Man of the Match: How much does Dax McCarty’s energy bring to the Red Bulls? His work throughout the midfield is immeasurable. McCarty’s starting positions were nominally on the right of New York’s 4-4-2, but he was all over the place, poking away balls and adding pressure in the right spots on defense, and then always motoring into good positions in the final third when the Red Bulls took possession. He had a big part in two New York goals.
Packaged for take-away:
- Mission accomplished for New York, who temporarily moved into second place in the East pending today’s result from Chicago. In all likelihood, the Red Bulls have moved out of that opening round, 4th-vs.-5th match, which was the day’s primary objective.
- The Red Bulls keep talking about high pressure and the need for more of it. It took 32 games, but they’ve finally gotten it right. Last week against Kansas City and then Saturday at PPL Park, they pressed high and as a unit.
- The net effect is that New York players are already in good, advanced positions when they take possession in midfield. That makes Thierry Henry more effective, since he receives the ball in higher positions rather than drifting back and then acting more often as a linking man.
- Henry had a strong afternoon, contributing on both sides of the ball. He looks like a man on a mission.
- A pretty shockingly poor afternoon from the usually steady Carlos Valdes. The Union’s Colombian international center back lost the plot in this one. He gave away one penalty kick, probably should have been whistled for another when he wrestled with and then threw Kenny Cooper to the ground, and he looked fairly inept as Thierry Henry maneuvered around him with ease for the visitor’s second goal.
- The Red Bulls back line wasn’t perfect, although Rafa Marquez had a nice match, almost always in the right spot and helping himself a lot with shrewd reads on the unfolding sequences. On the other hand, Jack McInerney was finding too many gaps along a back line that sometimes wasn’t as compact as it needed to be. Speaking of McInerney …
- At the top and bottom of his lineup, John Hackworth has reason to like what he has. Young goalkeeper Zac MacMath, 21 years old, started 2012 with stumbles aplenty. But the back half has been fairly smooth, and he will remember Saturday’s season finale as a good afternoon of sure-handed, composed work. And at the other end of the field, McInerney, just 20, finished with a flourish.
- He constantly troubled Red Bulls center back Markus Holgersson, and found good spots near New York’s goal. Finishing with four goals in the Union’s final six matches should send the young striker into 2013 awash in confidence.
- With a tactical switch and more energy from the home team, lots of it supplied by halftime replacement Antoine Hoppenot, the Union began finding playmaker Michael Farfan and taking control in midfield, putting the Red Bulls under real pressure for the first time all afternoon. For 20 minutes after the break, the Red Bulls ability to take all three points seemed suddenly in doubt. But Cooper’s second goal of the afternoon took all the air out of the game.
- Freddy Adu? Not in the 18 for Philadelphia. Again.
- Philadelphia average starting age Saturday: 24.7.
(MORE: Time running out for Freddy Adu)
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.
Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.
The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.
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Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.
With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.
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Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.
- United 6 points outside the top four
- Sunderland winless in four
- MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)
Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).
United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.
[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]
Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.
[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]
For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.
What they’re saying
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”
United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”
Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.
Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).
Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.
[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]
Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.
It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.
They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.
Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.
[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]
Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.