Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are fun but they need to be ruthless if they’re to make a title push

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Liverpool and Brazil’s Fabinho insists he is still trying to settle into life under Jurgen Klopp and that his demands in training and matches are extremely intense.

After a so-called nightmare month of tough fixtures, Liverpool remain well placed in the Premier League.

They’ve had a few things go their way late in games. Tottenham were denied a clear penalty in the Reds’ eventual 2-1 win, Daniel Sturridge scored a breathtaking equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea, while Riyad Mahrez blasted his penalty well over the bar in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City.

That’s how it goes in the biggest clashes: the tiniest moment can turn matches for you or against you. Had they not happened, Liverpool would be six points off the leaders. Not debilitating exactly, so early in the season, but enough to dishearten a club that set its sights on higher things after a big transfer outlay.

In the next few weeks, they will face a reversal in fixture difficulty, beginning with Huddersfield Town on Saturday. While some sit back and smugly wait for the points to roll in, others will be aware that if anything, “flat-track bullying” is the hardest skill to master. It takes intensity, complete focus, respect for the opposition and a surgically precise use of what is already becoming a depleted squad thanks to injuries on international duty.

The transfer spending this summer was of course meant to minimise the underlying dangers of such a sequence, and here comes the first real test of Jurgen Klopp’s 2018 teambuilding. He’s being hampered slightly by a less-than-impressive impact from both Fabinho and Naby Keita. Good results have deflected attention away from the fact that Klopp spent £100 million on two players who have so far failed to deliver what was promised.

The manager has had one big rotation success this season, a 3-0 home win against Southampton where he predicted the visitors’ early caution and used Xherdan Shaqiri in a creative midfield role that ensured the match was over by half-time. Klopp will need more of such choices and stratagems in the coming month. Apart from a visit to Arsenal, Liverpool face a string of league games they really ought to win.

In his first full season at the helm, he often struggled against the bottom 10 sides and was rescued by an impressive list of results against the top 10. His second season in charge was more realistic, with a very healthy 49 points out of a maximum 60 from the bottom 10 sides. In this his third season, the challenge is to combine his team’s efficiency against all teams, wherever they are in the league.

There have always been one or two anecdotes about Klopp’s love of entertainment, with a perceived emphasis on that over the actual results. One recent tale told by Maurizio Sarri about the recent Chelsea clash had a humorous side certainly — Klopp asking his opposite number if he was having fun — but only in the knowledge Liverpool grabbed a late equaliser. Had the score stayed 1-0 to Chelsea, the story would not be so heartwarming.

In year three, Klopp secretly knows he has to deliver something. A trophy would be nice, a significant Premier League challenge that stretched into spring also.

Talk of entertainment and having fun could smack a little of lowering the bar, or it’s probably Klopp just trying to project an aura of calm in case his players start to feel the rising heat a little too much. Liverpool didn’t give him £140 million to spend on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk for fun, certainly.

It is odd that fans are hurt more by defeat against the biggest teams, even though such games can twist and turn on minute details. Having reached a higher level under Klopp, a systematic ruthless garnering of points against the smaller clubs is almost being considered routine by a lot of people. That brings its own pressure, and the discipline needed to bring about such a run of results is the most accurate measure of whether a club has title-winning potential or not.

In the 28 years since their last title, Liverpool often overcame the more talented teams. Anyone can defy the odds if everything falls into place on a given day. That in itself is clearly not enough. Liverpool have begun this league season extremely well. They’ve won all of their opening fixtures they would be expected to win, with healthy results against obvious title rivals.

In the next few weeks it’s vital to return to winning ways and demonstrate Liverpool at last have a ruthless streak, laced with efficiency and control. Such matches may not raise the pulse and grab the headlines, but when Bill Shankly said the league was a marathon not a sprint, games like the one against Huddersfield were precisely what he had in mind.

Klopp may want everyone to have fun, but the Liverpool job is still a tightrope walk where any fall can be fatal.



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Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk available for Huddersfield match – sources

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ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno assesses the latest transfer rumours surrounding Raheem Sterling, Dejan Lovren, Arturo Vidal and many more.

Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk are expected to be available for selection for Liverpool’s trip to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, while Naby Keita looks to be sidelined for around two weeks, sources have told ESPN FC.

Salah and Van Dijk withdrew from their national teams over the international break amid fitness concerns, but trained at Melwood on Thursday afternoon.

A source close to Keita in Guinea told ESPN FC that the player is expected to be ruled out for at least two weeks with his hamstring injury.

Sadio Mane’s availability remains uncertain after he had surgery on the fractured thumb he suffered when away with Senegal and was absent from full Liverpool training on Thursday.

Salah was forced off late in Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Swaziland on Saturday because of a groin issue and missed the return fixture three days later.

Van Dijk, meanwhile, has been battling broken ribs for several weeks, according to Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, and sat out Tuesday’s friendly with Belgium.

James Milner also trained on Thursday, having injured his hamstring in Liverpool’s game with Manchester City over the international break.

Salah and Van Dijk returned to Melwood, where their fitness was assessed by the club’s medical staff, and look set to be fit to feature against Huddersfield, who sit 18th in the Premier League table.

While Jurgen Klopp is expected to be able to call upon two of his most important players on the weekend, he is set to be without Keita for a short period.

Keita sustained the issue while playing on an artificial surface for Guinea in Rwanda on Tuesday.

Huddersfield boss David Wagner, however, believes Klopp, an extremely close friend of his and teammate at Mainz in their playing days, may be overplaying Liverpool’s injury problems.

“I have known Jurgen long enough, I know he loves to use smokescreens,” Wagner told a news conference on Thursday. “I expect that most of his players will be available.

“I have known him long enough and he likes to moan after the international break.”

Liverpool have made a strong start to the campaign with 20 points from eight matches to sit third in the table as one of three unbeaten sides.

Huddersfield’s form is a stark contrast as they seek a first win to potentially climb out of the relegation zone.

Wagner said Saturday’s match represented a chance to build on a 1-1 draw at Burnley last time out.

“Now we have a great opportunity, a wonderful game in front of our fans against a very strong side, where we can hopefully perform at the same level [as our last game]. That’s what we like to do,” Wagner added.

“Every performance gives you belief and every win gives you belief — unfortunately we have no wins so far — but we have performed at a good level consistently over the last weeks and in training the guys look very good as well.

“Sometimes football writes some great stories and nobody knows what is going to happen on Saturday.”

Information from Reuters was used in this story.



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Liverpool’s Sadio Mane undergoes surgery on broken left thumb

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Gab Marcotti assesses the latest transfer rumours, including Liverpool’s reported interest in Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne.
KitAid and Friends of Mulanje Orphans have teamed up to distribute Sadio Mane shirts to underprivileged children in Malawi.
Liverpool and Brazil’s Fabinho insists he is still trying to settle into life under Jurgen Klopp and that his demands in training and matches are extremely intense.

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has undergone an operation after breaking his left thumb while on international duty with Senegal.

Mane returned to Liverpool early after breaking the thumb during Senegal’s 3-0 win over Sudan on Saturday and underwent surgery on Wednesday.

“The surgery, conducted at a northwest hospital and supervised by club medics, was successful,” Liverpool said in a statement.

Mane was one of four Liverpool players to give Jurgen Klopp an injury scare over the international break.

Mohamed Salah (groin) and Virgil van Dijk (ribs) withdrew from their national teams early, and Naby Keita suffered a muscular injury during Guinea’s African Nations Cup qualifier with Rwanda on Tuesday.



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LIVE Transfer Talk Liverpool eye move for Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne

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Players from across the league share their thoughts on Usain Bolt’s pursuit of a contract with the Central Coast Mariners.

The transfer window for all of Europe’s big five leagues is closed, but that doesn’t stop Transfer Talk from rummaging around about who will be moving where come January.

TOP STORY: Liverpool eye Napoli striker Insigne

When you’ve scored six goals already this season in the league, you’re going to be noticed. And that’s what is happening to Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne, who Rai Sport claim is attracting the attention of Liverpool.

Insigne, 27, has 116 goals in 360 appearances in Naples, so Jurgen Klopp knows he would be getting an experienced striker. 

Of course, Insigne is well known to Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, who is also on the lookout for a goal scorer. And we know his track record of persuading his former players to come and join him again (Jorginho, anyone?).

Liverpool may just have a battle on their hands.

LIVE BLOG

11.09 BST: Calciomercato reports that a salary of €1.5m per season isn’t going to stop AC Milan’s move for LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the fact that he would be behind Gonzalo Higuain and Patrick Cutrone in the pecking order might…

10.36 BST: Matthijs De Ligt is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after teenagers in world football. The 19-year-old Ajax defender only made his debut two years ago and is now the club captain, but has caught the eye of Barcelona, Chelsea and now Juventus, according to Tuttosport.

09.55 BST: Manchester City let Jadon Sancho join Borussia Dortmund for around £8m in the summer of 2017, but now he’s starring in Germany he appears to be worth £100m. Well, he is young and English after all…

Lucky then, that they reportedly have a buyback clause and will have first refusal on signing him again, according to the Manchester Evening News.

09.25 BST: ICYMI – Usain Bolt has been offered a two-year contract to play for Maltese club Valletta FC and spearhead their charge to the Champions League.

Valletta managing director and CEO Ghasston Slimen told ESPN on Monday that they hope to sign the eight-time Olympic sprint champion in time for him to participate in their Maltese Super Cup match on Dec. 13 against Balzan.

09.00 BST: Real Madrid remain interested in Harry Kane, but their main target is Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, according to Guillem Balague who was speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live.

PAPER TALK

Chelsea could thwart United, Spurs over Ake

Manchester United and Tottenham are interested in Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake, according to the Telegraph, but his old club, Chelsea, could frustrate them.

United boss Jose Mourinho remains eager to add another central defender to his squad after failing to do so in the summer, and Spurs are also monitoring Netherlands international Ake.

But the Telegraph reports that Bournemouth — who signed the 23-year-old in a £20m permanent deal after a loan spell — would have to inform Chelsea of any offer because the Blues hold first refusal to re-sign him for about £40m.

United and Spurs “are likely to keep tracking Ake until the end of the season, but any move would have to wait until Chelsea signalled their intentions.”

And although there is no indication of whether Maurizio Sarri would be interested in bringing Ake back to Stamford Bridge, a bid from Manchester or North London “would force Bournemouth to offer Chelsea the opportunity to make a move and leave the other two clubs sweating.”

Barcelona eye Alderweireld

Barcelona have leaked nine goals in eight games and haven’t kept a clean sheet in five, so are turning to the transfer market in an attempt to do something about it.

They were recently linked with Dutch centre back Matthijs de Ligt, but Catalan radio station RAC1 have reported that this particular move would be “impossible” in January. However, Barca also have their eye on Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld.

The Belgian’s contract expires in the summer, and there is no sign of a renewal, so the Catalan club could see him as a realistic target according to the Mirror.

Ernesto Valverde’s side acquired Clement Lenglet this summer, but he could take some time to settle in. They will see 29-year-old Alderweireld as a read-made solution.

Bale free to leave Real Madrid

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is open to offers for Gareth Bale as he believes the Welshman doesn’t have what it takes to step into Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoes, according to Spanish newspaper El Periodico.

The Welshman has impressed in spells at the Madrid club, and was an important part of their Champions League triumphs under Zinedine Zidane, but it has never felt that he has been fully accepted in the Spanish capital.

Manchester United have long been linked with the former Tottenham winger, and could see him as the man to wake them from their slumber. The report states that the only obstacle is Bale’s desire to remain at Real but, at 29, he could be tempted into one final big move.

Tap-ins

Edin Dzeko is looking to return to the Premier League after spending four seasons in Serie A, according to the Mirror. Southampton, Crystal Palace and Cardiff are all interested, but these clubs will have to concentrate on staying in the Premier League first. Perhaps a January move for the former Manchester City man could help them.

– Vincent Kompany, 32, thinks he has plenty more to give at Manchester City, and is looking for a new contract, say the Daily Mail. The Belgian is aiming to play for at least three more years at the top level.

– Meanwhile, Everton winger Kevin Mirallas does not want to return to Merseyside and is targeting a permanent deal at Fiorentina, where he is on loan. The 31-year-old has found himself out of the picture at Goodison Park following the summer arrivals of Richarlison and Bernard and hopes to stay in Italy, the Liverpool Echo reports.



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Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk to sit out Belgium-Netherlands friendly

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Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk believes Germany lacked confidence during the Netherlands 3-0 victory over the 2014 World Champions.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk will not play for Netherlands against Belgium in Tuesday’s friendly, the Dutch FA (KNVB) has announced.

Van Dijk, who scored the opening goal for his country as they beat rivals Germany 3-0 in Amsterdam on Saturday, suffered a rib injury before Liverpool’s Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain last month.

Although he aggravated the problem in the win over Southampton the following week, he has since played against Chelsea, Napoli and Manchester City as well as in the Germany game.

But in a statement, the KNVB said national captain Van Dijk would not travel to Belgium.

The statement said it had been decided that the Dutch would play him only against Germany, resting him against Belgium in order to boost his recovery.

Speaking to reporters after Netherlands’ first win over Germany for 16 years, Van Dijk said he hoped it would herald a brighter future for the team.

“We haven’t been on this path long, but it feels like we are on the right road,” he said.

“No one would have believed you if you had said before the game that we would win by a 3-0 scoreline. We must enjoy the feeling but we are not there yet.”

Van Dijk’s Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah will also miss his country’s second match of the international break. The forward returned to his club amid concerns over a muscle injury suffered during Egypt’s 4-1 win over Swaziland on Friday.



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Manchester United legend Michael Carrick had Liverpool shirt as a kid

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Michael Carrick opens up about his hopes for his coaching career, including potentially one day taking charge of Manchester United.
Manchester United captain Michael Carrick thanks his teammates, manager and family following his final game at Old Trafford.
Michael Carrick reflects on the evolution of Manchester United’s rivalries with Manchester City and Liverpool during his time at Old Trafford.

Michael Carrick may be a Manchester United legend — but fans will be shocked to learn that their former midfielder had a Liverpool shirt as a kid.

Carrick won everything during his 12-year spell at Old Trafford. He is a five-time Premier League-winner, won two League Cups, an FA Cup, Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup.

But despite winning so much with United, his younger self may have harboured ambitions with a different side in red.

“I think there could be a few people surprised at that one,” Carrick told ESPN FC when asked about that Liverpool shirt revelation. “That’s the beauty of growing up as a kid supporting football.

“You just follow whatever you’re going to follow. You look back and think ‘how does that work?’ That’s the innocence of being a kid, I think.”



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Liverpool Mohamed Salah faces no action from police for alleged phone incident

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The FC panel examine what’s at the heart of Mohamed Salah’s scoring struggles for Liverpool, during a stretch where he’s scored just once in his last seven games.

Mohamed Salah will face no criminal action after he was allegedly seen using his mobile phone while behind the wheel of a car.

In August, a video circulated on social media appearing to show the Liverpool forward on his phone when stationary in his car and surrounded by a number of people following Liverpool’s 4-0 win over West Ham United.

