Donovan, Johnson lead U.S. past Honduras, into fifth-straight Gold Cup final

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It was their most convincing performance of the tournament, one that looked was destined to go the United States’ way before Eddie Johnson put his team up in the 11th minute. Dictating play though midfield and sending the Honduras defense reeling with each movement forward, the U.S. claimed a place in their fifth straight Gold Cup final, using two goals and an assist from the resurgent Landon Donovan to claim a 3-1 win Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium.

Donovan’s goals came on each side of halftime, his second responding one minute after a Honduras goal had briefly made a game of it in the 52nd minute. With their two-goal lead restored, the U.S. comfortably saw the Hondurans out of the tournament, the Catrachos exiting at the semifinal stage for the third straight tournament.

[MORE: U.S. rolling through Gold Cup like never before]

The result means the U.S. will going into Sunday’s Solider Field final with a perfect record, having outscored their opponents 19-4 in the tournament’s five games. In Chicago, they’ll hope to improve that make and re-claim the CONCACAF title, with the only the winner of the Panama-Mexico nightcap standing in the way of the U.S.’s fifth Gold Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team opened the scoring in the 11th minute, with Johnson running off a ball he’d fed to Donovan, onto a pass through an accommodating Honduran central defense. With the Catrachos’ back line trying to catch up, Johnson finished past Donis Escobar from 15 yards out, giving the States a surprisingly easy early lead.

[MORE: Circling back on Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup changes.]

After controlling play over the next 16 minutes, the U.S. completed the inevitable, doubling their lead. A ball for Johnson saw both Honduran central defenders collapse on the U.S. number nine. When Sounders’ striker was able to touch a ball to Donovan in the middle of the area, the U.S.’s all-time leading scorer just needed to get the ball on goal before the rest of the Honduran defense could recover. Trapping with his chest before pushing his shot past Escobar with the outside of his right foot, Donovan’s 55th international goal put the U.S. up 2-0.

The U.S. carried that lead through half time, starting the second half with the same control they’re exhibited through the first 45 minutes. But when a 52nd minute foul by DaMarcus Beasley along the Honduran right gave the Catrachos a dangerous restart, the scene was set for the U.S.’s per game defensive lapse. This time, it was Clarence Goodson losing his mark on the restart, with Nery Medina’s header from eight yards out making it 2-1.

[MORE: The streak nobody’s noticed – Landon Donovan’s]

Yet as if they were using the Honduran goal as an excuse to exhibit their dominance, the U.S. responded less than a minute later. A long ball played over the Honduran defense allowed surprise starter Alejandro Bedoya to beat his man to the byline, his one-touch pass across the six-yard box finding Donovan running onto his second goal of the match, making it 3-1.

Like their two previous goals, the third was all too easy for the U.S., their execution making a mockery of a willing but disorganized Honduran defense. Just like the U.S., Honduras choose a weakened team to compete at this tournament, but in a battle of second choice sides, the U.S.’s depth effectively lapped their competition. Direct play, sound if basic execution, and hard work were all the U.S. needed to produce their goals, making Wednesday’s and unexpectedly easy semifinal.

Next up will be the winner of the nightcap’s match between Panama and Mexico, a rematch of a group stage game that saw the Canaleros claim their first ever competitive victory over Mexico. Panama, however, is in danger of replicating their 2011 performance, where an upset of the United States in group play went for naught after they failed to duplicate the feat in the competition’s semifinals. If that happens, the U.S. and Mexico will face off in a fourth consecutive final.

The only question mark for the United States will be the status of Jurgen Klinsmann. The team’s head coach was sent from the field by Enrico Wijngaarde in the 88th minute, apparently in response to his protests over late Honduran fouls. The true nature of Klinsmann’s offense could determine whether he or assistant Martin Vazquez will be leading the team from the sidelines in Chicago.

[MORE: Decision on Jurgen Klinsmann to come – will he miss Sunday’s final?]

Regardless, Sunday’s match will prove much tougher than Wednesday’s in Dallas. Between the U.S.’s quality and Honduras’s worst performance of the competition, Klinsmann’s team were allowed to cruise into the tournament’s final round.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”