Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers

MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at San Jose Earthquakes

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  • Teams are fifth, sixth in the Western Conference.
  • San Jose has lost one home game all season.
  • Earthquakes without Chavez; Rapids without Brown, Torres.

‘Six-pointer’ is one of the worst expressions in soccer. All matches are six-pointers! They each carry a potential six-point swing in the standings.- the difference between Team A winning and Team B claiming full points. Whether you’re talking about a game in round one or the last match of the season, they’re all six-pointers.

But typically that monicker’s been reserved for games between teams competing for (or, trying to avoid) the same threshold. That’s why a match between teams trying to avoid the drop is a relegation six-pointer (almost exclusively how the term’s used).

Wednesday’s Major League Soccer schedule presents us with a six-pointer of a different kind. A late season surge sees the San Jose Earthquakes, last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners, in sixth place in the West – just outside a playoff position. Right on the other side of that line? The upstart Colorado Rapids, whose young core has been slowly augmented by veterans to give Oscar Pareja’s team an unexpected staying power.

Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, the Rapids may have shed that upstart label. After thrashing a recognized MLS Cup-contender, it no longer seems right to add any mitigating adjectives. Young Rapids, that’s fine? Athletic, dynamic, talented? Sure. Upstart has come to carry a slightly negative connotation, when we use it in sports. It’s almost as if we don’t believe it’s real.

Last year’s San Jose and this year’s Montréal weren’t/aren’t classified as upstarts (particularly because of the veteran makeup of their rosters). Instead, we discuss their potential impact on the postseason. Particularly after this weekend’s showing, don’t we owe Colorado the same respect?

First things first, Colorado need to get into the playoffs, which brings us back to the six-pointer concept. If Colorado loses at Buck Shaw (which nine out of 15 visitors have), they bring San Jose within one. But if they win? The pull seven points clear and could clinch, provided Vancouver drops points in Seattle.

If that happens, not only will Colorado become only the second team to claim full points from Santa Clara this season, they will send San Jose to the brink of elimination. One more Galaxy win, and the Earthquakes would be out.

It highlights the tightrope Matt Watson’s team is walking, though the fact that they haven’t already fallen to earth is a testament to both the new boss and his resilient squad. When Frank Yallop left the team early this season, it forced the players to internalize their poor start.

Though they’re unlikely to make the playoffs, the fact that San Jose is still in contention in October speaks to the professionalism of the group. Instead of playing for next year, the team decided to earn the paychecks they’re getting now.

And let’s not completely dismiss the possibility of them getting into the playoffs. If they win out, they get to 53 points, and they’re likely in. If they go 2-0-1, they hit 51 points and can get in if Vancouver takes some points from Colorado in those teams’ season-ending home-and-home. Watson’s already achieved something by keeping San Jose alive, but their chances to achieve greater things shouldn’t be so readily dismissed.

But if there’s a narrative to grab onto here, it’s Colorado’s. The team made an early commitment to their young core without any expectation of making this year’s playoffs. Set to allow the likes of Shane O’Neill, Deshorn Brown, and Dillon Powers room to grow beneath what looked like a jammed Western Conference playoff race, the Rapids were happy to rebuild, jettisoning Conor Casey and Jeff Larentowicz to do so. But with Clint Irwin’s emergence in goal and the ascension of Chris Klute to becoming the season’s best left back, the Rapids became as much about the present as the future.

That rise brings expectations. Coming off a 5-1 win over Seattle, a trip to San Jose suddenly looks winnable. With Marvin Chavez off with Honduras, Klute will have more cause to get forward down Colorado’s left. In the absence of Gaby Torres and Deshorn Brown, a Colorado attack featuring Edson Buddle, Vicente Sanchez, and Powers should find holes in a defense that’s missing Victor Bernardez and relying on a hobbled Clarence Goodson. Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon are available for San Jose, but Steven Lenhart is not, giving O’Neil and Drew Moor one less nuisance to worry about. If Colorado is a playoff-caliber team, they should find a way to get something from this match.

