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USMNT’s Danny Williams eyes the Premier League

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LONDON — Sat in a coffee shop down by the banks of the River Thames in London, England, life is treating Danny Williams pretty well.

There is however one burning desire eating away at the ambitious German-American midfielder as we chat: he wants to play in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL game live ] 

At Reading for the past three years, the 27-year-old came close to making the Championship playoffs in his debut season in England but the last two campaigns have been disappointing for the Royals as they aim to get back to the top-flight.

After starting his career in Germany’s top-flight with Hoffenheim, Williams feels he’s now entering his prime and is ready to push into the PL.

“When I first came here to England I said I wanted to help Reading get back to the Premier League,” Williams said, fidgeting as he lent back in his chair. “We missed the playoffs in the first year by one goal and I was in form back then and then I had a knee injury so I missed the last three or four games of that season.

“The last few seasons we’ve failed with that ambition but I’ve always said it to everybody, my ambition is to play at the highest level in the world. I was fortunate enough to experience the Bundesliga which is a great division to play but the Premier League, which kid doesn’t want to play in the Prem, you know? I would be lying if I say that I want to play in the Championship all the time. I’m too ambitious for that.”

He’s had strong looks from Swansea City in the January transfer window earlier this year, plus he’s been linked with moves to other Premier League teams but Williams is remaining focused on the here and now.

“What has been said in the press, there is always a lot of speculation, especially when you only have a year left on your contract and all these kind of things,” Williams said. “My goal is just to focus, to stay healthy and stay fit and last year I played 46 games. When you stay fit everything else will come together.”

READING, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Danny Williams of Reading scores the opening goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Reading and Blackburn Rovers on December 20, 2015 in Reading, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

More of a combative, holding midfielder during his days in the Bundesliga, Williams has transformed his game in recent seasons to become a more traditional box-to-box midfielder.

“I’ll do whatever the manager wants me to do but for myself, I think I have too much energy to just be sitting in front of the back four and to tackle and pass the ball to other plays,” Williams said. “I see myself being able to influence the game a bit more with box-to-box runs. There’s a reason why over the last two to three years managers have seen me as a box-to-box midfielder because they are experienced managers. My best position is No. 8 where I can be a bit more involved in the attacking and also going back. Hopefully I get some more chances this year to prove that.”

[ VIDEO: Williams scores screamer vs. Brazil ]

Last season he scored six goals, the best haul in one season in his career, and he’s ready to score even more this season to push Reading on. New Reading manager Jaap Stam has used Williams in midfield in a 4-3-3 system and he’s counting on the U.S. international to be a leader for the Royals this season. Of the current squad only three players have played for Reading more than Williams has over the past three seasons as he’s become the energetic hub of their midfield.

“I always wanted to be more of a threat in front of goal,” Williams explained. “Since I move to England, people have seen me as a box-to-box midfielder. In Germany I had played in a more defensive role and for the national team as well. In Reading I have the freedom to go box-to-box and I told myself ‘if you want to be a box-to-box midfielder you have to add goals.’ So I worked hard on that in the training ground. I could have had a few more but six was alright…”

Sipping on a milky latte and smiling with his heavily tattooed arms crossed, Williams had just been dashing around central London prior to our chat. He’s relaxed and happy with life off the pitch as the man from Karlsruhe loves living in south west London, a close commute to Reading.

With new manager Stam in charge this season at the Madejski Stadium, Williams revealed he’s been impressed with the legendary Dutch defender in the short time he’s got to spend with him on the training ground. They will aim to keep the ball and with a young team they’re an unknown quantity. This weekend they kick off their Championship campaign against Preston North End as the grueling 46-game season begins in England’s second-tier.

“We are kind of like the underdogs this season,” Williams said. “Compared to three years ago when Reading had money to spend, everybody is a bit unsure as to what the season will bring but that is a good thing. Players are ambitious, we have a lot of young players and I hope that we are going to do well especially at the beginning of the season because that gives young players confidence.”

HIGH WYCOMBE, ENGLAND - JULY 24: Danny Williams of Reading during the Pre Season Friendly match between Reading and Swansea City at Adams Park on July 24, 2015 in High Wycombe, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

After runs to the FA Cup semifinals and quarterfinals in the past two seasons, it’s clear the makings of a good team are present at Reading. But in a league which now boasts fallen PL giants Newcastle United and Aston Villa, plus the likes of Norwich, Brighton, Leeds United, Wolves and many other huge clubs with large fanbases, getting out of the second-tier is increasingly tough.

Should Reading consider themselves among the favorites to reach the promised land of the Premier League?

“After the last two seasons we can’t say we are one of the favorites,” Williams said. “Obviously the long-term goal of the club is to be back in the Premier League and the club has all the conditions and facilities to be in the Premier League. After the last two seasons which were very disappointing, I think we should lower the expectations a little bit and we shouldn’t put as much pressure on ourselves. We have a lot of young players so I don’t know how they will deal with the pressure of saying ‘okay, we are going to go straight up.’ That’s a bit unrealistic. We have to take it game by game. Every year in the Championship there is one surprise team. Look at Brighton last year who fought against relegation the year before and then finished in third. If we are that team this year then that’s great.”

[ VIDEO: Williams rifles home beauty for Reading ]

On the international stage Williams has made 19 appearances for the U.S. national team since 2011 but in the past 12 months he’s had some ups and downs with the USMNT. From scoring a stunning goal in the USA’s incredible 4-3 friendly win against Holland in Amsterdam in the summer of 2015 to netting a peach against Brazil in another friendly, the past few months have been tougher.

Called up for a training camp in Miami in May and then appearing in a friendly against Puerto Rico, Williams was left out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for the Copa America Centenario in the U.S. this summer with the likes of Perry Kitchen, Kyle Beckerman and Darlington Nagbe selected ahead of him.

Williams admitted it hurt to watch on from California as his teammates made the final four without him.

“I followed it and watch it with my friends and everything. It obviously kills you when you are not involved,” Williams said. “It kills you. In 2014 I missed the World Cup due to a knee injury and then in 2016, I would say I did enough to maybe be selected and be in the squad. Like I’ve always said, the Championship is not a bad league. It is really, really tough. I played a lot of games and was in really good shape and I felt like I could really help the team.

“I was a bit sad that I didn’t get a chance to help the team but that’s the decision of other people and it is not in my hands. That’s why I say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There is 2018 around the corner anyways, so I just have to stay healthy and look to get my spot with the national team.”

With the USMNT having two 2018 World Cup qualifiers coming up in September, Williams is aiming to have a bright start to the season and get in Klinsmann’s squad.

“As a player you want to play in every game, especially for the U.S. The nation is just unbelievable,” Williams said. “I know a lot of players there really well. They are friends and it is always good to be with the national team. I made my debut about five years ago. I’ve been there for a long time. I would love to be involved in these World Cup qualifiers but like I said it is not in my hands. I will try to play well, stay fit and add more goals but at the end of the day it isn’t my decision. You have to work hard and see what happens.”

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08: Danny Williams #14 of the United States reacts after scoring a goal during an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The plan for Williams’ future in England is a little more clear cut. With one year left on his contract at Reading, now is his time to make the step up.

“When you’re 27 you are not too old, you’re not too young. When I look back I would say before I was maybe a little bit naive,” Williams said. “Now you know your body better, on the pitch you deal with situation’s different than when you were younger. You definitely know what you have to do to be the best you can be on the pitch. I feel like I am in my prime.”

Reflecting on his career path to date, Williams is hungry for more while he’s in his prime.

“I’m hungry for more because I am not playing at the highest level… yet,” Williams said, with a smile on his face. “I’m happy with the education I had in Germany because that helped me a lot. Germans are always good technically and tactically. That has helped me a lot. So does growing up playing with players who are now in the Champions League. That’s a good thing. I can sit here and talk about them and see them playing in the Champions League… but I don’t play there. So, it’s about me now and what I want to do for myself.

