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.

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.

The 2 Robbies: “Wenger was the Guardiola of his day”

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss the shock news of Arsene Wenger announcing he will stand down at the end of the season and celebrate the living legend’s career, while also exploring who will take this massive job, then finish up talking about the FA Cup semifinal results.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Juventus 0-1 Napoli: Serie A title race back on… again

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This season’s scudetto race has been very much on, all but over, back on, a mere formality and now, following Sunday’s clash between first- and second-place Juventus and Napoli, on again… all inside the last four or five weeks of this roller-coaster Serie A season.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

Some will say that Juventus have regressed as the majority of their stars are now on the wrong side of 30, while others will say that a young and always-improving Napoli side has closed the gap all on their own and pulled themselves onto level footing with the six-time defending champions. The all-knowing among us will say it’s all of the above.

[ MORE: Barcelona hammer Sevilla to lift 4th straight Copa del Rey ]

For 89 minutes, Saturday’s clash at the Allianz Stadium appeared to be the final nail in Napoli’s coffin, as Maurizio Sarri’s side found themselves hopelessly blunted and unable to break through Juve’s ultra-defensive foundation (4 shots, o on target for Juve over 90 minutes). Kalidou Koulibaly’s thunderous header from Jose Callejon’s corner kick changed all of that, and drew Gli Azzurri to within a single point of Juve with four games left to play.

It’s the first time Juve have lost in league play since Nov. 19 (17 wins in 20 games) and their first league defeat at home since Oct. 14 (10 wins in 11 games, outscoring opponents by a combined 28-3). Napoli are now unbeaten in their last 30 league games away from home (24 wins), dating back to the last time they visited Juventus, Oct. 29, 2016.

Still on Juve’s remaining schedule: trips to take on fifth-place Inter Milan and third-place Roma. As for Napoli, they’ll take on eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place Sampdoria, Fiorentina and Torino, respectively, as well as 16th-place Crotone.

(Ever so slight) Advantage, Napoli?