United States v Mexico - International Friendly

Oh, heavens! Who will start along the U.S. back line Friday?

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Tempting though it is to draw a big red circle around the severely thinned U.S. defense and say, “Only Jurgen Klinsmann knows what the American back four will piece together in two qualifiers ahead,” there’s a harder truth to consider here:

The U.S. manager probably doesn’t know either.

But he’ll sort it out over the coming days; next week’s match in Mexico is really just for “bonus points;” no one expects to go into Azteca and get a result, although Jamaica just showed it can be done.

BUT! Friday’s contest in Costa Rica is a must-have for all the reasons we have talked about. Long story short, if Klinsmann’s team ties or loses Friday outside Denver, his boys are staring at the very ugly, and all-too-real possibility that the United States national team will have one or no points after three matches in final round World Cup qualifying – a fine Brazilian pickle, if only for the blow in confidence and the fan and media outrage sure to follow.

The U.S. effort to reach a seventh consecutive World Cup would then hang in the balance.

(MORE: Klinsmann discusses roster on national teleconference) 

Back to the battered back line …

Not to put too fine of a panicked point on this thing, but the six defenders named to Klinsmann’s 23-man roster have a total of 12 World Cup qualifier matches of experience. Half of those are from Geoff Cameron, and he was barely on the team at this point one year ago.

Still, the center back situation is not dire. It’s still young, as noted, but talented.

Cameron (pictured) and Omar Gonzalez, Klinsmann’s preferred pairing until further notice, apparently, is available. Matt Besler is untested in qualifiers but held up in the January U.S. camp. Clarence Goodson is a veteran with plenty of experience; he’s not a world-beater, but you know what you’ll get with Goodson, and that’s pretty solid at home against Costa Rica.

But would Klinsmann move Cameron to the outside, where he plays with Stoke City?

If so, would Maurice Edu dropped into a center back spot, where he’s played before. (A little less likely with the late injury news to Danny Williams, which thins the central midfield corps.)

As it stands, Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow are the only natural fullbacks on the U.S. roster. Morrow is a left back, and that looks like the particularly interesting position. There are plenty of options, although they are all highly imperfect.

(MORE: Injury dented U.S. roster announced Monday)

Brek Shea has played as a left back previously, although hardly extensively. DaMarcus Beasley has filled the role at national team level. Both are on the roster just announced.

Or Klinsmann could throw down a wildcard, the way he did with Jose Torres last year against Antiqua and Barbuda. Torres was effective as an attack-minded outside presence in that one. Clearly, however, Costa Rica is not Antiqua and Barbuda; the Ticos will demand far greater defensive attention.

There is one combination (but only one) available from this roster that would have played together as a foursome. Beltran, Gonzalez, Besler and Morrow started in a January friendly against Canada.

Given that such a foursome would mean excluding Cameron, the second-most experienced back line man at this point – And hows about that! – such an arrangement seems unlikely. Translation: a high probability occurrence of a U.S. back line that has never played together. That is hardly ideal.

In fact, we just saw one of those down in Honduras … everyone remember the defensive fiasco where that one fell to pieces?

The subplot here is Carlos Bocanegra’s absence from Monday’s roster. It’s fair to ask if Bocanegra could assist  here? He has, after all, been a starting center back and left back at international level for a decade.

There’s really no getting around this one. There can be but one reason Klinsmann declined to select the veteran of English, Scottish, French and German leagues (not to mention MLS): The manager believes his former captain’s speed and/or skills have declined to the point that he simply cannot be effective at top level anymore.

Europa League: Mourinho says targeted Man Utd must win; Saints shorthanded

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United makes his way to the tunnel after the final whistle  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Europa League goes into its second day of group play with the onus on the biggest club in the tournament to pick up a win.

Don’t believe us? Ask Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

“To be honest, I think we have to win,” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference. “If we don’t win, I would say we’d have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult, so I think it is very important that we win this game.”

[ MORE: Wenger excited at Arsenal’s chances ]

United fell 1-0 at Feyenoord to open the group stage, and now hosts Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk at 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday. He knows its the equivalent of a massive Cup match for the visitors.

“The Europa League is a competition Man United isn’t normally in, so when these teams have a giant like Man United in front of them, it’s a huge moment for them and they come to the game with incredible motivation.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start for United, as there’s a chance that Anthony Martial will rejoin the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is out, and Wayne Rooney (back) and Luke Shaw (illness) may not play.

The other Premier League side in play is Southampton, as the Saints take a long flight to Israel for a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Saints handled Sparta Prague at home, and now face the Camels, who went to Inter Milan and won. Southampton is without Charlie Austin, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, and Steven Davis.

Should be a very decent match from Turner Stadium in Be’er Sheva.

