David Beckham

In search of second title, Beckham providing glimpse of Bryant’s future

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Hopefully the coincidence wasn’t lost on David Beckham, in attendance with Robbie Keane Tuesday night at Staples Center. The LA Galaxy duo was on hand for the Lakers’ season opener against the Dallas Mavericks – what was supposed to be the beginning of LA’s romp through the NBA’s Western Conference. After the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the hype’s been incredible.

So have the expectations. When the Lakers lost to Dallas on Tuesday, one media outlet noted the team wouldn’t go 82-0. There was a tinge of irony in the caption, an irony that played to the jaws that have remained dropped after Los Angeles acquired Howard.

Eight months ago, the Galaxy were in a similar situation. Major League Soccer media openly debated whether the Galaxy would be the best team of all-time. After capping a championship season in November, the Galaxy added Edson Buddle, Marcelo Sarvas, and extended Juninho’s loan from Sao Paulo. How many trophies? was the question before LA crashed out of the Champions League. If wasn’t a word until Torsten Frings and Toronto FC brought LA back down to earth. The defending champs would win only three of their first 13 games.

With their loss to the Mavs, the Lakers did their part to preserve the parallel, reinforcing the coincidence by stumbling badly in Portland Wednesday night. But as their 0-2 start sees the front page pundits baiting their egos, the Lakers can look west to Staples Center and draw inspiration from the LA Galaxy, who recovered to make the MLS playoffs. Winning nine out of 12 during a mid-season surge, were as good as anybody before locking up their playoff spot. You don’t have to look long to find somebody picking the defending champions to upset Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose in the semifinals (should they beat Vancouver on Thursday).

MORE: Previewing Thursday’s Galaxy-Whitecap elimination match | Will Steve Nash be there?

If the Lakers manage a similar turnaround, it will only add to a list of parallels between the two teams. Like their NBA counterparts, the Galaxy have become the marquee team in their league. It’s a stature that’s fueled by their success, media affinity, and their ability to spend more than their competition, ensuring the roster always features recognizable names. On the basketball side, there’s Nash, Howard and Pau Gasol, while Home Depot Center has Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

And of course, then there’s Kobe and Becks, the franchises’ figureheads. While nobody approaches Kobe Bryant’s stature in Los Angeles, the one Galaxy player oblivious Angelinos are likely to know is soccer’s global icon. Even if most of Los Angeles doesn’t know what makes him so great, they know that the great David Beckham plays in their city.

But to continue to call Beckham great could be an exaggeration. While he put in his best Major League Soccer season in 2011 (earning many media members’ votes for MVP of the MLS Cup final), this year age has make up time on the 37-year-old. For years people asked how Beckham could maintain himself at such an advanced age. You don’t hear those questions anymore. In the first year of his new, two-year contract, David Beckham finally looks like he’s inching toward retirement.

Now, after making his name on the right, Beckham’s fully converted to a central midfielder’s role, where he continues to be a fulcrum in LA’s attack. But if his range of passing has not suffered, his range of movement has. The fitness that helped define his ability to patrol the right now only appears in spurts. The circle of influence you can draw around Beckham’s central position is much smaller this year than last, part of the reason he was omitted from Team Great Britian’s Olympic team this summer. Dependent on the work of Juninho and Sarvas, Beckham’s effectiveness is limited to the middle-third, where his ability to read the game often provides Los Angeles’s main creative spark.

MORE: Beckham discusses his future … kinda

On rare occassions, Beckham can transcend those limitations. This year’s best example came in mid-July, when Beckham turned back the clock in Portland. He struck early from just inside the final-third, scoring from distance as opponents paused, as if watching a highlight from a YouTube clip. Five minutes later, it was too easy to give the league its second goal-of-the-week nominee, finding the tiny fault in the Timbers’ wall that gave him an early double.

But like Bryant, the moments of true dominance are becoming rare. Although the 34-year-old Laker is still among the best in his sport, Beckham’s mid-30s regression may foreshadow what’s to come for LA’s other sports icon. As the world saw at this summer’s Olympics, Bryant now has to pace himself. He can’t be brilliant every minute, every night. Like Michael Jordan before him, the last part of his career has forced him to swap drives for fallaways. As much as Bryant’s lucky to have Nash, Howard, and Gasol, he needs that caliber of player if the Lakers are going to maintain their title hopes.

Three years older than Bryant, Beckham’s dependence on his teammates isn’t so surprising. He’s always depended on others. It’s the nature of his position. As much as he’s made his name for his ability over a dead ball, more often than not, he’s needed people on the other end of those crosses. For LA, he needs Donovan’s speed to run into passes. He needs Keane’s movement to open up space. He needs Sarvas and Juninho to provide outlets when the Hollywood ball isn’t there.

MORE: Landon Donovan acknowledges damage to USMNT relationships

With both Bryant and Beckham, we have to wait to see if they can still raise their game on the biggest stage. With Kobe, we’ll have to wait until spring, though if the Olympics are any indication, he’ll be there when it counts.

With Beckham, the time is now. The playoffs start tonight with a must-win against Vancouver, and although LA can beat the Whitecaps without Beckham at his best, it would be a mistake to assume he can’t get there anymore. It was just one year ago that he was one of the best players in the field as his team won a title.

Bayern can’t break down Simeone’s Atleti: “We played too slowly”

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Carlo Ancelotti, Manager of Bayern Muenchen looks on before the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich sits second in Group D of this season’s UEFA Champions League after losing its toughest match of the bunch: a trip to the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico Madrid won 1-0 when Antoine Griezmann linked up with Yannick Carrasco for a first half goal and Diego Simeone’s stubborn defense lived up to its reputation in blanking the Bavarians.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Manager Carlo Ancelotti has been frustrated by Simeone in the past, perhaps most notably in his brief stint at Real Madrid. But the Bayern boss says the loss was down to speed.

“We tried to get back into the game but we played too slowly, which is why we did not have many chances to equalize,” Ancelotti said. “It’s never nice to lose.”

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also acknowledged a lack of speed in a way, pointing at urgency when he said, “Atlético showed a killer instinct tonight and we didn’t.”

Bayern hosts PSV Eindhoven in its next UCL match on Oct. 19.

Guardiola, Rodgers left to unpack thrilling Celtic-Man City draw

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Celtic issues instructions to his players next to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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What a match in Glasgow.

The UEFA Champions League group stage returned to Celtic Park on Wednesday, where the hosts thrilled their crowd by taking a trio of leads before settling for a 3-3 draw with mighty Manchester City.

[ MORE: JPW on Walcott’s Arsenal heroics ]

The draw is the first competitive game City hasn’t won under Pep Guardiola, but the manager didn’t feel much like complaining after his team rallied.

From the BBC:

Guardiola: “It was difficult for us. I’m happy with the reaction from the players, it’s not easy to score three goals away.

“I don’t know how many the chances they had after the third goal. We should have won it.”

As for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, he was tickled. After all, Celtic had fallen 7-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou during their first outing.

From the BBC:

Rodgers: “We were brilliant, the pressing and the energy. Every time we went forward we looked like we could score.

“Apart from the Barcelona game these players have been operating at a high level this season. Now, to do it against that team, it was a magnificent performance.”

Celtic Park was loud on Wednesday, and both sides gave the crowd plenty of oohs and aahs. It’s hard to imagine Celtic could do the same again, and City did give away a pair of goals (one own goal from Raheem Sterling, one gaffe from Aleksandar Kolarov).

But for one afternoon, who cares about anything other than an entertaining 90 minutes?

Theo Walcott remains rampant after going back to basics

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Theo Walcott scored both of Arsenal’s goals in their 2-0 win over FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and the English winger is back to his best.

[ RECAP: Arsenal destroy Basel ]

Walcott, 27, is in fine form with four goals in his last three games as Arsenal have won four straight in all competitions.

Against Basel he simply ripped their defense apart in the first half, cutting in from the right wing to combine with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and wreck havoc.

What has been the big change in Theo’s game this season?

Following Arsenal’s win against Chelsea last weekend (Walcott scored in the big 3-0 win) I asked his manager Arsene Wenger exactly that.

“I believe the change in Theo Walcott is his attitude this season,” Wenger told ProSoccerTalk. “He is ready to fight, commit and you know straight away he gets the crowd behind him. Theo Walcott of that stature is a completely different player.”

That is what we are seeing this season as Walcott spoke before the game against Basel about focusing more on himself and finally giving up on trying to be a central striker.

He looks sharp, focused and angrier (especially when tracking back defensively, something the fans are loving) than he has been in recent years and Wenger will be hoping Walcott stays clear of the horrendous injuries which have peppered his 10-year career at Arsenal.

Sometimes we forget just how long Walcott has been around.

When you look at the stat above, it hits home that he’s no longer a youngster we are waiting to explode into life. It is time Walcott started to deliver and seems like the penny has dropped somewhere along the line and he has gone back to basics. With his pace and power, when he’s on it there’s few defenders who can slow him down.

Now, the only thing Wenger and Arsenal’s fans will be hoping for is that Walcott can stay injury free and finally fulfill the massive potential many have always believed that he had.

Right now, Walcott is rampant for the red-hot Gunners.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Bayern falls at Atleti; Arsenal, Barca win

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Muenchen reacts after conceding a goal during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Oh, there were goals to be had in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, where Arsenal, Napoli, and PSG cruised to multi-goal wins while other powers had tougher times.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Manchester City needed to battle for its point at Celtic, while Barcelona came back to topple Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany. And Bayern Munich, well, they found it just as tough to score vs. Atletico Madrid as it did in last year’s semifinal.

Celtic 3-3 Manchester CityRECAP

The Scots opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho pulled one back for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things at half of a thriller at Celtic Park.

Dembele added a second shortly after halftime to put the hosts back on top, and Craig Gordon made a pair of fine saves to keep Celtic’s lead. That’s when Nolito found a loose ball.

Arsenal 2-0 BaselRECAP

A Theo Walcott brace had the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Napoli 4-2 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between. Young Gonçalo Guedes and Eduardo Salvio scored for Benfica late.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-2 Barcelona

The middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Arda Turan took advantage of hesitant goalkeeping from Yann Sommer and a chipped pass from Neymar to tie the match in the 65th minute. Sommer then left a Luis Suarez shot on the foot of Gerard Pique, and the big Barca defender scored to make it 2-1.

Napoli 4-0 Benfica

Marik Hamsik scores a first goal for the the Italians, and Dries Mertens gave Napoli insurance with a pair of second half goals and Arkadiusz Milik converted a penalty in between.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot. Antoine Griezmann had the assist, and Atleti recorded more shots than the visitors despite a massive possession advantage for Bayern. The Bavarians also came close to doubling the amount of passes completed by Diego Simeone’s men, but goals are what matter here and Atleti has claimed the rematch of last year’s semifinal. Griezmann missed a late penalty for the hosts.

Ludogorets Razgrad 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain

Blaise Matuidi nabbed an equalizer after the Bulgarians surprised PSG with a Natanael goal in the 16th minute. Edinson Cavani scored twice after halftime to put the French powers in a favorable position.

Besiktas 1-1 Dynamo Kyiv

Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma gave the hosts a first half lead, but 18-year-old Viktor Tsygankov played hero for the visitors when he scored in the second half.

FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven

This was another first half thriller, with Dmitri Poloz netting twice for the hosts. Davy Propper scored the first equalizer, while Luuk De Jong made it 2-2 at the break.

Standings

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Arsenal 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Paris SG 2 1 1 0 4 2 2 0-1-0 1-0-0 4
Ludogorets 2 0 1 1 2 4 -2 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Basel 2 0 1 1 1 3 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 2 2 0 0 6 3 3 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Besiktas 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2
Dynamo Kiev 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
Benfica 2 0 1 1 3 5 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 2 2 0 0 9 1 8 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Manchester City 2 1 1 0 7 3 4 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
Celtic 2 0 1 1 3 10 -7 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
Mönchengladbach 2 0 0 2 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-1 0
Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 2 2 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
Bayern Munich 2 1 0 1 5 1 4 1-0-0 0-0-1 3
PSV Eindhoven 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
FC Rostov 2 0 1 1 2 7 -5 0-1-0 0-0-1 1