Geoff Cameron: Eden Hazard is “best I’ve played against” in Premier League

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Geoff believes Hazard is the best player he’s faced in the Premier League.

Each week at ProSoccerTalk we will hear from from U.S. national team and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, who is now a special correspondent for NBCSports.com

[ RELATED: Cameron’s latest on PST ]

The proud Bostonian tells us what life is like behind-the-scenes in England’s top-flight with Q&A’s, first-person pieces and more. This week, he talks about his admiration for Eden Hazard, how to beat Chelsea and the festive season.

It is a big test for us on Monday, playing against Chelsea who are top of the league and have shown everyone just how good they are this season. With the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa up top, they have a lot of good players but you can’t just focus on one. You have to focus on them all.

I’ve said this in the past, but for me Hazard is the best player I have played against in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho has come out to this week and said Hazard could become “a club legend” and having marked him last season, I totally agree with that. You don’t want him to pick up the ball with no pressure, because he will just run away with it. You have to be close and tight with him because he is so good on the ball, he’s neat, quick and shifty. Those are the things you have to be aware of. As we all saw when the U.S. played Belgium at the World Cup, a guy like Hazard, if he turns with the ball and has 10 yards to run at your defense, that is the last thing you want a guy like him doing. We kept him quiet that game in Brazil, so hopefully Stoke can do the same on Monday.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

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Geoff, Wilson Palacios, Marc Muniesa and Bojan enjoying the sights in London.

Hazard is a wonderful player, but you can’t give time to Fabregas, Costa, Willian, Oscar, either. Chelsea have so many top players who are dangerous like Hazard but we want to make it uncomfortable for them because if they are not comfortable and confident, then it gives us a chance to implement our tactics in the game.

For us it is all about trying to string wins together and we are striving for consistency. We got a decent point away at Crystal Palace away last time out. On Monday we have to keep our lines tight and make it tough for Chelsea to play because we know how good they are and we want to frustrate them. That is the way we want to go about it.

In order to not let Chelsea gain confidence in the game, you have to get stuck into them early and let them know they are going to have a long, hard match. Basically, do anything to throw them off their game. The most important thing is that you need to work together as one. You have to decide whether to stand off and sit back, or push up high and be tight. If one player doesn’t do that, then that’s when you come unstuck and really start to struggle because their players will take advantage of it right away.

[ RELATED: Premier League, festive TV schedule ]

Chelsea haven’t got many weaknesses, obviously, but one area where I think we can really hurt them is if we are compact, sit back and then spring quick counter attacks and get in-behind their full backs Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta. They look to push on, so if we can exploit that area, we could get some joy on the flanks.

Our fans have been fantastic at the Britannia Stadium this year. We beat Arsenal the last two years at home, beat Chelsea last season, and they have really been our 12th man. They get rowdy and create an intimidating atmosphere and boy, they will be ready to welcome Chelsea so hopefully we can give them the perfect early Christmas present!

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

As you all know, the holiday period over here in England is insane! With Stoke, we have four games coming up in the next 10 days, it is a really tough time of the year. But you just have to take it one game at a time and the most important thing is rest and recovery plus getting the fish oils, fruit and keeping a healthy diet when everyone else is chowing down on Christmas dinner! It is tough, mentally, at this time of year to stay focused but I have friends flying over from Houston and we will still have a great time celebrating the holidays. They all understand I am focused to do as well as possible for Stoke at a crucial time of the season and they will all be at the game against Chelsea on Monday, so everyone is looking forward to that.

We had our Christmas party at Stoke last weekend after our game against Crystal Palace in London (the picture on the left is of myself, Bojan, Marc Muniesa and Wilson Palacios enjoying the time off) and I am really looking forward to the holidays over here and have been visiting some children at hospital last week with my teammates to help bring some festive cheer. I hope you and your families all have a great time and cherish the time you have together. So, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone out there, and hopefully over the next week Stoke will get plenty of wins to make it a good one for all of our fans!

Until next time, peace… and Happy Holidays!

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

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With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

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U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

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Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

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The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova