Everton 3-3 Liverpool: Plenty of drama in the Merseyside Derby (video)

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It’s hard to argue that Saturday’s match between Everton and Liverpool wasn’t a fine example of a derby match. This edition of the Merseyside Derby featured a hectic start, fine finishing and, of course, a bit of controversy. And that was all in just the first half! By the final whistle, even the fans were exhausted from the dramatic 3-3 draw.

Liverpool took the lead after barely five minutes had passed. Luis Suarez got on the end of a ball from Steven Gerrard, but his header was put out for a corner. No matter — that just gave the duo time to perfect their routine. Gerrard swung in the corner, and again, Suarez got his head on it. This time, though, it was a flick on to Philippe Coutinho, who came rushing around the Everton defense to end up by the near post. A slick little side-footed kick evaded Tim Howard to give Liverpool an early lead.

But Everton weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Just three minutes later, the Toffees had their equalizer. Coutinho brought down Phil Jagielka, conceding a free kick — a silly thing to do when Leighton Baines is on the opposite side. It was the left back who sent in the free kick, and Everton used Liverpool’s own moves against them: Martin Skrtel let down his guard, allowing Kevin Mirallas to slip around to linger by the near post. The attacker connected with Baines’ ball, sliding it past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool, however, managed once again to take the lead, before twenty minutes were up. And the goal came off another set piece. Suarez took the free kick, bending it beautifully. But some of the blame must go to Howard, whose wall was rather skewed, allowing the ball to slide through an opening and evade the diving goalkeeper.

And it wouldn’t be a Merseyside Derby without some whiff of controversy. Phil Dowd was kind enough to create some when he awarded a yellow card for Miralles’ challenge on Suarez. The Belgian’s boot connected with Suarez’s thigh, hard enough to leave stud marks. The Uruguayan went tumbling and, although Dowd took his time in deciding, the high boot was ultimately ruled only worthy of a yellow.

Somehow, somehow, the second half managed to be even more exciting than the first. It started off with a pair of fantastic misses. For Everton, it was a whiffed chance by Gerard Deulofeu, on for Baines in the 50th minutes. Glen Johnson gave the ball away, allowing Everton to break quickly, putting Deulofeu one on one with Mignolet. But the youngster could only manage to put the ball straight at the Liverpool keeper.

Then it was Joe Allen, failing to put the game away for Liverpool. The Reds broke free, Allen and Suarez charging toward Howard’s goal. Allen only needed to beat the Everton keeper, or slide the ball to Suarez, but instead put his shot wide of the net.

That miss would come back to haunt Liverpool. In the 72nd minute, Everton grabbed an equalizer — through who else but Romelu Lukaku? The Belgian’s free kick was on target, Mignolet managed to push it away, but Everton continued to push for a goal. When Liverpool thought they’d grabbed the ball back, James McCarthy got a toe on it, pushing it over to Lukaku, who was lurking in the center. There was no stopping the striker’s powerful kick from landing in the back of the net.

But that wasn’t all for the hosts. Ten minutes later, Lukaku had a second, putting Everton ahead for the first time all game. This one was from yet another set piece, a corner sent in by Mirallas. Lukaku had no trouble getting his head on it and directing the ball past Mignolet. 3-2 Everton, and it was time for the Toffees to simply hang on.

Yet Liverpool were bound and determined to get, if not all three, at least a point from the match that had seen them in control throughout the majority of the minutes. And so there was little surprise, really, when the Reds’ pressure paid off with Everton conceding yet another free kick in the 89th minute. It was another lovely ball put in by captain Gerrard, and this time it was Daniel Sturridge, on for Lucas Leiva ten minutes earlier, who had the goal. His powerful header left Howard with no chance of keeping the scoreline level.

With four minutes of stoppage time, there was opportunity for even more drama to ensue. First, Liverpool very nearly thought they’d stole the match in the dying seconds, only for Sturridge’s goal to be ruled offside. Then McCarthy had his shot put out wide for a corner, but Dowd, obviously exhausted from his exertions, decided to blow the whistle before Everton had a chance to put away a winner.

Everton: Howard, Baines (Deulofeu 50), Distin, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, McCarthy, Pienaar (Stones 83), Barkley, Mirallas (Osman 88), Lukaku

Subs not used: Robles, Heitinga, Jelavic, Naismith

Goals: Mirallas 8′; Lukaku 72′, 82′

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Agger, Skrtel, Lucas (Sturridge 79), Gerrard, Allen (Moses 68), Henderson, Coutinho, Suarez

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Alberto, Sakho, Sterling

Goals: Coutinho 5′, Suarez 19′, Sturridge 89′

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone