With the 23-man set, how does the USMNT line up for the World Cup?

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Now that we’ve all taken a deep breath from the Landon Donovan news this evening, it’s time to look big picture with the squad.

Agree or disagree with Jurgen Klinsmann’s omissions, it is what it is, and it’s important to look at how things go forward.

Thing is, after what we saw today, it just became that much harder to figure out what’s going on in Klinsmann’s head when it comes to who he believes is the best at each position.

There are a number of positions that we thought were solidified, but now that we know the skipper’s not afraid to shake things up, may not be so easy to call after all.

In addition, given either injury or performance at any of the friendlies the USMNT has scheduled before they make their way to Brazil, things could change then as well.

Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to analyze how each position will break down as we see it now, and how the US formation could play out.  First, let’s take another look at the roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Ale Bedoya, Brad Davis

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green

There are many questions going forward.  For example, who plays on the outside of defense? Who plays next to Besler in the middle? Is Altidore alone up front? Where does Klinsmann use Dempsey? All of those will be discussed here briefly.

But first, for a point of reference, here’s how the team lined up in their most recent competitive match that really had something riding on it, a 2-0 win over Jamaica in  World Cup qualifying:

……………………Howard……………………
Evans – Cameron – Besler – Beasley
………………Diskerud – Jones……………..
Johannsson – Donovan – Bedoya
…………………..Altidore…………………..

Remember, Michael Bradley was injured at the time.  Now, here’s what I believe to be the best lineup from this 23-man roster:

…………………..Howard…………………..
..Johnson – Cameron – Besler – Beasley..
………………Bradley – Jones……………..
……Johannsson – Dempsey – Zusi……
…………………..Altidore…………………..

There are plenty of questions that I keep asking myself with this roster. Here they are:

source: AP
Jozy Altidore struggled with a lack of service at Sunderland. Is it ok to leave him by himself up front?

1) Leaving Altidore isolated at the top is dangerous, is it really the right choice?

It’s been shown before that with Altidore as a lone striker, he will get much too isolated if the opposing midfield pegs the US back in possession.  If he doesn’t get service at the top, he’s on an island, and will get disheartened quickly.

However, I still don’t think Clint Dempsey’s best position is at the front of the attack, and with Johannsson pushing up the right and feeding the middle, the attack shouldn’t be too starved at the front.

2) Who is the best option at RB?

The question on many US fans’ minds is, who is the best person to cover Ronaldo against Portugal? He will likely be on the left wing, which means the right-back is going to be tasked with covering the winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Let’s start by saying this: nobody can cover Ronaldo. Flat out, end of, stop.  Therefore, the question may not be at RB, but at LB.

Both Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are right backs by trade, and Beasley plays on the left. It follows then that to start both Chandler and Johnson, one of them (Fabian) would have to move to the left, and I don’t think Chandler is anywhere close to being able to cover a star left winger.  Therefore, I went with Beasley on the left and Fabian on the right.

Judging by how Chandler fared in the heat against Mexico (hint: not so well), I personally hope Klinsmann doesn’t pick him in the jungle climate against Cristiano Ronaldo.

3) Is it possible to find room in the midfield for Kyle Beckerman?

I still can’t get out of my mind how well Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman paired up in the match against Mexico. Having Beckerman at the back end of the diamond allowed Bradley to get forward and make things happen in the 18-yard box.

However, Bradley’s a lock obviously, and at this point Jermaine Jones still ranks above Beckerman in the midfield pecking order.  It’s possible Klinsmann could spot-start Beckerman in one of the matches if he chooses to play a possession game and get Bradley farther forward, but at this point Jones is the penciled-in starter. Also, ask Landon Donovan what Klinsmann thinks of pecking orders…

4) Where the heck is Clint Dempsey’s best position?

As someone who has watched Clint for years at Fulham as well as with the USMNT, I still have not figured out where he slots in best.  Clint’s put in wonderful performances from striker, from the attacking midfield, and from the left wing.

However, in my experience watching Clint, at striker he feasts mostly upon lesser talent, and in a stacked group, there will be no lesser talent to feast upon.  He’s a great feeder on the wing, but often you lose his goalscoring ability sticking him on the touchline.  Therefore, I think sitting behind Altidore is the best spot for him, where he can both dish to Jozy/Aron/Bradley, and also take feeds from those men if he wishes to have a go himself.

As the captain of this team, Dempsey needs to take charge, and slotted just behind the striker is the best spot to do that.

source: AP
Teen phenom Julian Green made the 23-man roster, but will he see the field much in Brazil?

5) Who comes off the bench?

As something not addressed above, it’s also prudent to see who is first off the bench in certain situations.

When the team needs a spark, Wondolowski appears to be first off the bench in crunch time when the team needs a goal. As one of the two lone strikers on the roster, this one is pretty obvious.

