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?

Bilic, Fonte react to brutal home loss to Brighton

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Jose Fonte tried to shoulder some of the blame after West Ham United piled more pressure on its manager with a 3-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday.

“It’s not only the manager, it’s the players as well,” Fonte said. “We have an unbelievable squad and should not be in this position.”

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

Fonte said he understands why fans are booing the club, which has eight points and sits in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Given the club’s summer spending, with Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart, and Marko Arnautovic amongst the buys, pressure’s been on Bilic to deliver the goods. So far, the Irons have not.

Bilic did not deny his role nor his responsibility. From the BBC:

“It’s very hard for me to say anything clever now. I take full responsibility for it. I don’t want to hide.

“It is not a good situation and the board will do what they are going to do. It’s their decision.”

Not a man who feels like he’ll have his job much longer, but is it fair? A lot of West Ham’s key pieces are new, but surely they are not a club who should be peering over its collective shoulder to see the drop zone.

West Ham 0-3 Brighton: Gulls fly past Irons

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  • Murray heads Gross free kick
  • Izquiero strikes from distance
  • West Ham blanked at home
  • Murray earns, converts PK

Glenn Murray scored twice and Jose Izquiero also scored to lead visiting Brighton and Hove Albion past West Ham United 3-0 at London Stadium on Friday.

The loss will do nothing to ease the pressure on West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

Brighton moves into 10th with 11 points, behind Newcastle United on goal differential. West Ham’s eight points keep them ahead of 16th place Everton, also on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton took a lead in the 10th minute when Premier League veteran Murray lost Pedro Obiang and turned Pascal Gross‘ free kick across a diving Joe Hart and inside the far post.

Murray now has PL goals for Brighton and Hove Albion, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace.

West Ham had chances from Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, and — perhaps most dangerous, a left-footed rip from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez that nearly saw its way inside the far post.

And then… well, wow. Izquierdo darted inside from the left and hit his hard shot at Hart, who could only slap the ball inside his goal:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manuel Lanzini threatened with a slightly deflected 65th minute free kick, and the Irons wasted the ensuing corner.

A dizzying, creative run by Anthony Knockaert provided Murray a 1v1 with Hart, but a second touch allowed the keeper to close down the Englishman.

Murray earned Brighton a PK within a minute, unable to get past the block of Pablo Zabaleta. He took his shot well.

Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

[ PL PREVIEW: Saints vs. West Brom ]

But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion