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

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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.”

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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.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.