Jamie Carragher

Jamie Carragher set to close out his 16-year career at Anfield

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The one-club man has become an endangered species. There will always be scarce exceptions to the new rules – conventions that implicitly encourage clubs and players to move on from each other. There are fewer John Terrys, a player who has spent his whole career at Chelsea. There are fewer Paul Scholeses, somebody who will play his last game for Manchester United tomorrow. And when Ryan Giggs eventually retires another of the one-club species will leave the landscape.

Liverpool has two prominent one-club men, but in the same year captain Steven Gerrard has revitalized his career, defender Jamie Carragher is calling time on a 16-year career. Tomorrow at Anfield, the 35-year-old former England international will play his final game, set to retire after the Reds host Queens Park Rangers. With the game holding little importance for a Liverpool team locked in seventh, Carragher’s farewell will take center stage in front of the Kop.

“People keep asking me how I will feel – the answer will come after the game,” Carragher explained. “I’m just looking forward to getting my tickets sorted and hopefully get a win, then I can look back and give you a better answer. I won’t be crying, put it that way.”

Like Gerrard, Carragher has experienced a resurgence in 2012-13, surprising given club’s vice-captain was expected to further recede into a reserve’s role this season. But at some point in the campaign, new manager Brendan Rodgers turned to Carragher to solve one of this team’s bigger problems – the similarity between center halves Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. Assuming Skrtel’s starting role, Carragher has been part of Liverpool’s improvement over the season’s second half.

In that way, Carragher’s able to go out on his own terms. Although he knew he was going to retire before regaining his starting role, Carragher’s reclaimed role means he can leave as a valued contributor, not merely a hanger on. Tomorrow will be his 24th game of the season, adding to a career which will see him play 737 games by the time he’s subbed off the field tomorrow.

“The more I’ve been in the team, the more I’ve wanted to stick with my decision and go out playing,” Carragher said. “I’ve been quite fortunate really that at the time that I announced it, I kept myself in the side.”

Since debuting in early 1997, Carragher’s won two FA Cups, three League Cups, a UEFA Cup and, most memorably, UEFA Champions League in 2004-05, when Liverpool defeated AC Milan in Istanbul to become European champions. That three-goal comeback, with Carragher starting in central defense next to Sami Hyppia, was the high point of his career.

“Istanbul, nothing will beat that – the Champions League final. There’s no point going over the game, I think we all know what happened that night. It’s difficult to ever top that.”

The one missing piece from Carragher’s resume, however, is the Premier League. He’s come close, most recently in 2008-09 when the Reds finished in second place, four points behind Manchester United. Since, Liverpool hasn’t come close to a title, leaving Carragher to retire without a league winner’s medal.

“I wish I’d won the league. But we weren’t good enough, all of us. There’s no fancy reason or excuse, other teams in that particular season were better than us.

“A couple of times we went close but it was Manchester United or Arsenal. It’s not something I lose sleep over.”

Nor should it he. A player shouldn’t be entirely defined by team performance, and even if he is, Liverpool’s been far more successful than most. A stalwart in defense over parts of the last three decades, Carragher has been a big part of that.

While Carragher could probably contribute to next year’s team, his reclaiming a spot in Rodgers’ XI makes this the perfect time to goodbye. Tomorrow, he’ll get his chance at Anfield.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.