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.

Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract

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Arsenal is close to making their biggest signing of the summer and it’s not a new face: The Gunners are nearing a new contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Sky Sports.

The deal would give Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta long-term access to a player he wants “to build the squad around.”

[ MORE: Premier League announces VAR, subs rules ]

The move is a break from tradition for the Gunners, who will give a massive raise to an older player.

Aubameyang is no ordinary veteran, though, the 31-year-old scoring 29 times in 44 matches across all competitions this season.

The Gabonese star won a share of the Golden Boot during the 2018-19 season, his first full season at Arsenal.

Aubameyang has not scored less than 22 league goals in any of his last five seasons, including the 23 he scored between Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal in 2017-18.

Recently, he led the Gunners to a record 14th FA Cup with a Man of the Match performance that included a brace.

Aubameyang has 252 goals across his last three stops at Arsenal, Dortmund, and Saint-Etienne.

The only danger here would be Aubameyang’s big money becoming an albatross akin to what happened to Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

For now, though, there’s no sign of Aubameyang slowing down and the Gunners can save those worries for a later date, as attracting a player of his character without Champions League football is a tall task.

And perhaps Aubameyang cementing his time at the Emirates will sway a star currently on the fence about a season in the Europa League.

Bayern Munich – Chelsea: How to watch, team news, prediction

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea: This is a bold statement, but Chelsea overturning its 3-0 first-leg deficit over Bayern Munich on Saturday would be a bigger flip than what Liverpool did to Barcelona in last season’s Champions League.

Yeah, Liverpool’s 4-0 second leg win over Barcelona came against a Messi-led team but Chelsea would be doing it to a Bayern team which hasn’t lost in ages and has three away goals heading into the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Does Man Utd need Sancho? ]

Bayern is on a 26-match unbeaten run with just one draw, though Hansi Flick’s men have been away from serious match action since a July 4 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the German Cup Final.

Team news

Chelsea’s disadvantage is made more severe by who isn’t available to Frank Lampard. Marcos Alonso and Jorginho are suspended, while Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta limped off the pitch at the FA Cup Final and Billy Gilmour is a long-term absence. Plus, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are doubts and who knows what’s happening with Willian (though he seems likely to at least be in the 18).

Benjamin Pavard is out for Bayern Munich, while questions surround the status of Kingsley Coman.

First leg

February’s first leg at Stamford Bridge looked more like a London vacation for Bayern, Robert Lewandowski setting up ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry for two of the Bavarians’ three goals in a clean sheet win for Manuel Neuer.

Bayern Chelsea
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 25: Serge Gnabry after scoring the first goal in West London (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

Odds and ends

Chelsea is +700 to win the leg, let alone the tie, and Bayern is -278 to grab a second win over Chelsea, according to DraftKings. Bayern is a wild minus-10000 (yes, four zeroes) to advance compared to Chelsea’s +5300.

Prediction

Shorthanded Chelsea will still be firing a bit more early and should find a way onto the score sheet. Bayern will figure it out, though, and we see a 1-1 draw on the cards (if not a 2-1 Bayern win). The Bundesliga side is very, very good.

How to watch Bayern Munich – Chelsea

When: 3 pm ET Saturday
Stream: CBS All Access

Transfer news: Updates on Silva, Hojbjerg; Leeds chase defenders

Silva to Lazio
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There are updates on David Silva to Lazio, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to Tottenham, and more in Thursday’s Premier League transfer rumors.

[ MORE: Does Man Utd need Sancho? ]


Silva to Lazio latest

Last week’s report keeping David Silva in sky blue, albeit in another country, has been buttressed by Thursday news out of Italy.

Sky Sports says Lazio is increasingly confident of bringing the living Man City legend to Rome.

Silva is set to star in Friday’s UEFA Champions League second leg against Real Madrid, a result and three more wins from a European Cup to add to his World Cup, two EUROs, Copa del Rey, and 15 trophies with City.

Lazio faded down the stretch after challenging Juventus for the scudetto for much of the 2019-20 season. The club has rumor mill mainstays Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic under contract as well as Luis Alberto and Joaquin Correa, the quartet combining for 58 goals and 30 assists.

Silva’s not going to hurt that production, given six goals and 11 assists for Pep Guardiola this season.

Leeds linked with defenders

Marcelo Bielsa is readying his back line for the test of 19 other Premier League attacks, one with an eye for the future.

Fulham teenager Cody Drameh and Rangers veteran left back Borna Barisic are being linked with a move to the Peacocks.

Barisic, 27, has surged back into the Croatia set-up since arriving Glasgow from NK Osijek in 2018. He had two goals and 14 assists for Steven Gerrard last season.

Drameh is just 19 and yet to make his first team debut for Scott Parker’s also-promoted Cottagers. An England U-18 right back, he registered seven assists in 17 PL2 appearances for Fulham last season.

Barisic to Leeds
Rangers’ Borna Barisic (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Hojbjerg to Tottenham, Walker-Peters to Southampton update

There are 18 million reasons for Southampton to be okay with wantaway former captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg taking the next step in his career.

That’s the transfer fee reportedly set for St. Mary’s as Spurs purchase the Danish midfielder.

The Express says that Everton had a $33 million bid accepted for Hojbjerg but that Tottenham interest swayed the player.

Spurs have also agreed a fee with Saints over Kyle Walker-Peters, who spent the second half of the 2019-20 season on loan to Southampton.

For some reason, the clubs wanted the deals kept apart, though it’s difficult not to read them as basically a swap given Walker-Peters’ reported $15 million deal.

Man City v. Real Madrid preview: Team news, start time, odds, prediction

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Manchester City – Real Madrid should be an absolute classic in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Friday (start time, 3pm ET) at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola and Man City have a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Madrid back in late February before the coronavirus pandemic paused play, as Kevin de Bruyne put in a masterful display in the Santiago Bernabeu to give City the edge. Since then Man City have had their Champions League ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Real have won La Liga as Zinedine Zidane’s side were in imperious form after the restart.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

With midfield and attacking stars set to dazzle on both teams, this is not a game you want to miss as the quarterfinal stage onwards will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. Man City are favorites to win the Champions League, their holy grail, but the most successful team in the history of the competition stands in their way.

Check out the latest Manchester City – Real Madrid team news, betting odds, how to watch and stream, score prediction and more below.


Team news

Man City have no fresh injury concerns, as Sergio Aguero remains their main absentee up top after undergoing knee surgery in June. Guardiola is hoping his star striker is fit enough to play later this month if Man City reach the semifinals and final in Portugal. Benjamin Mendy is suspended, so Joao Cancelo is likely to start at left back.

Real Madrid have named their 24-man squad and Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez have been both left at home by Zidane. Captain and legendary center back Sergio Ramos is suspended from the first leg but will travel with the team to Manchester. Mariano Diaz will not feature after testing positive for coronavirus.


What they’re saying

Man City midfielder Rodri is full of confidence ahead of facing Real: “I am really confident. They are a great team and they can beat you, because they are Real Madrid, but we have to show them we are a better team. We showed them at their home, but we need to be ready because you never know what is going to happen. We have to be focused. They are the greatest team in La Liga and they have shown that this year. We need to do our best to get to the next round.”

Raphael Varane on Real’s big-game experience being key: “We’re aware of the excellent work we’ve done over the past few years. It doesn’t happen often. We try to remember those days to keep working hard and try to take something out of that experience. We know that little things can make a difference in games like this. We’ve got a lot of experience in these big matches, so we can feel confident. We’re just as determined as before. Our goal is to win, and that’s partly due to the DNA of this club. We always want to put the past aside, move on and win.”


Odds and ends (full Champions League odds)

The bookies believe hosts Manchester City (-139) are the favorites but beware of a Real Madrid side (+320) with nothing to lose and everything to gain, especially with Hazard, Benzema and Rodrygo looking so good in recent weeks. The tie at +340 looks like the best bet here.


Prediction

This is a really tough one to call. Man City were superb after the restart in the Premier League but lost to Southampton and Chelsea, plus lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. Defensive issues remain the key problem for Guardiola and Real’s star attacking lineup could expose that weakness. Real Madrid have been better defensively and ground out wins galore on their way to winning La Liga, but Zidane’s boys have to go for this and that will leave plenty of gaps at the back, especially without Ramos. I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw which will just see Man City squeeze through.


How to watch, stream Manchester City – Real Madrid

Date: August 7
Location: Etihad Stadium, Manchester – Round of 16 second leg (Man City lead 2-1 from first leg)
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com