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Why Man City, Liverpool are here to stay in Premier League

Shail Desai

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Man City have now won back-to-back Premier League titles. Photo: Twitter

New Delhi: The record for the most points scored without winning the Premier League until Sunday belonged to Manchester United, who picked up 89 points in 2011-12 to finish second to Manchester City only on goal difference.

It was the first time the Citizens had won the league since Sheikh Mansour bought over the club in 2008 and pumped in millions to change their fortunes. And the title was sealed in the 94th minute through Sergio Aguero, snatched from United at the death, even as the Red Devils were gearing up for a celebration at Sunderland.

Nothing compares to the drama from that final day in the seasons that followed. Liverpool came closest to winning the title in 2013-14, when they finished second behind City by two points.

And the script was repeated this season, when the title race went down to the final day where this time around, Liverpool finished in second spot by just a point.

What stood out though was the points accumulated by both sides. Just last year, City had managed to score 100 points – the most in a single season. This time around they played catch-up, eventually going past the Reds to tally 98 points after the final game.

And just like that, Liverpool earned themselves the infamous reputation of scoring the highest points at 97, without winning the league. And to think that Arsenal’s “Invincibles” scored just 90 points while remaining unbeaten all season to triumph in 2003-04.

But along the way, what Liverpool did was to present a good account of the rebuilding that manager Jurgen Klopp had set in motion since taking over in 2015.

And made it a season where teams from around the world sat up and took notice of a club that has long struggled with its identity.

That the Champions League final appearance last season was no fluke. That this was indeed a young side, which would be in contention for a number of trophies in the years to come.

ANOTHER MIRACLE?

The 4-0 whipping of Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final last week had most hoping for another miracle as the final round kicked off. Liverpool took the lead in the 17th minute through Sadio Mane.

With 22 goals, Sadio Mane was among the three joint highest scorer in the Premier League this season.

A roar went around the stadium soon after, with news of Brighton taking the lead against City. Though that turned out to be mere rumours even in this world of rapid technology, soon enough, Brighton’s Glenn Murray struck the opener to start a round of boisterous celebrations and silent prayers around Anfield.

The moment of euphoria faded away as soon as it began, as Aguero scored the equaliser just a minute later, before Aymeric Laporte handed City the lead, which they would keep for the rest of the evening.

However, the gloom among the Liverpool loyalists lasted but for a fleeting moment, just like the high they had experienced when Brighton had taken the lead. For this is a side, that has now converted the “doubters into believers”, just like Klopp had hoped for when he took over.

TOP-TWO TEAMS SINCE MAN CITY’S FIRST PREMIER LEAGUE WIN

2018-19 City 98 Liverpool 97

2017-18 City 100 United 81

2016-17 Chelsea 93 Spurs 86

2015-16 Leicester 81 Arsenal 71

2014-15 Chelsea 87 City 79

2013-14 City 86 Liverpool 84

2012-13 United 89 City 78

Just one look at the table is enough to suggest what Klopp has built at Liverpool. Their stunning campaign has just one loss this season – to league winners City at the start of the year, before which Liverpool had a seven-point cushion to rest on.

A John Stones’ clearance in that game, which was just 11 mm from crossing the goal line, was the difference at the end of the day. Besides that loss, seven draws all season is what eventually hurt them in the final tally.

Three months later, City got lucky yet again, when Sergio Aguero scored a goal against Burnley that had crossed the goal line by just 29 mm. That goal helped City eke out a narrow 1-0 win – their third with the same scoreline in the final five matches of the season.

MONEY GAMES

There is a stark contrast between the top-2 sides in their approach to mounting a challenge over the last few years. According to transfermarkt, City’s transfer activity in the last five seasons is close to 563 million pounds, while Liverpool has been around 184 million pounds.

That spending has given City great depth, including a bench strength that features the who’s who of the top flight. It has eventually led to Guardiola becoming the most successful active manager, with 26 trophies in his cabinet.

The contrasting numbers speak volumes of the luxury that the City manager has had at his convenience since taking over in 2016.

It’s true that Liverpool splurged last season on goalkeeper Alisson Becker and defender Virgil van Dijk. But all in all, Klopp has made some shrewd buys over the years to stay relevant among the big boys.

Perhaps, Klopp’s greatest accomplishment this season has been to bring the belief back at Anfield. For a club that’s been all heart, the chief orchestrator has long understood the pulse at Liverpool and only revived it through his charisma.

And by handing out a belief to players and supporters alike, the fact that Liverpool, after all the years, can.

City may have trumped Liverpool this season, but the Klopp machine is only getting into the groove for the seasons ahead. And that Champions League final in June will just be the start of it.

Jurgen Klopp (left) and Pep Guardiola can claim a lot of credit for the way Liverpool and Man City have played in the Premier League this season.

STATS ATTACK

  • Liverpool registered the highest number of points in a season without winning the league. The previous best was Manchester United with 89 points in 2011-12.
  • City and Liverpool together tallied 195 points this season. The previous highest was 181 last season.
  • Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane scored 22 goals each this season – only the fourth pair from the same club to score 20 goals or more in a Premier League season.
  • City are the first side to retain the Premier League title since United did it a decade ago.
  • City and Liverpool have just five defeats between them all season – the least in the Premier League.

Football Lounge

Sad that AIFF has taken I-League clubs for granted: Salgaocar

Jaydeep Basu

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Salgaocar SC withdrew from the I-League in 2016. Photos: Twitter and Google.

Salgaocar SC owner Shivanand Salgaocar says the current state of Indian football pains him

New Delhi: Things were different in 1956. Narendra Damodardas Modi was a six-year-old kid, Elvis Presley’s maiden RCA single “Heartbreak Hotel” had just been released and Indian national football team reached the Olympic semifinals. Most importantly, the words “franchise” and “professional league” were unheard in Indian sport.

This was the time when VM Salgaocar Group of Companies launched Salgaocar Sports Club (now Salgaocar Football Club) with an aim to promote local talent in Goa. In years to come, Salgaocar became one of India’s finest clubs from the western coast – officially crowned the country’s best team more than once.

Jump cut to 2016. Sixty seasons later, after winning the NFL and the I-League once each and the Federation Cup four times, Salgaocar decided to quit I-League, joining the list of 23 clubs, who had either shut shop or had withdrawn from the national scene in recent past.

No one from the authorities approached Salgaocar for a change of decision. They had no time – Indian football had by then discovered the excitement of “franchise-based football”.

Salgaocar SC won the Federation Cup four times, beating East Bengal in the final of the 1997 edition.

The present club owner, Shivanand Salgaocar, is a veteran administrator, who once held top positions both in All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Goa Football Association (GFA). A man of few words though, Shivanand finds the situation sad.

“The current situation very sad for Indian football. Unfortunately, what happens in all sports associations is that once office bearers get elected to any governing body, they tend to forget the association exists for the clubs. They think the clubs exists for them. They take the clubs for granted,” said the former AIFF treasurer.

Shivanand is not far from the truth. After remaining more or less mute spectators to the demise of several traditional clubs, the AIFF is now all set to reduce I-league to the second division.

Shivanand Salgaocar said his club could make a return to the I-League in the future.

“As far as our team is concerned, we withdrew from the I-League primarily because we did not see any road map for I-League teams. In fact, basically, there is no roadmap for Indian football and also for the future of I-League,” said Shivanand.

Asked what should be the right approach in the current situation, the former GFA president said: “That is for the administrators to decide. They should know what went wrong and what should be done to rectify it. In Goa, Dempo, Sporting Clube de Goa and we decided to withdraw from the I-League. We thought it was not going anywhere.”

Shivanand vehemently opposes to any idea that his company has stopped patronizing football. Unlike some other clubs, whose managements, out of sheer frustrations, have switched over to basketball or table tennis, Salgaocar still have 200 players in their rolls.

“My intention was to contribute to the growth of football in a way we thought best. You are free to disagree with me. But that’s our philosophy…. me and my daughter Swati, who takes great interest in youth development.

“We have been promoting football for over 65 years. Even today besides the team which plays in the Goa Pro League, we maintain age-group teams. We have teams in under-10, under-13, under-14, under-16, under-18 and under-20,” Shivanand pointed out.

Salgaocar SC now concentrate on encouraging football at the grass root and maintain several age-group teams.

“If we wanted participate in ISL, we could have joined it from its inception. We don’t know whether I-League will be merged into ISL….basically, no ground rules have been laid down till date. Instead of waiting for the AIFF to take a call on when and how things will pan out, we decided to concentrate on encouraging football at the grass root and promoting local talent,” he added.

Asked whether Salgaocar would return to the national scene in near future, Shivanand said: “I can’t talk about the future. But as and when the circumstances seem appropriate, we might get back into the I-league. Mind it, we have not disbanded the club.”

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Valencia stun Barcelona to lift Copa del Rey

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Valencia players celebrate after scoring against Barcelona. Photo: Twitter

Barcelona: Valencia were nearly flawless defensively and opportunistic on the counter-attack in a 2-1 victory over heavily favoured FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, a memorable achievement for a side marking their 100-year anniversary.

For Barca, Saturday’s loss was a second major disappointment this month, coming just 18 days after their stunning collapse against Liverpool in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal.

The Catalans-dominated ball possession from the outset at Benito Villamarin Stadium against an opponent that had no interest in competing in that aspect of the game and were focused on getting out quickly on counterattack opportunities.

One of those came very early in the contest when a blunder by defender Clement Lenglet led to a golden opportunity for Valencia forward Rodrigo, whose shot from close range was cleared away by defender Gerard Pique at the goal mouth.

Barca superstar forward Lionel Messi got in on the action in the 18th minute, sending in a low shot that defender Gabriel Paulista did well to clear away for a corner kick.

Lionel Messi scored a consolation goal for Barcelona.

After surviving that scare, the Bats got on the board in the 21st minute on a play in which Jose Luis Gaya received a long pass on the left side and then found Kevin Gameiro, who fired a potent blast from the top of the area past net minder Jasper Cillessen.

Barca’s troubles then deepened 12 minutes later when Carlos Soler found just enough space on a fresh counterattack against defender Jordi Alba on the right side to send in a pass to Rodrigo, who bounced in a header from point-blank range.

On the other end of the field, Messi tried his utmost to get his team going and fired a shot from outside the area just before the intermission that goalie Jaume Domenech did well to save.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde made a couple of substitutions after the break, sending on Malcom for Nelson Semedo and replacing Arthur with Arturo Vidal in an attempt to bolster an attack that was having to make do without the injured Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Both teams had good chances to score in the early part of the second half, with Goncalo Guedes coming close to giving Valencia a 3-0 lead on a shot that went just wide and Messi nearly pulling one back for Barcelona at the 56-minute mark with a nifty run in the area and a left-footed shot that clanked off the woodwork.

Barcelona kept pressing forward against their defence-minded opponent, nearly getting a goal from Pique on a close-range shot off a pass from Malcom in the 71st minute and then finally making the score 2-1 when Messi tapped the ball home after a header by Lenglet had struck the right upright.

The final 20 minutes were action-packed, with Barca throwing caution to the wind in search of the equalizer and Valencia unable to convert golden chances on the counter-attack.

But Valencia’s gritty defence was the story in the end as the Bats secured their eighth title in Spain’s annual knockout soccer competition and their first since 2008.

Barca, winners of a record 30 titles in this competition, came up short in their bid to win an unprecedented fifth straight Copa del Rey title.

Afterward, Valencia head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said on the field that he was thrilled to have won his first title in a 20-year coaching career.

“There’s always a first final, and it took seven semi-finals to get to a final. And thanks to the players, the fans, the coaches and my family, they’ve made me – professionally speaking – the happiest man in the world.”

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Cash-rich ISL doesn’t have a tradition like I-League, believes Stimac

Sayan Mukherjee

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Technical director Isaac Doru (left) and coach Igor Stimac are confident of helping Indian football reach loftier heights.

New Delhi: Money can’t buy tradition, which should be given due importance while formulating Indian football’s future course of action, new national team coach Igor Stimac said on Friday.

The Croatian and new technical director Isac Doru believe any conflict regarding the domestic club structure is an impediment to their objective of developing football in the country.

The All Indian Football Federation‘s (AIFF) aim to declare the Indian Super League (ISL), a tournament conceptualised by their marketing partners, the top league of the country over the I-League is now an open secret.

But irrespective of whatever advantage the glamourised tournament seemingly offers, it can’t match I-League’s “tradition”, Stimac said.

“Any conflict won’t help Indian football. The ISL is a privatised league where investors have pumped in money in the hope of financial gains. I see no wrong in that.

“But the I-League has one thing which the ISL don’t have, that is tradition. You can’t buy tradition. The I-League has been going on for many years. It will take the ISL many years to develop tradition,” the former international said on his first interaction with the Indian press since his appointment.

While Doru harped on the need for a holistic approach from all stakeholders, Stimac said his forte lies in guiding young talent, which I-League has in abundance since all perceived top players have preferred to play in the financially lucrative ISL.

During his tenure Stimac said he would strive to “organise, develop and improve” youngsters, which was his primary reason for applying for the job, following the departure of Englishman Stephen Constantine after India’s first round exit at the AFC Asian Cup.

“The ISL has professionalism and top players. We need to find a way to speed up the growth of I-League clubs,” the 51-year-old said.

While modern football is taking rapid strides in advancement with the advent of technology, Stimac said Indian football should also grow exponentially to make up lost ground. He is currently conducting a preparatory camp in New Delhi for the King’s Cup, to be held in Thailand from June 5.

The 1998 World Cupper has conducted physical tests on the assembled players and will duly prune it down to 23 before India flies to Thailand on June 1. Stimac would work on the technical aspect of players after they have reached the desired physical conditions.

“I am happy with the response of players. We don’t have much time.”

He has identified several deficiencies in India’s Asian Cup performances and would work with the called-up players towards solving them.

Stimac said Sunil Chhetri (centre) is a very valuable & experienced player but he too needs to fight for his place in the team.

“India conceded goals due to lack of concentration. There was also a dearth of tactical movement during games. We need quick, agile players at the centre of the pitch who would concentrate on the thick of action and would react quickly to the second ball,” Stimac, capped 53 times by his country, opined.

In order to achieve that, he would need a strong backline, which is why his primary objective now is to find more central defenders who would compete for first team places.

“All good things start with good defending,” the former centre back remarked, adding that eventually he would look to add more offensive options, so that “we can move from one system to another” seamlessly.

Doru said Indians need to be well versed with the “synchronised” approach of modern football, for which he has already developed a strategic plan for the next four years, to be implemented by the age-group national team coaches and the club coaches.

“Indians are not overtly physical. But they are quick and agile, which we plan to harness,” said the Romanian.

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