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)

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”