Three things learned: Liverpool v. Man City

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LIVERPOOL – It was billed as the best game of the season so far as the two title favorites locked horns at Anfield.

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A 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City ensued in a cagey encounter where both teams kept their unbeaten record intact for this season, while Riyad Mahrez smashed a penalty kick over the bar late on as City almost snatched all three points.

Here’s what we learned from Anfield.


CITY’S DEEP LINE SHOWED LIVERPOOL TOO MUCH RESPECT

Manchester City passed the ball between their goalkeeper Ederson and two center backs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte time and time again in the first half. They deliberately held a deep defensive line to stop any threat from Liverpool’s rapid forwards in-behind them. That frustrated Liverpool no end, but also diminished City’s presence as an attacking unit. It showed plenty of respect for Liverpool and after being beaten three times in their last four outings against Klopp’s side, you could hardly forgive Guardiola’s pragmatic approach.

City didn’t waver too far from their usual possession-based philosophy, but there was enough of a diversion from their norm to suggest that showed supreme caution as to what Liverpool could do to them. City had just 51 percent possession, which is their lowest amount in a PL game since Guardiola took charge. Even when Gabriel Jesus came on in the second half it wasn’t to give Aguero some much needed support. Yet Guardiola’s team controlled large spells of the second half and they ground Liverpool down with Mahrez twice coming close before he wasted a glorious opportunity by smashing a penalty kick high into the Anfield Road end. City will be happy with a point at Anfield given the fact that Guardiola had lost on both of his previous visits to Liverpool. But maybe, just maybe, Man City gave Liverpool too much respect.


PK CALLS GO LIVERPOOL’S WAY IN EDGY ENCOUNTER

Mahrez wasted City’s biggest chance from the penalty spot but City could have easily had three penalty kicks with Virgil Van Dijk handling in the box in the second half (although a foul on him was belatedly given) and Dejan Lovren clumsily bundled over Sergio Aguero in the first half. The breaks went Liverpool’s way in a tight, tense game. Aside from the penalty debates, there were enough late challenges, clever fouls and angry reactions on the sidelines to suggest this rivalry is growing into something special. Yes, this game wasn’t a classic compared to Liverpool’s 4-3 win last season at Anfield, but that is because these two teams are so evenly-matched and have so much respect for one another that they failed to take risks and didn’t divert from their gameplan during the game.

They each swapped a striker for a striker instead of going for it and Guardiola and Klopp will both be happy enough with a point from this encounter before the two-week international break. Liverpool’s unbeaten run at home is now stretched to 25 PL games, while they haven’t lost in their last 14 games against the so-called “top six” which dates back to January 2016. These two next do battle at the Etihad Stadium on Jan. 1 and we can expect a similar encounter with both teams atop the table. They now sit level on 20 points atop the table with Chelsea and those three are your favorites to win the Premier League. The title race is on.


SALAH’S RUST REMAINS

Mohamed Salah just can’t shake off the rust which has encased his 2018-19 season so far. He had a field day against Man City last season, missing several chances in his first-ever game against them and was then involved in five goals (three goals, two assists) in his next three encounters against City. In truth, he didn’t look dangerous all afternoon at Anfield. In the 63rd minute he cut inside on his left foot and like last season, he curled a shot in on goal. Unlike last season the ball didn’t fly into the top corner as he wheeled away in disgust as Ederson easily saved. We’ve seen that frustrated, almost tormented, look on Salah’s face far too often this season. We saw it again six minutes later as Andrew Robertson played a long ball up to Salah but his first touch was a little off and he skied his effort over the bar and into the Kop. That just about sums up Salah’s season so far as he’s scored three goals in 11 games in all competitions. It was always going to be impossible for him to replicate the season he had in 2017-18, yet the reasons for Salah’s are plentiful. Goalkeepers now know where he wants to finish and defenders understand his movements and runs better. Add in his shoulder injury at the end of last season and the fact that he rushed back to play for Egypt at the World Cup, and there could also be a general lack of sharpness rolled in there.

Dele drives Spurs past Norwich City

Tottenham Hotspur match recap and highlights
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A win is a win, even if Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 home defeat of Norwich City was anything but convincing in London.

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Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son scored as Spurs climbed sixth in the table with 34 points.

Teemu Pukki scored for the spot for the Canaries, who remain dead last and six points off the safe spaces.


Three things we learned

1. Spurs can score in 2020: The Premier League had not been kind to Jose Mourinho’s men since a they twice came back in a 2-2 draw with these same Canaries at Carrow Road. In fact, Spurs went 315 Premier League minutes without a goal before Dele got his first half marker on Wednesday. Losses to Saints and Liverpool were joined by a weekend draw at Watford, so this win was vital (Spurs thrice scored over two FA Cup matches versus Middlesbrough).

2. Bounces go the way of Spurs: Norwich can forgive itself for feeling a bit snakebit considering how poor Spurs looked for most of the day. Dele’s shot or cross was deflected high toward the back post, where Heung-min Son was able to nod it over the line from extreme close-up range.

3. Serge Aurier shines: Bad Serge Aurier shows up quite a bit, but the full back had a great day on Wednesday. Aurier had an assist to go with two interceptions and three tackles. He was a menace and stuck into 50-50 battles, earning plaudits on the day.


Erik Lamela was lively early for Spurs, seeing a free kick deflected out for a corner and another chance saved by Tim Krul.

Dele put Spurs ahead when he lunged past Christoph Zimmermann to poke a Serge Aurier cross past Krul. Heung-min Son set up the play with a lay-off to the Ivorian.

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VAR was kind to Todd Cantwell early in the second half, as the sliding midfielder put his studs into Lamela and it was worth only a yellow card.

Spurs youngster Ryan Sessegnon fouled Max Aarons in the 68th to give Norwich a chance from the spot, and a long review did not lead to a reprieve. Pukki beat Lloris low and to the right for 1-1.

But Dele’s cross floated to Son for a back post winner and blushes were spared for Mourinho.

Leicester City smashes West Ham, loses Vardy

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Leicester City snapped a two-match losing run with a 4-1 defeat of West Ham United on Wednesday.

The third-place Foxes move to 48 points, but lost Jamie Vardy and Nampalys Mendy to first half injuries.

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Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira set each other up for goals and Ayoze Perez scored twice late in the win.

Mark Noble scored a penalty of his own for the losing side, whose 23 points are out of the drop zone on goal differential. The Irons have played one fewer match than everyone but Liverpool.


Three things we learned

1. Barnes rides high:  Harvey Barnes is having an uneven season in the Premier League, like many to just turn 22. But the youngster is certainly on an upswing, having scored in a weekend loss at Burnley and collecting a goal and an assist on Wednesday. His six assists lead the Foxes, and may just be the tip of the iceberg.

2. More of the same from West Ham (and that’s not good): David Moyes‘ West Ham looks a lot like Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham, which isn’t a surprise given the latter’s better reputation in recent seasons. It’s a draw and two losses since the 4-0 win over an abject Bournemouth, and the Irons’ match-in-hand on the relegation field is against Liverpool (who they still face twice). Felipe Anderson is set to miss a month and that won’t ease concerns either.

3. Vardy injury, defense a big concern: The league’s leading scorer got his leg stretched out on the pitch and was favoring his gluteal area in the first half, eventually limping off the field. Losing him would ask a lot of Kelechi Iheanacho.

The Foxes also would be wrong to overlook another goal conceded, even if it came by controversial penalty. Leicester has conceded in seven of eight league matches,  and five included multiple goals. It’s not a huge worry in a 4-1, but a trend indeed.

Man of the Match: Barnes.


Jamie Vardy cut into the box early but his first touch betrayed him and couldn’t get full power on a shot to Darren Randolph.

The in-form Barnes got the Foxes in front by turning a Ricardo Pereira dinked pass into the open goal.

An injury to Nampalys Mendy accelerated the return of Wilfred Ndidi to the pitch, the midfielder returning in the 34th minute.

Vardy was then forced off the pitch with an apparent back injury, bringing Kelechi Iheanacho into the fold in the 44th minute.

Barnes then returned the favor to Pereira, who whistled his effort into the goal in the fifth minute of first half stoppage time.

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But hold on.

Noble needed just five second half minutes to pull one back for David Moyes’ men, as Sebastien Haller won a suspect penalty off Ndidi.

Kasper Schmeichel made a fine save on Michail Antonio to keep it 2-1.

Leiceste regained control and looked the only threat to make it 3-1 after that, with Perez converted a penalty after Angelo Ogbonna fouled Kelechi Iheanacho.

The Nigerian forward then set up Perez for his second to salt away the win.

Leicester City’s Vardy limps off pitch versus West Ham

Jamie Vardy injury
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January is not being kind to English forwards.

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy limped off the pitch at King Power Stadium on Wednesday, an apparent upper leg injury the cause.

It was a non-contact injury, as Vardy pulled up lame after clearing the ball.

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Kelechi Iheanacho replaced Vardy, who leads the Premier League Golden Boot race by one goal over Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham was injured in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal, while Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford are all nursing long-term injuries.

That had led many to infer that England manager Gareth Southgate might ask Vardy to reconsider his international retirement, but here we are.

Leicester City is in the thick of a Top Four chase in the hopes of returning to the UEFA Champions League, and losing Vardy would be a monumental blow.

Griezmann’s second half brace saves Barcelona from shock upset in Ibiza

Barcelona survives Copa del Rey scare
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Like a college kid on Spring Break, Barcelona vastly underestimated the power of Ibiza.

One of the biggest clubs in the world had loads of trouble in its Copa del Rey Round of 32 meeting at UD Ibiza on Wednesday.

Barcelona barely got past the third-tier side thanks to two Antoine Griezmann goals and a comeback 2-1 win at the Estadi Municipal de Can Misses.

UD Ibiza playing in a 5,000-seat stadium, took a ninth-minute lead and had more shot attempts as late as the 65th minute. New manager Quique Setien was left to sweat it out.

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Somewhat fitting that a man named Pep got the early goal. Josep Caballe Martin has more yellow cards than goals in Segunda B this season.

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and an injured Luis Suarez were among the players left behind, but this wasn’t a massively depleted Barcelona side. Arturo Vidal and Jordi Alba were brought off the bench.

Frenkie de Jong set up Griezmann for a 72nd minute equalizer, and Griezmann added his second off an Alba feed in the fourth minute of stoppage time.