Fab Five of talkers from a huge U.S. win over Mexico

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It has come to the point now where, when talking about “signature wins under Jurgen Klinsmann,” you’ll need to be pretty specific.

Previously, we would all have circled a 1-0 result in Italy. But Wednesday’s 1-0 win in Mexico stands every bit as momentous. No, Mexico doesn’t have the World Cup trophies or global chops of Italy, but El Tri is the predominant regional rival.

The United States had never, ever won in Mexico City – but has now. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact of this one when Klinsmann and Co. inevitably return for World Cup qualifier fun.

Here are five talking points from Wednesday’s history maker at Estadio Azteca:

Outstanding defense

Distribution out of the back was nothing special, but the defending was just this side of flawless.  Considering the alarming lack of experience in this one (and that two of the foursome were playing out of position) this was a remarkably focused and tight effort.

Geoff Cameron (pictured) was the best of the foursome, dominating everything that came his way. But Edgar Castillo – let’s go with the “much-maligned” Edgar Castillo – was a wonder along the left side. He didn’t do much on the attack, but that’s not what this night was about for the outside backs. His one-on-one defending particularly stood out.

Fabian Johnson did what he needed on the right, and makeshift center back Maurice Edu channeled his inner Carlos Bocanegra and manned the right center back spot like someone who had been there for a decade.

Others with nights to be proud of:

source: Getty Images

Start with Tim Howard, whose two remarkable second half saves – one of composure and physical balance, the other of world class reflexes – helped preserve the U.S. smash-and-grab. That man continues to be one that you absolutely, positively want on your side.

How about Kyle Beckerman? I cannot for the life of me figure out why so many fans have such a problem with this guy. The RSL man has figured out exactly what Klinsmann wants from that holding midfield spot and delivers it perfectly. He finds good defensive positions and keeps the ball moving. (As opposed to Jermaine Jones, who always needs two beats to find a pass rather than Beckerman’s one.) It’s a simple game; Beckerman sees it that way.

Some that needed better:

You have to think that Jose Torres is just about out of free passes under Klinsmann. The ever-candid U.S. coach said he needed more consistency from Torres, which is code for “get it right, or we move on.”

Here’s the thing: in a game where the United States will spend most of its time on defense, the guy is lost. He tries, but he’s just not good at it, not the tracking, the tackling or interrupting of passing lanes. So then he’s left to go find the game – except that he’s not very good at that either, apparently. When the game is settled and balanced, with at least half the possession going the U.S. way, Torres serves a valuable function. Otherwise? Not so much.

Danny Williams was poor, but playing a nominal central role in a 4-3-1-2 was a big ask for the young man.

DaMarcus Beasley was better once switched to the right, but his entrance at halftime was wrought with tracking failures and inability to produce much with the ball.

Formation and tactics

A knock on Klinsmann has always been his alleged flagging tactical acumen; I’ve never been sure about that one. Personnel and program management are his forte, but I doubt he needs help sorting his wingbacks from his wide midfielders or whatever.

Either way, the U.S. coach sure nailed this one. The slightly more aggressive 4-3-1-2 wasn’t working, so they wisely downshifted into a 4-4-2 with Landon Donovan and Torres interchanging between the left and withdrawn forward spot.

Recognizing that his team wasn’t going to get much possession, the best chance of success was going to be through tight defending and good shape with the extra man in midfield, all while trying to steal a goal. Which is precisely what happened.

As for personnel, summoning Brek Shea for the 22-man roster proved a master stroke. He produced immediately, aggressively running at goal to create the scramble that Terrence Boyd helped along and Michael Orozco Fiscal put away.

(By the way, last year in Klinsmann’s U.S. debut, a 1-1 draw with Mexico, it was Shea’s aggressive dribbling along the left, just like Wednesday, that made the goal.)

Bottom line and overall assessment

The United States was generally awful in possession, but held up in defensive shape and demonstrated extraordinary belief. Everyone loves Tim Howard, and rightly so, and Geoff Cameron is progressing at international level at a pace that can only be labeled “exceptional.” Remember, he was a national team curiosity at best coming into the January camp just a few short months ago.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone