Landon Donovan, Marcelo

The Big Three: Trio of talkers on U.S. loss to Brazil

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  • Where the big problem on the U.S. back line lies now

Remember when we all sat around straining our brains to fix the gaping hole along the back line, the one at left back? Timmy Chandler came along … and then dumped us like a cheating girlfriend. No matter, though, because Fabian Johnson rode in to the timely rescue. The Hoffenheim man has little wrong over two matches, strong in one-on-one defending, reasonably well positioned, troublesome on the attack, etc.

But there’s still a bugger of a problem back there; the trouble spot just shifted into the middle.

I’ve already written the early, brutal details about Oguchi Onyewu’s night to forget. He was a little better in the second half … until the moment when he was late stepping forward, leaving Tim Howard stranded to stop an unchallenged shot that turned into No. 4.

Carlos Bocanegra still has something to offer, but his speed will become an increasingly liability unless Jurgen Klinsmann can find a quality partner to situate alongside him, one with a little more speed. Maybe it’s Clarence Goodson. Or maybe it can be Cameron with a little more top-level experience.

Either way, the case is being built that it just isn’t Onyewu.

  • The imperfect midfield fix

The United States still has spots that are weak and vulnerable. Center back is not the only one.

The midfield mix was good enough against Scotland, but suffered severely Wednesday. Much of the trouble can be traced to Jermaine Jones, who lost too many balls, took way too long to catch the pace of the game (much faster than Saturdays) and wasn’t in the right spots, providing the requisite cover at the moments his team needed it most.

Meanwhile, Michael Bradley had another strong match. Mostly, at any rate.

More from U.S.-Brazil: 
Match report: United States 1-4 Brazil 
Bradley gets PST’s USMNT Man of the Match

There are times when Bradley didn’t move out of the center channel to pressure (or better yet, forcefully eliminate) a Brazilian advance. It underscores a point I think we’re all learning: he’s not a defensive midfielder. Not that he can’t be serviceable there, but it’s not Bradley’s ideal positioning.

Bradley has evolved into a two-way man, and a darn good one. I know the Jose Torres backers may take issue, but Bradley is the best passer on the U.S. team. His ball into Fabian Johnson to start the U.S. goal was pinpoint perfect. Looking back over his body of work in the U.S. shirt, who can deny what he offers going forward, in arranging goals and scoring them?

The three-man arrangement looked better Saturday when Edu was the holding screener and Bradley’s starting positions were higher up the field. (Wednesday, Edu and Jones played ahead of Bradley in the triangle.)

  • Too much whining, not enough “getting on with it.”

The United States looked a little undone by the early penalty kick decision. Good call or bad, they have to get past it.

Landon Donovan was complaining too much, throwing his arms around when he needed total focus on that bunch of yellow wizards. He must have thought he was back in the L.A. Galaxy uniform; they do a lot of that stuff.

Donovan struggled to get anything going against Marcelo, among the globe’s top left backs, so some frustration may be understandable. Then again, as the most experienced U.S. man, he’s got to provide a better example.

Jones kicked into his bad old habit of lashing out temperamentally, crunching Neymar along the sideline.

Bradley has trimmed that petulant element from his game, and thankfully so. Jones, 30, may be what he is, unable to turn that stuff off at this point. It’s another reason Klinsmann would do well to keep looking for a third central midfielder.

Bottom line: this is big boy soccer, and the stakes will rise dramatically in just over a week. Things won’t always go the U.S. way, and they just have to get on with it.

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.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.