3-5-2 system shows life, but plenty of work is needed

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Jurgen Klinsmann said before the match against Chile that if he hadn’t had DeAndre Yedlin at his disposal, he wouldn’t have tried a three-at-the-back system.

Take that as you will, but with the Spurs purchase released for international duty, the German manager decided to try his hand at a new system. There were rumblings that he had been toying with soccer’s current fad during January camp, and today we saw the fruits of his labor.

For as bad as I thought it would turn out, it wasn’t as horrible as originally anticipated. However, there’s still a ton of work that needs to be done if Klinsmann decided he wants to go this route long-term, and a few essential pieces are needed.

The first half against showed the creativity the lineup can provide. Matt Besler pumped the ball forward for Brek Shea, who used his pace to cut inside the right side of Chile’s defense and fire home the opening goal. The width the 3-5-2 formation provides showed its value on multiple occasions.

Yedlin himself played very well, and there’s no question a three-at-the-back system was made for players like him. The 21-year-old has the pace necessary to push forward, but has also developed an uncanny sense of what’s around him (yes, I say this even though he lost Mark Gonzalez on Chile’s 2nd goal), a rare combination for defenders these days.

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty to work on, and a few pieces needed that currently don’t exist.

Jermaine Jones is solid on the ball, a requirement for CB’s in this system, but he is totally unaware of his surroundings on set pieces, a key drawback in a formation with few true defenders. This reared its ugly head on numerous occasions, and Chile should have had a couple of goals in the first half as a result, but failed to punish the United States.

There was acres of space between the central defenders, particularly between Jones in the middle and Matt Besler on the left because Brek Shea flat out can’t defend. Which is a problem in this system. Someone like Fabian Johnson would be much more suited to that side, and that could be something we see when Klinsmann has his full arsenal of players available to him.

The pairing of Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley is great for a midfield pivot, but not for a system that relies on holding possession and covering the back line. This formation is not built to withstand heavy pressure, and yet the United States allowed Chile to hold the majority of the possession with 55%, and should have been more had they not looked truly awful wasteful at times. Klinsmann recognized this, and knew it wouldn’t last, hence the introduction of both Lee Nguyen and Perry Kitchen, and eventually discarding the 3-5-2 altogether.

And finally, related to that, the elephant in the room is the lack of a true defensive midfielder. The United States has long relied on Jermaine Jones to cover the back line, but with him now in a center-back position to save his 33-year-old legs, there’s nobody truly suited for that spot. It’s a position that the formation desperately needs, especially with Jones still learning how to man-mark and follow runs.

Ultimately, while it performed better than expected for 45 minutes, the 3 CB formation seems to be a serious reach for Jurgen Klinsmann, and had Chile not played its B, we may have seen that come to fruition.

Also, if Jurgen Klinsmann feels the need to build a formation entirely around a wing-back (Yedlin), then he seriously needs to rethink his priorities, because while Yedlin surely fits the system, it’s still an asinine suggestion to structure a serious formational change simply to fit a young, pacey full-back.

If this is truly his plan, he should stick to it. But Jurgen Klinsmann has plenty of work to do if he continues along this path.

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32

Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.