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Guardiola praises Liverpool; injury update

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With the Premier League games coming thick and fast as midweek action now takes center stage, Premier League managers have been giving us injury updates on Monday and Pep Guardiola has praised Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola has doffed his cap to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool once again, as the Reds have now moved 16 points clear of second-place Man City and have a game in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

“We can’t deny Liverpool are extraordinary,” Guardiola said. “But everyday I live thinking about what we can do better. Some games are good, we concede few. We have scored more than Liverpool. I don’t have stats here but we concede more chances and drop points.”

In short from Pep: Damn, we should have signed more, and better, defenders this summer. Oh, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was unlucky.

Guardiola has confirmed that Laporte is close to a return to fitness after the silky French center back missed the last four months with a knee injury. He also confirmed that both John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are doubtful for the trip to Sheffield United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

That starts our quick round up of injury news around the Premier League ahead of the midweek games…

  • Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said that Reece James has avoided a serious knee injury after coming off against Newcastle. He could play against Arsenal (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Marcos Alonso is also back in the squad. 
  • Mikel Arteta said that Sokratis will not play at Chelsea due to illness, while Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson will both be out until early February.
  • Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star Brazilian attacker Richarlison will miss their clash against Newcastle United on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) as he continues to recover from a knee injury. 
  • Newcastle’s injury woes continue as both Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett have been ruled out for the rest of the season. Willems has ruptured his ACL after falling awkwardly in the 1-0 win against Chelsea. The Magpies will have to do some business in January to patch up their squad.
  • Southampton look set to be without Jan Bednarek for their trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com). The Polish center back, who has started every single PL game this season, has an Achilles injury. Palace welcome back Max Meyer as he’s recovered from an ankle injury caused by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s lunging tackle.
  • Bournemouth could have Lloyd Kelly back after his lengthy injury, as the Cherries take on South Coast rivals Brighton in a massive game at the bottom of the table.

Late drama galore as Palace hold Man City

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Crystal Palace scored a 90th minute equalizer to draw 2-2 at Man City on Saturday.

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Cenk Tosun had given Palace an early lead and it looked like that would be enough but Sergio Aguero struck twice in the final 10 minutes to put City 2-1 up, then Wilfried Zaha‘s run and cross was bundled into his own net by Fernandinho as the Eagles snatched a point.

With the draw Man City momentarily close the gap on Liverpool at the top of the table to 13 points but Liverpool have two games in hand. Palace sit in ninth place on 30 points.


3 things we learned

1. City’s set piece problem: Palace’s first goal summed up the issues City are having each game due to their lack of fit and in-form defenders. Gary Cahill rose above City;’s defense and Tosun was left unmarked to head home his header. For all of City’s stunning play on the ball, defensively they always look vulnerable from set piece situations. That is why they are so far off Liverpool.

2. Zaha leads Palace: Over the last few months Zaha has been superb and he really is taking games by the scruff of the beck. Palace have lost just one of their last 10 and are tough to beat and Zaha and his teammates never give up. Saturday was the perfect example of that as his probing run and cross set up the equalizer and he was a constant threat.

3. Title race will be over on Sunday: Anybody who had a slight feeling that City could get themselves back in the title race will now be feeling otherwise. Liverpool are 13 points clear of second place City and have two games in hand. Liverpool have been superb but City are dropping so many needless points.

Man of the Match: Wilfried Zaha – His running, passing, crosses and general play was just stunning. Maybe he’s playing for a move away? Maybe he’s finally settled after a unsettled summer.


Man City dominated early on as Aguero’s free kick was saved by Vicente Guaita.

Kevin De Bruyne hit the crossbar from a free kick as Man City battered Palace, but the Eagles felt they should have had a penalty kick as Wilfried Zaha went down in the box. But VAR was used and said no penalty.

Palace took the lead from a set piece situation as a corner was headed across goal by Gary Cahill and Tosun nodded home his first Palace goal on his first start for the Eagles.

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Sterling curled just wide as City worked hard to get back in the game, with Aguero’s shot into the ground finding Bernardo Silva but his shot was saved by Guaita.

On the break Palace almost doubled their lead as Zaha found Tosun but his shot was saved by Ederson.

A huge moment of controversy then arrived as a penalty kick was awarded for a handball against Jairo Riedewald but VAR looked at the decision and overturned it as the ball his his leg first, then deflected onto his hand.

Man City did grab a deserved equalizer as a Gabriel Jesus cross to the back post found Aguero who finished.

Late on City laid siege to the Palace goal and they went ahead. Aguero struck in the 87th minute as Benjamin Mendy whipped in a lovely cross and the Argentine nodded home his second in five minutes to complete the turnaround but more late drama followed.

Zaha raced down the left wing and crossed into the box as Fernandinho could do nothing but put the ball into his own net to make it 2-2.

Three things learned: Arsenal v. Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City swept Arsenal aside on Sunday in the Premier League to win 3-0 as festive cheer was in short supply amongst the home fans at the Emirates Stadium.

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Kevin De Bruyne‘s masterclass saw him score twice and grab an assist as Man City ran riot in the first half and Arsenal’s injury-hit defense never recovered.

Here’s what we learned as interim Arsenal boss Freddie Ljungberg saw his side dominated by Pep Guardiola‘s Man City.


DE BRUYNE ON ANOTHER LEVEL

KEVINNNNN! Kevin de Bruyne was on another level on Sunday as he ripped Arsenal apart in the first half. He scored twice, cracking finishes with either foot, forced a superb save from Bernd Leno who tipped his shot onto the post, and he set up Raheem Sterling as City destroyed Arsenal. KDB has been fit for most of this season and he is the main reason why you think City could still surge towards an unlikely title push in the second half of the campaign, or more likely have a serious chance of winning the UEFA Champions League.

A fit and fired up De Bruyne is exactly what Man City need right now.

We’ve all seen the clips of him getting angry in the past (“Let me talk! Let me talk!”) and when the Belgian wizard is fired up he’s a joy to watch. In the second half Arsenal’s fans let out gasps as he nutmegged Guendouzi on the left flank to find Raheem Sterling who was 30 yards to his left and behind him. His vision is incredible and his driving runs scythed through the heart of the Gunners time and time again. Whatever Man City win, or don’t win, this season the main positive is that Kevin de Bruyne is fully fit and back to his best. Everyone’s a winner (except their opponents) when KDB is firing on all cylinders like this.


LJUNGBERG FAILING HIS ARSENAL AUDITION

Arsenal’s fans aren’t angry at their team anymore. They are just disappointed. Any teenager who’s had a similar run in with their parents can tell you exactly how horrible that feels.

Freddie Ljungberg has drawn against Norwich and Standard Liege, beat West Ham and now lost to Brighton and Man City in his first five games in charge. It’s hardly promising stuff from the Arsenal interim manager. His two week audition has seen Arsenal reignite their attacking prowess, one of his core philosophies as a coach, but defensively they remain woeful. Yes, injuries at the back, which now include Sead Kolasinac, have hampered the team but they are too naive, too idealistic. Ljungberg wants them to attack but this is no different than Arsene Wenger and the same as Unai Emery. Nothing has changed. Instead of setting his team up to be tough to beat and battling for every ball, they are too easy to pass through. There is no ‘going back to basics’ but instead the status quo remains intact.

Whispers around the press room before the game suggested that Ljungberg will be given until the end of the season to lead the Gunners while the hierarchy wait to appoint the perfect candidate. With a top four place still, quite remarkably, on the line, Arsenal’s dilly-dallying will surely cost them any chance they have to reach the top four. Tottenham’s rapid response to fire Mauricio Pochettino and hire Jose Mourinho has worked, with Spurs just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea and building momentum. Arsenal are just seven points off the top four but stuck in neutral and will be until Ljungberg is either given the rest of the season or a new man arrives. The team, fans and the entire club is stuck in limbo.

The fans seem to have checked out already. On Sunday it was so quite that at times you could heard the Arsenal players, mostly Calum Chambers, calmly giving out instructions to other defenders. There was an acceptance that Man City were so far and above Arsenal that the home fans might as well stick around to watch City play. They ignored the chants/taunts from the away end telling them they should have “gone Christmas shopping!” and watched on in despair as Arsenal’s injury-hit defense crumbled and their managerless side limp on. The damage was done in the first half and although it was 0-0 for the second half, that was more about Man City coasting than Arsenal improving.


CITY CAN STILL SALVAGE THEIR SEASON 

Man City are still 14 points behind leaders Liverpool but they’re now able to eat away at that gap a little with Liverpool on Club World Cup duty next week. They face Leicester City next and can move to within one point of the second-place Foxes with a win at the King Power Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s men will never stop believing they can win every single game between now and the end of the season, and they could quite easily do that.

Defensively they weren’t that troubled on Sunday, but they still have up gilt-edged chances as Gabriel Martinelli was denied early on and Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had chances in the second half. The back four of Kyle Walker, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamandi and Benjamin Mendy just did okay, and that was enough thanks to the brilliance of Kevin de Bruyne. But Mendy in particular was suspect defensively and City still have a soft underbelly. Their squad strength will come to the fore in the next few weeks over the festive season and in early January, just like last season, we will get a better idea as to whether or not they can salvage their season by becoming genuine contenders in the Premier League and Champions League.

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

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The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Pulisic watch: A quieter day versus the 2-time champs

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Saturday’s day at Manchester City wasn’t anything to write home about given Christian Pulisic‘s lofty recent standards, but the Chelsea man still had his moments in a 90-minute run at the Etihad Stadium.

Pulisic failed to register a shot attempt, but was tidy in possession with 84 percent passing and 50 touches. He was 2 of 3 in dribble attempts, and was credited with a key pass (likely either the 71st or 80th minute below).

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Chelsea ]

Overall, his day was about doing the little things rather than the flashy stuff, though he could’ve easily had an assist on the day.

Here are the standout moments for the USMNT star during his stay at the Etihad Stadium, which went the distance as Frank Lampard continues to grow in trust of his American winger.

10th minute: Dribbles to the end line to cut a cross to the back post that City left back Benjamin Mendy flicks away.

 (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

11th minute: Slips in N’Golo Kante with an incisive pass, but the Frenchman’s pass to Tammy Abraham is sliced just wide of the goal.

45+3: Again drives the right to offer a hard left-footed pass into the mix, but it’s cut out by City.

52nd minute: Zips from the left wing into space and starts a move that ends with a Willian blocked shot.

62nd minute: Helps shuttle a move from the center to the left, then involved in interplay before a cross to Willian was sprayed too far by Jorginho.

71st minute: Pulisic dribbles in a phone booth before slipping Abraham between Mendy and Fernandinho, but the striker betrays his chance.

80th minute: Takes a feed from Mount and takes a long dribble toward the 18 before firing a pass that Willian rips on goal for a flying Ederson tip over the bar (somehow given for a goal kick).

89th minute: Traded passes in a sea of City defenders before his run to a through ball was defied by a sliding Ederson.