Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich City: Christian Benteke leads first half Villa flurry (video)

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The rain came down at Villa Park, but for Christian Benteke, it served more to cleanse a rough season away for the Belgian.

A brace just two minutes apart gave Benteke his eighth and ninth goals of the season – his fifth in Villa’s last eight matches – as the hosts put Chris Hughton’s Norwich City in their place.

After dealing with injuries and struggling through much of the season trying to recreate the form that made him so dangerous last year, the 23-year-old Benteke seems to be finding his footing, and it’s propelled the Claret and Blue into 11th place.

Aston Villa were left shaking their heads after just four minutes, as a brilliant touch from Hoolahan sprung Gary Hooper with a brilliant pass redirect, and he got the ball back in the box and didn’t miss past Brad Guzan.

Oddly, Hoolahan didn’t celebrate the goal against the club that nearly purchased his services in the winter transfer window.

The game slowed down mightily as both teams feeled out their opponents after the goal, but the next chance would level things up as Benteke wowed the Villa Park faithful, and the home side would begin to take full control before unleashing their attack.

source: Getty Images
Leandro Bacuna added to Christian Benteke’s double to complete Aston Villa’s barrage.

The towering striker chested down a long ball from Ron Vlaar in the box on 25 minutes.  He was blanketed by Sebastian Bassong but no matter, and with his back to the goal, he volleyed the ball before it hit the ground in a half-bicycle kick and left John Ruddy no chance.

As spectacular as it was, the goal was just an appetizer for the Belgian, who seems to score in bunches.  He’d pick up a second just minutes later, as Vlaar continued to cause havoc on the right touch, earning a corner with another dangerous long ball.

It was a more straightforward score for Benteke, who again beat Bassong in the box and outjumped the defender for a header to the near post and a 2-1 lead.

The blitz would continue, as 10 minutes later Villa would find themselves with yet another, this time on the counter.  Norwich looked to build in the attacking third, but the quality of service was poor, and Villa made them pay.

Gabriel Agbonlahor broke through the middle of the pitch and stuck the visiting defense on their heels chasing, and the striker laid off to Andreas Weimann.  The midfielder pushed the ball over to the full-back Bacuna, who cut back and fired past Ruddy in off the post, a quality shot from a defender.

Bassong’s nightmarish performance continued, as he handed Villa yet another to really put the game out of sight with halftime still five minutes away. Norwich, sloppy in possession, handed Villa the ball, and Fabian Delph sent in a cross to a streaking Agbonlahor and Bassong marking him struck the ball past Ruddy.

At this point the second half was merely a formality, and Villa saw out the last 45 without much excitement.

The win gives Villa enough to speed past Swansea, Stoke, and Hull City in the table, while Norwich are unable to build on their win over Spurs last week and stay in 15th place, four points above the relegation zone.


Aston Villa – Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi, Weimann (Albrighton 81′); Benteke (Holt 82′), Agbonlahor.

Goals – Benteke 25′, 27′, Bacuna 37′

Norwich City – Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson; Tettey (Howson 80′), Johnson; Snodgrass (Pilkington 45′), Hoolahan, Redmond (Elmander 63′); Hooper.

Goals – Hoolahan 3′, Bassong (og) 41′

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiring talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).