Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Analysis Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with the Premier league trophy as the champions staged an incredible comeback from two goals down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
  • Pep Guardiola’s team called on all their reserves of brilliance and resilience against Aston Villa to score three goals in five minutes and claim a fourth league title in five years

When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.

Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.

While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.

Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.

With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.

“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.

“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”

Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.

With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.

Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.

City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.

City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.

“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”

“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”

Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”

In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”

It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.

While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.

The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.

There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.

When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.

“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.

It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.

Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.

“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.

“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”

The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.

And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.

Excited already?


Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
Updated 22 sec ago

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
  • Brazil forward scored 95 goals in 236 appearances during his five seasons in Man City
LONDON: Arsenal have signed Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus from Premier League champions Manchester City on a long-term contract, the two clubs announced on Monday.
Jesus, 25, scored 95 goals in 236 appearances in all competitions during his five seasons in Manchester.

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
Updated 04 July 2022

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk

Newcastle’s Sven Botman idolizes Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk
  • Magpies’ new defender, 22, hopes to reach Premier League elite level
  • Left-footer in team’s summer preparations for season opener on Aug. 6

NEWCASTLE: Sven Botman has laughed off comparisons with compatriot Virgil van Dijk but hopes to one day reach the Liverpool star’s level — and do it with Newcastle United.

Last week Botman became the Magpies’ most expensive ever defender eclipsing the eight-figure sums paid for the likes of Dan Burn, Jonathan Woodgate and Fabricio Coloccini.

And the Netherlands’ youth international hopes to hit the ground running when he begins training with the rest of the Magpies’ first-team squad on Wednesday, after an extended summer break due to his national exertions.

While some look to the development of Van Dijk with Southampton and then the Reds, as a comparison upon which to gauge 22-year-old Botman, the central defender admits he has a long way to go to even be considered in the same conversation as one of the Premier League’s elite.

“I am far from his level,” said Botman, when asked about Van Dijk, regarded by many to be the best defender in world football.

“That is my goal, as Virgil is a great defender. Being in the Premier League, it can help me get faster to his level but I need a lot of time and a lot of matches. And I think Newcastle is the right environment for me to develop myself and to become a defender like him.”

Botman, a near $39 million purchase from Lille, is the third signing of the summer for head coach Eddie Howe, in what has already proven to be a busy transfer window.

The Magpies previously turned Matt Targett’s loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent one before signing England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley.

Botman improves a department already blessed with plenty of experience and talent, but how will he complement those around him?

He explained: “I am a tall guy and I am strong in duels. I like to play one (versus one) against a striker but I also like to help the team with the build up from the back. I am left-footed but can also play with the right.

“I need to improve a lot but I am on the right path and I think here at Newcastle is the best step for me to improve myself.

“Newcastle at the moment is a club with a lot of passion. You see players working hard, but at the end Newcastle wants to reach the top end of the league and into Europe. We need to mix that with good football.

“I think in the upcoming five years, things are looking bright.”

It’s much-publicized that United weren’t Botman’s only option this summer.

Serie A champions and seven-times European Cup winners AC Milan were also deep in negotiations to sign the player from under the noses of Newcastle.

“I had some talks with some clubs,” the former Ajax defender admitted.

“I just like the Premier League so much and Newcastle has this project, where the future’s looking brighter. I hope to see myself grow with the club.

“I am delighted. I am thankful to all of the people who worked on this deal. It has been a long trip, but finally we are here.”

While European places and silverware continue to evade United, one of their unique selling points is the club’s fanatical supporters.

More than 30,000 people, bearing in mind the strict eligibility criteria, tried to snap up just 1,000 released season tickets for St James’ Park this season. And home and away sell outs are a weekly occurrence at United.

“I know that they have crazy, super fans,” he said.

“They always play with their heart, and if you watch them it is always played with passion.

“It’s like 52,000 people and I hear it is always sold out, the fans are crazy, so I can’t wait to play.

“I can only say good things about the fans. I get a lot of messages, sorry I can’t read them all.

“When I have seen matches in Newcastle, the whole vibe, the environment in the stadium is incredible. I can’t wait to play there.”

Head coach Howe now turns his attention to signing at least another two forward players to add goals, creativity and speed to the United frontline.

But focusing on getting his number one transfer target through the door, he said: “I’m delighted Sven is joining us. He is technically very good, physically very good and has a great attitude.

“At 22, he already has solid experience at the top level but he is at a great age to grow with this team. I am looking forward to getting to work with him and seeing him with his new teammates.”

Meanwhile, as the Newcastle players returned to pre-season training on Friday, the club announced confirmation of their full pre-season plans.

The club will kick off their summer preparation with a behind-closed-doors encounter with non-league neighbors Gateshead on Saturday. They will then travel to Austria, to a base on the outskirts of Salzburg, to take part in a nine-day training camp, which will see them face 1860 Munich and Mainz during their stay.

The first game of the trip will be on Friday, July 15 against Munich, then Mainz on Monday, July 18. The Magpies will venture out to Portugal to take on Benfica on Tuesday, July 26, although a game the previous weekend is still a possibility.

They will close out their summer games with a double-header at St James’ Park on Friday and Saturday, July 29 and 30. Atalanta then Athletic Bilbao will be the opposition on Tyneside.

Newcastle’s first game of the Premier League season takes place at home on Saturday, Aug. 6 against Nottingham Forest.


Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
Updated 04 July 2022

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace

Nick Kyrgios eyes Wimbledon quarters as Rafael Nadal picks up the pace
  • Australian toppled Stefanos Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday
  • Nick Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image

LONDON: Nick Kyrgios is back in action at Wimbledon on Monday after his dramatic victory against Stefanos Tsitispas as he closes in on a mouthwatering semifinal with Rafael Nadal.
The maverick Australian toppled Tsitispas in a heated four-set thriller on Saturday, during which he called for the fourth seed to be kicked out of the tournament for hitting a ball into the crowd.
Kyrgios called the umpire a “disgrace” as tempers frayed and the bad feeling spilled over into the post-match press conferences.
The defeated Greek player said his opponent has an “evil side” and described him as a “bully,” comments that Kyrgios laughed off.
Nick Kyrgios, 40th in the world, thrives on his bad-boy image and Saturday’s outbursts were not even his first of the tournament.
But it will be a different challenge against American Brandon Nakashima, a player he has never faced before, and he may struggle to re-create the big-match intensity on Center Court.
Kyrgios, who has only reached the quarter-finals of two Grand Slams, believes he has the firepower to win Wimbledon.
“Round by round, if I keep doing my things, I feel good. I’m all right,” said the 27-year-old, who had vocal support from the crowd on Saturday despite his antics.
Nadal, chasing the third leg of a calendar Grand Slam, found his rhythm in his third-round match against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and now faces Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, twice a winner at the All England Club, swept into the last 16 in straight sets after needing four sets to progress in his opening two matches.
“My best match, without a doubt, since the tournament started,” said Nadal, the only top-10 player left in his side of the draw.
“I made improvements today. Very happy for that.
“I made a lot of things much better than the previous days, the determination, the way that I manage to play more aggressive, going to the net plenty of times.”


French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
Updated 04 July 2022

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism

French amateur football tournament celebrates diversity, fights racism
  • Event grew out of local tournaments in France's suburbs where former immigrants have lived for generations
  • Competition challenges French ideals of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by ethnic background

CRETEIL, France: An amateur football tournament in France aimed at celebrating ethnic diversity is attracting talent scouts, sponsors and increasing public attention, by uniting young players from low-income neighborhoods with high-profile names in the sport.

The National Neighborhoods Cup is intended to shine a positive spotlight on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and extremism.

Players with Congolese heritage beat a team with Malian roots 5-4 on Saturday in the one-month tournament’s final match, held at the home stadium of a third-division French team in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The final was broadcast live on Prime Video.

The event competition grew out of local tournaments modeled after the African Cup of Nations that have been held in recent years in suburbs and towns across France where former immigrants with African backgrounds have lived for years or generations. This tournament, however was broader, and international in scope.

Along with teams from former French colonies in Africa, the participants included teams from European nations like Portugal and Italy. Players from France’s former colonies in Asia also competed.

The tournament, which was launched in 2019, challenges the French ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t count or identify people by race or ethnic background. The ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, people in places like Creteil experience discrimination and ethnic tensions daily.

HIGHLIGHT

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We are Afro-descendants, we are claiming our roots and we are proud,” said tournament founder Moussa Sow, who works at the Red Cross and grew up in a Creteil neighborhood with a tough reputation. “It’s not because we carry this heritage that we are going to erase our French identity.”

The France team — like its World Cup-winning national team — is made up of white, Black, Arab and multiracial players that reflects the country’s diversity.

“We have players who have two or three nationalities. It is a strength for us, a richness,” Sow told The Associated Press.

Sow witnessed firsthand the growing tensions among young people divided into rival groups according to which quarter of Creteil they were from, and wanted to gather inhabitants around the love of football and a celebration of cultural heritage.

Mohamed Diamé, who made 31 appearances for Senegal and played for West Ham and Newcastle in the English Premier League, former Mali and Paris Saint-Germain defender Sammy Traoré and Senegal manager Aliou Cisse all took part. In February, Cisse became a national hero after guiding Senegal to long-awaited victory in the African Cup of Nations.

Traore and Diame both made it to the top level in football and both grew up in Creteil, providing an example to young people that success is within their reach, too.

“I started my first training here when I was 7. I considered people from this neighborhood as brothers,” Diamé told the AP. “This feels like a pro tournament. We have a group chat, we support each other, we are determined.”

The amateur cup has grown since Sow started in 2019. Colorful placards of multinationals and local companies sponsoring the event were seen around the field. Young people and families can grab a merguez sandwich — a spicy sausage of North African origin long popular around France’s football stadiums — or other snacks and sing along to popular French songs, played by a DJ near the field.

“I am happy and proud, despite the anxious climate in France, to see people of different generations gathering,” Sow said.

