United States-Russia: What we learned from Wednesday’s draw

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A 2-2 draw might slightly flatter Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, but a road draw against a quality European team is always a good result for the United States.

Tim Howard and Michael Bradley were the stars of this one, which went all kinds of sideways in the feeble first 30 minutes. But the U.S. gamely regrouped, providing room for Bradley to hit a fabulous equalizer and later for late sub Mix Diskerud to claim a late leveler once the Americans had slipped behind again.

Here are the important, early elements we can take away from Wednesday’s draw with Russia in Krasnodar.

(MORE: Man of the Match, Michael Bradley)

This is not Guatemala or Antigua or …

We have all spent so much time over the last few months analyzing matches, dissecting the collective performance and the individual abilities in varying situations. But here’s the rub:

The games are getting more difficult. So are the choices.

The lesser CONCACAF teams have been dispatched. The opposition in World Cup qualifiers ahead will be closer to Russian in terms of collective ability. And they will ruthlessly punish mistakes – just like Wednesday.

Young Danny Williams, for instance, seems to have taken hold of the central, holding midfield position. And he has previously performed those duties adequately against … Guatemala and against Antigua and Barbuda, etc.  But these are better players, faster, stronger, more tactically astute. And under the guidance of better managers. Fabio Capello may not have gotten it done for England, but he’s certainly got something between his soccer ears.

Wednesday, the young midfielder looked overwhelmed.

Here’s another good “for instance:” We saw Eddie Johnson excel in a wide role, roughly the same role where Herculez Gomez failed to make an imprint in the first-half Wednesday. But we simply cannot make too much of Johnson’s performance against such unequal competition.

In some ways, we can take a lot of what we learned in the last qualifying round and toss it out. The stakes are rising – and so is the quality of opposition.

Center backs. We are still talking about center backs …

Geoff Cameron did enough in his latest start centrally. We can nitpick here and there – a few too many “thump aways” that needed be controlled and spun into attacker starters, for instance. But generally, Cameron was solid against a quality bunch.

Past that? Just not good enough – to the point of being alarming

The midfield shape and performance left the American back line with lots to do, admittedly. (More on that below.) Still …

Carlos Bocanegra started but soon left injured. Coming in cold was no easy assignment for Clarence Goodson, but he was still erring late in the match, after plenty of time to warm up, adjust and take control.

Rather, he gave the ball away too much, sometimes too casually, lost his position too often and gave away a potentially devastating penalty kick (at a moment when Howard seemed to have the situation covered).

Is Goodson still the U.S. third choice center back? That’s probably the bigger question. Omar Gonzalez, not available for this one due to MLS playoffs, cannot get back into the U.S. fold quickly enough.

The three-man midfield still a work in progress.

Results have been mixed, at best, when Jurgen Klinsmann deploys some version of a 4-3-3, using three across the middle who are more or less defensive-minded. It seems to work at home when Bradley’s starting positions are slightly more advanced, where he can perform a little more as a playmaker and linker, a little less as a redundant defensive screener.

(Actually, the three man midfield probably isn’t going to work at all , in any form or alignment lean, if Bradley isn’t in the mix. Again, I say, he’s the most important U.S. man these days, not Clint Dempsey, not Landon Donovan and not Howard.)

(MORE: Video of Bradley’s breakthrough goal)

But on the road, when all three midfielders are saddled with heavy defensive duty, it tends to fall apart. As we saw in some of the qualifiers, the shape and organization can get shoddy. Where is the pressure and where is the support? Who is tracking whom? Who is organizing?

Williams, for his talent and potential, may not be the commanding presence to hold things together and ask teammates to be accountable. And we can ask questions about whether he gets too timid in the 50-50 challenges.

Distribution out of the back looks untidy — but some of that is down to midfield shape, where outlets seem less available than they should be. It seems to be all improvisation, less plan and pattern.

Important point here: Maurice Edu certainly has his flaws as a midfielder. But the moment he replaced Williams in the second half, things began to look more settled and organized. He wasn’t getting drawn out of position as Williams was.

He looked like the leader that Williams, 23, isn’t quite ready to be.