Elsewhere

all times ET

Mainz at Gabala — 11 a.m.
Young Boys at Astana — 11 a.m.
Osmanlispor at Zurich — 1 p.m.
Red Bull Salzburg at Schalke — 1 p.m.
PAOK at Liberec — 1 p.m.
Qarabag at Fiorentina — 1 p.m.
Villarreal at Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m.
Nice at Krasnodar — 1 p.m.
Standard Liege at Ajax — 1 p.m.
Braga at Shakhtar Donetsk — 1 p.m.
Panathinaikos at Celta Vigo — 1 p.m.
Inter Milan at Sparta Prague — 1 p.m.
Konyaspor at Gent — 1 p.m.
Sassuolo at Genk — 3:05 p.m.
Zorya at Manchester United — 3:05 p.m.
Anderlecht at Saint-Etienne — 3:05 p.m.
Apoel Nicosia at Olympiacos — 3:05 p.m.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Dundalk — 3:05 p.m.
Feyenoord at Fenerbahce — 3:05 p.m.
Rapid Wien at Athletic Bilbao — 3:05 p.m.
Viktoria Plzen at Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m.
AZ Alkmaar at Zenit Saint-Petersburg — 3:05 p.m.
Astra Giurgiu at AS Roma — 3:05 p.m.

Wenger after UCL win: This year’s Arsenal has “interesting potential”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is growing in confidence when it comes to his Gunners’ chances in England and Europe, and it’s not hard to see why.

Four days after Arsenal battered Chelsea 3-0 in Premier League action, the Gunners went out and handled FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Theo Walcott scored both goals in the 2-0 win, and there could’ve been so many more. Arsenal was fast, deliberate, creative, and dangerous. The finishing was not ideal, but the promise was massive.

Perhaps more important, the Gunners posted a third-straight clean sheet and have allowed just four goals in eight matches since the 4-3 loss to Liverpool that opened the PL season.

And Wenger acknowledges that his side can do big things, provided it doesn’t get too full of itself after solid performances. From Arsenal.com:

“It looks like the team has interesting potential. We have to be ambitious and, as you know, keep our feet on the ground to continue to develop. We know exactly how we want to play football and we have to continue to stick to that and get better at it. That demands big focus and some leadership inside the squad. It also requires humility.”

Arsenal has a very winnable run in the Premier League, and could be right there with Manchester City by the end of October. And with a winnable UCL group, who knows what the Gunners could do with a decent knockout round draw?

Bayern can’t break down Simeone’s Atleti: “We played too slowly”

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Carlo Ancelotti, Manager of Bayern Muenchen looks on before the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich sits second in Group D of this season’s UEFA Champions League after losing its toughest match of the bunch: a trip to the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico Madrid won 1-0 when Antoine Griezmann linked up with Yannick Carrasco for a first half goal and Diego Simeone’s stubborn defense lived up to its reputation in blanking the Bavarians.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Manager Carlo Ancelotti has been frustrated by Simeone in the past, perhaps most notably in his brief stint at Real Madrid. But the Bayern boss says the loss was down to speed.

“We tried to get back into the game but we played too slowly, which is why we did not have many chances to equalize,” Ancelotti said. “It’s never nice to lose.”

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also acknowledged a lack of speed in a way, pointing at urgency when he said, “Atlético showed a killer instinct tonight and we didn’t.”

Bayern hosts PSV Eindhoven in its next UCL match on Oct. 19.

Guardiola, Rodgers left to unpack thrilling Celtic-Man City draw

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Celtic issues instructions to his players next to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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What a match in Glasgow.

The UEFA Champions League group stage returned to Celtic Park on Wednesday, where the hosts thrilled their crowd by taking a trio of leads before settling for a 3-3 draw with mighty Manchester City.

[ MORE: JPW on Walcott’s Arsenal heroics ]

The draw is the first competitive game City hasn’t won under Pep Guardiola, but the manager didn’t feel much like complaining after his team rallied.

From the BBC:

Guardiola: “It was difficult for us. I’m happy with the reaction from the players, it’s not easy to score three goals away.

“I don’t know how many the chances they had after the third goal. We should have won it.”

As for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, he was tickled. After all, Celtic had fallen 7-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou during their first outing.

From the BBC:

Rodgers: “We were brilliant, the pressing and the energy. Every time we went forward we looked like we could score.

“Apart from the Barcelona game these players have been operating at a high level this season. Now, to do it against that team, it was a magnificent performance.”

Celtic Park was loud on Wednesday, and both sides gave the crowd plenty of oohs and aahs. It’s hard to imagine Celtic could do the same again, and City did give away a pair of goals (one own goal from Raheem Sterling, one gaffe from Aleksandar Kolarov).

But for one afternoon, who cares about anything other than an entertaining 90 minutes?