Even though the tournament is strictly amateur, the technical level among players was good. At last weekend’s semifinals, high-quality cross-field passes and clever dribbles were cheered by the crowd. Some scouts were on the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to recruit talented young players.

Suburbs and satellite towns around big cities, known in French as “les banlieues,” are fertile ground for football talents in Europe. Academies in France — notably Lyon, Monaco, Nantes and Rennes — are ranked among the best in Europe along with Spain for developing young players such as Real Madrid great Karim Benzema and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe.

But these same areas have also carried and been scarred by a rough reputation.

At the end of May, some far-right politicians blamed young people from the suburbs for violence outside the Champions League final at Stade de France in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. They were widely accused of vandalism, disruption of public safety and fraud.

Sow stressed that despite many people being suspicious of young people from the suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France, the tournament in Creteil has gone well. Defeats have been accepted with grace, and fans who have run onto the field after wins have been joyous rather than violent.

The mayor of Creteil supports the events, and a newly elected parliament member for the district, Clemence Guette of the left-wing parliamentary coalition NUPES, came to the semifinals. Guetté called it a “unifying” event that promoted “beautiful values” that sport generates.

Diame, who made around 240 Premier League appearances, has never let that take him away from his roots.

“No matter if you are Black, white, or Asian, everyone is welcome,” he told the AP. “Children, parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Everyone is here to enjoy a pure moment of pleasure.”


Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
Updated 04 July 2022

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
  • Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head

SONDERBORG, Denmark: Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen overtook Wout van Aert and Peter Sagan at the line to win the third stage of the Tour de France in a photo finish while Van Aert extended his overall lead on Sunday.

Groenewegen got behind record seven-time Tour sprint champion Sagan’s wheel when he was battling with Van Aert, and found a gap to squeeze through and nudge his wheel over the line to win for the BikeExchange–Jayco team.

“I took a lot of wind and my legs were tired but I still had enough to sprint to the line,” Groenewegen said. “Wout van Aert always jokes, saying that if you are not sure of having won, you still claim the victory and you celebrate. That’s what I did (and) I understood I won from the sport directors screaming in the car.”

Groenewegen’s fifth Tour stage win came a day after Fabio Jakobsen’s first. Two years ago, Groenewegen was blamed for a heavy crash at the Tour of Poland that sent Jakobsen flying through roadside crash barriers. Jakobsen was put in an induced coma and needed five hours of surgery on his skull and face.

Although Groenewegen was remorseful over the incident, he was banned from cycling for nine months by cycling’s governing body UCI.

“My family supported me greatly after what happened,” he said. “My new team has put a lot of faith in me and a great train to lead me out. Every victory at the Tour de France is special.”

Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head. The win was even more special since he crashed nine kilometers out and had to catch the peloton up.

Sagan was cross with Van Aert, meanwhile, muttering angrily and wagging his finger at him after they crossed the line because he found himself boxed to the right and close to the barriers. But there was no contact and Sagan even appeared to lean on Van Aert.

Van Aert picked up a six-second bonus and is now seven seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert and 14 ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar in the standings. Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up, is seventh overall and stayed nine seconds behind Pogacar.

The stage started in Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula and ended in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flat racing. Groenewegen’s winning time was 4 hours, 11 minutes, 33 seconds. Pogacar and Roglic were nestled in the main pack with finishing positions irrelevant since they all got the same time.

“It’s been quiet for me today, even though flat stages are always nervous and can be dangerous,” Pogacar said. “I wasn’t affected by the crash in the finale. The first three days have gone well.”

Van Aert wore the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

Huge crowds packed the roadsides in sparkling sunshine as the Danish supporters wearing red and white turned out in force. Proudly wearing the best climber’s polka-dot jersey he claimed on Saturday, Danish rider Magnus Cort, who was in the early breakway group on Saturday, pulled away to take a solo lead for 130 kilometers before being caught with about 50 kilometers left.

“I was a little bit surprised to find myself alone in the lead, but it was nice anyway,” Cort said. “I got a big lead as soon as I broke away, but it was hard to keep the peloton at bay.”

Cort wasn’t upset about being caught, after a weekend he’ll never forget.

“I spent an amazing day out there, enjoying the crowds. I knew what to expect after what we experienced yesterday, but it turned out to be even better because I was in the polka dot jersey,” he said. “It was a perfect day. Life-changing? For sure. The Tour de France is such a big race that it goes well beyond the cycling scene. Everything that happens here transcends the general public.”

Cort picked up more points over the three minor climbs — including the Hejlsminde Strand, the lowest of these at 40 meters above sea level — to keep the jersey until Tuesday. He held up three fingers to celebrate with his home fans and then waved to them after the pack swallowed him up.

“These days have been a dream for me,” Cort said. “Huge, unbelievable. I never imagined them this way.”

Several riders fell on a cobblestone section with about 10 kilometers left but got back up to continue.

After a travel day, the riders will tackle five small climbs in the fourth stage on the route from the coastal city of Dunkerque to Calais.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.