Second place stings, but Liverpool should be proud

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Those were the odds on Liverpool winning the Premier League title on opening day.

At the moment, nothing will soften the blow to Liverpool fans who saw their team clutch the trophy with a vicegrip only to see it slip out like a buttered up watermelon.

However, what they accomplished is by far the most surprising result of the Premier League season, at least in the top half of the table.

And while at the moment the disappointment of missing a once-in-a-career result is resounding, it would behoove fans to see how far the club has come, and how they’ve accomplished something far greater than winning a title.

VIDEO: Steven Gerrard reflects on Liverpool season, muses about Reds’ future

Brendan Rodgers has pulled the club out of the quicksand grasp that had held the club down for so long.

Seventh. Eighth. Sixth. Seventh.

source: AP
At the moment the pain is real, but that pain will help drive Luis Suarez and company next season.

Those are Liverpool’s last four table finishes in the Premier League. Reds fans can kiss those days goodbye. Rodgers has assembled himself a sustainable club that should fare just fine in its first season back into Europe’s upper echelon.

The club, for one, is young. There are just three players on the entire roster over 30 years old, with one being backup goalkeeper Brad Jones and the other the timeless Steven Gerrard. Meanwhile, eight players are in the prime 24-27 range, while plenty still are even younger and still proved vital this season.

Additionally, the growth – and failure – this squad faced over the course of the season will be invaluable to their title search in future years.  Players like Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Simon Mignolet, Daniel Sturridge, and even Luis Suarez now know what it’s like to come so close and yet not seal the deal. That kind of chip on the shoulders of these players should scare the rest of the league next season.

So fans, do your grieving, comfort the lump in your throat knowing the title was so close and yet lost forever. It’s inevitable.

But remember this – the club’s illustrious history aside, none of what Liverpool accomplished this season was remotely conceivable this summer. The club was mired in a four-year seemingly unbreakable slump and wrapped in player turmoil.

Now, that all seems ancient history, and it’s on to bigger and better things. Congratulate Manchester City on their victory this time around, and log this time in your memory, because come next year, it’s likely to be a whole different feeling.

Podolski goal powers Vissel Kobe to 1st win in J-League

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KOBE, Japan (AP) German striker Lukas Podolski scored late in the second half on Sunday as Vissel Kobe beat Cerezo Osaka 2-0 for its first win of the J-League season.

Naoyuki Fujita gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute and Podolski secured the win on a left-foot shot with eight minutes remaining in regulation.

It was the first goal of the season for Podolski, who last year moved from Turkish club Galatasaray after signing a deal with Kobe estimated to be worth $5.3 million.

Elsewhere, Thai midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin scored late in stoppage time to lift Consadole Sapporo to a 2-1 win over V-Varen Nagasaki.

Takuma Abe scored midway through the second half to give Vegalta Sendai a share of the points in a 1-1 draw with Shimizu S-Pulse, while Diego Oliveira scored his first goal of the season as FC Tokyo beat Shonan Bellmare 1-0.

Mu Kanazaki scored the only goal as Kashima Antlers beat Sagan Tosu 1-0, Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol finished 2-2 and Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata ended in a goalless draw.

LIVE, FA Cup: Leicester v. Chelsea

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Leicester City host Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET) in an FA Cup quarterfinal clash between two Premier League clubs.

[ LIVE: Leicester v. Chelsea ]

Claude Puel has Leicester in eighth in the Premier League table and the Foxes can smell an upset with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in fine form.

Chelsea have had a long week with Antonio Conte‘s men going to Barcelona and being taught a lesson by Lionel Messi as they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League but played well apart from Messi’s heroics. Conte’s admission that he doesn’t see the FA Cup as being too important may give Leicester an extra boost.

In team news Leicester start Kelechi Iheanacho up top after his fine display off the bench last week, while Chelsea are pretty much at full strength with Cesc Fabregas dropped, Thibaut Courtois rested and Alvaro Morata starting up top.


