Three things that looked great for the United States vs. Germany … and three that didn’t

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We already talked about Jozy Altidore, our pick for Man of the Match. Past that, here are three things that looked great for the United States in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Germany .. and then three that, well, not so much …

(MORE: Man of the Match, Altidore)

Three that worked well …

Michael Bradley as the essential linchpin

It’s not enough at this point to say the team is better with Michael Bradley in the lineup. Everyone knows that. Let’s walk a step further and say this: The team just doesn’t work without Michael Bradley on the field.

The team just moves forward with such improved clarity and balance when he’s around. Bradley’s elemental movement and ability to direct others is absolutely essential. His touches are so clean. And when the United Sates loses possession, the pressure in  midfield arrives so much more reliably when Bradley partners with Jermaine Jones.

High pressure up the field

Remember two things about Sunday’s result. First, it was a friendly – and you know what we always say about reading too much into friendlies, one way or the other. And the other remark here is how Germany allowed the United States to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, sitting back and letting the United States get comfortable. (Well, with that, and with shaky marking, some ridiculous goalkeeping …)

Yes, it was hot Sunday in D.C.  But Klinsmann and Co. chose to ignore the conditions and pursue the usual tactical goal, pressuring up high up the field rather than yielding to the sultry afternoon and dropping into low pressure crouch as Germany did. It was a fairly bold call from Klinsmann, but it worked beautifully.

(MORE: Video of Germany’s ridiculous own goal Sunday)

Better individual stuff from attackers

We won’t write books about Fabian Johnson’s move into midfield, but it wasn’t bad, either. His timing on runs inside did leave the Germans confused at moments.

Graham Zusi had a far more effective match along the right, making good choices and crossing well from the right while still tracking reliably back to assist his inexperienced right back.

And then there’s Dempsey, who had a quiet first half. But how many times have we seen it now, where “Deuce” does seem to be having a sleepy evening – right up to the moment he puts one or two into goal?

And now three elements we need to talk about …

The outside back situation

Klinsmann made a change along the right with utility man Brad Evans taking his turn along the outside of the back line. The Seattle Sounder, a real thinking man’s player, had a solid first half defensively. Then again, he and left back DaMarcus Beasley needed something more assertive going forward. Yes, it’s nit-picky, but outside backs at this level have to press into the attack.

And then there’s Edgar Castillo, who replaced Beasley midway through the second half and got beat badly two or three times. So, there’s still plenty to talk about at both outside back spots.

Omar Gonzalez giving up a goal

The big LA Galaxy center back had a reasonable match all the way around, vocal, winning balls and generally finding good spots. But he lost his mark on Germany’s second goal, directly off a corner kick, furthering an alarming trend where Gonzalez momentarily drops concentration. Simply put, Gonzalez’s game will reach the next level when he holds strict concentration for 90 minutes, and not a second less.

Of course, Gonzalez wasn’t alone in flagging concentration during certain spells. Keep reading …

Two concerning periods of play

As positive as the response was to begin Sunday’s match – shaking off the stinker against Belgium and kicking off so confidently against Germany – the second half had a couple of concerning windows, where  “response” was seriously lacking. Klinsmann had warned his team to be particularly alert over the first 10 minutes, to look for a proud German team to put their big and talented boots on this game.

Sure enough, the Americans looked a bit fat and happy, a bit labored immediately after intermission. And Germany got back in the game.

Dempsey hit a couple of goals and order seemed restored in a 4-1 lead. Only, Klinsmann’s kids seemed to drop concentration again, this time at about 75 minutes, allowing the visitors to make things far from comfortable and leaving the Americans to do the “just hanging on” thing by the end.

(MORE: Goals galore, as the United States tops Germany, 4-3)

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”