Nani, Eduardo

Scouting Portugal: Takeaways for the US from opponent’s final preparations

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Portugal’s final World Cup preparation match on Tuesday was more about getting everyone back on the field. Ronaldo returned and proved that he’s fit enough to make an impact, while Raul Meireles returned to the midfield and Pepe earned some minutes at centerback.

United States fans looked on eagerly with an eye on forecasting how Portugal might look against the Americans in their second Group G match on June 22, and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was no doubt among them. But of course, the focus for the United States is first on Monday’s opener against Ghana. Portugal coach Paulo Bento echoed those statements postgame Tuesday — that his team is only first focused on its respective opener against Germany — but Portugal midfielder Nani entertained the question of how his side lines up against the United States.

“We expect a strong team with a mentality and a lot of confidence, but we know we have to do our best and expect ourselves to play that game the best we can,” the winger said after setting up two late goals in the 5-1 win over Ireland.

That’s the common courtesy answer for any opponent, but here’s what the U.S. can take from Portugal’s performance on Tuesday:

— Ronaldo at any sort of fitness will  be dangerous and a handful. That’s obvious statement for the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, but the health of his left knee was in question for some time. It remains a question mark, but Ronaldo at say, 75 percent, last night was enough to torch Ireland on multiple occasions. Sure, it’s Ireland, but it’s also Ronaldo.

— Of particular concern for the U.S. should be Portugal’s left side. Portugal’s second goal came from a beautiful combination between Ronaldo and Fábio Coentrão, who pushed forward with ease all night and eventually was rewarded for one of his overlapping runs with a late goal. That’s a lot of firepower for (potentially) Fabian Johnson to handle on the wing.

— That said, Johnson has done well to get forward over the last two matches against Turkey and Nigeria, and as the U.S. counterattacks he should find space on the wing with Coentrão pushed high. How effectively the United States can find that space on the counterattack will be critical to success against Portugal, who the U.S. shocked in group play at the 2002 World Cup with a 3-2 win, helping send Portugal out in the group stage. An average Ireland side showed on Tuesday that Portugal will give opponent’s opportunities, evidenced by the mental lapse shortly after halftime that led to Ireland’s lone goal.

— Mental lapses are exactly what the Americans must avoid, particularly on set piece. The big body that is Hugo Almeida scored twice Tuesday, needing just 121 seconds to show that he’s an aerial target in the box. The U.S. can sometimes switch off on set pieces and late in matches (see the Nigeria match), and struggles with marking at times (Omar Gonzalez, in particular, if he sees time centrally). Almeida and Ronaldo will make them pay. Bruno Alves hit a game-winner in stoppage time against Mexico on Friday as El Tri took their feet off the pedal a moment too soon.

— Finally, can the U.S. capitalize on a numbers advantage in the midfield? Portugal’s 4-3-3 gives the U.S. the numerical upperhand in the middle of the park — assuming Klinsmann lines up similar to how he did against Nigeria — but Bento’s system is free-flowing, with Meireles often opting to drop deep to distribute and then push forward once possession is firmly established. João Moutinho will also frequently surge forward, which will create further issues for a suspect U.S. backline.

— Oh, and that six-pass piece of brilliance that led to a Nani goal being called back for an offside call? Some of the best combination play you’ll ever see. A flash of what could be for Portugal — and what could be very scary for the United States.

Why Mourinho needs Zlatan to stay at Man United

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United congratulates Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United at Selhurst Park on December 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Following Manchester United’s EFL Cup Final victory on Sunday, Jose Mourinho laughed off a question about Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s future at Old Trafford beyond this season.

He shouldn’t be laughing. He should be taking this situation very seriously. United need Zlatan. End of.

[ MORE: United, Mourinho get lucky

Ibrahimovic, 35, scored twice in the 3-2 win against Southampton at Wembley, including the game-winner with a late header, to hand Mourinho his first piece of major silverware as United’s boss. The veteran Swedish striker has now scored 26 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season, including six in his last four games.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

The incredible stats aside, his impact and influence on this team is clear for all to see. That’s why Zlatan needs to remain at United for at least one more season, and he could probably go for longer. That said, he isn’t giving anything away about where he will be next season.

“We have another two months of the season to go,” Ibrahimovic said. “Let’s see how I feel, the situation. Somebody made up a story that if we don’t qualify for the Champions League I will not extend. It has nothing to do with that.”

Mourinho thinks otherwise.

“One day, Zlatan decided to [leave me and Inter Milan to join] Barcelona, I was very sad, but I did nothing to try to stop him to go, so I don’t beg for players,” Mourinho said. “But, if needed, maybe United fans can go to the door of his house, and stay there all night, if needed. We all want, and believe, that he is going to stay another season.”

It simply has to happen.

Zlatan has a contract until this summer with United with an option to extend it for another year. Mourinho has suggested in the past Zlatan will stay but we’ve never had too much of a definitive answer from the player himself.

Right now, aside from his play on the pitch, Zlatan is having a massive impact on the confidence and belief levels of his teammates. He has scored the game-winner on eight occasions this season and comparisons are being made about Eric Cantona and the impact he had.

Zlatan’s aura is helping United win games at the moment and even at the age of 35 he has played more Premier League minutes than any other United outfield player, plus he’s played in more games this season, in all competitions, than any other PL player.

He can play until he is 40. Mourinho said it last week and he’s right. Zlatan doesn’t rely on pace to play the game. He has power, panache and predatory instincts in abundance.

With United’s creative talents and other pacey forwards, he not only brings the best out of them on the pitch but off it too. Mourinho clerly needs to rebuild parts of his defense to take United from top four hopefuls to title contenders next season and beyond, but without Zlatan’s goals this season they’d be in midtable.

United and Mourinho need Zlatan to stay next season. He knows it. He’s playing the game.

It would be a huge shock to see him anywhere other than Old Trafford next season. It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him score the winner for United in the FA Cup and Europa League final this season, and then lead them to even greater glories next season and beyond. After his latest trophy, the 22nd of his playing career, Zlatan revealed he keeps all of his medals in one of his houses. He was also asked if United are building something special under Mourinho?

“I came. That’s special,” Ibrahimovic said.

Anyone who doubted Zlatan’s ability last summer ahead of his move to the Premier League will be scratching their heads. Like United right now, he seems to always find a way to score goals and get the job done. In that sense, Mourinho needs him to be the focal point of United’s attack for as long as Zlatan can play.

And also. He’s, well, Zlatan. In this mammoth rebuild of a roster and self-belief, he’s the X-Factor Mourinho can’t do without.

 

Premier League Preview: Leicester vs. Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  James Milner of Liverpool and Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • First game after Ranieri’s sacking
  • Leicester in relegation zone
  • Liverpool can move 11 points behind Chelsea

Struggling Leicester City host Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Foxes in freefall and without a manager.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Following Claudio Ranieri‘s firing last week the reigning champs are in desperate need of a marquee win to drag themselves out of the relegation zone. Ranieri’s former assistant Craig Shakespeare is in caretaker charge but he has a big task on his hand as Leicester have lost five-straight games in the PL, failing to score in any of their last six.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp‘s men beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 last time out and have enjoyed a two week break from action which should see them re-energized for the final 13 games of the season.

In team news Leicester will give late fitness tests to Islam Slimani and Leonardo Ulloa, while Liverpool will reportedly be without captain Jordan Henderson who is said to have suffered a foot injury in training. Plus Daniel Sturridge and Dejan Lovren could also miss out for the Reds.


What they’re saying

Leicester’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on reports of a player revolt against Ranieri: “There is absolutely no truth in that whatsoever. We are players and can only affect on the pitch and we haven’t done that. What happens above our heads at boardroom level is completely out of our control… We are footballers and have a responsibility to perform on the pitch and we haven’t lived up to that. That’s the blame we take but anything else, that’s completely out of our control.”

Jurgen Klopp on Adam Lallana signing a new deal: “For me it was clear we had to try everything to keep a player like him. He is a very important player for us. I heard when I came in what a lot of people had said about him before I came in, but I actually only knew him from Southampton. Since I’ve been here he has been a really important player for all our development steps which we made — not only for him personally. I have a lot of time together with the players but I am not in the dressing room so you need to have players there too and he is one of them.”

Prediction

With everything going on at Leicester, it will be intriguing to see what the atmosphere is like from the home fans after Ranieri’s firing. If Liverpool score early, and often, it could turn nasty. I expect both to happen. 4-1 win for Liverpool, just like it was at Anfield back in September, to pile the misery on Leicester.

VIDEO: Wayne Shaw delights fans by eating another pie

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 20:  Reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw of Sutton acknowledges the crowd after The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sutton United and Arsenal at Gander Green Lane on February 20, 2017 in Sutton, Greater London.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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On a bus heading to the EFL Cup Final on Sunday was a familiar face to many: Wayne Shaw.

The former Sutton United reserve goalkeeper shot to stardom during the fifth-tier team making it to the last 16 of the FA Cup where they lost 2-0 to Arsenal last Monday.

However, his actions when eating in a pie as an unused sub in the second half of that game sparked investigations by the UK Gambling Commission and the FA after bets were placed at odds of 8-1 on Shaw eating a pie during the game. The day after Sutton’s defeat to Arsenal he resigned.

Shaw, 46, weighs in at over 280 pounds and he has become somewhat of a celebrity, even after #PieGate which saw him lose his job.

It doesn’t seem to be impacting him too much though.

Video has emerged of Shaw, a Southampton fan, heading up to Wembley to watch the EFL Cup final which Saints lost 3-2 to Manchester United.

While on the bus Shaw played up to the crowd who sang songs such as “Get your pasty out!” and “It wasn’t a pie, it was a pasty!” then Shaw acted like a matador, teasing the crowd before pulling out another pasty to chew on.

See the video below for some banter.


PSV goalkeeper scores bizarre own goal

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - DECEMBER 18:  Goalkeeper, Jeroen Zoet of PSV in action during the Eredivisie match between Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven held at Amsterdam Arena on December 18, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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If you’re having a rough Monday morning, things could always be worse.

You could be PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet.

[ MORE: United, Mourinho lucky

On Sunday PSV’s goalkeeper scored one of the most bizarre own goals ever as he stopped a shot on the line in the 82nd minute, then as he pulled the ball into his chest while on the floor he actually carried the ball over the line.

The Goal Decision System (GDS) awarded the game-winning goal and the reigning Dutch champs lost 2-1 to Feyenoord who are the current Eredivise leaders and stretched their lead over third-place PSV to 11 points.

Take a look at the video below to see the monumental error, as the video replay showed that all of the ball was about one blade of grass over the line.

Fine margins indeed…