Talking about sitting Carlos Bocanegra, starting Omar Gonzalez

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We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it was coming so soon, which is why almost every lineup projection you saw ahead of today’s U.S. Men’s National Team match featured Geoff Cameron and captain Carlos Bocanegra in central defense. A few brave souls had MLS Cup final MVP Omar Gonzalez breaking into the starting XI, but the consensus held a road game to open the final round of World Cup Qualifying wouldn’t be met with a roll of the dice. If the big LA Galaxy center half was to be blooded, it would be elsewhere.

But when lineups were released an hour before the match, a mild ripple went through the U.S. soccer-loving world. Bocanegra was out, Gonzalez was in, and in the first competitive match of his United States career, the 24-year-old would be expected to form a quick partnership with Cameron in one of the more adversarial environments in CONCACAF soccer.

(MORE: What we learned from the U.S.’s Honduran Hex opener)

And we saw the results. On a minute-to-minute basis, Gonzalez seemed solid, but severe lapses on both goals put his performance under the microscope. Next to him, Cameron had his most-difficult game since breaking Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting XI. Combined a the poor performance from Timmy Chandler, a below-standard outing from Fabian Johnson, and a big mistake from Tim Howard, you could contend the States were lucky Honduras didn’t score more.

Combined with the basic mistakes that led to the final goal, the defense’s performance will leave U.S. fans asking ‘Why?’ Why was a reliable and experienced Carlos Bocanegra sat on a day when his would have proved so valuable?

In fairness, 75 minutes into the match, few people were talking about Bocanegra’s absence, but the nature of defending means you are judged by your worst moments. Those are the places where goals happen, so after Geoff Cameron failed to clear the through ball that led to the final goal, it’s fair to ask: Would Carlos Bocanegra would have done better? When Tim Howard seemed to misread the play and possibly miscommunicate with Cameron, we can’t help but wonder if the same would have happened if Bocanegra had started. And when Omar Gonzalez pulled up and allowed Jerry Bengston to beat him to the ball that became the winning goal, fans started imagining what the more-experienced Bocanegra would have done.

(MORE: U.S.’s Wednesday Man of the Match)

In our minds, we can see Bocanegra preserving today’s result, but our minds are also filled with the memories of a player that may not have been at Klinsmann’s disposal. In third round qualifying, we saw a more inconsistent Bocanegra than the man that anchored Bob Bradley’s defenses, a diminution made evident as the captain was left chasing Carlos Ruiz early in the U.S.’s final third round qualifying against Guatemala. Since, Bocanegra’s been a part-time player for the worst team in Spain’s second division. Because we’re not at every Racing Santander or U.S. national team practice we don’t know, but there’s strong circumstantial evidence to suggest Bocanegra may no longer be the player defined by our imaginations.

We have to at least concede there’s a possibility Gonzalez was the better option, a concession that doesn’t mean we have to abandon the idea Klinsmann made a mistake. The unfortunate truth is Klinsmann has a monopoly of knowledge on this issue, one that means we can never truly know if the boss made the right decision. All was can do is entertain the possibilities and use our intuition to decide which hypothetical Bocanegra is most likely the man who sat on the bench in Honduras.

(MORE: The falling stock of Wednesday’s performers)

If Bocanegra is still close to the player we imagine, Klinsmann probably made a mistake. That player should have been in Klinsmann’s XI. However, if that version of Bocanegra has been nowhere to be seen in training, we may be asking for a player who no longer exists.

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.”