Fulham 2-3 Liverpool: Stoppage time conversion from Steven Gerrard has Reds within four of first (video)

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A stoppage time penalty conversion from Steven Gerrard has Liverpool within four points of first, with goals from Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho helping the Reds to a 3-2, comeback win at Craven Cottage. Responding after a Kolo Touré own goal and Kieran Richardson tally gave Fulham leads in each half, Liverpool extended their unbeaten streak in to nine games, simultaneously keeping the Cottagers at the bottom of the table.

Touré’s shanked clearance from the edge of Liverpool’s six-yard box gave Fulham an unlikely lead in the eighth minute, an advantage Sturridge was able to pull back four minutes before half time. The Cottagers rebuffed Liverpool’s early second half pressure to go up through Richardson in the 63rd only to see Coutinho give the Reds their second equalizer in the 72nd minute. Just before the end of regulation time, Sascha Riether was judged to have slid through Sturridge in the right of the area, clearing the way for Gerrard’s stoppage time winner.

For Fulham, the result keeps them five points away from safety, with only 12 rounds remaining for the relegation-embattled Cottagers to carve a way to Premier League survival. Had they held either of their two leads, Fulham would have vaulted Cardiff City to claim 19th place.

And for fourth place Liverpool, the result sees them gain two points on the top of the table, with Chelsea having stumbled at West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday. With Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against Manchester United keeping the Gunners second, the Reds are only four points back of the league-leading Blues.

While Fulham made early noise by forcing three corner kicks in the first four minutes, Liverpool quickly settled into they type of control you’d expect from the teams’ recent performances. But that control was rendered meaningless in the eighth minute when a ball rolled across the top of the six by Richardson was shanked into the Liverpool goal by Touré, with the Reds’s defenders right-footed clearance looping into Simon Mignolet’s net to open the scoring.

For most of the first half, the lead held up,with Liverpool initially unable to put a shot on Maarten Stekelenburg. Though the Cottagers did not play as conservatively as they did Sunday at Old Trafford, the team still sacrificed possession in favor of organization, a plan Liverpool tried to undo by playing balls behind the Fulham defense from high. For most of the half, strong defending from the Cottagers was able to preserve their one-goal lead.

In the 41st minute, however, Liverpool’s approach paid off, with a long ball from Gerrard from just inside his own half finding Sturridge behind a high Fulham defensive line. Dribbling into the right side of the penalty area, the Liverpool striker put his equalizer off Stekelenburg’s far post and in, sending the teams into halftime tied, 1-1.

Liverpool started the second half seemingly destined to claim the lead, continuously breaking through Fulham’s left side as the game began to be played almost entirely in the Cottagers’ defensive third. In the 61st minute, Luis Suárez rattled Stekelenburg’s upright with a shot from 19 yards, foreshadowing Liverpool’s apparently inevitable go-ahead goal.

Moments later, however, Fulham had an unlikely lead, with a speculative cross off a throw in deep on Liverpool’s left leading to Richardson’s goa;. On a 63rd minute ball targeting Darren Bent at the far post, Reds defender Martin Skrtel elected to extend his right leg to try to play the cross, leaving him no option but to knock the ball back across goal. Hit back toward the near post, the ball bounced out of the reach of Mignolet, falling for Richardson for an easy finish from three yards out.

Nine minutes later, Coutinho had Liverpool back even. Allowed to cut across the top of the area and onto his left foot, the Brazilian attacker let go of a shot from 20 yards out, his effort getting through the right hand of Stekelenburg and into the Cottagers’ goal.

While Liverpool pressed for a winner, full time approached with the match having leveled off. The Cottagers has nearly bled out their draw. In the 90th minute, however, Riether was adjudicated to have brought Sturridge down in the far right of the penalty area. Seconds into stoppage time, Gerrard blasted his penalty kick off the left post, pulling Liverpool within four points of first place.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stekelenburg (Stockdale 76′); Riether, Heitinga, Burn, Riise; Tunnicliffe, Sidwell, Kvist, Richardson (Kacaniklic 71′); Holtby, Bent

Goals: Touré (o.g., 8′), Richardson (63′)

Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanaga, Skrtel, Touré, Cissohko; Gerrard, Henderson,  (Agger 91′), Sterling (Teixera 82′), Suárez, Sturridge

Goals: Sturridge (41′), Coutinho (72′), Gerrard (91′)

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.