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)

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.