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Guardiola explains Man City’s Mahrez-Jesus penalty change

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It’s one of the moments that could, all-told, honestly decide the Premier League title.

So putting Riyad Mahrez‘s awful penalty miss under the microscope after Man City’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool makes a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things from Anfield | Stars/Duds ]

Here’s what happened: Gabriel Jesus won a penalty kick off Virgil Van Dijk and walked toward the spot to take it. But a message from the sideline was relayed by Benjamin Mendy, sending Mahrez to the white paint.

Mahrez, who had made 7 of 9 penalty kicks in his career, made it 7 of 10 with a shot that looked intended for small aircrafts around Anfield. From the BBC:

“He had the courage and the balls to take the penalty, in training he shoots perfect penalties but sometimes it happens. The usual taker is Sergio Aguero but he wasn’t there. We played so well so if you want to analyze the result it was ok. Last season we lost here, and this season we drew, maybe next season we will win.”

Stars and duds from Liverpool 0-0 Man City

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This one wasn’t one to call home about, and Liverpool’s 0-0 Sunday draw with Man City at Anfield saw a fitting conclusion when Riyad Mahrez booted his 87th minute penalty kick into outer space.

[ MORE: Recap | JPW’s 3 things from Anfield ]

Were there stars to go with the duds? We found a couple.

Stars

Aymeric LaporteMan City bought the steady center back for games like this, and the 24-year-old Frenchman was busy and composed with the ball even when his backstop was fighting it a bit. That’s no small ask for a center back in a Pep Guardiola system.

The managers, tactically — If there was anything redeeming about this battle, it was watching the tactical nous of both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp over the course of 90 minutes. While the mechanics of Jurgen Klopp’s high press kept Man City wobbly early, Guardiola made some tweaks at halftime that included some forechecking of his own (so to speak). Klopp’s decision not to press as hard once City reached the midfield seemed to have the Citizens off kilter, but Guardiola’s sharp adjustments helped prod what should’ve been the winning penalty kick.

That said, Klopp set his team up to get three points and Liverpool certainly got the wrong end of luck with James Milner‘s injury. Trent Alexander-Arnold has struggled of late against top end attackers, and moving Joe Gomez to right back was a risk that paid dividends. If there’s an edge, it goes to Klopp (especially in light of this video).

Duds

Sadio Mane — Mohamed Salah‘s poor shooting is going to deservedly get a lot of guff from this contest, but Mane’s response to Jurgen Klopp calling him out for his selfish dribbling in the loss to Napoli was to… double down on the dribbling.

Riyad Mahrez — Was on the receiving end of almost all of City’s manufactured chances, and wasted every single one. Obviously the penalty kick was awful, but his poor performance extended well beyond that.

Mohamed Salah — I wasn’t going to include him after the mention above, but when a player performs like Salah has for a some time, we have to weigh him against the Messi meter. It’s no coincidence that his cold streak has coincided with Liverpool’s four match unbeaten run, and when you find one for Messi — like his goal in four match run of late 2016 — it’s no surprise Barca went 3D-1L in league play. He worked hard and ground through his poor shooting, but the fact remains that he’s shooting poorly. The Reds win if he’s on his game, and so he gets dud status.

Man City issue injury update on De Bruyne, Mendy; Liverpool on Keita

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Understandably Pep Guardiola kept his cards close to his chest ahead of Manchester City’s trip to Liverpool on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), with the Spanish coach asked for a fitness update on two key players.

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Pep admitted that both Kevin De Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy were back in training and have to be assessed of the huge game at Anfield between the top two teams in the Premier League who both remain unbeaten so far this season. Asked specifically about KDB, who has been out since August with a knee injury, Guardiola confirmed the Belgian superstar is back in training.

“He made part of the training today and he is training with us,” Guardiola said.

It appears that KDB could be on the bench for this weekend which would be a miraculous recovery given the initial diagnosis as it was thought he’d be out until November.

As for Mendy, he has recovered from a metatarsal injury but Fabian Delph is out and Ilkay Gundogan is struggling to be fit for the clash between title contenders.

Given the fact that City have lost three of their last four outings against Liverpool, having De Bruyne and Mendy back in contention would be a huge boost for Guardiola, even if they’re only available to come off the bench. Seeing De Bruyne come off the bench would no doubt scare Liverpool late in the game, as the likes of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Sergio Aguero are tough enough to handle during 90 minutes.

As for Liverpool, like Man City they’re going through a tough run of games with the League Cup, UEFA Champions and PL, and Jurgen Klopp issued an injury update on Naby Keita.

The Guinean midfielder was forced off late on in the defeat at Napoli on Wednesday with a back injury.

“He had a back spasm, so we have to wait a little bit today,” Klopp said. “He’s in today but whether he can do something on the training ground I don’t know.  We have to see the doctor again and we’ll make a decision. Tomorrow we’ll have to see. It didn’t look to serious, so there is a chance he can play but we don’t know.”

If Keita isn’t ready to play, Jordan Henderson will likely play in central midfield alongside James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Sane backs Guardiola, Low after Hoffenheim win

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Leroy Sane had a tough summer.

The 22-year-old was surprisingly left off the Germany World Cup roster by Joachim Low, with rumors swirling as to the reason why. With Germany bounced from the World Cup early, Sane then had to earn his way back into the Manchester City starting lineup as well thanks to poor on-field form.

He might be on his way back, and he has nothing but praise for his bosses.

Sane was fantastic in Manchester City’s win over Hoffenheim in Champions League play on Tuesday, assisting Sergio Aguero’s goal and earning what should have been a penalty. It’s possible his performance could earn him more playing time this season going forward, having played just 281 Premier League minutes thus far.

“I’m looking forward to more,” Sane said after the match. But not about his playing time. He was referencing the criticism he received from those in charge.

Every player obviously craves more playing time, but Sane decided to back both his club manager Pep Guardiola and his country’s head coach Jogi Low despite the hardships he faced. After such a tough summer where Sane lost both his starting positions, it would have been easy to criticize his managers for freezing him out, but instead he had nothing but praise.

“Jogi Low and Pep Guardiola both know exactly how to deal with me,” Sane said to German television channel Sport1. “I love challenges, especially with Pep Guardiola. I’m looking forward to receiving more criticism from such great coaches – it even delights me a bit.”

“Criticism is normal in football. I focus only on myself, I want to improve.”

Guardiola tries to bite tongue on refs, says experience will help Man City

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Pep Guardiola‘s last two matches on a Champions League touch line have been less than ideal, and it goes without saying that Manchester City’s experience followed suit when its mastermind watched from the stands last month in Manchester.

[ RECAP: Hoffenheim 1-2 Man City ]

City was on the winning end of this one, though, with the Premier League champions getting a 2-1 win in Hoffenheim following David Silva‘s 87th minute winner in Germany on Tuesday.

Guardiola earned a one-match ban in the Spring when he lit into referees against Liverpool in the UCL quarterfinals and was sent to the stands. He served it at the Etihad Stadium when Lyon beat City 2-1 on Sept. 19.

So though he was clearly less than pleased with the men in yellow shirts on Tuesday, he bit his tongue the best he could, hinting strongly at his displeasure by saying, “We fought against absolutely everything today.”

Guardiola said triumphing against adversity is something that will bode well for City in the tournament moving forward (H/T to Sam Lee of Goal.com).

“We need to experience this as a club. In the past we have qualified with one or two games to spare but in the future this is going to help us. You cannot go far without living moments like this. What happened today gave me a lot of good signals for the future.”

Next up for City is a visit to Liverpool on Sunday, while its next Champions League match is Oct. 23 in Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk.