Oh, heavens! Who will start along the U.S. back line Friday?

17 Comments

Tempting though it is to draw a big red circle around the severely thinned U.S. defense and say, “Only Jurgen Klinsmann knows what the American back four will piece together in two qualifiers ahead,” there’s a harder truth to consider here:

The U.S. manager probably doesn’t know either.

But he’ll sort it out over the coming days; next week’s match in Mexico is really just for “bonus points;” no one expects to go into Azteca and get a result, although Jamaica just showed it can be done.

BUT! Friday’s contest in Costa Rica is a must-have for all the reasons we have talked about. Long story short, if Klinsmann’s team ties or loses Friday outside Denver, his boys are staring at the very ugly, and all-too-real possibility that the United States national team will have one or no points after three matches in final round World Cup qualifying – a fine Brazilian pickle, if only for the blow in confidence and the fan and media outrage sure to follow.

The U.S. effort to reach a seventh consecutive World Cup would then hang in the balance.

(MORE: Klinsmann discusses roster on national teleconference) 

Back to the battered back line …

Not to put too fine of a panicked point on this thing, but the six defenders named to Klinsmann’s 23-man roster have a total of 12 World Cup qualifier matches of experience. Half of those are from Geoff Cameron, and he was barely on the team at this point one year ago.

Still, the center back situation is not dire. It’s still young, as noted, but talented.

Cameron (pictured) and Omar Gonzalez, Klinsmann’s preferred pairing until further notice, apparently, is available. Matt Besler is untested in qualifiers but held up in the January U.S. camp. Clarence Goodson is a veteran with plenty of experience; he’s not a world-beater, but you know what you’ll get with Goodson, and that’s pretty solid at home against Costa Rica.

But would Klinsmann move Cameron to the outside, where he plays with Stoke City?

If so, would Maurice Edu dropped into a center back spot, where he’s played before. (A little less likely with the late injury news to Danny Williams, which thins the central midfield corps.)

As it stands, Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow are the only natural fullbacks on the U.S. roster. Morrow is a left back, and that looks like the particularly interesting position. There are plenty of options, although they are all highly imperfect.

(MORE: Injury dented U.S. roster announced Monday)

Brek Shea has played as a left back previously, although hardly extensively. DaMarcus Beasley has filled the role at national team level. Both are on the roster just announced.

Or Klinsmann could throw down a wildcard, the way he did with Jose Torres last year against Antiqua and Barbuda. Torres was effective as an attack-minded outside presence in that one. Clearly, however, Costa Rica is not Antiqua and Barbuda; the Ticos will demand far greater defensive attention.

There is one combination (but only one) available from this roster that would have played together as a foursome. Beltran, Gonzalez, Besler and Morrow started in a January friendly against Canada.

Given that such a foursome would mean excluding Cameron, the second-most experienced back line man at this point – And hows about that! – such an arrangement seems unlikely. Translation: a high probability occurrence of a U.S. back line that has never played together. That is hardly ideal.

In fact, we just saw one of those down in Honduras … everyone remember the defensive fiasco where that one fell to pieces?

The subplot here is Carlos Bocanegra’s absence from Monday’s roster. It’s fair to ask if Bocanegra could assist  here? He has, after all, been a starting center back and left back at international level for a decade.

There’s really no getting around this one. There can be but one reason Klinsmann declined to select the veteran of English, Scottish, French and German leagues (not to mention MLS): The manager believes his former captain’s speed and/or skills have declined to the point that he simply cannot be effective at top level anymore.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. West Ham

Premier League Preview: Man City v. West Ham
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City takes the pitch at the Etihad Stadium for the first time since UEFA hammered it with a two-year Champions League ban when it hosts West Ham United on Wednesday (Watch Live at 3 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Manager Pep Guardiola has reportedly stated his commitment to the club ahead of the match, which was rescheduled from last weekend after Storm Ciara hit England.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Second-place City opens the day 25 points back of leaders Liverpool, while West Ham is one point behind 17th place.

The Irons have not won a Premier League match since New Year’s Day, David Moyes‘ first match in charge.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 


Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT —  Oleksandr Zinchenko, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy

West Ham: OUT — Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko. QUESTIONABLE — Felipe Anderson


Probable lineups

Man City: Ederson; Cancelo, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Walker, Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, D. Silva, Aguero, Mahrez.

West Ham: Fabianski; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Zabaleta, Rice, Soucek, Noble, Snodgrass, Haller, Antonio.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s David Moyes on the relegation fight: “I’m more than confident we will climb the table. I think the players here are more than capable. I think we have got a good group. I think they are all fully aware of the situation we’re in and the improvement we need to make to make sure we’re not in the bottom three, and I’m sure come the end we will do.”


Prediction

A blowout. While West Ham has the urgency to get out of the drop zone, City will be pouring its full focus into finding form for next week’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid. City, 4-1.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”