West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Aston Villa: Early Shane Long double not enough as Villa fights back at The Hawthorns

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For the second straight derby, 2-0 wasn’t good enough. In January, it was Aston Villa who’d gone up two at The Hawthorns only to be pulled back to 2-2. This time, the hosts’ two goals in the first 11 minutes didn’t hold up. A triple substitution from Paul Lambert early in the second half helped spur his team’s comeback, Aston Villa able to take a 2-2 draw from rival West Bromwich Albion.

The Baggies were on the board after three minutes, Shane Long converting off a long ball from Chris Brunt to give the home side and early lead. Long completed his double eight minutes later with a close range chip over Brad Guzan, forging a lead the hosts would hold for nearly an hour.

Then, Karim El Ahmadi got Villa onto the scoresheet, with the visitors being brought all the way back when Ashley Westwood scored his first career goal in the 76th minute. For the second time in as many derbies, West Brom and Villa were destined to finish 2-2.

The result leaves both teams where they started, as far as the Premier League table is concerned. Eleventh and 12th coming into today’s action, West Brom and Villa stay at the edge of the league’s top half, now sitting one point behind 10th place Swansea City.

Playing long and direct early, Steve Clarke’s team took advantage of Villa’s three-man back line,  Brunt’s third minute ball from well inside his own half finding Long for the game’s first chance. The West Brom attacker brilliantly brought the ball down onto his left foot and shot before Villa keeper Guzan could get in position. Curling his try inside the left post, the Ireland international had the hosts up shortly after kickoff.

Long would be a threaten throughout the first half hour, but thanks to Leandro Bacuna’s help, it took him only eight minutes to complete his double. A poor pass from the right flank back toward the middle saw Long intercept the ball and go in toward goal. Drawing Guzan off his line in front of the right post, Long chipped off the bottom of the crossbar and in, giving West Brom a surprisingly easy 2-0 lead.

The next 20 minutes saw a series of half-chances for Long’s hat trick before Villa settled in. Even then, the Claret and Blue were unable to mount any meaningful threats on goal, leading Paul Lambert to make a rare triple substitution 12 minutes into the second half. By that time, West Brom’s edges in shots and shots on target had evened out, but the match was still decidedly the Baggies’.

Lambert’s move nearly paid off within two minutes, with a deflected shot from Andreas Wiemann forcing Boaz Myhill into a reflex push wide of his left post. When Villa followed up with a blast from Fabian Delph (eventually blocked), the visitors seemed to have uncovered some momentum. Within minutes, however, West Brom had regained their legs, generating a chance for Stephane Sessegnon from the edge of the six. For the second time on the night, the Beninese midfielder missed his chance to make it 3-0.

Those misses began haunting West Brom in the 67th minute when Villa pulled one back. Weimann, playing a cross from Bacuna, headed down for El Ahmadi, who finished from eight yards out to pull Villa within one.

Though Villa maintained control of the match, the game seemed to stabilized until a benign 76th minute cross from Christian Benteke was blindly cleared toward the middle by left back Goran Popov. Collecting the ball just outside the West Brom area, Westwood beat Myhill into the right of goal, the Baggies’ keeper given little chance to prevent the first Premier League goal of the 23-year-old’s career. For the second straight derby, a 2-0 lead had proven meaningless.

By the final whistle, the match had swung again, Clarke’s late changes pinning the guests in their own end. But the chances never came, leaving West Brom on the other side of a derby comeback. Unable to counter Lambert’s triple substitution, the Baggies were left to rue points lost.

Goals

West Bromwich Albion3′, 11′ Long

Aston Villa: 67′ El Ahmadi, 76′ Westwood

Lineups

West Bromwich Albion: Boaz Myhill; Steven Reid, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Goran Popov (82′ Victor Anichebe); Youssouf Mulumbu, Claudio Yacob; Morgan Amalfitano, Stephane Sessegnon (73′ James Morrison), Chris Brunt; Shane Long

Ununsed subs: Luke Daniels, Matej Vydra, Craig Dawson, Saido Berahino, Nicolas Anelka

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan; Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker; Aleksandr Tonev (57′ Andreas Weimann), Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood, Yacouba Sylla (57′ Fabian Delph), Leandro Bacuna; Christian Benteke, Libor Kozak (57′ Gabriel Agbonlahor)

Unused subs: Jed Steer, Chris Herd, Jed Bowery, Matthew Lowton

Russia regains FIFA Council seat after Mutko’s ouster

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GENEVA (AP) Russia has regained its place on the FIFA Council, six months after Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was blocked from re-election.

UEFA member federations on Wednesday elected Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, by acclamation as one of their delegates to FIFA’s strategy-setting committee.

The seat, which runs through 2021, was vacant since May when Mutko was formally forced to step down.

Mutko’s candidacy was blocked by FIFA’s then governance committee chairman, Miguel Maduro, because of a conflict of interest with his government work. Maduro, who was ousted by FIFA weeks later, said last week that the world soccer body’s leaders put pressure on him to protect Mutko’s position.

Meeting with British lawmakers, Maduro said he was told that his ruling on Mutko’s eligibility could threaten FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s hold on power and “would be a disaster” for the World Cup.

Sorokin became the eighth of the nine European delegates on the 37-member FIFA Council. The ninth was left vacant in July when long-time Spanish soccer leader Angel Maria Villar resigned as a vice president of FIFA and UEFA after being arrested in a corruption investigation.

Villar was detained along with three other soccer officials, including his son, on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Interim replacements for Villar were to be confirmed later Wednesday at a meeting of the UEFA executive committee.

Predicting the FIFPro World XI for 2016-17

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With the World Players’ Union, FIFPro, releasing the 55 players who received the most votes from over 25,000 professional players from across the globe based on their play in 2016-17, plenty of usual suspects have been selected as the top players on the planet.

But who will make the final XI when it is announced in London on Oct. 23?

[ MORE: FIFPro nominees in full ]

With one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards selected by each professional surveyed, it is quite likely that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will make the team for the 10th straight season. Because, well, they’re Ronaldo and Messi.

Elsewhere there is plenty of debate as to who will make up the defense and midfield and even in goal.

Below I select my XI and I urge you to do the same in the comments section below.

Remember: we can’t always agree on everything but let’s get along…

JPW selects his FIFPro World 11

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)

Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Neymar JR (Paris Saint-Germain)

Karim Benzema signs new contract at Real Madrid

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Karim Benzema has signed a new four-year contract at Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Sargent to Werder Bremen

The French striker, 29, has become the latest star name to commit their future to the two-time reigning European champions with Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal all signing new deals over the past week.

Benzema will now remain at Real until June 30, 2021, with the Frenchman scoring 181 goals in 371 appearances as well as winning two La Liga titles, three European Cups and two Copa del Rey trophies during his time in the Spanish capital.

It is believed this new deal has a release clause of over $1.35 billion as Spanish clubs are now becoming increasingly wary of losing their star players a la Neymar leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite his expulsion from the French national team for over 18 months due to his alleged involvement in a blackmail case involving a sex tape and former teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema has been in fine form for Real since Zinedine Zidane took charge in 2015.

Benzema scored 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions last season and 28 in 36 games the season before that as his hold up play and ability to drift out wide or drop deeper crucial to getting the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Co.

That said, Benzema has scored just once in six appearances this season but Real are obviously happy with what he is producing aside from goals.

With question marks over the future of Bale at the Bernabeu, locking down Benzema shows just how important he is to Zidane’s attacking unit as they seek to seal a third-straight UEFA Champions League title.

FIFA open investigation into Chelsea’s youth transfer policy

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Chelsea could be in big trouble.

FIFA have confirmed they’re investigating Chelsea’s youth transfer policy yet again, specifically over the recruitment of foreign players under the age of 18.

What could the punishment be? The worst-case scenario is that Chelsea would be banned from signing any new players across its senior or youth levels but it is believed this situation isn’t as serious as previous investigations involving Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Via the Telegraph, FIFA had the following to say about the investigation: “As the investigation is ongoing, no further comment is possible for the time being.”

Chelsea released a short statement saying: “Chelsea FC complies with all FIFA Statutes and Regulations when recruiting players.”

It will be the third time in eight years that world soccer’s governing body have looked at Chelsea’s youth policy and back in 2009 they were handed a transfer ban for two transfer windows over the signing of French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens in 2007 but that was later overturned after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

Chelsea were also investigated last year over the signing of Bertrand Traore after images emerged of him playing for the club as a 16-year-old, before international clearance had arrived.

Spanish clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been found guilty after similar investigations took place with Barca banned from signing players for two transfer windows and the same happening to Atletico who can’t sign any new players until January 2018, while Real Madrid had their ban reduced to one window after an appeal.

In the UK both Liverpool and Manchester City have recently been handed fines and bans for not following rules over recruiting young players domestically.

For foreign players signing for a team in another country there are strict rules in place.

Their family must either be relocating for non soccer reasons to the country where the new club is based, they must live no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered with is within that 50km radius, or if they sign between the age of 16-18 the new club must provide them with housing, access to education and a soccer education.