Brendan Rodgers: “There are a lot of really good signs.” Are Liverpool the real deal?

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Plenty of Liverpool’s fans will be cautiously optimistic following their sides second straight win of the 2103-14 Premier League season on Saturday.

Liverpool dispatched Aston Villa 1-0 on Saturday afternoon at Villa Park, that followed on from their 1-0 success at home against Stoke City last weekend.

Cautious optimism aside, are the Reds ready to make a real push for the top four this season?

It’s probably far too early to make sweeping predictions like that. Especially after narrow wins against the likes of Stoke and Villa. But it’s certainly worth contemplating.

(MORE: Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool; Reds see out early lead at Villa Park)

The foundations for a successful season are being conscientiously laid by Brendan Rodgers’ side, with defensive solidity the way forward for the time being. Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva shielding the back four and Kolo Toure marshaling the backline is working extremely well.

But what does Rodgers think about Liverpool’s chances this season?

“It’s still very early to be honest,” Rodgers said live on Sky Sports following the win over Villa. “What was important for us, was to get a good start. You know, we didn’t have a good start at all last year. It took us until the end of September for us to get our first win. But I just think that since the turn of the year, since January, we’ve been getting better and better and hopefully better than we were today at times.”

A good start for any team is crucial, look at the likes of West Brom and Swansea last season. Okay, Liverpool will be aiming much higher than those two teams but the aforementioned duo got off to fliers and remained in the top 10 throughout the 2012-13 season. A great stat popped up before Liverpool’s game on Saturday; the last time Liverpool won their opening two matches of the season was back in 2008-9.

source: ReutersIf Liverpool can keep their good early season form going this year, they have a much stronger squad than the likes of Swansea and West Brom. They can easily keep that feel good momentum going throughout the campaign. And that positive mental attitude has been developed and kept bubbling over since last January when they had a great finish to the season.

Rodgers is confident of success.

“What’s important now is that the mentality in the group is to win, and win together. And I think we will just take each game, it’s only the first couple of games. There are a lot of really good signs and we just need to keep it going.”

One area they will have to address is putting away chances.

Yes Daniel Sturridge was rightly awarded man of the match and scored his second game-winner in a week to grab all the plaudits. But the Reds showed last week just how wasteful they were in front of goal, while on Saturday against Villa they only had one shot on target.

But have we forget about a certain Uruguayan forward? If Liverpool are having offensive worries and struggling to put the ball in the back of the net, that chap Luis Suárez returns from suspension very soon to help bolster their attacking output.

That’s if he isn’t sold, which looks increasingly likely. Further helping Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

So with Liverpool’s solid yet unspectacular start to the season and two wins from two games, can we expect them to push on and threaten last seasons top five? Their next league game will show just how good they are.

Next Sunday’s game against Manchester United isn’t just a massive derby… it’s a massive measuring stick to see how far Liverpool can go this season.

Confidence is high in the red half of Merseyside. But will it remain that way all season?

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.