Dempsey

Game On: Lineups & more as United States faces Portugal in vital Group G match

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With so much on the line for the United States in each game, they look to stun the “Group of Death” and earn knockout-stage security against Portugal.

Cristiano Ronaldo hopes to have other ideas.

The Portuguese, ranked #4 in the world, fell 4-0 to the Germans in their opening match, and are on the brink of elimination with a loss.

On the flip side, the United States would become the first Group G team to earn a place in the knockout round if they could earn a win against a country they’ve had surprising results over in the past.

Jozy Altidore is out injured for the US, and Clint Dempsey is the man to take his place in the attack. For Portugal, Pepe is suspended after his late straight-red against Germany, and Fabio Coentrao is also out for the entire tournament with an injury.

[ MORE: Germany pummels Portugal | US takes spoils from Ghana late ]
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LINEUPS:

United States – Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi; Dempsey.

Portugal – Beto; Bruno Alves, Pereira, A.Almeida, Costa; Veloso, Meireles, Mourinho; Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga.

Talking points:

1. How healthy is Cristiano Ronaldo?

This is a massive unknown. Ronaldo looked less than 100% against Germany, and was ineffective as a result. With more ice packs on his knee throughout training this past week, many speculate he may still not be fully fit.  Nonetheless, he is playing.

“There’s a lot of admiration for him and for the players who play at big clubs and in the Champions League,” said Jurgen Klinsmann. “But this is the moment to prove yourself, to step up, play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano in place.  We want to make it our game, we are ready for that, we have been preparing for that a long time. We are not worried about any players, we respect them of course, as we always do, but we are ready.”

2. How will the US attack look without Jozy Altidore?

Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to put Clint Dempsey as the lone striker, leaving Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski to ponder things on the bench. It’s a bold move from the manager, as Dempsey’s creative ability often relies on freedom in the attacking midfield, but with no other true scoring threats he will have to stick to the head of the attack. Will that backfire? Or will it give solidity to the formation?

Expectation: Umm…….nobody actually knows, to be honest. The Portuguese are favored by reputation alone, but having been demolished by a quality German side, it’s hard to actually tell what they can bring to the table on a consistent basis. Much of it also rides on how fit Ronaldo is, which is a complete unknown.

One blogger’s prediction: This is one of the hardest matches to call so far in this World Cup, and with that, I will leave you with a 2-1 Portugal victory, solely on the premise that I really don’t want to be responsible for a jinx of the United States squad. Enjoy the match! It’s one of the most important in recent US soccer memory.

Premier League AT HALF: Arsenal fights back, Hull City on top

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (L) and Francis Coquelin of Arsenal (R) celebrate after Theo Walcott of Arsenal (not pictured) scored Arsenals first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on December 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Goals and controversial penalty decisions are a big part of Saturday morning’s quartet of Premier League matches, all of which are at the break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal 1-1 Stoke City

Joe Allen took an elbow from Granit Xhaka inside the 18, and Lee Mason awarded a PK that Charlie Adam converted to give the visitors an early lead. But Theo Walcott scored his 100th goal as a Gunner off a classy Hector Bellerin cross to make it 1-1 before the break.

Burnley 2-1 Bournemouth

The Cherries will have to dig out of another hole this week, and it all began with Jeff Hendrick‘s phenomenal opener. Fellow Irishman Steven Ward scored an economical to goal to double the lead.

But Ryan Fraser continued his fine December with an assist on Benik Afobe‘s goal before halftime.

Hull City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Robert Snodgrass drew a penalty with a pretty easy grass grab, and the Tigers have a

Swansea City 0-0 Sunderland

Not much cooking at the Liberty Stadium.

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Koeman: “Nervous” Everton has a problem after another loss

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Ronald Koeman manager of Everton arrives prior to the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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One win in 10 for Ronald Koeman‘s Everton has the Dutchman on the hot seat.

Koeman seems to be clawing for air after the Toffees’ latest setback, a 3-2 loss at Watford.

The loss puts the Hornets ahead of Everton on the PL table, and — while unlikely — it’s a mathematical possibility that the Toffees could be a bottom half team by the end of the weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ]

That’s a brutal development for a club expected to challenge for a European place this season.

Here’s Koeman:

“I see a lot of similar problems in the team. The team is too much reactive. Of course it’s maybe a lack of confidence, but if you start the game well, 1-0 up, you need a bigger belief in the team and not going back and defending, and nervous, and not enough ball possession. In my opinion that’s a problem.”

A big problem with that? It can be put down to the manager. Is Koeman in trouble already?

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VIDEO: Hendrick scores incredible volley from distance

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Jeff Hendrick, take a bow.

Burnley’s Republic of Ireland international midfielder pulled off a stunning piece of skill on Saturday to put the Clarets ahead against Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Every PL game online ] 

A long ball forward was flicked on to Hendrick and he took a stunning first touch to tee himself and then settled himself before spanking a volley into the top corner.

Sensational goal from Burnley’s club-record signing.

Click play on the video above to watch it.

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at Sadar stadium on December 10, 2016 in Pamplona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

[ MORE: Watford 3-2 Everton ]

On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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