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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′)

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

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Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

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Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.