Premier League Playback: Reality check for Mourinho, Man United

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QUESTIONS ARRIVE FOR MOURINHO

There’s no way Manchester United should have still been in with a chance of winning the Manchester derby at half time on Saturday at Old Trafford.

In the first half they were 2-0 down and were played off the pitch, battered mentally and physically by Manchester City and Pep Guardiola.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jose Mourinho knew it. The 75,000 fans inside the stadium knew it. Millions watching around the world knew it.

Mourinho had got his tactics wrong and made a drastic change at half time — Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, who had both come in for their first PL starts of the season and were hooked off — and by then it was too late, even after Claudio Bravo‘s clanger allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to half the deficit which is more than United deserved at the interval.

[ MORE: 3 things learned on derby day ]

Saturday’s 2-1 derby defeat thanks to Kevin De Bruyne‘s first half brilliance and Guardiola’s ability to mix up his teams style of play in each half provided a much-needed reality check for Mourinho and United. In the long run this might not be the worst thing in the world.

Before the derby this weekend they beat an evolving Bournemouth side, edged past a disjointed Southampton and beat battling Hull City at the death. Proper perspective has arrived but right now Mourinho’s pride will be smarting. Big time.

[ MORE: Guardiola wins tactical battle ]

Even though he got his decisions on tactics and personnel wrong on the big day, Mourinho pointed to too many of his players having off days on derby day, plus key decisions by referee Mark Clattenburg going against his side. In the case of Bravo’s lunging tackle on Wayne Rooney after the City goalkeeper had a loose touch in the box, he has a point. It should’ve probably been a penalty kick and a yellow for Bravo.

That injustice did not let Mourinho excuse his teams first half performance in his post-game press conference. He didn’t hold back.

“I’m clearly disappointed with the first half, disappointed with some really poor individual performances that affected the overall performance of the team,” Mourinho said.

He also clearly regretted starting Mkhitaryan and Lingard and admitted he would’ve taken them off earlier than half time, if he could.

“I made a couple of decisions that I thought the individual qualities of certain players would give me what I know that I want and I didn’t get it,” Mourinho said. “At the same time because we were losing the ball so easily under the pressure they were making, we were never able to bring the defensive line. I didn’t change [the team] after 20 minutes because I don’t want to destroy the players. I didn’t want to make three changes at half time but if there were a free number of changes and changes during the first half were normal … I would have done it after 20 minutes.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats

Here is a tactical analysis of how Guardiola’s side — led by the intelligent pressing of De Bruyne and David Silva as they dispossessed Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Rooney time and time again in midfield in the first half — dominated, and then Pep switched things up with Fernando on in a holding role in the second half. City had a real plan to take the game to United and then deal with the threat of a more direct approach and higher pressure in the second half.

Guardiola won the tactical battle. Mourinho and United’s plan didn’t work at all. But that’s not his biggest issue to address.

Speaking to reporters after the match, the comments about his players being impacted by the big occasion of the derby seemed the most telling.

“What I told them at half time was that for some of you, it looks like you are trying to do what I told you not to do. It was this. I told 20 times to Bailly ‘never play a first possession ball. Never. Never do that because that is where they want to press.’ He did it 20 times during the game,” Mourinho said. “I think really some of the boys, they felt the dimension of the game. Everything around the game, the derby, the big game, Man United v Man City, the focus and the attention. I felt that some of the guys felt it. It has nothing to do with experience or age because you have the kid [Marcus Rashford] who comes on and plays like it is an under 18 game against Salford City.

“It is about the individual and every individual reacts differently to the dimension of the occasion in different ways. It is difficult to predict. It gets easier when you know the players well. You see how they react. Probably in the next big Premier League game I will know who can accept the dimension of the game, which is very important.”

United is still a work in progress and the fact they didn’t rise to the big occasion of a local derby against a fellow title contender will teach Mourinho a lot more about his group than if they’d grabbed an undeserved point.

That’s the major positive United should take from a derby day humbling at the hands of Mourinho’s old foe Guardiola.


SPURS, ARSENAL, CHELSEA AT DIFFERENT PLACES

Aside from Man City making a statement by laying down the law to United, three other legit title contenders had contrasting fortunes this weekend.

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-1 Saints Recap, watch here
B’mouth 1-0 WBA Recap, watch here
Burnley 1-1 Hull Recap, watch here
Liverpool 4-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Man Utd 1-2 Man City Recap, watch here
M’boro 1-2 C. Palace Recap, watch here
Stoke 0-4 Tottenham Recap, watch here
Sunderland 0-3 Everton Recap, watch here
Swansea 2-2 Chelsea Recap, watch here
West Ham 2-4 Watford Recap, watch here

Tottenham Hotspur brushed aside Stoke City 4-0 thanks to a dominant second half display at the bet365 Stadium. Heung-Min Son scored twice, plus Dele Alli and Harry Kane got in on the act as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side have quietly remained unbeaten as they prepare for their return to the UEFA Champions League this week.

Stoke were poor and Spurs were ruthless to make it eight points from their opening four games of the season.

As for Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal, they labored to victory over Southampton thanks to a last-minute penalty kick which, well, wasn’t a PK. Olivier Giroud and Jose Fonte challenged for the ball in the box and referee Bobby Madley pointed to the spot in the 93rd minute. Santi Cazorla slotted home to give the Gunners an unconvincing win as new boys Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez made their debuts but Saints squandered chances after going ahead in the first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Fonte’s comments from his Instagram post below says it all. Arsenal got away with one — see Mesut Ozil’s Tweet — but they now have back-to-back wins and seven points from 12 to start the season.

“Just want to say thank you for the support and also for every fan that came to the game today,” Fonte said. “No one more than me feels hard done by and disappointed, you can feel the same but not more then me. When Giroud asks me who gave the penalty away that says it all, if you haven’t watched the game and come to criticise please save me that! We will keep our heads up and eager to turn this bad fortune around. Once again I appreciate the love.”

Across London, Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are no longer perfect as they rescued a point late on at Swansea. The Blues dominated the first half but only led 1-0 at the break through Diego Costa‘s strike. A rash challenge by Thibaut Courtois then saw Gylfi Sigurdsson score from the resulting penalty kick and Leroy Fer then looked to have bundled Gary Cahill over unfairly before squeezing home a shot. Chelsea had let in two goals in three minutes and Conte looked stunned.

The Blues had Costa to thank for grabbing a point as his bicycle kick made it 2-2 and although Conte was disappointed to lose his 100 percent record in the league the Blues’ offense was clicking into place rhythmically with Costa at his bullish best as the focal point. Aside from a sloppy decision from Courtois and an incorrect decision from the referee, Chelsea would be joint-top of the league with Man City.

It is all set up rather nicely for a huge Friday Night Football clash between Chelsea and Liverpool (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) this Friday at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking of Liverpool…


PULISIC TO LIVERPOOL?

The transfer window is closed in the Premier League but that doesn’t mean interest isn’t already being placed for this January when it reopens.

I’m hearing Christian Pulisic, 17, remains a target for Liverpool who reportedly made a bid for the Borussia Dortmund and U.S. national team starlet right at the end of the summer transfer window in August.

A source has told ProSoccerTalk that Liverpool will bid for Pulisic in January when the transfer window opens, with the USMNT youngster very eager to link up with his former boss once again. Klopp was the man who brought Pulisic to Dortmund as a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania and although Klopp refused to comment on speculation linking him with Pulisic when I asked him on Aug. 27. there is definite interest in the player.

United States' Christian Pulisic (10) tries to moves the ball around Trinidad & Tobago's Andre Boucaud (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF World Cup qualifying soccer match, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Of course with Pulisic’s star rising all the time thanks to exploits with the USMNT last week on international duty, his price will continue to rise. It is believed Liverpool only offered $15 million for Pulisic in August and it is not out of the question to think that Dortmund, who have nurtured his talent over the past few years, would want closer to $25 million for the youngest-ever USMNT goalscorer in World Cup qualifying.

Now, the size of the bid aside, would Pulisic be any better off at Liverpool than Dortmund?

He was an unused sub for BVB in their shock Bundesliga defeat against Red Bull Leipzig at the weekend and with Klopp already possessing a vast array of attacking talents in Pulisic’s position — Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho to name a few — you have to wonder if his pathway will be equally blocked at Anfield as it currently is at the Westfalenstadion. When you take into account that Klopp’s meticulously assembled attacking machine trounced stingy Leicester City 4-1 at Anfield on Saturday, it does seem like Pulisic would perhaps be even further away from a first time slot at Anfield if he moved. We’ve all seen his talent though, and clearly Klopp believes in him.

[ STREAM: Every PL game via NBC Sports  ] 

At this stage of his career Pulisic needs to be playing regularly and even though the thought of him starring for Liverpool under Klopp is one which makes U.S. fans salivate readily, it may not be the best thing for his future. Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait until January at least to find out what lies in store for the next chapter in Pulisic’s incredible rise.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Japan vs USMNT: Alarming defeat for Berhalter’s boys

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The USMNT lost to Japan after a hugely underwhelming performance from Gregg Berhalter’s side just 59 days before they kick off their World Cup campaign.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Dachai Kamada put Japan 1-0 up in the first half as the Samurai Blue were sharper throughout and the USMNT just couldn’t cope with their high-pressing, as Kaoru Mitoma curled home a beauty to make it 2-0 and seal the deserved win.

Berhalter’s USMNT had zero shots on goal, as they looked disjointed and befuddled throughout a very disappointing display in Dusseldorf, Germany.

With Christian Pulisic missing this game due to an injury, plus many other missing this camp, perhaps the USMNT can point to that having a huge impact on their performance.

However, there are now just 90 minutes of action separating the USMNT from the World Cup and unless they improve dramatically against Saudi Arabia next week, there will be a lot of pressure mounting on Berhalter’s young side.


What we learned from Japan vs USMNT

Huge number of giveaways a massive concern: In the first 35 minutes the USMNT gave the ball away 28 times in their own defensive third. 28. That rose to 39 times in a first half where they just couldn’t connect a pass and in defense and midfield they look so far off it. Weston McKennie’s horrible giveaway led to Japan’s opener and the USMNT never looked comfortable in possession. Yes, the pitch may have been bobbly but that didn’t impact Japan. Gregg Berhalter loves to play out of the back but Japan’s high-pressing befuddled the USMNT and they didn’t have a Plan B. On this showing  Wales, England and Iran press the U.S. high in November, they will have plenty of joy. Yes, the USMNT were missing Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah due to injury but there is no way this display should have been this disjointed.

Center back remains a big problem: Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman owe Matt Turner a beer, or three, as he made big stops to bail them out. Both of the USMNT’s center backs made huge mistakes in the first half and Turner came up with saves to stop Japan from making the most of it. With all the talk around who will partner Zimmerman at center back in Qatar, we have more questions than answers after this display. There is perhaps a feeling that Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards may actually be a better pairing and Long and even Mark McKenzie may have played themselves out of the World Cup squad.

Japan a clinical finisher away from being very good: Okay, so now is probably not the time to panic for the USMNT as Japan are a very good team. They have a very tough group in the World Cup as they face Spain, Germany and Costa Rica in Group E. On this showing, they will give the powerhouses of Spain and Germany a run for their money. If Japan had a clinical forward, they would cause huge problems for opponents in Qatar. In midfield they are so slick and tidy and cause massive problems with their high-pressing.

Matt Turner is the first-choice goalkeeper: The main positive (perhaps only positive) to come from this game is that Matt Turner is the clear starter for the USMNT. He has only played once for Arsenal so far this season but he looks very sharp, made three important saves and he is ahead of Zack Steffen in the pecking order. Turner will get plenty of minutes in the Europa League and League Cup before the World Cup so he will be ready to roll in November.


Tactical focus

Japan pressed high in a 4-4-2 formation and let Long and Zimmerman have the ball and they were tasked with building out from the back. That did not go well for the USMNT in the first half as the gave the ball away so many times and Japan pressed in numbers, kept the ball well and should have scored a few goals early on. In the second half Sam Vines was asked to push further forward by Gregg Berhalter when the U.S. had the ball and basically play as a left winger. That meant the USMNT played in a 3-4-2-1 formation and although it left them a bit exposed defensively it at least helped them get on the front foot a little more in the second half. Still, there was still no fluency in midfield and attack to sustain any kind of pressure. Japan stopped the USMNT building from the back and the U.S. really had no Plan B.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


What’s next?

A trip to the Murcia, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 27 as they face Saudi Arabia in a friendly, their final game before the World Cup kicks off in November.


How to watch Japan vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Friday, September 23
Kick off time: 8:25am ET
Where: Dusseldorf Arena, Germany
How to watch: ESPN 2, UnimasTUDN


Japan vs USMNT live analysis! – By Joe Prince-Wright

FULL TIME: Japan 2-0 USMNT. A very disappointing defeat and Gregg Berhalter will have plenty of concerns after witnessing that.

GOALLL! Mitoma curls home a beauty. Game. Set. Match. Japan have been excellent.

Brenden Aaronson whips a shot just wide. That is the closest the USMNT have come in the second half.

20 minutes to go in Dusseldorf. Not much going on for the USMNT.

SAVE! Matt Turner with a fine low stop to deny Kamada. McKenzie with the mistake and Kamada cut inside Cannon but Turner tipped it away. Japan pushing for the second.

Japan have settled down again and are knocking it around nicely. The U.S. bench are screaming for their players to get up the field.

A bit better from the USMNT in the second half. Sam Vines is being asked to push further up on the left flank. The U.S. are exposed defensively but at least have a few more options in attack.

Sargent, Morris, McKenzie and Cannon on at HT for the USMNT. Ferreira, Reyna, Long and Dest subbed off. Big 45 minutes coming up for the USMNT to see if they can get into this game.

HALF TIME: That was very poor from the USMNT. Japan deservedly lead and they should be ahead by more. No attacking intent from the U.S. whatsoever and so many bad giveaways.

Japan are totally in control here. They are knocking it around nicely and the USMNT just can’t keep the ball.

GOALLLL! 1-0 to Japan. Daichi Kamada finishes after another poor giveaway in midfield from USMNT, this time from McKennie. VAR used to give the goal after it was initially ruled out for offside. Japan totally deserve this lead. USA have been absolutely all over the place and could be down by at least a couple of goals.

Japan look so slick on the ball in the final third. USMNT just can’t deal with the speed of passing and movement. Being stretched all over the place.

SAVE! Great stop by Matt Turner to deny Kamada after a terrible giveaway from Walker Zimmerman. Japan should be 1-0 up. USMNT’s center back duo of Aaron Long and Zimmerman have both given the ball away very cheaply already which has led to Japan’s best chances. Not great.

CHANCE! Big opportunity for the USMNT, as Sergino Dest surges down the right and clips in a lovely cross to Jesus Ferreira. Six yards out and unmarked but he heads over. That’s a great chance wasted.

Pretty slow tempo to start this game. The grass looks pretty long on this pitch.

Aaron Long with a bad giveaway and Japan get a shot on target. They should have made more of that.

KICK OFF: We are underway in Dusseldorf! Luca de la Torre surges down the right but his cross is blocked. There is quite a racket inside the stadium with lots of drums but there aren’t many fans.

An update on Pulisic sounds more positive and he could actually face Saudi Arabia next week.

In terms of the actual players who will be facing Japan, there aren’t really any surprises here.

Sergino Dest starts at right back, Walker Zimmerman captains the side at center back and Luca de la Torre starts in central midfield alongside McKennie and Adams. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson start as they will support Jesus Ferreira.

BREAKING team news: This is not great news for the USMNT. Christian Pulisic has been injured in training and will play no part against Japan. U.S. Soccer released a statement saying that Pulisic would be monitored and his availability for the game against Saudi Arabia next Tuesday will be determined soon. More details below, but this is a blow for Berhalter.

Hello and good morning! Get that coffee pot fired up and strap in for a key World Cup warm-up game for the USMNT. Only 180 minutes separates Gregg Berhalter’s boys from the World Cup in Qatar in November and this game against Japan is a huge opportunity for plenty of players.


Key storylines

The big storylines swirling around the USMNT ahead of these friendlies seem to have been swirling around this young team for much of the last two years: who is going to play up front and who will be the second center back?

With red-hot Jordan Pefok surprisingly left off this roster despite his incredible start to the season for Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin, the duo of Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent have been given one final chance to prove themselves to Berhalter. Gio Reyna is back in the squad, which is a huge boost, and it gives Berhalter so many options in the attacking midfield areas. How will he squeeze Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Reyna into the same starting lineup? Can he?

At center back things have been complicated by injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards, who were set to battle it out to see who starts alongside Walker Zimmerman at the World Cup. The likes of Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown will see this as a huge opportunity to make the roster as it seems unlikely Miles Robinson will make the squad following his Achilles injury. Yunus Musah being out with an injury is a blow as he was certain to start alongside Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie in midfield. In goal, Zack Steffen is out after being out injured and only just returning so Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson will battle it out for that third and final goalkeeping spot with Matt Turner now looking like the starter as he gets the nod to start against Japan.


Brenden Aaronson explains USMNT’s excitement

Leeds United playmaker Brenden Aaronson has had a fine start to his Premier League career over the last few months and the 21-year-old is fired up with the World Cup just two months away.

“It’s crazy to think how close the World Cup is, it’s at the back of your head,” Aaronson told reporters. “With Leeds at the moment I really haven’t had a chance to think about it but it’s really growing. Seeing the guys again and thinking ‘wow, this is the last two games before the World Cup comes.’ It comes as you fast. I think the preparation and what we’ve done over the last years, we’re all ready to go and we are all looking forward to it.”


Japan vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be just the third meeting all-time between Japan and the USMNT, as the first meeting in 1993 in Tokyo saw the hosts run out 3-1 winners with Hugo Perez grabbing the USA’s only goal. The last time these teams met was in 2006 as the USMNT won 3-2 in San Francisco as goals from Eddie Pope, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman put them 3-0 up and the U.S. held on for victory.


The lowdown on Japan

This is a very experienced side with captain Maya Yoshida (114 caps) marshalling the back line, plus full back Yuto Nagatoma (136 caps) and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (95 caps) also mainstays in this squad for at least a decade, plus Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu a key part of their defense. Daichi Kamada (Frankfurt), Ritsu Doan (Freiburg), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and Takumi Minamino (Monaco) are attacking talents to look out for. Japan and their boss Hajime Moriyasu know they have been handed a tough assessment at the World Cup but they’re usually very good at exceeding expectations and they breezed through qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation to reach their seventh-straight World Cup.


USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

With injuries in defense and midfield, opportunities have popped up all over the place for USMNT players to make one final statement before the World Cup roster is announced. Many expected  Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie to get plenty of minutes at center back, but Aaron Long starts alongside Zimmerman. While there is a bit of a battle at left back with Antonee Robinson missing this squad with injury. Can Joe Scally and Sam Vines give Berhalter even more headaches in the full back area? Following his great start to the season with Antwerp, Vines starts at left back in this game against Japan.

Luca de la Torre starts in midfield alongside Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, while up top is where this will get really intriguing. Berhalter will try to give balance to his side but also get all of his top attacking talents in the game at the same time. Berhalter has mentioned both Reyna and Aaronson will be looked at in a deeper central midfield role but with Christian Pulisic being out with an injury, Reyna and Aaronson start out wide. Duo Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi haven’t grabbed the No. 9 jersey from Jesus Ferreira, for now, as the FC Dallas star gets the nod up top.


Player ratings: USMNT outclassed by Japan in every way

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The USMNT showed a number of worrying signs in a 2-0 defeat to Japan on Friday, in the Yanks’ second-to-last friendly before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA ]

To put it bluntly, it was a putrid performance from Gregg Berhalter’s side. With a couple of starters missing due to injury and a lack of quality options at other positions, these are increasingly worrying times for the USMNT.

Join our live Q&A over on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel following the Japan vs USMNT game on Friday, Sept. 23, as we will be live from around 10:30am ET to answer your questions!

Below are player ratings from the USMNT defeat to Japan…


USMNT player ratings vs Japan

GK – Matt Turner: 5 – As a shot-stopper, we know Turner is solid and more accomplished than Zack Steffen, the presumed no. 1b/2 goalkeeper (though currently injured), but the 28-year-old Arsenal backup was once again shaky in possession on Friday, giving the ball away either directly or indirectly on a handful of occasions during the disastrous first half.

RB – Sergiño Dest: 5 – Berhalter quite clearly wants the USMNT to progress the ball through the center of the field, which is a bit strange for someone who ascended to his current job by coaching a (heavily) wing-reliant system at Columbus Crew. In theory, that Berhalter should be great for Dest, who does his best work getting forward, but he’s effectively reduced to a stay-at-home right back in the current setup which, unsurprisingly, does not suit the 21-year-old at all.

CB – Walker Zimmerman: 5.5 – He’s probably fine as the complementary piece to a stalwart leader at center back, but he’s being asked to be that key figure.

CB – Aaron Long: 5 – It’s not Long’s fault (Berhalter is the one who keeps calling him up and starting him in a system that is terribly ill-fitted to his particular skill set, given the possession and passing demands placed upon center backs in the system), but it is his (and America’s) problem.

LB – Sam Vines: 4 – Look, Antonee Robinson is the unquestioned starter, but he’s currently injured. Vines is probably third-choice at left back (Dest is likeliest to slide across the field to deputize in a full-squad, tournament scenario), so it’s likely a moot point regarding the World Cup, but Vines was often beaten in behind while he offered nothing going forward.

DM – Tyler Adams: 5 – When you’re unable to keep and move the ball, any semblance of midfield balance is going to be destroyed. It looks like wave after wave of pressure after giving the ball away, completely overwhelmed and outnumbered as they sprint back toward their own goal.

CM – Luca de la Torre: 5.5 – Tasked with bringing such much-needed passing to a midfield missing Yunus Musah, the newly minted Celta Vigo man found himself under pressure and without much movement ahead of him. Not a great setup for a one-dimensional midfielder.

CM – Weston McKennie: 4 – It was tough to watch McKennie give the ball away (and then give it away again, and again) in the first half, whether the Japanese press was right in his face or nowhere near him. The below video of Daichi Kamada’s goal begins just after McKennie plays a perfect through ball (toward his own goal) to spring a Japanese counter-attack with plenty of numbers and momentum.

RW – Brenden Aaronson: 6 – It wasn’t pretty (or frequent), but most of what the USMNT managed to create (speculative shots either from distance or a crowd) came through/from Aaronson. His energy is a problem for opposing defensive units, but he’s the only one.

CF – Jesus Ferreira: 5.5 – Another anonymous performance from a USMNT center forward.

LW – Gio Reyna: 5.5 – Only played 45 minutes (he didn’t get hurt) and had a very limited impact due to not receiving the ball in the final third and a lack of combination play with Ferreira through the middle.

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USMNT reaction: Berhalter, Adams explain dismal display vs Japan

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The USMNT caused more new questions to be asked than they could answer in a 2-0 defeat to Japan on Friday, with head coach Gregg Berhalter and midfielder Tyler Adams left to explain their shortcomings after the game.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA | Player ratings ]

Japan proved a difficult test just 59 days before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and the USMNT had very few, if any, correct answers. Chiefly, the Yanks’ inability to progress the ball up the field in a meaningful way, which resulted in just four shots (zero on target).

Clearly, there was much for Berhalter and Co., to explain…


Gregg Berhalter: “I didn’t see a lot of personality tonight”

“It was a really competitive match. I think we ended up hurting ourselves a little bit too much in the game with silly giveaways. And we want a little more personality in the match. Give Japan a lot of credit: Good team, competitive team, they pressed well, but we can do better.

“For some reason, I didn’t see a lot of personality with that performance tonight.”

“We’ve got work to do. We clearly need to improve, but overall really good experience for this team.”

On the reason for the struggles, and if the pressure is growing heavy on the USMNT already — via ESPN

I don’t know if the proximity of the World Cup has anything to do with it, but the guys didn’t look fresh, and from a physical output we just looked a step behind,” said Berhalter. “And then it’s difficult, a team like Japan will punish you.

“The adjustment in the second half helped give us more control of the game, gave us more passes between the lines. But in the first half, I think it was just the lack of comfort on the ball, silly giveaways.

“We built the opponent up after a decent start, but then it started snowballing and giving some balls away and it wasn’t what we envisioned.


Tyler Adams: “We didn’t reach our standard today … played into their hands”

On failing to meet expectations and perform in an important moment…

“It’s definitely a tough one to take. I mean, you come here wanting to treat it like a group-stage game at the World Cup, in preparation for the World Cup, and we didn’t reach our standard today.

“We faced a talented team but in the end, it felt like we almost played into their hands. We had a little bit of frustration seep in. And you could just tell the team was off, a little late to tackles, late receiving the ball, finding solutions, being dangerous and creating chances like we normally do so. It’s a learning experience at the end of the day, and something that we got to take on the chin for the next game.”

On the USMNT game plan, and why it didn’t work — via ESPN

“I think that some of the teams in CONCACAF — you know, the Mexicos and Hondurases — they’ve pressed us, and we found solutions. We just needed to find solutions earlier on. I think that we had a match plan and I think it would’ve been effective if we stuck to our game plan.

“But, sometimes I just felt that maybe we just started to search for individual solutions instead of sticking together, sticking to the match plan, staying disciplined in our game plan. And you saw Japan — they did that well. They had one game plan and it was effective.”

“In the beginning, it was: if the wingers were pressing narrow, then we were gonna find the solutions in the overlap; we would get Sergiño [Dest] and Sam [Vines] the ball and find the channel down the line. If they were pressing wide, then me and Weston [McKennie] and Luca [de la Torre] should have found space on the ball.

“We just didn’t find those solutions early on. I think we rushed things and forced things, and that caused a lot of turnovers in dangerous areas.”

On the USMNT facing a team of Japan’s quality ahead of the World Cup…

“You have to give credit to Japan, they’re such a talented team. I played against a bunch of those guys in the Bundesliga before and they have quality all over the field, and they showed it tonight.

“So credit to their game plan, it worked. But it didn’t feel like we executed our match plan going into the game. We can’t just start to waver and do our own things and allow individuality to creep into the team. We need to stick together as a team at the end of the day and we didn’t do that.”

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UEFA Nations League: Schedule, how to watch, stream, TV, standings

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UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is behind Spain in its bid to return to the throne room, highlighting the odds that a new Nations League winner will be crowned at the end of third edition of the tournament.

England, Wales, and Poland have also been eliminated from contention and are faced with the concept of relegation to UEFA Nations League B with just two matches left in the group stage.

France is also in early danger of not making it to back to League A, but can feel better by beating nearest combatant Austria on Thursday.

[ MORE: European Nations League hub — Scores, stats ]

Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well and could see League A’s highest point total up for grabs in a meeting that could be for a semifinal place come Sunday.

UEFA Nations Leagues B, C, and D also have drama built into the final days as Ukraine and Scotland are jockeying for promotion in B1; Russia’s punishment has left B2 promotion open to Israel, Iceland, and Albania. B4 sees Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard, and Norway fighting to join League A for the next cycle.

There’s also drama as Kazakhstan and Georgia currently lead their League C groups, with Latvia and Estonia in League D’s best spots.


UEFA Nations League live: How to watch, stream links

When: June 1, 2022 – March 26, 2024
TV rights: Fox Sports
Stream: Fox Sports Live, Fubo TV


UEFA Nations League A, Group 1

Croatia– 3-1-1, 10 pts
Denmark — 3-0-2, 9 pts
France — 1-2-2, 5 pts
Austria — 1-1-3, 4 pts

Next fixtures

Thursday
France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark

Sunday
Denmark vs France
Austria vs Croatia

UEFA Nations League A, Group 2

Spain — 2-2-0, 8 pts
Portugal — 2-1-1, 7 pts
Czech Republic — 1-1-2, 4 pts
Switzerland — 1-0-3, 3 pts

Next fixtures

Saturday
Czech Republic vs Portugal
Spain vs Switzerland

Wednesday
Portugal vs Spain
Switzerland vs Czech Republic

UEFA Nations League A, Group 3

Hungary — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Italy — 2-2-1, 8 pts
Germany — 1-3-1, 6 pts
England — 0-2-3, 2 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Friday
Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary

Tuesday
England vs Germany
Hungary vs Italy

UEFA Nations League A, Group 4

Netherlands — 4-1-0, 13 pts
Belgium — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Poland — 1-1-3, 4 pts
Wales — 0-1-4, 1 pt

Next fixtures

Thursday
Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales

Sunday
Netherlands vs Belgium
Wales vs Poland