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′).

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.