How might the USMNT line up vs. Panama? 3-5-2? 4-4-2?

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The U.S. national team concludes its annual offseason training camp and friendlies series on Sunday as they host Panama (4 pm ET) at StubHub Center in Carson, California, which means it’s time to speculate how Jurgen Klinsmann might set up his team.

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First things first, we’ve got to settle on a formation. The 3-5-2 drew mixed reviews — rightly so — in last week’s 3-2 loss to Chile, and Klinsmann even went away from it after halftime, opting for the tried-and-true 4-4-2 instead. In my opinion, Klinsmann should have stuck with the 3-5-2 for the full 90 minutes and let the players work out the kinks themselves. If it’s a long-term possibility, stick with it. If it’s not, why are we doing it?

The USMNT has spent an entire month in training camp, working on, presumably, the new formation. To dump it after 45 minutes of varied results seemed a bit premature. Not you have no clue what you’re doing levels of prematurity, but at least what’s the point of trying it in the first place? For that reason, Klinsmann almost has to trot out the 3-5-2 again on Sunday, making the players’ last month of work worth something.

[ PREVIEW: USA needs much improved performance to close out January camp ]

So, who starts in a 3-5-2 on Sunday? I thought you’d never ask.

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson Nick Rimando started the game against Chile and played all 90 minutes. My sense is that Klinsmann opts for Johnson — if not Rimando to start and Johnson in the second half — as he’s often split minutes evenly of 75-25 in two-friendly situations in the past.

Defenders: Matt Hedges, Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler Steve Birnbaum, who started the Chile game and played quite well, picked up a knee injury in training and will be unavailable for Sunday’s game. Thus, one starting spot opens up and it only makes sense that Hedges, one of the very best defenders in MLS in 2014, finally gets his shot to impress.

Hedges, much like Besler on the other side of Jones, is very comfortable playing with the ball at his feet, capable of defending in space — something he’ll have to do in a three-man backline — and physically dominant in the air.

[ MORE: Klinsmann not committed to 3-5-2 for Sunday — but why? ]

Midfielders: DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea Yedlin needs the competitive minutes as he’s nowhere near the Tottenham first team, and what’s the point of calling him in if he’s not going to get two games? Also, there’s no one else who can play the position, so he starts.

source: APFollowing a 2014 season where he put up 18 goals and five assists, Lee Nguyen has to get a real shot with the USMNT. He has to be allowed the chance to breathe, and shine. Playing him as the further-forward midfielder is exactly how to do that, and puts another attacker in a more advantageous position (more on that in a minute).

I don’t like Diskerud in a deeper role — even alongside a player like Bradley — but who else is Klinsmann going to turn to on the current roster?

Didn’t like Shea at left back/left wingback last game? Tough, because there’s no one else currently in camp capable of playing the position. He starts — forever, probably.

[ MORE: Klinsmann’s still got it: Effortless DOUBLE backheel ]

Forwards: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey — Both started the Chile game, but Dempsey was dropped a bit deeper into the midfield — at least he was supposed to be — but Altidore ended up dropping in while Dempsey surged forward in attack. By actually pairing the two together — and getting rid of Bobby Wood, who left camp this week — the two are actually asked to stay connected and play off each other, something they’ve done to great successes in the past.

Dempsey plays as part of a two-man forward line in Seattle — he put up 15 goals and 10 assists last year in doing so — and offers the kind of off-the-ball movement you’re not likely to see out of a Gyasi Zardes — yet. Drop Dempsey into the midfield again, and the attack will be a disjointed mess with everything coming from the wing backs once again.

Subs off the bench: Miguel Ibarra, Wil Trapp, Luis Gil and Gyasi Zardes Trapp made his international debut in the Chile game, and while he’s undoubtedly a future USMNT starter, the speed of the game was a step too far for him at the moment. I’d love to see him start over Diskerud, because he’s the perfect midfield partner for Bradley, but he’s going to need time to adjust first.

Newcastle win dampened by Saint-Maximin injury

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Steve Bruce has seen Newcastle up to 10th in the table after topping Southampton 2-1, but the news wasn’t all good at St. James Park after the victory.

The Magpies boss confirmed that Allan Saint-Maximin  could be out “for weeks” after pulling up deep into stoppage time, coming off in the 96th minute after all three Newcastle substitutes had been used.

Bruce partly blamed himself for the injury, claiming he nearly rested the Frenchman for the match. “I nearly left him out today,” Bruce said after the game, “and, now, I wish I had done because he could be out for weeks. I’m disappointed with myself. We don’t know how serious it is. I kick myself if he is out for a long time. The way he pulled up – let’s hope it’s not too serious.”

The manager claims Saint-Maximin was “fatigued” but risked him anyways. He could have brought the 22-year-old off at some point during the second half, but with the game level until Federico Fernandez’s 87th minute winner, he chose to risk it further looking for a winner. Bruce used his third and final substitute in the 85th minute to haul off Miguel Almiron still two minutes before the eventual winning goal was scored. And it wasn’t just Steve Bruce who thought he could miss significant time.

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Saint-Maximin struggled with a muscle injuries earlier in the season, missing games against Norwich City, Watford, and Liverpool while getting treatment. Since returning in full in early October, Saint-Maximin has played in every Premier League game for Newcastle, completing at least 80 minutes in eight of those nine games and finishing 90 minutes four times.

The injury is poorly timed with Newcastle set to begin a heavy set of fixtures. They take on Burnley next weekend before games against Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, and Leicester City all in an eleven-day span through the holiday season. Saint-Maximin is a critical player to have go down, with a 7.07 WhoScored rating, ranking third on the team in that metric. He has completed 4.5 dribbles a game this season, which ranks second in the Premier League behind Wilfried Zaha‘s 4.6 despite having played five fewer games and 550 fewer minutes.

Ciaran Clark also went down during the game, with the Newcastle defender hauled off at halftime after suffering a calf injury.

Wolves, Seagulls split spoils at the Amex

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Wolves failed in a bid to pull within three points of fourth place, drawing Brighton 2-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Diogo Jota scored twice in a 4-goal first half, with Neal Maupay and Davy Propper bagging goals for Brighton. The Seagulls remain 12th with 19 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wolves’ blink at Top Four chance: Wolves entered the day with a chance to close to within three points of fourth place Chelsea, and Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men next face Spurs, Norwich City, Man City, and Liverpool. They needed three points here. Not for lack of effort, they couldn’t conjure the magic.

2. Jota calm in the finish: Jota scored his second and third Premier League goals of the season, joining his Europa League success to give him six. He added five assists in the UEL, and is averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per contest.

 

3. Maupay paying off faith: The French center forward has blossoming into a steady Premier League contributor after his outlandish production in the Championship earned him a big money move to the Amex Stadium. His sixth goal in 16 matches now includes goals against Wolves, Spurs, Everton, and Arsenal.

Man of the Match: Jota.


Brighton had most of the ball for the first half hour, but could’ve solve the Wolves back line.

Jota put Wolves ahead via a clever 1-2 with Raul Jimenez to get behind the line, prodding home for 1-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The lead lasted all of six minutes, as Maupay and Propper struck two minutes apart.

Maupay’s was a fine finish of a long Dale Stephens assist, while Propper headed a Leandro Trossard cross past Rui Patricio in the 36th.

Propper then fell from grace with a miserable pass stolen by Jonny Otto, the wingback finding Jota for his second goal of the night.

Wolves thought VAR might give them a penalty for handball in the 62nd minute, to no avail.

It was Wolves’ turn to give away a huge chance, but Stephens curled the effort wide of the far post in the 72nd minute.

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”

Rodgers: “Historic day” as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.