Joel Lindpere vs. Mehdi Ballouchy for Red Bulls? (And insight on practice theory vs. reality)

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I always giggle inside when managers talk about arranging a practice environment so that two hopefuls are competing with the ferocity of wounded badgers for every spot.

It’s fine in theory. You want players mashing the gas pedal at each workout, looking sharp, thinking sharp, being sharp. A “best practices” doctrine for practice would include a hard-edged mano-a-mano at each position, surely helping create the ultimate desired effect.

But when the rubber of the theory meets the reality of the road, this stuff only goes so far. Because one man is usually far more talented than the other – also known as “life in a salary capped universe.”

In L.A. for instance, Adam Cristman can out-work, out-hustle, out-shoot and generally out-perform Robbie Keane over a week of practices for the Los Angeles Galaxy – but we all know who starts come Saturday.

Now and again, the universe does come together, and this best-case scenario works perfectly. It’s happening right now at Red Bull Arena, where Mehdi Ballouchy and Joel Lindpere (pictured) are locked in pitched battle over the left-sided spot for Hans Backe’s high-flying Red Bulls.

Backe says Lindpere has responded perfectly to last week’s benching, putting all his Estonian want-to into this week’s sessions. So we’ll see who gets the assignment Saturday against San Jose.

My take: Backe will go with Ballouchy again – but it won’t last.

No one has ever doubted Ballouchy’s technical ability. That’s why he was the No. 2 overall pick (by Real Salt Lake) back in 2006. But his frustrating inability to impact matches is why the Moroccan-born attacker is already at his third MLS address – having never truly locked down a starting role at any.

His defense is OK at best; the tracking is unreliable and the tackling gets sloppy and foul-prone. More than that, his indecision or lack of aggressive action in the final third marginalizes all that technical passing, shooting and attacking ability.

Lindpere, on the other hand, is chalk full of will and industry. He’s had a bad time so far in 2012, not looking a thing like a force of facility and disruption that fans in Harrison have come to know and love. But a benching will probably shake the shackles, whatever they are. He is what he is – and at 30 years old, he surely hasn’t lost it.

Ballouchy is what he is, too. One rather impressive day against a static and disinterested Columbus Crew was one thing. Going forward? Well, unless Ballouchy has finally found his MLS feet, Lindpere will be back at old left-sided home before you know it.

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield Town: Not much cooking at Turf Moor

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  • Twenty-two fouls
  • Five total shots on target
  • Clarets unbeaten in four

Nothing was beautiful, and everything hurt.

Burnley and Huddersfield Town played a near chance-free match on Saturday at Turf Moor, staying level on nine points with the seventh-place visitors ahead of the hosts on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stephen Ward nearly found Chris Wood for Burnley’s opener, but unsung Town hero Christopher Schindler continued his fine start to life in the Premier League with a big intervention.

The second half provided a first bit of danger for either goalkeeper as Nick Pope had to stop Laurent Depoitre‘s bid at a goal scoring streak when Tom Ince set the table.

Aaron Mooy found Ince for a chance of his own, but the shot zipped wide of goal.

Rajiv Van la Parra tried to claim a penalty for Huddersfield Town, but instead went into the book for diving.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Swansea City 1-2 Watford: Hornets win away again

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  • Richarlison scores late winner
  • Gray gave Watford the lead
  • Watford have three-straight away wins 

Watford beat Swansea City in the final minute at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Richarlison netting a late winner for Marco Silva‘s men.

Andre Gray gave Watford the lead but Swansea equalized through Tammy Abraham and then Richarlison snatched all three points late on as the Hornets won 2-1 in South Wales.

With the victory Marco Silva’s men move on to 11 points for the season after winning all three of their away games, while Swansea stay on four points and haven’t won at home this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]  

The Hornets took the lead through Gray, his first goal for Watford, as the former Burnley striker made the most of a bad mistake from Wilfried Bony.

A poor back pass was picked up by Gray who played it wide to Andre Carrillo and his cross was half cleared but the ball fell to Gray who swept home to make it 1-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Swansea struggled throughout the first half with plenty of misplaced passes and Alfie Mawson gave the ball away cheaply in a poor area but Gray couldn’t grab his and Watford’s second of the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After making two half time subs with Roque Mesa and Abraham coming on, Swansea rallied at the start of the second half and they equalized through Abraham.

Bony’s effort was saved by Heurelho Gomes but half time sub Abraham poked the ball home to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Swansea improved dramatically after the equalizer with Mesa going close as the Welsh side pushed hard for the winner late on.

However Watford won it in the 89th minute as Richarlison made the most of mistakes from Mesa and Mawson and sent a shot over Lukasz Fabianski and in.

WATCH LIVE: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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Liverpool hopes a better lineup at the same venue will make the difference when it visits Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Leicester beat Liverpool 2-0 midweek in the League Cup, but the Reds didn’t have their top center back duo in Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. They’ll start Saturday.

The Foxes have red-hot Shinji Okazaki playing with Jamie Vardy up top.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, King, Albrighton, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Fuchs, Amarety, Iborra, Gray, Iheanacaho, Slimani.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Milner, Sturridge, Solanke, Klavan, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold.

Manchester City 5-0 Crystal Palace: City helps Eagles make history

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  • De Bruyne pulling strings
  • Sterling scores two
  • Sane goal, assist

Leroy Sane’s magical playmaking lifted rampant Manchester City to a 5-0 win over Crystal Palace, whose futility made history at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Raheem Sterling scored twice, while Sergio Aguero, Fabian Delph, and Sane also scored as leaders City moved past Manchester United on goal differential.

Palace remains winless and goalless, the first Premier League team to start a season without a goal through six matches.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Mamadou Sakho‘s attempt to deal with a Kevin De Bruyne cross beat his own keeper, and Wayne Hennessey was happy to see the ball bump off his far post.

Hennessey was then in position to block Fernandinho‘s point blank attempt off a corner kick.

Palace did have a chance thanks to one of its early stars of their slow-starting season, but Ruben Loftus-Cheeks’ shot from outside the 18 bounded off the post.

A tough angle for Aguero saw him chop Leroy Sane’s cutback over the bar from seven yards. Sane was the one who made it 1-0 minutes later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sterling made it 2-0 just after halftime, as Sane put it on a platter with a square ball from the left.

He added his second when De Bruyne found Aguero with a diagonal ball and the Argentine cut back for Sterling to touch into the goal.

Play had hardly restarted when Sane was stopped by a sliding Hennessey at the doorstep.

And Sane sent a marvelous, powerful cross for Aguero to head home in the 79th minute.

Delph curled a gorgeous shot home in the 89th minute to put an exclamation point on the result.