Sevilla 0 Benfica 0 (4-2 pens): Sevilla wins UEFA Europa League title

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After 90 minutes and two extra time periods without a goal, the UEFA Europa League title came down to penalties where Sevilla keeper Beto made two huge saves to hand his side the title.

Despite the scoreless draw it was decent entertainment for the fans at Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy, with fierce attacks counter-balanced by fantastic defending, and, in particular brilliant goalkeeping by Beto and Benfica netminder Jan Oblak.

In the end, the night was decided on penalties and it was a two fine saves by Beto in conjunction with goals by Carlos Bacca, Stephane M’Bia, Coke and Kevin Gameiro to hand Sevilla their third title in the competition.

It was a frantic opening to the match with both sides struggling for control after the high pace left both clubs scrambling. The first chance came the way of Benfica in the 14th minute when Nicolas Gaitan swung the ball over to Ezequiel Garay at the back post but his volley was saved by Beto.

Gaitan looked lively early on, popping up in little pockets of space and pestering the Sevilla defense but in the 37th minute it was the Andalucian’s who spurned a good opportunity when Jose Antonio Reyes found Alberto Moreno in the channel. The left-back cut back cleverly and attempted a curling shot but Oblak was up to the task.

Before the halftime whistle blew Benfica charged forward with a flurry of good chances, one by Maxi Pereira and one by Rodrigo, but both were well-saved by the ubiquitous Beto.

Three minutes into the second half and Benfica looked destined to take the lead as Garay floated a lovely pass over to Lima, who had Beto beat but was couldn’t get past the scramble of Sevilla’s Nicolas Pareja. The heat was on and within 60 seconds Rodrigo and Lima each pounced on rebounds but again, the Sevilla defense managed to snuff out the opportunities.

Thirty minutes of back and forth play saw Rodrigo and Reyes exchange half-chances, before Lima’s dipping shot from a left-side cut in was tipped over by Beto. An entertaining 90 minutes concluded when Maxi Pereira’s shot on goal fell invitingly for Garay, who’s acrobatic volley flew over the bar. With the two sides impossible to separate, extra time awaited.

Nine minutes into the first period of extra time and the tireless Lima was at it again, this time unleashing a fierce bouncing shot that Beto did well to get his body behind. Two minutes later and the pendulum swung back in Sevilla’s favor as Ivan Rakitic sprung Carlos Bacca but his shot bent just wide of the far post. In the second stanza tired legs set in and Kevin Gameiro’s half-chance nearly broke the deadlock but instead bulged the side netting before the final whistle blew indicating penalties.

In the first round both sides scored through Lima and Bacca. In the second set, Oscar Cardoza had his pen saved by Beto while Stephane M’Bia powered his shot home to give Sevilla a 2-1 lead. Beto came up big again in the third round when he saved Rodrigo’s effort before Coke doubled the La Liga side’s lead. In the fourth round Luisao kept Benfica’s hopes alive but they were soon dashed but by Gameiro who fired hard to the keeper’s right to give Sevilla their third title in the competition and maintain the impressive a 100% winning record in UEFA finals.

 

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.