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Cazorla overcomes odds, returns to field after 21 months

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Santi Cazorla was facing the prospect of never walking again.

Now, he’s back where he belongs.

Cazorla made his incredible return to soccer 636 days after his last match, coming off the bench in Villarreal’s first preseason match of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hercules. Between his last game and now, Cazorla had to endure eight (8!) operations on his Achillies tendon, an infection to the tendon and his leg, and nearly two years on the sidelines as he contemplated and worried if he would ever play again.

[READ: Man United draws with Club America]

After years as a top player and 77 caps for the Spanish National Team, Cazorla is thankful to just put on his shirt and boots for a game.

 “To feel like a football player is very special,” Cazorla told Villarreal’s website. “Without a doubt, I stay with the affection of the people throughout this period. The fans have given me strength and accompanied me during difficult times. “

Cazorla’s last official game was on October 19, 2016 for Arsenal in a 6-0 UEFA Champions League drubbing of Bulgarian side Ludogorets. Cazorla played the first 57 minutes of the match but just before then, he picked up a knock to his right Achilles tendon and then-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger quickly pulled him from the match.

What was thought to be just a three-week spell on the sidelines turned into a nightmare. The 33-year-old midfielder detailed to Marca in 2017 that multiple surgeries to his Achilles tendon failed to heal, and by December 2016 doctors learned his leg was infected, which is understandable considering he had an open wound for two months.

Doctors in England said that if he could walk again, “he should be satisfied,” leading Cazorla to look for a second opinion in his native Spain. Although bacteria had reportedly eaten eight centimeters of his tendon, Dr. Mikel Sanchez of Vitoria led tendon reconstruction surgery and helped Cazorla on his rehabilitation process as he learned how to walk again, slowly making his way back to the field.

It seems fitting, then, that after being removed in the 57th minute of his last game, Cazorla would enter the field once more in the 57th minute, finishing the match and building match fitness as he starts a new campaign with Villarreal.

“Sometimes I am too demanding,” Cazorla said. “I do not enjoy what I am living as I should. I have returned to training with my teammates and played a good football match. For me, that was unthinkable a little over 20 months ago. I just think about finding myself 100 percent again and being able to do what I like, which is to play football.

“My gratitude is maximum to all football fans. I have received endless signs of affection. Especially, of the fans of Villarreal CF. They have always remembered me during my stay at other clubs. I was always clear that my farewell to the Submarine was not a goodbye, but a see you later. I have never given up the possibility of returning and, now, I have that possibility. Hopefully we can enjoy and relive great moments like we did in the past.”

AT HALF: Manchester United trails, 10-man Brighton loses goal to VAR

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We’ve got goals. We’ve got red cards. We’ve got fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

All four Premier League 10 a.m. ET Saturday kickoffs have reached halftime. Here’s your primer to select which second half to stream live.

Watford 1-1 West Ham United

Chances and entertainment for days at Vicarage Road, where Mark Noble‘s early penalty was quickly offset by Andre Gray‘s emphatic finish of a Will Hughes through ball.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Southampton

Florin Andone has been sent off for the hosts after a gnarly challenge on Yan Valery, and further insult for Brighton came when VAR spotted a clear foul on Lewis Dunk‘s headed goal.

Sheffield United 0-1 Leicester City

Jamie Vardy may not tire of throwing parties, and James Maddison sure designs delightful invitations.

Manchester United 0-1 Crystal Palace

Possession doesn’t matter much if you can’t handle a 70-yard goalkeeper pass, and Victor Lindelof‘s lost header to Jeff Schlupp allowed Jordan Ayew as much time as he needed to slot past David De Gea.

United probably should be up a man after Gary Cahill chopped down Anthony Martial, but only a yellow arrived at Old Trafford.

Lampard, Abraham react to first Chelsea win, goal

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Frank Lampard was all business in being asked about his first Premier League win as Chelsea boss.

Coming on the heels of a loss and draw heading into Saturday’s 3-2 defeat of Norwich City, Lampard was ready to talk about the big picture (especially considering the Blues dealt with a pre-match injury to Pedro).

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform? ] 

With a lot of young players and a tricky transfer ban, Lampard has to walk a fine line between the expectations of Chelsea and the reality of working with a side he hasn’t been able to improve through the transfer window. From the BBC:

“We want to compete. We know this year is difficult on different levels. We’ve had a tough start, and yep, we needed a win. It helps confidence.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Tammy Abraham, who has no qualms whatsoever with his first Chelsea goal in the Premier League.

“I didn’t even know how to celebrate so I just ran over to the management and the staff. It always gives confidence to me and the young boys when the coach believes in you.”

Sheffield United is next, a real chance for the Blues to round into form even if the Blades have been plucky early in their Premier League return.

Watch Live: Four Premier League games at 10am ET

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Four Premier League games kick off at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, as Matchweek 3 is in full swing.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Man United host Crystal Palace, Southampton head to Brighton, Watford and West Ham do battle and Leicester travel to Sheffield United.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Leicester – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Pulisic watch: How did USMNT star perform for Chelsea at Norwich?

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Saturday was a big day for USMNT star Christian Pulisic in the Premier League, as he played a pivotal role in Frank Lampard securing his first win as Chelsea’s boss with the Blues beating Norwich City 3-2.

Pulisic, 20, grabbed an assist and a hockey assist in the first 17 minutes as the Chelsea winger caused Norwich all kinds of problems as he drifted off the right flank time and time again.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Pennsylvania native needed a big display with Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi both fit and fighting for his spot out wide on the left but with Pedro out injured in the warm up, Pulisic played really well on the right and went 84 minutes.

Here’s a look at how Pulisic performed against Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday.


1st minute: Pulisic lines up on the right wing after Pedro is injured in the warm up and Ross Barkley replaces him in the lineup.

3rd minute: Launches himself into three tackles in quick succession, winning the final with a perfect sliding lunge.

4th minute: Controls a long pass across the pitch, runs at Norwich’s defense and plays in the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta. His cross is volleyed home by Tammy Abraham to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.

6th minute: Norwich attack down Pulisic’s side and get behind Azpilicueta, as Pukki crosses for Cantwell to make it 1-1.

11th minute: Pulisic pops up centrally but Norwich win the ball box just before he bursts into the box.

13th minute: Slides into a tackle and is getting through a lot of defensive works with Buendia drifting inside from Norwich’s left.

14th minute: Links up well with Mateo Kovacic on multiple occasions with clever passing and flicks. He is starting to drift inside a lot more.

17th minute: Pulisic pops up centrally, again, and slots in a perfect pass to Mount who slots home to put Chelsea 2-1 up. Pulisic grabs his first Premier League assist.

23rd minute: After making a surging run down the right, moments later he slips as he tries to wriggle free from a defender in the box.

29th minute: Pulisic gets on the ball and plays in Jorginho in the box. All the Italian midfielder has to do is slot home, but he makes a mess of it.

33rd minute: After Norwich’s Teemu Pukki made it 2-2, the home side have the momentum. Pulisic launches into a fine tackle on Lewis and is dropping deeper and deeper to help his team defend.

36th minute: Azpilicueta whips a cross into the box and Pulisic jumps high but the ball is just flicked away from him.

38th minute: His cross to the back post misses everyone and drifts out of play.

39th minute: Falls down in the box under pressure as he tries to control a looping pass.

44th minute: After a lovely darting run inside, Barkley picks him out and he twists and turns in the box. Eventually gets a shot off which is blocked.

45th minute + 2: Pulisic again wriggles free centrally and sets up Barkley who smashes way over the bar.

47th minute: Races free into the box and slams a shot into the side-netting with Abraham waiting for the pass. Should have done better with the finish. Didn’t look confident at all when taking the shot on.

55th minute: Tammy Abraham flicks the ball around the corner to Pulisic but Lewis wrestles him off the ball. Moments later Pulisic is tackled by Lewis.

61st minute: Cuts inside from the right and plays the ball to Mount who sets up Emerson who fires an effort right at Krul.

66th minute: Wins a foul just outside of his own box as his fantastic battle with Lewis continues.

71st minute: Loses a tackle on the edge of the box as Norwich push for an equalizer after Abraham put Chelsea 3-2 up. Godfrey hits the crossbar from a corner soon after.

75th minute: Tracked back as Buendia controlled a flashed in a dangerous cross. Good defensive work.

79th minute: Again, fine work down the right and a ball cut back to the edge of the box is dummied by Mount and Barkley’s shot is blocked.

80th minute: Pulisic is found by Kovacic in the box and his cross to Giroud is scrambled clear by Norwich.

84th minute: Subbed out and replaced by Willian. Gets a pat on the back from Frank Lampard and a warm ovation from the Chelsea fans.