As much as the actual standings, that’s what Wednesday’s six-pointer is about: Identifying which of these two teams is truly playoff-worthy. Getting results under tough circumstances, taking advantage of the opportunities you’re presented, ending your opponents’ dreams – these are all tasks you endure in the postseason. San Jose and Colorado get a taste of it Wednesday night.

Real Madrid loses Modric and Marcelo to injuries in Malaga win

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 21:  Marcelo of Real Madrid CF comes off substituted during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at the Bernabeu on January 21, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The 40-game unbeaten run seems like a distant memory.

Real Madrid had lost two straight matches before a 2-1 La Liga win over Malaga on Saturday, but despite the three points, they still did lose in a way.

Los Blancos lost both Marcelo and Luka Modric to injury in the match, and both could potentially miss up to a month of time.

Modric has been in and out of the squad this season due to injuries, and during his other lengthy spell on the sidelines, he was replaced adequately by 22-year-old Mateo Kovacic, and he was the man to replace Modric against Malaga with 12 minutes remaining. Reports say the Croatian suffered an adductor injury which can be quite painful and could keep him off the field for a number of weeks.

Marcelo, meanwhile, has been a staple in the Madrid lineup, appearing in the last 11 league matches and starting all but two of those. Marcelo was brought off just 25 minutes into the Malaga win reportedly with a hamstring problem, replaced by Isco. The likely long-term replacement for the 28-year-old Brazilian would be Nacho Fernandez, who has seen time this season on both defensive flanks.

The injuries puts not just the immediate La Liga and Copa del Rey futures of the two in jeopardy, but also could affect their availability for the start of the Champions League knockout stage which begins on February 15th against Napoli.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Hull City (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea warms up prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Diego Costa has returned from his short absence as the Brazilian starts in front of the home fans at Stamford Bridge live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Costa had missed the 3-0 win over Leicester City with what was officially tabbed as a back injury, but with reports swirling that the striker had been unsettled by a big offer from China and a bust-up with management. Now, he’s back after missing just a single match.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs. Hull City live online at NBCSports.com ]

John Terry does not make the Chelsea squad despite returning from suspension, with Kurt Zouma on the bench in relief Antonio Conte‘s preferred back three.

Hull City is without leading scorer Robert Snodgrass, a big loss for a player who has struggled with injury problems the last two years. David Meyler returned to training this week and is on the bench.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs: 
Begovic, Ake, Zouma, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

Hull City: Jakupovic; Maguire, Dawson, Davies, Elabdellaoui; Mason, Huddlestone, Clucas, Robertson; Evandro, Hernández.
Subs: Marshall, Meyler, Maloney, Diomande, Niasse, Tymon, Bowen.

Arsenal 2-1 Burnley: Arsenal into second in stunning fashion

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What appeared a straightforward result for Arsenal ended in stunning fashion as a pair of penalties in stoppage time saw Arsenal through to second in the Premier League table.

A 59th minute header by Shkodran Mustafi had Arsenal 1-0 in front, and it remained that way for much of the game. Granit Xhaka was sent off again in the 65th minute, but it didn’t appear to make much of a difference to the Gunners.

Then, things exploded in stoppage time with seven added minutes due to earlier injuries. Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot two minutes into stoppage time for a kick from Francis Coquelin, and Andre Gray buried the chance to level things up, appearing to have wrapped up a point. But in the final tick of seven added minutes, Arsenal themselves earned a penalty when Ben Mee produced a high boot to the face of Laurent Koscielny, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Alexis Sanchez cooly went down the middle, and Arsenal came out on top.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley started brightly, but it was Arsenal that had the best early chance. With six minutes gone by, Alexis Sanchez broke down the left and delivered a good ball in, but Olivier Giroud‘s flick header was from too far out, and the Frenchman probably should have let it go with the ball set to arrive at the feet of Aaron Ramsey.

That chance sparked Arsenal to begin pummeling the Burnley box, mostly up the left edge with Sanchez. The visitors packed in the box, forcing the Gunners to get creative, and Mesut Ozil fired wide on the half-volley past 20 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny was needed at the back after a mistake in possession by his defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi, but the Frenchman was calm, cool, and collected to dispossess Andre Gray on the break. Koscielny had a chance on the other end as well, past the half-hour mark as he headed a free-kick on net but it looped agonizingly over the bar, settling on the top netting.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Arsenal continued to attack the packed-in Burnley box, and Sanchez whipped a shot in three minutes before halftime that swerved just wide of the post. The Gunners kept at it right out of the break, as Grioud fed Ramsey with a header, but the Welsh international tried a scorpion kick, and it went over. Sanchez fired a fizzing shot on net on 50 minutes, but it curled just beyond the top right corner. Arsenal should have had a penalty, with Mustafi going down under a silly challenge from Gray, but no call was awarded.

The hosts finally and deservedly broke through in the 59th minute as Mustafi expertly headed in off a corner. The header was from a very tight angle, as Mustafi met the ball ahead of the near post, angling it all the way across the face of goal and tucked inside the far corner past a diving Tom Heaton.

Arsenal was pegged back when Granit Xhaka earned his second red card of the Premier League season for a two-footed lunge on Steven Defour. Xhaka had passed the ball straight to Defour and as the Burnley midfielder distributed it to a teammate, the Swiss international went in studs showing, and after a conference with the assistant referee, head official Jon Moss sent Xhaka off.

With 15 minutes remaining, Burnley lost a steady man as Dean Marney was forced off after a heavy challenge with Mesut Ozil that earned him a yellow card. The stretcher was required after what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee which took the full brunt of Ozil’s weight in an awkward position.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

As the game wound to a close, there were seven added minutes due to the Marney injury. Early in stoppage time, Burnley won a penalty and appeared to have earned themselves a point. Substitute Francis Coquelin kicked Ashley Barnes in the lower leg, and the penalty was awarded. Gray buried the penalty down the middle, and things were level with just minutes remaining.

Arsenal poured forward, and with an angry Arsene Wenger sent to the tunnel, the Gunners produced a winning moment. A free-kick looped in to the far post, and Mee’s boot contacted Koscielny in the side of the head, again forcing the referee to award the penalty. Sanchez broke out the panenka finish, dinking the ball down the middle and in for a last-gasp 2-1 lead. Replays show the penalty was the correct decision, but Koscielny was in an offside position when the delivery came in, the flag failing to punish the Gunners.

The win moves Arsenal past Liverpool and Tottenham, into second place with 47 points, five behind leaders Chelsea who are yet to play this weekend. Burnley, meanwhile, remain with just a single point all season away from home, sitting in 13th place with 26 points, having been passed by Southampton who won in the early Sunday match.

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri admits tactical mistakes after another road defeat

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Ever-gracious Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has taken full responsibility for the Foxes’ recent struggles, claiming his lineup tinkering has fallen flat.

The Italian said following the 3-0 defeat to Southampton that he has tried a few different formations to maximize his players’ abilities, but that it hasn’t worked out.

[ RECAP: Leicester falls on the road again at Southampton ]

“I think the last two matches I changed the shape to try and help my players to play better and find the right solution, but maybe I make mistakes. I am wrong against Chelsea when I play with three at the back, and also today when I wanted to play with a diamond. My players are used to playing with a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 and they recognize the position, the game, everything, the movement. I wanted to give something more, but I make a mistake, I was wrong.”

Honesty sure is Ranieri’s best policy, and deflecting criticism from his players is clearly the tactic here. Managers often like to play down the importance of tactical formations at times, but here it clearly has weighed on Ranieri’s mind, who may revert back to his tested formations.

[ MORE: Is Pep Guardiola unhappy in the Premier League? ]

“I think it’s much better to give to them what they know very well. I look and they had to push a lot with this system and this mentality, and keep going and improve of course.”

Whatever the case, something will have to change with Leicester City this season if they wish to continue in the English top-flight. The Foxes have gone all season without a single away win, and they’re 15th in the table with just 21 points, five above the relegation zone.