loose passes from their defense into the central midfield area. That’s the time where you can snap in and win the ball back, then get at their back four while they are on the back foot. As Klopp told our analysts, you have to press at the right time. Liverpool did and City couldn’t handle it.


SUMMER STANDOFFS GO WRONG

Back in the summer transfer window the trio of Alexis Sanchez, Virgil Van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho were embroiled in lengthy and messy transfer sagas.

All three were kept by their clubs (Arsenal, Southampton and Liverpool respectively) but two of the three have already moved in January and the third is edging closer than ever to the exit door.

What did the three clubs achieve but not selling their star players in the summer? Who really “won” this stalemate, if anyone did?

You can argue that Liverpool were the big winners from this. Yes, they lost Coutinho but they also got an eye-watering sum of $197 million from Barcelona for a star player that wasn’t actually making them that much better than they already were with Salah, Mane and Firmino around. Klopp also added van Dijk for $100 million from Southampton and although that price is high, Liverpool improved their shaky defense considerably and still made close to $100 million on the deal. Decent.

For Saints, they lost their leading center back but in truth VVD’s heart wasn’t in it after he handed in a transfer request in the summer amid Liverpool apologizing and calling off their bid to sign him following an alleged illegal approach for the Dutch defender. Yet Southampton’s form has dipped badly since their captain had his head turned and they are just one point above the relegation zone with a cloud hanging over the club. Their stance to try and persuade VVD, a player who signed a six-year deal in the summer of 2016, to stay long-term, has backfired massively.

That segues us nicely to Sanchez and his impending departure from Arsenal.

On transfer deadline day in September Arsenal could have got $75 million from Man City for Sanchez but the deal broke down at the 11th hour as they couldn’t line up Thomas Lemar as a replacement. Since then, Sanchez has played well in fits and starts but his overall output has diminished drastically and his situation was very different to Coutinho and van Dijk’s, who were both on long-term contracts.

With less than six months left on his current deal, Sanchez could now be sold for less than half of what he could have fetched in September and probably a third of his actual market value. Arsene Wenger believed he could convince Sanchez (plus Mesut Ozil) to stay at the Emirates but it appears Arsenal’s gamble has failed dramatically and they’re lucky to get anywhere near $40 million for the Chilean forward if that’s what Man United are said to be paying for him.

In hindsight (a wonderful, wonderful thing) all three players should have probably been sold in the summer but Liverpool appear to be the real winners with Coutinho increasing his value and finally landing their man in van Dijk despite paying slightly over the odds.

As for Arsenal and Southampton, they’ll look back on the decision to not cash in on their stars in the summer as very poor decisions.


VAR CHATTER INCREASES

Fans of Southampton and Swansea City will be the loudest advocates of using the VAR system on Monday.

Over the weekend both clubs should have had big decisions go their way which would’ve helped them on their way to sealing massive victories in their fight against relegation.

Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 90th minute equalizer for Watford against Southampton was perhaps the biggest incident yet to show why VAR is needed in the Premier League. The French midfielder punched the ball past Alex McCarthy and into the net to snatch a point for Watford in the 2-2 draw (after they’d trailed 2-0 at half time) and could end up not only costing Saints dear in their battle against relegation, but manager Mauricio Pellegrino is under severe pressure to save his job with no wins in their last 10 PL games.

As for Swansea, Mo Diame committed a clear handball to stop a shot going in in their 1-1 draw at Newcastle and the hosts should have been down to 10-men and the Swans awarded a penalty kick.

All it would have taken is a quick word in the ear of the referee from a Video Assistant Referee watching the incidents on a TV screen to tell them that Watford’s goal should have been chalked off and Diame should have been sent off and Swansea awarded a penalty kick. That’s it. For this huge decisions which impact the outcome of the game, we need this technology. Purists out there harp on about ruining the flow of the game but there’s no need to have challenge flags for managers or a maximum or minimum number of decisions per game.

Simply put: if a contentious incident occurs in the game regarding a goal, red card or a penalty decision, have someone else check it and see if the decision was correct. If there was an obvious mistake made by the match officials, overturn it. If there is still doubt about it, keep the same decision. It is that easy. It really is.

