Let’s dig into the Seattle Sounders condition; and we won’t be talking about refereeing decisions

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Let’s hope some of the understandable, caffeinated consternation coming from Seattle has died down a bit overnight; a whole bunch of pitchfork and lantern-level animus rose from Rave Green Valley late Sunday.

The fans clearly care, and thanks heavens for them; the club’s impassioned support has done so very much to enhance and color in the sometimes black-and-outline drawing of MLS.

But as the sting of last night’s loss wears off, the balance needs to tilt away from officiating-inspired acrimony and wrongheaded league level conspiracy suggestions (claims of being “cheated,” egged on some of the owners, no less) and more toward thoughtful introspection.

The Sounders are done for 2012, and the reasons have a lot to do with the club’s own decisions.

Did the breaks fall Seattle’s way? Absolutely not. And that was on the essentials list for the dramatic rally Seattle Sounders FC needed. Former Sounders man Kasey Keller said as much before Sunday’s broadcast, and he was spot-on right. Which brings us to the point:

The Seattle Sounders and manager Sigi Schmid simply left themselves with too much to do. They put themselves in position to need those breaks.

Seriously, a 3-0 deficit? Again?

The Sounders made critical mistakes. Again. Worse, they were rooted in the same naiveté and lack of a collective, two-part plan that did in Schmid’s team in 2011. The Sounders simply must develop another approach on the road, one that seeks to limit the two-legged damage and give the team a chance to claim the series at home.

(MORE: Analysis of Sunday’s match from Richard Farley)

(MORE: Highlights from CenturyLink, including the controversial moments)

They need a little more Houston Dynamo-type pragmatism, a little less attack-minded, organizational hubris, the kind that says “We are Seattle, and this is how we do it.”

Just like a year ago, a 3-0 hole, one assembled imprudently on the road, was too much to overcome. The fault here lies in failure to focus on shape and defensive responsibility on the road, plus the choice to go with offense-minded Mario Martinez in the opening leg in Los Angeles.

Speaking of that lineup and the revisions made Sunday: the Sounders used 34 different lineups in 38 MLS matches this year. How can that be? Injuries and attempts to rest older players certainly count for some of the lineup instability. But this much?

Finding a consistent lineup is about dodging the ill effects of wanderlust, this illusion of infinite choice, one that says “something better is always out there.” Sometimes a club has to look at its roster, identify its best 12 or 14 and go with it. Seattle had 19 players who started at least 10 matches. The Houston Dynamo, as a comparison, had 15.

Mauro Rosales is one of the issues. He’s 31, which is hardly ancient. On the other hand, he seems to wear down, this being the second year Seattle’s top playmaker wasn’t there at the critical, playoff moment.

Then there’s Fredy Montero, a wonderfully talented young striker who can carry the team when he collects full speed on one of those signature streaks. But the evidence is in, unfortunately: he cannot be counted on for the playoffs. Ten matches (zero goals) is a big enough sample. Whatever choices are made going forward, Seattle management cannot hide from this one, and the Colombian attacker’s inconsistent ways simply must be part of that conversation.

“Streaky” can carry the playoffs – but it can also be a playoff ambition’s undoing.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”