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Will Manchester United or Liverpool triumph in the race for the top four?

With just eight games remaining in the 2014/2015 Premier League season, there are bound to be crucial fixtures which could determine the outcome at both ends of the table.


While a number of teams are battling to save themselves at the wrong end of the table, there are five teams competing for a top four finish in what could be the closest race in recent years.

Arsenal and Liverpool are two teams who find themselves within touching distance of Champions League football, with the upcoming fixture at the Emirates presenting an opportunity for either side to get one over on their closest rivals.

It has all the ingredients of being another enthralling game between the two sides, but while both sets of fans will back their team to win, defeat for either team could signal the end of their top four aspirations and whilst the winning side's fans are busy cheering on their team, those who don't go through may spend a lot more time on the Football Star game at Betsafe dreaming of glory the following season.

Well, that's certainly a lot more portable a game than the FIFA console games!


Superb form

Five consecutive victories has combined with a wonderful run of thirteen games unbeaten which makes Liverpool the in-form team heading into the final furlong of the race for the top four.

Brendan Rodgers accepted that his team were far from their best at Swansea, but the 1-0 victory at the Liberty Stadium ensured they remained just two points behind their fierce rivals and not cut adrift.

Jordan Henderson is currently enjoying a wonderful purple patch in front of goal, but Liverpool will need to perform much better in all areas of the pitch if they wish to leapfrog Manchester United, and potentially Arsenal, by securing all three points.

The clean sheet in South Wales equalled a club record of six away games without conceding a goal – some achievement for a backline that has come under scrutiny this season, particularly Simon Mignolet who looks a transformed player following a spell on the sidelines.

Rodgers may also be boosted by more options in midfield and upfront, with Lucas Leiva and Mario Balotelli poised to return following a groin strain and illness respectively.


Picking up points

Despite still not performing at their very best, Manchester United have shown their unerring ability to pick up vital points when it matters most.

Van Gaal may still have his doubters, but the Dutchman has reignited an element of belief and confidence back into the team that was evidently missing last season under David Moyes.

Their ability to get the job done has carried Manchester United towards a potential return to Champions League football, but they remain miles behind Chelsea and Manchester City in terms of quality.

They will have to be at their very best to see of Liverpool who will fancy their chances of playing against a team who have not been performing well away from Old Trafford.

However, it may be the perfect opportunity for Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to finally show their quality and make a telling difference in a big game.

The latter, in particular, has struggled to find his feet, and with Robin Van Persie out until April with an ankle injury, it may ultimately be down to Wayne Rooney to lead from the front and fire Manchester United towards an invaluable three points.

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Will QPR do the unthinkable and win back-to-back away games?

Tuesday 10th February will be long remembered as the day when, at the twelfth time of asking, Queens Park Rangers finally managed to win their first away game in the Premier League.


The 2-0 victory at Sunderland not only broke a long-standing hoodoo which threatened to send the club straight back down to the Championship, but also lifted them out of the relegation zone.

There is still plenty of work to do before the Hoops can consider themselves safe, but finally winning away from Loftus Road should prove a huge confidence boost for the players and backroom staff.

The club may be close to announcing a new manager if recent tweets on Twitter from Tony Fernandes are anything to go by, but QPR have another away game to prepare for.

It promises to be another huge six-pointer at Hull who are also fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table, but although QPR woes are widely reported on and off the pitch, victory at the Stadium of Light could be the turning point that every fan has been searching for.


Fighting for their lives

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that QPR could survive by the skin of their teeth by picking all of their Premier League points up at Loftus Road, but they must surely start to win more points on the road to improve their chances of survival.

The relegation battle is already beginning to shaping up to be one of the closest in recent years, and although QPR do have the quality in their squad with the likes of Charlie Austin and Leroy Fer to get themselves out of trouble, they have not applied themselves in the same way that they have at Loftus Road.

Transferring the positivity and expansive play at home into away performances must be the way of thinking between now and the end of the season, and although Chris Ramsey may not be in caretaker charge for much longer, the Sunderland victory provides an excellent platform for him to build on ahead of the trip to the KC Stadium.

The Hoops will still be without leading scorer Charlie Austin who may be out until next month, with Nedum Onuoha and Sandro also unlikely to feature before March.


Could QPR gain revenge against the Tigers?

Beating Aston Villa 2-0 at home is another step in the right direction for Hull who have shown signs of recovery in recent weeks.

Recording four points from a possible six coincides with the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson's former right-hand man Mike Phelan as assistant manager who could turn out to be the best signing Steve Bruce has made this season.

Their draw at the Etihad against defending champions Manchester City proved that the Tigers will certainly be no pushovers, and may consider a home fixture against QPR as a great opportunity to pick up more points to push them further away from dangers.

Their cause will not be helped by the absence of James Chester, Liam Rosenior and Mohamed Diame who leave Hull short of quality and strength in defence and the middle of midfield.

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David De Gea Could Be Real Madrid's New Galáctico

David De Gea became one of the world's most expensive goalkeepers after an £18 million transfer from Atlético Madrid to Manchester United in 2011.


He was being heralded as the replacement for Edwin van der Sar. United underwent a lot of changes – in the goalkeeping position – after the departure of Peter Schmeichel. It took them several years to find a stable goalkeeper until it arrived in the form of van der Sar.

His performances are a major reason towards Manchester United given odds of 4/9 – by Betfair in the latest 2015 Premier League odds – for a top four finish this season.

A string of great performances in the Premier League this season has seen De Gea considered as the best keeper in England right now.

The magnitude of attention on the 24-year-old has been so intense that he is now subject to intense transfer rumours linking him with a return to Spain.

A number of situations have fallen in place – at exactly the right moment – for De Gea to be considered as being on the verge of a Manchester United exit.

The first reason will be the contractual situation of the player. United are certainly not in a position of strength, as the player has only 18 months left on his contract.

The balance will only tilt in favour of De Gea as the season comes to an end.

It is looking highly unlikely that the 24-year-old is prepared to extend his contract midway through the season.

Louis van Gaal recently admitted that it was certainly conceivable thatDe Gea could leave for a Spanish club, but he "hoped" that the player would sign on the dotted line.

United are in the same position as van Gaal, as they can only hope that the player signs the deal.

United's decision to sign Víctor Valdés, who is nowhere near enough the form shown by De Gea this season, on a free transfer is concrete proof that the club are bracing themselves for the exit of their number one goalkeeper.

Valdés, as a former Barcelona and Spain goalkeeper, is unlikely to be satisfied with a place on the bench should be regain his full fitness.

At the age of 33, he is in what is considered as the prime age for a goalkeeper. However, there remain numerous concerns about the former Barcelona star and least of all is his ability to settle in the Premier League.

Valdés has always had the "freak error" within him and it was one of the main reasons for being unable to usurp Iker Casillas from the number one position for Spain.

Despite being a regular for Barcelona since his first-team debut in 2002, Valdés has featured in only 20 appearances for Spain.

He is a top goalkeeper, but no longer the absolute best that Manchester United need.

Spanish football is no stranger towards having the top players concentrated within Barcelona and Real Madrid.

De Gea will see this as a great opportunity to play along with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and to feature regularly against Lionel Messi.

Apart from this draw, the chance to return to his hometown will also be a major pulling factor.

At this moment, United seem a couple of years away from being the dominant force that they once were.

The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea could dominate English football in the next couple of years with their settled and strong squads.

United are continuing to build and it is also highly likely that van Gaal may not be a part of it should the poor and inconsistent form continue.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, are on an incredible high after having just amassed three trophies in 2014. They are looking on course for league title success this season.

Betfair places Madrid at 4/11 to win the Spanish league title in the 2014-15 season whereas their arch rivals Barcelona are given odds of 9/4. Reigning champions Atlético Madrid are a distant 20/1.

The season has just gone past the halfway mark and Madrid have a one-point advantage over Barcelona. They can extend this lead with a win against Sevilla on Tuesday.

De Gea is held in high regards at Madrid and he could be the eventual replacement for Iker Casillas.

After facing an uncertain future only last season, Casillas has once again established himself as the number one at Madrid. However, his performances have been far from his best.

His recent admission that he may consider the MLS as a potential option has intensified rumours that this may be his last season at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Casillas has been a one club man, but he does not appear to have regained the confidence that he lost after losing his place under José Mourinho.

Casillas' current deal expires in the summer of 2017, but he has revealed in the past that Madrid will not be stopping him should he wish to leave the club.

Since it is highly unlikely that Manchester United will allow De Gea to leave on a free transfer, the situation may be resolved in the summer.

Given his current form, the Spaniard could easily command a transfer fee in excess of £25 million.

This may seem as excessive figure for a goalkeeper, but at just 24 years of age, he could go on to become the next Gianluigi Buffon.

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Pitch invader attacks Nottingham Forest player Kelvin Wilson

Derby County could face action from the FA after one fan forced his way onto the pitch and attacked Nottingham Forest player Kelvin Wilson during their Championship clash.


Ben Osborn's late winner helped Forest come from behind to sink local rivals Derby 2-1 in Saturday's encounter at Pride Park.

But tensions boiled over as Forest players approached their support to celebrate after the final whistle and one angry fan ran onto the pitch from the home section.

TV cameras, ready to interview goalscorers Osborn and Britt Assombalonga, caught the incident in the background, where stewards and players grappled with the frustrated fan.

The fan, wearing a blue jacket and jeans, threw punches in the direction of Forest defender Wilson, before teammate Jamaal Lascelles brought the attacker down with a rugby tackle.

Stewards then took over and dragged the supporter away before handing him over to police officers.

Derbyshire Police later confirmed that a 23-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the offence.


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Goal of the day: Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) vs Galatasaray

Aaron Ramsey scored one of the goals of the season as Arsenal cruised to a comfortable 4-1 Champions League win at Galatasaray on Tuesday.


Lukas Podolski got the Gunners off to a flying start at the Türk Telekom Arena with a thumping strike in the third minute, before Ramsey doubled their lead just eight minutes later.

Ramsey stole the limelight in the 29th minute as he doubled his tally with one of the best goals of the season so far.

Joel Campbell's corner was headed clear by Galatasaray defender Semih Kaya, but what followed next was pure brilliance.

Ramsey raced on to the loose ball, allowed it to bounce once and then unleashed a thunderous left-footed half-volley from 30 yards that flew into the top corner.

It was a goal so good it brought the home fans to their feet in spontaneous applause.

Wesley Sneijder pulled one back for the hosts late in the game but it was Arsenal who had the final say as Podolski netted his second to seal a comprehensive win for Arsène Wenger's side.

"The ball came to the edge of the box and I thought, 'why not have a go?'," Ramsey told Sky Sports. "So I had a go and thankfully it went in.

"It's up there with the best I've ever scored."

Wenger added: "When he took the shot, I thought that is maybe not the best of ideas but the way it went in was absolutely unbelievable.

"The goals he is scoring is linked to his performances at the moment and that certainly helps his confidence to score goals like that."


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Peruvian footballer injured after being struck by lightning during match

An unfortunate incident took place in Peru on Tuesday when Sport Águila player Joao Contreras was hit by lightning during a Peruvian Cup match against Fuerza Minera.

Just as the match was about to restart for the second-half, an electrical discharge hit Contreras and a linesman.

Both Contreras and the linesman were immediately treated by medical staff and the match was suspended with the score tied at 1-1.

Despite initial reports claiming that Contreras had died following the incident, reports from South America have now said that the player is in hospital and in a serious condition.


Sport Águila player Joao Contreras injured after being struck by lightning during match
Sport Águila player Joao Contreras injured after being struck by lightning during match
Photos: Libero

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Per Mertesacker avoided German military service for being too tall to fit into tank

Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has revealed he avoided German military service as a teenager by claiming that he was too big to fit into a tank or submarine.


The towering centre back, who stands at 6ft 6in, may be a tough nut on the pitch but he never had any desire to deal with weapons.

After a successful request, the 30-year-old instead ended up working with patients with mental illness in a clinic.

"I missed military service in Germany," the former Germany international told The Mirror.

"I wrote to them and said I did not want to get in touch with weapons, and also that I could not fit into a tank or a submarine - and it worked.

"Instead I did civilian service, I worked in a clinic for patients with mental illness."

Military conscription was compulsory for all German males until 2010 which meant that he had to divide his time between training with his club and working with patients.

Mertesacker added: "I would train with my club in the morning and go there in the afternoons.

"It was like a hospital, where no one recognises you and they might shout or scream at you. But I was never scared.

"It was very memorable to go from one world to the other. It kept me grounded and humble, coming from this glamorous football world, and would help me to grow as a person. It had a big impact on my life."

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Who wouldn't want Napoli's Gladiator-themed calendar?

Italian Serie A side Napoli have produced a seemingly bizarre calendar in which their players pose as gladiators of the former Roman Empire.

The calendar features star striker Gonzalo Higuaín, captain Marek Hamšík, and Spanish winger José Callejón in scantily-clad gladiatorial gear.

Given that the club President is noted film producer, Aurelio De Laurentiis, it's safe to assume that not only does he approve but he may even have come up with the concept in the first place.

You can buy the calendar from Napoli's official website beginning on 18 December.


Who wouldn't want Napoli's Gladiator-themed calendar?
Photo: SSC Napoli

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Roy Keane: Sir Alex Ferguson owes me apology

Roy Keane claims he would end his infamous rift with Sir Alex Ferguson - but only if he receives an apology from the former Manchester United manager.


The 43-year-old won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and one Champions League crown under Ferguson in a 12-year spell with the Red Devils.

But the pair have been at each others throats for a year and both savaged each other in their respective books.

Fergie had claimed the Irishman became a disruptive force in United's dressing room and said his tongue was the "hardest part of his body".

Keane blasted back at his own book launch in October, accusing Ferguson of "cheap digs" while hammering him for criticising other players who had brought him success.

However, when asked if he would ever enjoy a pint with Ferguson, Keane told FourFourTwo: "Well, it would be a cup of tea. If Sir Alex apologises, then yes, I would.

"If Ferguson apologises, I would be happy to move on. For Ferguson to bad-mouth me after I left, I think he does owe me an apology."

The former United captain admitted that the similar personalities of himself and his manager meant a fractious parting was inevitable.

He added: "Yes. It was never going to end as a pal's act. I was never going to leave with champagne and flowers.

"I saw how Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce left the club, both decent United captains, and I didn't like the way they left."

And the outspoken Irishman couldn't give a damn if United fans think he is to blame for the vicious feud with Ferguson.

Keane said: "If United fans say I had a decent career, then brilliant. If they want to say, 'What's gone on with the Ferguson stuff?' then f*** them."

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Schalke poke fun at rock-bottom Dortmund on Twitter

Borussia Dortmund are currently bottom of the Bundesliga table, and local Ruhr rivals Schalke 04 decided to make of enemies' plight on Twitter.

Whilst they have performed admirably in the Champions League this season, Dortmund's start to the season is their worst in the club's Bundesliga history.

Almost unbelievably, a team who were playing in the Champions League final in 2013 are now sitting bottom of the Bundesliga table with just three wins from a possible 13.

However, as expected, fierce rivals Schalke are loving it so much that they tweeted out a mock-up league table showing just how badly Dortmund are doing this campaign.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was deleted not long after.

Schalke poke fun at rock-bottom Dortmund on Twitter
Photo: Twitter

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Branislav Ivanović: Eden Hazard is Chelsea's Lionel Messi!

Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović believes Eden Hazard plays the same role for the Blues that Lionel Messi does for Barcelona.


The 23-year-old winger is in sparkling form and has been central to Chelsea's unbeaten start in all competitions so far this season.

It has led to comparisons between Hazard and Messi - although the Belgian himself has admitted he still has work to do if he wants to emulate the four time Ballon D'or winner.

And although Ivanović is unsure whether Hazard is close to Messi's ability, he reckons that his teammate is as important for Chelsea as in the Argentinian for Barcelona.

Ivanović told FourFourTwo: "Hazard is a quality player and he has the qualities to play even better.

"It's hard to say how close he is to Messi, when we know about all the records of Messi, but for us at Chelsea he is like Messi for Barcelona."


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Romanian coach found out he was getting sacked from waiter

In what may be a football first, Flavius Stoican found out he was out of a job as Dinamo București coach from his waiter at a restaurant.

Flavius Stoican has resigned from his post as coach of Dinamo București
Flavius Stoican has resigned from his post as coach of Dinamo București

Photo: AGERPRES

According to Sport.ro, Stoican was supposed to meet club owner Ionuț Negoiță and President Constantin Anghelache for a dinner at a popular restaurant in Bucharest.

However, when he arrived at the restaurant he was informed by his waiter that his dinner partners were dining with former Dinamo striker Claudiu Niculescu, who was a rumoured candidate to take over for Stoican.

After being on the receiving end of the not-so-pleasant news about his own job prospects, Stoican reportedly stormed out of the restaurant and handed in his resignation the following day.

For what it's worth, Niculescu has not yet been put in charge of the club, with the interim coaching job going to former striker Ionel Dănciulescu.

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Leeds player Adryan reacts like oxygen-starved fish after being tackled

Leeds United beat Championship leaders Derby County 2-0 on Saturday but it was the diving performance of Brazilian midfielder Adryan that really stood out.

The 20-year-old was caught ever so slightly by a tackle from Derby defender Johnny Russell just after the hour mark at Elland Road.

But not content with merely going to ground, he then proceeded to embark on his best impression of a fish that had just been reeled out of water.


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Turkish footballer gets sent off, returns to pitch bringing KNIFE

An amateur footballer in Turkey was so angry at the referee that he brandished a knife on the pitch minutes after being sent off.

After receiving his marching orders just 10 minutes from time, Sakarya player Hamza Sari had to be restrained by his teammates as he tried to attack referee Yunus Yildirim.

Hamza left the field after several minutes and returned again with a knife.

Fortunately for the referee, eagle-eyed stadium officials saw the weapon and stopped the player just in time.

Reports in Turkey claim that Hamza went to the police station afterwards to "explain the situation" where no further action has been taken.


Turkish footballer Hamza Sari gets sent off, returns to pitch bringing KNIFE
Photo: HÜRRİYET

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Deportivo fan dies after violent clashes prior to Atlético Madrid match

A Deportivo La Coruña fan has died following violent clashes with rival supporters just hours before his team's game at Atlético Madrid on Sunday.

Spanish police escort Deportivo La Coruña fans upon leaving the Vicente Calderón Stadium
Spanish police escort Deportivo La Coruña fans upon leaving the Vicente Calderón Stadium

Photo: Reuters

Francisco José Romero Taboada, 43, was found with advanced hypothermia, a severe injury to his head and cardiac arrest when he was rescued from the Manzanares river by firemen.

He was admitted to hospital and underwent emergency cardiac treatment with doctors also attempting to increase his body temperature but sadly, attempts to resuscitate the man were unsuccessful.

Apart from the tragic death, eleven other people were treated for mostly minor injuries, including one female police officer with a fractured hand.

Meanwhile, the match at the Vicente Calderón went ahead despite attempts from the LFP (National Professional Football League) to have the game postponed.

A statement on the LFP website read: "The LFP shows its repudiation at the incidents in Sunday morning in the vicinity of the Vicente Calderón Stadium before the match for Week 13 between Atlético Madrid and Deportivo La Coruña.

"The LFP has been firm in its intention to suspend the match and (this) has not been possible."

Atlético President Enrique Cerezo and his Deportivo counterpart Tino Fernández appeared at a joint press conference following the match, which was won 2-0 by the hosts.

Cerezo said: "I would like to say that this has nothing to do with football. These are radical groups that meet up and start these kinds of situations.

"Neither myself nor the President of Deportivo have anything to do with the incident. Atlético and Deportivo have always enjoyed peaceful relations.

"We are unable to give any details about the incidents, we do not know what happened and the police are carrying out an investigation.

"I repeat, neither Atlético nor Deportivo have anything to do with these incidents, these are groups of extremists who have their own histories and accounts. It took place far from the stadium."

Fernández added: "We would like to express our complete rejection of violence. At this moment we do not know what happened, it is a tragic occurrence. Our thoughts are with the family.

"This call for calm should be represent the drawing of a line under these events. The clubs have to act to prevent these incidents from ever happening again.

"Our position is well-known and it is a tragedy. We are at the disposal of the family."


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Bruno Peres (Torino) scores vs Juventus after lung-busting 80-yard run

Bruno Peres produced a moment of brilliance for Torino but it's not enough as Juventus secured a last-gasp 2-1 derby win at a rain soaked Juventus Stadium on Sunday.


Having dominated possession without carving any clear opportunities, Juventus took the lead through Arturo Vidal's penalty after Omar El Kaddouri had handled Andrea Pirlo's free-kick in the box.

Torino had not scored against their Turin rivals in any of their league meetings for over 12 years, but they broke that drought in style courtesy of a stunning individual effort from Peres.

The Brazilian picked up the ball in his own area before streaking past the likes of Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra and unleashing an unstoppable drive past Marco Storari from the tightest of angles.

Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 80th minute, but Pirlo drilled home the winner from distance with the last kick of the game to give the Bianconeri the three points.

"When I reached midfield, I already felt exhausted, as it was raining hard and the pitch was heavy," Peres told Sky Sport Italia.

"But then I remembered the words of our coach, who asked us all to pounce on opportunities to hurt Juventus.

"I thank God for the goal, even though the result was not good."


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Real Madrid on verge of signing Spanish whizkid Marco Asensio

Real Mallorca starlet Marco Asensio has acknowledged his agreement with Real Madrid for the first time and admitted that everything is in place to finalise the deal.


Asensio has become an undisputed starter for Mallorca at the tender age of 18 this season and he now is considered as one of the most promising youngster of Spanish football.

Madrid have been tracking Asensio for quite some time and they have swooped in and signed the future star after a reported deal with Barcelona fell through this past summer.

Mallorca rejected an offer worth €2 million from the Catalan giants last summer as the club believed that more value could be generated if they hold onto him for another year.

Villarreal recently made a move to try to snap up Asensio, but the player himself seemingly has his heart set on heading to the Bernabéu.

"I've decided to go to Real Madrid and I'm very happy," Asensio told Spanish radio station Cadena SER.

"I'm proud that big clubs watch me and Real Madrid is the best club. The agreement is for five seasons, it's a moment to savour.

"I'm looking forward to seal the deal so we can all relax - the club, me and Real Madrid."

Mallorca are reportedly set to receive a fee of €3.7 million with the teenage winger remaining at the Segunda side for the rest of the season.

Additionally, Mallorca have a first-refusal option to take him on loan next season if they secure promotion to the top flight.


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