Ok so big news week in soccer this week – Champions League Group Stage returns next Tues/Wed, the Manchester Darby with Man City and Pep vs Man U and Mourino (the special one) live from Old Trafford at 7:30 am on NBCSN on Sat – (don’t ask me why this isn’t 12:30 NBC game but what the heck –over 2000 media credentials (almost the same as the last Superbowl) were requested. Should be a dousy! Renaldo returns from his knee injury to feature for Real Madrid this Sat and of course the US just qualified for the HEX (the final 6 team/10 game segment that will determine which 4 teams advance to the 2018 World Cup in Russia) – which includes an opening match vs Mexico (possibly in Columbus, Ohio) on Friday night, Nov 11. As for the US – it was great to see Klinsmann finally play some of the kids this past week. FC Dallas man Kellen Acosta was good at left back last weekend, Bobby Wood was solid, as was Morris off the bench. But that new winger/forward the 17 year old Dortmund sensation Christian Pulisic from Penn showed he is the real deal. Two goals and an assist on Friday, then an assist and some fantastic shots and overall play vs T+T showed he is not just hype, heck he was the best player on the field Tuesday. Seriously his long runs with the ball remind me of Landon Donovan except I think he actually passes and moves around the field a little better than Landon especially when he was young. Exciting to see what Pulisic can do in the future. Also Altidore was very good up front and the addition of Sasha Kleistian was key – you could argue he made up the most ground this past week. Of course the US Women host a game at Columbus next Thursday night, Sept 15th — tickets are still available to see the ladies play or watch on ESPN at 7:30 pm.
But trumping all of that for me is the UN-RETIREMENT of former US and LA Galaxy superstar Landon Donovan. He returns to an injury plagued LA Galaxy as they shoot for another MLS Cup. You can perhaps see Donovan play this Sunday as LA hosts Orlando City on Fox Sports 1 -7 pm on Sunday evening. Sat at 12:30 on NBCSN Liverpool will host Leciester City in a battle vs last season’s EPL Champ at Anfield, while Sat 7 am has Celtic vs Rangers in Scottish Football action on Fox Sports 1. The Indy 11 are at Ft. Lauderdale Saturday and will be on Tape Delay on beIN Sport at 9 pm.
I will have a Champions League Update on Monday before the huge matches on Tues/Wed which include Arsenal traveling to PSG, Celtic @ Barcelona, Man City hosting Borussian Mgladbach and US mid Fabian Johnson on Tuesday and Juve v Sevilla, Tottenham at home to Monaco and my Foxes of Leciester City traveling to Club Brugge on Wednesday all on the Fox Sports Channels and ESPN. (see schedule below) Let me know if anyone wants to gather for a late lunch 2:45 Tuesday or Wednesday for the action!!
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Sat, Sept 10
7 am FS1 Celtic vs Rangers – Ireland’s top Rivalry!
7:30 am NBCSN Man United vs Man City – Manchester Darby between the new mega star coaches
12:30 pm NBCSN Liverpool vs Leicester City – defending champs head to Anfield for a top 5 battle
9 pm beIN Sports Ft. Lauderdale host Indy 11 (tape delay)
Sun, Sept 11
1 pm ESPN New York Red Bulls vs DC United
7 pm FS 1 LA Galaxy vs Orlando City – Top 4 teams battle for playoff slots as Landon Donovan returns to face Kaka
Tues Sept 13 Champions League Group Stage Starts
2:45 pm Fox Sports 2 Arsenal @ PSG
2:45 pm Fox Sports 1 Celtic @ Barcelona
2:45 pm Fox Sports Indiana Man City vs Borussia M’gladbach – US Winger Fabian Johnson travels to Man City in the group of death
2:45 pm ESPN 2 Bayern Munich vs Rostov
10 pm ESPN2 Dallas vs New England – US Open Cup
Wed Sept 14
2:45 pm ESPN 2 Juventus vs Sevilla
2:45 pm Fox Sports 2 Real Madrid vs Sporting CP
2:45 pm Fox Sports Indiana Tottenham vs Monaco
2:45 pm Fox Soccer Plus Club Brugge vs LEICESTER CITY
Thurs, Sept 15
8 pm ESPN US Ladies vs Thailand
Fri, Sept 16
3 pm NBCSN Chelsea vs Liverpool
Manchester Darby -7:30 am NBCSN
US Finishes 1st in Group On to the HEX – US Soccer
Below is the USWNT squad in full for GAME NEXT THURS IN COLUMBUS, OHIO
GOALKEEPERS (2): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
World Cup Qualifying
Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com –
Fri, Sept 9
2:30 pm Fox Sport1 Bayern Munich vs. Schalke 04
Sat, Sept 10
7 am FS1 Celtic vs Rangers – Ireland
7:30 am NBCSN Man United vs Man City
9:30 am fox Sports 1 Bayer Leverkusen s Hamburg SV
10 am beIN Sports Real Madrid vs Osasuna
10 am NBCSN Arsenal vs Southampton, Stoke City vs Tottenham, West Ham vs Watford
12:30 pm FS 2 RB Leipzig vs Borussia Dortmund
12:30 pm NBCSN Liverpool s Leicester City
2:30 pm beIn Sports Barcelona vs Deportivo
7:30 pm YES New England vs NYCFC
7:30 pm beIN Sports Ft. Lauderdale vs Indy 11
9 pm beIN Sport Futsal World Cup – Colombia vs Portugal
Sun, Sept 11
9:30 am FS1 Werder Bremen vs Augsburg
9:30 am Fox Soccer Plus Ingolstadt vs Hertha BSC
9:30 am Fox Sports 2 Freiburg vs Borussia M’Gladbach
11 am NBCSN Swansea vs Chelsea
11:30 am FS 1 Mainz 05 vs Hoffenhiem
1 pm ESPN New York Red Bulls vs DC United
7 pm FS 1 LA Galaxy vs Orlando City
9:30 pm FS 1 Women -Portland Thorns vs NY Flash
Mon, Sept 12
3 pm NBCSN Sunderland vs Everton
Tues Sept 13 Champions League Group Stage Starts
2:45 pm Fox Sports 2 Arsenal @ PSG
2:45 pm Fox Sports 1 Celtic @ Barcelona
2:45 pm Fox Sports Indiana Man City vs Borussia M’gladbach
2:45 pm ESPN 2 Bayern Munich vs Rostov
2:45 pm ESPN Desporte PSV vs Atletico Madrid
10 pm ESPN2 Dallas vs New England – US Open Cup
Wed Sept 14
2:45 pm ESPN 2 Juventus vs Sevilla
2:45 pm Fox Sports 2 Real Madrid vs Sporting CP
2:45 pm Fox Sports Indiana Tottenham vs Monaco
2:45 pm Fox Soccer Plus Club Brugge vs LEICESTER CITY
Thurs, Sept 15
1 pm Fox Sport 1 Feyernord vs Man United
3 pm Fox Soccer Plus Inter vs Hapoel Sheva
8 pm ESPN US Ladies vs Thailand
Fri, Sept 16
3 pm NBCSN Chelsea vs Liverpool
Sat, Sept 17
7 am beIn Sports Barcelona vs Leganes
7:30 am NBCSN Hull City vs Arsenal
9:30 am Fox Sports 1 Buyern Munich vs Ingolstadt
9:30 am Fox Sports 2 Dortmund vs Darmdstadt
10 am NBCSN Man City vs Bournemouth, Leceister City vs Burnley,
12:30 pm NBC Everton vs Middlesborough
12:30 pm Fox Soccer + Borussia Mgladbach vs Werder Bremen
7:30 pm YES NYCFC vs Dallas
7:30 pm TV 8, GolTV Indy 11 host Miami
Sun, Sat 18
7 am CNBC Watford vs Man United
9:15 am NBCSN Crystal Palace vs Stoke City
9:30 am FS1 Augsburg vs Mainz
9:30 am Fox Soccer Plus Ingolstadt vs Hertha BSC
9:30 am Fox Sports 2 Freiburg vs Borussia M’Gladbach
11:30 am NBCSN Tottenham vs Sunderland
12 noon beIN Sports Inter vs Juventus
11:30 am FS 2 Hertha vs Schalke
2 pm FS 1 LA Galaxy vs Sporting KC
2:45 pm beIN Sport Espanyol vs Real Madrid
5 pm FS 2 Toronto vs NY Red Bulls
7 pm FS 1 US Women vs Netherlands
Man City @ Celtic
Bayern Munich @ Athletico Madrid
Real Madrid @ Dortmund
Porto @ Leicester City
Landon Donovan has earned the chance to rewrite the end of his storybook career
Goal.com 17 hours ago
After two years away from the game and becoming a father for the first time, Landon Donovan seemed like the last person anyone would expect to decide to lace the boots back up and resume his playing career.What else was there to prove?He walked away from the game as the best to ever play in MLS and is arguably the greatest player in U.S. national team history. He had his MLS Cup titles and MVP trophies, and the league even renamed its MVP award trophy after him. He was supposed to make the transition to television pundit, or coach, or part owner, or whatever else retired superstars decide to do to occupy their time once the playing days are over.Donovan did a little bit of all of those things, but apparently he decided that he still had something left to give on the field . Perhaps he felt some obligation to the LA Galaxy after watching them seemingly fall apart a week ago amid a rash of injuries and the surprising departure of Nigel de Jong. Here was the team he helped transform into the league’s definitive empire showing signs of crumbling, and we can’t forget we’re just two years away from LAFC arriving in the area.You can chalk it up to fate that the Galaxy just happened to have a roster slot available to sign him, thanks to the hasty unloading of De Jong. The timing of the two moves might lead some to believe they were related, but multiple sources have confirmed to Goal USA that De Jong’s departure was in no way driven by or related to Donovan returning, though De Jong’s departure has helped pave the way for Donovan’s serendipitous return.Opening the doors for Donovan’s return is a no-brainer for the Galaxy, who lost Gyasi Zardes for the season to a broken foot and had seen their attack struggle with inconsistency even before his injury. Donovan’s versatility should allow him to slide into any number of positions. And even if he is a step slower, his passing ability and soccer smarts should give the