1/18/19 US Ladies Face France 2:30 pm Sat on FS1, US Christian Pulisic Traded to Chelsea for $73 Million, EPL Race Tightens as Man U surges

So I am finally back from the extended holiday break – I thought I would follow the German Bundesliga schedule as they return to play this weekend as well.  Of course a tight race at the top as Dortmund and US starlet Christian Pulisic (who has been traded to Chelsea but won’t leave until this summer) tries to hold off perennial top rated Bayern Munich who are 3 points back in the table. Dortmund hosts 4th place RB Leipzig and American newcomer Tyler Adams on Saturday at 11:30 am on FS2.  Of course the tightest race in the World is still the EPL where Liverpool has a 4 pt lead on Man City who have lost their last 2 matches.  Tottenham is of course trying to figure out how they get thru the next 6 weeks without their talisman Harry Kane (who’s out with a knee), Chelsea remains in 4th but travels to Arsenal this Saturday for the 12:30 pm NBC featured match.  Man United the winner of 6 in a row since they fired the Special one Mourino and brought back an old favorite player/manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer should add to their win total as they host Brigton Hove Albion on CNBC at 10 Sat.  (I am just happy I can again root for the Red Devils – since the evil one left and a Sir Alex Protégé is back in at manager).  The race for the top 4 in the EPL is seriously going to be the toughest is the world again this year as Man U and Arsenal are just 6 pts back just past the midway point in the season.  It’s a 6 team race for sure!

PULISIC BECOMES HIGHEST EVER US TRADE AT 73 MILLION FROM DORTMUND TO CHELSEA

So while I was gone – the American Starlet young 20 year old Christian Pulisic commanded by far the highest ever price paid for an American player when he was traded from Dortmund to Chelsea for $73 Million dollars.  That’s like 3 times more than any other us player.  Now he won’t come to Chelsea until this summer – so hopefully he can battle his way back into the starting line-up for Dortmund this spring.  Meanwhile – while I was begging for him to end up at Liverpool for obvious reasons – the truth is Chelsea is probably the 1 English club that plays a style that Pulisic would thrive in.  Especially if Hazard is traded as has been rumored.  It should be interesting to see how it works out – I would say Chelsea overpaid but if Pulisic can grab a starting role – a bunch of American’s will buy jerseys and Chelsea could just become the new Fulham America.  (see stories below).

US LADIES FACE FRANCE IN WORLD CUP PREVIEW

The Top Ranked US Ladies travel to France to play the #2 or 3 ranked team in the World this Saturday afternoon at 2:30 on Fox Sports 1 in the stadium they will be playing the world cup in before traveling to Spain for a 2:30 pm match Tuesday on ESPN2.  As the #1 Ranked Team and Former World Cup Champion – all the pressure will be in the US.

WORLD

Marcotti Around the World – Man U Surges, Spurs Trouble?, Messi Magic – Gab Marcotti ESPNFC

Impact Transfers around the World

EPL

What to Watch For this Weekend EPL

De Gea 11 Great Saves vs Spurs

5 Things we learned as Man United wins at the Spurs

Liverpool Sacrifice Style for Results

USA

Pulisic’s Talents lend themselves well to Chelsea says Tim Howard – Gus Elvin ESPNFC

US Pulisic Traded to Chelsea is Huge – Grant Wahl SI

US Have Massive Job Ahead but Greg Behalter is the Right Hire – Says Tim Howard –  Gus Elvin ESPNFC

US Mid Weston McKennie – Not on Liverpool’s Radar afterall

Neymar says US Tim Weah will be A Star Someday

USMNT Camp – Which MLS Players Have the Most to Gain this Month?  MLS.com

How US Prodigy Ben Lederman was Ruined at Barcelona – ESPNFC Feature

US Ladies to Play France in Potential Preview of World Cup to Come – Stars and Stripes

GAMES ON TV

Sat, Jan 19

7:30 am NBCSN            Wolverhampton vs Leicester City

9:30 am FS1                    Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson)

10 am NBCSN              Liverpool vs Crystal Palace

10 am CNBC                   Man United vs Brighton Hove Albion

10:15 am beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Sevilla

12:30 pm NBC            Arsenal vs Chelesa

12:30  Fox Sp 1         RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

2:30 pm FS1         US Ladies vs France –  Friendly

Sun, Jan 20  

8;30 am NBCSN           Hudersfield vs Man City

11 am NBCSN            Fulham (Ream) vs Tottenham

12 noon  FS                     Schalke (Mckinney) vs Wolfsburg

2:45 pm beIN Sport      Barcelona vs Leganes

Tues, Jan 22  

2:30 pm ESPN2    US Ladies @ Spain –  Friendly

Thurs, Jan 24  

2:45 pm ESPN+            Chelsea vs Tottenham – League Cup

Fri, Jan 25  

2:3o pm FS2                   Hertha vs Schalke (McKinney)

2:55 pm ESPN+             Arsenal vs Man United  – FA CUP

Sat, Jan 26

9:30 am FS1                    Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Hannover

9:30 am FS2                    Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson)  vs Ausburg

10:15 am beIN Sport Atletico Madrid vs Getafe

10 am                                 FA Cup Weekend on ESPN +

Sun, Jan 27

9:30 am FS1                    Bayern Munich vs Stuttgart

10:15 am beIN Sport Atletico Madrid vs Getafe

11 am ESPN +                Crystal Palace vs Tottenham FA Cup Weekend

Sat, Feb 2

9:30 am FS1                    Frankfurt (Brooks) vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

12:30 pm FS2?             Schalke (Mckinney) vs Borrusia MGladbach (Johnson)

3:30 pm Fox                   USA Men vs Costa Rica

Sun, Feb 3  

9 am NBCSN                Leicester City vs Man United  

11:30 am NBCSN        Man City vs Arsenal  

2 pm ESPN+                    Roma vs Milan

3 pm beIN Sport          Lyonnais vs PSG  

Match preview and how to watch: what to look for in France-USA

Two favorites face off in a potential preview of the World Cup quarterfinal. Here’s what you should watch for.

