Martin Skrtel

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Europa League: Wolves through to Round of 16, Portuguese sides stunned

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Arsenal and Manchester United are still set to take the field, but there was an early round of Europa League matches that saw nearly half the Round of 16 field set.

Wolverhampton Wanderers knew it had room to breathe, and they made use of that, advancing cooly to the Round of 16 despite a 3-2 loss at Espanyol that saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate. The 4-0 first-leg win set Wolves up nicely, and they held firm behind equalizers from red-hot winger Adama Traore and Matthew Doherty.

 

Jonathan Calleri picked up a hat-trick for the hosts, including the winner in the 91st minute, but it wasn’t nearly enough to see the Spanish side truly challenge the massive deficit.

Elsewhere, Justin Kluivert gave Roma a spot in the Round of 16 with his 29th minute goal that saw the Italian side through via a 2-1 aggregate win over KAA Gent. The 20-year-old got a sumptuous through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who laid it on a platter for Kluivert’s calm finish. The goal answered Jonathan David’s opener four minutes prior and set Roma up for a 1-1 draw that followed their 1-0 home win in the first leg.

USMNT veteran John Brooks started and played the whole 90 minutes as Wolfsburg rode a 3-0 second leg win to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Norwegian side Malmo. 21-year-old Croatian youth international Josip Brekalo was the lone goalscorer in the second leg, finding the net just minutes before halftime to seal advancement to the next round. Yannick Gerhardt and Joao Victor added second-half cherries on top with his 65th minute to put Wolfsburg into the next stage.

Bayer Leverkusen passed a tough test with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Champions League dropouts FC Porto. After a 2-1 home win in the first leg, the German side got an early 10th minute goal from Argentine international Lucas Alario, initially flagged for offside but corrected by VAR. Porto was awful, managing just one shot through the entire first half and conceding twice more after halftime to Kai Havertz and Kerem Demirbay. Mali international Moussa Marega got 65th minute goal for Porto but it was little more than a consolation.

The other Portuguese club in the competition, Sporting CP, suffered an equally disappointing result as they coughed up a 3-1 first-leg lead and to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey, falling 4-1 in extra time to complete a 5-4 aggregate defeat. After the hosts brought the aggregate back level, it seemed Luciano Vietto had saved Sporting’s lives, but Edin Visca scored in the 92nd minute to send the match to extra time on a 4-4 aggregate draw. Visca then played hero as he blasted a wonderful penalty in the 119th minute to win the matchup.

Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored the opener just after the half-hour mark via a corner, nutmegging the goalkeeper with a header on the doorstep. Danijel Aleksic bagged Basaksehir’s second just before halftime with an absolutely incredible free-kick from miles away to put the hosts 2-0 up and level the aggregate at 3-3, with Basaksehir holding the away goal advantage from the first leg. Sporting CP was saved, however, by Vietto who scored with 22 minutes remaining 

Dutch side AZ Alkmaar slumped out of the competition to LASK, losing 2-0 in Austria which sealed a 3-1 aggregate defeat. 21-year-old Austrian youth international Marko Raguz hit for a quickfire double just before halftime, including one from the penalty spot, to send LASK through to the Round of 16.

Full Europa League results (bolded team advances)

Espanyol 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
KAA Gent 1-1 AS Roma
Malmo FF 0-3 Wolfsburg
LASK 2-0 AZ Alkmaar
Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 Sporting CP (AET)
FC Basel 1-0 Apoel Nicosia

Transfer rumor roundup: Soyuncu to Arsenal, Martial staying put

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The Manchester Evening News says Manchester United has no intention of selling Anthony Martial this summer.

The report notes that Martial will remain with Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford as United left wingers, and that United is going to continue its recruitment of Willian and Gareth Bale. In the case of Willian, MEN writer Samuel Luckhurst says United has already had some discussions with the Chelsea star.

[ MORE: Messi talks future ]

Speaking of United, the Red Devils and rivals Manchester City were reportedly both rebuffed in bids to take advantage of Inter Milan’s Financial Fair Play problems, tossing $62 million bids the way of the Italian club in hopes of prying center back Milan Skriniar from Serie A.

Skriniar, 23, played every league minute for Inter, scoring four goals and averaging 2.3 tackles and 4.5 clearances per game.

According to Sky Sports:

Both clubs made the approach for the Slovak knowing Inter need to raise around €40m (ÂŁ35m) before June 30 to avoid falling foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, but the Nerazzurri deem the 23-year-old unsellable after his outstanding debut season.

Newcastle United could spring a Liverpool reunion, with Martin Skrtel reportedly being offered to Rafa Benitez’s Magpies for just under $5 million. Skrtel, 33, scored thrice for Fenerbahce this season, leading the team in clearances with an audacious 7.3 per game. Only one player, Osmanlispor’s Yalcin Ayhan, had more (7.9) in all of the Turkish Super Lig.

Staying in Turkey, 21-year-old national team defender Caglar Soyuncu had some interesting comments on his recruitment. He’s currently with Freiburg, and confirmed Arsenal’s interest.

“Arsenal are one of the most important clubs in England,” he said. “I know they’re interested in me, but there’s nothing finalized yet about my transfer. After the national team camp we’ll have talks.”

UEFA wrap: Germany, England qualify for the World Cup

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Northern Ireland 1-3 Germany

Not that it was ever in doubt, but Germany will officially have the opportunity to defend its crown as they qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a 3-1 victory over Northern Ireland.

Sebastian Rudy scored an absolute howitzer from extremely far out just two minutes into the game, and that set the tone as the Germans controlled 74% of the possession to ease their way through. Sandro Wagner struck in the 21st minute and young Josh Kimmich finished things off for the Germans with four minutes left in regulation, while Northern Ireland grabbed a consolation in stoppage time through Charlton striker Josh Magennis.

Germany tops Group C by eight points with still one match remaining, while Northern Ireland has secured the second spot, leaving them likely to make the playoff round on 13 points.

England 1-0 Slovakia

Harry Kane continued his blistering form, smashing England into the 2017 World Cup with one swift boot four minutes into stoppage time to give his country a thrilling 1-0 victory at home. Kyle Walker stole the ball with the visitors switched off as time ran down, and he crossed to his Spurs teammate Kane who beat Meha Mevlja in the box to poke home.

The home side was poor at times, holding 67% possession but only putting five shots on target of their 17 attempts on net.

The result leaves England six points clear at the top of Group F with one match remaining, locking them into the top spot. Scotland, Slovakia, and Slovenia will now all duke it out for a second place finish.

Scotland 1-0 Slovakia

Scotland picked up an absolutely massive goal as they chase a playoff spot. Derby County striker Chris Martin, a second-half substitute, forced a Martin Skrtel own-goal in the 89th minute, giving Scotland all three points and putting them in pole position for the 2nd spot in Group F.

Slovakia had been playing a man down since the 23rd minute when Robert Mak was sent off for a second yellow, correctly booked for a pathetic dive in the box under no contact. Still, the hosts were unable to grab control of the match, finishing with just 50% of the possession despite the long man advantage. Eventually, the ball came down the right flank and great work by Leigh Griffiths to keep play alive despite going to ground allowed Ikechi Anya to cross the ball for Martin on the doorstep, and his pressure saw the ball cut off the sliding Skrtel into the back of the net.

The win puts Scotland into 2nd place in Group F, two points above their opponents Slovakia and three above Slovenia with one match to go. They face Slovenia in the final round and do not have a goal differential advantage, so only a win would ensure them a spot in the playoff round.

Armenia 1-6 Poland

(Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo via AP)

Poland moved onto the doorstep of automatic qualification as they pummeled Armenia 6-1. Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick and got help from Jakub Blaszczykowski, Kamil Glick, and Rafal Wolski to pile it on. The win puts Poland three points ahead of Denmark with one to play, although the teams are even on goal differential, so there could be some final day drama should Poland suffer an unlikely slip against Montenegro.

Montenegro 0-1 Denmark

Denmark kept pace with Poland at the top of Group E, leaving them three points back of the top spot heading in to the final day. It wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been, but an early Christian Eriksen (who else?) goal in the 16th minute saw them through. It was a superb goal, if not glittery, as Eriksen was under pressure from three defenders but surprised goalkeeper Danijel PetkovĂ­c with the shot as it slid by for the lead and eventual winner.

While they’re three back of the automatic qualifying spot, Denmark will also be looking over its shoulder, as Montenegro sits three back of them and two back in goal differential, and playing for their World Cup lives in the final game.

Azerbaijan 1-2 Czech Republic

San Marino 0-8 Norway

Romania 3-1 Kazakhstan

Malta 1-1 Lithuania

Southgate defends Alli gesture as joke with Walker

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Dele Alli was caught giving the middle finger during the 77th minute of England’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia, but his manager has defended the incident as innocuous.

The 21-year-old Spurs midfielder was caught on camera displaying the rude gesture after angling for a foul on the edge of the box by Martin Skrtel, which was not given by the referee. The timing of the gesture lends credence to the theory that it was aimed towards referee Clément Turpin, but according to England boss Gareth Southgate, Alli was not directing it towards the referee, instead joking around with Kyle Walker.

“I’ve not seen it but I’ve been made aware of it,” Southgate said in his postgame media obligations. “Kyle and Dele were mucking about, and Dele’s made a gesture towards Kyle. I don’t know what the angle of the pitch is. The pair of them have a strange way of communicating, but that’s what they’ve said when it’s been raised.”

When reviewing the replay, it does appear that Walker is closely in line behind the referee, but hard to tell exactly what was intended. Alli later responded as well, posting on social media to back up the claims.

No matter the intent, Alli in all likelihood will face a fine from FIFA, and could even be considered for a suspension if the governing body feels it’s warranted. Lionel Messi was suspended four matches and fined for directing “insulting words” towards an assistant referee, but that was overturned for lack of evidence after he sat out one game.

Almost one year on, looking back at Jurgen Klopp’s time at Liverpool so far

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Tomorrow marks one year to the day that Jurgen Klopp took charge at Liverpool.

On October 8, 2015, Klopp signed a three-year deal to take charge of the Premier League giants — he has already signed an extension on that contract — and on Oct. 9 last year he strode into the “Reds Lounge” beneath the Centenary Stand to meet the media for the first team. As usual, Klopp did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Klopp dazzles on unveiling ]

He dubbed himself the “Normal One” when asked about Jose Mourinho’s opening press conference at Chelsea back in the day and also spoke about his belief that after four years he would have at least one Premier League title under his belt. That ambition, plus plenty of clever quick-witter quips, brought roars of laughter from the packed press conference and everyone watching around the world.

Over the last 12 months Klopp has been just as engaging as he strives to push Liverpool back to glory. Sure, his beard may have got longer (and grayer) but he seems to be having the time of his life.

There’s no doubt the enigmatic German coach has had a huge impact at Anfield in a relatively short space of time and it is safe to say that now his team truly look like his team.

Last season they reached the final of the League Cup and the Europa League — losing both in agonizing fashion as defeat to Sevilla in the UEL final meant no UEFA Champions League action this season — but they did slump to an eighth-place finish in the PL as cup competitions took their toll on his squad with defensive frailties costly and still there’s some question marks over some of the defending.

Some of the high points were big wins against Arsenal and Leicester this season, big win against Chelsea and Man City last season, plus the crazy 5-4 win at Norwich and the memorable victory against his old club Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League at Anfield. Some lows include a defeat against Manchester United and the second half implosion against Sevilla in Basel but even those negatives have all been a key part of the journey.

However, after a full Klopp preseason, Liverpool’s squad is looking fired up and has impressed early on this season with wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and Leicester City, plus a draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Sadio Mane of Liverpool and team mates celebrate his goal with Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on August 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Liverpool is the highest scoring Premier League team this season, and in the whole of 2016, and with no European commitments this campaign the 49-year-old German coach is getting plenty of extra time to work on the training ground with his team.

When it comes to the individuals in his squad, quite a few things have changed. In have come goalkeeper Lorus Karius, defender Joel Matip, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and exciting forward Sadio Mane with a host of big-name departures as Martin Skrtel, Mario Balotelli, Joe Allen and Christian Benteke were all sold. There have been a few bumps along the way with Benteke, Daniel Sturridge and others but the ideology Klopp brings means you’re either with him or without him and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Klopp has created a different vibe at Liverpool in a relatively short space of time but for him it must be pleasing to feel he has the backing of the board, the fans and his own players. He sounds and looks confident and Liverpool definitely look to be in a very healthy position for the future.

Every player on the pitch has bought into Klopp’s methods — just look at the exuberant celebrations (broken glasses and all) with their manager many times after scoring — and sitting in fourth place with 16 points from their opening seven games of the season, Liverpool is looking like a genuine title contender this season and finishing in the top four seems like a realistic aspiration with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mane all hitting new heights in a dynamic, attacking system.

A lot has happened in the 12 months Klopp has been in charge and most of it has been very, very good.

In the video above you can recap they key points from Klopp’s opening press conference 12 months ago and see if they match up with his time in charge, so far.