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.

Report: Newcastle in takeover talks with UAE billionaire

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Reports out of Northeast England say Newcastle United supporters who want owner Mike Ashley out at all costs have new hope.

United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is said to be in talks with Ashley about a takeover of the St. James’ Park-based club, though there’s a lot of work to do for a deal to be complete.

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One report goes as far as to say Ashley has agreed to accept $444 million for the Premier League club.

Sheikh Khaled, 61, was educated at American colleges Boston University and Michigan State. He’s the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was turned down with a $2.5 billion bid for Liverpool last season.

From The Chronicle:

NUFC have confirmed some talks with Sheikh Khaled. But say there is still “some way” to go on a deal. Newcastle United refusing to make any further comment at this time.

Takeover talks are nothing new at Newcastle, and there does seem to be some heat to these reports, but Ashley and his crew have spun these stories of interest in the past. And with Magpies supporters waiting for news on Rafa Benitez‘s new deal, some will be way of a smoke screen for an inability to reach an agreement with the celebrated Newcastle manager.

Wondolowski scores 149th, 150th goals; Earthquakes win

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TORONTO (AP) Chris Wondolowski scored his 149th and 150th MLS goals in the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night.

The MLS career goals leader scored both from close range.

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Wondolowski got a yard’s separation from Drew Moor and deftly redirected in Cristian Espinoza’s cross in the 37th minute to tie it at 1. The go-ahead goal in the 81st minute was a virtual replay, with Espinoza finding Wondolowski in space.

The San Jose striker has six goals in two games. He scored all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Chicago last weekend to surpass Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 goals and up his career total to 148.

Richie Laryea opened the scoring for Toronto (5-6-2) in the 28th minute

San Jose (5-6-2) won for the first time in six road games this season.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

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The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”