Christian Benteke makes right choice to stay at Aston Villa, signs new four-year deal

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Aston Villa fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief this evening… the big man is on board.

Towering Belgian center forward Christian Benteke has nailed his colors to the mast by signing a new four-year contract at Villa Park, ending any chance of him leaving this summer.

Previously the 22-year-old striker had put in a transfer request to leave the Villans.

But it seems as though Paul Lambert’s powers of persuasion, and a healthy boost in his weekly wage, have convinced Benteke that he should remain at Villa.

“I spoke with the Manager when I returned to training and we had a good talk. I am very happy to be back here in Birmingham and at Aston Villa, and to sign a new contract,” Benteke said. “This is a great Club and it has given me a lot. Now I have to give back to my teammates and the fans who have always been right behind me.”

How will Villa’s fans react to this news? Relief, joy and cautious optimism would sum it up. After enduring a nail-biting season during the 2012-13 campaign, Benteke’s form was the main highlight. But is seemed as if his future would lie elsewhere after he handed in a transfer request last month.

However Benteke seems to have come to the best decision ahead of Belgium’s impending appearance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Playing with teammates he knows well, in front of fans that love him and a coaching staff fully supporting his talents is a huge boost and that was likely a key factor behind his new deal.

(MORE: Benteke hands in transfer request at Aston Villa, let’s not act surprised)

While Villa’s manager Lambert was ecstatic to see Benteke commit himself to the Birmingham based club for the foreseeable future.

“I’m delighted, having time to re-evaluate his future, Christian has decided to commit to the Club. It’s a huge bonus and I’m sure the supporters are every bit as delighted as me to have him on board and raring to go.”

Benteke was linked to Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal amongst many other clubs but staying at Villa was the right decision. He has flourished since joining from Genk and scored 23 goals in all competitions last season. His powerful frame suits the Premier League and Villa’s young squad will surely be better this year.

Some may question his ambition, but he is in a comfortable place as the figurehead at a sleeping giant of the English game. Even if he doesn’t return Villa back to their glory days, if Benteke keeps banging in the goals he will likely get suitors lining up at the door season after season, just like they did this summer.

Fans of Villa, Belgium and the Premier League should all be spurred on by Benteke’s decision to sign a new deal.

Another season full of goals and stunning forward displays beckon from the big Belgian called Christian.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

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The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET