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Liga MX roundup: Jesus Corona hands Cruz Azul untraditional win with last-second penalty save (video)

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Liga MX’s last set of games for the foreseeable future took place on Sunday, with Atlas, Santos and Cruz Azul taking home three points. There’s no timeline on Mexico’s top-flight’s suspension due to the coronavirus, but its last impression was one worth witnessing. Here’s a closer look into some of Sunday’s closed-door action.

Club America 0-1 Cruz Azul

It’s nearly impossible to think of a time in which Cruz Azul didn’t get the short end of the stick against America, specifically with Jesus Corona in goal. There’s a reason why there’s a verb based around La Maquina’s miseries (most of which have come at inopportune times with Corona between the sticks): cruzazulear. For a second, it seemed like history was going to repeat itself on Sunday in front of an uninhabited Estadio Azteca.

Then, Corona delivered this:

In a night in which Guillermo Ochoa made case after case that he was the better goalkeeper between the two, 39-year-old Corona delivered one of his best acts against the rivals, blocking Emanuel Aguilera’s shot from the spot seconds before time expired.
The first half was all blue, as La Maquina heavily emphasized going forward, resulting in a handful of chances at goal that were denied by Ochoa. Santiago Gimenez, less than a minute into the game, saw his driving cross travel inches from America’s goal.
America, inspired by Ochoa’s heroics, recouped their shape in the second half, dominating possession and the tempo of the game. Even so, the league’s leading scorer, Jonathan Rodriguez, was able to find room inside the box and deliver a trademark strike past America’s No. 6, increasing his goal count to nine.
Cruz Azul were the superior team, and the scoreboard was finally showing it.
But in a way, Corona’s save gave Roberto Siboldi’s side – once again leaders of the league with 22 points – perhaps their biggest win of the season, and proved that things don’t always go bad for Cruz Azul.
Elsewhere in Liga MX
Toluca 2-3 Atlas
Santos Laguna 2-1 Necaxa

Braithwaite to Barcelona imminent, could debut Saturday

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Barcelona is taking the controversial step of signing Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite outside the January transfer window, reportedly set to trigger his $19.4 million release clause. According to a report by ESPN, Braithwaite has already agreed to terms and will join the club immediately, possibly soon enough to make his debut on Saturday against Eibar.

The Catalan club was given an exception by La Liga after Ousmane Dembele was ruled out for the season, leaving the squad with just three healthy first-team forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati. The injury to Dembele, which follows a long-term injury spell for Luis Suarez, led La Liga to allow Barcelona 15 days to sign a forward outside the window, provided it was either a free agent or a player already registered in the Spanish top flight.

Reports from all over Europe state that Barcelona attempted to negotiate with Leganes, but they held out for Braithwaite’s full release clause and Barcelona had little choice but to relent. The ESPN report states that Barcelona had come to an agreement with Getafe for Angel Rodriguez but Barcelona manager Quique Setien stepped in with a preference for Braithwaite due to his positional flexibility.

The controversial part of the situation is that Barcelona somewhat put itself in this spot by offloading forwards Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez in the January window without replacing them, and now have been saddled with an injury crisis. Many are upset that a big club like Barcelona is being bailed out by La Liga while Leganes suffers the loss of its leading scorer having already seen  Youssef En-Nesyri depart in the January window. Guillem Ballague reports that Leganes will appeal to La Liga for its own exception to sign an emergency player but as the rules stand, they cannot add a replacement for Braithwaite. The league office can authorize exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which they did for Barcelona, although policy has been to grant exceptions for long-term injuries.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals across all competitions this season while Leganes has struggled at the bottom of the table all year long. They currently sit 19th in the La Liga table, two points clear of safety.

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

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That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

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“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Reports: Barcelona fires Valverde, hiring former Betis boss Setien

Barcelona makes managerial change
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Quique Setien is set to replace Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, according to numerous reports in Spain.

The former Las Palmas and Real Betis boss, 61, would be a surprise successor to be sure.

Valverde has been under fire for Barca’s uneven season, though that phrase happens to describe a tie for first in La Liga with rivals Real Madrid.

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According to Marca, “The Barcelona board approved the decision for the 61-year-old to become the new Blaugrana boss unanimously, with the former Betis coach’s stock having gone up since this morning.”

The club has not announced any changes. Reporter Guillem Balague says the silence from Barcelona is down to the resolution of Valverde’s contract with the Catalan club.

He also proffers a thread with lofty praise for Setien.

Barcelona’s attack has been lethal but it’s defending subpar; Valverde’s proverbial hot seat was engulfed in flames when the Blaugranas wasted a 2-1 lead in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal versus Atletico Madrid.

Valverde led Barcelona to La Liga titles in both of his full seasons in charge, but disappointing collapses in the Champions League soured the domestic triumphs.

Defending will become even more important with Luis Suarez out for four months.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

LA Galaxy ‘serious’ about signing Chicharito

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Okay, this Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to LA Galaxy report has moved on quite quickly.

Chicharito, 31, has been linked with a move from Sevilla to the Galaxy and it appears that a deal for Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer is getting closer as the most successful team in Major League Soccer history badly need a new star man.

If it goes through it would be for a franchise-record transfer fee of close to $10 million.

The Galaxy’s general manager Dennis te Kloese told the LA Times that they are pushing hard to sign Hernandez, who has played in just two La Liga games for Sevilla since November after his summer transfer from West Ham in the Premier League.

“I think he could be good for us. We’ll give it a serious try,” te Kloese said, as the report claims LA and Sevilla are in advanced negotiations.

Hernandez would link up with El Tri teammate Jonathan dos Santos at the Galaxy and he knows te Kloese well as he previously was the director of Mexico’s national teams.

Over the years it is tough to keep count of how many MLS teams Chicharito has been linked with a move to but it always seemed like a LA would work out, somehow, for the former Chivas and Manchester United.

Chicharito recently stated that he would be open to a move to MLS and the Galaxy need a Designated Player, and new star striker, to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic who left at the end of his contract following the conclusion of the 2019 season.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side start preseason training this weekend and it is believed they want Hernandez to be part of it. Things may not move that quickly but the wheels are in motion for the Galaxy to replace Zlatan and for Hernandez to become the latest in a long line of stars to call the LA Galaxy home.