Still no Gareth Bale. But final Premier League friendlies reveal plenty

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LONDON — One man was missing, again, on Saturday as Gareth Bale wasn’t in Tottenham’s squad for their final preseason friendly against Espanyol on Saturday afternoon.

In fact, Bale wasn’t anywhere to be seen at White Hart Lane.

The 23-year-old Welshman is having his head turned by Real Madrid and rumors of a $120 million transfer fee continues to swirl around Bale and Tottenham.

But Bale’s future aside, the preparations are done. Preseason is all but over.

The final warmups are completed and in seven days the 2013-14 Premier League season will begin. And after today’s friendlies we have a much better idea of how some of the big teams will line up come August 17.

On Saturday some high-profile friendlies took place as the Premier League’s finest had one final tuneup before the curtain raiser next weekend.

Tottenham faced Spanish side Espanyol at White Hart Lane, while Arsenal and Manchester City squared off against each other in Helsinki.

Arsenal defeated Man City 3-1 in Finland, with goals from Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott cancelling out Alvaro Negredo’s strike.

While Spurs looked impressive at White Hart Lane, barely giving Espanyol a sniff in the first half. New $40 million signing from Valencia, Roberto Soldado, scored from the penalty spot on his home debut to open the scoring and as the game played out, Tottenham looked composed.

The old adage that flies around during preseason is true. “Results don’t matter.” “It’s all about fitness,” blah, blah, blah…

But it’s true. Nobody is worried about the scorelines. The performances matter and most importantly, who is out there playing.

Here are the starters for Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City one week from the start of the season. And when Manchester United play Wigan in the Community Shield on Sunday, David Moyes’ first-choice lineup should be revealed. Wayne Rooney aside. While elsewhere, Liverpool and Chelsea have a pretty settle look to their squads.

Anyway, have a look at these. Which team looks the strongest right now?

Tottenham’s Starting XI: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Fryers, Rose; Dembele, Chadli, Paulinho; Lennon, Soldado, Sigurdsson

Arsenal’s Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Podolski

Manchester City Starting XI: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Milner, Dzeko, Negredo

Arsenal have hardly changed. Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, they only really need to add maybe one more holding midfielder and a top quality striker. After an incredible finish to last season, the Gunners haven’t lost anyone and look strong.

Man City are a work in progress but Negredo continues to score and City may start with two strikers with Edin Dzeko once again getting the nod. Their back four remains the same and Fernandinho has replaced Gareth Barry in the holding midfield role.

While Tottenham were exciting and dynamic going forward, with Soldado supported by Aaron Lennon, Nacer Chadli, Sigurdsson and brief forays forward from Paulinho and Dembele. But some work is needed defensively with Jan Vertonghen out injured.

You can never read too much into friendlies but these lineups give a great insight into what managers think their strongest XI is going forward.

Seven days to go. Will these starting lineups be the same for the opening day of the Premier League?

Independiente and Flamengo meet for South American trophy

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SAO PAULO (AP) Independiente, relegated for the first time in its history in 2013, can complete a remarkable turnaround by winning the Copa Sudamericana at the Maracana Stadium on Wednesday.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

The Argentine team will go into the second leg of the final holding a 2-1 lead over Brazilian club Flamengo from the first leg.

Independiente, which has won multiple titles in South American tournaments, will be counting on 18-year-old midfielder Ezequiel Barco, one of the best players in this year’s competition.

Flamengo is also seeking to restore some pride in Rio de Janeiro. The big-spending Brazilian club, playing in its first Copa Sudamericana final, finished its domestic championship in a disappointing sixth place.

The Rio team will be without Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, who is serving a one-year doping ban.

Instead, veteran midfielder Diego will be the key player as Flamengo looks to claim its first regional title since winning the now-defunct Copa Mercosur in 1999.

After Independiente won the first leg, the club posted on its social media channels a picture of its players celebrating at the Maracana in 1995 when the two teams played for the Supercopa.

If the Argentines lose 1-0 on Wednesday, there will be a penalty shootout to decide the winner.

Last year, Brazilian club Chapecoense was awarded the title before the final after 19 players, plus club directors and several members of staff, died in an air crash.

The Copa Sudamericana is the continent’s second most prestigious tournament after the Copa Libertadores.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund wins in Stoger’s managerial debut

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For the first time since late September, Borussia Dortmund has won a league match, while Leipzig’s slip up opens the door for Bayern Munich to extend its lead in Germany’s top flight.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Huddersfield, level on points with Man United ]

Here’s a brief look at all of Tuesday’s Bundesliga action.

Mainz 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

10 points separates Dortmund from league leaders Bayern Munich, who also have a match in hand, but for the moment, the bleeding his stopped. BVB picked up a crucial win on Tuesday to end its domestic woes upon manager Peter Stoger’s debut. The side’s drought stretched over an eight-match winless period. Second-half goals from Sokratis and Shinji Kagawa moved Dortmund into the top four, while Mainz remains 15th in the league table.

 

Wolfsburg 1-1 Red Bull Leipzig

Meanwhile, RB Leipzig’s form continues to slide downward after the second-place side dropped points in its fourth straight match across all competitions. The road side’s fortunes were dampened early on when Paul Verhaegh converted from the penalty spot, however, Marcel Halstenberg did manage to pull a goal back for Leipzig in the 52nd minute. Leipzig’s misfortunes carried on in stoppage time though when Dayot Upamecano was sent off after picking up his second yellow card of the day.


The rest of Tuesday’s scores

Hamburg 1-2 Frankfurt
Freiburg 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Inter beats 3rd-division Pordenone 5-4 on penalties in Cup

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan scraped into the Italian Cup quarterfinals after the Serie A leader was taken to penalties by third-division Pordenone on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Huddersfield, moves level on points with Man United ]

Pordenone goalkeeper Simone Perilli pulled off several saves in regulation time to keep the game scoreless, and he almost proved to be the hero during the shootout, stopping two penalties.

But Inter prevailed 5-4, with Yuto Nagatomo tucking away the final spot kick.

Both sides hit the woodwork during the 120 minutes.

Inter coach Luciano Spalletti rang the changes, and only Milan Skriniar and Matias Vecino remained in the starting 11 from Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Juventus.

[ MORE: Burnley moves into top four after win over Stoke ]

However, he was forced by desperation to bring on Marcelo Brozovic at halftime as well as star forwards Ivan Perisic and Mauro Icardi.

Report: Cosmos coach Savarese to be named new Timbers manager

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In a time where NASL’s status moving forward is hanging in the balance, one of the league’s top managers is set to make the jump to Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: LA FC close to acquiring Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan ]

According to ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman, New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese is set to be named the next Portland Timbers manager.

Savarese will take over for the recently departed Caleb Porter, who stepped down from his head coaching role with the Timbers in November.

The former professional player spent five seasons in MLS during his career, including stints with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls), as well as the New England Revolution and the San Jose Earthquakes.

The 46-year-old has managed the Cosmos from 2013 to present, and guided the NASL side to three Soccer Bowl titles in that span.