Dax McCarty hearts Tim Cahill; and vice versa

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At the risk of beating this to death, even after it’s surely been beaten to death, let’s talk about three main midfield men for the New York Red Bulls.

Rafa Marquez has turned up gimpy once again. If he doesn’t make it back before the playoffs, that means the former Mexican international will have played in 12 matches in 2012. That’s an absolutely horrid return on the DP dollar for the league’s most visible franchise.

(A bad return in terms of competition, that is; New York is presumably recouping some of the salary outlay in merchandise and exposure for the Red Bull parent brand throughout Mexico. Otherwise, why in the world would the man still be there?)

In his absence, Dax McCarty returned happily to the position in which he has excelled this year, a holding midfield role. He had been pushed out wide to the right when Marquez got back in the lineup two weeks ago.

Third man into this pile is Tim Cahill. How do McCarty and Cahill reckon they are doing as a tandem? Swimmingly, by the sound of it. This is what they had to say about things following last week’s comprehensive romp over Toronto (a 4-1 result).

What Cahill had to say:

With Dax playing with you, there’s a lot of energy between us. We want to win every ball, we want to clear every ball. We want to run and do other people’s jobs and our own jobs. I suppose it feels like the best combination at the moment or the team. It’s a nice partnership.”

And then what McCarty had to say:

I really enjoy playing with Tim in the middle. He hit the nail on the head. In this league, you play against some pretty athletic midfields, some pretty good midfields. Obviously, with our older guys, Rafa [Marquez], Teemu [Tainio], they’re our more experienced guys, their positioning is fantastic. Sometimes you need guys who can cover some ground in there. So with me, I just try to make sure we’re solid defensively and then I let our special players who can attack make magic and go forward.

In a word: telling.

(Of course, if you believe one very important man around Red Bull Arena, Thierry Henry, the club cannot win an MLS Cup without Marquez. So, there’s that.)

I suppose we should insert a fourth man into the conversation here: Tainio. Not so far back, Tainio was a valued midfielder. But the Finnish veteran is 32 now, and 2012 has been a rough go with injuries. When he’s on the field now the team’s speed (in thought and in quickness) through midfield falls.

Well, it falls compared to the McCarty-Cahill combo. With Marquez as a point of comparison, it’s probably a wash.

By the way, the piece linked above from Big Apple Soccer points out this little statistical gem: the Red Bulls are 0-4-3 when Tainio starts.

Report: Villarreal defender Semedo arrested on charges of alleged assault, kidnapping

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For the third time in the past four months, Ruben Semedo has found himself in trouble with the law.

According to a report from Spain, the Villarreal centerback was arrested Tuesday morning at his home on charges of assault, kidnapping and robbery. A complaint filed to the police by a victim alleges that Semedo and two others tied the victim up and locked the victim in a room in Semedo’s home.

Semedo and the others then allegedly took the victim’s keys and went to the victim’s house, where they allegedly stole money and/or other valuable items.

[READ: Wigan shock Man City in FA Cup]

Villarreal has yet to respond to the latest incident off the field, which has marred Semedo’s season and the club’s reputation. Semedo has only played four times this year as he’s currently recovering from a right leg injury, and he’s been sidelined with a variety of injuries since joining from Sporting Lisbon for around $17.3 million last summer.

This is Semedo’s third time in trouble with the law. Last October, after a long night of partying, Semedo allegedly smashed a bottle over someone’s head. In November, in the early hours of the morning following an all-night session at a night club, Semedo pointed a gun at a member of the night club’s security staff after an argument earlier in the evening forced Semedo to leave.

For the latter crime, the local prosecutor is pushing for two years in prison. If the current allegations can be proven true, Semedo could face even more time behind bars.

As of right now, it seems incredibly unlikely that Semedo could feature for Portugal in the World Cup, as he’ll have more important matters to deal with.

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.