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…

Three things we learned from Seattle-Real Salt Lake

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The game in 200 words (or less): Nick Rimando stood on his head in an outstanding 7-save performance that will be the last of his incredible career, as a fine near post header from Gustav Svensson and a late marker from Nicolas Lodeiro sent Seattle Sounders to the Western Conference Final with a 2-0 win in Washington on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

Real Salt Lake had a strong first half, with attacking life sprung from Jefferson Savarino, but the hosts had more dangerous chances and took control of the match in the second 45 through relentless Jordan Morris and visionary midfielder Lodeiro. Svensson scored off a set piece and Lodeiro deservedly joined the scoring at the end of a Man of the Match performance before RSL’s Everton Luiz was shown a straight red for an awful two-footed tackle.


Three things we learned

1. Playoffs make unlikely heroes — It was going to take something special for Seattle to beat Rimando, and Gustav Svensson got the better of Kyle Beckerman to turn Lodeiro’s near post corner kick past the wrong-footed keeper. Brian Schmetzer’s teams have never lost a home playoff game, and that record stands thanks to Svensson’s noggin. It was the Swede’s 14th goal in 367 career matches.

2. Morris, Lodeiro lead determined Sounders — Morris, the MLS Comeback Player of the Year, has a first-class engine with a motor to match, and his on-field wisdom and improvement on both wings has made him a terror in MLS. Combine that with the vision of Lodeiro and there was a feeling of inevitability once the match reached halftime with zeroes on the scoreboard.

Lodeiro’s goal to make it 2-0, off a fine set-up from Raul Ruidiaz, was a sweet finish and a deserved marker. Look out, Los Angeles.

3. Rimando’s final game finds him in fine feather– The “Wall of the Wasatch” made a pair of very good saves in the first 15 minutes, the second causing him serious shoulder discomfort. He was needed again at halftime as Raul Ruidiaz raced onto an inch-perfect Lodeiro cross in the 43rd minute. After Nedum Onuoha blocked a shot with his face early in the second half, Rimando saved his teammate an own goal moments later. He made a flying 61st minute save to keep it 0-0, and made another terrific stop in the 86th minute to deny Victor Rodriguez with his seventh save of the night.

Twenty-two times capped by the USMNT, he played over 500 times for Major League Soccer teams and was very good on his final bow. He spoke to FS1 on the field after the game:

“I enjoyed everything. I enjoyed my 20 years and being here with family, it’s not the way we wanted to go. It’s a tough thing to swallow. It’s hard to put in words. I gave so much to the sport. To see it go, I’m just grateful you know, for everything it’s given me. It’s tough to lose like this. We’ll see what happens next.”

Man of the Match: Lodeiro — The 60-times capped Uruguay was lively from Moment No. 1 and will give Seattle hope against any remaining opponent.


NYCFC boss Torrent hints at coaching change after playoff exit

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A crushing defeat to Toronto FC may’ve signaled the end of the Domenec Torrent era at New York City FC.

The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed was statistically the better team on Wednesday at Citi Field, but Torrent’s saw horrid errors from two players contribute to a 2-1 loss.

[ MORE: NYCFC 1-2 Toronto FC ]

Torrent worked under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Man City before taking the reins for the Bronx-based City, and led NYCFC to the East’s top seed and the second-highest performing offense in MLS. He finished second to Bob Bradley in the MLS Coach of the Year vote.

The defense wasn’t bad, either, but errors from Maxime Chanot and Ronald Matarrita opened the door for TFC on Wednesday.

Sport Business’ Bob Williams reports that Torrent was pretty blunt with the media following the loss, saying at one point, “NYCFC are ready for another coach, don’t worry.”

Three things we learned from NYCFC-Toronto FC

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The game in 200 words (or less): The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is gone from the MLS Cup Playoffs, and has no one to blame but itself.

The hosts took too long to get going at their temporary home of Citi Field — home of baseball’s New York Mets — and needed a strong first half from goalkeeper Sean Johnson to stay in the game before bowing out via two school child errors. The play overall was as haphazard as the baseball screen obstructed the TV cameras for most of the match, so it felt oddly fitting that Toronto’s appearances on the scoreboard came via elementary errors.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

At the other end, well-traveled French-American backstop Quentin Westberg took over with an outstanding save on Maxi Moralez and another on Ronald Matarrita (an offside chance, alas). Alexandru Mitrita blew a 1v1 chance around the hour mark, but NYC found its breakthrough via Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. The Libyan forward lashed a back post offering from MLS assist leader Moralez home with just over 20 minutes to play. But Matarrita made an absolutely comical slide tackle on Richie Laryea in the box, and Pozuelo stepped to the line and put TFC in another conference final.


Three things we learned

1. Pozuelo punishes rusty hosts: NYCFC got a little too cute in dealing with a wild and unexpected lash into the box from Auro Jr., the message hailed by a series of popped-up headers not heard by City goalkeeper Sean Johnson (who to that point had been spectacular).

Maxime Chanot tried a header back to his keeper. It wasn’t a good one and Johnson declined to rush out for it. The one player City wouldn’t have wanted to run onto the mistake was former Swansea City man Pozuelo, who scored his 13th goal to go with eight assists in his first campaign with the Reds. He’d add his 14th when NYCFC made another terrible error, Laryea chopped down by Matarrita.

2. Savvy Toronto meets NYCFC plan head-on, but City regroups: Calmer on the ball and quick to reload, TFC was not bothered by the narrow pitch at Citi Field. The Reds were happy to play the ball all the way back to Quentin Westberg, but also more adept and desperate in 50-50 battles at the heart of the action. The second half, however, saw less crispness and tenacity from the Reds as NYCFC launched forward in desperation and NYC might’ve pulled out the win without those two costly errors.

Credit Toronto manager Greg Vanney, who introduced the penalty-winning Laryea late as a massive change from from right back Justin Morrow. Without Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, however, the Reds got the job done.

3. Johnson the early star, Westberg late: NYCFC veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson was much busier than his counter part in the first 30 minutes, and only stumbled once when he briefly bobbled Alejandro Pozuelo’s unfairly-won free kick. His finest moment came in the 37th, when Tsubasa Endoh backheeled to set up Jonathan Osorio for a vicious shot that Johnson’s pushed over the bar. Whereas the star of the first half was all about Johnson, TFC backstop Westberg was oh-so-necessary. The former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeepr made a big stop just after City equalized, and commanded the area as TFC took the win to the house.

Man of the Match: Chris Mavinga — Toronto’s Congolese center back was a force in the air and on the ground, putting an end to several big NYCFC chances with positioning and power.


FIFA inviting some non-champions to enlarged Club World Cup

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Based on qualification procedures seen by The Associated Press, teams can qualify for FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup without having to win a regional competition – even at the expense of some champions.

The FIFA Council on Thursday is set to approve China as host of the inaugural edition of the 24-team club competition in 2021 and review the qualification procedures, people with knowledge of the decision making told AP.

They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss FIFA’s plans ahead of the meeting in Shanghai.

[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]

A document sent to council members seen by the AP shows the outcome of the initial talks between the FIFA administration and the six regional confederations to determine the criteria for securing one of the slots.

The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation’s domestic title winner.

But caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out.

EUROPE

With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify – although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.

Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.

Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season’s trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.

SOUTH AMERICA

While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL’s two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation.

ASIA

The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.

Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season’s final next month.

If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia’s FIFA lineup.

But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document.

Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.

But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup.

[ MORE: Talking CBA, MLS with Chris Wondolowski ]

AFRICA

The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.

The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country.

OCEANIA

Oceania is the only one of FIFA’s six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner will face a playoff against the Chinese champions.

TOURNAMENTS DATES

A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.

For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9.

The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports