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In the Mixed Zone: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

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The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

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Here’s the scene from deep inside Anfield in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Liverpool and Manchester United as the Reds won 2-0 and now sit 16 points clear, with a game in hand, at the top of the Premier League table.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other…


6:35 p.m. (local time): Mixed zone open as Virgil Van Dijk is shown on the TV screens speaking to Jamie Carragher preaching “one game at a time” for Liverpool’s title push. Come on, Virgil. Start picking your suit out for the big celebration in May. More from Virgil later on in the mixed zone as he stops to speak with Pro Soccer Talk…

6:42: A Liverpool legend is hanging around the press room. His assessment of the game and Liverpool’s dominance over Man United? “The perch is looking very strong again…” Liverpool’s 19th title, one short of United’s record 20, is in reach.

6:45: The pitch-side monitor for VAR is rolled out by one man, who is crouching over. Not used today, and only used once across the 229 Premier League games so far. What a lonely, lonely job setting up that equipment must be…

6:47: Okay, here come the lads. First up, a coupe of Brazilian midfielders are talking. Fred and Fabinho hug each other then speak to Brazilian TV. Fred has his match shirt in a bag, Fabinho has his suitcase on wheels with a No.3 luggage label on it. Fred’s sneakers have some fancy metals studs on the back of it. Fred was Man United’s best player.

6:52: Luke Shaw talking to our partners Sky Sports that United were just pleased to stay in the game until the final minute: “Very disappointed. We didn’t really deserve that – especially 2-0. When it was 1-0 it was really good. We had that chance with Anthony Martial. The lads gave it their all. We didn’t have many chances, but those that came we should have taken them. We know their qualities, and there were periods where we had to defend well. Last 30 minutes we controlled it. We didn’t take our chances and they took them. Van Dijk is a massive guy and threat for them on set-pieces. It’s disappointing for us. In the first half, over the past year – Liverpool have blown teams away in the first 20 minutes. We were still in the game until the 90th minute.”

6:55: “USA, USA!” Liverpool’s American owner John W. Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti stroll past us and then disappear through a side door. More from them to come.

7:02: Man United’s players keep trudging through. Local lads Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams are all downbeat as they walk through. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not far behind with his headphones on and hood up.

7:05: Hello. The referees now roll through. Craig Pawson looks like a deer in the headlights, which seems to be his default look. Fourth official Jon Moss looks far from delighted, which seems to be his default look.

7:06: Owner John W. Henry is back and he and his wife greet the assembled media. One journalists asks “How many games do you reckon, John?” in reference to how many games until Liverpool win the title. His response while wearing a wry smile: “There are 16 games left, right?” The billionaire from Illinois has played this game before…

7:09: Man United’s players are now coming through at a rapid rate as captain Harry Maguire gives it a simple “not today, mate” when asked for an interview.

7:15: Andy Robertson stops to speaks to us and during his interview Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walks out of the main press conference and pats him back. They then shake hands. Lot of mutual respect there.

As for Robertson on the game: “We had so many chances we could have put this game out of sight. A really good performance from us but luckily Mo just topped it off at the end and we could relax for 20 seconds! Today, looking back at the game there is room for big improvement. Some of the stuff we did was excellent. I thought our midfield three were different class today and ran the game and that was so important. We were a wee bit sloppy in possession, particularly me in the first half, a few of the balls went out. But we got the goal and I think the goal that got disallowed was a bit soft but that’s football. We started the second half really well, we had them pinned back and it looked like a matter of time until we got the goal. But when you don’t get the goal Man United start to get a bit of confidence from that and we should have killed them off in that moment, but we did in the end.”

7:17: Robertson asked about Liverpool edging closer to winning a first title in 30 years: “We are not getting carried away. Until the champions sign is above our head we don’t believe anything because, yeah, it is a comfortable lead, 16 points, but we know how tough this league is. We beat Man United and then we go away to Wolves who are flying and it is an incredibly tough game. We know in a couple of weeks the table can change. It is up to us to stay 100 percent focused and not allow that to happen.”

7:20: Brazilian TV sum up what Fred said to them earlier: “We should have taken our chances” was his assessment of Man United, who somehow hung in there until the 90th minute. To be fair, United did have one or two glorious chances.

7:23: Virgil van Dijk stops for a chat as we ask him about the fans finally chanting “We’re going to win the league!” and if he agrees with that sentiment. Safe to say VVD isn’t getting carried away.

Focusing on Liverpool’s display against Man United, was this about staying focused as they dominated but didn’t score a second until stoppage time?

“Obviously we want to score more goals. We had quite some opportunities to make it easier but in the end you need to find a way to win a game. We defended a little bit deeper at times because they kept pressing, they kept players up and you need to find a way and we did but we could have made it easier.”

As for his goal, the Dutchman towered above Man United’s Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams to head home the opener to set the tone for a dominant win. Did Liverpool target United on set pieces?

“Obviously every game we try to look at the set-pieces to score. We have players that can be very dangerous including myself but it is not always easy and today I think it was a perfect set-piece. We wanted to target the near post and I’m happy it was very important.”

7:28: James Milner and Adam Lallana then walk through in different directions with their kids. Lallana’s kid in full kit. Good effort. Maybe Lallana Jr. was almost on the bench for the FA Cup win against Everton a few weeks ago…

7:30: Okay, all of the players have gone home. Cameras are turned off. The Mixed Zone is closed.

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.