Man City ‘Deserve’ Champions League Return, Says Guardiola

File photo: Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on December 7, 2019. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP

 

Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City deserve their place in the Champions League next season as the club wait to find out whether their two-season ban against playing in European competitions will be overturned.

City were handed the two-season saction by UEFA in February over alleged breaches of financial fair play rules, but appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which will deliver its verdict on Monday.

On the field, City ensured they will finish in the Premier League’s top four with Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Brighton on Saturday.

“Today we achieved one incredible challenge, which is qualification for the Champions League mathematically,” said Guardiola.

“We deserve to be there because we won it on the pitch. Hopefully on Monday UEFA can allow us to play like this team and these players deserve to.”

For the fourth time in their last six league games, City scored four or more goals in another performance that belied the 21-point gap between them and champions Liverpool.

However, they could still end the season with a treble of trophies as they face Arsenal in the semi-finals of the FA Cup next weekend before recommencing their Champions League campaign in August.

“I have the feeling all the team is ready to play good for what we have ahead of us,” added Guardiola.

“The levels we’ve had since the restart, even the games we lost, have been really good.”

Too often City have been found wanting for failing to take their chances and punished for defensive lapses at the other end.

However, there was never any chance of Brighton adding to their nine league defeats this season once Sterling curled home his 25th goal of the season with unerring accuracy into the far corner.

“I think the problem we’ve had this season is we’ve created a lot of chances and not taken them whereas last season and the season before we’d finish them and bury games early on,” said Sterling.

“This season we haven’t had that slight bit of luck.”

Gabriel Jesus could have the responsibility of leading the line when City’s bid to win the Champions League for the first time gets back underway with Sergio Aguero facing a race against time to be fit after knee surgery.

The Brazilian has not always been the most prolific finisher, but showed striker’s instincts to tap Rodrigo’s flick-on for a corner to make it 2-0 just before half-time with his 20th goal of the season.

Sterling notched his second of the night in unusual fashion by crashing home a header from Mahrez’s teasing cross.

Brighton did themselves no favours for the fourth as Mat Ryan spiled a Bernardo Silva shot he should have held and Jesus teed up the Portuguese midfielder to roll into an unguarded net at the second attempt..

Sterling was left on as Kevin De Bruyne and Jesus made way to give him the chance of securing a hat-trick and he did so with a hint of fortune as the ball ricocheted off his head after he had fallen to the floor inside the area and Dan Burn failed to clear the ball off the line.

Brighton are still not mathematically safe as they remain eight points above the relegation zone, but Graham Potter’s men should already have enough points on the board as third-bottom Bournemouth face the daunting task of being City’s next opponents on Wednesday.

“We were well beaten by the better team,” admitted Potter.

“They beat Liverpool 4-0 at the Etihad so better teams than us will find it difficult.”

AFP

Norwich Relegated From Premier League As West Ham’s Antonio Scores Four

West Ham United's English midfielder Michail Antonio (L) shoots and scores a goal next to Norwich City's English midfielder Ben Godfrey during the English Premier League football match between Norwich City and West Ham United at Carrow Road in Norwich, eastern England on July 11, 2020. Ian Walton / POOL / AFP
West Ham United’s English midfielder Michail Antonio (L) shoots and scores a goal next to Norwich City’s English midfielder Ben Godfrey during the English Premier League football match between Norwich City and West Ham United at Carrow Road in Norwich, eastern England on July 11, 2020.
Ian Walton / POOL / AFP

 

Norwich were condemned to a record fifth relegation from the Premier League as Michail Antonio’s four-goal blitz fired West Ham to a 4-0 win at Carrow Road on Saturday.

A seventh successive league defeat for Daniel Farke’s side sealed their fate as Antonio’s ruthless display boosted West Ham’s own survival bid.

Norwich are 13 points from safety with only three games left, meaning they are certain to make an immediate return to the Championship after last season’s promotion campaign.

The Canaries have become accustomed to relegation in the Premier League era, going down on four previous occasions in 1995, 2005, 2014 and 2016.

Farke was already resigned to relegation before this weekend given Norwich had lost every game since the coronavirus hiatus.

“We wanted to beat the odds again but when the dust settles the outcome is more or less what was expected. It doesn’t take anything away from the fact that we are disappointed,” Farke said.

“From the first day after promotion our chances to survive were perhaps 5 percent so in 19 out of 20 cases you will go down. If you have luck and no injuries then you have a chance.

“When we are 100 percent we are competitive but when it’s 96 or 97 percent then it sometimes looks like men against boys. That’s what I expected.”

With all games being played behind closed doors, some Norwich fans might have been relieved not to have to watch the embarrassment of their limp demise in person.

In truth, they have looked out of their depth among the Premier League elite from the moment they paid the price for a naively attacking game-plan in a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool on the opening day of the season.

Farke was hamstrung by Norwich’s decision not to spend big money on new signings following their promotion.

Since Teemu Pukki’s early-season goal rush dried up, they have been on a relentless slide towards the Championship.

A 3-2 win over Manchester City was a rare highlight but just weeks later a 5-1 home defeat against Aston Villa underlined the problems undermanned Norwich would endure all season.

Norwich face losing promising youngsters Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons to Premier League clubs when the transfer window opens.

West Ham’s second win in four games was a huge lift to their hopes of staying up.

David Moyes’ side are six points above the bottom three with three games left against Watford, Manchester United and Aston Villa.

The early signs were ominous for Norwich as West Ham took the lead in the 11th minute.

Arriving to meet Issa Diop’s flick from Jarrod Bowen’s corner, Antonio volleyed into the roof of the net from close-range for his third goal in his last four games.

Norwich were surrendering with a whimper and Antonio pushed them closer to the relegation trap door in first half stoppage-time.

Rising above the meek challenge of two Norwich defenders, Antonio glanced his header into the far corner from Mark Noble’s free-kick.

Antonio was proving unplayable for the leaky Norwich rearguard and he completed his hat-trick in the 54th minute, looping a header into the net after Tim Krul saved his initial effort.

Antonio completed a memorable personal performance with his fourth goal in the 74th minute, coolly finishing from Ryan Fredericks’ cross.

Troy Deeney scored two penalties as Watford improved their survival prospect with a 2-1 win against Newcastle at Vicarage Road.

Newcastle snatched the lead in the 23rd minute when Matt Ritchie’s corner was flicked on by Federico Fernandez and Dwight Gayle bundled home at the far post for his third goal of the season.

But Deeney pulled Watford level seven minutes after the restart.

Kiko Femenia was clipped inside the area by Ritchie and Deeney smashed the penalty past Martin Dubravka.

In the 82nd minute, Javier Manquillo brought down Ismaila Sarr and Deeney stepped up again to bury his second penalty.

Fourth bottom Watford are now six points clear of third bottom Bournemouth, who face Leicester on Sunday.

Second bottom Aston Villa are seven points adrift of safety before Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace.

 

AFP

Ten-Man Arsenal Held By Leicester After Vardy Strike

Arsenal's Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (C) dives to block a shot from Leicester City's English striker Jamie Vardy (R) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium in London on July 7, 2020. Michael Regan / POOL / AFP
Arsenal’s Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (C) dives to block a shot from Leicester City’s English striker Jamie Vardy (R) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium in London on July 7, 2020. Michael Regan / POOL / AFP

 

Jamie Vardy salvaged a much-needed point for Leicester in their quest to claim a place in next season’s Champions League in a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Tuesday dominated by VAR reviews.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s strike gave the Gunners a well-deserved first half lead, but Arsenal were reduced to 10 men for the final 15 minutes when substitute Eddie Nketiah was shown a straight red card after a lengthy VAR review.

Leicester made the most of the man advantage as Vardy slotted home from Demarai Gray’s cross, but also had a nervous wait before the goal was awarded as VAR checked for offside.

Despite the late rally, Leicester have now won just once in six games since the restart to the season and drop to fourth after Chelsea won 3-2 at Crystal Palace earlier on Tuesday.

Manchester United can close to within one point of the Foxes if their scintillating form continues at Aston Villa on Thursday.

Arsenal’s own chances of a top-four finish appear gone as they remain nine points adrift in seventh.

But after a poor start to English football’s restart with back-to-back defeats at Manchester City and Brighton, there were more promising signs from Mikel Arteta’s men as his reign at the Emirates begins to take shape.

Bukayo Saka has flourished since Arteta replaced Unai Emery in December and the 18-year-old was again at the heart of an excellent first 45 minutes from Arsenal.

Saka created the opening goal as he latched onto a defence-splitting pass from the outstanding Dani Ceballos and teased Jonny Evans into falling over his own feet before laying Aubameyang’s 20th Premier League goal of the season on a plate.

But for Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal, the hosts would have been out of sight before half-time as the Danish number one produced an incredible low save to deny Alexandre Lacazette in between further smart stops from the French striker and Saka.

After weathering the Arsenal storm, Leicester felt aggrieved not to go in level at half-time when Kelechi Iheanacho was penalised for a soft foul before he tapped in Vardy’s cross and this time VAR offered no assistance to the visitors.

Iheanacho was denied by Emiliano Martinez, who produced another impressive performance in the Arsenal goal since stepping in for the injured Bernd Leno, before Vardy failed to connect properly with a great chance.

Arsenal were far less potent as an attacking force after the break, but Lacazette’s frustrating night in front of goal was rounded off when he did turn in from David Luiz’s flick-on only to be flagged offside.

Seconds after Lacazette was replaced by Eddie Nketiah, the Gunners were down to 10 when the young striker’s late lunge on James Justin was deemed worthy of a red card by referee Chris Kavanagh after he came to the side of the pitch to review the incident.

Rodgers immediately threw on an extra attacking option in Gray and his cross was the service Vardy had been seeking all night as turned home to regain his two-goal advantage over Aubameyang in the race for the Golden Boot.

 

AFP

Chelsea Narrowly Edge Crystal Palace In Five-Goal Thriller

Chelsea's US midfielder Christian Pulisic (C) is chased by Crystal Palace's Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate (R) during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on July 7, 2020. PETER CZIBORRA / POOL / AFP
Chelsea’s US midfielder Christian Pulisic (C) is chased by Crystal Palace’s Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate (R) during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on July 7, 2020. PETER CZIBORRA / POOL / AFP

 

Chelsea moved up to third in the Premier League table after holding out to win a 3-2 thriller at Crystal Palace, while Danny Welbeck’s stunning overhead kick moved Watford four points clear of the relegation zone by beating Norwich.

Frank Lampard’s men edged closer to sealing a place in next season’s Champions League as a seventh win in eight games takes them two points ahead of Leicester, who travel to Arsenal later on Tuesday, and opened up a five-point lead on fifth-placed Manchester United.

The Blues were fortunate when opening the scoring at Selhurst Park as former Chelsea captain Gary Cahill fell to the ground clutching his hamstring to allow Willian to tee up Olivier Giroud for his fourth goal in six games.

Chelsea have already stated their intent to move up a level next season and challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for the title with the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech.

Their arrival could have put Christian Pulisic’s place in the team under threat, but after an injury-disrupted start to his first season in England, the American is beginning to flourish.

Pulisic’s form has led to comparisons with Eden Hazard, the man he replaced at Stamford Bridge, and the Belgian would have been proud of Chelsea’s second as the 21-year-old skipped past Joel Ward and hammered in off the inside of the near post.

Chelsea appeared to be cruising towards victory and only a great save from Vicente Guaita turned Willian’s shot wide from Pulisic’s layoff as the visitors threatened to run riot.

However, as so often this season, Lampard’s men failed to capitalise on their dominance and were suddenly on the back foot when Wilfried Zaha thundered a shot high past Kepa Arrizabalaga from long range for Palace’s first goal in four games.

Chelsea looked to have sealed the three points again when substitutes Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham combined for the latter to restore a two-goal cushion 19 minutes from time.

Just over a minute later, though, Palace were back in the game when a brilliant move culminated in Patrick van Aanholt squaring for Christian Benteke to tap in just his second goal of the season.

Questions remain over whether the Chelsea defence will be strong enough to maintain a title challenge next season and they were left clinging on in stoppage time as Scott Dann’s header came back off the inside of the post and only a last-ditch challenge from Kurt Zouma denied Benteke a second.

At the other end of the table, Welbeck’s first Premier League goal for Watford was as valuable as it was spectacular as the Hornets came from behind to secure their first win since ending Liverpool’s long unbeaten run in February.

The 2-1 defeat pushes Norwich ever closer to the drop as the Canaries are now 10 points adrift of safety with four games remaining.

Emiliano Buendia gave Daniel Farke’s men a dream start by curling past Ben Foster, but Norwich’s defensive frailty from set-pieces was exposed when Craig Dawson was left free to head home Etienne Capoue’s free-kick to quickly level.

Like so much of his career, Welbeck’s first season at Watford has been blighted by injury, but the former Manchester United and Arsenal forward showed his class by adjusting his body to hook home Ismaila Sarr’s deflected cross.

 

AFP

Solskjaer Hails Under-Fire De Gea As ‘World’s Best’ Goalkeeper

 

Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea throws the ball out during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on September 14, 2019.
Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted goalkeeper David de Gea is still “the best in the world”, during a passionate defence of the Manchester United star after he was heavily criticised for his performance against Tottenham Hotspur.

United face Sheffield United on Wednesday as Solskjaer’s side line up at Old Trafford for the first time since winning the Manchester derby on March 8.

The Reds marked their opening match since the coronavirus lockdown with a 1-1 draw away to Spurs in the Premier League on Friday but De Gea was heavily criticised by former United skipper Roy Keane for letting Steven Bergwijn’s shot slip through his fingers.

United manager Solskjaer, a former Old Trafford team-mate of Keane, defended his goalkeeper, however, during a pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

“David is the best goalkeeper in the world,” he said.

“He’s conceded two goals in the last seven games he’s played for us. There’s two games against City, Chelsea, of course Tottenham, Everton. Two goals in seven games, we’ve gone on a run not conceding goals.

“The Everton one is a freak one, maybe. This one, he cannot save it. He makes great saves, he wins games for us.”

De Gea is set to start against the Blades, when Dean Henderson will be unable to face his parent club due to the terms of his loan deal.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper has shone for Sheffield United this season and was being touted as a potential starter for England before Euro 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Norwegian boss said Henderson would one day be the number one for Manchester United and England, hailing his performances for the Blades.

“He’s learning all the time. He’s a passionate keeper that wants to be the best so he’s developing, he’s got good coaching there,” said Solskjaer.

“I think one day he’ll be England number one and Man United number one and it’s up to him to keep developing.”

Solskjaer expects Henderson’s Bramall Lane loan to be formally extended before Tuesday’s deadline, but was unable to offer an update on Angel Gomes’ future.

The 19-year-old has yet to agree a new deal with United.

“For me, I’ve not spoken to anyone last night or this morning,” Solskjaer said of the teenage midfielder, whose deal expires at the end of the month.

“So the paperwork and the admin, the meetings that are going on, I can’t really update on that.”

-AFP

Man City Thrash Burnley To Delay Liverpool’s Title Claim

Manchester City's Spanish midfielder David Silva scores the fourth goal past Burnley's English goalkeeper Nick Pope during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on June 22, 2020. Michael REGAN / POOL / AFP
Manchester City’s Spanish midfielder David Silva scores the fourth goal past Burnley’s English goalkeeper Nick Pope during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on June 22, 2020.
Michael REGAN / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester City thrashed Burnley 5-0 at an empty Etihad to ensure Liverpool will not be able to clinch the Premier League title when they face Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez scored twice, while David Silva grabbed what could prove his final City goal to cut the gap at the top to 20 points.

A bad night for Burnley on the field was compounded by a banner flown over the stadium at the start of the match reading: “White lives matter Burnley”.

Black Lives Matter was printed on the back of all shirts for the first 12 matches of the Premier League restart.

Players, coaches and referees have also taken a knee before kick-off in every match to show their support for the fight against racial injustice.

In a statement, Burnley said: “Those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor. This, in no way, represents what Burnley Football Club stands for.”

The disparity of resources between the sides was shown even before kick-off as Burnley boss Sean Dyche could not even fill his bench, while Pep Guardiola was able to make eight changes from a 3-0 win over Arsenal on Wednesday.

Dyche has been left frustrated by the Burnley board’s refusal to extend contracts of five players who are out of contract at the end of the month.

Injuries to Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Johann Berg Gudmundsson meant Dyche could name just seven of a possible nine substitutes.

Aymeric Laporte, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling were among those kept in reserve for City’s trip to Chelsea on Thursday.

Foden shines as Sane returns

Foden made the most of his chance to start as the 20-year-old opened the floodgates with a sweet strike from outside the box.

Mahrez then killed the game as a contest before half-time as the Algerian left Charlie Taylor trailing on the floor before firing into the far corner on his weaker right foot.

VAR awarded Mahrez the chance to double his tally from the penalty spot after Ben Mee caught Sergio Aguero, forcing the Argentine striker off injured.

Retaining their Premier League title may be beyond City, but Guardiola’s men still have the chance to add the FA Cup and Champions League to the League Cup they won in March.

The fierce competition for places appears to be having an effect as there was no let-up after the break.

Bernardo Silva’s low cross was turned home by his namesake David for the hosts’ fourth.

Foden then rounded off the scoring at the far post after Gabriel Jesus failed to convert David Silva’s cross.

There was another positive for City as Leroy Sane replaced Foden for the final 10 minutes to make his first appearance since suffering cruciate knee ligament damage in August.

The German international seems certain to leave the club at the end of the season after rejecting a new contract amid interest from Bayern Munich.

But Sane could still have a part to play in City’s quest for a cup treble before the end of the campaign.

 

AFP

Liverpool Can’t Force Rhythm, Says Frustrated Klopp

Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium in Shrewsbury, north-west of Birmingham in England on January 26, 2020. Anthony Devlin / AFP

 

Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool cannot force rhythm out of thin air after a frustrating Merseyside derby delayed their Premier League coronation.

Despite having 70 percent possession at Goodison Park on Sunday, the champions-elect managed just three shots on target, the same number as Everton, on their return to action after three months’ absence.

Carlo Ancelotti’s team became just the third side this season to take points off Liverpool, who have won 27 of their 30 games.

Klopp knows he cannot expect too much, too soon after the coronavirus pandemic-enforced break.

“I liked the intensity level of the game from my boys, the high press, but I didn’t like too much the rhythm — but we cannot force that,” he said.

The draw with Everton means Liverpool cannot now win the title at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday unless Manchester City, 23 points behind, drop points against Burnley on Monday.

“I saw four weeks (of) training sessions and I was happy,” said Klopp, who left forward Mohamed Salah on the bench.

“It was just a difficult game. Physically, we were ready, which was important.

“The defensive stuff was there, I liked offensively but you need moments. If you score in a moment it can change a situation.”

Liverpool lost two players to injury during the match but Klopp hopes both James Milner and Joel Matip will not be sidelined for long.

Everton could have snatched a rare victory late on had Reds goalkeeper Alisson Becker not denied Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s backheel, before Tom Davies hit the post with the follow-up.

AFP

Liverpool’s Title March Delayed By Everton Stalemate, Chelsea Sink Villa

 

Liverpool’s march towards the Premier League title was delayed as the leaders returned to action with a goalless draw against Merseyside rivals Everton, while Chelsea fought back for a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp’s side picked up following the top-flight resumption on Wednesday needing two wins to secure their first English title for 30 years.

But Liverpool looked rusty in their first game in 106 days following the coronavirus lockdown.

Despite their underwhelming display behind closed doors at Goodison Park, Liverpool are now 23 points ahead of second-placed Manchester City.

If City drop points at home to Burnley on Monday, then Liverpool can clinch the title against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday.

A City victory would delay Liverpool’s coronation until at least their clash with Pep Guardiola’s side at the Etihad Stadium on July 2.

Liverpool have won just two of their last seven games in all competitions.

“It was a real fight. Both teams showed they understood it was a derby,” Klopp said.

“Most of the time we were dominant but they had the biggest chance. We were not smart enough to use the space.

“That is normal when you start to play again. Football looks slightly different (since the coronavirus) but I take that.”

Reds star Mohamed Salah was left on the bench due to fitness concerns, while Andrew Robertson was also sidelined and they were not at their best as a result.

Liverpool improved after the break and Naby Keita fired just wide before Virgil van Dijk’s header was saved by Jordan Pickford.

But it was Everton who came closest to a winner on the break when Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s effort was saved by Alisson Becker and Tom Davies fired the rebound against the post.

Frank Lampard believes Christian Pulisic can be Chelsea’s trump card in the race to qualify for the Champions League after his decisive cameo at Villa Park.

Lampard’s side were rocked when Kortney Hause put Villa ahead against the run of play in the first half.

But Pulisic came off the bench to equalise after the break before Olivier Giroud bagged his fourth club goal of the season two minutes later.

Chelsea’s quick-fire blitz moved the fourth-placed west Londoners five points clear of Manchester United in fifth as they fight to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Welcome boost

A first away league win of 2020 was the ideal way for Chelsea to return to action in their first match since the Premier League was suspended in March due to the coronavirus.

It was Pulisic’s first appearance since January after an abductor muscle injury and Lampard feels the United States winger is ready to make an impact again.

“He will start games for us, of course, and I think he’s going to be a big player for us, not just in this run-in but going forward,” Lampard said.

“The ability he’s got to arrive in the box, it’s a big thing, I’ve spoken about it with him all season.”

Steve Bruce hopes Joelinton is finally ready to deliver after the Brazilian ended a Premier League goal drought stretching back to August in Newcastle’s 3-0 win over 10-man Sheffield United.

Joelinton’s close-range finish in the 78th minute completed the scoring after goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Matt Ritchie.

It was a welcome boost for Joelinton, who has struggled since his move from Hoffenheim last year and missed a glorious opportunity in the first half at St James’ Park.

Joelinton was also at the centre of the game’s significant moment when he raced away from John Egan in the second half and was hauled back, triggering a red card for the Blades defender that sparked the visitors’ collapse.

“He personally has suffered in the lockdown more than anybody. He’s had no family here, no friends, holed up in an apartment somewhere,” Bruce said.

“He’s a really genuinely good lad and he gives his all for the team. We’re just delighted that he’s managed to score a goal. He can only get better.”

Call Us The ‘Asterik Champions’, Klopp Says As Liverpool Push For Title

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp sits on the bench before the UEFA Champions League, round of 16, first leg football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp sits on the bench before the UEFA Champions League, round of 16, first leg football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Liverpool can move within touching distance of the Premier League title when the runaway leaders face Everton on Sunday, while the relegation battle will be in the spotlight in the first full weekend of top-flight action since the coronavirus outbreak.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will play for the first time since the Premier League was suspended in March over the COVID-19 pandemic as the title chasers make the short trip to Merseyside rivals Everton on Sunday.

Liverpool, 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, need two wins from their remaining nine games to end their 30-year wait to be crowned English champions.

If the Reds beat Everton, they can wrap up the title with another victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday.

Klopp’s men have not been in action for 106 days and the Liverpool boss is relieved to return after talk the season might be declared null and void, which would have deprived his team of the title their superb season deserves.

Liverpool had been on course to become the first English champions to be crowned in March after recording 27 wins from 29 matches.

However, Liverpool’s inevitable title will now come with an asterisk according to some pundits, who claim the Premier League’s new normal of matches behind closed doors with more substitutes allowed has taken the shine off the leaders’ achievements.

Klopp doesn’t care about those critics and, on the eve of Liverpool’s return, the German hit back.

“Now I have had a lot of time to read. I had to Google the word ‘asterisk’. I only knew the word from a comic!” Klopp said.

“This is the most difficult year and season to become champions, 100 percent. It is an interrupted season, like has never happened before.

“Whoever will be champions, it will be historic because it is a year that we will never forget.

“Give us an asterisk, yes. We cannot do a lot of things that we usually can do but in this specific case at least we can say this is really special.

“That’s why we enjoy the little asterisk there.”

Back in full swing

Liverpool’s derby clash comes at the conclusion of a busy weekend that confirms the Premier League is back in full swing.

Following midweek matches on Wednesday and Friday, this is the first Saturday since March 7 that top-flight games have been played in England.

There will be four games stretched across Saturday and a further three on Sunday, with relegation and Champions League qualification on the agenda in the eerily empty stadiums while fans watch from home.

Watford, out of the relegation zone only on goal difference, host third-placed Leicester in desperate need of points to boost their survival bid.

Brighton were one of the most vocal critics of plans to play at neutral venues, which was initially suggested to keep fans away.

The struggling Seagulls, two points above the bottom three, got their wish to stay on home turf and return to action at the Amex Stadium against Arsenal, who are reeling from their 3-0 defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday.

Arsenal are eight points adrift of the top four and another loss would effectively extinguish their faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

West Ham, level on points with Brighton, host Wolves, who are bidding for an unexpected European berth, while third-bottom Bournemouth face Crystal Palace.

Chelsea play for the first time since the lockdown on Sunday when Frank Lampard’s men head to struggling Villa, who escaped with a 0-0 draw in Wednesday’s opener when a mistake from the Hawk-Eye goalline technology denied Sheffield United a clear goal.

Premier League: Penalty Drama As Tottenham Hold Man Utd

Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba (L) vies for the ball against Tottenham Hotspur's English defender Eric Dier (R) during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on June 19, 2020. Shaun Botterill / POOL / AFP
Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba (L) vies for the ball against Tottenham Hotspur’s English defender Eric Dier (R) during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on June 19, 2020. Shaun Botterill / POOL / AFP

 

Bruno Fernandes’s penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Tottenham as the Red Devils had another late spot-kick overturned by a VAR review on Friday.

Jose Mourinho was on course to get the better of his former club when Steven Bergwijn’s strike gave Spurs a half-time lead.

However, United’s second half pressure finally told nine minutes from time when Fernandes converted from the spot after Paul Pogba had been brought down in the box.

Fernandes then thought he had won a second penalty, but a VAR review decided there was little contact as he went down under a challenge from Eric Dier.

A point does little for either side’s chances of breaking into the top four.

United remain in fifth, two points behind Chelsea, while Spurs are four points further back in eighth.

In keeping with all matches since the Premier League’s return earlier this week, all players and officials took a knee before kick in protest against racial injustice.

Once the action did get underway, United settled quickest to the eery surroundings of a 62,000 seater stadium draped in banners with the only fans appearing on giant video screens behind each goal.

Marcus Rashford has had a momentous week as the English international’s campaign to ensure vulnerable children are not left without food vouchers during the English school holidays forced a government U-turn.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described the 22-year-old’s action as far “more important than any game of football that he would probably play.”

However, the England international admitted he was also desperate to get back to the day job after being sidelined since January with a back injury prior to the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of football for three months.

Rashford had the best chance to turn the visitors’ early control into a goal as his low shot was beaten away by the legs of Hugo Lloris.

Tottenham could be the Premier League side with most to gain from a three-month stoppage.

Prior to lockdown, Mourinho spoke of his desire to fast forward to the end of the season when he would have Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Moussa Sissoko and Bergwijn fit again.

All four were fit to return to the starting line-up and it was a inspired moment from the Dutchman which opened the scoring.

Bergwijn surged past the leaden-footed Harry Maguire before David de Gea could only parry his powerful shot into the roof of the net.

De Gea made amends moments later with a stunning save to prevent Son’s looping header from Bergwijn’s cross doubling Tottenham’s lead.

However, that was the last time the Spaniard was troubled as Tottenham sat on their lead after the break and invited plenty of United pressure.

The arrival of Fernandes in January played a huge part in an 11-game unbeaten run for Solskjaer’s men before the break.

Fernandes was inches away from an equaliser as his low drive fizzed just wide.

Lloris then produced a stunning save to tip Anthony Martial’s rising effort over.

Solskjaer had left Pogba on the bench from the start, but the Frenchman made a big impact after being introduced for his first appearance since December 26.

Pogba’s quick feet left Eric Dier in his wake and Dier then pushed the midfielder over inside the box as he tried to recover.

Fernandes coolly sent Lloris the wrong way from the penalty spot to deservedly level.

And United thought they had the chance to win the game when Jon Moss pointed to the spot again in stoppage time.

Rashford was set to take the penalty this time, but was denied the chance to round off his momentous week as VAR overruled the referee’s original decision and United had to settle for a point.

COVID-19: One Positive Case In Latest Round Of Premier League Testing

 

Just one positive case was recorded from the Premier League’s last round of coronavirus testing before the season got back underway on Wednesday.

“The Premier League can today confirm that on Monday 15 June and Tuesday 16 June, 1,541 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, one person has tested positive,” the league said in a statement on Thursday.

The identity of the individual and club was not revealed.

Testing will continue on a twice-weekly basis to ensure the season, which was suspended in March because of the pandemic, can be completed by the end of July.

READ ALSO: UEFA Relaxes Financial Fair Play Rules Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Aston Villa’s 0-0 draw with Sheffield United and Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal got the campaign back underway on Wednesday.

The first full round of fixtures featuring all 20 teams begins on Friday.

AFP

Goalline Tech Firm Apologises After Villa Escape With Point On Premier League Return

Aston Villa’s Norwegian goalkeeper Orjan Nyland (3rd L) falls back into the goal holding the ball as the Sheffield United players celebrate a goal which wasn’t awarded during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on June 17, 2020. Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP

 

The company that runs the Premier League’s goalline technology apologised on Wednesday after it failed to spot Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland taking the ball over his line in a goalless draw with Sheffield United that signalled the return of the Premier League.

Hawk-Eye said its seven cameras at Villa Park were all blocked by players and the goalpost when a free-kick from United’s Oliver Norwood late in the first half was caught by Nyland, who then stumbled backwards and looked to have carried the ball over his own goalline.

United players appealed for the goal, but Hawk-Eye’s technology, which alerts the referee when the ball has gone over the line, did not award it and VAR did not intervene despite replays clearly showing the ball had crossed the line.

“The seven cameras located in the stands around the goal area were significantly occluded by the goalkeeper, defender, and goalpost. This level of occlusion has never been seen before in over 9,000 matches that the Hawk-Eye Goal Line Technology system has been in operation,” a statement said.

“The system was tested and proved functional prior to the start of the match in accordance with the IFAB Laws of The Game and confirmed as working by the match officials.

“Hawk-Eye unreservedly apologises to the Premier League, Sheffield United, and everyone affected by this incident.”

The non-award of the goal was a dramatic moment in the Premier League’s first match after 100 days in coronavirus lockdown, in a season already marred by arguments over the effectiveness of VAR before the pandemic hiatus.

United will have cause for complaint if the two points they were denied prove decisive in their fight to qualify for the Champions League, with the Blades sixth, four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Villa remain in the relegation zone.

The return of top-flight football in England also gave players a platform to back the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.

Just before kick-off at Villa Park referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle and all 22 players and the officials went down on one knee for around 10 seconds.

Both teams were also wearing shirts with players names replaced by the Black Lives Matter slogan, a gesture that will be replicated across the Premier League for the first 12 games.

Good to be back

Much has changed in society since the COVID-19 hit and the Premier League has not been immune to those shifts.

All 92 remaining matches are being played behind closed doors, with the 300 people inside the stadium all having temperature tests before being allowed entry.

United travelled to Villa Park on three buses to maintain social distancing and walked into the stadium wearing black protective masks with the club badge on.

To cover some of the empty seats, sections of Villa Park were decked out in a combination of flags sent in by fans and banners prepared by the club.

An orange steward jacket was left in the Holte End in homage to boss Dean Smith’s father Ron, who used to work for the club on match-days and died of the virus last month.

In a change to the usual sight of teams walking out together, there was a staggered entry on to pitch and no handshakes before kick-off.

The first English top-flight game played in June since 1947 was played to the eerie silence that has become familiar to fans who have watched matches in Germany and Spain since football returned.

The only shouts, from players and coaches, echoed around the empty stands as Villa’s Conor Hourihane had the first shot of the restart when his effort was saved by Dean Henderson.

The absence of the crowd was most noticable when Nyland’s blunder should have led to United scoring, a flashpoint that would normally have created a storm in the stands but was instead greeted with silence.