Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

How a messy match unfolded, a “real snow battle”

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Three points is three points, and if the United States does eventually earn its way to Brazil, the points gathered during a snow globe-worthy scene in suburban Denver will count just the same as any others collected in the long qualifying chain.

But what a scene it was, pretty and yet messy and certainly meaningful all at once Friday for the Americans, whose 1-0 win over Costa Rica should help quiet some unrest and put the team in a better place heading into a razor wire-tough match in Mexico City.

As for the soccer game itself, well, it wasn’t much of one.

“It was a real snow battle,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “By the second half it was a battle for second balls. For both teams it was tough to create a passing game or good chances. …  We all just had to adjust to the snow. Battle it out. Finish it out and then move on.”

He was underselling the difficulty of it.

The footing was always treacherous, even in the first half when some green of the grass was still visible. By the second half, as the snow accumulated (against the best efforts of the shovel bearers at DSG Park), dribbling or passing over pretty much any distance was somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Clint Dempsey’s early goal was absolutely essential – perhaps one of his most important yet in U.S. uniform, and he has a bunch of them. (In fact, with his 12th in World Cup qualifying the Texan is now tied with Landon Donovan for the all-time U.S. lead.) It took the pressure off of the United States, not to mention getting something on the scoreboard when worsening conditions was making any offensive maneuvering increasingly tricky.

Every athlete has been in backyard games where elements and obstacles rule; it did look at times in Friday’s fluffy proceedings as if the visitors had been in more of them. They seemed to adjust better.

(MORE: Pictures from the Colorado snow globe.)

The Americans seemed destined to get themselves in trouble with their insistence on playing patiently out of the back. The Ticos, by comparison, recognized the danger more quickly of doing so.

At halftime Klinsmann urged his team to get balls into the opposition end faster, and warned off certain balls that should not be messed with on such a night.

Still, there were times in the second half when the United States seemed determined to pass the ball through the midfield. Meanwhile, the Ticos were all about aiming balls to highly stationed Alvaro Saborio.

U.S. center back Clarence Goodson and Omar Gonzalez dealt well with the long stuff, but the danger always seemed present.

“The beginning of the game it wasn’t so difficult,” said Gonzalez, making only his second World Cup qualifier start. “The snow was actually making the ball move pretty nicely. Once the stuff started sticking, it made it difficult to get your footing, to put together some passes or just to dribble.

“At halftime we said, ‘Don’t risk any balls to the sidelines out of the back, any balls to the keeper. If you feel like the heat is on you, just put it up in the channels and let the forwards make a play. Just don’t risk anything.”

Individually, few players really excelled out there; some just managed the elements better than others.

DaMarcus Beasley got the assignment at left back, answering one of the vexing questions of the week. When the game still had some kind of shape, for about 30 minutes, the converted midfielder attempted to play as a very aggressively stationed left back, as the United States attempted to push forward against the visitors.

On the right, Geoff Cameron attempted runs up the right but sometimes was not on the same page as Graham Zusi, who seemed to have particular trouble with his footing.

Jermaine Jones showed everyone a lot, looking quite comfortable, bossing the midfield in the first 45 minutes (to the extend anyone could) and even playing through a nasty gash that required halftime stitching.

“He’s an example in this team,” Klinsmann said. “They look at him and see him go again and go again, it gives a lot of positive energy to the team to see him battle through the way he does. In the end, I took him off because he was just exhausted.”

And then there was goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who handled almost everything better than he could have been expected to.

“In these conditions, you just try to get everything you can behind the ball, to make sure you have a good barrier behind it,” said Guzan, was started in place of the injured Tim Howard. “The guys in front of me did a good job of limiting their chances, and the few opportunities they did have I was able to deal with them.”

PHOTO: Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand

New Juventus FC logo (Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen)
Photo credit: Juventus / Twitter: @juventusfcen
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Minimalism — noun — a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Less is undoubtedly more in 2017 — according to marketing whizzes — as minimalistic design and branding grows more prevalent by the day. That goes for the sports world, too, where a number of teams — in all sports, it doesn’t matter — around the world have opted to rebrand in a simpler, minimalist fashion in recent years.

Enter Juventus, the defending five-time Serie A champions, who on Monday unveiled the club’s brand new logo.

If the logo itself doesn’t do anything for you, you’ll surely be captivated by some of the brilliant identity marketing built around the new-look logo, including the following video.

Chinese authorities to halt “irrational investments” in players

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 06:  Carlos Tevez of Juventus reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion on June 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) The governing body of Chinese soccer plans a series of measures in response to what is termed “irrational” spending by clubs on transfer fees and player salaries, amid concerns that foreign stars are crowding out local talent and harming the country’s goal of becoming a global force in the sport.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

The Chinese Football Association said in a statement Monday the steps will target the “operations and management” of teams in the top-tier China Super League and the China Premier League, one step below it.

The measures will address “recent irrational investments by clubs, high-figure transfer fees and salaries paid to domestic and international athletes and other issues,” the CFA said in a statement.

Spending by Chinese clubs on players such as Argentina’s Carlos Tevez has drawn global attention, raising fears among some that domestic players will be denied opportunities. That could stifle the government’s attempts to produce talent capable of achieving its stated goal of winning the World Cup by 2050, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s push to make soccer success a national priority.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

Other rules announced by the CFA appeared firmly aimed at addressing the lack of opportunities for Chinese players. They reduce the number of foreigners who can appear at any given time for a club from four to three and require each team’s starting lineup include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

Shanghai Shenhua said it paid an $11 million transfer fee to Argentina’s Boca Juniors for Teves. Oscar was purchased from Chelsea, and Brazilians Hulk, Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez and Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi also joined the league.

Chinese Super League clubs are thought to have spent close to $300 million in the winter transfer window.

Brian Rowe replaces injured Stefan Frei on USMNT roster

PASADENA, CA - JULY 21:  Goalkeeper Brian Rowe #12 of the Los Angeles Galaxy stops a shot against FC Barcelona in the International Champions Cup 2015 at Rose Bowl on July 21, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) LA Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe has replaced Seattle’s Stefan Frei on the U.S. training camp roster leading to exhibitions against Serbia and Jamaica.

[ MORE: US January camp schedule ]

Frei has a sprained right ankle. Rowe has never played for the U.S. national team. Coach Bruce Arena left the Galaxy in November to start his second stint with the Americans.

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was dropped last Tuesday because of a knee injury. Three other goalies are in camp: San Jose’s David Bingham, Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando and the New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles.

Colorado’s Tim Howard is recovering from leg surgery and Brad Guzan is in England with Middlesbrough.

The change was announced Saturday. The U.S. plays Serbia on Jan. 29 at San Diego and Jamaica on Feb. 3 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

PL Playback: One from six; who are the title favorites?

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MINI-LEAGUES EMERGING

We saw yet another weekend of dominance for the big boys in the Premier League (except for Manchester City) and the gap is growing bigger between the top six and the rest of the league.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Throughout the entire league there are now three “mini-leagues” which are taking shape in a six-eight-six formation.

Here’s a look at what I’m talking about…

  1. Chelsea – 52 points
  2. Tottenham – 45
  3. Liverpool – 45
  4. Arsenal – 44
  5. Man City – 42
  6. Man United – 40
  7. Everton – 33
  8. West Brom – 29 
  9. Stoke – 27
  10. Burnley- 26
  11. Bournemouth – 25
  12. West Ham – 25
  13. Southampton – 24
  14. Watford – 23
  15. Leicester City – 21
  16. Middlesbrough – 20
  17. Crystal Palace – 16
  18. Hull City – 16
  19. Sunderland – 15
  20. Swansea City – 15

The top six will, obviously, get plenty of the focus from here on out.

Apart from Chelsea still feeding off that incredible 13-game win streak there is little to separate the rest with just five points between second-place Tottenham and sixth-place Manchester United. The middle eight teams are all having “meh” seasons, apart from Burnley who are overachieving, while the bottom six all look destined for a relegation scrap in the closing four months of the campaign with Leicester City struggling to claw themselves away from danger.

This season it seems like the overachieving and underachieving is at a minimum. Things are almost back to normal, especially with the perennial powers, after the madness of the 2015-16 campaign.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Yes, the title battle will be intense as Chelsea will, inevitably, drop points along the way and Diego Costa‘s situation has given their title rivals a boost. However, the more intriguing factor could be which two teams miss out on the top four and qualification for the UEFA Champions League.

If Man City’s struggles continue and Pep Guardiola misses out, or if Jose Mourinho and Manchester United don’t push into the top four in the coming months, then those will be huge stories. Yet, it is tough to see any of the current top six dropping many points between now and the end of the season.

It will be a long, hard slog and with UEFA Champions League and Europa League action to kick off next month, along with FA Cup action for all of the top six, the games will come thick and fast.

Who can handle all of this and stay in the hunt?


Chelsea
Position: 1st
Points: 52
Biggest strength: No European action to contend with, 3-4-3 and a strong defensive unit. Antonio Conte has been here before with Juventus and has been influential in their rise to the top.
Biggest weakness: Temperamental stars (I’m looking at you Diego Costa) could go missing either figuratively or literally at any moment. Chelsea need to add a new striker in January to stop that from curtailing their title bid.

Tottenham Hotspur
Position: 2nd
Points: 45
Biggest strength: Harry Kane and Dele Alli are on another level right now but when you look across Spurs’ team, everyone is hitting form at the right time. Walker and Rose at wing-back is a great option to. This team has learned from their title challenge faltering last season and they are without doubt the biggest threat to Chelsea right now.
Biggest weakness: Europa League and injuries. Mauricio Pochettino has said he will go for Europa League success but if injuries start cropping up (Vertonghen could be out long-term) then he will change his mind.

Liverpool
Position: 3rd
Points: 45
Biggest strength: No European action. Plus, Philippe Coutinho has been out injured for almost two months and now looks ready to roll and re-energized. The front four have been so good all season.
Biggest weakness: Fatigue. Even with no added European action, EFL Cup and FA Cup games in recent weeks have shown Klopp’s methods could be too much. Remember how much Liverpool tired last season?

Arsenal
Position: 4th
Points: 44
Biggest strength: Endless talent in attack with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and even Olivier Giroud now in top form. Skhodran Mustafi has been a huge boost in defense too.
Biggest weakness: Being Arsenal. Logic suggests that a slump is coming up in the second half of the season. Just because, Arsenal. Across the board there are few weaknesses though.

Manchester City
Position: 5th
Points: 42
Biggest strength: Star-studded attackers who can get them out of any mess. It is now time for Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to turn up. Massive numbers in his squad also helps.
Biggest weakness: Defense. Claudio Bravo has had a nightmare in goal and City’s defense has been far from inspiring as Pep’s masterplan has stalled significantly. Bravo’s struggles has in-turn led to John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and others crumbling. Pep will never change his philosophy and the way he wants to play. That could mean City pay a big price and finish outside the top four unless they improve drastically in defense.

Manchester United
Position: 6th
Points: 40
Biggest strength: Superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, plus Mourinho’s experience at grinding out wins.
Biggest weakness: Not finishing teams off and, again, the Europa League. Mourinho has and will continue to cut some deadwood from his squad. That means he will use plenty of the same players for EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League games. Can he balance this out to help United get right back in the top four mix? A title push seems out of the question now as they’re 10 points, but with nine wins on the spin in all competitions before the last game against Liverpool, they are in form and arguably have a better chance than Man City of overhauling that deficit.


KLOPP NOT CORRECT TO CALL OUT LONG BALL

Following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Sunday, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp took exception to United’s direct approach in the final 20 minutes of the game.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned on United vs. Liverpool ]

Let’s call it what it was. Mourinho went direct for the entire second half. Eventually it paid off when substitute Marouane Fellaini hit the post with a header and Zlatan Ibrahimovic stooped to head home the equalizer in the 84th minute, even if Antonio Valencia was slightly offside when the initial cross came in.

[ MORE: Player ratings – United vs. Liverpool ]

Klopp looked agitated, frustrated and annoyed afterwards as he told multiple news outlets that Liverpool “were the better team who had the better plan” plus kept slamming United for using long balls late on. He was probably also still smarting a little over the Joel Matip situation as he could be out for another month and Liverpool missed him once again at the heart of their defense. Matip’s height would’ve helped Klopp significantly with United’s direct approach late in the game.

[ MORE: Klopp slams “long ball” United ]

Klopp won the tactical battle to start with as Liverpool lined up with a diamond formation in midfield and nullified the impact of Michael Carrick and Paul Pogba, but Mourinho changed things up and went direct, not allowing Liverpool’s high-press to catch out his defenders as they bypassed midfield. Mourinho did what he had to do to get a draw, just like he did at Anfield.

United actually played 89 long balls against Liverpool, more than any other team in any PL games in Week 21. Guess what? It worked. It wasn’t the best United will ever play but they now look much harder to beat even if Paul Pogba had a nightmare and their front three were largely kept quiet.

After the draw, Klopp was most likely just trying to make a point that although his side have not won any of their last four games in all competitions, they should still be admired. They should. The progress Liverpool has made under him in just over a year has been huge but United and Mourinho reminded him that there is more ways to score goals and get points than relying on Gegenpressing.

Zlatan summed it up best when describing how United got back into the game as a big derby ended honors even and both managers were upset with dropping points as Chelsea’s gap at the top grew.


WHAT NOW FOR GUARDIOLA?

Pep Guardiola has all but given up hope of winning the Premier League title in his first season in England.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Guardiola, 45, looked 10 years older when speaking post-game at Everton on Sunday as his side were hammered 4-0 by the Toffees in an inept display which showcased all of their weaknesses.

The much-lauded coach was supposed to turn City into not only the champions of England but also Europe. It’s not going to plan, at all, and especially in defense.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

After he suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager, plus City’s heaviest league defeat since 2008, Pep was asked if their title bid was over.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

Although it may seem like too early for City — don’t forget, they were the preseason favorites who won their first 10 games in all competitions under Pep to start the season — to concede the title, it is perhaps telling that Guardiola is already looking resigned to just challenging for the top four.

He knows that if he stays with his passing philosophy out of the back that his team will be susceptible to fast, strong, counter-attacking teams like Everton. There are plenty of teams who deploy those tactics in the PL — Tottenham, Chelsea, Leicester to name a few — and have had great success doing it against City. Guardiola will never play like that and his style is something which led Barcelona and Bayern Munich to glory and often eviscerating English teams in the Champions League.

Guardiola’s team isn’t eviscerating anyone on a weekly basis in the PL right now. Right now, it’s the other way round.

When it clicks their style of play looks beautiful but City is too inconsistent and as soon as they go a goal behind they are lacking in confidence and crumble. Make no mistake about it, this is Pep’s biggest challenge of his managerial career but a country mile. He knows it. You can see it in his eyes. He knows he doesn’t possess the players, in defense at least, to carry out his style and he can’t do too much about it. He will never change his ideals no matter the intense criticism coming his way.

[ MORE: Premier League stats

Right now, many would say he’s failing in the PL and at City. Big time. Yet, let’s give him until the end of the season because an appearance in the UCL semifinals and a runners up spot really wouldn’t be too disastrous. Yet with defending like this and Bravo conceding almost every shot which goes on target right now, those targets seem rather lofty and a long way off for this talented yet tainted City outfit.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.