Geoff Cameron explains Chelsea’s defensive success; talks Stoke, relegation battle and studio life

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Working with Gary Lineker and Graeme Le Saux was a privilege.

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 Geoff recaps his day in the studio with the NBCSN crew for Arsenal vs. Chelsea, Stoke’s progress, Chelsea’s defense and the relegation battle.

Take it away, Geoff…

Looking back at last weeks game against Sunderland on Saturday, we were disappointed to not win but after a bad start we recovered well to get a point. I came off in the 85th minute with a bit of a fascial strain near my hamstring, so I was disappointed to go down with an injury but I am focused on trying to do everything possible to make sure I am fit and ready to go for this weekends big game against Swansea City.

On Sunday it was a privilege to be an analyst in the NBC studio at Arsenal vs. Chelsea and work alongside Gary Lineker, Graeme Le Saux, Lee Dixon and Arlo White. It was very cool to be a part of that with the entire production crew behind-the-scenes and to get that experience in the studio. Watching two of the best teams in the Premier League, it was a game where Jose Mourinho really showed his brilliance.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays ]

Tactically, everybody questioned him before the match because he wasn’t playing with a striker but Chelsea defended so well with John Terry being the leader back there. The way he organized the defense was sensational. Mourinho, tactically, made it very, very difficult for Arsenal to break them down and that is why they walked away with a point and they are a point closer to clinching the title. That’s the way he will look at it.

source: Getty Images
I’ve been amazed at how well Chelsea has defended down the stretch.

For Chelsea, the key to defending as good as they do is the partnerships and familiarity they have back there. Speaking from experience, the more you play with the player next to you then the better you get. You get more comfortable in the partnerships and you learn their habits and vice versa. That breeds faith in each other. That is one thing that Mourinho has done really well with all of his teams when you look throughout history. He has always had that team camaraderie and cohesiveness. That really resonates on the field and you see that players love to play from him and after chatting with other guys who have played under him before, they all say he’s “a players coach” and guys want to play for him and doing anything to win. That is the main thing, that winning mentality. And the fact that he is always there to back up his players means a lot. That relates to the field because you see his guys throwing their body on the line and blocking balls, plus after the game you see how excited they were to get that point.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A lot of people aren’t fans of the way Chelsea are playing lately but they got a result and its very difficult to defend the way they defend, especially when they were playing a team like Arsenal who are very good on the counter and in possession of the ball. When they keep the defensive and midfield lines very tight, it just shows how well organized and disciplined they are. That is not easy to do, believe me.

But this way of playing is nothing new to Mourinho either. I remember watching them play in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Barcelona back in 2010. Mourinho set Inter up to defend away at the Nou Camp and they lost 1-0 but limited Barca and made it to the Champions League final, which they ended up winning thanks to another superb defensive display against Bayern Munich. His teams are okay with not having the ball in certain games and I think Mourinho knows Chelsea haven’t played their best football since January but they are finding ways to win. That is what good teams do. At Stoke, that is what we are trying to do. We have done a good job at that but it is very hard to be consistent throughout the season. Being able to not play well when lots of players are struggling but grind out results and play well defensively, to make sure everything goes your way, that is very hard to do.

[ RELATED: Premier League schedule ]

Moving on to Stoke, if you look at the form everyone is in above us they are doing well. The likes of Southampton, Tottenham and Swansea are ahead of us right now. Then you have all the big boys ahead of them. We have beat some big teams and we want to stay in the top 10 and we will be very disappointed if we don’t finish in the top 10. Our goal is to finish higher than we did last year and if we finish ninth then that is one step closer to getting to the next goal. We play Swansea this weekend and if we beat them, we move up to eighth and we just want to finish the season strong and keep improving. Every year you have to get better and better, finish in a higher place, get more points and more wins. Everything.

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Doing some homework before we go on air. I see you Le Saux, trying to take a sneaky peak!

Looking down below us right now… man, it is a madhouse down there! The relegation battle is going to be huge and one of the big storylines in the league between now and the end of the season. Anything can happen. You cannot predict anything. Who would have thought Liverpool would have lost to Hull on Tuesday? It all depends on who shows up that day. That is the great thing about football and sports in general. On any given day anybody can beat anybody. Look at Leicester City, I know Robert Huth very well and as soon as he turned up at Leicester on loan from Stoke he told me “I think we are going to stay up” and he has believed it and the players there obviously have faith in each other. They are one of those teams where everyone is playing for one another.

At Stoke we were in a bit of a sticky situation a few years back, not quite as late in the season as this, but it was anxious around the locker room and the entire club. Everybody is on edge and it is a tough situation to deal with. When you see teams like Leicester, the big reason for their resurgence is that they have faith and they have shown their resilience over the last four weekends. With things so close at the bottom, it makes the games more entertaining and it will make the end of the season very interesting. For teams at the bottom, there has to be no fear right now. The fact that everybody doubts them already, that means they have to go out with the mentality of saying ‘hey, let’s play every game like its our last.’

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

To finish off with, I just want to give a big shout out to everybody in the production staff at NBC. The likes of Pierre Moosa have been wonderful in helping me along with my broadcast work and it was great to be involved in the studio show last Sunday and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting involved in a few more coming up to get some more experience. It was a long day but was really fun, entertaining and I felt comfortable. Have to give a huge thanks to Gary Lineker and Graeme Le Saux, both of whom are legends, for being so welcoming and we had a really good time in the studio. It helped me settled in to things because it is not an easy thing to do but I’m looking forward to the next one.

And oh yeah, afterwards I got to meet Ted Lasso, otherwise known as Jason Sudeikis! That was a real honor, I love his movies. He is hilarious and we managed to get this group photo, below. Great, right? It was a pleasure to meet Jason and he’s a really cool dude. Down to earth but boy, he is one funny guy. I told him he needs to start wearing a Stoke jersey around and support us, so he said he’s going to come check out a game…

Let’s all look forward to that! Anyway, thanks for all the support from across the pond. Until next time, peace!

Liverpool – Aston Villa preview: How to watch, stream, prediction, odds

Liverpool - Aston Villa preview
Photo by Ian Cook - CameraSport via Getty Images
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Liverpool – Aston Villa preview: Liverpool will welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Sunday with a more urgent perspective on its place in history (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool hasn’t gotten its usual return on results for some time. Dating back to the 3-0 loss at Watford on Feb. 29, the Reds are 2W-1D-4L from their last seven outings across all competitions.

STREAM LIVERPOOL – ASTON VILLA

In an odd coincidence, Liverpool won the Premier League during this stretch.

Take the start of that run back another week to the first leg against Atletico Madrid and the Reds have won just three times from nine, beating Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, and West Ham.

Alanis Morrissette screwed up the concept of irony for me forever, but I think that applies here somehow? Maybe?

[ RELATED: Liverpool win title – everything to know ]

Of course all Aston Villa will see is one of the best teams in the world in the first match at Anfield since clinching a first English crown in 30 years and, oh yeah, their last outing was a 4-0 blowout loss to their rivals Man City.

The Villans have 27 points, one point back of 17th place Watford and three fewer than West Ham.

Team news

Liverpool’s Joel Matip is out for the season and Dejan Lovren won’t play Sunday. Xherdan Shaqiri makes the bench and there are starts for Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Divock Origi.

As for Villa, Matt Targett misses out through injury, as do Bjorn Engels, Wesley, and Tom Heaton. Frederic Guilbert is available on the bench after injury, while American prospect Indiana Vassilev is also a sub.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on not taking a club job post-Liverpool“When it is time, hopefully I am still healthy and I can say … ‘great, I loved it but now I would like to watch other people doing it. So, I hope I find this inner mood to say … ‘see you later, I wish you all the best, best of luck, love you all but don’t call because of any football matters.’ That’s the plan.”

Dean Smith on Villa taking inspiration from other upsets“You saw Brighton win in the last minute against Arsenal and West Ham win in the last minute against Chelsea. It didn’t escape me that West Ham’s stats were pretty similar to ours against Chelsea but they managed to stick the ball in the net a couple of times. We can take great heart from that, knowing you can go and beat these big teams.”

Odds and ends

Villa are tied with Southampton for the second-biggest underdog status in Matchweek 33 (+800). A Liverpool win stands at -315, according to DraftKings.

Villa took Liverpool to the limit at Anfield earlier this year, taking a Trezeguet-inspired lead into the 88th minute only to see Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane score in the final throes of the match.

Prediction

The Reds record in those nine referenced matches doesn’t match their performances. Liverpool comes out of this one with a 3-1 win.

Report: Rangers sell one-time USMNT player Polster to New England

Matt Polster Rangers
Photo by Ian Rutherford/PA Images via Getty Images
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An American abroad is coming home after an uneven time in Scotland.

Former Southern Illinois and Chicago Fire mainstay Matt Polster will return to Major League Soccer this summer with the New England Revolution.

Bruce Arena’s Revs will reportedly pony up about $375,000 to buy Polster from Rangers, where he signed on a free transfer in January 2019 following three-plus MLS seasons that saw him earn a USMNT cap.

[ MORE: Pulisic reacts to Hazard comparisons ]

He was called up to two January camps for the U.S., going 90 minutes at right back against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018. Polster was also a contributor to the U.S. Olympic qualification push in 2015.

Polster, 27, finishes his time with 10 appearances and an assist Steven Gerrard’s Glaswegian set, getting Scottish Premiership and Europa League experience this season.

A defensive midfielder and right back in MLS, Polster played only the latter with Rangers thanks to Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack, Steven Davis, and Glen Kamara chewing up minutes in the middle of the park.

Transfer news: Saint-Maximin in demand, Norwich back to German giants

Saint-Maximin to PSG
Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images
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The Sunday morning papers are helping the transfer rumor mill buzz after a weekend of matches in Europe.

[ MORE: Pulisic reacts to Hazard comparisons ]

Newcastle is mentioned as a home for several players but the biggest Magpies name is one linked with a departure to big, big clubs.

Saint-Maximin to PSG, PL big boys

Newcastle supporters, avert your eyes and trust Steve Bruce (What a sentence and maybe a mantra).

Magpies talisman Allan Saint-Maximin has caught the eye of everyone on Tyneside and most of the Premier League but is being linked with a big money move back home.

Steve Bruce is flat-out denying there’s any chance of selling the Frenchman, 23, who is being linked with Paris Saint-Germain and “all of England’s current top six sides.”

“ASM” has four goals and seven assists in 25 appearances entering Sunday morning’s match versus West Ham and is one of just three players to average more than four dribbles per game, his 4.7 sandwiched between Adama Traore (5) and Wilfried Zaha (4.5).

It’s not just about the numbers with Saint-Maximin, though, whose magnetic dribbling and personality keep both a defense off-balance and a team hopeful and happy. Newcastle is 1W-3D-7L in the Premier League when Saint-Maximin plays, 10-6-5 when he’s out there.

Any sale, especially with Newcastle’s takeover looming, would have to be well over the approximately $20 million paid by the Magpies last summer.

Schick to Newcastle (amongst others)

The same report lays out a more realistic shopping list for the Magpies than many of the rumors since reports emerged of a big money takeover at St. James’ Park.

Newcastle is being linked with Roma’s Patrik Schick, Nice’s Arnaud Lusamba, Benfica’s Florentino Luis, Penarol’s Facundo Pellistri, and Norwich City’s Ben Godfrey.

Let’s focus on Schick and Lusamba.

Patrick Schick Leipzig Bundesliga
DORTMUND, GERMANY – DECEMBER 17: Patrik Schick (Photo by Jörg Schüler/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Schick was once among the most sought-after names in the game. The 24-year-old Czech striker has nine goals in 22 caps for his country.

Three seasons removed from his breakout season at Sampdoria, Schick has profound his footing on loan to RB Leipzig from Roma. The center forward has 10 goals in 22 matches despite Timo Werner carrying the water in fine fashion for Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig.

Like Saint-Maximin last season, Lusamba has been in- and out-of-favor with Nice boss Patrick Vieira. But it’s worth noting that the manager has tried to find a place on the pitch for the 23-year-old center midfielder, deploying him at center forward and right mid at times.

Lusamba averaged 1.2 key passes and 1.3 dribbles per Ligue 1 appearances this season.

Godfrey to Borussia Dortmund

Speaking of Godfrey, could he be going from the bottom of the Premier League table to the upper reaches of Germany? For close to $30 million, to boot?

Two of the Bundesliga’s top clubs continue to monitor top young Premier League talent including the aforementioned Godfrey, with Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig eyeing the 22-year-old.

A center back in Norwich’s maligned and injury-battered defense, England youth international Godfrey has played the seventh-most minutes for Daniel Farke’s Canaries.

Relegation victims have often yielded incredible value for bigger clubs, two great cases in point being ex-Hull City man Andrew Robertson and former Aston Villa force Idrissa Gana Gueye. We don’t need to tell you where they wound up.

Sheffield United snares late point at Burnley

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John Egan’s late goal gave Sheffield United a 1-1 draw with Burnley at Turf Moor on Sunday.

James Tarkowski had put the Clarets ahead in the first half.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Blades stay above Burnley by two points but both will lament not strengthening their Europa League stock.

Sheffield United’s point gives it 48 points and eighth place, two points and one spot above the host Clarets.

BURNLEY – SHEFFIELD UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

Burnley has lost just once in 11 outings including a win over Manchester United and draws with Tottenham and Arsenal.


Three things we learned

1. Blades never say die: Burnley will lament not putting the game to bed with some promising chances but don’t take credit for the point away from Chris Wilder’s Blades. A late short corner routine involved four players on its way to goal, the last moves a clever Billy Sharp flick to the back post for Egan to finish with style. There were some stumbles out of the coronavirus pause and this result can fit in that camp but the resolve of United is real.

2. Burnley’s hopes of a Europa return take a hit: The Clarets booked a pair of 1-0 wins after a blowout loss to Man City and looked very much set for the same on Sunday before the late Blades corner kick. Burnley would’ve loved to directly affect a rival’s point total but has a lot of points available on the docket even considering upcoming matches with Liverpool and Wolves. And might success keep Sean Dyche around his beloved Turf Moor a bit longer despite recent drama with the board?

3. Deputizing skipper as Man of the Match: Tarkowski was quite good apart from his rare goal despite usual center back partner Ben Mee’s absence from the lineup. It was fitting that Tarkowski took the arm band in Mee’s stead, making nine clearances, an interception, two tackles, winning myriad duels including 13 in the air, and completing four of nine long balls (SofaScore).


Burnley – Sheffield United recap

Sheffield United had the best of the first 20 minutes, though Burnley had one solid chance that Matej Vydra was unable to convert.

Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope had a rare rough moment when a long throw-in made its way into the goal but he was saved by a foul in the build-up

VAR did not see an unknowing Erik Pieters handball off a corner kick reason to send Blades to the spot.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

So it follows that, in Burnley fashion, the hosts went ahead of a set piece. Tarkowski slid onto Jay Rodriguez’s flick of a free kick to give the Clarets a 43rd-minute lead.

Burnley kept the game in control and nearly doubled its advantage with a classic Rodriguez rip from distance, which Dean Henderson parried in a good place for a misfiring Dwight McNeil.

It was a really good goal to make it 1-1, a well-worked corner kick routine flicked to the back post for Egan to finish with authority.