Second half heroics from Jaime Penedo give LA Galaxy 1-0 lead ahead of leg two in Tijuana

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The mechanics were different, but the broad strokes were nearly identical. On the heals of Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 win over Cruz Azul, the LA Galaxy, at home Wednesday night in CONCACAF Champions League, took a 1-0 lead into halftime against their Mexican opposition: Club Tijuana. Despite their Liga MX visitors gaining the advantage in the second half, the Major League Soccer side still held on for a 1-0 victory – an edge they’ll take to Mexico for next week’s second leg.

The Galaxy even needed to match Sporting’s second half defensive heroics, but whereas it was Ike Opara and Seth Sinovic saving balls from open nets in Kansas, it was Jaime Penedo making a series of saves near the hour mark to keep his team in front. After nearly giving away the match, Penedo’s teammates regained enough of their footing to hold serve in Carson.

The final gives Bruce Arena’s side a slight edge ahead of the return leg at Estadio Caliente, one that looks fortunate considering the numerous good chances the team gave up in the second half. Given who was responsible for preserving that result, however, the final looks less like luck and more a result of a commitment LA made last season. In one 10-minute stretch of the second half, the Penedo reminded Galaxy fans of the difference between a goalkeeping weakness and a player who can steal results.

The Panamaian international helped preserve the late provided by Samuel, with the former Fluminense striker converting from near the spot in the 11th minute. On a ball lobbed over the defense by midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, Robbie Keane’s poor control was redeemed when his trap fell for his recently-acquired strike partner. A first-time finish into the left of goal gave LA a 1-0 lead.

Throughout the rest of the half, Arena’s was the better team, though control failed to translate into clear-cut chances. Though Landon Donovan was finding room behind Juan Nuñez down the left, LA was unable to replicate the type of opportunity that put them in front. When intermission was called, the Galaxy had to content themselves with their one-goal lead.

When their defense failed them early in the second half, LA’s lead looked destined to be short-lived. But Penedo, in the first exhibit of his imperious form, got a right palm to a short-range shot that was heading for the near post, even if the play would be called offside. Five minutes later, Penedo got no help from the whistles and needed an athletic save on Hernan Pellerano to keep his team in front.

Minutes later, Penedo was forced into a sprawling save as his poor read on a cross left his goal temporarily abandoned. A slow rolling ball toward his goal was swept away just before it crossed the line.

When Sarvas was called upon at the right post to save a potential 68th minutes equalizer, LA was finally getting help from more than their keeper. But they were still giving up good chances, with the onslaught Tijuana had conducted since 10 minutes into the period giving the impression an equalizer was inevitable. Seemingly losing every battle in the middle of the park, the Galaxy were being severely outplayed despite holding a one-goal edge.

As the 70th minute approached, however, the game began to level off. LA started winning balls in midfield, converting them into corner kicks as they headed toward Cirilo Saucedo’s goal. Come full-time, Tijuana’s strong stretch in the middle of the half looked more like a bad Galaxy run than a period that would define the match. The final whistle ensured the home team would take a 1-0 lead into next week’s leg in Tijuana.

It was an identical result to the one put up by their MLS brethren in Kansas City, but although the broad strokes were the same, the details ended up far different. And because Jaime Penedo’s night ended up more eventful than Eric Kronberg’s, the conclusions differed, too.

Whereas Sporting recent history and Wednesday performance hint they might be able to limit Cruz Azul in Mexico City, the Galaxy can’t rely on another set of Penedo heroics in Baja. LA  needs to be better next Tuesday if they’re to make the Champions League semifinals.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.