United States face desperate Jamaica in tonight’s huge World Cup qualifier

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The friendlies are over, the time to talk has gone and now the US national team returns to World Cup qualifying.

Tonight in Kingston, Jamaica, the USMNT face the Reggae Boyz (9:30pm ET, beIN Sport) in a crucial clash that could have huge implications for the USA’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s side will be full of confidence, following their massive 4-3 friendly win over powerhouse Germany at RFK Stadium last Sunday. But they will want to exorcise some ghosts from Kingston, after losing 2-1 in the previous stage of qualifying back in September 2012.

That defeat showed what Jamaica are capable of, but the Caribbean outfit are without several starters and will be much changed since they defeated the US last year.

Rumors today from Jamaica have the pacy duo of Ryan Johnson and Darren Mattocks (both playing in Major League Soccer, with the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps respectively) starting up top, after Johnson cut a forlorn figure during Jamaica’s crushing 1-0 loss at home to Mexico in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night.

(MORE: Three things to watch for US national team vs. Jamaica)

Klinsmann’s US side must be on their guard, as the Reggae Boyz know that anything less than a win tonight at the National Stadium, could spell the end for their World Cup hopes.

After the USA’s impressive display against Germany last weekend, Klinsmann is set to remain with the same starting lineup for one of the only times during his tenure with the US national team.

(MORE: U.S. news and notes as team arrives in Jamaica)

Brad Evans is set to remain at right back, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley the lynchpins in midfield.

Getting service to the red-hot Jozy Altidore will be key, as the 23-year-old forward is coming off a record goalscoring season in Holland with AZ Alkmaar (31 goals) and teamed up superbly with captain Clint Dempsey during the offensive masterclass against Germany last Sunday in the nations capital.

(MORE: Mexico tops Jamaica – and what it means for the United States)

The US are 11-1-8 all-time against Jamaica. But when the two nations have met in World Cup qualifying, results tend to be pretty even as the US has yet to win on Jamaican soil, with one loss and four draws.

After accumulating four points from their first three games in the Hexagonal tournament so far — a 2-1 loss to Honduras, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and a 0-0 tie with Mexico — the US national team know a win tonight is crucial if they’re going to make the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

What they’re saying

Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, Jamaica’s head coach: “All is not lost, all is not lost. We did it already, and I’m sure we can do it again. We are on a positive vibe, because the last two training sessions have been good. We are confident because we know what we have to do, and that is to get three points … that is very important for us, and so we are looking forward to a good game.”

Donovan Ricketts, Jamaican captain: “Right now everyone is in a desperate position because we are all scrambling for points. But we are at home and you definitely need home games. Hopefully we can come out and play good football. We haven’t won since the [Hex] stage’s start, so hopefully we can get that right.”

Clint Dempsey, US captain : “Things can change quickly. And if you make a mistake you can find yourself on a bad run of form. So we can’t let that happen. We have to hit the ground running.”

Jurgen Klinsmann, US head coach : “We learned back in February that when you only come in two days before to a place where it is 90 degrees and really high humidity, it is simply not possible to adjust. So we will get in a few training sessions and experience what the field will be like, and we will be well prepared for Friday.”

Probable lineups

Jamaica (4-1-3-2): Ricketts; Powell, Mariappa, Woodbine, Gordon; Austin; Hue, McCleary, Watson; Johnson, Mattocks

USA (4-2-3-1): Howard; Evans, Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley; Bradley, Jones; Zusi, Dempsey, F. Johnson; Altidore.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho doesn’t have attacking options, but he does have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.

Solskjaer: Manchester United ‘looked mentally tired’ versus Burnley

Solskjaer reacts to Manchester United loss
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OIe Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t have the answers to what ails Manchester United without Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, and he can’t even fake it.

The United boss could only hang his side’s 2-0 loss to Burnley on sharpness, as the Red Devils out-attempted the visitors by a 24-5 margin.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United also had 72 percent of the ball, but Burnley’s whole philosophy is cool with you having the ball if you don’t have the lead.

The Red Devils never looked quite ready to grab that, either, from the moment an early Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross sailed through the six absent receiver. From the BBC:

“The boys looked mentally tired towards the end, we didn’t find that creativity,” Solskjaer said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. When you are at Man United you are privileged because you are playing for the best club in the world.

“Sometimes you go through periods like that and it is a test I am sure they are going to come through.”

It’s all formulaic from the Norwegian manager. “The we’re United and it’s a special place” struck all the right chords when he first took the reins at Old Trafford, but the club hasn’t bought much quality since then and it’s ringing hollow as the depth fails to bail them out.

Spoiler alert: He did.

You can accept that Solskjaer is going nowhere and also accept that the whole thing is not going to improve any time soon. United should absolutely be in the Top Four given the failings of Chelsea, but cannot stop tripping over its own feet.

Man Utd shocked by advantageous Burnley

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Manchester United never showed up at Old Trafford, and Burnley reaped all the benefits.

Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez scored as the Clarets stunned the Red Devils 2-0 on Wednesday.

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United fails to take advantage of Chelsea’s draw with Arsenal, and sits six points back of the Top Four.

Burnley climbs seven points clear of the drop zone, level with five teams on 30 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wood shines up top: It was a 10th goal to go with his first assist of the season for the New Zealand international, who used a half-yard of space from Harry Maguire to put Burnley in front. Burnley’s philosophy is to find their forwards at all cost, and when Wood is delivering that ethos looks genius.

2. United’s absent wings cost it dear (and jeer): Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were lively, but both Daniel James and Andreas Pereira did little to inspire hope of a goal for the home side. The Red Devils were the focus of crowd derision on the day, as they again wasted a chance to improve their Top Four credentials. Most teams will suffer without their top two attackers, but this is Manchester United. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford missing or not, Wednesday was iugly stuff.

3. Jay Rodriguez’s new nickname is “Bangers Only”: Joking aside, it’s difficult to remember Rodriguez goals that don’t get you out of your seat. His insurance goal absolutely buried United, and gives him seven across all competitions. It also gives Sean Dyche plenty of competition in training, with Ashley Barnes on the periphery.

Man of the Match: Wood


United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka cut a promising 15th minute cross through the 18, but no teammate could get a foot to it.

Fred continued his lively play when he hit a low drive to Nick Pope in the 23rd, good endeavor without the required sharpness.

Daniel James forced Pope into a leaping save in the 32nd, and Martial couldn’t get his feet right when Nemanja Matic rolled him to the doorstep in the 34th.

Burnley took the lead out of absolute nothing, Wood taking advantage of Harry Maguire when Ben Mee flicked a long free kick to the Kiwi.

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Rodriguez went bar down with a beauty in the 57th minute to make it 2-0, and real trouble arrived at Old Trafford.