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U.S./France Olympic preview, or how to combat Les Bleues’ charm offensive

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And so it begins. Momentum is as stake in the U.S.’s first Olympic group stage match tomorrow against an endearingly modish French side.

The U.S. stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2008 when the team dropped its first Olympic match against Norway. Does recent history promise to repeat itself on Wednesday? France likely pose the biggest threat to U.S. chances until the Knockout Round. Les Bleues nearly got the best of the U.S. in the World Cup Semifinals last summer, but failed to contain Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. It’s a match-up between perennial powerhouses vs. potential powerhouses and anything can happen.

Who gets the starting nod in midfield; Lauren Cheney or Carli Lloyd? The USWNT’s previous three friendlies have seen Pia Sundhage do the improbable as Carli Lloyd remained on the bench in favor of Lauren Cheney. While Lloyd is certainly capable of being a productive force (she scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 Gold Medal match, after all), inconsistency and wastefulness have made her a frustrating figure to USWNT devotees. Sundhage rolled the dice by giving Cheney the surprise start in the U.S.’s opening game against  North Korea at the World Cup last summer. Will it be déjà vu in Glasgow?

(MORE: Hope Solo talks about her new autobiography)

Expect France to rack up the style points. It’s been said at least a dozen times before but it bears repeating before special occasions like this. Les Bleues’ meteoric rise on the international scene can be partially attributed to the vast successes amassed by Olympique Lyonnais at club level. Lyon have been lauded for their progressive, possession-oriented style of play; a style France has worked to duplicate. Eleven players on France’s 18-player squad won the Champions League title with Lyon last May. Look for Lyon midfielders Camille Abily and Louisa Necib (she’ll be the one with the eyeliner) to provide France’s attacking thrust. Both are capable of some truly wondrous performances.

How will the U.S.’s defense fare against France’s flair? The United States defense has experienced its share of woes this calendar year. 23-year-old newly-converted defender Kelley O’Hara could be tabbed to start at outside back. France’s speedy wingers are nearly as dangerous as the side’s mercurial attacking midfielders. Lapses in concentration are likely to be punished. The U.S. defense should be prepared to face its stiffest test so far this year.

–  Will Alex Morgan continue to make strides towards history? It seems not even the allure of Alex Morgan can fill seats at Hampden Park (80% of tickets were reportedly distributed to school children in response to sluggish ticket sales). Still, Morgan will have the chance to light up the scoresheet as she’s done so many times this year. She’s merely three goals away from becoming just the fifth player in U.S. WNT history to net 20 goals in a single season. And her premiere World Cup goal came against France, y’know.

(MORE: Comparing the 2008 and 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic sides)  

Final say: Between Morgan, Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe, the U.S.’s frontline looked ferociously potent in the team’s previous three friendlies. Defensive frailties have remained present, however, so it won’t be a shock to see the team cough up a first half goal. Still, one of the U.S.’s three aforementioned attacking players will be eager to make it 2-1. France might need an additional group game before truly hitting form, but a highly competitive duel of contrasting styles will likely be on tap.

The proceedings begin at 12 PM EST on NBC Sports.

New reports claim Mourinho in talks with Manchester United

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New reports from various outlets in the UK claim that Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have held talks about him becoming the new man in charge at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Klopp missing with illness ]

Mourinho, 53, has been out of worked since being fired by Chelsea back in December, but rumors have been rife that he will land at United.

The latest gossip claims that Mourinho and his agent, Jorge Mendes, have held talks with the United hierarchy about replacing current boss Louis Van Gaal this summer.

Van Gaal, 64, has a contract through the end of the 2016-17 Premier League season, but with United currently languishing five points off the top four and knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage, the Dutchman’s time appears to be running out.

After spending $375 million on new talent over the past 18 months, LVG’s team have blown hot and cold and this season have struggled to score goals or entertain fans on a regular basis. In the recent defeat to Southampton at home Van Gaal and his players were booed and jeered throughout but they’ve won two-straight games in the league and cup since then, scoring six goals and conceding just once.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

That said, with crosstown rivals Manchester City announcing that the most sought after coach on the globe, Pep Guaridola, will be arriving as their new boss in July on an initial three-year contract, United may feel the need to hire Guardiola’s old sparring partner from their days back in Spain coaching Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City is already pretty spicy. Imagine adding the Iberian passion of Guardiola vs. Mourinho to the mix. It’s gone off in the past when these two have met and having the two most successful coaches in the game today coaching in the same city would be something to behold.

Let’s see if this latest round of rumors is just that, or if United will make their move.

It was widely expected that Mourinho would take over from Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 when he retired but reports claimed that the directors at United didn’t want Mourinho, despite his resume as a winner wherever he has gone.

United needs to be rebuilt and Mourinho needs to rebuild his reputation after being fired by Chelsea just seven months after he delivered the Premier League title, his third in five full seasons in charge of the Blues.

Klopp to miss Liverpool vs. Sunderland through illness

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has suffered a bout of suspected appendicitis and will not be at Anfield for the clash against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Klopp, 46, will miss his first game since joining the Reds last October and it comes on the same day supporters groups are planning a mass walkout in the 77th minute to protest against new tickets prices for the 2016-17 season which were released earlier this week.

Liverpool Football Club released the following statement confirming Klopp’s absence:

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be absent from today’s Barclays Premier League fixture against Sunderland at Anfield, after suffering a suspected bout of appendicitis.

First-team duties will be overseen by the remaining members of the coaching staff, including Zeljko Buvac, Peter Krawietz, Pepijn Lijnders and John Achterberg.

A win against Sunderland would momentarily move Klopp’s side up to seventh place in the Premier League table and see them on 37 points for the season.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Leicester City (Lineups, Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City and Joe Hart of Manchester City in discussion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester City host Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a huge clash between the top two teams in the Premier League table.

Leicester, the surprise package of the season by far, lead the way and are three points ahead of Man City heading into this monster clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Both teams are in sensational form, with the home side unbeaten in seven games and Leicester without a defeat in six. Will Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez torment City’s banged up back line? Or can City’s expensively assembled squad show their class and put the Foxes in their place?

In teams news City start with Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis at center back, while Raheem Sterling starts out wide in support of lone forward Sergio Aguero. Leicester line up in a familiar 4-4-2 formation with Vardy and Shinji Okazaki leading the line.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov; Delph, Fernandinho; Sterling, Toure, Silva; Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Sagna, Fernando, Garcia, Iheanacho, Celina

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Drinkwater, Kante, Mahrez, Albrighton; Okazaki Vardy. Subs: Schwarzer, King, Gray, Ulloa, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worthy display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

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