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Four things from the Manchester Derby

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Three more wins.

That’s all Manchester City needs to guarantee a second-straight Premier League title under Pep Guardiola following a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United on Wednesday at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-2 Man City ]

How did City get there? A gritty first half stepped aside for a clear gulf in class.

That pregame fouling banter was more than a subplot

On Tuesday, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed that City is a kicking foul machine to limit counter attacks and Pep Guardiola responded by, and I’m paraphrasing, “We aren’t, but let’s talk after the game, bruh.”

Well, City snapped into those tackles with a little more vigor on Wednesday, willing to take yellow cards in exchange for some angry staredowns with United and its bench.

Sometimes the Manchester Derby doesn’t get the true derby vibe because neither side is known for snapping into the other with tackles, but Vincent Kompany‘s NHL-style open-ice hit to earn a first half yellow served notice that the physical play wasn’t going away.

Gundogan steps up at both ends, helps Bernardo open scoring

German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was not at his best when City fell to Spurs in the UEFA Champions League, but he was versatile and vigorous on Wednesday at Old Trafford.

Neither David De Gea nor Luke Shaw covered themselves in glory on Bernardo Silva‘s opener, but Gundogan cued it up with a tougher-than-it-looks pass to the right side of the 18.

And with key piece Fernandinho on the bench with injury, Gundogan put forth a strong performance as a combination holding/defensive midfielder.

Zinchenko as Pep’s safer Sane

Follow me here: Twenty-two year old Oleksandr Zinchenko is not the elite-level threat presented by an in-form Leroy Sane, but he doesn’t have to be when Pep Guardiola wants to play it a little safe.

Sane attacking from the left was the key to Guardiola’s 2017-18 masterpiece, but the winger has been a less important piece given the MVP-level season of Raheem Sterling.

A capable center midfielder turned left back, what Zinchenko gives Guardiola is a relentless engine up-and-down the left who can dribble to start plays and pass as well as most on the pitch.

Just look at the matches when Zinchenko has not been available to Guardiola and witness the struggles at left back. The Ukrainian was linked with a move away from the Etihad before the season, but it seems more likely he’ll be choice A for Pep moving forward.

Pogba not enough, Rashford still stuck in rut

Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are remarkable talents, but neither delivered on Wednesday relative to ability.

Pogba hit a delightful pass that could’ve been an assist if Jesse Lingard has his legs correct, and also won a few tasty free kicks, but was not the world-class talent we’ve seen so many times.

And Rashford will be a fine forward in the Premier League for a long time, but was again not the consistent force we’ve seen Romelu Lukaku be more often. Rashford has to get that experience to get there, but this was a big spot for him and he was not able to deliver the goods.

Extra things

— Raheem Sterling’s assist on the Leroy Sane insurance goal is a perfect illustration of how much he’s grown as a player. He saw the pass before we saw it on television, and still waiting that extra moment to give Sane time and the perfect weight. He’s my Player of the Year if City wins the title (Otherwise, Virgil Van Dijk).

— Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a good tactical move out of halftime to harry Man City in possession near the halfway line, but never found an answer to the introduction of Sane and Gundogan’s more than capable answer to Fernandinho’s injury.

— Jesse Lingard could’ve scored a handful of goals but his technical skills didn’t reward his utility and intelligence. He’ll sleep poorly tonight.

Solskjaer, Lingard know losses to Barca happen, but rebound necessary

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Barcelona was too much for Manchester United, as the Blaugranas used a prime performance from the best player in the world to advance to the UEFA Champions League Final.

[ RECAP: Barca 3-0 (4-0 agg.) Man Utd ]

United midfielder Jesse Lingard and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understand two things:

  1. Lionel Messi is fantastic.
  2. The Red Devils cannot dwell on their UCL exit, or they won’t be back in the competition next season.

Messi scored a pair of goals in the first 20 minutes, and Philippe Coutinho also scored in a 3-0 win that served to buttress a first leg win to advance 4-0 on aggregate.

“Lionel Messi brought his A-game tonight, he’s one of the best in the world,” Lingard said. “All we can do is move on, it’s a big week ahead. We were always underdogs but we had to back ourselves and believe. Chances in these big games are massive.”

“I have to say Lionel Messi is top quality and he was the difference of course,” Solskjaer said. “He’s different class, he and Cristiano Ronaldo are the best players of the last decade, everyone agrees on that one. Messi showed his quality.”

Solskjaer has long spoken of getting United’s mystique back under the red jersey and inside the walls of Old Trafford.

One thing, though: United needs to be in the Champions League to win the Champions League. The Red Devils need some big performances in the next few weeks to finish in the Top Four.

“We have to aspire to get to that level of Barcelona, we can get there but we have loads of work to do. If we want to get back to Man Utd’s true level, true traditions, we have to challenge Barcelona,” Solskjaer said. “They were a couple of levels above over the two games. We want to play these games again next year so we have a massive week coming up. There is no point dwelling on what could have been, we have to focus on that week.”

The Red Devils are at Everton on Sunday and home to Manchester City on April 24. They finish with Chelsea, Huddersfield Town, and Cardiff City.

Lukaku to join Man United’s summer exodus?

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Romelu Lukaku could be joining the summer exodus at Old Trafford.

With Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, David De Gea and Marcos Rojo linked with moves, plus Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out of contract, Manchester United’s star forward is the latest to be linked with a move away.

His representatives have hardly quashed talk of a transfer this summer.

Lukaku, 25, has lost his starting role to Marcus Rashford in recent weeks, with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard impressing in wide areas under new permanent boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Speaking to our partners at Sky Sports, Federico Pastorello revealed that Lukaku is ‘very open’ to a move this summer.

“At the moment he is very focused on finishing the season,” Pastorello said. “The competition for third and fourth place in England is very tight so let’s see what will happen in the future at the end the season. It’s his second season here and he will still have three years on his contract until the end. Let’s see. He’s someone who loves to know a different culture, a different football.”

“He sees a way to have a career playing in different countries because he would like to win some trophies and prove himself and say to his children ‘I won there and I won there and I won there’ and ‘I was a very good player in all the top championships’ so let’s see, the future is really very open but, at the moment, we don’t discuss about that because really the season is in a big moment.”

Talking about those different countries and culture, Pastorello went on to confirm that Lukaku is interested in playing in Italy, Spain and Germany, and the former is a real option as Serie A is a league he grew up watching. Yet there was also a comment that he appreciates Solskjaer bringing him into the team when he can, as Lukaku how now started seven of United’s last 10 games in all competitions.

But does he have a future at Old Trafford? As a starter, probably not.

Lukaku arrived from Everton in the summer of 2017 with huge expectations on his shoulders and with 42 goals in 90 appearances in all competitions he has delivered plenty of goals. But his all-round play has been criticized time and time again, and with Rashford flourishing in the central role and Solskjaer’s tactics setting United to be a counter-attacking team, it’s clear Lukaku doesn’t really suit that style.

If he leaves United this summer, Lukaku will leave having scored close to one goal every other game, plus winning the League Cup and Europa League. Not a bad haul. United may struggled to get close to the $97 million they paid Everton two years ago for him, but getting around $65-70 million should be doable.

With young talent earmarked to come in under Solskjaer’s watch, the likes of Jadon Sancho, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Declan Rice have all been mentioned as possible arrivals and getting a large chunk of cash for Lukaku while they can wouldn’t be the worst piece of business United could do given their other attacking options.

Maybe a club like Bayern Munich, who are rebuilding their squad and have an ageing Robert Lewandowski to rely on up front, would be a good fit for Lukaku…

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man Utd

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By the time Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is complete, nearly all 20 clubs will have played 30 games in the 2018-19 season, signaling the official start of the run-in.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

From the title, to the top-four, to the relegation battle, there’s still so much left to play for…

Liverpool v. Burnley — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From runaway PL title leaders and favorites, to staring a four-point deficit — with a game in hand, albeit — square in the face, the last two months have been anything but ideal for Liverpool. It’s not as if Jurgen Klopp‘s side has cratered and even lost a single game, so much as Manchester City have regained their brilliant, historic form of last season (three points dropped from their last 11 games) and managed to capitalize on the Reds drawing four of their last six. When 17th-place Burnley visit Anfield on Sunday, Klopp and Co., will have their hands full against increasingly desperate opponents who now sit just two points and one place clear of the relegation zone. There can be no looking ahead to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich (0-0 after the Reds’ home leg).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side was the very definition of up-and-down since mid-January: three draws, followed by two wins, followed by two losses most recently. Prior to starting their potentially season-saving run just before the start of 2019, Burnley sat 19th in the PL table. After winning three straight to start the new year and eventually extending their run to eight games unbeaten (five wins), they had risen as high as 14th. Back-to-back defeats to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United and Crystal Palace have since dropped them back into perilous danger as they head northwest to take on one of the Europe’s most prolific, irresistible sides on Sunday.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (hamstring) | Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Steven Defour (calf), Jonathan Walters (achilles)


Chelsea v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Maurizio Sarri‘s debut season in the PL has been one he, and many Chelsea fans alike, would like to forget. And yet, it’s the sixth-place Blues — of the three teams currently jockeying for fourth place — who control their own destiny, due to having a game in hand and trailing the Champions League places by just two points. Sunday’s opponent, sixth-place Wolves, will be anything but a pushover, which they demonstrated the first time these sides met this season: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea, in December.

Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to the comeback victory at Molineux Stadium, and the prolific duo (17 goals and nine assists between them this PL campaign) will be desperate to complete the unlikely double over such a giant in their first top-flight season in eight years. Against all odds, it’s Wolves who have lost just once in their last seven league games (four wins), and the Blues who have lost three of their last six (three wins) and suffered a frustrating slide down the table. With a six-point advantage over 11th-place Everton, and Sunday’s game in hand, Wolves are merely a handful of results away from mathematically securing a top-half finish with plenty of the season still to run.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: None | Wolves — OUT: Ryan Bennett (suspension)


Arsenal v. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

The leading contestants for a top-four finish are set to face off in a titanic clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the added bonus of making a real push to catch and surpass a Tottenham Hotspur side suddenly spiraling out of control. Man United moved to within three points of Tottenham with their comeback victory over Southampton last weekend, only for those very Saints to do the Red Devils a massive favor on the back end: handing Spurs their third loss in four games.

Three points won’t come easy on Sunday, however, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side was pushed to its limits in the Champions League on Wednesday, only securing their passage to the quarterfinals in the 93rd minute against Paris Saint-Germain. Further complicating matters, United find themselves in the midst of something of an injury crisis (see below). On the bright side, Paul Pogba will be fit and fresh after missing Wednesday’s game due to suspension. On the brightest of bright sides, United remain unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins) since Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be considerably fatigued themselves after losing to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday, and playing nearly 50 minutes with just 10 men. With dwindling hope of lifting the final trophy still in play for the Gunners, Unai Emery‘s main objective has become exceedingly clear: get the club back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. Three points would not only send Arsenal two points clear of United for fourth, but would also trim the gap between themselves and Spurs to just a single point with eight games left to play.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Lucas Torreira (suspension), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (knee), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin), Nemanja Matic (leg), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (illness), Matteo Darmian (undisclosed)

Alexis Sanchez could miss rest of season

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Alexis Sanchez could miss the rest of Manchester United’s season.

The Chilean forward injured ligaments in his right knee during their 3-2 win against Southampton on Saturday, and reports from his native Chile say he could be out for up to eight weeks.

That means Sanchez may only return for United’s final two games of the campaign, if he returns at all, as Chile’s physio Pedro Onate gave the following details to El Mercurio newspaper in Chile.

“We communicated with Sanchez, he has had his scans and that’s the injury – there will be no problems for him to play in the Copa America [this summer] because it will be six to eight weeks without playing,” Onate said. “The medial ligament is a troublesome injury but not so complex.”

Sanchez has really struggled this season at United. First under Jose Mourinho and now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

In truth, the only reason he was playing against Saints at the weekend is because of a raft of injuries for Solskjaer’s side as the likes of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial remain out.

If United reach the FA Cup final then Sanchez could play in that, and we all know how much he loves playing at Wembley and in that competition in particular.

The 30-year-old has had a nightmare 13 months at United so far and this injury at a time when he could have a decent run in the team just about sums it up.

Sanchez has worked hard for Solskjaer, at least defensively, but his attacking spark is certainly missing.