Drilling down on: at Seattle Sounders 1, Portland Timbers 1

Leave a comment

SEATTLE, Wash. — For as exciting and fluid as their new soccer can be, the Portland Timbers have been surprisingly predictable. Against New York, Montréal, and today against Seattle, Portland fell behind, went on to rack up advantages in shots, passes and possession, and eventually got on the scoreboard. In their 2-1 loss to Montréal those advantages weren’t enough, but Saturday in Seattle, the pattern produced a 1-1 draw, with Rodney Wallace’s 91st minute header sending the Sounders to a heartbreaking result.

The goal saw the Sounders drop points in a game they’d led for 77 minutes. Despite playing on the back foot for much of that time, Seattle had managed the game well, conceding possession but keeping the Timbers from any significant chances on goal. As the game approached full time, the Sounders looking on track for a comfortable end to their first win of the season.

But it was the second ball in on a late corner that undid the hosts. After right back DeAndre Yedlin headed Diego Valeri’s cross clear, Andrew Jean Baptiste’s chip toward the edge of the six-yard box found an oncoming Wallace. Unmarked, the substitute’s headed into the right of goal, giving Michael Gspurning no chance to prevent the equalizer.

It was the second time in three meetings Rodney Wallace had cost Seattle points. On Sept. 15, the teams’ last meeting in Portland, Wallace converted a late corner to give the Timbers a 1-1 draw.

Up until Saturday’s equalizer, Seattle had leaned on their 13th minute goal, an Eddie Johnson finish that took advantage of a Diego Chara turnover. Just inside Portland’s half, Chara mishandled a ball played left from the middle of the park. Steve Zakuani collected the loose ball, turned up the pitch, and sprinted 40 yards before rifling a pass across Donovan Ricketts’ six-yard box. Johnson finished his far post run with an easy tap-in for his fifth Cascadia Cup goal.

The Timbers finished with a 13-7 edge in shots and 55 percent of the game’s possession, but both were season lows. Between his decision to exploit Steve Zakuani’s edge on the left and his team’s second half adjustments to the Portland’s style, Sigi Schmid played his cards right. Portland only had two shots on goal and few significant chances on the night.

Unfortunately, Schmid again had no answer for RodneyWallace.

Man of the Match

He was the focal point of an attack that had to do wide, a role that forced Steve Zakuani to produce. In the 13th minute, he did, creating the match’s only goal, and although Seattle couldn’t replicate that moment of brilliance, his play along the left (in combination with Eddie Johnson’s) continuously threatened Portland.

As usual, Osvaldo Alonso played a huge part, with the Seattle midfielder destroying almost everything that came into the middle of the park. Often venturing up to became Seattle’s most advanced midfielder, Alonso was also instrumental forward, though his distribution was the subject of Schmid criticism after the game. While praising the holding midfielder’s defensive contributions, Seattle’s coach said his all-star needed to be quicker moving the ball.

Threesome of Knowledge

  • Portland’s defense still a problem

For the first time this season, Portland didn’t allow multiple goals, but the team still made the type of mistake you’d see maybe once-per-month from other teams. Chara’s giveaway was an act of carelessness. In a system that continuously throws people forward, it was a crippling error, but when nobody in defense tracked Johnson’s run, it cost Portland on a scoreboard.

Mikael Silvestre had his best match yet, and Ben Zemanski (a surprise starter at right back) had a strong audition in an unfamiliar position. But the defense as a whole continues to be a problem. Portland’s now allowed six goals in three games.

  • Remove all doubts: Steve Zakuani is back

Let’s forget about Zakuani’s performance: A strong but not overwhelming game (many may disagree he was Man of the Match). The mere fact that he’s good enough to be a focal point tells of what Sigi Schmid is seeing day-to-day in practice. Zakuani is strong enough to be leaned on, which means this is the last time this bit is newsworthy: Zakuani is fully back.

If it wasn’t for strong play from Silvestre and Zemanski, Zakuani and Johnson would have created more than the one goal. The duo were constantly lining up and beating whomever happened to be on Portland’s right. Had Seattle not changed gears in the second half, Zakuani’s performance may have been more pronounced.

  • Why did Seattle change gears?

But the Sounders definitely did change gears, something Schmid admitted wasn’t the plan. After the match he lamented the team’s inability to keep possession or win more second balls. After taking the lead, the Sounder players looked more willing to hold their positions rather than pursue their opponents.

So what happened? Tired legs were brought up by multiple people, with eight Seattle starters playing their second match in six days. Both were big games. Both were on turf, and both required 90-minute efforts.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Ben Zemanski, acquired from Chivas USA in the preseason, made his first start of the season. It was a surprise inclusion, particularly considering the position: Right back. Ryan Miller, Portland’s starter in each of their first two games, didn’t get in the game.
  • Jack Jewsbury also made his first start of the year, playing at the base of midfield as the Timbers changed formation. Switching away from a 4-2-3-1 that Caleb Porter has identified as a 4-3-3, Portland played a 4-4-2 variant on Saturday, with Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson and Chara defending in a line in front of Jewsbury.
  • Seattle was initially without two of their regulars, though Mauro Rosales played most of the second half. The back injury he incurred on Tuesday improved enough to allow him to come off the bench. Brad Evans, however, was out with a calf injury.
  • New Designated Player Obafemi Martins made his debut, playing 20 minutes in the second half. He nearly created a goal shortly after coming on, with Eddie Johnson failing to get a toe to a ball that could have been the game-winner.
  • Controversy struck in the 25th minute when Jhon Kennedy Hurtado went down in the box to win a ball at Ryan Johnson’s feet. Kevin Stott, with an unimpeded view of the play, saw it as a good tackle. Replays showed Kennedy had wrapped his legs around Johnson while playing the ball.

Highlights

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Manuel Pellegrini hired by Real Betis

Manuel Pellegrini hired
Fran Santiago / Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manuel Pellegrini is back in a Spanish manager’s chair.

The ex-Man City and West Ham man has been hired by Real Betis, returning to La Liga for the first time since 2013 when he left Malaga.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Pellegrini, 66, has won silverware in five countries including England with a Premier League title with Man City in 2013-14 as well as two League Cups.

The Chilean has also won the Copa Chile with Universidad Catolica, Ecuador’s Serie A with LDU Quito, two trophies with Argentina’s San Lorenzo and another with River Plate, plus the Intertoto Cup with La Liga’s Villarreal.

Pellegrini has also led Real Madrid, where he won 75 percent of his matches, and Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune.

His last stint, with West Ham, did not prove fruitful but the side has not been much better under David Moyes.

The veteran manager will again be tasked with an underachieving side in Betis. Sitting 13th this season after a 10th place season in 2018-19, Betis expects a top-half side after gaining promotion back to the top flight for the 2015-16 season.

Betis has two matches left this season, home to Alaves and away to Real Valladolid. Those lower-half sides give Pellegrini a chance to start his stint in style.

We’ll be pulling for Pellegrini, a class act who had very little luck with a clearly murky West Ham atmosphere.

Arsenal – Liverpool preview: How to watch, team news, start time, stream

Arsenal - Liverpool preview
Photo by Visionhaus
Leave a comment

Arsenal – Liverpool preview: Arsenal’s European desperation is high as it prepares to welcome history-chasing Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15pm ET for FREE on Peacock).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Gunners now know that eighth place will not be good enough for the Europa League, making it imperative that Arsenal wins its last three Premier League outings or wins the FA Cup to avoid missing out on European football for the first time since 1996.

Liverpool would love to take its next steps toward the best single-season in Premier League history by denying their rivals a shot at Europe.

ACCESS ARSENAL – LIVERPOOL ON PEACOCK FOR FREE


Team news

Jordan Henderson and Joel Gomez remain out for Liverpool, and James Milner seems likely to miss out as well.

Arsenal will not have suspended Eddie Nketiah or injured Calum Chambers, Bernd Leno, and Gabriel Martinelli.


What they’re saying

Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez on post-derby reaction: “Every season we try to finish above them,” said Martinez. “We need to make sure we finish above them. Our target is Europe, that is the reality. We are going to try and give our best against Liverpool and reach the FA Cup Final. We didn’t start like the manager wanted, we were giving the ball away for no reason. As time was going on we started playing well, we controlled the midfield and we outplayed them. I feel sorry for the supporters because we know what it means for them.”

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool’s draw with Burnley“If you find a way in the game which causes the opponents massive problems, come on, stick to it, do it, and we did it to a specific extent. But then we were not clear enough anymore, so that’s how it is. How I said, we left the door open for them and they used the situation, which is a special skill of that team.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Arsenal’s a home dog against Liverpool to the tune of +285, according to DraftKings, the Premier League champions a minus-114 favorite.

