John McGinn

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Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

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In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.

Pesky Burnley twice levels in draw at Aston Villa

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Chris Wood‘s late header gave Burnley its second equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday at Villa Park.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Villa outshot the Clarets, had 60 percent of the ball, and passed it well, too, but Burnley dealt with Dean Smith‘s tactics of sending 27 crosses into the fray.

Jay Rodriguez scored Burnley’s other goal, with Sean Dyche‘s club up to 10th with nine points, while John McGinn and Anwar El Ghazi struck as Villa collected a point to sit 18th with five points.


Three things we learned

1. Fine margins again for Villa:¬†Dean Smith’s men have out-performed their meager point total, as Villa’s five points are still Bottom Three. While the late disappointment against Crystal Palace as not their fault, this one was self-inflicted as the Villans lost sight of giant Chris Wood, who might as well have “This is our tactical approach” pressed onto his name plate. Not okay.

2. Dyche’s men never quit:¬†Okay, we knew this. Everyone knows this, but Sean Dyche’s men make you look foolish every time you’re ready to doom Burnley into a relegation race. You keep thinking their Fortune will run out, that graft won’t win the day, and then Wood somehow powers his way to a late equalizer. The Clarets won’t tempt a European place this season, but we’d be silly to think of them as anything other than safe. Sorry in advance for the jinx, Burnley faithful.

3. Burnley’s backs bail out everyone else:¬†Besides Wood’s finish, which didn’t exactly cap an outstanding day, the Clarets again put their back line under the gun. Keeping James Tarkowski is proving to be an outstanding bit of non-business for Burnley, who also got good performances out of fullbacks Matt Lowton and Erik Pieters. Both had assists, including the ex-Villa man Lowton on Wood’s equalizer.

Man of the Match:¬†John McGinn was denied the opening goal when Conor Hourihane was spotted offside by VAR, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old Scot wouldn’t stay off the score sheet in scooping up his third Premier League goal.


McGinn thought he had his third goal early, with Hourihane ruled offside by VAR, but Villa would find the lead when El Ghazi used a cute touch of a Frederic Guibert cross to make it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Rodriguez found the equalizer off an Erik Pieters’ cross, getting his first goal in the Premier League for Burnley. It was his 34th goal in the top flight.

McGinn got his goal to restore Villa’s lead with a straight-forward finish, but¬†Wood powered down a header off Matthew Lowton‘s finish to deliver 2-2.

10-man Arsenal wins thriller over Aston Villa

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Remember how many joked that Arsenal was just gonna have to go outscore everyone due to their firepower up top and not much at the back?

They did it again Sunday, coming back from a goal down and a man down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, and Nicolas Pepe scored to help overcome Ainsley Maitland-Niles‘ pair of early yellow cards as Arsenal moved fourth with 11 points.

John McGinn and Wesley Morales provided Aston Villa 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the game. Villa remains 18th with four points.


Three things we learned

1. David Luiz might be a Chelsea secret agent:¬†The ex-Chelsea man was again heavy in blame in the concession of an Arsenal goal, as his sleepy, tepid attempt to stop Jack Grealish‘s cut back to Wesley ended with the latter smashing the ball into the goal moments after the Gunners had equalized from the spot. The veteran defender has been almost automatic for a big error per game.

Also, don’t just hate on Luiz. Look at this defending on the first Arsenal goal.

2. Aubameyang in the rarest of airs: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played for two attack-forward teams, and drawn so many, “Yeah, buts” from critics, but the Gabonese wonder has been absolutely sensational. He has seven goals in seven matches this season across all competitions, and where would the Gunners be without him?

3. Gunners step up late: Down a man and 72 hours after playing in Germany, the Gunners had to find a hero. They found two, one likely and the other not so much. Chambers found a wonderful Guendouzi pass and outworked two Villa defenders to level the score at 2, and Aubameyang slashed a free kick home in the 84th.

Man of the Match:¬†It was probably Pepe, who got his first Arsenal goal to go with an industrious day down the right. His vision is exceptional, perhaps outdone only by his freakishly athletic skill set. But you’re forgiven if you plug Aubameyang’s name in this space. And McGinn was terrific in defeat, but flubbed a chance to make it 3-3.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Ainsley Maitland-Niles could’ve had Arsenal ahead in the first minute, but he sent Saka’s cross high into the stands despite his station unmarked near the spot.

John McGinn forced Bernd Leno into the first save of the match two minutes later at the other end. The same keeper would stop the same shooter in the 11th minute.

Aubameyang couldn’t get purchase on a headed pass from Sead Kolasinac in the 16th minute after a Nicolas Pepe cross.

McGinn’s third bite at the apple was wide open and successful, as Anwar El Ghazi‘s cross spotted his run at the penalty spot and Leno had little hope of interfering with the opportunity. 1-0, 20’.

Maitland-Niles then slid into a challenge and caught a stamp during his foul. A second yellow was awarded and Arsenal was down a goal and a man.

Villa couldn’t find a second goal despite numerous chances, and Matteo Guendouzi won a straight-forward penalty off barging defender Bjorn Engels. Pepe converted the goal.

But Villa restored its lead within a minute, Jack Grealish blazing down the left side to cut back to the middle, where Wesley darted in front of sleepy David Luiz to finish the chance.

Chambers was the next to finish off a terrific pass from Guendouzi and even better work from the fullback. And Aubameyang’s free kick… holy smoke (embedded atop the page).

Smith wants ‘competitive’ Aston Villa following loss in PL return

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Despite a 3-1 loss, Aston Villa fought tooth and nail in their return to the Premier League against Tottenham, and manager Dean Smith wasted no time in affirming that that’s the integrity he expects from his team this season.

“We want to be competitive in this league,” Smith told the BBC following the match. “Next week we’ll be walking out at Villa Park – but we’ll be doing so with zero points and that’s something we have to work on.

“The better team won on the day in the second half,” he added. “We were perhaps unfortunate with the goals. Their physicality shone through in the end.”

Up only nine minutes in following John McGinn‘s left-footed strike, Villa defended their lead for more than 60 minutes in front of a vociferous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, remaining narrow and compact in the back. Summer signing Tom Heaton, who had three saves throughout the 90 minutes, was heavily applauded and cheered by Villa’s traveling faithful for his superlative saves. Tyrone Mings and Bj√∂rn Engles set a positive tone defensively.

“The first half performance and our defensive organization was very good,” Smith admitted. “They’re not Champions League finalists for nothing – they have a very well coached group of players.¬†We’re always learning lessons, today’s game has set a standard for us.”

At the end, Villa’s defensive solidity and dangerous counter-attacks – powered by McGinn and captain Jack Grealish – weren’t enough to offset one of the league’s best in Harry Kane. Tottenham’s striker recorded a brace in the final minutes to spoil any chances of Villa walking out with points, adding to Tanguy Ndombele‘s memorable debut goal.

The newly-promoted side left North London empty-handed, yes, but with a good lesson learned. And while on the field, they made sure to send a clear message: earning three points against them will not come easy.

Spurs turn it up late to beat cagey Aston Villa

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Harry Kane‘s here for August again

A notorious slow starter earlier in his career, Spurs’ superstar scored an 86th minute match-winning goal and an 89th minute insurance marker as Tottenham Hotspur came back to beat Aston Villa 3-1 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Kane reacts | 3 things ]

Tanguy Ndombele‘s gorgeous welcome to the Premier League gave Spurs its second half equalizer after John McGinn had put Aston Villa ahead early, and Dean Smith’s Villans were content to pack the back against the heavily-favored Spurs.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Harry Kane had been known to struggle in August in terms of putting goals on the board before a last season, being blanked in August from 2013-17 before scoring twice last season. A pair of wayward chances by the hour mark had many thinking the demons may have returned to North London. A player of his quality, however, is always going to be near the score sheet, and he found his deserved winner late before lashing an insurance strike past Tom Heaton.

2. Tanguy Ndombele can strike a soccer ball really, really, really hard.

3. Christian Eriksen is still plenty valuable and changed this game off the bench. Giovani Lo Celso has a hard act to follow once he’s ready for his Spurs debut.

4. Aston Villa is going to be a problem for clubs hoping to pick up points against the promoted new boys, and goalkeeper Tom Heaton is the right man for their job.

Man of the Match


Lucas Moura was denied by Tom Heaton in an early bid to take the lead, and Erik Lamela presided over a dangerous eighth minute free kick that zipped over the goal.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

That’s when things went sideways for Spurs, with McGinn racing behind the back line and cooking Danny Rose before slotting past Hugo Lloris for a 1-0 advantage.

Trezeguet then had a good chance to make it 2-0, cutting past a defender but seeing his left-footed shot sent away from Toby Alderweireld.

Villa then set up in a squished Christmas tree at the back, 4-5-1, and Spurs all had sorts of problems finding a way to the back. Harry Kane headed over just before halftime, then missed a breakaway shot toward the far post.

Villa lost track of Moussa Sissoko inside of five first-half minutes, and the French midfielder comically missed the frame.

Kane had a 55th minute lash blocked out for a corner, and Spurs looked ready to fire home an equalizer. Ndombele lashed a wild shot wide in the 58th.

Ndombele was the man to get the job done, taking a lay-off from about eight yards outside the 18 and lashing it past a flying Heaton. An incredible hit.

Heaton then made an incredible save on a Christian Eriksen free kick, as the Danish sub’s presence changed the game.

VAR took a look at a handball with 10 minutes to play but controversially did not award a penalty to Spurs.

That’s when Kane made it work for the hosts, emerging from traffic to beat Heaton 1v1 and cause a collective exhale in the lilywhite part of North London.

Kane then tore into a shot on the edge of stoppage time to complete his brace.