Tighter than expected: Talking points after Germany’s draw with Ghana

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Call it the Group of Death if you want, but after Ghana tripped up Germany in Fortaleza, Group G at this year’s World Cup is all about opportunity. Four teams, all vulnerable in their own way, are challenging our notions of order and predictability, bringing some welcome uncertainty to what some saw as a top-heavy group:

  • Germany is the best team on paper, but although they controlled more of the ball on Saturday, Ghana were just as good.
  • Yet that Ghana team fell to a U.S. side that didn’t concede the opportunities they saw against the Germans. Though the Black Stars eventually found a way, they also gave up two goals en route to a 2-1 loss.
  • And that U.S. team that looked so solid against Ghana? Unfortunately, the wasn’t much more than that organized approach. Can the team generate enough chances to force their way into the knockout round?
  • And Portugal? Who knows, but their toughest game may be behind them, and in Cristiano Ronaldo, they still have one of the two best players in the world. They may collapse under the absences of Pepe, Fabio Coentrão, and Rui Patricio, but they also have the talent to take six points in their final games.

That’s the chaotic state of Group G after today’s match in Fortaleza. Here’s three other takeaways from the 2-2 result:

[ MORE: Klose equalizer salvages result for Germany ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

1. The gap is smaller than we thought – Germany were the clear group favorites — they are the clear group favorites — but as we’ve been reminded throughout Brazil 2014, the gap between the titans and the pack just isn’t that big. Perhaps that’s because of the increasingly demanding European season. Maybe it’s the challenges of a tournament in a large country with varying climates. Regardless, huge pre-tournament favorites like Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have been proven flawed, if not outright overrated.

Today, Germany joined that group, but the credit needs to go to Ghana. In the first half, we saw what the potential of that German attack, but a series of strong plays from defender John Boye helped keep the favorites off the board. As bad as Boye was against the U.S., he was that valuable on Saturday.

Boye wasn’t the only player who stepped up. André Ayew won a one-on-one battle with Shkodran Mustafi on Ghana’s opening goal, while a great play from Sulley Muntari allowed the Milan midfielder to create a turnover and set up Asamoah Gyan’s 63rd minute finish. Late in the match, Jonathan Mensah and Kwadwo Asamoah made penalty box stops as Germany fought through their fatigue and pressed for a winner.

Germany played well on Saturday, but so did Ghana. The gap between the two teams was just smaller than we thought.

2. Löw’s fullback lament – Germany has attacking talent that rivals any nation in the world, but they’ve slowing become the European Argentina. For all the danger they pose going forward, there are serious questions at the back, where the national team remains vulnerable.

Particularly with Philipp Lahm playing in the middle, those problems are at full back. Jerome Boateng, more comfortable in central defense, started at right back. Benedikt Höwedes, more comfortable in central defense, started at left back. When Joachim Löw made a change at half time, bringing in Shkodran Mustafi for Boateng at halftime, it cost him. The Lazio defender was beaten for Ghana’s first goal.

Löw has often lamented his lack of options at full back, but he has alternatives. With Bastian Schweinsteiger an option in the middle, perhaps Lahm can be moved back to his natural position.

Or maybe defense is just a flaw the Germans have to overcome. Regardless, as Ghana showed throughout Saturday’s 90 minutes, Löw’s team remains vulnerable at the back, making it even more important they maintain control of the ball.

3. It wasn’t ideal, but things are still breaking nicely for the U.S. – A Germany win could have dealt Ghana a mortal blow, but things continue to look up for the U.S. With a win tomorrow, they secure a place in the knockout round.

That fate would have been the same with a Germany win, however, so how does today’s draw change the States’ picture? Ghana, now capable of getting to four points, will be alive on Thursday, no matter what. Plus, Germany has something to play for against the U.S. There’s no scenario that puts the Germans through before they kick off in Recife.

The upside for the States? They have a viable route to claiming first in Group G. Two points will put them into the knockout round, but four points win the group. Instead of Belgium in the round of 16, the U.S. could face Algeria, Russia, or South Korea …

… provided they get there at all. As today’s result in Fortaleza reminds us, nothing’s guaranteed in this year’s World Cup.

Stoke City-West Ham delayed due to power outage

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A major power outage at the bet365 Stadium means West Ham United’s visit to Stoke City won’t start on time.

An update will come around the regularly scheduled kickoff time of 10 a.m. ET.

[ MORE: Palace blasts Leicester ]

As it stands, ex-Stoke attacker Marko Arnautovic is set to start against his former club.

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland, Cameron, Shawcross, Wimmer, Pieters, Shaqiri, Fletcher, Allen, Ramadan, Diouf, Crouch. Subs: Grant, Berahino, Choupo-Moting, Tymon, Adam, Ngoy, Edwards.

West Ham United: Adrian, Zabaleta, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku, Noble, Obiang, Lanzini, Arnautovic, Antonio. Subs: Hart, Rice, Makasi, Haksabanovic, Chicharito, Sakho, Ayew.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Saints, Arsenal v. Newcastle; 5 PL games

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Chelsea host Southampton, Arsenal welcome Newcastle to the Emirates Stadium and Stoke clash with West Ham, while Burnley head to Brighton and Watford lock horns with Huddersfield.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Southampton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Newcastle – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM(Kick off delayed due to a power outage at stadium) 
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Leicester City 0-3 Crystal Palace: Benteke the hero

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  • First away win, goals of season for Palace
  • Benteke with a goal, assist
  • Leicester’s first defeat in five
  • Palace unbeaten in seven, longest ever run in PL

Crystal Palace beat Leicester City 3-0 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as first half goals from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha set Roy Hodgson’s side on their way to a first away win of the season with Bakary Sako hammering home another goal in stoppage time.

Leicester’s run of four-straight wins came to an abrupt end as Claude Puel‘s side struggled from start to finish and Palace looked dangerous on the break with Benteke scoring one, setting up another and making amends for his missed penalty kick late on against Bournemouth last weekend.

To add to Leicester’s woes Wilfried Ndidi was sent off in the second half for picking up two yellow cards.

With the win Palace move on to 17 points and push out of the relegation zone and into 14th place, while Leicester remain on 26 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Palace started well early on with Jeffrey Schlupp pulling a ball back across goal which was crying out to be finished, then Ruben Loftus-Cheek broke free on the edge of the box but his low shot was well saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester looked threatening on the break as the first half wore on but Puel’s side failed to create clear cut chances and they were hit with a hammer blow.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Neat build-up play on the right saw the ball fall to Andros Townsend and his delightful inswinging cross found Benteke who nodded home Palace’s first away goal of the season.

There was a sense of relief for Benteke and a deserved lead for the Eagles, but soon after Benteke almost headed into his own net but his defensive clearance flew inches wide and then Jamie Vardy went close for the hosts.

Benteke then created Palace’s second goal as he drove forward with the ball, played in Zaha and the Ivory Coast international drilled home. 2-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Palace sat back and soaked up plenty of Leicester pressure in the second half, with the Foxes going close with Riyad Mahrez having a low shot saved well by Julian Speroni and Benteke heading wide at the other end.

On the break the Eagles threatened as the second half wore on and Leicester pushed to get back into the game, but Ndidi then picked up two yellows cards with the second for a shocking dive in the box.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hodgson’s men held on comfortably to continue their impressive recovery and added a third goal in stoppage time with Sako smashing home.

January exits at Manchester United?

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Jose Mourinho has already stated his opinion that he isn’t a big fan of the January transfer window but he may buy this year, and it appears he could be willing to sell a few players next month too.

With the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw out of favor at United and linked with moves away from Old Trafford, Mourinho was asked if he was happy to let players leave in January.

Citing the sale of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin last January, Mourinho didn’t hesitate to leave the door open for players who want out.

“For the right price, that is my approach as a manager in case the club advise. Every player has a price,” Mourinho said. “If a player is not happy and if a player brings with him a request with the number that we consider is a good number it happened with Memphis (Depay) and Morgan (Schneiderlin), I would never say no.”

In a word, if you’re not in Mourinho’s plans now and you aren’t happy, there’s the door.

Mkhitaryan leaving to return to Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t be a huge surprise as they’d likely get a large chunk of the $35 million transfer fee back that they paid for him in the summer of 2016.

Shaw’s situation is a little different, with United perhaps wanting to use the left back in any potential deal for Danny Rose and Tottenham do not seem to be willing to sell Rose until the summer.

Still, both appear to have no future at United and Mourinho is nudging them towards the exit.

With Mourinho also leaving the door open for a potential signing in January, could United spend big to try and put pressure on league leaders Man City? It seems unlikely, but it appears Mourinho is lining things up for somewhat of a shakeup next month.