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Jill Ellis must be assertive if USWNT is to beat France

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The United States women beat Spain 2-1 on Monday in spite of their head coach, not because of her. That much is a fact.

The USWNT survived and advanced thanks to a soft late penalty in a game that saw upstart and plucky Spain rise to the challenge and go toe-to-toe with one of the best squads in the world. It didn’t have to be that way.

Jill Ellis had about four or five potential substitutions staring her in the face as early as halftime, and yet she didn’t make her first change until the 85th minute, a frankly inexcusable fact. If she remains that passive against France in the quarterfinals, the United States will be headed home faster than you can say “free Carli Lloyd.” While the U.S. eventually came out victorious thanks to a soft penalty with 15 minutes to go, the sigh of relief does not exonerate Ellis on the day she matched the USWNT career games coached record.

Ellis said before the match that both Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz, who had missed World Cup group stage time with minor injuries, were “fine.” It was obvious that Morgan was not “fine” as she appeared to be running with a piano on her back, unable to make her trademark runs between the lines and nowhere to be found on counter-attacks. At one point in the second half, Morgan found herself on the ball down the right flank in acres of space, and instead of charging into the space, she waited for a defender to close her down before firing a speculative long-ball towards the box that deflected off the defender and landed harmlessly in front of the Spanish goalkeeper.

If it wasn’t clear Morgan was injured by her play on the field, it was obvious as the game wound down when, as she was set to take the second penalty, a switch was made to Rapinoe during the VAR review – if Ellis knew Morgan was too hurt to take a viable penalty, how could she possibly contribute in open play? With Carli Lloyd and Christen Press on the bench, Ellis fell asleep at the wheel, instead preferring to see a hampered Morgan trudge around the pitch for 85 minutes before mercifully making a change well after the U.S. had retaken the lead in fortunate fashion.

While Morgan toiled up front to little return, Megan Rapinoe also had one of her worst games in a USWNT shirt down the left flank, despite her brace from the spot. The U.S. co-captain was continually dispossessed, choosing to barge into defenders and fall over rather than look to beat them one-on-one and deliver her patented vicious crosses from deep in the corner. Rapinoe’s Spanish marks Marta Corredera and Lucia Garcia down their right were more than up to the task, continually stopping Rapinoe in her tracks and flipping possession. With Mallory Pugh ready to go on the bench, Ellis was again caught napping as Rapinoe faded further and further into oblivion. She was almost invisible in the second half, at one point receiving the ball for a counter-attack and slamming on the brakes, ending the danger with a back-pass that forced Fox commentator JP Dellacamera to incredulously exclaim – after a moment to process the ruined opportunity – “It seemed like it was on.” You could feel him shaking his head.

Finally, there was the pre-match decision to sit Lindsay Horan, one of the most valuable U.S. players. While it’s difficult to criticize the decision to leave Horan out – with the midfielder on a yellow card, a calculated risk to sit her before a potential meeting with France is an understandable and defensible strategy, even if some may not agree – her decision to then bring Horan on with one minute remaining in regulation and seven minutes of stoppage time was absolutely unthinkable. The end of an overly physical game is a breeding ground for a late flurry of cautions, and if Horan had sat the majority of a tough match before coming on in garbage time to earn a suspension against France would have been utterly deplorable.

Ellis had a plethora of possible substitutions at her disposal, each of which would have likely swung the game in the U.S.’s favor, and yet she sat on her hands for 85 minutes before the game was in hand. Tobin Heath took a beating in the second half and could have used a change as the game wore on. Becky Sauerbrunn hardly covered herself in glory on occasion. Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle were the best players on the pitch but had little help in the final third.

But don’t take my word for it, take Andy’s.

With a highly anticipated quarterfinal against France now confirmed, Ellis must be far more assertive on the touchline if the United States is to match up against an opponent who can match them not just physically but also technically. No disrespect to Spain, who deserve all the credit in the world for not only bringing a disrupting amount of situational physicality to the pitch but also a superior tactical game plan, but the test on Friday against France will be even more difficult. As a fellow favorite to win the title and as host nation sure to draw a hostile environment for the Americans, France will prove a worthy opponent and have all the talent needed to prove a legitimate threat. It wasn’t easy for the French either in the Round of 16, needing an extra-time goal from Amandine Henry to squeeze by a down Brazil side, but they will still be up to the task.

