Liverpool vs. Aston Villa: Can S.A.S. destroy Villa at Anfield?

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Liverpool welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live on NBC, 12:30pm ET and live online via NBC Sports Live Extra) with one thing in mind: goals, goals, goals.

With Brendan Rodgers possessing one of the league’s best striker partnerships in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, from here until the end of the season it’s a case of all-out attack for the Reds. Last time out against Stoke the Merseyside club smashed in five, as the deadly S.A.S. partnership was reunited in devastating fashion. Suarez and Sturridge (who has been out injured since before Christmas) have scored 32 of Liverpool’s 51 PL goals this season and the Reds are the second-highest scoring team in the league behind Manchester City.

Suarez has scored more goals than the entire Aston Villa team this season, as the Villans have netted just 20 times this campaign. However they do have victory at Anfield fresh in their minds, as they beat Liverpool 3-1 away from home last season as Christian Benteke stole the show.

(WATCH: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa live on NBC, 12:30pm ET Saturday and online via Live Extra)

The big Belgian scored against Arsenal on Monday night in a spirited defeat and Villa would give anything for another win against Liverpool to help ease fears of getting sucked into another relegation battle. While Liverpool are hoping three points will help them close the gap on Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City above them as the Reds aim to cement their spot in the top four.

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Guzan and Aston Villa have special plans to combat the threat of Luis Suarez on Saturday.

In team news Liverpool are expecting Sturridge to be fit enough to start the game, after returning off the bench last week against Stoke City. The Reds will also welcome back Joe Allen and Mamadou Sakho to the squad.

Villa could give debuts to new loan signings Grant Holt and Ryan Bertrand, who joined this week from Wigan and Chelsea respectively. But defender Nathan Baker will not feature after suffering a concussion against Arsenal on Monday.

What they’re saying…

Brendan Rodgers on Sturridge’s return to fitness: “His qualities and fitness, aligned with what I’ve seen in training, I think show that if we needed him to start, he would be able to. He looks after his body, his body fat, his weight and that natural fitness he has, alongside his work, allows him to come back and make the impact he made last week. He’s again looked very, very good in training, very sharp, and he’ll be at a good level come the weekend.”

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert on Liverpool’s title hopes: “Anfield is a great football venue. The atmosphere will be great. They are playing really well, everyone knows that. They have top players there and Brendan has them going really well. They are hitting form and they are in with a shout to win the title. There’s no two ways about it.”

Prediction

I think Villa will make life incredibly difficult for Liverpool, as they showed against Arsenal on Monday that they can pin teams back and pile plenty of pressure. If Benteke is back in form, a shock could be heading Liverpool’s way. That said, I just can’t see a game when either Suarez or Sturridge aren’t going to score. The two are sublime and given the fact that Villa have less than a goal a game this season, they will have to get a shutout to win. Can Brad Guzan keep a clean sheet? I doubt it. Liverpool win, and it could be a big one.

De Gea limps off for Spain ahead of Man Utd-Liverpool tilt

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Here’s the good news for Manchester United supporters: David De Gea played incredibly well for Spain in its EURO qualifier on Tuesday as La Furia Roja clinched a place in EURO 2020.

The bad news? The performance was truncated, with De Gea limping off the pitch and replaced by Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 60th minute.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

De Gea appeared to injure himself while attempting a goal kick of all things, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be wondering what fresh hell awaits him next.

Perhaps that’s simply the fact that Liverpool visits Old Trafford on Sunday in a match that Solskjaer previously said was perhaps ideal for his reeling Red Devils.

Solskjaer would turn to Sergio Romero should De Gea been unable to play at the weekend. Lee Grant is United’s third goalkeeper with Dean Henderson on loan to Sheffield United.

United was already going to need a lot of help to beat back the unbeaten Reds.

EURO qualifying wrap: Spain earns place in stoppage time

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Spain clinched a spot in EURO 2020 via a last-minute equalizer, but the rest of the picture only got murkier thanks to dramatics in Romania and Switzerland.)

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]


Sweden 1-1 Spain

A Marcus Berg header had Sweden on the verge of a significant home win against nearly unbeatable David De Gea and Spain, but Valencia forward Rodrigo delivered a stoppage time goal to give Robert Moreno’s men a place in EURO 2020. But Sweden can breathe a little easier thanks to a stoppage time goal across the continent.

