Getty Images

Saturday int’l friendly previews: Denmark vs. Mexico, Hungary vs. Australia

Leave a comment

World Cup squads continue to warm up with just a week to go before the big dance, and there is another full slate of games on Saturday.

France hosts the United States as Didier Deschamps’ squad faces its final test before departing to Russia, while the USMNT has its last of a three-game international break that’s seen a number of young faces get invaluable playing time. Check out the full preview of France vs. United States here.

Elsewhere in the world…

Denmark vs. Mexico

Both these teams have aspirations of reaching the knockout stage, so this should be quite a good test for both teams as to where they stand heading into the tournament. Denmark will need to beat Peru in group stage play, a team that plays a relatively similar style to Mexico. El Tri, meanwhile, has two European sides in its group in the form of Germany and Sweden.

More is riding on this match for Denmark, as they have truly struggled to score of late. In their last five matches, they’ve scored three goals, including a pair of 0-0 draws their last two times out. With nobody else to support Christian Eriksen, it’s been relatively simple for opposing teams to lock down the creative force. Can Age Haride figure out how to give his talisman some help?

Mexico, meanwhile, is incredible defensive form. El Tri has conceded just a single goal over five matches in the 2018 calendar year. It hasn’t been terribly pretty up front, but it’s not exactly cause for alarm just yet.

Hungary vs. Australia

Australia downed a struggling Czech Republic 4-0 last time out, and the Socceroos would head into the World Cup with a serious barrel of confidence if they can achieve a similar result against Hungary. 27-year-old Matthew Leckie scored a pair in that win, and the Hertha winger will prove an important piece to any potential Australia success.

It’s the opposite across the field, where Hungary comes into their final tuneup with just three wins to eight losses in 12 matches since the start of the 2017 calendar year. They’ve dropped game to Kazakhstan and Scotland so far in 2018, most recently playing to a 1-1 draw against lowly Belarus. Manager Georges Leekens has yet to pick up a win since taking over in November, and things aren’t looking up for the National Eleven.

Sweden vs. Peru

Peru is one of the more intriguing sides in the entire 2018 World Cup, and a win over fellow participant Sweden would be a stellar sendoff to the big dance. With captain Paolo Guerrera back in action and needing minutes, look for him to at least make an appearance for the South American side.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup dark horses ]

Sweden, however, has won just once since topping Italy in their UEFA qualification playoff match. A drab scroeless draw with Denmark did little to quiet the doubters heading into the World Cup, and staring down a tough group with Mexico, Germany, and South Korea, a win over Peru would go a long way towards renewing confidence in the side.

Serbia vs. Bolivia

The Serbian squad desperately needs playing time together, and these 90 minutes will be as important as any. Manager Mladen Krstajic has brought in a number of talented players who haven’t spent much time on the pitch together, and while there’s plenty of excitement surrounding striker Aleksandr Mitrovic, midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and winger Adem Ljajic, the trio have very little game time together in the past few years due to the banishment of the latter pair under previous management.

[ MORE: Serbia World Cup preview ]

SMS in particular has just three caps to his name despite a heaping of potential, and has played just 45 minutes of national team time in 2018. Look for him to see his first full 90 minutes since his international debut in early November.

Tunisia vs. Spain

With Germany sputtering to a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia today, Spain will want to bounce back from a shaky 90 minutes of their own as they visit Tunisia. A first-choice Spain squad drew 1-1 with Switzerland in their last match on Sunday, where they held 65% and popped off 18 shots but managed just a single goal. The top teams aren’t exactly convincing in the last few weeks, but that could be down to experimentation more than anything else.

Israel vs. Argentina

Argentina’s last two years have been a roller coaster ride, there’s no debating. In their last four matches alone, they’ve demolished Haiti 4-0 and passed Italy 2-0, but also lost to Nigeria 4-2 and were stomped by Spain 6-1. A comprehensive and convincing win over Israel would be a good way to enter World Cup play, but there’s no skirting around the fact that Argentina is more of a wild card in the 2018 tournament than they have been in quite some time. Will manager Jorge Sampaoli haul out a strong starting eleven against Israel, or will he rest the starters and put health above all else? He has a lot to sort out, that’s for sure.

Everton reportedly set for sale of $28M Lookman

Photo by Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Will Everton regret its failure to find the right fit for Ademola Lookman at Goodison Park?

The Toffees are set to sell the 21-year-old striker to RB Leipzig this summer for just $8 million more than they paid Charlton for her services, according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: De Gea wants captaincy ]

Lookman scored five goals with four assists in a half-season loan for RBL in 2018, but could not find regular feature time for the Toffees upon his return.

