Confederations Cup schedule: The matches you’ll want to watch

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Sixteen games, 16 days, and although the Confederations Cup is merely an opening act for next year’s World Cup, there are enough intriguing, rarely seen match-ups to justify setting your DVR. Among the games you’re guaranteed to see: Brazil vs. Italy, Spain vs. Uruguay … Tahiti vs. Nigeria?

Not every game will be a gem, but thanks to a stacked Group A, most of them will. Those following CONCACAF qualifying know Mexico’s struggling for goals and poinst, but when Chepo de la Torre’s team may be the worst side in a group, that a pretty stacked set.

The tournament starts this Saturday in Brasilia, when the host nation plays their first competitive match since the 2011 Copa America. Televised on ESPN, most of the games slide into that nice, mid-day, Champions League slot. Plan your lunch breaks accordingly.

Here’s the schedule, with our recommended views in bold.

Group A Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
 Brazil 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Mexico 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Group B Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
 Spain 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Uruguay 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Tahiti 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
 Nigeria 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Group stage

June 15, Brazil vs. Japan (Group A), Brasilia, 3:00 p.m. ET: Brazil has more riding on this tournament than anybody, as it’s a proof of concept for a squad which won’t play another competitive match until the 2014 World Cup. Japan, however, may very well be a better team right now. The Selecao have the home field advantage, but the Samurai Blue have the form.

June 16, Mexico vs. Italy (Group A), Rio de Janeiro, 3:00 p.m. ET

June 16, Uruguay vs. Spain (Group B), Recife, 6:00 p.m. ET: This is the only major trophy at Spain’s disposal that they don’t hold. Opening against Uruguay, they get their toughest group test first. La Celeste have faded from a strong start in South American qualifying. If they can trouble Spain, it might be our first indication that South America’s qualifiers will have an advantage over their UEFA counterparts in Brazil.

June 17, Tahiti vs. Nigeria (Group B), Belo Horizonte, 3:00 p.m. ET

June 19, Brazil vs. Mexico (Group A), Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m. ET: Anytime Mexico faces Argentina or Brazil, it’s a major occasion, but just under one year after El Tri claimed gold at the Summer Olympics over the favored Brazilians, this match may have a minor rematch-like atmosphere to it. Brazil will not have forgotten their missed chance to claim the one honor that’s eluded them.

June 19, Italy vs. Japan (Group A), Recife, 6:00 p.m. ET

June 20, Spain vs. Tahiti (Group B), Rio de Janeiro, 3:00 p.m. ET

June 20, Nigeria vs. Uruguay (Group B), Salvador, 6:00 p.m. ET: Assuming Nigeria beats Tahiti, this will likely be the Super Eagles’ chance to claim a place in the semifinals. Stephen Keshi’s is a young team, but one that has the experience of a Cup of Nations run under their belts. If they can spring one upset, they’re through.

June 22, Italy vs. Brazil (Group A), Salvador, 3:00 p.m. ET: In a group out of which any team could advance (well, Mexico would have to wake up), this could be a must-win for both teams, if both sides can’t avoid upsets in their first two matches. Not a bad way to close group play: Two world titans in win-and-move-on scenario.

June 22, Japan vs. Mexico (Group A), Rio de Janeiro, 3:00 p.m. ET

June 23, Nigeria vs. Spain (Group B), Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m. ET: Nigeria needs to take care of business before getting to this point, because with Uruguay likely to defeat Tahiti, Keshi’s team doesn’t want to be in a position to need points from Spain. Nigeria need a win against Uruguay in Salvador with the hopes of making this match meaningless.

June 23, Tahini vs. Urugual (Group B), Recife, 3:00 ET

Knockout round

Semifinals

June 26, Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up, Belo Horizonte, 3:00 p.m. Eastern: This looks like any of Brazil, Italy or Japan against Uruguay, the likely Group B runner-up. If Brazil has any home field advantage, it will be the Selecao facing their South American counterparts.

June 27, Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up, Fortaleza, 3:00 p.m. Eastern: Which Group A team is opening round slip and been drawn against Spain (assuming the Spaniards can handle Uruguay). Regardless, the European Champions against any of Brazil, Italy or Japan will be an entertaining game.

Third Place Game

June 30, Semifinal losers, Salvador, Salvador, 3:00 p.m. Eastern: Don’t watch this game

Final

June 30, Semifinal winners, Rio de Janeiro, 9:00 p.m. Eastern: Four years ago, everybody assumed Spain and Brazil would meet in South Africa’s final. An upset by the United States in the semifinal round knocked the eventual world champions into the third place match. This year, we’ll see if another team will rise up and claim and unexpected spot in the finals.

Lukaku or Morata; who got the better deal?

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Romelu Lukaku or Alvaro Morata, who ya got?

