On Jurgen Klinsmann and Michael Bradley and “playing out of position”

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Michael Bradley is one of the most complete players in the history of the United States men’s national team, an industrious midfielder with tremendous vision who scores a lot more for his country than he has for his clubs.

Jurgen Klinsmann is a free-talking European hero with a personality much different like his captain for this week’s friendlies. His experimentation is much different than his predecessor, Bob Bradley, who is admired in American soccer circles and has gone on to relative success as a manager at both the country (Egypt) and club (Stabaek).

So it feels fitting, at least to me, that the majority of American soccer fans would rebel against Klinsmann and not Michael Bradley as the player struggles in the United States set-up. Perhaps already ensured the future label of USMNT legend — Top 20 in caps, Top 15 in goals, Top 10 in assists as a midfielder at age 27 — to say Bradley is struggling is a bit of an arbitrary term here, as Michael Bradley’s man-marking and tackling remains strong.

[MORE: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things]

It’s his work with the ball that has cost him. In fact, isn’t it funny that we’re pointing to Bradley missing a sitter and blowing another scoring chance as an indictment against Klinsmann for playing him in an advanced role? As if a very good player’s missed chances are because his coach put him in a different spot? Brek Shea banged home a free kick despite playing back. How come that didn’t mess with his mojo when an opportunity presented itself?

Klinsmann has clearly decided that Bradley is his best option as a playmaker, and it’s a choice he made long before the troubles of this week (or even this year). Choice is a key word here. I have little doubt that, given a legitimate No. 10, Klinsmann would slide Michael Bradley back into the formation. He simply has a glut of decent choice to sit on top of defenders, as Danny Williams proved today in joining Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman as adequate if not strong in a set back role.

source: Getty ImagesIn fact, giving Jones more freedom at the World Cup was another nod to Klinsmann’s lack of faith in his attacking midfielders (though this will certainly rile up those still stung by Landon Donovan’s omission from the Brazil roster). Unfortunately, we can’t know Klinsmann’s plan had Clint Dempsey not been injured. Perhaps Michal Bradley would’ve been set back a bit more, a different link in the chain.

Mix Diskerud is the States’ best hope, though Klinsmann has also looked at Alfredo Morales in his engine room, although Alejandro Bedoya was at his best during the Switzerland match. But look at the mix of players who weren’t called and ask yourself who’s going to be a better fit as a playmaker. Is it Lee Nguyen? That’s the only name I see that begs further investigation.

[ MORE: Altidore apologizes for red card ]

I think Klinsmann has decided that transforming an ‘out of his element’ Michael Bradley into an ‘in his element’ Michael Bradley is better than the other options, and that there are plenty of players capable of filling his former role. And to be fair, Klinsmann probably thinks of Bradley as the man with Heerenveen, Borussia Monchengladbach and the States before Klinsmann arrived.

Ironically, it seems Michael Bradley’s drop-off in offensive production has come since Klinsmann arrived. I’ll even subtract his prolific 2007-08 season in the Eredivisie, where he netted 18 times.

2008-2010
Club – 11 goals
Country – 8 goals

2011-present
Club – 6 goals
Country – 5 goals

Additionally, and perhaps this has a lot to do with his maturation as a player versus positioning, but follow me here as we walk down a path accompanied by the troublesome but somewhat useful “assist” statistic. As bizarre as this is to read, Michael Bradley didn’t register a single helper for the States until 2011. In the Klinsmann era, he has 12.

[ MORE: Does Klinsmann’s experimentation hurt or help? ]

Remember how he had covered more ground than any player at the World Cup by the time the States had been eliminated? How many coaches are lauded for making a player source: APuncomfortable in prodding them forward? And it might be worth noting that the United States has been shut out exactly twice since the start of 2014 (Ukraine and Germany).

Look, I’d swear by Michael Bradley as a player and leader a lot more than I’d vouch for Klinsmann as a coach (Heck, look at the names above who weren’t called in for this window: Cameron, Diskerud, Beckerman). I was jazzed when my young son asked for Bradley jersey instead of those “sexy” goal scoring choices (“Yes, son… be the destroyer!”).

I’m certainly not 100 percent sold on the German legend as American leader, but I also think there’s a measure of “He’s not American” in many of anti-Klinsmann sentiments, and that if Ben Olsen led the States to the same finish at the World Cup he’d get a lot more high-fives. But it’s worth discussing whether Michael Bradley’s use as a more advanced attacker is more of an indictment on possible U.S. players in that role rather than this wacky coach forcing a square peg into a round hole.

And, by the way, if this experiment does bear fruit by the time of the Gold Cup, the Copa America Centenario and/or the Confederations Cup, it will certainly have been worth the pain of this Fall and Winter.

Bradley is the Yanks’ best; If learning whether he can adapt higher up the pitch in meaningless matches is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.