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.

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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.

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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.

LIVE: Man City, Stoke, Everton face second-tier teams in League Cup quarters

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Three of the four Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday with three Premier League teams facing second-tier opposition.

“What’s that, did somebody say banana skin?”

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Manchester City host Hull City at the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini‘s side hoping to have David Silva back in the starting lineup but Joe Hart is still out injured so Willy Caballero will continue in goal. Steve Bruce‘s side drew 1-1 at the Etihad last season when they visited City before being relegated from the Premier League. The Tigers are fighting for instant promotion back to the big-time and knocked out Leicester City on penalty kicks in the last round.

Everton face a tricky trip to the Riverside Stadium as Roberto Martinez and the Toffees play Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s side lost in the play-off final to Norwich last season but are looking good for promotion this term as they sit second in the second-tier and knocked out Manchester United on penalty kicks in the last round. Can Everton sort out their defensive frailties?

A third PL club has a tricky test coming up on Tuesday as Stoke City’s reward for beating Chelsea on PKs in the last round is a home game against Sheffield Wednesday. This will be no stroll in the park for Mark Hughes‘ side as the second-tier Owls comfortably knocked off Arsenal in the last round and this game has “cupset” written all over it.

Below are the fixtures for Tuesday as you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET

FIFA sponsors demand “independent oversight” of reforms

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LONDON (AP) Five of FIFA’s sponsors have written to the executive committee of soccer’s scandal-battered governing body demanding “independent oversight” of the reform process.

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Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organization, they have only been offered seats on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.

The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch to FIFA’s ruling body ahead of meetings this week.

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The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, says it is “clear to us that such independent oversight needs to run long-term through the implementation and evolution of the reform process.”

The reform committee was established following the indictment of soccer officials by American authorities.

VIDEO: Gerrard returns to Liverpool for training in MLS offseason

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League
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Steven Gerrard is back at Liverpool.

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The legendary midfielder, 35, has returned to the Reds just six months after leaving his hometown club for a new adventure in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy.

Gerrard spent a glittering 17-years at Anfield, guiding Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title and winning every other major title except for the elusive Premier League crown.

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After suffering an early exit from the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs with the Galaxy, Gerrard is now back in England and he’s using his time at home to train with Liverpool’s first-team and help out in any way he can as Jurgen Klopp has allowed him to come back into the dressing room he called home for nearly two decades.

“It’s a good situation,” Klopp said. “Everybody had a smile on their face when they saw Stevie. It’s good to have him here and we hope we can help him, and he can help us for sure with being in the dressing room. It’s cool.”

Below are photos and videos from Gerrard’s return as Klopp once again quashed any rumors regarding a loan move for the former Liverpool skipper who will enter his first full MLS season in 2016 with the Galaxy.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

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Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.