Europa League final, preview: What to know about Benfica and Sevilla

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Benfica’s already had its redemption, having claimed the Portuguese league title, but Wednesday gives the Eagles a chance to put last spring even farther in the past. Not only will the mere chronology of the next 24 hours help, but there’s the potential to slay demons from last year’s Europa League final – a loss that came in the middle of a 16-day stretch that cost Benfica  league, Europa, and Portuguese Cup titles.

Defeat Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final, and last year’s loss to Chelsea gets put in a different perspective. Instead of being part of a failed spring and a list of second place finishes on the European stage, the result looks like a springboard for this year’s success. The disappointments of 2013 will have fueled the successes of 2014.

For the Rojiblancos, it’s a chance to claim the competition for the third time (UEFA Cup wins in 2006, 2007). It’s a chance to earn the team’s first trophy since 2010. It’s a chance for manager Unai Emery move on from his failures at Spartak Moscow, and it’s a chance for a team that used to compete for Champions League spots to grasp some glory in these now, more austere times.

Kickoff for Turin is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, when Benfica returns to the site of its semifinal triumph hoping to claim its season’s second title.

How they got here: After falling out Champions League (something teams won’t be allowed to do next season), Benfica beat PAOK (Greece), Tottenham (England), AZ (Netherlands) and Juventus (Italy) on its way to the final.

Sevilla, who only qualified because Rayo Vallecano and Malaga were excluded from Europe, defeated Maribor (Slovenia), rival Real Betis (Spain), Porto (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) after going undefeated in group play.

Who to watch for: For Benfica, former Sporting Braga striker Lima leads the way with four goals in knockout round play, though he’s only made two starts. Former Bolton attacker Rodrigo has scored three times, while Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo remains a threat, though he hasn’t scored in a month.

Emery’s dangermen are former PSG attacker Kevin Gameiro and Colombian World Cup hopeful Carlos Bacca have combined for nine goals in the competition, though Stephane Mbia’s stoppage time score against Valencia in the semifinals is Sevilla’s most memorable strike of the tournament.

Other players to know: Benfica’s defense features former Brazilian international Luisao along with Uruguyan fullback Maxi Pereira and Argentina center back Ezequiel Garay, both of whom you will see this summer. Ruben Amorim and Andre Gomes will hold down the midfield, with Nicolas Gaitan running wide of Cardozo up top.

For Sevilla, the attacking midfield of Diego Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, and Diego Perotti in support of Bacca present that danger. Mbia will destroy in midfield, while Argentinine Federico Fazio will lead the defense.

Forecast: Having knockout out Juventus, Benfica’s established themselves as favorites. We’ll see if the lessons of 2013 can be applied in 2014.

 

Three things learned from Tottenham’s win at West Ham

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat West Ham United on Saturday in a thrilling London derby at the London Stadium.

Spurs thought they had sewed up a routine victory after they went 3-0 up after an hour but Serge Aurier’s red card set up a nervy finish as Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate scored headers for the Hammers.

Here’s what we learned from the London Stadium.


COMPLETE KANE

In 2017 Harry Kane has scored 25 goals. In Europe’s top five leagues only Lionel Messi has scored more (34).

Earlier this week Kane was the only Englishman to be named among the 55 nominees for the FIFPro World 11 for 2016-17. It’s easy to see why.

His first goal was a diving header, instinctively glanced into the far corner. His second was about being in the right place at the right time to slot home. He hit the post twice in the second half and could have easily had a hat trick.

Aside from his finishing and his hot streak (six goals in his last four games for Spurs and eight in his last six if you include his goals for England earlier this month) his vision and ability to drop deep, bring others into play and link up the game set him apart.

Kane is not a true predator like Sergio Aguero. He is not a forward who always scores spectacular goals like Alexis Sanchez or one who usually does his damage just in the box like Romelu Lukaku. He has it all.

Harry Kane is the complete forward and at the age of 24 it is hard to spot a weakness in his game.


AURIER AN ISSUE

Serge Aurier arrived at Tottenham with plenty of baggage off the pitch but on it he’s proving a real Jekyll and Hyde character.

The Ivory Coast right back made one superb covering tackle in the first half to deny Marko Arnautovic in the box but then also wandered out of position on multiple occasions and didn’t exactly bust a gut to get back into position.

His two silly challenges in the space of six minutes in the second half summed up his play. A rash tackle on Mark Noble was followed up by a wild lunge on Andy Carroll and Aurier was off.

That sending off rattled Spurs who could’ve easily coughed up a three-goal lead and let two points go.

Mauricio Pochettino knew he had plenty on his plate when he signed Aurier from Paris Saint-Germain on transfer deadline day. This performance showed he is perhaps not worth the risk and either Kieran Trippier or Kyle Walker-Peters deserve a chance at right back.


HAMMERS HUMBLED

The 3-2 scoreline doesn’t tell the story of this game.

Sure, West Ham scored twice in the final 25 minutes and rallied to try and grab an improbably point, but that papered over the cracks.

Slaven Bilic‘s future is still not decided and that uncertainty is ripping the team apart.

Not knowing if Bilic will be in charge beyond the next few months, let alone the end of this season when his current deal runs out, it feels like West Ham are at a real crossroads.

With the owners so far unwilling to give Bilic a new deal, performances like the one his side dished up from minutes 20-65 on Saturday won’t help his cause. The Hammers started well but fell apart when Michail Antonio went off injured and was replaced by Andy Carroll.

Bilic was backed with a team full of experienced international as Marko Arnautovic, Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart arrived in the summer but there doesn’t seem to be a real long-term plan at West Ham. That showed in their performance on Saturday as they battled back from 3-0 down which put a brave face on yet another jumbled display.


Kane after another brace: “I just want to score against every team”

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Harry Kane has three braces in September following his goal-free August, and Spurs continue to climb the Premier League table following a 3-2 win against West Ham United on Saturday at the London Stadium.

Spurs built a 3-0 lead through two from Kane and another from Christian Eriksen, but West Ham pulled one back before a Serge Aurier red card set the stage for a wild ending.

[ RECAP: West Ham 2-3 Spurs ]

The North Londoners held on for the win, boosting its standing to third on 11 points before the rest of the big boys play their weekend fixtures.

Here’s Kane, via the BBC:

“When you are 3-0 up and end up going 3-1 or 3-2 it is always nerve-wracking, especially with 10 men. But it is a great result.

“I see stuff go round on social media (about his goalscoring) but I don’t think about it. I just want to score against every team. I am delighted to get a couple and help the team win.

“We know we have to improve our home form and we will be right up there. To get nine points from three away games is really good.”

Kane now has September braces against Everton, West Ham, and Borussia Dortmund — not bad — and visits APOEL Nicosia and Huddersfield Town this week. Might he add another to his record?

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Man City host Crystal Palace in a top v. bottom clash, Chelsea head to Stoke, Manchester United travel to Southampton, Swansea host Watford, Everton host Bournemouth and Huddersfield head to Burnley.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Chelsea – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Celtic unbeaten in 10 Old Firm Derbies after win at Rangers

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Celtic made it 10-straight Old Firm Derbies unbeaten with a 2-0 win over Rangers on Saturday at the Ibrox Stadium.

Tom Rogic scored after halftime and Leigh Griffiths added an insurance marker in the 65th minute as traveling Celtic moved five points clear of second-place Aberdeen and eight ahead of the fourth-place ‘Gers.

[ MORE: Neymar out | Marcelo, too ]

The two sides will meet three more times, with only two scheduled so far: Dec. 30 at Celtic Park and March 10 back at the Ibrox.

The Bhoys are unbeaten in 46 league matches and handed Rangers twin 5-1 losses last season amongst a 3W-1D mark in the derby, en route to a Scottish Premiership season without a loss for Brendan Rodgers‘ men.