After humiliation, will Chelsea’s John Terry become Jose Mourinho’s latest scapegoat?

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“JT. Captain. Leader. Legend,” reads a huge banner placed in the Matthew Harding Stand at Stamford Bridge for every one of Chelsea’s home games.

[ MORE: Three things for City’s win vs. Chelsea ]

But should they add “Jose Mourinho’s latest scapegoat” to the end of the banner? True, that would probably be a little wordy, but the notion may be correct.

Following Chelsea’s humbling 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday, Jose Mourinho took of his captain at half time with the Blues trailing 1-0 but all over the place at the back as three fine stops from Asmir Begovic stopped Sergio Aguero from scoring four.

[ MORE: Mourinho says result was “fake” ]

In the post-game press conference, Mourinho became annoyed when journalists questioned his decision to hook off Terry and seemingly make the experienced center back the scapegoat for the damaging defeat. Mourinho said “it was not about taking Terry out, it was about bringing Zouma in” and “it was clear for him to play Zouma.” His claims that he needed his fastest defender on the pitch to step up Chelsea’s defensive line did little to quell the feeling he wanted to make a statement by taking Terry off and asked why he didn’t replace a shaky Gary Cahill with Zouma rather than the man who has captained Chelsea to four PL titles, Mourinho only said: “good point.”

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It was to everybody’s surprise when Chelsea emerged for the second half without their captain in the lineup. Rumors of a slight hamstring pull lingered in the air in the press box. It was in fact a tactical switch and it was also the first time in 176 games that Mourinho had subbed out Terry, who played every single second of last season’s title-winning season. As Chelsea’s inspirational captain sat on the bench and watched his team implode defensively late on, you couldn’t help but feel that Mourinho was making the 34-year-old somewhat of a scapegoat.

Since returning to Chelsea for a second-spell in charge, Mourinho has resurrected Terry’s career when it seemed to be all but over during Rafael Benitez’s tenure at Stamford Bridge in 2013. After the game he was irked at suggestions he’d hung Terry out to dry:

“I don’t know if you asked questions to Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, to the ones that never played him,” Mourinho said. “I’m the one you shouldn’t ask because I’m the one that plays with John in every game.

“I made John captain. I recovered John from a difficult situation with other managers. I brought my captain off and he was on the bench and still captain on the bench because the armband is just an armband. I can tell you he was not dancing in the dressing room and I can also tell you he was not having a bad reaction.”

Terry was arguably the best center back in the PL last season and made the Team of the Year for anchoring a Chelsea side who had the best defense in the league with just 33 goals against. They’ve already conceded five goals in two games this season, but surely that isn’t solely down to his regression?

By taking off Terry at half time, Mourinho was perhaps making a point to owner Roman Abramovich that he needs a new central defender, and fast. With rumors suggesting Chelsea is willing to pay up to $45 million for Everton’s 21-year-old defender John Stones, this seemed like a ploy to get that ball rolling before the transfer window slams shut on Sept. 1. Mourinho admitted that his side was “defensively fragile” against City and conceded they were lucky to go in 1-0 down at half time.

So, is Terry’s future as a starter for Chelsea uncertain?

No sooner had the whistle blown at the Etihad Stadium than Chelsea announced the signing of Augsburg left back Baba Rahman to strengthen their backline. With Branislav Ivanovic struggling at right back against Jefferson Montero and Raheem Sterling in the opening two weekends of the season, could he lose his spot to natural right back Cesar Azpilicueta who has been filling in at left back? Ivanonvic may even partner Cahill in the center of defense, and then you have Zouma who was hardly at fault for any of City’s goals late on in the game and has impressed in the past 12 months whenever called upon by Mourinho.

In the past the eccentric Portuguese coach has had plenty of scapegoats including calling out the floodlights at stadiums, referees, the media and everybody else in-between. At other clubs he has also called out individuals players. His treatment of Iker Casillas while he was in charge at Real Madrid springs to mind, as Mourinho benched the legendary goalkeeper.

It remains to see what lies on story for Terry long-term at Chelsea, but the center back can hardly be happy at the way he treated by Mourinho. Terry is the glue that holds not just Chelsea’s backline together, but their team spirit as the man who has played for the Blues in each of the last 16 seasons sets the tone for the entire squad

After a turbulent week on and off the pitch following medic-gate and a damaging defeat to their main title rivals, Chelsea’s manager may have caused yet another problem he now has to deal.

Liverpool sign teenage sensation Van den Berg

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Sepp van den Berg is officially a Liverpool player with a $1.6 million deal agreed.

Plenty of top clubs across Europe have been chasing the PEC Zwolle teenager, but the 17-year-old center back has chosen to sign for Jurgen Klopp‘s reigning European champions.

Van den Berg made his debut in the Dutch Eredivisie during the 2018-19 campaign, making 15 appearances, and has already progressed to play for the Netherlands U19 national team four times.

Speaking about his arrival at Anfield, the youngster seems pretty happy to be calling Liverpool home.

“It’s just an amazing feeling. It is, for me, the biggest club in the world and it’s a dream come true. I am really excited,” van den Berg said. “I’ve seen what kind of players from the Academy grew into the first team here. It is unbelievable, especially when this kind of big club does that. Of course, the trainer [Jurgen Klopp] is a great guy and one of the reasons they are successful – and also one of the reasons I came here. I think this is the best place for me to grow and hopefully play a lot of games here.”

This is a long-term signing for Liverpool, but with Dejan Lovren eager to leave this summer to play regularly, VDB could be straight in as Liverpool’s fourth-choice center back. He is a defender who has a turn of pace but is also calm on the ball, and that seems to slot in perfect with what Liverpool want from their defenders.

Fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk will be the perfect role model for the youngster (van den Berg mentioned that he can’t wait to learn “everything” from van Dijk) while Joel Matip and Joe Gomez will battle it out for the spot alongside VVD at center back in the next few seasons.

Having VVD pass the baton to VDB in a few years time seems like the plan for Klopp and Liverpool. NBD.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.