Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor’s early score leads Villa past listless Liverpool (video)

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Gabriel Agbonlahor picked up a scrappy goal early and Aston Villa held firm as Liverpool had nothing to offer its home fans at Anfield and blew a chance at jumping into the top four of the Premier League table.

Aston Villa hasn’t lost at Anfield since 2010, and their odd streak continues thanks to a solid defensive shape and physical style of play.

[WATCH: Full match replay available here]

The first chance of the game fell to Lazar Markovic in the sixth minute, who latched onto a cross to head towards the far post, but it went a few feet wide.

It was Villa, though, who started the better side, and they cashed in.  Their first corner flew into the box just inside 10 minutes, and defender Philippe Senderos was able to get a head to the ball and send it towards the goal. It hit Gabriel Agbonlahor on the way in, but the Villa striker was able to collect, turn, and touch home from point blank range.

The visitors continued to be dangerous at Anfield, where Villa manager Paul Lambert has never lost, and they came close to a second on 12 minutes. Senderos again proved dangerous on set pieces, as a free kick from dead center of the attacking half came in and Senderos latched on, but sent it over the bar as Simon Mignolet barked at his Reds defense.

[VIDEO: Premier League Highlights here]

Senderos also found himself a bit lucky after 23 minutes, as he stuck a boot out and kicked Mario Balotelli with the play nowhere near him, but the referee missed it completely.  Likely had the referee seen the play, it would have deserved a straight red card.

Villa stifled the Reds attack, clogging their lanes well and then hitting back on the break.  Liverpool found their first real opening in the 26th minute when Philippe Coutinho dinked a long ball into the box.  It found the head of Jordan Henderson and he touched back for Adam Lallana in space, but his shot was blocked by Senderos.

Villa continued to play hack-a-Mario on the Italian striker, scything him down on every opportunity, whether the ball was at his feet or not.  Senderos was not the only guilty party, as Alan Hutton also ripped him down on the touchline on the half-hour mark.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

Senderos continued to be a menace on set pieces, as another corner on 37 minutes found his feet but he blasted over.

After the break, Liverpool looked more like themselves with an attacking hunger and using pace to their advantage, but they couldn’t capitalize. Rodgers removed Lallana in favor of Raheem Sterling with a half hour to go, and then removed Mario Balotelli for Ricky Lambert 10 minutes later to try and get fresh legs in the attack.

Their first real chance since early in the match came on 79 minutes, when Philippe Coutinho scrambled to take a corner and it found the head of Dejan Lovern but he just missed the bullseye in the far corner.  Then Coutinho just two minutes later crashed the post with a shot but again failed to test Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a shot.

Liverpool pushed hard for a goal as it creeped towards stoppage time, but Villa put numbers behind the ball and showed no signs of even coming close to conceding, as every ball pumped into the box was regurgitated back out.

Villa held on for the road win, and their three points push Lambert’s club up to 10 points, good enough for second place in the Premier League meaning Aston Villa and Swansea hold the second and third place spots in the table.  Meanwhile, Liverpool blow their chance to make the top four, and instead sit on six points and have two losses to couple with two wins.

Also, the clean sheet gives Brad Guzan three on the season, the only Premier League goalkeeper with that number.

LINEUPS:

Liverpool: Mignolet; Manquillo, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Markovic (Borini 71′), Lallana (Sterling 61′); Balotelli (Lambert 71′).

Aston Villa: Guzan; Hutton, Baker, Senderos, Cissokho, Westwood, Delph, Cleverley, Richardson, Agbonlahor, Weimann.

Goals: Agbonlahor 9′

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

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A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).