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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.