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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)

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.