Three things learned: Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — What. A. Game.

Manchester United denied bitter rivals Manchester City winning the Premier League title on Saturday as they overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.

Remember: Man City only needed a win against their bitter rivals to secure the trophy in the fastest-ever time in top-flight history.

Goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan had City 2-0 up inside 30 minutes but United came roaring back in the second half. Paul Pogba scored twice in three minutes at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head, while Chris Smalling scored the winner to stun the home fans inside the Etihad.

City cannot clinch the PL title in their next game at Tottenham and Pep Guardiola‘s men now need two more wins to secure the title, assuming that United keep winning.

Here’s what we learned from a bonkers game in the Manchester Derby.


DESIRE TAKES OVER FOR MAN UNITED

Manchester United were dead and buried and half time. Dead and buried. Trailing 2-0, they should have been at least 4-0 down after letting Raheem Sterling go clean through and then he missed two sitters.

United were dragged back into the game by not only their fine attacking play but also their pride as they cut City’s lead atop the table to 13 points.

It was one of the great turnarounds in Premier League history.

Jose Mourinho’s side have heard all season long just how good City are and now they had the perfect chance to deny City winning the title. It didn’t start well, at all, but United have made a huge statement against a City side which was understrength given their their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday.

United, and Mourinho, played the role of party poopers expertly. This was just their fourth win in their last 14 games against City, as the power continue to shift to City. But it was more than that. It was about pride and delaying the inevitable.

City’s fans were already in full party mode in the 30th minute when they went 2-0 up but they will now have to wait until Apr. 22 at the earliest to seal the title.

Mourinho has now won just five times in 21 meetings with Guardiola but there’s no doubt this will have been the sweetest victory.


PAUL POGBA GIVES TIMELY REMINDER OF HIS TALENTS

On the eve of the Manchester Derby, Guardiola revealed that Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, had offered Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba to Man City in the January transfer window.

Pep had played the mind games and Pogba was in the middle.

Much-maligned in recent months at United for his displays on the pitch and attitude off it amid reports of a relationship breakdown with Mourinho, Pogba inspired United’s fight back with two goals of real quality.

Pogba drove United on from midfield and proved he can flourish in a more attacking midfield role. For all of his critics, Pogba turned up when it mattered most.

In the first half he was part of the problem as he allowed City’s midfielders, particularly David Silva, to run the show. City in full flow aren’t easy to stop but Pogba looked flustered in the first half after a testing time.

Yet Pogba’s complete turnaround after the break summed up United’s incredible revival. It was perhaps sink or swim time for Pogba with regards to his United future. He proved there’s still plenty of fight left in him despite a turbulent week. And maybe, just maybe, Guardiola will give Raiola a call back in the summer…


CITY DO A “CITY”

Sandwiched in-between two UCL quarterfinals against Liverpool (and trailing 3-0 from the first leg at Anfield on Wednesday), this was always going to be a tough game for City.

But there was something so poetically “Man City” about this. Their fans will tell you that doing “a City” is to crumble right at the time you don’t expect them to. To falter when it seems like that could never possibly happen. It happened so many times over their history it became a trait and it reared its ugly head again on Saturday, just when everyone seemed to be getting ready to pop the Champagne bottles.

Guardiola clearly prioritized the second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday with Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Kyle Walker and others not starting.

It all seemed to be going so well but backfired badly as United fought back valiantly and capped off a bad week for City. Before this game they had won 14-straight at home in the league and were unbeaten in their last 27 home games.

United knocked them off their perch in dramatic fashion as City lost back-to-back games for the first time under Guardiola.

City will win the title this season but this shocking defeat showed that there’s still some of the old City in their locker despite all of the money spent and all of the changes over the last decade.

It’s official: Goalkeeper Alisson completes record transfer to Liverpool

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Liverpool fans finally have a highly-touted goalkeeper to mind the net as they look to continue the upward trajectory under Jurgen Klopp.

After much speculation, courtship, and negotiation, AS Roma accepted a world-record transfer fee of $87 million, the highest ever paid for a goalkeeper. It beats the record held for nearly 17 years by Gianluigi Buffon for his 2001 transfer from Parma to Juventus.

Alisson’s Liverpool medical was completed on Thursday, and the deal was complete. First, Roma gave Alisson an official send-off on social media, confirming the Brazilian had left the club.

Then came the official confirmation from Liverpool about a half-hour later.

“In terms of my life and my career, it’s a huge step for me being part of this club and this family,” Alisson said in the official club release. “You can be certain that I’ll give my all.”

Alisson comes highly rated from his time in the Italian top flight. Originally a youth product of Brazilian Serie A club Internacional, Alisson moved to Roma in the summer of 2016 after three professional seasons in his home country. Statistically, Alisson was the best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, with not only the best save percentage in the league (77%) but also the best distribution rate.

