Drilling down on: at FC Dallas 3, Colorado 2

Leave a comment

Man of the Match: The knock on Fabian Castillo is that for all his speed, his faulty decision making leaves the ultimate productivity wanting. Not Saturday at FC Dallas Stadium. His brutally accurate shot from 25 yards became the early equalizer. The young Colombian was fouled to set up Jair Benitez’s free kick goal, and then Castillo assisted on the second-half game-winner.

Packaged for take-away

  • This is the kind of year Brek Shea is having for Dallas: In the 6th minute, Ruben Luna delivered a nearly perfect ball across goal, one with just a smidge too much zip on it, though. Still, if Shea sticks out his right foot, he’s quickly hugging his teammates over in the corner after supplying that killer, early lead. Instead, he sticks out his left leg (for a ball coming in from the left) and the chance gets away.
  • At least twice in the first half, Dallas center backs were forward to hunt for set piece deliveries. Rather than playing balls toward then, Dallas went for something short and then watched as their center backs needed to sprint back. Curious.
  • The Rapids’ early goal was more or less something from nothing, but it was typical Brian Mullan, who has been putting in the hard work in MLS for a dozen years now. Julian de Guzman’s failure to match Mullan’s aggressiveness near the end line meant that the Rapids’ midfielder got on the ground and around the passive challenge to put a dangerous ball near goal. Jamie Castrillon made it count.
  • Mullan apparently wasn’t doing enough of that stuff. Or enough of something. He was off at halftime, although apparently not injured.
  • David Ferreira is a wonderful player, ever so skillful at holding off challenges and retaining possession under duress. On the other hand, since returning from injury, he’s sometimes looking for the foul too often rather than working out of the challenge. He does get kicked and fouled a lot, but still …
  • Colorado was doing such an outstanding job with its midfield shape, Joseph Nane and Jeff Larentowicz working in well-synched tandem as holders in the 4-2-3-1. They were constantly up Ferreira’s backside, and the Dallas creator was having trouble getting turned. When he did, young striker Luna was too static to become a target. That’s an element of sophistication Luna must add, because Ferreira will reward clever runs.
  • The Rapids got a little too concerned with Ferreira, perhaps, and got stretched late in the first half trying to deal with him along Dallas’ left side. Fabian Castillo exploited the vulnerable space in the middle, running into the space to sneak a ball just inside the post from about 25 yards. You wonder if maybe Matt Pickens should have gotten to the ball, which was a very good shot but maybe not a fantastic one.
  • Jair Benitez needed 87MLS matches to score his first goal, but it really was a sweet free kick.
  • Kevin Hartman’s double stop in the 34th minute sure helped the home team, but so did Omar Cummings missing an open goal from about 40 yards when Hartman inaccurately adjudged he could get to a ball far, far out of goal.
  • Castillo supplied the assist on Dallas’ third goal, but it was the hustle-bustle work of Hernan Pertuz, charging in to win a loose second ball, that made it all happen.
  • Yellow cards inside the first 51 minutes to two Rapids defenders and to Nane meant the visitors couldn’t be as physical, which meant Luna had an easier time receiving balls as a target and then laying off for Castillo and Ferreira.
  • A game that was progressively more open became even moreso when Castrillon decided it was a good idea to kick out at George John’s face when the FCD defender was on the turf. Referee Armando Villarreal, in just his fifth MLS match, was right to send the Rapids’ midfielder off.
  • Dallas clearly hasn’t had much work on seeing out the late leads. Even a man down the Rapids were finding space in Dallas’ end. Larentowicz, a never-quit type, kept finding ways to create a little something here or there. And too many times, Dallas was caught in the final 10 minutes defending with just five. Just five!

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Leave a comment

Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”