Liverpool 2-1 Sunderland: Nervy Reds go second, seal seventh-straight win (video)

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Liverpool’s Premier League title charge continues despite a tension filled 2-1 victory over Sunderland at Anfield on Wednesday.

It took the Reds almost 45 minutes to break down a stubborn Sunderland side, but their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard curled in a tremendous free kick just before the interval to ease any nerves around from the Kop.

Moments after half time Daniel Sturridge scored a sublime curler for his 20th PL goal of the season — he and Suarez are only the third strike duo in league history to score over 20 goals each in the same campaign — as the Englishman then went close to a third after rattling the crossbar.

To their credit Sunderland kept battling away and the arrival of Adam Johnson and Ki off the bench pepped up the Black Cats, with Ki pulling a goal back in the 75th minute to leave the Liverpool faithful on their edge of their seats for the final minutes.

However Brendan Rodgers’ men held on for their seventh-straight win to go second in the standings, as they now sit just one point behind leaders Chelsea. As for Sunderland, they are still in the relegation zone and are three points from safety with a game in hand.

(MORE: Steven Gerrard – “We can’t make it nervy” as Liverpool’s defensive worries resurface)

A strangely subdued start played out at Anfield, as Sunderland’s five-man defense easily thwarted Liverpool’s early advances. The Black Cats barely threatened going forward, as U.S. international Jozy Altidore and recalled loan striker Connor Wickham cut frustrated figures up top for the away side.

Midway through the first half Liverpool started to come to life, as their superior possession began to pay dividends. However Glen Johnson and Joe Allen both fired way over from the edge of the box, as the Reds started to snatch at any chance that fell their way.

For the rest of the first half Liverpool kept hold of the ball but struggled to carve out many clear openings, as the home fans started to voice their discontent with several sloppy passes beginning to pepper the Reds’ play. But then in the 39th minute captain fantastic himself turned up to put Liverpool ahead, as Santiago Vergini scythed down Luis Suarez and a free kick was award right on the edge of the ‘d’. Vergini could’ve easily been sent off for the tackle on Suarez, as he looked to be last man, but referee Kevin Friend only dished out a yellow.

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Gerrard bent in Liverpool’s first with a superb free kick.

From the resulting set piece Gerrard curled in a stunning effort to score his 11th PL goal of the season to lift the tension at Anfield as the home side went in 1-0 up at the break.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Within three minutes of the restart Liverpool were 2-0 up, as Sturridge showed exactly why he’s one of the hottest strikers in European soccer. The England international received the ball on the right hand side of the box, shifted it onto his left foot and the curled in an unstoppable shot into the top corner to add another stunner with his 25th goal of the season.

Liverpool’s swagger returned after that goal, as a marauding Philippe Coutinho helped set up Sturridge moments later but the Liverpool striker saw his goalbound shot blocked… by his own strike partner Suarez, as the Uruguayan international couldn’t get out of the way.

The home side were now well on top, as Suarez picked up Gerrard’s cross-field superbly and then cut inside of Vergini’s lackluster challenge before rifling a shot just past the far post. Sunderland brought on Adam Johnson and Ki to try and breathe impetus into their attack, but the away team barely threatened as they were outplayed, out-possessed and out-battled by a hungry Liverpool side.

However Sunderland did improve as the game wore on, with Lee Cattermole clattering the crossbar courtesy of a controlled slice from the edge of the box, then Ki skied the rebound. Moments later it was Sturridge’s turn to hammer the woodwork, as the 24-year-old curled a delightful right-footed effort towards the top corner but he also smashed the bar.

In the 76th minute Sunderland pulled a goal back, as Ki knocked home after a corner from the right found the South Korean unmarked in the box. In fairness it was no more than the away team deserved, as Poyet’s men stuck to the task and took the game to Liverpool in the closing stages.

Late on a vicious inswinging free kick from the left was headed towards goal by John O’Shea, but U.S. international striker Altidore was crashing  in behind him and would’ve been better placed to seal an unlikely equalizer.

As it was the Reds thwarted Sunderland’s late rally, as the Merseyside club remain in the hunt for their first-ever PL crown. Be wanred Liverpool fans: there will be plenty more nervous nights like this in the coming weeks.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Allen, Henderson; Coutinho; Suárez, Sturridge (Sterling, 77′)

Goals: Gerrard (39′), Sturridge (48′)

Sunderland: Mannone; Bardlsey, O’Shea, Brown, Dossena (Colback, 83′); Wickham (Ki, 66′), Vergini, Cattermile, Bridcutt, Giaccherini (Johnson, 61′); Altidore

Goal: Ki (76′)

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”