Liverpool's Luis Suarez, third left, scores against Everton during their English Premier League soccer match at Goodison Park Stadium, Liverpool, England, Saturday Nov. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

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′

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk