Liverpool the “chihuahuas” of the Premier League title race, says Brendan Rodgers

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After coming from behind twice to defeat Fulham 3-2 at Craven Cottage on Wednesday, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was glowing with praise for his high-octane side. It was the kind of gritty win that screamed ‘character’ and whispered ‘destiny’ just enough that Rodgers, albeit a wee bit reluctantly, had to admit that he had a dog in this Premier League title fight.

“I don’t do all that horse stuff, José is very good at all that sort of thing,” said Rodgers.

“Maybe we’re the chihuahuas that run in between the horses’ legs. I don’t know. But I do know we’re just about improving with each match.”

OK, so it’s just a chihuahua. Not a little horse like Mourinho or a jaguar like Pellegrini. But a tiny, quick, somewhat skiddish yet oddly tenacious pooch. The exact kind of animal the others might just overlook.

With Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at West Brom, Arsenal’s 0-0 stalemate with Manchester United and Manchester City’s match at Sunderland being postponed, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place clubs enjoy leads of just four, three and one point on Rodgers’ 4th placed Reds. Small margins in a league that runs through May 11th.

Liverpool has a lot going for it these days, but the four main factors as to why they have legitimate title hopes are as follows.

First, they are not currently playing in Europe. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all have massive two-legged Round of 16 ties with Champions League opponents to play out over the next two months. Liverpool will be watching these contests from the sofa, legs up, relaxed and focusing on one thing – the Premier League (and perhaps, to an extent, the FA Cup).

Second, the five matches Liverpool has to play against Top 7 opponents are all, given the venue and the circumstances, very much winnable. They face Manchester United at Old Trafford on March 16th (two days before United’s second leg against Olympiacos), Spurs at Anfield on March 30th, City at Anfield on April 12th and Chelsea at Anfield April 26th. In front of the Kop, Liverpool always have a bit of an extra kick.

Third, they have the firepower to beat, nay, dismantle, any team they face (see Arsenal, Everton, Spurs).

Fourth, they have zero pressure to win the title. Chelsea, City and Arsenal have been in the hunt all year long and when some permutation of that group fails to win the title this year, ‘pressure’ will be one of the reasons journalist use to describe their downfall. The only pressure Liverpool faces is to qualify for Champions League. After that it’s all gravy.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga