MLS playoff preview: D.C. United at New York Red Bulls

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D.C. United came out of its weekend draw with New York feeling like the better club and talking about missed an opportunity to whup a team that was there for the playoff whupping.

Nothing wrong with confidence, of course, except for this: they didn’t actually win the game and now the playoff waters are more choppy. Ben Olsen’s team will have to win at a place where not a lot of teams did in 2012.

Meanwhile, the weather looks quite uncooperative, with nasty stuff on the way for the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series return leg.

(MORE: Which team benefits from impending nasty weather)

(MORE: Analysis of Saturday’s 1-1 draw)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET, Red Bull Arena, NBC Sports Network

The series is tied on total goals, 1-1

On the New York Red Bulls

  • Hans Backe’s team was 11-2-4 with a plus-16 goal difference at Red Bull Arena this year.
  • Hard to makes heads or tails of the Rafa Marquez situation. Was that alleged calf injury a real factor in his halftime removal, or just more cover for a player who doesn’t really deserve it? He was spotted arguing with manager Hans Backe going into the locker room at halftime Saturday, which seems suspect. Then again, Marquez is made of Teflon, isn’t he? Nothing sticks. No matter how many different ways he hurts the team through ill temper, flagging effort or thoughtless quotes, they just trot him back out there.
  • What Backe said about Marquez’s injury Monday: “Probably it has to be … a late decision, I would guess. I don’t think it’s a big (injury), but definitely we will have to wait until tomorrow to tell.”
  • A potential replacement plan looks fairly straight forward: Heath Pearce, recently relocated from center back to the left, will move back into the middle alongside Markus Holgersson. Roy Miller or Wilman Conde will play on the left.
  • Perhaps Kenny Cooper and his 18 goals, benched for Saturday’s contest, wouldn’t have helped create a couple more chances. But he could hardly have helped produced fewer than replacement Sebastien Le Toux, so that choice was a push at very best for Backe.
  • Thierry Henry was hardly at his 15-goal, 12-assist best Saturday. They need more from his Wednesday.
  • Goalkeeper Luis Robles sure didn’t look like a man making just his fifth start this year. Among his five saves were two real delights.

On D.C. United

  • If United’s road record this year (5-9-3) doesn’t look too promising, this might: Ben Olsen’s team, adding more defensive focus, went 2-0-2 away from RFK Stadium down the stretch, allowing just two goals over those four contests.
  • That said, Olsen must replace Andy Najar, whose attacking push up the right side will be sorely missed.
  • (MORE: Longer suspension ahead  for Najar?)
  • Important, second year holding midfielder Perry Kitchen: “There’s still 90 minutes to go. Our heads are up.”
  • The finishing simply has to improve – because New York might not kick one in for the visitors this time. And Bill Hamid cannot have another wobble. So, suffice to say the work in front of both goals needs a boost.
  • Underrated hero of Saturday’s match: unheralded left back Chris Korb. Along with Chris Pontius, they were United’s top men in Saturday’s draw. (Yes, Pontius needed something better from the penalty spot, but he was The Man on the United’s attack otherwise.)

Bottom line:

The predominant back story here is the Hurricane Sandy-related venue swap. Originally, this second leg was to be in New York, but conditions demanded a change.

If this one is tied after 90 minutes, an extra 30-minute period (and potentially penalty kicks) will determine the survivor – and that will not make United fans any more pleased over the whole unfortunate situation.

United could surely squeak out a 1-0 result … and if Backe’s Red Bulls can’t muster any more urgency than we saw in most matches down the stretch, the most talented team ever assembled on paper will fall way too quietly.

How can PSG sign Neymar from Barcelona?

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The biggest transfer deal in soccer history is probably also going to be the most complex.

With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules halting Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and many others from spending even more cash over the past few seasons, talk of Neymar’s potential $255 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG boggles the mind.

How can PSG pull this off and not break UEFA’s FFP rules? Well, here’s a deeper look at the numbers and how it could work.

If Neymar’s transfer did go through and his wages are as astronomical as reported — all-in the transfer fee, wages and other fees would top $586 million, with wages of over $50 million per year — then PSG have to bring in some huge finances from sponsors, ticket sales and move on some other players, right?

Not quite.

Under the interpretations of FFP rules, the sums are added up each season and the players’ value is amortized over the length of their contract. So, if the contract for Neymar was split up over five years PSG would put that down as $50 million per season, plus whatever they owed on the transfer fee if they were paying it off in installments.

A little more manageable, if still absurd.

When it comes to Neymar’s release clause set to be triggered, that usually means all of the cash is needed straight up. Tricky. What is more likely is PSG will pay $100 million and then stagger the rest of the fee over a five-year period, if Barca agree to it.

There are always many, many complexities to these type of deals, and especially with Neymar’s former club Santos potentially having a sell-on clause and many other factors such as loyalty fees, bonuses, agent fees and more.

PSG chairman Nasser al Khelaifi will have plenty of work to do to get this deal done and there are also reports in Spain that the Qatari government could enter into a separate agreement to pay Neymar his wages.

That said, under the FFP rules, one thing to remember is key: clubs have to bring in what they are spending but they can still make losses of up to $34.9 million per season under the current rules.

With PSG owned by a company which is essentially the State of Qatar, UEFA will automatically investigate a team where 30 percent or more of their revenue is supplied by a company linked to the owner. PSG have already been sanctioned heavily in the past with huge fines, restrictions on how many players can play in a UCL season and having their spending capped in 2014-15.

It is likely PSG’s Qatari owners, Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, will have alternative revenue from sponsors and commercial deals already lined up to help deal with the issues Neymar’s arrival could have in terms of FFP.

These sums are huge and the complexity of this deal is obvious, but if Neymar did join PSG then his marketability would surely see them recoup plenty of cash in other ways.

Therein lies the golden rule to all of this: you have to speculate to accumulate.

Somehow PSG believe this transfer fee and Neymar’s wages would be money well spent. Whether or not that is the case we will have to wait and see, but the answer is that this deal could happen, even under the rigid restrictions of FFP.

PSG would have to work hard to balance the books and bring in extra revenue, but their owners are better placed than most to make that happen.

Chelsea’s Pedro suffers “multiple fractures” to face after collision

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Chelsea are confident that Pedro will not be out for an extended period of time even though the Spanish winger suffered “multiple fractures” to his face.

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Pedro, 29, collided with Arsenal’s David Ospina in Chelsea’s 3-0 win against the Gunners in Beijing on Saturday and it turns out his injury is worse than first feared.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s International Champions Cup game in Singapore against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Antonio Conte revealed that Pedro has returned to London.

“The situation was more serious than I thought because I hoped it would only be concussion and instead he had multiple fractures,” Conte said. “With a mask, and in around 10 days, he can come back to work with us.”

Plenty of Chelsea players have been forced to wear a protective mask in recent years with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry and Pedro all donning the Zoro look after suffering facial injuries.

The Spaniard could be ready for the FA Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembly on Aug. 6 but with Eden Hazard already out injured for the opening weeks of the season after requiring ankle surgery this summer, Conte won’t want to risk Pedro unless he needs to.

With Alvaro Morata set for his first minutes in a Chelsea shirt against Bayern, plus Michy Batshuayi and Willian in good form against Arsenal with fine goals, Conte should have enough to keep things ticking over for the time being and the opening weeks of the season.

Liverpool target Naby Keita involved in horror tackle

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This could be quite disturbing.

RB Leipzig’s training session was cut short on Monday after Liverpool target Naby Keita, who Leipzig insist is not for sale, reportedly clattered into Diego Demme with a “horror tackle.”

The challenge was so bad it ended the session and photos have shown Demme leaving the pitch with the help of others and his knee bandaged up.

Keita, 22, is said to want out of Leizpig and the Guinea international wants to join Liverpool who have reportedly had a $85.9 million bid turned down from the box-to-box midfielder. Keita has a release clause of $62.5 million in his contract, but that doesn’t kick in until next summer.

Until we know all the facts about what happened, this could have just been a routine training ground tackle which Keita mistimed.

That said, given all of the current speculation around his future and the player also said to be extremely frustrated with Leipzig’s stance, cynics out there are suggesting this could be one way of Keita forcing through a move to Liverpool.


 

 

Man City sign Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for $68 million

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Manchester City continues to splash cash like it’s going out of fashion.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid

Left back Benjamin Mendy, 23, has arrived from AS Monaco for $68 million and he has linked up with his new team in Los Angeles as they continue their preseason tour of the U.S. with a game against Real Madrid.

Pep Guardiola has now brought in five new players this summer with goalkeeper Ederson, right backs Kyle Walker and Danilo, playmaker Bernardo Silva and now Mendy costing over $267 million combined.

Here’s what the French international defender had to say after agreeing a five-year deal at City.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City,” Mendy said. “They are one of Europe’s leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football. I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful.”

City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, said Mendy was “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs” and their “number one target in this position.”

Mendy has burst onto the scene at Monaco over the past 12 months, helping them to win the French title last season and also reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

The powerful left back makes surging runs forward and is as adept in attack as he is in defense. That’s obviously important in a Guardiola side as he expects his full backs to come inside, possess the ball and offer an attacking threat. Mendy ticks all the boxes.

City were knocked out of the UCL at the Round of 16 stage by Monaco with Mendy and fellow new signing Silva obviously impressing Guardiola, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined Chelsea for $55 million as a fine Monaco team has been broken up once again.

Monaco’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

With Walker and Danilo at right back, plus Mendy at left back and Ederson in goal, City have strengthened their defense considerably this offseason. Ederson’s debut against Manchester United left plenty to be desired last week, but there’s no doubting City’s full back areas have been upgraded considerably.