VIDEO: Arena not panicking (yet) about USMNT’s place in WCQ

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Bruce Arena isn’t panicking about the U.S. national team’s current standing in 2018 World Cup qualifying — not yet, at least.

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

In truth, why should the newly re-appointed USMNT boss be worried? He was only brought into the job in November, and won’t take charge of his (second) first game until Sunday (4 p.m. ET, versus Serbia), so while the present predicament is now his problem, it’s also 100 percent not his fault. In a sense, Arena’s playing with house money — if the Yanks qualify for the World Cup, he’s the hero who swooped in a saved the day; if they don’t, zero points from two games to begin the Hex was just too deep of a hole to climb out of:

“I think there will be pressure on the teams. I think there’s pressure on all six teams in the competition right now, because even Costa Rica, because any kind of slip-up from them, everyone’s back in the hunt again. It’s still early in the campaign, and I think a win [for the USMNT] changes a lot of things — three, four, or six points in the first two games would get us right back in the thick of things.”

[ MORE: Finally official — Guzan returning to MLS, but not until the summer ] 

Along with the obviously — qualifying for Russia 2018 — Arena has one eye squarely focused on this summer’s Gold Cup, which will not only give a number of youngsters their first competitive crack at the USMNT, but move the program that much closer to qualifying for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar, the year prior to the 2022 World Cup:

“We brought in some young guys that I’m more or less looking at for the Gold Cup. I would say that would be the case with [Taylor] Kemp and [Keegan] Rosenberry, for example. Even [Walker] Zimmerman, I think they’re all candidates for the Gold Cup, so we wanted to have an opportunity to see them here, then we’re going to follow them during their MLS seasons before we make those decisions.”

“Exceeded expectations — I would say Walker Zimmerman impresses me every day, and Matt Hedges did as well. They are two good center backs at [FC] Dallas, and it’s unfortunate that Matt got nicked up a little bit, but we really feel responsible to the MLS clubs in these kind of settings, where if there’s any damage or injury to a player, we’re going to be responsible and send them back, so they’re ready for their seasons. We’ve done that in this case. We could have kept those guys around, but we felt that that’s the more responsible thing to do.

“So, Zimmerman has done well; I think [Sebastian] Lletget has done well; I think some of the veteran guys continue to demonstrate why they’ve been leaders with the team. I would say [Michael] Bradley, [Jozy] Altidore, [Jermaine] Jones, they’re really impressive individuals on a daily basis, and they bring a lot of character and experience to the team.”

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.