(MORE to come from ProSoccerTalk, including thoughts on Josh Gatt, who earned his first U.S. cap Wednesday)

Robertson signs new long-term Liverpool contract

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Andrew Robertson will remain a hero at Anfield for a very long time.

The Scottish left back, 24, committed his future to Liverpool Thursday, as he signed a new long-term deal which will reportedly run until 2024.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Robertson arrived from Hull City in the summer of 2017 and was expected to be the back-up left back behind Alberto Moreno. Instead he has become one of the top left backs in Europe, with his marauding runs down the flank a focal point of Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

Speaking about his new contract, the captain of the Scottish national team revealed how easy a decision it was to make.

“As soon as the club came to me, it was a no-brainer for me – I want to stay here, so as soon as they put an offer on the table it was signed as quickly as that,” Robertson said. “It was a pretty easy contract for me and I’m sure for the club as well. We both agreed very quickly, that’s why it’s been done so quickly. Getting to know the lads and working with all the staff at Melwood has been a pleasure. The best thing about work is when you love coming in every day – and that’s what I do here. I am glad I have extended my stay and hopefully we have a lot of good days ahead.”

Robertson’s rise to the top of the game has been quite sensational.

He started off in the lower leagues of Scottish soccer before landing at Hull and then having a decent season in the Premier League in 2016-17, although the Tigers were relegated.

Liverpool snapped him up for $10 million and he has gone from strength to strength with his incredible energy down the left making him a firm fans favorite. Off the pitch he does a lot in the community and he just seems like one of the good guys.

Klopp added that “he might be from Glasgow originally, but everything about him screams Liverpool” and hailed Robertson’s quality on the pitch as well as off it.

“Everyone knows about his personality, on and off the pitch, but maybe we are guilty at times of overlooking his quality,” Klopp said. “Ask those who play against him – be it matchday or training – and they speak about his technical and tactical qualities, just as much as his character and heart. Our supporters have fallen in love with him, he has fallen in love with them – and both he and his amazing young family are very much at home in Liverpool.

Robertson’s rise deserved to be rewarded as he was a regular at Liverpool for most of last season and his performances in Europe helped the Reds reach the UEFA Champions League final.

His target is clear: to win trophies at Liverpool.

“I hope to achieve success as a team over the course of this new deal,” Robertson added. “This club demands trophies and too long has probably passed without trophies. So I hope to help bring another couple of trophies to this club and help push in that direction because the fans demand it and the club demands it, so that’s what we aim to give. We came close, of course we have with the Champions League and things like that, but it’s about taking that next step and hopefully getting a winner’s medal around your neck, whatever competition it is. That is the main aim for us.”

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 23 of the Premier League season is almost here as a big London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea takes center stage.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Brighton – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United v. Cardiff City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
9:15 a.m. ET: Huddersfield v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Fulham v. Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]

Madrid enduring its worst struggles in decades

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MADRID (AP) The first season without Cristiano Ronaldo is proving to be a difficult one for Real Madrid.

The Spanish powerhouse hasn’t been this bad in more than two decades.

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Not since 1996 had Madrid lost 10 matches at this point of the season. That team, led by Raul Gonzalez, lost 12 times by the end of January. Madrid’s team coached by Guus Hiddink three years later also struggled, losing 10 of its first 32 matches in all competitions, exactly like this season.

But all had gone mostly well for Madrid since then, especially after Ronaldo arrived in 2009 and led the club to a trove of trophies.

“The last few years have been some of the best in the history of Real Madrid,” defender Nacho Fernandez says. “It’s going to be difficult to match or surpass that.”

Madrid’s latest loss was at Leganes in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. It still advanced to the quarterfinals after having won the first leg 3-0, but the defeat again exposed some of the team’s problems since Ronaldo departed to join Juventus:

COACHING WOES

Zinedine Zidane left just before Ronaldo and his absence has been felt just as badly.

Madrid replaced the France great with Julen Lopetegui, but the former Spain coach lasted only about three months before he was sacked.

Former player Santiago Solari arrived as an interim coach and was given the full-time job after a good start, but confidence in him has quickly eroded as the team continues to be inconsistent.

He has struggled to manage some of his players, including Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, who could be on his way out because of his lack of playing minutes. He was substituted in the second half against Leganes on Wednesday.

Calls for another coaching change have been getting louder, adding to the team’s instability on the field.

BETTING ON YOUTH

Madrid did not make any blockbuster signing to try to replace Ronaldo, betting instead on youngsters such as Vinicius Junior, who is only 18.

The Brazilian has shown signs he could be a star, but still lacks the experience to lead the squad.

Mariano Diaz was given the No. 7 jersey when Ronaldo left, but his season has been marred by injuries and he hasn’t been able to contribute much so far.

SLUGGISH VETERANS

Madrid hoped veterans Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema could take over the leadership role that Ronaldo used to carry, but that never happened even though their numbers improved significantly after the Portuguese star left.

They each have scored more goals, but haven’t been consistent enough to also notch victories.

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES

The club has conceded more than 30 goals and has one of the worst defenses among the teams in the top half of the Spanish league standings.

It lost 3-0 to Sevilla, Eibar, and CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and was demoralized by Barcelona 5-1 in the league at Camp Nou Stadium.

“We know that we have to get better,” midfielder Casemiro says.

INJURIES

It hasn’t helped coach Solari that he lost Bale, Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Diaz to lengthy injuries. Benzema is the latest concern for Solari because of a broken hand.

“It’s been an atypical season with all the injuries,” Fernandez says. “We haven’t been playing our best soccer, but there is a lot of season left.”

Madrid’s next match is on Saturday at home against Sevilla in the Spanish league. Madrid is fourth in the standings, 10 points behind leader Barcelona after 19 matches.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Humble Jose Mourinho: “I belong to top level”

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Jose Mourinho is back in the public eye a month after being fired as Manchester United’s manager.

Did he every really leave?

Mourinho is working as a pundit for beIN Sports in the Middle East and will give analysis of the huge Arsenal v. Chelsea clash on Saturday.

Speaking with huge passion to the outlet about a multitude of topics, Mourinho revealed he isn’t considering retirement and has his eyes on a top job.

“I want to coach. I am too young. I am in football for a long, long time but I will be 56 in a couple of weeks. I am too young. Where I am going to stay is where I belong. I belong top level football and that is where I am going to be,” Mourinho said.

We see that Mourinho’s famed confidence hasn’t taken a battering from losing his job at United…

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On a serious note, he did have some interesting things to say about his two-and-half seasons in charge of the Red Devils.

Mourinho said that the second-place finish he achieved at United in 2017-18 was one of his greatest achievements as a manager, and added that “some people don’t know what is going on behind-the-scenes” at the club.

And he added that the structure of the club has to be set up in a way for the manager to not focus on everything the modern day player is involved with, while several times he pointed to the fact that players now have a huge amount of power.

“A club must be very well organised, where the manager is only the manager and not the man that is trying to keep the discipline or educate the players,” Mourinho said.

Hmmm. I wonder who he could have on his mind there…

The former Chelsea, United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach also tried to put plenty of wrongs right (his words) about him, as he talked about the results versus style of play debate — he is obviously a fan of the former — and stated that he didn’t sell Mohamed Salah while he was in charge of Chelsea.

“People try to identify me as the coach who sold Salah. I am the coach that bought Salah,” Mourinho said. “It is completely the wrong idea. I played against Basel in the Champions League. Salah was a kid in Basel. When I play against a team I analyze the team and the players for quite a long time and I fell in love with that kid. I bought the kid. I pushed the club to buy him. At that time we already had fantastic attacking players… He was a lost kid in London. He was a lost kid in a new world. When the club decided to sell him, it was not me.”

It safe to say that Mourinho will be absorbing to watch as an analyst, and he plans to do that for a little while as he added that he wants to learn more about what goes on behind the camera in order to learn more about the modern game.

All of this talk taught us one thing: Mourinho really is struggling with how the game has changed and he needs to adapt to the modern game if he’s going to continue to be successful and last longer than a few years at one club.