attack a boost.That is, if Donovan is still anywhere close to the player he was when he retired. Donovan went out on top, winning an MLS Cup in 2014 and enjoying a strong final season before retiring. He certainly looked capable of playing at a high level for another couple of years, but now that he has been away for two years, will he be able to shake enough of the rust off to still be an impact player?Perhaps that very question is what is driving Donovan’s second act. It can’t be about trying to win another title or about making more money. It’s probably as simple as being about proving to himself that he can still play at a high level. The fierce competitor in him probably doesn’t need much more.Or maybe, after all the time off and all the other ventures he tried, he missed playing most of all. Luckily for him, he retired at the relatively young age of 32, and at 34 still might have a few more seasons in him. The Galaxy would love nothing more than bringing back such a charismatic figure to help the team on the field as well as off it, where the impending arrival of LAFC must have the Galaxy feeling the heat to solidify its standing in the Los Angeles market.Donovan shed light on the process that led to his decision in a statement he released on Facebook, with wanting to help the Galaxy in their time of need and also wanting to be able to bring his infant son onto the field after a mach he has played in among the motivations.The desire to have his son, born last January, have some part in his playing career makes a world of sense as motivation, and his choice of No. 26 (the date his son was born) shows just how much.Donovan’s return isn’t without risk. He is risking overshadowing, and in some ways ruining, what was by all measures a perfect farewell, winning an MLS Cup in his final match and kissing one final trophy as he rode off into the California sunset. If his return proves to be a struggle and he is nowhere near the player he once was, then the fairytale ending will wind up being replaced by a cautionary tale of another athlete who wound up holding on a bit too long.Donovan made it clear he isn’t worried about that.”I know this won’t be received well by everyone,” Donovan wrote on his Facebook page. “That’s OK. I’ve always made decisions in life based on two guiding principles: my own happiness and the happiness of those I love and care about. Being on the field again, being able to help an organization that has meant so much to me and having my son in my arms after a game will undoubtedly make me and all my loved ones happy. That’s all that matters.”f Donovan isn’t worried about that possibility, then we probably shouldn’t be either. He’s done more than enough in his career to go out on his terms and come back for one more run at glory. That possibility just might be all the motivation Donovan needs. It is certainly enough to make American soccer fans excited about having one more chance to see him play, and one more chance to see him add to his legacy.
Landon Donovan’s comeback is a risk worth taking for injury-hit LA Galaxy
Now that Landon Donovan has come out of retirement to rejoin the LA Galaxy, there is one question: Landon, what took you so long?It always seemed like Donovan retired too soon. When the confetti rained down at StubHub Center on Dec. 7, 2014, his sixth MLS Cup now in his possession, Donovan was only 32 years old. He was physically in good shape, and clearly still one of the best players in MLS.”You don’t retire at 32 unless you have to,” former U.S. international Kasey Keller told ESPN FC via telephone. “You retire from the national team maybe because that’s going to take so much time and energy, so you think, ‘Maybe I just concentrate on my club career.'”But with Donovan, continuing his life as a professional soccer player was never about the legs, or the heart, but the head. Toward the latter part of Donovan’s career, there seemed to be almost a love/hate relationship with his chosen profession, and there was a good reason for this. Donovan admitted to me in an October 2014 interview that prior to the sabbatical he took in early 2013, “I was [depressed], and I was burnt out and getting up and going to training every day was really weighing on me.”For that reason, the long slog that can at times characterize the pro athlete’s existence seemed one that Donovan was willing to leave behind, and since calling it quits he has always looked content with his new life. There was his marriage to Hannah Bartell and the birth of his son, Talon. He seemed to enjoy his broadcasting work and had begun acquiring his coaching licenses.But while players and coaches talk of the grind, there are plenty of things about being a pro soccer player that are missed: the adrenaline rush of game day, the camaraderie of teammates, the roar of the crowd. There are financial incentives as well. The siren call has now proved to be one that not even Donovan could ignore, saying the chance to play in front of his newborn son played a role in his decision to return.So now a different set of questions is being asked. Having taken nearly two seasons off, one can only assume that his head has cleared, his conflicting feelings about being a pro now gone, or at least diminished. But what about the legs? Now 34, how much rust has Donovan accumulated? How will he recover? His return carries with it some risk. There’s a chance, or even a strong likelihood, that Donovan will not be the player that he was.”It’s completely doable,” said Keller. “But I remember there were times when Chris Henderson would do the beep test with [the Seattle Sounders] in preseason and he had been retired for years, and be one of the top finishers in the beep test. But that doesn’t mean he can still play. It’s a different ball game thinking, ‘I’m fit, I watch these guys, and I [coached] the Homegrown Game and I’m better than these guys.’ That may be, but those guys don’t have the expectation of being Landon Donovan or the paycheck of Landon Donovan.”Regardless of how those questions get answered, the risk is still one worth taking for Donovan, and especially the Galaxy. The best-laid plans of manager and GM Bruce Arena haven’t completely gone awry, but through no fault of his own, the season was threatening to go off the rails. Gyasi Zardes will be sidelined for the rest of the regular season with a broken foot. Steven Gerrard is dealing with a hamstring injury. Robbie Keane has played just 13 of the Galaxy’s 28 regular season games. With the injuries piling up, the Galaxy put together a deal in the span of two weeks that now sees Donovan return to the five-time champions of MLS.And if anyone can get Donovan in the frame of mind needed to jump back onto the field, it is Arena. The Galaxy head coach has almost always managed to coax the best out of Donovan, be it with the Galaxy or the national team. Arena has provided Donovan with a cocoon of trust, the needed benefit of the doubt.There is also the rather exciting prospect of seeing Donovan on the field with Giovani Dos Santos. The two players are similar in so many respects. Both have shouldered the weight of high expectations from a young age, especially as it relates to their respective national teams.For Donovan, it has been there since he emerged out of the U.S. U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Florida. For Dos Santos, the hopes were heaped on him ever since he led Mexico to the 2005 U-17 World Cup, and later signed with Barcelona. His career has meandered somewhat since, but this season in L.A., Dos Santos has largely lived up to his Designated Player billing, with 12 goals and nine assists.There is some question as to how well the two will mesh, especially since Dos Santos has thrived in a more central role. But Donovan’s versatility makes it more likely the two will complement rather than impede each other. The results could be devastating for the rest of the league.There are no guarantees of course, and the fact that the league’s MVP award is named after Donovan creates a certain level of awkwardness. But having Donovan back in the league will no doubt generate buzz that MLS can’t get enough of. And he may even lead his beloved Galaxy to a sixth MLS Cup.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.
What to make of Landon Donovan’s stunning return to the LA Galaxy, MLS
QUICKLY-Two years after stepping away from the game, Landon Donovan is set for a shocking return to the LA Galaxy.
GRANT WAHLThursday September 8th, 2016As recently as June, Landon Donovan was a 34-year-old retiree broadcasting U.S. games in the Copa América for Fox Sports. He was taking courses for his coaching badges. He was enjoying his first year as a new father. He had moved to the San Diego area with his wife, Hannah. He was playing a lot of tennis. In early July, he announced his role as part owner of Premier League’s Swansea City.Now Donovan is set to come back and play for the LA Galaxy.
Donovan, the all-time MLS leader in goals (144) and assists (136), the player who was so important to the league that it named its MVP trophy after him, is nearing the official completion of a deal that would see him come out of retirement and rejoin the Galaxy, SI.com has confirmed with multiple sources. Blake Thomsen of The Cauldron first reported the story.WATCH: Your questions answered on Landon Donovan’s return
According to a source with knowledge of the deal, which could be announced as early as Thursday, Donovan will play for the rest of this season with the Galaxy and has not yet committed to continuing beyond that. He will fill the spot of the recently departed Nigel de Jong on the roster, meaning Donovan will not be a Designated Player. While player selection is up to Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, Donovan could play as early as early as this Sunday against Orlando City (FS1, 7 p.m. ET).What does it mean for Donovan? Well, despite not giving any hints of a return, he clearly has missed playing. He retired two years ago at age 32, a remarkably young age, even if he had been playing as a professional for 15 years already. Donovan talked openly of dealing with depression and struggling to find the motivation to continue the grind of soccer week after week, year after year.But he left the sport while still playing at a high level. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had controversially dropped Donovan from the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, but Donovan ended his LA career with an MLS Cup trophy, his third in four years and record sixth of his career, and put up superb numbers: 10 goals and a career-high 19 assists in the 2014 MLS season.Now Donovan is back. “He’s our Brett Favre,” one MLS insider told SI.com on Thursday.The Galaxy could use him, too. LA is in third place in the Western Conference with six games left in the regular season stretch run. The team sold de Jong to Turkey’s Galatasaray and has lost Gyasi Zardes for the rest of the regular season with a broken foot, but it has plenty of talent, led by Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos and Steven Gerrard. At his best, Donovan is just the kind of player who could bring out the best in Dos Santos in a way that we haven’t totally seen yet in MLS.More details will emerge in the coming days on Donovan’s return, but it’s hard to imagine that he would return if he didn’t think he could still excel in this league.Whatever happens, it will be a lot of fun to find out if he can still bring it on the soccer field.
Rivalries, tactical battles, great clubs converge in anticipated Manchester derby
QUICKLY-Two 3-0-0 teams. Mourinho vs. Guardiola. Ibrahimovic vs. Guardiola. City vs. United. This Manchester derby may be the most anticipated match in Premier League history. JONATHAN WILSONFriday September 9th, 2016
And to think we used to get excited about whether Wayne Bridge would shake John Terry’s hand.Saturday’s Manchester derby (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) at Old Trafford might be the most anticipated match in English Premier League history. It’s not just a derby, not just a meeting of probably the two best squads in the country, but it’s Jose Mourinho against Pep Guardiola–and a little bit of Zlatan Ibrahimovic too.This is a day when the game of football and the soap opera of football come together, a clash of two great clubs, two great managers and an awful lot of questions.There is one clash missing, though. There will be no battle of the strikers, no face off between Ibrahimovic and Sergio Aguero. Everybody in both squads is either fit or nearly fit, butAguero will be missing as he serves the first of a three-game suspension imposed for his elbow on West Ham’s Winston Reid in the last league game before the international break.here are tactical conundrums aplenty, but the most pressing of them is a simple matter of personnel. With Aguero absent, who plays up front for City? Until Gabriel Jesus arrives in January, and with Wilfried Bony sold to Stoke City, the only other orthodox center forward in the squad is Kelechi Iheanacho. The Nigerian 19-year-old impressed last season, scoring eight Premier League goals despite being largely restricted to appearances from the bench, but making his first start of the season in the derby would be an extraordinary responsibility for one so inexperienced.The other option is to go with a false nine, as Guardiola so often has in the past. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have both occupied the role before, but the most likely candidate is Raheem Sterling, even if his falseness is likely to manifest in movement out to the flank rather than back into midfield. If he is used centrally, it means the Silva-De Bruyne axis, playing as “free eights” at the front of the midfield is kept in tact, but it does leave a question of who operates on the right, assuming Nolito is retained on the left. Jesus Navas has already played there this season, but if Leroy Sane is fully fit, there may be a temptation to give him his debut.At the other end of the pitch, Guardiola’s issues are threefold. Does he give Claudio Bravo his debut in goal, even though he will have trained with his new colleagues for only three days? Does he field Ilkay Gundogan for his first start for the club now that he is recovered from his knee injury–and, if he does, who does he replace? And does Guardiola trust the two Argentina players, Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta, who were away playing in World Cup qualifiers and returned to training only on Thursday?But there is always the possibility Guardiola does something unexpected. His capacity to devise a specific plan for a specific game is a major part of his genius. Trying to guess what it may entail is all but impossible, but there could be a case for including both Fernandinho and Gundogan.Assuming there is no switch to a back three, which, given Ibrahimovic’s form and aerial prowess would be an enormous gamble, could there be a case for playing without a center forward at all, with Sterling and Nolito attacking the box from wide? Or perhaps Guardiola might risk matching the two fullbacks against Juan Mata and Anthony Martial, using John Stones against Ibrahimovic with Fernandinho dropping back to cover. It would mean Sterling and Nolito (if they play wide) operating as quasi-wingbacks, but it would be a way of exerting pressure on the back of the United midfield, which is where they are least settled.That’s assuming United plays a 4-2-3-1, which it may not. On five of the 12 occasions when Mourinho faced Guardiola in Spain, he played a 4-3-3, his “trivote” with three holding midfielders. City probably isn’t yet slick enough to warrant such an approach, but it could be that Mourinho nonetheless prefers the insurance of an additional player in the center. Morgan Schneiderlin could come in, freeing up Paul Pogba, which would mean either that Wayne Rooney misses out or that he operates on the right in place of Juan Mata.Tactics, of course, are only part of it. There are personal antipathies and subplots everywhere, not just between the two managers. Most significant, perhaps, is that between Ibrahimovic and Guardiola. The striker has clearly never quite forgiven Guardiola for the way he treated him during his spell at Barcelona. “As a coach he was fantastic,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview with CNN last year. “As a person I’ve no comments about that, that’s something else. He’s not a man, there’s nothing more to say.” (Also last July, Ibrahimovic was asked to play word association in an interview with SI. He gave Mourinho “power.” Pep? “Good coach. Bad person.”)And that’s why Saturday’s encounter is so fascinating. It’s a tactical battle and a personal battle that also happens to be one of England’s biggest derbies. The plot lines are converging, and it could be apocalyptic.
Five Questions for the Manchester City-Manchester United derby
Ahead of the weekend’s Manchester Derby, Nick Miller checks in with five questions for this highly anticipated Premier League showdown between Jose Mourinho’s United and Pep Guardiola’s City.
- Will we see any of the old Guardiola-Mourinho animosity?
They used to get on quite well, these two. From when they both were at Barcelona — Pep Guardiola as a player, Jose Mourinho as a translator then coach — they were friends, and Manchester United’s new manager has described their relationship back then as “close.” That obviously changed when they were managers of Barca and Real Madrid, two men taking on the personalities and rivalries of their respective clubs, whose rows spread from touchline to news conference and beyond. In the end, their animosity was undoubtedly a factor in Guardiola’s burnout and departure from Cataluyna.So will that spill over into their first meeting in the Premier League? Relations have seemingly been quite cordial so far, and Mourinho even managed to leave Guardiola off his list of targets to have a brief jab at in his introductory news conference. Maybe it’s too soon for the old rivalry to manifest itself, and it will take an incident, a comment or a perceived injustice to spark it again. For now, maybe it’s best just to concentrate on the football.
- Who will City replace Aguero with?
Sergio Aguero found out the hard way that, these days, there isn’t much you can get away with on a football pitch. The cameras see all, and in this case they spotted him laying an elbow on Winston Reid, earning him a three match ban and Guardiola with a bit of a quandary. Who shall play up front in his place? There are two obvious options: Guardiola could either go with what is as close to a like-for-like swap as is available to him, bringing in Kelechi Iheanacho, or he could choose from a number of “false nine” possibles. Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are the stand-out candidates for the second option, but Guardiola might be loath to move the latter two from positions they have already excelled in this season.The “false nine” seems the most likely choice, but when Aguero was rested for the second leg of their Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest, he opted for Iheanacho. “He is always ready,” Guardiola said of the young forward. “We will need him. Sergio can’t play all season and Keli is going to play.” Playing in what was essentially a meaningless match is one thing, but it will be interesting to see if Guardiola trusts him in a game as big as this.
- Can Mourinho afford to ignore Rashford?
Even before Marcus Rashford sauntered off with the match ball, having helped himself to a hat trick for England’s under-21s on Tuesday, the case for him starting more for Manchester United was strong. Rashford’s goal against Hull in United’s last game may well have been a tap-in, but it was his vigour and relentlessness that really made an impression, providing more danger in 19 minutes than many of the United players managed in 90. When there are still question marks over the City defence, can Mourinho afford to ignore him? And if the answer is no, who would he play instead of?There’s little chance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic being left out of a game this size, while Wayne Rooney seems to still be the apple of any manager’s eye, regardless of how he actually plays. Thus, oddly enough, the most likely candidate to be omitted is Anthony Martial, who has looked slightly subdued in the opening weeks of the season. Rashford has already shown that he can provide a threat from the left flank. Mourinho’s record with young players is constantly queried, but the only way Rashford plays like a kid is through the energy in his legs. The pressure on Mourinho to start him is strong.
- Who will City play in defence?
The top end of Guardiola’s team looks fine, a buzzing collection of busy and absurdly skillful attackers providing just as much threat as we thought they would. The defence is more questionable, and might provide the biggest head-scratcher. Nicolas Otamendi has started the last two games alongside John Stones, but he might be in no fit state to take part after appearing for Argentina in Venezuela on Tuesday. Ideally, Vincent Kompany would be back to reassure everyone, but his fitness is, as always these days, in doubt. Aleksandar Kolarov has played in the middle, and Guardiola talked up the possibility of Fernandinho filling the role a few weeks ago. In short, any option looks risky, and when the “defensively incomplete” Stones is the safest option available to City, it’s no wonder they could be worried.
- Will Mourinho adapt his tactics to counter City?
So far, Jose Mourinho has deployed a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 system with a deep-lying midfielder alongside Paul Pogba, behind the attacking trio. However, with the greatest respect to Southampton, Bournemouth and Hull, this is a different matter entirely, with the added problem of a dangerous City attacking line featuring De Bruyne, Sterling, David Silva and possibly for the first time, Leroy Sane. Could Mourinho change things and switch to a 4-3-3 system, bringing in an extra midfielder to counter City’s attackers? That could be the most sensible option, but would require dropping a forward, with one of Juan Mata, Rooney, Martial or Rashford missing out. The arch pragmatist, you can be sure Mourinho will have a plan.Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.
Newcomers Ibrahimovic and Bravo headline Manchester derby
When United meet City in Saturday’s Manchester derby, there will be story lines galore to follow. But who are the most important players to watch? Michael Cox picked three from each side.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
Although the Swede is often criticised for not performing in big Champions League matches, his record in major league games is excellent. He had a fine record in the Milan derby, scored minutes into his El Clasico debut and regularly netted against Marseille when playing for PSG.
Against his old foe Pep Guardiola, Ibrahimovic will be even more fired up than usual. He might have something of a lonely game if Jose Mourinho decides to play cautiously, but could thrive against City’s somewhat lightweight centre-back combination. John Stones, for all his quality in possession, can struggle against strong number nines, and Ibrahimovic’s physical power shouldn’t be underestimated.
Few centre-forwards adapt to the Premier League so smoothly, but Ibrahimovic’s quality shouldn’t come as a surprise – it’s arguably only English football which has underestimated him over the past decade. It would be typical for him to settle his first Manchester derby with a moment of magic.
Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United)
Manchester United’s primary tactical task this weekend should be protecting the space in front of their defence. City’s shape for this season features a 4-3-3 with both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne springing forward from conventional central midfield positions, and some of their interplay has been quite magnificent. Therefore, United need a solid midfield performance from their two holding players, and Mourinho might decide to beef up his midfield with the introduction of a second defensive player, pushing Paul Pogba into a more advanced role. Could Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera or Morgan Schneiderlin come in? It is Fellaini, however, who is assured of a start in one of the two deep midfield roles. He’s impressed for United under Mourinho, with his physical power as useful as ever, but his positioning has been particularly good too. Having often played in a more advanced role under Louis van Gaal, he’s readjusted impressively to this more defensive position, and will have a crucial role to play in stopping City’s two dangermen.
Eric Bailly (Manchester United)
United fans knew what to expect from Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but centre-back Eric Bailly was a relative unknown. Nevertheless, the Ivorian international has looked excellent so far at the heart of Manchester United’s defence, and won United’s Player of the Month award for August. Saturday will be his biggest test yet, and Bailly won’t know quite what to expect. He’ll presumably be delighted that Sergio Aguero is out injured, but what threat will he play against instead? The traditional centre-forward qualities of Kelechi Iheanacho? The speed into the channels of Raheem Sterling, Nolito or Leroy Sane? Perhaps even a false nine with David Silva dropping deep between the lines?
The major question mark about Bailly is his positioning, which is inevitable for a young defender in a new league. He’s impressed so far by responding to things quickly and decisively, but against top-class opponents, centre-backs need to read the game and anticipate danger. He’ll need intelligence to adjust his positioning according to his direct opponent, but he’ll relish the challenge.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Sterling’s first Manchester City campaign was disappointing, his Euro 2016 even more underwhelming. But Guardiola already appears to have rejuvenated his career; Sterling looks lively, threatening and – perhaps most crucially – highly motivated.So far he’s started on the right flank, told to stay wide and stretch the play, dribbling at opposition left-backs repeatedly. But without Aguero there’s a good chance Sterling will be deployed upfront, a position he played occasionally last season, including when he hit a hat trick against Bournemouth in October.Sterling’s major weakness, however, remains his finishing. He’s simply not good at striking the ball, often snatching at chances and failing to generate the necessary power. He can’t realistically expect to play a centre-forward role regularly if his shooting doesn’t improve – and this weekend, in the biggest game of the season so far, a crucial goal would illustrate his continuing improvement.
Claudio Bravo (Manchester City)
Guardiola is expected to throw his new goalkeeper in at the deep end, and a debut away at Old Trafford is a huge first test for the Chilean. Of course, Claudio Bravo is a highly experienced and reliable goalkeeper accustomed to performing on the biggest stage, so the occasion itself shouldn’t bother him. Premier League football, though, is different in style to La Liga.As his opposite number David De Gea realised when joining Manchester United five years ago, goalkeepers are tested physically in English football. Bravo is famed for his fine distribution skills, precisely the reason Guardiola recruited him, but physically he’s hardly the most imposing goalkeeper, at just 6’0.Mourinho will look to put him under pressure in this sense, and Bravo should expect plenty of men around him the first time United get a corner. He’s not particularly good at commanding his box though, and City don’t have a particularly tall team this season. Bravo will eventually prove a fine addition, but his first match might be difficult.
John Stones (Manchester City)
A player purchased for his ability in possession, Stones should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his passing quality here. Manchester United are likely to drop off, keep it tight between the lines and deny City space in the final third. The onus, therefore, will be on Stones to come forward on the ball.Stones doesn’t necessarily need to provide killer passes. He simply needs to attract opposition midfielders towards him, creating space for his more creative teammates in advanced positions. It’s funny how much opponents panic when they realise a talented centre-back is going on a dribble forward; there’s often a moment of panic before someone actually commits and engages.But Stones’ defensive abilities will be tested, too. He’s yet to form a reliable centre-back partnership with any particular individual at City, and against the threat of Ibrahimovic, Stones needs to demonstrate that he’s physically capable, and intelligent enough to read the game. Sometimes guilty of getting caught too high up the pitch, his positioning must be flawless this time around.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs ‘zero’ motivation to shine – Jose Mourinho
Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to be given “zero” motivation and has not chased after the riches of China or the United States, according to manager Jose Mourinho.On Saturday, Ibrahimovic will have a chance to go up against Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola when their clubs meet in the derby at Old Trafford.The Swede fell out with Guardiola while they worked together at Barcelonaand the 34-year-old arrived in the Premier League with the aim of turning United into serial winners again.Discussing Ibrahimovic in his news conference on Friday, Mourinho said: “Zlatan is a phenomenal player, who arrives at 34 and still wants more for his career. “He didn’t want the Chinese money or the American U.S. dollars; he wanted the most difficult place to play and win.”Zlatan is more about him than us. Our contribution to him, in motivational terms, is zero. This is just his nature.”United’s out-of-favour midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger expressed interest in moving to the United States last month when he said on Aug. 24 that he would not play for another club in Europe, then added on Aug. 30 that“America is naturally an option.”Mourinho isn’t the only one to tout Ibrahimovic’s ability to motivate himself, as his former teammate Thierry Henry believes “he will score goals no matter what.””Zlatan was born for these types of games, he demands these types of games, and he usually performs,” Henry said in his position as a pundit forSky Sports.”Zlatan obviously has a bit of an edge on him now, he’s not the young player he used to be, but there is something, he usually backs it up when he talks.”He maybe hasn’t controlled games yet, but it doesn’t matter for Zlatan, he has scored, and that’s the impact you want. That is something I like about him, he brings a winning mentality.”He doesn’t like second-best, wherever he went he won the league. He will score you goals. You will see this year. I tipped him to be top scorer, and I know people think I’m crazy, but he will score goals no matter what.” ichael Cox is the editor of Zonal Marking and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.
Mourinho and Guardiola in Old Trafford summit meeting for United vs. City
ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop and Alexis Nunes predict the winners and losers of this weekend’s Premier league action.
