At halftime: Possession not enough as Germany held by Ghana — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: The six Bayern Munich starters in Germany’s team will be used to this huge edge in possession, but with Ghana eschewing pressure to stay organized at the back, Group G’s favorites have been left hoping the combination of through balls and passes send across the six-yard box will pay off. Through 45 minutes, no dice, with Germany and Ghana going to halftime scoreless for the second straight World Cup.

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Goals: They’re coming. I think. As much possession as Germany has had, Ghana’s also had their moments near the favorites’ goal.

Other key moments:

7′ – The match’s first chance has gone the way of the Black Stars, who saw almost nothing of the ball over the match’s first six minutes. Yet after a long diagonal from left back Kwadwo Asamoah finds Christian Atsu deep on the right, the German defense is opened up, giving striker Asamoah Gyan space to attack the near post. Atsu cuts back and puts a left-footed ball across the top of the six, but Gyan puts his shot into the seats.

11′ – Germany’s begun having success finding runners cutting through the Ghanian defense. This time, Mesut Özil’s run behind Ghana’s left is regarded with a chance to find Thomas Müller in the middle of the area. After turning on what looks like a right-footed shot, the Bayern Munich attacker rolls a back pass to Toni Kroos. The midfielder’s blast from just beyond the penalty box is blocked by Jonathan Mensah.

13′ – Manuel Neuer is called into action, with a long blast from Atsu forcing the German goalkeeper into a diving stop. Before the Germans can regain possession, André Ayew has room to play a ball across the top of the six, though Germany’s defense handles the chance.

21′ – Germany’s first true moment of danger sees Ghanaian defender John Boye step up. On a ball played wide right, Özil is allowed time to cut in and play a cross to the edge of the six-yard box. Müller, coming off a game one hat trick, is there, but a sliding challenge from Boye keeps the German attacker from putting a shot on goal. Played off Müller, the ball goes out for a Black Stars goal kick.

29′ –  Asamoah, tested throughout the half, misjudges a long ball, allowing Mario Götze to get behind him. Boye, however, steps up again. Trying to find Müller in the middle of goal, Götze sees his pass blocked by the sliding Black Star, who plays the ball out for a corner.

33′ – A cross from Ghana’s right for Gyan is brought down but easily poked away. Unfortunately, the German defense is caught flat-footed, allowing Sulley Muntari to come from deep and one-time a swerving shot toward Neuer. The punch is easy enough, but on a try from 32 yards, Neuer was at the mercy of Suntari’s aim as Ghana drew another save.

36′ – Germany finally goes left, but the story’s the same. Played behind the defense, Özil tries another ball across the top of the six. Again, Boye is there to put the ball out for a corner.

Lineups:

Germany: Neuer; Howedes, Hummels, Boateng, Mertesacker; Lahm, Khedira, Kroos; Gotze, Muller, Ozil

Ghana: Dauda; Afful, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu, Muntari, Atsu, A. Ayew; Boateng, Gyan

Key Players:

  • Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana – The Juventus wide man is his defense’s most recognizable name, something that hasn’t prevented the Germans from going at him. Though he started the match strong, Asamoah was too often seen chasing play moving back toward his own goal. Whether Asamoah needs to improve or get help from his teammates, Ghana’s left need to provide a deterrent.
  • Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira, Germany – When the Germans do get behind Asamoah, they’re quickly playing across goal, but Müller’s back pass in 11th minute hints there are other options. If the Germans can get Kroos or Khedira forward, they can make Ghana pay for having to fall back to that six-yard box. Given how quickly the Germans are playing, that’s easier said than done, but if Joachim Löw is willing to play one of his midfielders higher up, he may be able to take advantage of Ghana without sacrificing the numbers he’s playing along the Black Stars’ defense.

Question for the second half:

  • Can Ghana afford to hold out? – Say the Black Stars defense is up to this challenge. Their organization problems at the back don’t resurface, and Boye continues to clean up anything sent in front of Dauda’s goal. Let’s say all they need to do is stay this course. Is that even a good thing? Ghana might end up with a 0-0 draw, but they’d be on one point headed into a game three showdown against Portugal. Can Ghana afford to hold out, or did their loss to the U.S. make this a must win?

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

  • Columbus Crew SC win vs. New York City FC on Sunday and …
  • Chicago Fire tie or lose vs. Houston Dynamo on Sunday and …
  • Atlanta United tie or lose vs. Toronto FC on Sunday
Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).

Bilic, Fonte react to brutal home loss to Brighton

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Jose Fonte tried to shoulder some of the blame after West Ham United piled more pressure on its manager with a 3-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday.

“It’s not only the manager, it’s the players as well,” Fonte said. “We have an unbelievable squad and should not be in this position.”

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

Fonte said he understands why fans are booing the club, which has eight points and sits in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Given the club’s summer spending, with Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart, and Marko Arnautovic amongst the buys, pressure’s been on Bilic to deliver the goods. So far, the Irons have not.

Bilic did not deny his role nor his responsibility. From the BBC:

“It’s very hard for me to say anything clever now. I take full responsibility for it. I don’t want to hide.

“It is not a good situation and the board will do what they are going to do. It’s their decision.”

Not a man who feels like he’ll have his job much longer, but is it fair? A lot of West Ham’s key pieces are new, but surely they are not a club who should be peering over its collective shoulder to see the drop zone.

West Ham 0-3 Brighton: Gulls fly past Irons

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  • Murray heads Gross free kick
  • Izquiero strikes from distance
  • West Ham blanked at home
  • Murray earns, converts PK

Glenn Murray scored twice and Jose Izquiero also scored to lead visiting Brighton and Hove Albion past West Ham United 3-0 at London Stadium on Friday.

The loss will do nothing to ease the pressure on West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

Brighton moves into 10th with 11 points, behind Newcastle United on goal differential. West Ham’s eight points keep them ahead of 16th place Everton, also on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton took a lead in the 10th minute when Premier League veteran Murray lost Pedro Obiang and turned Pascal Gross‘ free kick across a diving Joe Hart and inside the far post.

Murray now has PL goals for Brighton and Hove Albion, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace.

West Ham had chances from Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, and — perhaps most dangerous, a left-footed rip from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez that nearly saw its way inside the far post.

And then… well, wow. Izquierdo darted inside from the left and hit his hard shot at Hart, who could only slap the ball inside his goal:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manuel Lanzini threatened with a slightly deflected 65th minute free kick, and the Irons wasted the ensuing corner.

A dizzying, creative run by Anthony Knockaert provided Murray a 1v1 with Hart, but a second touch allowed the keeper to close down the Englishman.

Murray earned Brighton a PK within a minute, unable to get past the block of Pablo Zabaleta. He took his shot well.