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Guardiola hails healthy, ‘incredibly positive’ De Bruyne

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A variety of injuries derailed Kevin De Bruyne‘s 2018-19 season at Manchester City, as the prolific Belgian playmaker was held to just two goals and two assists in Premier League play.

[ RECAP: Wolves top Man City ]

That season came on the heels of a long World Cup run with Belgium, and Pep Guardiola thinks a summer off can go a long way toward helping De Bruyne reproduce the form that led City to 14 goals and 35 assists over the previous two PL campaigns.

De Bruyne was fantastic on Saturday as City lost to Wolves in penalties at the PL Asia Trophy. Guardiola is salivating after winning the league mostly without De Bruyne.

From The Manchester Evening News:

“Last season he didn’t have holiday but he has had more time to rest and he came back like he did two seasons ago. Hopefully he can keep his level.

“He’s incredibly positive in his mind and his quality speaks for itself. He made an incredible first half, really good.”

De Bruyne was rarely at full speed last season, as Bernardo Silva was one of many to step up in his stead. City drew Liverpool and lost to Chelsea while De Bruyne was out.

In other words, top-end De Bruyne means more silverware for City.

LIVE — MLS Cup Playoffs begin; Atlanta, Seattle at home

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Reigning champs Atlanta United kick off a four-match docket as the MLS Cup Playoffs begin Saturday around North America.

[ FOLLOW: MLS Cup Playoffs live, box scores, stats ]

Pity Martinez starts on the bench for the Five Stripes, who are without injured USMNT back Miles Robinson.

Two other recent cup champions, Toronto and Seattle, are home later in the day, while Utah is the scene for the final match of the night.

Schedule

Atlanta United v. New England Revolution — 1 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders v. FC Dallas — 3:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. DC United — 6 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake v. Portland Timbers — 10 p.m. ET

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Bournemouth and Norwich in stalemate

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Bournemouth and Norwich City played out a tense 0-0 draw at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, as the Canaries dug deep for a point on the road as they secured their first clean sheet.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Cherries and Canaries both had decent chances in the game but neither were clinical and both Aaron Ramsdale and Tim Krul had some decent outings in goal.

Bournemouth sit in ninth on 12 points, while Norwich are 19th on seven points.


3 things we learned

1. Teemu Pukki is struggling for support: He scored twice for Finland over the international break, but he hasn’t scored for Norwich since that big win agains Man City on Sept. 14. Pukki didn’t get much support and Norwich have scored just once in their last four PL games.

2. Norwich much happier with the point: Daniel Farke has been plagued with injuries all season long, especially defensively, so he will be delighted his side kept a clean sheet on the road against a very dangerous Bournemouth side. At times Norwich rode their luck, but they looked solid enough and Todd Cantwell kept things ticking over in midfield. Tim Krul stood tall too, as the Canaries head home happy.

3. Bournemouth improving defensively: Every could has a silver lining, and for Eddie Howe that will be another decent day defensively for the Cherries. Going forward they disappointed but at the back they’ve only conceded five times in their last five PL outings. That is very good for Bournemouth. Ake and Cook have a strong partnership and Ramsdale is finding his feet. Yes, Bournemouth will have hoped to score three or four against this Norwich defense, but at least they’ve improved at the back.

Man of the Match: Tim Krul – Tough to pick a player of the game but Krul was solid when called upon and organized this banged up Norwich defense well. Used all of his experience.


Bournemouth pressed Norwich back early on and Tim Krul then denied Dominic Solanke.

Norwich had a half chance as Teemu Pukki delayed his effort and Steve Cook cleared, with neither side taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

In a tight, tense game both cancelled one another out in an uneventful first half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Norwich lost yet another defensive player to injury as Ben Godfrey, just back from a hernia operation, was replaced by Tom Trybull.

Pukki’s shot was deflected by Cook as it looped up close to the goal, while at the other end Bournemouth went close as Wilson and Adam Smith combined but the ball was just off target.

Both teams tried to push for the win late on but held back a little as Norwich in particular were happy with the shutout and point on the road given all of their defensive issues.

Grealish leads Villa past 10-man Brighton

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Jack Grealish‘s star turn helped Aston Villa take advantage of 10-man Brighton and Hove Albion in a 2-1 comeback win at Villa Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Adam Webster‘s early goal gave Brighton a lead but Aaron Mooy‘s twin first half yellow cards put them under the knife.

Aston Villa moves 11th with 11 points. Brighton’s nine points seat them 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Touchy red helps undo Brighton: Aaron Mooy’s first yellow card was silly, so he know there was a need to play careful the rest of the way. He didn’t, and a soft yellow doomed the Seagulls to more than a half without the full complement of players.

2. Villa finally catching breaks: Dean Smith‘s men have had their fair share of bad luck come from good performances, so it was nice for them to follow up a blowout defeat of Norwich City with a little nudge from the Seagulls. Matty Targett’s winner came after plenty of time playing 11v10, and Villa’s standing of 11th now reflects its performances.

3. Grealish a monster: A sliding finish to make it 1-0 and clever feed to Targett for the winner. The Peaky Blinders’ haired man turned in a performance worthy of a BAFTA, with five dribbles and plenty of good moments in keeping possession moving for the victors.

Man of the Match:


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Brighton was knocking on the door early, but you’d be forgiven if you failed to predict the man to break it down.

Promising center back Webster’s stock continues to rise as he did to nod Pascal Gross‘ free kick into the goal.

A silly first yellow card for Mooy’s blocking of a free kick became egregious when he was shown another for knocking down Grealish, who would then score a sliding goal — they all count — to bring Villa level before halftime.

Solly March saw a shot through traffic go wide in the 51st as the Seagulls worked to overcome their disadvantage.

But Villa got the win through Targett at the death, a deserved-enough win although Brighton will feel hard done by.

Wolves grab draw against stubborn Saints

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Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton battled to a 1-1 draw at Molineux on Saturday, as Danny Ings‘ goal was canceled out by a Raul Jimenez penalty kick.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After Jimenez had two goals correctly ruled out for offside in the first half, Saints took the lead as Ings made the most of a defensive mistake. However, VAR then confirmed a penalty to Wolves and Jimenez scored amid controversy to grab them a point.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have 11 points, while Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s Southampton have eight and they’ll be happier with a point than Wolves.


3 things we learned

1. VAR drama gets two correct, one wrong: Jimenez’s two goals in the first half were correctly ruled out by VAR, but a big call in the second half went in Wolves’ favor. The referee awarded a penalty kick when Matt Doherty went down in the box but it looked harsh as Yoshida and Hojbjerg did their best to stay out of the way of the stumbling right wing back. It was harsh on Saints and VAR should have overturned the decision.

2. Ings in fine form for Saints: Danny Ings is perfect for this system under Hasenhuttl. He has now scored goals against Spurs, Liverpool and Wolves by pouncing on defensive errors and Saints’ high-pressing game now had someone who can deliver an end product. Yes, Saints and Ings won’t be happy with not holding on to win this game, but Ings has five goals in his last four games and six for the season. If Ings stays fit, he will keep Southampton in the Premier League.

3. One step forward, two back for Wolves: After beating Watford and Man City back-to-back ahead of the break, Wolves finally got their first wins on the board this season. But they huffed and puffed against Saints and were a little lucky to nick a point. Just like last season, they play better against the big boys and struggled to break down more defensive-minded teams at the bottom of the table. That has to change if Wolves are going to challenge for European qualification once again.

Man of the Match: Raul Jimenez – He got his goal from the penalty spot, had two others disallowed and his constant clever movement, dropping deep and holding the ball up caused Saints many issues. Mexico’s striker ended his mini-drought and played superbly well.


It was all Wolves early as Joao Moutinho fired just over and Saints couldn’t get going as an attacking force.

Raul Jimenez thought he had given Wolves the lead but he handled the ball when controlling and then scored, but VAR was then used as he was handed a yellow card.

Wolves’ Ryan Bennett had to come off injured and Jesus Vallejo replaced him, as Nuno Espirito Santo was forced to reshuffle his defense.

Saints improved as the first half wore on with Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond causing Wolves problems, as the former was played in by the latter but Conor Coady blocked.

Wolves thought they had taken the lead once again just before the break as Jimenez scored after Cutrone’s flicked effort goalwards was pushed away by Angus Gunn. Despite Wolves’ celebrations, VAR again denied the goal in what was the correct decision.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Saints had a great chance to take the lead as Vallejo gave the ball away and Ings was through on goal but his low shot was tame and Rui Patricio saved.

Ings did then put Southampton ahead, as the in-form striker finished well after Vallejo and Coady got themselves in a mess and Saints made the most of it.

But Saints’ lead didn’t last long, as Wolves were awarded a penalty kick as Doherty went down after a tangle with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. After VAR was used, the penalty was given and Jimenez scored to make it 1-1, but Southampton were far from happy with the decision.

James Ward-Prowse saw a free kick saved well and neither team pushed too hard for the win late on as a draw was probably a fair result.