Brendan Rodgers’ adjustments fuel Liverpool’s Merseyside romp

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Ten days ago, starting nearly the exactly same team he selected today, Brendan Rodgers saw his Liverpool side held to a draw by Aston Villa, whose exploitation of a Steven Gerrard-Jordan Henderson midfield helped them build a two-goal lead after 36 minutes. That’s why, as Rodgers spoke before today’s Merseyside Derby about wanting to control the ball and dictate play, Liverpool looked in terrible shape. When NBC’s pregame show flashed the Reds’ lineup, the team looked set to play the same two-man midfield that would leave Gerrard exposed.

Surely Rodgers was too smart for this? Particularly against Everton. We all saw what happened against a less-talented Villa side. Against an Toffees team that can thrive in possession, surely Rodgers wasn’t going to match Gerrard and Henderson against Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry, and James McCarthy? The team’s dealing with a slew of injuries, but this was too basic a mistake for somebody of his caliber, particularly in light of what happened two Saturdays ago.

Come kickoff, however, it was clear Rodgers had learned from his mistakes. Gerrard was still in a deep-lying role, but both Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho were playing in front of him. With Raheem Sterling playing deep on the right, Liverpool remained in a kind of 4-4-2, albeit one entirely different then the one that struggled against Villa. Instead of relying on his two-man middle to hold their ground, Rodgers was helping them out. Coutinho was in from the left to make it a three, Sterling was playing deeper to provide support, and Daniel Sturridge was often coming back to provide an extra man in the middle. This was nothing like the team that was fortunate to salvage a point against Villa.

From WhoScored.com, here are average positions of Liverpool’s players on Tuesday (left) compared to Jan. 18 against Villa (right):

source:  source:

Clearly, this was Rodgers’ plan all along, but consider his posture before the match. He selected the same team, implied they’d be played the same way, and even told cameras he wanted to control the game. It was Rodgers’ typical fair, but on the heels of the Aston Villa performance and given how Everton like to play, it looked stubborn.

But Rodgers proved anything but. That pre-match bravado was just an act. Whereas Liverpool had held 56 percent of the ball against Villa, they ceded Everton 61 percent possession on Tuesday. Willing to play on the counter and rely on more direct play to Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Liverpool proved adaptable. They also proved potent.

source:  Given the positions of Everton’s players (right, all but two’s average place in the attacking half), the change may have caught the Toffees off-guard. Perhaps expecting Rodgers’ stick to his dogma, Everton were caught out, their central defense beaten badly on the game’s last three goals.

Ultimately, Rodgers was right. Liverpool did dominate the game, albeit without the ball. The game played out as he planned, with quick action taking advantage of an isolated Phil Jagielka and Antolin Alcaraz, leading to the Reds’ most decisive derby win in 32 years.

Given what we saw against Villa, much of the credit has to go to the coach. He saw the problems, he recognized the opposition, and he adjusted. With 10 of the same players, Rodgers was able to affect a complete turnaround. As a result, Liverpool’s now got a four-point edge on their crosstown and Champions League rivals.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.

Watch Live: Mexico vs. Russia, NZ vs. Portugal

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Group A comes to a close on Saturday, with a pair of spots in the semifinals on the line. The group is jam-packed at the top, with nobody confirmed on to the next round and only New Zealand eliminated.

Russia meets group-leaders Mexico at 11:00 a.m. ET in Kazan, with the hosts needing a win to advance, while a draw would complicate things for Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad. Mexico needs just a draw to confirm advancement.

WATCH LIVE: Mexico vs. Russia live online at Telemundo Deportes

Mexico has brought back its first-choice lineup for the final group stage match, with a number of rotations made in the near-disaster against New Zealand. However, Carlos Salcedo is out with a dislocated shoulder, bringing Nestor Araujo into the starting lineup. Hector Moreno starts despite his injury concerns.

On the other side, Portugal takes on New Zealand with a chance to win the group still intact. Portugal sits in second position currently, level with Mexico on both points and goal difference, but behind by one on goals scored. Should Portugal win and earn a greater goal difference or outscore Mexico by more than one, they would win the group.

WATCH LIVE: Portugal vs. New Zealand live online at Telemundo Deportes

Cristiano Ronaldo starts for Portugal yet again, fresh off his match-winning goal against Russia. They see both full-backs rotated from that match, with Raphael Guerreiro and Cedric rotated for Eliseu and Nelson Semedo.

New Zealand has already been eliminated, without a point thus far in the competition despite a pair of spirited performances for the Group A underdogs.

LINEUPS

Mexico: Ochoa, Moreno, Reyes, Layun, Araujo, Herrera, Guardado, J dos Santos, Hernandez, Lozano, Vela.

Russia: Akinfeev, Jikia, Kudryashov, Vasin, Glushakov, Erokhin, Bukharov, Samedov, Smolov, Zhirkov, Golovin.


Portugal: Patricio, Alves, Pepe, Eliseu, Semedo, Moutinho, Pereira, B Silva, Quaresma, Ronaldo, A Silva.

New Zealand: Marinovic, Durante, Smith, Boxall, Doyle, Ingham, Rojas, Thomas, McGlinchey, Wood, Lewis.