Belgium v United States

Frailty and fragility: young U.S. defense exposed in 4-2 loss to Belgium

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The summation of spring events for a young, rebuilding U.S. back line is the very disquieting “one step forward, one step back.”

All the good work in the snow of Denver and the cauldron of Azteca, two enormously valuable shutouts in  World Cup qualifying, weren’t exactly washed away amid the Belgian foursome, but no one can feel good about a night of sliced and diced regression in Cleveland. One of Europe’s rising powers cut up a young U.S. back line, reminding manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his team that rebuilding a rear guard smack in the middle of a World Cup qualifying cycle is risky business, indeed.

Belgium’s 4-2 win laid bare all the defensive frailties, the communication issues, the limitations of the (hopefully) emerging crop of current center backs, the lack of depth that required Geoff Cameron playing out wide, the slow reactions all the way around, etc.

Ironically, the top defender was DaMarcus Beasley, the converted winger. He was identified as the biggest potential problem by fans and media before Wednesday’s muggy night at FirstEnergy Stadium; but the man earning his 100th cap was the least of the U.S. rear guard in disarray.

Two important caveats here: It’s just a friendly, and we can never assign too much value, good or bad, to results that don’t matter. And certainly this: Belgium is for reals. The midfield looked like men-against-boys stuff as a U.S. team missing its brain, Michael Bradley, mostly couldn’t cope. Plus, we’ll be hearing about this fabulous Belgian crop of attacking midfielders, spry flankers and powerful forwards for years.

That said, the U.S. defensive errors are alarming, to say the least. (And Germany is up on Sunday. Yikes!)

Everyone but Beasley looked bad as the visitors took an early lead, leaving U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard screaming in frustration.

(MORE: Belgium takes apart mistake-prone United States, 4-2)

Cameron, Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson were all painfully slow to react as Romelu Lukaku slipped through, only to be foiled by the onrushing Howard.  That “leak” was bad enough; the communication just wasn’t sharp enough all night between the defenders as they tried to pinpoint the big, physical and surprisingly slippery Lukaku and the outside-to-inside runs of Belgium’s wide men, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin De Bruyne.

When Howard couldn’t hold the ball, he needed help from … well, anyway. Gonzalez and Cameron were nearby spectators. Goodson was even more culpable, having stopped completely to wave about for the offside call. Had he simply followed the play, protecting Howard’s vacated goal, Goodson surely could have been the hero, rescuing the moment.

Was it a mistake to replace Matt Besler, who had replaced the injured Goodson for the result in Mexico? We’ll see on Sunday.

The second goal started with Brad Davis’ turnover and ended on the easiest of finishes for Christian Benteke  – with Gonzalez’s giant booboo forming the meat of this mud sandwich.

Gonzalez’s options as he intercepted a ball near replacement goalie Brad Guzan included shielding Benteke to create an easy Guzan scoop, or crushing the ball well off into the Cleveland night. Instead, he chose to play out on the dribble, and his heavy touched turned into absolute disaster.

source: Getty Images

This is where Gonzalez must grow. He is so physically dominant in league play that he doesn’t always have to “think” his way around the game. In international play, he will live or die by combining the functional brain with the brawn.

The third goal came off a corner kick – but go back to how that set piece was created. The back line was all kinds of out of shape as another turnover happened along the left, with Lukaku quickly finding himself with inside position on Goodson, who was miles away from his central partner Gonzalez. Guzan could only parry the big striker’s shot for a corner – and further disaster ensued on Marouane Fellaini’s far post header.

Klinsmann stresses getting the team in shape with the ball so the Americans are in good spots if possession is fumbled away. Well, it didn’t take on that one.

The midfield was culpable on Belgium’s fourth, as Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan failed to communicate on which player should go pressure Steven Defour. When no one did, there was the fourth on Defour’s wonderful ball out to the left.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Chapecoense adds to crest to honor championship, victims of plane crash

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 27:  The team of Palmeiras celebrates with the trophy after winning the match between Palmeiras and Chapecoense for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 27, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Chapecoense will acknowledge its Copa Sudamericana championship as well as the many who were injured or died en route to the final on its club badge.

[ MORE: The latest on Chapecoense’s recovery ]

Chape added two stars to the logo. The first goes atop the circle to represent the championship, which was awarded to the club by CONMEBOL at the request of opponents Atletico Nacional.

The second goes inside the stylized ‘F’, and is dedicated to the 71 who died — including 19 players — in the Colombian plane crash.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Liverpool: Klopp joins Reina in backing Karius; “Shut your ears”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Loris Karius of Liverpool after the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has his goalkeeper’s back.

Loris Karius has faced a good deal of criticism for his performance in the Reds’ come-from-ahead loss to Bournemouth last weekend, even some calls for a Simon Mignolet renaissance between the Anfield sticks.

[ MORE: Stoke’s Hughes likes Arsenal’s PL odds ]

And Reds supporters won’t mind Klopp calling out a rival’s woes to support the claim.

From the BBC:

“He made a mistake, too, which David De Gea made a few days before. Even the best goalkeepers in the world still make mistakes.

“There is no perfect recipe for development but shut your ears or close your ears helps a lot. I’m quite good at that. Hopefully, he can adapt to my skills to this.”

Klopp isn’t alone in defending Karius, as ex-Liverpool star Pepe Reina thinks the keeper’s been outstanding for the Reds.

The 23-year-old German backstop gets a look at West Ham United this weekend.

Follow @NicholasMendola

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 15

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Week 15 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Watford host Everton on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Vicarage Road to kick things off with both teams out of form and desperate for a win.

Then Arsenal welcome Stoke City to the Emirates Stadium (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN andonline via NBC Sports.com) as Arsene Wenger‘s side look to stretch their unbeaten run to 14 games in the Premier League against a resurgent Potters outfit.

As the same time struggling Swansea City and Sunderland clash (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) in a massive relegation battle at the Liberty Stadium. Can Bob Bradley get a big win?

[ MORE: Top PL storylines ]

Rounding things off on Saturday we have a big game for two teams in contrasting situations as Leicester City host Manchester City (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) at the King Power Stadium with Claudio Ranieri‘s side in a relegation battle. As for Pep Guardiola and City, they haven’t had it all their own way recently but are just four points off top spot.

On Sunday league-leader Chelsea host West Brom (7 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Antonio Conte‘s boys aiming to make it eight-straight wins in the Premier League but the in-form Baggies stand in the way. Then Manchester United and Tottenham collide at Old Trafford (9:15 a.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in one of the games of the weekend as both teams still harbor title aspirations but look more likely to simply challenge for the top four this season. 

To round Week 15 off Liverpool welcome struggling West Ham to Anfield (11:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to get over their shocking defeat at Bournemouth, while Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers will take anything they can get from this trip.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Watford  vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Stoke City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Sunderland – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Manchester City – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. West Brom – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Man United vs. West Ham – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – NBCSN [STREAM]