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Most memorable soccer moments of 2018

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The 2018 soccer calendar year featured an unforgettable World Cup, another memorable Champions League run, and countless international and club moments that won titles and dazzled fans. Here is the best of the best from 2018:

14. Andros Townsend leads Crystal Palace over Manchester City

The significance of Manchester City’s dominance will be discussed at length in just a bit, but it’s hard to contextualize the first half of the 2018/19 Premier League season without mentioning Crystal Palace topping Manchester City 3-2 thanks in large part to THAT goal by Andros Townsend. Unquestionably the goal of the season so far, the victory for Palace not only gave them breathing room in the relegation battle, but also set the stage for Liverpool to take a commanding lead into the holiday season. It was a unforgettably powerful strike, and one Crystal Palace fans will remember for a long time, as will neutrals (and Liverpool fans!) as well.

13. Tata Martino rides off into the sunset with Atlanta United

In just the club’s second year of existence, they secured a Major League Soccer title, allowing manager Gerardo Martino to depart a champion, an inevitability he had announced a few weeks prior to the big game. A 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in the final secured Atlanta United’s place in MLS lore, and Josef Martinez picked up the league’s goalscoring record to boot (pun intended). It was a season of not just shattered records but shattered norms for Atlanta United as they set the new gold standard for the league in such a short amount of time.

12. World Cup performance leads Luka Modric to Ballon d’Or

Croatia was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining stories of the 2018 World Cup, and at the heart of their stunning run to the final was Luka Modric. The Real Madrid midfielder set the stage for his eventual Ballon d’Or win by slicing and dicing his way through the World Cup knockout stage until the tank ran out against France in the big finale. Modric’s award win marked the first non-Messi/Ronaldo victory since Kaka way back in 2007.

11. Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid for Juventus

While it didn’t quite reach the levels of Neymar’s mega-deal with PSG, Cristiano Ronaldo captivated the world by ending a wildly successful nine-year stint at Real Madrid and moving to Turin. Juventus captured the 33-year-old Portuguese forward for a cool $133 million, but the deal is likely worth far more than that to the Italian giants who can now deploy one of the world’s most visible athletes. Ronaldo has made 23 appearances for Juventus to this date, scoring 13 goals and assisting seven others. He is set for his first true cup final with his new club as they take on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final on January 16, while the Italians drew Atletico Madrid – a familiar rival for Ronaldo – in the Champions League knockout stage.

10. Marcos Rojo goal saves Argentina at the death

The 2018 World Cup group stage was a wild ride, and one of the biggest moments of the entire event came in the 86th minute of the final round when an unlikely hero saved yet another international giant from group stage embarrassment. Germany had already been knocked out of the event in the early stages, and Argentina was fighting for its life. Marcos Rojo was on hand to volley home against Nigeria to ensure they would find the knockout round.

9. Roma comes back from 3 goals down vs. Barcelona in CL quarters

Trailing 4-1 after a first leg in Barcelona that featured two own-goals and a number of defensive mistakes by the Italians, Roma collected itself to produce one of the most stunning comebacks in Champions League history. Edin Dzeko scored just six minutes in to set the stage, Daniello de Rossi bagged a penalty after halftime, and Kostas Manolas produced the eventual winner off a corner eight minutes from the final whistle. A clean sheet sealed the improbable victory, and Dzeko’s 80th minute consolation in the first leg proved critical as well.

8. Arsene Wenger‘s wins 5-0 in final match at Arsenal

In April, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger announced he would be stepping down from his position, ending a legendary 20-year tenure with the Gunners that enshrined the Frenchman as one of the greatest ever Premier League managers. Still, the final few years were rocky and it seemed time for a change. The Gunners gave him the perfect send-off, winning 5-0 over Burnley at home thanks to a pair from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang plus goals from Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, and Alex Iwobi. It was the perfect encapsulation of Wenger’s tenure in charge, as a French international and an academy product both ended up on the scoresheet.

7. Denis Cheryshev takes World Cup by storm

Heading into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the home team was one of the consensus underdogs of the event. Russia had proved unable to find the back of the net over the past two years, and they would be lucky to make the knockout stage despite drawing a favorable group. In stepped Real Madrid reject Denis Cheryshev who set the World Cup alight with four goals in the tournament, propelling Russia to the quarterfinals where they fell on penalties to eventual finalists Croatia. His first game was the most memorable, coming off the bench as an injury substitute to score a brace over Saudi Arabia. He then grabbed another in the following match to earn a victory over Egypt, and scored the opener in the 2-2 draw with Croatia that would end in spot-kicks.

Cheryshev has since come back down to earth, with just a single goal for Valencia this season in 15 appearances across all competitions, but his performances in front of the home fans in this summer’s event was unforgettable.

6. Manchester United sacks Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Manchester United boss was a rocky one, and it all came to a head the final few months of 2018 before he was finally let go in mid-December. Mourinho was a popular figure among fans, but also found himself criticized constantly for style of play and player deployment. While he won the 2016/17 Europa League and the League Cup that year as well, his time in charge of the Red Devils was uncharacteristically devoid of major trophies, and likely contributed to his downfall at the club. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer placed in charge, the club won 5-1 in the first match following the change, marking the first time United had scored five goals in a match since Sir Alex Ferguson was manager, a cruel indictment of the Mourinho tenure.

5. Mohamed Salah breaks single-season PL goalscoring record

The 2017/18 Premier League season was ultimately about Manchester City’s domination from front to back, but it would be impossible to give a synopsis of the campaign without mentioning the goalscoring blitzkrieg dished out by Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian was next to unstoppable in his first full season as a Red, and he set the Premier League record for goals in a season on the final day as Liverpool stomped Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0. Salah scored 15 of his 38 Premier League goals in 2018, plus he grabbed five more in Champions League knockout play. Salah’s form has continued into 2018, and while he’s not on the record pace he was last season, it promises to be yet another fruitful one for the Liverpool winger.

4. Manchester City becomes first PL team to 100 points

Ultimately, the 2017/18 Premier League campaign was dominated from start to finish by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, becoming the first Premier League team to record a triple-digit point tally. City took hold of the table’s top spot in late September and never relinquished, securing the league title a good two months before the end of the season. Still, there was more to achieve, and Gabriel Jesus‘s winning goal against Southampton on the final day brought City exactly to the 100-point tally. The Citizens have proved fallible this campaign, but last year saw nobody come remotely close.

3. Copa Libertadores final 2nd leg suspended

The events surrounding the 2nd leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores captivated the world, and it all started with a moment that changed South American club soccer, likely for the foreseeable future. Boca Juniors and River Plate – two fierce Argentinian rivals – were set to meet for the second leg at El Monumental after a 2-2 first-leg draw. As the Boca team bus made its way to the venue, River fans pelted it with rocks and other projectiles, eventually causing the postponement of the fixture. A long, almost ridiculous saga ensued that ultimately led to the scheduling of the game in Madrid. River Plate would win the event in a thrilling 3-1 second-leg, but the story that led up to the game will be remembered by many.

2. Kylian Mbappe leads France to World Cup victory

Emerging as not just one of the best young players in the world, but a premier talent despite his age, Kylian Mbappe was sparkling as France chugged its way through the 2018 World Cup. Despite many criticizing Didier Deschamps throughout the tournament for France’s sup-par eye test, the team continued to grind out victories and never wavered, and Mbappe led the way with four goals in the event, including France’s fourth and final goal in the final against Croatia. While it looked like the team never truly played its best, France was no doubt the most talented team in the tournament and that shone through. Nobody will forget Benjamin Pavard’s stunning goal against Argentina that won him the Goal of the Tournament, but Mbappe is the most memorable player on a team bursting with world class talent.

1. Real Madrid tops Liverpool in Champions League final

Salah’s injury. Karius’s mistakes. Bale’s bike. This game had everything, and it was a joy to watch (for neutrals, at least). With Sergio Ramos cementing himself as one of the villains of the game, Liverpool missed Salah after his exit before the half-hour mark. Karim Benzema was on hand to put Madrid ahead – thanks in part to one of two massive mistakes by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius – but Sadio Mane brought LIverpool right back level four minutes later. While many remember Karius’s blunders and the subsequent reports of having suffered a concussion minutes earlier, Gareth Bale‘s unbelievable winning goal makes this game truly memorable. He bagged a brace to put the game away late, and Real Madrid won its third Champions League title in three years, allowing manager Zinedine Zidane to ride off into the sunset.

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd and Arsenal chase top five; Chelsea host Liverpool

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is filled up to the brim of top-six sides in action, as Manchester United and Arsenal look to climb into the top five in the table, while Chelsea looks to send a strong message as they host leaders Liverpool.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

West Ham vs. Manchester United — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Aside from leaders Liverpool, there is no other team in the league experiencing such a positive run as West Ham. The Hammers are unbeaten in their last four bouts – wining twice and drawing twice – as they head into Sunday’s showdown against Manchester United. Equal with five other sides with eight points, Manuel Pellegrini is conscious that it’s the ideal time to make a statement and climb into the top six.

“We have a very strong team in front of us, it will be a strong test against United. It is the only way we can get into the top six, demonstrating you are able to do it,” Pellegrini said heading into Sunday.

As for the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side – who share the podium with West Ham – are looking to extend their current winning form to three games. Ahead of the game, however, the talk surrounding United isn’t Sunday’s game, but Paul Pogba‘s rumored move to Real Madrid this summer. What a better way to get everyone’s mind of theoretical situations and injury worries than with a win.

INJURIES: West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Arthur Masuaku (suspended) | Manchester United —OUT: Anthony Martial (thigh), Paul Pogba (back), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (knee)

Crystal Palace vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Not many expected it: Wolves winless throughout the first five games of the season. That, however, is the reality for a team that finished seventh last season. By now, Wolverhampton Wanderers have had plenty of time to pick up on the alarm bells, it’s time for them to respond.

Manager Nuno Espírito Santo, for instance, knows that it’s time for his side to get back into shape before it’s too late.

“This is important,” he said. “We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyse it and find solutions in the team to improve. We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after falling to Tottenham Hotspur, 4-0, last week. Playing at Selhurst Park this time around should be a positive, but Palace has only managed to score a goal in three matches in front of their home crowd this season.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace — OUT: None | Wolverhampton Wanderers — OUT: None

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Arsenal have had several things going for them this season: scoring at home, positive first Europa League performance, a healthy and productive Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, among others. One thing they’ve been missing, though, is an effective Nicolas Pepe, especially after shelling record-money for the 24-year-old Ivorian.

“He needs more adaptation,” Emery said in his pre-match press conference. “He is playing good but progressively we know there is going to be more performance in him to help us and I want to do now quickly the last step in the adaptation for us, for example, against Aston Villa.”

With Alexandre Lacazette still out with an ankle injury, Pepe, again, will have the opportunity to showcase his true worth to a packed Emirates Stadium. Arsenal, too, can use his skill to get that much closer to three, vital points.

“When will Aston Villa finally break out of their shell?” is the million-dollar question for the visitors. At times, the newly promoted side has shown the flair that made it so powerful in the Championship last season, only to leave spectators on the edge of their seats, waiting for that final blow. In North London on Sunday, Dean Smith and Co. have the chance to do so with several players back in the mix, but that’s not to say the task will be a walk in the park.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) | Aston Villa — OUT: James Chester (thigh), Jonathan Kodjia (cheek)

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool, like Chelsea, suffered opening losses in European play midweek; however, there is a different, more positive impetus fueling Jurgen Klopp‘s side. The defending Champions League winners’ immaculate record speaks volume to their current situation, one that’s biggest setback has been the aforementioned loss to Napoli and the injury to goalkeeper Allison, while regaining influential player Nabi Keita in trainings.

It begs to ask: with Manchester City already behind and several top-six sides struggling, how will Liverpool not runaway with the league title this season? That type of talk, however, is exactly what Klopp doesn’t want to hear. The season is green – very, ver green – and this season, for one reason or another, is nothing like last year’s.

“Nothing is won already,” Klopp said. “We have seen teams make big steps. There is nobody you think will go down with no points. Watford and Wolves have been at the bottom, struggling, but will end up going back up. The league is much different (to last season). So many things can happen. Five games is nothing, not even created a basis…”

Klopp’s counterpart on Sunday, Frank Lampard, as a result of his own environment, is managing a different dialogue ahead of the clash, like the possibility of fielding Mason Mount, who came off midweek against Valencia in Champions League play.

On the bright side, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last four league bouts, and have a game against Liverpool under their belts this season already – a penalty-shootout loss in the UEFA Super Cup – that should have seasoned them ahead of this season’s part two of the rivalry.

“Times have changed slightly, but it doesn’t change that feeling,” Lampard said on the Chelsea-Liverpool rivalry. “I think the fans feel it, the players feel it, it does involve a lot of passion whenever it’s played. If your levels aren’t there it’s a game that can get away from you quickly so my first thing to say to the players is to make sure they feel this game, recognise what it is, because it always does have an edge.”

INJURIES: Chelsea OUT: Antonio Rüdiger (groin), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James (both fitness) | Liverpool  OUT: Alisson (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee)

Serie A roundup: Inter win Derby della Madonnina, Juventus edge Verona (video)

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Inter Milan’s rampant run and Juventus’ win headline Saturday’s Serie A action.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

AC Milan 0-2 Inter Milan

The stats books following this season’s first Derby della Madonnina make two things very clear: at the moment, Inter are the best team in Milan and in Serie A.

With four consecutive victories to start the season, Antonio Conte and Co. lead Italy’s top-flight by two points.

 

After nearly being up two goals in the first half, Inter broke deadlock in the 49th minute. From a orchestrated set-piece play, marcelo Brozovic’s strike skimmed the heels of Rafael Leão, deflecting the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma, and into the back of the net. An offside call was reviewed through VAR, but the goal stood.

In the 78th minute, a short, lofted cross from Nicolò Barella found Romelu Lukaku, who headed the ball into the far post. The Belgian, who arrived from Manchester United during the summer, has scored three goals in four league games.

Dominating time with the ball didn’t do much for AC Milan, whose clearest chance came late in the second half when Theo Hernández’s strike inside the box hit the bar.

Yet to taste a draw or defeat, Inter marches on as they host Lazio next, while AC Milan travel to Turin to take on Torino.

Juventus 2-1 Hellas Verona

In a game that could have gone either way, Juventus, with its star-studded team and all, walked away with three points against 10-man Hellas Verona.

Aaron Ramsey, who made a shock switch to the Old Lady in July following an 11-year spell with Arsenal, scored his first Serie A goal. From distance, in the 31st minute, the 29-year-old’s shot deflected Verona’s Koray Gunter, beating Marco Silvestri and into the goal.
Ramsey’s goal, however, only leveled the score.
Following a missed penalty and second chance, Miguel Veloso scored what can be the goal of the week: a first-time, left-footed volley into the top corner of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. Verona, who had a couple of clear chances in the second half, were unable to get past Buffon again.
With three points desperately needed to keep pace with Inter Milan, Cristiano Ronaldo came to the rescue. The Portuguese converted from the sport – his first of the season – following a solo run from Juan Cuadrado.

With positive momentum behind them, second-place Juventus travels to Brescia next, while Hellas Verona receive a lackluster Udinese side.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Cagilari 3-1 Genoa

Udinese 0-1 Brescia

VIDEO: Kei Kamara scores superb bicycle kick goal against Sporting KC

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Kei Kamara has scored plenty of goals at Children’s Mercy Park, but none like his bicycle kick goal on Saturday.

The 35-year-old, now in his 16th season, showcased his penchant for scoring right before halftime against his former team. The goal makes 12 for the Colorado Rapids’ forward this season, placing him within the top 10 of the league and two begin his 14-goal season last year.

Overall, Kamara is fifth in the all-time MLS scoring list with 124 goals, second among active players behind San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski.

Enjoy a superb goal from a superb goalscoerer.

La Liga roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar