DeAndre Yedlin

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Seattle ahead of Saturday’s visit from Portland

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the Seattle Sounders: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  • DeAndre Yedlin? Maybe. Obafemi Martins? Who knows.

Rookie left back DeAndre Yedlin had a great first half on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Sounders, he didn’t get a chance to repeat it in the second, a twisted ankle forcing him off at halftime.

The 20-year-old trained Friday but will be a game time decision. If he can’t go, Brad Evans seems like the most likely choice. Sigi Schmid elected to drop the U.S. international back from midfield in the second half when he could have brought Zach Scott off the bench. If he does the same at the outset tomorrow, the only question will be whether Marc Burch starts in midfield over Mauro Rosales.

Bonus question, though: What’s up with Obafemi Martins? The Nigerian international’s groin injury’s only allowed him to play once in the last month. This week at practice, there’s been no indication whether he’s improved enough to see action on Saturday.

[MORE: What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado]

  • Marcus Hahnemann will get to be the man.

Michael Gspurning was shown one last ounce of faith when Sigi Schmid elevated him back to the starting lineup for the season finale against Los Angeles. After Wednesday’s performance, we may have seen the last of the Austrian goalkeeper this season. Even before his 86th minute blunder (earning a red card that sees him suspended on Saturday), Gspurning looked shaky on two early second half plays.

Hahnemann’s going to have to take them home, and while nobody’s exactly worried about the former Fulham, Reading, and Wolverhampton keeper’s ability to handle the occasion, they may have concerns (or perhaps speculative questions) about the 41-year-old coming off his line.

His hands will be sure, but how often will he use them? And against Portland, will it matter?

[WATCH: Sounders-Timbers will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra]

  • Diamond, diamond, diamond!

Perhaps you heard: Seattle’s playing a new formation. We’ve talking about it, as have others. And by others, I mean everybody. At this point, we’ve probably beaten it into the ground, though it is worth considering how Portland might stretch that midfield diamond.

On the left, Portland has Rodney Wallace. You can’t help but think Caleb Porter likes that matchup against Evans, even if though on the right, the Timbers don’t have an equivalent player to stretch the midfield.

It will be interesting to see if this is one of the rare occasions where Porter flips is fullbacks. A couple of times this season, normal left back Michael Harrington started on the right, moving Jack Jewsbury to the left.

In theory, doing the same on Saturday would allow Harrington to provide that width on the right, pulling Adam Moffat wide. It would also allow Jack Jewsbury to play on the side Eddie Johnson was favoring Wednesday night.

Jewsbury has been very dependable defensive, though a couple of times, extreme pace has been his undoing. Moving the faster Harrington to the right may not be worth the risk, even if Johnson is just as capable of attacking from that side, too.

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

  • Two-on-one against Clint Dempsey

Like Colorado, Portland will play with two deep midfielders in the same area Clint Dempsey will occupy Seattle’s attacking phase. Just don’t expect the Timbers’ duo to be so meek. Whereas Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis were non-factors on Wednesday, Will Johnson and Diego Chará should be important parts of Portland’s game plan.

The key for Seattle may not be finding a solution but exploring alternatives. On Wednesday, the team had a lot of success using Eddie Johnson wide as a way to get around Colorado’s block. Just as we saw on Seattle’s first goal, Johnson in wide spaces always Dempsey to play in front of the holders and go wide before probing space further up.

In their back six (four defenders and last two midfielders), Portland can often look a lot like Colorado did on Wednesday. Perhaps Seattle will find the same success?

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers]

  • Can Seattle stop this free fall/nose dive/slide?!?

Thankfully, they’ve moved on. (We can stop talking about it!) Now it’s about fulfilling those preseason expectations of challenging for MLS Cup. It’s a long way from a seven-match winless run to a league title, but Seattle took their first step on Wednesday.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play MLS All-Stars ]

Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

[ RELATED: Messi wins his first La Liga Player of the Month award ]

Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.