Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley on Monday, as Pep Guardiola‘s men went back to the top of the Premier League thanks to Riyad Mahrez‘s early goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In truth, it was an edgy game played on a pitch ravaged by Sunday’s NFL encounter at Wembley with both teams guilty of misplaced passes at vital moments and letting one another off the hook after mistakes.

Here’s what we learned from a cagey encounter at Wembley.


DISJOINTED SPURS PROVE POCHETTINO’S POINT

Spurs’ tally of 21 points was their highest from the opening nine games of a PL season, so you’d think Mauricio Pochettino would be a happy man. He’s not at all. Ahead of the game against City he was asked about Tottenham’s first few months of the season as they’re in-touch of the PL leaders but have yet to win any of their opening three UEFA Champions League games.

“The season so far?” Pochettino said. “It’s strange because my feeling is the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here. It’s the worst. But it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?”

Pochettino’s main gripe has been the sloppy nature of his team. They’ve ground out wins without impressing and due to several factors including injuries to stars such as Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen, plus a World Cup hangover for many of his players, Spurs just haven’t got going. Monday was a perfect example of that. They found gaps in-behind City on numerous occasions but Harry Kane‘s touch was off, Erik Lamela skied a great chance, the final pass was poor or concentration at the key moment was missing. That sums up Tottenham’s season so far and perhaps proves how far they’ve come as Pochettino is annoyed with sitting in fifth spot despite being far from their best.


MAN CITY’S TITLE DEFENSE BUILT ON DEFENSE

With their shutout win at Tottenham, Man City equalled a club league record of six-straight clean sheets as their defensive unit continues to be resolute. The last time City conceded a goal was to Newcastle on Sept. 1 when DeAndre Yedlin burst free to slot home. That was almost two months ago. They are now unbeaten in their last 16 Premier League games (since a 3-2 home capitulation against Manchester United) and have conceded just six goals in that timeframe. Defensive solidity has been their key area of improvement this season, as City have conceded just three times in their first 10 PL games and only one team in history (Chelsea in 2004-05) has let in fewer at this stage of a season. They conceded the fewest goals in the PL last season with 27 but it seems like they will easily beat that record this season with 28 games to go.

Some of the individual defending wasn’t perfect on Monday, with Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker guilty of poor touches and being caught upfield as Spurs countered. But John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho put themselves in the correct positions in front of Ederson to safeguard City’s shutout once again. After their 0-0 draw at Liverpool earlier this month, City showed they can play in a more defensive framework away from home against one of their fellow top six sides and get a result. Just as they have away at Arsenal, Liverpool and now Spurs, scoring three times and conceding none. It is more of a mindset for City at this point, as it looked like their defenders truly believed they wouldn’t concede, even though Spurs were guilty of some gilt-edged misses. We usually associate Guardiola’s style with pressing to win the ball back high up the pitch and City still do that, but away from home they’ve been dropping deeper and now have the ability to bend but not break, then spring forward and terrorize their opponents.

We all know about their attacking talents but City’s defensive solidity could be how they get close to reaching the 100-point mark again this season.


STERLING ADDING POISE TO PACE

Raheem Sterling may be one of the most divisive players in the Premier League, if not world soccer.

But this stat sums up his importance to Man City: since the start of last season only Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah have been involved in more goals than Sterling’s 22 goals and 14 assists.

Still just 23 years old, only four players in PL history have made more appearances than the 200 Sterling has now racked up. The main criticism of him is that he lacks the nous and patience in the final third to unlock opposition defenses, while his struggles in front of goal for England have been well documented.

Yet on Monday he showcased once again why he’s in the form of his life. He raced free time and time again in the first half, pulling Spurs’ defense all over the place. The way he calmly cut inside and set up Mahrez’s for City’s goal proved the poise he’s added to his game under Guardiola. The goals and assists are coming for City (even if his effort from close range in the second half was blocked) and the goals flowed for England in their marquee win at Spain a few weeks ago.

With reports of contract talks stalling between Sterling and City, it is clear to see why he’s now one of the hottest properties in the game.

