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League Cup: Man City rolls past Man United

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There’s no doubt anymore as to which color Manchester is these days.

Manchester City extended its bragging rights over their now not so noisy neighbors, with a 3-1 first leg win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Tuesday in the League Cup semifinals. Bernardo Silva opened the scoring early with a wicked strike from outside the box and it was all up from there for the visitors. Man United showed some brief sparks in the second half, but despite Marcus Rashford’s goal, couldn’t find enough quality to get closer to Man City.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The action moves to the Etihad Stadium for the second leg on January 29, though Man United will have a two-goal deficit to dig out of.

Manchester City mananger Pep Guardiola made the decision not to play a recognizable striker, leaving both Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero out of the starting lineup. And yet, it quickly paid dividends as Man United’s backline of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, and Brandon Williams struggled to stay with players like Raheem Sterling and Silva.

Indeed, in the 17th minute, it was Silva who found a pocket of space off a short pass from Kevin De Bruyne and unleashed a blast from 28 yards out that had eyes for the upper corner. As good as the strike was, it was also noticeable that Silva easily took the ball past Fred while Jones didn’t jump forward to cover the space, leaving Silva with plenty of room to uncork the shot.

The goal was just what Man City was expecting and afterwards it confidently pinged the ball around midfield and into Man United’s defensive third of the field, threatening to score again. In the 33rd minute, Man City did just that, as Silva found Riyad Mahrez open in the box before Mahrez rounded de Gea and scored into an empty net to put his side up 2-0.

Man City made it 3-0 five minutes later as again Silva was the architect. He played Mahrez into space in the middle before the ball made its way out left to de Bruyne. His shot on goal was parried by de Gea but it went right into the body of Andreas Pereira, which ricocheted into the goal. Even before firing, de Bruyne’s switch to the left sent Jones flying, adding to his rough night.

After being played off the park in the first half, there was only one way to go in the second half for Man United, and it started to get a few minutes of possession on the ball at a time.

After Man City could have made it 4-0 through Mahrez, Rashford pulled one back for the hosts. In the 70th minute after a turnover, Mason Greenwood played a great pass into the run of Rashford, who lashed a strike past Claudio Bravo to make it 3-1.

This story will be updated. 

Preview: Man Utd v. Man City — EFL Cup semis, leg 1

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed that a number of key Manchester United figures are either hobbled or unwell ahead of Tuesday’s EFL Cup semifinal clash with Manchester City (3 p.m. ET) at Old Trafford, lamenting the fact their first leg wasn’t the one to fall on Wednesday instead.

[ MORE: Lingard to be represented by controversial agent Raiola ]

According to Solskjaer, the last two days were meant for a few players — Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw — to spend “a night or two in their own beds” accompanied by a combination of homemade remedies and prescription cures to recover from the illness which kept each of them out of Saturday’s FA Cup draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. No such luck, though, as Solskjaer has admitted that “some of them are still not ready.”

“We’re going to give them as much time as we can, that’s the most honest answer I can give you. If there was a game today, I’m not sure they could play at their best.

“Another 36 hours might be a big change.”

Add the unwell stars to the list of injured players who’ll miss Tuesday’s game — Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Eric Bailly — and what was already going to be an uphill battle for the Red Devils becomes that much steeper.

[ MORE: Captain Aubameyang says transfer rumors are “made up” ]

Pep Guardiola, who’s got his own selection headaches with Aymeric Laporte (knee) and perhaps Nicolas Otamendi (illness) still unavailable, is looking at Tuesday’s Cup derby as the biggest game remaining this season, not only because it’s against Man United, but because it’s Man City’s fastest route to a trophy. With the Premier League title seemingly gone to Liverpool already (the Reds lead City by 14 with 17 games left to play), Guardiola is focused on picking up any and every other trophy available to his squad between now and the end of May.

Despite the fact they’ll likely relinquish the PL title after a two-year reign, City could still finish the 2019-20 season with three trophies. Still, the rivalry with United remains front and center in his mind, as he made a bold proclamation regarding his feelings for the other side of Manchester — quotes from the Guardian:

“After training City, I will never train them. I would not train [Real] Madrid [after Barcelona]. I’d be in the Maldives if I don’t have any offers. Maybe not the Maldives, because it doesn’t have any golf courses.”

The two sides have already met once this season, with United besting City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium, which will host the second leg on Jan. 29, back in early December.

League Cup preview: Liverpool reserves look to advance

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The League Cup quarterfinals arrive this week with one of the most bizarre circumstances surrounding the round’s first match.

Liverpool, or a Liverpool XI, will travel to Aston Villa on Tuesday. However, this Liverpool team will be devoid of stars like Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, since the main squad is at the 2019 Club World Cup in Qatar. The Liverpool first team plays on Wednesday against CONCACAF champion Monterrey at the Club World Cup.

[READ: Club World Cup semifinal preview]

Instead, we’ll get to see the next generation of Liverpool stars along with a possible sprinkling of veterans, such as Dejan Lovren. England youth international Rhian Brewster is a game-time decision after he undergoes a fitness test, but the majority of this side will come from Liverpool’s U-23s.

While Liverpool is forced into a reserve side, it is huge test against an Aston Villa side that will be desperate for a win. Coming up from the Championship, it will be a huge success for Aston Villa if it can even make the League Cup final.

Elsewhere, Duncan Ferguson reportedly takes on his final game in charge of Everton as it hosts high-flying Leicester City. Jamie Vardy had his eight-game goalscoring streak snapped over the weeked, so should he play, you can expect him to find the scoresheet again. Meanwhile, for Everton, it could be a first match for their new coach – Carlo Ancelotti? – to watch from the stands.

The two Manchester clubs have little to gain and all to lose as they take on lower-league clubs at this stage of the competition.

Manchester United hosts League Two Colchester United, while Manchester City travels to League One’s Oxford United.

Klopp to take first team to Club World Cup, leave youth for EFL Cup

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Jurgen Klopp has chosen his strongest possible Liverpool squad to take to the Club World Cup later this month, leaving a reserve- and youth-laden team behind to compete in the EFL Cup during the same period.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Liverpool will head to Doha, Qatar, for the Club World Cup, where they’ll play their semifinal fixture against one of Monterrey (Mexico), Al-Saad (Qatar) or Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia) on Dec. 18. The day prior, on Dec. 17, the Reds will also play away to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. With the club’s star-studded first team in Qatar, progression to the semifinals of the League Cup will be down to a team full of teenage prospects.

Only defender Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho, both of whom are currently injured and unavailable, were left out of the Club World Cup squad.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Players suffering from illness or injury prior to Liverpool’s first Club World Cup game can be replaced in the squad up to 24 hours before kickoff.

Liverpool’s Club World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Defenders: Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams

Forwards: Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi

Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum

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While many folks were still catching their breath, the wild Liverpool win over Arsenal on penalties in the EFL Cup two days ago caused a number of executives and officials to groan.

Jurgen Klopp brought Liverpool’s fixture congestion issue to the forefront with his surprising threat on Wednesday that the club could pull out of the EFL Cup. While that remains highly unlikely, the problem for the Reds is real, and lots of shuffling will likely have to happen for the Reds to fulfill all its commitments this season.

With lots of possibilities thrown into the air of late, here is a breakdown of where the club currently stands.

Current commitments

“You go through the fixture list, trying to fit in the Carabao Cup game and go ‘wow!'” Klopp said in his press conference on Friday. “There’s a long way to go, problems to sort and a lot of yards to run. But it’s the basis we’ve created and it’s a lot better than we could have expected, points-wise.”

