Norwich City 2-3 Liverpool: Sterling, Reds with one hand on the title

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Liverpool’s blistering start takes no prisoners, and Norwich were no exception as two goals in the opening 10 minutes set the tone and put Norwich City away.

The Canaries brought themselves one back after the break and looked promising, but it was too little too late as the Premier League leaders went five clear at the top with three to play.

It wasn’t easy, as Norwich fought and twice pulled within one, but they couldn’t find the deathblow and the Reds’ early dominance led the way to their three points.

Raheem Sterling opened things with a salivating strike inside four minutes, and Luis Suarez bagged his 30th goal of the season six minutes later.

Sterling’s goal was a wonderful job of creating his own chances, first looking for other options before he decided to take it by himself. The 19-year-old cut back inside to create space, and from five yards outside the penalty area unleashed a explosive shot just inside the near post and past a diving John Ruddy.

The youngster then fed Suarez to double the lead, as the Uruguayan faked a near post run to catch the Norwich defense off guard before cutting to the back post, and Sterling’s ball across the face found him for the tap-in.

source: Getty Images
Raheem Sterling hugs manager Brendan Rodgers after his first goal just four minutes in.

Suarez is the first player in European play to reach the 30-goal mark, beating out Cristiano Ronaldo who sits on 28 in La Liga.  He is the first Liverpool player to reach 30 in the English top flight since Ian Rush’s 1987/88 season.

Norwich would find little of their own in the first half, but they saw out the rest of the opening 45 without further damage, and interim manager Neil Adams kept the attacking shape to open the second.

Out of the break the Canaries looked bright, bringing some life to Carrow Road and pulling one back when Simon Mignolet bungled a punch and left Gary Hooper with an empty net.

Liverpool received a stroke of luck when a Sterling shot ricocheted off the heel of Bradley Johnson and looped perfectly over Ruddy and into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead and a half hour to go.

But Adams and Liverpool wouldn’t go quietly into the afternoon.  Robert Snodgrass completed a great attacking spell in the 76th minute, leaping well over Jon Flanagan to head past Mignolet and bring the game back within one.

Things became very nervy for the Reds with 15 minutes to go, and the Canaries continued their strong spell with the home fans exploding from their seats and backing their team.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel came on for goalscorer Hooper, and had a brilliant chance to send tidal waves through the title race, but couldn’t finish as Mignolet denied him on 82 minutes.  Rodgers brought on a third central defender in Daniel Agger to close up shop, which they did through a nervy last ten plus four added minutes.

Suarez produced one last selfless moment in the dying minutes. With a chance to tie the Premier League goalscoring record and the goal gaping, Suarez instead decided to pass to Lucas on the edge of the area. Lucas popped two shots on goal, one which was brilliantly saved by Ruddy and the other blocked well.

The win sees Liverpool go five points clear at the top of the table and successfully capitalize on Chelsea’s defeat at Stamford Bridge. They also go nine in front of Manchester City who have a game in hand. The match now looms next week with Liverpool hosting Chelsea at Anfield, where avoiding defeat would just about wrap things up.

LINEUPS:

Norwich City – Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Turner, Olsson; Johnson; Howson, Fer (Murphy 78′); Snodgrass; Redmond, Hooper (van Wolfswinkel).

Goals: Hooper 54′; Snodgrass 77′

Liverpool – Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan; Gerrard, Lucas, Allen (Agger 81′), Sterling, Coutinho (Moses 76′); Suarez.

Goals: Sterling 4′, 62′; Suarez 11′

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday