Chicago Fire v New York Red Bulls

Drilling down on: Chicago 2, at Red Bulls 0

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Man of the Match

Was Sherjill MacDonald offside on the second goal? Yeah, probably. But they counted it. And the Dutch target man certainly wasn’t offside on his first strike, a calm and technical finish that will go a long, long way to getting the Fire into better playoff positioning. Around his two goals, MacDonald also worked his blue socks off, harassing defenders and holding the ball in high positions.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Some very good performances could be found around the park for Chicago, including Chris Rolfe, center back Arne Friedrich and right-sided attacker Patrick Nyarko.
  • Frank Klopas drew up a good plan. The Fire are better when they keep things tight in the back and let Rolfe run the counter attack, which is exactly how it worked Saturday. The key, of course, is MacDonald’s steady hold-up work, which brings Rolfe and others into the play.
  • New York needed about 10 minutes to match the visitor’s intensity, and to work out Chicago’s early high pressure.
  • Ricardo Salazar reached for the yellow card 13 minutes in as Red Bulls left back Wilman Conde hooked Nyarko from behind. It was the kind of tactical, cynical foul that frequently goes without a booking. So, good for Salazar; the games are better to watch for everyone when players assess and understand early that tactical fouling will be dealt with.
  • Nyarko continued to trouble Conde. Remember, Conde is really a center back
  • Last two matches, Kenny Cooper has simplified his game. It’s working for him, although …
  • On the other hand, Cooper doesn’t always read situations as well as he should. Case in point, a 19th-minute opportunity that Tim Cahill teed up wonderfully for him — only Cooper cut his run short and the opportunity died without an attempt on goal.
  • Dax McCarty’s passing lacked a little zip at times, and a bit of precision at other times. He wasn’t bad, and had plenty of energy, as usual. But passing to the wrong foot, or slowing the attack with something that takes a teammate off stride, those little things matter in the tight matches.
  • Just as last week, Thierry Henry was “in the mood,” as they say in the first half. The Red Bull’s primary attacking threat, playing a free role behind Cooper, was active and finding good spaces. On the ball … And he did a fair amount of running, providing early pressure in high areas and occasional cover when Cahill or someone else was drawn out of position.
  • Henry may have burned up too much fuel in those first 45, however. He played higher up the field after the break, less dutiful in working into those spots and making himself available, and the Red Bulls’ midfield suffered for it. Henry saw much less of the ball, which limited the Red Bulls possession and reduced their dangerous moments. Meanwhile, more comfortable in the central third, Chicago slowly took hold.
  • Rolfe had some wonderfully creative moments, early as the home team had a little trouble sorting its midfield and determining how to deal with his movement into the “hole” between the back line and the line of New York midfielders. Later, Rolfe did more damage off those counter-attack chances.
  • Clearly concerned about the yellow card, and about his left back’s ability to contain the speedy Nyarko, Red Bulls manager Hans Backe removed Conde at halftime. That provided young defender Connor Lade with his next chance to impress. The Red Bulls instantly added more push up the left side, but his inexperience dented the home side in a couple of places.
  • About twice a match, Fire center back Friedrich decides to have a quick stroll forward, and he’s quite foxy about it. He put himself in just the right spot in the 52nd minute, guiding the attack initially and then getting on the end of a short cross to force a credible save from Luis Robles.
  • The Red Bulls got caught being too slow in organizing defensively after losing a ball in midfield. Rolfe took advantage as center back Heath Pearce dropped off and Lade remained up a little too high. MacDonald recognized the lack of shape and shot into the space just as Rolfe took a good first touch and played his striker through to goal.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.