Seattle Sounders need to ask tough questions of themselves

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Lots of questions need answers around camp Seattle Sounders today.

Clearly, things went very wrong, although the Galaxy’s extra day of rest, the game’s venue (L.A. was at home) and Los Angeles’ ability to locate top gear just in time all had influence on a night of Galaxy hammer-blow dominance.

Still, it was surprising to watch Seattle, an MLS “final four” team, after all, so helpless about it all. The visitors were mildly effective on defense, but for only a half, and more or less inept at the attacking end all night.  So let’s dive in:

  • What is this damaging disconnect between Fredy Montero and the playoffs?

He’s clearly a talented soccer player, one who passes the eye test and carries the statistical proof over a significant sample (47 goals in 119 MLS matches represents prodigious production.) But his post-season totals are alarmingly skinny: He has zero goals in nine games. Heck, Montero has just five shots on goal.

Not that it’s all his fault. Last night, stranded as an isolated striker, Montero had little chance to make anything happen. The lack of connection between Montero and attacking midfielder Christian Tiffert was in stark contrast to what was happening at the other end, where Galaxy men were whirling and twirling in a swell interchange that kept the Sounders defense in perpetual flummox.

  • Were the tactics and personnel decisions in Sigi Schmid’s 4-5-1 right?

Was it really the time to try something so unfamiliar?

Was attack-minded Mario Martinez really the best choice here? He wasn’t up the job defensively, and his choices to shoot from spots that could only be called wildly optimistic demonstrated an alarming naiveté.

Across the field from Martinez, was inexperienced Alex Caskey the right man for the job? Either way, the Sounders’ midfield was a mess, and an overrun mess at that, despite a numerical advantage in the center third.

  • What of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who picked a terrible time to have a lousy match?

We’ll pick this one apart in a separate post.

  • Didn’t the Sounders learn a doggone thing from last year’s 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake?

There is a genuine psychological barrier between 2-0 and 3-0. A two-goal margin sounds manageable, especially at a place the Galaxy men do not like. (Artificial turf is the major scourge in Galaxy minds.)  So, win by a pair, the series rolls into extra time and you step lively with the home crowd in tow for the additional 30 minutes. That sounds doable.

But the third goal is a killer.

In last year’s playoffs, an opening leg got away from Seattle similarly. They refused to re-focus and re-group defensive at 1-0 and 2-0 down and conceded the killer third goal. The Sounders pressed bravely in the return leg but the margin was simply too unforgiving; Schmid’s men won the night 2-0 but fell on aggregate 3-2.

And yet, there they were again Sunday in Southern California. Schmid needed to be more emphatic about the night’s task, to concentrate on defensive shape and dogged effort at all costs, never mind if a goal or even a second goal finds its way through. And yet …

“It’s a hard one to take. It’s very similar to what happened last year when we went into Salt Lake, so it’s disappointing that we repeated that,” Schmid said after last night’s loss.

And a bit later he said: “…then we go through a bad period in the second half where we just lost our shape, lost our concentration, lost our focus, and they bang away two goals, and we’re actually a little fortunate it wasn’t three or four.”

(MORE: match analysis of Sunday’s 3-0 win)

(MORE: the Galaxy doing so many little things right)

(MORE: highlights, and the Galaxy’s brilliant movement on offense)

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.

VIDEO: Coutinho curls home stunning free kick

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Philippe Coutinho was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick in the first half to put Liverpool 1-0 up against Crystal Palace.

Click play on the video above to watch his 10th Premier League goal of the season as Wayne Hennessey couldn’t get close to it.

How Martial’s goal cost United $10.8 million; Pogba injury update

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You could perhaps forgive Manchester United’s hierarchy for not celebrating Anthony Martial‘s goal against Burnley with the usually zest…

[ MORE: United see off Burnley ]

That’s because Martial’s strike in the 2-0 victory at Turf Moor on Sunday was his 25th for United.

‘So what?’ you might be asking. Well, when Martial arrived at Old Trafford as a teenager in the summer of 2015 his transfer from AS Monaco was heavily incentivized with documents leaked in recent weeks showing many clauses in place which could see the deal rise to over $80 million over the years.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Monaco are now owed an extra $10.8 million with Martial scoring his 25th goal for United and it was just his eighth goal of the season as he’s mostly been used as a sub by Jose Mourinho.

If Martial reaches 25 caps for the French national team before 2019 while at United (he’s currently on 15) Monaco will get another $10.8 million and if he wins the Ballon d’Or before 2019 Monaco will also get another $10.8 million.

That’s some deal for the Ligue 1 side but Martial will be playing a lot more games in the coming weeks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for the season with a horror knee injury.

Staying in United news, and finances, the most expensive player on the planet, Paul Pogba, hobbled off towards the end of the victory.

Speaking after the game Mourinho confirmed that he’s “not sure” if Pogba will play against Manchester City on Thursday and singled out the displays of Eric Bailly and Pogba after both had played the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht on Thursday.

“We wanted Anthony Martial to get behind as he’s faster, and he did well. But I can’t choose an individual performance as they all did well,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly get a mention after two hours of football against Anderlecht.”

United will be sweating on the fitness of Pogba ahead of the monster clash against City as United’s win means they’re now just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals who occupy the final UEFA Champions League spot in the Premier League standings.