Lineup prediction for United States-Scotland friendly

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source:  A new U.S. Women’s National Team era begins today in Jacksonville, but the cast may largely be the same. Hope Solo is nursing a calf injury while Megan Rapinoe and Rachel Buehler were late into camp, but enough holdovers from London were picked to Tom Sermanni’s first playing squad that we could see a very familiar starting XI tonight against Scotland.

Of course, any lineup prediction for debuting coaching is foolish. Even if the XI shown to the right are chosen to start Saturday against Scotland, that doesn’t change the current landscape. As of now, over eight hours before the match, it’s all a very thin, educated guess. And most of the information guiding that guess may be outdated.

Consider this guest just the set of incumbents, with three possible exceptions: (a) Heather O’Reilly, the likely starter at right midfield, has usually been a substitute since Tobin Heath and Rapinoe became first choice wide midfielders; (b) Ali Krieger returns to the squad after a January 2012 knee injury, though she was the first choice right back when she went down; (c) Becky Sauerbrunn will likely take Buehler’s place next to captain Christie Rampone.

But before going through the positions, the it bares reminding: This is Sermanni’s first game in charge. We don’t know what preferences he’s developed during the team’s time in Jacksonville.  We don’t even know what formation he’ll use, let alone the roles he’ll define within that setup.

All we have to go on is the past, and as you can see from our prediction, we’ve defaulted to a “don’t rock the boat” approach:

GOALKEEPER: No doubt, Solo’s the number one, but with the world’s best keeper out for today’s match, we get a good idea of how the depth chart is sorted behind her. Ashlyn Harris, also in camp, looks like she’s fourth choice (high school prospect Jane Campbell was also called in). Nicole Barnhart and Jill Loyden were selected for today’s game. If Loyden got the start over Barnhart, Solo’s usual backup, it would be a talking point.

DEFENDERS: Sermanni only picked five defenders, with Santa Clara’s Julie Johnston the only one not in our projected XI. If Sermanni doesn’t default to incumbents — if he takes this opportunity to get a good, live view of new blood — it would be nice to see the 20-year-old start. Otherwise, it will be the more-veteran options: converted attacker Kelley O’Hara at left back; the returning Ali Krieger on the right; Becky Sauerbrunn in the middle along side Christie Rampone.

Players in camp not selected to the game day squad: North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn, UNC alum and Liverpool Ladies center half Whitney Engen, and veteran right back Heather Mitts. And Buehler, of course.

MIDFIELDERS: Lauren Cheney, not in our projected XI, could start anywhere in midfield. With 82 caps, she would certainly qualify under our incumbency theory.  Sermanni’s other choices, Yael Averbuch and Kristie Mewis, would be big surprises. We’re more likely to see Tobin Heath in on the left, Heather O’Reilly crossing from the right, while Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx resume their partnership in the middle.

In camp but not in the 16: Rapinoe, Lori Lindsay, and Keelin Winters.

FORWARDS: Though Sydney Leroux and Christen Press are quality options, it would be a major talking point with Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, for whatever reason, didn’t start up top. The choice would either send a message about the fickle nature of sacred cows or signal a change in how Sermanni intends to run things. In the last years of Pia Sundhage’s reign, not even friendlies would provide opportunities for new players to work their way into the squad. Only injuries forced Sundhage’s hand. If somebody like Press got the call against Scotland, that would signal a huge change.

The only forward who won’t dress is NWSL No. 1 pick Zakiya Bywaters.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.