USMNT Preview: Austria v. United States

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  • The 0-0 draw with Scotland ensured the US will finish 2013 with the best winning percentage during a calendar year in U.S. MNT history.
  • Tim Howard sits one victory away from the all-time record of 53 wins set by Kasey Keller (53-27-18). 
  • The Austria match is the final US match of the year and kicks off at Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna at 2:45 p.m. ET that will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network and UniMas.

On Tuesday the United States Men’s National Team will look to put last week’s lackluster Scotland performance behind them and kick-on against Austria in Vienna.

When looking at the Scotland match or Tuesday’s contest with Austria one must keep in mind that they are friendlies. As in, exhibition matches. Glorified training sessions. Nothing more.

So while performances like last Friday’s goalless draw will undoubtedly impart a sense of dread upon USMNT fans, let’s keep an open mind as Jurgen Klinsmann tinkers away. The US coach is in the midst of determining who will snap up the final roster spots for Brazil, which is why guys like Sacha Kljestan (attacking midfield), Mix Diskerud (holding midfield) and Eddie Johnson (left wing) were all played out of position against Scotland.

It was a test to see who possesses versatility. Diskerud passed. Kljestan and Johnson, not so much. Against Austria on Tuesday, expect the probing to continue although the aforementioned trio may return to their typical positions. The center-back partnership of Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, which failed to impress against Scotland, may also get another turn while Eric Lichaj, who came on for the injured Brad Evans on Friday, may have another opportunity to prove his worth.

Aron Johannsson is another player we can expect to be in the starting XI against Austria. The AZ forward has enjoyed a spectacular season in Dutch football and was easily the most dangerous man on the pitch against Scotland. There’s little doubt that Brazil is in Johannsson’s future so now it’s about figuring out who he works well with and where he best fits on the field. Don’t be surprised if Klinsmann changes the formation to a 4-4-2 to see how the Icelandic wonder can work with a guy like EJ.

The biggest question to answer on Tuesday, however, is whether Kljestan or Brek Shea deserve a spot on the squad in Brazil.

Kljestan has been fantastic for Anderlecht, owning his role in the holding midfield. Playing in the Champions League has provided the 28-year-old with experiences that few other USMNT players possess, yet he rarely seems to play as well for country as he does club. With the stiff competition in the USMNT holding midfield, he’ll need to show Klinsmann something special if he wants to be selected for next summer’s tournament.

There is no bigger dark horse than Shea. Injuries have hampered his growth and playing time at Stoke City, yet the blonde ambition still possesses a unique and explosive skill-set that plays well in a USMNT kit. He is a role player but a one with such devastating speed and dribbling ability that he continually manages to give opposing defenses nightmares. If he can pull off something special against Austria, he might just punch his ticket to Brazil.

Despite being ranked 53rd in the world, Austria boasts some impressive talent. Aston Villa winger Andreas Weimann has devastating speed and a knack for goal while Stoke new-boy Marko Arnautovic is a confident, powerful attacker that looks to take defenders on.

The midfield is run by Schalke’s Christian Fuchs along with German club players Emanuel Pogatetz (Nuremberg) and Sebastien Proedel (Werder Bremen) and Austria Vienna duo Manuel Ortlechner and Markus Suttner. In defense Austria possesses one of their greatest weapons, Bayern Munich full-back David Alaba who gives side’s problems with his strong tackling and ability to shoot from outside. 

What They’re Saying

Austria coach Marcel Koller: I saw five recent games and they used different players each time. They have a couple of excellent strikers, players with great individual qualities who can easily score.

Prediction

The US make up for last week to earn a hard-worked 2-0 victory with goals by Johannsson and Diskerud.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32