Offshore drilling, England: Tottenham 3, at Manchester United 2

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Man of the Match: There are days when Gareth Bale looks like the best wide player in the world. He was almost at that level on Saturday, involved in all three Tottenham goals as Spurs got an early, defining victory for the André Villas-Boas era.

In the second minute, Bale came back and showed for a pass he immediately played back to Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian defender streaking on goal from 35 yards out before beating Anders Lindegaard for the opener. In the 32nd minute, it was Bale’s turn to carry the ball through the final third, cutting across the defense from the middle of United’s half before beating Lindegaard far post from the right of the box. In the second half, Bale’s shot on goal led to the rebound that Clint Dempsey converted for the game-winning goal.

Packaged for takeaway: 

  • It’s hard to exaggerate what this win will do for André Villas-Boas’s profile in England. The former Chelsea manager has been a press whipping boy since flaming out last year at Stamford Bridge. Now the 34-year-old Portuguese has a signature win, one that started with a goal that could have been drawn up on the team’s whiteboard.
  • And for the first time since 1989, Tottenham has won at Manchester United, though to do so, Spurs had to survive a second half siege that rarely saw them in possession in United’s half of the pitch.
  • It was like a reenactment of the Helm’s Deep scenes from The Two Towers. Perhaps my mind is blitzed from the early morning West Coast wake up, but I can’t remember ever seeing that level of sustained pressure for so long. It was 49 minutes of Spurs packed into their own end waiting for Gandalf to ride over the hill.
  • At full time, the Red Devils had 74 percent of the possession, a ratio amassed after the teams had split possession for most of the first half. Aside from the Dempsey goal, Spurs did nothing on United’s half of the center line.
  • That United dominance (and the change from the first half) was brought about by two things. First, the team obviously played better. Second, Wayne Rooney came off the bench, replacing Ryan Giggs and pushing Shinji Kagawa out wide.
  • Rooney made a near-immediate impact, putting a cross in for Nani that led to the Red Devils’ first goal. He was miles better than he’s otherwise been this season. It’s been so long since we saw this type of play from Wayne Rooney, we were beginning to wonder whether he still had it in him.
  • Two minutes later, Kagawa was beating Brad Friedel with a perfectly placed shot from the left. With Dempsey’s goal coming in between, United goals had the home side within one, the teams having combined for three goals in less than three minutes of clock time.
  • An equalizer looked inevitable. Rooney hit the post on a direct kick and had another shot from the right go just wide. Robin van Persie had multiple chances, while Nani and Kagawa came close to getting a second.
  • After going into halftime having registered only one shot, United finished the match with 17, seven on target.
  • And while United were probably the better team for slightly more than 50 percent of this game, their terrible defending, particularly in the first half, cost them. Spurs executed from the opening kickoff, were far more energetic for the first half hour, and somehow managed to fend off a final, equalizing goal from United.
  • If Chelsea’s win at Arsenal made them a title contender, what does this result make Spurs? It makes them capable. The start of the Villas-Boas era at White Hate Lane had been filled with mixed signals. Today was the first unmitigated sign Spurs could replicate last year’s fourth place finish.
  • As for United, it was a bad half hour, going down 2-0 before coming into the game. They got burned badly, and their defense (having allowed nine goals in six games) looks very vulnerable. They could have used Nemanja Vidic on each of the goals.

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”

Transfer Rumors: Seri to Arsenal; Vagnoman to Chelsea

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Nice’s Jean Seri is reportedly Unai Emery’s first target as Arsenal boss.

A report from the Daily Mail states that Seri, 26, is available for $46 million and although both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund are interested, the Ivorian midfielder is a long-time target of the new Arsenal boss.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s unveiling

Seri almost signed for Barcelona in the past and Emery tried to sign him in January while he was in charge of PSG.

The defensive midfielder is in the N'Golo Kante mould, but slightly more attack-minded than Kante. He has an incredible engine, exceptional reading of the game and is able to protect the ball while also starting attacks with surging runs on the ball. Yep, that’s the type of player who would thrive at Arsenal.

Seri’s arrival would also be much-needed following Santi Cazorla leaving after a two-year injury nightmare, plus Jack Wilshere out of contract on July 1 and likely to leave the Gunners. With Granit Xhaka‘s big-money arrival never quite working out, especially defensively, Seri could be a key part of the jigsaw in Emery’s rebuild as he can keep the ball and also spark the new high-pressing style the Spaniard wants to say.


Teenage defender Josha Vagnoman is being linked with a move to Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, according to multiple outlets.

A report from ESPN states that the 17-year-old Hamburg full back (the second youngest player in Bundesliga history) will move on this summer and clubs across Europe are lining up to sign the German youth international as his contract with recently relegated Hamburg ends in July.

Vagnoman is interesting Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig but the report claims Arsenal have the edge due to their new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, keeping a close eye on his countryman over the years. Vagnoman is able to play left or right back.

Joining the likes of Arsenal, Bayern and Chelsea would likely mean a few years in the reserve squad for Vagnoman, while he could well play soon for either Dortmund or Leipzig given their penchant for giving youth a chance in their first team.

Argentina goalkeeper Romero out of World Cup with injury

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero will miss the World Cup because of a right knee injury.

The Argentine soccer federation says the Manchester United reserve may need surgery.

Romero was one of the three goalkeepers chosen by Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli for the 23-player squad he will take to the World Cup in Russia. Franco Armani and Wilfredo Caballero were also named in the squad.

Romero was a starter for Argentina at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The federation says Sampaoli will announce a substitute for Romero in the coming days.