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Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Barcelona 3, at Spartak Moscow 0

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Barcelona had their easiest match of the Champions League season, their long trip to Moscow met with little resistance in a 3-0 win over floundering Spartak Moscow.

With the victory, Barcelona has clinched a spot in the tournament’s second round. Should Celtic lose at the Estadio de Luz later today, Barcelona will clinch first place in Group G.

Right back Dani Alves opened the scoring in the 16th minute, his half-volley of a blocked Lionel Messi shot finding the lower left corner from 19 yards out.

Before halftime, Messi added his fourth and fifth goals of the competition, settling the matter before the sides went into intermission.

Man of the Match: With two first half goals, Lionel Messi raised his 2012 all-competition total to 80, five behind Gerd Müller’s all-time record. His first was a right-footed finish from the edge of the area, converting after Spartak keeper Andrey Dikan had blocked an Andres Iniesta shot. The second saw Messi take a Pedro Rodríguez pass and dribble around Dikan before finishing into an open net from just inside the six-yard box.

Messi has up to 10 matches remaining in 2012. If his usage pattern holds, he’ll appear in almost all of them. With a hot streak, Messi could eclipse 100 goals.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

For better and worse, Barcelona looked their normal selves.

Let’s concentrate on the good with this bullet point, because an elegant display from Barcelona shouldn’t be overshadowed. Spartak’s passive defensive posture meant Barça wasn’t pushed to the frantic extremes that bring Barcelona’s best, Barça was allowed enough time on the ball to complete a number of uncharacteristically long, perfectly executed passes, particularly during their first half push. Xavi chips over the top, Messi swinging the ball wide for Iniesta, long probing sliders picking out gaps in the Spartak defense – Barça was given a chance complement their tiki taka.

While those moments were abnormal for Barcelona, the tenor of the performance wasn’t. After Dani Alves’ opening goal, Barça seemed to play the match at three-quarter speed, Emery’s approach allowing Barcelona’s bursts to augment out of their spans of calm control. Never bothered to break their gallop, Barcelona pranced to a typically easy victory.

Defending wide continues to be a problem for Barcelona.

Barça has always been vulnerable behind Dani Alves, but in the past, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets have been able to mitigate that danger. With Eric Abidal at left back, Barcelona were always able to do an adequate job compensating for the right winger they employ in defense.

Now Jordi Alba’s at left back, and while he’d no Alves, he does push forward farther, more often, and with more persistence than Abidal. That leaves both flanks vulnerable, and without an Abidal-esque presence on the right, Barcelona doesn’t have as much support when the defense is forced to flatten out and cover the width of the pitch. Add in Puyol’s injury problems and you have a much more vulnerable team.

One first half counter from Spartak served as a perfect illustration. The movement started down the left (Alves’s side) before a long ball switched right found a man on Alba’s flank. The defense stretched, Spartak was able to find a player for an open half-volley in the middle of the penalty area.

Abidal is due back at the beginning of the year, though it’s unclear how much (or if) he’ll play. Puyol was on the bench today, as was Alex Song. Barcelona has options. They just need to decide how vulnerable they’re willing to be.

Time to pass some judgments on Unai Emery.

Spartak has been generally unimpressive under new coach Unai Emery, but since their middling form had yet to cost them anything major, it was best to reserve judgment on the former Valencia man. After today’s loss, though, Spartak can’t advance to Champions League’s knockout round. If Benfica defeats Celtic later today, Spartak’s out of Europe.

Combined with a fifth-place standing in Russia (nine wins through 16 rounds), the Unai Emery era has been a worrying one for the People’s Team. In a Russian soccer culture that’s not shy about cutting bait with a coaching commitment, Emery’s putting himself in (more) trouble.

Spartak’s performance today at the Lizhniki was lacking in everything. There no inspiration in a team whose tournament sat in the balance. There was a hint of a plan (dispossess high, counter quick, otherwise absorb), but with no spirit backing it, the approach was set to fail. The backline seemed ill-prepared. The squad took a 2010 approach to 2012 Barcelona.

Other than “more time,” it’s hard to make an argument supporting Emery, if you call “more time” supportive.

