MLS match preview: Sporting KC at LA Galaxy

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We are getting into the area, roughly 8 or so weeks into the Major League Soccer campaign, where the alarm finally went off for last year’s LA Galaxy, when Bruce Arena’s team finally broke its slumber and decided to make something of the 2012 season.

Having stumbled so improbably through the first two-plus months of last year’s championship defense, the Galaxy did make something of 2012 – something quite extraordinary, really.

They stomped and stormed their way through the remainder of the regular season, pushed through the playoffs and, with just a little luck in the way post-season results fell serendipitously around them, got the championship match at home for a second consecutive season.

And they won the doggone thing.

This year’s Galaxy launch hasn’t been anything so languid as last year’s sleepy crawl. Indeed, Arena’s team is doing too badly

Then again, they aren’t exactly tearing through the MLS field either. Take away an early 4-0 win over Chicago (a team that has proven to be pretty weak), and the Galaxy has given up as many goals as it has scored.

Last week saw Omar Gonzalez and his crew crash out in CONCACAF Champions League and then lose late in Dallas. So, again … not great, not bad, but nothing special so far from the champs.

Which brings us to tonight’s big match at the Home Depot Center, surely one of the Round 8 marquee MLS matchups. The Galaxy host the league’s hottest team, Sporting Kansas City, unbeaten and unscored upon in its last five. Kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.

Last time steady SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen plucked one from his own net was March 9 in Toronto. Since then, a defense guided by center back Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin has led the way while Sporting KC marched to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The five-game unbeaten run includes a 1-0 mid-week win at New York. The hard-working, collective defensive attitude has built a 519-minute defensive scoreless streak, the 7th longest over 18 MLS seasons.

(MORE: Looking at the league’s longest, historic defensive streaks)

Arena’s team will be the better rested Saturday in Southern California, and by a long way. Sporting KC traveled across country on Thursday following Wednesday’s triumph in New Jersey. The Galaxy, meanwhile, have been inactive since Saturday’s loss in Texas.

Robbie Keane is back in training after missing last week’s match with an ankle problem. The Galaxy’s Irish international has looked dangerous this year when healthy, but one goal and one assist in league play isn’t where Keane wants to be about two months into the season.

Brazilian center back Leonardo, suspended due to a red card, will need to be replaced alongside Gonzalez. The options include veteran A.J. DeLaGarza and second-year man Tommy Meyer.

The Galaxy defense (back by Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who has looked only so-so) will have a lot to deal with in an SKC attack that includes technically gifted Graham Zusi (pictured above), playmaking midfielder Benny Feilhaber, Argentine striker Claudio Bieler and two of the league’s most aggressive fullbacks in getting forward, Chance Meyers and Seth Sinovic.

Bieler, tied for third in league scoring with four goals, has proven to be the very striker that manager Peter Vermes has been missing over the last couple of years in the heartland.

The full, fact-packed MLS match preview is here.

VIDEO: Napoli fans celebrate Juventus win

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It is safe to say Napoli’s fans were pretty happy with the 1-0 win their team secured at Juventus on Sunday.

Kalidou Koulibaly powered home a header in stoppage as Napoli moved just one point behind Juventus, who sit top of the Serie A table, with four games to go. The title race is well and truly on in Italy.

The scenes across Naples after the game were incredible and when the players arrived back at the airport at around 3 a.m. local time they were greeted by thousands of adoring fans.

Take a look at the video below. Wow.


Preview: Everton v. Newcastle

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  • Everton have won seven of their last eight games v Newcastle
  • Newcastle have won four PL games in a row
  • Wayne Rooney has more goals (15) against Newcastle than any other PL team

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both setting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game

The Toffees sit in ninth, with Newcastle in 10th and just one point behind Everton with a game in hand. Rafael Benitez has been lauded for taking his newly-promoted side into the top 10 with defensive solidity, while Sam Allardyce has been lambasted for a defensive style of play despite getting Everton out of a relegation fight following his appointment back in November.

In team news Everton have Mason Holgate and Gylfi Sigurdsson out injured, while Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu but Islam Slimani could make his first start.


What they’re saying 

Sam Allardyce on the job Rafael Benitez has done at Newcastle: “From a difficult period they have managed to recover and get in the Premier League and they have turned it around. They have put together a run of games and we’ll see a better Newcastle than we saw up there [when Everton won 1-0 in December]. Rafa has progressed very well. He has always expressed his disappointment with not enough funds – we can all say we don’t have enough funds. What he has managed with the funds he has, particularly in the January months, has been excellent.”

Rafael Benitez on his Newcastle future: “I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time. I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.”

Prediction
Two teams who are very similar in terms of their style of play should see a bit of a stalemate take place at Goodison. 1-1 draw, which is a much better result for Newcastle and will pile more pressure on Big Sam.

Paul Pogba: “Transfers are not in my head”

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Paul Pogba has been discussing his future at Manchester United beyond this season.

The Frenchman delivered a stunning assist in United’s 2-1 win against Tottenham in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, with the midfielder now named Man of the Match in each of his last two games after plenty of speculation about his future at United in recent months.

Jose Mourinho left Pogba out of his starting lineup on multiple occasions, while Pep Guardiola claims he was offered to buy Pogba in January and speculation about him joining Paris Saint-Germain, going back to Juventus or heading to Real Madrid continue.

Speaking to French outlet Canal Football Club, Pogba had the following to say about his own future.

“Right now, I am at Manchester United and I am honestly only thinking about the present. Transfers are not in my head. We are in the [FA] Cup final and the World Cup is around the corner,” Pogba said.

Pogba also addressed the rumors regarding his relationship with Mourinho with reports stating that the duo do not get along and United’s manager is fed up with the Frenchman’s attitude off the pitch.

“I don’t have a problem with him, and I don’t think he has a problem with me,” Pogba said. “He’s the coach and he has to make choices. I am a player and I accept them. I have to answer on the pitch.”

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.