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Aston Villa 2-1 Hull City: Swarming start, shaky finish leave Villa undefeated still

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Aston Villa were the better side for much of the game as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann found the back of the net, but a late goal from Nikica Jelavic made things interesting.

The visitors had little to offer until the final 20 minutes as Villa’s attack swarmed the Hull side.

The game started as a cagey midfield battle, and there was little to speak of in the opening 10 minutes as each team looked to feel the other out.

Aston Villa’s new arrival Kieran Richardson was bright for the home side, and as he looked to unlock the Hull defense, his team followed suit.

Richardson began an attack and sent a ball into the box on 13 minutes, and while the cross was cleared, the ball was recycled and the following build up produced the opening goal.

Charles N’Zogbia slashed towards the attacking third and found Andreas Weimann at the top of the box.  The Austrian then cut back to Agbonlahor who turned sharply and blasted the ball into the back of the net. It was a brilliant bit of build up and passing and Villa were rewarded justly with their first goal in their last three matches across all competitions.

Villa continued to prove the better side early on, and held much of the meaningful possession as Hull played on their heels in the first half-hour.

The game got chippy and lacked flow, as fouls dotted the landscape as it approached the first 30-minute mark.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights, here]

Villa, however, regained their dominant form and produced yet another lovely passing display that bore fruit. Hull debutant Michael Dawson gave the ball away sloppily, and Agbonlahor found Richardson on the edge of the box. The former Fulham man cut back for Weimann for the finish as Hull’s defense failed to recover with any shape.

The home side nearly had a third when Ashley Westwood ripped in a vicious free-kick following a yellow card challenge by Curtis Davies, but the ball clattered the corner of the post and came out.

The second half slowed a bit with Hull adding possession but failing to make it meaningful. Ahmed Elmohamady fired over the bar on 68 minutes in their closest chance yet.

Finally, the visitors produced something of quality and made it a game again after an hour of little on goal. Nikica Jelavic got a head to a free kick for Hull, and the ball deflected off Aly Cissokho past Brad Guzan.

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The goal suddenly blasted the game to life, as Hull found themselves oh so close to grabbing a point or more out of an otherwise listless performance.

Recently called up to the England squad, Fabian Delph should have restored Villa’s two-goal lead after gliding through Hull’s midfield on a break, but he scuffed it wide on 79 minutes.

Following Delph’s attempt, it was all Hull as they searched for points. Jelavic has a good opportunity at the end of regulation but he was just offsides despite forcing a good save from Guzan.  Yellow cards began to fly every which way from Mark Clattenburg as he attempted to gain control of this game.

Darren Bent had a brilliant chance to put the game away after coming on and receiving a perfect pass from Weimann, but he dragged it wide in a seemingly costly miss for a side looking to fend off the opponent at the death.

Despite the frenetic ending pace, Hull could not find an equalizer and the game finished 2-1 to the home side.  Villa remain undefeated on the season, going to seven points, which brings them above Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham.  Hull, meanwhile, sit on four points while still having to navigate the Europa League.

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa: Guzan; Vlaar, Senderos, Hutton, Cissokho; Delph, Westwood, Richardson (Grealish 75′), N’Zogbia (Sanchez 64′), Weimann; Agbonlahor (Bent 85′).

Goals: Agbonlahor 14′, Weimann 36′

Hull City: McGregor; McShane, Davies (Rosenoir 46′), Dawson, Elmohamady; Livermore, Quinn, Huddlestone (Aluko 71′), Robertson, Ince (Brady 57′); Jelavic.

Goals: Jelavic 74′

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

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Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”