Good performances hard to find in U.S. draw with Canada

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If the idea of a January match is just an exercise in January camp motivation, a way for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to get his players through three tough weeks of conditioning with a little more skip in their daily step, then Tuesday’s dullard of a friendly hit the note, I suppose.

On pretty much any other account from the U.S. side, there wasn’t much good to say about this one, a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against a visiting Canadian that should have been easily overmatched.

Credit to well-organized and hard-working Canada for a worthy response after getting the maple leafs knocked out of them against Denmark just three nights back. Even so …

These matches aren’t about results, of course. But they are about opportunities, about getting a couple of individuals to distinguish themselves. The chances to do so were certainly there for U.S. attackers as Canada happily ceded possession.

Finding someone in the U.S. blue to take advantage? Those were pretty tough to pinpoint out there.

Three take-aways from the match in which plenty of opportunities turned into swinging misses:

(MORE: Individual opportunities wasted; too few sharp edges)

The lineup didn’t work. And then some.

What an interesting choice by Klinsmann to put Brad Evans in the chief playmaking position, at the top of a midfield diamond. The versatile Seattle Sounders’ midfielder may be a lot of things, but he’s not the guy to punch holes in tightly packed Canadian defensive stack-up.

The Canadians played a relatively high line and dropped their attackers – few that they were – back. So it was up to the U.S. midfield and overlapping backs to break through 10 Canadians in a 30 to 40-yard box. With Kyle Beckerman almost always making the safe choice, and with Graham Zusi reliably restrained on the right, unable to find a bit of joy in getting past Nik Ledgerwood, there just wasn’t much happening.

If Klinsmann’s lineup selections were all about rewarding performance over three weeks of training, fair enough. But as a tactical selection for a one match, Benny Feilhaber or Mix Diskerud would have been a better central, attacking choice.

Even Evans’ positioning relative to strikers Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson indicated “safefy first,” as he was generally too far away.

Quite a few U.S. men showed their offensive limitations.

Evans … we already addressed. And he wasn’t much better as a right back, although that’s not his position, so it’s a tough ask. Johnson can clearly be dangerous around goal, but he’s not as adept in a game that requires the United States to handle the ball most of the time. Same with Wondolowski.

Zusi was wide right in the 4-4-2 and simply wasn’t effective, mostly just stuck in the mud over there, so to speak. Some of that was due to Tony Beltran being less aggressive than Justin Morrow on the other side in pushing into attacking spots.

Nor could Beltran manage to release the crosses when he did get forward, which he did a bit more after about 30 minutes. Beltran, who had such a good camp, was subtracted at halftime.

Further back, as the ball moved back and forth across the field, Beckerman rarely turned with the ball or pushed aggressively toward the few gaps in Canada’s alignment. As we’ve seen, at the international level, Beckerman is a better in a match where the United States is defending more than attacking, where he’s more destroyer and less distributor.

It was crowed and tough out there, no doubt. But this is where Zusi and Brad Davis, who similarly failed to distinguish himself, needed to show something. Something!

None of the forwards did any distinguishing either. Wondolowski needed to do better with a couple of half chances that came his way. Juan Agudelo, in for the last 30 minutes, did not look particularly sharp.

Good nights? Yeah, a couple.

Matt Besler was the best passer, managing at least to look occasionally for the passing lanes that would help break up the logjam. Morrow was easily the best offensive threat of the two U.S. outside backs.

Omar Gonzalez demonstrated that he can be a bother at international level on those attacking set pieces, which we’ve all seen him do in MLS.

Josh Gatt certainly kept his stock pointed in the right direction, enlivening the left side. He was easily the best U.S. man at taking on defenders and showing a willingness to ask some questions of the Canadian back line.

Feilhaber looked OK in possession, and his set pieces fell dangerously.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”