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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.

LINEUPS

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′)

Van Gaal doubles down media criticism; Rooney won’t Dab

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24:  Wayne Rooney (L) and Louis van Gaal manager of Manchester United in discussion during the Manchester United training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group B match against PSV Eindhoven at Aon Training Complex on November 24, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Louis Van Gaal was asked whether he really, truly believes that media members are making up stories about his club and its interest in Jose Mourinho (amongst other things).

His answer is not open to interpretation: “Yes.”

From the BBC:

“I said it many times,” he said. “A lot of media is inventing stories. You don’t have to answer.”

[ MORE: Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

LVG says the club remains focused on the Top Four, and that a string of wins can help them make the Top Four due intra-Top Four clashes like this weekend’s Arsenal-Leicester and Man City-Spurs matches.

Captain Wayne Rooney has expressed similar optimism, noting that the Red Devils have handled their business in recent history at Sunderland.

One thing Rooney was negative on? Jesse Lingard‘s use of the Dab celebration. Rooney also revealed that he’s not exactly up on current events.

From ManUtd.com:

“He’s been trying to get me to do it with him. Maybe if I was ten years younger I’d do it with him,” said the 30-year-old. “I think it’s something going around on the internet and I suppose Jesse’s jumped on the bandwagon!”

WATCH: Premier League stream links, TV schedule – Week 26

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Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here. Get ready for some huge battles at the top and bottom of the table.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

It all kicks off at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as Sunderland host Manchester United (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Sam Allardyce‘s side are four points adrift of safety and badly need a win to help their battle against relegation. As for United, they’re six points off the top four. Plenty on the line. Then it is Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Toffees aiming to keep their top six hopes alive against a struggling Baggies outfit. At the same time relegation haunted Norwich City try to snap a five-game losing streak as they host West Ham United at Carrow Road (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra). With star man Dimitri Payet signing a new contract in the week, can he guide the Hammers back up to fifth with a victory?

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Chelsea welcome Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to Stamford Bridge with Guus Hiddink’s side 11 games unbeaten in all competitions but still only seven points above the drop zone. If the relegation-battling Magpies get a win away at Chelsea — they have won five of their last nine games against the Blues — they will only be three points behind the defending champs.

On Sunday, a huge day awaits and kicking it all off is the big one at the Emirates Stadium: Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). The Foxes are five points clear of the Gunners and all of a sudden are the heavy favorites to win the Premier League. Can they follow up a win at Man City by beating Arsenal? Then we travel to Villa Park as Aston Villa host Liverpool (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with Remi Garde’s men desperate for points. Villa won last time out but are still eight points off safety with 13 games to go. As for Liverpool, their faint top four hopes are fading fast as Jurgen Klopp‘s side continue to struggled with injuries up top and in defense.

Rounding off Week 26 is another huge top four clash as third-place Manchester City host second-place Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Etihad Stadium. Manuel Pellegrini‘s side will have Vincent Kompany back fit and if they’re going to stay in the title race winning this and jumping ahead of Spurs is vital. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s team prove they’re the real deal?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and theNBC Sports Live Extra App.

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

7:45 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich City vs. West Ham United – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Southampton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:15 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]

Premier League Power Rankings, Vol. VIII: Taking stock before a massive weekend

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There’s a trick with the idea of power rankings in a league with a balanced schedule, and that’s identifying who’s performed the best in recent matches without looking at what lies ahead.

That’s something that could’ve kept someone from holding Leicester City down their given list.

Yet the idea of power rankings is to identify who is faring the best right now, and would be picked to finish first should a given season’s slate start today. Still, you can’t ignore the table as it stands and the likely fate of a season.

[ MORE: All of this season’s Premier League Power Rankings ]

TEAM RANKING Up/Down
source: 1 Leicester City: Learned from the late December gauntlet, where they went 2-1-1 against Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Man City. This time, the Foxes have beaten the Reds and City, and can make it 3-0 against Arsenal on Sunday. Believe.
source: 2 UP 5 Tottenham Hotspur: Spurs are riding high after beating up four struggling clubs, and face a massive test in a Man City side that, well, hasn’t beaten anyone of form or merit in a while, either.
source: 3 UP 9 Manchester United: It really is a season of “What ifs?” for Louis Van Gaal‘s crew, which has lost just once since Boxing Day. Making lots of dough, too.
source: 4 DOWN 1 Manchester City: United’s derby rivals need to get off the mat after their shockingly lethargic 3-1 loss to Leicester City. Bring on Spurs.
source: 5 DOWN 3 Arsenal: Beating Bournemouth snapped a four-match winless skid. A defeat of Leicester on Sunday is as close to “must” territory as you can get with this much left in a season. Will they take part in the MLS All Star Game as reigning PL champions?
source: 6 UP 8 Southampton: Ronald Koeman‘s side looks a lot like the Saints we remember from last season, having four wins and a draw in its last five matches including a 1-0 win that included a long while with 10 men.
source: 7 UP 4 Everton: Back-to-back 3-0 wins for the Toffees have Roberto Martinez’s men within six points of fifth place.
source: 8 UP 7 West Ham United: Last weekend’s failure to break down 10-man Saints is alarming, but Slaven Bilic‘s side is legit. Still, they need to erase performances like that, and the 2-1 loss to Newcastle a few weeks back. Great look to lock up Dimitri Payet for the long term.
source: 9 UP 8 Chelsea: Badly need to turn draws into wins, but the embarrassment of being booed after the Jose Mourinho sacking has turned into cheers for, well, actually doing their jobs. With Kurt Zouma out, is it already Miazga time at Stamford Bridge?
source: 10 DOWN 2 Liverpool: Five points from their last six matches should have them further down the list, but frankly no one’s daring us to put them above the Reds. But Daniel Sturridge could help them rise.
source: 11 DOWN 6 Watford: Four losses in six, but deserved better in a 1-0 loss to Spurs. That followed a win and a draw, so perhaps the Hornets have steadied themselves.
source: 12 UP 6 Swansea City: Unbeaten in four, but the 1-1 draws against West Brom and Crystal Palace weren’t what they could’ve been.

source:
13 DOWN 7 Stoke City: At the risk of over-simplifying, turns out Geoff Cameron is really important to the Potters. Stoke is 1W-1D-3L since the USMNT defender went down, and has allowed three goals in losses to Leicester, Manchester United and Everton. The win? Against struggling Norwich City.
source: 14 DOWN 5 Bournemouth: Doing enough to survive this first season back in the Premier League.
source: 15 DOWN 11 Crystal Palace: Alan Pardew‘s Eagles are wandering through the desert right now, with losses to Villa and Bournemouth contributing to a six-match run with a single point. Now closer to 19th than 4th.

source:  
16 UP 3 Newcastle United: Jonjo Shelvey looks like an inspired signing, and the former Swans midfielder has assists in four matches for the Magpies. Up next is a trip to Chelsea.
source: 17 DOWN 7 West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies have scored one goal in their last four matches, and Tony Pulis‘ charges are just six points above the drop zone.

source:
18 UP 2 Aston Villa: Still dead last with a dire schedule looming, you can’t say Remi Garde’s players have quit. Points in four of five including wins over Norwich and Palace.
source: 19 Sunderland: Injuries are piling up around the Stadium of Light, and Sam Allardyce may need USMNT back DeAndre Yedlin to be a big part of their push for safety. At least big January signing Wahbi Khazri looks legit.
source: 20 DOWN 4 Norwich City: The backline looks quite leaky again, as their five-match losing skid includes the following score lines: 2-0, 3-0, 5-4, 3-0, 3-1.

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.