Takeaway from Friday’s game: New York unfortunately needs Rafa Marquez

source: Getty Images
HOUSTON – AUGUST 03: Boniek Garcia #27 of the Houston Dynamo is taken down hard from behind by Victor Palsson #44 of the New York Red Bulls in the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium on August 3, 2012 in Houston, Texas. The Houston Dynamo defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-0. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Most Talented Team Ever era of Red Bulls soccer opened with a cold shower. Houston dominated New York on Friday, posting a 2-0 victory which played more lopsided than the final score. The Dynamo took the lead in the second minute and never allowed Hans Backe’s high powered attack a decent look on goal. Even the attempts on target, one-sided as they were (16-5, Houston), exaggerated New York’s presence at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Red Bulls entered the weekend leading the East but, thanks to the result, could be sitting third come Monday.

(MORE: Drilling down on Houston’s Friday win)

It was an eye-opening night for Houston (who played like an MLS Cup favorite), but given how much space New York’s potential has occupied on this blog, it’s worth noting the Dynamo exposed a major flaw in Red Bulls’ set-up. No, they didn’t expose the defense, which has been exposed for some time. Like Montreal last week, Houston’s ability to consistently play behind the New York’s fullbacks was a key, but this is nothing new. You get behind the New York defense, and the organization falls apart too quickly. They don’t seem to know if the center halves are going to come help, if the line should be playing higher (or farther back), or if the fullbacks should be making adjustments. They’re far too vulnerable to build up no more innovative than what you’d see at a local varsity soccer game. “Just kick it over there” shouldn’t be a winning tactic in Major League Soccer.

Even with the addition of Heath Pearce, the Red Bulls’ defense needs help. They need a midfield that’s capable of holding more of the ball and, when not in possession, breaking up play before New York’s defense can be exploited. While NBC’s broadcast noted those qualities were lacking because of Dax McCarty’s suspension, McCarty didn’t help in Montréal. While McCarty’s effort can never be questioned, too often he’s all effort and no results.

source: Getty Images
HOUSTON – AUGUST 03: Boniek Garcia #27 of the Houston Dynamo eludes a tackle from Tim Cahill #17 of the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium on August 3, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Houston Dynamo defeat the New York Red Bulls 2-0. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(MORE: How the Red Bulls were taken apart in Montreal)

A central midfield of McCarty and Tim Cahill sounds encouraging, but it’s unlikely to offer much improvement on Friday’s duo. Teemu Tainio had a good night breaking up play (there was just too much, in too many places for him to handle). McCarty (if he even starts) can’t be expected to do more, nor will he be expected to offer an improvement in possession. New York will still be left with a duo that doesn’t do enough preventing, doesn’t do enough retaining.

This is the difference between “most talented” and “best” team. It’s a line Steve and I carefully walked throughout the week. Is New York the most talented team Major League Soccer’s ever seen? Probably, we said. Is it the best team? Way, way too early to tell.

Hans Backe has to get all the pieces to gel together, and based on Friday’s returns, he has a major problem. How can Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Sebastien La Toux and Tim Cahill be effective if New York can’t win or keep the ball? The lack of an answer is forcing Henry to drop deeper and deeper, earlier and earlier in games, to the point on Friday he often had to drop to Tainio’s level to pick up the ball.

(MORE: New York, 2012, versus D.C. United … 1998)

This is the part where we need to pause and give Houston credit, because they played better than almost anybody New York will face this season. If the Red Bulls have a problem, it’s a relative one. Normally that would be a mitigating factor, but at this point of the season, it’s a major problem. If Houston keeps playing like this, there’s little chance New York’s path of MLS Cup won’t involve the Dynamo, be it in Harrison or Houston. If New York’s midfield is fine against the rest of the league, it could prove a meaningless consolation. Their midfield needs to beat Houston’s. If they can’t control the game against a Dynamo team that has no love of possession, the Red Bulls are in trouble.

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NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 23: Rafa Marquez of the New York Red Bulls poses for a photo at the Empire State Building on March 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for the New York Red Bulls)
All of which leads us to the elephant in the locker room, the skeleton in the New York closet, the man whose disappearance has become more clichéd than compelling. Almost all of the problems New York’s experiencing would be addressed if Rafa Marquez were in the team. Currently out with a calf problem, the league’s second highest paid player is the type of midfield anchor that could free teammates to apply the pressure New York needs through midfield. With an ability to read the game that is as good as anybody’s in the league, Marquez could break up and distribute in ways Red Bulls will desperately need if they’re to fulfill their payroll’s promise.

That’s the good news. If New York does have these two major flaws, one player could help both. And, that player’s already under contract.

But you know the bad news. Rafa Marquez has been under contract for two years, and aside from a great spell to open his tenure in Major League Soccer, he’s been more distraction than attraction. Two controversial suspensions, dalliances with moves away from the league, and the ever nebulous ‘attitude problems’ define Marquez’s time in New York. If Marquez is the solution, you have a problem. A different problem, but a problem nonetheless.

That may be the biggest issue for New York. Last night’s final was disappointing, as was the drop to second in the East. The midfield needs to start keeping the ball and protecting the defense, but that only touches on the real problem. New York, in the way they’ve constructed this team, may have put themselves in the unfortunate situation of needing Rafa Marquez. Red Bulls may now be relying on the unreliable.

There are other possibilities. New York’s current midfield may provide something we can’t currently envision. Or perhaps Hans Backe will shift hisformation to bulk up the midfield. Maybe that was the problem on Friday – New York’s 4-4-2 against Houston’s 4-3-3 – but this isn’t a one night issue. This has been a small problem all year, one that’s going to be a major issue now that Tim Cahill – more attacking midfielder (or forward) than central mid – has to play in the middle. The problem may not be as big when they’re not playing Houston, but at some point, this Red Bull team’s going to have to beat the Dynamo.

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, team news, odds

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

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Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.

Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool have center back Joe Gomez back fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson is also not fit to feature. Thiago Alcantara is not in the squad due to an minor injury, while new signing Diogo Jota is on the bench.

Arsenal have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which is a big boost. Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Sead Kolasinac all drop to the bench as Tierney, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and David Luiz start. Pablo Mari, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links

Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.

How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.


Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.

Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Scott Parker makes three changes as Tom Cairney, Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid start.

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)

Villa are unchanged from the team which beat Sheffield United last time out.

What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links

Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.

How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Transfer news: Kante to Man United; Dest to Barcelona

Kante to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news N’Golo Kante to Manchester United is reported, while USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is almost complete.

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Let’s take a look at some of the latest juicy rumors as we’re in the final week of the transfer window.

Kante to Manchester United couldn’t really happen… could it!?

N’Golo Kante is still among the finest holding midfielders in the world, which is why this report from the Daily Mirror seems particularly outlandish.

That said, Kante, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea for most of this transfer window as the French central midfielder continues to be a man in demand. Per the report, Kante would have to take a pay-cut on his $385,000 per week wages.

Frank Lampard and Chelsea know that Kante’s value is extremely high, on and off the pitch, right now and they will also know his value may be at its peak. At times over the last 12 months he hasn’t quite been himself but he’s still been consistently excellent.

Is it time for Chelsea to cash in on Kante to help offset their incredible $300 million spending spree this summer?

Pretty much everyone who watches Chelsea knows this would be a bad idea. If you think Chelsea’s defending has been bad, think how bad it will be without Kante plugging as many gaps as he can in front of the defense. Chelsea fans everywhere are shuddering right now.

Kante to Manchester United would make sense for the Red Devils who still look badly imbalanced and need a destructive holding midfielder to get their dangerous attacking quartet of Rashford, Greenwood, Martial and Fernandes in the game more.

We would all be extremely surprised if Chelsea sell Kante to a direct rival, but stranger things have happened.

Sergino Dest to Barcelona almost complete

USMNT right back Sergino Dest to Barcelona is edging closer as the Dutch-American defender is said to have agreed personal terms with Barca.

Dest, 19, was chased by both Bayern Munich and Barcelona but his chosen the latter after Ajax agreed a $26.7 million fee with Barcelona.

Per a report from Sky Italy, Dest has agreed a five-year contract at Barcelona and will travel to Spain to complete the deal.

With Nelson Semedo sold to Wolves, Barcelona need a new right back and new head coach Ronald Koeman looks set to make Dest the first signing he has chosen. While manager of the Dutch national team Koeman wanted Dest to switch allegiances from the USMNT but he stuck with the nation he has played for throughout his youth international career despite being born in the Netherlands.

Dest will get plenty of opportunities to play at Barcelona and it will be intriguing to track his development.

Chelsea issue Pulisic injury update; Mendy debut?

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Pulisic injury update has arrived, as the USMNT star is edging ever closer to a return to action for Chelsea.

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The American winger, 22, injured his hamstring in the FA Cup final at the start of August and recently suffered a small setback as he tried to be ready for Chelsea’s opening game of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s League Cup fourth round clash at London rivals Tottenham on Tuesday, Frank Lampard has the latest Pulisic injury update as new signing Hakim Ziyech is on a similar path.

“Mendy and Chilwell are in the squad for tomorrow,” Lampard said. “They’re fit and we will see whether they start or not. Ziyech and Pulisic are not far away. They are still in their recovery stage so it’s too early for them both.”

It seems like Pulisic could be in line to play his first Premier League minutes of the season when Chelsea host Crystal Palace on Saturday (watch live, 7:30am ET).

This is good news for Chelsea and the USMNT, but also shows that Lampard is being cautious when it comes to the USMNT winger, just like he said he would be when asked last week.

“There’s always a concern about a player’s fitness when the history says there’s been some injuries. Last season we did have them with Christian, I was questioned many times on him, when he did and didn’t play,” Lampard said.  “Of course, when you look at a player with his recent record, you’re trying to find the right balance of getting the best out of him, which we saw in big periods last year, and making sure you don’t overcook him and leave him susceptible to injury.

“Particularly with a player of his explosive pace and balance. It’s a fine line. We’re working on that and Christian’s also very open to that. He wants to play, he’s so hungry to play and he’s very nearly fit now, but it’s certainly something we have to manage with him this season. We’ve all seen the talent and it’s something we want to get right. I’m not saying it’s a fundamental, chronic issue because it’s not, but we want to get as many minutes out of Christian – the really great Christian that we saw lots of last season – on the pitch.”

Pulisic was given the No. 10 jersey over the offseason and Lampard is counting on him to repeat his incredible form during ‘Project Restart’ as he ripped opposition defenses apart.

With Kai Havertz and Timo Werner settling in, plus Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount all scoring in the comeback 3-3 draw at West Brom on Saturday, Lampard has a lot of attackng options. Pulisic should be his first-choice winger, though.

Focusing on his new first-choice goalkeeper, it seems like that will be new signing Edouard Mendy.

Lampard has been very impressed with the Senegalese goalkeeper during his first few days as a Chelsea player and he could make his debut against Tottenham.

“The early signs and the interactions as a man and also on the training pitch have been very positive,” Lampard said. “He’s settled in very well in those few days and we’ve made him very welcome. It’s competition, we know that. He’s a good goalkeeper, we know a lot about him, and we will see how we go.”

Chelsea are getting players back to full fitness and with Mendy set to make his debut and Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell now up to speed and Ziyech on the way, Lampard is close to having all of his new signings playing together for the first time.

That, plus the eagerly-awaited arrival of Pulisic, is great news for Chelsea.