Swansea, Bradford City turn England’s League Cup on its head

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Are you ready for a Swansea City-Bradford City meeting at Wembley? We’re not there yet, but after the last two day’s League Cup results, the matchup looks probable. Bradford City took a 3-1 lead out of Tuesday’s leg one with Aston Villa while Swans pulled of a 2-0 upset at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. With both semifinals at their halfway marks, the underdogs are on course to complete their improbable runs.

The stunning thing about fourth-tier Bradford City was not that they took a two-goal lead out of the first leg. They were the better side. Aston Villa is a Premier League team which, while struggling at the top level, should have no problem at least holding their ground over an initial 90 minutes.

Yet the same Villa we’ve seen try to play themselves into the Championship showed up on Tuesday. Goals by Nahki Wells and Rory McArdle had Bradford up two after 77 minutes, and while an Andres Wiemann goal seemed to salvage a workable road deficit, Carl McHugh’s late tally restored Bradford’s 3-1 lead.

As embarrassing as the result is, it’s not unworkable. Bradford are still a League Two side, albeit a decent one. Aston Villa are still a far superior Premier League side, albeit a bad one. Villa should be able to post a lopsided result in their home leg, but having won only once in their last six (beating a Championship side in the FA Cup), it’s foolish to assume too much from Paul Lambert’s team.

We’re getting to the point where Villa may have to make a change. If Paul Lambert can’t get his team past a League Two side, it doesn’t speak well for his ability to accomplish the ultimate goal: Surviving the Premier League.

Yet this team may have gone through too many coaching changes since Martin O’Neill left at the beginning of the 2010-11 season. Kevin MacDonald, Gerard Houllier, Gary McAllister, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert – I’m including the caretakers just to underscore how many different faces players like Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ciaran Clark have had to take instructions from over the last two-plus years. Add in O’Neill (who was still around in the fall of `10) and that’s six different men prodding the underachieving squad. Will adding a seventh name to the list really solve the problem?

Take Chelsea, for example. As you may have heard (ad nauseam over the past three months), the European champions changed managers earlier this season. Out went Roberto Di Matteo, himself a mid-season replacement the previous season, and in came Rafa Benítez.

Results have been mixed. While the Chelsea ended 2012 on a four-game winning streak, they began the year with a home loss to QPR. After an impressive FA Cup win at Southampton this weekend, the Blues lost at home today, 2-0 to Swansea City.

Chelsea looked very good in the first half but still went into intermission down a goal after a defensive mistake by Branislav Ivanovic allowed Michu to put Swans in front. In the second half, another Ivanovic mistake let Danny Graham double Swans’ lead, Swansea taking a 2-0 win out of Stamford Bridge.

It was a strange game because Chelsea didn’t play that bad, particularly after Demba Ba came on for Fernando Torres. He had a goal waved off for offsides and drew a yellow card when he was judged to have drove when trying to round the keeper. But he was influential, and Chelsea were close to getting on the board.

Yet with a team that has Chelsea’s talents, there shouldn’t be the need for asterisks – the rationalizing for poor results in terms of a progress this group should never have had to make. This inconsistent world they inhabit under Rafa Benítez is inexplicable. Whatever Chelsea is doing to succeed against Aston Villa and Southampton needs to be harnessed and implemented against QPR and Swansea.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Chelsea’s not the first inconsistent team ever, but the challenge remains the same. How does Benítez get them to be good Chelsea more often?

He doesn’t know. He’s only been on the job a couple of months. Perhaps he’ll eventually find out, but by the time he does, his team may be out of the League Cup and further mired in a fight for a Champions League spot.

There’s also the chance they’ll be headed to Wembley. When Chelsea goes to the Liberty Stadium for their second leg, they may play like the team that crushed Saints at St. Marys. And if they do, they’ll eliminate Swansea, move on to the final, and hope Dr. Hyde shows up against Bradford (or Villa).

Southgate: Kane, Sterling setting England example on, off the field

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Perhaps Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling aren’t leaders in the most traditional sense — grizzled veterans who have been around the block and seen everything there is to see — but nevertheless, they’re the ones setting the example for England’s next generation of young stars, many of whom aren’t so much younger than they are.

[ MORE: Eric Dier out of England squad, back at Spurs with another injury ]

It’s clear for all to see that Kane and Sterling are leading and inspiring the Three Lions with their on-field performances, for club and for country — they have 55 goals and 19 assists between them since August — but to hear Gareth Southgate speak of their leadership off the field, one can’t help but feel the England program has been entrusted to very safe hands — quotes from the Guardian:

“To have such a top striker, like Harry, who has such humility and such a low ego, has a huge impression on the whole group, because at the moment he is the star player. You wouldn’t know it from the way he conducts himself, you wouldn’t know it from his application to training and the way he is disciplined with his preparation and his focus.

“Equally, that’s the same for Raheem. You see his focus in training, his preparation for those things, so for young players coming on it’s an easy equation: if I do the things those two do, there’s a good chance that I’ll get the performances that they are putting in.”

It’s certainly a new concept that players could be the undisputed leaders of the England squad at 25 and 24 years old, respectively — particularly to Southgate, who came through the England setup in the 1990s — but it’s something he’s been quick to embrace.

“I think young people in all walks of society have a little bit more belief. I think bosses in all industries are less draconian in the way they work, and I think that helps youngsters to come in and be more creative and believe they can make a difference. They don’t baulk at anything. I just think, generally speaking, given an opportunity, they’ll go and surprise people.”

“(During Southgate’s career) You were told: ‘Don’t get carried away, you’ve got to earn your right to play, you’ve got to earn your right to do this. Did that get the most out of us? Probably not. There were some great qualities that gave us, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that, because respect is important, as is appreciation of what you’ve got, but equally, we want to let talent have its head.”

In particular, 17-year-old Jadon Sancho already views Sterling as a hero, a mentor and a friend. Asked whether Sterling “was now one of the daddies of the team”:

“Yeah,” the 18-year-old replied, his face lighting up as he began his eulogy. “His numbers are crazy this year, and he’s showing all the youngsters what it’s about. I’m just happy that I’m sharing a pitch with him.”

Orlando City wins as Kljestan downs thin NY Red Bulls side

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Sacha Kljestan came back to bite his former club as his 72nd minute goal provided a 1-0 victory for an otherwise poor Orlando City side over a New York Red Bulls squad looking thin during the international break.

With Aaron Long and Michael Murillo away on international duty and Florian Valot to a recently torn ACL, the Red Bulls welcomed Orlando City to Red Bull Arena already struggling for depth. Then, just 20 minutes into the match, defender Connor Lade was forced off due to injury. He might have been given a bit longer to recover and return to the match, but New York came close to conceding while reduced to 10 men, so Omir Fernandez was summoned off the bench.

While the Red Bulls seemed to have control of the match, they weren’t exactly of high quality. The hosts managed just four shots on target through the match and completed just five passes in the penalty area all game. The left flank for New York was especially devoid of creativity as all four key passes came from the right. Marc Rzatkowski picked up three of those four key passes, while Daniel Royer, Alex Muyl, and Vincent Bezecourt failed to record any. Bezecourt had an extremely poor match, with just six completed passes in 60 minutes of play before he came off in favor of young Mathias Jorgensen.

As the second half dragged along, Orlando City surprisingly went in front as Kljestan reached a cross by Joao Moutinho at the far post that was likely meant for Dom Dwyer, but as it skittered behind the striker, Kljestan was there streaking in from midfield to meet the ball and strike it home.

New York began to feel a sense of urgency after the goal, and nearly equalized in the 82nd minute but Orlando City defender Carlos Ascues was on hand to clear the ball off the line. Things would get much worse on the injury front for New York, as Fernandez required a substitute himself in the 80th minute before Alex Muyl came off in stoppage time with the Red Bulls already out of subs. Muyl came back on the field, but he initially had signaled for a substitute before realizing they were out.

The loss leaves New York with just three points through the season’s first three matches and sees them fail to take hold of an opportunity against a poor opponent at home. Orlando City, meanwhile, earns its first win of the campaign and jumps above New York into fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Youthful FC Dallas side earns home win over Colorado

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The kids are alright in Dallas as a 2-1 win over Colorado pushed them into the mix near the top of the Western Conference standings four games into the 2019 season.

The Dallas starting 11 included five homegrown players and included 18-year-old Jesus Ferreira as well as 18-year-old Edwin Cerrillo and 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal. 20-year-old Reggie Cannon and 21-year-old Pablo Aranguiz also manned the midfield, making goalscorer Michael Barrios feel like an old man at 27.

And yet, it was Barrios who opened the scoring just past the half-hour mark. He received the ball near the top of the box and let rip a speculative effort, contorting his body awkwardly to get power on a near-post shot, and it was enough to slip by Tim Howard.

Colorado pulled level in the 69th minute as Tommy Smith chested the ball into the back of the net with Jesse Gonzalez on the ground. VAR gave it a look but determined Smith did not handle the ball as he was on his knees on the doorstep.

Sticking with the home side’s theme, FC Dallas brought 17-year-old academy product Thomas Roberts off the bench, and it was he who helped create the winner. His assist to fellow sub Zdenek Ondrasek fed the latter with a shot, and while that was saved, Ryan Hollingshead was on hand to slot the ball home.

Euro 2020 qualifiers: Italy, Spain, Switzerland all secure wins

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Sergio Ramos provided the winner from the spot as Spain took home a 2-1 win over Norway in Valencia. Rodrigo bagged the opener 16 minutes in, volleying home Jordi Alba’s floated baseline cross. Alvaro Morata nearly bagged a headed goal just past the half-hour mark as part of a ruthless first-half onslaught by the home side, but Rune Jarstein made a fabulous stop. Alba then nearly had his own, putting it into the back of the net but pulled back for the offside flag.

The hosts would rue not taking their first-half opportunities as Norway would pull level after the break as Inigo Martinez toppled over substitute Bjorn Johnsen in the box on a set-piece. Bournemouth attacker Joshua King slotted it home from the spot and evened the score. That wouldn’t last long though, as Spain moved back in front just six minutes later with Ramos from the spot as Jarstein came off his line on a Spain break and scythed Morata down, delivering a cheeky Panenka down the middle.

Italy went wire-to-wire to top Finland 2-0 in Udine. 22-year-old Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella opened things up in the seventh minute with a deflected volley that found its way past Lukas Hradecky. Finland could only manage a single shot on target the entire way through, with Teemu Pukki badly missing wide in the 65th minute with their best opportunity, and Italy secured the win with a second goal 10 minutes later. 19-year-old Moise Kean made a perfect run through the two center-backs and Ciro Immobile delivered an incredible ball to slice them up, with the teen needing just one touch to slot it home for his first international goal on his first start.

Edin Dzeko earned his 100th cap, but 24-year-old Deni Milosevic was the biggest winner as he provided the eventual winner for Bosnia & Herzegovina who picked up a 2-1 win over Armenia. Rade Krunic put the hosts 1-0 up past the half-hour mark in Sarajevo, and then Milosevic struck with 10 minutes to go, streaking down the middle to meet Edin Visca’s long cross from the right. Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotted home a penalty in the third minute of stoppage time but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Greece flew to a 2-0 win over Lichtenstein in Vaduz as Konstantinos Fortounis and Anastasios Donis delivered the strikes. The first came at the stroke of halftime, brilliantly volleying a laser beam delivery from Dimitrios Kourbelis. The second came with 10 minutes to go with Donis firing home sealing the victory. It was elementary for the visitors, holding 73% possession and holding Liechtenstein without a single shot on target on just three total efforts.

Ireland topped Gibraltar 1-0 in Mick McCarthy’s first game back as manager. On a windy day at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar, Ireland held 63% possession but could only manage three shots on target, picking up a 49th minute winner off the foot of Jeff Hendrick who came streaking down the middle to meet David McGoldrick’s cross from the left.

Sweden held off a late comeback from Romania to win 2-1 in Stockholm. Mainz striker Robin Quaison bagged the opener just past the half-hour mark with a wonderful touch on the outside of his foot at the near post. They doubled the lead through Victor Claesson just seven minutes later as Quaison’s cross was deflected right to his feet near the top of the box and he fired past Ciprian Tatarusanu. Romania scored just before the hour mark but it proved just a consolation as they couldn’t find an equalizer.

It was an elementary day for Switzerland who topped Georgia 2-0 behind second-half goals from Steven Zuber and Denis Zakaria. Switzerland was dominant from start to finish, pumping off 25 shots with eight on target and holding the hosts to just a single shot on target among six total efforts.

RESULTS

Spain 2-1 Norway
Italy 2-0 Finland
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-1 Armenia
Lichtenstein 0-2 Greece
Gibraltar 0-1 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-1 Romania
Georgia 0-2 Switzerland
Malta 2-1 Faroe Islands