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.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.