Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League

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′)

La Liga: Ronaldo scores twice, Neville gets 1st win as a manager

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Athtletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals to lead Real Madrid to a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, provisionally lifting it into second place in the Spanish league.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the third minute before Javier Eraso quickly leveled for the Basques in a back-and-forth first half at the Santiago Bernabeu that finished with James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos giving Madrid a 3-1 lead at halftime.

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Madrid defender Raphael Varane, whose error led to Eraso’s goal, was sent off in the 83rd after earning identical bookings for twice thrusting his forearm into Aritz Aduriz’s head while contesting a high ball.

Despite being a man down, Ronaldo found the net again in the 87th to move past Barcelona’s Luis Suarez as the competition’s leading scorer with 21 goals this season.

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Gorka Elustondo headed in Bilbao’s second goal in the 90th.

Madrid’s fourth win in as many home matches under coach Zinedine Zidane – by a combined score of 20-3 – lifted it two points ahead of Atletico Madrid before it visits Getafe on Sunday.

Leader Barcelona is one point ahead of Madrid with two matches to play: against Celta on Sunday and at Sporting Gijon on Wednesday.

Zidane will make his European coaching debut on Wednesday when Madrid visits Roma in the Champions League’s round of 16.

Ronaldo’s goals were his 31st and 32nd in 30 games across all competitions this campaign, a season in which he has been criticized by some for failing to score against important rivals.

“About Cristiano, what can I say?” Zidane said before employing an expletive in Spanish to describe how good he considers the forward’s form.

“We are ready for the match against Roma. We are in shape, playing well, and very pleased with how we played today against a very good rival. We are prepared for Wednesday.”

Also Saturday, Villarreal strengthened its hold on fourth place and the last Champions League spot with a 1-0 win at home over Malaga thanks to striker Roberto Soldado‘s 18th-minute goal.

Ronaldo gave Madrid a brilliant start when he received a pass from Karim Benzema, used a deft dribble to wrong-foot Xabier Etxeita and fired a right-footed strike just under the crossbar.

But Bilbao was undaunted and quickly leveled in the 10th when Eraso pounced on Varane’s poor backpass that goalkeeper Keylor Navas did well to stop from becoming an own goal but left for Eraso to finish off.

Aduriz went close twice to putting the visitors ahead with a header saved by Navas before the striker hit the bar.

Rodriguez turned the flow back in Madrid’s favor with an excellent strike with his left foot from outside the area that curled around outstretched goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in the 37th.

Kroos put Madrid in full control heading into the break when he took a pass from Ronaldo in the area and sent a shot that deflected off a defender past Iraizoz in first-half injury time.

“We leave with the feeling that we had a good first half. Maybe we missed a great opportunity today,” said Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde, impressed by Madrid’s “extraordinary firepower.”

Ronaldo hit the upright before finally getting his second goal from a pass by substitute Lucas Vazquez.

Valencia hosts Espanyol later, while Real Betis visits Deportivo La Coruna.

Juventus win 15th straight to take Serie A lead from Napoli

Juventus' Simone Zaza, second from right, celebrates with is teammates after scoring during a Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Napoli at the Juventus stadium, in Turin, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Massimo Pinca)
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(AP) — Substitute Simone Zaza scored two minutes from time and Juventus beat visiting Napoli 1-0 on Saturday to take the Serie A lead from the southern club.

[ MORE: Napoli fans support racially abused Koulibaly ]

Seeking its fifth consecutive title, Juventus moved one point ahead of Napoli with 13 rounds remaining in the Italian league.

Near the end of a match in Turin that had been characterized by few chances for either side, Zaza’s goal came with a long, curving shot that deflected slightly off defender Raul Albiol.

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[ MORE: Chelsea’s next manager? Juve GM tells Allegri to “think twice” ]

It was Juventus’ 15th straight win, moving the Bianconeri within two victories of the Serie A record established by Inter Milan in 2006-07.

Earlier, Daniel Ciofani scored twice as promoted Frosinone beat Empoli 2-1 for its first away win in the top division. Also, Chievo Verona and Sassuolo drew 1-1.

Bundesliga wrap: Leverkusen win without Chicharito, drop Hertha to 4th

Leverkusen's Omer Toprak, right, celebrates his side's equalizing goal during a German Bundesliga soccer match between SV Darmstadt 98 and Bayer Leverkusen in Darmstadt, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Germany’s top flight…

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Bundesliga coverage ]

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hannover

Bayern Munich’s lead has been cut to five points (for the time being – they play on Sunday) after Borussia Dortmund (48 points) returned to winning ways via Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s game-winning goal in the 57th minute (below video).

Darmstadt 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen

No Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, no problem for Bayer Leverkusen, who went third in the Bundesliga with a 2-1 away victory over 12th-place Darmstadt. After going down a goal in the 28th minute, the game swung on a pair of goals 15 minutes apart just after the hour mark. Aytac Sulu put the ball into his own net for Leverkusen’s equalizer on 62 minutes, and Julian Brandt scored the winner in the 77th minute. Now on 35 points with a +9 goal differential, Leverkusen have leapfrogged Hertha Berlin for the third and final automatic qualification spot into the UEFA Champions League.

Stuttgart 2-0 Hertha Berlin

Hertha are now four league games without a win (three draws) after falling 2-0 away to Stuttgart. Serey Die and Filip Kostic were the goalscorers on Saturday, as U.S. national team defender John Brooks completed his 12th straight 90-minute shift (all competitions). With 35 points and a +6 goal differential, Hertha now sit just two points ahead of Schalke and Mainz in the race for the Bundesliga’s fourth and final Champions League place.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Wolfsburg 2-0 Ingolstadt
Werder Bremen 1-1 Hoffenheim
Koln 3-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hamburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (9:30 a.m. ET)
Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich (11:30 a.m. ET)

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 20 17 2 1 50 9 41 10-0-0 7-2-1 53
Borussia Dortmund 21 15 3 3 53 24 29 9-1-0 6-2-3 48
Bayer Leverkusen 21 10 5 6 31 22 9 5-3-2 5-2-4 35
Hertha BSC Berlin 21 10 5 6 29 23 6 6-3-1 4-2-5 35
FC Schalke 04 21 10 3 8 30 28 2 6-2-3 4-1-5 33
FSV Mainz 05 21 10 3 8 27 25 2 6-1-4 4-2-4 33
Mönchengladbach 20 10 2 8 40 35 5 7-1-3 3-1-5 32
VfL Wolfsburg 21 8 6 7 31 28 3 7-3-1 1-3-6 30
1. FC Köln 21 7 8 6 24 27 -3 4-4-3 3-4-3 29
VfB Stuttgart 21 8 3 10 33 41 -8 5-1-5 3-2-5 27
FC Ingolstadt 04 21 7 5 9 14 23 -9 4-2-4 3-3-5 26
Darmstadt 21 6 6 9 22 31 -9 1-4-6 5-2-3 24
Hamburger SV 20 6 5 9 22 28 -6 2-3-5 4-2-4 23
FC Augsburg 20 5 6 9 22 28 -6 2-3-5 3-3-4 21
Eintracht Frankfurt 21 5 6 10 27 37 -10 3-3-4 2-3-6 21
Werder Bremen 21 5 5 11 25 42 -17 1-3-6 4-2-5 20
1899 Hoffenheim 21 2 9 10 19 31 -12 1-5-4 1-4-6 15
Hannover 96 21 4 2 15 19 36 -17 2-0-8 2-2-7 14

USWNT tops Mexico, advances to Olympic qualifying semis on late Lloyd PK

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The U.S. women’s national team is one step closer to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in after the Lady Yanks, on the back of Carli Lloyd’s 79th minute, knocked off their North American rivals, Mexico, in a narrow, physical affair at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

With only bottom-of-the-group Puerto Rico (0 points, -15 goal differential through two games) still to face, the USWNT are through to the semifinal round, at which point they’ll be one more win away from qualifying for this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

The first half of Saturday’s clash was much different from what either side saw in their opening game — USWNT beat Costa Rica, 5-0, while Mexico routed Puerto Rick, 6-0 — as both sides engaged in a rough-and-tumble affair, racked up plenty of fouls and failed to create much of anything in terms of quality scoring chances.

The USWNT’s best chance early in the second half came in the 53rd minute, when Christen Press rifled a right-footed effort toward the far post from 15 yards out, but found nothing but woodwork before the ball caromed back into the field of play.

[ MORE: USWNT routs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying opener ]

Alex Morgan very nearly opened the scoring in the 67th minute. Becky Sauerbrunn’s long throw was flicked on by Lindsey Horan’s header inside the penalty area, and eventually made its way to Morgan near the top of the six-yard box, from where her volleyed effort was sent inches over the crossbar.

With 77 minutes on the clock, Horan followed suit with a shot of her own off the post. From 20 yards out, her right-footed effort had beaten the goalkeeper, only to hit the same far post and bounce across the face of goal, where not a single American player was waiting to tap home the rebound.

All of Mexico’s dogged defensive work was undone in the 79th minute, though, as the USWNT was awarded a controversial penalty for handball. Lloyd’s initial effort from the penalty spot was saved, but the reigning World Player of the Year was first to the rebound and slotted the ball into an empty net (below video).