So I have to start with Champions League play and just how good it was over the past 2 weeks – and not just UCL from CCL – Concacaf Champions League featuring 5 MLS squads and 4 Mexican squads and others. The games especially last night’s LAFC vs Cruz Azul and Seattle hosting Olimpia were fantastic. LAFC overcame a 2 goal deficit after round 1 to win 3-0 at home on 2 goals from MLS MVP Carlos Vela. In Seattle – the MLS Cup Champs gave up an 86th minute goal to draw at 2-2, (4-4 on aggregate) then lost in a shootout 5-3. Still 4 MLS teams advanced to the round of 8 – which is quite impressive – had me watching 2 TVs at 11:30 pm last night on FS1 and FS2.
Of course – the Champions League UCL had a few surprises – as Man City marched into Real Madrid and stole a 2-1 win on a last minute PK. Questionable Red Card on Ramos for me. Also Juve laid an egg in a 0-1 loss at Napoli and of course Liverpool was held scoreless by Atletico Madrid in a 0-1 loss in Spain. The 2nd legs next month will be exciting !
MLS kicks off their 25th season this weekend as the league welcomes new clubs Nashville and Inter Miami. Nashville kicks off their in-augural season by hosting Atlanta United in the Titans football stadium Saturday night at 8 pm on FOX. Yes network TV ! Also Saturday a whole host of games on ESPN+ – (as almost every MLS game is available on the Plus all season long – see full schedule below. Sunday gives us Defending Champs Seattle hosting newly revamped Chicago at Fire at 3 pm on ESPN, followed by LAFC hosting Inter Miami Sunday at 5:30 pm as David Beckham returns to LA where he played for so many years. Fox Sports 1 takes over with the 7:30 pm game featuring Portland and Minn United.
The US ladies have announced the roster for the She Believes Cup matching the top 4 of the top teams in the World in a round robin in the US starting next Thurs as the US opens with England at 8 pm on ESPN2. On the men’s side Dortmund 17 year-old American Gio Reyna fresh off his assist on the winning goal for Dortmund 2 minutes after he came on last week vs PSG has been announced to the roster for the US Men next month when they play in Europe.
2020 SHEBELIEVES CUP, PRESENTED BY VISA, SCHEDULE
Date Matches Stadium City Kickoff (TV)
Thurs Mar. 5 USA vs. England Exploria Stadium Orlando, Fla. 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, TUDN.
Sun Mar. 8 USA vs. Spain Red Bull Arena Harrison, N.J. 5 p.m. ET on ESPN, TUDN.
Weds Mar. 11 USA vs. Japan Toyota Stadium Frisco, Texas 7 p.m. CT on ESPNews, TUDN.
Defenders (8): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride)
Midfielders (5): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)
Forwards (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Courage), Christen Press (Utah Royals FC), Mallory Pugh (Sky Blue FC), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
El Classico the battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona takes place this weekend on Sunday at 3 pm on beIN Sport and FUBO TV – see all the stories on the OBC.. Barcelona has a 2 point lead on the home standing Madradistas as both teams battle for La Liga supremacy as the next team is 10 points back. Still both squads have already suffered more losses than last year in the much more competitive league. For Real – the chance to bounce back after the stunning loss to Man City at home is huge.
The kickoff of MLS this weekend, including four games on the major networks, has significantly increased the pool of games available to follow this weekend and along with a solid slate of Bundesliga action there are quite a few games that we can track through the weekend. So here we go:
The weekend kicks off with a Bundesliga match that should see Alfredo Morales take the field with Fortuna Dusseldorf when the team faces Hertha Berlin on Friday afternoon. Morales came off the bench last weekend which snapped a streak of seven straight starts for the American. Dusseldorf won the game thanks to two goals before Morales came on and the win snapped a five game winless streak so perhaps that doesn’t speak well to the role Morales has been playing with the team. The victory was a crucial one for the team though as they need every point they can get to avoid relegation. With the win they remained in 16th place and the relegation playoff spot but drew within two points of Mainz for 15th place.
This weekend Dusseldorf will be playing 15th place Hertha Berlin who are coming off a humiliating 5-0 loss to FC Koln despite out possessing them nearly 2-1. Another victory for Dusseldorf this weekend could very well raise them out of the relegation zone and set them on a trajectory for safety this season.
Giovanni Reyna still awaits his first Bundesliga start but continues to get significant minutes off the bench for Borussia Dortmund and has looked the part every time he has seen the field for the team. BVB currently sit in third place, four points back of league leading Bayern Munich and are coming off a 2-0 win over toothless Werder Bremen. Dortmund may be looking ahead to the second leg of their Champions League match-up with PSG which could lead them to rest some of their normal starters and could provide additional minutes for Reyna though it did not seem to impact his usage when they had a short turn around after the first leg.
Dortmund will take on a Freiburg side who are coming off a 2-0 loss to Fortuna Dusseldorf and who have three losses and just one win in their last five games, a stretch which has included losses to 13th place Koln and last place Paderborn. The team is clearly struggling at this point and BVB would be wise to take advantage if they want to retain any hopes of a Bundesliga title this season.
Nashville SC get their MLS debut and their national TV debut simultaneously on Saturday at 8p on Fox. Walker Zimmerman will be lending a sense of MLS experience for Nashville but it could be a rough debut for the new MLS club as they face what looks to be another tough Atlanta United side who have lost a couple key players including Darlington Nagbe but Emerson Hyndman and Brooks Lennon both look to see a good number of minutes this season and Brad Guzan continues to mind the net. Miles Robinson missed the Concacaf Champions League games for Atlanta and his time frame for return is unknown.
Ventura Alvarado and Necaxa have lost three straight and fallen all the way down to 11th place in Liga MX. They’ll have their work cut out for them this weekend when they take on league leading America at 8p on ESPN Deportes.
Sebastian Saucedo and third place Pumas UNAM face Tigres UANL at 10p on TUDN. Saucedo has been a consistent performer for his team as they continue to push for the top of the table.
Looking through the paywall:
Fabian Johnson’s Borussia Monchengladbach side play Augsburg at 9:30a on Fox Soccer Plus. Unfortunately Johnson has barely sniffed the field this season and was not even included in the squad for last weekends 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim.
Weston McKennie started but played just 54’ in Schalke’s 5-0 loss to RB Leipzig last weekend. If you’re looking for a silver lining it’s probably that 4 of the 5 goals were scored after McKennie left the field. The team will look to bounce back this weekend with a more favorable match-up against Koln at 11:30a on Fox Soccer Plus.
Timothy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt will look to take advantage a favorable match-up against a struggling Werder Bremen side to snap a two game losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Chandler has produced instant results in his new role on the right wing for Frankfurt but a bad loss to BVB followed by a second to 12th place Union Berlin has dampened things a bit.
Things could turn around quickly for Frankfurt however as they face a Werder Bremen side that has lost five straight and nine of their past ten with just three goals scored over that time. Clearly it’s been a rough stretch for Werder Bremen and things haven’t looked good for Josh Sargent either who has seen time of the bench but has been unable to provide any significant impact. The team sits squarely in the relegation zone and it’s hard to see that changing without a drastic turn around.
John Brooks has started the past two league games for Wolfsburg after being benched for the previous three. Wolfsburg has won both matches so perhaps Brooks can work himself out of the doghouse. The team plays Union Berlin at 7:30a on FS1 Sunday morning.
RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen meet Sunday at 9:30a on FS1 in a top five match-up. No word at this point on Tyler Adams return from his most recent injury.
The Los Angeles Football Club will welcome David Beckham and Inter Miami to the MLS Sunday evening when the teams play at 5:30p on ESPN. The over / under on cutaways to David Beckham in the stands has tentatively been set at seventy bazillion.
Pugh, Davidson return to USWNT roster for SheBelieves Cup
Feb 26, 2020
Mallory Pugh and Tierna Davidson have returned to the United States Women’s National Team roster for the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, U.S. Soccer has announced.
The United States will face England in the opening game of the competition with a new coach but 20 of the 23 players who were on the roster when the same teams met in a Women’s World Cup semifinal last summer.
As was the case in Olympic qualifying earlier this year, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski’s roster for the SheBelieves Cup relies on the core of players who helped produce a fourth World Cup title last summer. But unlike Olympic qualifying, World Cup winners Pugh and Davidson are restored to the roster for the upcoming games against England, Spain and Japan.
