Starting Sturridge with Suarez, Liverpool explodes for five against Norwich

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While the debate over Daniel Sturridge’s value is far from settled, there’s little doubt he represents an intriguing piece for a Liverpool team that spent the first half of the season trying to find enough attackers to match Brendan Rodgers’ system. When he was acquired from Chelsea, it was initially unclear to what extend Sturridge would help, but after the Reds posted five today with the 23-year-old starting with Luis Suárez, we got some answers.

The effect was evident on the Reds’ second goal, Liverpool having already gone up after Jordan Henderson’s well hit half-volley from inside the arc. A ball hit to feet just inside Norwich’s half saw Sturridge dummy, leaving the pass to roll behind the line as the Canary defense collapsed on Sturridge. Coming in from the left, Suárez was left to go in alone on Mark Bunn, the Uruguayan converting for this 20th all-competition goal of the season.

Sturridge would add his own early in the second half. After Steven Gerrard and a Norwich own goal rounded out the scoring, Liverpool had their most impressive victory of the season: 5-0 at Anfield.

It’s not the victory over a top team for which Reds supporters have begun to pine, but unfortunately for Rodgers, Liverpool weren’t scheduled against one of the league’s better sides. Had they been, the Reds probably would have secured three points and quieted all the building criticism. They were that good.

We’re also likely to hear some misgivings about the competition. While Norwich has played well this season, they’ve also been prone to some terrible results. In September, one of those results came against Liverpool, who won 5-2 in the reverse fixture. It’s possible Liverpool just matches up particularly well against Chris Houghton’s team.

Beyond the Sturridge-Suárez combination, there are a number of reasons to believe Liverpool’s actually improving and not just taking advantage of a fortuitous matchup:

Jamie Carragher gets a start – At this point in his career, if Carragher is the answer you need to really reconsider the question, but there has been something off all season with the Daniel Agger-Martin Skrtel partnership. My theory: They’re too similar, and it leaves the Reds vulnerable to pace (as they were exploited against Manchester United ahead of the Red Devil’s second goal). While it’s uncertain Carragher would solve that problem, he got his chance ahead of Skrtel today.

Joe Allen sits – He was considered an astute signing in summer, but Joe Allen has not met expectations since following Rodgers from Swans. Again Manchester United, he was a non-factor, a huge indictment for a midfielder. Jordan Henderson got the nod today and came through with a goal.

Switch in approach – With both Suárez and Sturridge getting the start, Rodgers had to change things up (formation-wise) to accomodate two through-the-middle forwards. As a result, we saw Henderson return to a wide-to-in role he often played under Kenny Dalglish (possibly the reason he started over Allen). Stewart Downing manned the other side. Whereas Rodgers has been pretty staunchly 4-3-3 this season, we may now be a change of approach.

Stewart Downing continues to contribute – This is not new news, but after a year-and-a-half of middling contributions after moving from over Villa, Stewart Downing’s finally found a place at Liverpool. The England international assisted in Sturridge’s goal.

The victory temporarily moved Liverpool into sixth place, and while the rest of the weekend’s results might see them fall one or two places, Rodgers has the Reds at the edge of Europe. Although he proclaimed greater expectations, this is right about where we thought Liverpool would land. If they continue improving, they’ll end Rodgers’ first season ahead of where we’d thought they’d be.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

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An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.