Without Luis Suárez, The Brendan Rodgers Project shines at West Ham

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The story ahead of Liverpool’s Sunday visit to West Ham was the absence of their only goalscorer, but after an impressive comeback win over the Hammers, the narrative has becoming one of expectations. Liverpool was supposed to be playing this way all along, the Rodgers Revolution set to bring substance along with style. Few begrudged the Swansea import his slow start, but after a trip to Upton Park that produced one of Liverpool’s best performances of the year, fans would be right to wonder if their Reds have turned a corner. Is something finally clicking?

Glen Johnson got Liverpool on the board early with what’s becoming a very Glen Johnson goal – a blast from the edge of the area from just to the right of goal. Liverpool gave two goals back – a tough hand ball called for a penalty followed by an own goal from Steven Gerrard – before a well-built Joe Cole equalizer started the Reds’ comeback. Their winning goal was credited to West Ham’s James Collins, but given the buildup that led to the winner, Liverpool would be right to take full the credit for the goal (as Jonjo Shelvey did while celebrating the score). With their 3-2 win, the Reds jump into the table’s top half, sitting 10th with 22 points.

MORE: Roberto Mancini insists Manchester City didn’t deserve to lose

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It was what the club wanted when they brought in The Brendan Rodgers Football Project, a product that really started to shine after Joe Cole came on for José Enrique in the 22nd minute. With Jonjo Shelvey playing through the middle in place of the suspended Luis Suárez, Liverpool had the movement and freedom to play with the fluidity that Rodgers wants. It was only after watching them perform without Suárez that you realized their dependence on him has turned into a lack of confidence. When they went from having to get the ball to their dangerman to not being able to, Liverpool came to life.

Much of the play went through Raheem Sterling on the left. Shelvey challenged the left channel, opening space for Cole behind. The setup combined for perfect execution on Liverpool’s equalizing goal, Shelvey dropping from Collins to open space in the middle before Sterling found Cole.

source:  Can Liverpool carry this forward once Suárez returns? It doesn’t seem that difficult. There’s nothing that Shelvey did today that Suárez is incapable of going. If anything, Shelvey’s success as the number nine could make life easier for the first choice striker. Whereas Liverpool often presses to get the ball to Suárez – playing hopeful balls into innocuous spots knowing Suárez can make them dangerous – Sunday’s success may encourage Sterling and the other attackers to take more of the work on themselves. If they can prove dangerous independent of Suárez, the quality of Suárez’s chances could improve. The only drawback: There doesn’t appear to be a natural place for Shelvey.

Some may point out that the performance came against West Ham – a good team, but one whose personnel choices make them particularly susceptible to Liverpool’s style. If Brendan Rodgers’ approach can’t succeed against Sam Allardyce’s, especially after Mohamed Diamé leaves injured, then there’s no hope, right? While there’s some truth to that, it also unduly leans on the caricature of the Hammers being a bunch of ball-hoofing thugs. It also fails to recognize that (at least in defense) a lot of Premier League teams resemble Big Sam’s.

MORE: Breaking down Sunday’s Manchester Derby

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If this type of performance becomes the norm for Liverpool – if they bring Suárez back in and start playing with him, not to him – the team will compete for Europe. With Lucas Leiva back, they have their full midfield in tow. Once Fabio Borini recovers from his foot injury, the attacks corps will be at full strength. Only two points back of seventh with a kind fixture list until Jan. 13’s trip to Manchester United, the Reds may be ready to make a run.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”