Top 5 Premier League storylines: Boxing Day

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Here’s a look at what we should keep an eye out for on Boxing Day in the Premier League.

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December 26 always dishes out some late Christmas gifts, and shocks, around the PL.

This year should be no different…


Liverpool to stay unbeaten? – Liverpool v. Newcastle United, 10 a.m. ET NBCSN [STREAM]

It is 18 and counting for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, who host Newcastle United at Anfield in a fixture which has historically provided plenty of goals and dramatic moments. Klopp and the Liverpool faithful will be hoping it is nothing more than a routine win to keep them four points clear atop the table. With just seven goals conceded so far this season, Virgil Van Dijk in majestic form and squad rotation working out very well, the Reds should be just fine. Newcastle have the potential to cause a shock with Salomon Rondon getting on the end of things, but everything points to Liverpool being unbeaten for the first half of the season.


Man City, Guardiola need a positive response – Leicester City v. Man City, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

After their shock loss at home to Crystal Palace, Pep Guardiola needs a big response from his stars away at Leicester. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero have returned form injury in recent weeks, but the loss of David Silva and Fernandinho has arguably been a bigger blow in City’s engine room. Leicester will be buoyed by their win away at Chelsea and they will look to stay tight and use James Maddison and Jamie Vardy on the counter to cause City problems. Ahead of their Jan. 3 game against Liverpool, City need to keep the gap between themselves and Liverpool to at least four points. But Leicester is a tough place to go, especially on Boxing Day and especially with plenty of doubts creeping in about City repeating their title heroics of last season.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Old Trafford return – Man United v. Huddersfield Town, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold[STREAM]

A perfect start for Solskjaer at Cardiff saw United score five times in a Premier League game for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge. After that big win, the Norwegian’s return to Old Trafford as United’s manager will have the home fans lauding him even more. He is a club legend and he is trying to help them return to the glory years of the Ferguson era. Alongside him is Mick Phelan, Sir Alex’s former assistant, and they’ve simply taken the shackles off this team. Jose Mourinho asked this group of young, attack-minded players to play in a safety-first manner and they couldn’t do it. Solskjaer may not be the right man to lead United beyond this season when his caretaker role is due to expire, but beating Huddersfield (who have lost five on the trot) and Bournemouth in the next two games will give the Red Devils plenty of momentum heading into the next year. The top four dream is now back on for United.


Chelsea aim to get back on track – Watford v. Chelsea, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM]

Antonio Rudiger called Chelsea’s defeat at home to Leicester “stupid” and that was a fair summation. Maurizio Sarri‘s men are the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the Premier League this season. They’ve beaten Man City and Arsenal, pushed Liverpool all the way but lost to Wolves and now Leicester and were humiliated by Tottenham. The mentality issue is something Sarri and his players keep bringing up and that is a pretty easy excuse. The issues run a lot deeper at Chelsea, as this squad is largely the same one which downed tools first under Mourinho and then under Antonio Conte just a season after winning the Premier League title for both. A trip to Watford, who have won two on the spin and sit seventh, will be a real test for Chelsea’s creaking defense. It will be intriguing to see if either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud return to the starting lineup as the false nine with Eden Hazard as the fulcrum faltered against Leicester. More than that, it will be intriguing to see if Chelsea can get themselves up for a clash against a team outside of the top six.


Big home games for basement boys – Fulham v. Wolves, 7:30 a.m. ET – NBCSN [STREAM& Burnley v. Everton, 10 a.m. ET – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Boy, how both Fulham and Burnley need big wins on Boxing Day. Both play at home and both have tricky tests against top 10 teams. Fulham host Wolves, while Burnley welcome Everton to Turf Moor. Being in the bottom three for Christmas has been compounded by big wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle over the past few weeks. The only saving grace for Fulham is that Claudio Ranieri‘s men are just four points from safety despite all of their struggles, while Burnley are two points from safety. Both teams need to focus on sorting out their defensive issues if they’re going to remain in the top-flight and getting big wins on Boxing Day can propel an upturn in the second half of the season.

Three things from USMNT’s pathetic loss in Canada

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We were warned after Couva that perhaps, somehow, the United States men’s national team still had some ways to go before really hitting rock bottom.

It seemed absurd, but after 10 months of the Gregg Berhalter era, which followed the least interesting manager search of all-time, perhaps the warning was needed and should’ve been heeded.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The USMNT had no answers and no options on Tuesday in Canada, showing no urgency and getting bossed off the pitch against a team which may not qualify for the Hex.

Time for a change? It’s not insane to consider it. The team Berhalter rolled out, with several players who aren’t even standouts in MLS, was inept in Ontario.

Either the plan or players the problem, and both point one way

Canada’s John Herdman and his desperate team were ready for a fight, and the visitors apparently thought their talent and reputation would win the day.

Nuh-uh.

The book on Canada was electric attackers and suspect defense, so what did Gregg Berhalter spring for his opening salvo? No pressing on the back line and two plodding center backs. Tim Ream could work with an athlete like Matt Miazga. Aaron Long, too, but Berhalter put both players together (Long certainly grew into the game).

The result was that Alphonso Davies was shifted mainly to the side of the field with Daniel Lovitz, and man did he run wild.

So did Canada’s midfield who out-worked the Yanks up-and-down the center of the park. It was sad, and littered the match with doubt heading into the break.

Granted the U.S. is short several injured players and lost Jozy Altidore just before the international break, but Berhalter had no answers on his bench, or at least couldn’t manufacture one.

And that’s a huge part of the issue here. If you don’t have any sugar, might wanna prepare something other than cookies.

He removed Christian Pulisic at the hour mark, who had been poor (see below) but still represents the best playmaker in his pool. Aside from the Chelsea man’s missed 1v1 duel with Borjan, there were not real attacking moments.

This was so bad, and absolutely according to plan by Herdman. No, not Tata Martino this time… John Herdman.

There is every reason to doubt Berhalter right now, and just as many to think that U.S. Soccer hierarchy wouldn’t consider remedying the situation on account of pride.

Given the way national team soccer works, it would not be off-color if the federation pulled the chute on Berhalter. The only possible excuse is injury, but Berhalter knew what he had in this camp and still rolled this plan out there in Toronto.

Pulisic frustrated, off-color, sick, and subbed?

Christian Pulisic didn’t have to do much in Friday’s demolition of Cuba, and he couldn’t do much of anything on Tuesday when asked to carry the team.

The Yanks were absolutely bamboozled in the first half which often had the match asking Pulisic to run wild once the ball actually found its way to him.

But he was dispossessed too often in any event, and missed a necessary goal when Jordan Morris sent him alone 1v1 with Milan Borjan. Yeah, that’s a Champions League goalkeeper with Milan Borjan, but this is the pride and joy of the program and it’s best product maybe ever.

Still, for Berhalter to pull him after 60 minutes begs the question of whether there’s an injury here. If not, well, there are a lot more questions than answers.

EDIT: Berhalter said after the game that Pulisic had been struggling with flu-like symptoms.

Davies roars, Steffen saves USMNT from blowout

While the Yanks’ best players wasn’t in rhythm, Canada’s was borderline symphonic.

Former Vancouver Whitecaps phenom and current Bayern Munich youngster Alphonso Davies was a problem for the Americans from Moment No. 1, and the only thing that could slow him was a 53rd minute leg injury.

Davies had the U.S. back line on its toes all night, and cooked Tim Ream early in the match before doing the same to Aaron Long on a play the Red Bulls man did very well to recover and slide to safety.

Fortunately for Gregg Berhalter, Zack Steffen is used to being put in bad positions due to his starring stint on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf. The goalkeeper made a phenomenal 1v1 stop on Davies in the first half and was often forced to command his box under duress.

Disheveled USMNT out-muscled by Canada

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Gregg Berhalter’s doubters found a lot of fuel for their fire as the United States men’s national team was out-worked, out-thought, and out-played in an embarrassing first loss to Canada in over 30 years.

Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini scored for the Canadians in a 2-0 win at BMO Field in Toronto, as Christian Pulisic was removed after 60 minutes.

The Canadians now hold the keys to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals after improving to 3-0 on the campaign to the Yanks 1-1.

[ MORE: Time for a change? ]

Mark-Anthony Kaye lasted less than 10 minutes with a hamstring injury as Canada was forced into subbing one of its top midfielders early in the fray.

And Davies was all over the U.S., and could’ve had a breakaway were it not for a ridiculously poor offside flag when Ream tried to play him offside.

Davies forced Steffen into a save on a bounding shot in the 12th minute. He then cooked Tim Ream but was stifled by Long.

That’s when Cristian Roldan made an unfathomable back pass to Davies, only to be bailed out by Steffen and then Davies pushing the rebound wide of the far post.

The U.S. finally got pressure on goal in the 18th minute as Pulisic set up Jordan Morris for a left-footed shot that was diverted for a corner kick.

Pulisic had two chances in the last 15 minutes of the half, but both didn’t reach the keeper.

The second half saw some early promise but it became property of the hosts when Davies tore down the left of the pitch following a sleepy pass reception from Morris. Davies turned two defenders but one of them, Long, recovered to make a fine last ditch sliding tackle.

Jonathan David should’ve made it 1-0 as Richie Laryea fed the Gent man, who had taken advantage of Long but couldn’t get the ball inside the near post.

At the other end, Morris fed Pulisic for a point blank chance but the out-of-form Chelsea man rifled a shot right at Milan Borjan.

Long grew into the game and made another fine intervention when Davies was sprung down the right at the hour mark.

Berhalter then took off a sick Pulisic for Arriola, and the Chelsea man was visibly emotional on the bench.

There wasn’t much time to stew on that, because Canada scored.

Bradley bungled a ball in his own third and Ream couldn’t get purchase on his clearance. Canada sent the ball to the back post, where Yedlin was absent for another lazy concession in a U.S. shirt.

Morris headed a Yedlin cross to Borjan in the 72nd, but Canada right back at it when Long misjudged a lost 50/50 ball from Ream and Steffen made an outstanding save on David.

Atlanta president rips USMNT after Robinson injured

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Atlanta United president Darren Eales is enraged with U.S. Soccer after center back Miles Robinson pulled his hamstring on international duty.

Robinson did not play in Friday’s 7-0 win over Cuba, instead getting injured after the match in a “hard training session.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Mitrita scores beauty for Romania ]

Atlanta United play-by-play man Mike Conti has these quotes from Eales, who said Robinson is “touch and go” for Atlanta’s first round playoff match with New England on Saturday.

“He goes on international duty, and 11 o’clock at night after a game where he sat on the bench, they’re doing a hard training session and he’s doing sprints and he pulls his hamstring. Just really disappointed that he was put in that position.”

The timing couldn’t be much worse for Atlanta nor the USMNT considering its backs are having trouble with the athleticism of Canada. It’s a hindsight 20/20 thing, but either way it doesn’t look good for Gregg Berhalter’s staff even if injuries happen.

NYCFC’s Mitrita scores 2nd stunner of international break

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New York City FC star Alexandru Mitrita’s very good club summer is folding into a very decent international tenure, at least individually.

Mitrita scored again on Tuesday, zipping onto your screen to steal the ball just inside half before dancing toward the 18 and lashing an opening goal for Romania in EURO 2020 qualification against Norway on Tuesday.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

Unfortunately, the Romanians would concede an equalizer to Norway and cost itself prime positioning in the race for a place in the tournament, but it was quite a bit of work from Mitrita.

It was only a slight downgrade from his Friday beauty.

Mitrita had not scored in his first seven caps for Romania and didn’t get called over the summer as he worked into the frame as one of NYCFC’s Designated Players.

Safe to say things have progressed nicely.