Mersey

Merseyside Derby Preview: Can Everton overcome 14 year drought or will Liverpool continue its dominance?

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When Everton take the trip across Stanley Park to face Liverpool on Sunday it will mark the 220th meeting between the two Merseyside clubs. For Everton, the encounter presents an opportunity to remain on pace for a crack at European football and the chance to break a 14 year winless streak at Anfield. For Liverpool, the match offers a chance to extend their derby dominance and provide further evidence that there’s life after Luis Suarez.

Everton enter the match having lost only once in their last nine Premier League outings. That loss came two weeks ago at the hands of a rejuvenated Sunderland side, buoyed by their peppery new manager, Paulo Di Canio. The Toffees collected themselves well after the defeat, returning home to Goodison Park where they thoroughly outplayed a lackluster Fulham side for a 1-0 victory.

While Everton have done well to persevere through difficult circumstances, scoring goals has become an issue having only found the back of the net twice in the last three matches. It hasn’t been for lack of chances – the Toffees have had 49 cracks at goal during the stint – rather the failure to capitalize. Nikica Jelavic is the primary culprit, having scored only eight times in 42 appearances this season and only once since Christmas. For a man who scored 11 times in 16 games over the second half of last season after moving to Goodison Park, it’s a sizeable drought.

But the burden not only falls on Jelavic. Highly touted players like Marouane Fellaini (1 goal in his last 8 league matches), Kevin Mirallas (goal-less in his last 4 league matches), Victor Anichebe (1 goal in his last 8 league matches) and Leon Osman (1 goal in his last 7 league matches) all need to raise their offensive output if the Blues are to stay on par for a Top 5 finish. Currently 6th in the table, the Toffees are three points behind 5th place Tottenham (who have a game in hand), five points behind 4th place Arsenal and six points behind 3rd place Chelsea (also, with a game in hand). In other words, Sunday’s match presents a must-win scenario if David Moyes’ side are to keep their European dreams alive.

The problem is that winning at Anfield is easier said than done for Everton. It’s been 14 years (September 1999) since Kevin Campbell’s solitary strike saw the Blues taste victory at Anfield. The dry spell represents a major blemish on Moyes’ Goodison Park resume leaving the Scot desperate to record his first win in front of the Kop in what could end up being his final Merseyside derby.

Liverpool, however, aren’t a sentimental group and won’t look to be doing the Everton gaffer any favors as they seek to right a season gone wrong. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers, an ever evolving roster of players, and a season filled with highs and lows surrounding enigmatic striker Luis Suarez has left the Reds 7th in the table, five points adrift of their Merseyside brothers.

Despite the drama, the Reds have grown a more consistent side of late and enter the match on a five game league unbeaten streak. Last week Rodgers’ side tore apart Newcastle in a 6-0 thrashing at St. James’ Park. In Liverpool’s best display this season, the club put aside Suarez’ bite-gate controversy to show they are much more than a single striker threat. January arrival Philippe Coutinho, playing in an increasingly free-range role behind Daniel Sturridge, was the star once again as he devoured the plethora of space Newcastle afforded him. Sturridge and Jordan Henderson each notched braces in the match, deserved coups for two players who have grown by leaps and bounds during the 2012-13 season.

Having played themselves out of European qualification, the only realistic aim for Steven Gerrard’s side is to overtake Everton in the table and to continue inflicting derby pain. Since the captain’s first derby in April 1999, Liverpool have played 28 Merseyside contests in the league, winning 16 and losing only four times.

For Stevie G, Sunday may not carry the significance of derby’s past but it nevertheless presents an opportunity to hand Jamie Carragher a final Merseyside victory and Kopites a psychological edge over their blue neighbors.

“That’s why the derby is so special,” Gerrard said. “It isn’t about the points or about what you could achieve. It’s not about where you are in the table. It’s about having those bragging rights in the city.”

Thibaut Courtois committed to Chelsea despite links to PSG

WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on February 3, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Thibaut Courtois has denied reports he could leave London for Paris Saint-Germain this summer after a disappointing season at Chelsea.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper missed a large portion of the season through injury and failed to regain his top form when healthy as the Blues struggled throughout the year.

With a new manager in Antonio Conte taking over in June, some believed Courtois would be sold to allow the Italian to bring in a goalkeeper of his choice.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid reach UCL final ]

Despite recent reports linking Courtois with a transfer to PSG that would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, the Belgian international does not fancy a move to France.

Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Courtois said he is happy at Chelsea and will “100-percent” be back at Stamford Bridge next season.

I have never had any contact with PSG. I have played a lot against PSG recently – twice last season, again this season in a friendly and twice more in the Champions League this year.

They are a good club who win their league easily. Me, I like playing in England. Paris is a very good club but I am happy at Chelsea.

I have a contract for three years, so I will say 100 per cent [be staying at Chelsea]. Rumours affect any club where things are going badly. People think the top players want to leave because they are not in the Champions League.

Those words show quite a change from Courtois’ opinion a few months ago, when he cast doubt over his Chelsea future.

At just 23, Courtois has already made more than 200 appearances in his career for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Although he did not have a standout season this year, Courtois has shown his talent as a potential top-five goalkeeper in the world and Conte would be wise to keep him.

Former CONMEBOL president has petition to stop extradition rejected

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Paraguay’s top court has rejected a petition by Nicolas Leoz, the former head of the South American football confederation, to halt his extradition to the United States.

Leoz is being held under house arrest in Paraguay. He is accused of receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks and was among dozens of top officials indicted in the FIFA corruption scandal.

[ FOLLOW: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Leoz’s lawyer Ricardo Preda told The Associated Press that his petition was turned down, but that he would continue to appeal against the extradition.

Leoz was the head of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013 when he resigned, and was replaced by Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.

Figueredo is under house arrest in Uruguay on similar charges. Figueredo was replaced by Juan Angel Napoul of Paraguay, who is under house arrest in Miami.

Cristiano Ronaldo back healthy for Real Madrid; will play vs. Man City

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid warms up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Valdebebas training ground on May 3, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo is “100-percent” for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City.

Ronaldo missed the first leg at the Etihad while recovering from a thigh injury, which ended a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 93 goals, Ronaldo has not featured for Real since suffering the injury in a La Liga match against Villarreal on April 20.

Real Madrid had the better of chances in the first leg in Manchester, but Joe Hart’s heroics stopped Zidane’s side from grabbing an all-important away goal. However, Ronaldo’s absence was clearly visible and his return is a massive boost for Real.

[ RELATED: Atletico Madrid eliminate Bayern Munich, advance to UCL final ]

Even if Ronaldo is not 100-percent fit as Zidane claims, his inclusion in the lineup is still vital for Real’s success. A threat in so many different aspects of the game, his presence alone can throw off opposing defenses, leaving more time and space for his teammates to expose a City back-line that has its flaws.

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’