By Charles Olney@olneyce  Jan 18, 2019, 11:30am PST

The United States Women’s National Team take on their French counterparts tomorrow in Le Havre, just 45 minutes from the beaches of Normandy. They arrive in France as the #1 team in the world, and clear favorites to take home the World Cup this summer. But to do so, they’ll have to get past a French team fighting on home soil.If everything goes according to plan, the US and France are likely to face off in the quarterfinal this summer. Everyone is understandably circumspect about the chance, since no one wants to predict winning their group and thereby tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing. But they certainly know what’s at stake.So as these two teams face off tomorrow, here are three big things to watch for:

More of the Same from the US

The US motto at the moment seems to be: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For Ellis, the past year has been spent on developing and locking down a system, which is all about “how your players understand their roles and their positions within their roles—having a clear idea of how do we want to score goals, how are we going to defend.” But now, she says, the period for big picture adjustments is over, and the focus is mostly on “fine-tuning the pieces in terms of training.hat means the team will almost certainly play their now-standard 4-3-3 cum 3-4-3, with Crystal Dunn as an aggressive attacking fullback, with a more defensively-minded companion at right back. They’ll continue to emphasize width in the attack, and will work hard to build from the back. They’ll rely on their attackers to harass the dangerous French attack through aggressive pressing, and hope to avoid the sort of defensive blunders that have been the only real downside over the last 18 months of dominance.That doesn’t mean everything is settled. According to her, the January camp is still essentially a preseason, where the team can lay foundation for the rest of the year. So it’s still not so late that we shouldn’t expect a few more twists and turns. But for the most part, the team is settled, the style is set, and the major roster questions have been answered. What questions remain are primarily on the margins.

A Big Crowd

The stadium at Le Havre is usually 2/3 empty when their men’s club side plays here. But tomorrow it should be a packed crowd.French coach Corinne Diacre says she’s thrilled to be playing for a full crowd, and thinks it’s a great sign that excitement is building around the team. But, she adds, “it’s also a pity we had to wait until 2019 for full stadiums.”That’s a reminder that France hasn’t always drawn big for their home matches, but the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming World Cup—and the opportunity to see them play the US—seems to have done the trick. It’s a great sign for this summer, and a demonstration that big ticket sales aren’t entirely a feature of Americans buying up packages.This should be a rollicking crowd, and it will be a great test of how both teams play in front of a passionate French audience.

A Friendly That Really Matters

Friendlies usually aren’t that important. This one is a big exception.For France, this could be a crucial chance to demonstrate that they really belong in the conversation as a tournament favorite. According to Diacre, this game is an important test—a high profile game against the toughest competition, which can provide a real benchmark for what this France team should expect to accomplish. She spoke to the media at a pre-game press conference and said, “Playing against the USA is a great opportunity. It’s always very exciting to play against a nation that’s so dominant in women’s football. It’s also a great opportunity for us to check where we are standing. We’ll see tomorrow how it goes and what we can learn.”It’s also a critical moment in which they can try to capitalize on the growing buzz around the team. A famous victory in Le Havre tomorrow could provide some real momentum to help them build toward a crescendo this summer. That sort of psychological edge is particularly important given where the tournament will be played. It also has escaped precisely no one that the French men won their first World Cup as hosts in 1998, before winning against last summer. For many, it would provide the perfect symmetry if the women take their own first title on home soil and in the process unite the crowns for the first time.In Diacre’s comments, you can read a delicate balancing act. She both wants to recognize the symbolic importance of the match and communicate just how seriously they will take the event, while still tamping down expectations a bit. As she noted, the team “isn’t at their top level of physicality yet,” so even while they’ll want to show a lot tomorrow, they also don’t want this to treated as a literal prequel to the eventual World Cup showdown.On the other side, the US is currently riding high and will want to retain that sense of earned arrogance. Asked at the presser whether she might play things cagey, holding back some key cards lest she reveal too much to a future opponent, Ellis was gently dismissive. “We’re going to go out and play and from there, we’re going to take good lessons and good experiences to help us continue to get better. And there’s no better experience than this. This is one of the favorites, home team. It’s everything as a coach you want.” In her view, playing top teams is the most important way to prepare for a successful World Cup, and there’s no better place to get it started than here, facing off against their top competition and seeing who emerges on top.And the players seem to agree. You can see it in the insouciance with which they approach the challenge. Asked who is the better team, for example, Megan Rapinoe gave a sly grin and said, “Well, the rankings would say it’s us,” before retreating to a more diplomatic statement that France is a top team and they’ll never take anything for granted.What becomes clear in all this is the reality of two huge teams facing off less than six months before the upcoming World Cup final. Both can picture themselves holding that trophy aloft, and both know that they’ll very likely have to go through the other to do so.

Schedule, TV, and livestream info

USA vs France
Saturday, January 19
2:30 PM ET / 11:30 AM PT
Le Havre, France
FS1, UDN

Solskjaer shows he can be more than Man United’s caretaker. PLUS: trouble ahead for Spurs, praise for Messi

10:42 AM ETGabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC

So it’s now six wins out of six games for Manchester United under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. And while the first five were eminently winnable, Tottenham away was meant to be the Norwegian’s first real test. He passed, again, with flying colors.  He didn’t pass because United won — though, that too is important in the hunt for a top four spot — but because, frankly, it could have been very different if not for David De Gea‘s string of saves. (Indeed, the xG shows that Tottenham were firmly in front). Rather, the test was passed for the way they played in the first half: the positivity shown, the maturity and cohesion… aspects that were largely missing under the previous manager.That they they gave up loads of chances after the break is something to work on and you have to accept that Tottenham are simply a better side right now. But the way United played is evidence that they have bought into Solskjaer, that the viruses, stiffs and malcontents supposedly populating the dressing room during the Jose Mourinho Era may well have been figments of his imagination.The fact that Solskjaer’s start is better than that of any manager in Manchester United history (he eclipsed Sir Matt Busby on Sunday) is more of a statistical quirk. The popular notion whereby he simply “released the handbrake” is equally simplistic.Against Spurs his set-up was sophisticated, starting with the way Jesse Lingarddropped from a “false nine” position to press Harry Winks off the ball, the way Ander Herrera regularly got help in dealing with Christian Eriksen. In other words, Solskjaer is not just a “plug-and-play” alumnus who smiles a lot, waves his players forward, makes sure to praise individuals by name and generally succeeds by simply not being Mourinho.Whether this can last, and whether this is something on which United can build, remains to be seen. But their next two home games, against Brighton and Burnley, are eminently winnable, so expect the bandwagon to roll on. Heck, some are already suggesting that maybe United have found their next manager. Why embark on some tortuous and acrimonious pursuit of a Mauricio Pochettino or a Max Allegri if you can simply hire a director of football and appoint Solskjaer on the cheap?We’re not yet at the point where that’s a serious proposition but Solskjaer certainly isn’t hurting his case.

