MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

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• Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers have met twice in August so far, having not faced one another previously in 2013. RSL won the U.S. Open Cup semifinal 2-1 in Utah on Aug. 7, and the teams tied 3-3 on Aug. 21 in Portland.

• RSL head coach Jason Kreis and Timbers head coach Caleb Porter are two frontrunners for the Major League Soccer Coach of the Year award, thanks to RSL’s push for the Supporters’ Shield despite injuries and Portland’s turnaround from a poor 2012 season.

• Portland sits in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, although it has two games in hand on RSL, which is on top of both the conference and the league standings, having played the highest number of games in the league so far.

The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake kick off this weekend’s MLS play (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN), renewing a familiarity cultivated twice this month already. Both the U.S. Open Cup semifinal and the league match at JELD-WEN Field were entertaining matches, and Friday’s encounter at Rio Tinto should be the same.

Both teams play attractive, free-flowing soccer, so it’s no coincidence that head coaches Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter (pictured) are two of the most popular choices for MLS Coach of the Year at this point. Despite losing multiple players to injury and international duty, both have sustained pushes toward the top of the table all season.

On Friday, RSL could be missing forward Alvaro Saborío, who is questionable with a calf strain (see Kreis’ quote below). On the other side of the field, the Timbers get Diego Chará back from suspension, but midfielders Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski are all listed as out on the injury report.

Salt Lake also comes off a week in which it played three matches (two on the road), losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy before tying Portland and defeating the Columbus Crew. The five days between matches will have provided somewhat of an opportunity to regroup — or at least more than the team got in the previous week.

Portland played three times in eight days during the same period, also winning, losing and tying one each: the Timbers defeated FC Dallas, tied RSL and lost to Seattle Sounders FC in a heated Cascadia Cup matchup.

What they’re saying

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter breaks down his team’s luck on set pieces: “I was just looking at the stats this morning because I’m always reflecting on how we can be better. We’ve given up 26 goals, which stacks us up pretty well. Fourteen of the 26 are restart situations. Four of the 14 are PKs, so you kind of wash those out, which means 10. Of those 10, two are free kicks over the wall, so obviously that’s not marking or anything. One is a long throw-in, which to some extent is box defending. And then we have two corners and five free kicks wide. So really, you’re looking at eight moments — eight situations — in 25 games where we’ve gotten beat with poor marking.”

RSL head coach Jason Kreis on striker Alvaro Saborío’s injury: “We were really hopeful it would be a short-term injury. We’re hopeful that he’ll be available for Friday. I think, right now, it’s 50-50 still.”

RSL defender Nat Borchers, in the locker room after 4-0 win over Columbus Crew, on the short turnaround in games: “I feel pretty good right now. I think that when you keep the ball like we did tonight, there’s less running for us in the back because there’s less opportunity for them to counter. Every time they counter, it’s an 80-yard sprint to goal. We didn’t have to do that much tonight.”

Prediction

The fact that these teams have two of the best coaches in the league should come out on Friday. Both teams will be tired from a long previous week, missing multiple players through injury (perhaps Portland more than RSL) and in need of points to keep pace at the top. It should be another thrilling encounter with multiple scoring opportunities at both ends. Another high-scoring draw is not out of question, but Real Salt Lake rarely does anything but win at home.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…