Premier League: Supersub Shaqiri Fires Liverpool to the Top

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Two second-half goals from Xherdan Shaqiri won the Mersey/Manchester derby and lifted Jurgen Klopp’s Reds back to the top of the league.

This is the Premier League’s biggest derby without question, and the 201st meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United certainly didn’t disappoint. In a pulsating first half Sadio Mane put the hosts in front before Alisson gifted Jesse Lingard an unlikely equaliser. But within ten minutes of coming on to the pitch Swiss star Shaqiri took the game away from the Red Devils with his quick-fire brace.

The pre-match Premier League 2018 odds at us, on the title returning to Anfield, had plummeted to 3.50 and this was a huge game in Klopp’s quest to keep pace with Manchester City. Jose Mourinho’s big call was to drop Paul Pogba to the bench after the Red Devils’ midweek loss to Valencia, but it didn’t pay off.

Highlights of the game

In a frenetic start to the game, Manchester United had the ball in the net on just four minutes. Ashley Young floated a free-kick into the bottom corner, but Romelu Lukaku was in an offside position when he tried to add his touch.

Mo Salah scored a hat-trick last week to fire the Reds to the top, though he hasn’t ever scored a Premier League goal against Manchester United. But he was in the thick of the action in the early stages. Roberto Firmino hit a fine low shot which David De Gea palmed away, and Salah was about to turn the ball in when Victor Lindelof made an excellent challenge. Then the Egyptian robbed Lindelof to launch another attack ending in a Fabinho shot which De Gea tipped away.

Marcus Rashford had a pot shot from distance, straight at Alisson in the Liverpool goal; but the hosts continued to dominate and got their reward on 25 minutes. Firminho chipped a lovely ball forward which Sadio Mane chested down and volleyed past De Gea to send the Anfield crowd wild.

Premier League: Sadio Mane in action for Liverpool against Manchester United

Sadio Mane scored a superb opening goal for Liverpool during their 3-1 win versus Manchester United

But they were silenced before long when their highly rated keeper gave United an early Christmas present. Lukaku crossed a seemingly harmless ball into Alisson’s hands and he spilt it to allow Jesse Lingard to scoop the ball home. 1-1.

Pick up the Premier League 2018 highlights to see that one, though I seriously doubt Liverpool’s keeper will want to!

That goal took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails and they went in level at the break, and Mourinho tried to keep it that way by bringing Marouane Fellaini on for the second half. World Cup winner Pogba stayed on the bench.

Liverpool came close to restoring their lead on 52 minutes after Firmino forced De Gea into another good save. Naby Keita tried to poke home the rebound but Ashley Young made a last-ditch tackle. And then Fellaini was on hand to block a Virgil Van Dijk drive which was destined for the net.

Klopp brought Xherdan Shaqiri on to try to spark something as United were keeping the hosts at arms length, forcing them to shoot from distance. And the former Stoke City man had an immediate and amazing impact. As Liverpool piled the pressure on De Gea’s goal, a loose clearance landed at Shaqiri’s feet and he fired high into the roof of the net at the United keepers’ near post.

And then, on 81 minutes the super sub added another, finishing off a fast flowing move with a deflected drive. And that was about the best Christmas gift the Liverpool Kop could ever wish for.

Key Statistics

Here’s the statistic Manchester United fans love to throw at their Liverpool rivals:
20 league titles to Liverpool’s 18.

But the way these two clubs are heading, that gap will narrow before it widens.

It’s five wins on the trot for Liverpool and just one in five for United and the two teams are separated by a massive 19 points.

This was Liverpool’s first league win against United in nine attempts, and they have now broken their Premier League unbeaten run record, stretching it to 18. Can it get much better for the Reds?

What’s next?

So now that the dust has settled Liverpool is back at the top of the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp takes his team to the Black Country next Friday for a really difficult test against big spending Wolves. The Premier League new boys are playing good attacking football and three wins have lifted them up to seventh.

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho takes his Red Devils to South Wales to face another of the newly promoted clubs. Cardiff City were, and still probably are, most pundits’ favourites to go down, but Neil Warnock has them playing with passion and he will be determined to keep in the battle to stay up any way he can. I doubt this game will be pretty!

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Shaq-attack grounds Red Devils

Xherdan Shaqiri sprung from the bench with 20 minutes left to score twice as Liverpool defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield.

The Swiss scored two deflected goals in seven minutes, ensuring Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a thoroughly deserved success.

Jurgen Klopp boldly sent Shaqiri in for Fabinho as his side struggled to get on top of deep-lying United in the second half.

It paid off handsomely, moving Liverpool 19 points clear of their bitter rivals – the biggest gap between the clubs at this stage of a season in 46 years.

Liverpool began with the sort of intensity predicted, as the Red Devils attempted to quell the raucous atmosphere inside the famous Merseyside venue.

Roberto Firmino tested David de Gea early on as the home side made inroads but it was Sadio Mane that made the breakthrough on 24 minutes. Fabinho's lofted pass was expertly cushioned down on his chest and volleyed underneath de Gea, Mane having lost Ashley Young in the 18-yard box.

United got a lifeline shortly after the half-hour. Romelu Lukaku's low cross to the near post was spilled by Alisson, with Lingard reacting fastest to silence the Kop.

That gave Jose Mourinho's men a foothold and, in truth, they held the hosts off with some ease before Shaqiri arrived – despite Liverpool dominating possession.

Within three minutes of Klopp's key change, Mane's low cross took a couple of deflections before arriving at Shaqiri's feet and his shot clipped Young en route to cannoning off the cross bar and into the United net.

With ten minutes left, Shaqiri made sure. A flowing Reds move saw him feed Mohamed Salah on the edge of the box and, when the ball came back, the playmaker saw his curling left-foot show clip Eric Bailly and fly past de Gea.

Liverpool are 1/2 to extend their Premier League advantage by defeating Wolves at Molineux on Friday. The home side are 5/1 while the draw is 10/3.

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Nuno heaps praises on players

Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo heaped praise on his players after his team made it three Premier League wins in a row with a 2-0 victory at home to Bournemouth.

Prior to their upturn, the men from Molineux had gone six games without a win, but they have turned things around nicely to rise up to seventh place in the table and potentially in the hunt for a European place.

And Nuno was quick to point how well his squad have stuck to their task and kept faith with the methods of the Wolves coaching staff.

The Portuguese said after a well-deserved victory: "I truly believe that you have to take things as they come and keep on going and keep on believing in the daily work – the way you want to do things, how you play.

"They were difficult moments (during the winless run) but we kept on believing. Sometimes those moments make you think more and find a better solution. Even bad moments can make you stronger.

"We are in a good moment, before we were in a bad moment and it is important to recognise why.

"The boys' character, the way they commit to the work on a daily basis, well done to them."

Next up for Wolves is a tough task at home to high-flying Liverpool on Friday evening, with the hosts 10/3 to gain a draw and 3/10 to go on and secure a finish in the top half of the Premier League table come the end of the season.

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Klopp looks beyond trophies

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says he understands the desire for silverware but dismisses it being the only concern.

His team play Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday with a win moving them back to the top of the Premier League.

The Reds have been close to silverware during Klopp's time in charge, being runners-up in the League Cup and the Europa League in 2015-16 and beaten finalists in the Champions League last season.

The Premier League represents a good chance this season with Liverpool shaping up to be the main challengers to champions Manchester City. However Klopp has denied that winning trophies is the only focus.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "What I have to do is make the best of the things the club is offering me – that is what I believe in.

"If people say the Champions League campaign last season was not a success because we didn't win the final then I cannot change that. Is the finish successful? No, but the ride was brilliant. I enjoyed it a lot.

"The pressure is from outside, people saying if I don't win silverware then I have to leave. In the moment you find someone who can do the job better you have to take him."

Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season; runners-up to City were Manchester rivals United but they are struggling to break into the top four this campaign.

They travel to Merseyside 16 points behind Liverpool and eight points adrift of Chelsea who sit fourth.

Liverpool are 8/15 to win the game with United 11/2 and the draw 7/2.

Liverpool look set to be without Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold for Sunday's game while Jose Mourinho is short on numbers in defence with Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot and Victor Lindelof all doubtful.

Liverpool are 15/2 to win the game 1-0 while Mo Salah is 3/1 to score the first goal.

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Mourinho demands more desire

Jose Mourinho insists he will not be content to hold on for another goalless draw when his Manchester United team play Liverpool at Anfield.

United have drawn 0-0 with Liverpool on each of their last two visits to Merseyside and another stalemate on Sunday can be backed at 12/1.

Liverpool are at the top of the Premier League table after thrashing Bournemouth 4-0 last weekend and they followed that result up by beating Napoli and confirming their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

In contrast United are struggling to finish in the top four this season and, even though they will be in Monday's Champions League draw, they contrived to lose to a struggling Valencia side on Wednesday.

United, 7/1 to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, are 11/2 to beat Liverpool, 5/2 to win the title.

Mourinho said: "I always try [to win a game] and I want to play a team that is capable to be with me on that desire, ambition and confidence. We know we're going to play against the [league] leaders and a team on a high but we have our qualities and our potential.

"Even with the problems we have and doubts in terms of team choice, tactics, approach and philosophy – we have doubts about everything because we don't know which players are available.

"We're going to arrive on Sunday with the players that we're going to have available. We're going to have a team capable of going there and fighting for the victory."

United have only lost one of the their last seven Premier League matches at Anfield, but Mourinho added: "Sunday has nothing to do with what happened in the past. I have to focus on the next match. The next match is the one that is important and that's it."

Howe hopeful of Wilson return

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe is upbeat about the prospect of striker Callum Wilson overcoming a hamstring problem to feature against Wolves at Molineux.

Wilson missed the 4-0 home defeat to Liverpool due to injury, but Howe seems quietly confident that the 26-year-old, who recently marked his England debut with a goal in a 3-0 win over the United States, will be able to play a part on Saturday.

He told reporters: "Callum Wilson has recovered well, so we're hopeful he'll be okay.

"You need your best players fit and available and physically he's been good, as this is the first problem he's had. We're going to be careful with the problem and wait and see."

Wilson has scored eight times in 15 appearances in the Premier League this season to help the Cherries stand in eighth place in the standings heading into the weekend action.

Howe also confirmed at his pre-match press conference that Dan Gosling is facing a spell on the sidelines after undergoing a knee operation, although he believes that the midfielder is not facing a lengthy absence.

Meanwhile, the last three meetings between Bournemouth and Wolves have ended in 2-1 final scorelines, with the Cherries winning on both of their last two visits to the Black Country.

The visitors are 10/3 to triumph by a 2-1 margin on Saturday, with the draw priced at 13/5, while Wilson is available at 15/8 to score at any time at Molineux.

Wolves go into the game having won their last two league games, against Chelsea and Newcastle United, both by 2-1 scorelines.

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Tuchel happy with PSG form

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Thomas Tuchel believes his side are improving all the time, having booked their place in the Champions League last-16.

A convincing 4-1 victory in Belgrade over Red Star confirmed PSG as winners of Group C, with the runaway French league leaders having recovered well from losing their opening group game 3-2 at Liverpool, who edged out Napoli for the runners-up spot.

And Tuchel announced himself pleased with the way his players took to the challenge of a tough section, telling reporters: "It was a difficult group with a lot of quality. It was hard, especially after our first match in Liverpool.

"The team showed they could play together.Now we need to stay humble and have a professional attitude. We are improving and we are hard to beat."

PSG are now priced at 8/1 to win the Champions League, with their best previous showing a run to the semi-finals in the 1994/95 season.

Meanwhile, skipper Thiago Silva challenged his team-mates to continue their good work into the knockout stages of the competition.

He told L'Equipe: "The goal is achieved. I was a little scared this year that we do not go to the round of 16 because it was difficult, but in the difficulty, there are positive things.

"I hope we will continue like this until the end of the season."

Meanwhile, Juventus are 11/2 to win the Champions League, with Real Madrid available at 10/1.

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Klopp ready for outstanding tie

Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp expects his team to have to face an 'outstanding, strong opponent' in the last-16 of the Champions League.

A Mohamed Salah goal earned the Reds a crucial 1-0 victory over Napoli at Anfield, with the Merseysiders edging out the Italian outfit to join Paris Saint-Germain in the knockout stages.

And Klopp was delighted with the performance he watched on Tuesday evening, while accepting that finishing second in Group C could make things a little more difficult for last season's beaten finalists.

He told reporters: "We wait for the draw, no problem with that. Until tonight, I was really not sure we would be in the draw. Now we are in it, how could I sit here and ask for any team? I don't care.

"We are second in the group, so we will have an outstanding, strong opponent.

"This game was just amazing, it was outstanding, unbelievable. The boys played with their whole heart on the pitch – our offensive defending, our offensive pressing was some of the best I ever saw."

Meanwhile, Klopp played down knocks suffered by Joel Matip and James Milner against Napoli, with the German seemingly a little more concerned by the foot injury sustained by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Reds can now be backed at 10/1 to win the Champions League this season, with PSG priced at 8/1 and Manchester City 7/2.

Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday when they play host to Manchester United, with the hosts defending their current standing as table-toppers.

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Champions League: Mo Magic Does It Again

Liverpool 1-0 Napoli

It was always likely to be a dramatic denouement in Group C.

However, in the end, it was Liverpool who prevailed in the Champions League and Napoli—who finish level on points with the Merseysiders and on goal difference—will be playing in the Europa League when European combat resumes next spring.

Yes, it was mighty close, but the group ultimately went the way many us fans expected…and the way Champions League 2018 betting odds had largely predicted at the start of the competition.

Highlights of the game

When it mattered, it came down to two big moments.

The first arrived in the 34th minute.

An open game had seen chances for both sides before man of the moment Mohamed Salah, fresh his weekend Premier League hat-trick, deftly got the better of Kalidou Koulibaly and fired through David Ospina’s legs.

A superb finish combined with a far-from-convincing goalkeeping had led to the opening and what would prove to be the only goal of the encounter.

Liverpool's Alisson Becker guards Napoli thoroughly from hitting a goal in recent Champions League match

Liverpool’s Alisson Becker saves a goal from Napoli during their recent Champions League battle

The second was in stoppage time as substitute Arkadiusz Milik was denied by a superb block as Napoli fans behind the goal got ready to acclaim a last-gasp equaliser.

The save, for sure, will be replayed among the Champions League 2018 highlights.

In truth, Liverpool deserved to go through and would have only had themselves to blame after missing a number of gilt-edged chances—Salah, Sadio Mane (a former teammate of Koulibaly at Metz) and Virgil van Dijk the biggest culprits.

Yet, it didn’t matter as last season’s beaten finalists are through to the knockout stages.

Napoli, unbeaten in their other five Champions League group stage matches this season, knew they had to score to keep their hopes alive. However, until Milik late on, they had rarely threatened. Jose Callejon, though, wasted arguably their best opportunity.

Napoli, who had two wins and three draws before the game, had lost when they needed to keep that record intact most of all. Besides, the Partenopei would have been guaranteed a place even with a 2-1 or 3-2 loss.

Liverpool go through in second place behind Paris Saint-Germain, a feat achieved despite losing three away games in their group.

Key statistics

This was Lorenzo Insigne’s 50th appearance in UEFA club competition.

This defeat ended Napoli’s12-match unbeaten run (won eight, drawn four) which stretched back to a 3-1 loss at Juventus in late September.

Although coach Carlo Ancelotti won the Premier League and FA Cup double while in charge of Chelsea in 2010, Napoli have never won a match in England.

This was only the second time a home team has won a match referred by Damir Skomina in his last 11 games. It also ended Liverpool’s run of four defeats in which the Slovenian official has been the man in the middle.

Liverpool have progressed to the knockout stages in successive Champions League campaigns for the first time since 2008-09.

Napoli have not won any of their last seven Champions League away matches, losing five. Their last victory in the competition came against Benfica in December 2016.

Since the start of last season, Liverpool’s James Milner has provided more assists in the Champions League than any other player (nine).

This is the eighth time this season that double footballer of the year Salah has opened the scoring for Liverpool.

Van Dijk’s first-half booking means he will miss the first leg of their Round of 16 tie.

Liverpool are unbeaten in 16 home games in Europe since Jürgen Klopp was appointed in October 2015 (13 wins, three draws) and in their last 19 European home games in total.

Napoli are the eighth club Ancelotti has coached in the UEFA Champions League after Parma, Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

The clubs had met only twice before this season, both in the 2010/11 Europa League group stage.

The game in Naples ended goalless. At Anfield, Ezequiel Lavezzi gave Napoli a first-half lead before Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick in the final 15 minutes secured a dramatic late win for Liverpool.

What’s next?

The draw for the Champions League knockout stages takes place next week.

Before that, however, Liverpool welcome archrivals Manchester United to Anfield in the Premier League. Then, they travel to Wolves a week later.

If they win both games, they are guaranteed to be top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day.

Napoli also have two matches this side of Christmas. They visit Cagliari in Serie A this weekend before a home match against SPAL in the following weekend.

Both clubs are in action again on Boxing Day.

 

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Van Dijk: It’s in our own hands

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has urged his team-mates to make the most of a last chance to ensure their passage to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The Reds, who reached the Champions League final last season, need to win at home to Napoli to have any chance of progressing, with record signing Van Dijk pulling no punches in admitting that his side have not performed at their best in the competition.

The Netherlands international told reporters at the official pre-match press conference: "It is our own fault, but we have a way to get out of this.

"We have not been at our best in the Champions League, so we deserve to be in this position. If we don't win, we don't deserve to be in the Champions League.

"Hopefully that is not going to happen. Hopefully, we are going to progress and show that we definitely belong in there."

Liverpool expect to have both Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana available for selection to feature at Anfield on Tuesday evening, while centre-back Dejan Lovren remains a slight doubt.

The Merseysiders need to win 1-0 or by two clear goals to ensure they pip Napoli to one of the two qualifying spots, with PSG the other team in contention.

Liverpool can be backed at 15/2 to win 1-0, while they are 7/2 to triumph by a two-goal margin and 10/11 to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

When the two sides met in Naples earlier in the season a last-minute Lorenzo Insigne goal gave the hosts a 1-0 victory.

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