Aston Villa's Luna challenges Tottenham Hotspur's Townsend during their English Premier League soccer match at Villa Park in Birmingham, northern England

Aston Villa 0-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Townsend stays hot as Spurs get back on track (Video)

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Even when he doesn’t mean to, he scores.  It’s almost too easy.

Andros Townsend scored on a ball clearly meant as a cross, and Tottenham Hotspur won a tight tussle at Villa Park 2-0 over a foe they’ve controlled in recent years.

Following a good opening spell from Aston Villa in the first three minutes, a very physical midfield battle ensued, resulting in a number of back and forth attacks but no real build-ups.

The first major chance came in the 21st minute when Villa broke and won a free kick on the edge.  Ashley Westwood swung the ball in from a long way out into a very dangerous position, just out of the reach of a sliding Ron Vlaar and touched away by Hugo Lloris.

Villa continued to force Spurs into a host of mistakes thanks to hard pressure on every visiting player who happens to be on the ball.

The pressure also isolated Roberto Soldado completely, leaving him on an island with no source of creativity to feed the target man.

But the dream continued for Andros Townsend, and somehow Spurs got a huge break.

In the 31st minute, Townsend got a feed from Soldado in space well away from the goal on the right wing, and he sent in a cross that missed everyone, including Brad Guzan and ended up in the back of the net.  Guzan expected Soldado to get a touch to the ball, but because he missed the American was left out of position to keep out the cross.

There is no way Townsend meant it as a shot, and all he could manage after the goal was a chuckle and a smile as he was swarmed by teammates.

The goal, while unintended, sprang Tottenham to life, and finally their number 9 began to find help.  Five minutes later a Vertonghen cross found the head of Soldado who put it just over.

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Roberto Soldado (right), assisted by Paulinho (left), picked up his first goal for Spurs from open play to seal the win and end Villa pressure.

The game slowly opened up as Villa concentrated on running a controlled break.  Andreas Weimann got a cutback at the top of the penalty area in the 42nd minute but drove his shot just wide, having beaten a diving Lloris.  Townsend then nearly found a second as Spurs let fly before the halftime break but Guzan saved very well to his right.

The opening minutes of the second half were slow but the game quickly opened up once again after about five minutes.  Both teams peppered the opposing box, with Spurs creating chances well and Villa content to absorb pressure and play on the break.

Christian Benteke, who began the match on the bench still recovering form his hip injury, returned to Aston Villa action in the 61st minute.  He immediately proved difficult to deal with, as he touched a header over two minutes later on a pinpoint cross from Leandro Bacuna.

The boost gave Aston Villa new life, as they all of a sudden pounded the Tottenham box and lit up the home crowd at Villa Park.

Villa, however, got nothing to show for the pressure they put on the Spurs defense, and the visitors made them pay.  Roberto Soldado picked up his first goal from open play on the season after a brilliant first touch from Paulinho at the top of the box threaded Soldado through for a powerful close-range finish.

The goal left Villa stunned, after they were reaching out for an equalizer.  Instead, Spurs went two up and immediately looked up for a third.  Townsend again came close in the 75th minute but he curled it just over the top-left corner.  Paulinho somehow missed an empty net in the 80th minute as he whiffed on a dangerous Townsend cross.

The win is Spurs’ third in a row at Villa Park, and they remain unbeaten in their last 10 against the Claret and Blue.  It pushes Villas-Boas’s crew up to fifth in the Premier League table.  Villa remain in 12th, as their three-match win streak is snapped.

GOALS:

Tottenham Hotspur – Townsend 31′, Soldado 69′

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa: Guzan; Bacuna, Clark, Vlaar, Luna; Westwood, El Ahmadi (Sylla, 72′), Delph, Weimann; Agbonlahor (Tonev, 79′), Kozak (Benteke, 61′).

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Walker, Chirches, Dawson, Vertonghen; Paulinho, Sandro, Townsend, Holtby (Dembele, 73′), Sigurddson (Lennon, 66′); Soldado (Defoe, 87′).

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.

VIDEO: Previewing the massive Man City vs. Tottenham encounter

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On the same day Arsenal host Leicester City in a clash between two title contenders (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) the two other teams in the top two also meet on Sunday.

Your Valentine’s Day is officially sorted.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

On Sunday Manchester City welcome Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Etihad Stadium as second-place Spurs sit just one point above fourth-place City. It could not be tighter at the top.

Earlier this season Spurs hammered an injury-hit City 4-1 at White Hart Lane and revenge will be sweet for Sergio Aguero and Co. as both teams are in serious contention to win the Premier League this season.

[ MORE: Preview – Arsenal vs. Leicester ]

In terms of their clashes at the Etihad, Spurs have not found it a happy hunting ground in recent years as they’ve lost four of their last five games away at City. Their last two defeats have been 6-0 and 4-1. Expect a tighter clash this time around as Harry Kane looks to keep his hot-streak going and City will aim to bounce back from their demoralizing, and potentially crucial, home defeat to Leicester last weekend.

So much on the line this Sunday. Click play on the video above to hear all the major headlines heading into this clash.

Mourinho to Man United: Key players to be sold? Locker room unrest, transfer gossip

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The papers are having a field day with the Jose Mourinho to Manchester United whispers.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Several different outlets are reporting numerous pieces of gossip about Mourinho, 53, taking over at United this summer and now seems like a good time to round it all up and have a look at what is out there.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Here it goes…

[ REPORT: Mourinho tells friends he’s going to United


First up, the wages.

Okay, Louis Van Gaal, 64, still has a contract with the Red Devils through the 2016-17 season but many believe that barring a miraculous finish to the current campaign the Dutchman will be let go this summer. If that’s the case — and with United six points off the top four it certainly seems like another season of disappointment will play out — then El Confidencial is reporting that Mourinho will be handed a contract worth $20 million a year. That may seem like a lot, but actually it would be $9 million less a year than Manchester City is paying Pep Guardiola to be their boss. Interesting.

Juicy nugget number two: The Daily Mail states that Mourinho has already instructed executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to sell Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. The midfield duo aren’t in Mourinho’s plans with the Portuguese coach selling Mata to United during his time in charge of Chelsea, while he doesn’t appear to be a fan of Belgian midfielder Fellaini either.

No. 3: The Daily Star reports that Mourinho will be handed $420 million to spend on new players and totally rebuild the under-performing squad. The same report claims Mourinho has his eye on Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Muller, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane to help restore United to past glories and add to his tally of three Premier League titles during five full seasons with Chelsea.

And finally, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Sun reports that United’s locker room is split over whether Mourinho arriving would be a good thing. Well, yeah, with a massive cull on the horizon if he does arrive, it’s not too difficult to understand that the general feeling among the players will be one of trepidation. However, the main issue seems to be where No. 2 Ryan Giggs will fit into Mourinho’s plans if he does get the job.

Again, take these reports with a pinch of salt but it’s certainly interesting to keep your ear to the ground and listen to all of the tidbits circling about Mourinho’s potential arrival at Old Trafford.