Could Croatia really have done better against Iceland?

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On Friday evening, Iceland and Croatia played out a 0-0 draw in the chilly air of Reykjavik. Iceland, with a population barely over 300,000, were meant to be the tiny minnows in the matchup, a side that should’ve been easily beaten by a Croatia team featuring players in some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Instead, Iceland held on tight to keep the visitors from scoring, despite going down to ten men shortly after the restart.

The hosts had also lost one of their brightest players when injured Ajax striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson came off just before the break. Veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen replaced him, but barely had time to make an impact before moving to midfield to help stem the Croatia attack. Iceland’s compact organization and disciplined defending were already on show during the first half, but were certainly put to the test by a relentless Croatia in the second. Iceland were also helped by the heroic Hannes Thór Halldórsson, with the KR Reykjavik goalkeeper putting on an immense display to stifle shots from Ivan Rakitic, Ivica Olic, Ivan Perisic and Darijo Srna, just to name a few.

To the detached observer, there was little fault to be found in Croatia’s play. Perhaps Eduardo could have done better with his shot in the second minute. Maybe Perisic should have found a way to put in a better strike in the 40th. But their second half display was rather brilliant, with pretty passing, fancy footwork and yes, even some sharp shots on target. Yet Iceland had ten men behind the ball, and that, combined with Halldórsson’s flying saves, prevented the Croats from going home with a win.

But Croatia sees it rather differently. After all, they were supposed to head home clutching an easy victory, and have Tuesday’s leg in Zagreb be a matter of routine. Instead, the draw, particularly against ten men, seemed much more like a loss. Now, the Croats are a-flutter, and the media is in a tizzy. Why, they ask, is this side unable to beat such a weak team, especially after a sending off?

The media attack feels all to familiar to fans of any country that hasn’t lived up to high expectations placed upon them. It followed a particular rhythm: blame the coach for poor player selection. Judge tactics, and find them wanting. Decry the performances of a star player, and state that he doesn’t show up for his country the way he does for his club.

Yet buried in the media onslaught is a small grain of truth. Many expected more from newly appointed manager Niko Kovač. The unpopular Igor Štimac was relieved from his duties after Croatia failed to qualify directly for Brazil, and better things were expected from Croatia’s former captain. Instead, Kovač stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation — a formation that Croatia does not have the wide players necessary to execute well.

It was the endless tinkering from Štimac (well, it was many things, but this was the major tactical complaint) that brought forth so much criticism. It’s what saw Croatia, who looked so good in the early qualifying matches, lose their momentum in the final matches. Štimac’s selection and tactics saw his side fall twice to Scotland and allow Serbia back into the match for a draw.

With just one match left to secure their trip to Brazil, what Croatia needs now is simplicity. The blame does not lie with Luka Modric, and whether or not he steps up for his country the way he does for Real Madrid. It’s not on Srna, and his way of encouraging his team. Injuries or lack of talent cannot be blamed. Instead, it is up to Kovač to get back to basics in Zagreb: a solid, simple formation (yes, most likely the 4-4-2) that allows Croatia to soak up a rare Iceland attack, while enabling them to get forward quickly enough to perhaps get behind the organized Iceland defense.

A header from Mandžukić. A backheel from Modric to set up a shot from Perisic. A stunning free kick from Srna. It’s possible. But only if Croatia leave the Tinker Toys behind in Reykjavik.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 24 in the Premier League, the midweek slate of games.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Everton 2-0 Newcastle– (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 0-2 Watford – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 3-1 Norwich – (Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Bournemouth 2-1 Brighton – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Leicester 1-1 West Ham – (Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Wolves 1-2 Liverpool – (Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 1-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-2 Burnley – (Wednesday 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Sheffield United 2-1 Man City – (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal – (Tuesday, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

USMNT’s Bradley suffers serious ankle injury; Altidore hits out

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USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley will reportedly be out for up to four months due to an ankle injury he suffered playing for Toronto FC in the 2019 MLS Cup final against Seattle. That was the MLS Cup final, in November.

The TFC skipper, 32, suffered the serious ankle injury during the game and per reports he has been rehabbing the ankle over the past two months. However, that hasn’t had the desired effect and now ankle surgery is his only option.

Via Joshua Kloke from The Athletic, TFC’s General Manager Ali Curtis confirmed that Bradley will have ankle surgery in New York City on Tuesday. Curtis added that “surgery was a last resort and club believed they could rehab injury.”

Bradley’s teammates with Toronto and USMNT, Jozy Altidore, then hit out at the handling of the situation as Toronto will be without their leader for almost half of thee MLS season.

“Make no mistake. In my opinion, for me, it was handled poorly,” Altidore told reporters as TFC returned to practice on Monday, as he insinuated that Bradley was put in a tough position by the club over his injury.

The injury will reportedly keep him out for at least four months, meaning he will miss a huge chunk of the MLS season and also the USMNT’s friendlies against the Netherlands (March 26) and Wales (March 30).

This is a hammer blow for Toronto as Bradley led the organization on and off the pitch since he arrived in 2014, reaching three MLS Cup finals in the last four seasons. He only signed a new contract with Toronto FC over the offseason as his previous deal expired but it will be intriguing to see how this all plays out as Altidore obviously believes this situation could have been handled a lot better.

USMNT fans will now focus on having some of their younger players take the lead in central midfield in March and maybe beyond, with Tyler Adams now back to full fitness as he looks set to become Gregg Berhalter’s go-to guy in midfield.

Bradley’s displays in recent seasons have been lamented by USMNT fans but Berhalter has made him an integral part of his plans and he is one of the few players who survived the massive cull from the 2018 World Cup qualifying debacle. Losing Bradley for this amount of time is a big blow for club and country.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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If you want more Premier League games you’ve come to the right place and below you will find our full TV and streaming schedule.

Matchweek 24 is spread across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as things start to shake out across the table.

[ 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, Sky Sports News, 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

Tuesday
3:15 p.m. ET: Chelsea v. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Everton v. Newcastle – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Man City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Wednesday
2:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Norwich – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: West Ham v. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3:15 p.m. ET: Man United v. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]

Thursday
3 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Guardiola praises Liverpool; injury update

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With the Premier League games coming thick and fast as midweek action now takes center stage, Premier League managers have been giving us injury updates on Monday and Pep Guardiola has praised Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola has doffed his cap to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool once again, as the Reds have now moved 16 points clear of second-place Man City and have a game in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

“We can’t deny Liverpool are extraordinary,” Guardiola said. “But everyday I live thinking about what we can do better. Some games are good, we concede few. We have scored more than Liverpool. I don’t have stats here but we concede more chances and drop points.”

In short from Pep: Damn, we should have signed more, and better, defenders this summer. Oh, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was unlucky.

Guardiola has confirmed that Laporte is close to a return to fitness after the silky French center back missed the last four months with a knee injury. He also confirmed that both John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are doubtful for the trip to Sheffield United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

That starts our quick round up of injury news around the Premier League ahead of the midweek games…

  • Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said that Reece James has avoided a serious knee injury after coming off against Newcastle. He could play against Arsenal (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Marcos Alonso is also back in the squad. 
  • Mikel Arteta said that Sokratis will not play at Chelsea due to illness, while Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson will both be out until early February.
  • Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star Brazilian attacker Richarlison will miss their clash against Newcastle United on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) as he continues to recover from a knee injury. 
  • Newcastle’s injury woes continue as both Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett have been ruled out for the rest of the season. Willems has ruptured his ACL after falling awkwardly in the 1-0 win against Chelsea. The Magpies will have to do some business in January to patch up their squad.
  • Southampton look set to be without Jan Bednarek for their trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com). The Polish center back, who has started every single PL game this season, has an Achilles injury. Palace welcome back Max Meyer as he’s recovered from an ankle injury caused by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s lunging tackle.
  • Bournemouth could have Lloyd Kelly back after his lengthy injury, as the Cherries take on South Coast rivals Brighton in a massive game at the bottom of the table.