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Preview: Youthful USMNT squad faces stronger test at Republic of Ireland

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Coming off an impressive, if still somehow underwhelming win over Bolivia, the U.S. Men’s National Team has jet across the Atlantic Ocean for a pair of much tougher tests.

Up first is a visit to the Emerald Island for a match against the Republic of Ireland (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET). Ireland were just two points from automatic qualification for the World Cup in Russia but ran into the buzzsaw that was Christian Eriksen and Denmark, falling 5-1 in the UEFA qualifying playoffs.

[READ: Neymar still in individual training as he makes his way back from injury]

But even so, and with some starters not called up, this is still a much more experienced and stronger squad that this young USMNT bunch will face. As the USMNT takes incremental steps towards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the match against Ireland is a measuring stick to see how talented the USMNT’s youngsters really are, and perhaps how far they still have to come in the next four years.

Sargent, Weah look to build on impressive performances

The opposition wasn’t the highest quality, but despite their age and the fact that both players were making their first starts for the USMNT, both Josh Sargent and Tim Weah showed flashes of why they’re playing for major clubs in Europe.

Sargent was a constant thorn in the side of Bolivia’s backline, and his movement and pressing helped lead to the error that resulted in Sargent’s first goal. For Weah, after a nervy first 20 minutes or so, he settled in and finished off a pretty volley himself to put the cherry on top of his second USMNT cap.

Now the pair return to Europe to face a more chisled side, one that will certainly be more physical to deal with and keep possession better. Since it’s a friendly match with no pressure, though, there’s a chance the pair of attackers can play with the same freedom they did in Philadelphia, and hopefully develop good memories and habits with the USMNT that is in need of some positive energy.

Who steps up in Pulisic’s absence? 

Christian Pulisic should have been leading the line for the USMNT in Russia in less than two weeks. Instead, he’s been given the summer off to recover, recooperate from a long European season and get ready for another grueling campaign.

After starting against Bolivia, Pulisic was left off the USMNT squad as it headed to Europe, with ten new players replacing the seven that were released back to their clubs. Of the current 25-man squad, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is a perfect like-for-like replacement with what Pulisic brings, though Bobby Wood could be used as a support striker that floats around to stay involved in the attack.

Another played called in, Luca De La Torre, could also deputize in the middle while Kenny Saief, usually a winger, could also in theory slide inside. Either way, USMNT coach Dave Sarachan has a big choice to make in terms of not only who replaces Pulisic, but how they replace his productivity.

Time to see Carter-Vickers and Miazga together

One of the big issues during the last five matches in World Cup qualifying is that Bruce Arena couldn’t figure out a consistent and ideal defensive pairing. After the pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler led the U.S. to the 2014 World Cup, Arena – and Klinsmann before him – cycled through Besler, Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, Tim Ream, and others. Now, outside of Brooks, it’s a whole new crop of defenders that the USMNT will have to rely on. The potential pairing for the long-term, featuring Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, could – and should – start together on Saturday against Ireland.

Potential lineup

—– Steffen—–

—- Yedlin—- Miazga —- Carter-Vickers—- Robinson—-

—- Trapp—- McKennie —- 

—- Green—- Wood—- Saief—- 

—- Novakovich —-

 

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.