Manchester United 0-3 Liverpool: Gerrard hits twice from the spot to send Reds second (video)

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Liverpool: calm, structured, lethal.

Manchester United: disjointed, frantic, out of control.

With NBC guest commentator Tim Howard dubbing this match the “biggest fixture in English football,” Liverpool proved the far superior squad at Old Trafford.

As one side jumped to within four points of the Premier League’s top spot, another fell to uncharted depths in seventh.

Steven Gerrard hit twice from the penalty spot and Luis Suarez added a third as the Reds made no mistake in their late charge towards the Premier League title.

Both teams proved bold yet nervy in the opening 20 minutes.

Each end saw action, but neither team had a serious effort on goal.  With either defense solid in their shape, Liverpool had more of the attack during match’s opening quarter, but the trio of Reds at the attack found it difficult to find any bit of space.

With both teams probing, Liverpool were gifted a chance to go ahead in the 34th minute, and they didn’t disappoint. Daniel Sturridge on the right touch floated a ball across the pitch to Luis Suarez, and he looked to work it into the box with Rafael guarding.

Suarez attempted to chip around the United defender, and with Rafael off balance, the ball clipped his outstretched arm.  Suarez immediately popped up shouting for handball, and referee Mark Clattenberg pointed to the spot.

Liverpool pleaded with Clattenberg for a yellow card for the offense, which would have been Rafael’s second already, but the referee refused.  There was no surprise as Gerrard stepped up to the ball for Liverpool, and he poked it past a wrong-footed De Gea for the first-half lead.

Manchester United did produce one moment to hang their hat on, but just minutes before halftime Simon Mignolet countered with a spectacular diving save to keep out Wayne Rooney’s shot from the center of the box.

Looking to bring it back level after the break, things instead got much worse for Manchester United directly out of the tunnel.

Suarez found Jordan Henderson in all kinds of space at the top of the box, and the youngster finds fellow midfielder Joe Allen cutting laterally across the box and tracked by Phil Jones.

source: Getty Images
Liverpool’s captain was the man of the hour as the Reds picked Manchester United apart.

With Jones beat, the big center back lowered his shoulder and bowled over Allen from behind, and Clattenberg again awarded Liverpool a penalty.  Gerrard converted for a second time, again firing right but this time harder and lower past de Gea.

The penalty marked the first time in Premier League history that opposition were given two penalties at Old Trafford.

The deficit caused the hosts to press harder, but they were panicked much too frantic, and they appeared more likely to get a man sent off than score a goal.

However, as United settled down and began to built, they produced two chances, but Clattenberg denied them twice.  Wayne Rooney looked for a foul outside the box as Martin Skrtel clattered him to the ground, and it appeared Glen Johnson slightly handed the ball, but both were waved off.

Things only got worse for Manchester United.  David Moyes waited all the way until the 76th minute to make his first substitution, a double change bringing on Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, but it would be at the back where they would soon see a blow.

Daniel Sturridge rocketed past Nemanja Vidic, and the Manchester United captain went body-to-body looking to recover.  Sturridge hit a heavy touch, and instead of shooting a tight angle he went down softly, an obvious dive, but Clattenberg bought it giving Liverpool a third penalty and sending Vidic off with his second yellow card.

Gerrard stepped up with an opportunity to bag the first-ever Premier League penalty hat-trick, but he clanged the left post for a miss.

With United a man down, it was all Reds from here to the final whistle. Sturridge probably had a shout for yet another penalty when he checked back with the ball in the box and was felled by Michael Carrick, but Clattenberg waved it off.

Suarez then beat the defense and went one-on-one with David de Gea on 80 minutes but the Spaniard made a fantastic save.

But he couldn’t keep out Suarez with five minutes to go, as Sturridge found him just onsides through the United back line and he touched far post for a 3-0 lead.

LINEUPS:

Manchester United – De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra; Mata (Ferdinand 87′), Fellaini (Cleverley 76′), Carrick, Januzaj (Welbeck 76′); Rooney, van Persie.

Liverpool – Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan; Gerrard (Lucas 87′), Allen, Henderson, Sterling (Coutinho 72′); Suarez, Sturridge (Aspas 90′).

Goals: Gerrard 34′, 46′; Suarez 84′

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.