Yes, the $28 million is still a decent fee, but Lookman is an English striker with U-20 World Cup-winning experience, and was given just three starts from his 21 appearances in the Premier League for Marco Silva‘s men last season (posting two assists in 601 minutes.

Lookman prefers to play left wing, but also operates on the right. Everton has Richarlison, Bernard, and Theo Walcott amongst a relatively deep wing corps.

The stats seem to show that Lookman simply had trouble getting the ball at Everton in comparison to RBL. Maybe he needs to be a bigger part of the show, and we’ll find out whether he can do that with Tyler Adams and Co. in Leipzig.

De Gea hopes for Manchester United captaincy

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Given his seemingly biannual links to returns to Spain and bigger paydays, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea preach up the badge.

Aside from a stumble late last season, however, the 28-year-old has been a dynamo at Old Trafford for several managers.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

He’s also been through the wringer from his early days struggling to find his form in the Premier League, and now has 362 appearances in the Red Devils shirt to go with trophies from the PL, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League.

So, yeah, he’s qualified to lead. And as we wait for United to announce his new expensive contract, De Gea is speaking out on his delight in captaining the team and hopes of doing so on a full-time basis.

From Sky Sports:

“I need to show that on the pitch and try to help the young guys know what Manchester United means and that’s important. We have to improve a lot. We are Manchester United; we need to fight for trophies.

“When you put on this badge, that’s what it means – fight for everything, give your best and bring the team again to the top.”

Is there a case to be made for anyone else on the current roster? Probably not, at least not in the form of players who will be expected to suit up nearly every match.

Chicago adds 2010 World Cup qualifying hero Bornstein

Photo by Chuck Myers/MCT/MCT via Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s probably part of you who thinks Jonathan Bornstein is on an MLS staff somewhere, that he’s about 46 years old, and the news that he’s joined the Chicago Fire means he’s taken a coaching role like Josh Wolff (who is only 42. Don’t age shame).

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

And we’ll admit that “Chicago adds Jonathan Bornstein” gave us similar vibes, because, hey, didn’t this cat score an amazing, World Cup berth-clinching goal against Costa Rica at RFK in 2009? Yes! He was! I was there with my sister and a couple of buddies, and it was awesome.

Bornstein was, however, just 25 then and a member of Chivas USA (That was an MLS team, young bucks). Bob Bradley drafted him out of UCLA and turned him into a left back.

Now 34 and still a left back, Bornstein spent 2010-present outside of the United States. He’s played in Mexico for Queretaro, Tigres, and Atlante, as well as Israel last season with Maccabi Netanya. He won a Copa MX, a Supercopa MX, and an Apertura title while south of the border.

From Chicago-Fire.com:

“We began pursuing Jonathan back in January but, unfortunately, his insertion into the lineup made him too invaluable to his former club,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodrίguez. “In addition to providing a steady presence and competition on the field, we believe Jonathan will be an excellent mentor for our younger players.”

As a returning USMNT international, even no caps since 2011, Chicago had to send $50,000 to Columbus for the top spot in the allocation order.

Bornstein will hope to help Chicago turn around a miserable season which began with such promise. Chicago has been extremely unlucky this season, with a difference of minus-11.7 between expected goals and goals scored.

And I will continue to remember nearly throwing my beverage miles into the air from the upper deck at RFK. Thanks for the memories, Jonathan.

Barcelona exec on Neymar: “We aren’t looking at it”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Neymar’s reported discontent at Paris Saint-Germain has caused rumors to fly this summer about if he could leave, and where any potential destinations could be.

His old club Barcelona is thought to be a major contender to rescue the Brazilian superstar from his misery, but that may be dead in the water after Barcelona vice president Jordi Cardoner again claimed the club has no interest in his return.

“The president already spoke about it,” Cardoner said from Tokyo where the club is in preseason. “There is no Neymar saga. There is a lot of talk and he doesn’t appear happy there but we aren’t looking at it.”

This is not the first time Cardoner has gone public to deny Neymar rumors. Even as far back as last October, Cardoner said “No one on the Barcelona board has talked about the possibility of bringing back Neymar, right now we can’t talk about it because no one has even mentioned it.”

Cardoner is not the only Barcelona member talking down a potential Neymar return. New arrival Antoine Griezmann also made statements claiming the club would struggle to make it happen even if they wanted to. Speaking about possibly linking up with Neymar with Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid striker spoke highly of Neymar’s playing ability, but admitted it would take some significant time to complete. “We have to get it done first because it is a difficult transfer, but he is a great player,” Griezmann said from Tokyo.

Neymar has had a troubled past 12 months, facing rape charges in Brazil, suspensions in both European and domestic French competitions, and even taking Barcelona to court last year for payments he believed he was owed.