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.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Report: Netherlands FA to meet with Sergiño Dest ]

Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Brighton

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  • Early-season relegation battlers meet on Saturday
  • 18th-place Newcastle to host 16th-place Brighton
  • Brighton won at Newcastle, drew at home last season

Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, a pair of Premier League sides with just two wins from the first five weeks of the season between them, will meet at St. James’ Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for what could prove to be a retrospective relegation six-pointer when May rolls around.

Each side replaced its manager — Steve Bruce for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle; Graham Potter for Chris Hughton at Bright — in the summer and neither of the new bosses has had a particularly enjoyable start to the 2019-20 campaign. Brighton won on the opening day of the season, but have taken just two points from the following four games. Newcastle lost their first two games, won their third, and have drawn and lost again since. It’s the kind of form that’ll see both sides stuck in the high-teens of the PL table if they don’t find their footing in the coming weeks.

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Things are particularly worrying for Newcastle, who didn’t they’d be without Benitez until the end of June and didn’t appoint Bruce until mid-July. Key players had already left the club and reinforcements for few and far between. Forward Joelinton joined for $50 million and is one of four players with a single goal scored thus far.

Last week was nearly fruitful for the Seagulls, until the conceded a stoppage-time equalizer and settle for a point at home against Burnley. Summer signing Neal Maupay bagged his second goal for Brighton earlier in the game, giving Potter a potential trump card over a handful of other relegation-threatened sides without a consistent goalscorer.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeune (knee), Dwight Gayle (calf); QUESTIONABLE – DeAndre Yedlin (groin)

Brighton: OUT – Leandro Trossard (groin), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Ezequiel Schelotto (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu – Joelinton

Brighton: Ryan – Duffy, Dunk, Webster – March, Stephens, Propper, Burn – Gross, Maupay, Murray


What they’re saying

Joelinton, on Andy Carroll: “It’s always great to have experienced players in the group, and he’s one of them. He can help the club, he can help the young players. Andy Carroll has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League, and it’s great to be playing alongside him. He’s a calm guy. I still haven’t spoken to him a lot because my English isn’t great! But every day he’s trying to help. He’ll help me before the games, he’ll give me positional advice and suggest what I’ve done both good and bad.”

Graham Potter, on the trip to Newcastle: “Newcastle away is a tough game just like all the others. We don’t target particular matches — it’s about what we need to do to get a positive result. They have an experienced manager who I came across last year and he’s someone I have a lot of respect for. They have good quality players and we know it can be a hostile environment, it’s a big club and we know we have to play well to get something.  Steve has a lot of games under his belt – he’s had a lot of success and he’ll understand the challenge that lies ahead.


Prediction

Newcastle haven’t scored multiple goals in a game yet this season, and they’ve conceded twice as many as they’ve scored (four). It’s hard to trust them to be anything resembling consistent from game to game. It wouldn’t be surprising if they battled to a boring 0-0 draw, or conceding three times before halftime. It’ll probably be closer to the former, a 1-1 stalemate.

AC Milan announces internal anti-racism task force

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has announced it will establish an internal task force to address racism in Italian football.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

The club says the task force will be supported by “an external consultancy” and “develop a program of activities to increase awareness, monitor and address racist behavior on social media and in the stadium, and drive the adoption of global best practices on diversity and inclusion.”

The move comes after reports of racist chants directed at Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who is black, during a match at Hellas Verona last weekend.

Milan says the anti-racism initiative will be launched during Saturday’s derby against Inter Milan.

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Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist chants in a match at Cagliari this month.

Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis, who is South African, says: “Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviors. AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue. . We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Slow start dooms Southampton again: ‘We lost the game in first half’

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.