CONCACAF Champions League: Monterrey escape Torreon with dangerous draw

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The sad part about the away goals rule: It’s the best we’ve got. Which is fine, most of the time. Rather than see teams go on the road in first legs, bunker, and try to take their chances at home with 0-0 results, we usual get actual games. Teams are rewarded for the risk with the profit of the away goals tiebreaker, and while you still see the occasional team play for a 0-0, it’s relatively rare.

The bad part about away goals comes with those 0-0 results. If you’re away in leg one and earn that 0-0, you go home only slightly better off, with a goal allowed at home meaning a second draw will send you out. Even if you pull back a ill-won penalty, random set piece, or act of Mats Hummels generosity, you still need another goal.

That’s the state Monterrey are in after the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Away in Torreon, the two-time defending champions took a scoreless draw out of Estadio Corona, a result earned after playing the last 24 minutes with 10 men.

The match looked unlikely to end scoreless when the teams traded chances inside three minutes, with Humberto Suazo nearly giving the Rayados an away goal off a turnover deep in Santos’s end. Turning on a ball in the middle of the area, Suazo’s close range shot was close enough to Oswaldo Sanchez to draw a save from the veteran keeper.

The first half deteriorated, playing out as cagey as it was sloppy. In the second half, Suazo nearly scored again, putting a ball off the woodwork early in the period.

Early in the second half, Santos lost their most dangerous player. Mexican international Oribe Peralta was carted off the pitch after a Monterrey defender rolled over the outside of his right leg. Peralta was unable to get up after his knee bent inward at an unnatural angle, with Herculez Gomez eventually sent on to replace him.

In the 66th minute, Monterrey were forced to pull back, a dismissal leaving them hamstrung. Cesar Delgado, launching himself into a midfield challenge, saw straight red, leaving his team to play a man down. The match played out with the Guerreros laying siege, though few chances made it through the cluster of Monterrey defenders holding out for the draw.

In a way, Santos have only themselves to blame for the result. Normally a team that places a 4-3-3 formation, Santos elected to use a 4-4-2, even though they were at home. Perhaps coincidentally, the Guerreros rarely threatened Monterrey’s goal, their sacrifice of Gomez from their starting lineup failing to pay off.

The Rayados’ success puts next week’s decider in that weird, 0-0 netherworld. Are Monterrey really better off after leg one? In a position where they’ll need two goals if Santos score one, you can argue they’re the victims of the rule’s major quirk.

History, however, would suggest Monterrey’s in a good place. In their last 14 trips to Monterrey, Santos are winless, only five times managing a score draw.

Though there are potential pitfalls, Monterrey is closer to a three-peat after tonight’s result.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.