Packaged for takeaway

  • José Jurado was useless today. Deployed as the attacking midfielder in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he had no impact. He was a wasted man when the team could have used more of a presence in front of the defense.
  • Spartak needed that presence because deep midfielders Rafael Carioca and Kim Kallström did little to prevent Barcelona from picking out holes in the defense.
  • At least, that’s what happened in the first half. With Barcelona up three at intermission, the second half was inconsequential. Spartak improved over the last 45 minutes, though it would have been difficult not to.

Report: USMNT forward Picault could be off to MLS

http://www.fcstpauli.com/profis/news/9628

FC St. Pauli
www.fcstpauli.com/profis/news/9628
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Remember Fafa Picault?

The FC St. Pauli striker became a surprise name in USMNT circles when former coach Jurgen Klinsmann shouted him out on Twitter, later calling him into U.S. camp.

Picault, 25, is a center forward who has battled back trouble at times this season, limiting him to six appearances for the 2.Bundesliga side.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

He broke out last season, scoring four goals and adding two assists in 16 appearances last season. The former NASL player was capped by Klinsmann in May, going 19 minutes in a 3-1 win over Puerto Rico.

Philadelphia is the top spot for Picault, according to Bild and translated by VAVEL reporter Jonny Walsh. It’s just agent talk, but we’d like to get a closer look at the American man.

How might the USMNT lineup against Serbia?

U.S. men's national soccer team coach Bruce Arena, left, talks to captain Michael Bradley during a practice session Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Coach Arena opens camp with the team in the same training complex where he spent the past eight years running the LA Galaxy. Arena returned to the U.S. team in November to salvage its run for World Cup qualification. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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It’s six days to Sunday, the first time we’ll see Bruce Arena manage the United States men’s national team since his rehiring late last year.

The Yanks host Serbia in San Diego before moving to Chattanooga for a match against Jamaica. Both matches should be open-and-shut wins, as the Americans’ MLS-only lineup get “B-teams” from Serbia and Jamaica.

[ MORE: Serbia, Jamaica rosters ]

Possible starting center back Matt Hedges and his FC Dallas teammate, Kellyn Acosta, will miss through injury, while Arena sent Kekuta Manneh to Wales for Vancouver Whitecaps camp.

That leaves 28 names — full roster at bottom — and the level of competition means Arena can take risks, like his choice to try Graham Zusi at right back.

Arena used several different formations with the Galaxy last season, opting for anything from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1.

Here are some options against Serbia.

4-2-2-2

Arena could steady the middle of the pitch while using a pair of attack-minded veteran midfielders with points to prove.

Robles

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Beasley

Bradley — McCarty

Feilhaber —————————Kljestan

Morris — Altidore


4-4-2 (diamond) — Veteran heavy

Arena likes his veterans, and may want to give them the benefit of the doubt in front of fans and the eyes of U.S. Soccer.

Rimando

Zusi — Marshall — Evans — Beasley

Bedoya — Bradley — Jones — Kljestan

Altidore — Zardes


4-3-3

Bingham

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Garza

Bradley

Nagbe — Bedoya

Zardes — Altidore — Morris


Full roster

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Reports: Krul, Lopez could replace Begovic at Chelsea

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Tim Krul of Newcastle United in aciton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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It may seem unimportant at first blush, but Chelsea’s backup goalkeeper situation may be in a state of flux right now.

That means the Blues’ very strong title hopes are only a Thibaut Courtois injury away from making it matter a whole bunch more.

Eddie Howe wants Chelsea No. 2 Asmir Begovic to head down south to join Bournemouth,  and the keeper seems interested in a move.

[ MORE: Big changes for CONCACAF Champions League ]

Chelsea’s current No. 3 is Portuguese national teamer Eduardo. The Blues could wait to sell Begovic until summer, but The Express thinks the move is on.

AC Milan backup backstop Diego Lopez is in the frame for Chelsea, according to that report, but a more intriguing name is Newcastle ‘keep Tim Krul. The Dutchman is on loan with Ajax.

Either would be a fitting replacement for Begovic. Will Conte allow the change in the middle of a relatively-stable (Diego Costa aside) title run?

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.