Liverpool’s depth outlasted Arsenal in a League Cup classic earlier this season, and Mohamed Salah led a 3-1 defeat of Arsenal in Premier League play back in August.


Prediction

Goals? Neither side has been as sharp as it would like but the firepower in both squads is immense. Our lead writer Joe Prince-Wright predicts 2-2 and we’ll ride with that because it would make for a delightful Wednesday.


How to watch Arsenal – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
Online: ACCESS PEACOCK FOR FREE

Manchester United – Southampton stream: How to watch, team news, odds

Manchester United - Southampton preview
Photo by Ian Hodgson/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The door to third place is wide open for Manchester United when Southampton visits Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Chelsea’s weekend loss and Leicester City’s place on United’s docket means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-form men control their own destiny when it comes to finishing as high as third on the table.

STREAM MANCHESTER UNITED – SOUTHAMPTON LIVE

Southampton, for its part, can harbor outside hopes of a Europa League place, currently six points back of eighth place before Arsenal and Spurs play Sunday.


Team news

Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe remain the only absences for Manchester United.

Moussa Djenepo, Sofiane Boufal and Yan Valery are out for Saints and may not return this season, while Jannik Vestergaard is hoping to come off the bench to score a second goal against the Red Devils.

 


What they’re saying

Paul Pogba about what’s changed at Old Trafford: “We play more as a team than we did before, we enjoy it even more, we defend together, we attack together, and this team is stronger as well. The players who are on the bench or who don’t play every time, when they come on they help the team so the mentality is good and is right. All this together has put us where we are today.”

Ralph Hasenhuttl on improving Saints: “We want to be braver, but that can sometimes cause you problems, like against Arsenal when we make some mistakes. We need this decision making, because then we learn. If you don’t demand this, you cannot improve in this way. …In every regard you must get better. In this moment it looks like we can make this step, and the players are open-minded to go this way. This is important, otherwise you will always stay on the same level.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Saints are tied with Burnley as the biggest underdog of the weekend at +1050, but you see how that turned out for Nick Pope and the Clarets. United is a minus-375 favorite.

Jannik Vestergaard and Daniel James traded goals at St. Mary’s on Aug. 31 when 10-man Saints drew United.


Prediction

Can anyone slow United? Saints have already claimed a big win against a Mancunian power… and this would be a big moment for Hasenhuttl’s project. The teams are on the same amount of rest and all things equal you’d like the hosts to boot. United 2-1.


How to watch Manchester United – Southampton stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Monday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Transfer news: Chilwell to Man United; Kante to Inter Milan

Ben Chilwell to Manchester United
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the latest transfer news Ben Chilwell has been linked with a move to Manchester United, while N’Golo Kante could be heading to Inter Milan.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in Manchester, it appears that Ben Chilwell is wanted by both Manchester City and now Manchester United, with Chelsea still in the hunt too.

The Leicester City and England left back, 23, is reportedly a target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as The Sun says that he is valued at $75 million and that Man United are now in pole position to sign him.

Do Man United really need a new left back? Luke Shaw is finally fit and has been very good this season, while Brandon Williams is an emerging talent at left back. Chilwell is a very, very good left back but Man City and Chelsea have a greater need to upgrade in that area. If Leicester do not make the Champions League, they will probably cash in on Chilwell.

Man United need a new center back and holding midfielder before they sign a left back but Solskjaer must think differently.

Kante to Inter Milan
Getty Images

Moving down to west London, it appears that N’Golo Kante could be linking up with Antonio Conte once again at Inter Milan.

Kante, 29, has been riddled with injuries this season but when he has played it’s clear to see the stability he brings to the entire Chelsea side.

According to Gazzetto dello Sport in Italy, Chelsea are willing to listen to offers for the French World Cup winner as Frank Lampard continues his expensive overhaul of the Blues.

Kante has a contract with Chelsea until the summer of 2023 but now is probably to cash in on him, if they want to. If they can move on Kante, then bringing in Kai Havertz and several defensive players would be more possible this summer.

This is a tough one. On paper, Kante is one of the few players at Chelsea who should be guaranteed starters. However, there’s no doubting his level has dropped a little this season due to injuries and the style of play under Lampard.

Inter Milan are building something under Conte and Kante would be a huge part of their project.