Brendan Rodgers asks Liverpool fans to “keep calm” and “enjoy” title race

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Two years ago Liverpool finished in eighth in the Premier League and were looking for a new direction.

Now, Brendan Rodgers has the club once again in position to win the title, bringing the Reds back from temporary obscurity and into their rightful place.

But with fans overjoyed at the job Rodgers has done to build a complete squad, the manager told the Liverpool Echo that he hopes supporters – and players – can bear in mind what got them to where they are now: a long-term vision.

“We’re hoping that last season was the beginning,” said Rodgers of his project. “It maybe didn’t seem that way in the first four to six months but we did a lot of the groundwork last year and we’ve been evolving ever since.”

Pleading with fans, Rodgers wants the crowd to not only back the team, but back the philosophy, even if things can get overwhelmingly in the moment.

“We need the fans to stay calm,” Rodgers told the Echo. “I know when you want something so much that’s easier said than done. They haven’t been in this position for a while. I can understand that sometimes there is that wee bit of trepidation and fear. But what we’re looking to put in place here isn’t just for one season. We’re looking to put something in place for the longer term in order to have sustainable success.”

The project has been a solid, determined one that is built to last.  Luis Suarez appeared to be on his way out, and now he’s the Premier League’s top scorer.  His wildly successful strike partnership happens to be with 24-year-old Daniel Sturridge.  Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, already at the top of his game, is just 26 years old, quite young for his position. Including the backup stopper, there are just three players over the age of 30 on the squad.

So while Rodgers and company gun for the title this year, Rodgers is hoping fans can stay the course no matter what happens and back the team to heights the Liverpool name used to be known for.

“My message to the fans is to enjoy it,” Rodgers proclaimed.

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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