I know that everyone talks about the passing prowess of Italy offensive conductor Andrea Pirlo, and rightly so. His work in moving the ball from here to there is precise as a Swiss watchmaker, as carefully detailed as an expert at Italian art restoration.
But on my mind Sunday as I watched that virtuoso performance in Kiev was something else, something that must come before the sweet connections with Azzurri teammates.
The only way a player can craft those wonderfully angled and weighted passes is through the creation of space. And on this Pirlo is also an ace. He never seems in a hurry because he isn’t, because he doesn’t usually need to be. His incredible instincts and awareness serve to direct Pirlo into the perfect spot to receive possession, and alerts him then where to direct that first touch, which creates even more operating and thinking space.
With the necessary room, he is free then to move balls forward, which is the other striking element of his day in Kiev: so many players at his position are content to move balls laterally or negatively (backward), when they can work out of trouble long enough to direct them anywhere at all. Pirlo understands when to keep things safe but fully comprehends the advantages of forward progress, too.
That’s a big reason why Italy had 39 shots to England’s 13 on Sunday.
And my ranting rave here is all about Pirlo’s passing and spatial awareness. Can we talk about that absurdly audacious penalty kick, the perfect exclamation point on his night of wonder? Heavens!
But do not take my word for it. Here’s what others are saying about Pirlo’s peerless work:
Guardian correspondent Barnay Ronay:
Andrea Pirlo, from a strolling start, ended up dominating England’s midfield, maintaining the same stately pace through the entire 120 minutes, sure in the knowledge that as others dissipated their energies his own gentler tempo would rise above the hubbub.
UK commentator Alan Hansen:
Pirlo has been fabulous, he controlled and dictated the game and was absolutely masterful. It was a masterclass in technical ability. Steven Gerrard has been by far England’s best player, but he spent the night chasing Pirlo around.
“You can’t give Pirlo the time and space to pick the passes that he did. How many times did you see Gerrard have the same sort of time and space? The answer is: he didn’t.
“England need somebody with the technically ability of Pirlo.”
England defender Rio Ferdinand
On a pure footballing note, Pirlo just put on a pure footballing master class, and the penalty was too much.
USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup
For the next few months CONCACAF Nations League takes center stage, while the program is very much in transition as Anthony Hudson takes temporary charge and both the GM (Brian McBride) and Sporting Director (Earnie Stewart) left in recent months.
As for now, here is the USMNT’s upcoming schedule for 2023, with plenty more games to be added based on their potential qualification for the 2023 Gold Cup on home soil.
TV channels in English: HBO Max, TNT
TV channels en Español: Universo, Telemundo Deportes Streaming en Español:Peacock
USMNT upcoming schedule
* Friendly | ** CONCACAF Nations League | *** 2022 World Cup
vs. Serbia* — Jan. 25, 10 pm ET — Loss 2-1 | Recap & highlights
vs. Colombia* — Jan. 28, 7:30 pm ET — Draw 0-0 | Recap & highlights
at Grenada** — March 24, 8 pm ET — St. George’s, Grenada
vs El Salvador** — March 27, 7:30pm ET — Orlando, Florida
vs Mexico* — April 19, 10:22pm ET — Glendale, Arizona – More details
2023 Gold Cup from June 16 to July 19 (USMNT yet to qualify)
USMNT games in 2022
vs. Morocco* — June 1 — Win 3-0
vs. Uruguay* — June 5 — Draw 0-0
vs. Grenada** — June 10 — Win 5-0
at El Salvador** — June 14 — Draw 1-1
vs Japan* — Sept. 23 (in Dusseldorf, Germany) — Loss 2-0
vs Saudi Arabia* — Sept. 27 (in Murcia, Spain) — Draw 0-0
USMNT at 2022 World Cup
vs. Wales*** — Nov. 21, 2 pm ET — Draw 1-1
vs. England*** — Nov. 25, 2 pm ET — Draw 0-0
vs. Iran*** — Nov. 29, 2 pm ET — Win 1-0
vs. Netherlands*** — Dec. 3, 10 am ET — Loss 3-1
USMNT 2022 World Cup qualifying scores, recaps, analysis
at El Salvador — Sept. 2 — Draw 0-0
vs. Canada — Sept. 5 — Draw 1-1
at Honduras — Sept. 8 — Win 4-1
vs. Jamaica — Oct. 7 — Win 1-0
at Panama — Oct. 10 — Loss 0-1
vs. Costa Rica — Oct. 13 — Win 2-1
vs. Mexico — Nov. 12 — Win 2-0
at Jamaica — Nov. 16 — Draw 1-1
vs. El Salvador — Jan. 27 — Win 1-0
at Canada — Jan. 30 — Loss 0-2
vs. Honduras — Feb. 2 — Win 3-0
at Mexico — March 24 — Draw 0-0
vs. Panama — March 27 — Win 5-1
at Costa Rica — March 30 — Loss 0-2
The USMNT will be without captain Tyler Adams when they play a pair of CONCACAF Nations League games later this month, but they will have 13 members of the 2022 World Cup squad, including Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, as confirmed by U.S. Soccer on Wednesday.
Adams will miss the games against Gernada (March 24) and El Salvador (March 27) after suffering a hamstring injury during a recent training session with Leeds United.
Reyna’s place within the team and program had come into question in the weeks and months since the World Cup, with events and an investigation transpiring involving former/a candidate to remain USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and Gio’s parents, Claudio and Danielle. Interim head coach Anthony Hudson explained Reyna’s inclusion as a decision to “move forward.”
“It became a bit more complex in the months since the World Cup, but as far as we’re concerned Gio is a part of our program,” Hudson said. “He’s a good guy and a top talent, and he is evaluated like any other player. We made the roster decisions based on what gives the team the best opportunity to win these games, and we brought him in because we think he can help us do that.”
Full USMNT roster for 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League
“So good. They have always been with me,” Gabriel Jesus smiled when ProSoccerTalk asked about the support from the fans. “They help me, push me. The way they did it last Sunday against Fulham it was amazing. I will never forget that. All I want is to give them something back on the pitch. Maybe the next game. I hope a lot.”
Arsenal are running out of ‘next games’ this season and have on hand hovering over the Premier League trophy.
With 10 games to go they sit eight points clear atop the table and the return of their talismanic Brazilian striker from a near four-month injury layoff has given the Gunners a perfect boost ahead of the run-in.
For so long the doubts around Arsenal’s unlikely title bid were all about how they would cope without Gabriel Jesus, a four-time Premier League winner with Manchester City.
He has yet to score in his three appearances in all competitions since returning but (even before the injury) he represents much more than goals.
“It is very good to be back. It is not easy to be out long and have a very, very bad injury. Now I’m back I am fully fit. At the same time I am so happy because the team are doing good to keep the distance to the second,” Jesus said.
“I want to be involved. I was injured but in my mind I was involved. I need to talk, to try to help them with something like talking, or seeing the games. That is why. Always together. Everyone.”
Jesus a total team player
As well as helping the team off the pitch, his play on it helps Arsenal’s other attackers come to life and he has already slotted back in seamlessly.
Jesus admitted he suffered “a lot” while he was out but he’s been helping as much as he can behind-the-scenes and is delighted both Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard have stepped up to boost Arsenal’s attacking options in his absence.
“The team are doing so good. Everybody here is together. When I was getting fit we were sure Eddie can go there and help us and he did it. Trossard came and did it as well. Everyone is together. To be champions of this big, big competition we don’t need only 11 players,” Jesus explained.
He also explained that he has always been watching videos of his games, focusing on the goals he has scored, the chances he has missed and always striving to get better. That dedicated seems to have seeped into his teammates and fans love the extreme dedication of Gabriel Jesus.
Entire squad ready for the run-in
The atmosphere around the Emirates was buzzing throughout their routine win against Crystal Palace as back-up players like Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Jakub Kiwior, Emile Smith Rowe and Jorginho all featured as injuries to William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu stretch the squad to its limits but the likes of Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira are still in reserve.
The fans, players and staff are together as one and Jesus is happy to be entering the business end of the season with this group as he was asked about Mikel Arteta referring to Arsenal as a ‘family’ unit.
“I believe when you have a good relationship with your teammates everything on the pitch works well. We are top of the league, we are playing good football, we are understanding each other. It is very good to be a family,” Jesus said.
“Now is the best part of the season. End of the season when you have deciding games, big games away and at home. Now is the time we have to play the same, don’t change, still together.”
Jesus is a focused, serious, dedicated individual and the perfect role model for this young Arsenal side. He and Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serial winners at Manchester City in bit-part roles but in their first season at Arsenal they are now thriving as key men in this unlikely title push.
“I think the most important thing is my mind. I keep focused and then come back fully fit,” Jesus said.
Arsenal are glad he’s back fit to further boost their title hopes and the role Jesus has played off the pitch over the last four months could be just as important as his play on it as this young Gunners outfit are still the team to catch.
Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka each scored in the first half and then Granit Xhaka added a third and Saka added his second and Arsenal’s fourth after Palace briefly threatened a comeback through Jeffrey Schlupp’s goal.
The home fans at the Emirates sang ‘we are top of the league!’ with gusto throughout and the positive vibes are swirling around this part of north London heading into the international break.
Arsenal now have 69 points, eight clear of second-place Manchester City but City do have a game in-hand over the Gunners and host them in April in a title showdown. Palace remain on 27 points and although they sit in 12th place they are just three points off the bottom three and four points off the bottom of the table.
First half blitz theme continues to lead title charge
Most teams are beaten by Arsenal before they know what happened. That was the case for Crystal Palace on Sunday. They did have the best chance of the early stages but Zaha’s shot hit the post, hit Ramsdale and somehow squirmed wide. That woke Arsenal up (perhaps their Europa League exploits delayed their usual early blitz a little?) and normal service resumed about 20 minutes into the first half. Saka, Martinelli and Trossard were too quick for Palace and Gabriel Jesus came on to help them close it out in the second half. Arsenal’s intensity is too much for teams they play against and that hunger combined with pace, skill and understanding is so tough to stop. Eight points clear with 10 games to go, which includes that trip to Manchester City in April. Arsenal’s fans are so close to believing that almost two decades of waiting for a league title is over.
🔝 Arsenal go 8 points clear atop the Premier League table. Real party atmosphere here at the Emirates.
Stars of the show; Arsenal vs Crystal Palace player ratings
Bukayo Saka: Two goals and an assist in the first half and was so sharp cutting in from the right. Back to his very best.
Granit Xhaka: Lovely move and finish for his goal and plugs the defensive gaps so well.
Ben White: Supported Saka whenever he was needed and gave Arsenal an extra attacking outlet down the right.
Arsenal host Leeds United on Saturday, April 1, while Crystal Palace host Leicester City in a big relegation six-pointer on the same day.
How to watch Arsenal vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time + analysis by Joe Prince-Wright at Emirates Stadium!
Kick off: 10am ET, Sunday TV Channel: USA Network Online:Stream via NBCSports.com
FULL TIME: Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace – That is a very, very comfortable win for Arsenal who have now won six in a row in the Premier League. They are full of confidence, all of their main men are standing tall and with 10 games to go they are eight points clear.
Smith Rowe and Jorginho come on for Arsenal. Plenty of cheers for Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli. A really party atmosphere here now.
GOALLLL! Game. Set. Match. After a few poor clearances from Palace, substitute Kieran Tierney crosses for Saka and he finishes beautifully. Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace. Again, this is too easy for the Gunners.
Ramsdale saves at the near post from Zaha. Maybe Palace have a little bit left in them here?
The second half is underway. No changes but a few more chances for Arsenal early on. This could get ugly quite quickly for Palace.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace – After a shaky start, total control from Arsenal. Martinelli and Saka (once again) with the goals and Mikel Arteta’s side are cruising and eight points clear at the top. They are way too good for Palace.
GOALLL! Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace. Bukayo Saka strokes home. He has been unstoppable in this first half. Arsenal cruising and going 8 points clear atop the Premier League table.
Arsenal probing for a second as we approach half time. The youngsters dressed in the same black shirts are banging their drum loudly at the Clock End. Arsenal then go so close to scoring a second. Odegaard drags a shot just wide.
Reminder: as it stands Arsenal are eight points clear atop the Premier League table. Not that Arsenal fans anywhere needed a reminder of that. But still. For the rest of us.
GOALLL! Gabriel Martinelli smashes home across goal after Bukayo Saka found him with a lovely cross. All came from Ben White winning the ball in front of Wilfried Zaha. The Emirates erupts! Arsenal 1-0 Crystal Palace.
Caretaker Palace boss Patrick McCarthy will be delighted with this first 25 minutes for his side. They look well organized and have a threat on the counter. Arsenal are getting a little frustrated.
Rob Holding doing his best Virgil van Dijk impression so far. Some majestic passes out of the back.
SAVE! Teenage goalkeeper and lifelong Palace fan Joe Whitworth with a really good stop to deny Odegaard who fired a shot on goal from the edge of the box. Saka tried to get on the rebound but he was offside.
That chance for Palace has quietened down the home crowd a bit. Then there is a good save by Ramsdale to deny Edouard but he was offside as the flag goes up. Arsenal are getting caught out on the counter quite a bit here.
POST! So close to an opener for Crystal Palace. They find Wilfried Zaha on the counter, he beats Ben White easily and his shot hits the post, hits Ramsdale on the back and goes out for a corner. So close for Palace.
Arsenal having plenty of the ball early on but Palace look okay on the break. The managerless Eagles are holding firm. For now. The rhythmic beating of a drum in the home end is keeping the atmosphere nice and lively as the sun peeks through the grey London clouds.
The first song of the day from the Arsenal fans is for their legendary midfielder Patrick Vieira who was sacked. Harshly treated, Vieira.
KICK OFF! We are underway. Palace’s fans in the away have lit flares. There is a drum beating in the home end. A brilliant atmosphere.
🚨 Welcome to the Emirates! It is bouncing here. What an atmosphere.
Hello and welcome to a lovely spring day here in north London! That smell in the air is expectation. Arsenal fans are hoping for an easy home win against out of form and managerless Crystal Palace. We all know it isn’t quite as easy as that.
Key storylines & star players
Gabriel Jesus started Thursday in the Europa League, so it’s easy to predict a depth flex from the Gunners on Sunday rather than another start for their just-fit star. Leandro Trossard, Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Thomas Partey, and Bukayo Saka were kept on the bench at the start versus Sporting Lisbon, but the Gunners going 120 minutes and then losing on penalty kicks will certainly challenge them.
Palace is going to hope to get something out of Wilfried Zaha here. He’s looked more like a red card candidate lately but we all know an in-form Zaha is electric. Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze will look like even better playmakers once Zaha starts punching home some goals.
Arsenal team news, injuries, lineup
OUT: Eddie Nketiah (ankle), Takehiro Tomiyasu (knee), Mohamed Elneny (knock), William Saliba (back)
🔴 𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗠𝙉𝙀𝙒𝙎 ⚪️
💪 Holding at the back 🧱 Xhaka in midfield 🪄 Trossard up top