Swansea City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League

Look ahead, Premier League: Another chance for a Liverpool breakthrough

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Somewhere over the course of the winter it’s become acceptable to see the Brendan Rodgers Project in a new light. Though the first-year boss ambitiously (if perhaps slightly disingenuously) said his team could finish second this season, most onlookers saw this as another year of transition for the Reds. Disappointments like last Sunday’s at Oldham Athletic still dot Liverpool’s record, but the quality of their play has been encouraging. At their best, Liverpool looks like a Champions League contender, even if that status is still at least a season away. But with that quality apparent now, fans have been left yearning for the type of win that will validate suspicions the team can be as good as they  look.

That win almost came mid-week, but conceding a two-goal lead in London means fans are still wait for Brendan Rodgers’ big breakthrough. After an hour at the Emirates, it looked set to arrive, but goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott salvaged a point for Arsenal. Against the Premier League’s top six, Liverpool is now 0-4-4 this season.

For all the beautiful soccer Rodgers has instilled at Anfield, it’s fair to ask when it means if they aren’t beating top competition. The former Swansea boss was brought in to build something better than Kenny Dalglish had last season. If that requires a transition year, fans seem ready to be patient, but when the results start to hint at a roadblock that defies their talent — the type of block that hints at something mental rather than physical — curiosity’s natural. And at some point, that curiosity becomes a concern.

Rodgers isn’t quite there, yet. Even after capitulating mid-week, he’s still focuing on the positives.

“Normally you would be bitterly disappointed not to have won but I can only be proud of the players,,” Rodgers silver—linings it after the match. “I thought they were absolutely magnificent.”

Those players get their next chance for a breakthrough Sunday at Eastlands. There they’ll face a Manchester City side whose last two performances should engender hope. Their 1-0 win on the 26th at Stoke City came only after Pablo Zabeleta’s late right place, right time goal. Three days later, the Citizens were drawn at Loftus Road, the title aspirants dropping points against the Premier League’s worst team.

The problem’s up front. It’s been 328 minutes since Edin Dzeko scored at Arsenal on Jan. 13, the last time a City forward got on the scoresheet. The last time one of the team’s strikers scored against 11 men in league  was Jan. 1 (Dzeko against Stoke City). Sergio Aguero’s “struggling”, down to 8 goals in 20 games after scoring 23 times in his first Premier League season. Carlos Tévez hasn’t scored in league since Dec. 1, and Mario Balotelli’s no longer on the books.

But if his strike corps is a problem, manager Roberto Mancini’s not admitting it.

“Now we have three strikers,” Mancini said when asked if City tried to acquire another forward. “We have only Premier League and FA Cup, I think that could be enough.”

On Sunday, it just might. In Liverpool’s eight games against the top six, they’ve given up multiple goals seven times, including their Aug. 26 meeting with City. Their 30  goals allowed puts them a respectable eighth in the Premiership, but having conceded half those in  eight games against the league’s best, their defensive record only feeds into the theme: The next step for The Brendan Rodgers project is a breakthrough against one of the league’s top teams.

Elsewhere in England

Saturday

Queens Park Rangers (20th) vs. Norwich City (14th) – Must wins don’t exist in February, but how can QPR be confident they’ll stay up if they can’t beat Norwich City at home? The Canaries last league win was Dec. 12.

Arsenal (6th) vs. Stoke City (10th) – Now four points and two places out of a Champions League spot, the Gunners can’t afford to drop points in these types of games. The last time Stoke took points at Arsenal was 1981 (eight matches).

Everton (5th) vs. Aston Villa (19th) – Not so long ago, this was a battle for non-Big Four supremacy (when there was a Big Four). Now Everton’s competing for Champions League while Villa looks to have reached new lows. In the drop with the worst goal difference in the league, Aston Villa’s no longer one of Everton’s peers.

Newcastle United (15th) vs. Chelsea (3rd) – Who knows what to expect from Chelsea? Would anybody be surprised if they lost this one? Newcastle’s been reinforced by Moussa Sissoko, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoann Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy in the winter window, giving the Magpies the talent to take advantage of the Blues, particularly if a newly healthy Yoann Cabaye can tilt the battle in the middle. But this is stills not a match Chelsea should be losing. While Newcastle’s intriguing, they aren’t on Chelsea’s level.

Reading (17th) vs. Sunderland (11th) – How has this happened? Reading hasn’t been much different after their rough start, yet they’re getting better results. Seven points in their last three and have allowed them to claw out of the drop. The pack has come back to them, something you can also say about Sunderland. They also have seven in their last three, they’ve climbed to 11th, and while they’re now finding more goals (and turning draws into wins), it’s difficult to say things have truly turned around. Both these teams are  taking advantage of a weak bottom half.

West Ham United (13th) vs. Swansea City (8th) – The Hammers have hit a wall. After a strong start to the season, they closed January with three loses in four, conceding 12 times. Swansea ran out 3-0 winners in the teams’ August meeting. Undefeated in league since Dec. 16, this could be another convincing result for Swans.

Wigan Athletic (18th) vs. Southampton (16th) – Two weeks ago this would have been one of the more obscurely attractive matches in the schedule, but with Nigel Adkins asked to give way for Mauricio Pochettino, we’re no longer guaranteed two styles that augur a beautiful game.

Fulham (12th) vs. Manchester United (1st) – I refuse to say anything predictive about #FlawedButFabulous. Fulham, on the other hand, are another illustration of England’s weak bottom half. As much as they’ve struggled this season, they’re still 12th.

Sunday

West Bromwich Albion (9th) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (4th) – Lewis Holtby’s arrival will probably mean an even greater playing time struggle for Clint Dempsey, but the German playmaker is exactly when Spurs need. This Sunday’s match may provide a perfect example. On the road against a team whose tactics could have previously exposed Spurs’ occasional lack of creativity, Holtby may provide a dimension that forces opposing managers to reconsider laying of Spurs and daring them to craft a killer ball.

VIDEO: Watch Vardy’s stunning hat trick as Leicester beat Man City

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Ah, there you are Jamie Vardy. Good to have you back, and the old Leicester City, too.

Vardy, 29, had not scored in his last 16 matches for Leicester in all competitions going in to this weekend…

On Saturday Vardy scored a hat trick to lead reigning Premier League champions Leicester to a 4-2 demolition of Manchester City which gives Claudio Ranieri‘s side some breathing space from the relegation zone.

[ MORE: Leicester hammer Man City ]

The Foxes — who had one just one of their last nine games in the PL leading up to this game — raced into a 4-0 lead (Leicester was 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes) and although City scored twice late on the scoreline doesn’t reflect Leicester’s dominance against Pep Guardiola‘s side who were all over the place in defense.

Click play on the video above to watch Vardy’s hat trick as the English striker only had two goals all season going into this game. Now he has five, and his partnership with Riyad Mahrez is finally showing signs of reigniting this season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

The Vardy, and Leicester, we all fell in love with last season was back with a bang on Saturday. It took 15 weeks of the Premier League season.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern back on top; Leipzig no longer unbeaten

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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The odds said a RB Leipzig hiccup was coming, and Bayern Munich took full advantage of its good fortune on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bayern Munich 5-0 Wolfsburg

Thomas Muller finally scored his first goal of the Bundesliga season, the fourth marker in an out-and-out thumping of Wolfsburg (What’s become of them?!?). Robert Lewandowski netted a brace for the second-straight outing, while Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa also scored in the win.

Ingolstadt 1-0 RB Leipzig

The visitors were dominant, holding Ingolstadt to just 83 passes, but a 12th minute Roger goal was enough to send RB Leipzig to its first loss of the season. Their record is now level with Bayern at 10W-3D-1L, and Leipzig has scored 8 less goals than the table-topping Bavarians.

Koln 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

The hosts looked set to keep pace with the leaders via an Artjoms Rudnevs’ 28th minute goal, but Marco Reus netted a 90th minute equalizer to help BVB to its share of the spoils.

Elsewhere
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Hoffenheim — Friday
Freiburg 1-0 Darmstadt — Nils Petersen with lone goal
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Hosts win despite first half red card
Hertha Berlin 0-1 Werder Bremen — Max Kruse scores
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday
Schalke vs. Bayer Leverkusen — 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 14 10 3 1 34 9 25 6-2-0 4-1-1 33
 RB Leipzig 14 10 3 1 29 12 17 5-1-0 5-2-1 33
 Hertha BSC Berlin 14 8 3 3 22 14 8 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 14 6 8 0 25 14 11 4-3-0 2-5-0 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 14 7 5 2 19 11 8 4-3-0 3-2-2 26
 Borussia Dortmund 14 7 4 3 32 16 16 5-2-0 2-2-3 25
 1. FC Köln 14 6 5 3 19 13 6 4-3-0 2-2-3 23
 SC Freiburg 14 6 1 7 18 25 -7 5-0-2 1-1-5 19
 FC Schalke 04 13 5 2 6 18 15 3 4-0-2 1-2-4 17
 Bayer Leverkusen 13 5 2 6 20 21 -1 3-2-2 2-0-4 17
 FSV Mainz 05 13 5 2 6 23 25 -2 3-1-2 2-1-4 17
 FC Augsburg 14 3 5 6 11 16 -5 1-3-3 2-2-3 14
 Werder Bremen 14 4 2 8 18 32 -14 3-0-4 1-2-4 14
 Mönchengladbach 13 3 4 6 13 22 -9 3-3-1 0-1-5 13
 VfL Wolfsburg 14 2 4 8 12 23 -11 0-2-5 2-2-3 10
 Hamburger SV 14 2 4 8 11 27 -16 1-2-4 1-2-4 10
 FC Ingolstadt 04 14 2 3 9 11 24 -13 1-2-4 1-1-5 9
 Darmstadt 14 2 2 10 11 27 -16 2-2-3 0-0-7 8

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Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City: Vardy deconstructs Pep’s men

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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  • Foxes up 2-0 by 5′
  • Vardy hat trick
  • Kolarov scores free kick
  • WATCH: First three goals

Jamie Vardy‘s hat trick led Leicester City to a surprising 4-2 win over visiting Manchester City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium.

Andy King scored in the first half, where Vardy scooped his first two of the day before adding a third in the 78th minute. Aleksandar Kolarov‘s 81st minute free kick dirtied the clean sheet, and Nolito redirected one home in the 90th minute.

Man City will finish the weekend at least four points back of the top, and currently sit in fourth with 30 points. Leicester rises rises to 14th on 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City was in a horrible spot in two blinks, as Vardy and Islam Slimani took advantage of John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov before the latter beat Claudio Bravo to make it 1-0 in the third minute.

Less than two minutes later, it was time for another. Andy King let loose with a shot from outside the 18 that a flying Bravo could only touch into his goal. 2-0 at the King Power. Scenes.

And Leicester saved its best for the third goal, as Riyad Mahrez made an otherworldly first touch assist on a diagonal ball over Stones’ head, and Vardy touched around Bravo to score it. Wow.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Guardiola doubled down on risk-taking tactics as the second half wore on. And why not? He was down 3-0.

On came Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling. Out went Kelechi Iheanacho and Jesus Navas. Yes, Yaya Toure as striker.

Yet it was Vardy who scored next, taking advantage of an out-to-lunch Stones to inch a tight-angled shot off the post and just over the line via Goal Decision System.

Kolarov made it 4-1 with a terrific free kick that curled to nestle inside the post behind the wall, then found Nolito for a goal in the final minute of scheduled time.

Matty James came into the match during stoppage time for his 100th Leicester experience, which came 570 days after an ACL tear ended his 99th.

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Reports: Guzan headed to Atlanta, Jermaine Jones talking with LA

COMMERCE CITY, CO - MARCH 22:  The starting lineup of the United States national team, including Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Herculez Gomez, and Jermaine Jones stand for a team photo before a FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier match between Costa Rica and United States at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on March 22, 2013 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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Two USMNT veterans could have new MLS homes soon.

Jermaine Jones gambled on a one-year deal with Colorado in order to test the free agent market, and ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle is reporting that the man may find a match — in so many ways — in the City of Los Angeles.

Galaxy president Chris Klein told Carlisle that the two sides had a meeting regarding a potential fit in LA. Jones has helped change the fortunes of both New England and Colorado, and may welcome the need to fit in rather than revolutionize a club.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy torturing Man City ]

Meanwhile, Taylor Twellman says that Atlanta United is getting a goalie with U.S. national team experience, and isn’t talking about reports linking Sean Johnson to a Georgia trade.

Brad Guzan, 32, is said to be close to move to Atlanta United from Middlesbrough after the calendar turns to 2017.

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