It’s too early to discount Spain, but there were some definite warning signs on Sunday


In previewing Spain’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Italy, we noted that with the possible exception of Portugal at last year’s European Championships, no team had been able to go toe-to-toe with Spain and survive. Yes, Switzerland (World Cup 2010) and the United States (Confederations Cup 2009) had beat La Furia Roja in competitive matches, but they did so by employing a low-percentage approach that gave them the proverbial puncher’s chance. Like Holland in the 2010 World Cup final, they didn’t exactly play their game.

Yet in the span of four days, we’ve seen two teams stay true to themselves, stand flat-footed in front of the world champs, and survive. Other teams have done this in friendlies – Italy and France are two that come to mind – but Italy’s semifinal performance was the first time since Portugal we’ve seen a team truly trouble the Spaniards.

And then Sunday, Brazil not only troubled Vicente del Bosque’s side, they routed them. A goal in the second minute followed by a half of pressure led to a 2-0 lead by intermission. Scoring two minutes into the second half, Brazil couldn’t have made it look simpler. It was an unfathomably easy win over a team many consider to the best of all time.

Since there’s no way to know whether this was just an off day or the first cracks in the dam, it’s of little use to proclaim this is the end of the Spanish armada. It might be. Results as dramatic as these often hint at something bigger. But without the context of future matches, we can’t draw broad conclusions. All we can do is look at possibilities.

As it concerns their future dominance, the most concerning part of today’s performance was their midfield’s ineffectiveness. Yes, their defense was troublesome, but that’s never hindered them before. And although Iker Casillas was bad, Spain has a slew of other goalkeepers. But they don’t have another Xavi Hernandez. They don’t have another Andres Iniesta. If other teams can find ways to limit that duo’s effectiveness, be it through athleticism and physicality (like Brazil) or pure numbers (like Italy), Spain is in as much trouble as their doubters may proclaim. You don’t need super talent, only a particularly type of talent, to implement either of those approaches.

Compounding this possibility – and as this point, it’s nothing more than a distant possibility – is Spain’s unwillingness to develop another option. Jesus Navas’s wide play could be thought of as a significant change, but there was a time before Vicente del Bosque where Spain used to make better use of their forwards, be they David Villa, Daniel Guiza, or an in-form Fernando Torres. Now, with Spain rarely playing real wingers and seemingly accepting forward’s a synonym for black hole (they’re still starting Torres), there are no alternatives. They’ve imposed their own tactical limitations, making themselves a sitting duck.

It’s a testament to Spain’s talent that they haven’t been exploited before, exactly why predictions of their demise are so confounding. We can talk Xs and Os all day, but those are ultimately mere plans which make teams more or less likely to win. At some point, Iniesta can just better than his opponent. Same for Xavi. Same for any of the myriad of options del Bosque has at his disposal. Even if that doesn’t mean reintegrating a player like Fernando Llorente, Spain is more than capable of adjusting.

The question is whether they will. Their lack of adjustments over the last five years is both understandable and what’s led to this point of doubt. Is this a flaw in their DNA, something that can’t be changed without compromising what makes them Spain? Or will Spain evolve?

Or, is this result just a one-off? Spain is old. Their Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy squad has played an unprecedented number of games (club and country) during Spain’s run, and unaccustomed to the Brazilian heat, La Roja may have wilted. Had they not played four games leading into the Brazil match, or if they had more preparation ahead of the games (as they will at next year’s World Cup), perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

We are, in fact, having this conversation, though. Brazil proved Spain was not only mortal but potentially vulnerable: exploitable. While it’s too early to know the extent to which Spain have faded, based on the lofty stature they held after their game against Uruguay, it’s fair to say they have faded. If only a little.


Bundesliga wrap: Bayern, Hertha 1-2; USMNT’s Pulisic stars again

Bayern's Douglas Costa takes a selfie after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Bayern Munich’s weekend went pretty well, with the Bavarians leading longtime rival Borussia Dortmund by six points after a win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Bayern has a three-point lead on the field, with John Brooks’ Hertha Berlin second after another win.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley on Swans draw ]

And it was another great day for the career of young American winger Christian Pulisic. More below…

Ingolstadt 3-3 Borussia Dortmund

Paraguay’s Dario Lezcano and the hosts looked prepared to cruise to a 3-1 win when he netted his second goal of the day, but there was still a half-hour left at Audi-Sportpark.

Adrian Ramos scored in the 69th minute, opening the door for the latest big moment for American teenager Christian Pulisic. The diminutive attacker scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season in stoppage time to propel BVB to a point.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had BVB’s other goal.

Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, and Lukas Pisczek cheer over  a goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Ingolstadt 04 and Borussia Dortmund   in Ingolstadt, Germany,  Saturday Oct. 22, 2016. (Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)
(Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Koln

Anthony Modeste and Koln had less than 10 minutes to celebrate their equalizer, as Niklas Stark’s 74th minute goal lifted Hertha to all three points. USMNT center back John Brooks went the distance at center back.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

What looked like a potential onslaught in the first half hour settled into a final score line, as Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa goals were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s crew at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach managed just two shots, none on goal, in the loss. USMNT mid Fabian Johnson went 90 minutes in the loss.