It’s the biggest game of the Premier League season so far and probably the biggest across Europe this weekend as Manchester United face Manchester City.
And, of course, it’s Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola as the bitter rivals resume hostilities again. It promises to be an enthralling occasion at Old Trafford, but there’s plenty of action elsewhere too, as champions Leicester face Liverpool in their newly improved Anfield and Antonio Conte puts his 100 percent record on the line as Chelsea travel to Swansea.
MAN UNITED: Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will be eager to get one over on each other on Saturday, even if both will claim that the match is not about them. For the fans, aside from all-important bragging rights, it will be a good opportunity to see how their team fare against the competition. Sergio Aguero’s absence could be crucial, while United’s attacking dilemma is whether Marcus Rashford should get a spot in the starting XI, and if so, who he should replace. Expect a tight clash that United will just edge.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City — Scott Patterson
MAN CITY: City go to Old Trafford in the best form they could, having won all five of Pep Guardiola’s matches so far. The fans are optimistic, but cautiously so as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are in fine form, too. This could be a very tight game and a huge tactical battle between two rivals, with both teams perhaps worried about losing.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Manchester City — David Mooney
LIVERPOOL: After four games on the road, Liverpool finally return home to play at an expanded Anfield. Not since the 1980s have the Reds played in front of more than 50,000 fans in their home stadium, and that will provide the inspiration for a narrow win over the champions.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City — Steven Kelly
LEICESTER: A trip to Liverpool is another big test of Leicester’s European credentials, and they need a positive performance ahead of their Champions League debut at Club Brugge on Wednesday. Claudio Ranieri must also decide his best XI now that the transfer window has shut. Islam Slimani may come in for Shinji Okazaki, but the Japanese forward’s defensive qualities could come in handy. With both sides capable of goals, a high-scoring draw isn’t out of the question. Prediction: Liverpool 2-2 Leicester City — Ben Jacobs
SWANSEA: The Swans have had a week off to reflect on a slow start to their season, but will need to find something spectacular to stop unbeaten Chelsea, even with home advantage. Perhaps likely debutant Borja Baston can be that something, although finding a way to stop conceding from set pieces might be just as valuable.
Prediction: Swansea 0-2 Chelsea — Max Hicks
CHELSEA: Chelsea have yet to face a serious challenge to their 100 percent start to the Premier League season. Swansea have yet to score in front of their own fans, and while there’s always a chance of that happening against a Blues side prone to defensive wobbles, Antonio Conte’s side will have enough goals in them to win the game comfortably.
Prediction: Swansea 1-3 Chelsea — Mark Worrall
ARSENAL: With over £50 million of new signings added to the squad, Arsenal approach Saturday’s match in a position of some strength. It might be too early for Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez to start, but Arsenal should still have enough to beat a Southampton side still looking for their first win of the season.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-0 Southampton — Tom Adams
SOUTHAMPTON: Claude Puel was Arsene Wenger’s protege at Monaco, but his side need to show more quality than they have in their first three games of the season to help their new manager turn the tables on his mentor, especially with new club-record-signing Sofiane Boufal not yet match fit.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Southampton — Alex Crook
STOKE: New loan-signing Wilfried Bony is set to make his debut, and Mark Hughes will be hoping that Xherdan Shaqiri passes a late fitness test to provide the Ivorian with the service needed to score the goals to lift his side off the foot of the table.
Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Tottenham — James Whittaker
TOTTENHAM: Spurs have been a long way off their best in the first three Premier League games, and the international break is unlikely to have helped them regain their fluency. With Mousa Dembele still suspended and Erik Lamela likely to be on the substitutes bench following a long flight back from Argentina on Thursday, all eyes will be on new signing Moussa Sissoko to see if he can kick-start Tottenham’s season. It’s asking a lot to expect the French international to hit the ground running, and the likely result is another draw.
Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Tottenham — John Crace
BURNLEY: Burnley will have the visit of Hull City down as one of the games they must win if they are to survive in the Premier League this season. Former Clarets and Hull caretaker manager Mike Phelan will get a great reception from the Turf Moor crowd, but club-record-signings Jeff Hendrick and Steven Defour can see the hosts through to a vital three points.
Prediction: Burnley 2-1 Hull — Jamie Smith
HULL CITY: Any meeting of two newly promoted sides brings an added significance, and the timing of Hull City’s trip to Burnley only heightens that. Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea map out a demanding trilogy of fixtures after this weekend, so anything from this notoriously unhappy hunting ground would be welcomed. City have lost 10 of their last 12 trips to Turf Moor, but another well-drilled approach can secure a point from a tight fixture.
Prediction: Burnley 0-0 Hull — Phil Buckingham
SUNDERLAND: David Moyes, a good manager at Everton, will want to show his old side he has not lost his touch. After a so-so transfer window, his new-look Sunderland desperately need a first win — against tough opposition — on Monday night. Expect it to be tighter than the 3-0 victory that sealed survival in May.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Everton — Colin Randall
EVERTON: A pleasing August and the sight of Romelu Lukaku back among the goals during the international break should put Everton in a confident mood for Monday’s trip to Sunderland. Seamus Coleman’s return to fitness and the fine form of Mason Holgate leaves Ronald Koeman with a dilemma at right-back as the Blues prepare to face former manager David Moyes.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 Everton — Luke O’Farrell
WEST HAM: Watford, searching for their first win under Walter Mazzarri, are still something of an unknown quantity, but West Ham will be welcoming back a fully fit Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini, while Zaza will make his debut. The season proper starts here.
Prediction: West Ham 3-0 Watford — Peter Thorne
WATFORD: In the bottom three for the first time since being promoted, Watford will be looking to bounce back after suffering a heavy defeat against Arsenal last time out. The impressive Miguel Britos could return to the back three after becoming a father, whilst it seems certain midfielder Roberto Pereyra will make his first start. Hornets fans will hope that the International break has been used to further integrate the swathe of summer signings, and the visit to the London Stadium provides a chance for Mazzarri’s men to kick-start their season.
Prediction: West Ham 2-2 Watford — Mike Parkin
MIDDLESBROUGH: This could be the game where Boro finally let fly as an attacking force — the gritty groundwork laid in previous Premier League games finally coming to fruition. Crystal Palace head to the Riverside in search of their first victory of the season, with Scott Dann’s injury-time goal saving their blushes against Bournemouth last time out. A refreshed Boro have been largely undisturbed by the international break and will have used the time to tighten the link between goalkeeper Brad Guzan and his back four, as well as fine-tuning the balance of a busy midfield five.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 3-1 Crystal Palace — Catherine Wilson
CRYSTAL PALACE: Palace have another striker addition to call upon in Loic Remy, and alongside Christian Benteke the Chelsea loan-signing should give Alan Pardew’s side more aggression in attack. If Palace can create chances for them, they should win.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-2 Crystal Palace — Rob Sutherland
BOURNEMOUTH: Despite not winning a league game so far this season, Bournemouth have still performed well in bursts. It’s up to them to change these short stints into full 90-minute performances, and they will do that against West Brom. Jack Wilshere, signed on loan from Arsenal on transfer deadline day, will play a pivotal role, and the Cherries will win.
Prediction: Bournemouth 2-0 West Brom — Will Kent
WEST BROM: West Brom will be looking to finally kick-start their Premier League season when they travel to Bournemouth on Saturday. Tony Pulis will be hopeful that new club-record-signing Nacer Chadli will be able to provide the attacking impetus and creativity that has been sorely lacking so far this campaign.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-1 West Brom — Matthew Evans
Mourinho’s clash with Guardiola is the latest meeting in the pair’s ongoing rivalry, with the United boss potentially under more pressure to get a result at Old Trafford. The pair’s tactics will be a talking point this Saturday lunchtime, as will Guardiola’s choice of who deputises for the suspended Sergio Aguero.As always, you can vote for your winner in every Premier League match this weekend and have your say in the comments below.
What can new signing Islam Slimani bring to Leicester?
Claudio Ranieri believes Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool have all the tools necessary to compete for the title.
Leicester’s sensational exploits to win the Premier League title last season were fuelled to a large extent by the prolific Jamie Vardy, whose remarkable ascension up the football ladder is well documented. Less well-known is the equally meteoric upward trajectory of his new strike partner, Islam Slimani.In an amazing three-year journey, Slimani went from an average performer in the Algerian league to the most feared centre-forward in Portugal. And now, after arriving on deadline day for a fee of €35 million, he is a Leicester player.Leicester fans will get their first look at the 28-year-old striker on Saturday evening when the Premier League champions take on Liverpool at Anfield. Here’s five things they can expect from their record signing.
- He’s lethal in the air
Without doubt the Algerian’s strongest asset is his deadly heading prowess. Standing 6-foot-2, Slimani uses his height and strength to great effect in the opposition area. He times his runs and jumps to perfection, and is equally adept at producing bullet headers or using the pace of well-delivered crosses to expertly direct the ball into the net. He is also a big asset in helping to defend free kicks and corners in his own box.Sporting coach Jorge Jesus said while co-commentating on Portuguese TV during the England vs. Portugal friendly before this summer’s European Championship: “If Vardy is the top scorer in England, then with the right coach Slimani would score double the number of goals as him.”
- He is a real work horse
As well as his goals and willingness to follow whatever instructions the three managers he played for at Sporting gave him, what made Slimani such an icon among the Alvalade faithful was his insatiable work rate. He worked hard for every minute of the game, throwing himself into challenges all over the pitch, running the channels tirelessly, and using his big frame to batter the opposition into submission. Slimani never gives up on what others would consider a lost cause. In short, he is a nightmare to play against.
- He has a big-game temperament
Another facet to Slimani’s game that so endeared him to Sporting’s fans was his productivity in the biggest matches, which also suggests the step up to Premier League football will not be a step too far.Portugal may not have the strongest league in Europe, but Benfica, Porto and Braga provide stern opposition. In a total of 24 matches against Sporting’s three biggest domestic rivals, Slimani scored 16 goals. Last season Sporting played the trio eight times, and in only two of those games did the Algerian fail to find the net.After they were drawn with Leicester in the Champions League group stages, Porto fans must have let out a collective groan upon hearing about Slimani’s transfer to the Foxes. In his last three games against the Dragons, Slimani has bagged five goals.
- He is happy to get into a battle
At the end of 90 minutes, Premier League defenders charged with marking Slimani will know they’ve been in a battle. Liberal use of his arms has got the Algerian into trouble in Portugal on several occasions, with Porto calling out a flailing elbow just two weeks ago.In a particularly bad-tempered Lisbon derby in last season’s Portuguese Cup, city rivals Benfica were infuriated he was not red-carded for hitting the throatof Greek midfielder Andreas Samaris. TV replays showed they were justified in their complaints, although the fierce nature of the game mitigated Slimani’s actions in Sporting’s eyes. The lesson learned? If it’s one of those matches that turns into a battle, expect Slimani to be on the front line.
- He is willing to learn, and shows humility and intelligence
Slimani joined Sporting in August 2013 and the first impressions were not the best. His poor technique persuaded many to conclude early on that he did not have the necessary quality for a club of Sporting’s ambitions. But perceptions soon changed as improvements became apparent in just about every aspect of his game: positioning, tactical awareness, touch, passing and finishing.He scored 10, 15 and then 31 goals in his three seasons at Sporting, which accurately reflects his development. Under Jesus especially, his game progressed to a whole different level, and Slimani himself recognises the role the charismatic Sporting manager played in his career.”He’s a world-class coach, a genius, and I’m not exaggerating,” he said. “He points out details that seem irrelevant, but suddenly you realise why. He makes you improve every day and it’s a pleasure to work with him.”The ability to take his coach’s recommendations on board shows that Slimani has intelligence and humility to go with his brawn. The tears he shed after coming off the pitch in his last match for Sporting only cemented his place in the hearts of the Lisbon club’s fans. Upon his departure, hundreds of messages from Sporting supporters flooded social media wishing Slimani luck at his new club.
It’s okay to be somewhat-confident about the USMNT right now
The United States men’s national team has not always been good at beating the teams they’re supposed to beat. We all remember the semifinal loss to Jamaica in last year’s Gold Cup and the calamitous away defeat in Guatemala back in March. They managed to lose to Ukraine in a 2014 World Cup warm-up game, and, who could forget, they needed a 90th-minute Eddie Johnson header to beat Antigua and Barbuda in World Cup qualifying back in 2012.So you could forgive someone for being a little tentative when pondering the US’s qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, even if there wasn’t an obvious reason to be. The US went into the match having all but secured a spot in the next round of 2018 qualification — only drastic measures could see Guatemala leapfrog them — and arrived in Jacksonville confident following a 6-0 shellacking of St. Vincent, a team that brought back memories of Antigua. But given their history in these kinds of games, I don’t think I was the only one worrying about a disaster.A disaster, by the way, would mean a draw or a loss, not an unrealistic 12-goal swing that would move Guatemala up a place in the standings. Dropped points against Trinidad would be severely disappointing despite their secure spot in the Hexagonal, especially considering Jurgen Klinsmann’s statements saying he would play his best lineup. It would have been a severe humiliation.Observers had reason to believe an embarrassment was possible. CONCACAF referees are known to be quite slimy and have a tendency to give out red cards and/or PKs at the drop of a hat, often drastically changing game outcomes. Trinidad could have come out firing and run away with it early as revenge for Fox Sports 1’s showing of the 1989 World Cup qualifier that saw the US eliminate T&T in Port of Spain. Klinsmann could have played Sacha Kljestan at left back or Jozy Altidore in defensive midfield or something.Plenty of things could have gone wrong, like they have in the past. But the US erased all doubts and cruised to a convincing 4-0 victory, with Kljestan dominating from the No. 10 position and Altidore recording a brace as a center forward.Montero turned out to be a fine and capable official. Already-qualified Trinidad looked asleep for long periods of time. Klinsmann put out his best lineup in forever. It honestly turned out alright.We can now afford to be semi-confident about things going forward, if only because the US don’t play a competitive match for another couple of months. You all can worry about another soccer team for the time being, because our national team is actually looking okay right now.Because I said that, Michael Bradley probably won’t get called up two months from now or something ridiculous like that, but for now, we can afford to be satisfied, even if history tells us not to be.
KLINSMANN CHOSES TO START THE PULISIC ERA
SEPTEMBER 7, 2016
By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 7, 2016) US Soccer Players – Jurgen Klinsmann certainly didn’t do what so many of us thought he would. The expectations for the final Group C World Cup qualifier leaned toward practical. Name a solid eleven capable of getting the job done against Trinidad & Tobago in Jacksonville. One that would put stopping Trinidad & Tobago’s speedy attack first among its priorities and then work from that platform to score any goals.Those expectations were built on so many other lineup choices from Klinsmann over the last five years. Lineups that failed to measure up to the front-foot, aggressive attitude Klinsmann so often says he wants. More often than not, the USMNT head coach had chosen to go with teams that could only be called “conservative” in the face of an impending challenge. Sometimes it had to do with the opponent. Most times, the talent advantages of the Americans seemed not to matter.What Klinsmann did on Tuesday night was throw (some) caution to the wind. Again, the chances that the Americans would miss out on the Hex were essentially nil. So though he could have justified rolling out a team that lacked an adventurous spirit, Klinsmann instead took the opportunity to give a start to a number of players who think forward first.The most intriguing name in the eleven was the one who created the most discussion heading into the game: Christian Pulisic. At just 17, Pulisic is an extremely young player who nevertheless has shown immense potential in his limited time playing for both Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga and the USMNT. Perhaps not since Landon Donovan has the United States produced a player who arrived looking so ready to become a major part of every team the Americans put out in every game of consequence. Pulisic’s instincts, touch, and understanding of the game put him on a level unseen in an American teenager.Klinsmann made sure to downplay some of the hype around Pulisic in the buildup to the game. Preaching patience, he spoke to how long Pulisic had to go before he could be called a complete player. Then, Klinsmann being Klinsmann, he started Pulisic in a midfield quartet that also included the previously banished Sacha Kljestan. Remember, Kljestan was a late addition to the squad for this round of matches. He replaced the injured John Brooks on the roster just days ahead of the start of camp. Suddenly, the Red Bulls midfielder is first-choice in a game that would serve as both the final piece of Hex qualification and a platform from which the team would build into the last round.The choices paid off. Pulisic made a case to be a starter every time out. Kljestan, after a slow start, grew into the game first with a goal then as a playmaker as the Americans salted away the win. Even better, the pair worked well together, showing an understanding of space and movement the speaks to their soccer intelligence and current form. The Americans raised their level in the second half, and almost all of it came down to a conscience decision to involved the teenager at every possible turn. A very clear shift from right (manned by full back Geoff Cameron and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya) to left (fullback: Fabian Johnson, midfielder: Christian Pulisic) facilitated the pressure and chance-creation that led to all three second-half goals.For all the positives Pulisic and Kljestan brought to the team, the combination of Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore up top failed to produce much over the course of an hour. It’s not that either player was bad, it was that they similarity in their games prevented them from working well ahead of Kljestan. Altidore scored just before Wood was removed for Jordan Morris, but the goal came with the Hamburg striker dropped deep and allowed Altidore to occupy the central of the T&T defense.Altidore’s form is a major takeaway from the match heading into the gauntlet of the Hex. When he’s on his game, there is no one like him in the American player pool. The combination of power, touch, and goal-scoring makes him an immensely important part of any team Klinsmann runs out in the next round. Against T&T, Altidore showed every bit of his skill as well as his fully evolved hold-up ability. If finding a partner to work with the TFC forward is Klinsmann’s biggest problem coming out of the win, it’s a good problem to have. No matter what he decides to do, he has a rampant center forward at his disposal.Amid the excitement over Pulisic, the redemptive influence of Kljestan, and the form of Altidore, the important thing is that the United States advanced. The Hex will present its own challenges. Namely, opening at home against Mexico followed by a road trip to Costa Rica four days later. That’s the reward for finishing atop their fourth round group. However, the format is incredibly forgiving. Barring a series of disastrous performances, the USMNT is in line to make its eighth-straight World Cup.They may arrive in Russia with an emerging group of talented young players. Pulisic will be chief among them .They’re the forefront of the quest to reach Klinsmann’s goal of a semifinal berth in part because of surprising lineup choices made nearly two years before the tournament begins.Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
USA FINISHES FIRST IN SEMIFINAL ROUND OF 2018 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING GROUP C WITH 4-0 WIN VS. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
SECOND HALF BRACE SEES JOZY ALTIDORE BECOME MNT’S ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER IN WORLD CUP QUALIFYING; SACHA KLJESTAN AND PAUL ARRIOLA SCORE SECOND GOALS IN AS MANY MATCHES TO HELP MNT TO TOP SPOT IN GROUP C; WIN SETS UP NOV. 11 HOME CLASH WITH MEXICO TO BEGIN FINAL ROUND WORLD CUP QUALIFYINGMNT Sep 6, 2016
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Sept. 6, 2016) – The U.S. Men’s National Team used a brace from Jozy Altidore and goals from Sacha Kljestan and Paul Arriola to earn a hard-fought 4-0 victory against Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday night. The win propelled the MNT to the top spot in Group C of Semifinal Round CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, as well as a berth in the Final Round beginning in November.A dominant first half from the U.S. saw Christian Pulisic force a diving stop out of Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Phillip in the ninth minute, before the 17-year-old attacker incredibly careened a shot off both posts in the 31st. The first stanza also saw a clear penalty shout for a foul on Geoff Cameron inside the area, but referee Ricardo Montero Araya awarded a free kick just outside the box.Just as it looked like the MNT would go into the break empty-handed, a nice bit of combination work between Fabian Johnson, Kljestan and Pulisic led to a failed T&T clearance before Kljestan buried inside the right post in the 44th minute.With that goal in the bank, the floodgates opened for the MNT in the second half. Altidore would tally two goals in the 59th and 62nd minutes, with the first moving him past Clint Dempsey to become the MNT’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup Qualifying. His second of the match padded his lead at the top, giving him 16 Qualifying goals.Just moments after entering the match, second half substitute Paul Arriola increased the lead, burying a close-range rebound off of a Pulisic effort in the 71st minute.On the defensive side of the field, the U.S. back line kept its eighth clean sheet of the year, while Tim Howard made five saves to earn his 37th career shutout.The win sees the U.S. finish with a 4-1-1 record and top spot in Group C of the Semifinal Round of CONCACAF Qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, setting up a home clash with Mexico to open the final round of World Cup Qualifying. The site of the Nov. 11 match vs.El Tri will be announced early next week.
Next on the Schedule: The U.S. MNT gets set for CONCACAF’s Final Round of Qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with an historic visit to take on Cuba in Havana on Friday, Oct. 7 on ESPN and Univision Networks (Time TBD). The MNT then returns home to the familiar confines of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. where they’ll face Oceanic Football Confederation champions, New Zealand on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN and Univision Networks).
Goal Scoring Rundown:
USA – Sacha Kljestan (unassisted), 44th minute: Fabian Johnson began on the left, playing for Sacha Kljestan in the penalty area before returning a back heel to the left back in stride. Johnson then played for Christian Pulisic whose centering pass was heeled away by Radanfah Abu Bakr before Carlyle Mitchell took another swing. His clearance was blocked by Kljestan who quickly poked the ball in the lower, right corner. USA 1, TRI 0 [WATCH]
USA – Jozy Altidore (Fabian Johnson) 59th minute: Fabian Johnson broke free down the left before feeding Altidore into the area. The MNT forward took a touch past his marker before firing a low shot inside the right post to double the advantage and make Altidore the MNT’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup Qualifying. USA 2, TRI 0 [WATCH]
USA – Jozy Altidore (Christian Pulisic) 62nd minute: Altidore would score his 16th all-time World Cup Qualifying goal just three minutes later. A quick combination between Pulisic and Kljestan on the left saw Pulisic cross for Altidore at the right post, allowing the veteran striker an easy tap-in. USA 3, TRI 0 [WATCH]
USA – Paul Arriola (unassisted) 71st minute: Pulisic intercepted a T&T pass in his own half and rushed upfield to the edge of the Trinidad box before laying the ball off to Jordan Morris who turned away from pressure and played the ball back to the center of the pitch for Sacha Kljestan to send it on to the feet of Jozy Altidore, who sent an incisive cross through the box for a sliding Pulisic to get a redirected shot on goal that was saved by Soca Warriors ‘keeper Marvin Phillip. The rebound fell to the onrushing Arriola who hit a one-time shot into the vacated net for his first World Cup Qualifying goal. USA 4, TRI 0 FINAL
Key Saves and Defensive Stops:
USA – Tim Howard, 7th minute: Trinidad & Tobago found the opportunity to spring a fast counter attack as Kenwyne Jones found Joevin Jones in stride up the right. The Seattle Sounders FC winger sprung forward before cutting inside and firing a well-hit blast directly at Howard.
TRI – Marvin Phillip, 9th minute: A quick transition in midfield saw Sacha Kljestan turn towards goal before laying off for Christian Pulisic on the left. The 17-year-old attacker cut inside and rifled a low, right-footed blast that deflected off a Trinidad defender before seeing goalkeeper Marvin Phillip make a diving save to push the ball out for a corner kick.
TRI – Marvin Phillip, 67th minute, 68th minute: Just moments after entering the match, Paul Arriola received a feed from Altidore on the right, cut inside and blasted an effort that saw Phillip push the ball over the post for a corner kick. Michael Bradley’s ensuing take found Kljestan open outside the box, where the MNT midfielder blasted a long-range effort that Phillip parried away in the 68thminute.
TRI – Tim Howard, 75th minute: With Trinidad continuing to look for a goal, Joevin Jones took some space about 30 yards from goal and unleashed an effort that Tim Howard pushed out to his right for a corner kick.
- At 17 years, 353 days, Christian Pulisic is the youngest player in MNT history to start a FIFA World Cup qualifier, beating Jozy Altidore’s previous mark of 18 years, 343 days set on Sept. 1, 2001 vs. Honduras.
- Jozy Altidore’s 59th minute goal moved him past Clint Dempsey into first place on the MNT’s all-time World Cup Qualifying goals list with 15. His 62nd minute strike padded his lead over Dempsey, giving him 16.
- Tim Howard earned his 32nd World Cup Qualifying appearance, moving past Kasey Keller for the most all-time among MNT goalkeepers and into fourth in team history. Howard is 22-7-3 all-time in World Cup Qualifying.
- Captain Michael Bradley became the 12th player in MNT history to reach 30 World Cup Qualifying caps.
- The victory sees the U.S. top its Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifying group for the sixth-straight time.
- Sacha Kljestan’s 44th minute goal was his second in as many matches and sixth career strike for the MNT.
- Paul Arriola’s 71st minute goal was his second in as many matches for the U.S. Arriola also tallied in the MNT’s 3-1 win against Puerto Rico on May 21.
- Geoff Cameron is the only U.S. player to start all six semifinal round World Cup Qualifying matches.
- Arriola and Caleb Stanko each made their World Cup Qualifying debuts.
- Starting Tim Howard in goal, Jurgen Klinsmann elected to go with a backline featuring Geoff Cameron and right back, Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez in the middle and Fabian Johnson on the left.
- In handing Christian Pulisic his first MNT start, Klinsmann deployed the 17-year-old on the left side, with Alejandro Bedoya as his counterpart on the right and Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan paired in the middle.
- Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood completed the starting XI up top, pairing for the second straight game and fifth time overall.
– U.S. Men’s National Team Match Report –
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Date: September 6, 2016
Competition: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying; Semifinal Round
Venue: EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Florida
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Weather: 86 degrees, Sunny
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 3 4
TRI 0 0 0
USA – Sacha Kljestan 44th minute
USA – Jozy Altidore (Fabian Johnson) 59
USA – Jozy Altidore (Christian Pulisic) 62
USA – Paul Arriola 71
USA: 12-Tim Howard; 20-Geoff Cameron, 21-Steve Birnbaum, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 23-Fabian Johnson; 11-Alejandro Bedoya (14-Paul Arriola, 66), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 16-Sacha Kljestan (13-Caleb Stanko, 72), 10-Christian Pulisic; 7-Bobby Wood (8-Jordan Morris, 60), 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 1-Brad Guzan, 22-Ethan Horvath, 2-Kellyn Acosta, 5-Michael Orozco, 6-Darlington Nagbe, 9-Rubio Rubin, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 19-Graham Zusi
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
TRI : 1-Marvin Phillip; 2-Aubrey David, 12-Carlyle Mitchell, 6-Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17-Mekeil Williams; 3-Joevin Jones, 8-Khaleem Hyland, ,10-Kevin Molino, 14-Andre Boucaud (19-Kevan George, 76), 16-Levi Garcia (23-Jomal Williams, 57); 9-Kenwyne Jones (capt.) (11-Shahdon Winchester, 69)
Subs not used: 21-Adrian Foncette, 22-Greg Ranjitsingh, 5-Daneil Cyrus, 7-Hughtun Hector, 13-Cordell Cato, 15-Neveal Hackshaw, 18-Yohance Marshall, 20-Trevin Caesar
Head Coach: Stephen Hart
Stats Summary: USA / TRI
Shots: 17 / 14
Shots on Goal: 10 / 5
Saves: 5 / 6
Corner Kicks: 3 / 2
Fouls: 8 / 11
Offside: 4 / 1
TRI – Mekeil Williams (caution) 25th minute
TRI – Carlyle Mitchell (caution) 52
TRI – Jomal Williams (caution) 62
Referee: Ricardo Montero Araya (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Octavio Jara Carballo (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Juan Carlos Mora Araya (CRC)
4th Official: Walter Quesada Cordero (CRC)
Budweiser Man of the Match: Jozy Altidore
FIRST KID, FIRST GOAL – A SPECIAL DAY FOR MATT BESLER
MNT Sep 3, 2016 Matt Besler woke up Friday morning hoping for a special day. It’s fair to say he had no idea precisely how special it would be.On the day he and his wife Amanda welcomed Parker Rhea Besler into the world that morning, he scored his first international goal in the 32nd minute of the USA’s 6-0 World Cup Qualifying victory at St. Vincent and the Grenadines.“It’s amazing, it really is,” Besler said when asked about his day following the match. “It’s just hard to explain how I was feeling this morning. Obviously a big part of me would have liked to have been at home to be there and be at the side of my wife. At the same time, I was just so excited to play in the game. I really felt special today, and I’m glad that things worked out and I made the most of it.”Feeling conflicted about the timing of the camp and where his wife was at this stage in her pregnancy with two weeks to her due date, Besler knew there was a chance he would miss the birth. Because of the difficulty of travel from the U.S. to St. Vincent – there are no direct flights – the veteran defender knew there was a period of time where he might be locked in without a way to get back.That point came following Thursday’s night’s training session at Arnos Vale Stadium, when he received a text stating only “CALL ME ASAP.”Besler told MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the news that night and said they would talk again in the morning. He got the great news just before 7 a.m., and when he spoke to Klinsmann, the coach offered to send him home straight away. With his baby born, no easy path to return and a huge World Cup qualifier to be played Besler elected to stick it out.“I was really excited, but I was also ready to play. This was something I really wanted to do because it’s already a special day and I wanted to make it even more special and play in this special game,” he added.With the U.S. already leading following Bobby Wood’s 28th minute goal, Besler secured his daughter’s first gift four minutes later. A free kick played into the box from Graham Zusi was poorly cleared by a St. Vincent defender and fell right to Besler, who chested the ball down before volleying into the net.
His teammates gathered around him and joined as he did the classic “rock the baby” goal celebration. With just three goals in MLS play since starting with Sporting KC in 2009, Besler admitted he hasn’t had a lot of time to practice goal celebrations.“It just came natural I guess,” he joked after the match. “Once you become a dad, it’s just instinct to do that.”As the MNT returns to Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday afternoon to prepare for Tuesday’s Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifying finale against Trinidad & Tobago, Besler will head back to Kansas City to be with his wife and new baby girl. He’ll also be carrying that present, the ball with which he scored his first international goal for his first child.
Christian Pulisic ‘trusted’ at Dortmund, but must wait for his chance – Tuchel
Thomas Tuchel says Borussia Dortmund fully trust United States international Christian Pulisic, but the teenager will have to wait for his chance in the Bundesliga.Pulisic, 17, impressed for the United States in their World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where he contributed two goals in the 6-0 win, and Trinidad and Tobago, where he became the youngest player to start in a World Cup qualifier for the country.However, his late return to preseason from the Copa America Centenario means he is behind the rest of Dortmund’s squad in terms of fitness and, speaking at a news conference in Germany on Friday, Tuchel told reporters Pulisic is unlikely to feature against RB Leipzig this weekend.”He started preseason late as a 17-year-old,” Tuchel said. “This makes being selected for the match day squad harder.”We are delighted that Christian is that successful for the United States. He’s only 17 years, and it’s a huge, huge achievement and a confirmation of his talent. To beat those records is testimony to his quality.”But Tuchel also wants Pulisic’s achievements at international level to be put into perspective.”Those were games against St.Vincent and Trinidad,” he said. “And if you play against Trinidad, it’s not like you have the right to play Bayern in the Super Cup. And he’s aware of it. It’s difficult enough to cope with all the praise and distraction and to remain open for the normal processes.”We’d like to think that he stays sensible. We’ve already trusted him last season. Because he deserved it and not so we can pat ourselves on the back. The trust is there.”
THREE THINGS: #INDVTBR
Three points as Indy draws one-all with Tampa BaySep 6, 2016
As of late, Indy Eleven has had a pattern of conceding the first goal of the match and while it tends to pan out at Carroll Stadium, Saturday night’s turn of the tale proved the point again – Indiana’s Team must tighten up defensively.Just under a month ago, Indy hosted Rayo OKC on a drenched Saturday night in mid-August. On that night, OKC took advantage of the “shock factor” and put one past Eleven ‘keeper Jon Busch inside the opning 15 minutes. Though Indy would rescue the three points thanks to a 41st minute tally from Dylan Mares and a 84th minute goal from Colin Falvey, it was the beginning of a dangerous pattern.Indy hit the road to Ottawa and New York where they conceded first in both matches. It is worth noting that against Carolina it was the “Boys in Blue” who struck first, but a goal by the hosts just three minutes later takes the sting out of a quick strike like that.Turning attention back to Saturday night, a 28th minute goal by Justin Chavez off a Joe Cole free kick opened the scoring at Carroll Stadium, and while Omar Gordon was able to turn momentum back to the Eleven with his 34th minute strike, Indy would not strike again leaving a 1-1 final score. The result means that the home unbeaten streak is extended, but Tampa Bay managed to snap the 8-game win streak that the Eleven had been riding since May.Special mention does go to Daniel Keller for his performance at centerback, though. He was outstanding.
RECAP | Indy Eleven 1 : 1 Tampa Bay Rowdies
LIMITING JOE COLE
It was always going to be difficult when it came to limiting chances for former England international Joe Cole, but Indy did relatively well in stifling his success. The 34-year-old had 59 touches in 89 minutes, completed 35/47 passes and created two chances while notching an assist on Saturday. But, looking at the blueprint for Cole, the Eleven might have done their best job.Choking off access to the ball for the midfielder has been difficult, but in some matches certain methods seem to work better than not. Looking at Tampa Bay’s 1-0 loss against FC Edmonton, Cole’s stats were even better. Securing 61 touches in 90 minutes, the former Chelsea FC man completed 32/36 passes and created four chances while registering three shots on target. However, in the 2-0 win over Rayo OKC, Cole’s two goals were added by his completing of 44/47 passes while creating four chances with three shots on target.While he created double the amount of chances in a win over OKC and loss over FCE, perhaps Indy’s biggest mistake was the amount of set-piece chances given up in front of goal. Cole couldn’t work something up on the other two from 30 yards or less, but his drop pass at the feet of Chavez in the 28th minute was seemingly enough to do the job.
Playoff soccer comes to “The Mike” in November!
MONTH OF SEPTEMBER
After the 3-0 loss against New York, it was emphasized how important it was to hit September hard and take every point from each match. Indy is already chasing the rest after Saturday’s draw with a somewhat struggling Rowdies side, but there is still plenty to play for.That starts this Saturday against Fort Lauderdale. Stepping into their own, the Strikers are unbeaten in their last five matches after a draw at home against the New York Cosmos and new signing Amauri has three goals in five total appearances. The Eleven were unable to break down Fort Lauderdale in the Sunshine State in May, but both sides have a different look and will be employing different systems if recent weeks have shown anything. Regardless, Indy has three weeks to take advantage of a lighter fixture schedule before a grueling October brings the season to a close.
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