Joao Cancelo

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.

Man City ease by Aston Villa, close gap at the top

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Manchester City beat Aston Villa 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday as Pep Guardiola‘s side cut the gap to league leaders Liverpool to three points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The reigning Premier League champs scored three times in the second half as Villa were stubborn but barely threatened in attack. Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne (it looked like David Silva got the final touch) and Ilkay Gundogan grabbed the goals for City as they won with minimum fuss. Fernandinho was sent off for a second yellow card, which means he will miss the League Cup game against Southampton in midweek.

Man City now have 22 points from their opening 10 games of the season, while Villa remain on 11 points.


3 things we learned

1. Sterling’s incredible season continues: Sterling has scored 13 times in 14 appearances in all competitions so far this season. That is an amazing start for the winger. Sterling’s ability to finish chances has improved dramatically and he’s even angry at himself for not scoring or creating more. He is now so efficient in the final third and was so dangerous as Villa didn’t know what to do with him.

2. Man City put the pressure on Liverpool: A few weeks ago City were out of the title race and everyone was handing the trophy to Liverpool. If Jurgen Klopp‘s men slip up against Spurs on Sunday, their lead atop the table could be cut to three or four points. Man City look comfortable at being the hunters, just as they proved last season. It almost helps Guardiola’s men as they crank through the gears and there is extra intensity to their game. City would love to be leading the PL but after their shock defeat against Wolves they have responded well.

3. Villa will be top 10 contenders: They kept City out for 45 minutes but one lapse in concentration cost Aston Villa. Dean Smith will be disappointed with that but he knows that getting points against Man City this week and Liverpool next week would a be a bonus. The newly-promoted side look capable of taking care of business against teams in the bottom half of the table and Villa look set to challenge for a top 10 finish.

Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling – His incredible goalscoring exploits are backed up by his dangerous runs, passes and movement in the final third. He is in the form of his life and driving City on. Superb display.


Man City should have taken the lead as Sterling and David Silva set up the chance and Jesus fired a shot inches wide.

Sterling’s shot then deflected off Bjorn Engels arm and wide and although the home players appealed for a penalty kick, VAR checked and waved the calls away.

On the break Aston Villa almost took the lead as John McGinn curled a powerful shot towards the bottom corner which Ederson saved and on the rebound VAR was used as Douglas Luiz claimed he was taken down by a combination of Fernandinho and Joao Cancelo.

Villa then appealed for another penalty kick as Trezeguet’s was blocked by John Stones but nothing was given, and at the other end Sterling flicked a header just wide after good play from Benjamin Mendy and Silva.

David Silva went close just before the break as he somehow put his shot wide after Sterling’s trickery, as Villa left City frustrated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It took 30 seconds of the second half for City to take the lead as Ederson’s clearance was flicked on by Jesus and Sterling finished to make it 1-0. Easy.

Mendy then had a shot across goal deflected wide as City piled on the pressure, the Engels gave the ball away and Jesus’ shot was saved by Heaton then somehow cleared off the line by Mings.

Villa remained dangerous on the break but City wrapped up the win as De Bruyne’s cross seemed to flick off David Silva’s foot and after a lengthy VAR check with Sterling close to touching the ball from an offside position, the goal stood. 2-0.

Gundogan made it 3-0 soon after as KDB’s corner was kept alive by Fernandinho who whipped the ball across goal and the German midfielder finished in style. Game. Set. Match.

Late on Fernandinho was sent off for picking up a second yellow card, while substitute Phil Foden twice went close, Jesus hit the bar and McGinn hit the post in a wild finale.

Silva’s sensational goal highlights Man City win over Palace

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Manchester City scored twice in two first half minutes to dispatch hosts Crystal Palace in a 2-0 win with plenty of flash points at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

David Silva and Gabriel Jesus scored the goals and Ederson made a number of stylish saves in the victory, with Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva supplying assists.

City moves back into second place with 19 points, five behind leaders Liverpool who visit Manchester United on Sunday.

Palace will finish the weekend sixth on 14 points.


Three things we learned

1. Fits and starts for odd CB pairing: Pep Guardiola was without an injured Nicolas Otamendi and perhaps not ready to put 90 minutes on returning John Stones, so he deployed center mids Rodri and Fernandinho at center back. There were several dicey moments for the pair, who also did well at times in the clean sheet, but perhaps most glaring was Rodri’s absence from the midfield. He’d go there for the final 10 minutes when Stones subbed into the match. If you doubted that Pep would make his employers open the checkbook in January, this lineup may have settled that for you.

2. VAR is so weird: Wilfried Zaha shoved Kevin De Bruyne to turf with two hands, turning the playmaker on his route to the turf. Anthony Taylor didn’t see it, but hey, that’s why we have VAR, correct? Incorrect. VAR backed up the ref on the field and Palace remained in the match. Truly head-scratching on a bad day for the system.

3. Zaha not all there but shows flashes of brilliance: Crystal Palace’s Ivorian star wants out of South London, and it’s affecting his play. The winger disputes every touch from the opposition — he is fouled a lot — who knows they can get to him. He’s produced just one assist this season, and he simply doesn’t have the right desire to get things done for Roy Hodgson.

But, my, when he’s ready to roar. Zaha had several mazy dribbles in the final third and was denied a smashing goal by a flying Ederson in the 89th minute. It wasn’t enough to offset the headaches, like when he followed referee Anthony Taylor around the pitch begging for a yellow card following a tactical foul.

Man of the Match: Sterling — A killer at both ends, even if he missed a would-be third goal in the 87th.


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

City flew out of the gates, and Palace’s heads were spinning over the first 10 minutes despite the reigning champions’ lack of finish.

Palace’s business was in the counter, and Wilfried Zaha raced down the pitch for a chance only to see Fernandinho intervene and cut out the danger in the 19th.

Raheem Sterling made an incredible recovery run to track Zaha after Rodri slipped to the pitch just inside his own half and allowed the Ivorian a path toward glory.

City’s breakthrough came before halftime, as Jesus dove to turn a header off the post and into the goal from a Bernardo Silva cross.

And it was 2-0 within a couple of minutes in marvelous fashion, Sterling scooping a pass over the defense and David Silva spotting the ball in front of him to lash home.

This is sensational stuff.

Joao Cancelo had one of his better performance since joining City from Juventus, and played a 1-2 with Jesus which ended with an amazing save from Wayne Hennesey.

Palace had a vivid spell of possession and nearly pulled one back off a Christian Benteke header which Ederson flew to slap off the crossbar.

At the other end, it should’ve been put to bed when Gabriel Jesus had the ball at the near post and Kevin De Bruyne raced into space for an easy tap-in. Jesus shot instead and was saved.

De Bruyne headed an Ilkay Gundogan pass off the far post with 10 minutes to play.

Zaha saw a rip saved by Ederson, who was fantastic, as time dwindled in South London.

Watch Live: Man City-Wolves, Arsenal-Bournemouth, Saints-Chelsea

Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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The Premier League delivers a monstrous four-match Saturday, including three 9 a.m. ET kickoffs involving European contenders.

Man City hosts Wolves, and Pep Guardiola hands starts Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker, while Riyad Mahrez holds his place against El Tri’s Raul Jimenez (Watch live on NBCSN or online via NBC Sports.com).

[ STREAM: Man City-Wolves ]

Man City: Ederson, Cancelo, Fernandino, Otamendi, Walker, Gundogan, Rodri, Silva, Sterling, Mahrez, Aguero. Subs: Bravo, G. Jesus, Zinchenko, Angelino, Bernardo, Foden, E. Garcia.

Wolves: Patricio, Boly, Coady, Vinagre, Saiss, Traore, Neves, Moutinho, Dendoncker, Cutrone, Jimenez. Subs: Ruddy, Doherty, Vallejo, Bennett, Gibbs-White, Otto, Kilman


Arsenal will look to overpower in-form Bournemouth with a trident of Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and young buck Bukayo Saka (Watch live on CNBC or online via NBCSports.com).

Eddie Howe starts both of his Wilsons, Harry and Callum, but only one of his Cooks (Steve). Lewis Cook is on the bench.

[ STREAM: Arsenal-Bournemouth ]

Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Pepe, Aubameyang, Saka. Subs: Martinez, Tierney, Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Willock, Martinelli.

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico, H. Wilson, Billing, Lerma, King, C. Wilson, Solanke. Subs: Boruc, Francis, Surman, Groeneveld, Cook, Fraser, Kelly.


Christian Pulisic is on the bench for Chelsea, no surprise there, as the Blues continue an open run of fixtures with a trip to Southampton (Watch live on NBC Sports Gold).

Frank Lampard starts Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Callum Hudson-Odoi against a Saints side held up in the middle by ex-Chelsea man Oriol Romeu.

[ STREAM: Southampton-Chelsea ]

Southampton: Gunn, Valery, Bednarek, Yoshida, Bertrand, Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Long, Ings. Subs: McCarthy, Stephens, Adams, Armstrong, Boufal, Obafemi, Danso.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Willian, Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Barkley, Kovacic, Pulisic, Batshuayi, James

Manchester City handles pesky Dinamo Zagreb

Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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Dominant Manchester City had to work for its Raheem Sterling-finished breakthrough in a 2-0 defeat of Dinamo Zagreb in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sterling scored and assisted Phil Foden‘s stoppage time goal, as City took 1,025 touches to the visitors’ 392. Dinamo Zagreb completed just 53 percent of their passes, were out shot 20-2, and had just 19 percent possession.

City now has six points, and has beaten both of the teams in the group who boast wins. A pair of matches with winless Atalanta are next.


Three things we learned

1. Zagreb frustrates with five (plus) at the back: City had more than 80 percent of the ball and almost all of the shot attempts, but the persistent and well-drilled visitors proved difficult to break down.

2. Rodri and Gundogan rule the roost: While Man City’s forwards to their time to find footing, Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were very strong in the midfield. Gundogan completed 113 of his 120 passes, while Rodri converted 116 of 126 passes (92 percent) including a sensational “hockey assist” on Sterling’s opener.

Again, let’s do the math: 229 completed passes between two midfielders. Outstanding.

3. Super sub Sterling supplies breakthrough: The winner was very much a team goal, as Sterling had been in the game for less than 10 minutes when he took a pass from Riyad Mahrez to make it 1-0.

And to combine points Nos. 2 and 3, how about that scything pass from Rodri

Man of the Match: Rodri — He looks the absolute correct piece for City’s midfield puzzle (which was already pretty darn good).


Gundogan cranked a shot off the woodwork, and City later had a goal taken off the board due to Sergio Aguero handling in the build-up.

Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made two first half saves including a very promising opportunity for Aguero.

The frustrations of only producing a single goal despite myriad chances got to Pep Guardiola, who was shown a yellow card for dissent.

Joao Cancelo was a particularly bright spot for City, whipping in crosses and zipping about the right side.

Sterling’s goal came when Rodri fed Mahrez, a relative bright spot, into the left of the box. A cut back was blasted home by the England winger.

Foden subbed into the game and scored inside of the four minutes stoppage time.