Sterling

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′

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

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City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

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Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.