MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at Columbus Crew

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  • Federico Higuain is still missing for the Crew
  • After a July in decline, the Dynamo was 4-1-1 in two competitions in August
  • Houston will play its seventh match in its sixth city in the last 26 days

These are busy, busy times for the Houston Dynamo, and these are desperate, desperate times for the Columbus Crew.

The sides clash at Crew Stadium as MLS Round 28 kicks off Wednesday; this is the first of 11 league contests during a week that’s busier than it should be during an international fixture date.

Houston is smack in the middle of that massive traffic jam in the Eastern Conference, as 8 of 10 clubs jostle for the playoff exit ramp. Columbus is at the tail end of the jam-up, still relevant, although just barely.

There is opportunity for both clubs, although this opportunity factor looks different from either side. Suffice to say, Columbus needs Wednesday’s match (7:30 p.m. ET) in the worst possible way. The club’s ability to reach the playoffs hangs in the balance, and with matches in coming days at Montreal and Sporting Kansas City (toughies, both), Wednesday’s contest in Ohio against the two-time MLS runner-up represents the best chances for points until later this month.

The problem is that vital playmaker Federico Higuain must sit out one more match for his ill-considered actions two weekends back at Real Salt Lake. That takes a lot of Crew offense off the table, and there wasn’t enough to begin with.

It’s impossible to tell how the men in yellow will deal with Monday’s big news; manager Robert Warzycha was fired after five years in charge at Crew Stadium. There could be some feel of “fresh start,” which is always a potential motivator. On the other hand, interim manager Brian Bliss seems less than likely to land the position full time, so perhaps the “fresh start” element is marginalized in this case.

From Houston’s side, the opportunity factor lies mostly in Higuain’s absence. About this time last year the Argentine playmaker made his MLS debut in the second half against Houston and very nearly took down the Dynamo with an inspired second-half performance. (It was a harbinger of things to come for Higuain, who very nearly drove his team from behind into the playoffs.)

Houston’s chances to collect valuable road points rises dramatically without Higuain to deal with. Meanwhile, the Dynamo is getting a bit healthier, with Omar Cummings and (even more importantly) Ricardo Clark (pictured above) getting closer to a return.

The returning players are critical to a club taxed extensively by travel; this will be Houston’s seventh match in six different cities (and three different countries) in the last 26 days. It is also Houston’s second road match in four nights.

Reports: Liverpool reject latest Barcelona offer for Coutinho

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Barcelona has reportedly upped its offer for the services of Philippe Coutinho. But the response from Liverpool has remained the same.

According to multiple reports, Liverpool has rejected a third Barcelona offer for Coutinho, believed to be worth up to $151.5 million. Coutinho put in a transfer request a week ago but Liverpool has remained firm on its desire to keep Coutinho for this season. Liverpool has not yet publicly commented on Barcelona’s latest transfer bid.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Coutinho meanwhile is still off the field for Liverpool due to a back injury, the club states.

“Phil is not available; he is not training so far, so there is nothing new,” manager Jurgen Klopp told reporters. “It is always how it is with injured players, there is no real time on when he is back.”

The Brazilian midfielder signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool just last January and the deal doesn’t have a buy-out clause. But should Liverpool accept a new bid for Coutinho, he’d become the second-most expensive transfer behind fellow Brazilian Neymar.

It’s unclear whether Barcelona will shift focus to other targets such as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele or Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as a replacement for Neymar.

Conte can’t stop laughing when asked about Costa

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Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was asked for his thoughts on Diego Costa‘s latest comments on the club-player impasse. When he heard a reporter say Costa felt he was being treated like a criminal, Conte lost his composure and began laughing.

Conte spent a good 20 seconds giggling during the question before responding, saying “I can tell you that everyone who was in Chelsea knows what happened last season with Diego.

“I’m not interested to continue this issue.”

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Diego Costa has held out from Chelsea training to stay in his native Brazil after being told to train with the reserves ahead of the 2017-2018 Premier League season. Costa has made clear his desire to leave Chelsea for a return to Atletico Madrid, but Costa claims that Chelsea are asking for an absurd transfer fee, which prices Atleti out of the market.

[ Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”]

It’s unclear as to what’s next in the transfer saga, but it’s looking more and more likely that it will come down to the final hours of the transfer window. Complicating matters is that Costa’s preferred destination, Atletico Madrid, is banned from signing players during this transfer window and can’t add new pieces until January.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Tottenham set to make Ajax’s Sanchez its record signing

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Tottenham look set to break the bank on one of the world’s most exciting defensive prospects.

According to a report in the Guardian, Tottenham and Ajax have agreed on a $54.1 million transfer fee for centerback Davinson Sanchez. The Colombian international only joined Ajax a year ago but led the backline to the Europa League final, where Ajax fell to Manchester United.

Spurs officials reportedly traveled to Amsterdam earlier this week to sort out a deal to bring Sanchez back to London. It’s believed to be a $36 million transfer with add-on clauses worth around $18 million.

Sanchez will add more speed and strength to one of the Premier League’s best backlines, giving Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen a partner to play with in a back three.

Here’s some more news from around the Premier League:

(more…)

Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”

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As each day passes, the impasse between Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Diego Costa grows.

Costa is continuing to holdout from Chelsea after being asked to train with the reserves and has made clear his preference to transfer back to his former club, Atletico Madrid. But in his latest comments to ESPN Brazil, Costa said that Chelsea are asking for a transfer fee that’s well above what Atletico can afford.

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“Chelsea offered me to several clubs,” Costa said. “But I was very clear with them. They said that since I’m not part of the coach’s plans, I want to choose my destiny. For them they have made more money, I will not let them decide my destiny. Even because when I came to Chelsea they paid well below the proposal that is coming now. I think they have to be aware and see everything I’ve done.”

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for Costa and his situation. He said in the interview that he’s struggled with English and as such, has had to rely on people at the club to take care of a lot of tasks. In Madrid, a country he’s received citizenship from and a city and language he’s comfortable with, he doesn’t have these worries.

But for all the good will he earned, Costa also painted himself in a bad light later in that response to a question about what the deadlock was about with Chelsea.

“It’s not my fault I’m not there,” Costa said. “If it was up to me, I’d be playing. There’s already (been) a month. Holiday is good, but it gets boring. I did not cause this situation. Since this is where the club has to think in two ways. Of course they have to have a payback, as I have given sportily and financially as well. After three years you will receive an amount above what you paid.”

Costa though did provide some insight. It had been believed over the past week or so that Costa would only move to Atletico Madrid, but the Brazilian-born Spanish international forward clarified that statement, saying he’d prefer to go to Atletico but if Atletico can’t afford him or can’t figure out a deal to sign him and get around the club’s transfer ban, he’d be open to going to another European club.

“I have already shown my affection and my interest in playing for Atletico,” Costa said. “But if they, Athletic and Chelsea did not reach an agreement and they [Athletic] do not force a move, I can not be wanting to play in a club that does not want to make a greater effort. I know that this will happen. If it is to pay as much as Chelsea want [the transfer], it is not possible. You must see this. What I know is that the proposal to come will exceed that Chelsea paid when he brought me. And I gave back in every way.”