2015 Gold Cup preview: United States look to defend title

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The 13th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup will kick off tomorrow, as the United States looks to repeat as champions after winning the tournament in 2013.

Should the United States win it all, they would equal Mexico’s record of six Gold Cup titles. Canada is the only other country to win the tournament, with one championship in 2000.

[ GROUP PREVIEWS: A | B | C ]

While the Gold Cup gives bragging rights as the best team in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, there is more on the line than just pride.

The winner of the Gold Cup will qualify for a one-match playoff against the United States (winners of the 2013 tournament) for a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.

Matches will be played at 13 locations throughout the United States, as well as a pair of games in Toronto. The 12 competing nations are separated into three groups, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stages. The top two third-place finishers will also move on.

[ FOLLOW: All of ProSoccerTalk’s 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup coverage ]

The United States are favorites in Group A, with matches against Honduras, Haiti and Panama. Honduras played in the 2014 World Cup and are hard to break down, known for their defensive and phyiscal play. Panama lost in the 2013 Gold Cup final to the USMNT on a late goal from Brek Shea, and will be looking to avenge that loss in group play. For underdogs Haiti, even a point would be impressive.

Costa Rica made a surprise run to the quarterfinals in the World Cup last summer, and Los Ticos come into the tournament as CONCACAF’s highest ranked team. The rest of Group B is very tight as Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador will likely be in a close battle for second place. Jamaica is coming off of an appearance at the Copa America, and despite failing to score a goal all tournament, the Reggae Boyz showed they can hang with the best. They lost all three of their matches 1-0, although to top sides Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Canada will look to advance out of the group stage in front of some home support in Toronto, while a relatively unknown El Salvador team has a chance to break through on the big stage.

[ RELATED: CONCACAF lays out reform plan following corruption and bribery scandal ]

Group C is headlined by Mexico, the most successful team in tournament’s history. Miguel Herrera rested his stars at the Copa America, putting all his focus on Gold Cup glory. However, El Tri were dealt a huge blow when top goalscorer Javier Hernandez was ruled out after breaking his collarbone. Even without Chicharito, Mexico should still coast through the group stage with matches against Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and Cuba. The battle for second place will likely be between Trinidad & Tobago, led by former Sunderland and Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones and Guatemala, who will look for a good showing after failing to qualify for the tournament last time around. Don’t count out Cuba, who could advance with a third place finish, as they did in 2013.

Stay up to date with all the latest Gold Cup news right here on PST. Hit the “Group Preview” links above for an in-depth look at the competition, as well as the schedule and locations for each game. We’ll have recaps and analysis of all 26 matches, from the opening match July 7 to the final on July 26. 

Milan hoping to woo “great champion” Zlatan next week

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Serie A mainstays AC Milan are trying to woo Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro.

The full-court press makes sense, as it will take some financial sacrifices for Ibrahimovic to join the side given Financial Fair Play problems in Milan.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

Coach Stefano Pioli called Zlatan “a great champion” while admitting he has to focus on the table and not transfers, while former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani issued a glowing call for the Swede to return to town.

From Football-Italia.com:

“It would be romantic if he returned. But I have a rule, I don’t talk about teams I’m not involved with anymore. I’m only a fan of Milan now. Still, his arrival would enrich Italian football, similar to when Cristiano Ronaldo came to Italy.”

Man, they know how to speak this guy’s language, don’t they?

Sky Sports says Ibrahimovic’s agent will meet with Milan again next week in the hopes of convincing him to take a lower wage deal, and the 38-year-old showed he’s willing to take one for the team during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

The move makes too much sense, with Milan’s 11 goals well below its expected goal number. They need a finisher, and Zlatan sure does that. And if lower wages means Zlatan gets to play mercenary for five months while proving he’s got the goods for a big wage for 2020-21, that’s an easy concession for the striker.

U.S. U-17 keeper Odunze learning from Schmeichel at Leicester City

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Leicester City’s huge secret was told to the world at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, where imposing goalkeeper Chituru Odunze made several big saves in the United States’ quick exit from the group stage.

Odunze, who turned 17 last month, joined the Premier League outfit from the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, and is already getting some first team training time.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

This is all good news for a USMNT program which has a long history of goalkeepers shining at the top levels in Europe, including Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and now Zach Steffen.

Odunze admits to being pleased at the tests provided by Jamie Vardy and the Leicester attackers, but says he’s learning more from the expertise on show from a trio of wise first team goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Ward, and Eldin Jakupovic.

Schmeichel is a Premier League winner, Jakupovic a former regular PL starter with Hull City, and Ward helped Huddersfield Town to promotion during a loan from Liverpool. From The Leicester Mercury:

“They’re all really good role models at the club, and they sort of take you under their wing. They’ve taught me to calm down and be confident in my abilities,” Odunze said. “Of course, there are little pieces of technical information they give me while we’re training, but a lot of the lasting information I get from them is mental.”

The 17-year-old has a monstrous frame, so learning from Schmeichel and company at such a young age while getting tested by the Foxes’ electric attackers is a great combination. He is 2W-2L at the U18 Premier League level.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Chelsea

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Manchester City and Chelsea both defend their slimmed title hopes when they meet Saturday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is hoping to avoid a second-straight loss after dropping nine points behind prohibitive title favorites Liverpool last match day, while Frank Lampard‘s Blues know a loss could see them drop as many as 11 points behind the Reds.

And, of course, a win will give either side the table advantage over the other.

Ederson and David Silva are available again for Man City. Christian Pulisicis in contention to play” for Chelsea after missing the international break with the United States.

A Champions League match day follows this one, with Man City meeting Shakhtar Donetsk in Manchester on Tuesday and Chelsea in Spain to meet Valencia one day later.


Injuries/suspensions

Manchester City: OUT — Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek. QUESTIONABLE — Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi.


Probable lineups

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan, B.Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Aguero.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Pulisic, Willian; Abraham.


What they’re saying

City’s Pep Guardiola on Frank Lampard’s young managerial career: “From my experience, experience doesn’t count much. I would say that when you know the club it is a good advantage and Frank Lampard knows Chelsea perfectly and everything behind the scenes – media, fans, players – so that is good. When I arrived (at Barcelona) not many people trusted me, honestly. Few, few people. Maybe the president, sporting director and not many. “Maybe Frank was similar at Derby. It was a big club, he didn’t take results in the beginning and people said he didn’t have experience. Look now.”

Frank Lampard on being above Man City after 12 matches: “For us to be in that position is something I am pleased with, I actually want more as well. I look at ourselves and don’t consider others, only where we could have got more points too, and there are times where we could have done. At the same time it is nice to be up there and around it. It’s a great test tomorrow, head to head to see where we’re at. It won’t be the end story, anyone can go to Manchester City and lose, they are such a strong outfit. That is what Pep Guardiola and the club have built over recent years. So I won’t be making huge judgements win or lose tomorrow without a doubt.”


Prediction

Could go either way, couldn’t it, but it feels more likely we see a vintage, defiant bounce back effort from City that looks a bit too easy given Chelsea’s strengths. This is the first big league test for Chelsea since its narrow loss to Liverpool on Sept. 22. We see the six-match winning streak ending via a 3-1 final score.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 13 is here in the Premier League as the international break is finally over.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Sheffield United 0-2 Man United – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Arsenal 3-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Everton 4-1 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-2 Tottenham – (Saturday 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Watford 1-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Man City 3-3 Chelsea – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Newcastle – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Bournemouth 2-1 Wolves – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Brighton 2-1 Leicester – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM