MLS playoff preview: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

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Something about these teams brings out the controversial and the chaotic.

Earlier this year a match between the California rivals ended with David Beckham kicking balls are the referee and a near donnybrook, where even the Earthquakes lovable mascot got pushed around. Seriously.

Another one finished with Galaxy center back taking a paring knife to San Jose’s playing style.

And the opening leg in this series finished with a foul that may or may not have been a foul – leading to a goal that probably shouldn’t have been a goal.

Trust us: it won’t be dull when the teams match up at teeny-tiny Buck Shaw Stadium. Even if there’s no tomfoolery afoot, a very good team will fall Wednesday.

Reigning MLS champion Los Angeles, looking tired and not quite up for the job lately, could be 90 minutes from going on vacation with precious little to show for 2012. Otherwise, the Supporters Shield winning  Earthquakes will finish a lot earlier than a lot of us expected.

Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET, Buck Shaw Stadium, ESPN2

San Jose leads the series on total goals, 1-0

On the San Jose Earthquakes

  • Chris Wondolowski is slumping; his shutout streak has reached one match. Of course, he does have memories of a 27-goal season to fall back on (one that matched an all-time league record for goals in a season).
  • San Jose has 10 goals this year in added time. If I had not seen so many of them, I’d swear that was a completely made-up stat.
  • Barring something unforeseen, big, commanding San Jose center back Victor Bernardez soon add “MLS Defender of the Year” to his resume. Ahead of him in San Jose’s 4-4-2, Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca have been quietly, consistently strong in the center of Buck Shaw’s field.
  • The Earthquakes will host MLS Cup (most likely at Stanford Stadium) if they get through Wednesday and survive the next round.
  • The Earthquakes were 3-0-1 against the Galaxy in 2012, including Sunday’s victory at the Home Depot Center. In a year of memorable Earthquakes rallies, tops among them was overcome two-goal deficit back against Los Angeles back in May, prevailing 3-2 at the Home Depot Center.
  • If you’re picking a goal scorer, Alan Gordon might not be a bad way to go. He has three in four matches against his former club.
  • The Earthquakes’ 72 goals was easily a club record, easily most in MLS this year and No. 3 in league history.
  • San Jose went undefeated (9-0-6) are at Buck Shaw this season.

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • Fair question: Given the Galaxy’s uphill climb, and given the recent injuries to 37-year-old David Beckham, are we about to see soccer’s most iconic figure over the last 15 years play his last match in MLS?
  • Beckham over the last couple of matches? Meh. Ditto for Landon Donovan. (In fairness, both are coming off injuries or currently fighting one.)
  • No matter what happens, you have to admire the Galaxy pluck for rallying past that gawd-awful two months to open 2012.
  • Center back Omar Gonzalez may not have been at his tip-top best Sunday, and that boo-boo in the wall in the critical moment is one he’ll want to forget about. On the other hand, he’s doing a lot of extra covering in the middle of the Galaxy back line for rookie Tommy Meyer.
  • If the Galaxy can come up with something special, surely Robbie Keane will have something to do with it. The league’s fourth leading scorer (16 goals) really put on a clinic of off-the-ball movement over the regular season’s final two months.
  • Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee (courtesy of the L.A. Galaxy’s official blog): “When you look at the big picture, you realize that it’s just one game and we have to win and if we win the game then our season is not over. If you told us that ten games into the season, I think we would have taken it, which is all that really matters. We’ve played well [at Buck Shaw], we haven’t gotten the results that we wanted to, but we’ve played well there and like I said, all we got to do is win the game, which is something that we’re more than capable of doing.”

Bottom line:

Bernardez’s implausible goal in the dying minutes of Sunday’s series opener really was massive.

Given the deficit and the Galaxy’s deflated attack over the last two matches, not to mention the additional rest for San Jose lately, it’s hard to see a way through here for the Galaxy.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”