Liverpool dazzle in derby win, will Champions League dream become a reality?

1 Comment

LIVERPOOL — Under the bright lights of Anfield on a cold midweek evening, you could be forgiven for thinking one of those famous European nights had once again descended on Liverpool.

After a scintillating performance from the home side against their closest rivals for the top four — and their rivals from under a mile away across Stanley Park — saw Liverpool smash four past Everton and reminded their Blue neighbors why they’ve been the top dogs on Merseyside for so long.

With their biggest derby win since 1982, Liverpool are now four points ahead of fierce rivals Everton in the hunt for Champions League soccer. And now the Reds are just six points off the top spot.

The big question on everyone’s lips is: can Liverpool, the five-time champions of Europe, qualify for the Champions League once again?

“We’ve shown all season that we are going to be in contention for a top four place,” Rodgers said. ” We know there are going to be one or two other teams fighting for it. We’ve shown a wonderful team spirit here and we’ve had various players missing at various times, but we’ve been able to structure the team that we aren’t reliant on any one player. That’s the ethos of the team.”

Despite a superb team display, Liverpool needed a catalyst to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The man that did that has been the leader for many years, and he did it once again with ease. It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Steven Gerrard epitomized Liverpool’s spirit and drive to succeed from his central midfield role during the 222nd Merseyside derby.

In the early stages of the match the game ebbed and flowed as both sets of fans roared on their teams with a crescendo of noise flowing down from the stands. It could have gone either way. Then Liverpool’s captain emerged to score his eighth goal in the Merseyside derby since the Premier League began.

(MORE: Liverpool 4-0 Everton – Sturridge double seals scintillating Merseyside derby win)

Gerrard rose highest in the penalty box in the 22nd minute to head home powerfully and set Liverpool on their way to a resounding win on so many levels. As Gerrard wheeled away in jubilation, his pupils narrowed and the sheer ecstasy was clear for all to see on his face. Liverpool’s captain fantastic had set his side on their way, and the hometown hero had delivered on the big stage once again.

“I think if anyone questions whether he can play that role, he has played 32 games now in the derby where he has been all-action, and obviously his influence on these games has been wonderful,” Rodgers said. “But he was equally as good tonight from that deeper position. You see his responsibility in the role, he organizes the team on the field. He scored a goal. He lead the team marvelously well and was outstanding tonight.”

source: Getty Images
Liverpool’s captain Steven Gerrard celebrates his opening goal as Anfield erupts.

Gerrard’s powerful header sent his side into overdrive, with Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling inspired by their skipper’s statement strike. They ran rings around Everton’s makeshift defense, as Sturridge struck twice before half time, to take his tally to 16 for the season, and put the game out of the Toffees reach. Then Suarez scored his obligatory stunner after the interval, his 23rd of the PL campaign which beats his tally for the whole of last season, as he ran from the halfway line and calmly finished to hammer the final nail in Everton’s coffin.

When they play like this, the Reds are unstoppable.

Full of panache, swagger and purpose, on their day Liverpool showed they can beat anyone. It wasn’t as if Everton did much wrong in the opening 45 minutes, Liverpool were just that good. With tireless workrate from Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in the middle feeding tricky attackers Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge, Liverpool’s midfield obliterated Everton with a ruthless team display of high-pressing. Amongst all that, the defense held firm to preserve the shutout.

“It was a brilliant performance,” Rodgers mused. “A real good defensive organization, outstanding on the counter attack and clinical in front of goal. We scored four goals and could have had two or three more. I’m delighted for the group.”

It was just one win, which earned the home side three points. But will the significance of a big derby win have a positive impact on Liverpool for the final third of the season? Rodgers thinks so.

“All wins are important but especially against your rivals,” Rodgers said. “We are four points clear now of Everton. We know there’s still a wee way to go but psychologically it was a big, big win for us. In terms of confidence it was a big, big win for us. We have to keep our foot to the floor and keep putting in performances and keep scoring goals.”

Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling are dazzling when they click but they do leave the Reds at risk on the counter attack when things break down. However, Liverpool were extremely dangerous on the counter-attack themselves as Rodgers noted in his post-game press conference. If the Reds are going to finish in the top four, they need to persevere with this ultra-attacking lineup as they will outscore most of their opponents if they’re anything close to the ruthless outfit they became vs. Everton.

(MORE: Premier League Standings)

With the Reds rampant and Everton’s confidence low — a dejected Roberto Martinez tried to put a positive spin on things after the game but a vast swathe of injuries could halt his sides brave top-four challenge — it was a terrific derby win for the Red half of Merseyside.

Towards the final whistle the famous club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was belted out by most of the 44,000 fans inside the stadium. If you closed your eyes and sensed the buzz and anticipation inside the stadium, it felt like a famous European night had arrived back at Anfield.

After a stunning display which will fill Liverpool will confidence for a top four push for the rest of the campaign, next season European nights could well return.

For Rodgers’ side there’s no need to dream. If they keep doing what they do best and perform like this, Champions League soccer will be played on Merseyside next season. This derby win proves it’s now Liverpool’s fourth spot to lose.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

Twitter/AC Milan
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.