U.S. World Cup roster examination – Who is going to Brazil?: MIDFIELDERS

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Sometimes the choices can be confusing … and sometimes they can get downright dizzying.

When it comes to the U.S. midfield, there are so man moving parts at work here, easily more than any other position in the U.S player pool, so many ways Jurgen Klinsmann can configure his midfield personnel.

For starters, does he want to go back to something that looks more like a modified 4-3-3, which seems to be the U.S. manager’s preferred structure? That might mean trying to “force” a winger or two onto the roster, even if they haven’t exactly shined consistently.

Then he has a handful of midfield figures with talent, but also with flaws affixed to their games; so which flaws are less flawed than others? And how does that choic tie back into the formation discussion?

Similarly, he has several versatile men, Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan as the best examples. Does he arrange a system more friendly to interchangeable parts or rely more on the specialists? How do these other choices affect whether Klinsmann takes an extra defensive midfield specialist (Kyle Beckerman?) or perhaps an extra attacking midfield type (Jose Torres or Joe Corona?).

Speaking of specialists, what about Brek Shea, a real wild card here, one of the few men in the U.S. pool who can motor past someone on the flanks. But wouldn’t Shea, still languishing on Mark Hughes’ bench at Stoke, come with his own issues?

And then there are the ‘tweeners, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. At some point, this is just an academic exercise; what does it really matter whether Donovan or Dempsey are listed as “midfielders” or “forwards?”

Then again, how these guys are ultimately used (more than their technical roster designation) does begin impacting the fates of others.

It’s all quite interesting, not to mention a big overwhelming, no?

MIDFIELDERS

(Estimated number of spot available: 8-9)

Start making plans, guys … you’re going to Brazil!: Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan

Truly, those are the only figures who can tell their friends and families to start looking for good flight deals. Everyone else (and there’s a lot of “everyone else” here) is wading around in the mire of Klinsmann’s ample wiggle room.

Bradley (pictured) is this team’s most irreplaceable part. Period.

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Jones is on the charter – whether you like it or not. His turnovers are maddening. He’s a bad foul waiting to happen. He cannot be trusted to faithfully, consistently keep that screening position, sometimes bursting forward imprudently and forcing Bradley to make the fierce recovery run. We all know that. So does Klinsmann.

But the manager has long adjudged Jones’ leadership and contagious fearlessness as highly worthwhile, so he tolerates the man’s flaws.

Zusi? The only debate is whether he’s a starter; the creativity and speed of thoughts at international level can sometimes suffer, but his technical work is so usefully smooth. Some of that choice (starter or backup?) depends on how Klinsmann uses Donovan.

Speaking of “using Donovan:” His best spot is second forward, running off the target striker. But who can provide a little speed on the flank? Because Zusi just doesn’t have that one-on-one burner pace. Not that Donovan has much of it, not anymore, but he does have that signature burst.

Klinsmann has perhaps10-plus options for four or five spots, based on the men called into matches this year. (Remember, he has said there “aren’t many surprises coming around the corner.” Translation: If someone is healthy but wasn’t called for any of the recent qualifiers, his World Cup hopes would be better aimed toward 2014.)

Bedoya’s usage over the last five days is pretty interesting. If you look at the guy’s body of work, his best days were against that jayvee level Gold Cup opposition. He doesn’t really scream “international caliber,” does he? And yet, Klinsmann’s decision to give Bedoya two starts seems to underscore the manager’s desperation to find some flank play.

Same probably goes for Brad Davis, one of the few professional who seem to be finding their place internationally as he drifts past 30. Again, it’s about the lack of options – and trying hard to find them.

Torres or Corona? Klinsmann will probably take one of them.

Kljestan or Diskerud? Same thing – one goes, and Diskerud is slightly ahead, although Kljestan kept himself in the argument with a decent night in Panama.

Danny Williams, now a lineup fixture at Reading? He was a U.S. starter just one year ago, remember. Injuries and a bad spell allowed Beckerman to lap him in the pool. But what now?

On the bubble: Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Joshua Gatt, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Jose Torres, Danny Williams

Still in the conversation … but just barely: Maurice Edu

(MORE: Where the goalkeepers of the U.S. player pool stand) 

(MORE: Where the defenders in the U.S. player pool stand)

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.

Klopp “angry, surprised” by Liverpool defeat to Swansea

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Liverpool fans might disagree — Jurgen Klopp certainly does, tonight, at least — but the beauty of the Premier League is that you can end the runaway leaders’ bid for an unbeaten season, then lose to the last-place team in the league, in back-to-back games.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

This, of course, leaves Klopp, Liverpool’s fiery, combustible manager, more than a little hot under the collar. Following Monday’s 1-0 loss away to bottom-of-the-league Swansea City, Klopp pulled no punches in describing the emotions he feels after such a result.

“Frustrated,” “angry” and “surprised” quickly came to mind after seeing his side’s 14-game PL unbeaten run come to an end. Despite creating 21 chances on the night, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain managed to put just four on target, which was undoubtedly the genesis of his frustration, anger and surprise — quotes from the BBC:

“I’m frustrated and I’m angry because it was not a good game. We lost the game in the first half. We didn’t do what we wanted to do. It hasn’t happened too often so I didn’t expect that, I was quite surprised. Because of the first half we weren’t flying and they were.

“We made pressure at the end but not enough to score. The last situation was unlucky but if we got a point it would still have been a bad game for us, and it was the opposite of what we wanted. That happens from time to time and it’s never the right moment and like it should be.

“It’s not that we threw it away. Swansea are fighting for their life and we’ve no problem with that, we had a problem with our offensive motions. It’s not what we came here for tonight. We have nothing, and that’s our fault.”

Swansea 1-0 Liverpool: Last-place Swans shock Reds

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  • Swansea shock Liverpool in game of few chances
  • Mawson sweeps home the winner — 40′
  • Reds’ 14-game PL unbeaten run ends
  • Swans now 2W-1D-1L under Carvalhal

From the high of snapping Manchester City’s unbeaten run (30 games dating back to last season) and bid for an unbeaten 2017-18 Premier League season, to being beaten by last-place Swansea City… in back-to-back games… all in the span of eight days.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

On Monday, Swansea topped Liverpool, 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium, to claim just their fifth PL victory all season; two of the five have come in the first three weeks of new manager Carlos Carvalhal’s tenure (four games).

Virgil Van Dijk cost Liverpool $100 million, but he’s yet to arrest the Reds’ woeful set-piece defending. It was the big Dutchman who failed to head the ball clear from the Swans’ 40th-minute corner kick. After an unfortunate bounce in the box, the ball fell to Mawson just 10 yards out. The young Welshman swept his right foot through the ball and Loris Karius could do nothing about it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Liverpool’s first surefire chance of the second half came in the 60th minute, when Mohamed Salah delicately lifted just over the wall a free kick from 22 yards out. The ball quickly fell as it neared goal, but Lukasz Fabianski reacted quicker and pushed it over the crossbar at full-stretch to preserve the lead at 1-0.

Right on 94 minutes, with the referee staring at his watch, Roberto Firmino headed off Fabianski’s right-hand post and Adam Lallana missed an open-net follow-up, somehow booting the ball well over the bar from three yards out.

Despite holding over 70 percent of possession on the night, Liverpool put on target just four of their 21 total shots.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With the defeat, Liverpool (47 points) fail to capitalize on Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw with Southampton on Sunday. Having ultimately gained a point in Round 24, Tottenham now trail Liverpool by just two points in the race for fourth. The two sides meet in two weeks’ time, on Sunday, Feb. 4, at Anfield.

Swansea (20 points), meanwhile, have done nearly enough to climb out of the PL cellar, but remain 20th out of 20 teams on goal differential. Three points stand between them and safety.