Neymar back in Brazil squad for first World Cup qualifiers, Alisson misses out

By Sports Desk March 06, 2020

Neymar is back in the Brazil squad for their first World Cup qualifiers, but goalkeeper Alisson is missing despite only being ruled out for a week by Liverpool with a hip injury.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp confirmed on Friday that Alisson is set to miss the Reds' next two matches against Bournemouth and Atletico Madrid after sustaining a hip problem in training.

Klopp said the situation will be clear after next week, but Brazil have left him off their list for matches against Bolivia and Peru, to be played on March 28 and April 1, respectively.

Brazil coach Tite confirmed in his news conference Alisson has been excluded from the selection due to injury.

Neymar returns, however, after he missed their previous matches in November due to fitness issues of his own, though Tite seemed frustrated when asked about the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

"Hopefully all high-level athletes are at their best and that I have to answer 300 questions about why one player and not the other," he said.

"I want to have difficult decisions all the time, that everyone is in good form, Neymar included."

Notable inclusions are Bruno Guimaraes, Felipe and Everton Ribeiro.

Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is in line for his first cap, Felipe is hoping to get only his second and Flamengo's Everton Ribeiro has not represented the Selecao since the 2015 Copa America.

"In the case of Everton, he returns because he has great form in his creative process," Tite said. "Bruno Guimaraes had a great championship last year for Athletico Paranaense, we followed him in the Under-23s and in Lyon, this consolidates, strengthens.

"It is likewise with Felipe. We followed two games that were emblematic of Atletico Madrid, against Liverpool and Valencia."

Brazil squad in full:

Weverton (Palmeiras), Ederson (Manchester City), Ivan (Ponte Preta); Dani Alves (Sao Paulo), Danilo (Juventus), Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Felipe (Atletico Madrid), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain); Arthur (Barcelona), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon), Philippe Coutinho (Bayern Munich), Everton Ribeiro (Flamengo), Fabinho (Liverpool); Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Gabriel Barbosa (Flamengo), Everton (Gremio), Richarlison (Everton), Bruno Henrique (Flamengo).

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    Jurgen Klopp insists Manchester United can never be considered underdogs despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer making that pre-match claim.

    United boss Solskjaer takes his side to Anfield on Sunday with a surprise three-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

    The last time they sat top at this stage of the season was in Alex Ferguson's final year at the club.

    Amid his opponents' impressive 11-match unbeaten run in the top flight, Liverpool manager Klopp was surprised to see Solskjaer suggest a United win would represent a "shock" and an "upset".

    "I have been five years in England and United was never an underdog," said Klopp. "They cannot be. It is just like it is.

    "They are always a good team, always great players, always really good managers and coaches. It was always there and now they are top of the table. That is how it is.

    "They cannot be underdogs."

    Champions Liverpool have failed to win their past three league matches since thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 a month ago.

    But Klopp is confident they are over their slump as the chance to return to the summit presents itself, while he also replied to another Solskjaer remark that caught his attention.

    He continued: "I'm really looking forward to this game, to be honest. I know Ole said that this is the best moment to play against Liverpool - yeah? Let's see!

    "We are now in a place where we want to be. We know what we have to do and what went wrong. We want to change. Now, we have to put that in place on the pitch. That is the situation.

    "These boys did not go for an excuse in one second that I was here. Not for one second. But that does not mean things cannot go wrong.

    "Obviously we did not do outstandingly well since mid-November. But who cares? We still have 33 points.

    "We have learned a lot from this season. The circumstances, dealing with the situation. It is not because of the boys' attitude. It's just because it didn't work out.

    "Still, we have scored the most goals in the league, which is absolutely crazy.

    "We just had to step a little bit back, work on the basics and get strong – as strong as we can be again. That's what we did. That is what we will do. I think that can work."

    Returning his focus to United, Klopp added: "Usually they change system against us. 

    "They played 10 times with four at the back and against RB Leipzig they played with five at the back, so maybe they will change that.

    "Those are things we have to think about - not who is the outsider. It is Liverpool versus United and that in itself is a massive game.

    "Wherever I would be in the world I would watch it definitely. This is the game!"

  • Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool

    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Fernandes hits back at Klopp over penalty complaints Fernandes hits back at Klopp over penalty complaints

    Bruno Fernandes hit back at Jurgen Klopp after the Liverpool manager complained about the number of penalties awarded to Manchester United.

    Klopp was unhappy his side were not given a penalty during a loss to Southampton earlier this month and the German pointed to the number of spot-kicks United had been awarded.

    Since the start of last season, United have won 20 penalties in the Premier League compared to Liverpool's 10.

    Fernandes, who has scored five penalties in the Premier League this season, insisted he was unfazed, also suggesting Klopp was trying to put pressure on referees ahead of United's trip to Anfield on Sunday.

    "You always see what people say, but I really don't care. I'm not focused on what they're saying. We have really quick players up front," he said.

    "Anthony Martial is one of the best players one against one in the box, Marcus Rashford is another one who is quick and has quick feet, who can take the ball away from the defender at any moment.

    "It's normal that sometimes, because of that, they will be tripped and will fall and they gain penalties.

    "People can talk and say what they want, but for me and the team, the main point is continuing to do the right things and when we get a penalty, just scoring.

    "I played in Portugal and when you play for Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto are always talking about that kind of stuff – sometimes to put pressure on the referee."

    United visit champions Liverpool with a surprise three-point lead atop the table.

    Liverpool claimed their first top-flight title since 1990 last year, moving onto 19 in total – one shy of United's record.

    Fernandes said the players were aware how much such records meant to supporters.

    "You don't want your rivals at the same level as you, or with the same amount of trophies as you," he said.

    "So it's clear for everyone here at the club and in the dressing room, everyone knows what it means for the supporters.

    "It would be a lot more fun with 21 titles and Liverpool still on 19, of course."

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