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Five friendlies to watch closely over the next week

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The UEFA Nations League is taking center stage in this international break, but there are several other interesting matches on the docket outside of the new, formal UEFA competition.

[ MORE: Girona-Barcelona in Miami ]

A pair of them involve the United States.

In some circles, you could call that bias (and we certainly care more about U.S. matches than the rest of the world). But there’s hardly such a thing as a friendly against El Tri, and people will have one eye tuned-in any time Neymar hits the pitch.

Here are five top matches to scout this week.

Mexico vs. Uruguay — Friday (Houston)

These two sides boast an even rivalry, though plenty of eyes will be on Mexico without manager Juan Carlos Osorio (he’s off to Paraguay). El Tri‘s hot start to the World Cup cooled with a blowout loss to Sweden and 2-0 defeat by Brazil, and interim boss Ricardo Ferretti will bring a lot of youth to Texas; Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, and Hector Moreno are among the big names left home.

Uruguay’s World Cup quarterfinal run ended with a loss to champions France, and that was the CONMEBOL side’s lone loss of 2018. Fabian Colto is the caretaker boss as legendary manager Oscar Tabarez’s future is mulled, and Uruguay will have most of its big names: Suarez, Cavani, Godin.

Portugal vs. Croatia — Thursday

We’ll get some tantalizing intra-Europe matches with the top groups of the UEFA Nations League featuring just three teams. This one sees Portugal without Cristiano Ronaldo and with plenty of interesting pieces; Ruben Neves, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, and Renato Sanches all bear close watching against a Croatian squad bringing its whole crew.

Colombia vs. Argentina — Sept. 4

While the reception Argentina receives at home to Guatemala earlier in the window will be fascinating, how Lionel Messi-less Argentina reacts to a match-up with Colombia will tell us more much more about the Albiceleste.

This is Paulo Dybala’s chance to shine bright, with no Messi, Sergio Aguero, nor Gonzalo Higuain in sight. Argentina will also hope to see plenty from its inexperienced but tantalizing offensive talent: Giovanni Simeone and Lautaro Martinez are among those hoping to join Dybala in restoring hope to Argentina.

Colombia? James Rodriguez is not coming, but Carlos Bacca, Luis Muriel, and Juan Cuadrado are in the fold, and Los Cafeteros have a lot of young bucks, too; Pay mind to Rangers star Alfredo Morelos and Spurs center back Davinson Sanchez.

USMNT vs. Brazil — Friday (NJ)
USMNT vs. Mexico — Sept. 4 (Nashville)

We’ll dive deeper into these two over the next few days, but the American side’s visits from Brazil and Mexico give us these three fun plot lines.

A) Was the stingy 1-1 draw against France pre-World Cup a fine indicator of progress?

2) How will the Yanks fare in both matches without Christian Pulisic, who’s injured?

D) Who’s deeper: next generation USMNT, or next generation Mexico (the latter featuring relatively-ignored-by-the-Yanks dual citizen Jonathan Gonzalez)?

Pogba misses 2nd half penalty in Man Utd-Wolves draw

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Ruben Neves scored an amazing goal and Rui Patricio stopped a Paul Pogba penalty as Wolves took a point from Manchester United in a 1-1 match at the Molineux on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

United had two-thirds possession but could not find what would’ve been a deserved winner as Wolves flummoxed the Red Devils attack.

Anthony Martial scored for the second-straight match for United, who failed in a bid to go atop the Premier League.


Three things we learned

  1. Paul Pogba is to penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws – You just can’t understand how someone so good at his sport is so poor at what should be the easiest part of his game.
  2. Martial is a beauty, and is fully released from the shackles of Jose Mourinho. Whether he can take the next step is another story, but the Frenchman is a fitting winger for a Champions League club (even if United isn’t quite in the UCL).
  3. Patricio didn’t show the Premier League his very best last season, but has looked more like the Portugal national team goalkeeper so far in his sophomore PL campaign.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men were content to let the visitors have the ball and work on the counter, and United quickly moved the ball in possession over the first stages of the game.

United took a deserved lead through Martial who ran onto a Marcus Rashford through ball and belted a rocket over a flailing Rui Patricio.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Neves brought Wolves level with a sublime bit of shooting, curling a majestic shot above and around the United back line to make it 1-1.

Watching the footage as it was being reviewed showed the margins so thin, but the goal held up and anyone hoping for some semblance of sanity was relieved.

United looked set to go back in front when Pogba drew a penalty off Conor Coady with a cutthroat move in the 18, but the Frenchman slammed his effort into the path of a diving Patricio.

WATCH: Ruben Neves spins an otherworldly ball over David De Gea

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Let us introduce you to your latest Goal of the Season contender.

Ruben Neves, who seemingly only scores beauties, struck again on Monday at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Neymar to Barca ]

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker loves to shoot as much as anyone, and set himself up clinically for his latest amazing marker.

Once Neves collected the ball atop the 18, he spun this magnificent effort over the flying David De Gea and off the underside of the bar to restore the deadlock in Wolverhampton.

De Gea may well have responded to this goal by quoting Ron Burgundy when Baxter ate the entire wheel of cheese.

Sensational.

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.