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Should he stay or should he go? Klinsmann should be on thin ice

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s future as USMNT head coach has never been this much in doubt. And so it should be.

[ MORE: Gulati on Klinsmann ]

On this Wednesday morning, it feels like the lowest point of Klinsmann’s much-scrutinized reign as U.S. national team boss and there’s a very real possibility that two damaging World Cup qualifying defeats in five days could mark the end.

It wasn’t so much the scoreline in the 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Tuesday which was concerning. It was the manner of the second half collapse which will be giving U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati a sleepless night as the team travels back to the U.S. bottom of the Hexagonal group following defeats to Mexico and now Costa Rica. It seemed like the players threw in the towel and didn’t fight for their manager.

[ MORE: 3 things | Player ratings ]

With no more World Cup qualifiers until March 2017 (the U.S. host Honduras and head to Panama with four points expected at the very least) and a shortened January camp coming up, Klinsmann will have plenty of time to stew on these awful results over the past few days.

So will U.S. Soccer.

Gulati said last week that Klinsmann’s job would be safe until the end of this World Cup qualifying campaign. Klinsmann’s current deal as head coach of the USMNT and the technical director runs out after the 2018 World Cup. It seems like nobody at U.S. Soccer is remotely thinking about firing Klinsmann. That’s the reality.

That’s a problem.

At the end of the day, this is a result business. Right now, the U.S. isn’t getting the ones they need. Klinsmann’s long-stated goal for the U.S. is to get them to a World Cup semifinal. Right now, most fans would be happy with just qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

United States' Jozy Altidore, center, protests to referee Cesar Ramos, of Mexico, during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

It is worth remembering that it is still very early in qualifying and there are still eight games and 24 points to play for. The U.S. has got two of its three toughest games out of the way (Mexico away being the other) and if they don’t finish in the top three of the Hex and seal qualification to Russia 2018 it would be a huge shock. If that happened, it would also cost Klinsmann his job.

Last week when ProSoccerTalk’s writers discussed the upcoming World Cup qualifiers I said the U.S. should be happy with one point from their opening two games of the Hex. There’s no mistaking that Klinsmann’s men were dealt a hard schedule to World Cup qualifying and if you chuck in the absence of influential, experienced players like Geoff Cameron and Clint Dempsey, plus the injury of Tim Howard in the first half of the Mexico game, then they were up against it.

Klinsmann has always welcomed criticism of him and his players as a sign that the U.S. is growing as a soccer nation. There will be plenty more critics of his team in the coming months.

The way the USMNT came out of the traps on Tuesday, they seemed timid and scared in Costa Rica. Then the shockingly poor defensive mistakes in the final 30 minutes prove that they not only didn’t rise to the occasion but they also had no belief in themselves or the project. That’s a massive problem. It’s one Klinsman must sort out, if he’s given the chance. He probably will get the chance to try and rectify it.

Klinsmann has had some severe ups and downs during his time in charge of the USMNT but this seems like the roughest waters he’ll have to guide the team through.

Here’s a look at some of the facts. I’ve grouped them into positives and negative achievements during his time in charge of the U.S. so far…


Positives

  • Getting out of the Group of Death at 2014 World Cup, reaching Round of 16
  • Winning 2013 Gold Cup on home soil
  • Marquee friendly wins over Holland and Germany in the summer of 2015
  • Reaching semifinals of Copa America Centenario 2016

Negatives

  • Knocked out of 2015 Gold Cup at semifinal stage vs. Jamaica
  • Losing in the CONCACAF playoff to Mexico, missing out on the Confederations Cup
  • Losing to Guatemala on the road in the fourth round of World Cup qualifying in 2016
  • Heaviest defeat since 1980 in World Cup qualifying, losing 4-0 to Costa Rica

Notice anything about those major negatives in tournament and qualifying play? Yep. They’ve all occurred in the past 18 months.

Firing Klinsmann would not be a knee jerk reaction. It has been coming.

He is the most divisive figure U.S. soccer has ever seen. He has staunch supporters and some despise him. He has criticized Major League Soccer, enraging many, and has not been scared to try and rip apart the U.S. soccer establishment at the seams and tell them what they’re doing wrong. It’s hard to keep doing that when the USMNT is struggling so much in a region they should simply be dominating.

The most frustrating thing for those who criticize his tactics and personnel choices is that Klinsmann doesn’t seem to be held accountable for his actions. When he arrived in 2011 Klinsmann promised sweeping changes to the infrastructure and to improve the style of play. He may well have achieved the former, with U.S. soccer plowing plenty of resources in and plenty of young American players heading to Europe to play in academies on Klinsmann’s advice, but the latter has not been achieved.

It is time for Klinsmann to take a long, hard look at himself.

His favorites in Omar Gonzalez, Jermaine Jones and Timmy Chandler and many others have been given chance after chance. They’ve proved they aren’t good enough at the international level. His decisions to change up tactics time and time again (the bizarre 3-5-2 against Mexico last week highlighted that perfectly, as did the confusion from his players in-game which led to him switching back to a 4-4-2) and then blaming his players for their lack of ability to deal with it boggles the mind.

Klinsmann has thrown his players under the bus so many times I’ve lost count. Yet after the defeat to Costa Rica we heard something different from him. He held his hands up and was accountable.

“I take responsibility and it is no problem. It is a learning experience for us,” Klinsmann said.

Will U.S. Soccer now truly take responsibility and address the elephant in the room head on? If Klinsmann was the manager of any other national team on the planet there’s no way he would’ve lasted this long.

The most worrying thing for Klinsmann is that judging by their performance on Tuesday in Costa Rica, a large chunk of his players agree with that sentiment.

Jota takes super sub to new level in Wolves win

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Sometimes the phrase “game changer” is used a bit too loosely, but there’s no debating Diogo Jota fit the bill to a ‘t’ on Thursday.

Wolves scored four times in 11 minutes, three coming courtesy Jota, as the Premier League side buried Besiktas 4-0 in Europa League play on Thursday.

Jota entered in the 56th minute, scored in the 57th, and completed his hat trick in the 68th.

[ MORE: Who can Wolves draw in UEL? ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men had already clinched a place in the knockout rounds before the match day, and finish one point below Braga in Group K.

Jota has five goals in five days after scoring twice against Brighton on Sunday. The 23-year-old had an up-and-down season to start but has been mostly good over the past half-dozen games.

He has 37 goals in 107 matches with Wolves, including nine in all competitions this season. He scored nine times last season after a 17-goal campaign in the Championship.

Leander Dendoncker had Wolves’ other goal, with the day’s assists going to Oskar Buur, Joao Moutinho, and Pedro Neto.

 

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

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Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Ajax
Arsenal
Basel
Benfica
Braga
Celtic
Espanyol
Gent
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
LASK
Malmo
Manchester United
Porto
Red Bull Salzburg
Sevilla

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
Copenhagen
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Olympiacos
Rangers
Roma
Wolfsburg
Wolves
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.