Arijanet Muric

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League Cup Final Preview: Chelsea-Man City

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  • Both Chelsea and Man City have won the League Cup 5 times in club history
  • These teams have never met before in the League Cup final
  • Only 4 clubs have successfully retained the League Cup trophy

Chelsea looks to prove the 6-0 thwacking at the hands of Manchester City two weeks ago was a fluke as the two sides meet with a trophy on the line in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET at Wembley Stadium.

Blues boss Maurizio Sarri has been under fire the last few weeks for a downturn in form, with the club having lost three of its last four Premier League matches, including the heavy defeat to Man City. They have conceded 12 goals in those four matches, blown out not just by Man City but also by Bournemouth, plus a loss to an inconsistent Arsenal side to start the slide.

With a massive chance for Sarri to make a statement that he deserves his position, the Italian may be without first-choice goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who picked up a hamstring injury of late, and could be sidelined alongside Pedro and Davide Zappacosta who both have fallen ill.

For Manchester City, Pep Guardiola will have to make decisions on who to risk amid a tight Premier League title battle with Liverpool. While the trophy obviously means something to both sides, it also presents yet another fixture that could prove costly amid a tight league race which could have implications on the final few months.

Guardiola doesn’t expect to roll over the Blues with the same ease they did two weeks ago. “I don’t like to play the same team in a short period of time when you have beaten them before,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “They [Chelsea] are incredibly professional players, they are proud and bright and will do extra. We are going to play the type of game you have to play in a final and try to win the title.”

The biggest of Guardiola’s selection questions are in net, with the decision of starting regular number one goalkeeper Ederson or third-string Arijanet Muric who has been the go-to netminder for the entire League Cup run. Backup Claudio Bravo has been sidelined for the year with a long-term injury.

“Of course it is not the most important title of the season but once we are here in an amazing stadium against a top side, we want to prepare to win,” Guardiola said.

Also in question may be striker Sergio Aguero who scored a hat-trick against Chelsea last time out. He has featured in two of the five League Cup matches, but the final could be a high-pressure situation to give Gabriel Jesus a look while also giving Aguero some time off. The 30-year-old Aguero has featured in each of the last 10 Premier League matches.

Man City complete Burton battering, reach League Cup final

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As far as formalities go, Manchester City’s task of seeing a nine-goal advantage over the line against Burton Albion in Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal second leg might be best describe as overkill.

[ MORE: Gonzalo Higuain completes loan move to Chelsea ]

The defending Premier League champions completed their rout of the League One side, 1-0 on the day and 10-0 on aggregate, to reach what will be the club’s fourth League Cup final in six seasons on Feb. 24. They have lifted the Cup on each of their previous three trips to the final.

Man City will face the winner of the other semifinal, set to be decided on Thursday. Tottenham Hotspur’s slim 1-0 lead will be put to the test by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Despite his side’s 9-0 lead following an overwhelming demolition job in the first leg, Pep Guardiola named a handful of first-team regulars and fringe players in Wednesday’s team. Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Fabian Delph were picked for the starting lineup.

[ Transfer rumor roundup: James to Spurs, Martins to Newcastle ]

For 25 minutes, City enjoyed a three-quarters majority of the ball and did little more than roll it around Pirelli Stadium. While it took the PL giants longer to open the scoring on Wednesday than in the first leg (five minutes), it didn’t take too terribly long for Aguero to break the deadlock and threatened to reopen the floodgates in the 26th minute.

Burton came closest to a consolation goals in the 70th minute, when they won possession in the middle third of the field and quickly countered. Goalkeeper Arijanet Muric had been beaten, but 18-year-old defender Eric Garcia was perfectly positioned to clear the ball off the line.

Pep on Man City win, Sterling’s poor panenka, Mourinho sacking

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City needed penalties to outlast hosts Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the League Cup, but got the job done thanks in no small part to some laughable efforts from the Foxes.

[ RECAP: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City ]

Kevin De Bruyne and Marc Albrighton scored good-looking goals in regulation, and Oleksandr Zinchenko converted City’s third penalty after Leicester missed three-consecutive offerings at the King Power Stadium.

Man City’s only miss was an awful missed panenka from Raheem Sterling, but Guardiola was mostly okay with the outcome given their lineup.

Eric Garcia started and made his first team debut at age 17. Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz also started the match. Young goalkeeper Arijanet Muric starred for Man City, stopping two penalties in the win. From the BBC:

“A tough game, it is always difficult at Leicester. We played with a guy who is 17 years old and some injured players, it was a good game. … Raheem took that decision [to chip his penalty], unfortunately he missed it but that is OK.”

Guardiola was also asked about fired Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. He feels compassion for his longtime rival.

