Liverpool vs. Aston Villa: Can S.A.S. destroy Villa at Anfield?

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Liverpool welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live on NBC, 12:30pm ET and live online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with one thing in mind: goals, goals, goals.

With Brendan Rodgers possessing one of the league’s best striker partnerships in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, from here until the end of the season it’s a case of all-out attack for the Reds. Last time out against Stoke the Merseyside club smashed in five, as the deadly S.A.S. partnership was reunited in devastating fashion. Suarez and Sturridge (who has been out injured since before Christmas) have scored 32 of Liverpool’s 51 PL goals this season and the Reds are the second-highest scoring team in the league behind Manchester City.

Suarez has scored more goals than the entire Aston Villa team this season, as the Villans have netted just 20 times this campaign. However they do have victory at Anfield fresh in their minds, as they beat Liverpool 3-1 away from home last season as Christian Benteke stole the show.

(WATCH: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa live on NBC, 12:30pm ET Saturday and online via Live Extra)

The big Belgian scored against Arsenal on Monday night in a spirited defeat and Villa would give anything for another win against Liverpool to help ease fears of getting sucked into another relegation battle. While Liverpool are hoping three points will help them close the gap on Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City above them as the Reds aim to cement their spot in the top four.

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Guzan and Aston Villa have special plans to combat the threat of Luis Suarez on Saturday.

In team news Liverpool are expecting Sturridge to be fit enough to start the game, after returning off the bench last week against Stoke City. The Reds will also welcome back Joe Allen and Mamadou Sakho to the squad.

Villa could give debuts to new loan signings Grant Holt and Ryan Bertrand, who joined this week from Wigan and Chelsea respectively. But defender Nathan Baker will not feature after suffering a concussion against Arsenal on Monday.

What they’re saying…

Brendan Rodgers on Sturridge’s return to fitness: “His qualities and fitness, aligned with what I’ve seen in training, I think show that if we needed him to start, he would be able to. He looks after his body, his body fat, his weight and that natural fitness he has, alongside his work, allows him to come back and make the impact he made last week. He’s again looked very, very good in training, very sharp, and he’ll be at a good level come the weekend.”

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert on Liverpool’s title hopes: “Anfield is a great football venue. The atmosphere will be great. They are playing really well, everyone knows that. They have top players there and Brendan has them going really well. They are hitting form and they are in with a shout to win the title. There’s no two ways about it.”

Prediction

I think Villa will make life incredibly difficult for Liverpool, as they showed against Arsenal on Monday that they can pin teams back and pile plenty of pressure. If Benteke is back in form, a shock could be heading Liverpool’s way. That said, I just can’t see a game when either Suarez or Sturridge aren’t going to score. The two are sublime and given the fact that Villa have less than a goal a game this season, they will have to get a shutout to win. Can Brad Guzan keep a clean sheet? I doubt it. Liverpool win, and it could be a big one.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga