Exclusive Q&A with Liverpool’s Joe Allen ahead of the Merseyside derby

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LIVERPOOL — On Tuesday night Liverpool and Everton will square off at Anfield (Watch live on NBCSN, 3pm ET and online via Live Extra) with local pride and a place in the top four of the Premier League at stake.

Yeah, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

So last week I popped up to Liverpool FC’s Melwood training ground for an exclusive one-on-one chat with midfielder Joe Allen and asked him about what it’s like to play in the derby, what Liverpool can achieve this season, about his time on Merseyside so far and much more.

(WATCH: Liverpool vs. Everton live on NBCSN, 3pm ET and online via Live Extra)

Allen, 24, is also in a pretty unique situation as he’s the only Liverpool or Everton player who has played under both managers, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, while they were in charge of his hometown club Swansea.

In fact Everton manager Martinez, who Allen is desperately hoping to beat at Anfield under the floodlights and cauldron of noise, gave the young Welsh midfielder his professional debut in 2007. So the respect he has for the Spanish coach is plentiful, as the Red and Blue halves of Merseyside prepare to square off.

(MORE: Merseyside Derby – Liverpool and Everton set for biggest derby in decades)

Having played in the 3-3 draw at Goodison Park back in November, Allen had a glorious opportunity to score that he put wide of Tim Howard’s goal. That miss, and the desire to help Liveprool obtain their goal of a top four finish, sees Allen fired up for what’s set to be an epic Merseyside derby with bragging rights well and truly on the line.

So without further adieu, here he is.

Explain to an American audience, what is it like to play in a derby? What are the differences to a regular game?

Obviously the passion and the intensity in those games are completely different to regular games. As players they are the games you look forward to the most.

For you, where does this derby rank in the Premier League? Is it right up there with the biggest derbies in the world?

Yeah it is, of course it is. In particular the last few seasons the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool has become even more fierce especially in the league table, that gives it even more excitement and build the game up even more. This are the sort of games that when the fixture list comes out, you look for them straightaway.

Is there a buzz around the city with a derby around the corner? Has it helped that both teams have been playing so well?

In the week leading up to the game it is the talk of the city and the people. Everyone is hoping their team comes out on top and they will have the bragging rights that follow that.

source: Getty Images
Liverpool midfielder Allen misses a great chance in the derby earlier this season. He expects another end-to-end clash at Anfield.

It adds to the intensity and the importance of the game. The derby and the rivalry is one thing but we’re competing for similar positions in the table, so it gives it that added spice. That’s certainly the case when that’s at stake. We realize the importance of the match both from the rivalry point of view, but from picking up points off each other.

You have some previous in Derby games, scoring the winner vs. Cardiff as a youngster. How special are these matches? 

Being a player that came through the academy at Swansea, it was a great feeling in the derby match to first of all get my first goal but to be playing in such an important game. It is such a big game, it was great. It’s a moment I will never forget.

What about the derby and the fact you weren’t born in Liverpool? Is it different?

As soon as you join a club in Liverpool, you see how passionate the fans are towards their football club. Everyone knows the score when you go into a derby game. How much it means to everyone in the city and obviously that gives you the added incentive to go out and perform and get the added result.

Do you see this rivalry getting even bigger as both teams and new managers continue to develop in the next few years?

Both teams at the moment are improving, certainly over the last couple of seasons. It’s already a huge derby match. But I think with reasonably young managers, and the young teams developing, I’m hoping to be a part of many great derby days in the future.

Having played in the first game at Goodison in the 3-3 draw, are you expecting a similar challenge this time?

I’m sure from a tempo point of view and the pace of the game it will be very similar, almost every derby game is. I was impressed that Everton had the courage to fight back from a losing position, but then so did we. That game had everything. Hopefully it will be as exciting, but that Liverpool come out on top and win quite comfortably.

What about Roberto Martinez, has it surprised you what he’s done?

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Allen, right, is expecting a tough test from Everton once again in Tuesday’s derby.

He’s had a big impact and has done really well since he went to Everton. There are no surprises there really. He’s a good manager. It will be strange being on the opposition team but I am looking forward to facing up against him.

What was he like to work for during your time at Swansea?

Martinez has been great, he was a big part of my career as the manager who gave my debut in league football. He helped develop my game a lot with his approach to my style of play and things like that, he played a big part in Swansea’s success as well.

At Liverpool, what would be a successful season this campaign? Top 4? A trophy?

Top four is the main focus. Everyone appreciates that. It is incredibly competitive trying to get those top four places and over the season there’s going to be twists and turns but that’s our main goal. To do that would be an incredible achievement.

Between now and the rest of the season, are you confident your game-changers will make most teams struggle against you?

We’ve certainly got the came-changers and players who have the ability to turn games on their head. We’ve got a great team morale and everyone is really working at 100 percent, we have done all season. The signs are all positive for the rest of the season. Let’s hope we can keep getting the results we are after and lets see where that leaves us at the end of the season.

Personally, how have you found things this season? It’s been stop-start with injuries, how frustrating is that?

It’s the biggest frustration in football. Unfortunately that comes with the territory and is something you’ve got to learn to deal with and try to do everything you can to prevent it happening again. Thankfully I am fit at the moment and looking to keep it that way for as long as possible.

With Lucas out injured for while, do you see this as a chance to play regularly between now and the end of the season?  How was it to comeback against Aston Villa last weekend?

It’s always great to get back on that, unfortunately it wasn’t as part of a winning performance. The aim now is to get a run of games, if I can get my chance in the team I will do everything I can to keep hold of it. The first half of the season has been very stop-start so to get that consistent run of games it what I am striving to do. Touch wood I can make it happen.

With so many quality players in midfield, has it been tough to try and become a starter?

When you agree to join a club like Liverpool you appreciate the competition is fierce. You’re joining a club with fantastic players there already and also they’re always a club that are going to attract players in the future. You know day in, day out you have got to give everything. As an ambitious player, like everyone else in that dressing room, we are the type of characters who are hungry and looking to compete. We’re all hopeful we can come on top, we do appreciate the competition is fierce but you always want to be a part of a team where that’s the case.

source: Getty Images
After an injury-hit campaign, Allen hopes to get his smooth passing game going for the rest of the season.

You are still very young, what are your targets in the short and long term with Liverpool and Wales?

With Liverpool the dream for me is to experience Champions League football. That’s been a dream of mine since a young age. I’d love to have the chance to do that with Liverpool and in my time here. I’m hopeful in my time here I will get the chance to do that.

From an international point of view, Wales’ focus is now on qualifying for the Euro’s. With some of the players we’ve got we are a young developing team, it’s an exciting few years ahead for us. So I hope to have the chance to play in some finals for Wales.

How great has it been to play alongside Steven Gerrard since you arrived at Liverpool?

It’s been great. He’s a player I’ve looked up to for some many years and has been a huge player in the Premier League and for Liverpool. To get the chance to play with him and learn from him day in and day out, it’s been a privilege. I’m looking forward to try and get in the team alongside him and producing some good performances with him.

What do you think of Gerrard dropping back and adopting more of a Pirlo role?

I think he can still do everything. He’s a top player and the best players can play in many different roles. That’s credit to him and the beauty of having a player like Stevie in your team. Wherever he’s asked to do a job, he will do it with flying colors.

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With the Welsh national team full of youngsters, Allen is hoping they can qualify for the next European Championships in 2016.

There’s been scattered of talk of Gerrard playing center back at the World Cup. Can he do it?

As I said, you feel the best players can play anywhere. If that’s the case you feel he’d certainly do a good job there. Whether it happens or not is a different question.

How has Rodgers change since his Swansea days?

He has a certain philosophy. But of course there has to be change at different clubs, but also as a young manager he’s progressing his career as well. I’ve been lucky to have the chance to work under him at a massive club like Liverpool, so it’s been great.

Who has more jaw-dropping moments in training, Suarez or Sturridge?

They are both at it. You’ve seen it consistently from both of them this season on the football pitch but it’s the same in training. Obviously there’s the likes of Coutinho and Raheem, who have the ability to produce all sorts on the training pitch as well. It keeps you on your toes.

Man City to sign Ruben Dias for $84 million

Ruben Dias to Manchester City
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Ruben Dias to Manchester City has been confirmed by Benfica, as the Portuguese international center back will complete his $84 million transfer to the Premier League.

Given their 5-2 mauling at home against Leicester City on Sunday, City need defensive help. Big time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Dias, 23, is regarded as one of the best central defensive players in Europe and Pep Guardiola’s Man City have moved swiftly to try and address their defensive issues.

In a statement on their website, Portuguese giants Benfica confirmed the sale of Dias as the formalities of the move will now be ironed in the coming days.

“In the first statement (10:59 pm) it informed that it had reached an agreement with Manchester City for the sale of the central defender Ruben Dias for 68 million euros, plus an additional 3.6 million euros, depending on the achievement of objectives related to the sporting performance of the English club. This agreement is dependent on the signing of the player’s sports labor contract with Manchester City.”

Benfica also announced that they have bought Man City defender Nicolas Otamendi, 32, for $17.5 million to replace Dias.

“In the second statement (11 pm) Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Futebol, SAD informed that it has reached an agreement with Manchester City for the signing of the central defender Nicolas Otamendi for 15 million euros. This agreement is dependent on the signing of a sports labor contract with the player and the completion of medical examinations.”

After spending $53 million on center back Nathan Ake already this summer, Guardiola is still trying to fill a Vincent Kompany sized hole in his defense. 12 months on, Man City are still struggling defensively.

Kalidou Koulibaly was linked with a move to Man City but it is believed they couldn’t agree a deal with Napoli and have instead gone for Dias. With Aymeric Laporte close to a return to full fitness, there is no doubt Man City’s defense will improve in the coming weeks and months.

And my goodness, it has to. If Pep Guardiola’s side have any chance of winning the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League they simply have to get better at the back, and the current players have shown they aren’t up to the task. An upgrade on their current full backs will be needed as well as Dias and Ake.

Dias is a confident defender on the ball, which will suit City, but more importantly they need him to hit the ground running and be a dominant defender.

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, start time, odds, predicted lineup

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool will be hoping center back Joe Gomez will be fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip. Judging by the early reports, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson should also be fit to start.

Arsenal could have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which would be a big boost. Pablo Mari, Calum Chamberls, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Predicted lineup

Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Thiago, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Arsenal (3-4-3): Leno; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Serie A: Lozano scores twice for Napoli; 10-man Juve drop points to Roma

Cristiano Ronaldo - Juventus
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Serie A, where Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to save a point for Juventus and Hirving Lozano also scored twice in Napoli’s 6-0 victory…

[ MORE: Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video) ]

Roma 2-2 Juventus

Juventus overturned a pair of deficits to salvage a point from their trip to Rome, but Andrea Pirlo might just feel his side should have taken more from the game if not for Adrien Rabiot’s red card in the 62nd minute.

Jordan Veretout fired Roma ahead from the penalty spot in the 31st minute, but Cristiano Ronaldo matched him with a spot kick of his own in the 44th. Veretout made it 2-1 less than a minute into the second half, with thanks to an assist from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Rabiot got his second yellow card of the game 15 minutes later, but it didn’t stop Ronalado from scoring his second equalizer in the 69th minute.

Regardless of the country, league or club, we’re seeing some of Europe’s greatest powerhouses struggle through uncharacteristically slow starts to the 2020-21 season. The safe assumption is that the cream will inevitably rise to the top after working out the early kinks, but it might just open the door for an unlikely title challenger or two as well.

[ MORE: Saturday in Serie A: Inter win 7-goal thriller in 89th minute ]

Napoli 6-0 Genoa

Napoli went top of the table (after two games) by way of Sunday’s beatdown of Genoa.

Mexican superstar Hirving Lozano opened the scoring in the 10th minute and added his second goal on the game in the 65th. In between his two tallies, Piota Zielinski (46th) and Dries Mertens (57th) also scored.

Eljif Elmas (69th) and Matteo Politano (72nd) each scored not much later to complete the scoring and the rout.

Crotone 0-2 AC Milan

Franck Kessie converted from the penalty spot in first-half stoppage time and Brahim Diaz added an insurance goal five minutes into the second half to give AC Milan their second 2-0 victory in a row to start the season. All appears to be going too well for the Rossoneri right now.

Other Serie A results

Spezia 1-4 Sassuolo
Hellas Verona 1-0 Udinese