Drilling down on: L.A. Galaxy 4, Chicago Fire 0

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The LA Galaxy will not, we know now, begin 2013 in that wildly deflated, almost shockingly poor way they launched 2012.

The champs began their three-peat quest with a commanding 4-0 win over visiting and surprisingly tame Chicago on Sunday at the Home Depot Center.

Mike Magee’s hat trick powered the home team’s win, while the Galaxy midfield and defense had a comfortable afternoon, keeping debuting goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini from extending himself more than once.

Man of the Match

The Galaxy will need a little more of what Mike Magee gave them Sunday, supplying his side’s first three goals in a performance that will almost surely net the underrated veteran (and fifth-year Galaxy man) an opening weekend MLS Player of the Week award. With Landon Donovan still on hiatus and David Beckham’s replacement still just a gleam in the AEG eye, players rising the way Magee did Sunday will be pure Galaxy gold.

(MORE: Highlights package, with Magee’s hat trick)

Threesome of knowledge: what we learned

  • Chicago can go ahead and start the season. Anytime now.

Playing on the sacrificial road lamb for the champs to begin 2013 isn’t the easiest of assignments, clearly. Still, the Fire needs more. And in a hurry.

It’s not just the final score. (Which could have been worse, by the way, but for Sean Johnson’s busy, steady work in Chicago goal.)

The marking was jayvee on LA’s first goal, which had been coming. But the defending, ironically, wasn’t even Chicago’s larger issue. Rather, nobody in an advanced position for the visitors did a darn thing.

Maicon Santos missed a wonderful chance, an uncontested first-half header from eight yards that he left wide. If Santos, on his third club in three years, ever wants to stick as a starting striker, that ball must fly in.

Patrick Nyarko was contained on the right. And Chris Rolfe, the attacking midfielder in Frank Klopas’ 4-2-3-1, simply must find more ways to influence the game.

Dilly Duka along the left was OK for Chicago.

  • Robbie Keane is doing fine, thank you

It seemed logical to assume that LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane would be OK in the 2013 early going. But you never know until you know.

Sure enough, the Irish international had lots of hop and pop, just as he did late last year when Keane was Major League Soccer’s top striker over the season’s last 2-3 months. Today, like then, it’s that wise movement off the ball as much as the outright shooting and scoring that counts with Keane.

Then again, he did plenty on the score sheet, too, with a goal and an assist in Sunday’s romp-and-stomp for the champs.

  • What of free kicks and corner kicks for LA?

If you’re interested, Juninho took the first free kick for Los Angeles in what we would have known previously around the Home Depot Center as “David Beckham time.”

With no Beckham, and with the club’s second choice dead ball delivery man weeks from getting back on the field (Landon Donovan, that is), expect the quality chances to shrink on free kicks and corner kicks. Yes, Beckham did that very, very well.

That’s a shame, too, for the champs; Omar Gonzalez is a mighty juicy target for the player who can aim those things precisely.

Packaged for take-away

  • Fire center back Arne Friedrich, the German veteran, was held out as a precaution while still dealing with an injury.
  • Sherjill MacDonald was on the bench to start for Chicago. Not to pick on Santos, but if MacDonald cannot beat out the journeyman forward on opening day, this is a pretty big problem already around Toyota Park.
  • It looks like the way Klopas wants the 4-2-3-1 to work is with Jeff Larentowicz holding dependably while Joel Lindpere does more of the two-way work.
  • Debuting Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini made an absolute mess of a 32nd minute situation, handing a ball to Rolfe about 30 yards out. An in-form Rolfe would have scored. But Chicago’s top attacker is such a streaky sort, as we know. So the not-in-form Rolfe drove himself into a bad angle and then left his rolling shot just wide of the far post.
  • Best one-on-one combat of the afternoon: Galaxy right back A.J. De La Garza and Dilly Duka.
  • Another nice, ongoing battle Sunday: Galaxy left midfielder Colin Clark vs. Fire right back Jalil Anibaba.
  • Referee Kevin Stott missed a PK early in second half, when Fire center back Austin Berry got a handful of Keane’s jersey, although the Irishman did go down a bit easy. Tough call for Stott, in all honesty.

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.

Heynckes squashes Lewandowski rumors after Premier League rumors

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The English media – mainly the tabloids – has had a field day over the last 24 hours with rumors of a Robert Lewandowski move to the Premier League claiming, but the Bayern Munich manager is having none of it.

Jupp Heynckes told the German press during his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the club’s Saturday match against Hertha Berlin, “I can’t imagine there is a chance [the club executives] will sell Lewandowski.”

“Bayern is not a selling club,” Heynckes went on to proclaim. “They want to, and always will want to, keep their top players.”

The reports stated that Lewandowski was “flirting” with a move to the Premier League, and that while Manchester City and Chelsea were the more logical destination, Liverpool was actually the preferred landing spot as the Polish international was open to a reunification with former boss Jurgen Klopp, whom he worked with at Borussia Dortmund before his switch to Allianz Arena. Lewandowski’s contract at Bayern Munich currently runs through 2021, leaving the player with little say over his future.

While the rumors seem like a long shot, what does make sense is that, at 29 years old, Lewandowski doesn’t a ton of time left to convince a Premier League club he’s worth a heavy investment for the next couple of years. Many top teams – most notably Arsenal – are hesitant to sign players over 30 years old, and would be even less inclined to pay a hefty transfer fee for a player without a long future ahead of them. Manchester United just paid a cut-rate price for Alexis Sanchez, and while that was largely due to Arsenal’s position of weakness regarding the expiry of Sanchez’s contract, Sanchez’s age also partially contributed to that knocked down transfer rate.

Nonetheless, Bayern’s sale history is minimal, having only offloaded surplus players, such as defender Medhi Benatia this past summer, Mario Gotze back to Borussia Dortmund the summer before, and Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City in 2015.