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.

VIDEO: Incredible goal from Graziano Pelle in China

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Graziano Pelle seems to be enjoying his time in the Chinese Super League with 5 goals and two assists in his first 12 games in China.

It’s no wonder he’s having fun when he’s scoring goals like this.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Pelle, 31, joined CSL side Shandong Lenung in July from Premier League side Southampton with plenty of people around the world raising their eyebrows at him.

With reported wages of over $250,000 per week making him the joint-sixth highest paid player in the world, you can understand why he moved to China for the final few years of his career.

Pelle’s decision to head to the Far East also hasn’t harmed his international chances as he continues to get callups to the Italian national team. Although, after refusing to shake the coaches hand during the last international break after he was substituted he may find callups harder to come by in the future.

Putting all of that aside, let’s marvel in the beauty of his fine finish in the CSL on Wednesday against Chongqing Lifan.

From the chest control, to the flick over the defenders head and then the volley, it has to be a contender for FIFA’s Puskas award which is given to the best goal score in world soccer each year.

Graziano, take it away…

Napoli treating Higuain as a traitor after record transfer

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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ROME (AP) A traitor. A mercenary. An ingrate.

Napoli fans have no shortage of insulting words when it comes to describing Gonzalo Higuain, the striker who transferred to rival Juventus for an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) after scoring 36 goals last season to break a 66-year-old Serie A record.

So it will be interesting to see what type of reception Higuain gets when he faces his old club for the first time as Napoli visits Juventus on Saturday.

“I’ll greet him like a father does with a son who has really (ticked) him off,” Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri said.

Napoli forward Dries Mertens, one of Higuain’s best friends when they played together, was asked if he would prepare a “trick” for his former teammate to celebrate Halloween.

“No. At most, I’ll give him a slap,” Mertens said with a laugh.

Napoli fans are banned from attending the match for security reasons. That may prevent replicating a scene like when Luis Figo returned to face Barcelona after transferring to Real Madrid in 2000 and a pig’s head was thrown onto the pitch.

Juventus doesn’t visit Napoli until April.

Other strikers have left Napoli at the height of their powers in recent years – namely Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who went to Paris Saint-Germain – but the fact that Higuain moved to the club’s fiercest domestic competitor has sparked more outrage.

With 71 league goals in 104 Serie A matches for Napoli the past three seasons, Higuain’s popularity in Naples was beginning to approach that of Diego Maradona, his fellow Argentine who led Napoli to its only two league titles in 1987 and 1990.

When the transfer was announced in July, Napoli fans publicly threw their Higuain shirts, banners and scarves into the trash.

Outside the San Paolo stadium at Napoli matches this season, vendors sell toilet paper with Higuain’s image printed on it.

“He prefers the money to our love,” read a headline in Naples’ Il Mattino newspaper after the transfer.

The artisans on Naples’ famed San Gregorio Armeno street placed placards in the hands of Higuain’s Christmas figurine that read, “I’m a traitor” and “I’m a mercenary.”

Higuain was lambasted for performing medical exams with Juventus in secret in Madrid.

“Neapolitans were met with betrayal this summer,” Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said. “(Higuain’s) brother (and manager) told me in February that he wanted to leave because there were no other stars in our squad besides him.”

Higuain attempted to calm the tensions before the season started by thanking Napoli’s fans for supporting him the past three years, but that only seemed to cause more problems.

Ten games into the season, Juventus holds a four-point lead over third-place Napoli.

Higuain enters on a four-match scoring drought in all competitions, while Napoli has struggled to replace him at center forward.

With seven goals in eight matches in all competitions, newly signed Poland forward Arkadiusz Milik was filling in quite nicely until he severely injured his left knee.

Manolo Gabbiadini, who had performed well as a backup to Higuain the past two seasons, struggled to replace Milik, then was suspended for two matches for a reaction foul last weekend.

As a result, Sarri has been relying on a three-man forward line with Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon flanking Mertens. The trio has been labeled the “piccoli” line for the players’ small stature.

“We don’t have a natural striker right now and we’ve got to adapt,” Sarri said.

Besides Higuain’s recent troubles, Juventus has its own injury problems in attack with Paulo Dybala and Marko Pjaca each out for several weeks.

Higuain started the season with six goals in seven Serie A matches but hasn’t scored since. He struggled again in a 4-1 win over Sampdoria on Wednesday.

“Higuain will score again soon, and by the end of the season he’ll have scored many,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said.

A goal against Napoli would be difficult for his former fans to digest.

Follow AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf on Twitter:

VIDEO: Southampton’s Boufal scores stunner on home debut

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Sofiane Boufal of Southampton in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at Etihad Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Sofiane Boufal, take a bow.

[ MORE: EFL Cup, last 8 draw

Southampton’s club-record signing has had to hang around at St Mary’s for two long months while he recovered from injury.

But, on his home debut, the Moroccan international wasted no time in opening his account for Saints in stunning fashion.

Boufal arrived in August for $19.5 million from French side Lille but was nursing a knee injury from the end of last season. He had appeared off the bench against Inter Milan and Manchester City over the past week but on Wednesday he made his first start for the club and his first appearance at St Mary’s.

He didn’t disappoint.

In the 66th minute of a largely unforgettable game, Boufal scored the game-winner as Southampton beat Sunderland 1-0 to move onto the EFL Cup quarterfinals where they’ll face Arsenal.

The 23-year-old took a mesmerizing first touch out of the air, then jinxed inside and sent an unstoppable shot into the far top corner.

I was at St Mary’s last night and was right behind this strike. It has to be one of the best goals I’ve ever seen live.

See it for yourself, below.

First the touch…

Then the finish…

And why not have another look from another angle…

Jose Mourinho charged over referee comments

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is never far away from controversy.

[ MORE: Crowd trouble in EFL Cup ]

On Thursday the English FA announced the manager of Manchester United had been charged for comments about referee Anthony Taylor before their game against Liverpool last Monday.

Ahead of the 0-0 draw at Anfield, Mourinho had questioned the appointment of Taylor as referee given the fact that Taylor resides close to Manchester and some may influence some of his decisions.

This is what the FA had to say, as there is a clear rule in place which bans managers from talking about refereeing appointments before the game.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has been charged with misconduct, in respect of comments he made relating to the appointed match referee prior to the Liverpool FC v Manchester United FC fixture on Monday 17 October 2016.

It is alleged his comments were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute contrary to FA Rule E3(1).

Mr Mourinho has until 6pm on Monday 31 October 2016 to respond to the charge.

So, what did Mourinho actually say about Taylor’s appointment as the referee?

“Somebody with intention is putting such a pressure on him. I feel that it will be difficult for him to have a very good performance.”

Mourinho went on to say he thought Taylor was a very good referee but still, those comments have landed him in hot water with a potential touchline ban and/or fine heading his wau.

No contentious decisions were made by Taylor during the derby game and after the match Mourinho asked his press officer what he could say to the media about the referee for fear of further action.

Mourinho is no stranger to being charged by the FA when it comes to comments against referees.

In October 2015 he was fined for his post-game comments in Chelsea’s loss to Southampton where he said referees were “afraid” to give decisions for his team. Then in November he was fined and handed a one-game touchline ban after going into the referees dressing room at half time of a defeat at West Ham to contest their decisions.