Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez

United States needs big improvement for today’s friendly against powerful Germany

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Nobody is suggesting that U.S. Soccer should have lined up a patsy as opposition for Sunday’s 100th anniversary outing. But did they have to target one of the world’s top clubs, Germany?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team has big work ahead in the second and final preparation match before three critical World Cup qualifiers this month.

German boss Joachim Löw won’t have anything close to his best lineup, still missing the men of European and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and most from fashionable Borussia Dortmund for today’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff n Washington, D.C.  But the visitors’ lineup will be oozing with quality, as the national team’s efforts about 10 years ago to kick-start a program getting dull around the edges has paid handsomely in filling out a deep player pool.

Sunday’s centennial match inside sold-out RFK Stadium is helping the U.S. Soccer federation marks its 100th anniversary; it can be seen live on ESPN2 and on Spanish-language UniMas.

(MORE: United States soccer history at RFK Stadium)

The match is also a “Klinsmann Double,” of sorts; the current U.S. coach was a legend as a player for Die Mannschaft, and later guided the team as manager to a third-place finish at World Cup 2006.

In German soccer, there may be just one name bigger in historical context (Franz Beckenbauer).

Perhaps only one nation (Brazil) owns a more decorated historical resume. Germany is a three-time World Cup winner (1954, 1974, 1990) and three-time European Champions (1972, 1980, 1996). They have finished as runner-up three times in Europe and four times in the World Cup.

They weren’t looking very decorated for a window in the last decade; Klinsmann was among the architects that restored Die Mannschaft sheen. Now, players like Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker or Lukas Podolski, or Dortmund’s Kevin Großkreutz may not even be first-team selections for  Germany, and yet they are stars in the world’s game, or something close to it. All are in D.C. today.

But Klinsmann isn’t concerned with legendary status, his or Germany’s, at the moment. He’s mostly concerned with correcting the mistake seen in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Belgium. Everyone has focused mostly on the back line booboos, but possession was awful through midfield and chances created out wide were scant. Everyone keeps banging on striker Jozy Altidore’s ongoing goalless streak in the national team shirt and … well, in short, it was a night to forget.

(MORE: Which Jozy Altdidore shows up today?)

If the little things cannot improve, like sharper movement off the ball so that possession isn’t lost so easily, then it could be another long afternoon.

“We want to try to play simpler out of the back,” Klinsmann said, speaking generally. “Here and there we always look for the complicated ball into Jozy, into Eddie Johnson, and into Clint instead of just carrying it through the midfield, just playing it to people’s feet,  moving off the ball and keeping it simple. We made it a little too difficult for ourselves there, and if we do that than people get insecure and the passing gets insecure.”

Changes are surely ahead, starting with the addition of midfielder Michael Bradley, who was just into camp ahead of Wednesday’s loss and given the night off. He’ll surely be in his usual spot, as a connector between defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones and attacking midfielder Clint Dempsey.

(MORE: The United States clearly misses midfield “brain” Michael Bradley)

And it seems clear that Fabian Johnson (similarly late into camp and unavailable against Belgium) will be back into the lineup, possibly as a left-sided midfielder ahead of DaMarcus Beasley, who has found a second (or is it third … or even fourth?) international life as a left-back.

Again, this is one is just a friendly, but a trip into Jamaica is up later this week, and that’s where things get quite real. So, mistakes in the back need correcting, but the Americans must do more in the attack, too, and wean themselves from the continued reliance on set-piece goals.

“It’s a work in progress,” Dempsey told Soccer by Ives. “We’ll just keep creating chances and putting shots on goal, and if you do that you’ll get goals. But the most important thing is that we iron those things out.”

(MORE: Joachim Low weighs in on U.S. Soccer – and gets some of it wrong)

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.