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West Ham 1-2 Liverpool: Contentious battle sees Liverpool through to top (video)

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The home side put up a fight, but a pair of penalty decisions downed the Hammers as Liverpool returned themselves to the top of the table and retained control of the Premier League race.

Steven Gerrard slotted home both chances from the spot, one in each half, to deny a stubborn West Ham a surprise result and nullify a Guy Demel goal just before the break.

West Ham begun the game with some poise, keeping Liverpool’s blistering attack at bay for the opening 15 minutes and producing a half-chance or two of their own.

The first real chance on goal was a Luis Suarez shot on 19 minutes that would have been a stunning goal out of nothing, and it evaded the dive of Adrian but struck the top corner of the post curling towards goal.

The Hammers used their strong midfield to peg back Liverpool, who found it difficult to get into quality positions.  Daniel Sturridge had a chance on a half-hour after a brilliant back-heel from Jordan Henderson but the ball took a bobble off the pitch and he lifted the shot well high.

West Ham nearly took a shock lead in the final five minutes before the break, but Kevin Nolan standing on the penalty spot couldn’t control a ball from Mohamed Diame after great work down the right flank.

It appeared Liverpool’s Premier League record of 22 straight matches with a first-half goal would come to an end, but three minutes to the break Luis Suarez flicked a ball on in the box that clipped the outstretched arm of James Tomkins and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.

source: Getty Images
Steven Gerrard’s 9th and 10th penalties of the season gave Liverpool a hard-fought win over a battling West Ham squad.

Steven Gerrard cooly slotted the ball into the bottom corner, and all of West Ham’s strong tactical play in the first half came unraveled…or so it seemed.

A West Ham corner into stoppage time came in which Simon Mignolet should have collected, but he spilled under pressure by Andy Carroll and Guy Demel pounced with the ball barely even having touched the ground for the equalizer.

The referees convened after the linesman flagged, but they decided Carroll did not foul Mignolet. Replays showed there was contact, and while it may have been enough had they been playing basketball, the arm check wasn’t enough for Taylor to rule out the score.

The second half took a while to settle in, but Liverpool skirted a West Ham opportunity to go in front on 62 minutes when a thunderous header from Carroll was parried up and out of the way by Mignolet.

With title hopes on the line, Liverpool found their breakthrough to once again take the lead. Jon Flanagan looked for space down the left side of the box, and West Ham keeper Adrian took him down.  It may have been a foul anyways, but a late tug by the keeper on Flanagan’s trailing foot ensured the penalty decision. Gerrard again was cool from the spot, and the Reds went on top again.

The second completed penalty gives Gerrard his 13th goal of the season, 10 of which have come via the spot.

West Ham began to get frustrated after going behind, and their fouling became more prevalent. Luis Suarez had himself a handful of chances late in the match, but Adrian was there to stop him a few times. Raheem Sterling also saw a late effort quelled by the Hammers stopper.

With the win, the Reds return themselves to the top of the table, two above Chelsea and four above City, who have played two fewer games.  The Hammers, looking for a top 10 finish, are still three back of 10th-placed Stoke.

LINEUPS:

West Ham United – Adrian; Armero, Reid, Tomkins, Demel; Noble, Taylor (Jarvis 78′), Diame (Cole 85′), Downing, Nolan (Nocerino 68′); Carroll.

Goals: Demel 45+1′

Liverpool – Mignolet,; Johnson, Flanagan, Sakho, Skrtel; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas 45′), Sterling; Suarez, Sturridge (Toure 85′).

Goals: Gerrard 44′ (pen), 71′ (pen)

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.