Steven Gerrard

Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool’s chance to tighten its grip; Fourth place in focus

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Liverpool already controls its title destiny, but with a win at Carrow Road on Sunday, the Premier League leaders can tighten its grip on the 2013-14 crown. In the wake of last week’s win over Manchester City, the Reds’ upcoming visit from Chelsea looked set to define the title race, but after both the Citizens and Blues were tripped up by Sunderland, Brendan Rodgers’ team can forge some breathing room. Beat Norwich City, and Liverpool will be five points clear at the top.

In the day’s two other games, the league’s final Champions League spot will be in focus. The most difficult match of Arsenal’s run-in, Sunday’s trip to Hull, coincides with one of Everton’s two biggest remaining challenges, a visit from Manchester United. After the Toffees were upset by Crystal Palace midweek, Arsenal has already reclaimed fourth place, but if Everton stumbles again, Gooners can stop worrying their club will follow Manchester United out of the top four.

With each game to be broadcast on NBCSN (and streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra), here is quick look at the three-match Sunday in the Premier League:

Norwich City vs. Liverpool, 7:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Norwich City only two points above the drop.
  • Liverpool has won 10 league matches in a row.
  • Luis Suárez (29) has more goals than the Canaries have scored this season (26).

With three losses in a row, there’s an increased feeling of doom around the Canaries, particularly with the three teams in the drop starting to pick up points. All of Cardiff City (18th), Fulham (19th), and Sunderland (20th) could pass Norwich with a win next week, provided the Canaries don’t get a result on Sunday.

Given Chelsea and Manchester City’s stumbles, we should be mindful of a potential Liverpool slip, particularly with Daniel Sturridge out. The Reds will also be without Jordan Henderson, who begins a three-match suspension. Still, with the likes of Suárez, Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling set to play, it will take an upset of Chelsea-Sunderland proportions to keep the Reds from their 11th straight win.

Hull City vs. Arsenal, 9:05 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • Arsenal’s won the teams’ last five meetings.
  • With 40 goals allowed, Hull has conceded one fewer time than Arsenal.
  • No Hull player has scored more than four goals this season (Nikica Jelavic).

Spirits were raised around Arsenal after the team’s mid-week win over West Ham. Not only did the victory end a near-month-long winless run, but the result allowed the Gunners to reclaim fourth. Coming into Sunday’s game one point ahead of Everton, Arsenal controls its own Champions League 2014-15 destiny.

For Hull City, relegation is still a concern, though six points above the drop, you can forgive the Tigers for looking at this as a pure FA Cup Final preview. Set to meet the Gunners at Wembley next month, Hull will be measuring itself against the last team that stands between it and the club’s first major honor. Sunday’s result is more likely to be seen through that lens than relegation’s.

Everton vs. Manchester United, 11:10 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra

  • David Moyes makes his first visit to Goodison Park since leaving Everton.
  • Toffees one-point back of Arsenal for fourth place.
  • Wayne Rooney expected to be available after toe injury.

What’s the bigger surprise: That Manchester United, on Moyes’ return to Goodison, have no chance to make Champions League? That Everton does? Or that Moyes’s Red Devils, riding a two-match winning streak, could play a major part in keeping his old club out of Champions League? Given what we saw mid-week from Everton, a United win at Goodison isn’t difficult to imagine.

For Roberto Martínez’s men, the Crystal Palace game may serve as a wake-up call. Not sufficiently scared by their close call against Sunderland, the Toffees went out and gave up three goals to what used to be the  league’s worst attack (the Eagles’ explosion in Liverpool changed that). A similar performance against Rooney and Juan Mata could end their top-four dream.

For most of this season, Everton’s been the better of these teams, but as United has shown all season, playing with expectations can have a debilitating effect. After defeating Arsenal two weeks ago, Everton’s transcended plucky upstart. They’re now expected to maintain a challenge for fourth.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans celebrates after Sounders' Nelson Haedo Valdez scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.