Bad news for Manchester United, though, as De Gea’s strong day ended early due to injury.

Romania 1-1 Norway

New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita added another beauty to his collection in scoring for the second successive qualifier, but it wouldn’t stand up thanks to former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth‘s stoppage time equalizer.

Switzerland 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Terrible from the Irish, who trailed after 16 minutes and then went down to 10 men when Seamus Coleman was shown a red card in the 76th minute. Former West Ham man Edimilson Fernandes put it to bed in stoppage time as the Swiss out-attempted Ireland 20-9.

The Irish are tied for the lead in the group with 12 points but that’s about where the good news ends. They do not have an automatic spot in the playoffs while Denmark does and has 12 points. Switzerland has 11 and has also played one fewer match.

Ireland will need to beat Denmark next month and hope for help on the out-of-town scoreboard when Switzerland meets Gibraltar and Georgia.

Finland 3-0 Armenia

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki continued his fine year with a pair of goals after Fredrik Jensen staked the Finnish side to a lead in Turku. Group J second place side Finland has a five-point lead on chasing Armenia and BNH.

Elsewhere

Faroe Islands 1-0 Malta
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Lloyd: Coming off bench at World Cup “rock bottom of my entire career”

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The upper echelon of the USWNT player pool, especially the veteran generation, just swims in a different competitive gene pool.

Comments from a recent podcast featuring Carli Lloyd are the latest evidence of this, as the USWNT legend calls not starting regularly at this summer’s World Cup “the worst time of my life.”

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]

She says she was happy to be a part of it and happy for her teammates but doesn’t back down from the “worst” diagnosis. Yeah, you read that right.

“I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it,” Lloyd said on Julie Foudy’s Laughter Permitted podcast. “It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I’m having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it.”

To be fair, Lloyd hasn’t backed up anyone in almost a decade and has since won a Ballon d’Or. Not many elite athletes get used to being second (or fourth) fiddle, especially on a major stage like that.

The personalities on this team are as big as any produced by Ronaldo’s Brazil or Zidane’s France. Some may laugh at this, but it shows what a tremendous job Jill Ellis did in marshaling the team to two-straight World Cups, the first with Abby Wambach in a sub’s role and the second with Lloyd.

It also shows the marvelous competitive nature of Lloyd and the resilience of players who know they’d start for any number of teams in the world. Lloyd says in the podcast that she believed she was playing at near her best level despite being moved from midfielder to forward.

Obviously no player prefers a sub’s role to starting, but — wow — if it isn’t bewildering to hear Lloyd talk about her supporting role at age 37 being the worst time of her life. Different types.

Liverpool’s Alisson, Matip return to training

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Premier League leaders Liverpool have been handed a huge boost ahead of their massive clash at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Remember: Liverpool are eight points clear atop the table and United sit in 12th, so Jurgen Klopp‘s men are keen to rub salt further into the wounds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Red Devils.

Alisson and Joel Matip both returned to training at Melwood, with Alisson recovering from a calf injury which he suffered on the opening day of the season.

The Brazilian goalkeeper has been missing after limping out of the 4-1 win against Norwich City on Aug. 9, and his return to full fitness will bolster this already stingy Liverpool defense. Adrian has performed admirably, albeit with a few errors, in Alisson’s absence but it is now time for the superstar goalkeeper to return to action.

As for Matip, the towering center back suffered an injury against Sheffield United and missed Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League win against Red Bull Salzburg and their narrow Premier League victory against Leicester City.

Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have both come in for Matip but neither have been solid enough and the former Schalke star will slot straight back in alongside Virgil Van Dijk and bring a steadying influence to the entire defensive line. Matip has been sensational this season, just as everyone expected Gomez to take his starting spot.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the fitness of Mohamed Salah, as he trained on his own at Melwood. Salah was caught with a rash challenge by Hamza Choudhury at the end of Liverpool’s win over Leicester and suffered an ankle injury.

Klopp was incandescent with rage about the foul on Salah and it appears the Egyptian winger is in a race against time to be fit for the clash against Man United, although he is reportedly looking good to play at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With the fitness of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others a constant struggle for United in recent weeks, Solskjaer hasn’t had much help in that department.

Having Alisson and Matip back is great news for Liverpool and Klopp.