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.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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