2012 MLS Cup - Los Angeles Galaxy Training Session

The More They Stay The Same: LA Galaxy, One Year On

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CARSON, Calif. — Houston looks better (much better) than this time last year, when a late Landon Donovan goal broke a deadlock between them and eventual MLS Champions LA Galaxy. But that’s only half the picture. Teams don’t improve in vacuums. They improve relative to their competition.

But while Houston’s story is “The Most Things Change,” for a Galaxy team making it third MLS Cup Final in four seasons, the narrative is “The More They Stay The Same.” Whereas Dominic Kinnear’s team will be better at up to six positions (with the loss of defender Geoff Cameron the only significant departure), Bruce Arena’s team may start 10 of the players who claimed the coach’s third league title.

Here’s how LA’s two teams line up, the 2011 versus 2012 versions:

2011 Pos. 2012
Josh Saunders G Josh Saunders
Sean Franklin RB Sean Franklin
Omar Gonzalez RCB Omar Gonzalez
A.J. DeLaGarza LCB DeLaGarza/Meyer
Todd Dunivant LB Todd Dunivant
Landon Donovan RM Christian Wilhelmsson
Juninho CM Juninho
David Beckham CM David Beckham
Mike Magee LM Mike Magee
Adam Cristman SS/ST Landon Donovan
Robbie Keane ST Robbie Keane

The big question for LA team is whether A.J. DeLaGarza, the starter along side Omar Gonzalez through the Galaxy’s best part of the season (August and September), plays. Out with a knee injury for the playoffs, DeLaGarza could return to action on Saturday, though that would entail demoting Tommy Meyer, who has yet to crack against the likes of San Jose and Seattle.

Bring DeLaGarza, out of action for nearly two months, back for the final? Or stay with the kid from Indiana? Unless Bruce Arena’s told us (and big shock, he hasn’t), it would be senseless to speculate. Any insight we could offer would be mitigated by the fact we haven’t see how DeLaGarza and Meyer have trained. While it’s easy to say keep Meyer in, don’t risk a rust factor with DeLaGarza, but A.J. may be out-performing Tommy in practice.

source: Getty Images
Just short of a wink from the Galaxy captain.

Elsewhere in the team, swapping Christian Wilhelmsson in for Adam Cristman is an upgrade, especially given the relationship that’s developed between Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. Donovan is always a weapon, but moved closer to Keane from the get-go, the two MLS Best XI selections form the league’s most dangerous forward tandem.

One place where Los Angeles is almost certainly better than last year: The bench, not listed above. In 2011, Arena only used one substitute, bringing on Chris Birchall for Cristman in the 57th minute. On Saturday, we’re almost guaranteed to see Marcelo Sarvas for Beckham late (if Sarvas doesn’t get the call over Juninho at the onset). Edson Buddle, Michael Stephens, or Jose Villarreal could also see action.

The names in the table, however — the people most likely to actually play — don’t tell the whole story. When you see Franklin and Franklin across a line, Gonzalez and Gonzalez, Dunivant and Dunivant, you just assume those positions are a wash, but they’re not. Dunivant and Gonzalez had huge 2011s. On Saturday, are they likely to play to that standard? It’s possible, but based on what we’ve seen from them, Franklin, Saunders, and David Beckham in the middle, there are multiple places within this Galaxy team where a sheepish fan can ask whether this vintage is really as good as 2011’s. It’s a difficult case to make, particularly with Beckham.

The juxtaposition between that regression and Houston’s near-across the board improvement is what makes this year’s matchup so compelling. We’ve heard some misgivings about this year’s final being a repeat of last year’s, but it’s not. Sure, you can say that about any rematch — something almost always changes — there are huge improvements for Houston. And for an LA team which may have hit a crest last year, Saturday’s final sets up to be much more difficult than the one they nearly won a year ago.

If LA’s to repeat as MLS champions, they likely have to play better than they did a year ago.

MORE: How the 2011 Dynamo compare to this year’s model


Final note: Here is the side-by-side of LA’s 2009 finalists (who lost in the seventh round of penalty kicks to Real Salt Lake in Seattle) and this year’s likely XI:

2009 Pos. 2012
Donovan Ricketts G Josh Saunders
Sean Franklin RB Sean Franklin
Omar Gonzalez RCB Omar Gonzalez
Gregg Berhalter LCB DeLaGarza/Meyer
Todd Dunivant LB Todd Dunivant
Landon Donovan RM Christian Wilhelmsson
Chris Birchall CM Juninho
David Beckham CM David Beckham
Mike Magee LM Mike Magee
Jovan Kirovski SS/ST Landon Donovan
Edson Buddle ST Robbie Keane

Watch Live: Sunderland vs. Manchester United (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and John O'Shea of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Struggling Sunderland host top-four chasing Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online goal Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats haven’t won in their last four games and are four points of safety. Desperation sums up the mood for Sam Allardyce‘s side.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

The same could be said for United as Louis Van Gaal‘s side continue to leak goals and they’re now six points off the top four with just 13 games to go. Speculation linking Jose Mourinho with a summer arrival at Old Trafford continues with LVG’s job seemingly on the line.

Sunderland’s survival hopes took an unexpected hit this week, as winger Adam Johnson had his contract terminated after he surprisingly pleading guilty to a child sex charge in court.

In team news Sunderland bring in DeAndre Yedlin for Billy Jones, while United bring in Morgan Schneiderlin for Marouane Fellaini.  

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, O’Shea, Kone, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, M’Vila, Khazri, N’Doye, Defoe. Subs: Brown, Rodwell, Borini, Matthews, Pickford, Toivonen, Honeyman

Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rooney. Subs: Romero, Love, Weir, Pereira, Herrera, Memphis, Keane.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.