Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan

Norwich City 0-1 Aston Villa: Brad Guzan puts on stunning performance (video)

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Paul Lambert’s all-out, all-attack, all-the-time strategy was evident right from the start. Andreas Weimann forced Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy into a save before the first minute was up. The Austrian was back just two minutes later, but this time, it was the post that kept Villa from taking an early lead.

In the sixth minute, it looked as though Norwich were set to take the lead. Ciaran Clark, freshly back in the Villa defense after an injury layoff, stuck out an arm to block a Canary shot. It was Robert Snodgrass who stepped up to the spot, sending his shot low and to the right. Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan chose correctly, however, diving to his left and pushing the ball away. His defense cleared away the threat and left Norwich searching.

Villa got another scare when, once again, a player in a claret and blue shirt went down clutching an important body part. This time was even more concerning, however, as the player in question was Christian Benteke. The Belgian made an attempt to return to the pitch but promptly fell over. New Villan Libor Kozak came on in his place — the fourth time in five matches Lambert was forced into a substitution before the halftime whistle.

But the visitors went from dejected to ecstatic in just under two minutes. Kozak, just in front of goal, sent it right to Ruddy’s hands. But the Norwich keeper pushed the ball into the path of Gabby Agbonlahor, who promptly knocked it back to Kozak, still lurking in front of goal. The Czech sent his shot into the right hand corner to give his new side the lead.

The Canaries did well to keep themselves in the match, but in the end, they simply couldn’t find an equalizer. At times it seemed as though every Villa player was in their final third, trying their best to protect the goal. Norwich continued to apply pressure down the right, knowing Antonio Luna to be the weakest link in a frail Villa defense. Snodgrass kept his shooting boots on, but saw his shots blocked by a fortunate Villa defense. Gary Hooper, on for Johan Elmander, had a terrific chance with minutes left, but a flying Guzan made a spectacular save.

Villa’s win is their second of the season, but perhaps more significantly, it is their first clean sheet in 22 games. They’ve got Brad Guzan to thank for that one — and he’s hoping Jurgen Klinsmann was paying attention.

Norwich City Starting XI: Ruddy; Martin, Bassong (c) (Bennett 38), Turner, Garrido; Snodgrass, Howson, Fer, Redmond (Pilkington 63); Elmander (Hooper 63); van Wolfswinkel

Subs not used: Tettey, Bunn, Whittaker, Hoolahan

Aston Villa Starting XI: Guzan; Bacuna, Clark, Vlaar (c), Luna; Delph, El Ahmadi, Tonev (Sylla 77); Weimann, Agbonlahor (Helenius 61), Benteke (Kozak 28)

Subs not used: Steer, Bennett, Albrighton, Baker

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET