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Liverpool line-up WITHOUT Balotelli – Sterling as a false nine?Liverpool line-up WITHOUT Balotelli – Sterling as a false nine?

first_img Raheem Sterling could start as a ‘false nine’ for Liverpool Liverpool may be two matches into their return to the crème of European football, but for many the Champions League really starts tonight as the Redmen face a genuine continental heavyweight in the shape of reigning champions Real Madrid – live and exclusive on talkSPORT from 7pm.The build up to Wednesday’s unmissable clash however has not been whether the Merseysiders will be able to go toe-to-toe with European royalty, but whether their goal-shy Italian striker warrants a selection for their biggest match of the season thus far.Mario Balotelli’s brief Liverpool career reached its nadir at the weekend as the £16m summer signing laboured against the Premier League’s basement club Queens Park Rangers, once again failing to break his domestic duck for his new club.Although some point to his solitary goal against Ludogorets as proof that he is capable of finding the net, with Liverpool preparing for their sternest test, perhaps it’s time to give Balotelli the elbow.That seems to be the viewpoint of Kop legend Jamie Carragher who has called for Raheem Sterling to be installed as something of a ‘false nine’, arguing that with Liverpool likely to be on the back-foot for most of the game, they would be better served setting-up for the counter-attack, rather than trying to muscle Madrid around.With that in mind, we take a look at how Liverpool could line-up without Balotelli below: Sterling certainly has the pace to get in behind Madrid’s defence, but there is every chance that the England man could get lost in the game.Despite his myriad talents, the 19-year-old seems to work best when having someone more advance to link-up with, and although Adam Lallana and Philippe Countinho are talented enough to help create, there is a feeling that there is something lacking in this formation.However, as Carragher points out Sterling is more likely to press than Balotelli and for that reason alone there is every chance that he could offer more than his temperamental team-mate.Based on his impact from the bench at the weekend, Coutinho certainly warrants a start against Madrid, while there is no real reason why Lallana’s recent run in the team should end on Wednesday night.Liverpool fans, do you think Mario Balotelli should be dropped? Is Raheem Sterling experienced enough to play as a ‘false nine’? Comment below…Liverpool v Real Madrid is LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on talkSPORT from 7pm. Click here for coverage. 1 1last_img read more

Portland Wins Game 1 Against the Thunder 104-99Portland Wins Game 1 Against the Thunder 104-99

first_imgPORTLAND, Ore. — After eight straight playoff losses over the past two years, the Portland Trail Blazers finally got a win.Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the third-seeded Blazers opened their series against the No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday with a 104-99 victory.“We know how it feels to win again,” Lillard said. “Now we can just kind of move on from that and stay focused on this series.”Portland was swept by New Orleans last season and the Warriors the year before.Enes Kanter added 20 points and a career playoff-high 18 rebounds for the Blazers, who were making their sixth straight postseason appearance. CJ McCollum added 24 points.Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth career postseason triple-double. Paul George, who was a game-time decision because of a sore shoulder, added 26 points and 10 rebounds despite a rough shooting night.Westbrook appeared to hurt his right ankle in the final quarter and grimaced while trying to walk it off. Trainers attended to him on the bench at the next timeout but he returned and his layup closed the gap to 91-87 with just under 4 minutes left.Asked about it afterward, Westbrook said: “We’ll see.”After trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, Oklahoma City pulled within as 93-92 on George’s 3-pointer with 2:44 left. Lillard answered with a long 3-pointer to keep the Blazers ahead and Al-Farouq Aminu made free throws to extend Portland’s lead to 98-92.George made a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds remaining to get the Thunder within 100-97 but Portland hung on.“We knew it was going to be a fight all night long. Even at the beginning of the game when we were up like 17 at one point, I wasn’t looking at the scoreboard like, ‘Let’s put them away.” I was like, ‘Let’s just stay solid, keep competing, keep playing hard,’ Lillard said. “And then when they make their runs, and when they get back in the game, (you) just weather those storms.”It was the first postseason meeting between the teams since the Thunder moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.Oklahoma City beat the Blazers in all four meetings this season, including a heated 129-121 overtime victory on March 7.The Thunder have been to the playoffs every season since moving from Seattle in 2008, but they haven’t gotten past the opening round for the past two seasons.George was nursing a sore right shoulder and was considered day-to-day for Sunday’s game but he started. However he was just 1 of 6 from the floor in the opening quarter. For the game, he made four of 15 3-point attempts.“Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder,” he said. “Then fast forward to today this is the first day I’ve even shot the ball, so for me it’s just rhythm.”George missed the Thunder’ regular-season finale Wednesday at Milwaukee because of the nagging injury, which also kept him out of games on Feb. 28, March 2 and March 3.McCollum missed 10 games down the stretch with a left knee strain and had only played in two games since returning. But he started and hit his first two 3-point attempts.The Blazers’ hopes for postseason success were dealt a blow last month when center Jusuf Nurkic was lost for the season with a broken left leg. Nurkic was averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds when he sustained the gruesome injury during a game against the Brooklyn Nets.Kanter, signed just before the All-Star break after he was waived by the New York Knicks, has started in Nurkic’s place.The Thunder rallied from a 19-point deficit in the first half to trail by just 54-48 at the break. But they struggled from 3-point range, making just two of 18 attempts.There was simmering tension between the teams. Terrance Ferguson and McCollum had a heated exchange in the second quarter, earning technical fouls. Ferguson earned his third foul and headed to the bench.Westbrook’s layup got the Thunder within 64-60, but he collected his fourth foul late in the third and went to the bench. The Blazers went into the fourth quarter with a 76-69 lead.The Thunder’s only lead was in the opening quarter.“It’s a series. First to four. They won the first game,” Westbrook said. “Now we make adjustments, come back, play harder next game and try to take it.”TIP-INS:Thunder: While the Thunder swept the Blazers 4-0 during the regular season, Portland swept them in four games the season before.Trail Blazers: Blazers coach Terry Stotts concluded his pregame talk with the media by saying. “All right. Masters.” The Blazers were 8-8 in the postseason against the SuperSonics. … Portland had won the last eight regular-season games at the Moda Center. … Kanter had his third playoff double-double. … The Blazers haven’t made it out of the first round for the past two seasons. Last year as a No. 3 seed Portland got swept by the New Orleans Pelicans.KANTER’S DAYIn just his ninth start with the Blazers, Kanter became just the third player in team history with at least 20 points and 18 rebounds in playoff game. Bill Walton did it three times and LaMarcus Aldridge once.“He gave us a lot of toughness inside,” Stotts said. “Obviously, his rebounding and scoring. I thought his conditioning was really good. He maintained a high level of play for a long period of time.”UP NEXT: Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Moda Center.By: Anne M. Peterson, AP Sports WriterTweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more