“I am ambitious enough to get even better, to stay hungry and to move higher up. That’s what I’m aiming for at the moment. Some players do their head in because they look too much at what their friends are doing and saying ‘why is he there and why is it not me?’ I am happy with my choices I made. I love it in England. I am fortunate enough to live in London at the moment. I am settled here now and I am just looking forward to the season.”

Nuno demands ‘immediate reaction’ from struggling Wolves

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Replicating the lofty heights of last season has proven a tough task for Wolverhampton Wanderers through the first month and a half of the 2019-20 campaign, both in the Premier League and in Europe.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

After finishing seventh in their first season back in the PL, Wolves began their first-ever Europa League adventure this summer, largely breezing through the qualification rounds to reach the group stage. That part went swimmingly. Thursday’s group play opener didn’t go so well, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side fell to Portuguese side Braga at home, 1-0.

Wolves began the PL with three straight draws, conceding just two goals in total. Since then, they have lost two in a row and conceded eight goals.

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

Again, we’re not even two months into the season, but Santo knows the next few games are going to be hugely important for his side. Not only does he need to keep his players’ heads from dropping during these trying times, but they also need to begin stringing together results, both in the PL and in Europe. Wolves need to bounce back, and immediately — quotes from the BBC:

“This is important. We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyze it and find solutions in the team to improve.

“We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

“We are all disappointed.”

Up next for Santo’s side is a potentially tricky trip south London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles have already drawn top-six hopefuls Everton and beaten newly promoted Aston Villa.

Kaka urges Neymar to stay at PSG, lead Champions League push

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LONDON (AP) From lifting the World Cup to being named the world’s best player, Kaka ascended the highs Neymar is still chasing.

So after more tumult in Neymar’s career, Kaka has some advice for his fellow Brazilian:

  • Stay at Paris Saint-Germain to lead the pursuit of Champions League glory, and the world player of the year accolades will follow.
  • Keep on maturing and maybe the forward can win a World Cup to avoid being viewed as a failure for Brazil.

“Everybody wants to give some advice or an opinion about his life,” Kaka said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He’s just a 27-year-old guy, a lot of people of the same age make mistakes and improve with that.”

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

But Kaka’s opinions and advice could be worth listening to, even for Neymar.

After all, Kaka won the game’s top individual honors in 2007 when he was named FIFA world player of the year and collected the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with AC Milan.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reeling from being jeered on his return to the PSG side last weekend after sitting out the opening four league games of the season as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window. He won’t play in the Champions League until the third group-stage game because of a suspension.

“For him I think it’s good to stay there in PSG for now,” Kaka said at the FIFA20 video game launch. “I think it’s good for him, for the club. I think PSG is always trying to build a great team to win a Champions League, so he can be the leader for this project and in my opinion, it’s good. It will be a great year for him.”

When the FIFA player awards are handed out on Monday, though, Neymar will be far from the Milan ceremony. He has never finished higher than third in the vote for the Ballon D’Or, and still lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“What I believe that lacks in Neymar to accomplish the world’s best player award is a big team accomplishment,” Kaka said in London. “When he achieves this big team accomplishment, being the leader of this accomplishment — and he has a big chance for it, I am sure of — Neymar will be chosen to be announced as the world’s best player.”

Neymar is starting a third season in Paris after Barcelona could not strike a deal to re-sign the player it sold two year ago for $246 million.

“Maybe at 27, I could have made the same mistakes,” Kaka said. “And so I think this is a great opportunity for him to improve himself and to be better and mature.”

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

While Neymar has won the French league twice — the minimum expected for a team with lavish Qatari funding — he has not won a European title with the French capital club as he did with Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

Neymar’s only titles with Brazil so far are gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Confederations Cup on home soil in 2013. Neymar missed the 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals through injury and was part of the team knocked out the 2018 quarterfinals by Belgium. He also missed this summer’s Copa America, which Brazil won without him.

Kaka was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup, and Brazil hasn’t reached the final since then.

“Always for Brazil we have this pressure,” Kaka said. “Because we have won five World Cups, so everyone thinks about the World Cup. So, if you do a lot of good things for the national team but you don’t win a World Cup, maybe you fail.

“I don’t think it’s fair but it’s like this and this is the situation. And Neymar had an opportunity to play in two World Cups and didn’t win one with Brazil. So, our expectation with him is for him to be the guy for the next World Cup for us. I think it’s hard for him but I think every year he’s more mature, he understands his position in the national team better as well and it’s good.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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  • Early-season mid-table clash on the south coast
  • 10th-place Saints host 9th-place Cherries
  • 0-0, 3-3 draws in PL meetings last season

Matchweek 6 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, and the proceedings are set to kick off on Friday when a pair of south coast clubs, Southampton and Bournemouth, do battle (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Both sides enter the clash at St. Mary’s Stadium on the back of a victory last weekend in PL action. It’s Bournemouth whose triumph last time out was wildly impressive, though, as Eddie Howe’s side cruise to a 3-1 win over top-six hopefuls Everton at Vitality Stadium. However, Saints have proven a real nightmare of an away day for the Cherries as they’re in search of their first-ever win away to Southampton (15 previous tries, beginning in 1953 – all competitions).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Southampton secured their most recent victory when they traveled to newly promoted, 10-man Sheffield United. Home form has been a bit worrying for Saints early this season, until you consider they’ve hosted none other than Liverpool and Manchester United at St. Mary’s… until you look back to last season and realize they have won just five of their last 21 at home. On the plus side, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side has been much improved since conceding five goals in the first two games of the season. Since then, just one goal which came in a 1-1 draw with Man United.

Injuries/suspensions

Southampton: OUT – Kevin Danso (suspension); QUESTIONABLE – Nathan Redmond (ankle), Michael Obafemi (hamstring); PROBABLE – Ryan Bertrand (ankle)

Bournemouth: OUT – Charlie Daniels (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), David Brooks (ankle), Junior Stanislas (knee), Simon Francis (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – Chris Mepham (undisclosed), Arnaut Danjuma (foot)


Projected lineups

Southampton: Gunn – Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard – Soares, Romeu, Hojberg – Ward-Prowse, Boufal – Adams, Ings

Bournemouth: Ramsdale – Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico – Wilson, Billing, Cook, King – Solanke, Wilson


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl, on Southampton’s defensive improvement: “This season it’s not the case that we don’t give them any chances, they still have chances because it’s very difficult in the Premier League to not give them a chance. Also the goalkeepers Angus (Gunn) and Alex (McCarthy) make a good development this season and the back five were very concentrated. It is good to see things develop that you have been working on. This can hopefully continue.”

Eddie Howe, on the budding south coast rivalry: “It should be a really feisty game, a really good atmosphere and an entertaining match. Southampton have started very well, too. It’s gaining in everybody’s focus. The more games we have, the more the rivalry will intensify I think. We’ve enjoyed the games against Southampton which have been tight and tough, from both clubs’ perspectives. We’re looking forward to another entertaining match.”


Prediction

Southampton have been far more convincing in their defending than Bournemouth on the attack. It’ll likely be a game of precious few high-value chances. In the end, neither Saints get the elusive home win nor the Cherries get the first victory at Southampton. Final score: 1-1.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Champions League, Europa League return

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle reflect on the opening round of UEFA Champions League and Europa League fixtures.

Manchester City bounced back from their defeat at Norwich. Who is ready to step up and lead Tottenham (8:00)? Liverpool slipped up at Napoli (19:00). There was penalty drama at Chelsea (30:00). The Robbies look ahead to the weekend’s marquee matchup: Chelsea v. Liverpool (37:00), before wrapping up with Arsenal (41:00), Manchester United (45:00), and Wolves’ opening Europa League matches (51:30).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

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