What we learned from opening PL Saturday

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LONDON — The new Premier League campaign is off and running and we learned so much from the opening Saturday of the season.

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Hot takes: Aston Villa are probably going to finish in the top 10. Man City may well score 150 Premier League goals this season. Harry Kane will win the Golden Boot. And maybe we were all a little too hasty to write off the likes of Sheffield United, Brighton and Burnley before a ball was kicked…

What did we learn from the opening Saturday of the season?


VAR WORKED VERY, VERY WELL

This was the first weekend VAR was used across the Premier League and, all in all, it went very smoothly. In what was probably the most high-profile use of the new system, it was used to order a retake of a penalty kick which Sergio Aguero missed at West Ham. After two Hammers defenders encroached into the box, and were then able to get to the ball first after Fabianski’s save, they became active and VAR was used correctly.

From offside decisions to possible red cards, VAR was used quickly and efficiently and if you want a primer about how it’s going to work this season, click here. If the first week of VAR is anything to go by, the PL’s decision to wait to use this system has been proved correct.


MAN CITY OUTDO LIVERPOOL

Liverpool scored four, so Man City had to score five, didn’t they? After Liverpool’s first half blitz against Norwich led to a 4-1 win at Anfield on Friday, Man City destroyed West Ham 5-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday. Pep Guardiola‘s men stepped on the accelerator in the second half and with Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan on the bench, plus Joao Cancelo, their strength in-depth is ridiculous. Raheem Sterling‘s hat trick was a thing of clinical beauty and Man City are in midseason form.

There are plenty of twists and turns ahead in the Premier League title race and it is clear, especially after the opening weekend, that Liverpool and Man City can beat most teams without getting out of second gear. City looked fresh and with Alisson going down injured against Norwich, you’d have to say it is advantage Man City after the opening weekend. One down, 37 to go…


NEW SEASON, SAME HARRY KANE

Harry Kane looked fit, sharp and hungry as Tottenham fought back to beat Aston Villa 3-1. Spurs didn’t start well but when they equalized through debutant Tanguy Ndombele, there was only one winner. Christian Eriksen‘s arrival off the bench made a massive difference and Kane pounced twice to finish clinically.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

He missed two chances in the first half he would usually have scored, and even though he rarely scores in August, he grabbed two crucial late goals to send Spurs’ fans wild. Without Jan Vertonghen, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli, Kane stood tall to lead Spurs to victory. Now he has had an entire summer to relax and recover, England’s star striker and everyone connected with Spurs will be hoping he can shake off his ankle injuries to lead them on a title push with Liverpool and Man City. Spurs have so many attacking options with the arrival of Giovani Lo Celso, plus Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela around, but Kane remains their biggest hope of silverware.


ASTON VILLA WILL BE DANGEROUS

As we are about to discuss below, the opening weekend usually springs a few surprises. Aston Villa looked like they would spring one of those at Tottenham. With 12 summer signings, it was difficult to know how Villa would line up but Dean Smith’s side put in a near-perfect away display. The last five minutes saw Harry Kane score twice and they lost 3-1. They scored early, sat back and soaked up pressure and looked dangerous on the counter as they built off Wesley‘s knockdowns. Jack Grealish was a beast in midfield, Tyrone Mings held things together at the back and Tom Heaton made a string of fine saves in the second half.

The team from England’s second city have a huge fanbase and the former European champions are a Premier League club. It is as a simple as that. With John Terry‘s influence on their defense obvious, the flair of Smith’s side is led by Grealish and there was a decent balance to Villa in the first 60 minutes before they ran out of steam. I’m not saying they’re going to be better than Wolves were last season, but a top 10 finish isn’t out of the question in 2019-20.


OPENING WEEKEND STAYS WEIRD

Burnley beating Southampton 3-0? Brighton winning 3-0 away at Watford? Yeah, I told you in this Matchweek 1 preview video to beware of upsets during the opening weekend and it didn’t disappoint. Burnley battered Saints in the second half as Ashley Barnes morphed into a clinical battering ram, and the Clarets were back to their gritty best in defense.

Brighton’s new boss Graham Potter caught everyone by surprise as the Seagulls grabbed their first win in 10 PL games, with that run stretching back to March. Everyone questioning the dismissal of Chris Hughton will now be served up a plate of humble pie as Brighton’s attacking masterclass (with pretty much exactly the same lineup Hughton was using last season) was hammered home by subs Florin Andone and club-record signing Neal Maupay who both scored.

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

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A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

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NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

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Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal