MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Across his stellar managerial career, Pep Guardiola has won the Champions League twice, captured 19 other major trophies and coached perhaps the greatest ever club team in Barcelona’s class of 2009-11.
It was surprising then that the Manchester City coach thought a 1-1 draw against Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday represented “one of happiest days of my career.”
City’s players, Guardiola revealed, had been moping around the training ground — “they were so, so sad” — since the team’s Champions League elimination by Monaco on Wednesday, and were now facing a direct rival for the top four that specializes in winning heavyweight Premier League games.
When Liverpool took the lead through James Milner’s penalty in the 51st minute, City’s resolve was tested again. That his players managed to come out of the game with a point, through Sergio Aguero’s 69th-minute goal, gave Guardiola a special feeling.
“It is one of the days I am proud of the most,” an animated Guardiola said.
His Liverpool counterpart, Juergen Klopp, felt Guardiola was caught up in the moment — “He is Spanish, They are a little bit more emotional than Germans” — but perhaps it was understandable after the riveting fare that the two teams had just served up.
Aided by some weak defending, there were chances galore at Etihad Stadium and it came as a surprise that only two goals were scored.
A penalty was always likely in this game — played on a slick surface after pre-match rain — because of the last-ditch defending on show. In the first half alone, there was Nicolas Otamendi’s pull on Sadio Mane as the Liverpool forward ran clean on goal, Milner’s clip on the ankle of Raheem Sterling as the City winger looked set for a tap-in, and Ragnar Klavan’s apparent tug on Aguero in the same move.
All three were 50-50 calls and not given but City defender Gael Clichy’s foul on Roberto Firmino was clear, with the left back having previously lost his man by slipping over. Milner, a former City player who had been jeered by sections of the home crowd in the first half, sent Willy Caballero the wrong way from the spot for his seventh successful penalty of the season.
City’s equalizer was slickly executed, with Kevin De Bruyne delivering a teasing low cross from the right that Aguero tucked home from just outside the six-yard box. Aguero has scored in all five homes games against Liverpool in the Premier League.
In an end-to-end final 20 minutes, De Bruyne struck a shot against the post, Adam Lallana kicked fresh air from close range with the goal at his mercy, and Sterling missed a one-on-one chance.
Possibly the best opportunity fell to Aguero in injury time, but he volleyed over from close range.
A draw was probably a fair result in the end, keeping the teams in the last two Champions League qualifying places. Chelsea is seemingly running away with the title, so the objective for City and Liverpool is to finish in the top four.
Liverpool kept up its excellent record against its rivals in the top six this season, with Klopp’s team winning five and drawing five from 10 games. How the Reds regret slipping up so often against the league’s lower-placed side.
“There is one outstanding, consistent side this year and they will be champions probably,” Klopp said. “The rest fight with all they have for the Champions League.”
Fourth-placed Liverpool is four points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United, having played two games more.
The race for Champions League qualification is going down to the wire.
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — With their top strikers absent, there were concerns that Manchester United and Tottenham could stumble in their push for Champions League qualification from the English Premier League.
No need to worry.
United defied the absence of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic — and fatigue because of its hectic fixture schedule — to beat relegation-threatened Middlesbrough 3-1 away in a match that ended with player bust-ups on and off the field.
Tottenham has lost top scorer Harry Kane for up to five weeks because of injury and the team’s attacking midfielders stepped up to fill the void, with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli scoring in a 2-1 win over Southampton. It was Spurs’ 10th straight victory at home in the league.
With Manchester City and Liverpool drawing 1-1 in an end-to-end game of numerous chances at Etihad Stadium, the race to finish in the top four behind likely champion Chelsea is too close to call.
Tottenham is in second place, 10 points behind Chelsea and two points ahead of City. Liverpool is a point further back in fourth and four clear of fifth-placed United, which has two games in hand.
United has finished each of the last 19 weeks in sixth place in the Premier League, but finally climbed a spot with its win at the Riverside Stadium. Arsenal, which lost 3-1 at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, has slipped to sixth place.
Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s three games:
MIDDLESBROUGH 1, MANCHESTER UNITED 3
There were two noteworthy goals from United — Jesse Lingard’s spectacular 25-meter strike and Antonio Valencia’s injury-time walk-in after a slip from Middlesbrough goalkeeper Victor Valdes — but they were overshadowed by bust-ups on and off the field around the final whistle.
In stoppage time, just before Valencia settled the result, tempers flared when Middlesbrough’s Rudy Gestede and United’s Eric Bailly grappled with each other. Players from both teams piled in. The pushing and shoving continued in the tunnel after the match, with Bailly and teammate Ashley Young looking particularly aggrieved.
Marouane Fellaini opened the scoring for United, which won despite Jose Mourinho fielding a weakened team missing Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and playing after competing in the Europa League on Thursday night.
After weeks of chasing, the top four is suddenly in sight for United, although Mourinho said he would prefer to secure Champions League qualification by winning the Europa League.
“The Europa League gives us the same, gives us Champions League football, but gives us a trophy, gives us prestige, gives us a European Super Cup,” Mourinho said.
TOTTENHAM 2, SOUTHAMPTON 1
Son Heung-min started up front in place of Kane but it was Eriksen and Alli who delivered.
Eriksen drove home the opening goal from the edge of the area in the 14th minute and Alli converted a penalty in the 33rd after he tumbled under Steven Davis’ challenge following a series of poor clearances by Southampton.
James Ward-Prowse celebrated his call-up to the England squad with a 52nd-minute reply for Southampton.