Germany v United States

Tom Sermmani’s early ‘to-do’ list ahead of Canada 2015

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By now, you should know a little more about Tom Sermanni, the 58-year-old Scot who has been chosen to guide the U.S. Women’s National Team toward Canada 2015. What we’ve yet to cover are the challenges he’ll face trying to get the team to move forward, something that must happen if the USWNT’s to stay on (or near the) top of an increasingly competitive international soccer landscape.

Increased competition is not the only external issue facing Sermanni. As World Cup 2011 showed, the women’s game is evolving, quickly. France, Japan, and the changes we see in Germany’s approach provide a glimpse of a faster, very technical future. While the U.S.’s style has remained relatively static, rivals have been absorbing and implementing the game’s broader tactical innovations. Combined with countries’ improved development, the U.S. is facing significant challenges to their perch atop the women’s game.

While that’s incredibly exciting for the sport, it also depicted a landscape that could envelop the U.S by 2015.

How does Serrmani keep the U.S. at the forefront? Here are the issues (in no particular order):

1. What course with the fullbacks – Pia Sundhage converted Kelley O’Hara from attack to defense and started pool midfielder Meghan Klingenberg down the same road. Serrmani could elect to continue with these progressive options or go back to natural defenders, a choice that would leave central defenders Amy LePeilbet, Whitney Engen, and Rachel Buehler as options at left back. Right back Ali Krieger, the best at her position at World Cup 2011, should be back by the time the U.S. plays its next important game, solving the problem on the opposite flank.

2. Centrally, the defense – In their last four (all at home) games, the U.S. has allowed six goals. Granted, they’ve scored 11, but their defending continues to be a cause for concern, particularly given Christie Rampone’s uncertain future. Thankfully, it looks like the captain’s sticking around. The 37-year-old is still one of the best defenders in the world, but who do you play next to her? Buehler’s confidence appears to be shaken. Becky Sauerbrunn would add some needed class on the ball, while LePeilbet was twice chosen WPS’s best defender. There are options, just a lack of answers.

3. Middle of midfield, too – Increased use of three-woman midfields presents a huge problem for the U.S. By formation, they’re often outnumbered, leading to large spans where they fail to control games against elite competition. By personnel, they’re thin. Carli Lloyd got redemption in this summer’s gold medal game after losing her place in the team, but questions reamin about her consistency and defending. At 35, Shannon Boxx isn’t expected to make it to Canada 2015 (and could retire at any time). Lauren Cheney’s conversion to central midfield remains a work in progress. As the rest of the world is bolstering in the middle, the U.S. is in need to new options.

4. Heath, Rapinoe, O’Reilly … Rodriguez, Cheney – No team has better wide play than the U.S., but there are decisions to be made here, too. Tobin Heath’s been starting wide left opposite Megan Rapinoe, with Heather O’Reilly unable to reclaim a consistent starting spot after her leg injury. Though she has her best days ahead of her, Heath has failed to match O’Reilly’s effectiveness, and it’s unclear she’ll ever be as good on the flank as the player she’s replacing. The U.S. has a couple of years to find out, with Cheney and Amy Rodriguez also factoring into the equation.

5. A future without Wambach – Abby Wambach will be 35 by the time 2015 starts, and she’s starting to wear down. What does the U.S. do if their focal point can’t play 90 minutes come Canada? Sermanni has to come up with a plan. It’s not enough to rely on Alex Morgan, a completely different type of player. How does the U.S. rebuild when the center of their attack moves on?

6. Bringing in new blood – Among the few complaints about the Pia Sundhage era was her inability, at the end, to bring new players into the team. While the likes of Cheney, Rapinoe and Morgan were able to crack the starting XI, we’re not seeing a lot of new blood on the bench. Kelley O’Hara and Sydney Leroux have gotten time, but it took far too long for Ali Krieger to unseat Heather Mitts at right back. As we see with the situation in midfield, there aren’t a lot of options waiting in the wings. Sermanni has to change that.

7. A team and a product – We take the iconography of the USWNT for granted, but if you think about a world where the team isn’t at the top of the game, it’s easier to see success as a huge part of this program’s identity (even if they haven’t won a World Cup since 1999). As he makes tough calls on these issues, Sermanni has to keep the team at the top of the game, even if the speed at which the world’s improving makes it inevitable that the U.S. lose its spot. Unfortunately for Sermanni, there’s no tolerance for that happening over the next four years.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.