United States vs. Nigeria: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

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It was the team’s most impressive send-off performance. Against a World Cup-qualified team, the United States was clearly the better side, with a slump-busting day from its main goal-scorer giving the team reason to believe all cylinders could be firing come June 16th.

Over 90 minutes in Jacksonville, Fla., however, we also saw a lot of things that may not matter at the World Cup. Nigeria may be joining the U.S. in Brazil, but the Super Eagles provided fewer tests than Turkey did a week ago. With three changes to his lineup, Klinsmann may not have thrown out the XI he plans to use against Ghana. And with Brad Davis picking up an injury in training, the U.S. may not a full team at its disposal.

From what may matter in nine days, though, here’s what stood out:

1. Formation need not be an obsession – When Jurgen Klinsmann fed into the U.S.’s growing diamond craze by stacking Michael Bradley on top of Jermaine Jones against Azerbaijan, he started an obsession he eventually pushed back against earlier this week.

Against Nigeria, the U.S. again scoffed at that obsession, deploying a lopsided formation that’s difficult to fit into any neat description. While there may be some post-match discussion about the numeric label (4-3-2-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2?), hopefully there will be voices echoing Klinsmann’s. Those descriptions are often too reductive, if not outright misleading and irrelevant.

More relevant is realizing what the parts were trying to do. Clint Dempsey was shading left but stayed high, allowing him to come in and play a connecting role. Michael Bradley was the highest man in midfield, with Jermaine Jones shading left near the middle’s deepest man, Kyle Beckerman. Alejandro Bedoya helped on the right in a way that made it unclear if he was a winger or a central midfielder.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Like most coaches, Klinsmann put 10 out-field players in the places that served their skills and his purpose. It was function first, a philosophy that’s always driven Klinsmann’s choices. Whatever we now want to call it is for our own benefit.

2. Protecting the defense will be as important as the defense itself – Until late, when the game opened up after the U.S.’s second goal, the team’s central defenders had a relatively easy day, with Nigerian play that was successfully funneled to the flanks rarely testing the men in the middle. With Dempsey high on the left and Bedoya often tucked in, the Super Eagles were almost pushed into going their left, drawn away from the side of the States’ defense that proved so problematic against Turkey.

Fabian Johnson wasn’t perfect at the back, but thanks to Bedoya’s hard work, Nigeria was often left with corner kicks, unable to bring the ball back into the center. With Beckerman and Jones in the middle, most attempts to break through the U.S. block led to turnovers, with quick connections to Bradley and Dempsey springing the team’s counter.

For all the debate about who’ll start next to Besler and which makeshift left back should get the call in Brazil, Saturday reminded us of another important lesson in defending. If the forwards and midfielders do their jobs, the players you start along the back may not be the most important part. As the game’s final minutes showed us, those players certainly matter, but defense starts higher up the field.

3. An in form Jozy Altidore can end matches early – Let’s skip over the first goal. As nice as it was to see Altidore get on the scoresheet, that was a gimme – a pretty strong argument against the lark that there are no easy goals.

The second goal, however, was the back-breaker. Perhaps Vincent Enyeama should have stopped it, and Efe Ambrose certainly should have kept Alitdore from coming onto his strong foot, but with an authoritative blast that took advantage of their mistakes, Altidore put the match away. The final 22 minutes were the match’s denouement.

Thanks to Altidore, turning a Michael Bradley diagonal into an insurance goal, Saturday’s match was over by the 68th minute. Nigeria may have found some late consolation, but given the open play before Victor Moses’ goal, both teams knew Altidore had delivered the result.

Reports: Liverpool reject latest Barcelona offer for Coutinho

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Barcelona has reportedly upped its offer for the services of Philippe Coutinho. But the response from Liverpool has remained the same.

According to multiple reports, Liverpool has rejected a third Barcelona offer for Coutinho, believed to be worth up to $151.5 million. Coutinho put in a transfer request a week ago but Liverpool has remained firm on its desire to keep Coutinho for this season. Liverpool has not yet publicly commented on Barcelona’s latest transfer bid.

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Coutinho meanwhile is still off the field for Liverpool due to a back injury, the club states.

“Phil is not available; he is not training so far, so there is nothing new,” manager Jurgen Klopp told reporters. “It is always how it is with injured players, there is no real time on when he is back.”

The Brazilian midfielder signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool just last January and the deal doesn’t have a buy-out clause. But should Liverpool accept a new bid for Coutinho, he’d become the second-most expensive transfer behind fellow Brazilian Neymar.

It’s unclear whether Barcelona will shift focus to other targets such as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele or Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann as a replacement for Neymar.

Conte can’t stop laughing when asked about Costa

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Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was asked for his thoughts on Diego Costa‘s latest comments on the club-player impasse. When he heard a reporter say Costa felt he was being treated like a criminal, Conte lost his composure and began laughing.

Conte spent a good 20 seconds giggling during the question before responding, saying “I can tell you that everyone who was in Chelsea knows what happened last season with Diego.

“I’m not interested to continue this issue.”

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Diego Costa has held out from Chelsea training to stay in his native Brazil after being told to train with the reserves ahead of the 2017-2018 Premier League season. Costa has made clear his desire to leave Chelsea for a return to Atletico Madrid, but Costa claims that Chelsea are asking for an absurd transfer fee, which prices Atleti out of the market.

[ Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”]

It’s unclear as to what’s next in the transfer saga, but it’s looking more and more likely that it will come down to the final hours of the transfer window. Complicating matters is that Costa’s preferred destination, Atletico Madrid, is banned from signing players during this transfer window and can’t add new pieces until January.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Tottenham set to make Ajax’s Sanchez its record signing

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Tottenham look set to break the bank on one of the world’s most exciting defensive prospects.

According to a report in the Guardian, Tottenham and Ajax have agreed on a $54.1 million transfer fee for centerback Davinson Sanchez. The Colombian international only joined Ajax a year ago but led the backline to the Europa League final, where Ajax fell to Manchester United.

Spurs officials reportedly traveled to Amsterdam earlier this week to sort out a deal to bring Sanchez back to London. It’s believed to be a $36 million transfer with add-on clauses worth around $18 million.

Sanchez will add more speed and strength to one of the Premier League’s best backlines, giving Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen a partner to play with in a back three.

Here’s some more news from around the Premier League:

(more…)

Costa: Chelsea “won’t decide my fate”

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As each day passes, the impasse between Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Diego Costa grows.

Costa is continuing to holdout from Chelsea after being asked to train with the reserves and has made clear his preference to transfer back to his former club, Atletico Madrid. But in his latest comments to ESPN Brazil, Costa said that Chelsea are asking for a transfer fee that’s well above what Atletico can afford.

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“Chelsea offered me to several clubs,” Costa said. “But I was very clear with them. They said that since I’m not part of the coach’s plans, I want to choose my destiny. For them they have made more money, I will not let them decide my destiny. Even because when I came to Chelsea they paid well below the proposal that is coming now. I think they have to be aware and see everything I’ve done.”

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for Costa and his situation. He said in the interview that he’s struggled with English and as such, has had to rely on people at the club to take care of a lot of tasks. In Madrid, a country he’s received citizenship from and a city and language he’s comfortable with, he doesn’t have these worries.

But for all the good will he earned, Costa also painted himself in a bad light later in that response to a question about what the deadlock was about with Chelsea.

“It’s not my fault I’m not there,” Costa said. “If it was up to me, I’d be playing. There’s already (been) a month. Holiday is good, but it gets boring. I did not cause this situation. Since this is where the club has to think in two ways. Of course they have to have a payback, as I have given sportily and financially as well. After three years you will receive an amount above what you paid.”

Costa though did provide some insight. It had been believed over the past week or so that Costa would only move to Atletico Madrid, but the Brazilian-born Spanish international forward clarified that statement, saying he’d prefer to go to Atletico but if Atletico can’t afford him or can’t figure out a deal to sign him and get around the club’s transfer ban, he’d be open to going to another European club.

“I have already shown my affection and my interest in playing for Atletico,” Costa said. “But if they, Athletic and Chelsea did not reach an agreement and they [Athletic] do not force a move, I can not be wanting to play in a club that does not want to make a greater effort. I know that this will happen. If it is to pay as much as Chelsea want [the transfer], it is not possible. You must see this. What I know is that the proposal to come will exceed that Chelsea paid when he brought me. And I gave back in every way.”