Klopp defends ‘scared’ Liverpool after wobble at West Ham

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LONDON — Whether he admits it or not, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool were rattled by West Ham United on Monday.

The Premier League leaders drew 1-1 at the London Stadium but were lucky to not succumb to a damaging defeat at the hands of the fired-up Hammers.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Sadio Mane‘s goal to give Liverpool the lead was clearly offside but stood, while West Ham spurned several glorious chances to leave their manager Manuel Pellegrini “disappointed” they couldn’t secure a huge win.

Liverpool are now just three points ahead of second-place Manchester City and five points clear of third-place Tottenham, who Klopp said are “100 percent” in the title race. He added that “if you want to win big things you have to be ready for these tight races. That is how it is.”

Speaking to reporters after the game, Klopp pointed to a raft of injuries unsettling his team on the eve of the trip to east London as Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren and Georginio Wijnaldum all missed out.

With those injuries adding to the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, Klopp’s side struggled to cope and were all over the place defensively, especially in the first half from set piece situations.

“Because of our situation, last night we trained and had to change three positions. That is of course not perfect,” Klopp explained. “You saw that with the set pieces, you saw that with the organization. That is where we struggled a bit, but apart from that it is a game where I think if Divock [Origi] scores the late goal it will be a lucky moment, but the point is absolutely deserved.”

Whether or not his team deserved that point is a massive point of contention.

Mane’s goal should have been ruled out, West Ham missed several big chances and Origi was clearly offside (although the linesman didn’t flag) as he missed a huge chance to win the game in stoppage time.

Liverpool weren’t at it, and West Ham captain Mark Noble said he knew why when speaking to Sky Sports after the game: “We scared them. You have to do that against the top teams. I’m just gutted we didn’t come away with the three points.”

Klopp took exception to those comments, as he perhaps showed that the ups and downs of a title race are starting to show.

“I like that really. I wish for all West Ham fans that Mark Noble and his team would scare more teams and not only us tonight,” Klopp said. “I don’t know him really well, so I don’t know why he speaks about us like that. They defended well, that is true. They didn’t scare us. It is just a normal away game.”

But this wasn’t a normal Liverpool display. In midfield the trio of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana were overrun and although Liverpool had more of the ball West Ham looked quite capable of slicing them open on the counter whenever they had the chance.

Klopp was almost trying to reassure himself that everything was fine after Liverpool have now dropped points in back-to-back games against Leicester and West Ham to almost see their lead atop the table evaporate.

“We had a difficult situation, it is a long season. I don’t want to think about it, but in general we’ve lost one game in the whole season. The team is doing well. We have a tough situation at the moment,” Klopp said. “The injuries, I don’t know where they come from, Millie [James Milner] was ill and Virgil had three, four days out where he lost four kilos, obviously they doesn’t help as well. It is a difficult situation with the center half and right back positions but the boys still fight. Could we have played better, even in that situation? 100 percent. That is what we expect from ourselves. These games are difficult. You have to accept the quality of the opponents and then use their weaknesses they have.”

The Liverpool manager perhaps showed some his weakness at the end of the game as he and West Ham boss Pellegrini had a heated exchange at the final whistle. Pellegrini smiled when asked about that afterwards and pointed back to a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal in 2013 when his Malaga side lost to Klopp’s Dortmund on an offside goal in stoppage time.

“Klopp is used to win because of offside, because he beat me and Malaga with Borussia Dortmund with a goal that was seven meters offside. So he cannot complain about nothing,” Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini added that he was pleased to do his old club Man City a favor, and that could have riled Klopp further.

“I said during the week we need to win this game for our fans, and if we are going to give a hand to Manchester City, that was also my club,” Pellegrini said. “Maybe that is why the manager of Liverpool didn’t like it.”

The manager of Liverpool, once again, said that the preparation for the game was “far away from being perfect” but they still got a point, even if he couldn’t explain to his players how to defend well enough in certain set-piece situations.

Is Klopp confident that his boys will not crack under the intense pressure in situations coming up?

His answer, again, seemed more about reassuring himself and those around him that everything was fine, despite a wobble at West Ham which was clear for all to see.

“I am confident about this. I think since five, six, seven, eight weeks now we have talked about a two horse race and now Tottenham have come from behind. They have a difficult situation and dealt with it brilliantly well, all credit to Poch [Mauricio Pochettino] and his team for how they did it, winning games very late and a lot of injury problems as well. That is great. For me, they [Tottenham] are 100 percent in the race. If you want to be top of the table at the end of the season, you have to deal with much tougher situations than we had today. That is the truth. It is clear.

“Of course, you need players fit and available, that helps. Midfield players tonight apart from Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri], would have been 18 years old. Brilliant boys and if needed we would have played them tonight, of course. That is not perfect in the moment. We have to fight. It is not about pressure. It is about enjoying the situation you are in. We have 62 points, we lost one game in a full season so far and that is very positive. I see your faces already, you feel a bit sorry with us. You don’t have to. We are fine. Everything is good. Of course, tonight was just a tough game. If you have a day like that, the things that happened yesterday and you get a point at West Ham, for me that is absolutely fine.”

This is fine. Absolutely fine…

USMNT’s Brooks scores equalizer for Wolfsburg

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John Brooks is enjoying a career year for Wolfsburg, and he just added another highlight to his strong season.

Brooks, running up in the attack in a rare foray forward, tapped home into an empty net to save Wolfsburg a point at home in its 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. It was Brooks’ third goal of the season and second in the last two months.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The U.S. Men’s National Team centerback has played and started 29 times this season for Wolfsburg, the most games he’s ever played in a single season in Germany’s top tier. Brooks started alongside Aaron Long in the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Ecuador in Orlando in late March, and could play a key role for the USMNT this summer at the Gold Cup, unless coach Gregg Berhalter decides to let him rest this summer.

Season over: Hudson-Odoi suffers suspected Achilles tear

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One incident on Monday showed why some players are so desperate to change clubs when given the chance. They may never get it again.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Callum Hudson-Odoi said on his Instagram post Monday evening that he had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. If confirmed by the club, it’s usually a nine-month recovery process, with some players needing a full year to return to full fitness. Considering the timing of this, towards the end of the season, it means that Hudson-Odoi may miss an entire season of top-flight soccer, as well as possibly miss out on a chance to move to Bayern Munich this summer.

The injury is a huge blow to the 18-year-old, who had forced his way into the Chelsea side after strong performances in the UEFA Europa League, and now he’s making regular Premier League starts at the tender age of 18. Hudson-Odoi had started four-straight Premier League games including Monday, but now he faces a long layoff.

In Hudson-Odoi’s favor is his youth. While it can be a career-ending injury, hopefully Hudson-Odoi could retain his electric pace once he recovers and can return to the starting lineup for Chelsea.

But it’s a big disappointment to the young Englishman, who surely would have played for England youth national teams this summer and could have potentially made a big-money move abroad.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Four midweek Premier League games will be pivotal in shaping the title race, top four battle, race for seventh and the relegation picture.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be a lot of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Tottenham 3-1 Brighton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 3-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Man United 1-2 Man City – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Wolves 2-1 Arsenal – (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Relevant Sports sues USSF over proposed Ecuador match in Florida

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NEW YORK (AP) A promoter has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, asking a court to order the governing body to sanction an Ecuador league match in Florida.

Relevent Sports filed suit Monday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging the USSF illegally refused to approve its application to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens.

The lawsuit quotes USSF policy as stating the governing body’s secretary general “shall grant such sanction unless it is decided by clear and convincing evidence that holding or sponsoring the international soccer competition would be detrimental to the best interest of the sport.”

The USSF did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Relevent attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.