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U.S. under-23s: If the London-bound train gets back on track, they’ll need reinforcement

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Putting the ol’ cart before the horse is part of the human condition. We just can’t resist.

So we talked at will of over-aged players for the U.S. under-23 side, which we always presumed would become the U.S. Olympic side – and would therefore be positioned to summon its three, permissible over-aged incredibles.

Well, that cart and the horse went off in a ditch Saturday.

It’s just a ditch, though; nobody spilled fully over a cliff here. There’s time and opportunity to put things right tonight, move into Kansas City this weekend and book a sweaty passage to London, even if the mission is tougher today than it seemed Saturday afternoon.

Should things go horribly askew this evening and the United States fail to move forward, we’ll fill up pages with second-guess discussion points.

But bummer of bummers: supporters and media will be denied their given right to discuss and debate these over-aged selections. What a shame, too, because this is a trusty favorite of quadrennial talking points for domestic soccer fans.  It’s a real-life opportunity to play fantasy sports: you study the team, pick apart its weaker points and add feel good about adding the necessary reinforcement.

I’m quite sure Caleb Porter will appreciate the assistance.

So we cannot be denied this chance!

Especially today, as we know much more about where those three over-aged spots should go. Two qualifying matches have taught us so much.

Assumption: Landon Donovan and / or Clint Dempsey would be needed to beef up the attack, to add some veteran wile and big game experience.

Confirmation: And how. Coaches will tell you that skills get you only so far. The game requires problem solving. It’s one of the things that make soccer unique. Timeouts in basketball and the very nature of football make those a “coach’s game.” In soccer, the man on the bench can only do so much once the referee blows his whistle. The players must think their way around the chessboard. The must quickly assess: What’s working on a given day? Where are the spaces to exploit? Where are the matchup problems? Who is “feeling it.”

Potential resolution: Donovan and Dempsey possess that faculty. And, of course, they own world class ability, as well.

Assumption: Center back was an issue. Carlos Bocanegra (above right) would be required.

Confirmation: Yup.

A veteran center back seems an absolute must. But should it be Bocanegra? This one deserves further thought.

The longtime U.S. international could clearly assist back there, adding much needed organization, leadership and plenty of solid tackling. On the other hand, he’ll be 33 by this summer. His shrewd positioning can help him mitigate a clear speed advantage some of the young blazers will enjoy – but he’ll still be exposed here and there.

Plus, this will be a busy summer to the Rangers man. He’ll surely be involved in U.S. World Cup qualifying contests. And who knows what might happen with Rangers, the fiscally fallen Scottish giants, now on the verge of financial ruin? A huge summer sale-off of big contracts (like Bocanegra’s) seems imminent. Not only will Bocanegra need time to change clubs and get himself established at a new address, he’ll need some time off during the summer. And that seems difficult if he’s busy leading the London effort.

Potential resolution: Geoff Cameron or Clarence Goodson.

Assumption: The midfield is solid, so the over-aged spots can be dispersed elsewhere.

Confirmation: Not so much.

The “Mix” was off Saturday, in more ways than one. Canada’s stacked midfield reduced Mix Diskerud’s influence as a linking presence. Further, the midfield never really found its rhythm or basic construction; credit Canada’s diligence and frustrating tactics for some of that.

Jared Jeffrey as the lone holding man never adjusted accordingly, never “found” the game he was in, giving away too many balls and failing to make a difference on the attack.

Potential resolution: Where is the United States’ particularly strong at the full international level? Central midfield. So, Michael Bradley, anyone? For that matter, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman might move things in the right direction.

Watch Live: Sunderland vs. Manchester United (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and John O'Shea of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Struggling Sunderland host top-four chasing Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online goal Live Extra) at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats haven’t won in their last four games and are four points of safety. Desperation sums up the mood for Sam Allardyce‘s side.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

The same could be said for United as Louis Van Gaal‘s side continue to leak goals and they’re now six points off the top four with just 13 games to go. Speculation linking Jose Mourinho with a summer arrival at Old Trafford continues with LVG’s job seemingly on the line.

Sunderland’s survival hopes took an unexpected hit this week, as winger Adam Johnson had his contract terminated after he surprisingly pleading guilty to a child sex charge in court.

In team news Sunderland bring in DeAndre Yedlin for Billy Jones, while United bring in Morgan Schneiderlin for Marouane Fellaini.  

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Yedlin, O’Shea, Kone, van Aanholt, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, M’Vila, Khazri, N’Doye, Defoe. Subs: Brown, Rodwell, Borini, Matthews, Pickford, Toivonen, Honeyman

Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rooney. Subs: Romero, Love, Weir, Pereira, Herrera, Memphis, Keane.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.