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Lille starts Bielsa era with 3-0 win over Ranieri’s Nantes

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PARIS (AP) Lille’s attacking potential this season was on display as coach Marcelo Bielsa’s new team started its French league campaign with a 3-0 win over Nantes on Sunday.

[ MORE: Coutinho to Barca? And more transfer rumors ]

After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the Argentine coach – known as “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa) to his fans – with the aim of returning to the Champions League while playing an exciting brand of football.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Chelsea on PKs in FA Community Shield ]

Lille also recruited more than a dozen of new players and the northern club’s squad appears to have gelled.

Facing an unimaginative side, Lille dominated from the start but had to wait until the 48th to open the scoring through Paraguay defender Junior Alonso. Nicolas De Preville doubled his team’s lead from the spot and Anwar El Ghazi put the win beyond doubt.

The match also featured a duel between Bielsa and another prominent coach, Italian Claudio Ranieri. The managers, who had a quick chat before the game, returned to the French top flight after spending several years away.

With better players at his disposal following Lille’s ambitious recruiting campaign this summer, Bielsa’s team was in control from the start.

“We played a high-energy match, on a fast rhythm, and we made only a few fouls,” Bielsa said. “I believe that we deserved the goals we scored, and that it is a fair result. Let’s see if we can keep that rhythm and speed we want to play with throughout the whole season.”

Lille imposed a fast tempo by pressing high on the pitch – the Argentine’s trademark – and created several chances in the opening stages with fast moves down the flanks that caught out the Nantes back four.

But for all their possession the hosts lacked a cutting edge in the box. Bielsa’s influence was evident in the 14th when Nicolas de Preville tried and missed an acrobatic volley. The French striker did not give up though, tracked the ball down and managed to recover it before setting up newly signed Luiz Araujo, whose shot was blocked.

Nantes could have moved ahead against the run of the play when Abdoulaye Toure recovered the ball 20 meters from the hosts’ box and forced Mike Maignan into a superb dive with a long and powerful shot. The Lille `keeper managed to parry the ball onto the crossbar and Prejuce Nakoulma, alone in front of goal, fluffed his header from close range.

Lille finally broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half after taking advantage of a poor clearance from Nantes captain Leo Dubois. Alonso received the ball outside the box and unleashed a powerful strike into the bottom corner.

Maignan made a decisive save in the next minute to deny Emiliano Sala’s chip attempt at the conclusion of a slick counterattack to keep his team’s lead intact.

Lille was awarded a penalty in the 68th after Kevin Malcuit was fouled by Nicolas Pallois in the box, and De Preville converted from the spot by sending Maxime Dupe the wrong way. El Ghazi made it 3-0 three minutes later with a clean finish. El Ghazi celebrated his goal by taking his shirt off, revealing a tribute to former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri, who collapsed during a pre-season game this summer and suffered brain damage.

Bielsa guided Marseille to a fourth-place finish in 2015 while Ranieri – who famously led English club Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016 – helped Monaco win the second division title in his first season, and then finish runner-up in the top flight in 2013-14.

Premier League Friendly Roundup: Leicester, Norwich in action

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Ayoze Perez got off to a great start for his new club on Tuesday, as Leicester topped Scunthorpe United, 1-0.

Perez, who arrived earlier this month from Newcastle in a $38 million transfer, scored on a first-time strike in the box that proved to be the difference in the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brendan Rodgers side got a chance to get minutes for plenty of first-team regulars. Johnny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Perez and Youri Tielemans all started. Wes Morgan, new signing James Justin, Rachid Ghezzal all came off the bench.

An interesting note was that Harry Maguire, the target of serious transfer interest from Manchester United, came off the bench at halftime and played the second half of the game. According to the latest reports, Man United and Leicester City are still very far apart regarding a transfer fee, so Maguire looks set to remain for the time being.

Elsewhere, Norwich City continued its preseason tour of Germany with a friendly match held behind closed doors. Norwich beat Bonner SC, 4-1, with goals from Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

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