Davidson was left off the smaller qualifying roster, limited to 20 players, as she continued to recover from an injury sustained at the end of the 2019 NWSL season. Pugh was omitted for performance reasons, although Andonovski invited the 21-year-old former NWSL No. 1 pick to continue training with the team during qualifying and said she remained an important part of the team’s plans.
Pugh was traded from the NWSL’s Washington Spirit to Sky Blue FC in January.
Julie Foudy breaks down the USWNT’s first tournament under Vlatko Andonovski and his experimentation with different lineups.
The only 2019 World Cup winners not on the SheBelieves roster are midfielders Morgan Brian and Allie Long and forward Alex Morgan. The World Cup Silver Boot winner as the tournament’s second-leading scorer, Morgan continues to await the birth of her first child.
Taking their places are defenders Casey Short, midfielder Andi Sullivan and forward Lynn Williams, none of whom was part of the World Cup team. Sullivan and Williams were part of the team that completed Olympic qualifying undefeated to reach Tokyo 2020.
The SheBelieves roster also includes veteran midfielder Julie Ertz, whose next appearance will be her 100th for the national team. She will join eight players on the current roster who have reached the century mark in appearances (as has Morgan).
The U.S. will play England in Orlando on March 5, before playing Spain in Harrison, N.J., on March 8 and Japan in Frisco, Texas, on March 11.
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England and Japan are among the teams that have already qualified for the Olympics.
England’s roster includes 15 of 23 players who were included in manager Phil Neville’s World Cup squad, including eight of 11 players who started the semifinal.
World Cup semifinal starters Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead are injured.
Among the new faces are three players with recent U.S. college connections. North Carolina forward Alessia Russo has a year of eligibility remaining, while defender Grace Fisk (South Carolina) and goalkeeper Sandy MacIver (Clemson) concluded their eligibility last fall.
The return of EUFA Champions League Play this week and next (Tues/Wed 3 pm) leads of the week of huge games. Its Sweet 16 time – with huge match-ups including Defending Champions Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid on TNT 3 pm on Tuesday and Dortmund (with subbing American youngster Geo Reyna) hosting Paris St. Germain at the same time. Wednesday we Tottenham, last season’s 2nd place finishers, hosting RB Leipzig who will not have American Tyler Adams in the line-up as he is hurt. That game is 3 pm on TNT. Next Tues its Chelsea hosting German league leader Bayern Munich and Wed we get powerhouses Real Madrid hosting Man City. Of course Liverpool will knock out my Atletico – so sad to see the spectacular coach Simeone on the bubble with Leti Madrid – injuries have crippled this team this season and I am not sure this is the same team in the new digs as it was at the legendary Caldron downtown. Good to have Champions League back!
Concacaf Champions League
The CCL kicks off this Tues/Wed/Thurs on Fox sports 1 & 2 with evening games each next over the next 2 weeks and MLS squads Atlanta United, Seattle, LAFC, Montreal, NYCFC match up against teams from Mexico, Costa Rica, and other CONCACAF country teams. Mexico has dominated the competition mainly because the season hasn’t even started yet in MLS while they are mid season in Mexico and other countries – but with 3 powerhouse squads – perhaps MLS can break thru this year? (see full schedule on http://theoleballcoach.com)
Man City UCL Ban?
Wow huge news with EUFA handing down a 2 year suspension of Man City for Champions League for breaking rules on how much they spend on players. If this sticks it will be huge – imagine would Pep leave Man City – would their top players like DeBruyne or leave with no Champions League player for 2 full years. With regards to money it could cost Man City 200+ million in Champions League payouts. The ramifications are huge. I can certainly say while I was excited to see City win their first title a number of years back – over the past 3 years since Pep Guadiola has arrived – they have become the best team money can buy and spent billions on players while winning back to back titles.
Great to see the US Ladies have no issues with Olympic Qualifying as they destroyed everyone including Canada in the finals with a huge 3-0 blanking. Great to see 2nd string forward/Wingers Christian Press and Amanda Williams get on the board with some huge goals. The US seriously probably has the 2 most talented teams in the America’s if not the world. It will be interesting to see if the new coach will work in some youngsters – or stay with the same team that won the World Cup last summer.
GAMES ON TV
Tues 2/18– Champions League
3 pm Gala, fubotv, B/R Dortmund (Geo Reyna) vs PSG
3 pm TNT Atletico vs Liverpool
10 pm Fox Sport 2 Leon vs LAFC (CCL)
10 pm Fox Soccer/fubo Motagua vs Atlanta United (CCL)
Weds 2/19– Champions League
2:30 pm NBCSN Man City vs West Ham
3 pm TNT Tottenham vs RB Leipzig (Adams?)
3 pm Gala, fubotv, B/R Atalanta vs Valencia
8 pm Fox Sport 2 Deportivo vs Montreal Impact (CCL)
10 pm Fox Sport 2 Comunicaciones vs America (CCL)
Thur 2/20– Europa League+ CCL
3 pm TNT, TUDN fubotv, Club Brugge vs Man United
8 pm Fox Sport2 San Carlos vs NYCFC (CCL)
10 pm FS2 Olimpia vs Seattle Sounders (CCL)
10 pm FS1 USA Ladies vs Mexico (Olympic Qual Finals)
Saturday, 2/22 7:30 a.m. ET: NBCSN Chelsea vs Tottenham
10 am NBCSN Crystal Palace vs Newcastle United
9:30 am Fox Sport2 Bremen ( ) vs Dortmund (Gio Reyna)
10 am beIN Sport Barcelona vs Eibar
12 noon ESPN+ SPAL vs Juventus
12:30 pm FS2 Schalke vs RB Liepzig 12:30 p.m. ET: NBC Leicester City vs Man City
3 pm beIN Sport Levante vs Real Madrid
Sunday 6:30 am ESPN2 Genoa vs Granada
9 a.m. ET: NBCSN Man United v. Watford
11:30 a.m. ET: NBCSN Arsenal vs Everton
3 pm beIN Sport PSG vs Bordeaux
.3 pm NBCSN Liverpool vs West Ham
Tues 2/25– Champions League
3 pm TNT Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Bayern Munich
3 pm TUDN fubotv, B/R Napoli vs Barcelona
8 pm Fox Sport 1 Atlanta United vs Motagua (CCL)
Wed 2/26 – Champions League
3 pm TNT Real Madrid vs Man City
3 pm TUDN fubotv, B/R Lyonnais vs Juventus
6 pm Fox Sport 2 NYCFC vs San Carlos (CCL)
10 pm FS2 Montreal Impact vs Deportivo Saprissa
Thur 2/27– Europa League+ CCL
3 pm TNT, TUDN fubotv, Man United vs Club Brugge
3 pm fubotv Olympiackos vs Arsenal
10 pm Fox Sport 1 LAFC vs Leon (CCL)
10 pm FS2 Seattle Sounders vs Olimpia
Sat, Feb 29 MLS Season Opens
9 a.m. ET: NBCSN Everton vs Man United
9am NBCSN Tottenham vs Wolverhampton
3 pm beIN sport/Fubo Real Madrid vs Barcelona (El CLassico)
Champions League last-16 preview: don’t miss Dortmund-PSG, Man City under pressure, Liverpool to get upset?
4:03 PM ET ESPN
With the Premier League race over, PSG running away with Ligue 1, Bayern and Juventus seemingly in charge of the Bundesliga and Serie A respectively, we might have to look to the UEFA Champions League for our soccer drama between now and May. The action returns in force this week with the start of the last-16: all 16 teams still standing are from Europe’s top five leagues and there’s upset potential up and down the draw.Will holders Liverpool successfully defend their crown or are we destined to get a new champion? What can we expect from Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona? How about RB Leipzig, who have soared from nowhere to challenge Bayern domestically but have more than enough talent to cause a shock in Europe, too? Consider this your ultimate guide to the first knockout round of the biggest club competition in soccer.
This has the potential to be the most wide-open and popcorn-worthy tie of the round. Both sides love to score, and score often: Kylian Mbappe and Neymar may be the most glamorous pair of forwards in the game right now, but the Dortmund duo of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho could one day supplant them. The German side aren’t what they used to be defensively but have more than enough in attack to trouble the French champions.
PSG have suffered their share of Champions League heartbreakers over the years, whether against Barcelona or Real Madrid. With former Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel leading the way, is this the year it all comes together for PSG?
PREDICTION: Borussia Dortmund to strike first against French elite
Free-scoring Atalanta’s high-energy, high-press, all-out attack have made them among the highest scorers in Europe and they’ve done it on a shoestring budget, coaxing goals galore from Papu Gomez, Josep Ilicic and Luis Muriel. Sometimes, it looks as if they’re simply playing a different sport. Valencia have had a rough season and have already changed managers this year, but they’re a classic feast-or-famine foe and you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
Bayern had a major wobble at the start of the campaign, but are back to their laser-focused selves in 2020, marching towards more silverware domestically and, they hope, in Europe. Interim boss Hansi Flick has revived Thomas Muller‘s form and gotten more out of Serge Gnabry, while Robert Lewandowski might be the best pure scorer in the modern game.
Chelsea have punched well above their weight with a bunch of home-grown youngsters in Frank Lampard’s first season as manager, but it remains to be seen if they can hold their own against one of the most relentless and experienced footballing machines around.
Jose Mourinho — as he’ll no doubt remind you — has won this competition twice and knows what it takes to get it done in a two-legged format, though he’ll be without star striker Harry Kane, who is injured. Without the talismanic No.9, plenty will be expected of Heung-Min Son around goal while Giovani Lo Celso looks ready to be the anchor of Tottenham’s midfield and transition game.
Leipzig are the ultimate intangible: at 32, manager Julian Nagelsmann is a veritable wunderkind who relies on a defensive beast (Dayot Upamecano), a deadeye pest of a scorer (Timo Werner) and plenty of hard running and tactical creativity in between. They have the talent to catch teams on the counter.
The contrast in styles is sharp — deep defending vs. high energy, hunt ’em down, full court press — but the ethos is the same for both teams known for their gritty, tough and uncompromising attitude. The problem is that Atletico Madrid are trying to (unsuccessfully) transition from the system that brought them to a success to a more open style, whereas Liverpool boast clockwork efficiency and are finding many different ways to win games under Jurgen Klopp this season.
PREDICTION: Liverpool to walk on with first leg win
Funnily enough, these are the only two teams that have beaten Liverpool’s first team since Jan. 3, 2019 but both are going through a bumpy patch. Napoli changed managers in December, have a number of players in contractual disputes and are midtable in Serie A. Europe appears their only hope for joy this season. Barcelona have suffered key injuries (Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba), have also changed managers and are still coming to grips with new boss Quique Setien’s old school, press-and-possess style.
Past editions of Barca have been reliant on Lionel Messi for that burst of inspiration but it’s become a dependence in 2020. If he’s on, this game becomes routine. If he’s not, they’re in trouble.
PREDICTION: Barcelona to take a lead back to Camp Nou
Lyon are yet another club to have changed managers in midseason and while Rudi Garcia has righted the ship to some degree, they’re still mid-table in Ligue 1. The silver lining: they’re getting great performances from the most hyped 16-year-old in the game, Rayan Cherki.
After eight straight Serie A crowns, Juventus did a 180-degree turn in the summer, bringing in new boss Maurizio Sarri with a view towards becoming more attack-minded. It’s definitely a work in progress though Cristiano Ronaldo‘s run of 10 straight Serie A games with a goal (and 20 league goals in 20 games) has been their saving grace on many occasions this season. At 35, he’s in the form of his life: will that continue in the Champions League?
PREDICTION: Juve all the way given Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring spree
Big questions to be answered in the round of 16
Looking to make sense of the talking points in Europe’s top competition? ESPN’s writers have you covered.
Who’s under more pressure: Zidane or Guardiola?
There’s more pressure on Pep Guardiola, no question about it. It’s not just the 25 points separating Manchester City from the top of the Premier League, or the fact that he may be watching the next two Champions’ Leagues on TV due to his club’s FFP violations, or even the fact that having won two Premier League titles delivering the biggest trophy in club football is the last unconquered peak. Rather, as Guardiola himself has admitted, he puts an absurd amount of pressure on himself. Not so much in terms of achieving results, but in terms of the process his teams go through to get there.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, is a perpetual hot-seat, but Zinedine Zidane has more padding than most. The great stone-face has been there, done that and his team are sitting top of La Liga, a competition they’ve won just once in the last seven years. — Gab Marcotti
Can Simeone spring a surprise vs. Liverpool?
Something odd happened when Atletico Madrid played Leganes on Jan. 26. Or, perhaps more accurately, nothing happened. And that’s exactly the point.
There was a moment in the second half when Diego Simeone turned towards the fans and began to do the kind of gesture he has done a thousand times before, raising his arms to try to get them going. But as he began, the reaction was not as immediate or as unanimous as it used to be (it barely existed at all, in fact) and almost as soon as he had started, he stopped again. It wasn’t a big deal, perhaps, and most people wouldn’t even have noticed, but for those that did and who know it wasn’t normal, it added to the feeling that something is not right.
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For a brief moment, it was as if the man Unai Emery once described as “war personified” wasn’t fighting any more. He stood alone. In front of him, Atletico don’t look like his team, the players are not his sort of players, the demands are not what they once were, the identity is not either, and the results are worse than they have ever been under him. They’re not even the second-best team in Madrid any more, let alone the first. Out of the cup, out of the league and, most suspect, soon to be out of the Champions League.
There is little faith, an inescapable, overwhelming awareness that Liverpool are the better team and that the odds are stacked against them. But then, that’s the way Atletico always liked it. And if they are to get back in touch with themselves, if this is to feel like a Simeone side again, a rebellion with the odds stacked against them, maybe that’s what they need. — Sid Lowe
Dortmund vs. PSG is the best game of the round, right?
I don’t even need to tell you as you know this already. Regardless of your team or who you support, you know that this is the tie of the last-16. There is nowhere else this month where you will find so much attacking talent, so many ballers. Who will have the most nutmegs: Neymar or Jadon Sancho? Who will score the most beautiful goal: Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappé? Who will be the most exposed defensively: Keylor Navas or Roman Burki? Who will get his tactics right: Lucien Favre or Thomas Tuchel?
You know there will be loads of goals, loads of entertainment and loads of drama. The pressure is certainly on PSG and Tuchel, for his return to Dortmund (and it will be fascinating to see what reception he gets from the Yellow Wall). The French champions can’t afford to be knocked out early again in this Champions League. They believe they have the best and most balanced squad they have ever had. But the Germans also have faith in themselves and in their ability to cause problems for any opponent. — Julien Laurens
Who will step up next to Messi for Barcelona?
If there was any quiet jubilation around the Camp Nou when the Champions League draw paired them with Napoli, it has firmly dissipated now.
Napoli don’t have a pedigree in this competition, let alone one that bears comparison with FC Barcelona. Napoli closed out 2019 needing to change coach, seventh in Serie A and already 17 points off the top. Barca, under Ernesto Valverde, topped their Champions League group, led La Liga and their two strikers had shared 28 goals between Europe and the domestic title chase. Now Luis Suarez is injured, Valverde sacked, Messi goal-shy, Ousmane Dembele out for the season and Messi’s other great playing ally, Jordi Alba, won’t be fit to play in the San Paolo stadium.
Moreover, while new manager Quique Setien is introducing ideas that this team badly needs — a sharper use of possession, much more intense training sessions — it somewhat feels as if Barcelona’s depleted squad are struggling to cope. His side looks obedient, but they also look sluggish. All Setien’s victories have been by a maximum of one goal, have looked in jeopardy and are unlikely to frighten Rino Gattuso’s re-energised Napoli.
Fundamentally, Barcelona’s recently unrequited love-affair with the Champions League simply has to spark some kind of elemental competitive reaction, Messi must start scoring again and Marc-Andre ter Stegen needs to continue his glittering form or else, remarkably, Napoli will look like slight favourites to many. — Graham Hunter
Is the Champions League too top-heavy or should we just enjoy the show?
This year’s last-16 feels like a logical end point to a direction of travel that’s been glaringly obvious for some time. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with the best teams in Europe facing one another: that’s the whole point of the competition and taken on its own, there are bound to be some exceptional games of football.
It is also true to point out that certain match-ups between the continent’s elite are slowly gaining their own folklore in the eyes of the modern fan, such is their regularity. But the overwhelming domination of five super-wealthy leagues and their clubs comes at the expense of the diversity, intrigue and genuine unpredictability that makes the sport itself so great. It said plenty that Ajax, who have won this competition four times, were regarded with such astonishment when they reached the semi-finals last year.
Football’s landscape is an ever-shifting one and nobody is expecting a return to the period between 1981-91, when sides from seven different countries – including Yugoslavia and Romania – won the European Cup, at least not yet. But surely the possibility of that is what should make this competition great.
The spectre of a closed shop is drawing ever nearer; it should concern everyone and, while nobody should be discouraged from enjoying the games in their own right, it’s worth asking yourself if this is the future you want for our sport. — Nick Ames
Can Nagelsmann seal his status as the next “Special One” vs. Mourinho?
Julian Nagelsmann quickly became Germany’s most promising coach, but now the 32-year-old is looking to take the next step. Before coaches become great by winning, most show signs of moving in that direction. Nagelsmann has done that, and now his next opportunity to move towards greatness has come. If Nagelsmann can get the better of a serial winner like Jose Mourinho, it will show that the young coach has more than promise: he has the ability to win when it really matters. The Bundesliga might be exciting, but the value of success on the European stage is unparalleled.
Victory against a Premier League opponent and a coach like Mourinho would be a massive step forward for Nagelsmann. He’s already on the coaching map, but win here and he becomes a major attraction. To do that, he’ll have to outfox a coach and a personality who has been here many times before. He will also have to prove that he can create a plan to handle deep-lying, counterattacking opponents. After RB Leipzig failed to do so against Frankfurt and only showed up for half the game vs. Bayern, this is the ultimate test for the young head coach. — Jonathan Harding
Which Serie A side has the best shot of moving on?
Jurgen Klopp has named Juventus favourites for the competition, which is odd timing considering how vulnerable the Old Lady appears at the moment. Napoli have tended to raise their game against top sides this season, taking four points from six against Liverpool and recently defeating Italy’s top three. Honestly though, it’s hard to look beyond Atalanta.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini feels the draw for the Round of 16, against Valencia, couldn’t have been kinder and his players have shown they’re acclimated to the speed and skill expected at this level. After becoming the first team ever to qualify for the knockouts with zero points from their opening three games, impossible is nothing to the Bergamaschi. Atalanta have already made more in TV and prize money than the total cost of their wage bill and with a return to the competition looking likely next season, they can play with minds at rest and smiles on their faces.
It may still be a bit of a leap to nominate them this season’s Ajax, but for now, Atalanta seem the healthiest and most in-form Italian side left in the Champions League. — James Horncastle
Which young talent will seize the spotlight in the last-16?
The latter stages of the Champions League is when whispers become roars regarding certain up-and-coming stars, so who should we keep an eye on as the last 32 approaches? Let’s start with someone who has already announced his arrival. Erling Haaland has eight goals in 305 Bundesliga minutes for Borussia Dortmund, and is about to face a fragile PSG defence. They also have this kid called Jadon Sancho, too.
Ideally, Ansu Fati would only be on the fringes of the Barcelona team, but things are far from ideal at the Nou Camp. Injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele mean that the 17-year-old is a regular by necessity though he certainly has the talent: Fati could do some damage against Napoli. At 16, Lyon’s Rayan Cherki is even younger than Fati: Lyon have been more cautious because they’re able to be, but if things aren’t going to plan against Juventus, we could see him unleashed.
Finally, Callum Hudson-Odoi has endured a slightly stop-start time at Chelsea since he rejected Bayern Munich and stayed at Stamford Bridge, but he’s found some form recently. It would be very apt if he did some damage against the very team he turned down. — Nick Miller
Simeone’s Atletico Madrid tenure may come to its Champions League conclusion in Liverpool tie
12:52 PM ETGraham HunterSpain writer
There’s a scenario whereby, completely unnoticed, we might be witnessing Diego Simeone’s last Champions League match at home in charge of Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.Those who’ve been thrilled by his intense, brooding, winning ways, his Johnny Cash-in-football-boots persona, will fervently hope that it’s not so. Those at Atleti who’ve benefitted from the hundreds of millions of euros he’s earned them across nearly a decade of exhilarating European exploits will be praying the same.But here’s the deal: Who’s the favourite in this tie? It’s Liverpool, by a distance. And for several reasons. Not just because they are Champions League holders but because Jurgen Klopp has his side doing a passable impersonation of peak Simeone Atletico, only better: the intensity, the fervor for winning, the same squad unity, the same feeling that everyone at the club, all the fans and owners aren’t just singing from the same hymn sheet, they wrote the words.Liverpool’s footballers are all consistently performing on a range of eight-out-of-ten to ten-out-of-ten and have been doing so for a couple of seasons. It’s an incredibly rare feat, but one that Simeone and assistant “Mono” Burgos also achieved for a couple of years around their 2014 La Liga title win. That was Atleti’s first such triumph in 18 years, somewhat less of a drought than Liverpools will be when, some time in the coming weeks, they become England’s champions for the first time in 30 years.Nevertheless, the similarities between the two clubs’ ideas, attitudes and achievements make this an extra-intriguing tie. Sadly, it comes at precisely the wrong time for Atleti.To have seen Los Rojiblancos of 2013-14 or 2015-16 take on Klopp’s Liverpool of the past two seasons would be reason enough for someone in Silicon Valley to finally confirm that, thanks to billions spent on research and development, time travel was now an app available to all of us.The stifling, aggressive press and rob of that Atleti era: the remorseless registering of clean sheets, their utter brilliance at imposing themselves in attacking set plays, the bullishness of peak Diego Costa, world-class Antoine Griezmann, Arda Turan‘s impishness, imperial Diego Godin; you’d pay handsomely to watch them play Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson and the magical forward trident of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane across two legs of knockout football.But Liverpool are not only a mirror, showing in stark detail how Atleti have declined, England’s champions-elect are arguably a better XI and a better squad than even the remarkble levels Simeone has reached since taking over at the Vicente Calderon in 2011.The greatest thing that unites the two clubs has been messianic belief in the coach.From the day he crossed the threshold, taking a moribund bunch and immediately winning Atletico their fifth international trophy, Simeone has been the club’s benign dictator. They are defined by his standards, his rules, his personality, his spiky, relentless need to win.Klopp’s not too dissimilar, in effect at least. This is his Liverpool. The German’s personality floods Melwood and makes him an all-permeating influence, from those who serve the tea to the leading goal scorer to the academy kids who polish the first team’s boots to the data technicians. It is extremely evocative of how Simeone and Burgos have been at their Majadahonda training ground, the Calderon or now the Wanda Metropolitano during their golden years.But Klopp and Simeone want to see their football achieve different objectives: the Argentinian winning 1-0 at any cost, the German almost equally happy to win 4-3 or 6-0 so long as the three points head to Anfield and the game was entertaining. These two leaders of men convene with their most rabid followers, the fans, on a weekly basis. If they are angry, the fans are furious; if they are jubilant, the fans are ecstatic. They appeal a decision and the lava of fan anger pours down on the official. The supporters are a sea of certainty: “In Klopp/Simeone we trust.”Or at least it was that way at Atleti. Not necessarily now.Once it was like an evangelical preacher exhorting his flock to raise their their voices heavenwards. Simeone would hop from foot to foot with anxiety, imagined or real, and after spinning around like the Tasmanian devil, often with three or four minutes left on the clock, he’d flap his condor-wing arms up and down and the response would be a guttural roar of beseeching, unconditional support from the supporters to the 11 souls in red and white on the pitch. Simeone’s energy and standards were communicated via the voices of 50,000 disciples. It was magical.Then, last week, as Atletico were still holding on 80 minutes after Angel Correa gave them an early — and slender — lead over Granada, Simeone reached for the arm-flapping trick. It was like an old champion boxer knowing what punch to throw but with reactions so slow that the challenger sees it coming a mile off. There was no reaction from the fans, no messianic “we believe” roar. Instead, there was apathy, frustration and very little impact.Strange, changed times. Football is weird, let’s agree on that.
More surprising things have happened than Liverpool perhaps feeling just a little gentler than they were before their winter break and the globetrotting holidays Klopp’s players were able to cram in. They’ll benefit from the time off, eventually, but can they get back to ramming speed immediately?Stranger things, too, have happened than the warriors at Atleti — Jan Oblak, Koke, Saul, Yannick Carrasco, Correa and perhaps even newly fit Alvaro Morata — bucking themselves up sufficiently for a home win. But over the two legs, with Simeone’s troops now beginning to show the same “we’re not really sure whether we believe in Simeone anymore’ lethargy, Liverpool are demonstrable favourites to go through.Let’s say that happens. There’s a brilliant five-way race for the crucial fourth Champions League-qualifying slot in la Liga. Atletico will be most people’s favourites and, should they qualify, it’s much easier to see Simeone moving a year further towards the end of his contract, which extends until 2022. But the two clubs closest to Atleti in fourth, Sevilla and Real Sociedad, are either level on points or just two behind, while Valencia and Villarreal are, respectively, two and four points off Simeone’s team. It’s not comfortable. It will be a battle royal.If Atletico don’t qualify for next season’s Champions League, I doubt it would lead to Simeone being sacked — not after such lengthy success. However, do you doubt that Atleti are casting about just in case there’s a better alternative out there?Talking of better alternatives, it’s the gossip of the Spanish football industry that Mono Burgos — fluent in English — is starting to get itchy feet, beginning to wonder whether he could win trophies and earn a huge salary increase by heading out on his own. Will he? Would that damage Simeone at Atleti? You’d guess so.And Simeone’s infamous, brutally demanding fitness coach, “Profe” Oscar Ortega? Atletico’s players no longer maul other teams with their suffocating pressing, they no longer shut down a single-goal lead so effectively; in fact, they no longer look as if they are enjoying their football. Ortega, it would appear, has scalded those who’ve worked with him for years and, just as happened when Real Madrid said thank you and adios to fitness coach Antonio Pintus before appointing Gregory Dupont last summer, change seems both inevitable and vital.Some of you may believe that Atletico knocking out Liverpool is within Simeone’s remarkable compass. Fair enough. Some may believe that even if he’s defeated and has nothing to play for other than Champions League qualification from March onwards, he’s certain to stay with Los Colchoneros next season. OK, no problem.But the concept of this elimination either leading to a mutual agreement to change at the end of this season or yet another year in the Europa League, and then either the club or their manager deciding it’s time to part ways in summer 2021, well, neither of those scenarios now seem terribly unlikely. Each would mean that this gargantuan match against Liverpool would be looked back on as an unheralded “Adios” for Simeone in the Champions League with Atleti.It’s not the right way for a great reign to end. I hope it isn’t so.But don’t rule it out.
PSG to win the Champions League? Neymar, Mbappe & Co. compare closest to past 10 winners
How do you win the Champions League?
It turns out that “be Real Madrid” is not a bad place to start. The Spanish giants have won 13 European Cups, and no other club has more than seven. They’ve won four of the past six, and their current manager, Zinedine Zidane, has never not won the Champions League. Three tries and three trophies for Zizou, so that’s that, huh?
Although Zidane The Manager has yet to be eliminated from the Champions League, other teams have in fact won the tournament.
As I wrote about in my newsletter, Liverpool grabbed it last year with a slightly throttled-down pressing approach that relied on their defense and their goalkeeper — a sentence that would’ve been unthinkable just a year prior. Barcelona nabbed the trophy in 2015, thanks to the devastation wrought by Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Bayern Munich did it the year before Pep Guardiola came to town by essentially fielding the entire World Cup-winning German national team, plus Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Chelsea took down Bayern the year before that despite finishing sixth in the Premier League, and the year before that was the most recent time Guardiola won it, with the Barcelona team that Sir Alex Ferguson said was the best side he’d ever seen.
Since the 2010-11 season, only five clubs have won the Champions League title. What did they have in common?
At first glance, there isn’t a lot connecting any of those teams. But using domestic-play data from TruMedia, we can look at the statistical profiles of the past nine winners, see what the minimum benchmarks have been and compare them to all 16 remaining teams in this season’s competition. We’ll go through a number of categories and eliminate the 2020 teams that aren’t up to snuff before landing on our One True Champion.
Let’s get to it.
Measurement No. 1: Scoring enough goals
In domestic play, all of the previous nine winners averaged at least 1.7 goals per game. That low-point number, unsurprisingly, belongs to Chelsea. After all, they finished sixth in their own league that season; however, they sported a solid plus-19 goal differential and won the Champions League while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were at their peaks. We’re not talking about a bunch of scrubs here. Plus, including an outsider team such as Chelsea in the numbers makes this exercise more interesting, as it accounts for the possibility of a non-favorite winning the whole thing.
We must say goodbye to Tottenham (1.6 goals), Napoli (1.57), Lyon (1.54), Valencia (1.43) and Atletico Madrid (1.00) at the first hurdle. No big surprises there, as none of those five sides is favored to advance to the quarterfinals, per FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index. Goals, especially given that we’re dealing with just more than half a season, can be statistically noisy; in other words, goals aren’t necessarily predictive of more goals. But even if we look at expected goals — a more predictive measure — only Napoli (1.93) break the 1.7 threshold.
Teams eliminated: Tottenham, Napoli, Lyon, Valencia, Atletico Madrid Teams remaining: Bayern Munich, Man City, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atalanta, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, RB Leipzig, PSG
Measurement No. 2: Goals against
Defense, it turns out, has tended to win championships over the past decade. Who knew?
Of the previous nine winners, five gave up fewer than one goal per match, and four of them — both Barcelona sides, Liverpool and Bayern Munich — were below 0.6. In fact, no team in this season’s field is below 0.6 goals allowed per match, with Liverpool landing exactly on that mark. However, weaker defenses have won titles, too. Two of Zidane’s Madrid teams, along with Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid team, allowed north of one goal per match. The worst defense, though, was, again, Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea, who let in 1.21 goals per game on their way to the trophy.
Despite that high figure theoretically creating a low barrier for entry into our exercise, four more teams are eliminated at this stage: Barcelona (1.22), Atalanta (1.35), Chelsea (1.36) and Borussia Dortmund (1.52). Dortmund are scoring at a higher rate than any team left in the tournament, a wild 2.82 goals per game, and Atalanta are third, with 2.65 goals per game. Plus, Atalanta are doing it in Serie A, where it has traditionally been difficult to score goals. Both teams should be neutral fan favorites, but their porous backlines mean their opponents are never out of a game.
Chelsea’s defense doesn’t seem likely to stand up against round of 16 opponent Bayern Munich (second among all teams with 2.76 goals scored per game), and as has been the trend the past few years in Catalonia, it’s a shame Lionel Messi can’t play defense, too.
Teams eliminated: Barcelona, Atalanta, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund Teams remaining: Bayern Munich, Man City, Juventus, Real Madrid, Liverpool, RB Leipzig, PSG
Measurement No. 3: Game control
Rather than looking at pure possession numbers, the next step after goals scored/allowed is to look at how the remaining teams control the field. How good are they at all the things that happen before the ball ends up in the net? To do this, we can see how many passes a team allows in their final third and compare that to how many passes a team completes in their opponent’s final third. Then we can take those two numbers and determine a team’s percentage share of final-third passes.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona lead the way among the previous winners, but perhaps surprisingly, No. 1 is Luis Enrique’s team, not Pep Guardiola’s. The 2014-15 vintage completed 74% of the final-third passes in their matches, compared to the 10-11 side’s measly 73.1%. Bayern, Liverpool and 2017-18 Madrid were also all north of 60%. Last place, once again, was Chelsea, with 56.1% of final-third passes.
Of the remaining seven teams, none of them is below Chelsea’s mark. City and Bayern are both above 70%, and Liverpool, Juventus, PSG and Real Madrid are all above 60%. RB Leipzig sit last, with 58.6%.
If looking at how teams tilt the field doesn’t eliminate anyone, we can then look at how long a team keeps the ball when they get it. Opta records a statistic called “sequences” — essentially, an interrupted chain of possession — and no team that has won the Champions League since 2011 has had an average sequence time below 9.4 seconds. That low (again!) comes from Chelsea, but Ancelotti’s Madrid weren’t much higher, at 9.6. That means goodbye for Leipzig, whose average sequence time is 8.7 seconds, the second-lowest figure of all 16 knockout-round teams, above only Atletico Madrid’s manic (7.3 seconds) approach.
Teams eliminated: RB Leipzig Teams remaining: Bayern Munich, Man City, Juventus, Real Madrid, Liverpool, PSG
Measurement No. 4: Shots, shots, shots
The six teams left in this exercise are a bit harder to separate. If we look at how they press, all six are above the threshold of the previous winners. The minimum average starting point for all of their sequences — a proxy for how high up the field they win the ball back — is 47.7 meters from their own goal. That number belongs to Real, but they’re still significantly above 2011-12 Chelsea’s mark of 45.9 meters. Man City, for what it’s worth, start their average sequence 53 meters from their own goal, which is higher than that of any of the past nine winners.
In terms of how fast they win the ball back — something known as “passes allowed per defensive action” (PPDA) — all six are lower than Chelsea’s 13.26. Liverpool’s high mark of 11.02 is still below where they were last season, when they, you know, won the Champions League. This season’s most aggressive pressers are PSG (8.03), but they’re still significantly behind Barcelona’s mark of 6.98 in 2014-15. That side also scored more goals and gave up fewer goals than any other team in this season’s field.
(Side note: Luis Enrique’s team really might be the best of all time.)
Looking at how often the teams cross the ball doesn’t do us any good either, so we’re back to shots: How many do they take, and how many do they allow?
Like in PPDA, Liverpool are at the bottom, with 15.56 shots per game, but like in PPDA, that number is still better than that of last year’s title-winning team. Because they’re bottom in almost every number we’ve looked at so far, let us note that 2011-12 Chelsea took more shots (17.66) than all but three of the past nine CL winners.
How about shots against? Finally, some progress! Chelsea gave up 11.82 shots per game during the 2011-12 season, and this season, Juventus are giving up 12.3. That’s actually the third-highest figure among all of the round of 16 participants, better than only that of Valencia and Tottenham. FiveThirtyEight’s SPI gives Juve just a 3% chance to win the whole thing, and their inability to suppress shots is one of the biggest reasons they aren’t in the top tier of contenders.
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What about the quality of those shots?
All of the five teams left take above-average shots, in terms of their xG per shot. However, none of the previous nine winners allowed their opponents to take particularly good shots. The worst mark goes to Zidane’s 2017-18 team (0.12), but that’s right around the Europe-wide average. This season, though, there are two teams living by the mantra of “we don’t normally give up shots, but when we do, we give up great ones.”
Manchester City are conceding shots with an average of 0.15 per shot (worst among all remaining teams), and Bayern Munich are conceding chances with an average xG value of 0.13, which is third worst. Per FiveThirtyEight, Bayern (20%) and City (17%) are third-favorites for the title behind Liverpool (21%). The low-quantity-high-quality defensive approach works in domestic leagues in which both clubs have a significant talent advantage over almost all of their opponents, but it could implode once the competition heats up.
Teams eliminated: Bayern Munich, Man City, Juventus Teams remaining: Real Madrid, Liverpool, PSG
Measurement No. 5: Fouls
Listen, we’re nitpicking here, all right? One of the only remaining differentiating factors for these three teams is how often they foul their opponents. Among the past nine champs, only one committed more than 12 fouls per match: 2012-13 Bayern Munich, who hacked down the opposition 13 times per match. At the other end sit last season’s Liverpool, who committed 8.29 fouls per game.
While the highlight of the Real Madrid season so far is Federico Valverde’s game-saving, last-minute, last-man, red-card tackle on Alvaro Morata in the final of the Spanish Supercopa, the team’s wider penchant for foul play earns them the boot from our list. Zidane’s team commits 13.22 fouls per match.
For whatever reason, none of the recent winners other than Bayern has fouled anywhere near that much. It could speak to a larger lack of control that then shows up in other areas of the game. It could lead to too many set pieces, which lead to the kind of scripted moments that often decide knockout games. Or, as Madrid fans will surely be hoping, it could be totally random.
Teams eliminated: Real Madrid Teams remaining: Liverpool, PSG
Measurement No. 6: Passes
And then there were two: Liverpool and PSG, who played a pair of the more thrilling group-stage matches in last season’s tournament.
It sure seems as if PSG are trying to find a new absurd way to exit the competition every year. First, it was La Remontada, when they blew a 4-0 first-leg lead to Barcelona. Then they bought Neymar, the Barcelona player who led that comeback, only for him to miss the second leg of their round of 16 matchup with eventual winners Real Madrid. Then last year, of course, Neymar didn’t play in either match against Manchester United, and despite winning the first leg at Old Trafford 2-0, PSG were eliminated by a last-minute penalty awarded by VAR for a handball on a shot that probably wasn’t going to end up anywhere near the goal frame.
However, this season’s PSG have more in common with the previous nine Champions League winners than anyone else, including last year’s champ. None of those teams completed fewer than 84.5% of their passes, with both Liverpool and Chelsea tied at the bottom of the threshold. This season, Liverpool have dropped down slightly, to 83.7%, a barely perceptible shift that, for the purposes of this exercise, eliminates them from the list.
PSG, meanwhile, are completing 89.9% of their passes, which is a higher percentage than that of any other team left in the competition. Sure, they play in the worst league among the Big Five, and yes, they have an incredible resource and talent advantage compared to their domestic opponents. But is it really a surprise that a team with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe — arguably the two best non-Messi players in the world right now, the kind of talent who can decide a tie all on their own — has the profile of a Champions League champion?
As long as they’re both out there, PSG can beat anyone. Of course, they’ve played together in only one Champions League knockout match since they joined the team in the summer of 2017.
PSG kick off the round of 16 against Dortmund next week, and like clockwork, Neymar hurt his ribs and hasn’t played a league game in more than two weeks. (Mbappe is also skipping this weekend’s game vs. Amiens.)
We’ll give them one more shot, but depending on how things go over the next few months, next season’s version of this exercise might include another filter, one that says “Not PSG.”
UEFA’s new Champions League Man of the Match award is truly a thing of beauty
Chris WrightToe Poke writer
With the Champions League due to resume this week, UEFA has introduced a brand new award to the mix and it is a glorious sight to behold…
The Toe Poke Daily is here every day to bring you all the weirdest stories, quirkiest viral content and top trolling that the internet has to offer, all in one place.
From the round of 16 onward in this season’s Champions League, the best performers in every match will be bestowed with a dazzling new “Man of the Match” award after the full-time whistle.The award comes with a trophy, which is a gorgeous D manifestation of the ournament’s iconic logo. You can hear the choir heralding “The Chaaaaaaampiooons” in your head just by looking at it.UEFA have previously handed out official Man of the Match awards as ordained by their technical observers, but only in the final — last year’s winner being Virgil van Dijk.The recipients of the new award will be chosen by a special advisory panel of technical observers, including Gareth Southgate, Roberto Martinez, Aitor Karanka, Phil Neville and Robbie Keane.According to UEFA, the beautiful trophy will be awarded to the player deemed to have excelled in decisive moments as well as tactical maturity, creativity and inspiration, exceptional skill, and fair play.
The US Ladies continued to roll thru Olympic qualifying in front of alarmingly small crowds after they shutout Costa Rica 7-0, after destroying Panama and Haiti. The US will face Mexico tonight at 10 pm on Fox Sports 1, right after Canada plays Costa Rica at 7 pm on FS1 with spots in the Olympics on the line for the winners. Hopefully fans will show up tonight at the LA Galaxy Home Stadium in LA. The US Ladies have looked amazing with Christen Press on the left wing and Williams on the right with Carli Lloyd in the middle forming a deadly attacking trio while Alex Morgan is out pregnant. Midfielder Horan has scored 6 goals and has some assists to lead the way for the US Ladies. The Defense has barely been tested at all – with Ertz holding down the #6 slot in front of the veteran 4 person backline from the World Cup. This will be the toughest test tonight – as Mexico is probably the 3rd best team in the region behind the US and Canada. Set the recorder if you can’t watch it live tonight and let’s see if the US can advance on to the Olympics this summer!
US Men Youth Wins 1-0
The US men – or boys if you will looked pretty good vs a solid first team Costa Rican side last Saturday. The 1-0 victory probably should have been 2-0 US – but certainly the US dominated all phases of the game – including possession. Youngster Ulyssess Llanez (just 18 years old) from Wolfsburg stole the show in his first cap with solid attacking midfield play and a great awareness in the box. His PK goal just before the half was the only goal for the US team that probably deserved at least 1 or 2 goals from the run of play. Most impressive was the US ability to maintain possession as they must have had at least 70 to 30 possession throughout – including solid play moving the ball from the back to the front without turnovers. A veteran backline of Long and Zimmermann along with Cannon on the right and new comer Sam Vines on the left looked good and barely took a misstep most of the game. Newly mented 18 year old forward Jesus Ferreira started in the 9 jersey and had some good hold up front – before giving way to Zardez who almost scored in his 25 minutes on late. All in al l thought it was a fine showing by the young US squad with plenty of U23’s playing in anticipation of Olympic Qualifying in March. I can honestly say our U-23 group is looking pretty strong – I hope enough of them will be released from club play in March to allow us to qualify for the Olympics – so Pulisic, McKinney, Reyna, and Adams can join this summer.
Games on TV
As for Big games this weekend the biggest is of course the German Derby Sunday at between league leaders Red Bull Leipzig and US mid Tyler Adams and Bayern Munich at 12 pm on Fox Sports 2. Plenty of stories on the https://theoleballcoach.com/ for this one. Its winter break time in the EPL with just 4 games this weekend Everton host Crystal Palace Sat at 7:30 am on NBCSN while Brighton vs Watford is on NBC at 12:30 (don’t ask me why they have shit games like this on NBC – just the screw up the ratings I guess – seriously why??? Also at 12:30 on FS2 Leverkusen hosts Dortmund and US mid Gio Reyna- coming off bench). Sunday at 2:45 pm we also get the Milan Derby – Inter vs Milan on ESPN+.
Carli Lloyd (10) has been a focal point of the USWNT’s attack in Olympic qualifying, and that appears to be the plan for this summer too. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Meet the United States women’s 2020 Olympic soccer team, same as the United States 2019 Women’s World Cup team. Or largely, anyway.If all goes as it should, the American women will qualify for the 2020 Summer Games on Friday with a win over Mexico in the semifinals of the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship. Which, by the way, begs the question why there will be a title game on Sunday, since it isn’t an actual championship but a qualifying event and there is no prize other than an Olympic berth for the winning semifinalists. While the team has a new coach in the Macedonian-American Vlatko Andonovski, it looks remarkably similar to that of Jill Ellis, who left the job late last year after a second straight World Cup title.
In December, Andonovski held an identification camp in Florida, inviting 24 players who hadn’t made the 2019 World Cup roster to do his due diligence, to get a better sense of the player pool. Yet when it came time for the new head coach to submit his roster for this qualifying tournament, 18 of the 20 names on it had also been to the World Cup. And of the two who didn’t go to France – Andi Sullivan and Lynn Williams – neither had been part of the identification camp and both were well into double-digits in caps prior to the tournament.Which is to say that the national team has stayed much the same. Even Alex Morgan, the star striker seven months pregnant with her first child, has actually been practicing with the team in Southern California, in a feat more impressive than anything her peers have done in actual competition.That also means that, absent the 30-year-old Morgan, the national team is anchored by veterans very much in the last flush of their careers. Carli Lloyd, now leading the line, will be 38 by the time the Olympics begin, although her conditioning remains irreproachable. The defense is still anchored by Becky Sauerbrunn and the revived Ali Krieger, who are 34 and 35, respectively. Megan Rapinoe, who provides much of the creative impetus, will be 35 in Tokyo. Even the sparkplugs Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara all turn 32 this year. A young team this is not.ertainly, there isn’t time to rebuild a team between the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics. Such is the nature of the women’s international cycle that the two major tournaments fall in back-to-back summers, followed by almost three years of nothing other than friendly tournaments and a single and typically unchallenging World Cup qualifying event.
Ellis ran into much the same quandary. She was appointed a year out from the World Cup and had no time to shape her team until after the Rio Olympics, almost a year and a half later. Only then could she begin cutting players who were aging or didn’t fit her vision, and integrate new ones and introduce her ideas. But what rankles about this roster is that not so long ago, the impression of this team was of a young, talented bunch with a future every bit as rosy as the recent past. Yet the attacking prodigy Mallory Pugh and upstart defender Tierna Davidson, both 21 years old, were left off the qualifying roster, as was 26-year-old midfielder Morgan Brian. The latter decision was understandable, considering the logjam in central midfield and the similar age of her competitors. Pugh, however, was supposed to be the future of this team. And her omission meant there is no player on the team younger than 24. Fully half of it is 31 or older. Only the midfield is young, with Sullivan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan all between 24 and 27 years of age. The trouble with that is the Olympics force the two finalists to play six games in just 17 days. And the roster is much smaller than at the World Cup – 18, instead of 23. The tournament will scatter its games all over Japan, but it’ll be warm in all of them in July and August. The Olympics weren’t pretty for the Americans in 2016, in the aftermath of a first World Cup title in 16 years. In Brazil, the group stage was a slog. And then they were eliminated by a well-organized Swedish team – the “cowards” in Hope Solo’s famous putdown – in the quarterfinals. It was the first time the Americans hadn’t reached the final at the Olympics, after four gold medals and a silver.There still isn’t a country that has won Olympic gold the year after winning the World Cup. Judging from this qualifying tournament, the Americans seem to be betting on veteran experience, at the expense of youth, to become the first. Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports
Match preview and schedule: USA vs Mexico, Olympic qualifying
The United States Women’s National Team have completed the group stage of the 2020 CONCACF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, and the scene shifts to Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California for Friday’s semifinal against Mexico. The winner of that match will punch their ticket to Tokyo, Japan and the 2020 Olympics. The loser will not be in Tokyo, falling short of the goal.The USWNT have not allowed a goal so far in Olympic qualifying, scoring 18 goals in Group A play. After struggling a bit in their opening match against Haiti, the USWNT has settled in and dominated Panama and Costa Rica on their way to the semifinals. For Mexico, they’re here after beating St. Kitts and Nevis as well as Jamaica, but their loss Tuesday to Canada meant they finished 2nd in Group B and will have to go through the Americans to get to Tokyo.
Predicted USWNT lineup
USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski will likely go back to a similar lineup that he had to open the group stage against Haiti:
Predicted Lineup vs. Mexico
Andonovski clearly has several options at every position. Lindsay Horan could very well get the start in the midfield alongside Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle, but Andi Sullivan could also factor as well. Up front, Tobin Heath could get a shot, but Lynn Williams, Carli Lloyd, and Christen Press have thoroughly destroyed every team they’ve faced. It’s likely they will get another chance to do just that.
Time, TV, and streaming options
USA vs. Mexico
Friday, February 7, 2020
10:00 PM ET / 7:00 PM PT
US women beat Costa Rica 6-0, win Olympic qualifying group
Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos (9) goes over the back of United States midfielder Samantha Mewis (3) during the first half of a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying soccer match Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
HOUSTON (AP) — Christen Press and Samantha Mewis each scored a pair of goals and the United States beat Costa Rica 6-0 on Monday night to finish atop its group in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.The World Cup-winning U.S. team extended its unbeaten streak to 26 games. The Americans wrapped up the group stage with three shutouts and 18 goals.Both teams had already earned a spot in the semifinals of the tournament later this week in Carson, California. Eight teams are playing in the tournament, which will determine the region’s two berths to the Tokyo Olympics this summer.The semifinal matchups will be determined on Tuesday when Canada plays Mexico on Tuesday in Edinburg, Texas. The winner of that match will avoid the top-ranked Americans.Press extended her scoring streak to four straight games with a goal in the fourth minute. Lindsey Horan, who had a hat trick in the U.S. team’s 8-0 victory over Panama on Friday, scored some six minutes later.Press, who plays for Utah of the National Women’s Soccer League, added her second goal in the 36th minute.Mewis scored on a free kick by Press in the 63rd minute and Jessica McDonald added a goal in the 77th before Mewis’ second goal, which appeared to just barely hit the line after deflecting down off the crossbar.The crowd at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium was announced at 7,082. Already eliminated, Haiti beat Panama 6-0 in the other group game earlier in the day.Costa Rica rested top players Shirley Cruz and Raquel Rodriguez in anticipation of the semifinals on Friday.The U.S. has qualified for every Olympics since women’s soccer was introduced in 1996, and has won the gold medal four times. The team has five consecutive titles in the qualifying tourname. Six teams have already made the field for Tokyo: Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand.
Three reasons to believe Bruce Arena is right about USMNT reaching World Cup 2022
This week, former US boss Bruce Arena went out on a limb we didn’t think existed a few years ago to declare he holds “no doubt” the US men’s national team will escape a dark cloud period by making their way through the forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign to see the sunny other side once again.It was the type of reassurance we’d want in the lingering wake of a stunning Concacaf hexagonal failure that left the US men’s national team on the big dance sidelines for the first time since 1986. Since that fateful, sobering night in Couva, so many of us have spent two years and counting reaching for hope that missing out on Russia 2018 was a mere blip. But is Arena right? Was that qualifying calamity just a perfect storm of letdown circumstances not to be repeated? Can the US pick themselves up off the mat to start a new World Cup attendance streak in Qatar 2022.Of course, you can’t notarize an official blip explanation by rebounding to qualify for just one or two World Cups. No no, this program wants to get back to being a regular invitee routinely found at the top of hex tables. While the last couple of years have involved a lot of soul-searching and fretting about the USMNT’s place in the Concacaf hierarchy, there are reasons to believe Arena’s declaration is sound and the ship will then remain righted for qualifying campaigns to come. Here are three.
There’s a lot that goes into a World Cup cycle, good or bad. A lot had to go wrong for the US to court disaster enough that a phantom goal could help knock them out. The good news is, in my estimation at least, the variables that led to the downfall don’t seem repeatable. Take Concacaf’s competitive level of play. Helped in part by an improving MLS, several of the so-called “second-tier” Concacaf teams have closed the gap on the US and Mexico a bit. Countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica and Panama got a little stronger and a little deeper. They then proved an ability to up their game for stretches to hit historic program-high notes and, umm, end our streak of playing in World Cups at seven. Each of these countries had many good recent times authored by national team icons who now have and/or will soon leave their international playing days behind. A lot of guile and skill in key positions will need to be adequately replaced, a task harder and slower to do for these smaller nations. The US is in a rebuilding period, but those teams appear headed for their own bumpy phases. As the entire USMNT bubble knows, growing new linchpins is a time-consuming task. It feels like the Nats have a head start on that and can soon re-open that gap for a while. They should also bounce back stronger once better fitness luck returns. These injury bug sprees come and go, but it can’t be missed that injuries have consistently taken major bites out of Gregg Berhalter’s selections. So far we’ve seen Tyler Adams, Jozy Altidore and Christian Pulisic together in red, white and blue on the same field a grand total of zero times. Guys like John Brooks, Weston McKennie, Jordan Morris and Timothy Weah have often missed time. It’s always harder to regain team swagger when it’s not complete, let alone missing multiple key cogs and hot prospects. Once depth is no longer stretched thin and the team can go about more ideal business, USMNT bubble confidence will repair much faster.
Growing pain relief
There’s no denying it. Some missed growth opportunities at the Under-20 level some years back combined with the cruelly bunched retirement of numerous national team stars set us back big. The roster needed a restock, plain and simple. Of course, the star men that came before had to fight through a development process before racking up international accomplishments. Happily, we have a squadron of notable young talent now doing the same.They’re all over the map. We have guys who are already important to big clubs in their respective leagues like Chelsea, RB Leipzig and MLS Cup champs Seattle. Several are at talent farms like Ajax, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Even behind greener full internationals such as Miles Robinson and Josh Sargent, there’s a loaded Under-17 pool. Heck, the FC Dallas youth set-up could probably cobble together a full lineup of future promise.Systems can be drilled all you like, but what usually matters in the end is a capable crew on the pitch. Blooming standouts like Adams, Pulisic, McKennie, Morris, Zack Steffen and Sergino Dest are gaining experience and confidence that should pay off big. I could go on all day dropping names like Chris Richards and Paxton Pomykal and Gio Reyna and Julian Araujo and Gianluca Busio and Joe Scally and Ulysses Llanez (you get the point). We could stack a hefty depth chart with exciting talent on a collision course with the senior team. Even if half our strong stable of youngsters fulfills expected potential, USMNT happy days would come back to us, possibly hit new heights and probably stick around.
It’s all about balance
Real quick, scroll back up to gander at all the players mentioned thus far. You may notice a pleasant even distribution around the field. Go ahead, draw up an actual working formation from the names. You’ll see a lineup and bench pieces that could cause trouble now. There’s no barren spot on the field and it’s fun just to imagine them combining into a unit.I often say balance is the key to everything. That goes double for soccer. Winning teams need solid pieces that fit together, they need flexibility and depth, they need to stop wishing for a left back (and yes, there are even a handful of good prospects aiming to fix that). I’m not sure if a more evened-out field cover in the squad will cancel all those fiery “he’s out of position!” debates or light more off, but settling them both on and off the field will be much more fun either way. It’s not just a straight depth chart thing, either. Tilt our squad outlook on another axis, and you’ll find the names mentioned above also strike a good balance across age levels. Chart everyone in the pipeline and it starts to look like a wave pool. The young risers won’t arrive all at once (which would be one of those annoying “good problems”), but they should consistently arrive in groups over the coming years.Frankly, I’m ready to move on from feeling down about the last few years. Even a conservative estimate of the double dose of USMNT roster balance we’re set for is the best reason for World Cup optimism going. Now we just need to start that new qualification streak, prove Arena right and take it from there.
Three things we learned from the US national team’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica | Charles Boehm
Look, if you’re reading this you probably know all about the overarching negativity that’s lingered around the USMNT since the woes of 2017. While you could argue that Gregg Berhalter and his players might have done more to vanquish that with a couple more big wins last year, they deserve the chance to keep their heads down and do their work, and be evaluated fairly on days like this.And Berhalter deserves some praise for giving new faces a chance, both in Saturday’s lineup and the January camp roster in general. The starting XI was 23 years, 216 days on average, the youngest in “Camp Cupcake” history and marked by four debutants, all 20 or younger. Another three came off the bench to mark their first caps. And I’d contend that all over them looked like they belonged, at the very least.The coaching staff looked to offer some stability with the familiar Aaron Long–Walker Zimmerman center back duo, Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola in the attacking band of three, and Reggie Cannon and Jackson Yueill look increasingly like nailed-on regulars. The core ideas they’ve worked on over the past year were recognizable and often pleasing to the eye. As for the top newcomers…
Jesus and Uly
For many of us one of the long-running asks of the national team is the desire for greater Latino representation, not only in personnel but also style. And there were genuinely exciting signs of progress here as Jesus Ferreira and Ulysses Llanez shined on their first exposure to this level.Confident on the ball, full of ideas and already showing promising chemistry, they linked play and drifted into dangerous spaces around the attacking third. Given their modest top-flight experience, this really should encourage supporters. Though it would’ve been a tremendous boost to see one of them score in the run of play, Llanez will savor his game-winning goal from the penalty spot in front of a big hometown crowd of family and friends. Maybe some US fans can even watch his Kobe Bryant-tribute celebration and dream of a someday where “Uly”, too, can become a first-word household name across the nation.As for Ferreira, the intelligence and variety of movement he showed in the No. 9 role belied his tender years, and troubled the Tico defense. As new USMNT GM Brian McBride said at halftime:“I thought Jesus Ferreira was excellent in dropping into that hole and really making the game, connecting, opening things up. [Costa Rica] realized it, they condensed the space, and then we started going wide.”
Time for transitions?
Nothing’s perfect, of course, especially in January. Amid plenty of positive buildup play, the finishing nous wasn’t quite there for the home side. And if I were to nitpick further, I’d wonder why the USMNT continue to look uninterested in quick, aggressive counterattack bids for long periods under Berhalter.Given that some of Costa Rica’s most dangerous moments came off transitions and set pieces in their direction, it might’ve behooved the Yanks to respond in kind where and when balls turned over in promising areas going the other way. When such situations arose, it didn’t appear that there were practiced collective movements at front of mind for those in positions to stretch the opposition.It was a recurring theme in 2019 and at this point I’m not sure whether Berhalter has pushed it down the to-do list, or just doesn’t see it as a priority at all in his system. Time is short in most international windows, so January is a period in which you’d expect to see more signs of automation in this regard.