“I am always sad for the manager when that happens. We are alone in that situation. I am close to all of the managers. You are sacked when results are not good. He doesn’t need me, he is so strong. I wish him all the best and he will be back soon.”

Man City is one win from a third League Cup final in four years, and will face either Burton Albion, Arsenal, Spurs, Bournemouth, or Chelsea. Next up is a visit from Crystal Palace on Saturday and another trip to Leicester on Boxing Day.

League Cup: Man City wins in PKs; Burton upsets Boro

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It took penalty kicks to separate Leicester City and Man City, while Middlesbrough was booed off the pitch after 90 minutes of an upset loss as the first two quarterfinals of the League Cup were played Tuesday in England.

[ MORE: Steffen wins USMNT award ]


Leicester City 1-1 (1-3, PKs) Man City

A bungling batch of penalties ended an entertaining quarterfinal at King Power Stadium, and the reigning champions are alive for their third League Cup in four years.

Christian Fuchs airmailed Leicester City’s second attempt of penalty kicks, but Raheem Sterling chipped his ensuing panenka over the bar for Man City.

It was three-straight misses when Man City’s Arijanet Muric saved James Maddison‘s tame low effort and then nabbed Caglar Soyuncu’s shot to cue up Oleksandar Zinchenko for the winner.

Before that, we learned that Kevin De Bruyne can ball.

Okay, that’s not news, though we haven’t been able to see it in sometime thanks to a pair of knee injuries.

De Bruyne had played just 251 minutes heading into Tuesday’s League Cup quarterfinal at Leicester City, though he’s looking plenty sharp.

Watch the Manchester City midfielder cut his mark with a clever back leg move, then sweep a shot through a defender’s legs and past the reach of Leicester backstop Danny Ward.

It’s delightful stuff. Watch it here.

No sooner had De Bruyne left the contest after 70 minutes, Leicester City restored the stalemate via Marc Albrighton. The veteran midfielder collected a Wilfred Ndidi over-the-top pass with style before lashing past Arijanet Muric.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Burton Albion

There goes Tony Pulis‘ Boro outfit thanks to a strike from Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh, as Burton Albion trumped the ol’ West Bromwich Albion coach at his own game.

The League One side is the only non-Premier League team left in the tournament, and will now face either Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, or Bournemouth in the semifinals.

Steffen to Man City would be worth the risk for USMNT GK

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Zack Steffen is 23 years old, the winner of the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award, and ready to take a second shot at success in a top European league.

The Columbus Crew and USMNT backstop seems likely to join Manchester City on Jan. 1, a destination which has caused significant (and misunderstood) consternation amongst American fans.

[ RECAP: Lyon 2-2 Man City ]

Assuming City has a good feel it can get a special exemption work permit for Steffen, the question uttered most often seems to be, “Why would the presumed No. 1 USMNT goalkeeper go somewhere to be a No. 2?”

The other criticism of the move seems to be, “He’s just going to go on loan to” one of City’s sister clubs like NAC Breda in the Eredivisie.

The answer to the first question is easy. The second? Maybe just as much so.

First off, Manchester City is in a goalkeeping quandary. It has already had to recall Arijanet Muric from a loan stint after losing Claudio Bravo to injury on the heels of selling Angus Gunn to Southampton in August.

Should City defeat Leicester in December’s League Cup quarterfinals, the club will be in four competitions once Steffen arrives and get up to speed. Even if Guardiola is cautious, it’s likely that Steffen will play in League Cup and FA Cup matches during a time he would otherwise be on his proverbial, or actual, couch.

He’ll also be training every day with one of the best teams in the world, something certain to improve his footwork in distribution as he looks to fend off challenges to his No. 1 national team spot from Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and others.

It’s been well-noted that Tim Howard was 23 when he began his 13-year European journey with Manchester United and Everton, although it’s much different as Alex Ferguson was ready to take the No. 1 shirt from Fabian Barthez and give it to Howard (although he pulled it back one year later).

Steffen left the University of Maryland to join Freiburg in the Bundesliga, but couldn’t get playing time. Now he goes back a bit wiser and with a lot more experience.

It’s a tough road for goalkeepers unless they are entrenched somewhere. It’s unlikely that Steffen is going unseat Ederson, but you can be sure City is only going to loan him to a place where he’ll have a legit chance at winning the No. 1.

And if he can’t win the No. 1 job there? Well, guess what USMNT fans? You’ve got much bigger problems if no one can unseat him.

Finally, what if he stays the backup at City, and isn’t playing week-in and week-out? Bravo is 35, and could be gone. Muric is no guarantee to improve enough to unseat him, and Bravo played 19 matches as a healthy backup to Ederson last season.

Finally, he’s going to get a massive raise. That’s not a small thing, and certainly nothing anyone should begrudge him.