Trouble ahead up front for Tottenham

Pochettino said the second half on Sunday was the best 45 minutes of football Spurs have played this season. I wouldn’t quite go that far, while the cynic in me suggests that quotes like that are designed to deflect from the other issues of the day: the United job, Eriksen’s contract, Kane’s injury and so on. But there’s no question they played some dazzling stuff after the break and repeatedly carved up United, creating plenty of chances.Were the many missed opportunities down to De Gea’s brilliance or should they count as spurned chances? I’m hesitant to weigh in on this — in my experience, only keepers can really judge each other as most of us (including coaches and ex-pros) have little sense of what they actually do — but there’s no question he was in the right place at the right time over and over again. Equally, you’d imagine Spurs would love to have some of those finishes back.We’ll know more about Kane’s injury soon but it’s obvious that any prolonged absence would be a major blow, particularly with Heung-Min Son leaving for the Asian Cup. Not so much because Fernando Llorente isn’t a good player (for all the stick he gets, he’s a solid target man) but simply because when he’s in the side, Spurs have to come up with a whole new game plan since he’s an entirely different sort of player.

Coutinho proves his worth vs. Eibar

Barcelona downed Eibar 3-0 on Sunday as Lionel Messi scored his 400th Liga goal amid much pomp and fanfare. We’ll get to that in a minute but first, it’s worth noting Philippe Coutinho‘s performance.The Brazilian playmaker has spent a lot of time on the bench this season, partly because of Ousmane

Dembele’s re-emergence, partly because Ernesto Valverde skews towards more conservative football and finds it hard to fit him in a midfield three and partly because despite his billing, he really isn’t the “new Andres Iniesta.” It’s pretty evident though that given the fee paid for him, and his wage packet, he needs to be part of Barca’s present and future. I know it’s only Eibar, but a productive Coutinho can make all the difference down the stretch.

Putting Messi’s mark into context

Four-hundred top-flight league goals is a huge amount and because Messi (and Cristiano Ronaldo) so regularly provide freakish numbers, you inevitably end up comparing them to others. Now, because you are cutting across different eras and different standards, it really does become a case of comparing apples and aardvarks when it comes to Europe’s best league goalscorers. But because we can’t help ourselves, here’s some context with a little help from UEFA.As you can see, there are still folks in front of him though you’d imagine he’ll likely blow past Stjepan Bobek (403), Jimmy McGrory (410), Gyula Zsengeller (411) and maybe even Imre Schlosser (417) by the end of the season. In terms of historical goalscorers, at that point he’ll be chasing Josef Bican (518) and Ferenc Puskas (517). Messi may also be chasing Cristiano Ronaldo, the only other active goalscorer on the list, who currently is on 411.What’s pretty evident looking at these numbers, though, is that the game has changed. Every guy with at least 400 goals retired at least 50 years ago. Everybody, that is, bar Messi and Ronaldo. These guys aren’t just G.O.A.T. candidates; they might as well be time travellers or extra-terrestrials.

Emery has a genuine Ozil problem

The first time Unai Emery seemed to downplay Mesut Ozil, when he said he wouldn’t face Bournemouth because of their style of play, you may, like me, have chalked it up to miscommunication. But after leaving him out for the trip to West Ham and explaining his absence by saying “for me he is like any other player” and adding “sometimes he is not helping us because maybe the match is not for him,” it’s pretty obvious he’s making a point.Ozil is not “like any other player.” He is a player who signed a long-term deal less than a year ago, a player who earns some $23 million a year and a player who is one of the two highest-paid in the entire league.I realize Emery wasn’t in charge when Ozil signed his deal but I’d imagine that when he interviewed for his job somebody at Arsenal said: “OK, Unai, we’ve tied up a huge chunk of our wage bill in this guy… how are you going to use him and how will you get the best out of him?” And I assume (perhaps wrongly) that whatever Emery replied, it wasn’t: “To me he is like any other player, he’s basically Carl Jenkinson, only shorter and with one more World Cup.”Ozil’s absence wasn’t the reason Arsenal lost to West Ham but right now, Emery needs an “Ozil issue” like he needs a hole in the head.

Will PSG’s midfield issues doom their season?

We were looking for Paris Saint-Germain to bounce back after the League Cup elimination in midweek and they did, winning 3-0 away to Amiens. But take a closer look and you’ll note that it was the third straight game in which they failed to score in the first half.What’s more, again, they had to make do with a makeshift midfield, with square pegs (Julian Draxler, Dani Alves) in round holes next to Marco Verratti. With Adrien Rabiot distracted by his future and Lassana Diarra fading out of the picture, they are severely short-handed in the middle of the park.Thomas Tuchel has asked for reinforcements and Julian Weigl has been heavily linked. If he’s fit, he’d make a lot of sense. They simply need an extra body in there. PSG have to deal with Financial Fair Play, of course, which is part of the reason their squad is so small, but it’s mad to think that this could cause their season to become unstuck in the Champions League.

Solari, Real stick with the kids

As a general rule, it’s not really a good sign when an under-fire manager chucks in the youngsters. Fans tend to be supportive of kids, it gives him an alibi and it sometimes can show he ran out of ideas.Santiago Solari left Marcelo and Isco on the bench away to Betis (Toni Kroosand Marco Asensio were already unavailable, as was Gareth Bale) and over the course of the game, he relied instead on Sergio Reguilon, Federico Valverdeand, later, Cristo, all in the course of a newfangled 3-5-2.For a half or so it worked as Luka Modric gave them the lead, though perhaps it was more down to Betis’ inefficiency with the ball. But after Karim Benzemacame off at half-time with a broken finger, Real Madrid really struggled to come to terms with Betis as Quique Setien kicked it up several notches. Sergio Canales equalised before a wonder-strike from Dani Ceballos gave Real Madrid the three points.Three points are critical right now, of course, but if Solari was looking for answers with this set-up, all he got was more questions.

Liverpool show their title credentials at Brighton

If Liverpool do go on to win the Premier League this season, victories like the 1-0 one in Brighton on Saturday will be the building blocks. Away from home, Fabinho as an emergency central defender, some chances not converted, the risk of conceding on the counter… but no, they gut it out and take all three points thank to Mohamed Salah’s penalty.Liverpool have played 15 games against teams outside the top six and have won every single one of them. Conversely, in the seven games against top six opponents, they have won three (Arsenal and Manchester United at home, Tottenham away), drawn two (Chelsea and Arsenal away, Manchester City at home) and lost one (City away). This is Klopp winning the games he’s supposed to win and getting as much as he can in those he’s not. That’s why the title is Liverpool’s to lose right now.

Cutrone should be the answer at Milan, not Higuain

Patrick Cutrone came on as a substitute, scored two gorgeous goals and helped Milan dispatch Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia. The kid is 21 and has nine goals in all competitions this season, which is actually more than Gonzalo Higuain’s eight despite more limited playing time.Higuain, of course, is surrounded by transfer talk, most of it fomented by his brother. Manager Gennaro Gattuso insists the striker is going nowhere and that he’s critical to Milan’s seasonal objective of a top four finish. That matters, of course, because they have all sorts of FFP issues and Champions League revenue would help alleviate that.I get all that but equally, Milan are set to pay Higuain a whopping €8.5m (nearly $10m) in wages through the end of the season. Plus, they’re on the hook to Juventus for another €9m ($10.5m) in loan fees through June 30. That’s a ton of money.Personally, I’m not sure anybody will take Higuain given his wages: those who can afford him likely don’t need him. But this idea that he’s the be-all and end-all, at that price, isn’t helpful. Maybe putting your faith in Cutrone and getting a short-term, serviceable striker to back him up wouldn’t be such a bad thing instead.

Liverpool again show they will sacrifice style in favour of results on the road to the Premier League title

Jan 12, 2019Nick AmesESPN.com writer

BRIGHTON, England — In any title-winning season there are games that end up being almost forgotten: staging posts along the road that offer essential nourishment but nothing in the way of vivid scenery.Should Liverpool see the job through in May, this laborious win over an excellently drilled Brighton side will only merit a few seconds of the highlight reel. It will not matter one bit, because these may prove to be their most important three points of the entire campaign.Make no mistake, there were question marks over Jurgen Klopp’s side before this one; the smallest of signs that their narrow defeat at Manchester City had opened up wider wounds would have been seized upon. If that sounds harsh, it is just the way things work these days when you are in the throes of a title race with a margin for error that appears smaller than ever.”From a maturity point of view, I would say it was the most mature of the season,” Klopp said of a slow-burning affair that was decided three minutes after half-time by a Mohamed Salah penalty. At full-time Klopp allowed himself an understated fist pump, and it was a reaction in character with the previous 90 minutes. There was not a lot to warm the blood — not even when Brighton, who had fulfilled one of Chris Hughton’s primary objectives by still being in the game with 10 minutes to go, sent the cavalry up at the end. But there was a coolness, a shared purpose, a diligence to Liverpool that has been the hallmark of their current campaign as much as the full-throttle approach that characterised the previous two.”We are not the Harlem Globetrotters,” Klopp said. “We have to deliver a result, and that’s difficult.” It was a revealing statement, because it reiterated that Liverpool are absolutely content to be mean and grim-faced when it suits them. Last season they won this fixture 5-1, blowing Brighton away either side of half-time. That never looked on the cards this time but nor, really, did any kind of mishap once they were ahead. With six minutes to play Roberto Firmino could be seen tracking back 30 yards to dispossess Anthony Knockaert, thwarting a promising counter for the hosts. in the time that remained there were big defensive interventions from Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk, and those were the moments that satisfied Klopp as much as any.”It was obviously a big challenge for everyone to stay calm and concentrated because each little situation can be a massive threat on the counter or whatever,” he continued. “And not to make any fouls because Brighton are unbelievably strong on set pieces. That level of concentration is difficult to keep, but they did it.”It was a particular relief that Fabinho, whose increasing prominence in midfield had been a big factor in Liverpool’s recent form, stayed firm at the back. He faced a gnarled, wily customer in Glenn Murray, and when he let the striker go in the 15th minute, watching in relief as the resulting header looped over, their shortage of centre-back bodies seemed at risk of being laid bare. Fabinho took an arm in the face from Murray shortly afterwards but would respond later with one of his own; after that rocky start he looked well attuned to the physical battle and excelled just before the hour, too, with a vital block from Pascal Gross’s goal-bound shot.Fabinho has a “defending brain”, Klopp said, and it is testament to Liverpool that this can now be said of the entire side. They did not function as effectively going forward: Salah’s first sight of goal had come only a minute before his winner, which came after Gross had clumsily halted his run into the box from the right. He missed a gilt-edged chance to wrap things up near the end, and Sadio Mane saw an effort deflected wide, too; Klopp said Liverpool’s finishing was a bigger issue than their creativity but, in practice, their clear openings could comfortably be counted on one hand.That might remain the case if future opponents follow the lead of Brighton, who were happy to sit in and avoid a repeat of their thrashing from 2017-18. “If you play an open and expansive game against them and go two or three down then generally there’s no way back,” Hughton said.Perhaps a carefree, “heavy metal” Liverpool performance might have blown their resistance away far earlier, andd it may yet be, if the league leaders continue to find assignments like this slow going, that a more forceful approach is required to ensure the wins keep coming. A better balance might yet be struck to dispose of palpably weaker foes more comfortably. But this felt, for all its turgidness, like a return to business.”If you fall from the horse, you can go back on it,” Klopp said. Liverpool did that here, even if how they managed it becomes a footnote in history four months from now.

Premier League W2W4: Arsenal meet Chelsea with both teams suffering identity crises

2:40 AM ETNick MillerESPN.com writerW2W4 previews the weekend’s Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines …

Arsenal-Chelsea fascinating for unusual reasons

There was a time when you could pretty much guarantee at least one of Chelsea or Arsenal would be challenging for the Premier League title. But the two teams meet each other Saturday evening a long way from the top of the table and with both in some vague form of existential woe.Arsenal’s brave new world of holistic decision-making appears to be stalling, at best. Sven Mislintat is on his way out of the club, the new regime having signed a few potential gems but made significant messes of the Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey situations. Then of course there’s the minor detail of results: Last week’s defeat to West Ham left them probably needing to beat Chelsea, or at least avoid defeat, to make Champions League qualification something other than a monumental struggle.

Meanwhile, Maurizio Sarri’s prediction after his arrival that it would take his Chelsea players three months to get used to his methods now looks optimistic. This might be in part down to the decline in performance of his conductor, Jorginho, who Sarri declared has looked exhausted in recent weeks. But with Cesc Fabregas gone, he purports to have no alternative. Whether you believe that or not is another matter; there are a few internal options who could fill in for a few games, but either way Chelsea’s performances have not quite been what their manager wants.These teams meet each other in the middle of transitional seasons, both trying to figure out their respective new worlds. This game might not mean much in the title race, but it will still be fascinating given the state of affairs at each club.

Will Spurs use their ‘Plan C’?

Convincing a striker to move to Tottenham must be a tough job. “How do you fancy sitting on the bench for most league games because we’ve got probably the best centre-forward in the world? You might get some League Cup run-outs, or 20 minutes as a sub here and there. Oh, and everyone loves the first choice’s backup, too, so don’t even count being ‘Plan B.'”The man in that position at the moment is Fernando Llorente, scorer of one league goal for Tottenham in two seasons. In fairness, he’s started only one game in that time, and has a few more in assorted cup competitions, but he’s quite a step down from Harry Kane. A step down from the usual second choice, Son Heung-min, too.So much so that, even with Kane injured and Son at the Asian Cup, you wonder if Llorente will start against Fulham on Sunday. Might Mauricio Pochettino improvise, asking Lucas Moura or Erik Lamela to be a pseudo-Son? Could he turn Dele Alli into a centre-forward which, when you think about his attributes, isn’t the craziest plan? Might the man who somehow turned Moussa Sissoko into one of this season’s most effective midfielders conjure another magic trick from somewhere?

How will Wan-Bissaka cope with Liverpool?

One of the Premier League’s most impressive young players this season has been Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The Crystal Palace youngster was a winger until relatively recently, thrown into the first team as a defender after marking Wilfried Zaha out of a practice game when there was nobody else to fill in. Since then he’s firmly established himself in the Palace team and performed superbly against some of the best the Premier League has to offer.Perhaps his biggest test will come this weekend, though, as Palace face Liverpool. Wan-Bissaka was excellent in the first game between these two sides, in the early weeks of the season, even though he spoiled things slightly by getting sent off in the latter stages. Most people have now noticed this smart and lithe right-back, but another strong showing against the league leaders will convince even more that he’s the real thing.

Will Harvey Barnes get a chance for Leicester?

Harvey Barnes was recalled by Leicester from a loan last January, too. Claude Puel decided that he would be better off at his parent club than Barnsley, but in the end he barely played for the first team. This year, after his return from West Brom, you’d imagine things will be a little different.”He has been brought back for many reasons, but the primary reason is because he can help us,” Puel said.Not only is Barnes a highly promising young player, but he fills a need for Leicester: This season, their wide options have been wildly inconsistent, the task of replacing Riyad Mahrez proving predictably tricky. It would be too much pressure to expect Barnes to manage that, but he can certainly have an impact and could easily slot straight into their team against Wolves on Saturday.

And the least appealing game of the weekend is …

When Fulham faced Huddersfield a few weeks ago, there was a loose sense that the game might be so bad as to actually be quite good fun. Thanks to Aboubakar Kamara stealing a penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic then missing it, that’s broadly how it turned out, but there’s no such feeling for Newcastle’s visit from Cardiff this weekend. This is going to be grim, the sort of game that, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, you’d pull the curtains closed if it was played in your back garden.

Rafa Benitez and Neil Warnock could hardly be more different characters, but watching their respective sides has proved, shall we say, equally challenging this season. And given this is a game that both sides will be desperate not to lose, rather than necessarily keen to win, it’s probably one to avoid for even the most committed Premier League completist.

RB Leipzig’s Adams eyes ‘dream’ Bundesliga debut vs. Pulisic and Dortmund

4:43 AM ETStephan UersfeldGermany correspondent

RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams is hoping for a dream debut against his fellow United States international Christian Pulisic as the club host Borussia Dortmund when the Bundesliga resumes after its winter break this weekend.Adams, 19, is the latest United States youngster to try and make his mark in Germany, having joined RB Leipzig from New York Red Bulls this winter, and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Pulisic, Schalke’s Weston McKennie and Bremen attacker Josh Sargent.”It would be a dream scenario to be on the pitch for my new club from the very first minute,” Adams told German outlet Sport Bild this week. “But I know that maybe I also have to be patient.”Should Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick give Adams his debut this weekend, the youngster could line up against Pulisic, who returned to Dortmund on loan for the rest of the season following his €64m transfer to Chelsea earlier this month.”It’s crazy that my first match in Germany might be against him [Pulisic],” Adams said. “If you see the development Christian has taken, I want to be the next one to go down that path.”For Christian, Germany has become a home away from home. He was able to give me several tips. The most important thing he told me was ‘love the league, relish and use every minute you play. Show a lot of respect for your colleagues and trust the coach. They are good in Germany and want you to develop.'”Dortmund and Leipzig are big teams and play a good season. But I want to have those three points and Christian knows that.”

Inside the Timing, Reasoning and Potential of Christian Pulisic’s Chelsea Transfer

By GRANT WAHL January 02, 2019  SI — 

It’s official: U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic has been sold to Chelsea by Borussia Dortmund for €64 million ($73.1 million), shattering the record transfer fee for a U.S. soccer player. The 20-year-old Pulisic, a native of Hershey, Pa., will stay on loan for the rest of the season with Dortmund, which is leading the German Bundesliga, and will join Chelsea in the summer.You’ve got questions. I’ll try to provide some answers and context. Let’s go:

HOW BIG IS THIS NEWS IN AMERICAN SOCCER?

Massive. Pulisic has served as the U.S. captain, has been a regular for Dortmund for the past three seasons and has been the best player on the USMNT for almost two years. He’s not there yet, but he has a real chance to become the first global U.S. men’s soccer superstar. Pulisic’s transfer fee obliterates the previous records for a USMNT player—John Brooks for €20 million ($22.4 million) to Wolfsburg in 2017—and a U.S.-born player—Jozy Altidore for $10 million to Sunderland in 2013.Pulisic now has the third-highest transfer fee ever for a player 20 years old or younger, behind Frenchmen Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. Most of that fee is due to what Pulisic can bring on the field. But the price no doubt got a bump as well from Pulisic’s young age and his status as an American; like so many European clubs, Chelsea wants to get bigger in the U.S., and buying the best U.S. player can only help.A number of top clubs showed interest in Pulisic, including Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. But Chelsea made the offer that was closest to Dortmund’s asking price of €70 million ($79.8 million). From Chelsea’s perspective, the club was looking for a young wide midfielder. Eden Hazard may leave for Real Madrid (or somewhere else) in the summer, and Willian (30 years old) and Pedro (31) are on the wrong side of their primes.From Pulisic’s perspective, he wanted to move to the Premier League, which he grew up watching. (His family even spent a year in England when he was a child.) Though Chelsea does have a history of making regular coaching changes, Pulisic will be managed by the Italian Maurizio Sarri, who’s well known for his tactical nous. The American will get every opportunity to earn a starting spot—and become a focal point of the attack—next summer. Otherwise Chelsea wouldn’t have paid so much money for him.  There will be surprise in some quarters that Pulisic did not go to Liverpool and manager Jürgen Klopp, who has a relationship with Pulisic that goes back to the days Klopp coached Dortmund and Pulisic was on the youth team. But Liverpool didn’t approach Chelsea’s bid, and Pulisic will likely have a better opportunity for playing time at Chelsea.

MORE: How Sarri Can Help Pulisic Flourish at Chelsea

WHY MAKE THE PULISIC DEAL NOW?

Pulisic was never going to play out the entirety of his contract with Dortmund through the summer of 2020, and by going to England this summer he would move at a time that was good for him (when he could integrate with Chelsea in preseason and not have to make the difficult midseason transition) and good for Dortmund (which could still earn a big transfer fee for him). BVB had said publicly that it did not want to move Pulisic in the middle of the season, because he can still be a significant part of the club’s chase for trophies.Even though Pulisic is effectively a lame duck at Dortmund, the club knows him well enough to believe that he’ll give 100 percent the rest of the season. What’s more, Pulisic and Dortmund avoided the messy public exit that accompanied the Dortmund departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dembélé.From Chelsea’s side of things, locking up Pulisic now provides some security. That’s especially important because Chelsea currently has a case before FIFA involving allegations of the transfer of underaged players. It’s possible that Chelsea could face a transfer ban beginning this summer, and acquiring Pulisic now is a hedge against that possibility.

WAHL: Pulisic Explains the Craft of the Attacking Midfielder

WILL PULISIC MAKE A MAJOR IMPACT IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE?

For better and for worse, the young American will now become associated with a pricetag—$73.1 million—that means you are expected to become a real star who helps lead his team to the trophies that matter the most in world soccer. That’s what Pulisic has always dreamed of, and now he’ll have that chance. The ingredients in his game are there: The ability to break down players one-on-one, to set up goals, to score goals.But even Pulisic would tell you that he is not yet the finished product. From a personal perspective, this season has often been a frustrating one for him at Dortmund. Pulisic has dealt with three different muscle injuries, and he has lost playing time at BVB to the emerging 18-year-old English phenomenon Jadon Sancho. The highest levels of European soccer are a cutthroat business, and Pulisic has learned well by now that you have to earn everything on the field.At Chelsea he’ll have the opportunity to become the first global American men’s soccer superstar. But he has to make the most of it.

Christian Pulisic’s ‘talents will lend themselves very well to the way Chelsea play football’ – Tim Howard

Jan 4, 2019  Gus ElvinESPN.com

United States goalkeeper Tim Howard has tabbed Christian Pulisic for success following the 20-year-old’s much-publicized €64 million ($73 million) transfer to Premier League giants Chelsea earlier this week.”It is a massive club, but he’s played for a massive club already,” said Howard when asked about Pulisic’s move during an exclusive interview with ESPN FC.”Dortmund is no slouch, and he went there under Jurgen Klopp and he’s grown up there and learned a lot of his trade in the Bundesliga. He’s played a big part for the U.S. national team, so as much as the price tag is massive, which it is, he’s ready to perform.”Pulisic, who first broke into the senior team at Dortmund in January 2016, will finish out the remainder of this season on loan with the Black and Yellows, who currently hold a six-point lead atop the Bundesliga.While there has been much media discussion about Chelsea’s history with young players and whether or not the move is best for Pulisic, Howard is confident the American can handle the demands of the Premier League.”The Premier League presents its own trials and tribulations, it’s a rough-and-tumble league, it’s up and down, but he’s shown to be pretty strong even though he’s not the biggest guy in the world,” the United States’ most-capped goalkeeper said.”I think his talents will lend themselves very well to the way Chelsea play football.”Howard also spoke highly about new U.S. No. 1 goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who will join Premier League champions Manchester City in July.”I think he has the physical tools, he’s shown that, he’s still very young, and he’s growing and only going to get better.”When you go over to Europe, and we all dream of doing that and playing in the Premier League and all that, but you have to be careful what you wish for because there are some dark days. Myself and Kasey [Keller] and Brad [Friedel] and Brad [Guzan] all lived those and we came out the other side better for it.”The question for him will be can he handle the mental side of that. From all accounts, and from people around him that I know, he’s in a really good place and he’s ready to tackle the challenge.”Steffen will be part of new U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter’s first training camp, which opens Sunday, while Pulisic will remain in Germany with title hopefuls Dortmund, who return to action Jan. 19 at RB Leipzig.

U.S., Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie not on Liverpool’s radar – source

1:48 PM ETGlenn PriceLiverpool correspondent

Liverpool do not hold an interest in United States international Weston McKennie, a source has told ESPN FC.Can a 44-year-old man cut it in the Premier League? Our writer suffers — and suffers some more — through a medical at Everton.Reports in Europe had linked Jurgen Klopp with a move for Schalke’s versatile midfielder, who was born in Little Elm, Texas.However, the source said he is not a player on the radar of the Premier League leaders at this present moment.Richard Motzkin, an agent for McKennie, declined to comment on the links with Liverpool and said the 20-year-old was focussing on the restart of the Bundesliga season after the winter break.McKennie turned professional at FC Dallas before making the switch to Schalke, where has made 45 senior appearances, in July 2016.He has been capped seven times by the U.S. and scored on his international debut against Portugal in November 2017.

PSG’s Neymar: U.S. starlet Timothy Weah can be one of Europe’s top attackers

Jan 14, 2019Jonathan JohnsonPSG correspondent

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar has backed new Celtic signing Tim Weah to develop into “one of the top attacking players in Europe” after he joined the Scottish giants on loan earlier this month.Weah, 18, joined Celtic on an initial six-month loan deal last week and extended his PSG contract until 2021 just before leaving Parc des Princes but the senior American international has struggled for minutes this season since Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting‘s arrival as backup to Edinson Cavani.

Weah did shine during preseason, managing two goals from three competitive appearances for PSG at the start of this campaign, and Neymar has already seen enough to be convinced of the New York City native’s potential.”It is a very exciting move for Timothy,” the Brazil international told Record Sport. “From what I have seen of his talent, he has everything to go and become one of the top attacking players in Europe.”It is a good move for Timothy. Celtic too, as they are getting such a big talent, as well as PSG because Timothy has a chance to get experience and games before returning to us as a more complete player.”Timothy did have options but he chose the right one. Celtic are a big club, they attack a lot and score a lot of goals in their league and also they are still in Europe, so they offer him plenty.”Neymar emphasised Weah’s ability and character, but the former Barcelona man has been most impressed by his teammate’s ability to handle the pressure that comes with being 1995 Ballon d’Or winner George Weah’s son, and the Brazilian also sees a bit of himself in the American.”Timothy has the talent, we already knew that, but also he also has a great attitude,” said Neymar. “From the first day that I met him, he has wanted to learn from the players who have already won the major trophies — the players here who have already achieved big things in the game.””Timothy is a fun guy to be around but he is also very humble and that is what you want to see from a younger player. It is what a coach wants to see as it means they want to learn.”Timothy’s father was one of the greatest strikers ever but he does not feel the pressure of having the name — I respect that. He just has confidence in his own ability and in his own game, which is how I was at his age.”Neymar is currently in Qatar with PSG for a lucrative midseason training camp loaded with commercial obligations and in an interview with beIN Sports while there. The €222 million reflected on his improving relationship with strike partner Edinson Cavani after a bumpy start to life together.”We are getting along better with each match,” the Brazilian said. “We are very happy. We know and understand each other better and better. Our aim is to make everybody happy with assists and goals. As well as winning games, being happy is the most important thing.”Once back from Qatar, Neymar and his PSG teammates will be back in domestic action against Guingamp in Ligue 1 on Saturday and will be aiming to avoid a repeat of their 2-1 Coupe de la Ligue quarterfinal defeat in exactly the same fixture last week when a rare Neymar header was not enough for Thomas Tuchel’s men.

U.S. have ‘massive job’ ahead but Gregg Berhalter ‘without question the right hire’ – Tim Howard

Jan 7, 2019Gus ElvinESPN.com

In an exclusive interview with ESPN FC Friday, longtime United States goalkeeper Tim Howard said he “loves the youth that we have in our country [the United States]” but admitted new manager Gregg Berhalter still “has a massive job” on his hands to get the USMNT back on track.Howard added that he is “interested” in the future of U.S. Soccer, but said “figuring out who are the best players” and “cutting down to your best 23 players is a monumental task.””As much as we’ve done over the last year in evaluating all this talent from around the world and we talk about this youth movement, from what I’ve seen, I’m not sure they are not all cut out to play for the national team, and that is part of the evaluation process,” Howard said. “But I do love the youth that we have in our country and the amount of players playing around the world, playing big roles, playing Champions League roles and playing at big clubs, and that will bode well for us.”The 39-year-old also spoke strongly in support of the hiring of Berhalter, his former teammate on the national team, who was officially announced as the new U.S. manager Dec. 2.”He’s without question the right hire,” Howard said. “He’s a guy, who as much as he has this calm demeanor, he’s no-nonsense and that’s how he was as a defender. If you watch his Columbus Crew teams, they play very well out of the back, they possess the ball, they press well and that’s football now in 2019. I think he’s a breath of fresh air.”After a 2018 full of transition and experimentation, the United States open their first training camp under Berhalter on Jan. 7. The team will play friendlies with Panama and Costa Rica in the coming weeks to begin 2019.Howard identified “time” as Berhlater’s biggest challenge in taking over a new-look national team, one that has undergone a real makeover in the last 12-14 months.”We have lost an entire year, and that Gold Cup 2019 is looming large, and I believe very quickly after that, World Cup qualifying starts, so there is not a lot of time to prepare the team,” Howard said. “As much as we talk about how much time that is in months, the ability for him to actually get his hands on this team, you are talking maybe a camp in March and maybe a camp at the end of May somewhere. So not a lot of time.”Shrinking the player pool and zeroing in on the core group for the next qualifying cycle will be another big challenge for Berhalter, according to Howard.”With any national team, particularly one in transition, you have to figure out who the old guard is, which of the players who used to be features in the team are now willing to accept less of a role,” Howard said. “If they can do that, they should be on the team, and if not, you probably should part ways.”Howard himself did not rule out a national team return, saying he would be “ready, willing and able” if called upon.All 28 players participating in Berhalter’s January camp are currently based in the MLS, with the U.S. scheduled to open 2019 against Panama on Jan. 27 in Glendale, Arizona.

USMNT January camp: Which 5 players stand to gain this month?

January 8, 201911:32AM ESTTom BogertContributor

Lest we forget through the MLS SuperDraft furor and frenzy surrounding the 2019 schedule release, Gregg Berhalter’s first US national team camp is underway right now in Chula Vista, California. Here are five players from the all-MLS group that have room to gain this month:

Russell Canouse

The internet doesn’t agree on much, but one issue almost universally drew the ire of the World Wide Web was Russell Canouse being left out of the USMNT’s roster for November friendlies. Nearly as integral to D.C. United‘s second-half surge to Wayne RooneyLucho Acosta and Audi Field, Canouse forced his way onto the national team landscape one interception and successful tackle at a time. Questions have been raised about whether or not Wil Trapp has the athleticism to succeed against the top opposition; there are no such queries about Canouse. If he can prove to Berhalter that he can do all the good work Trapp does in possession, and excel in the system that Trapp did for so many years under Berhalter in Columbus, he may well force his way into the discussion for the Gold Cup.

Michael Bradley

Does Michael Bradley count? For a player that has made 142 caps who has been in the team essentially since after the 2006 World Cup, it’d be more conventional to say he has something to lose. Except he doesn’t, because he’s already been generally taken out of the national rotation as the program fought to get younger in 2018 without any competitive games to prepare for. Now, with the Gold Cup on the horizon, Bradley has to prove he still has the legs for the international game.

Greg Garza

The last time Greg Garza made an appearance for the US national team, it was January 2017. He started and went 69 minutes in a goalless draw against Serbia. It was Bruce Arena’s first game (back) in charge of the national team and the possibility of the USMNT missing out on the World Cup was still as farfetched the idea of hovering cars. h, how naive. Garza is back for the 2019 January camp. Looking around, left back could be his with a strong month in front of new boss Berhalter. His competition is Portland’s Jorge Villafana, 29, who featured during much of 2018 but wasn’t called in by Berhalter, Antonee Robinson, 21-year-old Wigan loanee, George Bello, 16-year-old Atlanta United starlet, Ben Sweat, NYCFC’s 27-year-old stalwart who wasn’t called in for the camp, and others. The position is wide open.

Djordje Mihailovic

On the same thread of Garza, Djordje Mihailovic features at a position in flux for the national pool. The organization is short on No. 10s, with Christian Pulisic regular filtering through the middle to try and find the answer. A natural winger, Pulisic may be best used through the middle while on international duty. But, an emergence from Mihailovic could ease that headache. The Chicago Fire Homegrown was a surprise inclusion to the roster, if only because he returned from a torn ACL in August. While looking fully up to speed to the untrained eye, he told MLSsoccer.com that he was still shaking the rust off.

Auston Trusty

A highly-regarded prospect that played every single minute for the Philadelphia Union in 2018, Auston Trusty has earned his shot with the senior national team. The only issue is how deep the squad is at the position. So deep, in fact, Tim Parker didn’t get added to the January camp while the likes of Jonathan Brooks, Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are unavailable for selection while continuing their seasons in Europe. Regardless of what happens in January, Trusty will have more opportunities. But he has the chance to keep himself in the team when healthy for the next decade with a strong performance.

Before World Cup, U.S. women spend rare time alone in Portugal

By Graham Hays | Jan 17, 2019espnW.com

It wasn’t a coincidence that a team that will absorb as much attention as almost any in American sports this year opened its calendar far from the public eye.It made sense for the United States women’s national team to hold its annual January training camp in Portugal this year. It was familiar territory from years of past participation in the Algarve Cup. The area offered a smaller footprint than greater Los Angeles, where the team typically holds its January camp. Saving 30 minutes or more going to and leaving practice in Southern California traffic, without sacrificing climate, is no small boon for tired bodies. And with its opening games of 2019 in Europe — first against host France on Saturday in Le Havre’s World Cup venue and then back on the Iberian Peninsula to play Spain for the first time (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday) — it was practical to be able to adjust to time and surroundings ahead of those matches.But in a year in which the Women’s World Cup will bring a surplus of attention, Portugal offered the U.S. women something otherwise in short supply regardless of how the next six months unfold: time to themselves.”I actually said to them it’s about the work we do on the field, but it’s also investing in each other,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said of her message to players as training camp began the second week of January. “Ultimately, if you can have a very cohesive and tight unit, it obviously will pay dividends down the line. It’s tranquil here. It’s only us. It’s allowed us to not only interact with each other, but the players can get some relaxing time on their own if they want to.”

More from espnW.com

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Women’s World Cup: U.S. draw favorable

With no shortage of goals, U.S. women qualify for World Cup

Against France, the U.S. women will face a fellow World Cup contender on Saturday. Like pushing off at the top of a ski jump, there is no longer any slowing the momentum that propels them forward to June. After returning home following these games, players will gather in February for the SheBelieves Cup, begin preseason with their respective NWSL teams and navigate the early weeks of that season and the five remaining U.S. friendlies in April and May.The tranquility will presumably be left behind on the beaches in Portugal. And yet, perhaps they can carry some of that feeling forward. As the defending World Cup champions and the current No. 1 team in the world, the U.S. women have legitimate reason to believe that they, more than any other team, control what comes next. This year is about them.Training camp was the starting point.”This is probably the longest period of time we’ll have together, in terms of in training,” Ellis said toward the end of the camp. “So we’re just really trying to get a lot covered, get a lot reviewed and build their physical base on top of the work that they’ve done coming into here.”Ellis stopped short of saying the final World Cup roster will come exclusively from among the 27 players who were in Portugal. That included defenders Kelley O’Hara, who had knee surgery in October at the conclusion of World Cup qualifying, and Tierna Davidson and midfielder McCall Zerboni, who missed qualifying with ankle and elbow injuries, respectively. For young players like Hailie Mace and Savannah McCaskill, or veterans like Allie Long and Amy Rodriguez, none of whom were in Portugal after playing 2018 minutes, the bubble hasn’t sealed. But it might be close.”The players that are in here have proven themselves to be very deserving to be here,” Ellis allowed. “They have the qualities we feel we need to be successful.”That means that what we see on the field against France and Spain should look familiar. Crystal Dunn is the left back, albeit with a heat map that at times looks more like a wide forward. Alyssa Naeher is the No. 1 goalkeeper. Carli Lloyd continues as a No. 9. And on and on.We know what the U.S. women are, what they will look like. The time remaining is about repetition.

It’s a great test for us. It’s a great challenge to see where we are, where do we need to get better.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis on the upcoming games with France and Spain

The past two years, for instance, gave us Julie Ertz as a defensive midfielder, Lindsey Horan as a mature box-to-box presence and Rose Lavelle as a needed attacking and creative spark. The U.S. women have their preferred midfield, by all appearances. Now they rehearse.”We’ve got a nice blend in there, in terms of the profile of our midfielders,” Ellis said. “We’ve got three players in there that have had good time together, in terms of minutes on the pitch, and seeing how they start to blend and mesh is going to be part of this next period.”Ideally, much of the remaining preparation time in midfield would be spent together as a trio. But if any lingering injuries or ailments from training camp make that infeasible, that, too, is useful in its own way. It is unlikely the United States or any country will be fully healthy when the World Cup arrives. It is even more unlikely a team will stay healthy through seven games.For that matter, it’s good to play these games on the other side of the ocean. Even if, as was the case in wins last fall against Scotland and Portugal, it isn’t always a pleasure to watch.”Part of what’s important for me is for our players to play on the road,” Ellis said. “That’s why I went to Scotland and Portugal. Having four games in Europe is going to be critical before we go over for the World Cup. Because it’s about us, I think it’s fantastic that we’re playing these teams. We’re gaining and learning more about ourselves every time we come off the pitch.”The World Cup draw left the U.S. women with as comfortable a group assignment as they could have hoped for, long shots Chile and Thailand alongside familiar nemesis Sweden. But the likelihood of success in the group could be its own trap, given some of the potential scenarios that come with finishing first. The United States could face Spain in a potential round of 16 game and a potential quarterfinal against France in Paris.

The upcoming January games against those two countries were in the works before the draw last month, but Ellis saw no downside to these rehearsals — even though the rosters for France and Spain are dominated by club giants Lyon and Barcelona, respectively, and stocked with players in the middle of their domestic league seasons.”There’s going to be growth, and there’s going to be changes,” Ellis said. “Would I want to play an opponent a month out? No, because then you’re in your final prep and teams are really fine-tuned. Right now, it’s a great test for us. It’s a great challenge to see where we are, where do we need to get better. We’re playing against players who are in season. We need this.”Not because they need to beat France and Spain right now in order to beat them in June. Because these games are the best mirror available, the best opportunity to see themselves.Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

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