Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff City: Finally, Villa find the back of the net – video

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Cardiff did little to impress at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon, putting few shots on target and letting the hosts take the majority of the chances. Eventually, those chances paid off, as Aston Villa finally, after 7.5 hours without a goal, got one in the back of the net. Villa also kept a clean sheet and finally recorded a home win, so there was plenty to celebrate at Villa Park today. Well, unless you’d traveled in from Wales.

Despite the result, there was little to surprise in the first half between Aston Villa and Cardiff City — at least, not if you’re a fan of the Villa. With Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann both out with injury, it was Libor Kozak starting up front alongside Christian Benteke, while Aleksandar Tonev sat just behind. But neither forward looked particularly impressive for the claret and blue.

The match started with Kozak forcing David Marshall into a save, but the flag was already up on the Czech striker. His blushes deepened in the 10th minute, when Kozak did his very best to head the ball into the net…into the net past Brad Guzan. Now, he may not wear claret and blue, but Guzan still does happen to be the Aston Villa keeper.

(MORE Premier League Roundup: Big wins for Liverpool, Saints, Norwich, Villa, Chelsea fight back – video)

But Tonev did his very best to make Kozak look good by comparison. The Bulgarian is always fond of a shot from distance, seeming to enjoy putting the ball into the second tier of the stands. Just before the interval, Tonev elected to fire another high ball far past Marshall’s goal, despite Benteke being free inside the area.

Despite the hosts’ inability to threaten Marshall’s goal, or even to cause Marshall to move more than an inch or two, Cardiff went into the second half hardly looking like they wanted to get all three points. It wasn’t until the 70th minute that the Bluebirds really looked lively. A nice little interchange of passes set up a good opportunity for Craig Bellamy, but Yacuba Sylla was there with a vital interception before the Welshman was able to trouble Guzan.

That minor threat must have finally spurred Villa into action because, after an incredible 441 minutes without a goal, the hosts finally put the ball into the back of the net. The correct net. Gary Mendel brought down Leandro Bacuna outside the area, and Bacuna himself stood over the resulting free kick. The young Dutchman launched an absolute stunner, swerving around the wall and into the back of the net. Again, Marshall didn’t move — but this time, it’s because he just had no chance to stop the ball.

As if that weren’t surprising enough, less than ten minutes later, Kozak doubled Villa’s lead. It was from a header, of course, but this time the ball was toward the correct net. The forward got on the end of a headed pass from substitute Matthew Lowton to score his second in a Villa shirt.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, El Ahmadi (Lowton 74), Westwood, Sylla, Tonev, Benteke, Kozak (Bowery 88)

Subs not used: Steer, Helenius, Herd, Johnson, Robinson

Goals: Bacuna 76′; Kozak 84′

Cardiff City: Marshall, Taylor, Caulker, Turner, Whittingham, Medel, Odemwingie (Campbell 55), Gunnarsson (Mutch 65), Cowie, Theophile-Catherine, Bellamy (Maynard 82)

Subs not used: Lewis, Hudson,  Kim, Noone

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa