James Chester

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Aston Villa will reportedly turn to ex-Leicester CB Huth

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Out with one Premier League champion, in with another?

Aston Villa is reportedly targeting Robert Huth to help fill the void opened by John Terry‘s move to Spartak Moscow.

[ MORE: USMNT loss to Brazil still shows hope for future ]

Younger than Terry and one of his former teammates, the 34-year-old Huth won the PL with Leicester City in 2016 but lost most of his 2017-18 season with an injury that cost him his spot in the lineup once healthy.

Villa is mid-table in points but near the bottom of the table in goals conceded (11). James Chester (ex-Hull) and center mid Mile Jedinak played center back in their last match, with Manchester United center back prospect Axel Tuanzebe at right back.

So, yeah, lots of out-of-position stuff there. Huth could help.

Three things learned: Aston Villa v. Fulham

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Fulham sealed promotion back to the Premier League on Saturday as the 10-man Cottagers beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the Championship playoff final at Wembley.

Tom Cairney‘s strike midway through the first half was enough to send Fulham back to the top-flight and leave Villa heartbroken.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a tense battle in the heat at Wembley.


FLUID FULHAM FIT FOR TOP-FLIGHT 

Since December Fulham’s fluid, attacking style of play saw them go on an incredible run of just one defeat in 24 games as they just missed out on automatic promotion with a defeat on the final day of the season.

The Cottagers’ silky play won them the playoff final as Slavisa Jokanovic’s men stuck to their playing philosophy with Tom Cairney pulling the strings in midfield, Aleksandar Mitrovic a handful up front and teenager Ryan Sessegnon floating about to cause havoc. They dropped deeper in the second half as Villa went at them but still had good chances and always looked dangerous on the break, even when they were down to 10-men after Denis Odoi picked up a second yellow card.

With their brave style of play, Fulham will add panache to the Premier League.

You can expect special things down by the banks of the River Thames at Craven Cottage as American owner Shahid Khan will no doubt splash the cash to take them to the next level after they dropped out of the big time in 2014. They will be desperate to solidify themselves back in the top-flight.

Fulhamerica is back and on that note U.S. men’s national team center back Tim Ream had himself a heck of a game at the heart of Fulham’s defense at Wembley to help seal the deal.


SESSEGNON SENSATIONAL

You can understand exactly why the biggest clubs in England have been chasing Sessegnon for many years.

The 18-year-old was the Player of the Season in the Championship and he was involved in the key moment in the final as the Fulham academy graduate has been the main reason they’re back in the Premier League.

Sessegnon finished the season as Fulham’s top goalscorer with 17 goals and there were many pushing for him to be included in England’s World Cup squad this summer. He has all of the talent available to flourish as a wide forward in the top-flight and after Matt Targett‘s arrival in January he has been pushed further forward from left back and has thrived.

There’s no doubt that Sessegnon is destined for big things but now he has the fairtyale end to a fairytale season for him at Fulham.


VILLA’S EXPERIENCED HEADS RATTLED

Villa’s experienced defense boasts Ahmed Elmohamady, John Terry, James Chester and Alan Hutton and in a massive game at Wembley they were rattled early on and Villa couldn’t quite drag themselves back into the game.

Steve Bruce‘s side had the second-best defensive record in the second-tier this season and they kept Fulham from opening them up for most of the first half but one lapse in concentration was exploited by Sessegnon and Cairney as Hutton stepped up, Terry was caught out and Villa conceded.

To be fair to Bruce’s side they dragged themselves back into the game impressively after a turgid first half display and were easily the better team after the break with Jack Grealish pulling the strings.

Grealish (who could well have been sent off) squandered two good chances either side of half time with a rising shot in the first half and then a header he should’ve done better with in the second, while the English playmaker also danced through Fulham’s defense before being denied by Marcus Bettinelli.

Villa have made significant progress this season under Bruce but you have to wonder if he and most of this Villa squad will be around next season, especially after a year of struggle off the pitch for Bruce as he lost both of his parents within a few months.

If Bruce sticks around then Villa will be one of the favorites for promotion next season.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Fulham vs. Aston Villa

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Imagine playing in a single game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or at least another year in the lower leagues.

That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.

Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.

The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.

The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.

They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.

Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.

Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.

John Terry named Aston Villa captain

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Former Chelsea defender John Terry has been named captain of Aston Villa in his first season at Villa Park.

The club confirmed Terry’s elite status in a social media post, saying he would wear the armband in their friendly today against Shrewsbury Town. Terry replaces former captains James Chester and Tommy Elphick as the man to lead the team out of the tunnel.

The 36-year-old signed on this summer on a free transfer from Chelsea at the expiry of his contract. Terry served as the Chelsea captain for 13 years, first being named as such by Jose Mourinho in 2004. He was also the captain of England for most of his nine-year international career.

While it’s incredibly unusual for a new player to come to a club and immediately be handed the armband, John Terry is clearly the exception to the rule, as one of the most experienced captains active in world soccer.

Last season featured a similar situation for Villa. Elphick began the year as the club captain, having just signed from Bournemouth that summer. The 29-year-old, however, lost his place in the starting lineup after an injury and Villa’s poor start to the season. Fellow new signing Chester took the armband with Elphick out of the side, and captained the club from mid-October on.

Aston Villa finished 13th in the Championship last season, and will be looking for a return to the Premier League yet again following relegation two seasons ago.

UEFA World Cup qualifying: PK saves Italy; More Icelandic magic (video)

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An 81st minute penalty from Daniele De Rossi deprived Spain of a historic victory in Italy, and maintained the hosts’ forever unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifying.

Sergio Ramos came together with Eder for the controversial penalty call, as Eder hit the deck easily when Ramos hastily charged for a deflected ball.

[ MORE: All info on Bob Bradley’s Swans appointment ]

Sevilla striker Vitolo Perez scored a second half goal to give Spain the lead as it searched for its first win in Italy since 1971. The penalty call could make the difference between automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup and a second-place playoff.

Only the first-place team in each group goes straight to Russia, and the second-place team draws another second-place team in a home-and-home playoff to determine who goes to the World Cup.

Spain was lively on Thursday, pressing high and inching its chances closer and closer to goal. Andres Iniesta was stopped by Buffon, and Spain was moving to the doorstep by the time Gigi Buffon’s snared Gerard Pique’s point-blank header in the 25th minute.

But it was a rare mistake from the longtime Italy goalkeeper that sprung Spain in front. Buffon came charging out to meet a through ball but whiffed on the clearance, allowing Vitolo to easily pass into the a yawning cage. 1-0.

That’s when De Rossi finished the PK chance for his 19th international goal, and from that point on it was all Italy. Ciro Immobile nearly scored twice in the next five minutes, as the game’s angst ratcheted up several notches as well.

Here’s the PK. Eder definitely embellishes, no doubt, but Ramos is there. Fair call?

Austria 2-2 Wales

Joe Allen‘s howitzer was undone by a pair of goals from Stoke City teammate Marko Arnautovic as Wales picked up a point from what should’ve been three thanks to a sloppy early second half. A Kevin Wimmer own goal off a James Chester header accounted for the other Welsh goal.

Ireland 1-0 Georgia

Seamus Coleman‘s 56th minute goal all the Irish need for three points at home.

Iceland 3-2 Finland

Robin Lod and Teemu Pukki scored to remind EURO heroes Iceland just how hard it is to make a major tournament, but Alfred Finnbogason used the 90th minute to show there’s still magic in Iceland’s bag before Ragnar Sigurdsson sent the Laugardalsvöllur into ecstasy with a stoppage time winner.

[ MORE: How will USMNT lineup against Cuba? ]

Turkey 2-2 Ukraine

Hakan Calhanoglu’s 81st minute penalty saves a point for the hosts.

 

Kosovo 0-6 Croatia

Mario Mandzukic hit a first half hat trick as Croatia proved Albert Bunjaki’s fears quite prophetic.

Macedonia 1-2 Israel

Tomer Hemed and Tal Ben Haim help Israel to a 2-0 lead, and the Blue and Whites held on for the win.

Liechtenstein 0-2 Albania

Terek Grozny striker Bekim Balaj scored and the hosts shipped in an own goal in the two-goal loss.

Moldova 0-3 Serbia

Premier League veterans Dusan Tadic and Branislav Ivanovic scored in comfortable win.