Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Gerald Pique, Victor Valdes, Pedro, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, David Villa, Xavi, Jordi Alba

Three Talking Points: Spain 2 Ireland 0

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It may have been just a friendly but the match between Spain and Ireland on Tuesday night still provided plenty of interesting talking points. Here are three thoughts from the clash in the Bronx.

Gerard Pique Fancies Himself

One thing about Gerard Pique, the man really fancies himself an offensive weapon. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t, as we’ve all witnessed the Barcelona man’s quality going forward, but it is quite remarkable how frequently he leaves the Spanish defense exposed.

In last night’s match Pique spent the first half slipping into positions high on the right wing where he sought to collaborate with David Silva in giving Ireland right-back Paul McShane a nightmare. Pique’s advancements resulted in numerous headers that provided Spain a handful of second ball opportunities and a volley that required a goal-line clearance by the Irish.

In the second half Pique took a more proactive approach to his advancements, dribbling out of the back with a flair and panache remniscent of Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer. At one point, in the 66th minute, Pique literally danced around two defenders in his defensive third before throwing a Cruyff move that luckily earned him a free-kick. It was an Olé-worthy display but also a reckless act of self-promotion that, had he lost possession, would have seen Ireland through on goal.

Granted, it was a friendly match so perhaps Gerry was being a tad bit more aggressive than normal. But keep a keen eye on his movements during the Confederations Cup, where punishment is certain to be swift and costly.

Giovanni Trapattoni Had A Plan

At the tender age of 74, Giovanni Trapattoni remains a cheeky manager. Knowing his Ireland squad would be facing Spain’s first-string, he deployed a young Starting XI in a 4-4-2 formation that likely had La Furia Roja thinking the match would be a walk in the park. But as Spain would soon find out, breaking down Ireland was anything but easy.

Utilizing Seamus Coleman, a lung-busting full-back, and Andy Keogh, a forward with searing pace, as outside midfielders, Trapattoni was able to get eight players behind the ball and compact within the 18 yard box. It was a tactic that Spain had seen on numerous occasions but one that Ireland executed well, consistently forcing the Champions into outside shots or poor passes through non-existent holes.

Once they recovered possession, Trapattoni’s men looked for Coleman and Keogh on quick outlets or Conor Sammon through the air. The result was two marquee chances that Ireland failed to capitalize on. But give credit to the Italian gaffer – he had a plan and it nearly foiled Spain.

Final Pass Still Spain’s Downfall

For all the possession they enjoyed on the night, Spain still had difficulty un-locking the Irish defense. The final entry pass remains the Achilles heel of the tiki-taka specialists.

As they inch up the pitch, one and two-touch passing through the quadrants, Spain are particularly comfortable. David Villa interchanges with David Silva, Silva with Pedro, Pedro with Andres Iniesta, and Iniesta with Xavi, and so on and so forth. It’s a mesmerizing display until they reach the top of their opponents’ box where suddenly, the number of defenders doubles and the space shrinks from a 70×40 yard grid to 40×15.

At this point, Spain (or, Barcelona, however you want to look at it) typically utilizes one of two options – slip a low pass through defenders or scoop a lofted pass over their heads. Problem is, a compact defense and a goalkeeper who is good at reading the game and quick off his line can sniff these passes out.

That’s when things get interesting. What to do? Outside shots are not Spain’s forté and relying on set-pieces can be a risky move.

Perhaps it’s time to reinvent?

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Burnley

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11:  Chris Smalling of Manchester United scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on February 11, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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  • Burnley hasn’t won at OT since 1962
  • Man Utd leads all-time 58W-20D-44L
  • Clarets sit 14th, United 7th

Manchester United seeks its first Premier League win in four tries when it hosts pesky Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live).

Burnley has picked up their fair share of draws at Old Trafford in their long history, but wins have not been found at Manchester United in more than half a century.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Clarets are coming off a win over Everton, and Sean Dyche‘s crew waited until the 90th minute to score the winner through Canadian international Scott Arfield.

United will be buoyed after beating rivals Manchester City in a midweek EFL Cup clash that moved the Red Devils into the final eight of the tournament.

What they’re saying

United’s Ander Herrera on playing at Old Trafford: “I feel it like them. I know I am not English and I am not from Manchester, but I really love this club and I have enjoyed my time here. I don’t want to be just one more player. I want to show that I am very happy here and I want to be here for as long as possible.”

Burnley keeper Tom Heaton on returning to OT“It’s a special game back. I still hold a lot of affection for the football club. I spent 13 years there and almost grew up there. I’m still pleased I made that decision to earn those stripes and get back to the Premier League and be involved in the international set-up. It’s always a nice feeling going back there but, as ever, there will be a job to do and that will be the focus.”


Burnley will be rested and ready to grind out a result, but United knows it needs to start stacking wins to stay in the mix for a European place. The Red Devils will open Burnley up early en route to a scrappy 3-1 win.

MLS conference semifinals schedule set for Sunday

Toronto FC's Justin Morrow (left) celebrates his goal with teammates Sebatian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio (right) and Jozy Altidore (back) against the Chicago Fire during second half MLS soccer action in Toronto, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Soccer’s “play-in” round of the playoffs is over, with the chalk going 3-for-4.

[ MLS: Seattle beats KC | Montreal tops DC ]

The Impact’s 4-2 win over DC United was the only upset of the first round, with Seattle, Los Angeles, and Toronto all handling their business at home.

Now we know who plays Sunday, and what order they’ll take the pitches of MLS.

all times ET

Montreal vs. New York Red Bulls — 3 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids — 5 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. New York City FC — 7 p.m.
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas — 9:30 p.m.

November 6

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal — TBD
Colorado Rapids vs. LA Galaxy — TBD
New York City FC vs. Toronto FC — TBD
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders — TBD

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans celebrates after Sounders' Nelson Haedo Valdez scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)