But is there game time for the others?
-Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman would be first in line for central midfield legs when someone needs relief.
-Brad Davis and Ale Bedoya would appear to be the wing relievers/sparks. Hard to see Julian Green getting much time, unless Klinsmann sees something we don’t (which, admittedly, is very likely).-Gonzalez is the third CB, unless Klinsmann chooses him over Cameron to start.
-On the edge of the back line, it’s tough to see time for Yedlin or Brooks, but they’ve both made it this far, so who knows. One would imagine that whoever doesn’t start of Beasley/Chandler/F. Johnson will still see the field a decent amount, but the rest are on the outside looking in.

6) Does the diamond work with this group?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s trademark in his tenure with the United States has been the diamond midfield formation.  As you can see, the formation I put up above does not exactly follow that tactical choice, instead going with a conventional 4-2-3-1.

Things would be drastically different with a diamond.  The biggest difference would probably be figuring out what to do with Clint Dempsey.  If he moves up front alongside Altidore, then Bradley or Jones would slide into the space behind the strikers as an advanced center-mid.  If Dempsey moved to the wing, Zusi would likely sit and Wondolowski would come in as a second striker, although that is not ideal because Zusi is a winger built on possession, perfect for the diamond.

That formation complicates things a little, and he very well may decide to employ that tactic.  But for right now, there are too many unknowns involved in that decision.

How can you see the US lining up? Will Klinsmann go back to the Beckerman/Bradley diamond that worked so well against a struggling Mexico? How will he deal with Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it ok to leave Jozy Altidore by himself up front after struggling so badly at Sunderland?f

These are all questions that must be answered by the skipper, and for the time being, they’re ours to try and answer as well.

PL Sunday preview: Wayward Watford welcome woeful West Ham

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In a reversal of roles, based on preseason projections at least, Watford welcome West Ham United to Vicarage Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for a clash of mid-table climbers and relegation fighters, respectively.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man Utd, Chelsea win big… so do Man City ]

Watford began the 2017-18 Premier League season in fine form, winning four of their first eight games and losing just one (to runaway leaders Manchester City, no less). In their last three games, however, the Hornets have conceded eight goals, while scoring just four themselves, and winning zero points. Coincidentally — nor not, perhaps — that three-game slide began at the same time Watford manager Marco Silva‘s name was linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton. With Ronald Koeman fired almost four weeks ago now, Watford have rejected approach after approach from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Silva, for his first three months of efforts, has been roundly praised by the club’s supporters and players alike.

“Everybody could see he changed a lot of things in the team. We had quite a lot of the same players but we improved a lot,” defender Christian Kabasele said this week. “When you have somebody like this and other teams are looking for him it’s important that Watford try to do everything possible to keep him.”

West Ham, meanwhile, started the season poorly and have remained equally so in recent weeks. Slaven Bilic was subsequently fired two weeks and succeeded by David Moyes, who had been out of a job since guiding Sunderland to relegation at the end of last season. Sunday’s bout with Watford will see Moyes make his debut for West Ham, the fourth club to employ him since leaving Everton four and a half years ago. To make matters more difficult, the Hammers’ leading scorer, Javier Hernandez (4 goals), won’t be available after picking up an injury on international duty.

“It’s a clean slate for the entire squad,” Moyes said last week. “They’ve all worked very hard this week and responded in a positive manner to everything we’ve asked of them. It will obviously take time for the players to fully understand our style and methods but the initial signs are very encouraging — they’ve bought in what we are trying to do and that’s a good base for us to build on.”

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Isaac Success (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastian Prodl (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring) | West Ham — OUT: Javier Hernandez (hamstring), James Collins (ankle), Sam Byram (thigh), Jose Fonte (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Michail Antonio (ribs)

The 2 Robbies: North London Painted Red

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In today’s pod, the Robbies heap praise on Arsenal’s impressive performance in the North London Derby (00:30), analyze Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle on the back of Paul Pogba’s return (10:00), ask if this Man City side is the best Premier League side ever (18:25), debate where Kevin De Bruyne’s current form ranks in the league’s greatest ever players (23:45) and pick the best summer signing so far this season (27:15; hint, hint – he might be leading the league in scoring).

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.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Draw in Madrid derby puts Barca 10 clear of capital rivals

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw in their first derby at the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday, leaving both teams further away from Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Barcelona won at Leganes 3-0 earlier and ended the day 10 points in front of both Madrid clubs after 12 matches. The thriving Catalan club is seven points in front of second-place Valencia, which will try to extend its seven-game winning streak at Espanyol on Sunday.

The draw extended Atletico’s winless run at its new home to five matches. It drew three straight entering this weekend. Diego Simeone’s team has won only two of its last 10 games in all competitions.

Both teams will have to remain nearly perfect for the rest of the season to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has won 11 of its 12 league matches.

It was a tense between Real and Atletico from the start, with hard fouls from both sides.

Real had control for most of the game but was not able to create many significant chances.

Atletico had one of its best opportunities early when forward Angel Correa entered the area free from markers with only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to beat but sent his shot wide.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro also came close in the second half, but his shot over Casilla was cleared by Real defender Raphael Varane in front of the goal-line.

Real threatened with a few runs by Isco and a couple of free kicks taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was another tough night for Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo has scored six times in the Champions league but only once in La Liga, while Griezmann has only three goals in 14 matches with Atletico in all competitions. The France forward was jeered when he was replaced by Fernando Torres near the end of the second half.

Luis Suarez scored twice to end a five-match scoring drought in Barcelona’s win.

The Uruguay striker found the net in each half and substitute midfielder Paulinho scored late to give the Catalan club its 11th win.

Leganes, ninth in the standings, had its chances early in southern Madrid but couldn’t beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 28th after Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar dropped the ball in front of the goal after a cross by Paco Alcacer. Suarez’s second in the 60th was a rebound shot after Cuellar parried a shot by Lionel Messi. Suarez hadn’t scored in more than a month.

“What mattered to me was that I was feeling good and was helping the team, and today the goals helped us get the three points against a difficult rival,” Suarez said. “We always try to play better, but it’s not always possible.”

Paulinho sealed the victory in the 90th after a pass by Messi, who was on the ground fighting for the ball when he tipped it back to the midfielder.

Leganes, playing only in its second season in the first division, wore a specially designed purple shirt to promote the fight against gender violence.

“We had our opportunities, but in the end we knew that we were playing against the best team in the world, and with very little they can score on you,” Leganes midfielder Ruben Perez said.

Sevilla recovered from its loss to Barcelona in the previous round by beating Celta Vigo 2-1 to move back to fifth place.

Celta got on the board first through Maxi Gomez, but the hosts rallied with goals by Luis Muriel in the first half and Nolito in the second.

It was the fourth win in five matches for Sevilla in all competitions.

Markel Bergara and Jorge Molina scored in the first 10 minutes to lead Getafe to a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves at home.

It was the 10th league loss for Alaves, which remains in 18th place. Getafe is 10th.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” Alaves coach Gianni De Biasi said.

Bundesliga: Bayern running away (again) after slow start

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice to help Bayern Munich stretch its lead in the Bundesliga to six points with a 3-0 defeat of Bavarian rival Augsburg on Saturday.

It was the 500th league win for Jupp Heynckes as a player or coach and extends the 72-year-old’s winning start to eight games across all competitions since he returned for his fourth stint.

“That’s a surprise for me. I don’t bother with statistics and numbers,” Heynckes said on being told about his winning landmark. “But it’s an impressive number (500). I had a long career as a player, and now as a coach. It wasn’t planned.”

Heynckes was coaxed out of retirement to take over from the fired Carlo Ancelotti on Oct. 5. Bayern was trailing then-leader Borussia Dortmund by five points at the time. Now the side is nine points ahead of Dortmund, which hasn’t won in the league since Sept. 30, and six ahead of Leipzig, held to a draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock after half an hour, swiveling to fire home the rebound from a difficult angle after Mats Hummels’s effort was blocked and the ball ricocheted off Niklas Suele.

Vidal turned provider seven minutes later, playing Lewandowski through on a counterattack to shoot past Marwin Hitz.

The Poland striker claimed his league-leading 13th goal of the season early in the second half with a perfectly struck volley to Joshua Kimmich’s precise long cross from the right.

Vidal headed against the crossbar just afterward before Bayern conserved energy for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Anderlecht.

The win stretched the side’s unbeaten record to 28 games at home.

Winless Cologne’s terrible start to the league continued with its 10th defeat in 12 games, while the discussion over video assistance in the league will continue after two mistakes by referee Felix Brych.

Daniel Brosinski’s penalty before the break was enough for a 1-0 win for Mainz against Cologne, but how it came about will ensure the controversy over video assistance goes on.

Brych pointed to the spot when Pablo De Blasis fell under Frederik Sorensen’s challenge. He then consulted the video assistant, who had the benefit of studying replays in Cologne, and stood by the decision – despite television showing that Sorensen made hardly any contact with the Mainz player.

Brych later sent off Mainz’s Giulio Donati for what he perceived as striking Leon Bittencourt after a tussle between the two. However, Bittencourt’s foot struck Donati in the face beforehand. Donati, who was lying on the pitch clutching his face, brushed the Cologne player away when he went to lift him up.

Following controversial decisions in previous games, the German soccer federation said video assistants were only to step in when there was “a clear wrong decision.”

Ten-man Leverkusen came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against second-place Leipzig.

Timo Werner’s early penalty put the visitors in front before Leon Bailey equalized before the break.

The home side’s hopes took a blow when Benjamin Henrichs was sent off for handball on the line and Emil Forsberg scored the resulting penalty, but Kevin Volland equalized again with a quarter-hour remaining.

Wolfsburg defeated Freiburg 3-1 at home to give coach Martin Schmidt his first win after he started with seven draws.

On loan from Bayern, Serge Gnabry did brilliantly to set up Mark Uth for Hoffenheim’s injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with visiting Eintracht Frankfurt.