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Need to Know: Sounders, MNUFC quickest out of the gate

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While we’re already through two jam-packed MLS Saturdays in 2019, it’s still far too early to make any sweeping judgments about this or that, so we’re prepared to ride the fence a little longer as we observe and discuss a few major talking points…

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild Premier League Saturday? (video) ]

Fear The Loons

For a two-hour period of time Saturday night, the single-table MLS standings read as follows:

If you spent more than 15 minutes watching Minnesota United at any point during their first two seasons in MLS, you’re probably convinced that the above image is a cheeky photoshop. Not the case, because the Loons won their second straight game to start the 2019 season on Saturday, 3-0 away to the hapless San Jose Earthquakes, and were briefly the only team in the league with six points (more on the team that later joined them in a moment).

Given the fact they’ve played perhaps the two worst teams in the Western Conference — if not the entire league — it’s tough to say just how much better Minnesota are than they were in the last two years, but the fact remains: they’ve beaten a pair of worst-in-the-conference/league candidates, so it’s no longer them. Head coach Adrian Heath is convinced the roster is lightyears ahead of where it was, and that point is nigh impossible to argue.

Fear The Sounders More

The Seattle Sounders leapfrogged Minnesota before the night was over, and Brian Schmetzer’s side looked downright terrifying in doing so — for the first 15 minutes, at least. After racing out to a 2-0 advantage in the 8th minute, Seattle never really got out of second gear the rest of the way, mostly because they didn’t have to.

It almost feels like, after going to MLS Cup in back-to-back seasons and having very little of an offseason as a result, Seattle looks fully rested and re-energized after bowing out a full month earlier than they had recently done. Starting quick has never been a strength of the Sounders, but they’re already flying out of the gate to start 2019.

Houston is a problem

Speaking of sides that have impressed on this very young season, the Houston Dynamo have looked more than solid while juggling CONCACAF Champions League and start of the MLS regular season, reaching the quarterfinals of CCL and picking up a very deserved and hard-fought first league victory on Saturday.

The three points didn’t come easily for Wilmer Cabrera’s side, as they fell behind in the 34th minute — on the Montreal Impact’s only shot on target for the entire game — before responding almost immediately, courtesy of Memo Rodriguez just two minutes later.

Cabrera opted to rotate half of his potent attacking quartet, dropping Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto to the bench while leaving Mauro Manotas and Tomas Martinez in the lineup. The gamble paid off, as it was Quioto who set up Manotas’ 86th-minute winner.

Manotas has to be the least heralded 19-goal scorer (last season) in league history, and he’s got two in two games to begin the current campaign. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar pick for the Golden Boot, or throwing out darkhorse candidates for best most complete forward in the league, you could do a lot worse than the 23-year-old Colombian.

Full MLS scoreboard

Chicago Fire 1-1 Orlando City SC
New England Revolution 0-2 Columbus Crew SC
FC Dallas 2-0 LA Galaxy
Houston Dynamo 2-1 Montreal Impact
Real Salt Lake 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
San Jose Earthquakes 0-3 Minnesota United
Seattle Sounders 2-0 Colorado Rapids

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”