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Exclusive: Legend Steve Nicol on Liverpool vs. Manchester United

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This week I caught up with Liverpool legend Steve Nicol to chat about the biggest soccer rivalry in the world: Liverpool vs. Manchester United.

Nicol played in over 460 games in a 13 year career at Anfield, as the Scottish international and former New England Revolution head coach has plenty of experience in the famous derby. Nicol won 14 trophies with the Reds, including five league titles and the European cup in 1983-84.

WATCH: Liverpool vs. Manchester United, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, 8:30am ET, Sunday

But back to today, this Sunday at Anfield specifically, and Nicol spoke about what it’s like to play in the derby, gave his views on Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes, a stern opinion on Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s aim for the season and plenty more.

So, sit back and relax as the Liverpool hero and current ESPN FC Analyst breaks down Liverpool vs. Manchester United and you can watch it all unfold live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra at 8:30am ET on Sunday.

Having played in so many of these games before, what will the atmosphere be like on Sunday at Anfield?

Well, I mean the atmosphere, you could cut it with a knife. It’s all about winning the game. These games are not about playing well and fancy football. Certainly when I played it wasn’t, but I guess the rules have changed somewhat since then! But this is just a battle. The only thing you know going into this game is that you better be ready to battle for every single thing you get.

Is there a clear favorite and one team that will be up for the battle more?

I don’t think there’s a clear favorite. I think it’s impossible for the to be a clear favorite whenever Man Utd plays Liverpool and there is not a favorite going into this game. You can look at facts and form and figures and all that kind of stuff, but the bottom line for Liverpool is that they have to get their nose in front early.

They’re clearly going to be under pressure with the problems they’ve got at center back. I’m not convinced [Kolo] Toure is the answer anywa,y but he has started this season well. I have no idea who Brendan [Rodgers] is going to play beside Daniel Agger. That is going to be a huge problem.

source: Getty Images
If Liverpool win, Nicol says they will believe they can make the top four

You mentioned Rodgers, how do you rate the job he’s done so far? It’s just over a year since he’s been in charge, are you impressed with what Liverpool are doing?

I don’t think that anyone can argue that they’re good to watch. From the back to the attacking third they play as good football as anybody in the league. No question. If they were as good in the final third as they were up to that, then they’d be top of the league. Brendan is dealing with a budget where he can’t go out and buy Cavani’s or Falcao’s or any of these guys. Manchester United can go and buy Robin van Persie and players like that, as can Chelsea. You’re talking about a different type of player that Brendan has to get, he has to get younger players with an upside as opposed to buying a certain type of quality already.

Which manager needs to win this game more, this is David Moyes’ first derby in charge of Manchester United so does he need it more than Rodgers? And will a win help kick Liverpool on as they build on a good start?

In fitting with the game, it’s not a straightforward answer. This early in the season, I think either manager can get away with it [losing]. I would say that for Liverpool to win it, it would absolutely kick everybody into gear and they would believe that they can actually compete for a top four spot. I don’t think they can. Personally I don’t think they have the depth of squad. With their best 11 on the field every week Liverpool can beat Manchester United at the weekend and play the way they have been at the start of the season, I think there’s a possibility that they may, and it’s just a maybe, be able to compete for the top four. Because that’s the highest they can get.

Has Moyes got the impossible task to replace Sir Alex? People are judging him already and it’s far too early for that, but surely a win this weekend would do him the world of good?

We are all saying the same thing. I’d love to have a dollar for every time somebody says ‘I know were judging him too early, but… Let’s judge him!’ It’s huge. But every game is for him. It is almost the impossible task, people should just back off and calm down. If Fergie had been in charge of Manchester United and they hadn’t won the league this year, people wouldn’t have been calling for his head. So why should they be with Moyes in his first season?

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Liverpool legend Nicol isn’t impressed with Suárez’ actions

Going back to Liverpool and the Luis Suárez situation, it’s not to long until he returns now. But should he come straight back into the team with Daniel Sturridge playing so well? Or should Suárez be eased back in?

I think the perfect scenario is that Liverpool are flying and he doesn’t get in. It’s a toss of a coin if that’s the case. Liverpool are in a position where they need a player like him, they need his goals and his quality. But in an ideal situation Liverpool would be doing really well, they’re flying, winning games and Rodgers can make an example of him and stick his backside on the bench. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case.