Hamburg 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Another 90 for USMNT’s Chandler
Freiburg 2-1 Augsburg — Nils Petersen nets winner.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim — Early red card for hosts.
Darmstadt 3-1 Wolfsburg — Three different goal scores in win.
RB Leipzig vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Mainz — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 8 6 2 0 20 4 16 4-1-0 2-1-0 20
 Hertha BSC Berlin 8 5 2 1 14 9 5 4-0-0 1-2-1 17
 1899 Hoffenheim 8 4 4 0 16 10 6 2-2-0 2-2-0 16
 1. FC Köln 8 4 3 1 13 6 7 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 RB Leipzig 7 4 3 0 12 5 7 2-1-0 2-2-0 15
 Borussia Dortmund 8 4 2 2 20 10 10 3-1-0 1-1-2 14
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 2 2 13 8 5 2-2-0 2-0-2 14
 SC Freiburg 8 4 0 4 10 12 -2 4-0-0 0-0-4 12
 FSV Mainz 05 7 3 2 2 14 12 2 1-1-1 2-1-1 11
 Mönchengladbach 8 3 2 3 10 12 -2 3-1-0 0-1-3 11
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 3 1 4 11 12 -1 2-1-1 1-0-3 10
 FC Augsburg 8 2 2 4 7 11 -4 1-1-2 1-1-2 8
 Darmstadt 8 2 2 4 8 15 -7 2-2-0 0-0-4 8
 Werder Bremen 7 2 1 4 9 18 -9 2-0-2 0-1-2 7
 VfL Wolfsburg 8 1 3 4 5 11 -6 0-2-2 1-1-2 6
 FC Schalke 04 7 1 1 5 7 11 -4 1-0-2 0-1-3 4
 FC Ingolstadt 04 8 0 2 6 7 17 -10 0-1-3 0-1-3 2
 Hamburger SV 8 0 2 6 2 15 -13 0-1-3 0-1-3 2

Confirmed: Knee ligament damage for Andres Iniesta

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona reacts injured on the pitch during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Andres Iniesta’s footballing career has defined for an entire generation the words consistency and professionalism.

[ MORE: Messi scores late winner vs. Valencia; Neymar hit with a bottle ]

Now 32 years old and Barcelona’s longest-tenured servant, Iniesta has played more than 40 games (all competitions) every season since the 2003-04 campaign, back when he was a 19-year-old La Masia product quickly breaking into the first team. Part of a run like that is down to unparalleled talent and an unwavering commitment to craft, but, of course, a stroke of good luck on the serious-injury front.

It’s looking quite unlikely he’ll extend his 40-games-played streak to a 13th season in 2016-17, however, after the club confirmed fears on Saturday that Iniesta suffered knee ligament damage during a heavy challenge by Valencia midfielder Enzo Perez early in the first half of Barca’s 3-2 victory — statement from Barca’s official website:

The first team player Andres Iniesta has injured the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. When he arrives in Barcelona the player will have more tests to find out the exact extent of the injury.

The Blaugrana also lost Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique to injuries during their Champions League triumph over Manchester City, as well as Rafinha and Arda Turan, who picked up knocks of their own in training during the week. Injury crisis at the Nou Camp.

Klopp: “Would’ve been kind of a joke” if Reds tossed away lead

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool applauds the fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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It’s kinda funny that Liverpool nearly threw away a dominant hour by taking its foot off the gas pedal on Saturday at Anfield.

The Reds took a two-goal lead but had to hold on for their three points, eventually exhaling with a 2-1 win over West Brom.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

How would manager Jurgen Klopp have felt if his dominant side, one that failed to put away maybe a dozen chances versus the Baggies, drew?

“We had to finish the game much earlier,” Klopp said. “It would have been kind of a joke if we drew or lost today. We were unbelievable. We wasted a little energy in the second half. … Performance, really good against a team like this that were here to get somehow something.”

He’s right, of course. The Reds need to learn to kill teams off, even if star West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster deserves plenty of credit for another starring role against a top team.

Liverpool 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Reds hold on for all three

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Loris Karius of Liverpool celebrates his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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  • Mane opens scoring
  • Reds second with 20 points
  • WBA scores late

Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho scored first half goals worthy of admiration, and Liverpool beat West Brom 2-1 at Anfield on Saturday.

Gareth McAuley scored the Baggies’ lone goal, as West Brom took Liverpool’s day from comfortable to uneasy over the final 30 minutes or so.

The winning margin pushes Liverpool level on points Arsenal but behind the Gunners on goal differential. Man City has 19 points and would retake the table lead with a draw or better versus Southampton on Sunday.

The Baggies are 13th, ahead of West Ham and Burnley on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Reds went ahead when Roberto Firmino‘s spinning cross was belted past Foster by Mane in the 21st minute.

A poor Ben Foster clearance fell to Mane in the 35th minute, and the Senegalese attacker quickly found Coutinho. The diminutive winger cut into the box, working a near-post shot by Foster to make it 2-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool’s pressure continued in the second 45, with Foster flying across goal to palm away Dejan Lovren‘s strong header.

James Milner sprung Coutinho after the hour mark, but Claudio Yacob blocked the produced chance of Emre Can. The winning margin was seemingly the only question for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds.

West Brom had the next true chance of the match, with Nacer Chadli blazing high and wide off a corner kick.

But hold on: McAuley was in the right spot to push a pinballing orb past Lorius Karius with 10 minutes to go. The Reds were able to hold on despite missing so many chances to put the thing to bed.