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Three things learned: Liverpool v Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalty kicks to win the 2019 FA Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday.  

After a 1-1 draw thanks to goals from Raheem Sterling and Joel Matip in either half, the game went to spot kicks and Claudio Bravo saved Georginio Wijnadlum’s penalty as City scored all five of theirs.

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Man City and Liverpool finished just one point apart in the Premier League table last season and it went all the way to decide the winner of the Community Shield. Despite shaking off rust amid key absentees due to stars returning late from summer tournaments, City and Liverpool put on a show at Wembley.

It was an intense, high-tempo encounter which can’t often be said of this showpiece event.

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp played up the importance of this game beforehand and their players obviously took those words to heart.

What did we learn from the traditional “curtain raiser” at Wembley?


Teams evenly matched, wasteful

On another day the score could have been 4-3 or 3-2. Both teams were guilty of being wasteful in the final third and some of their attacking stars were perhaps blowing away a few cobwebs.

Mohamed Salah missed two glorious opportunities in the first half alone. Virgil Van Dijk and Salah hit the woodwork in the second half. Kyle Walker incredibly hooked Salah’s shot off the line, while Sterling probably should’ve scored another two given the quality of his chances. Kevin De Bruyne‘s final ball and passes were a little off, while there was a general sense of frustration among both Guardiola and Klopp on the sidelines.

They know the way their teams played and the result of the Community Shield is not going to determine how this season goes for them. But the game was of high intensity and was also pretty adept at underlining the weaknesses both teams have. In the second half the end-to-end nature of the game was farcical, as you could be forgiven for thinking the latest NBA game had rolled into London.

This performance suggested two things:

1) There is still so little to choose between Liverpool and Man City.

2) Liverpool are a different team without one of their front three of Mane, Firmino and Salah up top, and so too are Man City without Sergio Aguero in their starting lineup.


Rusty Liverpool shaking off poor preseason

Not having six first team stars with Liverpool for the majority of preseason was far from ideal. And they do not appear to have dealt that well with it. At all. Salah, Firmino and Alisson returned this week after playing in the Africa Cup of Nations and Copa America, while Sadio Mane will return next week. With Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri only just returning from injury too, Liverpool’s squad looks a little thin on the ground.

In the first half Man City overran them in central midfield but much to their credit Liverpool came roaring back in the second half and deserved to draw 1-1 in regulation. Salah led wave after wave of attack and even though it is clear Liverpool aren’t fully fit, it appears the rust from a disjointed preseason is falling off a little quicker than most expected.

Klopp will be hoping that the late returning stars give the rest of the squad a much-needed kick up the backside in the next few days before they face Norwich City in the PL season opener on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The lack of a central midfielder who can dictate the tempo of the game and create openings is perhaps what they miss most if they’re going to truly push Man City all the way for the title once again this season. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are all workhorses and should be admired for how they press high and win the ball back for Salah, Firmino and Mane to cause havoc. It works. But having a player like David or Bernando Silva, someone who can slow things down and float around behind the strikers is something Liverpool have been calling out for.


Left side of City’s defense needs a revamp

True, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold were the men marauding down the right flank for Liverpool but Oleksandr Zinchenko and Nicolas Otamendi didn’t half make them look good.

Granted, Aymeric Laporte will likely line up alongside John Stones in central defense this season, but it may be worth playing Laporte at left back based on this. Especially with influential leader Vincent Kompany departing. Do not underestimate his absence this season. As this game wore on Otamendi found his stride and Zinchenko kept plugging away too, but if there is any area City’s squad needs strengthening in it is at left back and center back. That is so obvious.

Zinchenko is doing the best he can as a makeshift left back but with Benjamin Mendy still out injured and Fabian Delph sold over the summer, City’s options at left back aren’t plentiful. With Joao Cancelo coming in at right back to battle with Kyle Walker, it is a little bemusing why City aren’t making a big play to sign a left back or center back this summer.

Teams will look to exploit that wing based on this showing. Yes, this was Liverpool shredding their left flank apart, but plenty of the PL’s other top six teams are capable of exploiting this weakness.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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