Like Liverpool, Tottenham a nice, mixed bag after two rounds

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Liverpool’s duel 1-0 wins to start the season have inspired some confusion. Yes, it’s a perfect start, for which Brendan Rodgers and his team deserve credit, but what have we learned about the Reds? After a late penalty kick save salvaged a result against Stoke City and more Simon Mignolet heroics preserved a result against Villa, there’s enough for both skeptics and believers. Perfect records are better than perfect performances, one camp would hold, while their adversaries can point to the underlying form and level of competition.

The same can be said for Tottenham, who (like Liverpool) have been the best side in each of their 1-0 wins. But they are still just one-goal results over teams they were expected to beat, and where Liverpool doubters can point to the Reds’ dependence on Mignolet to preserve results, Spurs have yet to score from open play. Second half penalty kicks from Roberto Soldado have been the difference against both Crystal Palace and Swansea City.

The encouraging part for Spurs: A relatively new group improved week-over-week. None of Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Andros Townsend, or Danny Rose (all starters on Sunday) were regulars with Spurs last season. Obviously, this is going to take some time, and with Spurs having acquired an enviable amount of talent, opponents are more likely to stand back, let them figure it out, and not risk gifting them chances. The extent to which Spurs can navigate this coming up period while still collecting points could decide their Champions League-qualifying fate.

Last week, Spurs scarcely created anything on their own. They dictated play, dominating possession to the tune of 61 percent, but the cohesion in the final third just wasn’t there. If they didn’t get their penalty at Selhurst Park, their match with Crystal Palace could have ended deadlocked.

Today was different. Spurs were creating chances early. If it wasn’t for Michel Vorm, Tottenham would have opened their account in the first half, though with both Paulinho’s 21st minute blast from 14 yards out (blocked then covered by Vorm) and Mousa Dembele’s attempted curler near the half-hour mark (tipped over), Spurs’ players could have been more clinical. Still, with Kyle Walker breaking down Swansea’s left side, Tottenham had established a reliable route toward goal. One way or another, they looked destined to break through.

It was telling, however, that it was the raw athleticism of Walker that generated Spurs’ best chances. His ability to blow by a defense, get to the byline, and cut the ball back presented the kind of direct threat Spurs seem to be missing from their attacking three. Chadli’s generated chances, Soldado’s presented a consistent danger, while both Townsend (drawing the penalty) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (maintaining possession) have done their parts. But in order to maximize those parts, Spurs need somebody like a Walker or an Aaron Lennon (injured on Sunday) — or potentially more consistently aggressive Chadli or Townsend — to crack a defense.

Put another way, they missed Gareth Bale. They missed that consistent out he provides – the ability to provide that direct option that can cut through not only an opponent’s setup but any kind of tendency his teammates may have to equate control with results. They missed his ability to get a ball and take on a man or shun the simple pass to provide the little something extra it takes to make a chance dangerous. They missed his willingness to try.

Obviously, replacing the to-be-Madridista is impossible, but Spurs don’t need to. They need to replace the type of player he is, something that may make acquiring Roma’s Erik Lamela even more important. Tellingly, the young Argentine wasn’t in Rudi Garcia’s XI when Roma travelled to Livorno, hinting a move may be imminent. Be it him, an increased dependency on the likes of Walker, Lennon or perhaps Chadli, or buying another player, Spurs need to replace Bale’s tendencies.

There’s plenty of time to do so, and the good news: While they’re working out their kinks, they’ve taken six points. But particularly with Paulinho’s early chance, you can see the danger a different threat would pose. With Soldado occupying a defense, there should be room for somebody like Paulinho — somebody who can trail and convert more efficiently than Spurs’ other midfielders — to pile on the goals.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.