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′

FIFA worried about government interference in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation, FIFA said Friday it will send a delegation to the country to investigate government meddling.

FIFA said in a statement written in Spanish that it had recently sent a letter to the federation “expressing our concern for the situation that the federation is going through and reminding (its officials) that, according to the Statutes of FIFA, all member federations must manage their affairs independently and assure that there is no interference by third parties.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported earlier Friday that the FIFA letter warned of a possible suspension because of the government’s push to hold elections following the arrest of federation president Angel Maria Villar in July on suspicion of corruption.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

According to El Pais, FIFA is concerned that the government’s interest in federation elections could be considered outside meddling and break its rules. If the national federation were to be suspended, Spain’s team would not be allowed to play at next year’s World Cup.

FIFA’s statement made no mention of a suspension or other punitive measures.

But the scare was big enough for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say that Spain will not miss soccer’s biggest event.

“I am sure that Spain will go to the World Cup in Russia and that it will win it,” Rajoy said at a news conference in Brussels.

FIFA added in its statement that “in the coming days” it will send a delegation, which will include representatives from UEFA, to Madrid to “observe and analyze the situation” of the Spanish soccer federation.

The federation said in a separate statement that its interim president, Juan Luis Larrea, had spoken with FIFA and UEFA officials at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 and that he had passed on their “enormous concern” to Spain’s minister of education, culture and sport.

The Spanish federation said it was waiting for the ministry to set a date for a meeting.

Spanish police arrested Villar, his son, and two other soccer officials in July on suspicion of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar was replaced by Larrea, the body’s treasurer for three decades. Critics of Villar argue that elections are needed to make a clean start for the institution that has been tarnished by the scandal.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

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After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.