Leicester City


Hughes defiant after debut win as Saints boss

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Mark Hughes got off to the perfect start at Southampton as the new manager led his team to the FA Cup semifinals.

Saints beat third-tier Wigan 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday to reach the last four of the FA Cup for the first time in 15 years. They are in the relegation zone in the Premier League but are two points from safety with a game in hand.

Second half goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric did the job for Southampton as Hughes’ side weathered and early Wigan storm. Speaking to the BBC after the game, Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke in January, was in a defiant mood.

“People have questioned this group before I arrived and maybe questioned my appointment as well. It is only a start but a statement of intent,” Hughes said. “We have work to do in the Premier League but we will enjoy this moment. A Wembley semifinal which will be a great experience for our fans.”

Hughes’ side did what Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City couldn’t in knocking Wigan out of the FA Cup as Paul Cook’s team fairytale run was ended.

In truth Saints could’ve won by a more comfortable scoreline in the second half as Manolo Gabbiadini had a penalty kick brilliantly saved by Christian Walton, but given Wigan’s dominance in the first half, 2-0 was a fine result. Saints looked more dangerous in a 4-4-2 formation and Hughes knows there is plenty more work to do but confidence will perhaps grow with a trip to Wembley coming up.

When it comes to Hughes’ future at Saints he only has a deal until the end of this season. He has eight games to turn their fortunes around following Mauricio Pellegrino‘s firing earlier this week after just five wins in 30 PL games this season.

It appears that Hughes believes he can not only get the Saints out of trouble but also make some waves in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley next month.

“It has been a difficult week for the guys,” Hughes said. “I am really pleased with the amount of talent I have to work with with this group.”

Southampton beat Wigan, reach FA Cup semis

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  • Wigan’s fairytale ended
  • Hojbjerg, Cedric score first Saints goals
  • Saints reach FA Cup semifinal for first time since 2003
  • Gabbiadini’s penalty kick saved

Southampton beat third-tier Wigan Atheltic 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday as Mark Hughes‘ first game in charge ended in a victory in the FA Cup quarterfinal.

Saints were second best in the first half but Wigan spurned several chances, while Southampton went ahead via Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s first goal for the club as he finished well from a corner.

Christian Walton then saved Manolo Gabbiadini‘s penalty kick brilliantly but a late goal from Cedric Soares sent Saints into their first FA Cup semifinal since 2003.

For Wigan, their fairytale run is over as they knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City to reach the last eight.

Wigan started well enough as the Latics settled into the game on a difficult surface. Southampton caused some problems for Wigan goalkeeper Walton who dropped a cross but Guido Carrillo couldn’t make the most of it.

Will Grigg then raced clear after a rapid counter from Wigan and his shot was deflected wide with Southampton caught out. Soon after another deflected shot found Cheyenne Dunkley in the box but he couldn’t get anything on the ball with the goal gaping. A massive chance for Wigan.

Gary Roberts then had another great chance for Wigan as a loose ball found him in the box but he looped his effort over the bar. The Latics continued to look the better team and took the game to Saints with 10 corner kicks, as Max Power’s corner almost crept in at the near post.

Jacobs curled a shot just over after half time as Wigan threatened but Southampton improved. Sofiane Boufal curled a free kick onto the top of the net and then Gabbiadini had a glorious chance.

Dan Byrne accidentally played in Southampton’s Italian striker and 10-yards out he only had to beat Walton but Wigan’s goalkeeper produced a fine stop.

Walton denied Hojbjerg’s header soon after as Saints cranked up the pressure and from the resulting corner they took the lead.

Dusan Tadic‘s corner found Hojbjerg and he finished well to score his first goal for the club and the first of Hughes’ reign.

Southampton should have sealed it late on as Gabbiadini was brought down in the box but his penalty kick was superbly saved by Walton to keep the score at 1-0.

Wigan threw everything at Saints late on as Noel Hunt almost equalised but the visitors broke and sealed the game.

Nathan Redmond released Cedric and the right back, in the left wing position, ran free and finished superbly to make it 2-0 and send Saints to Wembley.