After the stinker against Spain, the U.S. head coach must be up to it as well, or the Stars & Stripes will be going home from the 2019 World Cup disappointingly early, and will only have themselves to blame. Against France, there will be moments where a substitution will be necessary to regain hold of the game or fill a gap the opponent is good enough to exploit. Jill Ellis must face the truth: there’s nowhere to hide against the hosts, and the only way to get by such a daunting task will be an aggressive approach off the bench.

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield United season restart preview
Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

[ MORE: Ranking every Southampton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.

LA Galaxy release Katai after wife’s social media mocks protestors

Aleksandar Katai released
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The LA Galaxy have “parted ways” with Aleksandar Katai after the Serbian winger’s wife posted racist and violent comments regarding protestors.

On Tuesday, Tea Katai posted a comment to “kill the s—-” with an accompanying video of a New York PD police vehicle ramming into a barricade help up by protestors and another photo of looters with sneakers she captioned, “Black Nikes Matter.”

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Aleksandar Katai issued an apology on Instagram saying that the views would not “be tolerated in my family” and condemned white supremacy while posting that “Black Lives Matter.”

That wouldn’t be enough for the Galaxy, who announced they would meet with Katai on Thursday. Their consideration may have been affected by protests outside their stadium.

According to the LA Times’ Kevin Baxter:

On Thursday four men stood before a statue of David Beckham outside the team’s stadium holding a bedsheet-sized banner that read “No Racists in Our Club” with Katai’s uniform No. 7 encircled with a red line through it.

Katai, 29, was in his first season with the Galaxy after spending 66 matches with the Chicago Fire, scoring 19 goals with 12 assists. Prior to that, he spent time with Red Star Belgrade and Vojvodina. He is nine times capped by Serbia including thrice in 2019.

Newcastle United season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Newcastle United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Here is a closer look at all things Magpies when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: The Magpies won’t be qualifying for Europe and also are extremely unlikely to be relegated, but is there some danger of the latter? It seems more likely that Newcastle’s season will be more headline watching to see if its controversial takeover is approved and serious pitch-analyzing to see if Joelinton can rediscover what he did well in the Bundesliga last season. Steve Bruce’s men are also in the FA Cup quarterfinals but have Man City coming to St. James’ Park, but the veteran manager getting a result against Pep Guardiola twice in one season seems a tall ask.

[ MORE: Ranking every Newcastle player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The Magpies have done their best work replicating the system Rafa Benitez implemented last season, but Bruce has shown some real nous in getting four of six points from a flat back four in the final two matches before the pause (That said, the Burnley draw was abysmal).

It’s easy to imagine Bruce using four at the back for the first two matches of the restart, home outings against Blades and Villa, though the Magpies’ 2-0 defeat of Sheffield United at Bramall Lane saw the side effective in a 3-4-3. How it goes from there could dictate Bruce’s plans, though expect more 5-man back lines with Man City, Liverpool, and Spurs yet to come.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Newcastle’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Dubravka —–

— Manquillo — Lascelles — Fernandez — Rose —

—– Shelvey —– S. Longstaff —–

— Ritchie— Almiron — Saint-Maximin—

—– Joelinton —–

There are plenty of things that could and should change here. Loan signings Valentino Lazaro and Nabil Bentaleb have good chances to start and Isaac Hayden’s been more consistently than sophomore-slumping Sean Longstaff. The club also will want to court Matty Longstaff into a new deal and Geordie hero Andy Carroll is healthy and works well in place of or next to Joelinton, who can move to the wing. Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark are starting caliber backs looking for homes since Steve Bruce moved away from a back five, and Paul Dummett is a healthy and adequate CB, too.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Sheffield United (6/21), Aston Villa (6/24), West Ham, Spurs, Liverpool
Away: Bournemouth (7/1), Man City, Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion

Predicted finish: We’ll know plenty within three days of the season’s restart, as Blades and Villa visit St. James’ Park and the Magpies could sit top half in no time. Eight points clear of the drop zone is not entirely safe with eight matches left, though, so there’s some potential for danger if they lose those winnable matches at an empty SJP. That said, there are too many ways to cross the 40-point mark and so many teams behind them. They sit 13th, and they’ll finish within a place or two of that.