Liverpool v Stoke City - Premier League

Liverpool begin brightly without Suarez

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Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool fans hope in the absence of Luis Suarez as the Reds take the first three points of the new Premier League season.

Sturridge, who performed admirably last season when Suarez was out of the lineup, again stepped up at rainy Anfield as the hosts proved their new attacking lineup could create a vast number of chances.

It was an exciting start to the first match of the new season.  Liverpool pressed very high up the pitch and exerted lots of energy quickly.  New boy Iago Aspas showed pace and ability to find space in the beginning.  They utilized the wide areas to bring the ball forward, making passes into the box often from the deep wing.

Stoke, however, had some chances to counter early but the passing was poor.  It was passing nonetheless, as the delighted away fans at Anfield sang “We’re Stoke City, and we’re passing the ball!”

The chances were begging in the first half, but nobody was able to convert.  Stoke won a corner in the 8th minute and a Robert Huth volley clattered the crossbar, Liverpool’s new defender Kolo Toure also rattled the crossbar on the other end a few minutes later. Sturridge found the back of the net with a header off a free kick, but the assistant referee’s offsides flag correctly went up to rule out the goal.

The game settled down considerably after the first 15 minutes, as the teams battled hard in the midfield for possession.  Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic did all he could to keep Liverpool out in the first half.  LFC got a chance in the 29th minute on an absolutely wonderful move by Coutinho on the edge that resulted in a one-two between Jose Enrique and Iago Aspas, but Enrique’s shot from close range was saved by Begovic.  The Bosnian keeper again denied a clear chance for Liverpool six minutes later as another lovely ball from Coutinho found Jordan Henderson making a run in the box but he misfired and Begovic held strong.

Finally the breakthrough came as Sturridge got a small bit of space on the outside of the box and decided to have a go on the ground, as the ball nutmegged Huth and found the far post for the opening goal of the 2013/14 season.

Jonathan Walters nearly equalized before halftime with a stinging shot from distance but a superb diving save by Simon Mignolet kept him out.

Liverpool began the second half where they left off, as Jordan Henderson found himself with a breakaway chance just two minutes in, but missed wide right.  The midfielder again came oh so close as he shook the far post on a shot from the right side of the box, as goal-line technology confirmed the ball did not cross the line from a tight angle.

Stoke pushed forward in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough as they still couldn’t produce much for Mignolet to do. Steven Gerrard gave fans watching a glimpse of his past as he rocketed a free kick from incredibly far out almost into the top corner if not for another fantastic diving effort by Begovic.

The penalty at the end was a serious mistake that almost cost them the game, but in addition to the attack Liverpool will be delighted with the performance of Mignolet, who saved the three points as Jonathan Walters will hang his head after his poor penalty.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers did give us a glimpse into a possible resolution on the Suarez saga.  In his postmatch presser, Rodgers claimed “I am satisfied with how everything has been resolved and we as a club are looking to the future” before adding Suarez “is smiling and happy and we’ll move on.”

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]