Without Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley’s contributions become even more important

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SEATTLE, Wash. — When the United States’ midfield struggled against Belgium on May 29, we got another glimpse of the importance of Michael Bradley. The 25-year-old U.S. veteran was held out of the team in Cleveland – 90 minutes in which a talented Belgian squad saw little resistance en route to a 4-2 victory.

Tuesday, however, is shaping up to be another exhibition of the Roma man’s importance, with Bradley set to miss his central midfield partner.

“It hurts, for sure,” Bradley said of the loss of Jermaine Jones. The Schalke midfielder, ruled out of Tuesday’s match after suffering a concussion in Jamaica, has joined Bradley as first choice in a two-man midfield. Against Panama, however, Bradley will need another co-pilot.

“We’ve all always said that this team has always been about having guys who are ready on any day to step in and make sure this team doesn’t miss a beat,” Bradley said about the the team’s adjustments. “Whether it’s the last four, five, six years; on a lot of big days, there’s been guys missing and the next guy steps in, does a job, and makes sure the team gets a win no matter what.”

While that player could be a Geoff Cameron, somebody who can slide into Jones’s spot next, it may be Bradley who has to make up the difference, particularly in a home game where the States will be expected to play for three points. Whereas Jones, for all his reputed ruggedness, could distribute the occasional piece of inventiveness, it’s been some time since Cameron’s provided that kind of contribution in midfield – and never at this level.

In that vein, Sacha Kljestan may get the call in the middle. Regardless, no player is going to bring the experience of Jones, somebody who has not only become first choice for the U.S. but has also played Champions League soccer for Schalke.

And when you hear Bradley talk about Panama, discussing Tuesday’s opponent with the perspective of a man who’s been capped 76 times, you’re again reminded of the midfielder’s incredible importance:

By now there are a bunch of us who have a good idea of what Panama are all about. We’ve played them a few times in Gold Cup in recent years. Good team; team that’s been together for a lot of years now. Athletic, strong. It will a hard game.

When you look in their midfield, Gabriel Gomez is an important player for them and kind of helps keep things together. More than anything, it’s a group of guys who have played together over the course of a lot of years, played a lot of games together. I think they recognize this is their chance to qualify for a World Cup. We have to understand their mentality and know what the game is going to be.

Bradley will be among the players stressing these concerns to teammates, but when the whistle blows against Panama, he’ll be the only man in midfield who we’ve carry his team. Without Jones, he may have to do so once more.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”