Are you pleased with way Liverpool have acted and that Suárez will be a Liverpool player this season?

I’m glad they’ve stood up to him and said ‘we don’t care what you do, you’re not going anywhere.’ Players shouldn’t be able to act the way he has. But it’s about results isn’t it. If Liverpool aren’t getting results and he’s available to play it is very difficult not to play him. I hope if and when he does play, he does as well as he did last year and by that time Liverpool have found someone they can bring in, and get rid of him.

After Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have done so well at the beginning of this season, are they good enough to push Liverpool up the table? Or does the club need to spend big to bring in more players again?

There’s no question they’ve shown what they’re capable of but you have to do it over a period of time. I criticized Sturridge last season because he was scoring goals and Liverpool were winning games but it didn’t matter. They were never going to get anywhere. It’s just not the same, winning games and scoring goals when it doesn’t matter. He’s started the season scoring goals and it’s going to matter at the weekend, so let’s see how he does then. I’m just not convinced yet because it’s all about being consistent, turning up every Saturday and producing. That’s why people like Dalglish, Rush and Fowler are legends because they turned up every Saturday for a period of time, not just months ,but years. That’s what they have to do.

Finally, what is your prediction for this game? Liverpool of Manchester United?

I’m hoping for a draw. I think that the defensive problem is going to be a hard one, it’s going to be hard to stop van Persie and Rooney with a stand-in center back. I think Manchester United will score but I think Liverpool will too, so I’m hoping for 1-1. I’m hoping Liverpool win… but I’d settle for a draw at this moment in time.

Pellegrini rues “absolutely wrong” penalty decision in City’s loss to Spurs

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City protests with referee Mark Clattenburg after he awarded a penalty for his hand ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Manchester City fell 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday in a massive battle in the Premier League title race.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Spurs ]

While Christian Eriksen‘s late winner was the game’s deciding goal, it was Harry Kane‘s opener from the penalty spot that has caused some controversy.

Tottenham’s Danny Rose whipped in a cross that was blocked away by a jumping Raheem Sterling in the 54th minute. Sterling had his back to the ball, but the cross took a deflection off his elbow and referee Mark Clattenburg signaled for a penalty.

Speaking after the match, City boss Manuel Pellegrini was extremely angered by the decision, saying City were the better side until the penalty changed the flow of the match. Pellegrini also thought back to Tottenham’s win over Man City in September when the same official was in charge when Spurs scored two goals that looked to be offside.

It was a penalty that referee Mark Clattenburg wanted to sign for and he gave the sign. It was absolutely the wrong decision, it hit the back of Raheem Sterling then his elbow. Sterling was not even seeing the ball. It was the same referee in the first game where there were two clear goals in offside and we lost 4-1.

It was the key moment that decided the game; before that they did not shoot towards our goal and did not have any chances. We took the risks, the spirit of the team was good but it was not enough.

The rules regarding a hand-ball have been the topic of much conversation this season, as there seems to be a gray area where officials are forced to make judgement calls, with this decision very harsh.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Tottenham’s win over Man City ]

Now six points behind leaders Leicester, Manchester City will take a break from Premier League action and play a string of important cup ties. First up is a fifth-round FA Cup match against Chelsea before a long trip to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, followed by the League Cup final against Liverpool.

Watch Live: Canada takes on T&T in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 11:  Deanne Rose #6 of Canada battles for the ball with Kayla De Souza #4 and Mariam El-Masri #15 of Guyana during the 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at BBVA Compass Stadium on February 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Canada and Trinidad & Tobago face off for the top spot in Group B in CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying today in Houston.

[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada ]

With wins in their opening matches, both sides are tied on three points and will look to take sole possession of first place on the Road to Rio.

Canada started off qualification with an easy 5-0 win over Guyana, while Trinidad & Tobago needed two late goals to beat Guatemala 2-1.

[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada live online via NBC Sports Live Extra ]

After taking home the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, the Canadians will be favorites along with the United States to qualify for the Rio Games from CONCACAF.

Premier League roundup: Top Four tussles and a Liverpool light show

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal in action with Shinji Okazaki of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s Premier League triple header on NBCSN delivered drama, goals and controversy by the time the dust settled on the day’s action.

