Arturo Vidal hat trick gives Juventus first win of Champions League, vaults team second in Group B

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It may have taken five matches, but after an Arturo Vidal hat trick at Juventus Stadium, the two-time defending Serie A champions have their first win of this year’s UEFA Champions League. With penalty kicks on each side of half time followed by a 63rd minute header, the Chilean international helped his team to a 3-1 win over visiting FC Copenhagen, his third, fourth, and fifth goals of the tournament vaulting Juve into second in Group B.

If they can protect that position in their final group stage match on Dec. 10, Juventus will be into the competition’s round of 16 despite sitting last through four rounds. That position meant last year’s quarterfinalists would be unable to advance if they lost to Wednesday to Copenhagen. Instead, in a controlling performance that saw the Old Lady outshoot their guests 20-7, Juventus leapt into second place, Galatasaray’s loss in Spain to a 10-man Real Madrid further helping the Italians’ round of 16 hopes.

Closing their group stage with a trip to Istanbul, Juventus need only a draw at Turk Telekom Arena on Dec. 10 to advance to the knockout round. Copenhagen, however, can not advance after tonight’s loss, their best case scenario being third place and a Europa League spot.

Though the teams shared possession for much of the first half, the bulk of the first period’s action took place in Copenhagen’s half, action that started in earnest with a sixth minute shot from Paul Pogba. From there, the opportunities FCK saw on the ball usually culminated with a speculative play into Juve’s end, plans which usually ended with the bianconeri on the ball. Over the first 45 minutes, Copenhagen never put a shot on Gianluigi Buffon despite holding 48 percent of possession.

Juventus wasn’t not so ineffectual. Stretching the Copenhagen defense by playing flank-to-flank, the hosts eventually broke through when a ball lobbed for Pogba in the left of the penalty area fell on the arm of FCK right back Lars Jacobsen. Referee Jonas Eriksson was given little choice but to point to the spot, where a blast into the left of goal from Vidal beat Johan Wiland for the Chilean’s third goal of the tournament.

Pogba nearly added a second in the 41st minute, his blast from just outside the left post going into the crown. Four minutes later, Juventus was walking into the dressing room up 1-0, a controlling half leaving the team 45 minutes from climbing out of Group B’s cellar.

Eleven minutes into the second half, however, Juventus were back where they started, their inability to defend a long throw leaving it 1-1. After an innocuous start to the half, a throw in deep down Copenhagen’s right presented trouble after a poor clearance from Vidal. When two Juve defenders failed to win an ensuing aerial battle with Ragnar Sigurdsson, Olaf Mellberg was allowed to clean up. His right-footed volley from near the penalty spot beat Buffon to level the score.

That even-footing lasted all of five minutes, with Mellberg doing his best to give the goal back at the other end. His two-armed takedown of Fernando Llorente inside Copenhagen’s penalty area drew another whistle from Eriksson, with Vidal scorching the left-side netting to give Juventus their second converted penalty of the night.

Within two minutes, the hat trick was complete, Vidal pushing his tournament total to five goals after a cross from Pogba found him unmarked attacking the right (far) post. His arcing header into the left of goal gave left Wiland flat-footed, a Copenhagen goalkeeper racing back across goal unable to stop his momentum in time to prevent Juve’s third goal.

Up two, Juventus clicked it into neutral, only giving up one more shot on target after Mellberg’s goal. Finally putting in the type of performance most expected in their first four games, Juve claimed the Group B place they were supposed to occupy all along. Though they’ve won once in five matches, that may be all they need to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Galatasaray in two weeks will clinch second place and put them into the knockout round.

Goals

Juventus: 29′ Arturo Vidal (p.k.), 61′ Vidal (p.k.), 63′ Vidal

Copenhagen: 56′ Olof Mellberg

Lineups

Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon; Martín Caceres; Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Simone Padoin (69′ Claudio Marchisio), Arturo Vidal (83′ Angelo Obinze Ogbonna), Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Kwadwo Asamoah; Carlos Tévez (81′ Mirko Vucinic), Fernando Llorente

Unused substitutes:  Marco Storari, Federico Peluso, Fabio Quagliarella, Paolo De Ceglie

Copenhagen: Johan Wiland; Lars Jacobsen, Olof Mellberg, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Pierre Bengtsson; Christian Bolaños (61′ Thomas Kristensen), Claudemir, Thomas Delaney (76′ Danny Amankwaa); Rurik Gisiason, Nicolai Jørgensen, Youssef Toutouh (81′ Marvin Pourie)

Unused subs: Christoffer Remmer, Jakob Busk Jensen, Georg Margreitter, César Santin

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

(more…)

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

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  • Shkodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker all in line for season debuts.
  • The game will likely come too soon for Alexis Sanchez, who is still working to get to match fitness.
  • Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W3 D3 L1).
  • Stoke City forward Jese Rodriguez could make his debut following his season-long loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.
  • Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in both of his opening two PL appearances for the club.

Coming off an exciting 4-3 comeback victory at home against Leicester City, Arsenal travel to what’s been in the past a house of horrors, visiting the bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Three months ago, Arsenal ended some of the bad voodoo on them in Stoke with a 4-1 win on the road. This time around, the Gunners have even more firepower, with Alexandre Lacazette off to a strong start in the Premier League.

Stoke City, like Arsenal, are still getting comfortable in the in-vogue 3-4-3 formation, as well as getting used to life without Marko Arnautovic. Spanish forward Jese, a Real Madrid academy graduate, could make his season debut for Stoke on Saturday and summer signings Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will push American Geoff Cameron for a place in the team each week.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on last year’s win at Stoke: “We were well-organized, efficient and under pressure to win the game. We were on a strong run as well. We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.

“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance. Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes on this season’s new signings: “We are hoping to involve all the guys we have signed this summer, some will be on the bench, others won’t. We are very excited by the group that we are assembling to be honest.”

“We always aim to be stronger at the end of the window than we were at the beginning, and I would argue that of all the players that have left only one would have been considered as a regular starter. We have replaced those guys with players who I see as potential regular starters.”

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Prediction

Arsenal are clearly still a work in progress, but offensively they’re improved from a year ago. Stoke City on the other hand fell by a slim margin to Everton last week but have greatly improved defensively. We think it will be another defensive struggle, ending in a draw. Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal