Liverpool's Sturridge celebrates his goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League soccer match in Birmingham

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?

Ronaldo shows no sign of injury while hanging with Conor McGregor

instagram.com/cristiano/
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Cristiano Ronaldo may not be ready for the UEFA Super Cup, but he’s no longer limping around.

To explore the Real Madrid superstar’s Instagram is to see Ronaldo, sometimes clothed, hanging out with celebrities.

In the last couple weeks we’ve seen him with Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and now his “bro” Conor McGregor.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Wait, what?

Yeah, Ronaldo is friends with the MMA star, and showed no ill form (and no brace of any kind) in several posed photos with McGregor.

Although admittedly, McGregor’s IG game is a bit better: The Irish fighter posted a photo of himself sunning in his briefs with the caption, “I’m gonna get him on the Forbes list by next year. But I’m gonna get him on the tan by next week.”

Good luck with both, bro.

Great to see you bro!!💪🏽🔝

A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on Jul 24, 2016 at 3:48pm PD

Bruce pens letter to Hull fans: “Desperately wanted to make it work”

YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Bruce manager of  Hull City ahead of the pre-season friendly match between York City and Hull City at Bootham Cresent on July 23, 2014  in York, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
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Many Hull City fans didn’t want Steve Bruce to leave the club, and this open letter shows why.

After leaving the club by “mutual consent” on Friday — it was first widely reported that he quit — fans protested at Hull’s game on Monday.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Bruce may’ve had his problems with Hull’s ownership, but he certainly got his supporters’ feelings right down to the core.

From the Hull Daily Mail:

My biggest regret is having to walk away but it was a decision I had to make for the sake of the club. The last 12 months have been very tough and it felt like the right step for the club to move forward in a different direction and with someone else in charge.

I desperately wanted to make it work this summer and be a Premier League manager again but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, I’ve left Hull City with some fantastic memories that I’ll always cherish, including just eight weeks ago in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Class from the longtime boss, and we imagine he’ll have a job very soon if he wants it.

Report: Everton to activate release clause of Stoke’s Arnautovic

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Marko Arnautovic (1st L) of Stoke City competes for the ball against Seamus Coleman (2nd L) and Gareth Barry (1st Rof Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on December 28, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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Everton is going to activate Marko Arnautovic‘s $16 million release clause to bring the Stoke City striker to Goodison Park, according to a report out of Austria.

Stoke had been trying to sign Arnautovic to a contract extension, but the player was reportedly prepared to play out the final year of his deal.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

The huge 27-year-old Austrian has been with Stoke since 2013, and broke through with 11 Premier League goals last season.

Arnautovic would give Everton support behind Romelu Lukaku, and insurance in case the Toffees do wind up selling their Belgian striker. Everton also has Arouna Kone as a potential target forward, but Oumar Niasse is expecting to leave after less than a year at Goodison Park.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal