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Tension between Alexi Lalas and Michael Ballack? Nah


Former German captain Michael Ballack and former U.S. international Alexi Lalas have practically been house guests for the American soccer family over the past month, slicing and dicing the European Championship from ESPN’s Connecticut studio.

Almost immediately, people sensed tension in the room as the pair sometimes disagreed.

Some also had concerns over Ballack’s deliverables, which were rather blunt and on the spare side. (Or in other words, quintessentially German – what did anyone really expect?)

So what’s the deal?

These guys are fine. Marc Stein, my co-host on a weekly radio show, caught up with Ballack and Lalas late last week. Stein got them on tape, playfully poking at each other about their month in Connecticut captivity. For instance:

Ballack: With him in the hotel, I have to see him nearly every day, every evening, and that is really tough.

Lalas: C’mon! I have taught you things about soccer, and about life off the field, that you will take with you for the rest of your life.

Ballack: You taught me? You teach me?

Lalas: Every day I teach you, my friend …

Ballack: From the perspective of an average center back, maybe you are right.

Zing! Average center back! And they say Germans have no sense of humor.

The entire interview is here, at about the 7:00 minute mark of the show. (It also includes Stein asking Ballack about the possibility of playing in MLS; he is out of contract currently, but probably still has a little soccer  left.)

My opinion, Ballack as an analyst? When asked a good question, Ballack usually has something insightful or instructional to say. But lobbing a general query toward the man (which is often the way of American sports journalism) doesn’t work with Ballack. If  probably doesn’t work with most people who are working out of a second language, someone who needs to organize their words in addition to organizing their thoughts. Once his broadcast partners seemed to understand that, he was fine.

There’s also some great stuff on our show/podcast from ESPN’s Steve McManaman regarding today’s final. And we also had commentator Derek Rae on this one; he had a very interesting perspective about Michel Platini’s curious statement that Euro 2020 could be staged throughout Europe.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.