Landon Donovan, Abdoulie Mansally

What we learned from LA Galaxy’s one-goal win over Real Salt Lake

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  • Both teams wanted more

The final score — a 1-0 home win, somewhat common in two-legged affairs — tells you nothing about how the match unfolded. Los Angeles looked good for a goal in the first half but were pushed to halftime scoreless, their forays wide-to-in inside the penalty area continually (if often desperately) rebuked. Even after breaking through near the start of the second half, LA continued to threaten, seemingly ready to spend the match’s final 40 minutes probing for an all-important second goal.

But then RSL adjusted, almost as if the whole plan was to wait 60 minutes before trying to steal one late. The introductions of Sebastian Velasquez and Robbie Findley injected some fresh, quick feet, with Devon Sandoval coming on to try and push in a surprise equalizer.

With RSL opening up in pursuit of that goal, they looked destined to give up a second, but LA could never put the pieces together on one of their numerous counterattacks. The game may have ended 1-0, but that wasn’t the teams’ intention.

[MORE: Franklin blast all that separates LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake after leg one]

  • LA can silence RSL’s biggest stars

Where was Álvaro Saborío. Isolated. Abandoned up top. He may have been good for 12 goals in 16 appearances, but come the 79th minute, he was good for a place on the bench, the Costa Rican international leaving before seriously testing Jaime Penedo.

RSL’s playmaker wasn’t anymore effective. Javi Morales gave the ball away four times, a game high. He was dispossessed another four times, also tied for the night’s high mark. His 77 passes were second to know Kyle Beckerman, but they lacked the influence of a normal Javier Morales performance.

Thursday in Utah, RSL will expect more from their two biggest threats. Whether that’s happens because better performances, a switch in formation, or a change in approach, Jason Kreis will likely need more from his danger-men.

  • Real Salt Lake’s not married to their 4-4-2

Or, if they are married to their trademark formation, it’s an open relationship. A handful of times this season, RSL deployed a 4-3-3, using their new-found forward depth to shake things up midseason. Tonight — on the road, leg one, against the powerful defending champions — Kreis utilized another source of depth, putting Yordany Alvarez into deep midfield along side Kyle Beckerman.

The result was a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the choice was a reflection of the RSL boss’s growing confidence in the Cuban destroyer.  Regardless, it’s unclear how effective it was. That LA’s counterattack was a non-factor until Alvarez gave way for Robbie Findley hints the switch helped contain the Galaxy’s biggest threat, but where were the midfielders on the goal? Collapsed into the area, not familiar with new setup’s roles, abandoning one of the more dangerous spots on the field.

You’d assume Kreis will be more aggressive at home. Joao Plata may also be healthy. There’ll be reasons to go back to the 4-3-1-2, but it was interesting to see RSL break out a double pivot. The two-man shield may have helped on Sunday.

  • Omar Gonzalez demands a lot of attention

When was the last time you saw two players marking one target on set pieces? It happened on Sunday. Omar Gonzalez is such a threat, Kreis asked Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert to mark him.

It was amazing; the ultimate side of respect; a concession that whatever everybody else had been trying ignored the obvious solution: Gonzalez is just too good . Swallow your pride and put a second man on him.

That one of the markers with the 6’4″ Schuler speaks to the amount of respect Kreis has for Gonzalez’s threat. Most managers would just shrug and say something like ‘we just have to win that battle,’ not wanting to sacrifice a player who could be deployed elsewhere. Kreis did the smart thing. He did what it took to stop Omar Gonzalez.

  • Galaxy counter attack may not be stoppable, but was containable

Kreis took a big risk sacrificing Alvarez near the hour mark, bringing on Robbie Findley, and pursuing an equalizer. Over the next half hour, LA seemed to have counter attack after counter attack – the type of breakouts we saw the Galaxy ride through the last two postseasons.

But credit, huge credit to not only the defenders but Kreis, who put faith in his back two rather than just accepting the one-goal deficit. Near full-time, Devon Sandoval nearly found an equalizer, Todd Dunivant coming up big to keep the big rookie for heading in a Luis Gil cross. Had that gone in, Kreis’ faith would have been rewarded.

Yes, they gave up some opportunities in transition, but to see the coordination between Borchers and Schuler, you can’t help but think that’d been a point of emphasis in training. Kreis may have bet on his defense holding up.

It’s too much to say RSL had the right approach to LA’s counter, because there were a number of times the Galaxy seemed one split second, go either way soccer moment from breaking through. But the scoreboard tells the story. RSL did contain LA’s counter attack, even if they didn’t exactly stop them.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.