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.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

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Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbally abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

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It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.