Man City admit title race wide-open after Chelsea defeat

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LONDON — Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have admitted that the Premier League title race has been blow wide-open after their defeat at Chelsea on Saturday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Speaking after the 2-0 defeat, their first of the season, Guardiola lauded the “incredible” display of his team and although he admitted that he would love to have had Benjamin Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero fit, he believes his team played extremely well and stuck to their gameplan throughout.

They did, but Chelsea found a way to beat them through N'Golo Kante finishing off a counter in the first half and David Luiz flicking home a header late on. Saturday marked just the fourth time in the past two seasons that City have failed to score in a game, while they also had less shots on target than an opponent for the first time this season.

With Liverpool now top of the league, City sit in second and have the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea breathing down their necks. Are Liverpool now the title favorites?

“Because they are one point in front? Yesterday we were the favorites but it changed. Why?” Guardiola laughed. “Yesterday we were the favorites and unbeaten. I knew from the beginning. I didn’t tell you in the media but I told my players ‘it will be tougher, that’s normal.’ We are in a similar level to last season. We have four or five points less but our level is quite similar. Our opponents are stronger. The teams want to compete. They want to try. That is normal. We are in December.”

“If you tell me Liverpool can win the Premier League I would say yes. If you tell me right now in the position Tottenham, Arsenal or Chelsea can win the Premier League I would say yes. Everybody can win the Premier League. The people judge what happened last season and last season, I’m sorry, we were the best. We did it so far? Yeah. That is my feeling. But of course when we lose, I am sitting here and I am trying to tell you what I saw. And what I saw, it was quite good we we have done today.”

Chelsea’s manager admitted that his side were a little lucky to be level after a slow start, but he was pleased with the determination and aggression of his players who were filled with confidence after Kante’s opener right on half time.

That said, Chelsea’s manager doesn’t believe they can challenge for the title this season and pointed to a lack of motivation in the smaller games

“As I’ve said always, I think the gap is impossible to cover only in one season,” Sarri said. “You can play one match of course but in a competition of 10 months it is very difficult to cover the gap. They are, at the moment, the best team in Europe. We won today but we have to say we were a bit lucky in the first 25 minutes because they could score. A little bit lucky in the first half and a very good second half. I think we have a team with some difficulties to be motivated. In this kind of match it is very easy to have great motivation, the right level of aggression. But then during the season you have to also play against the small teams. The next match we have to go to Brighton. At Brighton there will be three points on the pitch, like today. We need continuity in motivation, determination. Otherwise we can win this kind of match and then we can lose points in other matches.”

Even though Guardiola beamed that he was happy with City’s play and said that Chelsea “beat us on one counter attack and one set piece” it was clear City missed key players and lacked a cutting edge after their early flurry of chances. Before this defeat they had trailed just 12 minutes all season long. Guardiola now needs a response.

“The first eight, 10 minutes of the second half they [Chelsea] were better than us, but after that and in the first half we were fantastic. It’s a joy for me as a manager to watch my players,” Guardiola said. “We stayed high, regained a lot of balls, attacked and created enough chances to score one or two in the first half, unfortunately it didn’t happen. But that is a good lesson. That is the level of the Champions League. People say Manchester City is favourite for the Champions League but this is the [level of the] Champions League – they [Chelsea] had one chance and scored one goal. The opponents are so good, so clever. That is what’s going to happen in the future in the bigger stages.”

City’s manager revealed that playing with no central striker was a plan which didn’t quite work as Chelsea played slightly deeper than normal and that could give other teams a blueprint to follow. Guardiola also joked about Sarri also playing with a false nine with the superb Eden Hazard supported by workhorse Pedro and Willian.

“We wanted to find some space in the middle for a one against one. Gabriel [Jesus] is more a guy in the box. I knew they would stay high in the press. In the end they didn’t make a high press. They waited a little bit lower. I didn’t expect that,” Guardiola said. “We needed a guy we could find like Riyad or especially Raheem, make an action one-on-one against David Luiz and the other ones, that was our idea. That is why we decided to play today with Raheem more in central than wider… Yesterday I called Maurizio, we decided to play in the same way! It wasn’t a surprise. Against Tottenham for 15-20 minutes Hazard played like a striker. He can play there. I think with Hazard, Pedro and Willian closed the sides better than Hazard. Hazard is an incredible talent but the effort to work backwards, Pedro and Willian are exceptional in that way.”

Man City were far from exceptional on Saturday and their first defeat of the season has given the other contenders hope they won’t canter to another title this season.

The race is on.

USWNT’s 28-game run snapped in hammering by France

AP Photo/David Vincent
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Kadidiatou Diani scored twice and France ended the U.S. national team’s 28-game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 victory Saturday in Le Havre, France.

The top-ranked United States had not lost since falling 1-0 to Australia in 2017, The Americans were 25-0-3 over the span.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto also scored for third-ranked France. It has won eight straight matches.

It was the first of 10 matches the United States will play before the World Cup. The Americans are the defending champions and could meet France again in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

France went up in the ninth minute on Diani’s goal off a cross from Delphine Cascarino. Diani scored again in the 57th minute to make it 2-0. The 23-year old plays for Paris Saint-Germain.

Katoto, Diani’s PSG teammate, added a goal in the 78th minute.

Mallory Pugh scored for the United States in the final moments.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis had to tinker with her starting lineup and rested stars Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz as a precaution because of minor injuries. Also held out was Kelley O’Hara, still recovering from ankle surgery.

Defender Tierna Davidson came in for Emily Fox in the 53rd minute, marking her first appearance since she fractured her left ankle in a match for Stanford in September.

Davidson decided to leave the Cardinal with a year of eligibility remaining to focus on making the World Cup team. She was the first overall pick in last week’s National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Chicago Red Stars.

The match at La Stade Oceane was sold out with over 25,000 in attendance. The stadium is one of the nine venues that will host World Cup games. The Americans’ next visit to the stadium will be for the final match of the World Cup group stage against Sweden.

“I’m not worried,” Ellis said following the loss. “We know who we are and what we can do.”

Next up for the United States is a match against Spain on Tuesday at Estadio Joss Rico Perez in Alicante. The U.S. women trained in Portugal ahead of the two-match European trip.

Serie A: Roma climb into 4th; anti-racism showing at Inter

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Roma 3-2 Torino

Nicolo Zaniolo announced himself as one of Europe’s most promising young talents, with the opening goal in Roma’s 3-2 victory over Torino, a game in which the 19-year-old was the best, most dangerous attacker for the whole of 90 minutes.

Zaniolo was initially denied by Salvatore Sirigu, but the young Italian managed to collect the rebound and put it home on the rebound, all while on the ground. Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 not long after the half-hour mark, and Roma appeared to be on their merry way to a third straight victory.

The score was 2-2 by the 67th minute, thanks to Tomas Rincon and Cristian Asnaldo. Stephan El Shaarawy had other ideas, though, as he slammed home the winner, courtesy of a perfect through ball from Lorenzo Pellegrini, in the 73rd.

Now fully recovered from a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma sit fourth in the table, a point ahead of capital rivals Lazio.

Inter Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Elsewhere in the top-four, third-place Inter Milan were held to a scoreless draw by 12th-place Sassuolo, but the game’s real story took place in the stands.

With Inter serving the second of its two-game ban on fans being allowed inside the San Siro due to racist chants, more than 10,000 local children were invited to attend as part of an initiative against discrimination. Brothers Universally United hung anti-discrimination signs around the stadium and the players word “BUU No to discrimination” on their shirt sleeves.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Parma

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Frosinone v. Atalanta — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET

La Liga: Atleti cut into Barcelona’s lead; Real Madrid move into 3rd

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huesca 0-3 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid cut Barcelona’s lead in the title race to two points with a resounding victory away to 20th-place Huesca. Barcelona will host 15th-place Leganes on Sunday.

Lucas Hernandez opened the scoring in the 31st minute, and while his finish inside a heavy fog would ultimately be enough for Diego Simeone’s side, Santiago Arias (52nd) and Koke (71st) tacked on insurance goals in the second half.

Real Madrid 2-0 Sevilla

In a battle of two sides level on points in a battle for third place, Real Madrid turned in one of their better performances on the season en route to a 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Sure, Los Blancos didn’t break the scoreless deadlock until Casemiro unleashed his long-range blast in the 78th minute — thus the result was in doubt for much of the game — but Madrid were in complete control despite the goal coming late on. Sevilla managed just four shots over 90 minutes and held just 31 percent of possession.

Even still, the score remained tight at 1-0 until stoppage time, when Luka Modric 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric put the game to bed.

Now in sole possession of third place — three points clear of Sevilla, but still seven back of Barcelona — Santiago Solari’s side appears to have righted the ship enough that they’ll cruise to a top-four finish.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-2 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Villarreal v. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Rayo Vallecano v. Real Sociedad — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Barcelona v. Leganes — 2:45 p.m. ET

USMNT youngster joins NYCFC on loan from Benfica

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. national player Keaton Parks has been acquired by New York City FC on loan from the Portuguese club Benfica for the 2019 season.

The 21-year-old Texan is a versatile central midfielder. He joined Varzim of Portugal in 2015 when he turned 18 and then signed with Benfica in 2017.

He made his national team debut in May, entering in the 62nd minute of a 3-0 victory over Bolivia in Philadelphia.

New York sporting director Claudio Reyna said Saturday that Parks “comes to us highly motivated” and can “make a strong impact” in midfield.