Knee injury to sideline Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva for two months

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Sunday’s visit from Aston Villa provided another hint at how important Lucas Leiva is to Liverpool, with the Reds struggling to control the middle of the park with only Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in midfield. Unfortunately, having suffered a knee injury after coming off the bench, Leiva’s now set to be sidelined until March, the 27-year-old having damaged his right MCL.

According to various reports (this one from The Independent), Lucas is scheduled to miss six to eight weeks, an absence that would leave the Brazilian sidelined until March 18, at the latest. During that time, Liverpool’s most notable games will be against Everton (Jan. 28), Arsenal (Feb. 8), and at Manchester United (Mar. 15). Should he take the full eight weeks to recover, Leiva will miss eight league games, with Liverpool also still alive in the FA Cup.

Given Liverpool’s lack of options in defensive midfield, Leiva’s absence could be a major blow to the team’s Champions League hopes, particularly in the face of a Merseyside Derby next week. Already hard-pressed to protect an injury-stricken and exploitable defense, the fourth place Reds will have to find another player to protect Martin Skrtel and Kolo Touré, with Leiva the only player who has regularly been used in the defensive midfielder’s role. With Everton averaging 55 percent possession (sixth in the Premier League), Liverpool’s midfielders will be challenged to get the ball away from their rivals.

Against Aston Villa, captain Steven Gerrard averaged a slightly deeper position than Jordan Henderson, position that led contributed to a two-goal deficit after 36 minutes. The team soon changed their approach, bringing on Leiva for Philippe Coutinho at halftime. In the 66th minute, after Leiva suffered his injury, Joe Allen was brought on.

Without a true holder, Liverpool may be forced to stick with that three-man midfield over the next two months, the extra man in the middle helping to offset the absence Leiva’s defensive. Though neither Allen nor Henderson are traditional holders, they may be able to do enough work around Gerrard to mitigate their captain’s short comings, allowing the England international to settle into the distributor’s role some have speculated as his future.

More than anything, Liverpool may not have a lot of options. Any two-man midfield selected from Allen, Gerrard, and Henderson is going to be outplayed by three-man units or pairs from better teams. Given Brendan Rodgers’ stylistic preferences and the deficiencies Liverpool has along the back, that’s not something that can happen if the Reds expect to win games. Perhaps the Reds can go out and get another midfielder over the next 10 days, but with Leiva coming back in March, it’s difficult to justify a major expenditure.

Regardless, Liverpool needs to win the midfield battle to play the style Rodgers wants. Without Leiva, they’ll have to think of a new way to do so.

Soccer world reacts to the Manchester attacks

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NBC News is reporting that at least 19 people have been killed and another 50 are injured following a possible suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials who are monitoring British authorities told NBC News that preliminary reports indicate that a single explosion took place outside the arena on the southwest side opposite the train station. The explosion occurred as the concert ended, catching people as they exited.

Soccer personalities around the world are reacting to the horrible event.

Juventus purchases Cuadrado from Chelsea

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If you didn’t realize Juan Cuadrado still belonged to Chelsea, you’re forgiven.

The Colombian attacker will complete his second season at Juventus after the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and won’t be headed back to Chelsea afterwards.

Juve has purchased Cuadrado, and the fee is $22 million, and Juve will pay it over three seasons. Cuadrado, 28, is now signed through 2020 with The Old Lady.

Cuadrado first went on loan to Juve in Aug. 2015, and has eight goals and 18 assists in 83 career appearances with the club.

Chelsea bought Cuadrado from Fiorentina for around $32 million in the January 2015 transfer window, but made just 14 appearances with the club.

Report: Jermain Defoe meeting with Bournemouth

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Sky Sports is reporting that Jermain Defoe may head back to the south of England following Sunderland’s relegation.

Defoe, 34, spent two seasons with Portsmouth between 2008-09, scoring 15 goals in 31 appearances.

[ MORE: ‘The Moment’ of each PL club’s season ]

The 56-times capped England striker had a clause in his Sunderland contract allowing him to leave the Stadium of Light were the Black Cats to be relegated, as they were this season. He’d have little interest in dropping into the Championship given his desire to stay a part of the England squad ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Bournemouth’s strike corps includes Joshua King, who scored the most goals of any player not on a Top Seven side this season. King’s 16 goals were one more than Defoe’s 15, though the latter scored just one goal following a brace against Crystal Palace on Feb. 4.

Chelsea’s Conte wins pair of top managerial honors

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Antonio Conte took league and national honors from the League Managers Association on Monday night.

The Chelsea boss was named Premier League Manager of the Year and Manager of the Year after leading the Blues to the PL title and an FA Cup Final in his first year on the job.

Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton nabbed another Championship boss of the year award after leading the Gulls to the Premier League. He also won the honor with Newcastle United in 2010.

The League One winner is Chris Wilder of Sheffield United. Wilder won the honor with Northampton Town last season.

In League Two, Paul Cook of Portsmouth was named the winner.