Liverpool referred the incident to Merseyside Police, who said on Thursday no further action would be taken.

“We can confirm a 26 year-old man was spoken to following an incident on Arkles Lane in Liverpool on Sunday Aug. 12, 2018,” a Merseyside Police statement, obtained by ESPN FC, read.

“Enquiries have taken place and there is insufficient evidence to support a prosecution and as such no further action will be taken.

“The man has been spoken to by officers and given advice and guidance around mobile phone use in a vehicle.”

In the U.K. it is illegal to hold a phone while driving, with the law applying if a driver has stopped at traffic lights or is queuing in traffic.



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James Milner targeting Liverpool return from injury inside a month – sources

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Liverpool and Brazil’s Fabinho insists he is still trying to settle into life under Jurgen Klopp and that his demands in training and matches are extremely intense.
Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold believes The Reds can still develop despite being unbeaten in the Premier League.

James Milner hopes to return from his hamstring injury in less than a month, sources have told ESPN FC.

Milner was forced off 29 minutes into Liverpool’s goalless draw with Manchester City on Sunday, clutching his hamstring as he limped off at Anfield.

The injury is not thought to be severe, sources say, but it will likely see the 32-year-old miss some time.

Liverpool return to action from the international break when they visit Huddersfield Town on Oct. 20 before playing Red Star Belgrade at Anfield four days later.

Milner, 32, has been one of Liverpool’s most consistent performers so far this season, starting all but one game.

He has entered the final two years of his Liverpool contract but sources have said discussions about a new deal are yet to begin.



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Jurgen Klopp won a league title after three years at Dortmund can he do it at Liverpool

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Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold believes The Reds can still develop despite being unbeaten in the Premier League.
Stewart Robson details exactly how Liverpool were unable to play their normal game against Premier League champions Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp spent his third anniversary as Borussia Dortmund manager reflecting on the Bundesliga-winning campaign he had just overseen. As the three-year mark arrives at Liverpool on Monday, the German has been given another reminder that his team can be genuine contenders for the Premier League title.

Klopp is using this upcoming international break to afford himself a few days off, sources have told ESPN FC. He will get away from a city that believes its 28-year wait for the league title could end come what May. Yet the 51-year-old is in no mood to reflect on his three years at Anfield. He’s still painfully aware of the hurdles his side still need to overcome after going toe-to-toe with Manchester City and Chelsea in the last two weeks.

Dortmund’s 2010-11 campaign, when they defied the odds to win the Bundesliga for the first time in nine years, kick-started a period of success. They would go on to retain their crown the following season and reach the Champions League final in 2012-13.

There are already similarities between Dortmund’s historic 2010-11 season and Liverpool’s current one. It shows how the manager’s work and methodology can bear fruit after 36 months, completely turning a team and club around.

“From the quality of the players, I think they [Liverpool] have a better team than we had at that moment,” former Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin told ESPN FC. “No doubt about that.

“I think we had a unique team and I have the feeling that Liverpool has the same now. He’s surrounded them with a very good environment and gave them the feeling to be unique. I’m sure that they’ll compete with Man City and Chelsea for the title this season.”

The hunger to win something

Jurgen Klopp took Dortmund from also-rans to league champions with a deliberate plan. He's trying to make it happen at Liverpool, too.
Jurgen Klopp took Dortmund from also-rans to league champions with a deliberate plan. He’s trying to make it happen at Liverpool, too.

Of the current crop of Liverpool players, only two have managed to get their hands on the Premier League title: James Milner and Daniel Sturridge. Xherdan Shaqiri is the only Champions League winner in the squad. Similarly, Dortmund’s improbable triumph in 2010-11 was achieved through a team of young, hungry and unproven group of players.

“When Klopp came, we started from zero,” Jakub Blaszczykowski, Dortmund’s winger between 2007 and 2016, told ESPN FC. “The coach introduced a lot of young players, not many people knew them at all.

“We all grew together. We had so much fun with our work, even if it was hard work under Klopp. There was this warmth, this humanness. He’s the coach. And when it’s work then it’s work. But we just had fun after the training sessions. And that comes from the inside, it’s natural. That is Jurgen Klopp.

“Many of us never won big titles after leaving Dortmund. And for many, it was the best time of their career. To win back-to-back titles, nobody but Bayern does it. That second title was a statement. It showed that it was far from a coincidence. We were a great side.”

En route to winning the Bundesliga, Klopp attempted to take the pressure off his players at every opportunity. In return, he expected them to follow two simple rules: Take each game as it comes and don’t indulge in any talk of winning the title whatsoever. Klopp has yet to acknowledge that Liverpool can win the league this season, but he has delivered stark warnings to his players about them growing complacent.

“It was game-by-game because we had a manager who was thinking like this,” said Sahin. “He put it in our heads and minds that the game we had on Saturday was the most important match in our life — because it was the only one on the day.”

A club where footballers want to be

Thanks to social media, Liverpool supporters are able to peek inside the dressing rooms at Anfield and Melwood. What they see is friendship, camaraderie and relentless joking. It’s the same when the mobile phones aren’t out, too.

Klopp has carefully assembled this Liverpool squad, placing an emphasis on the personality of players just as much as their footballing ability; he did something similar at Dortmund, creating an environment that forged friendships for a lifetime.

“It was like meeting your best friends every day,” said Sahin. “He [Klopp] did something special. We came to work very happy and we didn’t want to leave. We did everything together. If somebody had problems, we fixed it together.”

“We were one team,” Blaszczykowski added. “We are still in contact. The coach creates that feeling where it’s just like a family. He supports every single player.”

Taking players to the next level

Jakub Blaszczykowski also learned a lot from playing under Jurgen Klopp. 'We had so much fun with our work, even if it was hard work. There was this warmth, this humanness.'
Jakub Blaszczykowski said he learned a lot from playing under Jurgen Klopp. ‘We had so much fun with our work, even if it was hard work. There was this warmth, this humanness.’

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were transformed into world-class stars after a relatively short period working with Klopp. The levels of Andrew Robertson, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have also been raised as a result of his management.

“The coach spots the best in every player, and uses it,” said Blaszczykowski.

Sahin had just returned from a loan spell at Feyenoord and faced an uncertain future when Klopp took charge of Dortmund. Fast-forward three years and he would earn a move to Real Madrid on the back of being Bundesliga Player of the Season in 2010-11.

“He makes you feel comfortable,” the current Werder Bremen midfielder said. “He gives you the confidence.

“I felt very free on the pitch. I knew I could make mistakes, I knew that I could try my 30-yard passes, I knew I can run box-to-box without thinking: ‘Oh, what’s the manager going to do when I make a mistake?’

“He made us happy on the pitch. I remember the team were very young and there were new players. There was one from Japan, one guy from Chile… it was very difficult to understand each other but on the pitch it was very easy because we knew what the manager wanted and he made us feel very comfortable on the pitch.”

Liverpool’s Achilles heel in the past has been a lack of squad depth, but the club believe they solved that in the summer. As a result, starting berths are no longer guaranteed. Liverpool’s fringe players, therefore, need to remain patient and buy into the team-first approach.

Blaszczykowski entered the 2010-11 season unhappy but finished it with 37 appearances in all competitions and, ultimately, a league winner’s medal.

“The coach always told me that I should remain calm,” said Blaszczykowski. “He told me that I’d get my chance.

“Back then, I believe it was Mario Gotze playing and he played really well. But in the end it all worked out. And we had a lot of fun. It wasn’t the easiest of times for me personally, but looking back now with all the experience I have, I can say that all was good, all was OK.”

Enhancing the style of play

The players in the Liverpool dressing room are adamant that there is much more to come from the team between now and May. Liverpool have not been at their fluent best at all this season, with some critics saying that this is the hallmark of champions.

That in itself is the result of three years of Klopp’s authority on the training pitches at Melwood. Liverpool have tactically evolved. No longer just a team hell-bent on attacking, Liverpool are now capable of producing more measured, controlled and mature performances.

Klopp had similar ideas for his Dortmund team in the preseason of 2010, albeit to no avail.

“We didn’t control anything, to be honest,” said Sahin. “With Jurgen, you’ll never have a team that tries to control or hold anything. He’s always pushing when you score.

“He wants to defend as a whole team and sometimes with the stadium. You had the feeling when we played at home — and they have the feeling now when I watch Liverpool — that the stadium is defending together, attacking together with the team. This is special.”

That Dortmund team’s style of high intensity and rapid counter-attacks is credited with putting the word “gegenpressing” on the footballing map.

“You were on your way to the stadium and you knew they were going to win,” former Dortmund academy coach Gary Gordon told ESPN FC. “It was a season where you knew they were unbeatable.

“You had Gotze, Shinji Kagawa and these were players who were difficult to mark because they kept swapping positions. Who wants to play against that? Defenders were like: ‘You take him’, ‘No you take him.’ While they were arguing, he was gone.”

Playing in a similar manner, Salah, Mane and Firmino have gone on to become one of the most feared front lines in Europe.

Making the most of an opportunity

Sahin, right, loved playing for Klopp because of the confidence behind the manager's methods. 'I felt very free on the pitch. I knew I could make mistakes.'
Sahin, right, loved playing for Klopp because of the confidence behind the manager’s methods. ‘I felt very free on the pitch. I knew I could make mistakes.’

Dortmund took advantage of a sluggish season by their rivals in 2010-11. Klopp had just three players returning from the World Cup that summer, allowing the majority of his squad to report fresh and early to preseason. On the other hand, Bayern Munich had 11 players participating at the World Cup and would go on to finish third. After losing their first game of the season to eventual runners-up Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund went on a 15-game unbeaten run, winning 14 of those matches.

It’s a similar scenario for Liverpool, whose unbeaten start remains intact. Their summer was far less interrupted than rivals’. Manchester United, for example, had 17 players unavailable at one point on their preseason tour of the United States. Liverpool were also in America but were only without Lovren, Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. With new signings through the door quickly and established starters present early on, Liverpool were able to hit the ground running from the very first whistle.

“When Dortmund arrived in Munich to play them, before it was maybe like: ‘OK, it will be hard and we have to be curious,'” said Sahin, who had a five-month spell on loan at Liverpool in 2012-13. “But when he was our manager, he made us believe that we can win there. And we won there. Things happened on the pitch were what he said before and you could trust him.

“I was at Liverpool for a short period, but I know it’s a very similar club. It’s a club where you can feel very happy. The sentences he said when he arrived were perfect — ‘from doubters to believers.’ He did this to the city of Liverpool, but also here in Dortmund.”



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Why Guardiola should feel better than Klopp about Sundays draw Kovac in big trouble at Bayern

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We were expecting entertainment but got very little. Still, you don’t need to spin too much for both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola to turn the scoreless draw at Anfield into a positive.

Klopp can say the result, after a very poor performance in Naples, shows his side have the mental strength to bounce back. And being on 20 points after eight games — including matches against Chelsea and Spurs away, plus City at home — is not a bad place to be. Particularly when you consider they’re also in a tough Champions League group.

Equally, Pep can say they avoided defeat (unlike last year) and that had Riyad Mahrez not skied his penalty over the bar, they’d have taken three points. (Incidentally, for all the criticism over Mahrez’s choice as penalty-taker, it’s worth noting that his record, three in seven, was marginally better than that of Gabriel Jesus, one in three, among those on the pitch. David Silva had also taken a penalty six years ago and missed it.)

Both are right, and the only losers are neutral fans who wanted more entertainment. That said, I’d suggest Guardiola is slightly better off right now than Klopp.

Roberto Firmino had a difficult game, and when that happens, the whole front three tends to falter. And given the lack of creativity in midfield, that becomes a problem against teams who sit deep. Whether it’s getting the best out of Naby Keita, using Xherdan Shaqiri in certain situations or maybe getting a boost when Adam Lallana returns, Klopp will want to find a Plan B that can offer a bit more invention.

As for City, it felt as if there were times in the first half when Bernardo and David Silva were playing alongside Fernandinho, who himself was just a few yards ahead of the center-backs. The “central density” worked, bottling up Firmino and severely limiting Liverpool’s attacking output. If you can do this without packing your lineup with goons and holding midfielders, it’s a huge asset, one we perhaps didn’t see often enough from City last season, particularly in Europe. It speaks to the ability to defend leads and be patient, as well as varying your style of play without having to resort to substitutions.

It’s not fun to watch, but there will be certain matches when it’s an invaluable quality.

Pep Guardiola's willingness to focus on defending helped Man City earn a point at Liverpool. It also showed that they can mix it up as needed.
Pep Guardiola’s willingness to focus on defending helped Man City earn a point at Liverpool. It also showed that they can mix it up as needed.

Kovac needs to fix Bayern quickly

Saturday’s horror show — a 3-0 home pasting at the hands of Borussia Monchengladbach — makes it four games on the bounce without a win for Nico Kovac’s Bayern. This is where you get to point out that after seven Bundesliga games, they are sixth, four points off the top of the table, with 13 points, 12 goals scored and eight conceded. A year ago, Carlo Ancelotti had played six Bundesliga games when he got fired. He also had 13 points (in one fewer match), had scored 14 and given up five. Oh, and they were third at the time, just three points off the top.

Will Kovac suffer the same fate? My sense is “no,” not now anyway. Sacking a coach after 11 games would be a serious humiliation for the folks who appointed him, but it’s obvious that something needs to change. Kovac’s version of 4-1-4-1 with Thiago Alcantara(!) as the lone holding midfielder only works if the four attacking midfielders run themselves into the ground and work hard. That’s a huge ask when your four are Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller, Leon Goretzka and James Rodriguez. Anything less than high energy and synchronised movements and your back four gets exposed, which happened time and again this weekend.

Kovac needs to rethink this or Bayern will rethink it for him — with a different boss.

Mourinho isn’t “safe” because of Saturday’s win

I don’t buy the narrative that Jose Mourinho “saved his job” because Manchester United came back to win 3-2 on Saturday. You would hope that in a grownup organization, decisions aren’t made based on the latest result. If you believe Mourinho is progressing this United team — or even if you just want to buy yourself time while you find a replacement — you keep him regardless of the result. If you think things are beyond repair, you get rid of him.

Certainly a chaotic performance in which you go 2-0 down in the opening 10 minutes, see your experienced (but out-of-position) right-back make two crucial errors, substitute a center-back after 19 minutes (and replace him with a midfielder), give up a whole gaggle of chances and only win because you have superior firepower and you’re playing United is not something that inspires confidence.

Nor do I buy Mourinho’s postmatch implication that the “manhunting” caused his players to be scared and unsettled, or his complaints about “wickedness” in football. You’re the manager of Manchester United, you’ve managed equally big clubs before, you know full well that part of the reason you get paid close to $25 million a year is because folks think you are better at shouldering the responsibility when your team — the one you assembled, the one you work with every day, the one you pick and instruct — underachieves.

The worst things people have said about Mourinho’s United tenure is that he made mistakes, plays bad football and gets poor results. You can agree or disagree, citing all the mitigating factors he might bring up when he gets sacked (“wicked players, wicked Woodward, wicked referees, wicked media, wicked Glazers”), but the bottom line is that this does not amount to “wickedness.”

How did Newcastle not get a penalty?

Here’s a detail from that United game that may have gotten lost. With five minutes to go in the first half and Manchester United 2-0 down, Jonjo Shelvey’s indirect free kick hits Ashley Young (who was in the wall) in the arm. It may or may not have been a penalty (a classic “I’ve seen them given” situation) but what’s extraordinary is that referee Anthony Taylor does not even give a corner kick.

Unless he thinks Shelvey is so bad at striking a dead ball that he actually shanked it wide, some 10 yards before the near post, there’s only one possible explanation for this: Taylor was looking elsewhere, most likely in the box, trying to spot shirt-pulling or fouls.

Surely referees are equipped for these situations, perhaps taking up positions where they have a better vantage point? And surely, their three assistants (the two linesmen and the fourth official) are paying enough attention that they can see a free kick hit a wall and go out for a corner?

What were those other three guys doing?

Real Madrid will be fine when Isco returns

I argued that there was no need for Real Madrid to panic after the CSKA Moscow defeat in midweek. I’m not going to change my tune after they fell to Alaves on Saturday despite the gaudy stat whereby only twice in their 116-year history have they gone this long without scoring.

Real weren’t great but Alaves are a tough out: they’re level on points, two off the top. Julen Lopetegui didn’t help matters with the four-man midfield and the Karim Benzema-Gareth Bale partnership up front, but the injuries at full-back still hurt, as does the absence of Isco. He’s the key to what Lopetegui wants to do.

Mbappe, PSG look like a team

The headlines belong to Kylian Mbappe after Paris Saint-Germain’s 5-0 thrashing of Lyon, and that’s fair enough when you score four goals in 13 minutes, bringing your seasonal total to 10, and haven’t even celebrated your 20th birthday yet. Truth be told, Mbappe could have had six or seven against Olympique Lyonnais: that’s how out-of-control dominant he was.

But equally significant, I think, is that once again PSG looked like a team. Not just any team, a Thomas Tuchel team. And they did it against OL, probably the toughest opponent (Liverpool aside) they’ve faced thus far, and while going down to 10 men in the first half.

PSG are already eight points clear at the top. The home-and-away clash with Napoli and the re-match with Liverpool will tell us whether they’re for real or not.

Barcelona’s biggest worry? Dependence on Messi

Barcelona have their own streak of futility — four league games without a win — broken up only by victory at Wembley in the Champions League against an injury-riddled Tottenham side. You don’t want to exaggerate the significance of the draw at the Mestalla — Valencia away, despite the gaudy “one-win-in-eight-La-Liga-games” stat, is a tough opponent — but equally there is plenty for Ernesto Valverde to work on.

Luis Suarez has gone more than 500 minutes without scoring and more importantly, he looks well below form. The focus is on defending — since September, Barca have kept one clean sheet in eight games — and sure, Gerard Pique hasn’t been good while Tomas Vermaelen is what he is: Barca’s fourth-best center-back.

I’d be more concerned with how ponderous and Messi-dependent they are at the other end.

Alcacer shows why Dortmund brought him in

Borussia Dortmund maintained their lead atop of the Bundesliga table in the most dramatic way possible. For once, Lucien Favre’s master plan wasn’t working. With an hour gone, they were a goal down at home to Augsburg who had, for much of the game, out-played them. Favre sent on Paco Alcacer, who immediately pulled one back, only for Augsburg to take the lead again through Alfred Finnbogason.

Then things got really wild. Alcacer grabbed another and Dortmund took the lead through Mario Gotze, another sub who was playing his first Bundesliga minutes of the season. It would have been a wonderful feel-good story after what he’s been through but no, Augsburg equalised through the big man, Michael Gregoritsch. Then, in the sixth minute of injury time, Alcacer notched the winner.

That’s seven goals in 174 minutes this season for the former Barcelona forward. My guess is he gets a start next game…

Juve are dominant right now

Juventus’ perfect start (on the pitch anyway…) to the season continued as they made it 10 out of 10 in all competitions with an easy 2-0 win away to Udinese. Their opponents focused on shutting up shop but this is a Juve side that can break you down physically as well and they rode the muscle of Rodrigo Bentancur and Cristiano Ronaldo to a straight-forward win.

Bentancur showed he deserves to be part of the midfield rotation, Dybala was effective in the hole and Joao Cancelo continues to go from strength to strength at right-back. They’re making the transition from merely winning to dominating sooner than many expected.

Arsenal make it nine in a row

It’s now nine wins in a row in all competitions for Arsenal, following the 5-1 drubbing of Fulham. Granted, they haven’t exactly played top competition in that stretch, nor have they played particularly well. But there were moments in that second half when they were simply dazzling, none more so than for Aaron Ramsey’s goal.

Unai Emery’s project is still a long way from fruition but days like these give you the confidence to build and make tough decisions — something he’ll need to do.

Praise for league-leading Sevilla

Few would have expected Sevilla, of all clubs, to sit at the top of the Liga standings. Not after a summer that saw them lose Clement Lenglet and Steven Nzonzi with their four biggest signings (Quincy Promes, Ibrahim Amadou, Joris Gnagnon and Aleix Vidal) starting just three Liga games between them.

But the 2-1 win over Celta makes it four in a row (with 14 goals scored to boot) and enabled them to jump to the top of La Liga. Pablo Machin is living up to the hype he generated at Girona and seems totally unfazed by the size of the job. At this rate, expect him to get the “next big thing” tag real soon.

Inter reaping the benefits of Spalletti

Mauro Icardi’s two goals gave Inter the win at SPAL, making it six in a row in all competitions for Luciano Spalletti’s crew. It wasn’t perfect — Miranda looked shaky at the back, without Marcelo Brozovic this team struggles to create, Ivan Perisic was his usual up-and-down self — but there are two key takeaways that bode well.

One is that the players evidently buy what Spalletti is selling. The character and unity they showed are not qualities you take for granted in an Inter side (or any team, for that matter). The other is that Spalletti still has the old magic whereby he throws a tactical curveball when chasing a game, as he did by sending on Lautaro Martinez late and switching to a 4-2-4.

There’s room for improvement, but the building blocks are there. Roll on the derby…

Atletico Madrid are back on track

Perhaps there’s no team in football as good at winning ugly than Atletico Madrid. Except that when they do it, it’s often by design and Diego Simeone can see the beauty in it more than most. On Sunday, they asphyxiated Quique Setien’s Betis and it didn’t matter that they didn’t create much either: the difference in the end was Angel Correa’s long-range strike.

Nikola Kalinic, replacing the injured Diego Costa, did his part and the Wanda crowd did theirs. After the poor start to the season, they are very much in the mix, one point off the top. “Cholismo” is alive and well.



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Ballon d’Or award nominees: Cristiano Ronaldo Harry Kane Eden Hazard on list

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The numbers behind Real Madrid’s current goal drought are more shocking than meets the eye.
Real Madrid head coach Julen Lopetegui prefers to talk about his whole team after their win over Roma.
With a goal for Real Madrid in every competitive game, the FC crew examine what’s led to Gareth Bale’s sublime start to the season.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has been named among 30 nominees for the men’s Ballon d’Or trophy awarded by France Football magazine.

The Portugal captain has won the award for the past two years and five times in all, a record he shares with Argentina’s Lionel Messi who is also on the list announced on Monday.

European champions Real Madrid dominate the nominees with eight players, including Croatia midfielder Luka Modric and Wales forward Gareth Bale.

Modric won the Golden Ball as the best player at this year’s World Cup in Russia, where Croatia finished runners-up, and last month claimed FIFA’s The Best men’s player award, given to the world’s top player.

Bale scored twice in the Champions League final win over Liverpool.

France World Cup winners Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, one of the Real Madrid contingent, and captain Hugo Lloris have also been nominated.

A panel of journalists select the winner of the Ballon d’Or, which was first established in 1956 and will this year feature a women’s award for the first time, to be decided from a shortlist of 15 players.

The award merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year prize from 2010-15 to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or, but returned to France Football in 2016 while FIFA established The Best awards.

The magazine also unveiled the 10-man shortlist for the Kopa Award, given to the best under-21 player in the world.

Ronaldo and Messi will be among the panelists deciding the winner.

Kylian Mbappe leads the names after a successful year with PSG and France, while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is also nominated.

United States and Borussia Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic is on the list, as well as AC Milan duo Patrick Cutrone and Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, Groningen’s Ritsu Doan, Red Bull Salzburg’s Amadou Haidara, Roma’s Justin Kluivert, and Santos’ Rodrygo complete the list.

FIFA’s The Best winner Marta, United States’ Megan Rapinoe and Australia’s Sam Kerr are are among the names on the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or shortlist.

UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Pernille Harder and U.S. international Lindsey Horan are both nominated, as well as England duo Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby.

Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, Amandine Henry, Saki Kumagai, Dzsenifer Marozsan, Amel Majri and Wendy Renard are all nominated.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Netherlands’ Lieke Martens also received nominations.

The winners of the prestigious men’s and women’s awards will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on Dec. 3.

2018 Men’s Ballon d’Or nominees:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina)

Alisson (Roma/Liverpool and Brazil)

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid and Wales)

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay)

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea/Real Madrid and Belgium)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Juventus and Portugal)

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)

Roberto Firmino (Liverpool and Brazil)

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay)

Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid and France)

Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)

Isco (Real Madrid and Spain)

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur and England)

N’Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham and France)

Mario Mandzukic  (Juventus and Croatia)

Sadio Mane (Liverpool and Senegal)

Marcelo (Real Madrid and Brazil)

Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)

Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)

Luka Modric (Real Madrid and Croatia)

Neymar (PSG and Brazil)

Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid and Slovenia)

Paul Pogba (Manchester United and France)

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona and Croatia)

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain)

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)

Luis Suarez (Barcelona and Uruguay)

Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid and France)

2018 Kopa Award nominees:

Houssem Aouar (Lyon and France)

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool and England)

Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan and Italy)

Ritsu Doan (Groningen and Japan)

Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan and Italy)

Amadou Haidara (Red Bull Salzburg and Mali)

Justin Kluivert (Ajax/AS Roma and Netherlands)

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain and France)

Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund and United States)

Rodrygo (Santos and Brazil)

2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or nominees:

Lucy Bronze (Lyon and England)

Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg and Denmark)

Ada Hegerberg (Lyon and Norway)

Amandine Henry (Lyon and France)

Lindsay Horan (Portland Thorns and United States)

Sam Kerr (Chicago Red Stars and Australia)

Fran Kirby (Chelsea and England)

Saki Kumagai (Lyon and Japan)

Dzsenifer Marozsan (Lyon and Germany)

Amel Majri (Lyon and France)

Marta (Orlando Pride and Brazil)

Lieke Martens (Barcelona and Netherlands)

Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign and United States)

Wendie Renard (Lyon and France)

Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns and Canada)

Reuters was used in this report.



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Ballon d’Or award nominees: Cristiano Ronaldo Kevin De Bruyne on list

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The numbers behind Real Madrid’s current goal drought are more shocking than meets the eye.
Real Madrid head coach Julen Lopetegui prefers to talk about his whole team after their win over Roma.
With a goal for Real Madrid in every competitive game, the FC crew examine what’s led to Gareth Bale’s sublime start to the season.

Cristiano Ronaldo leads the second set of Men’s Ballon d’Or nominations as France Football release their list of 30 at staggered intervals throughout the day.

The Juventus forward helped Real Madrid to a third successive Champions League title in May, scoring 44 goals in 44 games in all competitions in his final season at the club.

The individual honour, which is European football’s oldest having been awarded every year since 1956, has been won by either Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for the past 10 years — with each winning a record five.

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is also among the nominees after winning the Premier League, Carabao Cup and Community Shield, while also playing a major role in helping Belgium finish third at the World Cup.

Fellow Belgium international Thibaut Courtois is also on the list despite a shaky start to life at Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino receives a nomination after their run to the Champions League final.

Uruguay captain Diego Godin completes the second set of nominations after winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid.

Sergio Aguero was the first nominee on Monday morning after scoring 26 goals in 33 games in 2018 for club and country as Manchester City won three trophies.

He was followed by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, who made a then-world record transfer to the club after helping Roma to the Champions League semifinals.

Then came Gareth Bale, who scored twice in the Champions League final — along with Real Madrid teammate and fellow scorer, Karim Benzema.

Paris Saint-German forward Edinson Cavani — who came 11th in last year’s poll — completed the quintet.

This award runs alongside FIFA’s The Best, which was won by Luka Modric in September.

2018 Ballon d’Or nominees:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina)

Alisson (Roma/Liverpool and Brazil)

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid and Wales)

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay)

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea/Real Madrid and Belgium)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Juventus and Portugal)

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)

Roberto Firmino (Liverpool and Brazil)

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay)

Information from ESPN FC’s Ian Holyman was used in this article.



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Klopp: Losing to Napoli best preparation for City

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Liverpool vs Man City Burning questions on the seasons first title decider

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ESPN FC’s Stewart Robson gives his take on why the referee will take centre stage in this weekend’s Premier League clash between Liverpool and Man City.
It was goals galore last January as Liverpool’s three second half goals would be enough to hold off Man City 4-3 at Anfield.
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol explains why Napoli were deserving of their late victory, despite Liverpool’s best efforts to hold on for a draw.

It is the biggest game of the Premier League season so far: Liverpool versus Manchester City, the top two, locked together on 19 points from seven games and both boasting unbeaten records.

A win for either team would be a huge psychological blow in the race for the title and mark them out as early favourites to finish on top. So will be Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, Mohamed Salah or Sergio Aguero, who make the difference at Anfield on Sunday? And what are the key factors that will decide the outcome of the game?

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have faced each other on 14 previous occasions, with the Liverpool manager Klopp winning seven encounters.
The Premier League’s two most exciting managers know how to score goals, setting up an intriguing match at Anfield.

The battle of the bosses: Klopp vs. Guardiola

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have faced each other on 14 previous occasions, with the Liverpool manager Klopp winning seven encounters. Guardiola has won five, with two draws making up the numbers.

Klopp’s statistics have been boosted significantly by three successive victories against Guardiola’s City team already in 2018 and there is a real sense going into this weekend’s game that the German has cracked the code when it comes to nullifying Guardiola’s teams.

Under Klopp, Liverpool swarm their opponents in the attacking third and deny them time on the ball, a tactic that has repeatedly caused City problems. Guardiola will have spent hours attempting to devise a plan to swing the pendulum back in his favour against Klopp. For these reasons, the tactical battle will be an intriguing element of the game.

The strengths and weaknesses

Both teams can be irresistible going forward, with the respective goal threat of Liverpool and City the biggest weapon for both teams.

City put five past Liverpool at the Etihad last season — albeit against a 10-man Liverpool following the dismissal of Sadio Mane — but Klopp’s team won 4-3 at Anfield in January before scoring three times without reply in the Champions League quarterfinal first-leg last season.

Defensively, both teams can be too open, but Liverpool have improved considerably in that department following the additions of goalkeeper Alisson and centre-half Virgil van Dijk.

Both sides have been able to exploit weaknesses down the flanks against each other, but these are two teams without glaring weaknesses. The end result is usually down to which team hits its stride quickest.

Which player will decide the game?

Van Dijk, right, has transformed Liverpool's defence and given them a solid platform upon which to build attacks.
Van Dijk, right, has transformed Liverpool’s defence, giving them a solid platform upon which to build attacks.

It’s stating the obvious to suggest that the game will rest on whether Salah or Aguero scores the most goals. Both forwards are crucial to their respective teams, but the reality is that the key figures are further back in each side.

For Liverpool, Van Dijk’s presence is crucial. The £75 million centre-half gives his team solidity and organisation at the back. He can also dictate the tempo from his position at the heart of the defence. Simply put: If Van Dijk plays well, Liverpool usually win.

For City, David Silva remains the man who makes them tick, particularly without the injured Kevin De Bruyne. Silva can pick holes in the Liverpool defence if he is allowed to glide unchecked between the midfield and attacking lines and seems the most likely architect of any City victory.

The players you don’t notice

Call this the “James Milner factor.” The likes of Salah, Aguero and Raheem Sterling may claim the spotlight, but the secret of both teams is the work done by those players who often go unnoticed.

Milner, who left City for Liverpool in 2015 to secure regular football, is in the form of his life at the age of 32, giving Klopp’s team experience, reliability and tenacity in the heart of midfield. The former Leeds and Newcastle midfielder is never less than a 7/10 performer, his contribution rubbing off on the likes of Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who are also key to Liverpool’s sparkling start to the season.

For City, Fernandinho is the glue that holds it all together in the heart of the team. At 33, he remains a crucial figure. Fabian Delph has also become a key man at full-back, while Kyle Walker’s energy and pace down the right flank is another huge part of City’s game.

City’s woeful record at Anfield

There are some things that just cannot be explained and City’s results in Liverpool are an anomaly that hangs over the team whenever they make the short trip to the red half of Merseyside.

City have not won at Anfield since May 2003, losing 15 of their 21 trips to the stadium during the Premier League era. Last season, Guardiola’s team suffered their first league defeat at Anfield and were also crushed 3-0 in the Champions League in front of The Kop.

So they will travel to Liverpool this weekend knowing that they must draw a line under their losing history at Anfield and find a way to banish the negative thoughts that come with such a dismal sequence of results.

Searching for goals: Mo Salah has yet to find his form this season. But will that be enough of a weakness for City to win at Anfield for the first time since 2003?
Searching for goals: Mo Salah has yet to find his form this season. But will that be enough of a weakness for City to win at Anfield for the first time since 2003?

Can Salah find his form?

Salah scored three goals in four games against Manchester City last season and his performances against Guardiola’s team were some of his best of a stunning campaign. But the Egyptian has started slowly this season, scoring just three times so far, and he goes into Sunday’s game without a goal in three matches.

It is hardly a barren run but when compared to Salah’s output last season, it is perhaps a worry when placed alongside his below-par performances. Salah has yet to hit his stride and he was poor against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week.

Liverpool need him firing on all cylinders against City if they are win.

The value of a top goalkeeper

There is an old adage that you cannot win a league title without a reliable goalkeeper. After struggling between the sticks with the unconvincing Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, Liverpool finally sorted their keeper situation by signing Alisson Becker from Roma. The Brazil number one has given Liverpool a genuinely commanding presence in goal.

Ederson, Alisson’s understudy for Brazil, made a similar impact at City last season after arriving from Benfica to replace the erratic Claudio Bravo. A good goalkeeper gives a team confidence and a sense of security, and although both Alisson and Ederson take risks, they have both made their teams stronger by their presence.

So who will win?

Liverpool go into the game having lost their momentum on the back of three outings without a win. The Champions League defeat against Napoli in Italy on Wednesday, when they conceded in the 90th minute, may have undermined the team’s morale. How Liverpool respond to that setback will be an interesting element to Sunday’s game.

Despite going top of the league last weekend, Man City have also yet to hit the heights of last season, so they do not travel to Anfield in peerless form either.

It is a tough one to call, but with Salah struggling for goals and Liverpool without a win in three, City will believe they can end their Anfield hoodoo.

Prediction: Liverpool 1, Man City 2



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Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino feared going blind in one eye after injury vs. Tottenham

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The FC crew discuss where Liverpool fell short at the Stadio San Paolo, taking aim at their inability to adapt to Napoli’s potent attack in the second half.
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol explains why Napoli were deserving of their late victory, despite Liverpool’s best efforts to hold on for a draw.
After a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, the FC guys examine the Premier League title outlook for Chelsea and Liverpool.

Roberto Firmino has revealed he feared he was going to be blind in one eye after he was caught by Jan Vertonghen during Liverpool’s win over Tottenham Hotspur last month.

Firmino was forced off in the 2-1 victory at Wembley and taken to a hospital in London, where it was confirmed he sustained an abrasion of the eye.

Sources told ESPN FC that the FA would be taking no disciplinary action against Vertonghen, with the governing body believing the incident to be entirely accidental.

“I was scared of going blind in one eye and not being able to see again,” Firmino told Sky Sports. “Thank God nothing like that happened and it gradually improved day after day.

“Of course, I’ve been taking my medication and looking after it. Your eyes are very important as a professional footballer. Thank God everything is OK now.

“I was frightened, but the pain gradually passed after the doctor gave me a painkiller and it got better.

“When the incident happened, everything was blurry and I couldn’t see out of my left eye.

“It’s much better. The pain has gone and I can’t feel anything anymore. It’s still a bit red, but I hope that clears up over time.”

Firmino did not miss any action because of the injury. He was a doubt for the following game against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, but came off the bench to score an stoppage-time winner.



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Liverpool fans attacked ahead of Napoli Champions League tie

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Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly discusses the threat Liverpool possess and explains why he believes they can surprise people in Group C.
Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp insists Carlo Ancelotti’s nice words about his side are tactics to try and get his guard down before their Champions League match with Napoli.

NAPLES, Italy — A group of Liverpool fans have been attacked in the centre of Naples ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game against Napoli.

Merseyside Police confirmed to ESPN FC that a male was taken to hospital as a result, but was released having only suffered minor injuries.

Liverpool are in Naples for the first time since 2010, when three away supporters were treated for knife wounds and four others also suffered injuries.

“We are aware of an incident involving a small group of Liverpool fans and a small group of males on mopeds last night, Tuesday, October 2,” a Merseyside Police spokesman told ESPN FC. “A male in his 20s was taken to hospital to be treated for minor cuts and bruises and released a short time later. Enquiries are ongoing.”

Liverpool and Merseyside Police have advised travelling fans to not wear club colours around the city centre and to not make their own way to the Stadio San Paolo, using the shuttle buses provided instead.

Jurgen Klopp’s team play Napoli at 9 p.m. local time in their second Champions League match of the season.



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Liverpool’s Alisson cried considered rejecting move for Roma stay

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After a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, the FC guys examine the Premier League title outlook for Chelsea and Liverpool.
ESPN’s Stewart Robson analyses Chelsea’s thrilling 1-1 draw to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge where Jurgen Klopp tried to stop Eden Hazard from being effective for the Blues.
Craig Burley breaks down an eventful day in the Premier League which saw Man United lose again and Daniel Sturridge score a wonder goal to rescue Liverpool.
Craig Burley breaks down an enthralling 1-1 draw between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson has told Gazzetta dello Sport he considered staying at Roma and cried when it was time to leave for the Premier League.

