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Three things Learned: Liverpool-Man City

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Liverpool battered Manchester City 3-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield on Wednesday, as Jurgen Klopp‘s men have one foot in the last four of the European Cup.

An incredible first 30 minutes saw Liverpool score three times as Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane were on target against a stunned Man City side who didn’t muster a single shot on target.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-0 Man City ]

Pep Guardiola‘s City never recovered from Liverpool’s fast start and didn’t muster a single shot on target in the first half as they missed Sergio Aguero and put in a shaky defensive display.

Here’s what we learned from another famous European night for Liverpool at Anfield.


ENGLISH TRIO STIFLE CITY’S MIDFIELD

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and James Milner stifled Manchester City’s star midfield duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne on Wednesday as the English trio pressed high in the first half and didn’t stop running until the final whistle.

It was a bold move for Klopp to tell his players to press high from the start, but he stuck to his philosophy and it paid off handsomely with Milner, the Ox and Henderson setting the tone for a near-perfect display.

Sure, Liverpool sat back and City had plenty of the ball in the second half but the damage was done early on by the home side.

If Liverpool were going to have any chance of beating City, that had to play this way. Their second goal summed up their approach perfectly as James Milner snapped in with a challenge and the onrushing Oxlade-Chamberlain, just as he did in January, rifled home at the Kop.

In the 4-3 league win against City in January, Liverpool played this way but it didn’t work as well. Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum didn’t have the defensive discipline of Milner and Henderson and that allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain the chance to surge forward and create problems.

Man City didn’t get going in the first half and that was because Liverpool’s midfield didn’t let them.

Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner set the tone for a special win as Liverpool are dreaming of the UCL semifinals.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised about this win. After all, Klopp has now beaten Guardiola six times as a manager which is more than any other coach.

Klopp’s heavy metal style destroyed Guardiola’s Man City masterpiece, especially in the midfield area they almost always dominate.


Kyle Walker, CITY FREEZE AS PEP HANDS INITIATIVE TO LIVERPOOL

You can’t complain about the way Guardiola has set up Man City this season. They’re 16 points clear atop the Premier League with just one defeat all season. But Pep got it badly wrong on Wednesday.

And his demeanor on the sidelines suggested that he knew he had got it wrong.

From the off Man City’s manager handed the psychological initiative to Liverpool as he decided to start Ilkay Gundogan on the right of midfield over Raheem Sterling. Not only did City lose Sterling’s pace and attacking intent but it also unsettled Kyle Walker behind him at right back and that had a huge impact on City’s entire defense.

On Liverpool’s first goal Walker tried to cheat as he didn’t get over close enough to get to Salah and then as the loose ball fell to him in the box from Firmino’s shot, he hesitated and allowed Firmino to knick in and tee up Salah to make it 1-0. Walker was also caught out and unable to challenge Mane for Liverpool’s third goal and his shaky display spread to the rest of the City backline as both Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany failed to cope with the movement and pressure from Liverpool’s entire attacking unit.

Pep admitted his mistake in the second half as Sterling came on after 57 minutes for Gundogan but the England winger, who has scored 21 goals this season, struggled to make an impact just days after he played a key part in City ripping Everton apart.

City have given themselves a mountain to climb for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium next Tuesday but given the fact they smacked 10-man Liverpool 5-0 earlier this season, Guardiola will know his team are capable of turning this around.

But his tactical gamble and City’s defense freezing has dug them a heck of a hole to get out of.


LIVERPOOL FEED OFF ANFIELD CAULDRON

It felt like Klopp’s entire project at Liverpool was building towards this night. When he was hired in October 2015, phrases such as “heavy metal football” and “full throttle” hung in the air.

For better and for worse it has been that way ever since and Wednesday felt like the night  Klopp’s philosophy and planning all come together perfectly.

This was a huge statement from Klopp.

Before the game Liverpool’s fans lined the cramped streets around Anfield to welcome their team bus in as it obviously inspired them to a rapid start. Unsavory scenes involving Man City’s team bus having debris thrown at it by Liverpool fans was strongly condemned by the club in a statement as City’s players appeared to be rattled.

Thanks to the fast start and early goals, the atmosphere at Anfield was consistent with so many special European nights on that hallowed turf in the past. It helped their players focus on keeping a clean sheet after their incredible start and not conceding an away goal was hugely important.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 15 European games at home and they will hope one more famous Anfield night is coming up as they dream of winning a sixth European Cup.

If Klopp’s project continues on this trajectory, there will be plenty of special European nights for his team to enjoy in the future.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

[ Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise ]

Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

[ MORE: Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat — what now? ]

This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.