Formation change provides no salvation for Philadelphia against D.C. United


Though 10 games, Philadelphia’s problem was painfully obvious, so painful that they were willing to trade away a player who was once a treasured prospect in search of a solution. Particularly from open play, the team just could not score goals. The Union where scraping together enough converted corners and opposition gifts to average a goal per game, but thanks to the inefficiencies of Jack McInerney (now traded), Conor Casey, and Andrew Wenger, the team came into the weekend winless in eight.

On Saturday, John Hackworth decided to change things up, not that reverting to last year’s 4-4-2 for a half helped. Losing Chris Rolfe in the penalty area in the sixth minute, Philadelphia gave up the only goal D.C. United would need to take a 1-0 out of PPL Park, the Union’s attack again proving inept as the team fell to is third straight loss.

For D.C. United, it was the type of controlled performance that’s defined the team’s unexpectedly strong start. Having now exceeded its 2013 win total (4 vs. 3), United’s used early goals against New York, Columbus, and Philadelphia to pull off what’s becoming a regular thing: score first; play smart, collect points. Perhaps Ben Olsen’s squad isn’t the most talented in the league, but they seem to be among the most prepared week in, week out. With the exception of last week’s loss in Portland, D.C. is proving potent when presented opportunities, stingy when asked to concede their own.

Today’s opportunity came early, with Philadelphia’s central defense and midfielders staying on their heals as a blocked shot fell to Rolfe:

For most teams, 84 minutes to overcome an early goal wouldn’t be debilitating. For Philadelphia, it was practically game over. The Union didn’t register a shot on target until the 64th minute, after it’s switched back to a 4-2-3-1. Though that sequence required a great read from Bill Hamid to get off his line to stop Wenger and Casey, it was the Union’s closest call. As shutouts go, this wasn’t one of Hamid’s more difficult ones.

So despite going with last year’s approach — a scheme that had a previously ball-on-the-ground team play 37 crosses — Philadelphia ended the day where it started; though along the way, the Union may have answered a question. If there was any doubt about whether the team’s preseason switch to a new formation was stifling scoring, throw it out the window. It’s quality, not quantity of forwards that’s killing them.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.