[ MORE: Saturday’s action ]

All told, we saw 12 goals, a red card, two penalties and a tightened title race.

Let’s take a spin through those three matches.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester CityRECAP

The Emirates Stadium crowd saw a little bit of everything. The Gunners went down 1-0 on a controversially drawn and lethally taken penalty from Jamie Vardy, then saw a glimmer of hope when Foxes defender Danny Simpson took two quick and silly yellow cards. Theo Walcott found the leveler and Danny Welbeck, out for 10 months, returned to score the winner in the fourth of four minutes of stoppage time. The Gunners are now two points back of Leicester and nine goals of differential behind No. 2 Tottenham.

Aston Villa 0-6 LiverpoolRECAP

Having two of your brightest attackers in the lineup can do a lot for an offense’s potency, and Philippe Coutinho found Daniel Sturridge to open the scoring very early at Villa Park. A deluge of goals followed, and Villa will be wondering if there’s any way out of the drop zone after James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Kolo Toure also scored for the Reds to bury the home side’s goal differential with its table status.

Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham HotspurRECAP

If Vardy’s penalty was controversial, Mark Clattenberg’s decision to award one to Tottenham was cataclysmic. Raheem Sterling‘s leaping block of a cross was deemed to be a handball, and Harry Kane beat countrymate Joe Hart with a PK. Super sub Kelechi Iheanacho equalized for the Etihad set, but fellow late game entry Erik Lamela sprung Christian Eriksen for a tidy match winner in the 83rd minute.

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Leicester City 26 15 8 3 48 29 19 7-4-1 8-4-2 53
Tottenham Hotspur 26 14 9 3 47 20 27 7-4-2 7-5-1 51
Arsenal 26 15 6 5 41 23 18 8-3-2 7-3-3 51
Manchester City 26 14 5 7 48 28 20 9-1-4 5-4-3 47
Manchester United 26 11 8 7 33 24 9 6-4-2 5-4-5 41
Southampton 26 11 7 8 34 24 10 7-2-4 4-5-4 40
West Ham United 26 10 10 6 40 31 9 5-5-2 5-5-4 40
Liverpool 26 10 8 8 38 36 2 4-5-3 6-3-5 38
Watford 26 10 6 10 29 28 1 5-3-5 5-3-5 36
Stoke City 26 10 6 10 27 32 -5 5-2-5 5-4-5 36
Everton 26 8 11 7 46 35 11 4-4-6 4-7-1 35
Chelsea 26 8 9 9 38 36 2 5-5-4 3-4-5 33
Crystal Palace 26 9 5 12 27 32 -5 4-2-8 5-3-4 32
West Bromwich Albion 26 8 8 10 24 32 -8 4-4-5 4-4-5 32
Bournemouth 26 7 7 12 30 44 -14 3-4-6 4-3-6 28
Swansea City 26 6 9 11 24 34 -10 4-5-5 2-4-6 27
Norwich City 26 6 6 14 30 50 -20 4-4-5 2-2-9 24

Newcastle United 26 6 6 14 27 49 -22 4-5-4 2-1-10 24
Sunderland 26 6 5 15 32 50 -18 4-3-6 2-2-9 23
Aston Villa 26 3 7 16 20 46 -26 2-4-7 1-3-9 16

Spurs’ Kane wants to win everything: “We are buzzing”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his penalty with Danny Rose during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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FA Cup, Europa League, Premier League? Yes, please. Harry Kane wants them all.

Kane converted a penalty kick as Spurs bested Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, moving to within two points of the Premier League’s top spot.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Eriksen’s winner ]

The big striker was euphoric after Christian Eriksen also scored to help Spurs pick up the win, and said the media can decide what it wants about their chances; He knows they can do it.

From the BBC:

“That is up to you lot if we are challengers, we know what we are capable of. We are still in three competitions and we are taking them all very seriously. We are confident we can beat anyone in the league, you saw that today and we came away victorious. We are buzzing.”

Spurs have captured 15-straight points in making their run to second. There’s plenty of time before March 5’s big North London Derby with Arsenal, but we’re looking forward to it.

Before then, Spurs have a pair with Fiorentina in the Europa League, an FA Cup date with Crystal Palace, and PL fixtures versus Swansea and West Ham.

Title race on!