I could get used to this: Waiting until after the mid-week games to do Power Rankings. Not only does it help with our weekend previews (we love noting where the teams are in our rankings) but it gives us more information. Instead of cramming in the weekend results, trying to turn that around as quickly as possible, we get some time to reflect, hear some explanations, and get some more perspective. Ah, room to think.
Not that it necessarily helps. An exercise like this is always a bit frivolous, but at least we had Wednesday’s result in Colorado to keep us from over thinking LA’s weekend aberration. At least we had San Jose’s showing in Seattle to reenforce what we saw in Salt Lake from the Sounders. Is more information ever a bad thing?
In the wrong hands, perhaps. We’ll let you judge how ably we used our few nuggets. Here’s this week’s version of our “MLS PRs”:
Real Salt Lake:Saturday’s 2-1 win over visiting Seattle ended closer than it played. Though the Sounders are going through their own (strangely familiar) set of troubles, the degree to which RSL controlled a very talented team was eye-opening. Only a momentary meltdown in defense kept the scoreline from matching the underlying performance. (11-4-9)
Sporting Kansas City: The other team that has a case for number one, Sporting Kansas City shook off their Vancouver worries with an impressive win over visiting Toronto. Though the 4-1 final may have flattered to deceive, it was still a statement, one that would have vaulted the champs to number one had they not lost 2-0 the week before. (12-6-6)
FC Dallas: A team with this version of Fabián Castillo can beat anybody. You don’t have to be better. You don’t even necessarily have to be good. All you need is for Castillo to find some open space. The fact that Dallas is, in fact, good beyond Castillo leads to results like last Saturday’s, a 5-0 landslide in Santa Clara. (11-7-6)
LA Galaxy: After reaching number one in our rankings last week, Los Angeles proceeded to lose 4-1 at Columbus and fall behind 3-1 in Colorado. In Wednesday’s second half, the real Galaxy came through with three goals, saving Bruce Arena’s team from a steep fall on this week’s chart. (10-5-7)
Seattle Sounders: With one point in two games, Seattle could justify a bigger drop, particularly given their point came in a home draw to San Jose. Still, there’s a deference you give to a team with this much talent, one you suspect can put it together if they had to win a game tomorrow. Given their recent form (as well as past playoff experiences), that may be too deferential. (13-7-3)
D.C. United: After a four-goal performance against Colorado, D.C. has a claim to take Seattle’s spot. The only problem: It was against Colorado; at home, nonetheless. At this point, that’s an obligatory win. (12-7-4)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s team probably deserved a bigger fall after failing to pick up full points at Chivas USA, but nobody directly behind them stepped up. Unbeaten in six, Vancouver has some claim to staying above teams that can’t avoid bigger stumbles. Eight points in six games isn’t enough, though – not if they plan on staying ahead of Portland. (7-4-12)
Toronto and Columbus: On form alone, Columbus should be above Toronto. Columbus beat the ranking’s No. 1 team, 4-1, while Toronto lost by the same score at Kansas City. But we’ve seen these teams head-to-head too often (and with the same, repeated result), we know which one is better. At least, it’s going to take more the one week’s results to convince me Columbus can take Toronto on a neutral field. (TFC: 9-8-5; Crew: 7-8-9)
Portland Timbers: A road draw at New England wasn’t the worst outcome, though it would have been more impressive had the struggling Revolution not looked genuinely capable during parts of the match. Though it’s a better result than Colorado got during a recent visit to Gillette, it still felt like points dropped, particularly for a team needing to scrounge every result to return to the playoffs. (7-7-10)
New York Red Bulls: A much-needed bye week for set of worn wheels. As with most teams given the week off, New York regressed to the mean. Slightly. (6-7-10)
Philadelphia Union: Jim Curtin’s team managed to make the Dynamo look good, a rarity partially explained by the team’s quick turnaround. After 120 minutes last Tuesday in Dallas, the Union could be forgiven an off night in Houston. (6-9-9)
San Jose Earthquakes: Wednesday’s result was a good one, but Seattle left that game close enough to steal. The more telling result was the weekend’s 5-0 loss to Dallas. In hindsight, it seems like a terrible matchup, but not all terrible matchups end 5-0. San Jose saw that mismatch and raised it a horrible performance. (6-9-7)
Houston Dynamo: Sure, Philadelphia wasn’t at its best, but Houston showed signs of putting things together. The midfield looked strong, the attack clicked, and the defense kept a rare clean sheet. Progress, for now, is all Dynamo fans can ask for, and on Friday, that’s what they got. (7-12-4)
Chivas USA: Wilmer Cabrera’s team isn’t quite the pushover we’ve made them out to be, but having dealt Mauro Rosales to Vancouver, the team may have to rely on more 0-0s to collect their points. How is Chivas going to get Erick Torres the ball? (6-11-6)
New England Revolution: Just like Portland, New England should see last Saturday’s game as a missed opportunity. At home, against a team outside the West’s top five — one with one of the worst defenses, statistically, in the league — the Revs should have expected full points. They should have expected a turnaround – another home win against a visitor from the west coast. Instead, the team stumbled, albeit in a more muted fashion than it did earlier this summer. (8-12-3)
Colorado Rapids: Two games, eight more goals conceded, and the Rapids are free-falling, with a defensive record that suddenly rivals the Timbers’. Without Drew Moor, and with Shane O’Neill’s return uncertain, the offseason loss of Óscar Pareja looms large. Pablo Mastroeni has gone a good job, but we’re starting to get reminders that this is his first year on the job. (8-11-6)
Montréal Impact: I’m not sure there’s much more to say about Saturday’s win. The Impact didn’t necessarily improved. They just happened to be playing a team that was on their level. Thanks to a one errant clearance and the finishing of Marco Di Vaio, that was enough to get them back into the win column, but Chicago was the only team Montréal could have beaten with Saturday’s performance. (4-14-5)
Chicago Fire: Just when you think things can’t get more depressing in Chicago: a 6-0 loss in a cup semifinal; a 1-0 loss to (what was) the league’s worst team; and this continued courtship of Jermaine Jones that’s starting to look a little desperate. The best thing that’s happened to this team all season was Mike Magee’s movie spoof. (4-6-13)
Through 13 rounds of play, Real remains the only unbeaten side in La Liga, sitting on 33 points atop the first division. Barca finds itself six points back, however, a victory would go a long way in cutting down Real’s advantage.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10 goals in league play thus far has paced Real to its hot start, which includes a 20-match unbeaten streak in all competitions dating back to the start of the La Liga calendar.
The Portuguese attacker will need to continue his brilliance this weekend, though, as Real is forced to cope without Welsh star Gareth Bale. The winger is expected to miss four months after undergoing an ankle operation recently.
Meanwhile, Barcelona enters the Clasico in less-than-ideal form for a club with massive expectations. Luis Enrique’s side has gone unbeaten in its last five matches across all competitions, but the Blaugrana have looked less than convincing in that span.
“It’s a special game and we want to make the team and fans happy. I expect 100,000 people cheering us on,” said Enrique. “The game tomorrow is a chance to beat Real Madrid and to get closer to the top of the table, nothing more.
“Controlling your emotions is basic. In a game like this one, what happens on the field has little to do with the league table.”
Temperament will surely be key for both sides in the contentious matchup, particularly with the meeting being historically one of great physicality. Red cards have been shown in the last two meetings, with Real players both being the recipients of the ejections (Sergio Ramos & Isco).
Lionel Messi and his 21 previous Clasico goals will prove to be crucial for Barcelona as they look to put the first blemish on Real’s record in 2016. The Argentine has 19 goals in all tournaments, making his presence an absolute must if Barca is to snatch a victory.
Real earned a victory in their most recent encounter with Barca, a 2-1 result in April 2016, where Ronaldo netted the game-winner inside the final five minutes of play.
Manchester City vs. Chelsea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) is eagerly anticipated as many people’s title favorites lock horns in what should be an intriguing tactical battle with Guardiola and Conte both already stamping their authority on their teams just a few months into their reign.
Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday before Chelsea hopped on a train from London to Manchester Conte spoke to the media in a humble manner, playing down his own importance and revealing his admiration and respect for Guardiola not only as a coach but as a player when they met the one time in Italy towards the end of their careers.
With Conte having success at Juventus, plus with the Italian national team despite winning any title, the 47-year-old coach was asked who was more popular; himself or Guardiola?
“For sure Pep,” Conte laughed. “Because Pep won a lot in his career, he won trophies internationally, not only in Spain but also in Germany and now he’s in England. For sure Pep. I think now he is the top.”
When you look around the Premier League at the top managers currently working in big clubs (Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and many others) that’s high praise indeed from Conte. Yet, you get the sense that he and Guardiola aren’t so different and aren’t so far off one another.
Talking after Liverpool beat Chelsea in September at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp referred to Conte as the “Guardiola of Turin” for the work he did with Juventus, leading them to three-straight Serie A titles from 2011-14.
What did Conte make of that comparison to Guardiola?
“I think this is a great compliment,”Conte said. “I thought that Klopp said this because I had the possibility in three years to build a clear idea of football with Juventus. It was a good compliment for me.”
Humble is word which sums up Conte well.
He is still getting to grips with his English and is improving every week but he still looks rather sheepish and almost embarrassed when he is talked about in the same breath as Guardiola and the great coaches currently managing in England.
Where does he rank himself among the elite coaches in the Premier League.
“Yeah, but for me it is difficult to give a judgement on myself. It is very difficult. I prefer the other people to be the judge,” Conte said. “I know me very well. I know that I put a lot of pressure, I study a lot of football to create and find solution. I know I put a lot of the time of my day in my work. I know this. Then I don’t know if I am up in this table or at the bottom of this table.”
Conte is clearly not at the bottom of the table but in England his fame has yet to translate to the street. In Italy he would be mobbed for photos while out at a dinner or shopping due to his success with Juve and the Azzurri, however in west London he doesn’t get bothered much. And he quite enjoys that.
“In England it is very different if you compare with Italy. Here they ask with great education to sign a photo. In Italy you can find lots of friends who say ‘come with me, take a photo, come on’ and you are eating at your table and the fans come and sit with you and want to eat with you!” Conte said, laughing. “This is the big difference. I am pleased that when I go for a walk and people ask me to sign a photo, I am pleased and able to take the photo every time.”
Photos aside, Conte has hit the ground running at Chelsea and had just a few days of vacation this summer as he transitioned straight from Italy’s penalty shootout heartbreak in the quarterfinals of EURO 2016 to taking charge of Chelsea and managing in the Premier League for the first time in his career. He has taken to Chelsea quickly and the fans have taken to him, with his name sung loud and proud around Stamford Bridge by home fans in recent weeks as his rapport with them has been built by signals to get behind the team and jumping in and celebrating with them when the Blues score.
But does Conte have to win a title, or even a UEFA Champions League, at Chelsea to get to the same level of admiration that Guardiola has globally?
“I don’t know if you win a league and what you can reach. I have to work with my team to reach the best results for us. I remember our first press conference. Not many people trust in Chelsea and our work,” Conte said. “This must be a great strength for us. To continue to work and change the opinion of the people. For me, I never think of myself. I always think for my team and my club. We win and we lose together.”
With Chelsea on a seven-game winning streak and conceding just one goal in that stretch, Conte’s side are in-form and one point ahead of Guardiola’s City ahead of Saturday’s game. Following their 10th place finish last season as their title defense went horrendously wrong, not much was expected of Chelsea this season under Conte. They’ve exceeded expectations, thus far.
As for Guardiola, plenty was expected of his expensively assembled squad and City have faltered in recent months, winning just three of their last seven Premier League games.
Conte isn’t sure if Guardiola is under more pressure than he is, but he does know that he will continue to put massive pressure on his shoulders and, gradually, on the shoulders of his players who currently sit top of the remier League.
“I must be honest I don’t know. I know that I put myself under great pressure on every situation,” Conte said. “I try to work, try to win always, also when sometimes you understand this is very difficult bu I put a lot of pressure on myself. Also I try to start to transfer this pressure on my staff and also to start to push this pressure on my players.”
With his Chelsea team written off at the start of the season, slowly expectations levels are starting to rise and many of the doubters are turning into believers of Conte’s project in west London.
“Before we are working for ourselves, our club, our fans to show we love this shirt, love this club,” Conte said.” It is normal when you are a great team like Chelsea and when you play and you are a manager of this great team, the expectation is high. Sometimes it is right to be high. Sometimes you have to wait because you are building something important. I repeat, now it is important to continue to work and show that Chelsea can fight for a place in Champions League or fight for the title and fight the best teams in the league.”
According to information obtained by various European media outlets, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho are at the heart of a multi-million dollar tax evasion ring.