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The morning after Mexico: Big questions include Bradley, Klinsmann, RB

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At least in US Soccer terms, the end is not nigh.

Yeah, the USMNT fell to Mexico in a home World Cup qualifier for the first time since 1974*, but it was both the first game of 10 in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and possibly the third-trickiest (Away Mexico, Away Costa Rica).

*There was a 16-year gap in home qualifiers from 1982-1998.

[ USMNT-MEXICO: Recap | Ratings | 3 things ]

And yes, another in that trio of matches is headed its way Tuesday in Costa Rica, where the United States is yet to win a WCQ while conceding two or more goal in the last 7 losses.

But an American result in Costa Rica is far from a long shot, even with a hostile crowd ready to remember the Snow Clasico in Denver.

So let’s chat about a number of significant issues from Friday, and moving forward to Tuesday in Saprissa.

1) Coach, captain need to get on the same page — Whether Jurgen Klinsmann or Michael Bradley is correct in their assessment of what went wrong with the 3-4-3 formation — Bradley said it was direction and comprehension, Klinsmann pointed to Bradley and Jermaine Jones — there’s a reason we rarely see that sort of intra-team finger pointing in sports.

The truth is that Bradley and Jones had poor games in a questionable at best system chosen by Klinsmann. Move on, guys.

2) Yeah, the formation change worked, but also… please don’t forget that while the United States was undoubtedly more comfortable once switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2, that switch also happened when arguably the best player on the field had to lave the game through injury. PSV Eindhoven’s Andres Guardado subbed off hurt in the 28th minute and the USMNT started to run the midfield.

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3) That right side of the defense needs better — Klinsmann pointed to Timmy Chandler’s fine form for Eintracht Frankfurt and DeAndre Yedlin‘s last few camps and status in England’s second tier as the reason for using Chandler at right back.

That maybe so, but Chandler struggled in the first 30 minutes if not longer. That’s not an outlier when he suits up for the United States, but also consider how Eintracht Frankfurt regularly trots out Chandler for their top half Bundesliga side.

[ MORE: Panama, Costa Rica strike first ]

Chandler has a lot of freedom on the right of a five-man back line, where he can take chances without crippling the defense. That wasn’t the case in a 3-4-3, and Geoff Cameron‘s absence means the support around the center backs has to be almost pristene and certainly not risky.

So if Klinsmann’s thinking “No” on Yedlin, then it has to be a four-man back line with Chandler… or something even more safe.

4) Brooks’ partner — John Brooks made a big mistake on the set piece goal that gave Mexico the 2-1 win, but otherwise was perhaps the most important part of the Americans escaping the first half down by just one. Omar Gonzalez was not a nightmare next to him once the four-man back line emerged, but is he the answer for Tuesday? Could Matt Besler move inside with Fabian Johnson dropping to left back? Is Steve Birnbaum the right call?

5) Jones and Bradley must improve — Bradley is undoubtedly a USMNT legend, but the captain hasn’t had a star performance for country since before the Copa America Centenario — probably the blowout of Guatemala — and what the heck was he doing in not laying off to Bobby Wood on that second half 2v1?!?

Jones’ aggression is what it is and he can certainly put it to good use, but he missed the boat on Friday. That’s not too much of a surprise given his long absence for Colorado, but Klinsmann indicated that Jones would be fit to go on Tuesday and wouldn’t even say he expects his longtime midfielder to go less than 90 minutes.

So they better step their games up against Costa Rica’s gritty, cantankerous midfield in Saprissa.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Bobby Wood #7 of the United States celebrates with teammate Fabian Johnson #23 after scoring a second half goal against Mexico during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier at MAPFRE Stadium on November 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Where’s Herc is a way easier game than Where’s Waldo. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

6) Stick with the attack plans, or get aggressive? — Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were sensational in the second half, with the latter setting the former up for several chances including the goal. And Christian Pulisic improved dramatically after some early stumbles.

[ MORE: The evolution of Pulisic ]

So is it 4-4-2 with Pulisic atop a midfield diamond or on one of the wings? Is it the “front three that really isn’t a traditional front three” where Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore are basically lining up wherever the play takes them? Does Sacha Kljestan work as the third midfielder in this situation, or is it Alejandro Bedoya?

7) Regardless of Friday, and Tuesday, what’s the CM future? Jermaine Jones is 35, and the 29-year-old Bradley honestly hasn’t looked the same for country — at least on a consistent basis — since coming back to Major League Soccer.

The question is how much of that should be pinned on Klinsmann? If the answer is “a lot”, then some serious conversations have to be had about wasting one of the most talented, intelligent, and important players in United States history for the final half-decade (or so) of his time in the USMNT kit.

If the answer is that Bradley is no longer the same player, then we have questions beyond his implementation. Who is in the pipeline at center mid after him and Jones? Kyle Beckerman is nearly as old as Jones and Osvaldo Alonso — the near-perfect answer — is unlikely to get his release from Cuba.

Hearts captain Perry Kitchen will get a look for his defensive acumen, but neither him nor Reading man Danny Williams is even getting called into the team by Klinsmann right now. Kellyn Acosta is seemingly a left back for the United States right now, Dax McCarty isn’t being called in, and Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, and Fatai Alashe are firmly on the periphery.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.