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Twenty-three* thoughts from MLS Week 2

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We here at the Twenty-Three are both capable of admitting our errors and stubborn enough to stick with ’em.

Major League Soccer has 23 teams, meaning at least one will be absent from the schedule most weeks.

Hence, calling a weekly status report the “Twenty-Three” is inaccurate.

[ MORE: West Ham fallout ]

So we move on with weekly thoughts on almost every team, on average, and still titled Twenty-Three, because we like the title and there are most certainly 23 franchises in the Majorest of Soccering Leagues.

Off this weekend: FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, San Jose Earthquakes. Of the bunch, spare a thought or two for Seattle and Toronto, who are off to Mexico for midweek CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second legs and have a very good chance of dancing to semifinal berths this week.

Atlanta United: For all of what Major League Soccer is, isn’t, and won’t be for some time, there’s no debate that having a boss with the tactical acumen of Tata Martino is important. Don’t know what it says about last week’s 4-0 drubbing in Texas, but our own Andy Edwards has a solid take on why Tata and tactics matter.

Columbus Crew: I’m not ready to anoint Gyasi Zardes as the Comeback Player of the Year, but he’s finishing his chances early this season. The extra g in Gregg Berhalter may stand for genius, as the Crew man continues to spin successful game plans with a changing roster.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

And, oh yeah, #SaveTheCrew.

Chicago Fire: Was down 2-0 and came back to lead 3-2 by scoring thrice in under 15 minutes, which is nice. Lost 4-3, which was not at all nice.

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids, to no one’s surprise, lost after a long trip across the country, but can take some pride in the debut of 22-year-old Grand Canyon product Niki Jackson.

DC United: The Black-and-Red regressed against a step up in competition from Week 1, getting just six shots off in a 3-1 loss at Atlanta. But Darren Mattocks is being allowed to fire at will, now with eight shots over two matches. The mercurial underachiever is apparently going to get every chance to meet his potential in Washington.

Houston Dynamo: No one was expecting a repeat of Houston 4-0 Atlanta, but the Dynamo didn’t much resemble their opening week form aside from the continued dynamite skill set of Alberth Elis, who scored their lone goal. Lots to consider for Wilmer Cabrera with a trip to DC and a road match they’d like to count as result-worthy.

LAFC: Now, it may just turn out that the recipe for expansion success in MLS is the same as putting any sort of decent team together: a tactically-wise, experienced manager with creative attacking talents who can perform at a much higher level than MLS. Bob Bradley, Carlos Vela, and Diego Rossi, take a bow and then get back to work.

LA Galaxy: It’s hard to win on the road, especially adjusting for the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium, so L.A. gets a bit of a pass for this week.

Minnesota United: As the kids on the social media say, “I am here for” Ethan Finlay finding his stride closer to home. The Duluth-born winger, 27, has five goals in 14 total appearances, two in two this season, for the Loons after scoring just seven times in his last 53 for Columbus.

The Loons showed supreme resolve in blocking 10 of Orlando’s 20 attempts on goal. And considering the criticism Minnesota boss Adrian Heath has faced, it’s solid for him to get a win against his former club.

Montreal Impact: Another loss, and it seems like we’ll see a bunch of those from the Quebecois side, but what a goal from Raheem Edwards. The cross getting to him is an argument against Columbus’ back line, but quite a hit:

New England Revolution: Brad Friedel did what he was supposed to do in picking up his first win — punish a cross-country traveling non-conference power. Still it’s not worth sleeping on the fact that Colorado won a load of 50/50 battles against a midfield which shouldn’t lose that many.

New York City FC: It’s improbable for me to describe the feeling in my soccer soul when I’m tuning the TV to an NYC game against a skilled opponent (or any time, really) only to see my mind made me forget they are playing on postage stamp which will only serve to produce a game of glorified Buffalo Blizzard vs. Cleveland Crunch. #WelcomeHomeOttoOrf.

New York Red Bulls: TFW you’re already going to lavish praise on Jesse Marsch and then get this email from intrepid RBNY PR man Gordon Stevenson: “Per Elias, 17-year-old (Ben) Mines is the fifth-youngest player to earn an MLS start in club history, and the third youngest to score, behind Eddie Gaven and Jozy Altidore.”

Red Bulls won 4-0 with Kyle Duncan, Derrick Etienne, and Mines in the Starting XI. Full marks if you know two of three (and that’s giving you a relative gimme in Etienne).

New York continues to churn out effective players many have never heard of until they impress on an MLS weekend. Mines doesn’t even have a blue check.

Orlando City: The Lions will be dismayed to take just one point from two matches, but remember we haven’t seen a minute from each of Sacha Kljestan and Dom Dwyer.

Portland Timbers: Gio Savarese is a good manager, but consider “losing to a bunch of kids in a match RBNY was willing to risk throwing away” a proper warning sign.

Real Salt Lake: Losing 5-1 at home to an expansion club would make any fan base want an apology. RSL’s boss is the kinda fella who’s not tone deaf and willing to proffer one. Back to the drawing board in Utah.

Sporting KC: We’ve long felt Peter Vermes in a potential USMNT coach, and his side put in a “Crazy Jurgen friendly win” performance in what Andy Edwards rightly called an “early game of the year contender.” Now can they find their reliable striker, or is this going to be a component scoring team?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s men continued to make a case for West Coast bias, heading into a building that witnessed a 4-0 defeat of Atlanta United and improving to 2-0 through Kei Kamara‘s 100th goal and a Break Shea winner.

Robinson was a bulldog of a player and his teams frequently do what it takes to get the job done, through any number of roster iterations. An inspired if “settling” hire from the ‘Caps  continues to pay off, as you don’t often see the assistant of a departed boss take over in trying times and go on to become a mainstay.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.