Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke City: Cameron scores as Potters go top-10 with complete road attack (video)

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Stoke City found themselves down 1-0 after just four minutes, and the team without a win away from the Britannia since August appeared to be again headed for road woes.

Instead, Peter Crouch took control up front and four goals from four Potters gave Stoke a comprehensive away victory to send them into the top half of the Premier League table.

Christian Benteke struck early for the home side, and Villa led just after five minutes.  Fabian Delph, who manager Paul Lambert tipped for England duty before the match, got the ball on the back line and cut into the box, where Benteke had acres of space unmarked, and he blasted top-shelf for the opener.

The goal is his sixth since missing three matches with a knee problem in December.

Villa wouldn’t be up for long though, as Stoke built themselves into the match down early and worked for their equalizer. They’d get it on 22 minutes when Crouch won a header in front of the box, and flicked it on to a charging Odemwingie who beat Ryan Bertrand to the ball for the equalizer.

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The two Peters – Crouch and Odemwingie – both picked themselves up a goal as Stoke earned a comprehensive win.

That scoreline wouldn’t last long either, as just four minutes later Stoke would put themselves in lead, with Crouch again at the forefront.  The towering presence up front got a ball from Erik Pieters on the back line and sitting all alone in the box he crashed the ball into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.

Suddenly down a goal after conceding twice in four minutes, injuries hit Villa to make matters worse. Both Andreas Weimann and Karim El Ahmadi went down within minutes, forcing Paul Lambert to make an early double change.

With Villa already handcuffed off the bench, the scoreline would continue to bulge before halftime for the visitors. Just three minutes before the break, a through ball attempt by Marko Arnautovic clanked off the feet of Nathan Baker and fell right to Steven Nzonzi who rifled low past Brad Guzan to double the lead.

After the half the game bogged down, but Stoke would get themselves a fourth into stoppage time as the American Geoff Cameron got a feed from Arnautovic while streaking in the box and made no mistake for his second goal of the season and a 4-1 lead.

The win not only sends the Potters past Villa into 10th place in the Premier League standings, but marks just their second win at Villa Park in the last 13 years.

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa – Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; El Ahmadi (Albrighton 33′), Westwood (Holt 73′), Delph; Weimann (Sylla 33′), Benteke, Agbonlahor.

Goals: Benteke 5′

Stoke City – Begovic; Pieters (Muniesa 78′), Shawcross, Wilson, Cameron; Arnautovic, Palacios, Whelan, Nzonzi, Odemwingie; Crouch.

Goals: Odemwingie 22′, Crouch 26′, Nzonzi 42′, Cameron 90+1′

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.