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)

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.

Serie A: Napoli waste chance to go 2nd; Juve win big (again)

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MILAN (AP) Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal since his lengthy injury layoff but it wasn’t enough to prevent Napoli from drawing 2-2 at Sassuolo on Sunday and missing the chance to move second in Serie A.

Milik scored two minutes after coming off the bench to rescue a point for Napoli and move it to within one point of second-placed Roma, which visits bottom club Pescara on Monday.

Second spot in Serie A secures automatic entry into the Champions League group stage, while the team that finishes third has to go through a playoff.

“The road to second spot has got more difficult, we have to hope our rivals slip up,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We have a point more than last season, even though we played in the Champions League, even though we lost (Gonzalo) Higuain at the beginning of the season and Milik for four months, so I think the team has had an extraordinary season until now.”

After an even first half, Napoli broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break thanks to a rare header from Dries Mertens. It was the diminutive Belgian’s 22nd league goal of the season – as many as he had scored in total in his three previous seasons at Napoli.

However, Napoli gifted Sassuolo the equalizer seven minutes later as Marek Hamsik’s terrible headed backpass to Pepe Reina was intercepted by Domenico Berardi, who fired home from close range.

Mertens almost immediately restored his side’s lead but saw his free kick come off the crossbar, while Lorenzo Insigne’s effort also hit the inside of the post for Napoli.

Sassuolo took the lead 10 minutes from time following a superb save from Reina to deny former Napoli hero Paolo Cannavaro, but Antonino Ragusa hooked the ball back in from the byline for Luca Mazzitelli to drive into the bottom right corner.

Milik was brought on in the 82nd and immediately leveled. Jose Callejon’s corner was knocked down by Raul Albiol and the Poland international spun to fire in from close range for his first goal since he was injured on World Cup duty in October.

AC Milan missed a penalty as the new era at the famous Italian club continued without a win.

Milan drew 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan last weekend in the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg ended Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Sunday’s defeat saw Milan remain in the last qualifying spot for the Europa League, two points above Inter.

“If we relate everything to the result, it didn’t go well but I shouldn’t do that,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We created 15 chances, it’s difficult to create more in Serie A.”

Empoli took a surprise lead five minutes from halftime when Levan Mchedlidze headed in a corner.

Milan should have leveled shortly before the hour, after Lukasz Skorupski pushed over Mario Pasalic, but the Empoli goalkeeper made up for his error by keeping out Suso’s penalty and then parrying a follow-up effort from Gianluca Lapadula.

Empoli doubled its lead in the 67th when Massimo Maccarone nodded on the ball for Mame Thiam to score his first goal in Italian football.

Lapadula reduced the deficit five minutes later, curling into the bottom corner and Milan had a good chance to level when it was awarded an indirect free kick six yards out from goal after Skorupski got the ball, put it down and picked it back up again.

However, with all the Empoli players on the line, Milan couldn’t equalize.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept his side in the match with a fantastic one-handed save to deny Maccarone and it almost proved decisive as Lucas Ocampos volleyed off the crossbar at the other end.

Keita Balde Diao notched a five-minute hat trick as Lazio crushed Palermo to move back into fourth in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile scored two in as many minutes to put Lazio 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, before Keita’s quickfire treble – including a penalty – ensured the match was all but over with less than half an hour played.

Lazio relaxed and Palermo threatened an unexpected comeback with two goals from Andrea Rispoli in five minutes at the start of the second half.

But Luca Crecco extended Lazio’s lead in the final minute with his first ever senior goal.

Juventus continued its march to an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title by routing Genoa 4-0 to move 11 points clear of Roma.

Ezequiel Munoz scored an own-goal in the 17th and magnificent strikes from Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic put the hosts 3-0 up at the break. Leonardo Bonucci scored another stunning goal in the 64th after sprinting forward from inside his own half. Juventus also hit the woodwork three times.

Crotone kept its faint hopes of survival alive with a surprise 2-1 win at Sampdoria.

The result left it five points behind 17th-placed Empoli and safety with five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Torino won 3-1 at Chievo Verona, while Udinese beat Cagliari 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

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

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)