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Soccer-Man City take top spot after comfortable win at Watford

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Reigning champions Manchester City claimed top spot in the Premier League for the first time this season as Bernardo Silva scored twice in a 3-1 victory at Watford on Saturday.

Raheem Sterling’s early header paved the way to a comfortable win for Pep Guardiola’s side who made the most of morning leaders Chelsea’s earlier 3-2 defeat at West Ham United.

Silva fired in from a tight angle in the 31st minute and put City in cruise control just past the hour mark when he curled a delightful effort into the top corner.

In truth City’s winning margin should have been bigger against a struggling Watford side who were given some late hope when Cucho Hernandez pulled a goal back.

City’s fifth successive league win lifted them to 35 points from 15 games, one point ahead of Liverpool and two in front of Chelsea in what is shaping up to be a three-way title tussle.

The sight of Guardiola’s City hitting the top in the run-up to Christmas will send shivers through their rivals.

Once they climbed to the summit last season in January they marched off into the distance, although this time the form of Liverpool suggests they will not have things all their own way.

“It’s still the beginning, we are not even halfway through and there is a lot of hard work to do,” Silva, who is City’s surprise leading league scorer with seven goals, said.

“It’s always better to be top of the league than second, third or fourth, but it’s so close — Liverpool are just one point behind us, Chelsea are two points behind us.

“But we are in good form and we want to keep it that way.”

LONG NIGHT

It was only a fortnight ago that Claudio Ranieri’s side put Manchester United to the sword at Vicarage Road.

But they barely got a kick in the first half against City.

Once Sterling was given the freedom of the penalty area to head in Phil Foden’s cross after four minutes it always looked like being a long night for the hosts.

Jack Grealish could have had a hat-trick before halftime as he wasted several glorious chances but Silva soon showed him how to find the back of the net.

The Portuguese playmaker’s astute pass set up a chance for Ilkay Gundogan whose shot was saved by Daniel Bachmann but as the ball came out Silva was alert to drill a low shot into the net from an acute angle.

His second was a thing of beauty. Taking a pass from Kyle Walker on the right, Silva cut inside Danny Rose and curled a shot into the top corner with almost nonchalant ease.

City switched off slightly to allow Hernandez to score after his shot came back off the post, but it was a minor hiccup on a thoroughly satisfying day.

 

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Sabres' Dell suspended three games for hit on Batherson – TSN

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Buffalo Sabres goaltender Aaron Dell has been suspended three games for interference on Ottawa Senators forward Drake Batherson, NHL Player Safety announced Wednesday.

Batherson is expected to miss significant time after a collision with Dell as he attempted to skate around the net in Tuesday’s 5-0 Senators win. Dell appeared to shove Batherson with his right shoulder, who went feet-first into the boards and needed help to leave the game.

The hit from Dell drew the ire of the Senators, who sounded off on the goaltender post-game.

“I thought that play on Batherson was pretty dirty,” winger Tyler Ennis said, “the goalie looked like he threw his shoulder into Batherson”

“The frustrating part is he’s done it before and he continues to do it.,” head coach DJ Smith said. “It’s interference, (Batherson) wasn’t in the path of the goalie and at the last second he steps in and hits him.”

Senators goaltender Matt Murray also took his counterpart to task for his role in Batherson’s injury.

“I don’t like calling out other goalies. But they’re (players) not expecting to get hit by a goalie,” said Murray.  “That’s a dangerous play that turns out to be an unfortunate result – one of our best players goes down.”

Batherson, who scored his 13th goal of the season, played 5:38 in Tuesday’s game before exiting. The 23-year-old has already tied a career-high with 34 points this season in 31 games.

More to come.

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Soccer-Premier League says minimum four COVID-19 cases needed for fixture postponement

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Premier League sides can apply for a fixture postponement only if they have a minimum of four positive COVID-19 cases in their squads, the league said on Wednesday following a meeting of representatives of all 20 clubs.

A total of 22 games have been called off this season due to COVID-19 outbreaks and the subsequent unavailability of players, with the league being criticised by some clubs for their handling of the crisis.

Earlier, a match could be postponed if one of the teams did not have 13 available outfield players — and one goalkeeper — “either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players”.

“Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold,” the league said in a statement.

“From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.”

The new guidelines will kick in ahead of the game between Burnley and Watford on Feb. 5.

