Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Liverpool

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  • This fixture has produced more red cards than any other PL game (20)
  • Everton have won just one of last 13 Merseyside derbies (W1, D5, L7)
  • Tim Howard will start his 272nd Premier League game for Everton, a club record

This game doesn’t need much hype, but after both Everton and Liverpool have enjoyed successful starts to the 2013-14 season… expect an extra spice to adorn this Merseyside derby.

It’s Blue vs. Red, second vs. sixth and bragging right are on the line.

Two old foes will battle it out at Goodison on Saturday, (Watch live on NBCSN, 7:45am ET and live online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as a clash of style, panache and skill will likely descend into an all out brawl.

Everton are desperate to get a stranglehold on the derby after winning just one of the last 13 league meetings between the two sides. Roberto Martinez has brought a different style of play to the Toffees and they look organized and extremely solid, as they previously did under David Moyes. In Romelu Lukaku, the Toffees have a game-changer and his personal battle with Kolo Toure will be just one of a number of intriguing match ups.

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Which manager will grab a derby win? Rodgers or Martinez?

As for Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers’ side sit second in the table but just three points ahead of their no so friendly neighbors Everton. A great start has continued but a disappointing display against Arsenal a few weeks back has left plenty of doubt surrounding Liverpool’s top four credentials.

(Exclusive: Tim Howard on Everton vs. Liverpool – ‘We’ll be heroes if we win’)

The Reds will always play attractive soccer under Rodgers after he fostered that style at Swansea after Everton’s manager Martinez laid the foundations for the Swans while they were in the Championship. In many respects the two managers who will square off on Saturday share the same soccer philosophy.

But they’ll be hoping they come out on top to send their fans home happy and with local bragging rights for the foreseeable future.

Injury wise Everton are fighting fit and have no fresh concerns, while Liverpool will be without left back Jose Enrique but Daniel Sturridge is set to shake off the numerous thigh and hamstring issues he has been suffering from.

What they’re saying

Roberto Martinez on the successful strike partnership of Suarez and Sturridge: “They have had a very good start to the season, they are very influential in their team. From that partnership up front, they have got a real goalscoring threat. You do see why Liverpool have been successful this season, it is not an accident. I do feel they are a strong side. But as a team, you are always used to coping with threats of the opposition. It is more about what we can do and how we can perform in the derby rather than being worried about what the opposition can bring.”

Brendan Rodgers on the nasty atmosphere his side will face: “It’s a really hostile environment to go and play in, but our players coped with it brilliantly. It’s a real good venue for football and it’s a ground that will test your character. But that’s something we will look forward to, because, if there’s one thing that we’ve improved in the time that I’ve been here, is there’s resilience in the team.”

Prediction

Liverpool are in second place and working hard to try and chase down Arsenal at the top of the table. Their dominance in the Merseyside derby against Everton in recent years has seen them become the undisputed kings of the city, however with Roberto Martinez Toffees’ knowing a win could put them level on points with their illustrious neighbors, expect Everton and the vibrant home crowd to be fired up. The Toffees are great at the back and I think both teams will cancel each other and a draw will prevail.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

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It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.