This is now Liverpool’s Premier League title to lose

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LIVERPOOL — November 10 may be too early for the title race to be over, especially if you are Liverpool.

But boy, it feels like Jurgen Klopp‘s side already have one hand on the Premier League trophy.

Right now it is the gigantic elephant in the room for everyone connected with Liverpool.

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They beat Manchester City 3-1 at a raucous Anfield on Sunday to pull nine points clear of the reigning champions as they’re now 12 games unbeaten and eight points clear at the top. Everyone is ready to call them the champs.

“Other people have said, 100 percent, ‘from now on Liverpool can only lose it.’ That is a very negative approach. You can see it like this but I don’t care. I can promise you we don’t care,” Klopp explained afterwards. “Today we were completely focused on this game and not the situation in the table or whatever. How many points we are ahead of City or whatever. That is crazy! Nine points, you cannot imagine something like this happens. But it is not important.

“Who wants to be first in early November!? You want to be first in May. We all know that but we don’t have to say that because it is clear. We just try what we can and in the end we will see what happens. The pressure is not there yet. It will come. At the moment it is only opportunity, go for it, do the work, throw everything in and see what happens.”

With their lead now eight points atop the table, it would take a monumental collapse from Liverpool for them to not win their first league title since 1990. Luck is on their side, they are looking more ruthless than ever and other title rivals are suffering badly timed injuries or a loss of form.

The stars are aligning.

Liverpool have lost just once in their last 51 Premier League games. That defeat came at Man City in January, as Leroy Sane’s late goal effectively cost them the chance to win the title last season.

This season there will be no fine margins deciding the destination of the trophy. There are still six months and 26 games of the season to go, but I’m ready to call it.

Unless Liverpool lose Alisson, Virgil Van Dijk, Sadio Mane and Fabinho all at the same time to lengthy injuries, they’re going to win the Premier League title.

Liverpool’s fans have been here many times before over the past 30 years. Under Roy Evans, Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, and then Klopp last season.

Nobody connected to Liverpool wants to mention the ‘t word’ right now after all of their near misses. That was evident in and around the city before the game, as even when they welcomed Man City’s team bus to Anfield it was all a little subdued.

Stewards, fans, car parking attendants and those flipping burgers in the vans lining Anfield Road all have that same look in their eye as they smirk. They know they’re so close to the holy grail. But like a banker knowing the biggest deal of his career is 99 percent done, they remain wary of a late rival bid. There’s still a sense of foreboding hanging over Liverpool.

We can’t underestimate the mental strength needed to put aside the pressure Liverpool’s players are under. Even when they were 3-0 up and Bernardo Silva made it 3-1, there were moans and groans inside Anfield. Klopp tried to rally the crowd and liven them up to help get the team over the line. They did. But it was reminiscent of the nervousness shown at very points last season when they were top of the league.

Last season their seven-point lead evaporate due to draws against Leicester, West Ham, Man United and Everton. Liverpool had the title in their grasp but it slipped out, once again.

Even if they draw four games this season and win the rest, that will now be enough to win the title on goal difference at the very least. Man City would have to win all 26 of their remaining games and hope Liverpool slip up a few times. That probably isn’t going to happen, as Pep Guardiola is clearly more focused on winning the UEFA Champions League.

Why the sense of worry, then? Last season Liverpool didn’t have any real challengers outside of Man City. Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United and Arsenal were so far behind. This season Chelsea and Leicester City are much better equipped to take points off both Man City and Liverpool.

There will be twists and turns ahead but this Liverpool juggernaut, hardened by close calls in recent seasons, hurtles on.

An image of Klopp gleaming in front of the Kop at the end of the final home game on May 9 against Chelsea with the trophy balanced on his head just became something we expect. Unless you’re Liverpool.

The only thing that can stop them now is, once again, themselves.

Gomes return gives Everton boost despite defeat

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Everton lost the first game of a gauntlet four-game swing, losing 3-2 at Arsenal despite leading inside two minutes of the match. But while Everton left the Emirates without any points, it gained a massive boost with the return of Andre Gomes.

The Portuguese central midfielder, signed from Barcelona, made his return to the field on Sunday off the bench in the 59th minute for his first game since suffering a gruesome injury on November 3 against Tottenham. Gomes appeared to break his leg after a sliding tackle from behind from Heung-Min Son, but in less than four months, Gomes is now back in action.

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“I need to thank everybody. The team, they were great, my supporters, Evertonions, and also in general football supporters, everyone has been wonderful with me,” Gomes said after the Arsenal match. “(It) gives (me) confidence when you feel like you have the support of the people. I just pushed myself to the my limit, I wanted to be back as soon as possible, and I’m glad I have the help of everybody around me.”

This is huge for Everton and head coach Carlo Ancelotti. Without Gomes, and the oft-injured Fabian Delph (though Delph started against Arsenal), Everton really lacked pace and power in the center of midfield. Morgan Schneiderlin is a decent passer but doesn’t have the pace required for the Premier League, and then Ancelotti was dropping Gylfi Sigurdsson further back in midfield to play alongside Schneiderlin or Delph.

With Gomes back in contention for a starting spot, Ancelotti can play Sigurdsson closer to the opposing goal and partner him with either Delph or the still-young Tom Davies, who can do even more running to win the ball back and get it to Gomes.

“He did really well without problem,” Ancelotti said post game. “(He was) very strong in the tackle. The player is really important for us and he will play next game.”

Looking forward, it’s also huge for Everton to get Gomes back because they’re in the middle of one of the season’s toughest stretches. After facing Arsenal today, Everton hosts Manchester United, visits Chelsea, and then hosts Liverpool on Monday, March 16 in the Merseyside Derby.

Galatasaray wins bonkers derby over Fenerbahce

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Goals. Fights. Red cards. Yellow cards. Horror tackles. Passion in the stands.

The Intercontinental Derby in Istanbul today had just about everything.

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For the first time this century, Galatasaray defeated Fenerbahce in the Turkish Superlig, winning 3-1 on the road. With the victory, Galatasaray moves into a three-way tie for first place in the league. As mentioned above, the game featured 12 yellow cards, VAR reviews, two red cards, and countless other dangerous plays that the officials let go with just a warning.

Max Kruse put the Asia-based Fenerbahce in front off a penalty kick that was confirmed by VAR, but Dutch defender Ryan Donk equalized for the European-based Galatasaray in the 39th minute off a bullit header in the box from a corner.

With both teams trading chances, the tempers exploded in the 77th minute after Henry Onyekuru was taken down on the left side of the box. VAR confirmed that decision as well and former Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao powered the penalty in to give Galatasaray a huge lead.

Five minutes later, as Younes Belhanda was coming off the field as a substitution, a scuffle that he started with Deniz Turuc ended with both players getting sent off. Awkwardly, Ahmet Calik had come onto the pitch for Belhanda, but Belhanda’s actions just before he left the pitch meant that Calik wasn’t officially in the game yet and the substitution was cancelled. Calik eventually entered as a sub for Radamel Falcao, while both teams were reduced to ten players on the pitch.

In the 89th minute, Fernando Muslera dived to make an outstanding save on a powerful free kick from Mehmet Ekici, and eight minutes later deep into second half stoppage time, Muslera played provider. His long pass from inside the box found Onyekuru in space and the Nigerian dribbled forward, rounded Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir and scored before going into a slide celebration in the corner.

The game had a couple of Premier League connections. Former Fulham midfielder Jean-Michael Seri and Falcao, formerly of Manchester United, both started for Galatasaray. Goal-scorer Ryan Donk played a decade ago one season for West Bromwich Albion and Sofiane Feghouli played recently for West Ham. For Fenerbahce, Mauricio Isla also played one season for Queens Park Rangers.

Watch the highlights from this wild and crazy – and totally on-point – derby below.

Ziyech’s Chelsea contract details confirmed

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Chelsea has confirmed the contract details of talented midfielder Hakim Ziyech who will join this summer.

The London giants announced on Sunday that Ziyech has signed a five-year contract with Chelsea, beginning on July 1 this summer when his transfer from Ajax is completed.

On February 13, Chelsea and Ajax came to an agreement on a transfer fee for Ziyech, reported to be in the region of $43 million.

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“I am delighted and proud to have signed for such a huge club as Chelsea,” Ziyech said in a statement. “I am looking forward to next season and hope we can achieve great things together.”

Chelsea was intent on signing Ziyech ahead of the competition and made Ajax a deal they couldn’t refuse.

The left-footed playmaker has been a star for Ajax and in the UEFA Champions League for the last few seasons, helping lead Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season. So far this season, he’s scored eight goals and recorded four assists between the Dutch Eredivisie and the Champions League.

Ziyech’s arrival this summer surely spells the end of time for Pedro and William as attacking midfielders at Chelsea. The Dutchman, who usually plays as a right winger, cutting inside with the left foot, could create a great combination with Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, and Mason Mount moving forward. Chelsea could also certainly sign another one in that position, to keep a deep squad in case of injuries and/or fatigue.

Arteta vows to keep Aubameyang: “Our most important player”

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Arsenal completed a hectic week with a hectic win prodded by its two top performers of the season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice and Bernd Leno made key late saves as the exhausted Gunners outlasted Everton 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was effusive in his praise, relatively speaking, for both players. He said that Leno “saved” Arsenal, and went long on Aubameyang when asked how important the player is to the club’s future.

“Incredible,” Arteta said. “The amount of work he’s doing. Before I had my questions, (but he’s) shown the commitment that he’s shown to his teammates and the club. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it, or do it physically. So it’s either you want to do it or don’t.

“He’s our most important player. Stats wise, there’s no question. As much as I can and the club can, we will try to convince him to stay with us.”

Arteta also appreciates the effort his men put in against an energetic Everton side three days after outlasting Olympiacos in Greece.

“Coming back from Europe, three games in seven days, conceding a goal in the first minute, the way we reacted, the way we played for 60-65 minutes was exactly what I wasn’t from my team,” Arteta preened. “The resilience some of the players showed when they were absolutely knackered and kept going and going. This was exactly what I wanted. … Everybody was looking at me, saying ‘I’m cramping. I’m doing this, doing that.’ We could only change two players. I tried to condense the midfield and have a little bit more energy.”

Leno was very happy with Arsenal’s effort.

The Gunners have been much better since Arteta implemented his system, even if their 270-minute shutout streak died in the first minute on Sunday.

“You could see that our power was at the end,” Leno said. “We were fighting. You can see how happy everyone was after this game because we deserve this and we have to keep going.”

Aubameyang praised his keeper.

“We are always happy to have him. He saved us a couple of times at the right moment. We’re proud of him and we know that we can count on him. He gives us more energy to push.”

The ninth-place Gunners are four points off fifth place and, of course, still alive for a Champions League berth through the Europa League.

Staying in the Champions League is probably their only path to keeping Aubameyang, and Arteta’s description of the Gabonese star doesn’t try to disguise the need to keep him in North London.