What we learned from United States versus Austria

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  • Jozy Altidore isn’t finishing … but he’s still contributing

We know Jozy Altidore can score. He just came off one of the best years a U.S. striker has ever lived.

Obviously, confidence is a big part of this scoring thing, and it may become an increasingly worrisome spot for the Sunderland striker. But for now, Altidore continues to be a bother on opposition defenses. He certainly was on Tuesday at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel Stadium – and with benefit of the doubt firmly in pocket on the scoring front, that’s good enough for now.

He was busy in making himself available, which is always essential and never exactly easy in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (Tuesday’s alignment for manager Jurgen Klinsmann). And like Friday against Scotland, Altidore came close a couple of times. So even if the guy is not scoring at the moment for the United States, it’s not like he’s wildly off target.

And wouldn’t it help if the man could get a little bit of service from wide areas? At times Tuesday, Altidore must have felt like he was (Eee-gads!) back at Sunderland.

Which brings us to our second point …

  • The flanks have issues

If Alejandro Bedoya on the right and Brek Shea on the left got off a good cross Tuesday, then I missed it.

Which is really disappointing, considering that both U.S. players needed a big night. The opportunity is there because all the U.S. attacking strength right now is right up the gut, so precious little of it from the wide areas.

(Fabian Johnson could do something about this. So could Landon Donovan … but they have to get healthy. So, uh , get healthy.)

Bedoya has been getting prime minutes lately, but he just isn’t doing much to justify Klinsmann’s ongoing faith. Tuesday, like Friday against Scotland, was full of cutting back onto his left foot. Which is odd … a right-wing man who doesn’t seem to want to cross with his right foot. (Presumably, Altidore thinks so, too.)

In fairness, neither wide man got the ball in good spots Tuesday. Shea didn’t, although some of that was his own doing, as he some tactical inexperience showed.

Shea must learn to vary his positioning some, moving in and out, rather than remaining out wide all the time, predictably so. That makes it easier for defenders and midfielders to shut down passing lanes into him – which means he gets fewer chances to gallop past defenders with those long legs.

The bottom line on it all was that everything was going through Altidore and Aron Johannsson, who was given a shot as a central, attacking midfielder. Which brings us to …

  • Aron Johannsson showed enough in his new role

The young Alkmaar man, a recent U.S. convert from Iceland, has been impressive as a striker in his first few appearances as a Yank. So Klinsmann assigned Johannsson a new role Tuesday, as a playmaker tucked behind Altidore. He had plenty of room to operate since Michael Bradley played just a little further back than usual, a fellow holding mid in a 4-2-3-1 rather than more of a linker in a 4-3-3.

So some early trouble wasn’t in the spacing, but in the touch. Johannsson looked nervous initially, losing the ball four times within the game’s first 13 minutes. The field was slick, and it certainly wasn’t easy out there. Jermaine Jones lost the ball a lot, too. In other words, pretty much the same old, same old there.

But Johannsson did ease into the night. His shot from about 24 yards about 15 minutes in troubled Austrian goalkeeper Robert Almer and seemed to settle the young U.S. prospect, and he worked the channels adequately from there.

It wasn’t a signature night for the man born in Alabama and raised in Iceland. But he keeps showing enough. There is enough control in tight spaces, enough vision and enough speed of thought to keep us all excited. He’s 23 … not exactly a youngster, but hardly a finished product, either. And every time Johannsson steps on the field, his case for a place among the final 23 for Brazil seems to grow stronger.

  • Jermaine Jones gonna Jermaine Jones

Jones’ game-by-game assessment checklist: Lots of turnovers — check. Do something impulsive, potentially harmful to your team and just kind of silly, like give a little slap to an opponent, as Tuesday — check.

Well, we covered this ground before. Nothing new to see here … so let’s just move on.

  • John Brooks will be good … someday

With Goeff Cameron pushed out wide, John Brooks got his second start as a U.S. center back, this time alongside Omar Gonzalez.

Brooks had trouble here and there with positioning, but the foibles looked like teachable moments. It’s not like he cannot cope, in other words.

Brooks stepped aggressively toward the slippery Marc Janko when he might have been better to hold the line, and other times he needed to be closer to Austria’s top striker rather than further away.

But the tools all seem to be there, and his passing from the back was sufficiently varied and technical. He’s not ready to challenge Matt Besler just yet as Gonzalez’s central partner – but the 20-year-old German-American isn’t that far, either.

(MORE: NBC highlights from Tuesday’s 1-0 loss)

(MORE: Video of Geoff Cameron’s goal for the United States … that wasn’t counted)

(MORE: Geoff Cameron certainly helped himself with a good night)

(MORE: U.S. finishes 2013 with a 1-0 loss to Austria)

Antonio Conte thanks Diego Costa after Chelsea departure

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These will likely be the final questions Antonio Conte faces about Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Matip talks to JPW ]

On Thursday it was announced that Chelsea has sold their leading scorer in each of the past two seasons back to Atletico Madrid with a protracted fallout between Conte and Costa finally coming to a logical conclusion.

After Conte reportedly sent Costa a text message stating he was no longer needed at Chelsea, just days after they lifted the Premier League title together, the Brazilian born striker refused to return to preseason training and remained in Brazil with family as he demanded to be sold back to Atletic Madrid.

He was fined by the club but has finally got his wish with a $77 million move back to Atleti sealed for the 28-year-old who won two Premier League titles in three season at Chelsea but also brought controversy with him on many occasions as the bullish striker upset opponents and teammates alike.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Conte thanked Costa for his efforts.

“About this issue, we want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” Conte said.

Asked about the deterioration of his own relationship with Costa and if his team will miss the goals of the Spanish international, Conte was less open.

“Now it is not important, I am not interested to continue talking about this issue,” Conte said. “I am working with my players and am happy to work them them. We must work and fight to win every competition. We are Chelsea and we need to try to do this in this season. We have to try to do our best in every competition. Our target is to do our best every day, every week, every month in this season.”

Stating multiple times that he was “not interested in talking about the past” and that only the current and building for the future was important, Conte did thank Costa once again and said he will remember the success they achieved together last season.

“I do not forget we won together last season,” Conte said. “For sure we want to thank him for his effort last season with us but not only last season, the period he played for Chelsea.”

With this saga now over, Chelsea will turn to Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi to score the goals they need to be successful on all four fronts this season.

After recovering well from a sluggish start to the season it appears Conte’s decision to oust Costa will, long-term, be the correct one. Even though Morata has taken a little time to settle and Batshuayi blows hot and cold, the Blues have goals everywhere you look with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and others able to chip in.

There’s only one Diego Costa and Conte must be somewhat relieved to see the back of him.

West Ham, Chicharito raise funds for Mexico earthquake victims

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and West Ham United are doing all they can to help the victims of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Mexico which killed over 270 people.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer posted the following message on Instagram to help raise funds as he has set up the #YoXMexico initiative with fellow Mexican international Miguel Layun.

Hernandez, 29, detailed exactly why he wants to get involved in helping any way he can.

“Being so far from Mexico and seeing the suffering of our compatriots in the distance has been very painful,” Hernandez said. “So, after discussing it, we decided to take the initiative for Mexico and give our people a helping hand. We know that many see us as a source of inspiration, but in this case, what has inspired us is to see millions of Mexicans take to the streets and to lend a hand without asking for anything in return.

“We hope, with this initiative, to help those who need it and motivate more people to do it with us. Miguel and I are very grateful to have the backing of everyone at West Ham United and all of its supporters at this difficult time for our country.  It is a fantastic gesture and we hope it can help us raise funds that will make a difference in Mexico.”

The Hammers have announced they will hold a shirt auction for jerseys worn in their match against Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with all of the proceeds going directly to the victims of the tragedy.

West Ham United will auction all match-worn shirts from this weekend’s London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, with all proceeds going to the victims’ families and survivors of this week’s devastating Mexican earthquake.

The Club will then double the figure raised by the auction, before donating the total amount to an appeal organised by Hammers striker Javier Hernandez and his fellow Mexico international Miguel Layun to aid the relief effort in Mexico City and the surrounding area.

To donate directly to #YoXMexico please visit youcaring.com/yoxmex or follow #YoXMexico on Twitter at @YoXMexico.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.