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Three things we learned: England v. USMNT

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LONDON — England beat the U.S. men’s national team 3-0 at Wembley on Thursday, as Gareth Southgate‘s much-changed side started strongly and held the young Americans at arms length for much of the contest.

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First half goals from Jesse Lingard and Trent Alexander-Arnold set England on their way, while Callum Wilson scored a debut goal to make it 3-0 in the second half. Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood had great chances to score in each half, but Dave Sarachan’s USMNT didn’t really get going in front of almost 70,000 fans at the home of soccer.

Here’s what we learned from a rough outing for the USMNT as Wayne Rooney said farewell to England with a win.


PULISIC LOOKS A LITTLE JADED

In the build-up to this game, Christian Pulisic just didn’t seem too happy. He met with various media outlets in the UK to discuss how he is the future star of U.S. Soccer and how the hopes of a nation are on his shoulders and so on and so forth, which is nothing he hasn’t heard before. But maybe it was the fact he was an unused sub for Borussia Dortmund in their big 3-2 win against Bayern Munich before the international break, or maybe he, like most U.S. fans, is struggling to get excited about this program right now.

Pulisic — who was playing for the U.S. for the first time since May and just the second time in 13 months — could have been the hero for the USMNT at Wembley. In the 24th minute he was clean through after a mix-up in the England defense but when faced with Jordan Pickford one-on-one, his strike lacked conviction and Pickford saved well. Pulisic then switched off for England’s first goal, just moments later, as he allowed England to find Lingard on the inside left channel and the Manchester United winger curled home. He played on the right in the first half but drifted inside in the second half and got on the ball more, with a few more clever flicks and crosses, but his touch looked off and he didn’t have that spark we’ve seen time and time again.

There is no doubt that this is still Pulisic’s team moving forward, but the USMNT’s 20-year-old sensation seems a little jaded right now. After several injuries early in the 2018-19 campaign, you can understand why.

Ahead of the game Pulisic told Pro Soccer Talk, among other U.S. outlets, that a new head coach should be “someone who has a plan and someone who has an idea of how we want to play moving forward.” Right now the lack of direction is clear for the USMNT as Dave Sarachan has done the best he can on an interim basis, but Gregg Berhalter’s impending arrival should be sped up as quickly as possible. Pulisic and the other USMNT youngsters need to know what the plan is moving forward.


3-5-2 BEST FIT FOR THIS USMNT SQUAD

Antonee Robinson going down with an untimely injury ahead of this game could have changed Dave Sarachan’s tactical plan considerably. Away at France in June the USMNT played in a 3-5-2 formation and looked solid in a 1-1 draw. Yes, they suffered tough moments defensively but they stood tall and grabbed a draw. Against an England reserve team, they never really looked in this. Before Pulisic had his big chance England could have had at least two goals and they got behind DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana way too easily.

The two USMNT fullbacks may not be totally to blame for that as Pulisic and Weah ahead of them did not dig in and do their defensive work in the first half. Julian Green looked totally off the pace in support of Bobby Wood in what turned into a 4-4-2 formation at times. Tyler Adams (somehow left out of the starting lineup) alongside Wil Trapp and Weston McKennie in central midfield would give the U.S. a better balance, while Robinson and Yedlin down the flanks as wing backs allows them to be at their attacking best without worrying about tracking back too much. Against the so-called elite teams, a 3-5-2 formation should be the go-to setup for the USMNT moving forward.


ENGLAND SHOW WHY ROONEY WAS RIGHT TO RETIRE

Wayne Rooney came on after 58 minutes for his 120th and final cap for England and was given a wonderful reception by the home fans at Wembley. Before the game England’s all-time leading goalscorer was given a guard of honor by both sets of players as he walked out onto the Wembley pitch with his children and was applauded. Rooney has more caps than the entire England starting lineup put together, as the magnitude of his service over the years was clear for all to see.

The way this England reserve side performed in this game, especially in the first half, proved why Rooney was right to call time on his international career in August 2017. The pace and power of Sancho, Lingard, Wilson and Alli ripped the U.S. defense apart and if you think that Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane are in reserve, it shows you the incredible depth of England’s attacking options. None of them are quite like Rooney, and his unique skillset is still valued in the game. But Southgate’s young Three Lions side are now about pace and power rather than the cerebral beauty of Rooney’s passes and touch.

Every time he got the ball England’s fans urged him to shoot, and Rooney came close twice late on, but in the end this night showcased exactly why he stepped away from the Three Lions after 13 years of playing for them. A legendary career came to an end at the appropriate time.

Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.