The Merseyside Derby fails to live up to its billing as Everton and Liverpool play to a 0-0 draw

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In one of the more boring Merseyside derbies in recent history, Everton and Liverpool played to a 0-0 draw at Anfield.

The Toffees will argue they deserved better as referee Michael Oliver called back Sylvain Distin’s 58th minute goal for an unclear foul on Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian international was standing beside Pepe Reina and some contact ensued as Leighton Baines’ corner swerved in and Distin rose high to head it home. After multiple replays it was difficult to discern exactly what Oliver saw as the infringement but it was one of those moments that could have gone either way.

Despite the called-back goal, however, a draw was probably the right result. Liverpool enjoyed a slight edge in possession (Liverpool 54%, Everton 46%) and total shots (15 to 11), although neither side had many clear cut chances.

Perhaps the best compliment to the match is to say it was a brave defensive display from both sides.

Daniel Agger led the Liverpool back four and was hardly troubled by the movement and strength of Marouane Fellaini and Victor Anichebe. While Jamie Carragher looked out-matched at times, both Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson enjoyed strong matches, getting stuck in on multiple occasions and snuffing out Everton’s winged attacks.

The Toffees center-backs were very impressive as Distin put in a man-of-the-match performance with an array of backtracking runs, interceptions and stunning tackles. The Frenchman’s partner, Phil Jagielka, made some wonderful challenges as well, denying Liverpool twice with last-ditch tackles. Baines and Seamus Coleman did the job at full-back but didn’t have the impact one would have expected with Baines struggling in his link-up play with Steven Pienaar and Coleman looking heavy and out of sorts.

The pre-match festivities at Anfield exemplified the special bond that the city of Liverpool has between its two clubs as The Kop held up cards spelling out ‘Thanks’ in red and blue. The gesture was an expression of gratitude for the supporter Everton has given their neighbours in the past year in relation to the Hillsborough revelations.

The match started with both sides feeling each other out. The first good chance came in the 15th minute when a brilliant ball from Steven Gerrard found Daniel Sturridge, who only had eyes for goal but his attempt from 25 yards was well over the bar. Two minutes later, Everton nearly broke the dead-lock when Fellaini managed to wrap his leg around a manhandling Carragher to volley Baines’ corner an inch wide of the far post.

In the 29th minute, Liverpool got into the box and the ball found Gerrard wide open from 14 yards out. With the captain looking poised to score his effort, Jagielka slide in to deny him. Three minutes later it was Distin doing the sliding, making a vital tackle on Jordan Henderson, who was looking to play in a wide-open Sturridge at the top of the box. In the 41st minute, Stewart Downing’s ball fell for Sturridge who found Phillipe Coutinho on the edge of the box but the Brazilian’s strike was cancelled out by Jagielka’s sprawling dive.

Three minutes into the second half, Coutinho found Sturridge in on goal but Tim Howard came out, stayed on his feet, and smothered the opportunity. It was a terrific performance from the Everton net-minder. In the 58th minute, Distin powered home Baines’ corner only for Oliver to call it back, much to the ire of the Everton faithful.

In the 73rd minute Gerrard managed to round Howard and looked in on goal, but Distin’s back tracking denied the Liverpool captain’s slow rolling shot. Six minutes later Sturridge had a look but Distin was again there to snuff out the chance. One minute later the Reds came closest to scoring when Agger shoulder-flicked Gerrard’s cross inches wide of the far post.

From there the match petered out with few chances from either side. With five minutes remaining some fans had seen enough and began walking to the exits.

With the sides sharing the spoils Everton are now odds on to finish above their rivals, five points clear with two games left.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.