US ‘keeper Brad Guzan hails Aston Villa’s new-look defense after solid start

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In the week where he seemingly jumped into the role of U.S. national team’s number one goalkeeper for the next year, following Tim Howard’s sabbatical, Brad Guzan put in another top display to record his second shutout in as many games to kick off Aston Villa’s season.

Villa held Newcastle to a 0-0 draw at home on Saturday and coming off their opening day 1-0 win at Stoke City, the Midlands club have tallied four points from their opening two matches of the campaign. Not bad at all, especially compared to the last few seasons.

[HIGHLIGHTS: Villa 0-0 Newcastle]

Guzan, 29, played a huge part in thwarting Newcastle as late on Siem de Jong smashed an effort on goal but Guzan beat the ball away superbly as he helped Villa on the way to another point.

Following the match Guzan spoke to reporters about Villa’s new experienced core at the back and how they have helped the sleeping giants of English soccer to get off to a solid start to the new campaign.

 “I was just happy to play my part really,” Guzan said. “Up to that point the guys in front of me had made my job quite easy. I hadn’t had much to do in terms of saves. When you have a defense in front of you that are prepared to put it on the line and make blocks and tackles it makes it easier for a keeper. I thought we were a little bit unlucky not to get three points. Yes, they might have had a bit more of the ball, but up until that save I didn’t really have anything to do.”

With Swiss international center back Philppe Senderos arriving on a free from Fulham, Aly Cissokho signing from Valencia and Scottish right back Alan Hutton back in from the cold after various stints away on loan, Villa’s defense all of a sudden looks much tougher to beat. Plus with the shaved heads of Guzan, Hutton, Vlaar and Senderos back there, Villa’s defense merged into a mass of brilliant bold defenders who threw their body on the line time and time again for the cause. Bravo.

A back four of Hutton, captain and World Cup star Ron Vlaar, Senderos and Cissokho is much different than the core of youngsters who manned it last season. The likes of Ciaran Clark, Matthew Lowton and Nathan Baker have all been replaced after two seasons of struggle for Paul Lambert’s men who gave youth a big chance to succeed. With new assistant coach Roy Keane on board, his mantra has always been to set up a solid defense and have a few attackers who can win you games.

USMNT ‘keeper Guzanis  behind a new sturdy defense and although Villa may not be the most attractive team to watch this season, they will certainly get plenty more points as their defensive unit looks in fine fettle early on in the 2014-15 season.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.