Four-goal loss only intensifies focus on Newcastle’s Cabaye

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Monday’s game at the Etihad was always going to be a tough one. Even under the best circumstances, Newcastle were likely to lose. But those long odds only underscored the need for the Magpies to be fully prepared at kickoff, and without Yohan Cabaye in the team, Newcastle were nowhere near their best.

Easy Monday, reports broke that Arsenal had made a Sunday bid for the French international, and while their initial inquiries were said to have been rebuffed, rumors held the Gunners would make another approach. Cabaye being left out of Newcastle’s game day 18 ignited intensified speculation.

After today’s match, a 4-0 loss to Manchester City, Pardew not only confirmed Arsenal’s bid but the effect it had on him, telling the press the offer was “below our valuation, for sure,” adding “It’s pretty obvious I’m upset about [the situation].”

“I didn’t see why [Arsenal] couldn’t give us the respect and honor of giving us till Tuesday morning,” Pardew said, adding it would have been “difficult (for Cabaye) to play in a game of [Monday’s] magnitude” after learning of the bid.

Pardew added that Newcastle did not tell the player of the bid; rather, Cabaye was informed by another source.

“We’ve prepared with the lad for three days,” Pardew continued. “I don’t think the result would’ve been the same if he had played.”

Cabaye’s dominance of the post-match questionning after a lopsided loss speaks to the intensity of the situation, though omitting him from the team had already sparked that controversy. When somebody as important as Cabaye is left out of an XI, it will prompt questions under normal circumstances. That the decision came after reports Arsenal had tabled a bid sent Newcastle’s world into a frenzy.

It’s not difficult to imagine the effect this has on a team. The magnitude, however, is more debatable. When he’s at his best, Cabaye’s capable of carrying Newcastle toward the top of the table, as he did two years ago when the Magpies competed for Champions League.  Even without the help he received that season, the 27-year-old can be the best player on a Europa League-caliber team, somebody who can serve as the focal point of your team.

Without him, Newcastle will have to find a new focus. As was evident at the Etihad, that’s easier said than done. Moussa Sissoko and Cheick Tiote need somebody to serve as a link. Papiss Cissé dropping to pick up the ball isn’t a solution. Yoan Gouffran in the middle didn’t work, and Hatem Ben Afra’s best in spurts, not as a tempo-setter.

And when you remove him from the team? On short notice? After preparing for City with him? That will cause uncertainty, if not outright doubt.

That’s why this Cabaye situation is so unsettling. Like most teams, Newcastle don’t have somebody who can slot right in and replace what Cabaye provides in the middle. And his teammates know that.

Given how scarce players like Cabaye are at clubs from which the Magpies could buy, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to replace him. Then again, if Newcastle have found a Cabaye once, we shouldn’t discount their ability to do so once more.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

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

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia