USMNT Spotlight: Reading’s Danny Williams eager to upset Arsenal in FA Cup semifinal

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Chatting with USMNT midfielder Williams before the FA Cup semifinal.

Reading, England — This Saturday U.S. national team midfielder Danny Williams will walk out at Wembley Stadium and play in one of, if not the biggest game of his career.

His club Reading, who play in the English Championship, face defending FA Cup champions Arsenal at the semifinal stage as the second-tier Royals are the heavy underdogs against the red-hot Premier League outfit.

[ RELATED: Williams excels against the Swiss ]

Williams, 26, is unperturbed by Arsenal’s plethora of superstars and although he is looking forward to the showpiece match which will be beamed across the world, the German-American is eager to oust Arsenal against all the odds and help Reading reach its first-ever FA Cup final in its 144 year history.

“It is definitely one of the biggest games of my career,” Williams said. “Every kid growing up wants to play in the FA Cup, especially at Wembley. I am excited, I think the whole team is looking forward to it and sometimes you have to use these opportunities to show the world what you are capable of doing because you don’t get these chances very often. In Germany everyone knows about the stadium but I only got the chance to be there once. I watched Germany play England in a friendly there last year. I had a taste of the atmosphere and it was incredible. ”

What about the challenge Arsenal possess?

The Gunners have won eight-straight matches in the Premier League, moving them up to second spot, and are the reigning FA Cup champions. Is this a good time to face them?

“I think it is the best time to play them,” Williams said, confidently. “Our season didn’t go well, they are flying at the moment and we have nothing to lose. I think we can only win. It is just about showing the world what we are capable of doing because it is a one-off game. Everyone should look forward to comparing themselves against the best players in the world. I think that is what it is all about. I started to play football because of days like this for my family, my friends, my team and the whole of Reading Football Club. Especially after this season, they will all have something to look forward to, I am definitely not going there to take pictures or enjoy the day or whatever, I am going there to win. I would say they are favorites, without a doubt but it is a one-off game and anything is impossible. I don’t know if they underestimate us because I know Arsene Wenger will set them up right but it is a great opportunity to do something big for the club and give something back to the fans.”

Williams missed last summer’s World Cup — he revealed how he watched the games from LA and New York City and was “happy for the boys” to make the last 16 — after suffering a knee injury for the U.S. in a friendly vs. Ukraine in Cyprus in March 2014. He admits that experience was a bitter pill to swallow and that he spoke with Jurgen Klinsmann before getting surgery, but is pleased to be back in the USMNT setup as he was recalled for the recent friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland in March.

Williams put in a solid display for the U.S. vs. Switzerland

“I think I could be satisfied with the performance. Especially after I was out for so long with the surgery, injury and stuff,” Williams said. “I was very happy to be back because I missed a lot of games, it is good to see new faces and obviously it is a little bit difficult to play in a new system with new players, you have to get to know the players and stuff. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. It was good to see some old faces like Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson, who are played with at Hoffenheim, It was very good but unfortunately we gave the win away in the last few minutes but overall I think I can be satisfied with the way I played.”

He should be more than satisfied with his play against Switzerland, as the former Freiburg and Hoffenheim midfielder sat in front of the back four and broke up play superbly in an ultra-disciplined role. Asked what Klinsmann said to him following his display against the Swiss, Williams revealed the USMNT’s head coach is eager for him to become a growing presence for the Stars and Stripes.

“Jurgen said to me ‘you should show again who Danny Williams is’ because he said to me that I was unfortunate to miss out on the World Cup with the injury,” Williams explained. “He said to show what I’m all about, play to your strengths and be loud, have a voice on the pitch. Obviously I am 26 now so I am not the youngest player for the U.S., like 4 years ago when I played my first game. He gave me quite a lot of confidence and told me that he was happy to have me back in the team as well. It was a good experience.”

[ RELATED: Williams undergoes knee surgery at Reading ]

Just one of a string of German-Americans now playing for the U.S., Williams believes there are many more talents to be plucked from his homeland by Klinsmann and his staff. Here’s what Williams had to say when asked what advice he would like to give to the next wave of German-Americans (John Brooks, Julian Green, and maybe even Gedion Zelalem) as they settle into the USMNT setup.

“I expect them to try and connect with the real Americans as well because when I look back now, I see that maybe when I was 21 or 22, I was hanging out a lot with the German-Americans because it was my comfort zone,” Williams revealed. “Sometimes as a player you have to step out of your comfort zone and connect with all of the players. You want to know all of their backgrounds and what they went through when they were young. Sometimes you just have one view and say ‘okay, I grew up in Germany, I did this and I know everyone.’ But when you go to the States with the national team it is quite interesting what other players go through. Whether they came from a college, so it is quite interesting. That is why before I started to play for the States I said to myself I have to go to the States first to see how the mentality is and how the country is, the people. It is great if you play for the U.S. because it is such a great country, there are so many opportunities if you play for the States. For these players, I expect that they shouldn’t hang out with themselves all the time and to connect with the other Americans.”

Staying on the topic of German-Americans, the Karlsruhe-born midfielder believes that more players will arrive in the U.S. setup from his and Klinsmann’s homeland and doesn’t have a problem with it.

“I think there will always be talents because Germany is full of American soldiers who got married to German women. It is something great, it shows how cosmopolitan football is,” Williams explained. “Especially with Klinsmann, he is a German and people say he rates the Germans more and there is controversy but I don’t think so. It is just that he knows the German youth system and the education is very good, one of the best. You can see it now, they won the World Cup. Bayern Munich is still dominating in Europe at the moment. Not to say the other countries aren’t good enough, but they are getting a great education tactically, technically, especially.”

Williams came through the Freiburg youth system with the likes of Omer Toprak, Dennis Aogo and Daniel Caligiuri before playing with Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ryan Babbel and Firmino at Hoffenheim. He learned a lot from playing in the Bundesliga and said he “was always a kid who wanted to explore the world” and jumped at the chance to move to the UK. He has never been back to his father’s home state of North Carolina in the U.S. but has had contact from cousins there recently over Instagram as he continues to build up an understanding about his adopted homeland. After missing out on the World Cup last summer, Williams revealed he is now stronger mentally and has his sights firmly set on making the Gold Cup this summer as his resurgence for the USMNT continues.

“We have two friendlies against Germany and Holland [in June], Germany will obviously be exciting for me but I don’t know how Klinsmann will handle this because our season is done on May 2 but hopefully not if we reach the FA Cup final,” Williams said. “Obviously you have to work your way around that but the big aim for me is the Gold Cup. It is a big tournament and a great chance to prove yourself against good teams. It is different atmosphere and completely different to the Championship or elsewhere in Europe. I am looking forward to that and preparing myself for that and hopefully I can play in the Gold Cup.”

[ RELATED: Championship Focus – Cherries flying ]

What about this season at Reading? After missing the first 14 matches of the campaign with his knee injury, Williams has returned to play 23-straight matches and is going into the match on Saturday feeling fresh and sharp. With Nigel Adkins leaving midway through the season and Steve Clarke arriving as manager, it’s been an up and down campaign for the Royals who have one eye on mounting a promotion charge to the PL next season.

source: Getty Images
Williams and Reading missed out narrowly on the Championship playoffs last year.

“Obviously this season was disappointing because we all wanted to push for promotion but we had a lot of injuries, it is tough with the young boys coming into a tough division which is very physical and very strong,” Williams said. “We were a bit unfortunate but I still think we should be looking forward to next season because we have a great team with quality players. A lot of us are internationals, so there is something about the team. It is about building that momentum and getting results and confidence.”

Williams admitted to being impressed the most with Norwich, as a cluster of teams do battle at the top of England’s second-tier to try and gain promotion to the promise land of the PL. Williams also reserved special praise for Derby, Middlesbrough and leaders Bournemouth before reflecting on the big differences between playing in the Bundesliga and the Championship.

“The biggest difference is the tempo. I wouldn’t say that I have more time on the ball in the Championship because this game here is based on pressing a lot” Williams explained. “These teams are very hard to beat, you have no time and you first have to fight to earn the right to play. From the first second you are into the game. It is a tough, tough competition.”

[ RELATED: Coquelin key to Arsenal success ]

A man who played in the Championship earlier this season is Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin who was on loan at Charlton Atheltic. Now the French holding midfielder (who is remarkably similar in his style of play to Williams) has returned to the Gunners and has provided extra steel in the holding midfield role and has been a key part of their surge in the second half of the season.

“I have been quite impressed by him,” Williams said of Coquelin. “When you watch Arsenal the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, they normally play every game and nobody really was counting on Coquelin. I had the same thing when I moved to Hoffenheim from Freiburg. Nobody expected me to play but I played a lot of games. It shows that when you get a chance, you can use it. He is very high in confidence at the moment and is hard to play against. I am quite similar I would say and I am looking forward to that battle. I am loving the chance to play against the best players in the world and prove that on this day that maybe they are wrong.”

Despite saying he’d rather play a little further forward to make surging runs with the USMNT, in Williams’ opinion the holding midfield role is one of the most important on the pitch as he explained the main strengths you must have to sit in front of the back four.

“With this position comes responsibility,” Williams said. “You have to look around, you can never switch off. You have to organize your whole team because you are the connection between the back four and the front line. You shouldn’t give the ball away too many times. Everyone plays in a different kind of way. There are some holding midfielders who are more aggressive but others are just spraying the ball everywhere from Toni Kroos or Bastian Schweinsteiger. There is a lot of responsibility and that is why I love to play this position.”

Williams, who revealed he still supports Bayern Munich and rooted for them along with his brother as a child, came up against Mesut Ozil during his playing days in the Bundesliga and is once again looking forward to pitting his wits against Ozil’s mercurial talents but isn’t overawed by the challenge. Not at all.

“I had the chance to play against him when he was at Werder Bremen. He is a great footballer. He gets a bit of stick sometimes with the way he acts on the pitch but that’s just him. You cannot change that,” Williams said. “It’s like saying to me, ‘you cannot play with emotion’ … that’s just not me as a player. Ozil is a great player, then you have Cazorla, Sanchez and all of the others. They are unbelievable and not second in the Premier League for no reason. Ozil plays a lot of one touches but also has a brilliant left foot. You can enjoy watching him as a fan but when I play against these players I am not there to enjoy watching him. I enjoy trying to win against them, so we will see.”

Aiming for a leading role in the Gold Cup this summer, Williams is finally injury free.

How can Reading beat Arsenal on Saturday? Williams revealed the Royals’ plan to cause a huge shock at Wembley Stadium.

“We have to make it difficult for them. We have to show we are hard to beat. When you are playing for Arsenal against Reading, they think that you are not allowed to touch them or be or hard but we are all playing football. Maybe we can give them a bit of a hard time. The longer it stays 0-0 then we can build on that.”

Looking ahead to the future, Williams said his short-term goals are to stay injury-free, get promoted to the PL with Reading and play in the Gold Cup with the U.S. this summer. He also admitted to a longer-term goal of playing in the 2018 World Cup for the USMNT but was reluctant to look too far ahead. However, he didn’t rule out a move to Major League Soccer in the future and gave his assessment of where the league is at.

“They are making big progress and you can see the big players that are playing there now,” Williams said. “In general the league is upcoming and they invest a lot of money, the Americans. They make it look good and there is a big crowd all the time. I don’t know when big, big European talents will go to MLS. I don’t know when that transition will happen because they want to play in the Champions League, Premier League and Bundesliga. It will take a while but they can do it, I’m sure if any country can do it it’s the Americans. If you ask for myself, then of course I could imagine myself one day playing over there. It is a nice feeling there and I speak to players like Jermaine Jones and they really enjoy it there. You never know what will happen.”

Fired up and ready to lead Reading to a huge upset at Wembley, it’s clear to see Williams is focused on succeeding for the U.S. national team and his club side as the combative holding midfielder is now fully fit and back to his best.

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.

3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.

Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Klopp reaction on Thiago debut, Fabinho; loved ‘perfect’ Liverpool’s hunger

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The Klopp reaction from Chelsea v. Liverpool was full of smiles and laughs as he called the win ‘perfect’ in every way.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Jurgen Klopp is a happy, happy man. He usually is, but his side took care of a much talked about Chelsea with minimal fuss at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to make it two wins from two this season for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sure, Andreas Christensen’s sending off right on half time shaped the game but so too did the hunger of Sadio Mane to strike twice early in the second half to secure the win.

[ MORE: Player ratings

A penalty save from Alisson and a debut for Thiago Alcantara made Klopp even happier and as long as captain Jordan Henderson didn’t suffer a serious injury, he said the trip to Chelsea could not have gone better.

Thiago debut showcases why he was bought?

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk after the game via a Zoom call, we asked for the Klopp reaction on Thiago Alcantara’s debut display and if it underlined exactly why he was signed from Bayern Munich.

Thiago came on at half time and completed 75 passes in 45 minutes, a new Premier League record, as the Spanish international slotted in superbly and allowed Liverpool to dictate the tempo of the game against an opponent which sat back deep and was only focusing on defending.

“We signed Thiago for different reasons and only one of them is against deep defending sides. We improved in that department a lot, I have to say, with all of the players who were already there before. But, yes, it is something that suits him. It is natural to him. I like that. Of course it is good. It is one reason of a lot,” Klopp said.

Fabinho dazzles as a stand-in center back; Jurgen Klopp reaction

ProSoccerTalk also asked Klopp about Fabinho’s display, as the Brazilian switched from his usual position of holding midfield to center back due to injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

“Fabinho, yes! If Sadio wouldn’t have scored two goals then I think Fab would have been a proper contender for Man of the Match!” Klopp smiled. “I loved his performance, he played outstandingly well. He helped us a lot, with the ball and in defending as well. A proper performance.”

With Thiago arriving in midfield, Fabinho at center back could be something we see a lot more of this season, especially as Gomez and Matip have a nasty knack of picking up small injuries consistently.

Liverpool send out a message

Klopp admitted that his team are only focused on the three points each week, but when asked about making a statement early in the season by winning at a Chelsea side who has spent over $250 million on new players, the Liverpool boss raved about the performance of his side.

“I liked the performance a lot. We are not playing for two things, for three points and then showing everybody you ‘better be ready when we arrive’ or something. That’s not us,” Klopp said. “The next game will be incredibly difficult for their own reasons because Arsenal is obviously flying since a few months already, it is going to be really tough.

“For ourselves, and that we feel the way we play, with adaptations and improvements, with development, that made us successful and will make us successful if we really throw it consistently on the pitch. This Chelsea game away will, for the next 500 years, be one of the most difficult games you can ever play and it will become even more difficult now when all things things are settled for Chelsea. That is clear. For today, it was difficult enough but we did it and I’m happy enough.”

Chelsea’s Lampard: Happier with play in Liverpool loss than Brighton win

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Like a lot of neutrals, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard feels deprived of what could’ve been a thrilling second half between his new-look Blues and Liverpool on Sunday.

Scoreless heading into first half stoppage time, Andreas Christensen was sent off for a DOGSO tackle on Sadio Mane, who scored twice early in the second half in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool | 3 things ]

“For chances the first half was pretty even,” Lampard said after the game. “The red card changes (the game). Makes me go into a reshuffle and against a team of that quality it’s obviously going to be really difficult. I think it could be given or not, Kepa was coming out. If anything I’m surprised it’s a yellow to start and gets changed.”

While Lampard had questions regarding the red card, he didn’t try to make any excuses for Kepa Arrizabalaga’s second-half mistake that gifted Mane his second goal.

Lampard would not be drawn into discussions on Kepa’s status and the heavily-reported arrival of Eduoard Mendy from France, but he says the goalkeeper error and Jorginho’s late penalty miss take away from what could’ve been a point.

“Big mistake, clear mistake,” Lampard groused. “When you reflect on the half, without that mistake and (if we) make the penalty, it’s 1-1. In lots of ways I’m actually happier than I was after Brighton. Lots of individuals showed me lots of good things.”

Chelsea hosts Barnsley in League Cup action on Tuesday before visiting West Brom on Saturday, two prime chances for Lampard to get his players’ heads right without a top four challenger on the fixture list until Manchester United on Oct. 24.

Player ratings: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings: This game ended up being a very straightforward win for the reigning Premier League champions.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

A red card to Andreas Christensen right on half time swung the game in Liverpool’s favor and two goals early in the second half from Sadio Mane sealed a comfortable win for Jurgen Klopp’s side. With big mistakes and star performance, the Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings are extremely mixed.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Here’s a look Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings as Frank Lampard will be trying to keep things in perspective, while Liverpool and will be keen to keep building momentum.

Chelsea player ratings

Kepa: 3 – Wandering around early on and generally indecisive. Hesitant on the ball over the top which led to Christensen being sent off which forced the decision. Gave the second goal away with a poor mistake. He knows he will not be Chelsea’s goalkeeper with Edouard Mendy coming in soon.

Reece James: 6 – Wasn’t able to showcase his attacking talents from right back and Mane beat him to head home the first goal.

Andreas Christensen: 4 – He was actually playing pretty well until he was sent off right on half time. One long ball over the top set Mane free and Christensen hauled him down with Kepa dallying.

Kurt Zouma: 6 – Steady and tried his best to hold everything together at the back.

Marcos Alonso: 4 – He knows Chilwell is the first-choice left back, and he worked hard but was caught out on a one-two by Firmino and Salah for the first goal.

N’Golo Kante: 6 – One glorious chance to shoot when found in the box but looked for a pass. Struggled to shut Liverpool down.

Jorginho: 4 – A few loose passes, which is unlike him, and the captain struggled to hold down midfield. Missed a penalty kick too.

Mateo Kovacic: 7 – Plenty of mazy dribbles and was the one Chelsea midfield he looked to support the attack.

Mason Mount: 5 – Spent most of his time defending and wasn’t able to impact the game in a positive way.

Kai Havertz: 5 – Some lovely touches and oozes class on the ball, but not involved enough. Subbed off at half time.

Timo Werner: 7 – Always a threat and went close a couple of times in the first half. Caught offside too often. But that’s his game. Won a penalty kick in the second half and never stopped trying.

Fikayo Tomori (on for Havertz, 45′) 6 – Did his best to try and stop Liverpool’s juggernaut and made some decent blocks.
Ross Barkley (on for Jorginho, 79′) N/A
Tammy Abraham (on for Kovacic, 79′) N/A

Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Hardly had anything to do throughout the entire game, then he saved a penalty kick superbly. Involved in the red card incident too with his claim and quick throw to turn defense into attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7 – Always whipping in dangerous balls and a real outlet on the right. Off target with his set pieces.

Fabinho: 8 – Stood in superbly at center back for the injured duo of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Could he play at center back now that Thiago is around?

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Did his job well enough and no uncharacteristic mistakes this week. Almost scored from a set piece situation.

Andy Robertson: 6 – Didn’t see much of him as an attacking threat but worked hard, as always.

Jordan Henderson: 7 – Led by example and a lovely ball over the top which led to Christensen’s red card. Subbed off at half time with a small issue.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 7 – Typically robust display in central midfield. Is he really going to be allowed to leave for Barcelona?

Naby Keita: 6 – Always wants to get on the ball but didn’t really happen for him with Kante and Jorginho around.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Worked hard to conjure space for himself and teammates. Didn’t score but involved in the first goal.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – The Brazilian forward took a while to get into the game, but created the first goal with a lovely one-two and cross.

Sadio Mane: 9 – Great run to force Christensen to foul him and get sent off. Then headed home the opener in style and scored a second as he chased down Kepa’s pass. Incredible desire.

Thiago Alcantara (on for Henderson, 45′) 6 – Did okay on the ball but did give away a penalty kick on his Liverpool debut for a slight trip on Werner. Not ideal, but not disastrous. Showed his quality in possession.
James Milner (on for Keita, 64′) 6 – Solid as ever and helped Liverpool see out the win.
Takumi Minamino (on for Firmino, 86′) N/A