Alisson earned his move to Liverpool on the back of two seasons at Roma in which he finished second in Serie A in his first campaign and reached the Champions League semifinals in his second.

“Leaving Rome was difficult,” he said. “I cried a lot, together with my wife. It’s only right that I’m honest about it: I made a professional decision; a step forward in my career and for Roma, who earned a huge sum.

“I decided with my head to move to Liverpool, but my heart was full of tears. I spent two special years in Rome. My daughter was born there and I have a lot of friends there outside of football.

“Many times I’d spend the night walking the city streets: the Trevi fountain, in the dark, is so beautiful it moves you, but the Colosseum is my favourite place — you can breathe history there.

“[Staying in Rome] went through my mind a lot because I was so happy in Rome, but when a player decides where to play, it’s a much bigger discussion.

“I’ve got big ambitions and so do Liverpool, and now I’m playing in the biggest league in the world. [Serie A is] not far behind, it’s just different and less intense.”

Alisson also said that he has been an admirer of Jurgen Klopp since his days at Borussia Dortmund and praised the Liverpool boss’ management style.

Klopp convinced Alisson about a move to Liverpool and the club’s ambitions in multiple FaceTime calls after a £65 million deal was struck with Roma back in July.

Klopp, who took charge of Liverpool in 2015 after seven years at Dortmund, also defended the Brazil No. 1 when he made an error that led directly to a goal at Leicester City last month in just his third appearance for the club.

“When the two clubs reached an agreement, Klopp called me a few times on FaceTime and he explained to me his project and what we would do together,” Alisson said.

“I’ve admired him for a while, since his Dortmund days. I like being coached by him because he doesn’t say much, but he always knows what to say and how to say it.

“He’s an intelligent man with character. [After Leicester] he came into the dressing room and started joking. He dealt with it in the best way possible, since I already knew I’d embarrassed myself.

“Then he told me not to lose faith and to carry on playing that way.”



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Premier League: 25 goals in 90 seconds

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How Klopp failed to nullify Hazard in Chelsea draw

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Sturridge shows hes not finished yet Arnautovic ruins Man Uniteds day

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There’s still a Monday night game to come but the weekend review is not lacking for talking points as Nick Miller runs through the highlights and lowlights.

Goal of the weekend

It’s been a rough few years for Daniel Sturridge, with injury problems and a limp loan spell at West Brom keeping him from challenging for a place in the Liverpool team. He’s back now though, scoring twice against Chelsea in a week with Saturday’s effort both much more important and much better.

The frequency and over-ambition of his shots can be infuriating but he was right this time, picking out the top corner from way, way out. If he can stay fit, the resurgence of Sturridge might be the story of the season.

Silver lining of the weekend

Sturridge scored a goal of the season contender to give Liverpool a precious point at Chelsea and show why he's still a force up front for the Reds.
Sturridge scored a goal of the season contender to give Liverpool a precious point at Chelsea and show why he’s still a force up front for the Reds.

At what point should Liverpool start worrying about Mo Salah? Something isn’t quite right: His finishing is a bit off, he doesn’t seem as sharp as last season and he isn’t quite as decisive. Who knows why? It could just be a blip, it could be bad luck, it could be the lingering effects of the shoulder injury inflicted upon him by Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final.

That might be the bad news, but the good news is that Liverpool don’t have to be quite as worried because have more attacking options now. Last season Salah scored 32 of their 84 league goals. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino got another 25 between them and only one other player scored more than three: Philippe Coutinho, who left in January.

When Klopp looked to his bench last season he saw Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke: this term he has a fit again Sturridge and the underrated Xherdan Shaqiri. The main man might not be quite the same but Liverpool’s supporting cast look much stronger.

Player of the weekend

Marko Arnautovic barely trained this week, with a lingering knee injury still so concerning that he was advised by medical staff not to play against Manchester United. He ignored them in the end, but it was no wonder he looked dead on his feet when he was substituted in the 83rd minute of West Ham’s 3-1 win.

The Hammers are just an entirely different proposition when he is on the pitch. A combination of physicality, nice passing and decisive finishing makes him one of the best forwards outside the top six, and along with Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko, he forms a fine attacking trio for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

All three were excellent against United, but Arnautovic stood out in particular.

Schadenfreude of the weekend

Not long after Jose Mourinho arrived at Real Madrid in 2010, he was asked about his immediate predecessor, who’d just got a new job. “If they [Real] get rid of me, I won’t be going to coach Malaga,” Mourinho said, with his customary grace. “I will go to a big club in the Premier League or Serie A.”

Manuel Pellegrini isn’t alone in the ranks of managers who have received abysmal treatment from Mourinho. But there was something darkly pleasing about the man who came before him in Madrid inflicting the latest horror on him at the weekend. Pellegrini’s West Ham beat a Manchester United side who attacked with the ferocity of a sleepy kitten and defended like the same kitten, two hours later: This wasn’t exactly hard-fought revenge on an old foe, but it must have been quietly satisfying nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Malaga are doing pretty well at the moment. They’re top of the Segunda Division in Spain having won six of their seven games so far. They probably wouldn’t take Mourinho now anyway, if for some reason he suddenly became available.

Luckiest moment of the weekend

Four attackers in particular rose to the occasion after another enjoyable and eventful weekend in the Premier League.
Four attackers in particular rose to the occasion after another enjoyable and eventful weekend in the Premier League.

It’s always preferable not to indulge Mourinho’s complaints but in terms of West Ham’s first goal, he did at least have a point. Pablo Zabaleta was clearly offside before he set up Anderson and the most infuriating thing must be that it was only a few yards away from the linesman, who had a clear view along the line. Had he raised his flag, then who knows whether Manchester United’s latest calamity would have panned out in the same manner.

Tired player of the weekend

Harry Kane still doesn’t look quite right. He still looks exhausted, in fact. But it’s an illustration of how much of a goal-scoring savant Kane is that during this period of (to the naked eye, at least) awful form, he’s scored five goals in seven league games thanks to two against Huddersfield on Saturday. You probably wish your centre-forward looked that exhausted.

Trend of the weekend

St James’s Park used to be a fortress. Even in the season they were last relegated, Newcastle United only lost five games on their own patch, the same as fourth-place Manchester City.

Not anymore, though. Their defeat to Leicester was their fourth in four home games this season and while the previous three have been against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, the weekend’s loss to Leicester is a bit more difficult to write off. With two points from seven games, they’re already in a relegation scrap but if they can reclaim some of that strength at home, they’ll have a much better chance of staying up.

Continued excellence of the weekend

Since the start of last season, Raheem Sterling has scored 22 Premier League goals and registered 13 assists. Therefore, he’s been directly involved in 35 of the 127 for Man City, over a quarter of the goals arguably the best club side in the world right now have managed. And that’s not even counting the goals he’s been indirectly involved in, or helped create with an off-the-ball run.

Last summer, Pep Guardiola had the chance to sell Sterling to Arsenal, but he kept him and the past 18 months or so have shown why. It’s been been a wonderful example of a player and manager working together to extract the very best from someone’s ability; if you’ll excuse a gushing moment, it’s a pretty beautiful thing to see.

Team of the weekend

Paulo Gazzaniga, GK – Tottenham; Pablo Zabaleta, DF – West Ham, David Luiz, DF – Chelsea, Virgil van Dijk, CB – Liverpool, Alexander Zinchenko, DF – Liverpool; Mark Noble, MF – West Ham, Gylfi Sigurdsson, MF – Everton; Raheem Sterling, FW – Manchester City, Marko Arnautovic, FW – West Ham, Harry Kane, FW – Tottenham, Felipe Anderson, FW – West Ham.



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