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Klopp enjoying pressure of title race, ‘loves this season much more’

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There are many different kinds of pressure at the highest level of club soccer. For Jurgen Klopp, the pressure of Liverpool’s ongoing Premier League title race is hugely preferred to what he felt at this point last season, when the Reds were scrapping and clawing their way through a three-team battle for a top-four finish.

[ MORE: Solskjaer “cannot see” Pogba leaving Man United this summer ]

The way Klopp sees it, finishing in the top-four is Liverpool’s means of survival. Not to have done so would have severely hindered their ability to prepare for the current season, making that particular brand of pressure wholly unenjoyable and stressful. Not even making an unexpected run to last season’s UEFA Champions League final could allay fears over what might transpire if Liverpool had failed to qualify for the competition this season. It was a welcome distraction, to be sure, but one that perhaps further complicated matters domestically — quotes from the Guardian:

“The big difference for me is I want to be as successful as possible, but I am a normal employee as well, so I know the most important thing is that we need money for next year. That means we have to qualify for the Champions League. That is real pressure.

“If you are not in the Champions League, it changes everything. You can talk about this and that with the owners, but you pretty much don’t have to ask them because we don’t spend money we don’t have. Yes, this is completely different. I love this season much more.”

[ MORE: Sarri says Hazard irreplaceable to Chelsea amid Madrid speculation ]

With Champions League all but secured for next season already, Klopp sounds like a manager who’s playing with a boatload of house money. Whether it’s the Reds or Manchester City who lift the trophy on the final day of the season, 2018-19 will go down as another step toward re-establishing Liverpool as one of Europe’s heavy hitters.

“Last year we had proper pressure in the last part of the season. Chelsea was winning each game and we were drawing, after being 10 points ahead, and in the end we had to win the last game again to qualify for the Champions League. We had pressure. Different pressure. Champions League was like, ‘Oh my god, you are there.’ We don’t expect or take it for granted that we will be in the Champions League final again, but having the chance again is really unbelievable.

“On the other side, we have made this big step in the league. We are responsible for the league not being decided yet. In all other seasons we would have probably 60-something points as well and be fighting with five other teams for three places behind City. This year we could keep it more open for us in another position. It is all good, but now we want to carry on.”

Sarri to miss 2 Juventus matches including against Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) New Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri will not be on the bench for the club’s first two Serie A matches, including against former team Napoli.

Sarri is recovering from pneumonia and underwent further tests on Thursday.

Juventus says they “showed a good clinical improvement” but the 60-year-old Sarri needs to be absent “to completely recover.”

Sarri has still been going to Juve’s training ground and watching the sessions on video link and coordinating with his staff.

Juventus kicks off its bid for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title at Parma on Saturday, before hosting Napoli the following week.

Sarri spent three seasons at Napoli before moving to Chelsea in 2018.

UEL Recap: Wolves earn huge road victory, and more

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Wolverhampton Wanderers has one proverbial foot back in a European competition, potentially breaking a 40-year drought for the club.

Wolves defeated Torino on the road, 3-2, in the first leg match between the two sides on Thursday at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Mexican international Raul Jimenez continued his red-hot form with another goal, while Diogo Jota scored as well for Wolves.

The Premier League side took the lead late in the first half thanks to an own goal, as Gleison Bremer headed in a Wolves free kick expertly into the side netting. Jota then added the second for Wolves in the 59th minute after an individual moment of brilliance from Adama Traore down the right side of the box, completely bamboozling his defender.

Torino’s Lorenzo di Silvestre answered just two minutes later off a late run into the box and a powerful header, but Jimenez then gave Wolves another two-goal advantage, as well as another crucial away goal. Jimenez ran with the ball from midfield and with Nicolas N’Koulou retreating, Jimenez took the space and scored.

Torino striker Andrea Belotti gave the Italians some late hope with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback. Anything but a defeat by more than two goals for Wolves will be enough for the club to make it to the Europa League group stage.

Here’s more results from around the Europa League on Thursday afternoon:


Celtic top AIK at home

The Scottish champions appear to have brushed off the disappointment of exiting the UEFA Champions League with a solid 2-0 win at Celtic Park against AIK Solna on Thursday evening.

James Forrest scored the opener for Celtic, taking advantage of a ricochet on the edge of the box to unleash a strike that AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner couldn’t parry away. Odsonne Edouard then put the icing on the cake with a tremendous free kick from 30-yards out to give Celtic it’s 2-0 lead.

Neil Lennon’s side then held off AIK late to secure the shutout.

Thursday’s Europa League Playoff Round first leg qualifying matches:


Astana 3-0 BATE
Ararat Armenia 2-1 F91 Dudelange
Malmo FF 3-0 Bnei Yehudah Tel Aviv
Suduva 0-0 Ferencvaros
Feyenoord 3-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Ludogorets 0-0 Maribor
FC Copenhagen 2-1 Riga
AEK Athens 1-3 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Rangers

Crossroads: What if Arsenal hadn’t gone unbeaten?

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The 2003-2004 Premier League season will forever be remembered for Arsenal’s Invincibles, the first team in history to go an entire 38-game season undefeated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

But what if they hadn’t?

On the latest episode of NBC Sports’ new series Crossroads, host Aaron West dives into the Invincible season for Arsenal, and what would have happened if Arsenal lost along the way. Of course, we know that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until the next season against Manchester United that Arsenal’s unbeaten run of 49 games was ended.

Watch the latest episode of Crossroads above, and check out previous episodes on Manchester City and Liverpool on NBC Sports‘ Youtube Page.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain signs contract extension at Liverpool

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While Liverpool hasn’t been busy in the transfer market, it continues to be busy upgrading its first team contracts.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a new, undisclosed long-term contract. The BBC reported that the new contract tied Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool through 2023, after his last deal was set to expire in 2022.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

“I’m really, really excited – it’s been in the pipeline for a little while, so it’s nice to finally get it done and just extend my time here, which I am really looking forward to,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Liverpool’s website in a statement. “I feel like I missed out on a year, which I obviously did, so it’s really exciting for me to be able to sign. It’s something that I feel is an opportunity to give that year back and make up for lost time – and hopefully put in some good performances to make amends for not being around last year.

“You’ve got to count your blessings every time you get an opportunity like this, you don’t get the chance to play for Liverpool Football Club every day. I am really excited to be able to extend my time here.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain is finally healthy after a long, long recovery from a horrific knee injury suffered in April 2018. The England international missed out on the World Cup as well as the Champions League final, though he was able to make the field off the bench towards the end of last season, eventually making the bench for Liverpool’s Champions League victory in June.

With some injuries and fatigue to other players, Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first Premier League start in more than a year last Saturday against his former club Southampton, playing 89 minutes in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory. He also started and played the first half in Liverpool’s UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea on penalty kicks.

This deal is ultimately a good-will gesture from both sides, making up for the year lost that Oxlade-Chamberlain endured after the knee injury in the Champions League semifinal. It could take him more time, but Liverpool is certainly hoping that he can make a full recovery and come good for the Reds as it looks to win its first Premier League title, and first top league title in England since 1990.