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David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola’s sustained success and more

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In only the club’s second season in Major League Soccer, New York City FC is on the verge of making its first playoff appearance in club history.

Pro Soccer Talk recently had the opportunity to catch up with the club’s captain, David Villa, as he and his team prepare for the remainder of the 2016 regular season and gear up for the postseason.

On Wednesday, Villa sat down with PST at Tavern on Third in New York City as the former Spanish national team star helps promote Go90 — a mobile application that allows fans to live-stream some of the world’s biggest soccer leagues and matches, including La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.

While Villa was focused on the various television screens in the restaurant —all of which were playing Barcelona’s 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid — the 34-year-old discussed his team’s aspirations with the MLS season winding down.

“It’s our moment now,” Villa told PST. “We need three points to go through to the playoffs. The playoffs is different because it’s a fight for one day or two days. Our goal is make the postseason and then to be better every series we play in.

“We don’t have a spot yet in the playoffs,” Villa said. “If we win on Friday then we’re in but it’s the first goal for us. We need to fight in the rest of the games because it’s not the same to be the sixth spot versus the second or first spot. We need to fight for the last few games before the playoffs so we get a good position.

“It’s only our second season so I think the fans see the team and don’t think they always see it’s our second year. Some teams have been working for over 20 years and it’s different for them. NYCFC is still growing and we’re very proud of that. Of course the objective for our club is to win the trophy at the end. We’re close to reaching the playoffs but we’re still fighting with every other team to get wins and keep up our form.”

With NYCFC holding its playoff fate in its own hands, Patrick Vieira’s group has the opportunity to qualify for the postseason on Friday night against the Chicago Fire, who currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Villa was quick to give his head coach a lot of the credit for New York City’s success this season, citing his demanding training regiment and tactics as some of the critical reasons why the team is in prime position to not only make the playoffs but make a deep run when the side reaches that stage.

“Patrick is a very good coach,” Villa said. “The most important thing is that he’s come in and had a very clear plan from the first day. Day by day we work in training to accomplish our goals and it’s good for us. For me, I like the style Patrick wants us to play and of course you always need to get the results. So far this year we are doing good because we’re in a good position. We need to finish out strong though going into the playoffs.

USA Today Sports/Vincent Carchietta
USA Today Sports/Vincent Carchietta

While the club’s defensive struggles have at times overshadowed the team’s success in 2016, one of the biggest differences from NYCFC’s inaugural season is the support that Villa has received up front in helping the Spaniard contribute finishing.

The former La Liga star leads the squad for the second consecutive season, with 17 goals in 29 appearances, but the emergence of players like rookie Jack Harrison and ex-Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard have taken the burden off of Villa.

“Of course we are happy to have players playing close to me like Jack [Harrison], like Khiry [Shelton], like Tommy [McNamara] and Tony Taylor sometimes,” Villa explained. “Steven Mendoza is another player as well. Every player that plays up front with me wants to help the team and of course for the attacking players we’re all trying to make good contributions on the pitch.”

While Villa’s focus on his new club is evident, the former Barcelona man took the time to discuss several other topics, including how Pep Guardiola‘s influence has brought Manchester City (NYCFC’s parent club) immediate success.

“It’s good,” Villa said with a smile on his face. “Guardiola has done this at different clubs which is amazing. When I was at Barcelona he was tremendous, going to Bayern he was excellent and now at Manchester City he’s gotten off to a great start as well. He’s good. He’s very good and I’m very proud to have worked with one of the best coaches in the history of soccer and to see him putting up some great results.

“He’s brought great tactics to all the clubs he’s been at and the players really like playing for him. I think City’s start has shown how good of a manager he is. I think they’ll be one of the best clubs for as long as he’s there because he’s very smart and always looking to get better.”

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.


SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa