Canada v United States

Good performances hard to find in U.S. draw with Canada


If the idea of a January match is just an exercise in January camp motivation, a way for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to get his players through three tough weeks of conditioning with a little more skip in their daily step, then Tuesday’s dullard of a friendly hit the note, I suppose.

On pretty much any other account from the U.S. side, there wasn’t much good to say about this one, a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against a visiting Canadian that should have been easily overmatched.

Credit to well-organized and hard-working Canada for a worthy response after getting the maple leafs knocked out of them against Denmark just three nights back. Even so …

These matches aren’t about results, of course. But they are about opportunities, about getting a couple of individuals to distinguish themselves. The chances to do so were certainly there for U.S. attackers as Canada happily ceded possession.

Finding someone in the U.S. blue to take advantage? Those were pretty tough to pinpoint out there.

Three take-aways from the match in which plenty of opportunities turned into swinging misses:

(MORE: Individual opportunities wasted; too few sharp edges)

The lineup didn’t work. And then some.

What an interesting choice by Klinsmann to put Brad Evans in the chief playmaking position, at the top of a midfield diamond. The versatile Seattle Sounders’ midfielder may be a lot of things, but he’s not the guy to punch holes in tightly packed Canadian defensive stack-up.

The Canadians played a relatively high line and dropped their attackers – few that they were – back. So it was up to the U.S. midfield and overlapping backs to break through 10 Canadians in a 30 to 40-yard box. With Kyle Beckerman almost always making the safe choice, and with Graham Zusi reliably restrained on the right, unable to find a bit of joy in getting past Nik Ledgerwood, there just wasn’t much happening.

If Klinsmann’s lineup selections were all about rewarding performance over three weeks of training, fair enough. But as a tactical selection for a one match, Benny Feilhaber or Mix Diskerud would have been a better central, attacking choice.

Even Evans’ positioning relative to strikers Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson indicated “safefy first,” as he was generally too far away.

Quite a few U.S. men showed their offensive limitations.

Evans … we already addressed. And he wasn’t much better as a right back, although that’s not his position, so it’s a tough ask. Johnson can clearly be dangerous around goal, but he’s not as adept in a game that requires the United States to handle the ball most of the time. Same with Wondolowski.

Zusi was wide right in the 4-4-2 and simply wasn’t effective, mostly just stuck in the mud over there, so to speak. Some of that was due to Tony Beltran being less aggressive than Justin Morrow on the other side in pushing into attacking spots.

Nor could Beltran manage to release the crosses when he did get forward, which he did a bit more after about 30 minutes. Beltran, who had such a good camp, was subtracted at halftime.

Further back, as the ball moved back and forth across the field, Beckerman rarely turned with the ball or pushed aggressively toward the few gaps in Canada’s alignment. As we’ve seen, at the international level, Beckerman is a better in a match where the United States is defending more than attacking, where he’s more destroyer and less distributor.

It was crowed and tough out there, no doubt. But this is where Zusi and Brad Davis, who similarly failed to distinguish himself, needed to show something. Something!

None of the forwards did any distinguishing either. Wondolowski needed to do better with a couple of half chances that came his way. Juan Agudelo, in for the last 30 minutes, did not look particularly sharp.

Good nights? Yeah, a couple.

Matt Besler was the best passer, managing at least to look occasionally for the passing lanes that would help break up the logjam. Morrow was easily the best offensive threat of the two U.S. outside backs.

Omar Gonzalez demonstrated that he can be a bother at international level on those attacking set pieces, which we’ve all seen him do in MLS.

Josh Gatt certainly kept his stock pointed in the right direction, enlivening the left side. He was easily the best U.S. man at taking on defenders and showing a willingness to ask some questions of the Canadian back line.

Feilhaber looked OK in possession, and his set pieces fell dangerously.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

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Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

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Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

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In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.