The previous rule came under heavy scrutiny, with some clubs being accused of “manipulating the system” in order to get games postponed during the busy festive period.

Tottenham Hotspsur were most vocal in their criticism following the postponement of the north London derby earlier this month, saying they were “extremely surprised” that the request from Arsenal, who had one COVID-19 case, was accepted.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta had also called for more clarity around postponements related to COVID-19.

The league added: “Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Premier League Board examines a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of COVID-19.”

On Monday, the league said it had reported 16 new infections of COVID-19 in the previous week, continuing a downward trend in the number of positive cases for a fourth week.

 

(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Better late than never: Oilers elevate game in third to beat Canucks – Sportsnet.ca

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There it was, on a silver platter.

A chance for a losing team to build on its first win in eight games, Saturday’s heartening 5-3 victory over Calgary still coursing through the veins. An opportunity to build some momentum against a Vancouver team in the throes of a COVID-19 shortage, ripe for a home loss against what was supposed to be a confident Oilers club.

This should be easy, right?

What? The Canucks are starting Spencer Martin in goal?

Piece of cake, right?

Yeah, right.

Down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play on Tuesday, Ryan McLeod slipped a shot between Martin and the near post. It was Martin’s only mistake on a 50-shot night, but by the time they were done the Oilers had fought back for a 3-2 overtime victory.

In recent losing streaks of six and seven games, it was usually Edmonton’s netminder who would surrender that queasy goal at an important moment. But now, after winning two straight games, if ever you wanted evidence that perhaps Edmonton’s luck has turned, look no further than the smelly goal that opened the floodgates in Vancouver.

“It’s 16 games. It’s tough to blame it all on bounces,” Connor McDavid admitted of their woes of late. “We weren’t playing our best hockey, but bounces do go a long way, and ‘Clouder found a way to sneak one through.”

“(Martin) was playing unbelievable, shutting the door all game,” said McLeod, who has five goals in 27 games this season. “It’s just the little squeaker ones that go in first and open the door for the rest of the guys. Early in the shift, I had a chance to shoot and I made a pass. They’ve been telling me to shoot a little more. I decided to shoot.”

From there the Oilers dominated a Canucks team that has been gutted by COVID cases, showing up to play Tuesday with no Bo Horvat, no Tanner Pearson, no Conor Garland and neither of the goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko nor Jaro Halak.

Cue Martin, the third-stringer who faced an even 50 shots and held Edmonton to two regulation goals. He had preceded McLeod with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and played against Connor McDavid back in their minor hockey days around the GTA. So the Oilers knew of him, if not how to beat him through the opening 45 minutes.

But once McLeod broke the seal, you could see Edmonton gain life. The Oilers outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the third period and 9-1 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl’s 29th tied the game halfway through the third off a lovely pass by the returning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid scored his first since Dec. 31 to capture the second point in overtime.

The Oilers captain has been slumping for a few weeks. The jump has been there, just not the usual production.

“I’ve been a bit snake bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my chances, but haven’t been able to put one away. It was nice to be able to contribute and find a way to score a goal.”

Nice to win two straight, something the Oilers last did in the two games between six- and seven-game losing streaks. They are still right in thick of the Pacific Division race with half a season to go, but only if they can win a goodly share of their games in hand.

“It’s important — we want to get on a little roll here. That’s the main focus,” said McDavid, whose team faces Nashville on Thursday before hitting the road for Montreal, Ottawa and Washington. “It was a big win on Saturday, it’s a big win tonight. We’ve got to keep marching forward.”

It was the second straight game that Edmonton fell behind 2-0 and then battled back to win. “Not exactly a recipe for success,” said McDavid.

They still never score first — this was the 10th straight game and 25th of 28 games they’ve gone down 1-0 — but give the Oilers credit. They dominated this hockey game, outshooting Vancouver 50-27 while garnering 62.5 percent of scoring chances and 81.25 percent of the high danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen was his usual self in goal. And by that we mean you wondered about one goal, an Elias Pettersson snapper from the outside edge of the circle, but he stopped Tyler Motte on a crucial short-handed breakaway that immediately preceded Draisaitl’s game-tying goal.

In the end Koskinen allowed two, and in a 3-2 league his team won by that exact score. Consider it a game well goaltended.

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