[ MORE: Keys to Manchester derby in Houston ]

It’s one of the biggest questions swirling around after Chelsea agreed a $92 million fee with Real Madrid for striker Alvaro Morata on Wednesday, who has arrived in London and called Chelsea “the best club” for him.

He also admitted he has no idea how close he came to signing for Manchester United and Morata could have easily ended up at United and Lukaku at Chelsea, but the opposite is now true as both Premier League giants have acquired clinical strikers who will be the focal point of their respective attacks.

Both Morata and Lukaku have the potential to be the two best out-and-out strikers in the world for many years to come.

[ MORE: Lukaku promises goals for Man United

In terms of who got the better deal, financially both players will end up costing a very similar amount with the fee for Lukaku set to rise to $96.5 million and Morata’s fee just below that. Both players are 24 years of age, and both have very similar skill sets which is understandable given why both United and Chelsea went for them.

So, all square there.

In terms of Premier League experience Lukaku obviously had the edge with the Belgian now playing four full seasons in the PL, while Morata has only played in Spain and Italy. Lukaku is much more likely to hit the ground running as he knows what to expect and is settled in England.

That said, Morata’s experience in the UEFA Champions League is vastly superior to Lukaku’s and the Spanish international also has 13 trophies (including two UCL trophies) to his name already. Lukaku may have more experience in England, but Morata has more experience in elite club competitions and has scored crucial goals in title-winning seasons for both Real and Juve.

Looking at the way both of the players will fit into their teams, it’s difficult to argue that they’re not well suited to both the system and personnel around them.

Lukaku has had many seasons as a lone front man but he could play up top alongside Marcus Rashford which may actually benefit him with someone to work off of and a little more space for him to work in.

Morata will be a lone forward in Chelsea’s attack, but he is flexible and able to play out wide or drop a little deeper when needed and that will work well with Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian buzzing around in support. Both of these players are more than a target man but you’d have to say Morata appears to be the more creative with the ball at his feet, so he gets the edge.

How can we judge these deals on some kind of scale? Well, the goal tally at the end of the season for each striker will tell the story of who was the better signing. It’s as simple as that and both will be expected to score at least 15-20 goals in all competitions.

But I know you guys don’t like simple answers, so here’s a ranking on some of the key categories which may help us to answer which club spent their $90 million-plus better.

Finishing (out of 10)
Lukaku: 8
Morata: 9

Power
Lukaku: 9
Morata: 8

Pace 
Lukaku: 9
Morata: 8

Aerial ability
Lukaku: 8
Morata: 9

Hold-up play
Lukaku: 7
Morata: 8

Mentality
Lukaku: 7
Morata: 9

Total score
Morata: 51/60
Lukaku: 48/60

Monaco report clubs to FIFA over Kylian Mbappe contact

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AS Monaco are not happy at all.

Star striker Kylian Mbappe is wanted by every top club in the world with the 18-year-old bursting onto the scenes last season as he scored 26 goals in all competitions with Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

The French champions released the following strongly-worded statement on Thursday after they’ve already sold Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea, Bernando Silva to Manchester City and both Benjamin Mendy and Fabinho are being chased by Europe’s top clubs.

“AS Monaco regretfully notice that important European football clubs made contacts with Kylian Mbappe (and his entourage) without its authorization. AS Monaco want to remind to these clubs that such actions are contrary to the article 211 of the Administrative regulation of the French Football League (Ligue de Football Professionnel) and to the article 18.3 of the Regulation of the Status and the Transfer of the Players of FIFA.

“To put an end to this unacceptable situation, AS Monaco consider asking the French Football League (Ligue de Football Professionnel) and the FIFA to commit disciplinary procedures against clubs offenders.”

Reports state that Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are among the clubs reported to FIFA.

Southampton had a similar situation earlier this summer where they made a complaint over the conduct of Liverpool with regards to their star defender and team captain Virgil Van Dijk. Liverpool ended up issuing a public apology and stated that would end their interest in the player.

The secret world of “tapping up” is now coming out into the open with serious sanctions potentially awaiting any parties found guilty of not following the proper procedures.

Who is “winning” the summer transfer window?

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With big-money deals being done all the time, let’s take a look at how each Premier League club have fared so far in the summer transfer window.

[ MORE: Latest PL transfer news ]

Some have been busier than others and with big deals for Alexandre Lacazette, Romelu Lukaku and now Alvaro Morata spicing things up, we are seeing huge sums flying around among the big boys.

Let’s analyze who is “winning” and “losing” so far this summer with six weeks to go until the window closes on August 31.


Winning

Everton – Seven new players, Rooney has returned and Lukaku cash spenty wisely on defense. More signings promised too.
Chelsea – Morata incoming, plus Bakayoko, Rudiger and Caballero strengthen the squad. Very good summer, so far, despite Costa.
Man City – Overpaid for Walker but have Ederson in goal and Danilo said to be on the way. Bernardo Silva a quality buy.
Bournemouth – Shrewd summer of spending for the Cherries: Begovic, Ake and Defoe arriving. Perfectly blend of youth and experience.

Getting there

Man United – Lukaku and Lindelof were costly but just what they needed. If Matic arrives then Mourinho has had a good summer.
West Ham United – Hart and Zabaelta will bring experience. If they land Arnautovic and Chicharito then a very good window.
Liverpool – Salah will be a star, while Robertson and Solanke will contribute but getting a new center back in is a must.
Huddersfield Town – 10 new arrivals for the Terriers and some real quality in Mounie, Mooy and Williams. Need one or two more players.
Leicester – Iborra, Maguire and Jakupovic upgrades and Iheanacho on the way. Mahrez should only leave for the right price.
Burnley – Walters, Cork and Taylor all good additions, but just lacking a new center back.

Work to do

Stoke – Losing Arnautovic means Hughes must have some deals up his sleeve. Zouma and Delph likely to arrive. New striker a must.
Newcastle – Slow going for Rafael Benitez so far this summer. Murphy and Atsu have arrived in attack, but midfield is the problem area.
Crystal Palace – Loftus-Cheek a solid addition but Frank De Boer needs 2/3 quality additions to avoid a relegation scrap.
Brighton – Hughton is sticking to his budget but the Seagulls should look to add another striker and center mid. Ryan a good get.
Swansea Paul Clement is likely to lose Sigurdsson and with Llorente out injured, new attackers key. Bony to return?

Fine as things stand

Tottenham – After selling on Walker for big money, Spurs will look to invest it shrwedly. All about keeping hold of their stars.
Southampton – Same story for Saints who have added Bednarek in defense and sold Rodriguez. One more striker and defender key.
WatfordMarco Silva should be okay with what he has after adding Chalobah and Hughes in midfield. Replacement for Deeney up top?
West Brom – Rodriguez has slotted in well and Pulis has brought in Ghazi in defense. Solid summer so far and not much needed.
Arsenal – Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival is key, but Arsenal’s summer appears to hinge on the Sanchez and Ozil decision.

3 things to look for in the Manchester derby in Houston

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Manchester City and Manchester United square off in Houston, Texas on Thursday in what will be the first-ever Manchester derby played outside of the UK.

[ MORE: Daley Blind chat to JPW ]

This game is never a friendly but with it being a preseason match-up in the International Champions Cup, we may not see as many challenges flying as we usually do when Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola lock horns. Maybe…

It will also be an occasion for both clubs to pay tribute to the victims of the Manchester Bombing attack in May with both teams to display the “worker bee” logo on their shirts for the game.

Here’s a quick look at three intriguing storylines heading into the game.


New kids on the block

This will be our first chance to see Kyle Walker, Ederson and Bernardo Silva in Man City shirts as Pep’s team kick off their preseason games. Walker is a big upgrade on City’s previous full back options and his pace and power will give them a new dynamic and balance. Ederson is now the go-to goalkeeper for Guardiola, even though he said Claudio Bravo will stick around and Bernando Silva is a true luxury player capable of slotting in wherever needed in attack. All three will have plenty to prove with big price-tags hanging around their necks, but perhaps Ederson is the most intriguing because the goalkeeper position has been a huge problem area for City and we know what to expect from Walker and Silva. First impressions can shape your future at a club and Ederson will be well aware of that.

Kompany vs. Lukaku

One big man against another, there’s no love lost between Belgium teammates Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku. This battle will set the tone for the upcoming clashes this season and it is a pivotal one. Kompany can handle Lukaku’s power and aerial ability, but can he handle his pace in-behind? If United can set Lukaku free, there are still doubts over Kompany’s fitness and if the 31-year-old has lost a yard of pace over the years. A supreme defender, Kompany knows this is a massive year for him to stay fit as he will try to lead City to PL glory and then Belgium to World Cup glory next summer with Lukaku by his side. On Thursday in Houston it should be a titanic battle if they come up against one another.

3-4-3 system from United?

I spoke with Man United’s utility man Daley Blind earlier this week and he told me that preparations for a 3-4-3 system is going well. When this alternate formation is deployed, Blind will likely slot in as the left-sided center back with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof alongside him. Mourinho usually keeps it simple and plays a 4-2-3-1 formation, but now is the time to experiment and given the recent success of teams playing with wing-backs (Chelsea for most of last season, then Spurs and Arsenal towards the end) why not see if his team can do it?

United have been working on it in training and have already played that way against LA Galaxy in preseason. With United’s fans urging them to be more attack-minded, maybe Mourinho, like Wenger, could change his ways. If United do play wing-backs it will be interesting to see how City’s attackers cope with having to track back and having players in the space they’d usually roam free in.