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.

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.