U-20 WC roundup: Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ TRANSFER RUMORS: Man United after Portuguese duo; Spurs want Lo Celso ]

France 2-0 Saudi Arabia

While France enjoyed nearly 70 percent of possession, thanks to playing 78 minutes with a man advantage, they were anything but dominant and overwhelming in their 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.

Les Bleus‘ opener came just before halftime, when Youssouf Fofana (Strasbourg) volleyed home from the edge of the penalty area. Saudi Arabia went dangerously close to equalizing just seconds later, but Illan Meslier (Lorient) made a stellar save to his left to deny Turki Al-Ammar.

The 1-0 scoreline remained all the way until the 75th minute, when finally Amine Gouiri (Lyon) hit a shot off the hands of the goalkeeper and watched as it bounced over the goal line for a 2-0 lead and to complete the scoring.

France will take on Panama in their next Group E game on Tuesday.

Argentina 5-2 South Africa

Ezequiel Barco might have made himself — and Atlanta United — a few million dollars on Saturday, thanks to an otherworldly golazo in Argentina’s 5-2 victory over South Africa.

The 20-year-old hit the following volley from just inside the penalty area to make it 3-1. All you can do is sit back, watch in awe and count up all the extra dollars Atlanta United are now set to make when Barco inevitably moves to Europe, following in the footsteps of Miguel Almiron and his $30-million move to Newcastle United in January.

Fausto Vera (Argentinos Juniors) opened the in just the 4th minute, followed by Barco’s first of the game — from the penalty spot — in the 63rd. The golazo came eight minutes later, followed by late tallies from Julian Alvarez (River Plate) and Adolfo Gaich (San Lorenzo) in the 78th and 90th minutes, respectively.

Next up, Argentina will face Portugal in a battle for Group F supremacy on Tuesday.

Portugal 1-0 South Korea

Much like France, Portugal were made to work mightily hard for their tournament-opening victory over South Korea.

Trincao (Braga) scored the game’s only goal in the 7th minute, when he timed his run perfectly to get on the end of Jota’s (Benfica) through ball. The counter-attack was lightning quick, and Trincao’s finish cool and precise. Portugal had the ball in the back of the net again in the 19th minute, but a look at video review revealed that Rafael Leao (Lille) was offside during the build-up before he picked out Trincao with his cross.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Panama 1-1 Mali 0 [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Mexico v. Japan — 9:30 a.m. ET
Ecuador v. Italy — 12 p.m. ET
Senegal v. Colombia — 12 p.m. ET
Poland v. Tahiti — 2:30 p.m. ET

De Rossi pens emotional farewell to Roma fans before final match

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After 18 years with the club, Daniele de Rossi is playing in his final AS Roma match on Sunday before his contract expires.

Ahead of the game, the 35-year-old midfielder wrote a detailed thank you to fans, team employees, and teammates before his sendoff. “Please, let me say thank you to everyone at Roma that I came to know,” he said before beginning his list of appreciation.

First, Rossi credited his playing mentor Damiano Tommasi, who was at the club from 1996-2006 and made 262 appearances for Roma. The midfielder suffered a knee injury in 2004 which saw Rossi break into the team full-time after making his professional debut in 2002. “[to] Damiano, without whom I would certainly have made fewer appearances for this club,” de Rossi wrote.

He also thanks former captain Francesco Totti by saying, “Thank you to Francesco. The captain’s armband I wore was inherited from the arm of a brother, a great captain and the most incredible footballer I have ever seen wear this shirt. Not everyone gets to play alongside their idol for 16 years. Now, with respect, I will pass this armband on to Alessandro [Florenzi]. Another brother, one that I know is equally worthy of the honor.”

De Rossi mentions Davide Astori, the Fiorentina player who passed away tragically in March of last year, saying, “Thank you Davide, I know you will be alongside me for the rest of my life too.” He also thanks Roma academy director Bruno Conti, saying, “[to] Bruno, who saw something special in me and brought me into this club’s fantastic academy.”

Finally, he thanks the Roma supporters, saying, “Thank you to every Roma fan, my fans. Today, at least, I’ll allow myself to call you ‘my fans’ – because I was one of you, out there on the pitch, and the love you have always shown me helped me to keep on doing that. You are all the reason why I chose this city, this life, time and time again. Sunday will be the 616th time I make that choice, the right choice.”

The emotion poured out in the final paragraph of his letter, referencing a tough time in Roma history where the club finished outside the top four for the third straight season and lost in the Coppa Italia final to Lazio. “A few years ago, May 26 became a day where we all thought we would never be able to smile again. I thought that too, at least until I saw a tattoo one fan had inked that read, ’27 May 2013, and yet the wind continues to blow’. I don’t know the owner of that particular tattoo, but I do know that the wind will still blow again on this May 27. I have never felt your affection like I have done in these last few days, it has truly overwhelmed me and touched me to my core.”

“Never have I seen you all united for a cause like you have been for this. But now, the greatest gift you can possibly give me is to leave that pain and anger to one side, and start again in full support of the only thing we all care about, the one thing that comes before everyone and everything – Roma.”

What a legend this man is. Roma sure knows how to produce a type of player not seen much around the rest of the world.

Celtic win Scottish Cup to secure unprecedented domestic treble-treble

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Celtic came from behind to top Hearts 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final, completing an unprecedented “treble-treble.” They are the first team in Scottish top flight history to win each of the league title, Scottish Cup, and League Cup in three straight seasons.

After a scoreless first half, Ryan Edwards put Hearts in front in the 52nd minute, pouncing on a messy backheel from Sean Clare and scoring the first goal Celtic had conceded all competition.

That jumpstarted the Glasgow giants, with an Odsonne Edouard double leading the way. His first came from the spot in the 62nd minute, just sneaking his penalty past Zdenek Zlamal for the equalizer before he won it with eight minutes to go. The moment came off a powerful Mikael Lustig header from near the halfway line that sprung Edouard free on goal, and the 21-year-old buried the one-on-one.

The victory gave Celtic its third major domestic trophy of the campaign for the third consecutive season, marking the historic achievement. Earlier in the season they had secured the league title by an eight-point margin and beaten Aberdeen 1-0 in the League Cup final, all despite losing manager Brendan Rodgers midway through the year to Leicester City, with Neil Lennon taking over and leading the finish.

Celtic has now won the Scottish Cup a record 39 times, with 50 league titles and 18 League Cups to go along with it.

Derby sued by Middlesbrough over alleged financial transgressions

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Middlesbrough has opened legal proceedings against playoff finalists Derby County over what they allege to be a breach in the Football League’s financial rules.

Boro owner Steve Gibson is taking action over what he believes to be Derby County’s intentional circumvention of financial sustainability regulations by posting an $18.6 million profit last season despite Derby owner Mel Morris selling the club’s ground Pride Park and then leasing it back.

Derby, however, has maintained its innocence, with the club even providing a written offer to all other clubs to review their books, an offer which Derby alleges Middlesbrough declined to take advantage of. “Middlesbrough were offered by us in writing to come with their advisors to go through our submissions for profitability and sustainability, [but] they declined.”

Gibson also attempted to force Derby to submit their financials to an independent inquiry, but all other Championship clubs voted it down. The Middlesbrough owner went after Aston Villa in late April, with Tony Pulis confirming the owner is “not happy” over “rules being broken.” Gibson attempted the same maneuver, hoping to force Villa to submit to an independent financial inquiry, but the other Championship clubs also turned that motion down.

Reports of Morris’s financial troubles with the club came to a head around that time in March when a report suggested Morris wanted out of the club, looking for a buyer after suffering losses of nearly $3.8 million per month as Derby owner. At that point Derby sat seventh in the Championship table and fell to ninth by the end of the month. Now, having recovered to earn a playoff position at the death, they now sit in the playoff final, set to play Aston Villa on Sunday for a spot in the Premier League.