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ProSoccerTalk’s Top 5 Goals – English Premier League (Matchweek 31)

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It was yet another mind-blowing weekend for goals in the Premier League.

While some clubs fought for spots in Europe, others challenged to get themselves in the Top 10 while others battled to avoid the dreaded relegation zone. Regardless of the motive, there’s little doubt that the final-stretch intensity has set in across the Premier League. The result was goals, goals and more goals – many so fantastic in nature that to do them justice we’re reviewing the Top 5 of Matchweek 31.

The list is so good that it’s worth mentioning who didn’t make it. You won’t see Jan Vertonghen’s silky finish against Swansea, or Jay Rodriguez’ clinical opener that turned the Chelsea defense inside out. You won’t see Jordan Henderson’s relaxed poke against Aston Villa or Hal Robson Kanu’s suicidal diving header against Arsenal. You won’t see Gary O’Neill’s incredible swerving game-winner against West Brom or Christian Benteke’s first-time rip that cut open the Liverpool defense like a Ginsu. And you won’t see Michu’s snap header to the far post or Yaya Toure’s bust-through the box and near-post finish from next to no angle.

All of those were fantastic goals – but these are the best.

5. ANDY CARROLL – WEST HAM UNITED

Welcome back, Andy Carroll! The West Ham striker was an absolute beast in his club’s 3-1 destruction of West Brom on Saturday, hitting a sensational brace for the first time in nearly two years. He opened the scoring in the 20th minute when he slipped his defender and pounded a frightening header past Ben Foster. He outdid himself in the 80th minute when James Collins lofted a free-kick from half field into the box. Carroll took his run from the top of the 18 yard box to the right side of goal, let the ball float over his right shoulder and slammed a first-time volley into the far corner to seal the Hammers’ victory.

4. GARETH BALE – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 

Gareth Bale’s been getting so much press lately that I tried to avoid putting the Spurs dynamo into this list, keep the boy’s ego in check a bit. But to do so would be an injustice to football and an unreasonable denial of the truth – that Gareth Bale is a truly remarkable footballer capable of truly remarkable feats. On Saturday his 17th goal of the season was not only another game-winner but it marked his seventh Premier League goal scored from outside the 18 yard box. Seven? That’s just plain silly. The strike was unlike any goal I’d witnessed in a long time. After receiving Jan Vertonghen’s pass with his right foot, the Welshman rabbit-hopped into an outside of the left foot shot that corkscrewed into the top corner, leaving Swansea keeper Michel Vorm helpless and fans breathless.

3. RICKIE LAMBERT – SOUTHAMPTON 

If you’ve watched Rickie Lambert play then you already know why so many people (myself included) are busting vocal chords over Roy Hodgson’s repeated refusal to call him into the England squad. The 6’1″ striker is not only lethal in the air and in front of goal but he’s making quite a name for himself from 25 yard spot kicks. One match removed from his strike that found the back of the net against Liverpool, Lambert was at it again on Saturday. Merely two minutes after John Terry leveled the match for Chelsea, Lambert stepped to the free-kick and unleashed a calculated pill that dipped over the Blues wall and bulged the net. The goal handed Southampton a crucial 2-1 victory and confirmed Lambert’s status atop the charts for English goal-scorers with 14.

2. AROUNA KONE – WIGAN ATHELTIC

The Ivorian was mentioned in the Narratives leading up to Matchweek 31 and he didn’t disappoint. With the match locked in a 0-0 stalemate in the 80th minute, Kone burst past his marker and latched on to Jordi Gomez’ through-ball to smash home the game-winner from the top of the box. With the goal Wigan grabbed all three points and wiggled itself out of the relegation zone.

1. KEVIN MIRALLAS – EVERTON 

Ask any Evertonian and he will tell you the same thing – Kevin Mirallas is the next great footballer at Everton. With Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini out for the Stoke clash, it was up to Mirallas to bring home the points and the Belgian did so in fantastic fashion. Stoke’s Marc Wilson lofted in a free-kick in the 28th minute that Everton keeper Tim Howard punched out to Mirallas, standing about 20 yards outside the box. The winger collected the ball, fought off Steven N’Zonzi, and torched Stoke’s defense with eight touches across 70 yards before slotting the ball home with aplumb.

Report: Chelsea set to overhaul defense with clear out

WATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: Odion Ighalo of Watford, Gary Cahill of Chelsea and Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea battle for possession during the Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on August 20, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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At times during Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte looked like he was going to cry.

The defending was that bad.

[ MORE: Conte bemoans defending ]

Chelsea gave up three first half goals, the first in calamitous fashion as Gary Cahill was inexplicably caught on the ball to let Alexis Sanchez in to score, and Conte was seething in his post-match press conference about the level of defending and the fact that Chelsea has now conceded at least twice in each of their last four games.

The Daily Mail reports that the Italian manager has seen enough from both Cahill and struggling right back Branislav Ivanovic and he will “phase them out” in the coming weeks at Stamford Bridge.

With captain John Terry set to come back from injury, plus Kurt Zouma close to a return too, Conte has other options and it seems likely he will now use those.

Per the report, Conte is also looking elsewhere to bolster his defensive options with Burnley’s Michael Keane and Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson both linked with a January move to the Blues with the west London said to be scouting both players closely.

It will be intriguing to see how Conte changes things up in the games to come, especially as the Blues face tough tests against Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United in their next three Premier League games.

Chelsea played the final 35 minutes at the Emirates in a 3-5-2 formation which is one Conte mastered at Juventus and with the Italian national team in the past. That formation may well get the best out of Terry, the erratic David Luiz and perhaps Zouma alongside them. Truth be told, Ivanovic and Cahill have both struggled for the last 12 months and it is about time they were held accountable for some of the defensive mistakes they’ve made.

Whatever Conte does, it has to be something drastic because the way he sets his team’s up they won’t win games 5-0. As long as Chelsea keep things tight, they’ll do well under the Italian manager. But right now that’s a big ‘if’ for the Blues.

As I wrote from the Emirates this weekend, Conte knows he has a huge job on his hands to transform their defense.

FIFA disbands racism task force ahead of World Cup in Russia

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior in 2018 World Cup host Russia.

FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and “is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.”

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not,” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.

“I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done – the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

“We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship,” Obayiuwana said. “I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”

Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force.

“The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA,” wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s diversity and anti-discrimination manager.

“We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing.”

FIFA pointed to the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a “Good Practice Guide ,” starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first female and non-European secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.

FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives “actually exceed the working group’s recommendations” – trumpeting its “Say No to Racism” campaign, women’s leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew 2-0 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): It was mostly the Crew from start to finish, and Ola Kamara’s brace helped ensure Greg Berhalter’s side that the team will remain in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. While the other Kamara — Kei — and his Revolution teammates were largely limited for chances on the evening, the Crew backline did an admirable job to prevent their opposition from testing them. For the Crew, it was the team’s first shutout since the two sides last met on August 20, ironically also a 2-0 victory for Berhalter’s group.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]

Three moments that mattered

42′ – Ola smashes one past the Revs on the stroke of halftime — The Crew attack has sputtered a lot in 2016, but Ola Kamara continues to keep the team’s bleak playoff hopes intact.

67′ — Afful’s effort smacks against the post, stays out — The Crew attacked and attacked and attacked some more. Harrison Afful was definitely a bit unlucky that this chance didn’t end up in Brad Knighton’s goal.

84′ — Questionable penalty seals the points — It looked a bit soft to be given, but Kamara makes no mistake with the finish.

 

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Ola Kamara

Goalscorers: Ola Kamara (42′, 84)

Watch: Dario Benedetto scores audacious blast for Boca Juniors

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When there’s little support up the field, what should you do?

Just ask, Dario Benedetto.

The Boca Juniors man broke Sunday’s 4-1 win over Quilmes wide open after a quarter hour when Benedetto smashed a 40-yard attempt into the back of the net, leaving the opposing keeper speechless.

The 26-year-old did just about everything right on the day, as Benedetto finished off the match with a hat-trick before halftime.