Xabi Alonso debuts as Bayern Munich held at Schalke

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For the second straight season, Bayern Munich has opened its Bundesliga campaign with a depleted midfield, part of the reason why Xabi Alonso, signed late this week from Real Madrid, was pushed directly into the German champions’ starting XI. But instead of starting in the middle, where Bayern are missing Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martínez, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Alonso began Saturday’s trip to Schalke in the middle of a back three, sliding into Martínez’s central defense role as Bayern were held to a 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen.

Much like last Friday’s season opener against Wolfsburg, Bayern’s edges in possession failed to translate into more chances on target, with a Schalke team that saw only 36 percent of the ball able to match its guests’ four shots on goal. But whereas a late miss last week by Junior Malanda allowed Bayern to take full points in Munich, Benedikt Höwedes’s controversial Saturday equalizer cost FCB its first points of the season.

“The first 20 or 25 minutes were our best in the last six months,” Bayern head coach Pep Guardiola said post-match, referring to the span that produced a 10th minute opener for Robert Lewandowski. “After that, we lost control.”

Lewandowski’s first Bayern goal came after he and Thomas Müller had already tested Schalke’s Ralf Fährmann. By the middle of the half, however, Schalke were creating chances on the counter, with the likes of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Julian Draxler, and Kaan Ayhan stressing Guardiola’s 3-5-2 starting formation.

The talking point of that set up was Alonso – a holder by trade who was started between center backs Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuder. Despite a strong overall performance, Alonso played a part in Schalke’s only goal, with an attempted clearance off Höwedes’s hand serving as the day’s equalizer after being unintentionally redirected into Manuel Neuer’s goal.

“Xabi was very good today,” Guardiola said. “He did everything I asked him to do. He was a leader.”

That leadership helped produce an improved performance on last Friday, even if the result was worse. On the road against a strong opponent, Bayern still had the better of play, even if there’s a persisting fear Guardiola’s leaves opponents too close.

Today, however, the proximity happened with Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben out of the 18. Though Sebastian Rode played well, the midfield is still depleted. On the road at one of the more talented teams in the Bundesliga, Bayern still exerted their characteristic control, giving fans reason to think results will improve as stars return.

“We ran hard. Tt was a good test for our legs,” Guardiola noted, his team’s preseason preparation having been hampered by this summer’s World Cup. “We have two weeks without a game. I hope most of our injured players can return.”

MLS Decision Day: FCD Shield winners; POR collapse, miss playoffs

FRISCO, TX - MARCH 06:  Maximiliano Urruti #37 of FC Dallas celebrates his goal with Mauro Diaz #10 against the Philadelphia Union in the second half during the MLS opening game at Toyota Stadium on March 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Final scores

LA Galaxy 0-0 FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids 1-1 Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 Portland Timbers

Final standings

1. FC Dallas
2. Colorado Rapids
3. LA Galaxy
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Sporting Kansas City
6. Real Salt Lake

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

The moments that mattered

4:24 p.m. ET — Fernandez puts SEA up 1-0, into 4th — Fewer than three minutes on the clock, and the Sounders scored this beauty. Sensual soccer.

4:25 p.m. ET — Mulholland pulls RSL back to 1-1, back into 4th — 90 seconds later, RSL’s equalizer was’t nearly as pretty.

4:34 p.m. ET — Barnes puts VAN 1-0 up on POR — POR defenders standing around, and Giles Barnes puts them in a bad, bad place.

4:41 p.m. ET — COL give one up to HOU; Shield hopes in trouble — COL’s only hope for the Supporters’ Shield was a win and an FCD loss. Not looking good early.

4:47 p.m. ET — Feilhaber scores from the spot, SKC go 4th — After a nervy opening 25 minutes, SKC get on the board.

4:52 p.m. ET — Roldan puts SEA back into the lead, back in 4th — SKC’s time in 4th was short-lived, thanks to a header by the smallest man on the field in Seattle.

4:53 p.m. ET — Barnes makes it 2-0; POR in big trouble — POR’s’ season looks to have gone up in flames.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

5:34 p.m. ET — 3-0 and 4-0 in Vancouver; so long, POR — Just an unbelievable collapse on the final day from POR.

5:45 p.m. ET — Gashi pulls COL level, but they need another — Nothing doing in LA; COL lurking in the event up a slip-up by FCD.

6:05 p.m. ET — Zusi fires past Bingham, seals 5th for SKC — Breathing room for SKC.

LIVE — AT THE HALF: Shield for FCD; SEA, SKC, RSL in; POR out

David Villa, New York City FC (Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook)
Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook
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We’re through 45 minutes of Decision Day, and the goals have been flying in all over MLS already.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS scoreboard for Decision Day updates ]

The Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake traded goals inside the first five minutes in the Emerald City, and the Sounders reclaimed the lead just after the half-hour mark. They’re now fourth place in the Western Conference, clinging onto the home game in the knockout round that comes with it. Sporting Kansas City are 1-0 up on the San Jose Earthquakes, which has them fifth at this very moment. The defending champion Portland Timbers are 2-0 down in Vancouver, and are 45 minutes from missing out on the playoffs altogether.

FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy are scoreless in Southern California, and the Colorado Rapids are 1-0 down to the Houston Dynamo, which is more than enough for FCD to clinch the Supporters’ Shield.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls are 1-0 up on the Philadelphia Union, and 45 minutes from clinching home-field advantage through the conference finals. Toronto FC are tie 1-1 with the last-place Chicago Fire, and will finish third if that result holds.

Halftime scores

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union 0-1 New York Red Bulls
New York City FC 1-0 Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC 1-1 Chicago Fire
Orlando City SC 2-1 D.C. United
New England Revolution 1-0 Montreal Impact

Western Conference

LA Galaxy 0-0 FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids 0-1 Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Portland Timbers

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

For a full list of scenarios in the East, the West — to clinch berths and seeding implications — as well as the Shield race, hit this link and this link. Hit the link toward the top of this post, or right here, to keep up with all the action across the league over the final 45 minutes of the season. And, of course, check back on PST for full coverage of the afternoon and the setting of the stage for the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night with the knockout round.

The 2 Robbies Podcast: Chelsea dominate United, City settle for a point

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Robbie Mustoe & Robbie Earle discuss Chelsea’s 4-0 victory over Manchester United. After leading the Blues to three Premier League titles over the course of two stints at Chelsea, it was a nightmare return to Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho who suffered his worst defeat as a manager in the Premier League. The gents talk about how both Chelsea and Manchester United’s title credentials have changed after their performances and wonder what did Jose Mourinho whisper into Antonio Conte‘s ear at the final whistle?

The 2 Robbies also reflect on another draw for Manchester City as they had to come from behind at the Etihad Stadium to rescue a point against Southampton thanks to a goal from 2nd-half sub Kelechi Iheanacho. It looked like City might drop all three points at first after John Stones’s bad back pass led to Nathan Redmond’s goal for the Saints. The chaps discuss the continual changing of systems and tactics from Pep Guardiola and whether or not he is making things too complicated for his squad as their winless streak increased to five matches.

Finally, the boys wrap up with a preview of some intriguing midweek matchups in the EFL Cup. Tuesday’s fixtures include Tottenham’s visit to Liverpool as Arsenal face Reading at the Emirates. Wednesday is Derby Day as Chelsea and West Ham square off for a London Derby and City and United meet at Old Trafford for a Manchester Derby.

Remember to follow Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe @The2RobbiesNBC on Twitter and subscribe to The 2 Robbies podcast on iTunes. Please rate and review the show after listening. The ratings and reviews increase our visibility and help new football fans discover the show.

FOLLOW LIVE: Two hours to decide it all on Decision Day

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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231 days after First Kick, the 2016 MLS regular season is a mere three hours from its conclusion. Decision Day — 10 games, all kicking off at 4 p.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS scoreboard for Decision Day updates ]

Back on March 6, 20 teams dreamt of lifting MLS Cup in December. Nearly eight months later, eight playoff places have been clinched, with another four on the line on Sunday — one in the Eastern Conference, three in the Western Conference.

Also still up for grabs: the Supporters’ Shield. FC Dallas have the inside track on the regular-season “title” and home-field advantage for as long as they may compete in the postseason. Bradley Wright-Phillips (23 goals) and David Villa (22) are neck-and-neck for the Golden Boot, with BWP currently holding the tiebreaker (assists — 5 to 3) in the event of a tie.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

For a full list of scenarios in the East, the West — to clinch berths and seeding implications — as well as the Shield race, hit this link and this link. Hit the link toward the top of this post, or right here, to keep up with all the action across the league over a frantic two-hour period (for yours truly, mostly). And, of course, check back on PST for full coverage of the afternoon and the setting of the stage for the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night with the knockout round.

Full schedule of games — all kickoffs at 4 p.m. ET

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls
New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire
Orlando City SC vs. D.C. United
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact

Western Conference

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers