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PST’s 2018 World Cup draw roundtable

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With the draw for the group stage of the 2018 World Cup taking place in Moscow on Friday, there’s plenty of excitement building.

[ STREAM: Draw live, 10 a.m. ET ]

Below our panel of writers discuss the key topics heading into the draw including the lack of the U.S. men’s national team, “Group of Death” scenarios and the dark horses.

[ MORE: Pots for 2018 World Cup draw ]

Here we go.


Here it is, World Cup fever has begun. As journalists who watch the U.S. team closely, has it sunk in yet that the USMNT won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986? What feelings did you have this time four years ago before Brazil 2014?

Joe Prince-Wright: It hasn’t really sunk in yet, to be honest. Tomorrow will be one of the key moments when we sit there and realize ‘damn, the USMNT won’t be at the World Cup.’ It will be a major part of the acceptance stage of this U.S. debacle. Four years ago I was full of excitement to see who the U.S. would get and trying to work out their multiple “Group of Death” scenarios. Now, there’s still plenty of excitement about all of the big players and teams and who they will face, but still a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right. I’m more intrigued to see what watching a World Cup in the USA, without the U.S. participating, will be like this summer.

Nick Mendola: It has sunk in, mostly, but that doesn’t change the anger and distrust toward the team and federation. There are just so many reminders, not the least of which was seeing the U.S. B-Team stick with Portugal’s B-Team in last month’s friendly. Yeah, it’s an odd metric of sorts, but the USMNT finished one point from the World Cup and lost to Trinidad’s B-Team with Geoff Cameron on the bench and both Fabian Johnson and Weston McKennie at home on the couch. Any chance to feel even a tiny bit better about the team was bungled by post-elimination hierarchy press conferences and then Bruce Arena’s decision to go on TV during the Portugal game. Wow. There’s still a lot of anger there. Does that mean it hasn’t sunk in?

Kyle Bonn: The World Cup is the World Cup, and the excitement will always be there, but I can’t lie, it’s slightly mitigated this time around with the US out of the field. There’s always a passion to watch your country play and without that something definitely seems to be missing in the buildup.

Dan Karell: Ugh. Another gut-punch. It’s going to be sad not seeing the words “United States” on a little piece of paper picked out of a pot (Pot 3, probably?) on Friday. Around this time four years ago, I was definitely just looking at all the probabilities and I think like most people, hoping to avoid a group of death. The U.S. showed though that it didn’t matter, and finished ahead of Portugal and Ghana instead of last place where many predicted.

Matt Reed: The more I’ve thought about everything, the more clearly it has begun that there are glaring issues within the U.S. Soccer community that need addressing. Yes, it was and still is a shock that the USMNT did not qualify for Russia, but at the same time, the team’s shortcomings open the door for changes to occur over the next four years and beyond. As we saw in the USMNT’s recent friendly against Portugal, there are some solid young pieces working their way up through the pipeline, including Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, which is a promising stepping stone for the Americans, who already have one of the world’s best young players in Christian Pulisic.

Heading into Brazil in 2014, I was cautiously optimistic about how the U.S. would perform given the sides they were paired with in group play and the talent within the squad. Considering how the USMNT showed in 2010, I thought there was a chance they could build off of their Round of 16 appearance and possibly progress a step further, however, Belgium had a big say in preventing that from happening.


Looking at the four pots of teams, pick out your ULTIMATE “Group of Death” scenario

JPW: There are quite a few here. I’m going with: Germany, Spain, Egypt, Australia. But the following four teams would also be an absolute blockbuster of a group: France, England, Costa Rica, Nigeria. Simply put, the World Cup is stacked, as it should be.

NM: Brazil, Spain, Senegal, Serbia.

KB: Any “Group of Death” starts and ends with Spain being in Pot 2. England too probably counts, but Spain’s presence there spells doom for any Pot 3 and 4 team who finds itself in that bunch. Only 2 European countries can be drawn into the same group, which mitigates things a bit, but here are a few options:

Germany, Spain, Costa Rica, Nigeria
Argentina, Spain, Iceland, Japan
Brazil, Spain, Sweden, Australia

DK: Germany, Spain, Denmark, and Nigeria. All four of those teams are strong and Nigeria could be a dark horse in the knockout round with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho launching themselves on the world stage. Germany and Spain are juggernauts as always and we saw what Denmark and Christian Eriksen did to the Republic of Ireland.

MR: Brazil, Spain, Denmark, Nigeria


Which team will you want to avoid in Pot 4?

JPW: Serbia. Nobody has taken them too seriously but they have talented players 1-11, many of whom play at big clubs in Europe. Underestimate Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic and Branislav Ivanovic at your peril.

NM: Serbia. I’ve been so impressed with them, with Matic, Tadic, Kolarov, Milivojevic, Nastasic, Llajic, Ivanovic, and Mitrovic. I believe they can sit in and defend when needed, but also can spring some incredible attacks if they get the final ball from Tadic, Mitrovic or someone else.

KB: Pot 4 is relatively weak this time around, but Japan is quite skilled, Nigeria is always. A threat, and Australia plays with a fire that can cause problems.

DK: I’ll keep it with Nigeria. They were underwhelming at the last World Cup but still made it into the Round of 16, and with a new crop of youngsters, they could be a tough out in Russia.

MR: A number of Premier League talents up front and an experienced midfield give Nigeria an edge over the rest of the Pot 4 nations. The Super Eagles have qualified for six of the last seven World Cups, and advanced to the Round of 16 in three of those appearances. I believe John Obi Mikel and Co. will surprise a few people, although they certainly put themselves on the map in 2014. For those unfamiliar with the side, go back and watch their match against Germany in the knockout round.


What would be the easiest group scenario for hosts Russia?

JPW: Mexico, Iran, Panama would be the easiest group for the hosts. It always helps a tournament if the hosts do well but with Russia the lowest-ranked team (65th) in the competition, they’ll do extremely well to get out of any group.

NM: Russia would love to see Peru, Iran or Costa Rica, and Saudi Arabia. Playing a host city is always tricky, but the politics and patriotism of this tournament make it especially difficult. I think Russia escapes its group at a minimum.

KB: Russia is going to seriously struggle no matter who they draw, but the easiest path to the knockout would likely be something like: Russia, Croatia, Iran, Panama

DK: Well, if Russia hosts England they’ll be just fine…..kidding! Peru somehow is seeded in pot two but they clearly aren’t of the quality to be there, it’s just thanks to the FIFA rankings. Same for Poland/Portugal in Pot 1.

MR: Peru, Senegal, Saudi Arabia.


If you had to pick now (and you do), who contests the World Cup final and who wins it?

JPW: Germany and Brazil. And Brazil wins 2-1. This is a better defensive Brazilian side with revenge on their mind and Neymar is ready to lead the Selecao to glory.

NM: I’m torn between who wins it, but it’ll be Germany and Brazil assuming their paths don’t cross on the bracket en route to the final. Germany is the deepest team and reigning champions with enough returning players to build off that record. Brazil is the best team in the world right now and navigated the toughest qualifying route in the world with style.

KB: Until I am proven wrong, I am sticking with Germany as the best team in the world. Brazil has come a long way since Germany embarrassed them on their home turf, and I would love a Germany vs Brazil rematch, this time in the final.

DK: It’s so hard to tell who will be tired and who will still have gas left in the tank, but I’ll say Brazil vs. France. Brazil under Tite is playing the best soccer in the world and historically they are very serious about their physical preparation and making sure all their players were fit. No one pulled out of Brazil’s last squad for the November friendlies and even the players carrying injuries were treated by the Brazilian staff. I like France because of their talented young players that I think learned good lessons in qualifying and Euro 2016 and could take that into a final run next summer.

MR: Germany takes on France. Les Bleus win in extra time.


There’s always a “dark horse” at every tournament. So, who will surprise everyone at Russia 2018?

JPW: As an Englishman I’m tempted to go with England who are definitely being overlooked, but having low expectations hasn’t worked out well in the last few major tournaments. I do think they could get to the quarterfinals, which would be a very acceptable tournament. As for other dark horses, Serbia, as mentioned previously, plus Egypt and Nigeria could all impress, plus Sadio Mane‘s Senegal have shown their penchant for upsets in the past. So, England, Serbia, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal are the five teams to look out for.

NM: I detailed my belief in Serbia above, but I’ll proffer a second opinion: This tournament in particular seems to be highlighting European and South American teams, and I think an African team has a chance to really do some damage with a Liverpool flavor. Senegal (Sadio Mane) and Egypt (Mohamed Salah) both could do something special. Additional love for Japan and South Korea, and I’m especially excited to see Heung-Min Son on display without Harry Kane and Dele Alli righteously demanding the spotlight.

KB: Dark horse has to be England. That is a much improved team with so many bright young stars, and while everyone makes jokes about how England always flops in big tournaments, they’ll sneak up on everyone. Raheem Sterling is coming up big for Man City of late, and he’ll do so for his country in the World Cup too.

DK: Engla-Nah…they’ll underwhelm like always. Sorry Joe, haha. My dark horse comes from Pot 2. Croatia has one of the world’s best midfields with Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic as well as Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. Mario Mandzukic is one of the world’s best No. 9s and the team’s defending is hard as nails. I think they have the quality to make a deep run, especially with it likely being Modric and Mandzukic’s last World Cup.

MR: Take one look at Croatia’s midfield and tell me that’s not one of the best, if not the best, in the tournament. I’m not overly confident about the team’s front group of Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic, but this team is loaded with talent throughout the squad. Also, the Blazers consistently have best kit in international soccer, so there’s that.

Premier League social media wrap: Brighton, teqball, remembering Tiote

Premier League social media
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Premier League sides are fully back in the flow of training with scheduled matches coming within a fortnight.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

So it’s no surprise that banter’s back, too.

That’s where we’ll start Friday, with Irish center back Shane Duffy making sure he’s keeping things light as Brighton and Hove Albion prepares to defend its Premier League place.

Duffy turned a sprinkler on his teammates at training, showing that, yes, your high school career has some things in common with Premier League footballers.

How about some skills as Manchester United gets ready for its return to the PL pitch?

Bruno Fernandes and Andreas Pereira tangled with Fred and Diogo Dalot in a match of Teqball.

You’ll have to watch to see who won.

There’s also a sad anniversary on this day.

It’s been three years since former Newcastle United wrecking ball Cheick Tiote passed away at age 30 after collapsing during a training session with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises, causing shock and grief around the Premier League.

His former teammates were remembering him on Friday, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner was definitely beloved and will always be remembered for his incredible goal to cap off Newcastle’s 4-4 comeback draw with Arsenal.

We’ll start with Norwich City backstop Tim Krul, who spent time with Tiote at Newcastle.

Former Magpies wizard Yohan Cabaye pinned an old memorial to his Twitter wall.

 

Preview: Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha preview, how to watch
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Four Bundesliga teams are unbeaten in their last five matches and Hertha Berlin is the unlikeliest of the bunch.

They’ll tangle with Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday in the latest challenge of the Bruno Labaddia era in Berlin.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Labbadia is Hertha’s third manager of the season and Hertha has played a scrappy brand of football that has punched and counter-punched under his tutelage. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed to find finish, as Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic and Brazilian youngster Matheus Cunha have been potent.

Borussia Dortmund is a bigger ask, though Hertha made RB Leipzig make mistakes in a 2-2 tie.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Will it be able to get a result at the Westfalenstadion? Perhaps this is a bridge too far, because Dortmund’s shown an explosive offense and its defense has been strong far more often than not this season.

That said, Erling Haaland is just returning to fitness and has just one goal since the league’s restart from the coronavirus pause. Mats Hummels will miss with a yellow card suspension and Marco Reus still isn’t back.

Maybe American teen Giovanni Reyna will get prolonged run along with Jadon Sancho. We’ll see!

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin, how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)
  • When: Saturday, June 6 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Dortmund v. Hertha

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield United season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

[ MORE: Ranking every Southampton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.