Capital One Cup roundup: Arsenal needs penalties, Swansea seen out by Championship club

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Nicklas Bendtner played. That’s all you need to know about how seriously Arsene Wenger took this game. Of course, when the lineups were handed in and the whistle blew, I’m sure he cared, but given the team the Arsenal boss picked for his club’s Capital One Cup match at The Hawthorns, he certainly seemed unwilling to risk much to come out victorious.

Thomas Eisfeld started behind Bendtner, ahead of Isaac Hayden and Mikel Arteta in midfield. Serge Gnabry and Ryo Miyachi started wide, and Lukas Fabianski got the call in goal. If it wasn’t for a back line of Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal, Wednesday could have been a complete punt.

Instead, Arsenal actually scored first, with the 20-year-old Eisfeld opening his Arsenal account before Saido Berahino brought Steve Clarke’s team even in the 71st minute. But throughout the next 49 minutes — as West Brom pushed for the win while Wenger brought on Chuba Akpom, Kristoffer Olsson, and Héctor Bellerin — neither team could avoid penalty kicks, where Craig Dawson and Morgan Amalfitano misses put the Gunners through, 1-1 (3-4).

During yesterday’s wrap up, we talked about the eye-popping depth Manchester City and Tottenham have acquired, referencing what changed teams would look like for Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. While United made some changes and Liverpool experimented but picked their best, the Gunners swapped out their whole front-six. The result wasn’t a team with Stevan Jovetic and Sandro-esque talents. Beyond Mikel Arteta, a lot of young, raw, unproven players got the call.

[MORE: City, Spurs depth on display, Ball gets first win on Capital One Cup Tuesday.]

It wasn’t too long ago that such changes used to define the League Cup. Manchester United and Arsenal used to start their C-teams. But things have changed. Perhaps it happened when José Mourinho took the competition so seriously during his first run at Chelsea. Perhaps it’s a function of the huge depth vast resources offer the Premier League’s elite.

Regardless, the top teams are rarely going full Arsenal and playing all their kids. Even if Arsene Wenger did so today.

source: Getty Images
Last year, Michael Laudrup led Swansea City to League Cup glory in his first year in Wales. This year, Swans are out of the League Cup, losing 3-1 at Birmingham City on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

SWANSEA LOSS PROBABLY A GOOD ONE

Any time a Premier League team loses to a lower-division squad, it’s noteworthy. When it’s the holders? Even more so. But Swansea have enough on their plate. Michael Laudrup has a squad that hopes to push on in the Premier League, while early indications are the Welsh side intend to take Europa League quite seriously. It they happen to fall out of the League Cup while doing so? So be it. Bigger fish, and all.

That’s what happened today in the West Midlands, with Swans dealt a 3-1 loss at Birmingham City. A decidedly changed Swansea side made it to halftime nil-nil, but goals from Dan Bunn, Matthew Green, and Tom Adeyemi gave the Blues a 3-0 lead by the 81st minute. Wilfred Bony’s stoppage time consolation proved irrelevant.

Given the team he chose, with only Jonjo Shelvey returning from the team that won at Crystal Palace on Saturday, Laudrup surely expected this could happen. Or maybe he thought a Birmingham team struggling near the bottom of the Championship could still be shown out. Instead, the League Cup holders have made an early exit from this year’s competition.

OTHER RESULTS

  • Newcastle United 2-0 Leeds United: Papiss Cisse and Yoann Gouffran goals on each side of halftime ease the Magpies through.
  • Tranmere Rovers 0-2 Stoke City: Stephen Ireland’s on the scoresheet for his new club, with Peter Crouch adding late insurance in the road win.
  • Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool: We covered that here.
  • All of Tuesday’s results

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80