Brendan Rodgers slams Cesc Fabregas as Liverpool’s top four hopes all but over

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LONDON – On Sunday Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four were all but ended after a battling 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

[ RELATED: Three things we learned ]

Brendan Rodgers’ side took the game to Chelsea in the second half after a slow start which saw John Terry head Chelsea into the lead, but the Reds squandered numerous chances as Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho went close. Rodgers was pleased with his teams display but a challenge from Cesc Fabregas on Sterling in the first minute enraged the Liverpool boss, as he felt Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder should have been shown a straight-red card.

“He [Sterling] recovered exceptionally well. It was a poor challenge by Fabregas. He should have been sent off,” Rodgers said. “Out of control. Diving. Stretching. It was a poor challenge and Raheem has done well to stay on the field and play ever so well in the second half.”

[ VIDEO: Gerrard equalizes for Liverpool ]

That lunging tackle from Fabregas aside, Liverpool’s failure to win on Sunday means they now sit six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with two games to go. Liverpool also have a inferior goal difference of 14 goals and Rodgers admitted his side are already building towards next season and getting back into the top four. Rodgers admitted it will be tough, like always, to attract the right type of players but he is looking at a summer of heavy recruitment to get Liverpool back in the race for Champions League action.

“Our lack of goals has really hurt us this season but the players have done everything, we want to finish it well but for us, it is pretty clear the areas we need to improve in,” Rodgers said. “If we can do that over the course of the summer, which will be a big summer for us, then hopefully it will set us back on the track again.”

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Gerrard did battle against Chelsea for one last time in his illustrious PL career.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard continued his superb swansong as he scored for the second-straight PL game running to grab a point for the Reds as his departure to Major League Soccer looms. The ovation he received at the Bridge was warm when he was substituted 10 minutes from the end, despite some derogatory chanting from the home fans throughout the years, and Gerrard was hailed by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho as a “dear enemy” for the Blues over the years.

“It was brilliant, he has taken a lot of stick here over the years but I think the Chelsea supporters knew deep down, it is only because he is a superstar player who has been a thorn in their side for many years. They showed a great appreciation when we took him off,” said Gerrard’s manager, Rodgers.

Gerrard also appreciated the ovation from Chelsea’s fans but also remembered plenty of times he has been lambasted by fans of the west London club after his costly slip against the Blues last season all but ended Liverpool’s title hopes, and after he turned down a move to Chelsea in 2005.

“It was a nice touch [from the Chelsea fans]. I know they’ve absolutely murdered me for years because I never signed here,” Gerrard said. “It was nice touch but I’m well aware it was only a moment. I’ve had great support from the Liverpool fans, that’s all that matters to me.”

As Gerrard’s time at Liverpool is coming to a close, Rodgers still isn’t sure how, or if, they can replace their legendary captain.

“I’ve said before, he is irreplaceable really,” Rodgers said. “One way or the other whether that is players coming in or players that are here taking a step forward. It is going to be crucial. He is a player who makes the big contributions when needed and has done for many years.”

Rodgers finished up by answering a question on what he thinks of the 2014-15 PL champions Chelsea, and then discussed where Liverpool is at as they look back at a season of struggled which will end without a top four finish.

“I’m not so worried about Chelsea. I am  more worried about my own team. Chelsea are the deserved winners and they brought in three quality players that made a difference for them this year. Simple as that,” Rodgers said. “They have been the best team consistently. For us, we have fought for everything. We sit in fifth place and that’s probably where we are at. If we are going to make the next steps we need to find some acquisitions in the summer that will help us do that but the players I’ve worked with all season have been brilliant. They have given everything and like today, we were very unfortunate.”

As for the boss of the current champions, Mourinho believes that although Liverpool finished outside of the top four this season, the Reds will be challenging for the title once again next season.

“Last season they were almost there, they finished second and this season they finish fifth. Somebody else will finish fifth next season. This is the Premier League. Last year it was Manchester United out of the top four, this season it is Liverpool and next season it will be somebody else. We have to make sure that Chelsea is not the one.”

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH (AP) Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Socce r and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FOLLOW LIVE: Atlanta v. Quakes, Galaxy v. Impact on a busy MLS Saturday

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Eight games in seven hours, now that’s a jam-packed MLS Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: MLS scoreboard, for the next 7 hours ]

Things kickoff with Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes visiting red-hot Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United, and comes to a close in Los Angeles, where league leaders LAFC host Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, who look to continue moving up in the Western Conference standings, host Montreal Impact.

In between, the New England Revolution look to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they welcome Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, while the Chicago Fire hope to jump level with the Revs in the standings as they take on FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. San Jose Earthquakes — 3:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Columbus Crew — 5 p.m. ET

New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids — 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City — 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC v. Toronto FC — 10:30 p.m. ET

LA Galaxy v. Montreal Impact — 10:30 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Lewandowski’s Bayern keeps rolling, Leipzig stays top

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Week 5 of the Bundesliga season looked a lot like so many others since Robert Lewandowski arrived in the country from Lech Poznan in 2010.

He scored, and his team won.

[ MORE: Man City hangs 8 on Watford ]

It wasn’t enough to put Bayern Munich atop the league, as the Bavarian side also saw RB Leipzig get a win and could sit third once Lewandowski’s first German team, Borussia Dortmund, plays on Sunday.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Koln

Robert Lewandowski is humming along, scoring two more goals to give him nine in Bayern’s first five matches of the Bundesliga season. The 31-year-old Polish superstar scored at midweek in the Champions League, and has scored in all seven matches he’s played since being skunked in the DFL SuperCup loss to Borussia Dortmund.

Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic also scored for Bayern, who will finish the weekend no lower than third on the table. A 59th minute red card to Koln’s Kingsley Ehizibue came with Bayern already leading 2-0, so it was a bit snoozy in terms of drama at the Allianz Arena.

Werder Bremen 0-3 RB Leipzig

A 64th minute red card to Konrad Laimer couldn’t slow down the table leaders, as Leipzig added a goal after going down to 10-men in the win.

Willi Orban and Marcelo Saracchi scored for the visitors, and Marcel Sabitzer scored a terrific free kick in the win.

American teenager Josh Sargent started and played 80 minutes for the hosts, covering 9.63 kilometers and getting a lone shot on goal.

Elsewhere
Schalke 2-1 Mainz — Friday
Freiburg 1-1 Augsburg
Hertha Berlin 2-1 Paderborn
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Union Berlin
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 5 4 1 0 13 3 10 1-1-0 3-0-0 13
 Bayern Munich 5 3 2 0 16 4 12 2-1-0 1-1-0 11
 SC Freiburg 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 FC Schalke 04 5 3 1 1 10 5 5 2-0-1 1-1-0 10
 Bayer Leverkusen 5 3 1 1 8 7 1 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
 Borussia Dortmund 4 3 0 1 13 5 8 2-0-0 1-0-1 9
 VfL Wolfsburg 4 2 2 0 7 3 4 1-1-0 1-1-0 8
 Mönchengladbach 4 2 1 1 5 4 1 0-1-1 2-0-0 7
 Eintracht Frankfurt 4 2 0 2 5 5 0 2-0-0 0-0-2 6
 Werder Bremen 5 2 0 3 8 12 -4 1-0-2 1-0-1 6
 FC Augsburg 5 1 2 2 7 11 -4 1-1-0 0-1-2 5
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 4 1 1 2 6 7 -1 0-1-1 1-0-1 4
 1899 Hoffenheim 4 1 1 2 3 6 -3 1-0-1 0-1-1 4
 1. FC Union Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 10 -5 1-0-2 0-1-1 4
 Hertha BSC Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 11 -6 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 1. FC Köln 5 1 0 4 4 11 -7 0-0-2 1-0-2 3
 FSV Mainz 05 5 1 0 4 5 15 -10 1-0-1 0-0-3 3
 SC Paderborn 5 0 1 4 6 14 -8 0-0-2 0-1-2 1

Nothing to separate Newcastle, Brighton at St. James’ Park

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A bright performance from the visitors produced nothing, as Newcastle United and Brighton played to a scoreless draw at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton had more than 70 percent of the ball and an advantage in shots, but couldn’t get a goal over the line. Newcastle only arrived late after the introduction of Allan Saint-Maximin and Andy Carroll, and would not truly challenge Mathew Ryan.

The Seagulls rise 15th with six points, two spots and one point ahead of the hosts.


Three things we learned

1. Relegation candidates for sure: Both Graham Potter and Steve Bruce are new managers of their sides, but neither looks much better than their predecessor. Maybe Brighton is on a slightly better trajectory than the Gulls side that survived by two points last season, but the Magpies looked very poor over two formations in the first half. Maybe that’s a symptom of the sick, but a winner of this game might’ve ended up pointing to the points as what kept it up come May.

2. Brighton cannot capitalize vs. awful Newcastle midfield: The match was screaming out for Glenn Murray as Brighton was the brighter side but oh-so-wasteful in the 18. The Seagulls press befuddled Newcastle’s midfield and kept the back line on edge, but every chance was wasted.

There was a gulf between the Magpies’ back line and center forward Joelinton, who himself struggled to assert himself on the game. It’s telling that Steve Bruce’s 73rd minute subs were Allan Saint-Maximin and Ki Sung-yeung for Miguel Almiron and Jonjo Shelvey, as the Magpies had little possession and less threat.

3. Carroll back in black (and white): Hometown hero Andy Carroll last played for the Magpies in a Premier League game on Dec. 29, 2010, against Spurs before being sold to Liverpool for a massive fee. The oft-injured but powerful striker came on for the final 10 minutes to a rousing “One of our own” chant from St. James’ Park, and cued Allan Saint-Maximin up for a chance during his cameo.

Man of the Match: Schar — It just has to be. Martin Dubravka was beaten by Neal Maupay, but his dink could not cross the goal line before Schar leapt to clobber the ball to safety with an overhead clearance. What a play, and indicative of how often the Swiss centerpiece has saved Newcastle at either end of the pitch over the last two years.


 [ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Martin Dubravka was tasked with making the match’s first save after Pascal Gross blazed down the right and toward the six-yard box.

Almiron came close to getting his first goal with a well-timed run and shot which was saved by Mat Ryan in the 22nd minute.

The Magpies’ season record of wobbly starts continued, and Dubravka and Jamaal Lascelles needed to make borderline heroic plays to keep it 0-0 by the half-hour mark.

Joelinton came very close to nodding a corner kick home as Lewis Dunk forgot to mark the Brazilian. His free header just missed the far post.

Steven Alzate had the ball in the back of the goal, as Newcastle was at sixes and sevens at the back, but was offside in the 34th.

The Magpies were booed off the pitch at halftime, and started brightly with a 46th minute shot punched wide by Christian Atsu.

Almiron made a delightful turn on the right side before dribbling into the 18 for a low shot saved by Ryan. Closer, but still not enough. The ex-Atlanta United man two more extremely bad giveaways on the day, and isn’t offering too much hope.