At the 2018 World Cup this summer, Alisson started for Brazil and played every minute of their World Cup journey in Russia. While he wasn’t terribly impressive, he didn’t have too many chances to put on a starring performance, but again his distribution out of the back was stellar. Alisson was the only player at the World Cup to play the entirety of his team’s first two matches and not misplace a single pass, reaching all the way to Brazil’s third group stage match against Serbia before failing to complete a pass. He went 31 straight pass attempts over those two-plus matches without a miss.

The 25-year-old will now likely slot straight into the Liverpool starting lineup, and the club will need to figure out what to do with its other goalkeepers Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet, and Danny Ward. Mignolet began last season as the starter before conceding the gloves to Karius who infamously committed a pair of egregious errors in the Champions League final.

Toronto FC suspends all supporter groups after Ottawa stadium fire

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The Ottawa police were called and the match halted after flares thrown from the Toronto FC supporter section set fire to the stadium and pitch during a Canadian Cup match between Toronto FC and Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night.

Videos caught the Toronto FC supporters holding and throwing flares around the 72nd minute of the match, but things backfired when their flags accidentally caught fire, followed by parts of the bleachers next to them. One video posted to Twitter (shown below) shows the fans scrambling to put out the blazing flags and the fires in the stands where they are sitting.

Toronto FC announced Thursday afternoon that the club was temporarily suspending all supporter group privileges while they conduct an investigation to root out who is responsible.

“The safety of our fans, employees, and supporters is the highest priority for TFC,” said Toronto FC club president Bill Manning in a statement. “The events which took place in Ottawa last night involving TFC supporters were unacceptable and needlessly put the safety of others at risk.”

Due to the seriousness of this incident, we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely as we conduct a thorough review TFC’s recognized supporter program. We are cooperating fully with the Ottawa Police Department as they investigate this incident and work to identify those responsible.”

Another video posted from a lower angle shows a player attempting to stamp out a small fire on the field of play when a loud bang comes from the Toronto FC supporter section behind him.

Ottawa Fury released a statement of their own after the match, seemingly downplaying the incident after the flares were smuggled in past security checkpoints.

“Upon seeing smoke and fire, which appeared to be more serious than they were, fans in other parts of the stadium notified Ottawa Police and Ottawa Fire that an incident had occurred and emergency services quickly responded,” the Ottawa Fury statement said. “Upon arrival they confirmed the incident had been resolved and returned to their respective stations.”

“All members of the visiting supporters group had been subjected to bag checks and security scans prior to entering the stadium and no fireworks or other devices were detected. TFC has apologized for the behavior of the members of the supporters group responsible for igniting the fireworks. Ottawa Police have launched an investigation into the incident.”

Canadian media is reporting that the ownership group of the stadium will be fined for allowing the flares to enter the stadium undetected. The match was temporarily halted while the incident was sorted, and the fans were reportedly ejected from the match. The game ended in a 1-0 road victory for Toronto, with the second leg of the semifinal to come.

Scottish club Hearts fields ineligible player in Cup match

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Scottish club Hearts of Midlothian has issued a statement saying they are “embarrassed” after fielding an ineligible player in a League Cup match against 5th-tier semi-pro team Cove Rangers on Wednesday.

18-year-old Hearts youth product Andrew Irving entered in the 65th minute as a substitute for Olly Lee, but was ineligible due to what the club is calling an “administrative error.” Irving, according to the Hearts statement, signed a contract extension back in January but the paperwork was never correctly submitted to the league, hence leaving Irving as unregistered.

“It is with much embarrassment that we have to advise that during last night’s Betfred Cup group stage match away to Cove Rangers, Hearts inadvertently fielded an ineligible player,” Hearts Chief Executive Ann Budge said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“While stringent processes are already in place to try to prevent something of this nature occurring, clearly mistakes can happen.  An additional step in our internal procedures will be implemented immediately to try to ensure this cannot happen again. The club would like to apologize to its supporters, to Cove Rangers Football Club and to the footballing authorities for this inadvertent breach of the rules.”

Since the Scottish League Cup – currently known as the Betfred Cup – has utilized a group stage format the last few years, it is possible that the club will be docked points instead of ejected from the tournament. Previously, clubs such as Brechin, Dunfermline, and East Stirling were all disqualified in the past for similar offenses, according to Mark Donaldson of ESPN. The league will hold a hearing on Monday to determine the appropriate sanctions.

Hearts won the match 2-1 on a 57th minute goal by former Cardiff City, Plymouth, and Rangers striker Steve MacLean.

This is the second incident of this nature of late, as Major League Soccer club LAFC is under investigation for potentially fielding an illegal seven international players in a US Open Cup match against Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As a result, US Soccer postponed the draw for the semifinals until the investigation is complete.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

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FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.