Stock Rising: United States men whose values are rising out of Salt Lake

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After nine points in three qualifiers, there’s no shortage of praise to hand out to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Whereas three or four standouts usually force their way onto our Stock Rising report, a larger flock of MNT’ers deserve some acknowledgement after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras, three points that leave the U.S. on 13 after six Hex rounds.

We spare no expense handing our this week’s plaudits, the positives from the U.S.’s current run proving much larger than the Stock Falling report we’ll have later tonight.

Jozy Altidore – I don’t know what’s more impressive: (a) Altidore’s calm, reassured finished on yesterday’s 71st minute winner; (b) the celebration that portrayed more relief than jubilance; or, (c) the fact that throughout the night Altidore always seemed to be in the right place, whether it was the first half’s targeting from wide or the second half’s attempts to tick and tack through the Honduran block. In the last eight months, we’ve gone from asking ‘where’s Jozy’ to always expecting him to be where his teammates are looking.

Just over a week ago, after the U.S. had dispatched Panama, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked why Altidore’s finally broken through. In Klinsmann’s mind, though, he hadn’t. Altidore’s being doing the same things in June that he done since he winter recall, the U.S. boss explained. Now, those things are leading to goals, but that doesn’t mean Altidore wasn’t contributing before.

It’s tempting to look at four goals in as many games as a turning point, but Altidore’s breakthrough probably came before this goal-scoring rush. His rising stock is build on a foundation  laid throughout 2013.

source: APGraham Zusi (right) – The control the U.S. maintained against Panama meant Zusi was rarely missed, especially while Omar Gonzalez made sure any access the Canaleros had through Brad Evans was quickly closed off. On Tuesday, however, we were reminded about the little things the Sporting Kansas City star is doing to cement his role on the U.S.’s right. In the second half, we got a glimpse of some potential versatility, with Klinsmann shifting him in from the right, using him as a focal point in front of the line as the U.S. touched their way past the Honduran defense. Moving on from his 13th cap, it’s tempting to consider what other parts of Zusi’s game will we see assert themselves in the international game.

Geoff Cameron – There was little argument for Cameron keeping his place in the starting XI over the returning Jermaine Jones, but after 90 minutes in Sandy that gave us a better means of comparison, Cameron’s starting to make his case. Coming off a stellar performance against Panama, the Stoke City man provided some needed quality off the bench, hinting his game in Seattle wasn’t a fluke. We’re still a long way from being able to say Cameron deserves the nod over the more-accomplished Jones, but this is how competition starts. One man starts asserting himself. The other has to respond.

Matt Besler – While the center back to his right has been prone to mistakes, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year has been Mr. Reliable, providing a couple of new moments of reassured protection in Utah. It wasn’t so long ago (like, a matter of weeks) that Besler wasn’t a sure bet to start next to Omar Gonzalez. Now, he seems like an obligatory choice.

source: Getty ImagesFabian Johnson (right) – Two matches in a row, Johnson’s provided the game-winning assist to Jozy Altidore, each time getting deep along the left before playing across for his team’s best finisher. All of a sudden, the Hoffenheim wide man leads The Hex in assists. Be it in midfield or in defense, Johnson’s providing a quality fans have been begging for since Klinsmann took over: width. While some moments in defense hinted he may not be a better choice at left back than DaMarcus Beasley, Johnson continues to make the U.S. better for his presence.

Brad Davis – The main arguments against Brad Davis’s inclusion are his lack of speed and athleticism, yet while drawing a foul in a dangerous spot late in the match, the Houston talisman showed more promise than many have seen before. The arguments against his potential at international level remain, but with that flash of danger, Davis may be providing a new counterpoint.

Eddie Johnson – When E.J. was brought in at the end of the last round, everybody expected him to provide Klinsmann an alternative to Altidore. But Johnson’s yet to be meaningfully used as a true No. 9. Instead, he’s played on the left. He’s played on the right. He’s provided a needed injection of athleticism, strength, and even experience. And his presence at the back post gives the team a persistent threat. Players like Johnson and Cameron may not have starting spots, but they’re proving valuable parts of Klinsmann’s restructured team.

Jurgen Klinsmann – It’s not only that the U.S. is on 13 points through six rounds. It’s how they’ve done it. To this point, the story’s unfolding just like Klinsmann predicted. And now, the furor ahead of the Costa Rica match seems ridiculous now.

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.