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

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Leicester City

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Chelsea host Leicester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in their home opener, as U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic is handed the first start of his Premier League career.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Frank Lampard will get a great ovation on his homecoming to Stamford Bridge, while Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes will fancy their chance of causing an upset.

In team news Christian Pulisic starts on his home debut for Chelsea as he replaces Ross Barkley on the left, as Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante replace Tammy Abraham and Matteo Kovacic from the team which started at Man United last Sunday.

Leicester bring in Christian Fuchs at left back with Ben Chilwell out with a minor injury and the Austrian international coming in.


LINEUPS

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Fuchs, Ndidi, Perez, Tielemans, Choudhury, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Justin, Morgan, Albrighton, Ward, Iheanacho, Barnes, Praet.

Sheffield United battle past Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on Sunday, as the Blades’ first home game back in the Premier League ended in victory.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

John Lundstram was the hero at Bramall Lane as his goal just after half time sealed all three points for the Yorkshire club, which was their first PL win since 2007.

Chris Wilder‘s side have now picked up four points from their first two games back in the big time, while Palace have yet to score across their opening two matches.


3 things we learned

1. Bramall Lane can become a fortress: The home fans created a wonderful atmosphere in their first PL home game since 2007, and they dragged their team over the line late on. As hefty challenges flew in and Chris Wilder wound up his players from the sidelines, this will be an intimidating place for teams to play. If the Blades are going to stay up, their home form needs to be very good and it seems like that is going to be the case.

2. Overlapping CBs a joy to watch: Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell marauding down the flanks was a joy to watch, and something we will see a lot from Sheffield United this season. Basham and O’Connell are encouraged to fly down the flanks and join attacks, with the holding midfielders sitting in for them and it certainly gives opponents a very different tactical headache to solve. O’Connell pushed forward down the left wing for United’s opening goal and the overload it created in a dangerous area worked superbly. Pretty soon a lot of other teams will be copying the Blades.

3. Wilfried Zaha not up to speed: In his first start of the season, Zaha spent most of the first half having a row with the home bench and fans. Roy Hodgson was hoping he would be focused after a summer-long saga which saw him state his desire to leave Palace, but moves to Arsenal and Everton both fell through. Zaha’s display on the pitch looked like a player who doesn’t really want to be at Palace. That is very worrying for the Eagles.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham – A dominant force in the air and on the ground, the center back held United’s defensive unit together and he epitomized their gritty display. The Blades’ longest-serving current player stood tall.


After a steady start to the game for both teams, Sheffield United started to cause plenty of problems as David McGoldrick had a shot blocked and Palace managed to scramble clear from a corner as the hosts built up a head of steam in the first half.

Callum Robinson struck an effort over the bar as the Blades dug deep and substitute Luke Freeman (who replaced the injured John Fleck) brought plenty of energy to the midfield battle.

The Blades should have taken the lead just before half time as Lundstram’s perfect cross the back post found McGoldrick but Vicente Guaita saved well.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sheffield United got off to a perfect start in the second half as Jack O’Connell raced down the left flank and Freeman cut inside and sent a ball across goal which Guaita saved but the ball fell to Lundstram who slammed home to send Bramall Lane wild.

That opening goal sprung the game into life as Andros Townsend‘s deflected shot from distance was pushed out by Dean Henderson and even though Palace tried their best to get into the game, Sheffield United’s defense held firm.

Some meaty challenges flew in late on as substitute Ollie McBurnie made a nuisance of himself, as the home fans roared their team to victory.

Report: Alexis Sanchez pushing for Inter Milan loan

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A report from Italy states that Manchester United are in talks with Inter Milan over loaning Alexis Sanchez for the 2019-20 campaign.

Sanchez, 30, has reportedly asked United to send him to Inter for the upcoming season as the Chilean star has failed to settled at Old Trafford over the last 18 months and scored once in 20 Premier League appearances last season.

He has yet to play this season or over the summer after being injured playing for Chile in the Copa America this summer, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been positive about Sanchez whenever he’s spoken about him this summer and said wants to keep him at Man United.

However, per the report from Fabrizio Romano in Italy the former Arsenal star wants to head back to Serie A — where he started his career in Europe with Udinese — and Inter only want to pay $16.6 million to sign him permanently next summer when he will still have two years left on his contract at United.

With the summer transfer window still open in Germany, Spain and Italy until Sept. 2, this move is something to keep an eye on.

This is a big call for United.

Do they really want an unhappy and lackluster Sanchez around, blocking the pathway for the likes of Mason Greenwood to break into the first team?

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard will provide goals and will be helped out by Juan Mata and Greenwood, but if one of Rashford or Martial gets injured, Solskjaer’s attacking options diminish quite rapidly.

Selling Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan already has them down a senior striker and if they have to subsidize Sanchez’s huge wages just to send him out on loan, is it really worth it?

After VAR drama, does new handball law need to change?

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The fallout from Manchester City and Tottenham’s wild 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium continues, as late VAR drama stole the show with Gabriel Jesus‘ strike ruled out deep into second half stoppage time.

[ MORE: VAR drama dominates

Jesus’ goal in stoppage time was ruled out for a handball on Aymeric Laporte after being checked by VAR, as the new laws brought in by IFAB this summer were interpreted correctly. The exact same thing happened as Wolves had a goal chalked out against Leicester during the opening weekend of the season.

But do those new laws need to be tweaked?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The new rules state that if there’s a handball in the box from an attacking player which either a) leads to the ball going into the net or b) leads directly to a goal being scored, then it will be called a handball.

However, the same law states that if a defending player handles in the box then it is down to the referees discretion to decide whether or not it was a deliberate handball.

As you’d expected, Man City midfielder Ilkay Gunodgan has strong feelings on this law change, and our broadcast crew discuss whether or not this law needs to be changed in the video above.

The overall feeling is that the law needs to tweaking to state that handballs in the box by either attacking or defending players are treated the same and called a handball.