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?

Robben extends contract with Bayern Munich through June 2018

(L-R) Thomas Muller of Bayern Munchen, Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munchen, Arjen Robben of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Bayern München at Borussia Park on January 24, 2014 in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
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BERLIN (AP) Arjen Robben has extended his contract with Bayern Munich for another year.

Bayern says the Netherlands winger’s contract will run until the end of June 2018.

[ MORE: Names to watch in Tuesday’s SuperDraft ]

Robben has been with the club for almost eight years, joining from Real Madrid in 2009.

He has scored 82 goals in 152 Bundesliga matches, 14 goals in 23 German Cup games and 21 goals in 53 Champions League matches, including the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.

Antonio Valencia extends Manchester United deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea marshalls Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Antonio Valencia has a fan in Jose Mourinho.

The Manchester United fullback, 31, has added a year to his contract. Scheduled to become a free agent after this season, his contract now runs through 2018.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Ecuador’s captain, Valencia arrived at United from Wigan in 2009 after spending time with El Nacional and Villarreal.

He has 21 goals in 270 appearances, and has played 2,042 minutes under Mourinho. This season, Valencia is averaging 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match.

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Ten names to watch as the MLS SuperDraft concludes

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After three days of celebrating its first two rounds, Major League Soccer will complete its surprise-ridden 2017 SuperDraft on Tuesday with a 2 p.m. EDT conference call.

Friday’s first round featured fewer trades than many expected, and a bit of a stunner in its first overall pick: Minnesota United tabbed UCLA attacker Abu Danladi.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Danladi would’ve gone soon after, however, with most of the surprises coming outside of the Top Six. Vancouver’s opted for outside back Jakob Nerwinski (UConn) at 7, Houston tabbed Hofstra’s Joe Holland at 10, and Colorado looked to its backyard for Denver’s Sam Hamilton.

That helped Brandon Aubrey slide to 21st, while Canada’s two Generation Adidas players, Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome, dipped deep into the second round.

It also means some very productive college players, and supposed first round prospects, could be hungry steals when the draft returns today. Here’s some low-risk, high-reward players for rounds that sometimes see teams pass on individual picks altogether.

Chris Wingate, MID, New Hampshire — Engine room feature piece at UNH

Wulito Fernandes, FWD, UMass Lowell — Cape Verde striker has flair

Jorge Gomez Sanchez, FWD, Temple — 27 goals in two years is good

Chris Nanco, FWD, Syracuse — Showed big upside at MLS Combine

Brandt Bronico, MID, Charlotte — Steadied any worries at Combine

Daniel Deakin, FWD, South Carolina — English striker great at set pieces

Russell Cicerone, FWD, Buffalo — Combine overshadowed solid four years

Christian Thierjung, FWD, California — 18 goals last two seasons

Eddie Sanchez, MID, Portland — Game changer in WCC; Can it translate?

Jordan Wilson, DEF, Kentucky — Scottish center back did well at UK

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New rules crushed Chinese club’s Costa hopes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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New Chinese Super League rules stopped the nation from acquiring four of the biggest names in the football world.

Tianjin Quanjian believed it had successful bids lined up for Chelsea’s Diego Costa in addition to Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, and PSG’s Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Costa trains on his own ]

And Tianjin Quanjian owner Shu Yuhui says it had Falcao and Benfica forward Raul Jimenez signed and sealed before the new rules were announced. The club already has Korean midfielder Kwon Kyung-won, Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, and Brazil’s Geuvânio on the books.

But the new rules, which will limit the amount of foreign players on a team to three, hampered his hopes. From the BBC:

But Chinese clubs will only be able to field three foreign players per game when the new season starts.

“This situation has brought a change to our signing plans,” said Shu.

“The online reports about Costa – it’s true we’d like him, and we made an offer for Cavani and were deep in negotiations,” said Shu.

So clearly Costa’s “back injury” seems more likely to be the burden of financial desires on his shoulders. That said, MLS commissioner Don Garber will crack a wry smile at the new rules.

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