Aston Villa 4-3 West Bromwich Albion: Benteke conversion the difference after six-goal first half (video)

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Fireworks in the West Midlands produced one the season’s most exciting derby results, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion providing seven goals during one of the most open matches of the Premier League season. In a game where both sides eschewed maintain possession in favor of all-out attacks, a second half penalty conversion from Christian Benteke was the difference, with Villa claiming a 4-3 win over their rivals.

The victory vaults Villa into ninth place, the team up to 27 points on the season. West Brom, on the other hand, sit 15th, only three points from the drop while still looking for their first win under new manager Pepe Mel.

West Brom struck first in a spectacular fashion, with a long distance goal from captain Chris Brunt putting the Baggies in front with the match’s first shot. Set up by left back Liam Ridgewell, Brunt launched a half-volley from near 25 yards, beating goalkeeper Brad Guzan into the upper right part of goal. When Fabian Delph redirected a James Morrison cross past Guzan five minutes later, West Brom were up 2-0.

The Baggies’ hot start was cooled three minutes later, with Andreas Weimann bringing the home side back into the match. The Austrian attacker lobbed Ben Foster after Diego Lugano headed a long ball from Guzan back toward his own goal. Weimann, running behind the West Brom defense, nestled the ball into the back of the Baggies’ goal to bring Villa within one.

By the 25th minute, Villa were back on even footing, with Leandro Bacuna the beneficiary of a mildly bizarre goal. With the ball in the right side of the penalty area, Benteke tried to cut back onto his left foot only to lose the ball. Unfortunately for West Brom, the tackle played the ball to Matthew Lawton, whose overlapping run had taken him behind the defense. The right back’s ensuing cross found Bacuna at the far post, with his miss-hit shot arching over the recovering Foster and in, leaving the teams drawn, 2-2.

It wasn’t long before Villa claimed their first lead, with a touch of class from Delph making amends for his early own goal. After a long ball targeting Benteke was headed toward the left flank, the Villa midfielder’s deft left-footed touch put him wide of West Brom right back Steven Reid, giving him room just inside of the penalty area. From the left of goal, Delph put his shot against the bottom of the crossbar, giving Foster no chance to prevent the home team from claiming a 3-2 lead.

In the 43rd minute, however, the Baggies were back even. Moments after a strong read from Foster helped prevent Benteke from making it 4-2, West Brom were passing through Villa’s defense, with a ball from Victor Anichebe finding Morrison near the arc before the midfielder played through for Youssouf Mulumbu. The Baggies’ destroyer, bolting forward from his holding position, got behind the defense and finished inside Guzan’s right post, scoring the sixth goal of the half.

source: Getty Images
Diego Lugano played a part in two Aston Villa goes and missed his chance to put West Brom up in the second half. (Photo source: Getty Images.)

Ten minutes into the second half, Diego Lugano was given a chance to restore West Brom’s lead, having gone unnoticed by Villa’s defense on a 55th minute restart. The Uruguayan international’s diving header failed to find it’s target, however, with Lugano pushing his shot wide from just outside the six yard box.

Lugano was made to rue that miss when his foul gave Aston Villa a 64th minute penalty. On a cross from Bacuna, the Baggies center half took down Benteke, with an arm wrapped around the attacker’s left giving Mark Clattenburg no room to overlook the infraction. With a slight hesitation before striking hitting his penalty, Benteke sent Foster right before converting into the left of goal, giving Villa their second lead of the night.

From there forward, the defenses began catching up with the attacks. Although the fanatic pace of the first half had waned, both sides continued to attack impetuously. Over the last half-hour, however, the defenses matches their opponents’ intensity, with only a few near-chances from West Brom hinting the shootout would continue.

Benteke’s goal, however, would be the final of the match, with the game’s final 45 minutes unable to match the fireworks of its first stanza. After the highest scoring first half of the season, one goal proved the difference in the second, with Villa earning a hard-fought win over one of their fiercest rivals.


Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Matthew Lawton (Grant Holt 65′), Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmadi (Yacouba Sylla 76′), Fabian Delph, Leandro Bacuna, Andreas Weimann (Nathan Baker 80′), Chrstian Benteke

Goals: Weimann (12′), Bacuna (24′), Delph (37′), Benteke (64′)

West Bromwich Albion: Ben Foster, Steven Reid (Saido Berahino 76′), Diego Lugano, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, James Morrison, Claudio Yacob, Youssouf Mulumbu, Nicolas Anelka (Morgan Amalfitano 26′), Victor Anichebe (Matej Vydra 80′), Chris Brunt

Goals: Brunt (4′), Delph (o.g., 9′), Mulumbu (43′)

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.