Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa: Reds stage comeback, but Villa leave Anfield with a draw (video)

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Aston Villa grabbed two goals before 40 minutes had passed, but Liverpool came back to score on either side of the break. Paul Lambert has plenty to be pleased about regarding his side’s performance, while Brendan Rodgers will likely spend a few days pondering how best to keep his side in the race for the Champions League positions.

The first half was full of surprises, with Villa threatening a repeat of last season’s 3-1 victory at Anfield. It may have been because Liverpool were overconfident, perhaps it was due to a change in tactics, but Liverpool looked rather lackluster for the first thirty minutes. The Villa took advantage, first with Ashley Westwood placing his shot straight at Simon Mignolet after a fine counterattack, then with Ciaran Clark hitting the post.

Just a minute after the post denied the visitors, another great counter allowed Villa to take the lead. Gabby Agbonlahor shot up the left flank, easily outstripping the Reds with his pace. A little bit of fancy footwork got him past Kolo Toure, giving Agbonlahor the chance to slide the ball across the face of goal. Andi Weimann was waiting in the middle, and needed just a touch to put his side ahead.

Liverpool failed to learn from their mistakes, and ten minutes later, there was Agbonlahor again, this time tearing down the right. Both Mignolet and Glen Johnson did their best to stop the resulting cross, but wound up catching only air. Christian Benteke came flying in behind Johnson, sending his diving header into the back of the net.

The hosts did manage to cut the Villa lead in half before the whistle blew for halftime. This time it was the claret and blue defense that were caught napping, foolishly giving Luis Suárez way too much space. The Uruguayan passed off to Jordan Henderson, who impressed with a nifty little backheel into the run of Daniel Sturridge. The resulting shot hit the roof of the net before falling behind Brad Guzan.

Both managers made changes early in the second half. Brendan Rodgers brought on Lucas to replace Coutinho, adding some steel in the Liverpool midfield. Five minutes into the second half, Villa were forced into a change, with Agbonlahor coming off injured, replaced by new loan signing Grant Holt.

But it was Suárez, of course, that brought Liverpool up to level terms. He got on the end of a ball from Steven Gerrard, going one on one with Guzan. The Villa keeper came out to stop him, got a touch on his leg and Suárez went down. The referee barely hesitated before pointing to the spot. It was Gerrard who took it, but it was the intelligent play of Suárez that created the goal.

With fifteen minutes left to play, Suárez very nearly scored one of his own. Yacuba Sylla, on for Karim El Ahmadi, fouled the Uruguayan, giving Liverpool a free kick from about 25 yards out. He took it himself, sending the ball flying over the wall, but could only hit the side netting. Suárez tried again in injury time, but Guzan pushed away to ensure Villa stayed level.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Cissokho, Skrtel, Toure, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho (Lucas 45, Allen 66), Sturridge, Suárez

Goals: Sturridge (45+2); Gerrard (53)

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Bertrand (Luna 81), El Ahmadi (Sylla 62), Westwood, Delph, Agbonlahor (Holt 49), Weimann, Benteke

Goals: Weimann (25); Benteke (36)

Mourinho: Van Gaal left good team, but I brought belief

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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are bringing happiness to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, or at least more of it.

The United boss says the club’s turnaround is emotionally-based, and that the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare when he took over the Red Devils last summer.

[ MORE: Fellaini red  had “a bit of acting” ]

United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, tied for fourth with Man City and 15 points back of Arsenal. Mourinho’s men sit in the same spot this year, but are in the semifinals of the Europa League, have won the League Cup, and have the door open to the Top Four.

So what’s different? Here’s the boss, from the BBC:

“I think Mr. Van Gaal left a good group of boys with very good relations between them.

“[But] I think they missed happiness, they missed trust, belief, this extra bit that brings resilience, brings fight and they have it [now].”

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with the Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw drama, but — like any new manager — Mourinho did have to sort the club. Now we wonder whether he’ll keep it happy or hit a traditional rut by Year Three (assuming he gets there, and United should be very good next season).

Spurs confirm Wembley as 2017-18 home

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May 14 will indeed be the last time Tottenham Hotspur takes the field at White Hart Lane.

Club chairman Daniel Levy has announced that Spurs will play all of its 2017-18 home matches at Wembley Stadium, and that WHL will be demolished in the offseason.

Spurs have a new venue under construction next door to WHL, calling the venue “the heart” of regeneration plans in the region. From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“This marks a momentous day in our Club’s history as it is the day we formally agreed the demolition of our beloved White Hart Lane.

“The Lane means a huge amount to each and every one of us and we needed to gain greater certainty on the delivery of the new stadium before we made the final decision to commence with the decommissioning of our iconic, historic home for some 118 years.

‘We shall ensure that we give the Lane a fitting farewell when we play our last match here on May 14.”

West Ham’s final match at Upton Park was a memorable one last season, thanks not just to the off-field but the on-field as well. The Irons came back to beat Manchester United 3-2 on a Winston Reid goal.

With Manchester United coincidentally (?) serving as the visitor on May 14, with Top Four if not title implications likely still in play, sign us up for a comfortable seat in front of TV.

Pochettino: Derby matters, but this is about title not “Totteringham”

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Mauricio Pochettino is a focused boss, one many of us wouldn’t mind as our manager.

The longtime Espyanol man knows a thing or two about being relegated to second fiddle in town, with Catalan rivals Barcelona enveloping the spotlight 99 times out of 100.

That’s why he’s not even bothering with treating Arsenal and “St. Totteringham’s Day” — the Gunners’ annual celebration of clinching a spot above Spurs in the standings — like anything than a derby date.

“I really don’t think about which position Arsenal are in. My view and focus is to try to win every game and try to win the Premier League.

“For me (finishing above Arsenal) is not a motivation. The motivation for me is to win because it’s a derby and I know what it means to win a derby. My motivation is to try to win some titles with Tottenham, and my players improve every day and show we are better than the opposition.”

Spurs as a club is growing in big ways, and aiming to sit atop the Premier League standings every year. Yes Premier League derbies are important, but aiming to finish above a rival versus above all rivals is short-sighted. Pochettino’s got it right.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 35

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The Premier League games continue to come thick and fast with 10 matches on the slate this weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

West Brom 2-0 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Man United 2-0 Swansea City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 3-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Stoke City 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal – (Sunday, 11:30 am. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Sunderland 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM

Southampton 2-1 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Watford 2-1 Liverpool – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM