Goals galore as the English Football League returns to action

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ll know that the Premier League season kicks off on August 17.

Two weeks from now.

But today England’s other 72 professional soccer teams began play in the Championship, League One and League Two, with plenty of enthralling action taking place.

Here’s a quick look at what happened on the first day of action in the lower-leagues of English soccer.

Championship

The big winners were Wigan Athletic, who began life in the second-tier in fine fashion thanks to a 4-0 win at Barnsley. The current FA Cup holders opened the scoring through Ben Watson before new signings from Norwich, Grant Holt and Leon Barnett, both scored on their debuts and Shaun Maloney rounded things off. Honduran Roger Espinoza was an unused sub for the Latics, while US defender Tim Ream was also kept on the bench as rivals Bolton and Burnley kicked things off with a 1-1 tie. Queens Park Rangers beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 despite going behind, as Andy Johnson grabbed the winner. Joey Barton was also a surprise starter for QPR after not featuring at all in preseason. And a good day for the three clubs relegated from the Premier League was rounded off by a 2-1 win for Nigel Adkins Reading side against Ipswich Town, as USMNT international Danny Williams went the full 90. New boys Bournemouth and Yeovil picked up wins after promotion from League One, while Paul Ince’s Blackpool impressively beat newcomers Doncaster 3-1 away from home.

League One

It was a case of goals galore on the opening day of action in England’s third-tier, as 36 goals were scored across the 12 games… and two of those fixtures were 0-0 ties. There was a dramatic 4-3 win for Oldham against Stevenage as Jose Baxter’s late penalty stole all three points. While Leyton Orient hammered Carlisle 5-1 to go top of the league. There was a cracker at Crewe, as they home side were leading 3-1 with four minutes to play. But two late goals from Rotherham United ensured a dramatic 3-3 tie at Gresty Road. While Crawley Town heaped more misery on Coventry City with a 3-2 win. Coventry had entered liquidation on Friday and were handed a 10 point penalty, despite that they fought back from 2-0 down to tie 2-2, before Crawley’s Mike Jones struck late on.

League Two

For relegated side Portsmouth it was a day to forget at Fratton Park. Despite going 1-0 up early on, Oxford United came roaring back to seal a comfortable 4-1 win over Pompey. Elsewhere the other big winner was newly promoted Welsh side Newport County. They celebrated their first season back in the football league in style by beating Accrington Stanley 4-1. The game marked Newport’s first game back in the top four professional divisions in over 25 years. Fleetwood Town beat Dagenham and Redbridge 3-1, and there were 1-0 wins for Southend against Plymouth, Wycombe over Morecambe and York edged past Northampton.

Transfer rumor roundup: PL clubs losing ground for Dembele and more

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With all the major leagues across Europe either closing or already have finished it’s the season of transfer rumors once again.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Arsenal’s FA Cup win vs. Chelsea ]

Here are several of the juiciest pieces from Sunday:

Three London sides could potentially miss out on Celtic star Moussa Dembele as AC Milan has emerged as a favorite to sign the top-rated Frenchman. Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have all expressed great interest in the promising attacker, who scored 17 goals this season for the Scottish champions.

After struggling at times this season to keep goals out, Liverpool could turn to France as a potential outlet to fix the cracks in their back line. AS Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy already has significant PL interest from Manchester United and Manchester City, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side could also put up a fight.

West Ham is looking to bolster its attack this summer, and with Pep Guardiola likely making significant changes at the Etihad Stadium, Kelechi Iheanacho could be on his way to the Hammers ahead of the 2017/18 PL season.

Manchester City higher ups are keen on having Guardiola bring back goalkeeper Joe Hart from Torino this summer. Hart spent last season on loan with the Italian club after Guardiola sent him away from England early in his managing tenure at the club.

Luis Enrique leaves with feeling of mission accomplished

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique leaves Barcelona with no regrets and the feeling of mission accomplished.

[ MORE: Arsenal edges Chelsea to earn FA Cup crown ]

The coach capped his three-year stint with the Catalan club by winning the Copa del Rey title with a 3-1 win over Alaves on Saturday.

Now it’s time to enjoy some much-needed time off after three “intense” seasons, and let the club move on under fresh leadership.

“There is no sadness at all, just happiness,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m the one who decided to stop, and I think that it was a wonderful decision for me, for the players and for the team as well. The intensity of this profession demands maximum dedication every single day and there is a natural wear out.”

He said players always need new challenges and will benefit from a change in leadership, and the club will certainly keep winning despite his departure.

After missing out on the league this season, the Copa del Rey was Barcelona’s second title of the campaign to go along with the Spanish Super Cup, but Luis Enrique has won nearly everything since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014. The former midfielder led Barcelona to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2015. He also managed the league-Copa double in 2016, and also won the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup in 2015.

He said he was “proud” to have helped Barcelona fans celebrate so many accomplishments during his time at the helm.

“If someone had told me when I arrived that I would have the opportunity to help my team win nine titles out of 13 that we played, I’d say that these would be good numbers,” he said. “It would have been nice to have won La Liga and contended for the Champions League title this season, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I believe that the fans recognized the effort and the sacrifice of all the players throughout the season. I have enjoyed the opportunity to make them happy.”

Luis Enrique said he was also lucky to have had the chance to coach a player like Lionel Messi.

“He is extraordinary, extraterrestrial,” Luis Enrique said about the Argentina forward, who scored the team’s first goal on Saturday. “I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy Messi at his best, performing at the highest level. He is the very best, without a doubt.”

Neymar and Paco Alcacer also scored at the Vicente Calderon Stadium to help Barcelona win its third straight Copa del Rey title, and 29th all-time.

Luis Enrique celebrated with his seven-year-old daughter by his side, waving his winner’s trophy and singing the club’s anthem in front of the Barcelona fans who traveled to Madrid.

Barcelona is expected to announce this week that its new coach will be Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao a few days ago.

Luis Enrique’s future remains up in the air.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, really. I’m open to every possibility, including changing sports,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said, with a smile on his face. “I do know that I’m very competitive and it’s been like this since I was born. Right now I’m looking forward to the opportunity of enjoying my friends and my family.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Report: Reus could miss six months after sustaining knee damage

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Marco Reus missed much of the 2016/17 season with injuries, and the Borussia Dortmund attacker had that unfortunate spell continue on Saturday.

[ MORE: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U-20 World Cup ]

The 27-year-old exited the club’s DFB Pokal final win against Eintracht Frankfurt at halftime after suffering a knee injury.

According to German outlet Bild, Reus will miss at least six months as he rehabs and prepares to make a comeback.

Despite the bad news for Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel’s men captured the title behind goals from Ousmane Dembélé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Day 9: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U20 World Cup

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Five teams booked their place in the knockout phase at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Sunday, including Tab Ramos and the U.S. after the Americans picked up a valuable point to finish atop Group F.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

USMNT U-20s 1-1 Saudi Arabia

An unbeaten record in group play has Ramos and Co. moving on to the Round of 16, where the U.S. will meet New Zealand. Brooks Lennon inked his name on the scoresheet for the first time at this month’s World Cup just prior to halftime, before Abdulelah Alamri equalized with almost a quarter hour left to play.

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador

A draw was all Senegal needed to ensure it would continue its run at the World Cup, while Ecuador fell short of a final 16 bid after only managing two draws during Group F play.

New Zealand 0-2 France

With nine goals for and none conceded during Group E play, France remains one of the heavy hitters at the conclusion of the group phase. Les Bleus received a strong contribution from Bastia winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who netted twice in the first half.

Honduras 2-0 Vietnam

Honduras scored twice in the final 14 minutes-plus added time but neither nation reaches the Round of 16 with Sunday’s result.