Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake

Drilling down on: at Real Salt Lake 2, Vancouver 1

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Man of the Match: Well, well, well … look who has 13 goals, tied for second in MLS. Yes, it’s Alvaro Saborio, who scored one in each half on Friday. One was from the 12-yard spot, but the other was a well-taken header, where he got just enough weight on Vancouver’s Martin Bonjour to keep the Vancouver center back from rising to meet the header, but not enough to incur the referee’s whistle. Saborio lost possession too many times, but two goals says a lot about almost any match.

(MORE: Should Jay DeMerit have played last night?)

Packaged for take-away:

  • I like Gershon Koffie a lot, but he’s young (20), still missing some of that veteran know-how to boost that ample bag of holding midfield tricks. Next to him is Jun Davidson, who falls into the crowded MLS stash of the “good-not-great.”  Is this enough in the middle of the park to give all those attackers enough midfield passing support? I’m just not sure. On a night like Friday, with the likes Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman on central duty, it’s not.
  • If not Saborio, Beckerman could have been Man of the Match for his steady work. He was best man in the midfield on either side, although Koffie had a strong night, too.
  • With Fabian Espindola preferring to work the left side, and fellow striker Saborio taking up his usual central spot, RSL’s attack was seriously tilted to the left.
  • RSL found shooting space about 20-25 yards out. Vancouver men got in quickly to close some of the shots, but not all. With the sun casting odd shadows near both goals, these could have been real trouble for ‘Caps ‘keeper Joe Cannon. They weren’t, however, because shots by Morales (twice), Luis Gil, Tony Beltran and Will Johnson flew harmlessly high or wide. RSL shooters needed to make an concerted effort to take just a little off those shots, to get balls on goal and force Cannon to contest the sun.
  • From one of those aforementioned spots just beyond the 18, Espindola aimed a cross toward the far post rather than shooting. Whitecaps center back Jay DeMerit, perhaps seeing it late, had to throw an arm toward the ball to keep Beckerman from heading toward goal. So, cue the “should DeMerit have started” debate in 3 … 2 … 1 …
  • Vancouver’s shape and spacing in the 4-2-3-1 looked good on both sides of the ball; the Whitecaps ability to get an extra body or two into the attack and their variety needed some work, however.
  • Darren Mattocks was left stranded most of the night, with insufficient connection Barry Robson at the top of ‘Caps midfield triangle. And yet, Mattocks eventually had influence.
  • Mattocks is a poor man’s Didier Drogba. He’s young and fast and can absolutely fly. Vancouver’s early second half equalizer was all about his speed. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando moved toward Camilo’s sneaky little pass into the penalty area but didn’t appreciate how quickly Mattocks would arrive, then paid the price when the Whitecaps’ forward got to the ball first.
  • RSL’s defense temporarily fell to pieces after the goal. Mattocks (And that speed!) created a chance for Davidson, which crashed hard off the left post. And Mattocks nearly dropped a header into the far post in another sequence of chances and half-chances. Saborio’s second goal soon shifted momentum back RSL’s way.
  • Jason Kreis removed left back Kenny Mansally, a converted attacker, in the 72nd in favor of Chris Wingert, who is a natural defender.
  • Kevin Stott’s decision to red card Cannon in the 76th minute was the right call. And it was probably the right decision for Cannon, too. You could say that Cannon erred by charging out of goal in attempting to claim DeMerit’s soft back pass, with Espindola bearing down. But what choice did he really have? And once the keeper was committed, he couldn’t give Espindola the easy goal, which would have put the game out of reach. This way, his team still had a chance, at least.
  • Kenny Miller got into his second game for Martin Rennie’s club. His open header from just outside the six-yard box with 10 minutes remaining is the very kind of ball he’ll need to bury with ruthless efficiency to have the impact officials at BC Place clearly believe he can.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

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Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.