Doubles from Negredo, Dzeko see Manchester City into fourth round of FA Cup

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Blackburn may have given Manchester City a scare two weeks ago, but once the clubs’ FA Cup third round tie shifted to Eastlands, Rovers saw their upset dreams dissipate within minutes of halftime. With two goals each from Álvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, the Citizens posted a 5-0 victory over their Championship opposition, extending their unbeaten run to 16 games while clinching a spot in the FA Cup’s fourth round.

Returning from injury, Sergio Agüero came off the bench to add a goal, with City’s four-goal second half setting up a Jan. 25 meeting with Watford in the competition’s next round. Scoring five-or-more goals for the seventh time this season, City put their first leg scare behind them, their stalemate at Blackburn only the second time since mid-November the Citizens have been held to a draw.

On Jan. 4, the teams played to a  1-1 stalemate at Ewood Park, with Scott Dann’s first half goal pulling back the stoppage time opener Álvaro Negredo found just before halftime. The defender’s goal set up a lucrative replay in Manchester, where the second-tier club will split today’s gate at the Etihad Stadium.

Even after that tough match in Lancashire, Citizens’ boss Manuel Pellegrini used tonights match as a chance to rest some key players. Costel Pantillimon was in goal. The defense featured all of Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastasic, and Micah Richards, and James Milner and Javi Garcia got starts in midfield. While those are still talents that eclipse what most teams can offer, this was still a day of rest for many of City’s stars.

Regardless, City exerted control  early, but unable to convert possession into chances, their’s was the type of benign control that allowed a potentially overwhelmed opponent to build into the match. By the middle of the first half, Blackburn began showing signs of life, occasionally venturing toward City’s penalty area as the field began to level.

Just before halftime, however, City broke through when a cross from the right by Fernandinho hammered home by Álvaro Negredo, the Citizens’ strike allowed to run into the ball at the edge of the six-yard box. Two minutes into the second half, Negredo ran behind the defense and onto an Aleksandr Kolarov ball, easily doubling his team’s league with his 21st goal of the season.

Then the onslaught came. Edin Dezko would add a third in the 67th, converting after a ball from Jesus Navas. Sergio Agüero, returning after a four-week layoff, gave Dzeko an assist with a 73rd minute left-footer from the middle of the area. Dzeko added a second in the 79th, again set up by Navas. Where Blackburn had given a strong account of themselves over the first 40 minutes, the second half made them into typical Manchester City roadkill.

But the end of the match, James Milner was playing in central midfield. Twenty-year-old Emyr Huws was at right back. City had again tilted the field, turning the game into what you’d expect when one of the world’s most expensive squads faces second-tier competition.

Come Jan. 25, City will again be facing a Championship side, with Watford drawn against the Citizens for a match at the Etihad. In all likelihood, the game will provide another chance for Manuel Pellegrini to rest his starters. And in all likelihood, that won’t prevent City from cruising into the next round.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday