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April 14, 2019

Liverpool Player Ratings vs Chelsea (April 14, 2019)

High Press 10 April 14, 2019

CThe Slip.

All you heard for the past few days were callbacks to 2014 and The Slip.

Even Chelsea tempted fate by trolling Liverpool about it.

Was that really the best idea? Would karma eventually strike back?

Um, yes (Exhibit A: Hazard hitting the post). Let’s hope the “bomber” chanters were handcuffed to their TV for the second half of this one.

The first half saw an open and fairly even display. Liverpool controlled possession 62-38% and completed more passes, but shots were basically even (4 / 1 on target for the Reds and to 3 / 1 on target for the Blues). The second half started all Liverpool, as the Red poured it on.

Make no mistake, despite some decent stretches by Chelsea, Liverpool dominated this game.

They closed out the game with a 2-0 victory. The win puts them two clear of the game-in-hand Manchester City. FiveThirtyEight now has this race as a coin-flip at 52-48% for City, who now must face Tottenham and Manchester United. Betting markets agree as well, as FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has City priced at -145 to Liverpool’s -115.

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (9.5) – Was nice seeing Klopp actually opt for consistency and momentum in his midfield selection of Keita-Fab-Hendo.

Even better, Klopp didn’t tempt fate like Chelsea did with their lame tweet by starting Lovren again.

After Liverpool went up 2-0, Chelsea stepped it up, and Klopp wisely yanked Keita for more defensive help by subbing in Georginio Wijnaldum. He brought Milner on to help steady the ship even more a few minutes later. He had his squad ready to play, knew when to calm them down, and kept things positive (especially after Robbo’s slip). One of Klopp’s best managerial performances for Liverpool to date.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (8) – Nice stretched out deflection in the 12th. Was well-positioned to stop a Hazard attempt in the 20th and made a crucial stop on another Hazard shot in the 60th.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (7) – He was certainly given a load to handle in Hazard [when Hazard wasn’t wailing on the ground]. Delivered a perfect free-kick at the close of the first-half that was almost put in the net by Firmino. Did some tidying up on defense in the 80th minute. A strong showing.

Virgil van Dijk (5) – A little dip in form of late. Gave ball away in the box in the 15th minute though like most of his recent miscues, wasn’t punished for it. Let Gonzalo Higuaín slip past him for a potential shot in the 63rd.

Joel Matip (7) – Here’s a situation where going unnoticed may actually be a good thing. While VVD continued his concerning trend of miscues, Matip went unnoticed, mostly because he played solid, mistake free football.

Andy Robertson (8) Back from his game off due to yellow card accumulation in the Champions League, Robbo looked recharged. Boomed up and down the line, made some good early crosses and link-up play, all while containing the dangerous Callum Hudson-Odoi, whom he made mostly invisible.

Midfielders

Naby Keita (7) – Started strong early, playing and attacking with confidence. This is the Keita everyone was excited about when he was bought. He looks like his RB Leipzig highlight videos, cutting through the defense with power. A quieter second half and subbed for Gini, but another strong showing.

Fabinho (7) – Was everywhere at the start, eating Hazard’s lunch on an early tackle to thwart a counter (side note: is Hazard made of papier-mâché? He was constantly on the ground upon every challenge). Did a little bit of everything today.

Jordan Henderson (7.5) – Would his newly discovered “creativity” carry over into a critical Premier League game? The answer: YES. Definitely aggressive on the attack. Appears more confident in general in a more attack-focused role. He assisted the Mane opener with a laser-point perfect pass. Subbed in the 77th minute for Milner.

Forwards

Roberto Firmino (8) – Really looks to be fully in form. Strong on the ball as always, linking up well, creating chances. May not show up on the score sheet but consistently impacted the game.

Sadio Mane (7) – A quiet first half was quickly forgotten when Mane headed home a perfect feed from Jordan Henderson to give Liverpool the lead in the 51st.

Mohamed Salah (9) – Almost a copy+paste of his past few months of games. Work rate = great. Threat = often. Finishing = non-existent. Until that changed in the second half. Had an early chance to volley in a goal, was on target — right at the goalie. It was Salah’s hard work that led to the hockey assist on Mane’s opener. Then, OMG, WHAT A FINISH two minutes later to put Liverpool ahead 2-0. The Salah-la-la-la rang loud at the Kop. It was Salah’s second goal against the Big 6 this campaign and couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Substitutions

Georginio Wijnaldum (NR) – Came in strong and active. Creative back-heel off Chelsea defender led to a corner in the 83rd.

James Milner (NR) – Not on long enough to make an impact, but did help steady Liverpool to victory.

Xherdan Shaqiri (NR) – Time-wasting sub in the 90th minute, but still good to see him on the pitch again.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Mo Salah. He worked hard all game, was a constant threat, and netted an absolute stunner.

Ezequiel Barco Shines as Atlanta United Grab Their First Win of the Season

April 14, 2019

In a game that was a must-win for Atlanta United, a key early decision may have been the turning point Frank de Boer and the Five Stripes needed.

In the 15th minute away at New England Revolution, Eric Remedi suffered a head injury. De Boer opted to sub in Ezequiel Barco. The tone of the game–and possibly the season–immediately shifted from there.

Barco quickly impacted the game, scoring in the 29th minute with a goal assisted by Tito Villalba. Barco netted a brace with what should be an MLS Goal of the Week nominee in the 49th minute with a right-footed bomb to the upper 90 from outside the 18-yard box (2:05 in the below video).

Miles Robinson continued to perform like a seasoned veteran. Franco Escobar and Pity Martinez also took the pitch as subs late in the game. Both players are returning from injury and have seen limited time this season.

FdB ends a long win-less streak

In the victory, Frank de Boer ended his 900-day winless streak. He did so, in part, by doing something that hasn’t been a trademark of his coaching philosophy the past few years: adapting.

De Boer moved away from his 3-4-3 formation and went back to the 4-3-3 formation that sometimes floated into a 4-2-3-1 formation. The team seemed to be more comfortable and play more organized. Atlanta had a clear identity and the players knew what their roles were and played them well.

The real question worth asking: is Frank de Boer starting to feel the pressure to win and maybe straying away from the European style that he is accustomed to and playing more of a South American style that this team is known for playing? Saturday night the answer was yes.

The 5 Stripes played to the caliber the supporters have been waiting to see all season. They looked like the MLS Championship side that are a threat to take 3 points every game.

If de Boer is feeling the pressure from ghosts of clubs past (Inter and Palace), his response on Saturday night is definitely encouraging. ATLUTD supporters will see if this performance was an aberration or a sign of things to come next week as they take on Dallas FC at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Winless New York City FC and Minnesota United Christen Allianz Stadium with 3-3 Draw

Peter Nolan April 14, 2019

Just seven days removed from Yankee Stadium SodGate, the mischief makers behind the MLS schedule sent NYCFC up north to play Minnesota FC as they opened their impressive new Allianz Stadium. After clearing snow out of the way earlier in the day, the teams played a sloppy, exciting 3-3 draw.

The stadium was story early on…

The stadium, sort of a miniature version of Bayern Munich’s larger stadium of the same name, is the culmination of United’s three-year expansion plan. It is also something of a stick in the eye to the NYCFC franchise that continues to play a distant second fiddle at Yankee Stadium, unable even to generate a decent stadium rumor for the team’s supporters to hang their hat on.

And while NYC’s grounds crew spent last week replacing massive divots in the Yankee Stadium infield, their Minnesota counterparts earned praise for their work in clearing a spring snowstorm without causing serious damage the new team’s new pitch.

…then a wild game followed

That pitch saw plenty of early action with the sides combining for four goals in the games opening 20 minutes. The home team went to the locker room with a 3-2 lead on the strength of a Sean Johnson howler for the ages (1:50 in the below video).

Ozzie Alonso, brought in from Seattle to settle a Minnesota defensive side that became the first MLS team to allow 70 goals in consecutive seasons, had the honor on Saturday of becoming the first goal scorer in the history of Minnesota’s Allianz Stadium with a sweetly struck volley in the gam’s 13th minute.

With the St. Paul crowd rocking it was easy to forsee another disaster in the making for a New York side still searching for its first victory in 2019. Embattled NYCFC coach Dome Torrent had to be aware of City Football Group Football Administration Officer Brian Marwood sitting alongside NYCFC Director of Football Operations Claudio Reyna in one of the new stadium’s suites.

Torrent sent his team out in a new three back set up, featuring 18 year-old midfielder James Sands at the center of that three back, flanked by Maxine Chanot and Tony Rocha, who had played less than an hour this season for NYC since being acquired from Orlando in the off-season.

With Ronald Matarrita failing to provide cover for Rocha, Minnesota exploited the left side of the New York defense throughout the opening half, leading Torrent to pull Rocha on the re-start while shifting to a back four.

The visitors were much better defensively after the substitution and the formation change. So, was it personnel or formation that was at fault? It should be noted that NYC’s right side was solid all afternoon with Maxine Chanot and Anton Tinnerholm working well together. Perhaps Ben Sweat could have done better than Rocha, particularly if Matarrita paid more heed to his defensive responsibilities.

NYC did show resiliency in bouncing back with goals from Valentín Castellanos in the 16th minute and a another from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi just two minutes later. Tajouri-Shradi assisted on Castellanos’ goal with Castellanos returning the favor on Tajouri-Shradi’s tally, although the latter was recorded as unassisted because T-S needed two attempts at his shot.

But winless teams are winless for a reason, and NYCFC could not make its lead last for more than two minutes, conceding a leveler to Angelo Rodríguez in the 20th minute. Like the Loons first goal, Rodriguez’ headed goal originated on the left side of the N.Y. defense with Ethan Finlay teeing up a wide-open Rodriguez to nod home from Johnson’s doorstep.

The home side might have taken the lead on the half hour mark if not for a great tackle from Matarrita but Minnesota did go in front two minutes later on a goal that Johnson will have a hard time living down.

Under departed coach Patrick Vieira, Johnson has made huge strides as a ball playing goalkeeper, to the point where Gregg Berhalter has recalled the New York keeper to the USMNT. But on Saturday afternoon, Johnson took a simple back pass from Ebenezer Ofori and turned it back toward and ultimately into his own goal for a head shaking howler.

As well as costing his team the lead Johnson’s miscue revived a reputation that the former Chicago Fire keeper had worked diligently to put behind him, that of a goalkeeper given to the occasional, inexplicable blunder.

The most costly of those miscues came in 2012 against El Salvador, when Johnson allowed a long range shot to bounce past him, costing the U.S. an Olympic berth. Johnson has fought that “unreliable” label ever since and seemed to have put it behind him.

To his immense credit Johnson has never shied from taking responsibility when things turn ugly and so he turned to twitter Saturday.

“The boys” did indeed have Johnson’s back against Minnesota, outplaying the hosts by a wide margin in the second half. Referee Alan Kelly and VAR combined to overturn an NYCFC goal by Castellanos, who tried for a “Bicep of God goal” only to be caught by the technology of the day.

Kelly also consulted VAR to overrule a Minnesota penalty claim, with Finlay correctly penalized for being offside prior to the infringement.

New York did get its equalizer, however, in the 64th minute on a deflected free kick from Tojouri-Shradi, who was credited with the goal despite a touch off of Minnesota defender Francisco Calvo.

New York would lose two goal man Tajouri-Shradi to a leg injury in the 74th minute before a disturbing incident that sent Minnesota’s Ike Opara and NYC’s Castellanos to the sideline after a violent clash of heads on a Loons corner kick.

Both players required attention on the pitch with Opara also bleeding. Castellanos attempted to return before New York’s medical staff wisely stepped in, ending what was by far the best performance of the forwards NYCFC career to date.

Jadon Sancho Youngest in Bundesliga History to Score 11 Goals; One of Five European Players with at least 10 Goals & Assists

Chops April 14, 2019

Quite a week for the 19 year-old wunderkinds of European soccer.

On Thursday, João Félix became the youngest player to ever record a hat trick in Europa League play, leading Benfica to a 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund‘s Jadon Sancho said, “Hold my non-alcoholic beer.”

Sancho’s brace led BVB to a much-needed 2-1 win over Mainz. BVB hold a temporary two-point Bundesliga advantage over game-in-hand Bayern Munich (who play on Sunday).

The two goals also put Sancho in rarefied air in Europe this season, as he becomes one of only five players in Europe’s top five domestic leagues to tally at least 10 goals and 10 assists for the year.

The 2019 summer transfer period will likely lead to major changes for both Félix and Sancho. At this rate, the next record they break may end up being “highest transfer fee for a teenager in Europe football history.”

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