Going down the checklist after the U.S.’s rout of Ireland

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was the match you’d expect when the top-ranked team in the world faces one a that’s yet to come into their own internationally, but even by those standards, it was an impressive performance from the United States. After an initial feeling out period reminiscent of an undercard’s first rounds, the States woke up, putting a 5-0 pasting on Ireland at Jeld-Wen field.

More readily Alex Morgan woke up. With goals in the 24th, 34th, and 44th minute, 2012’s leading scorer staked the team to a 3-0 halftime. A perfunctory 45 final minutes featuring two goals from Sydney LeRoux, given the U.S. a decisive victory in front of 10,092.

Morgan’s goals pushed her to 27 on the year, the third-highest single-season total in national team history.

Leroux’s double give her 12 goals off the bench, a new record.

As much as the match seemed like a mere exhibition, there were a number of areas of focus for a team whose offensive firepower has often overshadowed areas of relative concern. Drawing from PST’s preview:

1. When will the Sermanni effect be felt?

The U.S.’s new permanent coach doesn’t take over until January, but Tom Sermanni’s new team is aware: A new boss is coming in, and with that comes a new need to earn a place in the team.

For Becky Sauerbrunn, who was making her first start at left back for the national team, a new position provides a possible route into the starting lineup. Although her movements often looked like a player moving from a more comfortable, central position, the former midfielder looked as viable any option Sermanni has at his disposal.

But none of Sermanni’s style was evident tonight. There was no increase in play out of the back. The link up play through midfield was less tactical than physical. The United States were using their talents to overcome inferior opposition, an formula that’s worked thus far.

2. Is the defense improving?

It was impossible to tell. Ireland is ranked 34th in the world and didn’t threaten to qualify for Euro 2013. They’ve won one match all year. This wasn’t the team to test the U.S.’s defense.

3. [Obligatory concern about the midfield here]

As with the defense, Ireland wasn’t the team to test Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd. Most of the U.S. build up was through the wings, with the central midfielders’s chances to make an impact on late runs into the box.

Cheney played a crucial part in two of the goals, while Lloyd had little to do against an Ireland team that spent the match on their back foot.

4. Is Heath really a wide player?

Tonight she was. Before Morgan went on her scoring rampage, Tobin Heath was the States’ best player, creating a number of opportunities lined up against the opposition’s right back.

While most of her best efforts still suggested she’s more of a central playmaker than left winger, her defensive awareness supporting Sauerbrunn suggested she has important to offer whomever emerges as the team’s starting left back.

Taking turns with right wing Megan Rapinoe running into the space above Cheney and Lloyd, Heath provided a viable picture of her future as a starting left wing, and although Heather O’Reilly offered a counterpoint with a pinpoint cross for one of LeRoux’s goals, it’s hard to see Heath returning to a substitute’s role while playing at this level.

5. Is Portland ready for the new big time?

There were a number of reasons for Portland to produce a small crowd. A late weekend night start in cold weather against a vastly inferior opponent was hard to sell, especially with an entry-level ticket price of $38. But the Portland faith produced a five-digit crowd, something you’d think replicable with when the prices drop and the team bares the city’s name.

Overall

In the end, it’s only Ireland, and it’s still two-and-a-half years away from the team’s next major competition, But for a team that traditionally come out slow in the first of these two match set games, it was an impressive performance, even if relatively so.

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.”