Arsenal v. Liverpool Preview – Philippe Coutinho’s return sets the stage

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  • Arsenal have lost just one of their last 12 clashes with Liverpool, winning four and drawing seven.
  • Luis Suarez has six goals and one assist in four Premier League games since returning from suspension.
  • November is Arsenal’s least productive month in Premier League history with the Gunners gaining only 1.55 points per game. October is their second most productive month (behind March).

Third place Liverpool heads to the Emirates Stadium to take on table-toppers Arsenal this Saturday (1:30 pm ET on NBC, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra).

Liverpool enter the match having humbled a tricky West Bromwich Albion squad 4-1 behind a fantastic Luis Suarez hat-trick and an unappreciated Daniel Sturridge chip. That victory ensured the Reds taking ten out of a possible twelve points in their last four league matches following a pair of 3-1 victories Crystal Palace and Sunderland, along with a 2-2 draw at Newcastle.

Confidence will be high for Brendan Rodgers’ men not only because they haven’t lost a league match to Arsenal in their last three visits to the Emirates but because they’re also unbeaten in all four of their Premier League road matches this season.

While a bum knee leaves Jose Enrique a doubt to play, the Reds are set to receive a massive boost through the return of Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho (above right). The 21-year-old has been sidelined since the September 16th match with Swansea City where a waist-high challenge from Ashley Williams left him with a shoulder injury.

source: Getty Images
Arsenal will be without defensive stalwart, Mathieu Flamini, for Saturday’s match against Liverpool.

Coutinho is a tricky little customer who loves to operate in between an opposition’s midfield and defensive lines, an area of the pitch where Arsenal will be without Mathieu Flamini due to a groin injury. With amaranthine stamina and the tenaciousness of a pit-bull, Flamini has been a revelation in manager Arsene Wenger’s midfield. His absence will be eased by the return of Mikel Arteta after serving a one game suspension for the red card he was shown in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

That match marked the Gunners second straight league victory and took their league-best unbeaten streak to eight in a row. Outside the Premier League, however, Wenger’s squad has stumbled at home losing their last two matches to Chelsea (2-0 in the Capital One Cup) and Borussia Dortmund (2-1 in the Champions League).

Those results were difficult on the Gunners, who played well despite the unavailability of Flamini, as well as long-term absentees Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Yaya Sanogo, Abou Diaby and Lukas Podolski. With all six players out for Saturday’s contest, Arsenal will once again look to impress audiences by holding down their place atop the league with a heavily reduced squad.

With a victory, Wenger’s men will preserve at least a two point lead over second place Chelsea and open up a five point distance from Liverpool. If the result swings the other way, Liverpool will leap-frog the Gunners in the standings and, depending on the Chelsea result, could go top of the league.

What They’re Saying 

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: “We were happy with how we worked last weekend against West Brom, but it was forgotten about very quickly and our focus has been very much on this game and the quality of our training this week has been outstanding. We arrive in the game really confident and high in belief, coming off the back of an outstanding performance.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We have to respond well against Liverpool. We are in a strong position in the league and have a good opportunity at home, and we have to turn this round. Away from home we are very solid, but at home you know it is important and vital to win the big games.”

Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud: “I feel really confident, the boss made me feel good and that is why I feel good and try to improve every day. It is all about confidence I think.”

Prediction

What a tasty fixture this is shaping up to be. Liverpool fans will be frothing at the mouth to see what Coutinho pull the strings behind Sturridge and Suarez while Arsenal supporters will be adamant that the current home loss streak come to an end and that their position atop the league be preserved. A share of the points feels like the likely result but if pressed to chose a winner, Arsenal’s health issues give Liverpool the slight edge.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia