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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.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)