Montpellier's Giroud celebrates with coach Girard after their victory against Lille during their French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Mosson Stadium in Montpellier

Shipped from abroad, France: Olivier Giroud is so over Ligue 1’s scoring title

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There’s a surprise name on top of one of Ligue 1’s tables. Paris Saint-Germain’s Nene, with a Sunday hat-trick at Rennes, sits with 21 goals, tied for the French first division’s lead. It’s a stature few would begrudge PSG’s oft-under-appreciated Brazilian, even if the ranking’s caught some1 by surprise.

We had become accustomed to seeing Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud at the top of that list, but as of Sunday, he has to share the perch. The 25-year-old No. 9, in only his second season in France’s top flight, sprinted to the top of the scoring list, scoring eight times in Montpellier’s first 10 league games. At the same time his club, which most picked to battle relegation, staked a claim in a title race that was supposed to be contested between Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and PSG. As MHSC resolutely set France’s blistering pace, it was difficult to decide which was more shocking: Montpellier’s place atop Ligue 1 or Giroud pacing the league’s scorers.

While we reamin a bit bewildered by MHSC’s title persistence, Giroud’s place as France’s most prolific scorer started to make sense. He broke into the French national team. By season’s end, he was being linked with a high profile moves to England and Bayern Munich, having made a name for himself with a list of pushpin performances:

  • Scoring the only goal in Montpellier’s first statement of the season, a 1-0 August win at Lille.
  • An October hat trick against Dijon.
  • Three at Sochaux in November.
  • The only goal in MHSC’s January win over Lyon.
  • A stoppage time winner in a January 1-0 at Nice.
  • An 89th minute winner against Saint-Etienne in March.

Whatever August ideas we had about Giroud2 have been usurped by this doppelganger leading a no-time champion to its first title.

At least, title-bound is where Montpellier stands after their Manchester Citian defeat of Lille on Sunday.3 The defending champions visited MHSC knowing a win would keep their defense alive. As time built and a scoreless draw seeming inevitable, Lille coach Rudi Garcia drove his team forward, knowing one point for this third-place side was as good as none.

The strategy backfired, with Giroud providing for (instead of scoring) the match’s winning goal:

If Nene wins the scoring title, so be it. Ascending where the likes of Javier Pastore have fallen short, it’s a fair result for the brightest on a team of individual talents – a man who can claim to be the best non-Eden Hazard player in France.

Giroud, on the other hand, has been the man who’s led a title charge. The scoring title in exchange for the league? That only seems right.

Elsewhere in France

Sunday’s results
Ajaccio 1-0 Lyon
Bordeaux 1-0 Lorient
Brest 1-0 Valenciennes
Caen 1-3 Sochaux
Dijon 1-1 Toulouse
Marseille 3-0 Auxerre
Montpellier 1-0 Lille
Nancy 3-2 Saint-Etienne
Nice 1-1 Evian
PSG 3-0 Stade Rennes

Races

Champions League: Montpellier (79 points/37 games played), PSG (76/37), Lille (71/37)

Europa League: Lyon 64, Bordeaux 58 (Marseille has already qualified by virtue of winning the Coupe de la Ligue)

Survival (relegation): Valencciennes (40/37), Nice (39/37), Lorient (39/37), Sochaux (39/37), Brest (38/37), Caen (38/37), Ajaccio (38/37), Dijon (37/36) (Auxerre has already confirmed relegation)

Stuff that stuck out:

  • The year’s other breakout goal scorer, Saint-Etienne’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scored again on Sunday. The 22-year-old Gabonese attacker is up to 15 goals (fourth in Ligue 1). Like the rest of us, he’s been linked with Arsenal. If he does move, Les Verts will get a quick return on the $2.9 million they gave Milan in December.
  • Unlike most of its European brethren, France has one weekend to go. As you can see by the relegation battle (right),  most teams will have something to play for.
  • Those teams would include Montpellier and PSG. With a point at Auxerre next Sunday, Montpellier confirm their first title. PSG needs a Montpellier loss and a win at Lorient.
  • Wait – so Bordeaux is good again? Apparently. Francis Gillot’s side has won five in a row, taking advantage of France’s mid-table madness to climb into a Europa League spot. On Sunday, it was Yoan Gouffran’s third goal in two games – a stoppage time penalty kick while down a man – that downed Lorient.
  • In Marseille, Didier Deschamps condescended to play Andre Pierre Gignac for 40 minutes, at the end of which the still 26-year-old striker scored his first goal of the Ligue 1 season. Hopefully APG finds a new home this summer.

Up next: While Montpellier is at Auxerre, PSG will need to win at Lorient on Sunday, with the league’s 10 matches all scheduled for 3 p.m. ET kickoffs. The day’s biggest game? Probably Bordeaux’s visit to Saint-Etienne, where the league’s last Europa League spot will be at stake. Among the league’s remaining games, only Nancy’s visit to Lille is meaningless. The rest have some influence on the relegation battle.

Your takeaway video:

The second of Nene’s three against Rennes. And to think, this is the club that almost signed Becks:


1 – I often refer to myself as ‘some’.
2 – We had no ideas about Olivier Giroud in August.
3 – Montpellier’s Sunday win bared very little resemblance to City’s, but for a little while, I’m going to feel obligated to label any stoppage time-snagged win as Citian.

STREAM: Watch Hull-Chelsea, West Ham-Boro, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Diego Costa of Chelsea shows his frustration during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Four games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Hull City host Chelsea at the KCOM Stadium, while struggling West Ham host Middlesbrough at the London Stadium.

Elsewhere Bournemouth head to Watford and Sunderland is hoping to get their first win as West Brom head to the Stadium of Light.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Pardew, Palace wish luck to FC Cincinnati; USL Playoffs underway (video)

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 16: Tyler Polak #3 of FC Cincinnati steals the ball from Bakary Sako #26 of Crystal Palace FC as Paul Nicholson #8 of FC Cincinnati falls back on defense during the first half at Nippert Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
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Before Crystal Palace drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park on Friday, they turned their attention Stateside.

The club released a video message in support of United States third tier side FC Cincinnati on Friday, as the third-seeded USL club prepares to take on No. 6 Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Palace visited FC Cincinnati this summer, with 35,000-plus showing up as the Premier League side beat its USL opposition in a wonderful showcase for American soccer supporters.

Well, Pards and the boys were impressed, and issued a vote of good luck:

The playoffs are underway, with 16 of the 29 clubs making the march forward. Reigning champion Rochester Rhinos open up against Charlotte at Rhinos Stadium on Saturday, while the No. 1 seeds are New York Red Bulls II (Eastern Conference) and Sacramento Republic FC (Western Conference).

Full first round

Western Conference

Sacramento Republic (1) vs. Orange County Blues (8) — Saturday
Swope Park Rangers (4) 3-0 LA Galaxy II (5)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (3) 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (6)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (2) vs. Oklahoma City Energy FC (7)

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Orlando City B (8) — Sunday
Rochester Rhinos (4) vs. Charlotte Independence (5) — Saturday
FC Cincinnati (3) vs. Charleston Battery (6) — Sunday
Louisville City FC (2) vs. Richmond Kickers (7) — Sunday

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool: Reds stay red-hot, battle to comeback win

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  • Swansea led through Fer
  • Firmino equalized 
  • Milner nets late PK
  • Klopp’s side win fourth-straight

This is the kind of win a title contender grinds out. Liverpool beat a spirited Swansea City 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s side fought back from 1-0 down to win it late on.

Leroy Fer opened the scoring for Swansea in the first half but Roberto Firmino equalized in the second and then James Milner‘s late spot kick sealed the comeback win for the Reds.

With the victory Liverpool has now won four-straight Premier League games and has five victories in its opening seven encounters with 16 points on the board, while Swansea’s manager Guidolin is under more pressure as his side have now lost five of their last six and only have four points this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After a positive start the Swans took the lead in the eighth minute as a corner from the left was nodded back into danger by Borja Baston and Fer bundled home his fourth PL goal of the season. 1-0 to Swansea.

Swansea were buoyed by that early goal and continued to press Liverpool high with Fer smashing over and Jack Cork couldn’t quite hook his effort goalwards. Adam Lallana hobbled off with a groin injury midway through the first half and was replaced by Daniel Sturridge.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Borja then headed wide from Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s delightful free kick as Swansea missed a glorious opportunity to double their lead. At the other end Sturridge went down in the box under a challenge from Wayne Routledge but instead of a penalty being awarded he was booked for simulation. Upon seeing the replay it looked like referee Michael Oliver had made the right decision.

Jordi Amat then saved Swansea as a bad giveaway let in Sadio Mane but the Spanish defender came from nowhere to block Mane’s effort at the last minute.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Liverpool started the second half well with Firmino forcing Lukasz Fabianski into a save, then Mane rolled an effort goalwards which Swansea hacked to safety. Klopp’s side continued to press for an equalizer and it arrived after 55 minutes.

Philippe Coutinho‘s free kick was blocked but Jordan Henderson‘s cross then found Firmino who beat the offside trap to glance home a header. 1-1. Soon after Coutinho curled a fine effort just wide as Klopp drove his team on from the sidelines.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool looked increasingly dangerous but Swans, much to their credit, dug deep and battled for under-fire boss Guidolin. Lorus Karius flapped out a corner in the closing stages as Swansea tried to nick a late winner but just when it looked like both teams had to settle for a point Swansea conceded a penalty kick as Angel Rangel tripped Firmino in the box.

Milner clipped home the spot kick to put Liverpool 2-1 up and they survived a late scare as Mike Van der Hoorn somehow knocked wide from close range to seal a fourth-straight win in the Premier League.

STREAM: Watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10am ET on Saturday

PL_Logo2016_GOAL_RUSH
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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App, on NBCSports.com and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM “GOAL RUSH” HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend will be Hull City vs. Chelsea and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom