United States wins third Women’s World Cup title, beats Japan on record-smashing day

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Under a thick haze and the smell of smoke from a blazing forest in the distance, Carli Lloyd caught fire on Sunday at BC Place.

Lloyd scored a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the Women’s World Cup final to lift the United States past Japan, 5-2 and deliver a record third World Cup title. Lloyd scored her third goal from midfield, driving the ball over Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

“It’s a surreal moment,” Lloyd said. “It’s been amazing. We just wrote history today and brought this World Cup trophy home, which is unbelievable.”

[MORE: Lloyd proves the hero again |  Wambach finally gets her World Cup]

Japan entered the match as reigning World Cup champions, having beaten the United States in penalty kicks in the 2011 World Cup final.

The World Cup title is the United States’ first since 1999. They are also three-time defending Olympic champions, having beaten Japan in the 2012 Olympic final in London. Lloyd scored twice in that final to beat Japan as well.

“Ms. Lloyd, well she always does this to us,” Japan head coach Norio Sasaki said after the game, dropping his head and smiling.

For two teams that entered Sunday’s final on the backs of defensive performances, the United States and Japan (but mostly the Americans – and even more specifically, Lloyd) combined to smash offensive records.

Lloyd became the first player in history to score a hat trick in a Women’s World Cup final; Michelle Akers is the only other player to net a multi-goal game in a final, scoring twice in 1991. Lloyd’s goal in the 3rd minutes was the fastest ever scored in a final. Lloyd also became the first American player to score in four straight World Cup games.

MORE: Watch Carli Lloyd’s amazing first-half hat trick

The seven combined goals is the most in a Women’s World Cup final, and the United States’s five goals is a record for one team.

In the 3rd minute, Lloyd beat Japan defender Azusa Iwashimizu to the ball on Megan Rapinoe’s corner kick, and two minutes later Lloyd beat Iwashimizu again for her second goal. After mis-heading the ball up in the air just prior to the United States’ third goal – scored by Lauren Holiday – Iwashimizu was replaced in the 33rd minute by Homare Sawa, playing in her co-record sixth World Cup.

Japan managed to get a goal back before halftime through Yuki Ogimi, and a second goal just after halftime off the head of U.S. defender Julie Johnston.

But two minutes after that second Japan goal, U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath score the United States’ fifth goal, icing the match.

The United States finished the tournament unbeaten, winning all but one game – a scoreless draw against Sweden in the group stage.

A rough start in the opening minutes of the World Cup against Australia – when Hope Solo made two tournament changing saves and Megan Rapinoe scored her first of two goals early against the run of play – feels like a memory of year’s past. After the tie with Sweden, the Americans scraped past Nigeria to win Group D and then narrowly defeated 10-player Colombia in the round of 16 before coming into their own in the quarterfinal against China.

In that match, Ellis inserted Morgan Brian and allowed Lloyd to push higher up the field, a move that truly paid dividends in the semifinal against Germany, which the United States dominated.

Building off of those successes, U.S. coach Jill Ellis stuck with the same starting XI from the semifinal in Sunday’s final against Japan, freeing up Lloyd to sit behind Morgan and do what she does best: Push forward and score goals.

U.S. forward Abby Wambach played in her final World Cup match, entering the game in the 79th minute for Tobin Heath. It was also the final World Cup match for Sawa.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…