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.

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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.

LINEUPS:

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′

Toronto FC beats Crew 5-0 to extend unbeaten streak to 8

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TORONTO (AP) Victor Vazquez scored twice and Toronto FC routed the Columbus Crew 5-0 on Friday night to extend its unbeaten streak to a franchise record-matching eight games.

[ MORE: Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape ]

Toronto (8-1-5) is 7-0-1 since its lone league loss of the season, a 2-1 decision in Columbus on April 15. Columbus (6-7-1) has lost five of seven since topping Toronto.

Justin Morrow and substitutes Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton also scored for MLS-leading Toronto. The Canadian team also was unbeaten in eight games (4-0-4) from May 8 to July 10, 2010.

Toronto was reduced to 10 men in the 81st minute when midfielder Marky Delgado was red-carded for a studs-up tackle on Columbus captain Wil Trapp. Osorio and Hamilton then scored to pad the lead for Toronto in its sixth shutout of the season.

Toronto played without the starting forward tandem of Sebastian Giovinco (injured) and Jozy Altidore (suspended for yellow card accumulation). Defender Nick Hagglund also is injured.

Agent: Barcelona offered more than Real for Vinicius Junior

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If Vinicius Junior can become half the player at Real Madrid that Neymar has lived up to be at Barcelona, Los Blancos will be pretty pleased.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Real closed the deal for the 16-year-old Brazilian this week, but there were several other lucrative offers on the table, according to the player’s agent, Frederico Pena.

[ MORE: Totti leaves future uncertain heading into final Roma match ]

That includes bitter Spanish rivals Barcelona.

The agent stated that the Blaugrana did in fact offer a higher deal to acquire the Brazilian, however, he felt it would have complicated matters further to seek a greater offer from Real.

“There is practically unanimous view of the deal as a success,” Pena said. “If anybody gets criticised it is Real Madrid, for the risk they have taken, but they are sure that it will work. There were other clubs interested, and one offered to pay more money … Barca’s remuneration package offer for the player was higher than Real Madrid.

“But as we had reached an agreement with Real, we did not want to make this last push for them to match it. That could have embittered the relationship. Many people think it is crazy what Madrid are doing, but they were not alone in this craziness. They were not the only ones willing to pay this much for Vinicius.”

Pena also clarified as to why Vinicius chose Real over Barcelona, citing the player’s excitement about the development of Los Blancos during recent seasons under manager Zinedine Zidane and prior.

“Because Vinicius liked Madrid’s project better. There is always the feeling that players choose based on financial reasons, but that is not true. I assure you of that. Real Madrid’s negotiating posture was better.”

Real is on the verge of winning its third UEFA Champions League trophy in the last four seasons as the club prepares to face Juventus in the upcoming final.

Zidane’s men also won La Liga during the 2016/17 campaign.

Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape

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U.S. Soccer has come a long way over the years, and one of the nation’s most promising young players recognizes the progress the United States has made.

[ MORE: Man City acquire Monaco’s Silva after passing medical ]

Christian Pulisic, who plays for Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, is one of several young talents that U.S. hopes to finally bring the American men a moment of glory on the biggest of stages — the World Cup.

The 18-year-old has done just about everything a player of his age could do. He’s played in one of the top leagues in the world, appeared in various UEFA Champions League matches and now he’s likely on pace to appear in the 2018 World Cup, assuming the USMNT advances out of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The U.S., who have reached the World Cup during seven straight cycles, have come a long way in a short period of time, and Pulisic is happy with the improving U.S. Soccer landscape.

“It’s been big flaw of ours in the soccer department that a lot of our best athletes go and play other sports,” Pulisic told The Guardian. “But I think young players have seen me, and others, go over to Europe and play in some of the best leagues — and MLS is improving so much too.

“There’s so much potential and I think it’s changing: we’ve had some bigger athletes in the past but I don’t think that defines us anymore.

“We’re going to keep moving forward, developing young players and we’re going to have a really good shot in the next few years.”

During this past Bundesliga season, Pulisic recorded three goals and added six assists for a club that has become well known for its high-powered offensive attack.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.