(Video) Gareth Bale’s wonder strike not enough for Tottenham to capture Champions League dreams

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Another game-winning strike from Gareth Bale wasn’t enough to save Tottenham from more Champions League heartache as Spurs missed out on a top-four berth to Arsenal.

The incredible strike once again came from outside the penalty area (his ninth this season – four more than any other player), giving Spurs a 1-0 win over Sunderland. Unfortunately for Andre Villas-Boas’ squad, the win meant nothing as Arsenal blanked Newcastle 1-0 to clinch the final spot in the Champions League. With the Gunners victory, Tottenham finishes in 5th place meaning they will be headed to the Europa League for the second consecutive season.

Things began well for Tottenham, who rose to the challenge among a vociferous atmosphere at White Hart Lane.  Emmanuel Adebayor’s 5th minute header was tipped wide by Sunderland netminder Simon Mignolet. The striker was at it again two minutes later when he received Bale’s throw-in in the box and went down under Carlos Cuellar’s challenge, only for referee Andre Marriner to signal play-on.

Controversy erupted in the 20th minute when Tom Huddlestone sent a 30 yard ball over the Sunderland defense for the streaking Bale. The Welshman left Cuellar and Seb Larsson in the dust and his lucious first touch put him prime position for a breakaway. With two quick dribbles, Bale was in the box. As the Spurs winger steadied himself to shoot, Larsson closed in and appeared to use both hands to push Bale in the back, sending him to the turf.

With Spurs fans screaming for a penalty, Marriner sent shockwaves through White Hart Lane when he showed Bale a yellow card for diving. The Welshman went into hysterics, rolling on the turf in disbelief that he was being penalized. Spurs persevered, however, and continued to pepper Mignolet with shots.

In the 30th minute Sunderland had its first quality opportunity when striker Connor Wickham stabbed a shot that was saved by the chin of Spurs netminder Hugo Lloris. Six minutes later Bale was at it again, this time receiving Aaron Lennon’s pass and cracking a shot that Jack Colbeck blocked, leading some to claim handball. But Marriner once again played-on.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Spurs had yet another shout for a penalty when a Tottenham possession around the box found Clint Dempsey, whose shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Cuellar. Marriner thought long and hard about blowing the whistle but decided against it, sending Villas-Boas into an uncharacteristically furious outburst.

Spurs continued their barrage on goal and in the 60th minute Scott Parker and Aaron Lennon each had shots cleared off the line by Colbeck. Just when it seemed nothing was going Tottenham’s way, Marriner finally gave them some relief. Lennon possessed the ball 35 yards out on the left side of the pitch. Looking to unlock the Spurs defense the winger dribbled laterally across the pitch where he was met by a reckless David Vaughan, who crashed into Lennon’s knee. Marriner didn’t hesitate and showed Vaughan a straight red card.

With the man advantage, Spurs continued to press to no avail. Villas-Boas then brought on Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 84th minute and directed his squad into a 3-1-6 formation. Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio countered the tactic four minutes later by taking Wickham off and handing a debut to 18 year old Adam Mitchell. The move proved disastrous.

Smelling blood, Spurs immediately swung the ball to Bale on the right side of the pitch. With Mitchell showing the winger right, Bale shimmied and cut left before unleashing a ferocious shot from 25 yards out that dipped over Mignolet’s out-stretched hand.

The Welshman’s 21st goal of the season was enough to earn Spurs their highest points total in Premier League history, but it was all for naught as Arsenal held on to defeat Newcastle 1-0.

And so, Spurs now turn to a summer transfer window with hopes that their chairman, Daniel Levy, will open his checkbook and sign top players that can help the club crack the top four. The top priority, of course, will be to hold onto Bale, who is being closely watched by the world’s richest clubs including Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”