Draw against Germany provides mixed signals from USWNT

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It’s hard to know what to think after yesterday’s U.S. Women’s National Team performance in Chicago. Or if we should think anything. Without a coach and three years away from their next major tournament, the U.S. women are in this strange, competitive netherworld where nothing really matters. They drew 1-1 with the world’s No. 2 team (Germany) at Toyota Park, but they could just as well have lost 4-0. The effect would have been the same. They could have won 4-0, and whomever is hired by U.S. Soccer to replace Pia Sundhage could come in, plop a new plan on the table, and render anything accomplished on Saturday meaningless. This was game part of a celebration tour. No more. No less.

But if we were to indulge our reflexes and parse Saturday’s match for signs, there would be a few things to consider:

Top gear remains unmatched …

Bookending the match were two periods were the U.S. looked like the best team in the world. The first stretch produced a well-worked opener, Abby Wambach’s 147th goal putting the U.S. up 1-0 in the second minute. The last stretch nearly stole the match, rendering Germany’s control of the intervening time meaningless.

… but the other gears can still be worrisome.

And that’s the problem with the U.S., though this is hardly new. They’re unstoppable in spurts but otherwise too easily tamed.

In the period before the World Cup, their inability to control play looked like a major problem, particularly with performances against Mexico (a loss in World Cup qualifying) and Italy (the CONCACAF-UEFA playoff) hinting they were vulnerable to anyone and everyone.

That’s changes. The last year has assuaged fans’ worst fears, but the problem still surfaces against elite competition. Germany brought it out last night, but we’ve also seen it against France, Japan, Sweden and Canada.

Silver lining: The U.S. has won most of their games against those foes, though if the States continue to play 30, 40, 50-minute stretches on the back foot, they’ll continue to leave themselves open to …

  • losing a group-deciding game in a major tournament (Sweden, July 6, 2011);
  • needed a last gasp goal after giving up a lead in a quarterfinal (Brazil, July 10, 2011);
  • an upset in a major tournament final (Japan, July 17, 2011);
  • needing extra time and some questionable refereeing to avoid a historic upset (Canada, August 2, 2012).

Defense is priority number one post-Pia

The U.S. only allowed one goal, but the back line’s performance didn’t inspire confidence. Germany had too many chances to win. It’s hard to imagine what this unit would do if they lost Christie Rampone, though the captain’s postponed retirement doesn’t lessen the need to come up with a new idea. The back four is screaming to be revamped.

The midfield also needs answers

Lauren Cheney’s turned into a great utility knife – somebody who can play any of the six non-defense positions – but it’s unclear she is a good choice for a two-women midfield against the likes of Germany (particularly with Shannon Boxx having a sub-par evening). When Pia Sundhage briefly flirted with a three-women midfield post-World Cup, Cheney fit, but if the U.S. is going to remain a 4-4-2 team, the new coach will have to uncover some more midfield options. On Saturday, Cheney wasn’t a problem, but she also wasn’t a solution.

Wherefore Heather O’Reilly

Megan Rapinoe’s emergence has sent Heather O’Reilly to the bench, but the “HAO” remains one of the best wide players in the world. It’s appealing to use her as a late-match, change of pace option, but her ability to get down the right and provide service for Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach could be better-leveraged as the Abby-Alex partnership matures.

Not a bad place to be

For all my nit-picking, the U.S. still got a decent result. While they were at home and well-rested (Germany’s players are in the middle of their season), playing Germany to a draw is nothing to worry about, particularly three years out from the World Cup. High expectations (perhaps unreasonably high ones) leave mixed feelings after any home draw, but those are the incredible heights the U.S. women are navigating. There’s no need for excuses, but perspective is important.

Second game should be better

Against Australia (Sept. 16, 19), the U.S. opened with a 2-1, closed with a 6-2. Against Canada (Sept. 17, 22, 2011), a 1-1 draw was followed by a 3-0 win. In early 2011, Japan played the U.S. to a 2-1 last March at the Algarve Cup before dropping two 2-0s in the States in May.

The U.S. plays Germany again on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). If the recent pattern holds, they should be much better.

Transfer news: Milik to Arsenal; Telles to Chelsea

Milik
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In the latest transfer Alex Telles is the latest left back linked with a move to Chelsea, while Arsenal are reportedly the favorites to sign striker Arkadiusz Milik.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting in north London, Arsenal continue to be linked with a host of attacking players ahead of the upcoming transfer window and Arkadiusz Milik is the latest.

The Napoli and Poland star, 26, has long been linked with a move away from the Stadio San Paolo and given the fact that the Naples club look unlikely to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, the likes of Milik, Kalidou Koulibaly and a few others may have to move on to offset the huge loss of funds.

Per the report Italian outlet Repubblica, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is keen to offload Milik and would rather sell him to Arsenal than another Serie A rival, as Juventus are reportedly interested too. Napoli could lower their asking price for Milik, who is out of contract next summer, if a Premier League club emerges as a genuine contender to sign him.

The sticking point for the Gunners? Milik would cost $45 million and Mikel Arteta’s side don’t seem to have significant transfer funds as they’ve been linked with plenty of loan and swap deals ahead of the summer window.

That said, if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaves this summer (he has just one year left on his contract) and Alexandre Lacazette is also sold and sent to Atletico Madrid in a swap deal for Thomas Lemar, Arteta will have some extra cash a huge drop in his wage bill to work with.

Milik, on paper, would seem to suit the Premier League well. He reminds me of Edin Dzeko as he can hold the ball up, is powerful in the air and despite his horrendous luck with injuries he is still extremely mobile and can lead the line. Arteta seems pretty happy with young strikers Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah who he used often in central roles before the suspension in March but Milik has plenty of experience and would be a focal point to their attack.

Telles
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Moving to west London, Chelsea are reportedly want to buy Telles from FC Porto but face stiff competition from Paris Saint-Germain for the Brazilian full back.

According to Le 10 Sport in France, Chelsea and PSG will battle it out for the Porto left back and they claim that Chelsea have been tracking Telles for some time and have a jump start on other clubs. He is only contract to Porto until the summer of 2021, so there’s a cut-price deal to be made there.

Telles, 27, made his debut for Brazil last year and after starting his career in his homeland he’s played for Galatasaray, Inter Milan on loan and now Porto for the last four seasons. He is considered as one of the best full backs playing in Portugal and has chipped in with 21 goals in 183 appearances in all competitions for Porto.

As we’ve mentioned before, Chelsea need a more solid left back defensively but Frank Lampard still has an attacking playing style and therefore Telles seems like a very good fit. Emerson Palmeri is a little too defensive, while Marcos Alonso is too attack-minded and left back is an area where the Blues clearly want to strengthen in the upcoming transfer window. They’ve been linked with Nicolas Tagliafico and others and as clubs start to circle across Europe for Telles, Chelsea’s intentions will perhaps become clearer in the weeks ahead.

VIDEO: Top 10 players in the world as soccer resumes

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Who are the top 10 soccer players in the world right now as the season is about to resume in multiple leagues?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With the Bundesliga in full flow for a few weeks, Spain’s La Liga will return next week and the Premier League and Serie A will follow the week after.

Given that there are so many superstars scattered across those four leagues, here’s a list of the top 10 players set to be in action over the summer months as we will be treated to a sort of bonus World Cup with multiple leagues spreading out games over multiple days as top four, title and relegation battles take center stage.

From Manchester to Milan and Barcelona to Berlin, there will be so many superstars in full flow in the coming months.

Of course, the Ligue 1 season in France is canceled so we can’t watch Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for at least a few months. If we could, the Paris Saint-Germain duo would be high up on the list of top 10 players in the world right now as the soccer world gets ready to resume in empty stadiums.

Top 10 players in the world who will be in action this summer

10. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

9. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

7. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

6. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

5. Bruno Fernandes (Man United)

4. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)

3. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Which clubs have toughest, easiest remaining PL schedule?

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Now we know that the Premier League will return on June 17, which clubs have the toughest and easiest remaining schedule to navigate?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have taken a deep dive into the remaining schedule for all 20 Premier League clubs and it is intriguing to see this list. I love this kind of analysis.

Based on the current Premier League table, our partners have calculated the average position of teams who all 20 clubs have to face in their remaining schedule.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

First, here’s the list and below we will break down which Premier League clubs have the toughest or easiest remaining schedule and why.


Average opponent position

Man United: 12.3

Man City: 12.1

Wolves: 11.8

Southampton: 11.7

Newcastle: 11.4

Leicester: 11.3

West Ham: 11.3

Chelsea: 11

Norwich: 11

Everton: 10.7

Burnley: 10.6

Liverpool: 10.6

Arsenal: 10.5

Tottenham: 10.4

Watford: 10.1

Sheffield United: 9.4

Brighton: 8.6

Aston Villa: 8.4

Crystal Palace: 8.2

Bournemouth: 8.2


Analysis

This is very revealing when it comes to the ‘strength of the remaining schedule’ for all 20 Premier League clubs and explains why some fans are still hesitant to see their teams back in action, while others are licking their chops in anticipation of a late-season surge up the table.

In short: if you are Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Brighton you could struggle in this relegation battle. All three clubs have plenty of the big boys left to play, while fellow relegation rivals West Ham and Norwich have much easier schedules, on paper, to navigate.

As for the top four battle, Man United look to have a clear edge on Chelsea in the race for fourth place but Wolves are also high in this list so Nuno Espirito Santo’s side look well sit to finish off another remarkable season with a flourish. Sheffield United have a very tough remaining schedule so if they can stay in the top six it will be a fabulous achievement for Chris Wilder’s side, while we should keep an eye out for Southampton and Newcastle to potentially make a late surge up the table given the respective strength of their schedules.

However, this is just a study on the average position of teams they are facing. It doesn’t taken into account the players now available after recovering from injuries which impacted plenty of clubs in varying degrees, or the fact that different teams will adapt differently to playing in empty stadiums. If the Bundesliga is anything to go by, away teams have dominated so far and that could mean that the more away games Premier League teams have left in their schedule (six of Villa’s final 10 games are at home, while six of Sheffield United’s final 10 games are away) the more points they could pick up.

We all know funny things happen late in the season every season and with an intense scrap for the top four, Europa League spots and the battle against relegation, previous form can go out the window as desperation sets in. Still, stats like these are fascinating to sift through and give us an inclination as to wide to expect on a general level.

Liverpool, Man United show support for Black Lives Matter

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Liverpool and Man United have joined the growing number of clubs and players across the world offering their support to the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and honoring George Floyd.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN last Monday there have been widespread protests across the USA.

A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin was arrested last Friday and charged with murder, authorities confirmed.

Over the weekend Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages of support on their jerseys, while USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband saying ‘Justice for George’ and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after he scored in the Bundesliga.

On Monday Liverpool players posted a photo of their entire squad taking a knee around the center circle at Anfield during a training session with the message Black Lives Matter and Unity is Strength, while Man United star Marcus Rashford released a powerful statement on the widespread protests across the USA.

Paris Saint-Germain and France superstar Kylian Mbappe also posted an image on social media with the caption “police with us, not against us.”

Across the soccer world clubs and players are speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and honoring George Floyd.