Opportunities lost: too few sharp edges for U.S. national team

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HOUSTON – What last night’s draw missed for the U.S. national team was a few more sharp edges, a few less rounded corners.

During last night’s post-game news conference following the 0-0 draw in Houston, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said something interesting. During player meetings held the night before, individuals were told exactly where they stood in the bigger depth pool picture.

Here’s what I am wondering:

For a player told there are still guys ahead of them, but that they aren’t too far away after a positive January camp – Klinsmann and his staff, keeps saying that it was good and productive camp with pleasingly few disappointments – what exactly did that player think he was hearing?

Because there are very different reactions. One reaction says: “I am so close. I’ve had this great January camp! For three weeks now I worked my Red, White and Blue butt off and made a little move up the ladder! I’m not about to lose ground now on some Tuesday night in Houston, in some meaningless friendly against a bunch of young Canadians who aren’t going anywhere near Brazil. So … safety first tonight! My order of the day: Don’t lose hard-earned ground!”

That’s how I believe a few of Klinsmann men wrongly assessed and attacked the situation. Hence, a lot of safe passes, a failure to create and innovate, a disinclination toward risk and in the end … a 0-0 draw at home.

How they should have heard things, and how they should have attacked the opportunity:

“I am so close … I am going out tonight and I will make that helicopter flying German put me on next week’s roster for Honduras! Or on the Gold Cup roster this summer. This is no time for caution. I have run a good race, and now I am going to fly across the finish line! I will go out there and be the kind of player who wins games … not the kind of player looking not to lose them.”

I speak more of the attackers here. The central defenders and goalkeeper Sean Johnson? There generally just wasn’t enough to go on for a broader assessment, although Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler did little wrong.

(MORE: Initial take-aways from the 0-0 draw)

Besler, in fact, showed a little something. From minutes 30-45 he tried, at least, to go over the Canadian defensive bunching, and attempted to exploit the passing lanes. I asked Besler if that was on instruction from the bench? No, he told me … he just communicated with Kyle Beckerman, who encouraged the debuting U.S. man and promised to drop into covering position if Besler wanted to be more dynamic with his distribution.

That tells us something about Besler. He was one who went searching for solutions.

Benny Feilhaber pushed the pace of an otherwise languid attack. He has enough technical ability to turn and create, even within the constricted space.

Josh Gatt (pictured above) keeps seeing his standing move in the right direction. He was a definitely a sharp edge.

Justin Morrow did OK, exploiting a fairly fortunate matchup, one that allowed him to use his pace and physical attributes.

Besler and Gonzalez did nothing to hurt themselves.

But that’s really about it. They were the closest U.S. men to being the sharp edge that matches like this demand. And these matches, at home against opposition looking to slow the game, muck it up, make it difficult and eek out a draw, they are out there.

Said Klinsmann: “You just hope that after those three weeks of work, you get that moment to shine. and we wished for the strikers to score a goal and midfielders to do the final pass. … It was missing kind of the last little piece to it. Creating the chances, playing the killer ball into the box, finishing things off and unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight against a very defensive Canada.”

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”