Sunderland's Larsson challenges Liverpool's Suarez during their English Premier League soccer match in Sunderland

Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool: Suarez and Sturridge down Black Cats in open match (Video)

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A wonderfully bright display of attacking prowess by both sides put on a show at the Stadium of Light, but Liverpool pulled out the expected result as they move to second place with a 3-1 win, their 400th Premier League victory.

The Reds welcomed back Luis Suarez, and he rewarded the loyalty of Brendan Rogers with a brace, and Daniel Sturridge added a goal of his own plus he assisted both of Suarez’s strikes.

It was Liverpool who looked the most dangerous in the opening few minutes, but Sunderland had their moments of creativity. Suarez and Sturridge paired together looked a great decision by Rogers, as the two both tested the fluidity of the Sunderland defense early.

The Reds thought they had the opener inside 10 minutes when a Suarez free kick found Martin Skrtel’s head but the offsides flag had gone up.

Sunderland then began to threaten even more, much to the surprise and delight of the home fans.  They looked inspired under interm manager Kevin Ball, taking over for the fired Paolo Di Canio.

Sebastian Larsson was the first Black Cat to go ever so close, as a biting free-kick in the 23rd minute clashed the crossbar, out of the reach of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool responded in the 28th minute when the Reds earned a corner, and Gerrard’s kick met Daniel Sturridge’s head…actually his shoulder…and into the back of the net.  No one on the pitch claimed handball, but replays showed Sturridge directed the ball goalwards with his shoulder. Nonetheless Liverpool took a 1-0 lead.

More controversy just after as Sunderland searched to level the score. Mignolet collected a corner but spilled it, and Kolo Toure appeared to pass it back to his goalkeeper.  Referee Howard Webb instead said the pass was legal, and replays suggested Toure may have intended to clear but Mignolet got in the way.

source: ReutersSuarez matched Sturridge’s tally and doubled Liverpool’s led in the 36th minute.  Steven Gerrard’s pass threaded through Sturridge, and he low crossed to his strike partner lurking at the far post for an easy finish and a 2-0 lead.

In the second half again both sides threatened on goal, but it was Sunderland who pulled one back in the 52nd minute. Emmanuel Giaccherini pounced on a rebound from Ki Seung-Young’s shot and Mignolet, once he spilled it, had no chance at stopping the putback.

The goal lit up the Sunderland squad, and they began to pepper the Liverpool goal. Giaccherini, Altidore, and Larsson all came close to equalizing the score.  With both teams pressing for the next goal, the goalkeepers began to step up.

With the game flying open and both sides looking at chance after chance, Liverpool finally killed off any chance for Sunderland at the death.   The Uruguayan put up a perfect long ball for Sturridge who put a wonderful move down the left, and again cut it back for his strike partner Suarez to crash home on the empty net to seal the scoreline.

It was a great shift by the Sunderland players under Ball, especially from Giaccherini, but the loss means the Black Cats remain bottom of the table.  It was a tall task for the interm manager, but things at least look quite positive against a much better and sharper opponent.

Goals:

Sunderland – Giaccherini 52′
Liverpool – Sturridge 28′, Suarez 36′, 89′

Lineups:

Sunderland – Westwood; Gardner, Colback, O’Shea, Cuellar; Larsson (Mavrias, 85′), Cattermole (Celustka, 74′), Ki, Johnson, Giaccherini; Altidore.

Liverpool – Mignolet; Toure, Sakho, Skrtel, Enrique; Henderson, Gerrard; Lucas, Moses (Sterling, 75′); Suarez, Sturridge

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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Designing the perfect UEFA Champions League Round of 16

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona chips the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen at Camp Nou on May 6, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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With 16 teams settled into their spots for Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw, what would be the most tantalizing octet of matches for February’s Round of 16.

We’ll include a full list of seeded and unseeded teams at the bottom so you can pair ’em up however you like, but let’s start with our best ideas.

Remember: Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic leagues, or against the other advancing team from their group stage quartets.

[ MORE: USMNT GK off to Belgium? ]

Let’s begin with the reigning champions. Real Madrid is unseeded, and cannot draw Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. Our vote would be Juventus and a reprisal of the 2015 final in Berlin.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane would not be pleased.

Staying in Spain, seeded Barcelona only knows it will avoid Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We’re interested in attractive soccer, so how about a bombastic battle with Bayern Munich.

Manchester City is the lone Premier League team in the unseeded pool, and cannot face Arsenal, Leicester City, or Barcelona. We’re thinking Sky Blue vs. Sky Blue, and a match-up with Napoli.

Leicester City completes the Premier League trio. Given our above draw and group mates Porto, that leaves Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla, and PSG as potential rivals. We’ll chose Bayer Leverkusen as the match-up likely gives the Foxes their best chance to hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

The biggest name left is Paris Saint-Germain (with apologies to BVB). Unai Emery’s bunch would be left with Atletico Madrid as the lone option, and another tete-a-tete between the ex-Sevilla boss and Diego Simeone works for us.

Now Arsenal… who do you draw with the hopes of a quarterfinal berth in ages? The remaining options are Benfica, Sevilla, and Porto. We’ll give Benfica a trip to the Emirates, leaving Porto to face Monaco, and Sevilla on the road to Borussia Dortmund.

Our final draw:
Arsenal vs. Benfica
Monaco vs. Porto
Borussia Dortmund vs. Sevilla
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Manchester City
Leicester City vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Real Madrid


Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus
Borussia Dortmund

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto
Sevilla
Real Madrid

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Europa League preview: Saints, Man Utd hope to join Spurs in Round of 32

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale (R) and Ivan Perisic of Internazionale close down Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur will be seeded in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 32. What do Manchester United and Southampton need to do Thursday to join them?

Both the Red Devils and Saints enter the final group stage match day in their respective groups’ second place, but only United can claim a seeded place in the Round of 32.

[ UCL: Scenarios for Premier League sides ]

United can still win Group A, and would need to better Fenerbahce’s result on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s men are in Ukraine against bottom-dwelling Zorya Luhansk, while Fener are away at Feyenoord.

Manchester United will advance with a draw, and could also go through if they lose and Feyenoord doesn’t defeat Fenerbahce.

As for Saints, Claude Puel‘s men are level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva and welcome the Israel side to St. Mary’s after drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.

Southampton needs to beat Hapoel or hold them to a scoreless draw. A scoring draw would push HBS through via road goals.

Full UEL schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. EDT
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. EDT
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

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