Fate playing its part in Liverpool title challenge

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LIVERPOOL — To win championships you need luck. Liverpool are getting plenty of it this season.

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Seconds before Mohamed Salah‘s 90th minute header somehow crossed the line and secured a win for Liverpool against Tottenham, a steward at Anfield shrugged at a group of fans heading to the exit.

“Oh well, there’s always next year I suppose…” Hold that thought. It seems like this year could finally be Liverpool’s year.

Any manager will tell you that luck is earned, and that is true. But you can work hard and play well and still lose. At the moment Liverpool are grinding away and lucky breaks are going their way.

It seems like fate is playing an increasingly key role in why they are currently top of the Premier League table. Call it luck. Call it the rub of the green. Call it what you will. Right now it seems like Liverpool are destined to at least push Manchester City all the way this season.

That won them the game against Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday, as Mohamed Salah’s 90th minute header was tamely tipped out by Hugo Lloris and deflected off Toby Alderweireld and dribbled over the line.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Jurgen Klopp acknowledged luck played its part to push Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League table with six games to go.

“Of course it was a lucky punch and a header and the ball rolls in off of Alderweireld,” Klopp said. “I told the boys after the game, there are 500,000 different ways to win a football game and today was rather ugly. No problem. We take that. Without a bit of luck you cannot be in the position we are in. The boys work so hard. They deserve a bit of luck. Again today. I am obviously very happy about the result.”

With luck on their side, Liverpool now sit two points ahead of second-place Man City. The latter have a game in-hand, but it will be a psychological blow for City to see Liverpool grab victory from what was starting to look like a defeat, or at the very least two dropped two points.

Liverpool will have to watch on as City play Cardiff City on Wednesday, as Pep Guardiola‘s men could go back top of the table if they win. But with Liverpool playing against Southampton at St Mary’s on Friday, they will have another chance to go back to the top and grab the initiative again.

Is fate playing its part as they head towards a first-ever Premier League title, and a first league title since 1989-90?

“I don’t go that far but you go through the season of other teams, you will find these things as well. For all the points we have now, we worked really hard. It is not important when you score but what it is on the scoresheet afterwards. Today that is obviously a nearly perfect result for us. That is clear,” Klopp explained. “We take all of that before the game. We spoke about it. Momentum is not a coincidence, it is something you take, you keep and you use. That helped today. We play in five days again against Southampton, they are in a really good moment, Ralph is doing a brilliant job. It is tough place to go. They are fighting to stay in the league. We know they will give us no presents. But, we showed again that the boys are ready to fight and we will be ready again.”

Klopp did admit that winning in this way, at home, against a top four team in Tottenham, thanks to a dramatic late winner, will do wonders for the confidence of his side.

And those dramatic late winners, against Everton earlier this season, and now Tottenham, are stacking up.

“One hundred percent. Of course. If you win today 5-0, I didn’t see that as possible, but if, it could lead you on the wrong path,” Klopp said. “Nine months ago, we started and wanted to go for the highest stakes in two competitions. We did it our way. The boys improved so much. It feels like we always have to apologize a bit that the football last season because people always want the 100 percent package. We have to find a way to win more games than last year. It is all good. If we would be first of the table after the last match of the season, it would be a championship of will. That is how it is. We want it. We get used to situations, step by step. The whole stadium today. It was 1-1. I am here in three-and-half-years, that was the best performance of a Liverpool crowd since I am in after an equalizer. They gave us, but it was completely front-footed, the atmosphere was front-footed. They celebrated when they didn’t score, when you concede a counter-attack like we did, nobody can be completely happy but I am really happy about the attitude.”

Klopp’s opposite number, Mauricio Pochettino, was asked if a feeling of fate is fuelling Liverpool’s title push.

He didn’t want to take anything away from Klopp’s side, but admitted that luck is needed to come out on top after the long slog of a nine-month season.

“In football, sometimes you deserve to win, like us today. Sometimes, in another game, it happens the same, maybe we won when we didn’t deserve too much. It is impossible for Liverpool to play every game and sometimes you cannot keep the performance how you want,” Pochettino said. “They deserve a lot of credit. The manager Jurgen is doing a brilliant job. It is going to be tough, Liverpool and City fighting for the Premier League. It is a shame we are not close. We were but in the last few weeks, our reality, our place but knowing the circumstances, we must be happy.”

Tottenham played well and deserved to win. Liverpool didn’t play well but won.

That is what happens when luck, and perhaps fate, is on your side. It is the one thing we cannot measure or account for in sports, or in life. Just enjoy the ride. Liverpool certainly are.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).