Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich City: Christian Benteke leads first half Villa flurry (video)

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The rain came down at Villa Park, but for Christian Benteke, it served more to cleanse a rough season away for the Belgian.

A brace just two minutes apart gave Benteke his eighth and ninth goals of the season – his fifth in Villa’s last eight matches – as the hosts put Chris Hughton’s Norwich City in their place.

After dealing with injuries and struggling through much of the season trying to recreate the form that made him so dangerous last year, the 23-year-old Benteke seems to be finding his footing, and it’s propelled the Claret and Blue into 11th place.

Aston Villa were left shaking their heads after just four minutes, as a brilliant touch from Hoolahan sprung Gary Hooper with a brilliant pass redirect, and he got the ball back in the box and didn’t miss past Brad Guzan.

Oddly, Hoolahan didn’t celebrate the goal against the club that nearly purchased his services in the winter transfer window.

The game slowed down mightily as both teams feeled out their opponents after the goal, but the next chance would level things up as Benteke wowed the Villa Park faithful, and the home side would begin to take full control before unleashing their attack.

source: Getty Images
Leandro Bacuna added to Christian Benteke’s double to complete Aston Villa’s barrage.

The towering striker chested down a long ball from Ron Vlaar in the box on 25 minutes.  He was blanketed by Sebastian Bassong but no matter, and with his back to the goal, he volleyed the ball before it hit the ground in a half-bicycle kick and left John Ruddy no chance.

As spectacular as it was, the goal was just an appetizer for the Belgian, who seems to score in bunches.  He’d pick up a second just minutes later, as Vlaar continued to cause havoc on the right touch, earning a corner with another dangerous long ball.

It was a more straightforward score for Benteke, who again beat Bassong in the box and outjumped the defender for a header to the near post and a 2-1 lead.

The blitz would continue, as 10 minutes later Villa would find themselves with yet another, this time on the counter.  Norwich looked to build in the attacking third, but the quality of service was poor, and Villa made them pay.

Gabriel Agbonlahor broke through the middle of the pitch and stuck the visiting defense on their heels chasing, and the striker laid off to Andreas Weimann.  The midfielder pushed the ball over to the full-back Bacuna, who cut back and fired past Ruddy in off the post, a quality shot from a defender.

Bassong’s nightmarish performance continued, as he handed Villa yet another to really put the game out of sight with halftime still five minutes away. Norwich, sloppy in possession, handed Villa the ball, and Fabian Delph sent in a cross to a streaking Agbonlahor and Bassong marking him struck the ball past Ruddy.

At this point the second half was merely a formality, and Villa saw out the last 45 without much excitement.

The win gives Villa enough to speed past Swansea, Stoke, and Hull City in the table, while Norwich are unable to build on their win over Spurs last week and stay in 15th place, four points above the relegation zone.

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa – Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi, Weimann (Albrighton 81′); Benteke (Holt 82′), Agbonlahor.

Goals – Benteke 25′, 27′, Bacuna 37′

Norwich City – Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson; Tettey (Howson 80′), Johnson; Snodgrass (Pilkington 45′), Hoolahan, Redmond (Elmander 63′); Hooper.

Goals – Hoolahan 3′, Bassong (og) 41′

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.