VAR isn’t in place in the PL but the debate rumbles on after it was used in the FA Cup and League Cup last week with some teething issues but it was largely successfully with the main issue being that fans inside the stadium didn’t know what was happening and why there was a delay.

With the Bundesliga, Major League Soccer and Serie A using the technology this season to clear up contentious calls, it’s tough to see the Premier League not adopting this technology from the 2018-19 campaign onwards.


RELEGATION PICTURE GETTING CRAZY

Just 10 points separates last-place Swansea City with Everton in ninth in the Premier League. There is going to be an almighty scrap against relegation.

Swansea City, West Brom and Stoke City occupy the current bottom three but above them the likes of Southampton, Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle are bang out of form, with even the likes of Watford, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth embroiled in the battle.

So, that’s half the league.

Momentum means everything at this time of the season and both West Ham and Palace have it after impressive wins at the weekend, while Bournemouth will also feel confident after beating Arsenal on Sunday and so to will West Brom after grabbing their first win in 21 outings.

If you had to select three teams to go down, who would you pick? I feel like we will all be changing our minds on a weekly basis from here until May 13.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Henderson puts Liverpool ahead at half, Mane limps off

Sadio Mane injury
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Sadio Mane walked off the Molineux pitch with an injury in the 33rd minute of Liverpool’s visit to Wolves on Thursday.

The Senegalese winger sat on the turf until the ball was played out by Wolves, then stood up and took a couple of steps before sitting down again.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

It certainly didn’t look like anything major, but Mane’s quick and decisive exit certainly won’t ease the concerns of Reds supporters.

Takumi Minamino took his place, making a Premier League debut with Liverpool leading 1-0 on a Jordan Henderson goal.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Henderson rose high to nod a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick towards goal, and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio could get a hand on it to redirect it into the side netting.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Liverpool

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Liverpool has the opportunity to go 16 points ahead of the pack still with a game in hand as they visit Wolverhampton Wanderers at 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has decided to keep Joe Gomez in the starting lineup alongside Virgil Van Dijk at center-back, with Joel Matip on the bench. Matip has not featured since returning from a knee injury. Van Dijk, meanwhile, continues to power along as Liverpool’s rock, making his 23rd start of the season having played every single minute of the Premier League campaign thus far.

Liverpool has Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield alongside captain Jordan Henderson and creative force Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Fabinho sits on the bench.

For Wolves, the hosts make no changes from the wild 3-2 win over Southampton last time out. Portuguese boss Nuno sees Raul Jimenez lead the line yet again, looking to follow up his game-saving brace against the Saints that leveled the scoreline in the 65th minute before giving Wolves the lead for good 10 minutes later. The pair marked the first two goals of the new year for the Mexican, who hadn’t scored since the December 27th win over Manchester City.

Adama Traore also looks to continue his good form, having assisted two of the goals against Southampton and generally terrorizing Premier League clubs since the turn of the calendar year.

Wolves has scored just one goal in its last six league games against Liverpool, all losses. They do, however, have moxie this season, having gained gained 18 points from losing positions this season, seven more than any other club.

NCAA D1 soccer to vote on expanded season

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A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald has revealed that NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer is close to heading towards a full-season schedule, expanding the current fall schedule that sees the College Cup finish up around mid-December.

Tannenwald’s report, which cites Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski who has led the charge for a full calendar season, states that the new proposal would drop the regular season schedule from 25 to 23 total games, but would expand the campaign across the entire school year. The first half would consist of 13 games and end around Thanksgiving, before picking back up in the spring with nine official games. Three exhibitions would be spread around the season, as opposed to the current setup of five meaningless exhibition games all set in the spring offseason.

The main goal of the plan, which is years in the making, is to eliminate midweek games, helping to cut down on missed class time for players. At least, that’s what Cirovski is selling to the NCAA. His true goal is to help players get used to a full professional schedule, knowing that currently, collegiate players tend to hit a wall in their first few professional seasons, holding their careers back.

Tannenwald reports that the eventual vote, which will be held in April, will consist of 64 total submissions. Each Power 5 conference will have four votes each, while the Group of 5 conferences get two votes each and the remaining conferences get one vote each. To pass, the proposal needs a full majority, meaning 33 yes votes are required out of the 64. The report states that the Atlantic 10 confirmed to the Inquirer that they will vote yes to the proposal, while the Ivy League said it will vote no.

“The college coaches on the men’s side are going to be working hand in hand for the next three months to try to get us to the finish line, to do something that is transformational, an evolutionary and positive change, and a game-changer in this country for not only college soccer, but we feel for soccer in general,” Cirovski said.

The report states that Cirovski has solid support from inside the college soccer space, and also in the pro soccer community where there is excitement that the new proposal will help development and transition from college soccer to professional life. It says that while this would only cover the Division 1 men’s schedule for now, it’s likely that the women’s ranks would follow soon after should this initial proposal pass through, and D2 and D3 could also tag along.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea searching for striker

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Chelsea is still determining how long the club will be without talismanic striker Tammy Abraham after an ankle injury saw him limp his way through the final few minutes of the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Chelsea had run out of substitutes so Abraham was forced to stay on, but he was clearly struggling at the end and now the club waits on further testing.

While the Blues were already linked with strikers before Abraham’s ankle trouble, they have now reportedly stepped up the chase for a short-term injury replacement. Widely reported as the club’s first choice, it appears that Edinson Cavani – who handed in a transfer request at PSG, the French club confirmed – will likely move to Atletico Madrid.

That has seen Chelsea look to other options, and according to multiple tabloids across England as well as some fringe reports in France, the Blues have reopened talks with Lyon over the availability of Moussa Dembele. The 23-year-old former Fulham youth product has been prolific this season for the French club, scoring 11 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games plus another four in four domestic cup matches. Still, Lyon reportedly rebuffed a $44 million bid earlier this month which at the time ended the conversation.


Manchester United’s public chase of Sporting CP midfielder Bruno Fernandes has taken yet another twist.

According to a report by Portuguese publication Record, an unnamed agent of Fernandes has a signed agreement with the club for a $5.5 million fee should he arrive with a $55 million transfer bid that the club rejects. This could potentially put pressure on Sporting to sell the 25-year-old whereas the club had been playing hardball on his valuation.

The report does not specify which agent the clause is connected to, which is notable because it could either be Fernandes’s personal agent or superagent Jorge Mendes who reportedly struck a deal with the club to help broker this transfer. Mendes is on record saying that Fernandes will leave Sporting, but they may wait until the summer to pull the trigger.

Even former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had jokes about the drawn out transfer saga regarding Bruno Fernandes. After Tottenham’s win over Norwich on Wednesday, Mourinho jabbed with a reporter, approaching him about his assignment in Portugal covering the transfer rumor. “How was Lisbon?” Mourinho asked in jest. “Lisbon was good? So Bruno Fernandes come to United or no?” Mourinho said. “So you go to Lisbon and he’s not coming? But coming or no?”


According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Newcastle is nearing a loan deal for 23-year-old Inter wide player Valentino Lazaro. The report states that Newcastle has entered a loan bid involving a $1.7 million fee that includes a $26 million option to buy at the end of the season.

Lazaro joined Inter this past summer from German club Hertha Berlin for about $25 million, but has failed to make an impact at his new home, with just six Serie A appearances to date and just three of those starts. He has not collected a goal and has just one assist, resulting in significant time on the bench. With the arrival of Victor Moses and Ashley Young this winter, Inter is hoping to offset the additions to the squad with the sale of Lazaro.

The Austrian international scored three goals and assisted seven others last season with Hertha, earning his move to Inter. As a right-sided player, he would be direct competition for USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin who is currently on the shelf after suffering a hand injury.


Multiple Italian tabloids have picked up on the rumor that Carlo Ancelotti has plugged back into his Napoli roots in the hopes of convincing Brazilian midfielder Allan to join Everton this winter.

According to both Gianluca di Marzio and Tuttomercadoweb, Ancelotti has made contact with Napoli regarding the striker, although he has heavy competition from Inter. The 29-year-old has been with Napoli since joining in 2015 from Udinese, and he has logged significant time this season, making 14 Serie A appearances and five more in Champions League play.

Known as a tough tackler, Allan would take a significant investment by Everton to pry him loose mid-season, given his importance in the Napoli squad and his current contract that runs through the summer of 2023.


Italian publication Tuttosport thought it prudent to report that Manchester United is considering bringing Carlos Tevez back to the Premier League on loan. He’s started one game for Boca Juniors since late August. Yea, that ain’t happening.