USMNT: Three things to watch for — USA vs. Serbia

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With Bruce Arena set to make his (re-)debut as U.S. national team manager on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, versus Serbia), three things to keep an eye on as the USMNT gears up for the resumption of World Cup qualifying in March…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]


The shape (and members) of the midfield

Arena is generally quite flexible when it comes to formations and tactics, which is to say he typically alters his system to get as many of his best players on the field as he can at one time, within reason. When you look at the roster for these games, the most intriguing unit on the field is undoubtedly central midfielders, within the realm of wondering, “what’s Bruce going to do with the lineup?”

Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber are maestro passers which the USMNT has desperately needed in its bid to become a possession-based, front-foot attacking side. They were, of course, left ou tin the cold by the former manager for far too long, and that (among other things) was eventually a large part of his undoing. Now, they’re both in the team, and both deserving of a place in the starting lineup — with any luck at all, we might even see them play together. These days, Kljestan is the purer no. 10 of the two, while Feilhaber has proven himself for three seasons running as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in MLS — their roles seemingly reversed from early days of their careers.

While the temptation will always be there to play Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together in the center of the park, we’ve 1) already seen that movie, and 2) know how that story ends. Bradley is unquestionably the more disciplined of the two, when instructed to sit in front of the backline, and his long-range passing dwarfs that of Jones, thus the most complete passing midfield in USMNT history could be realized over the next week, in games that count for nothing, which is precisely the time for such experiments.

[ MORE: Arena not panicking (yet) about USMNT’s place in WCQ ]


So, uh, who’s gonna play left back?

It’s a question that’s been asked for, well, basically an entire decade. Seven years ago, Carlos Bocanegra, a center back by nature, was holding down the left side of defense; Jonathan Bornstein got nearly 40 run-outs at the spot; DaMarcus Beasley was reborn a left back for the 2010 World Cup; the Brek Shea experiment fizzled out quickly; Greg Garza was (very) briefly the left back of the future; and more recently, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler and Edgar Castillo marauded up and down sideline with varying degrees of success.

Too long, didn’t read: the USMNT hasn’t had a steady left back since Arena’s last tenure. A quick glance at the current roster reveals that it’s, well, still lots of the same names. Garza is back from a long-term hip injury, and having made a loan move to MLS expansion side Atlanta United this winter, is likely months from reaching anything resembling his best. Until then, it’s likely Johnson who’ll be played out of position to fill the void (Beasley his likeliest deputy), which is less of a problem now that Christian Pulisic has exploded onto the scene and made the left wing spot his own. Still, Johnson is 29 years old and will be 36 before the 2022 World Cup, so this is likely his final go-round. The door is open for anyone — literally, anyone — to step into the position and claim it as their own. Simply unearthing a capable left back for his successor could go down as Arena’s greatest achievement to date, and he’s already the man who took the Yanks to the 2002 World Cup semifinals quarterfinals (you will not be forgotten, Torsten Frings).

[ MORE: Altidore to join 100-caps club, but can he name the 16 others? ]


Who’s the no. 3 goalkeeper, once and for all?

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan seem set to tussle for the no. 1 and 2 goalkeepers’ jobs until they’re both bald rolling in wheelchairs, thus the age-old question rages on: who’s the deputy’s deputy?

Bill Hamid is the best of the bunch (don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently), but he left camp with a(nother) knee injury, and most are beginning to wonder whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to nail down a regular place in the USMNT, pre- or post-Howard/Guzan. That leaves Nick Rimando, David Bingham and Luis Robles, whom I rank in that order, from top to bottom. Sure, Rimando is 37 years old, and he’s lost a bit of the agility and quickness that allowed him to thrive as a 5-foot-10 athletic wonder in net, but he’s been managed closely by the staff at Real Salt Lake in an effort to slow the deterioration, and he’s the only one of the three listed above with more than two caps (he’s got 21).

AT HALF: Rooney’s beauty leads entertaining 1-1 vs. Arsenal

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The first 10 minutes of Arsenal’s visit to Everton may’ve well been subtitled, “Alexandre Lacazette versus Jordan Pickford,” but Wayne Rooney changed that.

The Everton hero, two days shy of his 32nd birthday, buried his 15th career goal against Arsenal by picking up the ball after a 50-50 scrap opened the ball into his path.

[ STREAM: Everton vs. Arsenal ]

What a hit.

Unfortunately for Everton, Nacho Monreal hit back just before the break to level the score.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Report: Takeover bid would put $660m in Newcastle transfer kitty

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When the summer transfer window closed, there were rumors that Rafa Benitez, furious with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s refusal to live up to his war chest promises, would leave the Northeast regardless of what it meant for his checkbook.

Now, Benitez may get a huge pay-off and stay at Newcastle United.

[ RECAP: Newcastle 1-0 Palace ]

Ashley has reportedly put the Premier League club up for sale, and one of the biggest names mentioned is Amanda Staveley. She’s helped organized takeover bids for Manchester City and Liverpool and, like most prospective owners, has plenty of money.

And, as if to get the Magpies support even more excited at the prospect of new blood in the ownership seats… From The Express:

While Staveley who controls around £30 billion of capital through her PCP Capital Partners firm also advised a group Dubai-based investors during a bid to buy Liverpool.

And Benitez will be given substantial funds on new players as much as £500 million in the next two transfer windows to turn Newcastle into title contenders.
Putting those figures into dollars lends an interesting perspective to how much money and prestige there is in football, in particular the Premier League. Staveley is said to have a hold on $40 billion — for an American angle, that’s more than 13 times the president’s net worth — and is ready to provide almost $660 million in investiture.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Watch Live: Everton vs. Arsenal

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Arsene Wenger celebrates his 68th birthday with a trip to Merseyside, as Arsenal visits Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both start underneath Alexandre Lacazette for Wenger.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin starts up top for Everton and under fire manager Ronald Koeman, while Jonjoe Kenny starts at right back.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Baines, Williams, Jagielka (c), Keane, Gana Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin. SubsJoel, Mirallas, Martina, Niasse, Klaassen, Davies, Lookman.

Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Bellerin, Sanchez, Ozil, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Holding, Coquelin, Wilshere, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.