West Ham 1-2 Liverpool: Contentious battle sees Liverpool through to top (video)

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The home side put up a fight, but a pair of penalty decisions downed the Hammers as Liverpool returned themselves to the top of the table and retained control of the Premier League race.

Steven Gerrard slotted home both chances from the spot, one in each half, to deny a stubborn West Ham a surprise result and nullify a Guy Demel goal just before the break.

West Ham begun the game with some poise, keeping Liverpool’s blistering attack at bay for the opening 15 minutes and producing a half-chance or two of their own.

The first real chance on goal was a Luis Suarez shot on 19 minutes that would have been a stunning goal out of nothing, and it evaded the dive of Adrian but struck the top corner of the post curling towards goal.

The Hammers used their strong midfield to peg back Liverpool, who found it difficult to get into quality positions.  Daniel Sturridge had a chance on a half-hour after a brilliant back-heel from Jordan Henderson but the ball took a bobble off the pitch and he lifted the shot well high.

West Ham nearly took a shock lead in the final five minutes before the break, but Kevin Nolan standing on the penalty spot couldn’t control a ball from Mohamed Diame after great work down the right flank.

It appeared Liverpool’s Premier League record of 22 straight matches with a first-half goal would come to an end, but three minutes to the break Luis Suarez flicked a ball on in the box that clipped the outstretched arm of James Tomkins and referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.

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Steven Gerrard’s 9th and 10th penalties of the season gave Liverpool a hard-fought win over a battling West Ham squad.

Steven Gerrard cooly slotted the ball into the bottom corner, and all of West Ham’s strong tactical play in the first half came unraveled…or so it seemed.

A West Ham corner into stoppage time came in which Simon Mignolet should have collected, but he spilled under pressure by Andy Carroll and Guy Demel pounced with the ball barely even having touched the ground for the equalizer.

The referees convened after the linesman flagged, but they decided Carroll did not foul Mignolet. Replays showed there was contact, and while it may have been enough had they been playing basketball, the arm check wasn’t enough for Taylor to rule out the score.

The second half took a while to settle in, but Liverpool skirted a West Ham opportunity to go in front on 62 minutes when a thunderous header from Carroll was parried up and out of the way by Mignolet.

With title hopes on the line, Liverpool found their breakthrough to once again take the lead. Jon Flanagan looked for space down the left side of the box, and West Ham keeper Adrian took him down.  It may have been a foul anyways, but a late tug by the keeper on Flanagan’s trailing foot ensured the penalty decision. Gerrard again was cool from the spot, and the Reds went on top again.

The second completed penalty gives Gerrard his 13th goal of the season, 10 of which have come via the spot.

West Ham began to get frustrated after going behind, and their fouling became more prevalent. Luis Suarez had himself a handful of chances late in the match, but Adrian was there to stop him a few times. Raheem Sterling also saw a late effort quelled by the Hammers stopper.

With the win, the Reds return themselves to the top of the table, two above Chelsea and four above City, who have played two fewer games.  The Hammers, looking for a top 10 finish, are still three back of 10th-placed Stoke.

LINEUPS:

West Ham United – Adrian; Armero, Reid, Tomkins, Demel; Noble, Taylor (Jarvis 78′), Diame (Cole 85′), Downing, Nolan (Nocerino 68′); Carroll.

Goals: Demel 45+1′

Liverpool – Mignolet,; Johnson, Flanagan, Sakho, Skrtel; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas 45′), Sterling; Suarez, Sturridge (Toure 85′).

Goals: Gerrard 44′ (pen), 71′ (pen)

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.