Shipped from Abroad, England: ‘Til the landslide brought them down

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LONDON – The Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool would have gotten of to a worse start if there was anything to glean from their 3-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion. At least, there wasn’t much to glean as it concerns their prospects to improve this season. After Saturday’s match, we can say Liverpool are incapable of stopping aberrational Zoltan Gera goals and they don’t play well when they’re down to 10 men. But there’s nothing more general – more applicable to future games – which came from the match. No team stops that Gera goal, and teams are generally pretty poor when outmanned. As it concerns Liverpool’s 2012-13, Saturday was neither hint nor revelation.

“It was just one of those games” is one of soccer’s many overused clichés, mostly because “those” is so ill-defined. In the context of Saturday’s game, it means a match where your team had little chance to winning. West Brom’s first goal (Gera’s) was unstoppable, and while Daniel Agger’s straight red was probably the right call, the penalty kick awarded after Martin Skrtel was judged to have fouled Shane Long almost certainly wasn’t. Peter Odemwingie’s conversation, coming minutes after Pepe Reina had stopped Long’s attempt after Agger’s foul, sealed the match.

Without the Skrtel call (at which time the score was 1-0, West Brom), perhaps Liverpool could have held out for half an hour before stealing a goal late. But to score two and allow none while down a man? That was too much.

There is a counter to the claim Liverpool could do little to win Saturday’s match: They could have scored some goals before Agger’s sending off. That’s fair enough, but Liverpool isn’t the first talented team to go an hour without scoring. They were on the road, against a moderately talented opponent, facing a man (former assistant Steve Clarke) who knew their personnel inside and out. They also generated a number of chances for Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan justifiably disappointed not to have converted two relatively easy headers. Though it’s always precarious to apply “if” to strikers, it’s natural to wonder how the game would have changed if Suarez converted with his normal efficacy.

Rodgers is unlikely to be up late thinking about Suarez’s finishing. Those goals will come, though there are other issues that should cost Rodgers sleep. Suarez was Liverpool’s only real threat, with Fabio Borini, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard failing to generate chances. The Reds looked disjointed, often needing to play directly to their main threat rather than crafting better chances. In the middle, Lucas Leiva’s obviously rusty, while at the back (particularly, in the middle), Liverpool looked predictably slow, offering the Baggies little second half resistance.

But Leiva will undoubtedly improve. Rodgers still seems to be looking for help in attack (he shouldn’t be happy having to start Downing), while Jamie Carragher, badly exposed at times on Saturday, won’t play often (though Agger will now serve a suspension thanks to his dismissal).

There’s no need to listen to Chicken Littles, if there are any chirping about after Liverpool’s opener. It was just one of those games.

Two 5-0s, and it could have been worse

Reflexively, you want to give credit when teams score five goals, but the terrible defending we saw from Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City makes it difficult to aggrandize Swansea City and Fulham. With both winners early Premier League leaders (sitting on top of the table thanks to their +5 goal difference), they don’t need adulation from random American bloggers to round out their raucous openers. If I point out the lopsided scores were more the defenses’ doing than the attacks’ skill, they won’t notice, let alone take offense.

Norwich City, under new manager Chris Houghton, were inexplicably stoic, with players often standing still, the Canaries’ midfield and defense cemented to their positions as Fulham weaved through them. Against a Cottager attack that Martin Jol’s based on passing and movement, it was a disastrous approach. Mladen Petric scored twice in his Premier League debut, while the likes of Damien Duff, 20-year-old Alexander Kacaniklic, and Steve Sidwell also open their accounts. It’s not like Fulham needed performances from the likes of Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz, and Clint Dempsey (not in the game day squad) to post the landslide.

Elsewhere in West London, QPR was giving new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup an unexpectedly warm welcome to the Premier League, making new attacking midfielder Michu look like an early steal. The former Rayo Vallecano man was brought to Wales for £2 million this summer. Within an hour of his debut, he had two goals. The first was the result of a botched effort from new goalkeeper Robert Green. The second came after it became clear Park Ji-Sung, failing to track a jogging Michu through midfield on a counter, left his third lung in Manchester.

Nathan Dyer followed with two relatively easy goals, while Scott Sinclair was unbothered as he came off the bench of tee up the fifth.

Queens Park Rangers were disorganized, lacked initiative, and were a poor reflection on a manager who had over a month of training to get his team prepared for this game. Mark Hughes claiming (post-game) his team should have been much better was as much an indictment of his preparation as his players’ performance.

Elsewhere in England …

  • Arsenal dominated Sunderland but could never break through, opening the season with a 0-0 at Emirates Stadium. It’s a disappointing result, but one that should (but likely won’)t leave Gooners encouraged. Santi Cazorla looks like he might be on of the leagues best players. The team constantly generated chances. Alex Song wasn’t missed. The defense was largely fine (if untested). Fans need not be worried unless Arsenal strings together two more of these.
  • Stoke City’s the same as ever, which was almost enough to get three points at Reading. According to the BBC, captain Ryan Shawcross was warned in the first half to calm his team down, the Potters giving the Royals a rude (and rough) welcome back to the Premier League. Perhaps it was only appropriate that a penalty allowed Reading to snare a point on their return.
  • There was unwarranted controversy at the Boleyn Ground, with many onlookers thinking West Ham’s Ricardo Vaz Te was offside before setting up Kevin Nolan’s goal against Aston Villa. Replays showed Mike Dean made the correct call, noting Ciaran Clark played a header back to the Hammers’ attacker. Of greater importance than the perceived blown call to Villans: Their team gave no impression this will be anything but a long, dramatic year for the Midlands’ biggest club.
  • In the Match of the Day, Tottenham gave fans reason to believe the transition to Andre Villas-Boas will be a smooth one. Unfortunately or them, Newcastle was still able to take a 2-1 win. Though Spurs looked the better side for much of Saturday’s match at Sports Direct Arena, a great second half goal from Demba Ba and penalty kick drawn (and converted) by Hatem Ben Arfa were enough for the Magpies to take three points. Spurs missed Luka Modric and need more striking power (Harry Kane was their forward off the bench). Perhaps instead of creating undo drama (and wasting time) with Modric, Daniel Levy can start addressing this squad’s needs?

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.

Chelsea’s Conte open to extending his contract

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Antonio Conte is readying Chelsea for a bid at a season double, with the Blues meeting Arsenal on Saturday afternoon for an all-London FA Cup Final.

Conte is on a London-high himself, having led the Blues to a Premier League title in his first year in charge. He’s moving his family to the area, scooping up plenty of individual hardware, and has dynastic aims for the Stamford Bridge set.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

His first deal was for three years, and Conte is thinking beyond that now.

From the BBC:

“If the club give me the possibility to stay and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to. … We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team.”

How they improve the squad will be interesting, as veterans Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Diego Costa have uncertain futures at the Bridge. But why wouldn’t Conte sign a bumper new deal after wild first year success?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle players picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

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Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.