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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.

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.

PL Sunday Preview: Wolves, Man United in action; Liverpool host Man City

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Brighton all in action. It is also headlined by the biggest match of the season yet: Liverpool vs Manchester City.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Wolves vs. Aston Villa — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just weeks removed from a EFL Cup bout between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa that saw the latter come out victorious 2-1, both West Midland sides will meet again.

This time, however, the scenario will be distinct. Both sides won’t meet at Villa Park; instead,  Stadium will be the stadium of choice. Second-choice sides will not be front and center. It’s a league match, both teams will lineup with the best they have to offer and, as a result the intensity, will be vastly fiercer.

That’s if Wolves have the legs for that scenario to be a reality in the first place.

With Europa League added to an already daunting schedule, Nuno Espirito Santo and company have played eight matches since the start of October, averaging more than one per week. Villa, who’ve lost back to back league matches, are mindful of that and hope it will benefit them when all is said and done.

“They’re very tough to beat, they’ve got great organization and structure,” Villa manager Dean Smith ahead of Sunday’s derby. “They’ve got players who can score goals having gone to Manchester City and won, gone to Arsenal and equalized to come away with a point…so they’ll feel they’re in a run of form.”

“People look from the outside and think ‘is the amount of games they’re playing going to catch up with them?,'” he added. “We’re hopeful that is does on Sunday.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Gibbs-White (back), Boly (leg)| Aston Villa — OUT: Keenan Davis (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCS and NBCSports.com

Brighton and Hove Albion have never won at Old Trafford.

Graham Potter and his group of players want to make history and change that against a historically-poor Manchester United.

“It would be great to get a result this weekend at one of the best places in world football,” Potter said. “Their quality is undoubted and we respect that – but we want to go there and be ourselves and take on the challenge in a positive way.”

Brighton are in positive form, sitting eighth on the table and two points clear of United, who haven’t had a start to the season as dreadful as 2019’s – 13 points in 11 matches – since 1986 under Ron Atkinson. In their last four bouts, Brighton have earned victories in three, defeating Tottenham, Everton and Norwich City.

It’s all very different for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Red Devils.

Despite a convincing 3-0 win over a paltry Partizan midweek, the pressure at Old Trafford keeps looming over the injury-riddled team, who lost their previous league match against Bournemouth 1-0. Time and time again, the questions have been asked, but the answers have yet to surface.

Even then, Solskjaer feels their latest Europa League victory has left them with a blueprint.

“This is a little bit of a template on how we want to play, definitely,” the Norwegian manager stated following his team’s win on Thursday. “No disrespect to Partizan, but they gave us spaces. Of course after we scored the first goal, they went forward.”

“These boys are learning,” he added. “Tonight will give them loads of pointers of how to play. Even though the opposition is not the same as in the Premier League, it was still good principles.”

Nowhere was the word “consistency” mentioned, however. If they want to right the ship, they’ll need to learn it.

INJURIES: Manchester United — OUT: Dalot (hip), Matic (knock), Luke Shaw (thigh), Tuanzebe (hip), Eric Bailly (knee), Fosu-Mensah (knee), Pogba (ankle); SUSPENDED: Ashley Young (one match) | Brighton — OUT: Bernardo (knee), Izquierdo (knee), Webster (ankle)

Liverpool vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCS and NBCSports.com

It’s the match everyone had circled on their calendars: Jurgen Klopp‘s unbeaten Liverpool against Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City in front of a sold-out Anfield.

It’s the type of spectacle that requires no added hype, even though Klopp did just that heading into the season’s biggest match yet.

“From a sport’s point of view this rivalry is getting bigger and bigger,” the German manager said in front of an eager press conference room this weekend. “Thank god there is a rivalry because it means we are a pretty good team as well.”

“If you are not brave against Man City you don’t have the chance of even a point,” he added. “Everyone has to be in top shape in the stadium on Sunday, even the guy selling the hotdogs. Everyone has to be there from the warm-up and invest all our emotions.”

With City in position to jump to second and be only three points from Liverpool with a win, the match promises to have it all. And Guardiola main message is urging his players to leave it all on the field when they take on the league’s favorites.

“I just want my team to fight to the end,” the 48-year-old said. “Liverpool are a team that lost one game last season, none this season, so you cannot believe that they will lose many, but the season is long.”

“They do everything well,” he added. “You see the team, what is the weak point? They are a real complete team and we need this kind of rival.”

That said, City is stuffed with injuries – namely, Ederson and David Silva, who were both unable to recover and get fit for Sunday’s clash. Claudio Bravo, who saw a red card midweek in Champions League play, will be between the sticks for the defending champions.

What many think will prove to be problematic for the visitors, is the opposite of loss of quality for Guardiola. The Spaniard is convinced that the Chilean goalkeeper has the ability and is of the pedigree to play in matches of such stature.

“He is an exceptional goalkeeper,” Guardiola said. “He is an international goalkeeper. I have no doubts.

“Why shouldn’t I be confident about my players? I see him every day in training. We won’t lose because of Claudio.

“The red card the other day was because we lost the ball,” he added. Respect the guy. He is a top keeper.”

Surely, Liverpool, led by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, will look to exploit any deficiencies City puts forward. For now, those deficiencies are unknown.

What is public knowledge, however, is that very few matches – if any – this season will be as big as Sunday’s.

INJURIES: Liverpool  OUT: Joel Matip (knee), Xherdan Shaqiri (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee) | Manchester City  OUT: Ederson (knock), Rodri (hamstring), David Silva (thigh), Zinchenko (knee), Leroy Sané (knee), Laporte (knee)

Alisson: ‘We don’t want to feel how we felt last season’

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Liverpool’s star goalkeeper Alisson doesn’t want a repeat of last season.

The Brazilian stopper was named the best goalkeeper on the planet after his heroics in his debut season at Anfield as the Reds won the UEFA Champions League and came agonizingly close to winning the Premier League.

Ahead of their massive clash at Anfield against Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NNBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Alisson told reporters that not repeating last season is Liverpool’s main motivation.

“Last season we had a great experience, an almost perfect season. We lost one game and that one game was against City,” Alisson said. “We know how big this game is for us. We know how big the game is for everyone – for them and for our fans. In the end it is just three more important points but Manchester City have been the best team in the league for the last few years so we need to give everything to win this game.

“We don’t want to feel how we felt last season. Being second by just one point – and we don’t know which game made us lose the title because we had a few draws where we could have done better, and we had the loss away to Man City when we could have won or drawn – means we know that we need to give everything in every game if we want to become Premier League champions. We want it and we will try to do it.”

Liverpool’s haul of 97 points was incredible, as they came up one point short of Man City who sealed the title on the final day of the 2018-19 campaign after clawing back a seven-point deficit.

Liverpool lead second-place Man City by six points heading into this game.

City took four points from their games against Liverpool last season and you feel like they’ll have to at least match that this season to have any chance of climbing above Liverpool to win the title.

Alisson and Liverpool are the heavy favorites to win at Anfield on Sunday, with his Brazilian compatriot and fellow goalkeeper Ederson out injured, which adds to the defensive woes of Pep Guardiola‘s side.

That said, Man City’s attacking talents are clear for all to see and Alisson will have to be on top form on Sunday as Liverpool aim to go one better than last season.

Ederson out for Liverpool game, while Van Dijk fit for Reds

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Pep Guardiola confirmed Manchester City’s injury fears ahead of the massive game against Liverpool at Anfield, with Ederson set to miss out after limping off at halftime of the weekday Champions League draw with Atalanta.

The Brazilian goalkeeper was withdrawn at the break for Claudio Bravo, who himself was unable to finish the match after being sent off, leaving Kyle Walker to don the gloves for the final few minutes. “He is not able to play,” Guardiola said of Ederson. “On Sunday he cannot play. We have another top keeper. We won the Carabao Cup and FA Cup thanks to Claudio. He is an exceptional goalkeeper.”

That leaves Man City even more thin at the back, already missing defenders Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko to long-term knee injuries. Laporte has a torn ACL and will miss at least the majority of the season, while Zinchenko is expected back in December after knee surgery of his own. John Stones is back in action, having returned in mid-October from his injury and utilized in each of the last three Premier League games, but he was rested midweek as Fernandinho deputized at center-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi.

Guardiola did not address the status of David Silva, but reports state that the Spaniard will also miss the game against Liverpool. The boss did say last weekend that Silva would be sidelined 10-12 days with a muscular injury suffered against Southampton. With two goals and four assists this season, Silva would be a big loss to an already thin Man City squad that utilized Bernardo Silva in a more central role with the Spaniard missing midweek.

For Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp confirmed that defender Virgil Van Dijk is ready to go despite missing training on Thursday, confirming that the absence was merely for personal reasons as the defender returned home to receive an award from the Dutch royal family. The Reds boss did say that Joel Matip and Xherdan Shaqiri are both out for the game, meaning that either Dejan Lovren or Joe Gomez will partner van Dijk in the middle. Lovren has played each of the last two Premier League matches in place of Matip, while Gomez was given the start midweek against Genk in Champions League play.