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Guardiola’s postmatch stubbornness is petulant, not defiant

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“What happened today, we showed why [we] are champions,” Pep Guardiola said with a shake of the head, his arms crossed and wry smile creeping across his face. “I am so proud of my team, more than ever. We can be proud of how we played against the strongest team in Europe. We played like back-to-back champions.”

[ MORE: PL title is Liverpool’s to lose ]

Those were his words after a comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Anfield where Liverpool yet again confounded one of the game’s greatest managers at maybe his most imposing House of Horror. Manchester City was time and again ripped apart at the back by Liverpool’s class on the ball and cunning off it.

Yet here was Pep Guardiola, fresh off a vigorous handshake with the referees at the final whistle that dripped with the sarcasm of a child having recently been grounded, claiming his team produced “one of the best performances we have played.”

Liverpool was, to put it simply, better than Manchester City on the day. The players Guardiola picked in the team struggled mightily, with his full-backs Angelino and Kyle Walker both culpable on Liverpool goals while Joao Cancelo looked on from the bench and expensive Frenchman Benjamin Mendy wasn’t even in the squad. Sergio Aguero toiled through yet another fruitless performance at Anfield and Gabriel Jesus was too little too late as the only Man City substitute of the day. 34-year-old midfielder Fernandinho was preferred to natural defender Nicolas Otamendi at center-back alongside John Stones.

Guardiola’s rage stemmed mostly from an early penalty decision that went against the visitors, with the ball clearly striking Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s arm in the box just moments before Fabinho‘s sixth-minute opener. Referee Michael Oliver had an excellent view of the incident and judged Alexander-Arnold’s arm to be in a natural position, and while that original decision could be coherently argued as controversial (not by this article’s author), VAR finally handled a judgement call correctly by not reviewing the incident, as the debate proves the potential refereeing error was far from “clear and obvious.”

After Guardiola’s embarrassing post-match handshake, he was naturally asked about the early decision. While the City boss averted the question, he made his thoughts clear enough by calling out not the on-field referee Oliver, but instead the booth officials in his thinly veiled deflection “ask [PGMOL chair] Mike Riley and the guys who are in the VAR, don’t ask me.” He believed the decision should have been reviewed. Sorry Pep, but quite plainly, it should not, and was not. Move on.

The manager was far from the only party to shoulder blame in defeat. Kevin De Bruyne‘s usual brilliance eluded him from the opening whistle through the final push. Raheem Sterling, who has so often shouldered Man City’s burdens the past two seasons, was dangerous throughout but lacked a finishing touch. Ilkay Gundogan‘s laziness contributed heavily to the Liverpool opener. Even Man City’s best player Rodri was yellow carded for dissent on a frustrating day.

The flaws of the defending champions were on display for all to see. Injuries have ravaged this team’s back line with defenders Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko out long-term, while goalkeeper Ederson was felled midweek in Champions League play. Jose Mourinho made a handful of enemies during his Premier League tenures by claiming his teams played well when they clearly did not, and Guardiola’s post-match defiance was a page out of Mourinho 101. The Spaniard has not yet gone down that road entirely, but he would be wise not to take more steps in that direction, for it is petulance, not defiance, that his post-match antics oozed after Sunday’s humbling loss.

The season is far from over – an eight-point lead in November is far less than many have made it out to be in yesterday’s aftermath. How quickly we forget just last season City’s title run included erasures of a seven-point deficit by New Year’s and a five-point Liverpool advantage in early February. Still, for the Man City boss to pass a sound defeat as “so good” and cast doubt on solid refereeing is not a show of fortitude, it is a child-like tantrum that denies the eyes and ears of the fans who watched, clear as day, their two-time defending champions beaten soundly at a stadium that continues to get the best of Pep Guardiola.

Liverpool smacks Man City, puts both hands on title fate

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Liverpool put both of its hands around the Premier League title race in dismissing sloppy Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday.

The win boosts the Reds eight points clear of the field and nine points ahead of fourth place City, the two-time reigning Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Fabinho and Mohamed Salah scored first half goals for the Premier League leaders, and Sadio Mane salted away the result early in the second half.

Bernardo Silva scored a late goal for City, providing some drama for the final dozen minutes


Three stars, three duds

Star No. 1: Fabinho was an absolute monster in every third, scorching the match-opening goal and making life miserable for the City attackers and midfielders alike in the heart of the pitch. He may be the MVP of the title campaign so far.

Star No. 2: Mohamed Salah was electric in the first half, timing his run perfectly to send the Reds ahead by two and making himself a menace in the decisive first half.

Star No. 3: The goalkeeper didn’t have to make too many saves, and Alisson Becker certainly cannot be blamed for Bernardo’s vicious, unmarked back post lash to make it 3-1. Alisson was calm in collecting the ball and commanded his area.

Dud No. 1: VAR and/or referee Michael Oliver. Liverpool deserved this win, make no mistake about it, but the non-call on Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s handball moments before the Reds took a 1-0 lead was a tough one to take for anyone other than Liverpool and its fans.

Duds Nos. 2 and 3: Raheem Sterling was shook in his old home, booed at every turn and simply miserable in possession. His frustration got the best of him, his body language betraying him. Credit to the Englishman for continuing to fight for goals well after Sergio Aguero was withdrawn, the Argentine just not anywhere near his best and missing multiple chances to get on the board.

Bonus Dud: City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had a difficult job to do, and he did it poorly, making just one key positive play while allowing a trio of Reds goals.


Liverpool scored with its only moment of the first 7 minutes, which came after Trent Alexander-Arnold went unwhistled for a handball in the box.

The moment was electric; Fabinho smashed a shot past Claudio Bravo for 1-0.

City was still all over Liverpool, with Raheem Sterling nodding wide and John Stones failing to get on the end of Kevin De Bruyne‘s 12th minute free kick.

Bravo was beaten again when Salah got on the end of a cross through the box and headed past the Chilean keeper.

Alisson made a fine two-handed parry on Sergio Aguero in the 25th. Angelino saw a deflected strike hit the post when he lost Jordan Henderson but couldn’t beat Van Dijk for a clean strike in the 29th.

Bravo parried a Firmino drive in the 38th minute, Liverpool continuing to thrive on the counter.

Kyle Walker tore a shot well wide in the 39th, and Aguero dragged a shot wide of the far post in the 42nd.

Salah came close with a distance effort in the 45th minute, but Bravo made an outstanding save.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The second half started with more for City, a deflected shot earning a corner that was played short and wound up with Alisson.

Mane to put the match to bed out of nothing, Liverpool’s first meaningful attack of the second half defying Bravo. Jordan Henderson’s cross caught him out, and Mane’s header was pushed into the side panel by the Chilean.

Man City tried to answer through Sterling, whose shot was blocked by Dejan Lovren for a corner which again came to nothing.

Bernardo grabbed one back in the 78th, and Sterling had Gabriel Jesus cued up for a second in the 80th but it caught the Brazilian off balance.

Walker missed a back post bid from the influential Angelino, and City couldn’t break through Liverpool’s set-in side.

Watch Live: Liverpool v. Manchester City

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It’s a big one at Anfield.

Manchester City heads to Liverpool on Sunday with a six-point gap between it and the league-leading Reds, who are chasing their first league title of the Premier League era (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Rodri passes fit for City but Ederson does not, putting Claudio Bravo between the sticks. John Stones and Fernandinho are the center backs.

It’s as expected for Liverpool, as Jurgen Klopp chooses Dejan Lovren over Joe Gomez at center back and keeps James Milner on the bench as well.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Mane, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Adrian, Milner, Keita, Lallana, Origi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gomez.

Manchester City: Bravo, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho (C), Angelino, Rodrigo, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Carson, Jesus, Silva, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.

How should Man City and Liverpool rotate their squads?

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With Liverpool and Manchester City set for a heavyweight clash this weekend, the teams must still navigate the midweek Champions League bouts, and decisions remain for both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp on how to both allow players to compete for places and rest those who require some time on the bench.

For Liverpool, the easiest decision Klopp will make as Liverpool gets set to take on Genk on Tuesday is to sit Mohamed Salah who has dealt with an ankle problem over the past month and with international duty coming up needs all the time to rest he possibly can muster. However, there are a few decisions the German must make that require a bit more thought.

With Joel Matip out for three weeks with a knee injury suffered against Sheffield United, Dejan Lovren has been deputizing at center-back alongside Virgil Van Dijk. Klopp must decide whether to allow Lovern to continue in that role and develop a consistent and critical partnership with his new center-back pairing or allow Joe Gomez a chance to prove himself in that slot. Consistency is often a valuable component of a center-back partnership, but offering Gomez an opportunity to snatch the position for himself could also potentially be beneficial down the road.

There are also questions about how to proceed in midfield as the Reds have some players clamoring for playing time. Fabinho was benched against Aston Villa as the Brazilian sits on a yellow card, ensuring his availability for the Man City game, but he could be afforded a run out against Genk. Still, playing Fabinho midweek has its risks, and both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita could both be given the spot instead. Adam Lallana started in Fabinho’s place against Villa and could be an option, although he doesn’t seem to be a first-choice player for Klopp at this point, while James Milner is also a do-it-all piece who could be utilized if need be.

The key for Liverpool is they cannot completely look past Genk, for a slip could see them fall out of a qualifying position in Group E altogether. For Manchester City, who travels to Italy for a match with Atalanta on Wednesday, they remain in a position of strength, topping Group C by a significant margin and afforded the opportunity to take chances with the squad.

City is already missing the likes of Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane, and Oleksandr Zinchenko for various long-term reasons, and they have a few more injury concerns this week that thins the squad further. David Silva pulled up just before halftime this weekend against Southampton and is likely out until after the international break, while Rodri also likely remains sidelined with a hamstring problem.

That leaves questions all over the squad. Fernandinho continues to deputize at center-back, preferred over Nicolas Otamendi, but the latter could enter for Champions League play to keep Fernandinho healthy for the weekend’s big game. Angelino suffered cramps against Southampton, and the Atalanta game could be another chance for Benjamin Mendy to earn favor going forward.

In midfield, Phil Foden is a likely replacement for David Silva, a chance for the 19-year-old to earn a first-team place and potentially start over the weekend as well, while Riyad Mahrez could play with Guardiola potentially spelling either Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling for a rest. Kevin De Bruyne is always an injury concern for Man City, having missed a host of games over the past two years with various problems, so he also presents a decision for Guardiola should the Spaniard wish to mitigate risk, but the David Silva injury will not allow him to do that without making concessions elsewhere.

Chopping and changing is part of the game, but too much can bring a halt to a squad’s togetherness and momentum. Consistency is a key factor for many top managers, and both head men will have big decisions to make with such a massive game on the horizon.

EFL Cup Tuesday preview: Man City, Leicester, Everton in action

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Five Premier League teams return to the field for League Cup fourth round action on Tuesday, including a pair of all-Premier League meetings.

A berth in the quarterfinals is on the line, but many top-tier teams still may wish to rotate the squad as fixture congestion continues to prove difficult to navigate. Manchester City is likely top of that list as they take on Southampton, with Pep Guardiola potentially looking to get fringe players some time against Premier League opposition.

22-year-old Angelino seems the most likely of the reserves to see the field, although Guardiola could look to get Benjamin Mendy more playing time in place of the injured Oleksandr Zinchenko. Riyad Mahrez could get a run on the field while Raheem Sterling sits, while teens Eric Garcia and Adrian Bernabe both could be in contention. Southampton will be looking to bounce back from its landmark drubbing against Leicester City over the weekend, and that could push Ralph Hasenhuttl to field a strong lineup.

Also meeting are Everton and Watford at Goodison Park, with both squads languishing in the bottom of the league table and looking for some form. The Toffees feel like they’re on the brink of breaking through with a string of performances, and this match looks a promising chance to break the scoring struggles against a woeful Watford defense.

Leicester City has drawn a road date with Burton Albion coming on the heels of the Saints pasting. They have scored 21 goals across their last four matches, white-hot form that will have Burton fans cowering prior to this matchup. Burton Albion sits 13th in League One after relegation last season, but they knocked off Bournemouth last time out, so the Foxes will need to keep their heads.

All games kick at 3:45 p.m. ET.

Tuesday EFL Cup matches

Man City v. Southampton
Everton v. Watford
Burton Albion v. Leicester City
Crawley Town v. Colchester United
Oxford United v. Sunderland