Scotland v United States

United States to be surprisingly strong for Sunday’s Australia friendly

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The roster announcement for the upcoming friendlies was a weird one. The U.S. have games scheduled against Australia (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, 30), but for Sunday’s match against the Matildas, European players weren’t set to take part. With the match scheduled outside of a FIFA window, clubs weren’t compelled to release players like Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain) and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), compelling the U.S. to name 25 players for games where only 18 will dress. The team named a squad that can straddle the international window.

The U.S., however, are set to benefit from Tyresö’s misfortune, the Swedish club having lost their chance to take first place in the Damallsvenskan. That means the suddenly huge American enclave playing just outside Stockholm will join the team ahead of Sunday’s game in San Antonio. Reportedly flying straight from their team’s Champions League match in Paris, Whitey Engen, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, and Christen Press will be available for selection on Sunday, Tyresö having given them permission to miss the weekend’s season finale at Linköping.

That means Press won’t have a chance to build a campaign that win claim Sweden’s scoring title. With 23 goals in 20 games, the Stanford alum is seven ahead of Linköping’s Pernille Mosegaard-Harder, having scored 40 times (in 41 games) since moving to Sweden two years ago. Although she had scored eight goals as a rookie in Women’s Professional Soccer’s final season (2011), few saw this kind of dominance in Press’s game during her first professional debut. Her move abroad shows the type of benefits players can see when challenging themselves in Europe’s best leagues.

Despite that success, Press is still fighting for regular time with the U.S., her relatively recent inclusion with the national team creating a game of catch up. Current FIFA Player of the Year Abby Wambach remains the well-established focal point, and Alex Morgan’s the strike force’s other attacking star, leaving Sydney Leroux (despite 21 goals in 39 appearances) is in the same boat as Press – fighting for time in the world’s deepest strike force.

source: Getty Images
Christen Press, seen here embracing U.S. national team teammate Carli Lloyd, had 23 goals this season for Tyresö in Sweden. Her club has given her permission to join the U.S. this Sunday in San Antonio. (Photo: Getty Images.)

It’s those type of positional battles that make these friendlies worthwhile, and from the spectator’s point of view, they provide some needed drama during what could be lopsided matches. While Australia and New Zealand each have some world-class talents, they’re also seen on a lower level than the U.S. If teams like Germany and Japan can compete with the States while the likes of France and Sweden could beat them on a given day, Australia exists on a level close to England or Italy, where a victory would be a notable upset. New Zealand is even farther below that.

So the main competition on Sunday will be internal, with the Australians providing a type of control. And at almost every level of the field, the Matildas’ standard will be used to gain new information about the U.S.’s obscure depth chart.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is number one. Nicole Barnhart is number two. As opposed to other places on the field, there are no questions about that order, even if there questions about Solo’s lingering health issues (recent shoulder, wrist problems). At some point, presumably, that intrigue will dissipate. Perhaps the break between the NWSL campaign and these friendlies will have given her time to fully recover.

Defense: Kelley O’Hara’s still out at left back as she recovers from ankle surgery, which means Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis are likely to split time (though a few other fullbacks candidates have been called in). Which one has an edge? Don’t expect Sermanni to tell, even if Dunn looks a little ahead of the still-converting midfielder.

In the middle, 38-year-old Christie Rampone is assumed to be a starter, but Sermanni’s done enough rotating to obscure his preferences. Conventional wisdom has Rachel Buehler, Whitney Engen, and Becky Sauerbrunn competing for one spot.

Midfield: If there’s depth in central midfield, it’s still coming through. Göteburg’s Yael Averbuch’s been recalled once more. Morgan Brian’s missing Virginia’s game with North Carolina to come along. Neither fully established in the team, let alone challengers to Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, though one may start Sunday in Texas. With Heath and Rapinoe only joining the team for the New Zealand matches, Holiday is a candidate to start wide (though not the only one).

In those wide roles, Heather O’Reilly seems to be competing with Rapinoe and Heath for two spots, one of which she seemed to lose at the end of Pia Sundhage’s tenure. But having been awarded her fair share of starts since Sermanni took over, O’Reilly’s place on the depth chart is unclear. Has she possibly reclaimed a place in the U.S.’s first XI?

Who knows. Tom Sermanni may not even know, or care. The games that really matter are still long off with qualifying for Canada 2015 still over a year away. It may not even be worth coming up with potentially irrelevant conclusions.

At some point, Sermanni will need to test what he has, but that point’s not going to come this months. Against Australia and New Zealand, expect him to keep us in the dark.

Europa League: Mourinho says targeted Man Utd must win; Saints shorthanded

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United makes his way to the tunnel after the final whistle  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Europa League goes into its second day of group play with the onus on the biggest club in the tournament to pick up a win.

Don’t believe us? Ask Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

“To be honest, I think we have to win,” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference. “If we don’t win, I would say we’d have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult, so I think it is very important that we win this game.”

[ MORE: Wenger excited at Arsenal’s chances ]

United fell 1-0 at Feyenoord to open the group stage, and now hosts Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk at 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday. He knows its the equivalent of a massive Cup match for the visitors.

“The Europa League is a competition Man United isn’t normally in, so when these teams have a giant like Man United in front of them, it’s a huge moment for them and they come to the game with incredible motivation.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start for United, as there’s a chance that Anthony Martial will rejoin the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is out, and Wayne Rooney (back) and Luke Shaw (illness) may not play.

The other Premier League side in play is Southampton, as the Saints take a long flight to Israel for a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Saints handled Sparta Prague at home, and now face the Camels, who went to Inter Milan and won. Southampton is without Charlie Austin, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, and Steven Davis.

Should be a very decent match from Turner Stadium in Be’er Sheva.

Elsewhere

all times ET

Mainz at Gabala — 11 a.m.
Young Boys at Astana — 11 a.m.
Osmanlispor at Zurich — 1 p.m.
Red Bull Salzburg at Schalke — 1 p.m.
PAOK at Liberec — 1 p.m.
Qarabag at Fiorentina — 1 p.m.
Villarreal at Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m.
Nice at Krasnodar — 1 p.m.
Standard Liege at Ajax — 1 p.m.
Braga at Shakhtar Donetsk — 1 p.m.
Panathinaikos at Celta Vigo — 1 p.m.
Inter Milan at Sparta Prague — 1 p.m.
Konyaspor at Gent — 1 p.m.
Sassuolo at Genk — 3:05 p.m.
Zorya at Manchester United — 3:05 p.m.
Anderlecht at Saint-Etienne — 3:05 p.m.
Apoel Nicosia at Olympiacos — 3:05 p.m.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Dundalk — 3:05 p.m.
Feyenoord at Fenerbahce — 3:05 p.m.
Rapid Wien at Athletic Bilbao — 3:05 p.m.
Viktoria Plzen at Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m.
AZ Alkmaar at Zenit Saint-Petersburg — 3:05 p.m.
Astra Giurgiu at AS Roma — 3:05 p.m.

Wenger after UCL win: This year’s Arsenal has “interesting potential”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is growing in confidence when it comes to his Gunners’ chances in England and Europe, and it’s not hard to see why.

Four days after Arsenal battered Chelsea 3-0 in Premier League action, the Gunners went out and handled FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Theo Walcott scored both goals in the 2-0 win, and there could’ve been so many more. Arsenal was fast, deliberate, creative, and dangerous. The finishing was not ideal, but the promise was massive.

Perhaps more important, the Gunners posted a third-straight clean sheet and have allowed just four goals in eight matches since the 4-3 loss to Liverpool that opened the PL season.

And Wenger acknowledges that his side can do big things, provided it doesn’t get too full of itself after solid performances. From Arsenal.com:

“It looks like the team has interesting potential. We have to be ambitious and, as you know, keep our feet on the ground to continue to develop. We know exactly how we want to play football and we have to continue to stick to that and get better at it. That demands big focus and some leadership inside the squad. It also requires humility.”

Arsenal has a very winnable run in the Premier League, and could be right there with Manchester City by the end of October. And with a winnable UCL group, who knows what the Gunners could do with a decent knockout round draw?

Bayern can’t break down Simeone’s Atleti: “We played too slowly”

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Carlo Ancelotti, Manager of Bayern Muenchen looks on before the UEFA Champions League group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 28, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich sits second in Group D of this season’s UEFA Champions League after losing its toughest match of the bunch: a trip to the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico Madrid won 1-0 when Antoine Griezmann linked up with Yannick Carrasco for a first half goal and Diego Simeone’s stubborn defense lived up to its reputation in blanking the Bavarians.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Manager Carlo Ancelotti has been frustrated by Simeone in the past, perhaps most notably in his brief stint at Real Madrid. But the Bayern boss says the loss was down to speed.

“We tried to get back into the game but we played too slowly, which is why we did not have many chances to equalize,” Ancelotti said. “It’s never nice to lose.”

Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also acknowledged a lack of speed in a way, pointing at urgency when he said, “Atlético showed a killer instinct tonight and we didn’t.”

Bayern hosts PSV Eindhoven in its next UCL match on Oct. 19.

Guardiola, Rodgers left to unpack thrilling Celtic-Man City draw

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Celtic issues instructions to his players next to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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What a match in Glasgow.

The UEFA Champions League group stage returned to Celtic Park on Wednesday, where the hosts thrilled their crowd by taking a trio of leads before settling for a 3-3 draw with mighty Manchester City.

[ MORE: JPW on Walcott’s Arsenal heroics ]

The draw is the first competitive game City hasn’t won under Pep Guardiola, but the manager didn’t feel much like complaining after his team rallied.

From the BBC:

Guardiola: “It was difficult for us. I’m happy with the reaction from the players, it’s not easy to score three goals away.

“I don’t know how many the chances they had after the third goal. We should have won it.”

As for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, he was tickled. After all, Celtic had fallen 7-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou during their first outing.

From the BBC:

Rodgers: “We were brilliant, the pressing and the energy. Every time we went forward we looked like we could score.

“Apart from the Barcelona game these players have been operating at a high level this season. Now, to do it against that team, it was a magnificent performance.”

Celtic Park was loud on Wednesday, and both sides gave the crowd plenty of oohs and aahs. It’s hard to imagine Celtic could do the same again, and City did give away a pair of goals (one own goal from Raheem Sterling, one gaffe from Aleksandar Kolarov).

But for one afternoon, who cares about anything other than an entertaining 90 minutes?