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Premier League 2014-15 preview: Liverpool

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This time last year, thoughts Liverpool could reclaim a spot in the Premier League’s top four seemed wishful, with a slew of buys from Tottenham putting Spurs in position to compete with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchesters City and United. Instead, Liverpool’s resurgence became one of the best stories of the season, with an 11-game winning streak (16, unbeaten) that ran through the end of April putting Brendan Rodgers’ team on the brink of the title.

Late slips against Chelsea and Crystal Palace threatened to put a damper on the 2013-14 campaign, but three months later, the season’s remembered less for its missed opportunities than the team’s huge leap up the table. After missing the tournament for four straight seasons, the five-time European champions are back in UEFA Champions League, and although they lost (read: cashed in, handsomely on) their best player this offseason, a new set of attacking talent, as well as an improved defense, could offset the absence of Luis Suárez.

This year, expectations are much higher, but they should be. As 2013-14 showed, Liverpool is finally back.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, $16m), Adam Lallana (Southampton, $41.4m), Ricky Lambert (Southampton, $5.5m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, $40m), Javi Manquillo (Atlético Madrid, loan), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, $33.4m), Divock Origi (Lille, $16m), Kevin Stewart (Tottenham, free)

Transfers Out: Luis Alberto (Málaga, loan), Iago Aspas (Sevilla, loan), Origi (Lille, loan), Jakub Sokolik (Yeovil, free), Luis Suárez (Barcelona, $108m), Andre Wisdom (West Brom, loan)

Full PL schedule | Watch Liverpool live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: After four seasons of finishing no higher than sixth, Liverpool matched its best finish of the Premier League era, finishing second behind Manchester City. In the process, the team put up 101 goals and a +51 goal difference, losing only once after Dec. 29.

Star player: Daniel Sturridge

Worries about the loss of Suárez can be assuaged by the acquisitions of Lambert and Lallana, but Sturridge’s performance last year is fans’ biggest cause for hope. Just shy of 25, there’s reason to believe the English international can improve, having only two seasons with more than 20 starts under his belt. Coming off  21-goal, seven-assist campaign, Sturridge has already proven himself an elite attacker, but if he can continue to progress, he’ll draw the type of attention that will allow his new teammates to put up their own gaudy numbers.

Coach’s corner: Brendan Rodgers

The 41-year-old has delivered on the promise he brought from Swansea, not only producing an attractive, flexible brand of soccer but also returning Liverpool to its former prominence. In 2014-15, he’ll get his first taste of Champions League soccer, along with the balancing act that comes with it. If his recent past is any indication, expect Rodgers to be bold, and learn from the lessons that are likely to come.

PST predicts: Particularly with Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham) and Louis van Gaal (Manchester United) improving two talented squads, the league’s top six or seven will be more competitive than ever. Even if the team regresses, it feels Suárez’s loss, and captain Steven Gerrard shows his age (and miles), there’s no reason Liverpool can’t keep up. The Reds are among the favorites to claim a top four spot and a have a dark horse’s place in any title discussion.

FA Cup: Kane’s hat trick sees Spurs sail past Fulham, into QF

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (R) celebrates with team mate Dele Alli as he scores their third goal and completes his hat trick during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on February 19, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur have done plenty to frustrate and confound their supporters in recent weeks — their Premier League title race has all but officially gone, and they’ve got some work to do in their Europa League round-of-32 tie — but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is now just 270 minutes from lifting the club’s first major trophy since 2008.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

A 3-0 victory away to Championship side Fulham on Sunday sends Tottenham through to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, where they’ll join the likes of Lincoln City and Millwall — as well as PL leaders Chelsea, and possibly Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Harry Kane bagged all three of Spurs goals — the first two of which were created courtesy of delightful wide service from Christian Eriksen — the first a simple tap-in from six yards out in the 16th minute; the second a slightly more difficult, waist-high redirect from inside 10 yards not long after halftime. The hat trick was complete on 73 minutes, when Kane raced in behind the Fulham defense and fired past Marcus Bettinelli at the near post.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

VIDEO: David Villa given red card via MLS’s video replay

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David Villa was sent off following the use of video replay during New York City FC’s preseason game against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Villa, the reigning league MVP, was initially shown a yellow card by referee Nima Saghafi for a slap to the face of Dynamo defender A.J. DeLaGarza (the incident begins at the 36:50 mark of the above video). Following a review of video evidence (Video Assistant Referee — VAR), which MLS has implemented on a trial basis this preseason, Saghafi correctly changed Villa’s booking to a straight red card.

The biggest stumbling block for video replay in soccer is, undoubtedly, the length of time each video-assisted decision would require to be made. From the moment Villa made contact with DeLaGarza’s face, to the time Saghafi re-enters the field of play and shows Villa his red card, 2 minutes and 33 seconds has passed. From the initial incident to the restart of play, 3 minutes and 43 seconds.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s lose to 10-man Panama in opener of WCQ ]

That might not sound like a ton of time, but when you consider that’s time that will have to be added on in stoppage time, the typical three or four minutes quickly balloons to seven or eight minutes. The fact that a referee’s decision was corrected is a huge win, and proof that the use of video replay can and will help referee’s make game-altering decisions; the process by which that happens, though, still needs expedited.

Update: This post previously misidentified Villa as the first MLS player to be sent off via the use of VAR. Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara was shown a red card via the use of VAR earlier in the preseason.

Ranieri criticizes Leicester for lacking “desire and heart”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City looks dejected during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Millwall and Leicester City at The Den on February 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri criticized his players for lacking “desire and heart” in a 1-0 loss at third-tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, the latest setback for the stuttering English champion.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Leicester, which is one point above the relegation zone in a woeful defense of its Premier League title, is without a victory in its last eight matches.

Millwall played most of the second half with 10 men and won thanks to a 90th-minute goal.

“I want to speak again with the players and say we have to fight every match,” an animated Ranieri said. “Who wants to fight? Tell me. I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“It is strange because last season we won for this, to be more determined than the opponent and play with more heart than the opponent. We could also lose but we would fight every match. I want to see this, the fight until the end.”

Leicester’s next match is against Sevilla in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Spurs, Man United away in FA Cup 5th round

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his third and his sides third goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-rounders served up the biggest Cupset of them all — fifth-division side Lincoln City knocking off Burnley of the Premier League — as well as two moderately shocking results — Leicester City losing to 10-man Millwall (League One) and Manchester City drawing 0-0 with Huddersfield Town (Championship).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Sunday’s FA Cup 5th-rounders ]

On Sunday, two more of the PL’s big boys hope to avoid upsets and reach the quarterfinals of the 2016-17 tournament. First up, Tottenham Hotspur visit Fulham’s Craven Cottage in a renewed London derby, followed by Manchester United’s trip to Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. For live scores and updates, hit the above link, or click right here.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET