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Pro Soccer Talk’s Premier League Team of the Week

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I think I speak for most of us when I say, thank the Gods of Football that this weekend is over.

Even as a ginormous fan of the Premier League, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the build-up to the August 17th kickoff had become so immense that it started to feel like we were expecting the birth of a child.

By early August we couldn’t help but discuss our excitement at having a kid.

Kids are cool,’ we thought. ‘This is gonna be fun.’

By the second week into the month, tension began to build and suddenly it felt it we were having twins.

Hmm, twins. Ok. We can deal with twins.’

But by the third week the anticipation became so overwhelming that our tension turned to anxiety like we’d just been informed we were the victim of a fertility drug gone wrong. We weren’t having twins, we were having septuplets.

Gulp.

So when the matches finally kicked off and the goals began to flow like Four Loko’s at frat parties, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our over-anticipated minds had played a trick on us. We weren’t going to be changing seven diapers after all – we were just waiting for the most competitive soccer league in the world to commence.

Over the course of 10 matches we saw many a brilliant performance. For Pro Soccer Talk’s Premier League Team of the Week, we select 11 starters and an 11 man honorable mention. So here they are, in all their glory.

Goalkeeper – Asmir Begovic (Stoke City)

Before Simon Mignolet’s fantastic double save off of the Jon Walters penalty, Asmir Begovic had Liverpool supporters thinking they’d made the wrong summer purchase. The Bosnian netminder was sensational in his 2013-14 debut, sprawling out to make a number of mind-blowing saves, the best being his finger-tip parry on Jordan Henderson’s 63rd minute rip. Mignolet was great, but Begovic deserved his Man of the Match award making more saves (10) than any other match he’s had in a Stoke City kit.

Defender – Luke Shaw (Southampton)

Luke Shaw enjoyed a fantastic match on Saturday, helping anchor a Saints defense that kept a clean sheet. In addition to shutting down the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Shane Long, the 18 year old academy product changed the scope of the game when his 89th minute dribble into the West Brom box drew the penalty that Rickie Lambert converted for the 1-0 win.

Defender – Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Most had Sunderland rolling through this match but the Black Cats attack was consistently thwarted by Brede Hangeland and the Fulham defense. The center-back marshalled the surprising defensive setup of Sasha Reither, Kieran Richardson and Aaron Hughes to a clean sheet.

Defender – Seamus Coleman (Everton)

For all the buzz that Leighton Baines earns as an attacking full-back it’s time people started giving Seamus Coleman his due. The Irishman has bags of pace, cheeky skills and an eye for goal. His clever cut-in set up Ross Barkley for his 60th minute golazo and five minutes later Coleman’s insatiable hunger was rewarded when he pounded home John Ruddy’s parry of Nikica Jelavic’s shot.

Midfielder – Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Welcome to the Premier League, Fernandinho. The Brazilian was everywhere in yesterday’s destruction of the Magpies, linking short passes from defense to attack and pinging an array of precise diagonal passes to his speedy wingers. Defensively, the 28 year old strangled any opportunity the Magpies had at getting in on City’s goal with perfect positioning and impressive sliding challenges off the back-track.

Midfielder – Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

Philippe Coutinho is the definition of a playmaker. The Brazilian fit in perfectly behind Daniel Sturridge, slipping perfectly weighted passes through the Stoke City defense and into the path of the Reds onrushing attackers. In Coutinho, Brendan Rodgers has found a key balance to Steven Gerrard’s long balls and a player who initiates a tricky intermix between the midfield and forwards. He arguably faded a bit in the second half but the 21 year old was simply too effective to be denied a place in the Team of the Week.

Midfielder – Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Christian Benteke earned much of the praise for his brace but the Belgian wouldn’t have had the opportunity to capitalize if it weren’t for Gabby Agbonlahor. After an injury-riddled season Agbonlahor was a nightmare for Arsenal, using his speed and trickery to draw both of the Villains penalties. After the match, manager Paul Lambert called it the greatest performance he’d seen by Agbonlahor.

Midfielder – Ross Barkley (Everton)

After three years of David Moyes tempting Evertonians with small injections of Ross Barkley it now appears that the Liverpool-born midfielder has a firm spot under new boss Roberto Martinez. Barkley was sensational on Saturday, busting a lung to offer his services all over the park and providing a creative link between the midfield and forwards. His greatest acheivement, however, was unleashing a left-footed howitzer to bring the Toffees level at one apiece. Which raises the question, has there been a better first Premier League goal?

Forward – Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

Robin van Persie is the fine wine of the Premier League – he just keeps getting better. His first goal was an acrobatic feat that Olympians would admire and his second was a deak and smash that left everyone’s jaw on the floor. Think United aren’t capable of duplicating last year’s championship run? RVP says otherwise.

Forward – Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)

Making his case for Manchester United to forget about the brooding Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck put in an eye-opening performance in the South Wales rain. His first goal displayed an intricate reading of the game and his second finish was straight class. What would’ve normally been a rip on goal, Welbeck surprised everyone by thoughtfully dinking his effort over the head of Michel Vorm and into the far post.

Honorable Mention: GK Simon Mignolet (Liverpool); D Antonio Luna (Aston Villa); D Kolo Toure (Liverpool); D Steven Whittaker (Norwich City); M Frank Lampard (Chelsea); M Joe Cole (West Ham); M Mohamed Diame (West Ham); M Oscar (Chelsea); F Edin Dzeko (Manchester City); F Sergio Aguero (Manchester City); F Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)

Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” after gritty FA Cup win

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates with a fans as he runs onto the pitch as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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Danny Graham gave Manchester United some early worries on Sunday at Ewood Park but the Red Devils ultimately responded and booked themselves a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: United books place in quarterfinals after Zlatan’s winner ]

Despite the adversity from both the Blackburn Rovers supporters’ roars and the deficit, United fought their way back into the tie after Marcus Rashford equalized on 27 minutes and Zlatan Ibrahimovic completed the comeback with a quarter hour remaining.

[ MORE: Kane hat-trick sends Spurs past Fulham ]

Ibrahimovic entered the match after the hour mark along with Paul Pogba, which gave United the final lift it needed to get past Blackburn.

Jose Mourinho spoke highly of his group following the 2-1 victory, particularly of his squad’s “attitude” after trailing inside the opening 20 minutes.

“I think the attitude of every player was really good,” Mourinho told BT Sport. “With a different attitude, we wouldn’t win. They gave us a really hard match and I am really happy with the players, of course.”

“I have important players on the bench and I can try to make them have an impact, but that doesn’t always work,” he said. “I spoke with Paul and Zlatan and they came with the right attitude.”

While Mourinho was understandably pleased with the result, the Portuguese boss gave Blackburn their credit for the hard-fought bout.

“We deserved to win, but Blackburn also deserve to go to Old Trafford,” he said. “But they can now focus on a very difficult Championship. A second match at Old Trafford would have been a disaster.

“I think the referees had everything under control and were really calm and even the ball boy to my right was really good.”

United will now move on to face Premier League leaders Chelsea in the FA Cup quarterfinals, easily making for the most exciting fixture in the last eight of this season’s competition.

La Liga & Serie A: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 19: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona shoots on goal next to Martin Maximiliano Mantovani of CD Leganes during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and CD Leganes at Camp Nou stadium on February 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 2-1 Leganes

The Blaugrana were just minutes away from another disappointing result but Lionel Messi rescued his side on the brink of time with an opportune penalty kick. The Argentine attacker netted a brace on Sunday, which helped keep Barcelona within a point of league leaders Real Madrid at the top of Spain’s top flight. Messi entered his name on the scoresheet in the fourth minute before Unai Lopez equalized for the visitors in the 71st minute. The loss for Leganes keeps the club just two points above the relegation zone through 23 rounds of play.

Real Sociedad 0-1 Villareal

Samu Castillejo’s stoppage time winner kept Villareal in a top six position after the team struggled to find its way in the attacking third for much of the match. The Yellow Submarine currently sit six points out of fourth place Atletico Madrid, while Sociedad holds a slim, two-point margin over Villareal.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Celta Vigo 3-0 Osasuna

 


Roma 4-1 Torino

A pair of goals on both sides of halftime helped propel Roma to its 18th win of the season on Sunday, while keeping the Giallorossi within seven points of Juventus at the top of Serie A. Edin Dzeko continues to pay dividends for Luciano Spalletti’s side after scoring early for Roma, while Mohamed Salah, Leandro Paredes and Radja Nainggolan each booked their place on the scoresheet in the rout. Maxi Lopez provided the visitors with a consolation in the 84th minute, as Torino remain in ninth place.

Chievo 1-3 Napoli

Napoli’s potent attack continues to score goals at an astounding rate, and the third place side is still very much alive in the title race. The visitors jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the hour mark before Chievo finally pulled one back by way of Riccardo Meggiorini. Their three goals on Sunday move Napoli to a total of 60 for the season, which is six more than Roma.

Pescara 5-0 Genoa

The last place side picked up its second win of the season on Sunday after scoring three goals inside of the opening 45 minutes. An own goal from Lucas Orban in the fifth minute kickstarted Genoa’s misfortunes, and Pescara continued to pile it on from that point.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 0-1 Inter Milan
Sampdoria 1-1 Cagliari
Udinese 1-2 Sassuolo
AC Milan 2-1 Fiorentina

‘Gabigol’ finally starts to pay off transfer in Inter win

BOLOGNA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19:  Gabriel Barbosa # 96 of FC Internazionale celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A match between Bologna FC and FC Internazionale at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on February 19, 2017 in Bologna, Italy.  (Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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ROME (AP) Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa began repaying his 30 million euro ($32 million) transfer fee by scoring his first goal for Inter Milan in a 1-0 win at Bologna on Sunday.

Seven minutes after coming on, Barbosa tapped in a cross from Danilo D’Ambrosio in the 81st minute to secure fourth-placed Inter its ninth win in 10 Serie A matches.

Barbosa had been hailed as the next great Brazil striker when he signed a five-year deal after transferring from Santos in August. But he struggled in his first five months at Inter.

“I’m happy for him. He had a bit of a tough time at the start. But now he’s starting to click,” Inter coach Stefano Pioli said.

Garbosa was preparing to offer his teammates and coaches a Brazilian dinner to celebrate his goal.

“The dinner is more than welcome,” Pioli said.

With captain Mauro Icardi serving the second game of a two-match ban for dissent, Inter labored for long stretches.

Inter forward Rodrigo Palacio wasted a great chance directly in front of the goal 12 minutes in following a cross from Ivan Perisic.

But substitutions proved decisive and Inter has now scored 13 goals in the last 15 minutes of play this season – the most in Serie A.

“It’s always a good sign for a coach when you have a squad that believes until the end,” Pioli said. “We struggled between the lines and were slow maneuvering but we still worked hard. The team believed until the end and that perseverance paid off.”

CHIEVO VERONA 1, NAPOLI 3

Napoli bounced back from its Champions League loss at Real Madrid with a comfortable away win that extended its unbeaten streak in Serie A to 14 matches.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring with an effort that improved on his goal in Madrid. After collecting the ball at the left side of the area, Insigne dribbled in and launched an angled shot around two defenders that flew inside the far post.

Napoli captain Marek Hamsik slotted another into an empty net and Piotr Zielinski made it 3-0 before the hour mark.

Riccardo Meggiorini pulled one back for Chievo midway through the second half.

Napoli moved into second place, one point ahead of Roma, which was facing Torino later.

OTHER MATCHES:

Attack-minded Zdenek Zeman made an immediate impact on last-placed Pescara, which routed Genoa 5-0 in the Czech coach’s first match back in charge since leading the club to the Serie B title five years ago.

Substitute Gregoire Defrel scored twice as Sassuolo came back from a goal down to beat Udinese 2-1 after Seko Fofana’s spectacular volley had put the hosts ahead.

Also, Mauricio Isla gave Cagliari an early lead before Fabio Quagliarella equalized for Sampdoria midway through the first half in a 1-1 draw.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Harkes speaks for first time since FC Cincinnati sacking

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6:  John Harkes (Former captain, US men's national team) joined Budweiser, the global official beer of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, to celebrate the Final Draw on December 6, 2013 at the Brazilian Ambassador's home in Washington DC.  In partnership with Budweiser, the global official beer of the FIFA World Cup?, Garibaldi created a commemorative work of art representing the 32 countries competing in the tournament next summer and their quest to be crowned the best in the world  (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for Budweiser)
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As far as non-MLS news goes in the U.S., Friday’s announcement that John Harkes would no longer be managing FC Cincinnati came as a great shock to the American soccer community.

[ MORE: David Villa shown red card via MLS’ video replay ]

The former U.S. Men’s National Team player was sacked on Friday without any true warning, however, reports have suggested that a power struggle between Harkes and president/general manager Jeff Berding could have spurred the decision.

Assistant coach Alan Koch has been tabbed as the replacement for Harkes at FC Cincinnati after joining the club from the Vancouver Whitecaps II side.

Harkes had this to say following Friday’s shocking development:

“Although my time here was cut short prematurely, I am extremely proud of this team, the work I put in and all the accomplishments of the players and coaching staff of the inaugural season in the USL. To build something from scratch was special. From the time I signed my contract, a full eight months prior to the first match, the process of building a team, creating a relationship with the fans and the city, drawing on the passion of the city and its soccer community, and creating a major league soccer environment in a major league city was completely gratifying.

I thank God for the life he has given me and all the blessings in it, especially my family and friends. Their unconditional sacrifice, love and support has been incredible. I would like to thank  Carl Lindner III and the entire Lindner family and the owners for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.  I want to recognize the inaugural group of players for taking a leap of faith and congratulate each one of you for creating a special atmosphere for the fans. To the players we worked so hard to bring in this year, I’m disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to work with you but perhaps our paths will cross again. To the soldiers in the front office who worked tirelessly, thank you. And finally, to the incredible fans and supporter groups of FC Cincinnati – you are some of the most passionate and educated supporters that I have been around as a player and coach! Keep supporting and growing the game we all love.

In the words of the great coach John Wooden,
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In Cincinnati’s inaugural season in USL, Harkes helped lead the Eastern Conference side to the playoffs after boasting a 16-6-8 record during the regular season.