Premier League Preview: Liverpool FC

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

History counts for a lot, of course, but it’s getting harder to recall that Liverpool FC has won more European trophies than any other English club.

Liverpool as a city was an economic mess in the 70s and 80s, but the soccer at Anfield Road was king, with hardware tumbling in regularly from league play, the FA Cup and European appearances. There is also some grim history attached to the club, which has been front and center in two of the game’s big black marks of another, more troubled time. In 1985, Liverpool was banned from Europe temporarily for its part in the Heysel Stadium disaster, where 39 Juventus fans died in Belgium.

And in 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death in the terrible Hillsborough tragedy.

Liverpool enjoys famous rivalries with Manchester United and Everton, the latter of which is the twice-annual (and highly volatile) “Merseyside derby.”

Transfers In: Kolo Toure (Manchester City), Luis Alberto (Sevilla), Iago Aspas (Celta de Vigo), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland).

Transfers Out: Jamie Carragher (retired), Danny Wilson (Heart of Midlothian), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Suso (Almeria), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Jay Spearing (Bolton Wanderers).

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: Uruguayan starlet Luis Suarez is a striker with significant bite to his game, as we know. What we do not know is long he’ll remain at Anfield, as this sad summer of “will he or won’t he?” drags on. Meanwhile, the attack doesn’t look too bad without him, and a lot of that is about emerging striker Daniel Sturridge and playmaker Philippe Coutinho.

Sturridge (pictured left) looms even larger in the Liverpool equation, given Suarez’s insistence on locating the rear exit. And we could argue that the young striker will shine even brighter as the attacking focal point. That’s saying a lot since Sturridge hit 10 goals in just 14 appearances last year.

Already an England international, one blessed with size, technique and pace, Sturridge wears the stamp of “budding star.”

Manager: The word seen so frequently around Brendan Rodgers over the last few months at Anfield is “patience.”  This year, increasingly, the term we are likely to see alongside is “running out,” unless he keeps things steadily moving in the right direction.

We are now a year into Rodgers’ modernization project at Anfield as the manager attempts to mold Liverpool’s style into something resembling his previous fine work at Swansea, with dynamic tactics, dominant possession, balls on the ground and a high defensive line.

Things didn’t start well in Rodgers’ first go-round at The Kop, but a stronger second half last year inspired hope of better days, something that looked like the actual “better days” around Anfield. Either way, the rebuilding certainly goes on for Rodgers, who may begin his second Liverpool campaign with five new starters, depending on the resolution of this Suarez situation.

In Rodgers, who is from Northern Ireland, Liverpool has an innovator who is looking to build a long-term model for success while constructing a team that can win with style; we’ll see if the supporters and the club’s American ownership have the patience for it.

Outlook: Liverpool is a tough PL nut to crack at the moment due to the Suarez tumult. Long story short, the team’s top man and easily its best goal scorer wants out; management at Anfield wants him to stay rather than chase Champions League ambition at Arsenal, and the situation remains a distracting stalemate. With Suarez, volatile figure though he is, a top four PL finish is far more reachable. His 51 goals in 90 matches for the club speak for themselves, as that is truly a prodigious rate.

Spaniards Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, summer reinforcements for Rodgers, should help ease the sting of a Suarez departure while helping the manager establish that continental flourish.

Replacing Carragher’s presence on the back line is up to Kolo Toure, but it’s the longtime Liverpool man’s leadership that will be most sorely missed.

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Charity match raised significant money for Hurricane Harvey victims

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On Saturday night, a charity soccer match in Houston, Texas helped raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Bournemouth to go fourth ]

The “Kick in for Houston” game was organized by former Houston Dynamo and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Stu Holden — now an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Holden served as one of the team captains, while former NBA star Steve Nash captained the other team.

In total, Holden’s event raised over $239,000 for hurricane relief funds, per the event’s website.

Saturday’s match featured several other notable celebrities and current, as well as, former soccer player, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Mia Hamm and U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino.

The game — which was an 8 vs. 8 fixture — finished 12-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Holden spoke after the match about the overall success of the event, and the sort of impact it had for the Texas community.

“Amazing,” Holden said after the game. “If I pictured three months ago after I sent that tweet that this was going to be the turnout… everybody that came, all the athletes, all the people in the crowd, all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes, I can promise you it’s a lot more than it seems.

“I’m caught up in the middle of all this, but I thought this was an amazing, amazing night, and I hope to do another of these in the future.”

Additionally, Holden and Co. will be auctioning off game-worn kits from Saturday’s game to also benefit hurricane victims.

Rooney says Man City have work to do be better than ’08 Man United

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Perhaps it’s the bias talking from the former Red Devils star, but Wayne Rooney doesn’t believe the Premier League leaders have surpassed one of his ex-squads.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Cherries to go fourth ]

Despite Manchester City’s amazing unbeaten start over the club’s opening 18 matches, Rooney says his former rivals aren’t quite yet better than his 2008 Manchester United team that went on to beat Chelsea in the Champions League final.

“I’m not sure they [City] are quite there. They would have to keep going and do a lot more,” Rooney told TalkSPORT. “There have been so many great teams throughout the years in the Premier League. This City team needs to win trophies and needs to do it for a longer period to be in that bracket.

“The best ever? I would go with the Man United team from 2008!”

Only one Premier league side has ever finished a season undefeated in league play, which was accomplished by “The Invincibles” of Arsenal from the 2003/04 campaign.

With Man City nearly halfway to that feat, and accumulating 52 points through the first four-plus months of the domestic season, Pep Guardiola and Co. appear on track to track to break several records.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table in Man City’s world ]

However, Rooney says the balance of competitions and a tricky fixture schedule over the holiday window will make staying unbeaten an impossible task for the Cityzens.

“I don’t think they can go unbeaten,” he added. “They have done incredibly well with the run they have been on, but the Premier League is so difficult, especially now with this Christmas period coming up.

“I know they have a huge squad, a great squad of players. But there are so many top teams. I think in previous years it has been two teams and you went in knowing you would win most of the other games.

“But now there are five or six other teams that can all beat each other and I’m sure in one of those games Man City will get beaten.”

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.