Sterling hat trick leads Man City blowout

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Manchester City began its Premier League challenge with a high quality away win, breaking down a disciplined West Ham United at the London Stadium to the tune of a 5-0 victory.

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Raheem Sterling scored twice. Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero also scored, while Jesus and Sterling each had a goal disallowed by VAR in the win. Sterling’s second goal withstood VAR review thanks to the angle of the last defender’s hip.

City goes first with a plus-5 goal differential, and hosts Tottenham Hotspur next week. West Ham is off to Brighton and Hove Albion.


Three things we learned

1. VAR is imperfect, but it isn’t going anywhere so  we’ll have to accept the overturning of imperceptible real-time results like Sterling’s centimeter-offside shoulder in assisting Jesus’ would-be second for the hopes of what it will fix in big spots and big gaffes.

VAR also overturned Lukasz Fabianski‘s save of Sergio Aguero’s late penalty for encroachment. The Argentine scored on his second attempt.

One things for sure: “I’m the show” Mike Dean was not able to make himself as much of a story line because the cameras did some work for him.

[ MORE: Pep, Pellegrini react to VAR ]

2. If you’re one of the people (cough, like this writer) who predicted this is the season that Raheem Sterling will win Premier League Player of the Year, you’re feeling pretty good about the 24-year-old’s showing at the London Stadium.

Sterling scored thrice, had a fourth ruled out, and also had an assist (with a second overturned). He was everywhere, electric and smart, and looks every bit the player he promised upon debut for Liverpool.

3. West Ham is going to be a problem for a lot of teams this year, and Manuel Pellegrini has to be counting his blessings that his scouts spotted Issa Diop before last season and decided not to sell him this summer.

The towering 22-year-old from Toulouse didn’t look great on Jesus’ clever opener and conceded a late penalty when Riyad Mahrez made the most of a wayward foot, but was tested time and again by the probing runs and cutting through balls of City.

The man may be chiseled out of granite.

Man of the Match: Sterling.


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Irons predictably struggled to have much of the ball, but Manuel Pellegrini was had his men ready to play with their champion visitors.

Ederson made a pair of quickfire saves from close range in the 73rd minute, the second a flying slap of a header which kept the two-goal lead in tact.

Jesus was also quite good, starting over Sergio Aguero, and scoring when Diop’s sliding bid to divert a Kyle Walker cross only allowed a flick past Lukasz Fabianski.

Sterling scored all three of his goals after halftime, the first off a Kevin De Bruyne assist, the second coming via a delightful run to dink a shot inside the far post, and the third a run into the right of the box.

[ MORE: Premier League TV, streaming schedule | Predicting the PL table ]

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Chelsea-Manchester United, Arsenal-Newcastle and Manchester City-West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside Premier League stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 1 in full.

Pep reacts to Sterling’s Real Madrid comments

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola has responded to comments from his player Raheem Sterling about their upcoming UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Sterling, 25, spoke to Spanish outlet AS and confirmed that he is really happy at Man City ‘right now’ but admitted that Real Madrid are a ‘fantastic club’ and waxed lyrical about their famous white shirt.

“Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy. But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club,” Sterling said. “When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive. [Rumours of their interest], it’s something that you see all the time, but I’m a City player and I’m enjoying it at the moment, even if things haven’t gone quite planned in the league.

“We now have a massive opportunity in the Champions League. I keep saying Real Madrid is a fantastic club, there’s lovely weather, but I keep saying that I am quite happy at City. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”

The photo on the front of AS showed Sterling with a Real Madrid shirt on one shoulder and a Man City shirt on the other.

Guardiola was asked about his response to those comments and if he thought Sterling, or any other players, would be less committed to Man City given their two-year ban from European competitions.

“Players are free to talk and say what they believe and think,” Guardiola said. “We are not hear to tell them what they think. I am sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many years and nothing changes.”

Sterling has returned to training after two weeks out through injury and he could play at Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Guardiola’s men aim to open up a seven-point gap to third-place Leicester with a win.

Sterling’s comments are complimentary about Real Madrid and given their reported admiration for him for quite some time, the timing of saying this is a little odd given City’s ban from UEFA and so much uncertainty around the future of the club in the Champions League.

Despite Guardiola committing himself to staying at Man City for next season and until the end of his contract in 2022, his players will get plenty of offers to leave if the Champions League ban is upheld. Lionel Messi has joked that Barcelona should “sign the lot of them!” when asked about Sergio Aguero and others signing for the Spanish giants.

Sterling isn’t the first or last Man City player who will be targeted by European giants over the next few months as the situation remains uncertain.

Chelsea: No exact date for Pulisic return; Kante out

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USMNT superstar Christian Pulisic remains out injured for Chelsea and his manager Frank Lampard has admitted the injury is a ‘difficult one’ to assess.

Slumping Chelsea host in-form Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Blues in fourth place but just one point ahead of Spurs.

N’Golo Kante, who hobbled off in the 2-0 defeat to Man United on Monday, is out for three weeks but the most concerning news was about Pulisic as Lampard revealed he can’t give an exact date on when the USMNT star will be back after his adductor injury which saw him last play on Jan. 1. 

“N’Golo is not fit. A muscle injury, the same as the one he came off with Arsenal with. Should be, hopefully, three weeks,” Lampard said. “Christian Pulisic is still not fit. At the moment I can’t give an exact date. Difficult injury, we are working with that. Ruben is in the squad but not fit to start. Andreas Christensen is fit. He went to get a mask for a broken nose.”

Tammy Abraham has trained the last two days at about ’70 percent’ while it is not expected that Callum Hudson-Odoi will be fit. The news on Kante is particularly damaging as he will miss the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich as injures are piling up all over the pitch.

The good news for Chelsea? Ruben Loftus-Cheek will return to the squad this weekend after being out since May 12 when he injured his Achilles in a friendly against the New England Revolution in a friendly.

That is the only decent bit of injury news for Lampard’s young Chelsea squad.

Chelsea are still in fourth but have won just four of their last 14 games in the Premier League and with Spurs just one point behind them and United three points behind them, the chasing pack are closing in. Tottenham have plenty of injuries with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son out injured but Jose Mourinho knows this is a good time to play against his former club Chelsea.

Injuries to Abraham, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi are tough as scoring goals has become an issue for the Blues in this poor run of form which stretches back to November.

All season long Chelsea have squandered goalscoring chances and even if the Champions League qualification goes down to fifth place due to Man City’s European ban, they may still miss out. They have been unlucky with injuries this season and missing Kante for a pivotal stretch of the season and the stop-start campaigns for Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi have been frustrating for Lampard.

“Whenever I speak to fans, and this season is a transitional year so we can’t please everybody, but what I’m getting is they’re recognising a team that wants to play,” Lampard said.

Injury news and a lack of goals aside, it is easy to forget this is a very young Chelsea side who have so far exceeded expectations.

A strong finish in the final 12 games of the season, starting with a win against bitter rivals Spurs, is exactly what the doctor ordered for Lampard and Co.

Liverpool’s Henderson ruled out with injury

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been ruled out for up to three weeks after picking up a hamstring injury.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed the injury, which Henderson suffered in the 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, and that means the central midfielder will miss the games against West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth in the Premier League, plus the FA Cup clash at Chelsea and probably the last 16 second leg at Anfield against Atletico.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Liverpool’s clash with West Ham at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Klopp had an update on his captain.

“Hendo, could have been worse, it was a hamstring. He will be out for I think three weeks or so, which is not cool, but how we see it is that we were lucky,” Klopp said.

He also said that he doesn’t plan to rotate his squad as they have almost a full week of rest after their UCL last 16 clash against at Atleti and there are no other injury concerns: “Apart from Hendo, all of the other boys are fit.”

Naby Keita or James Milner would be the obvious replacements for Henderson but it is getting increasingly tough for Liverpool to replace. The England international has taken his game to a whole new level this season and after leading Liverpool to Champions League glory last season he is so close to lifting the Premier League trophy this season.

Henderson is in the conversation to be crowned the PFA Player of the Season with his quality passing, driving runs and incredible workrate keeping Liverpool on track as they aim to go the entire season unbeaten.

With a 22-point lead atop the table, Klopp doesn’t have to rush Henderson back but he’s the kind of character who will pushing hard to bee back as soon as possible.