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

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.”