Liverpool is at the moment locked into a significant number of commitments. Here is where they stand in all competitions outside the league at the moment:

Champions League – vs. Genk 11/5, vs. Napoli 11/27, @ RB Salzburg 12/10

FA Cup – draw has not yet taken place, first possible game 1/3

EFL Cup – @ Aston Villa 12/17 (quarterfinals), vs. TBD 1/7 or 8 and 1/28 or 29 (semifinals, if necessary)

Club World Cup – vs. TBD 12/18, vs. TBD 12/21 (competition takes place in Qatar)

Conflicts

As you can see above, the conflict presents itself between the Club World Cup and the EFL Cup match against Aston Villa. It would be impossible for the club to fulfill the schedule as currently constructed, playing at Aston Villa on December 17 and then flying to Qatar for its first Club World Cup match on December 18.

Rescheduling the EFL Cup match has been an absolute nightmare thanks to other conflicts as well, with Liverpool booked midweek for the next few months. Following the November international break, Liverpool has its Champions League game against Napoli on 11/27 followed by a pair of Premier League games against Bournemouth and Everton both scheduled for the next week. Liverpool then plays its final Champions League game against RB Salzburg on 12/10 before the Club World Cup trip the next week.

The festive period comes next with league games against Leicester City, Wolves, and Sheffield United through 1/2, and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals are scheduled for the next week, leaving no time for the quarterfinal to be rescheduled anywhere in that span.

Possible solutions

“The discussion is obvious, that it is too much,” Klopp said on Friday. “It is absolutely obvious. Everyone involved in the game knows. Nobody wants to touch it, nobody really discusses about it. Then Uefa decides to make the Nations League, give the successful players a couple of more intense games.

“People then say you need a bigger squad. The game is not made for bigger squads. At the moment there is an imbalance between the number of players in the squad, the competitions you play and a big gap between the breaks the boys need. They have two weeks off a year, in a physically demanding game. The solutions, I think there are a few possible, but the leagues have to sit and really discuss and think about the players and maybe not their wallet. We discuss it always on the back of the money we earn. Somebody has to think about how many games.”

According to Dale Johnson of ESPN, the most likely solution would be to play the quarterfinal against Aston Villa on 1/7 and postponing the ensuing semifinal first leg originally scheduled for that day to a later date. However, even that presents potential conflicts as the next few weeks are reserved for FA Cup matches, and potential FA Cup third round (1/14) or fourth round (2/4) replays for either participant could cause further havoc.

Another potential solution could be to move the club’s Premier League game against Watford (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 and playing the EFL Cup game against Aston Villa on Monday 12/15 before the club departs for Qatar. That would also require the Premier League to reschedule Aston Villa’s game against Sheffield United (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 to accommodate the move.

Winter break

The danger of pushing games back as previously suggested presents itself as the club just pushes back the problem to a later and later date. Should the schedule conflicts continue to be shoved further down the calendar, the winter break comes into play. Liverpool is scheduled for a break between games on 2/8 and 2/22 as all Premier League clubs are this season with the league hoping to slowly build a stoppage into its schedule ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will require such a scheduling quirk.

Klopp has maintained that the club will not accommodate any alteration to its winter break, thereby subjecting it to a disadvantage to other clubs in the English top flight. This means any FA Cup or EFL Cup fixtures pushed back into February will have to be seriously postponed and could come up against other Cup fixtures or even Champions League knockout stage games.

Klopp’s threat

Could Liverpool really drop out of the EFL Cup altogether to alleviate their fixture congestion? It’s unlikely, and there is no precedent for such a drastic measure. Because the club has already entered the competition and begun play, dropping out would incur a hefty fine.

Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season thanks in part to the FIFA Club World Championship, but that saw the club withdraw from the competition before play began, meaning they were not drawn into the competition and given fixture obligations.

Leaving the fixtures as they are and having Liverpool play a youth squad in the EFL Cup is also not an ideal option, Klopp said when asked about the possibility on Friday. “We have discussed it already and we have to because there’s not much time to make that decision,” Klopp said. “If we do play [the EFL Cup] while we are in Qatar, that will be two different teams. But we cannot leave any players at home for the Carabao Cup. We have two games in a busy period and it’s not like we can go there [Qatar] with 11 players. It doesn’t work like this. We have to make a decision but not yet.”