Left: Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP | Right: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

MLS Cup 2016: TFC, Sounders present unique tactical challenges

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When Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders kick off MLS Cup 2016 at BMO Field next Saturday (8 p.m. ET), it’ll be the first time a postseason final is contested without any of the league’s original franchises on the field.

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Everyone who’s watched a minute of these MLS Cup Playoffs will be familiar with the stars — Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley for TFC; Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Osvaldo Alonso for the Sounders — but it’s so often one of the unsung heroes on whom, given their tactical assignment, the game really hinges.

With that, a few early thoughts on areas that each side should/will look to exploit, and where they’ll be at their most vulnerable…

TFC will struggle with… Lodeiro, the nomad. Lodeiro is a brilliant player, which is quite apparent after watching him for five minutes. It’s the Uruguayan’s versatility and perfectly-rounded game that will trouble the TFC midfield and defense in MLS Cup — he’ll start on the left, through the center, or on the right, but by the end of the evening in Toronto, he’ll have covered every zone on the field, and probably have created a chance or two from each of them. As we’ll discuss in just a moment, so much of TFC’s game plan will be to limit the impact of Seattle’s wide attackers, whoever they may be on the night, which could see Lodeiro directed to play something closer to a permanent central role. He’ll wander around the field anyway, in search of time and space on the ball, and the second TFC allow him to roam free in a patch of the field devoid of red shirts, that’ll be their first, and perhaps biggest, mistake of the year.

Sounders will struggle with… Morrow and Beitashour getting forward. Since TFC made the switch to three at the back, with a few weeks left in the regular season, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour have become impossibly important to a side which boasts the likes of Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore. (That’s MLS for you, though, right?) Relieved of much of their defensive-third duties, they’re now being asked to do more pressing in the middle third of the field when defending, and bomb further forward in possession. During the spells in which TFC had success against the Montreal Impact, Piatti and Dominic Oduro were pinned deep inside their own half by the TFC wing backs, rendering a truly great counter-attack just about useless.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Guzan reportedly considering move to MLS this winter ]

TFC will excel when… Altidore goes head-to-head with Marshall. The Altidore we’ve witnessed throughout these playoffs, in which he became the first player in MLS history to score a goal in five straight games during the same postseason, is a player we’ve never seen before. At his best, which is the present day, Altidore displays the kind of hold-up play, vision, passing ability and mobility that allows Giovinco to thrive. When Altidore occupies both center back, or a center back and a defensive midfielder, his gravity is what provides Giovinco the time and space he needs. Next Saturday, it’ll be vitally important for TFC for Altidore to tangle with Chad Marshall as frequently as possible. Marshall and Roman Torres, Seattle’s other center back, are mountainous men who can’t turn direction or accelerate well enough to recover once Giovinco gets the half-yard of space he so desperately desires. The man who can give that to him is Altidore.

Sounders will excel when… Morris pushes high, into the channels. Here’s a little secret about Morris that not many people are talking about: he’s hasn’t actually played center forward for the majority of the postseason. Sure, he’s an auxiliary second striker playing underneath Nelson Valdez, but he’s also been asked to do a ton of the grunt work in midfield, and the make the sacrificial runs into the channels to create space for Valdez and, most notably, Lodeiro. The 22-year-old rookie was rewarded with goals in both legs of the conference finals, but he’ll be a strictly functional part in the Seattle machine with three across the back. He’ll spend a lot more time occupying the space behind the full back and just wide of the center back. If/when he’s able to pull Nick Hagglund and/or Eriq Zavaleta, the men who’ll flank Drew Moor in the middle, the dominoes will begin to fall for TFC, and they’ll have to be absolutely perfect with their defensive rotations, which they were anything but against Montreal.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund falls to Augsburg, Bremen sinks Schalke

Bundesliga results
Photo by Guido Kirchner/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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It says something about Bayern Munich’s dominance that there are temptations to write off the field when the Bavarians’ four perceived title rivals all drop points in Week 2.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Borussia Dortmund was stunned by Augsburg while Bayer Leverkusen drew RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach only managed a point against Union Berlin on Saturday.

Bayern’s Sunday task at Hoffenheim isn’t easy coming off a UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla at midweek, but they’ll be motivated by the knowledge that a win gives them the chance to match the world record consecutive win streak of 24… and set up a chance to set their own mark against Dortmund in the German Super Cup.

Schalke 1-3 Werder Bremen

Niclas Fullkrug scored a hat trick in the match’s first hour, the opening tally assisted by USMNT man Josh Sargent, as Bremen heaped misery on under-fire David Wagner at Schalke.

Sargent was back at forward following a week in the midfield and went 87 minutes. He put three shots on target and had three key passes in addition to his assist. He converted both of his dribbles but was also debited with a “big chance missed” via SofaScore.

The hosts had much of the ball but saw their Bundesliga winless run reach 18 matches, adding a late red card for Ozan Kabak and stoppage time goal from Mark Uth.

Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 RB Leipzig

All the scoring was done in the first 20 minutes, as Emil Forsberg’s 14th-minute marker was leveled by the hosts’ Kerem Demirbay.

Bayer had 59 percent possession and took 11 of the match’s 18 shots including four on target.

They’ve now drawn both of their matches to start the season, while Leipzig is one of three teams on four points.

Augsburg 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

An 18-6 edge in shot attempts was not enough for the visitors to increase their record to 2-0 on the season.

Augsburg scored before and after halftime with Daniel Caligiuri setting up Felix Uduokhai for an opener before scoring off a Florian Niederlechner feed to collect the win.

American teen Giovanni Reyna put together a decent stat line in the loss, passing at 85 percent amongst his 90 touches and winning 7-of-12 duels while drawing four fouls (SofaScore).


Elsewhere

Hertha Berlin 1-3 Eintracht Frankfurt
Mainz 1-4 Stuttgart
Arminia Bielefeld 1-0 Koln
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Union Berlin
Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich — 9:30 am ET Sunday
Freiburg v Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sunday


Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Augsburg 2 2 0 0 5 1 4 1-0-0 1-0-0 6
 Eintracht Frankfurt 2 1 1 0 4 2 2 0-1-0 1-0-0 4
 RB Leipzig 2 1 1 0 4 2 2 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
 Arminia Bielefeld 2 1 1 0 2 1 1 1-0-0 0-1-0 4
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Stuttgart 2 1 0 1 6 4 2 0-0-1 1-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 2 1 0 1 5 4 1 0-0-1 1-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 2 1 0 1 3 2 1 1-0-0 0-0-1 3
 Werder Bremen 2 1 0 1 4 5 -1 0-0-1 1-0-0 3
 Bayer Leverkusen 2 0 2 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-1-0 2
 Wolfsburg 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Union Berlin 2 0 1 1 2 4 -2 0-0-1 0-1-0 1
 Mönchengladbach 2 0 1 1 1 4 -3 0-1-0 0-0-1 1
 1. FC Köln 2 0 0 2 2 4 -2 0-0-1 0-0-1 0
 Mainz 05 2 0 0 2 2 7 -5 0-0-1 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 2 0 0 2 1 11 -10 0-0-1 0-0-1 0

Chelsea completes 3-goal comeback, draws West Brom

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West Brom – Chelsea: Chelsea spotted the hosts three goals as West Brom scored thrice in the first 28 minutes but drew the Blues 3-3 after Tammy Abraham cleaned up a stoppage-time rebound to produce a point at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

Callum Robinson bagged a brace and Kyle Bartley also scored as the Baggies built their big lead but only earned its first point of their fifth spell in the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi crafted beautiful goals in the second half to lead the comeback bid as Chelsea moved to 1-1-1 on the young season.


3 things we learned: West Brom – Chelsea

1. Bold Baggies: Slaven Bilic’s men took advantage of moments, as their 23 percent possession in the first half yielded a remarkable 3-0 lead thanks to Chelsea errors and a clinical bit of finishing from Robinson. The Bartley goal came off a set piece and West Brom would’ve targeted that from the start and embraced a 1-0 lead. That it was the third goal of the first half-hour had to have Bilic and his Baggies in a fit of amused laughter. Remember: This West Brom team lost 3-0 to Leicester and 5-2 against Everton.

2. Chelsea delivers on chances but laments defense: Chelsea fans have heard this before, again and again, but their 2019-20 Blues created more chances than any Premier League team outside of Manchester City. They scored 33 less goals than City and 16 fewer than Liverpool. Chelsea needed all of its 76 percent possession and 22 total shots to come back from an absurd first half at the Hawthorns. Ugly. A penny for Antonio Rudiger’s thoughts.

3. Impact subs: Lampard pushed two buttons at halftime. Taking off Marcos Alonso on a yellow for Cesar Azpilicueta was nothing risky considering the latter has been so good for such a long time, bu removing influential Mateo Kovacic for Hudson-Odoi deserves a high-five. It could’ve backfired — though what would that have really mattered given the 3-0 deficit? — but Hudson-Odoi combined for a wonderful second goal and Azpilicueta was steady on the left and assisted Mount’s marker. Would Olivier Giroud’s 73rd-minute move for Thiago Silva make a difference, too? No, but Mount’s rip rebounded to Abraham and credit to Lampard for not removing the otherwise wasteful center forward.

Man of the Match:

It’s difficult to look past Robinson and Mount but West Brom center back Bartley had the third goal to go with nine clearances and a perfect 5-of-5 success rate on long balls. He also made a brave stoppage time stop on Werner at the back post.

West Brom - Chelsea
West Bromwich Albion’s Bartley (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

West Brom – Chelsea recap

Willy Caballero’s start between the pipes was under duress, as Robinson got a pass from Matheus Pereira and slashed a shot from the edge of the 18. It went through the legs of Reece James and Caballero couldn’t locate it.

The pink-clad Blues soon found possession and Kai Havertz forced a strong save out of Sam Johnstone with an obscured strike from distance.

James spotted Tammy Abraham in the 12th minute but the striker’s left-foot was inadequate to the back post task. Mason Mount then crossed hard for Werner in traffic, the German’s shot kissing the crossbar for a goal kick.

A poor touch from Thiago Silva gifted Robinson a 1v1 break on goal and the ex-Sheffield United man lashed past Caballero for 2-0.

Bartley made it 3-0 off a corner kick, Darnell Furlong heading the set piece to the back post for a cool finish.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Mount gave Chelsea hope in the 55th, a terrific shot from distance that froze Johnstone and made it 3-1.

Johnstone then reacted well to slap away a deflected effort from Havertz.

Hudson-Odoi took some time to find his place in the match but his work to produce Chelsea’s second was good stuff. The 19-year-old worked with Timo Werner on his right and Kai Havertz on his left to work his way into the 18 and slot past Johnstone.

That was it, though, as Giroud’s introduction for Thiago Silva and five minutes stoppage time could not produce an equalizer.

Werner nearly lashed one in but Bartley dove headfirst into the path to turn a would-be goal into an equalizer.

That’s when the equalizer arrived at the Hawthorns, a handball on Havertz neither called in the buildup nor legislated by VAR.

Burnley – Southampton: How to watch, start time, team news, odds

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Burnley – Southampton: Two committed and hard-working clubs clash at Turf Moor on Saturday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both teams are aiming for their first points of the season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Sean Dyche’s Burnley lost at Leicester in their opening game of the season last weekend, while Ralph Hasenhuttl saw his Southampton side hammered 5-2 at home by Tottenham are losing at Crystal Palace on the opening day.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

These clubs are evenly-matched as Burnley finished 10th and Saints 11th last season, but both clubs know they have increasing competition to finish in midtable.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of what should be an extremely physical early-season clash.


Team news: Burnley – Southampton (INJURY REPORT)

Dale Stephens goes right into the mix for Burnley, who are without a host of players as Jay Rodriguez suffered an injury in the midweek League Cup win at Millwall and joins Ben Mee, James Tarkowski, Robbie Brady, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Jack Cork and Ashley Barnes in the treatment room.

Southampton only have one player missing through injury, Nathan Redmond, while Mohammed Salisu isn’t quite up to full speed following his arrival this summer.

 


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

With all of their injuries Burnley (+220) are the underdogs but Southampton (+135) have never fared well at Burnley and last won at Turf Moor in 2007 when both teams were in the second tier.

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


Burnley – Southampton prediction

This is a real clash of style as Hasenhuttl’s Saints will press high and look to force the issue, while Burnley will sit back and soak up the pressure and look to go direct. Burnley always seem to catch Saints out on the break or from set pieces and I think that will be the case here too, but with all of the Clarets’ injuries I think Southampton will come away with something. Burnley 1-1 Southampton.


How to watch Burnley – Southampton stream and start time

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

Everton stays perfect in energetic win over Crystal Palace

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Crystal Palace – Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scored as Everton won a battle of unbeatens with Crystal Palace on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

The Toffees claimed a 2-1 win to go 3-0 on the young Premier League season, handing Palace their first loss.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Palace’s goal came from a Cheikhou Kouyate header.


3 things we learned: Crystal Palace – Everton

1. Ancelotti pushing the right buttons, especially with James: Carlo Ancelotti’s first full season guiding the Toffees could hardly be going better, with away wins at Palace and Spurs and a home blowout of 10-man West Brom. Yes, Everton got penalty luck on a similar play that was deemed not an offense when Palace took a shot, but few would argue that the visitors didn’t do enough anyway for a win. James Rodriguez remains on another level when playing under the Italian, which is reason enough to celebrate the relationship.

2. Palace a bit unlucky in losing perfect mark: Roy Hodgson’s men will feel they should’ve had a point when Calvert-Lewin’s half-torso, half-arm block in the 18 was not given to Palace as a chance to level from the spot, especially with Ward’s handball being awarded as a pen. With Guaita getting a piece of Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal and Palace having a strong late run of possession, these were fine margins even if Everton likely deserved no less than the point.

3. Is goalkeeping an issue for Everton? Jordan Pickford is being questioned again, days after a silly giveaway cost Everton a goal. Maybe we’re not talking about the goalkeeper’s inability to get a hand on Kouyate’s hammered header if not for the midweek moment, but the goal was Palace’s only shot on target. Pickford hasn’t been great since the season

Man of the Match:

Seamus Coleman. It’s difficult to choose who was better in attack between Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez, but the Irish right back was dynamic at both ends in setting up the first goal and making three tackles, an interception, and a blocked shot.


Crystal Palace – Everton recap

The Toffees are playing really good football and the opening goal exemplified their attacking prowess as Seamus Coleman started a move with Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez which returned to the Irishman for a pass inside the box that Calvert-Lewin put off Vicente Guaita and into the goal.

Palace found a leveler off a set piece, Andros Townsend’s corner kick finding the leaping Kouyate for a header through the flailing arms of Jordan Pickford.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Joel Ward had two close-range handball penalty shouts reviewed by VAR. The second was just a bit closer to the real deal and VAR awarded Richarlison his chance from the spot. 2-1, 40′.

VAR did not give Palace a chance to level from the spot when Calvert-Lewin blocked a shot inside the box with a combination of his arm and torso, the appendage squeezed close to his side but