FA Cup final preview: Aston Villa underdogs in Arsenal’s pursuit of back-to-back cups

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  • Arsenal to play in a record 19th FA Cup final
  • Villa haven’t won the FA Cup since 1957
  • The Gunners won 3-0 and 5-0 vs. Villa during PL season

On Saturday the FA Cup final takes place at Wembley Stadium in London, as Premier League duo Arsenal and Aston Villa do battle for the famous trophy.

Arsenal is the defending champions, as the Gunners defeated Hull City 3-2 in extra time in a dramatic final last season.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Arsenal vs. Villa from Wembley ]

Once again Arsene Wenger’s side will be the heavy favorites in their native north London but Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa stunned Liverpool in the semifinal and despite finishing just one place above the relegation zone in the PL this season and being hammered twice by Arsenal during their league meetings, the Villans will fancy their chances of causing an upset in world soccer’s oldest cup competition.

If Villa’s star striker Christian Benteke can get at Arsenal’s defense early on then we are in for one heck of an FA Cup final. Also, Villa’s U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan could be the first American to play in an FA Cup final since Tim Howard went to Wembley with Everton in 2009. In team news Arsenal will be without striker Danny Welbeck, while Mathieu Debuchy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are battling to make the squad. Villa could welcome back Shay Given and Kieran Richardson from injury for the showpiece final which brings down the curtain on the domestic season in England.

How they got there

Aston Villa

Third round: 1-0 vs. Blackpool
Fourth round: 2-1 vs. Bournemouth
Fifth round: 2-1 vs. Leicester City
Quarterfinals: 2-0 vs. West Bromwich Albion
Semifinals: 2-1 vs. Liverpool

Arsenal

Third round: 2-0 vs. Hull City
Fourth round: 3-2 vs. Brighton and Hove Albion
Fifth round: 2-0 vs. Middlesbrough
Quarterfinals: 2-1 vs. Manchester United
Semifinals: 2-1 (AET) vs. Reading

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s new balance: “We are more stable defensively than we were before and I think that’s a good basis to go from there. We still have some improvements to make but overall I think there’s a style of play that we set and our balance between attacking and defending is much better. We have a good opportunity to show that on Saturday.”

Tim Sherwood on Villa being underdogs: “We know we’re huge underdogs, but every time we’ve been underdogs and I’ve asked them for a big performance we’ve produced it – at Tottenham and Man City, in the FA Cup against Liverpool, even a huge performance in the FA Cup against Albion. They can rise to the occasion – they just need to do it one more time. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to give the club a platform to move on.”

Prediction

Arsenal will be the big favorites heading into this one but just like last season against Hull, it is likely to be a very tight game. Expect Villa to come flying out of the traps and if they score early, this game could change on its head. I expect the Gunners to weather the storm and prevail. 2-1 to Arsenal as Wenger will guide them to back-to-back FA Cup trophies.

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”