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Fearless Arena, USMNT overcame all risks vs. Mexico

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The ship is steadied.

That’s the upshot of Bruce Arena’s second international break with the United States men’s national team, where the Yanks dominated Trinidad and Tobago before drawing Mexico on Sunday in Azteca.

The latter is a far more impressive result, with Arena’s game planning getting due credit and Michael Bradley’s early goal making sure it had every reason to flourish in the thin air of Mexico City.

[ MORE: Player ratings for USMNT

Arena’s 3-5-2 took some significant risks, and it’s a credit to the coach and players that even the ones that backfired didn’t hamper the team in pursuit of a result.

The moves that didn’t work are even debatable. DaMarcus Beasley received little help when Carlos Vela toasted him with a counter attack goal, and the left back was limited anyway by an early injury (Whether Arena should’ve bit the bullet and used an early sub with Jorge Villafana is another discussion).

Putting 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta next to Michael Bradley was another risk that mostly worked, though the moments that made that adverb necessary were big ones. Acosta was cooked by Javier Hernandez with a nutmeg and then stayed with the hobbled striker as Vela worked his way to scoring position. That’s two errors on a big play, and it’s almost certain a more experience player takes a card for a tactical foul on Hernandez at midfield. But the Yanks escaped, and now the promising Acosta has an invaluable evening under his belt. Risk rewarded in that sense.

Then there’s Brad Guzan — and I’ve beaten this drum before — who was just fine but not Tim Howard. I realize Guzan has Azteca success, but for me there’s a gulf between the two MLS keepers.

As an aside, it bothers me that preferring Howard — probably the most accomplished of an amazing history of American goalkeepers — could be perceived as a shot at Guzan, who is a fine goalkeeper. But give me Howard every darn time.

It’s more difficult to expound upon the positives because “man those center backs did their job” is often the least sexy route for a writer. But there’s an easy argument that Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez are better for a three-man unit than in a center back duo. And even if it seems an easy trust for Arena to use Cameron as “the man”, it was taking a chance in a big spot.

He also resisted the urge to rest Michael Bradley, who hasn’t been bad but has also not been himself for some time with the USMNT set-up. It wasn’t just the long-distance goal that proved this move astute, rather the calm of the regular metronome in the center of the park.

And as much as I argued for the exclusion of Darlington Nagbe from the XI for this contest, it took guts for Arena not to start the electric Portland Timbers attacker. It’s often going to be a problem to use both Nagbe and Christian Pulisic against teams that can do work in the center of the park, especially while we wait for Pulisic’s continuing evolution. Both are risk/reward players and on a night that saw the Americans anything but successful in keeping the ball — blame an otherworldly night from the magnificent Hector Herrera.

Consider this: Mexico had 67 percent possession and 84 percent pass success. That’s not a horrible night by any means, and the Yanks still managed a point.  I mean, look at the below screen grab from CONCACAF.com. Almost every Mexican player to play significant minutes attempted more passes than the American leader: Pulisic.

Yet it doesn’t feel like a lucky result, and that perception is a feather in Arena’s cap. On a night where Hector Herrera cranked one off the pipe, the Yanks scored an amazing but fortunate goal, and several big name players were kept from the lineup, the U.S. got a result that feels just.

The boys have bought in, most naysayers shut up, and hope springs eternal even with the knowledge that the Yanks will likely be in CONCACAF’s fourth place following Tuesday’s qualifiers in Costa Rica and Panama.

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.

PL Preview: Three Tuesday fixtures including Chelsea visit to Huddersfield

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As the holiday season nears, the Premier League begins to ramp up. While that can be hard on Premier League managers, it’s great for you, the fan, who now has plenty of options to choose from as you make your way through the work week.

[ PL SCHEDULE: Where to watch all midweek Premier League games ]


Burnley vs. Stoke City – 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

If Burnley defeats Stoke City on Tuesday, the Clarets would jump Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool en route to a place in the Premier League table’s Top 4. Just pause for a moment and soak that in.

Better?

That’s right, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side on a roll, having won five of its last seven matches. In games where they were earning draws last year, they’re picking up all three points this year. Meanwhile, they face a Potters group that sits just three points above the relegation zone, meaning the heat has turned up on Mark Hughes. What is in store for us at Turf Moor?

INJURIES: Burnley – Tom Heaton (shoulder), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee) | Stoke City – Jese (personal leave), Glen Johnson (knee), Bruno Martins Indi (shoulder), Stephen Ireland (leg).


Huddersfield vs. Chelsea – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Antonio Conte, in charge of the defending champions, is suddenly on the hot seat. Already 14 points back of leaders and expected winners Manchester City, the Blues are sitting a distant third in the table.

A trip to Huddersfield could be exactly what the doctor ordered. The Terriers started the season well, but had lost four Premier League matches in a row before a 2-0 victory over Brighton turned things around.

Conte has already ruled Chelsea out of the title, with the Blues now fighting for a Champions League place. Can the boss take advantage of the poor opposition form? He will be without star striker Alvaro Morata who is dealing with both back problems and general fatigue, with Conte calling his schedule “impossible.”

INJURIES: HuddersfieldMichael Hefele (Achillies), Philip Billing (ankle), Jon Stankovic (knee), Kasey Palmer (ineligible – parent club) | Chelsea – Alvaro Morata (back), David Luiz (knee).


Crystal Palace vs. Watford – 3:00 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

The Eagles hav a chance to pull themselves not only off the bottom of the Premier League table, but out of the relegation zone completely when they host Watford at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace sits a point back of Swansea City on the bottom, but with somewhat improved performances under Roy Hodgson, three points would climb them completely out of the drop.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how Hodgson balances a desperate need to collect points with discipline of his struggling striker Christian Benteke, who remains goalless on the year after missing a critical penalty he wasn’t supposed to take in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth over the weekend.

Watford, meanwhile, is without a win in its last three and desperately needs a result. The Hornets sit ninth in the Premier League table but could see their advantage over the bottom half evaporate with another loss.

INJURIES: Crystal Palace – Mamadou Sakho (calf), Joel Ward, Damien Delaney, Connor Wickham (knee) | Watford – Will Hughes (hamstring), Isaac Success (knee), Nathan Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee)

Report: FA to open inquiry on Man United-Man City tunnel incident

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The FA is looking into what exactly happened in the minutes after the final whistle at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.

According to multiple reports in England, an altercation took place in the area outside the dressing rooms as Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was not particularly happy with the way Manchester City players were celebrating their 2-1 victory. According to the Telegraph, Mourinho went to the visitors dressing room and asked the players to show more respect to the hosts.

[MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks]

Mourinho then reportedly ended up with a milk carton and water thrown at him while Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta suffered a cut to his head.

Now the FA is looking into the situation and has reportedly asked Man United and Man City to submit their version of the events, as the altercation did not make it into referee Michael Oliver’s post-match report.