Man of the Match: You can’t go wrong with either Maicon Santos or Dwayne De Rosario. As you can tell by the bold face font, I went with the latter. While we like to think of D.C.’s midfield as a diamond – DeRo allowed to float as a (gulp) trequartista behind Ben Olsen’s striking tandem – De Rosario deserves credit for doing his part in both halves of the park. Playing in line with Nick DeLeon (on the left) and Danny Cruz for much of the night, DeRo helped Perry Kitchen make the middle of the field unusable for the isolated Luiz Camargo. He also chipped in with the second goal and was the driving force behind the winner (shedding would-be tacklers like Brandon Jacobs).
Packaged for takeaway:
- I usually think of Houston (particularly a Brad Davis-less Houston) as a litmus test. They’re not going to beat you unless you let them, and you can beat them if you craft something (instead of waiting for a gift). On Saturday against D.C. United, we saw a little bit of both.
- In attack, Houston took advantage of D.C. errors. Poor marking of Will Bruin gave the former Hoosier his first, while a giveaway by Perry Kitchen and some slick gloves (I can only assume) from Joe Willis gave Bruin his second equalizer.
- In defense, Houston mimicked D.C. For that reason, they may look back on this match as one that got away. A lost aerial challenge (first goal), confusion on a cross (second), and jumping under a ball into the box (third) gave D.C. their scores.
- For the second match in a row, we didn’t see the best from Geoff Cameron, though his partnership with Bobby Boswell continues to be intriguing. It’s not like it’s a new tandem, but to see Cameron given the freedom to get into midfield and break up attacks makes you wonder how effective the team will be as Cameron continues to grow into the position. (Let’s leave aside the idea that Houston plays with a midfielder who should otherwise be doing this.)
- Another potentially fruitful partnership: Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos. The first goal was a great example. Pontius did the work to get onto Brandon McDonald’s long ball, leaving Santos with a a ton of space to attack Houston’s broken defense. Pontius’s work seems to afford Santos the freedom to use his strength and skill without having to do his own work to create room.
- Perry Kitchen’s quickly becoming the key to D.C. United’s season, which is why it was so disappointing to see his giveaway. As essentially the first defender, he’s going to have to shield a defense that allowed 52 goals last year (something that may not be as easy if DeRo doesn’t maintain tonight’s positional discipline). If D.C.’s attack stays this potent, teams are going to adjust, and his ability to distribute from a deep-lying position will become more important.
- It bares remembering that Kitchen is in his first full season in defensive midfield. It also bares remembering that last year would have served as a great internship.1
1 – The word I originally used was apprenticeship, but that word’s wrong.
- Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
- Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
- Red Devils unbeaten in 16
- Stoke winners of two-straight
After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.
Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.
Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.
What they’re saying
Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United: “There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”
Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia: “I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”
United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.
Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.
[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]
Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo
A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.
DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.
Morocco 3-1 Togo
Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.
Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET
- Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
- Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
- Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches
One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.
Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).
What they’re saying
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match: “We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”
Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool: “They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”
Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.
West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.
EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.
[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]
Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.
It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.
Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.