Watford 0-1 Stoke City: Adam header sends Stoke into top half

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A match with little flow and plenty of whistles saw an early Charlie Adam header earn three points at Vicarage Road in an otherwise uninspiring match with little goal action.

Adam’s first half-hour finished as he put a header off the goalkeeper into the back of the net, technically an own-goal but Mark Hughes will take it nonetheless.

The visitors started the brightest, and had the best early chance on six minutes as Mame Biram Diouf had an acrobatic go, but his bicycle kick plowed into the face of Etienne Capoue. The rebound fell to Bruno Martins Indi just inside the top of the box, who ripped a good effort on goal, but it was straight at Heurelho Gomes, who saved comfortably.

The game was quite open through the first 20 minutes, but with no goals to come, it devolved into a foul fest with a pair of yellows shown before the half-hour mark. Watford was forced into a change, as Christian Kabasale had to come on in place of Younes Kaboul, who went off injured.

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Just before the 30-minute mark, Stoke had a deserved lead. A corner from Xherdan Shaqiri swing in to Charlie Adam, and his precise header struck the left post, pinged across the line and pinged into Gomes, and into the back of the net for an own-goal off the goalkeeper.

Through the rest of the first half, there was less action on net than with the referee’s whistle, as Bobby Madley was forced to earn his paycheck for the day. Jose Holebas sliced through the Stoke penalty area incisively in first-half added time, but a pinpoint tackle by Glen Johnson ended the chance and the half.

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In the second half, Stoke continued to have the better chances. Holebas pulled up lame on the ball just two minutes after the break, which began a 2-on-1 counter for the Potters. Shaqiri charged down the left on the ball, and his great cross to the far post was just inches out of reach for Walters, who for some reason didn’t even give the effort a chance despite appearing to be potentially within range.

The hosts were forced into a second change, as Holebas limped off in favor of Odion Ighalo. The game plodded on through the second half with little action to show for it. Watford had its best chance of the second half with a spell in front of net with 10 minutes remaining that ended as Daryl Janmaat fired over.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half ended without a shot on target for either side, and a disappointing finish for Watford left them still in a promising eighth in the table but without any points from a game that begged to be won. In the dying moments, Miguel Britos was sent off with a minute left in regulation after pulling down Shaqiri to earn his second yellow card. In addition, a yellow card to Valon Behrami in injury time means he will be suspended next time out, as Watford could be dangerously thin next weekend against West Brom.

For Stoke, the three points sees them slide into the top half of the table, moving up to 10th on 16 points.

MLS weekend preview: Two big rivalries, and Atlanta meets DC

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It’s been a fun midweek for Major League Soccer, one that doesn’t even reach its conclusion until Thursday’s doubleheader ends with Orlando City and Portland meeting in Oregon.

But looking ahead to the weekend brings plenty more worthy of anticipation, beginning with Friday’s “El Trafico.”

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Bob Bradley and LAFC have been threatening to destroy the record books, driven by Carlos Vela’s tremendous play. The Mexican 30-year-old has 19 goals and eight assists before the calendar hits August.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t too impressed, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s Galaxy are 12 points behind the black and gold. They’d be thrilled to climb into second with a Friday win and a statement of local sway (especially after losing the Cali Clasico to San Jose earlier this month).

A full docket on Saturday is followed by a quadruple header of sorts on Sunday, with four matches kicking off between 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET. Two of them are beauties.

DC United and Atlanta United meet in what could be an Eastern Conference Final preview. Both are within a win Sunday and match-in-hand of holding the East in the palm of its hand, but neither has been playing particularly well (at least until the Five Stripes waxed Houston 5-0 on Wednesday).

DC plays Cincinnati on Thursday and faces a quicker turnaround than Atlanta. If the Black-and-Red can manage a win over the expansion side, it can will enter the Five Stripes’ match-up in second.

Finally, Sunday concludes with a Cascadia Cup meeting between Portland and Seattle in Washington.

So far, Vancouver leads the table with four points, but has played thrice. Seattle has the same amount of points but has played one fewer game.

Portland has only played one Cup match falling 1-0 in Vancouver, and has the advantage of playing its final two matches at home.

But first is this meeting with Seattle. The Sounders sit second in the West and will love the idea of keeping the Timbers two results back of a playoff spot (albeit with multiple matches-in-hand on the field).

Bruce explains taking wheel at wobbly Newcastle United

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Steve Bruce didn’t have it in him to turn down his boyhood club again.

The well-traveled manager and Manchester United legend has taken the reins at combustible Newcastle United after Rafa Benitez walked away from the club this summer.

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Bruce was Sheffield Wednesday manager when that happened, but simply could not resist the lure of managing at St. James’ Park.

He’s also quite confident in his abilities. From The Chronicle:

“I know in some people’s eyes, I’m not Rafa and I know there are big shoes to fill but believe me, I’ll give it everything I possibly can and hopefully I prove the doubters wrong.”

Bruce certainly does not have Benitez’s resume, but has had success in lower leagues. He’s led Birmingham City and Hull City to a pair of promotions each.

If Newcastle backs him as rumored, he may be able to have one of his better Premier League seasons, but his being backed is a wobbly proposition at best (The club is being linked with monster Hoffenheim forward Joelinton).

Bruce knows things have been largely poor at Newcastle United under owner Mike Ashley, and that the club could be taken over by new owners with different ambitions for their manager’s position.

But, again, this is the club he’s supported since he was a boy.

“As I said the easy thing would to have been to say no but I just hope that people show the respect which you obviously only gain by getting results and doing the job, but hopefully that will go hand in hand.”

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?