An alarming pileup of FC Barcelona woe frames today’s Champions League clash with AC Milan

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Barcelona and “painful defeat” have linked themselves astonishingly of late.

Losses to rival Real Madrid have leaked into a recent Champions League setback to form a pool of despair that seemed so unlikely – some might even say “unimaginable” – just a month ago.

(One article has seemed to find a middle ground between “unlikely” and “unimaginable,” settling on the slightly less dramatic “alarming” in assessing the Catalan’s surprising slump.)

Whatever descriptive adjective we choose, all signposts around the Nou Camp point to the same arrival point: Who would have thought such darkness could creep into one of the Earth’s most evocative collection of fabulous feet?

Perhaps Tito Vilanova’s unfortunate absence, stacked on top of Pep Guardiola’s still-recent departure, has finally caught up with the Blaugrana. Or perhaps things have finally gone stale for a team whose core has changed so little over the last few years. For whatever reason, the club is 6-4-3 with just one shutout over its last 13 contests.

But with all that … It’s all there for the turning over today at the Nou Camp, where the energy inside the ginormous Blaugrana ground will carry an unfamiliar nervousness. Milan carries a 2-0 lead in the Round-of-16 second leg clash (3:45 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel).

An FC Barcelona collection still blessed with Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi (and that trio just headlines the fabulous cast) remained was a Champions League favorite moving into the Round of 16. Then came the fateful march into and out of the San Siro, where suddenly surging AC Milan left Barca’s European ambition on the skids.

Tactical cracks have developed in the Barca attack as teams have settled into a formula, defending with those two stingy banks of four and clogging the middle against a Barca bunch that seems so dead-set determined to come through there anyway. So how the Blaugrana attack an Italian defensive arrangement, and which players see the field, may say a lot about today’s outcome.

Or, is it something less tactical, as Xavi suggested in a pre-match news conference?

“We have lacked the old movement in attack and the accompanying defensive intensity,” he said. “Perhaps winning so comfortably in the league has caused us to drop our level a little.”

Perhaps. Either way, things won’t be easy today for the Catalan club; Milan is unbeaten in 10 games now, now third in Serie A and nipping at Napoli for second.

How will USMNT line up vs. Mexico in CONCACAF Cup?

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You probably don’t need reminding, but just in case you do, the U.S. national team face Mexico in a huge one-off CONCACAF Cup game on Saturday at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

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The winner will represent CONCACAF at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia as Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT side are the underdogs against El Tri.

With plenty of struggles and a hangover from the 2015 Gold Cup failure, Klinsmann is under pressure and getting his team selection spot on will be crucial if the USA are going to get past Mexico in front of over 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl.

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Below I suggest three possible starting lineups, then give my conclusion on how I think the U.S. will lineup.

Let us know if you agree by posting your own lineups in the comments section below.

JPW’s choice

—– Guzan —–

— Johnson — Cameron — Besler — Ream —

Jones —– Bradley

— Bedoya — Dempsey — Zardes —

—– Altidore —–

Mix-and-match XI

—– Howard —–

— Cameron — Besler — Ream — Beasley —

—– Williams —–

— Yedlin — Bradley — Zusi —

— Altidore — Zardes —

Stopping Mexico

—– Howard —–

— Johnson — Besler — Ream — Beasley —

—– Cameron —–

— Dempsey — Williams — Bradley — Jones —

— Altidore —


I think Klinsmann’s choice is the way to go, although Tim Howard‘s presence in goal over Brad Guzan would certainly help strengthen the USA’s defense. A center back pairing of Cameron and Besler must happen, while having Johnson in at right back will be a boost and Ream’s size may see him get the nod over Beasely but the veteran is likely to start if fit. In midfield I’d go with Jones and Bradley sitting in front of othe back four and then that would allow, Zardes, Bedoya and Dempsey to support Altidore up top.

The final selection is ultra-defensive, but given the form of his team and Mexico’s attacking talents, Klinsmann may start more defensive and then change tact as the game goes on. Having all of your most-experienced players on the pitch will prove vital to succeeding at the Rose Bowl, therefore, even though the Mix-and-Match XI looks speedy and is dangerous, I’d expect to see “JPW’s choice” or “Stopping Mexico” to be more like the starting lineup on Saturday.

“Legends World Cup” hope to bring Beckham, Zidane to Mexico

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David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane coaxed out of retirement to play in a “Legends World Cup” you say?

Well, that got my attention.

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According to an interview with the BBC’s world service, the organizers of the 2017 Legends World Cup are hoping to entice both Becks and Zizou to roll back the years and represent their nations in Mexico.

Beckham, 40, and Zidane, 43, are already putting their boots back on to captain a Great Britain and Ireland XI vs. a World XI for a friendly at Old Trafford on November 14 to raise money for UNICEF, and former Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos, 48, has urged the duo to take part in the tournament in 2017 where he will coach Mexico’s team.

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From the BBC:

“I want to see Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Brazilian Ronaldo,” said Campos, 48, the flamboyant ex-Mexico goalkeeper who will coach his country.

“Everybody wants to see Argentina’s Diego Maradona, but he can’t play. He’s too old.”

The tournament is scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2017, with 12 teams in total — four from the Americas, six from Europe and one each from Africa and Asia — taking part.

Given the age (players must be aged between 35-45) and caliber of the players Campos and Co. are trying to recruit, let’s have a think about who would play for the U.S.

Landon Donovan and Brian McBride up front? Brad Friedel in goal? Let us know who would make the squad.