Exclusive: Legend Steve Nicol on Liverpool vs. Manchester United


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.

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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?

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.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan v. Southampton in quarterfinal

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The Mark Hughes era begins at Southampton with upset alerts ringing loudly in the background.

[ LIVE: Wigan v. Saints ]

Premier League side Saints travel to third-tier Wigan on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET) in the FA Cup quarterfinal knowing that the hosts have already knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City during their incredible run to the last eight.

Paul Cook’s men will fancy their chances of upsetting a fourth Premier League team in a row to reach the FA Cup semis at Wembley next month, as Southampton sit in the bottom three of the PL table and sacked Mauricio Pellegrino as their manager earlier this week after just five wins in 30 league games.

With Tottenham and Manchester United booking their spot in the last four on Saturday, Wigan remain the lowest ranked team left in the competition.

In team news Hughes starts with Manolo Gabbiadini and Guido Carrillo up top in a 4-4-2 formation.

Wigan bring in Gary Roberts for Nick Powell.


Wigan Athletic


Salah “on his way” to Messi’s level

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Mohamed Salah scored four goals on Saturday and grabbed an assist as Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 in the Premier League.

It was special. But it was almost as if we’d come to expect this. He is one of those players you pay the entrance fee alone to watch and most PL defenders spend the 90 minutes watching him run by them.

Following the stunning display from the Egyptian winger, Jurgen Klopp was asked about the current level Salah is at as he now leads the PL scoring charts with 28 goals and is the highest scoring Liverpool player ever in a debut season at Anfield with 36 in all competitions.

“I don’t think Mo wants to be compared with Lionel Messi,” Klopp said. “Messi has been doing what he’s been doing for what feels like 20 years or so. The last player I know who had the same influence on a team performance was Diego Maradona. But Mo is in a fantastic way, that’s for sure. As it always is in life, if you have to have the skills you have to show that constantly and consistently, and he is very good.”

Salah’s rise to prominence has been hugely unexpected with the $50 million Liverpool paid to Roma for his services last summer raising plenty of eyebrows.

That transfer fee now seems like a bargain.

The 25-year-old who struggled to break through at Chelsea after arriving from Basel as a youngster is now, like Messi, a genuine global superstar. Everyone knew he was quick and nimble around the box as a winger but nobody expected these gaudy numbers and this kind of output in his debut season at Liverpool.

With Liverpool facing Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League last eight, plenty of City’s defenders will already be having sleepless nights as to how to stop Salah.

Sitting in third place in the table with seven games to go and in the latter stages of the UCL, Liverpool have a hugely talented squad with the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino consistently delivering goals and assists and Klopp’s project is kicking on.

But like Messi at Barcelona, one man helps Liverpool climb above the rest: Salah.

On this form Kevin De Bruyne will have a serious run for his money when it comes to the player of the year awards in England this season.

Salah is still some way off Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of consistent excellence as his subdued display at Manchester United showed last weekend. However, he is getting towards that level and the Egyptian wizard is in the perfect team for his talents to flourish.

Three MLS Things: Growing pains in ORL; hat-trick hero

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The third Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and we learned a few (more) things along the way.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

One game is just one game; two games is too small of a sample size; but three games is the beginning of a trend…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Lots of changes, lots of kinks to work out

Inside the last nine months alone, Orlando City SC acquired the following who’s-who list of MLS star-level players: Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Uri Rosell. That’s one half of an uber-talented, but brand new, starting lineup (at a massive cost) — which is to say, Jason Kreis and Co., have made serious changes, and everything isn’t going to coalesce overnight.

Throw in the fact that Kljestan was suspended the first two games, Dwyer has battled multiple muscular injuries since January and is yet to make his 2018 debut, and Rosell didn’t arrive in Orlando until the week before the season opener and hasn’t played either, and you begin to understand how “such a talented team can have just one point from their first three games.”

Saturday’s 2-0 loss away to a David Villa-less New York City FC was frustrating in more ways than just “we’re still figuring things out, but we’re getting there.” Both of NYCFC’s goals resulted from self-inflicted, avoidable mistakes in possession which turned into easy counter-attacking chances going the other way.

Rosell will undoubtedly fix many of Orlando’s problems with regard to ball circulation and defensive organization/transitions, but only upon his arrival into the lineup can his tricky and important integration begin.

NYCFC, on the other hand, have three wins from three games, have conceded just once (while scoring six) and now hold a nine-point lead on the defending champions from Toronto. Oh, and did I mention they looked just fine without David Villa?

Martinez closing in on history

Just 23 games into his MLS career, Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez is one hat trick from tying the all-time record for hat tricks in a career (6 – currently held by Landon Donovan, Stern John and Diego Serna). To put that into perspective, the three aforementioned players made 340, 55 and 124 appearances during their respective MLS careers.

Assuming he doesn’t pick up another long-term injury (he missed 10 games between March and June last year) and/or transfer back to Europe in the summer, Martinez should summit the hat trick-scoring chart by early June. Given the veracity and vigor with which Atlanta engulf their opponents, Martinez scoring at least two more hat tricks this season feels like the safest bet one could make in a league full of constant flux.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which not only saw the Five Stripes fire 21 shots (4 on target – 100 percent, obviously), but more importantly hold more than 72 percent of possession and limit the visitors to just five shots in total (Kendall Waston was sent off in the 13th minute, leaving the ‘Caps a man short for much of the evening). Jeff Larentowicz has solved most of the problems in midfield and allowed Darlington Nagbe to settle in quickly and thrive. If that trend is to continue, the sky is truly the limit for Tata Martino’s boys, and Martinez will bag goals by the handful.

Where’s the real Sporting KC defense?

Should we be a little worried about the Sporting Kansas City defense, a group which finished 2017 as the league’s stingiest unit and returns its entire back-six in 2018? After conceding just 29 goals in 34 games last season, the group led by past Defender of the Year award winners Ike Opara and Matt Besler has conceded seven goals in their first three games this year.

If it were any other team, and any other group of MLS veterans, with any other coach, I’d be officially worried right now. But, given their (perennial) stake to one of the league’s best defensive records, I remain in a holding pattern, even after giving up another soft/sloppy goal in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made a fair and valid point following the game, reminding the assembled media that playing more freely going forward — a massive weakness for Sports in recent seasons — comes at the expense of defensive positioning and numbers. Sure enough, they’ve scored seven goals in three games (tied for the most in MLS – all coming in the last two). Sporting scored their seventh goal of the 2017 season on April 29.

Here’s the thing about Sporting’s recent seasons: they’ve been a lock-down side throughout the regular season and never figured out how to consistently score goals, and it cost them plenty of points along the way and ultimately they played on the road in the knockout round each of the last four seasons. That style, which they’ll surely settle back into come playoff time, doesn’t lend itself to playing on the road. Securing a home playoff game, which would the first for the team since winning MLS Cup 2013 at home, is priority no. 1, and Vermes might just be willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense for a whole lot more offense (finally).

MLS: NYCFC with 3 wins in 3; defending champs TFC point-less

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NEW YORK (AP) Ismael Tajouri and Maximiliano Moralez scored 12-minutes apart in the second half and New York City FC opened the season with three straight wins for the first time in the club’s short history with a 2-0 victory over Orlando City on Saturday.

Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik misplayed a back-pass that went right to Tajouri inside the 18-yard box and Tajouri took a few touches to the penalty spot for an easy finish in the 62nd minute. After an Orlando giveaway to Saad Abdul-Salaam, Jesus Medina settled it for an oncoming Moralez to slide it home.

NYCFC (3-0-0) was without start David Villa due to a minor injury.

Orlando City (0-2-1), led by NYC’s former coach Jason Kreis (2014-15), has its share of injury problems as well. Striker Stefano Pinho had a right ankle injury last Saturday, leaving on crutches, and playmaker Dom Dwyer will be out for at least two more weeks.

Sacha Kljestan made his debut for Orlando after serving a two-game ban. The club arrived late due to the St. Patrick’s Day parade traffic.

MONTREAL (AP) Jeisson Vargas scored four minutes before the intermission to lift Montreal to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC in the Impact’s home opener Saturday.

It was the first MLS goal for 20-year-old Vargas and the first win for new coach Remi Garde, who replaced Mauro Biello in December as coach of the Impact (1-2).

Toronto (0-2) played its first game since a rousing victory in the CONCACAF Champions League over Mexican side Tigres. The travel to Mexico may have sapped some energy from the defending MLS champions, who nonetheless started most of their top players.

Garde seemed to catch everyone off guard by starting a three-man backline with former Marseille defender Rod Fanni making his debut in the middle.

It made for a mostly uneventful first half until Saphir Taider intercepted a ball and sent Ignacio Piatti up the middle. Three Toronto defenders focused on the Impact captain, leaving Vargas open on the right side to take the pass and slice a shot inside the goalpost in the 41st minute for their first lead in three games.

Piatti was inside the Toronto penalty area on two more occasions before the break but Nick Hagglund blocked one dangerous shot and another was also turned away.

Eight minutes into the second half, Piatti sent Taider in alone but Alexander Bono pushed the shot.

Toronto threatened in the 64th when Sebastian Giovinco got the ball to striker Jozy Altidore. He lifted a shot over goalie Evan Bush but saw it bounce just wide. Toronto looked to have tied it in the 84th minute when Altidore’s shot got behind Bush and was rolling slowly to the goal line, but Michael Petrasso swept it away at the last second.

Montreal striker Matteo Mancosu, who missed practice this week for what the team called precautionary reasons, didn’t dress.

Midfielder Victor Vazquez, who has had back trouble, didn’t dress for Toronto. Chris Mavinga (suspected sports hernia) was in the lineup but did not start.