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While I really shouldn’t let my frustration with how MLB has sullied their regular season into my soccer coverage, it was hard not to think about how Rob Manfred just discarded those moments during the regular season that portended to more down the line as I watched Darwin Nunez dig out a Liverpool winner in the 99th minute to keep his team top of the table. Back when it was hard to make the MLB playoffs, fans would revel in certain games in June or July that seemed to go beyond a team merely being good or talented. A comeback win in extras (back when extra innings weren’t a gimmick), a crazy 13-12 win, a series sweep of a rival, all could slide into the territory of “baseball magic” where fans felt there was just something ordained or inexplicable about their team. A spirit bestowed upon them from above. That doesn’t happen, at least not to the same extent, for 84-win teams that limp in or the leading teams for whom the regular season is a foregone conclusion.

But soccer still has it, for sure. And in abundance. Liverpool were flat at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest. The starting 11 that’s basically been forced to play four games in 11 days looked pretty lethargic, and basically they had maxed what they could wring out of a frontline of Luis Diaz-Cody Gakpo-Harvey Elliot. Conor Bradley has lost some verve, which happens to 20-year-olds who had played a full 90 minutes just once in the season’s first four months and then started 10 matches in two months while also having to deal with the loss of his father. Which meant Liverpool didn’t have the same spice attacking down the right wing, and with Andrew Robertson still finding his feet after a long injury absence, they didn’t really have it on the left either. It was the second consecutive match Liverpool had to start Joe Gomez in midfield, and he didn’t look completely lost there, but also was clearly a step down in creativity and positioning they get when Alexis MacAllister and Wataru Endo man that spot (and guess who combined to set up Nunez for the winner?)

Twenty-two shots sound like total domination, but the fact that Liverpool could only get two on target tells a clearer story. Forest got just as many. It got more blunt as the game went on, even as Liverpool got to tap into more of their roster as Nunez, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Endo returned from injury.

There are plenty of tangible things to point to as reasons Liverpool won the game. They have obscenely talented players, like MacAllister who can produce that cross with his weaker foot with a defender on his back. They do play until the final whistle without ever accepting the result on offer when it isn’t sufficient. Because of that endless energy, their press can open up chances throughout a match, as it did in the 99th minute.

But ask any Red, maybe even one who spent a good 45 seconds jumping around his girlfriend’s living room unable to control his limbs who writes a Premier League wrap on Monday’s for Deadspin, if there wasn’t something a little ordained about the whole thing. Something’s in the water. Football magic?

Of course, that could all come crashing down next week because . . .

4. City don’t look great, but keep winning so either they’ll stop winning or they’ll start looking great. Which would you bet on? 

While the story of Sunday’s Manchester Derby was just how limited Manchester United were and basically had to choose to be, it was yet another match where City collected three points due to individual brilliance rather than their usual automaton efficiency. Problem for anyone else is that they have so many players who can just hit that video game AI button that prevents you from winning no matter what, and forces you to buy another controller after you fire your original one into a wall.

United showed up basically playing a 4-2-4-0, with Bruno Fernandes as something of a false nine, Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho more attuned to doubling up with their fullbacks to negate City’s wide threats more than trying to get forward on the counter, with Casemiro, Kobbie Mainoo, Scott McTominay, and Fernandes forming a box midfield right in front of the defense. It felt more aimed at avoiding embarrassment than a ploy to win the game, but it worked for 55 minutes. Especially when Rashford produced his only moment of competence in the past few months:

Of course, he also did this a few minutes later:

For the first half, City kept having shots blocked or moves cut out on the 18-yard box or were reduced to long-range shots. Rarely of late have they done that thing where they knit 87 passes together and then someone is standing with the ball a yard and a half from the opponent’s goal and every defender has fallen down either out of exhaustion or dizziness from trying to keep up.

But then those long-range shots are a decent enough plan when Phil Foden is around:

A fraction of this is due to Victor Lindelof and Jonny Evans already losing gas after their efforts in the first half and giving Foden that inch of space he needed. No matter, really. Foden would add a second thanks to delicious link up with Julian Alvarez before Erling Haaland could make up for a hilarious first-half miss when Sofyan Amrabat used his eight-minute cameo to demonstrate what an awful acquisition he’s been. The efficiency!

Still, this was yet another match where City didn’t look like CITY, but had enough match-winners on the field that someone will come up with something eventually. It’s been Foden mostly of late. It was De Bruyne against Newcastle, Haaland against Brentford. Maybe they’re saving it for their meeting at OK Corral next Sunday in Liverpool. Maybe this is the model they can ride out for the rest of the season. It’s led them to being unbeaten in 17 in all competitions at the moment, after all.

3. Everton remain the weirdest ever

In a week where they got a reprieve and had four points shaved off their PSR penalties, which basically removed them from danger of relegation for at least a while, you’d think Everton would have played with some freedom and joy against West Ham. Which they did, but in their very own special way. They lost, 3-1, giving up two goals in second half stoppage time, but once again produced more than enough to win.

It was Everton’s 10th-straight in the league without a win, but in those 10 games they’ve produced 13.8 xG while scoring seven goals. In this streak they’ve only decidedly lost the xG battle to Man City twice (that’ll happen), Wolves, and Brighton (that’ll happen, and they got a draw out of that one).

But we’ve been saying that since September, and should their additional PSR charge cost them any points, the upcoming fixture list isn’t a help. Their next three games on either side of the international break are all away, to United, Bournemouth, and Newcastle. After batting practice against Burnley, they’re at Chelsea before hosting Forest in a points-deduction-palooza. They could make this very interesting on themselves if they continue to be agoraphobic to the space between the posts.

2. Luton could have been worse for Everton, all season

Luton Town are a great story with their tiny little stadium in some townhouse’s courtyard and their limited resources and their squad that kind of looks like a 1970’s spoof of a soccer team, like a soccer version of The White Shadow. But should they drop down to the Championship again in May, the cuteness will probably evaporate behind the thoughts of what might have been.

Because Luton have lost points late, at home, too many times to just be the plucky guys who made a fist of it. They gave up a late equalizer to Liverpool. A late winner to Arsenal. They lost to Sheffield United at all. They gave up a lead to Man City. And then after coming back from 2-0 down against Vila, they gave up yet another late-winner to ruin it.

Now, all of these on paper are acceptable results, aside from the Sheffield bit. But those were all matches that Luton were in, or even had a lead, and had points within their grasp. They weren’t getting blown out. Four to six points, at home, which is their strength, and things would look very different. Especially with the points deductions coming to Forest and Everton.

It’ll be a valiant relegation, but within any valiant defeat is probably a moment or two that had things been executed better, wouldn’t have been a defeat at all.

1. Always good to end on a worldie

Yoane Wissa, come on down:



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