Michael Bradley & Jermaine Jones

Three ways the US can overcome Belgium to reach World Cup quarters

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The U.S. national teams biggest game in decades, perhaps ever, is just a few hours away.

A win against Belgium in the Round of 16 clash in Salvador would set up their first World Cup quarterfinal since 2002 and could well be the biggest win in U.S. soccer history.

[ RELATED: How will the U.S. line up vs. Belgium? ]

That being said, here are three ways the U.S. can overcome a Belgium side stacked with stars in what should be a tense and psychical encounter.

Here it goes…

Get it wide, early

If Belgium’s defense has one weakness, it is that fact that two center backs are playing as full backs. Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen is likely to start on the left, while Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld will play on the right. Both are great defenders but lack pace and are susceptible to jumping into challenges. Whenever Vertonghen stood in at left back for Spurs in the Premier League last season, he looked unsure in possession and less at home on the left. Both he and Alderweireld are over six-foot tall and if the likes of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya or whoever starts out wide gets at them from the get-go, the U.S. could have plenty of joy on the flanks.

Lock down the midfield

The midfield has been the USA’s strongest area thus far, even if Michael Bradley’s performances haven’t lived up to his usual high standards. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman have been two of the USA’s best players, with Beckerman sweeping up all the loose balls in front of the back four with ease (the dude might as well have a cigar in his mouth) and Jones’ high-energy approach unnerving opponents. Belgium’s midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are both extremely physical and the U.S. will have to win that midfield battle to get things going. Fellaini will try to wander in-behind Beckerman and support Lukaku but if  Beckerman (or whoever else is in the midfield) can lock him down, then the Manchester United man could be a ghost. Also, don’t expect Jones not to pick up a yellow in this one as his tough-tackling, along with Bradley and Beckerman snapping in, is needed to disturb Belgium’s engine room.

Stop Lukaku and Hazard 

Sounds simple enough… but it certainly isn’t. On their day Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard can rip opponents apart. How many times did we see Lukaku take one big touch past a defender, then striding past them before smashing the ball home in the last two PL seasons? As for Hazard, his trickery, pace and guile will give Fabian Johnson and the rest of the USA’s defenders plenty of problems. You can hit these two hard in the tackle and they keep coming back for more but it is unlikely that Lukaku will have come up against specimen such as Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez (or whoever partners Matt Besler at CB) and Hazard can easily get rattled. If the U.S. get in their face and upset Belgium’s star talents, this could do the trick.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.