Another draw, a little more possesion for U.S. women in 2-2 draw with Germany

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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — It’s very tempting to discuss how big a role the field played in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw between the United States women’s soccer team and Germany. The slick turf at Rentschler Field directly led to Germany’s first goal in the 48th minute and it nearly re-gifted the favor to Abby Wambach 11 minutes later when a through ball skipped through to put her one-on-one with German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, but Wambach didn’t fool Angerer on the chip.

Alright, enough about the field. Even the result – a 2-2 draw, which follows Saturday’s 1-1 draw – is less important than what we saw play out between 18-yard boxes.

The United States looked far more comfortable on the ball on Tuesday and that is directly attributable to the team keeping the ball higher up the field. Germany sat in on Saturday and forced U.S. defenders to play out of the back, which is not a strength of this squad. That led to an opening 45 minutes that went just as planned on Saturday: long balls from the U.S. that the Germans gobbled up and turned the other way.

Tuesday, however, saw Megan Rapinoe and Shannon Boxx, in particular, find the ball far more often, in more advanced and dangerous positions.

(MORE:  Gulati talks future of U.S. women’s soccer)

Becky Sauerbrunn’s insertion into the starting XI at center back in place of Rachel Buehler played a role in calming down the back line, which played better than the 2-2 score suggests.

Germany forward Dzsenifer Marozsan scored her first goal in the 48th minute on rain-induced mistake by Christie Rampone and Marozsan scored her second equalizer in the 85th minute on a left-footed upper-90 strike which Solo could do nothing about.

Both U.S. goals – Wambach’s in the 44th minute and Tobin Heath’s in the 67th minute – came from well-worked combinations in which Alex Morgan earned the assist.

So what do the U.S. women take from this match?

“The takeaway for me is that when we are played in and we’re fit, we’re a better team, obviously,” Wambach said. “And that’s good news because that’s on the horizon for us.”

That reliance on fitness and physical play isn’t anything new — it’s always been a staple of the U.S. and there is no reason to think that it will change soon (and as I noted in an earlier post, why fix what isn’t broken?).

But speaking of physical play, we did see yet another element of Morgan’s game come out in these two matches against Germany.

She is blazing fast, but we knew that from the start of her emergence with the national team. Then she started scoring late game-winning and game-tying goals before quickly establishing herself as a starter following the 2011 World Cup. This year her progression has been as a playmaker – those two assists give her 18 this calendar year.

Morgan, however, has only recently added a physical element to her game. She is going to need to be as defenses around the world try to chip away at her and get under her skin. Germany did that from the opening whistle on Tuesday and Morgan was ready to push back straight from the start.

“You have to expect the physicality that the Germans bring to this game,” Morgan said. “We’ve played them and now we know that if you take too many touches on the ball, they are going to tackle you, they are going to put some pressure on you, they are going to put a body on you.”

So, as we’ve alluded to previously, the feelings over these two draws is pretty mixed given the transitional nature of this squad. Two draws against world No. 2 Germany are nothing to scoff at (17-4-6 against Germany all-time), but interim coach Jill Ellis will now hand over the keys to the U.S. to Pia Sundhage’s permanent replacement. What comes once that change happens is anyone’s guess.

As Christie Rampone said postgame, the U.S. didn’t want to lose. Though that’s not quite the mentality you would expect from the No. 1 team in the world.

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Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

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  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.