United States’ defense the difference thus far at Women’s World Cup

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – United States women’s national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn describes it as her “oh-crap speed,” but it hardly looks like there is any panic involved.

Sauerbrunn used the phrase to detail her sliding tackle in the 63rd minute of a scoreless draw with Sweden on Friday. Sauerbrunn had recovered from a misstep that she blamed herself for, tracking back to help out fellow center back Julie Johnston, who was in a 2-v-1 situation against one of the world’s best strikers, Lotta Schelin.

It was the second time in as many games that Sauerbrunn found within herself that blistering speed that she describes with such a humanizing adjective. On Monday, she closed ground from behind on Sam Kerr, one of the tournament’s fastest players, to turn a one-on-one with goalkeeper Hope Solo into a shot blocked by Sauerbrunn, saving a potential goal in a 3-1 win over Australia.

Sauerbrunn has been the United States’ best player through two games at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and a microcosm of the story of the Americans’ tournament thus far.

For all the talk about the United States’ depth at the forward position and all the wondering of what Abby Wambach’s role would be and all the questioning about Alex Morgan’s health, it is the defensive unit that has stood out through two games of what the Americans hope will be seven in Canada.

[ KASSOUF: Three things learned from USA-Sweden scoreless draw ]

Meghan Klingenberg’s game-saving, goal-line clearance in the 77th minute of a scoreless draw with Sweden on Friday epitomized exactly that. So too did Solo’s world-class saves in Monday’s win against Australia (“freaking huge” saves, as Megan Rapinoe called them).

But the small nuances of defending aren’t lost on this United States team, anchored by 30-year-old Sauerbrunn and 23-year-old Julie Johnston, who went from initially being cut from the World Cup qualifying roster in October to being a crucial piece of the United States’ quest for its first World Cup title in 16 years.

Johnston’s emergence out of almost nowhere gives the United States a defensive anchor to build around for the foreseeable future, especially with 40-year-old Christie Rampone – the last active player from that 1999 team – likely playing in her last major tournament.

[ MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup ]

But more importantly and more incredibly, Johnston – not Rampone – is the player next to Sauerbrunn that U.S. coach Jill Ellis feels can lead the U.S. to the Promised Land.

“I said to both of them after the game, I thought they did very, very well and I said this is going to pay dividends for us, because we need that,” Ellis said of Johnston and Sauerbrunn. “A lot of teams aren’t getting tested as much, but we’re getting tested and it’s good for us. It’s good for our younger players to gain that experience. It was good for Morgan Brian to start a game today in a World Cup. Those are things that you hope will pay off longer on.”

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Johnston’s quick rise through the ranks came initially at the expense of injuries to Rampone and Whitney Engen, but the young-gun Johnston never looked back, exuding confidence from the start and scoring in three straight matches, including in the Algarve Cup final win over France.

Ellis spoke frequently this week and throughout the spring about the Catch-22 that Johnston previously faced. The only thing Johnston lacked, Ellis maintains, was experience. The only way to gain experience was to play, which Johnston wasn’t doing regularly for the United States until March.

Johnston showed signs of nerves in the World Cup opener against Australia on Monday, but on Friday she proved again that she plays beyond her years and caps (Friday was only her 14th match with the national team). These few months were no baptism by fire.

“I thought she was excellent,” Sauerbrunn said of her fellow center back. “I thought they gave us a lot to deal with and I thought she handled herself really well. She showed a lot of confidence on the ball and I think she is going to get more and more comfortable as the tournament goes on.”

Sauerbrunn has seamlessly stepped into a leadership role in defense with Rampone on the bench. Sauerbrunn, who turned 30 last Saturday, had only played one World Cup game – albeit a semifinal in 2011 – prior to this tournament. But she’s as savvy and well-positioned as she is athletic, a similar mold to Rampone and a player who has taken on a similar role to the one the team’s longtime captain held.

Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg and Ali Krieger make up the defensive unit in front of Solo. They don’t often get much credit, especially with the star-power the United States boasts up top.

But through two games at this World Cup, players lining up at forward are yet to score. It’s defense (and some magic from Megan Rapinoe on Monday) that has earned the United States 4 points from two games. The U.S. will hope that the old adage that defense wins championships will hold true.

“I was just doing my job,” said Klingenberg of her goal-line save.

Spoken like a true defender.

USMNT’s Bradley suffers serious ankle injury; Altidore hits out

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USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley will reportedly be out for up to four months due to an ankle injury he suffered playing for Toronto FC in the 2019 MLS Cup final against Seattle. That was the MLS Cup final, in November.

The TFC skipper, 32, suffered the serious ankle injury during the game and per reports he has been rehabbing the ankle over the past two months. However, that hasn’t had the desired effect and now ankle surgery is his only option.

Via Joshua Kloke from The Athletic, TFC’s General Manager Ali Curtis confirmed that Bradley will have ankle surgery in New York City on Tuesday. Curtis added that “surgery was a last resort and club believed they could rehab injury.”

Bradley’s teammates with Toronto and USMNT, Jozy Altidore, then hit out at the handling of the situation as Toronto will be without their leader for almost half of thee MLS season.

“Make no mistake. In my opinion, for me, it was handled poorly,” Altidore told reporters as TFC returned to practice on Monday, as he insinuated that Bradley was put in a tough position by the club over his injury.

The injury will reportedly keep him out for at least four months, meaning he will miss a huge chunk of the MLS season and also the USMNT’s friendlies against the Netherlands (March 26) and Wales (March 30).

This is a hammer blow for Toronto as Bradley led the organization on and off the pitch since he arrived in 2014, reaching three MLS Cup finals in the last four seasons. He only signed a new contract with Toronto FC over the offseason as his previous deal expired but it will be intriguing to see how this all plays out as Altidore obviously believes this situation could have been handled a lot better.

USMNT fans will now focus on having some of their younger players take the lead in central midfield in March and maybe beyond, with Tyler Adams now back to full fitness as he looks set to become Gregg Berhalter’s go-to guy in midfield.

Bradley’s displays in recent seasons have been lamented by USMNT fans but Berhalter has made him an integral part of his plans and he is one of the few players who survived the massive cull from the 2018 World Cup qualifying debacle. Losing Bradley for this amount of time is a big blow for club and country.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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If you want more Premier League games you’ve come to the right place and below you will find our full TV and streaming schedule.

Matchweek 24 is spread across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as things start to shake out across the table.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
3:15 p.m. ET: Chelsea v. Arsenal – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Everton v. Newcastle – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Man City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Wednesday
2:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Norwich – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: West Ham v. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3:15 p.m. ET: Man United v. Burnley – NBCSN [STREAM]

Thursday
3 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Guardiola praises Liverpool; injury update

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With the Premier League games coming thick and fast as midweek action now takes center stage, Premier League managers have been giving us injury updates on Monday and Pep Guardiola has praised Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola has doffed his cap to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool once again, as the Reds have now moved 16 points clear of second-place Man City and have a game in hand on the reigning Premier League champions.

“We can’t deny Liverpool are extraordinary,” Guardiola said. “But everyday I live thinking about what we can do better. Some games are good, we concede few. We have scored more than Liverpool. I don’t have stats here but we concede more chances and drop points.”

In short from Pep: Damn, we should have signed more, and better, defenders this summer. Oh, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was unlucky.

Guardiola has confirmed that Laporte is close to a return to fitness after the silky French center back missed the last four months with a knee injury. He also confirmed that both John Stones and Benjamin Mendy are doubtful for the trip to Sheffield United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

That starts our quick round up of injury news around the Premier League ahead of the midweek games…

  • Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said that Reece James has avoided a serious knee injury after coming off against Newcastle. He could play against Arsenal (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and Marcos Alonso is also back in the squad. 
  • Mikel Arteta said that Sokratis will not play at Chelsea due to illness, while Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson will both be out until early February.
  • Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that star Brazilian attacker Richarlison will miss their clash against Newcastle United on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) as he continues to recover from a knee injury. 
  • Newcastle’s injury woes continue as both Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett have been ruled out for the rest of the season. Willems has ruptured his ACL after falling awkwardly in the 1-0 win against Chelsea. The Magpies will have to do some business in January to patch up their squad.
  • Southampton will be without Jan Bednarek for their trip to Crystal Palace on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com). The Polish center back, who has started every single PL game this season, has an Achilles injury. Palace welcome back Max Meyer as he’s recovered from an ankle injury caused by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s lunging tackle.  

Man United’s recruitment policy slammed

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Manchester United’s recruitment policy has been hammered by their former legendary player and current Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville who believes they need “five or six players” to become competitive.

Following United’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday, Neville responded by lashing out at the ownership of the club and issued a thinly-veiled attack on executive chairman Ed Woodward and the hierarchy.

Speaking to our partners Sky Sports, Neville let loose as the gulf in class between United’s performance and Liverpool’s was stark, aside from the spirit that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side showed throughout.

“Manchester United have to react fast. They need to make good decisions,” Neville said. “Over the last few years there is a frustration that Manchester United have been U-turning all over the place when it comes to strategy. They have made some terrible investments in terms of recruitment and it is all coming home to roost. This is going to get bad. The next six months are going to be really difficult.”

When you look at the more recent signings of Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot, how much have they added to the team? With Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba out injured, for such an expensively assembled squad there really isn’t much depth.

Neville is right, there has been no real plan in place with recruitment because they’ve had four very different managers (David Moys, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Solskjaer) in the past six years and they have no sporting director or technical director making the recruitment decisions.

Instead, Woodward and businessmen at the top of the club are making soccer decisions and United continue to pay over the odds for players, even though the likes of Harry Magurie and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have improved their defensive unit.

“I can’t believe, with the investment that has been put into the squad over the last five or six years and you end up with that out on the pitch. I cannot believe it. I saw a statistic that Manchester United have the second highest wage bill in the world. And that is the squad they have got? It is unforgivable,” Neville continued.

“I can’t change the ownership of Manchester United, no-one can, but I am struggling to understand why the ownership has persisted in trusting that management team to oversee that investment. If you don’t lose your job for overseeing that investment, that wage bill and putting that team out on the pitch, something is really wrong.”

Does anybody have a problem with what Solskjaer said? Probably not.

Some might say that like Roy Keane, he may be trying to protect his former teammate, Solskjaer, but there’s no doubt United need to invest in midfielders, with a deal for Bruno Fernandes stalling, and at least one more center forward as they haven’t played Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez who both left in the summer.

Solskjaer’s side are currently in fifth and are only five points off the top four but injuries are piling up and although the plan is to play youngsters and give them chances to shine, the slapdash way United have built their squad will continue to hurt them.