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EXCLUSIVE: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – “We’ll be heroes if we win”

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On Saturday one of English soccer’s greatest rivalries will take center stage for the first time in the 2013-14 season: Everton host Liverpool at Goodison Park.

This season the Merseyside derby could not be any closer to call.

Both teams stadiums are separated by the famous Stanley Park, as Goodison sits just 0.9 miles away from Liverpool’s home Anfield. And this year these two clubs, in terms of their ambitions on the field, are also extremely closely situated with both playing attractive free-flowing soccer and aiming for the Champions League. Liverpool are currently in second, while Everton are just three points behind them in sixth heading into the derby.

(PREVIEW: EVERTON vs. LIVERPOOL)

U.S. national team ‘keeper Tim Howard will be aiming to stop Liverpool’s deadly strike duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge on Saturday, as the USMNT veteran believes his 17th taste of the Merseyside derby in the PL will have an extra kick to it following superb starts to the season for both clubs.

“I think it will add something extra,” Howard said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think the derby ever needs extra motivation… but yeah I think both teams have been doing brilliantly. I think we’ve quietly crept in there and Liverpool have stayed quite near the top and we’re maybe one result from really getting to that top level. It will be a really good derby, in that regard.”

Howard, 34, has enjoyed yet another stellar season in goal for the Toffees and is currently on a 240 minute shutout streak which has helped Everton surge towards the top of the table under new manager Roberto Martinez. It will be a landmark day for Howard, as he breaks the club record for the most starts in the Premier League by surpassing David Unsworth’s record of 271 .

WATCH: EVERTON v LIVERPOOL LIVE ON NBCSN AND NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA ON SATURDAY, 7:45am ET

But the USMNT goalkeeper somewhat sheepishly deflects the praise away from his own brilliant performances and suggests the guys in front of him make his job easy.

“The boys have been great,” Howard said. “If we can keep that going in the derby we will all be heroes. The back four has been playing fantastic, obviously Leighton Baines, Sylvan Distin, Phil Jagielka and of course Seamus Coleman. You’re talking about top international players.”

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Tim Howard has been in impressive form for the Toffees this season and believes another top defensive display against Liverpool could hand Everton derby day success.

However, we all know having a solid defensive unit is much more than just the back four and the goalkeeper playing well. Howard points to two new arrivals being influential in Everton’s defensive success.

“We’ve brought in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy, and they’ve been unsung,” Howard said. “Particularly on the ball people have been talking about how good they’ve done, but you have to look at our defensive record in the fact that it’s not just the back four. There’s that defensive six, we play as a unit. Without those guys breaking things up it would be really difficult to keep the defensive rhythm going. It’s good. We’re in a good rhythm, we’re starting to read each others body language, the communication is really good. We will try and keep that up, it’s been positive for us.”

(MORE: U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

With Martinez’ new system working well at Everton and the Toffees one of a whole cluster of clubs looking to break into the top four this season, Howard believes this Premier League campaign is the most exciting in recent history.

Howard and Everton are aiming to jump ahead of the jostling pack and bring qualification to the Champions League group stages to Goodison for the first-time in history.

“Everyone always talks about the top four spots and there used to be five teams for that, then six teams and I feel like this year there’s probably eight teams that are really going to push for the top four,” Howard said. “There is going to be a couple of really disappointed teams because there’s only four spots for the Champions League. This season there’s really eight contenders and its impressive.”

Howard has been impressive in every sense of the word this season, can the U.S. ‘keeper and Everton keep it going against Liverpool? If they can, it would send out a huge message that the Toffees will be sticking around at the top of the table.

Norwich City striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel signs with former club Vitesse Arnham

NORWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:Ricky van Wolfswinkel of Norwich City celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Everton at Carrow Road on August 17, 2013 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Norwich City’s record transfer at the time of his purchase from Sporting CP in 2013, is moving on after a largely unsuccessful four-year stint with the Canaries.

The 27-year-old has returned to his home country, moving to Vitesse Arnham – the club he went professional with as a 19-year-old. Van Wolfswinkel made his professional debut in April of 2008 with Vitesse, and now returns for an undisclosed fee.

Van Wolfswinkel came to Norwich in 2013 with much fanfare, signing for a reported fee of $11 million – a club record signing at the time.

He proceeded to score just a single goal in 25 appearances during his first season in the Premier League, with Norwich finding itself relegated. He moved to Ligue 1 on loan with Norwich in the Championship, but still managed just five goals in 28 league appearances with St. Etienne. He never made another appearance for the Canaries, instead moving on loan again Real Betis last season, but flopped there too, scoring just once in 16 league appearances.

“I debuted in professional football on behalf of Vitesse and that is something you never forget,” van Wolfswinkel said upon signing. “After several foreign adventures I look forward to returning to the Dutch fields. I hope to find my niche and want to play well and add many goals and assists for Vitesse.”

Report: Arsenal continues to push for Lacazette transfer, readies another bid

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23:  Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring Lyon«s goal during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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According to Friday’s edition of French publication L’Equipe, Arsenal is set to table yet another improved bid for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette should the current one of $44 million be rejected.

The Gunners have spent little this transfer window, with the capture of Granit Xhaka their only incoming purchase thus far, and it has unsettled many supporters. The club has looked to calm those fears, going so far as to claim they are unable to spend big like many others across England, but on the inside they appear ready to spend for the French frontman.

Should Arsenal submit yet another bid for Lacazette, it would be their third. An initial bid for $39 million was rejected earlier this week, the Ligue 1 side announced on Wednesday.

“The reality is that the Arsenal made an offer of £30m,” the club confirmed in a statement, “which Olympique Lyonnais did not respond to for one reason only: OL wishes to keep Alexandre Lacazette because he is irreplaceable and one of the major leaders of Bruno Genesio’s group.”

The Frenchman scored 21 goals last season in Ligue 1 play, including 11 goals in the season’s final 10 games. His total haul was second in the league behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s whopping 38.

It seems that, with this report out in public, Lyon would be silly to accept the new bid, given that Arsenal is likely to have another improved one soon to follow.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive game in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.