Five takeaways from USWNT’s World Cup win

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The U.S. women’s national team are certified ballers and they dominated the 2019 World Cup in France from start to finish.

[ MORE: USWNT World Cup glory ]

From their incredible focus on the pitch to their stand for changes in how women’s sport is treated off the pitch, this is without doubt a truly special squad of players.

What did we learn about Jill Ellis’ squad this summer following their back-to-back World Cup victories?


USWNT played not to lose, and within themselves. Well done, Jill Ellis

When the exciting thing to do is play five forwards and go all-out for the win, people get upset when you don’t do that. Even though it isn’t the correct thing to do. USWNT head coach Jill Ellis (who is the first-ever coach in the women’s game to win consecutive world titles) has constantly had doubters due to the way she sets up the U.S. to play. Purists out there want the USWNT to play like Barcelona in their prime while pummelling teams. Ellis stood her ground and stuck with her philosophy, and her players carried out her instructions to a tee.

The U.S. never trailed in the entire competition and the main takeaway is that they never looked like beating themselves. There were no silly errors. No rash decisions to cost them goals. Nobody really looked out of their comfort zone. Ellis made big calls by moving players in and out of the lineup and got them all spot on. The USWNT may have played not to lose, but they weren’t scared of losing. They knew what they were good at — getting the ball out wide quickly, dominating in the air, turning opposition defenses — and played to their strengths. That is the sign of a perfectly well-oiled machine.


They had the best and second-best team at the World Cup. Now they must be rewarded

“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” Ali Krieger said before the USWNT beat Sweden to cap off their perfect group stage performance. Was it arrogant? Maybe a little. Was it correct? Yup. Ellis could rotate the likes of Christen Press, Lindsey Horan and Carli Lloyd into this lineup with ease and the second XI would have surely reached at least the quarterfinals in this competition.

The strength in-depth of this team was ridiculous and the rests Ellis was able to give Morgana and Rapinoe paid dividends for the semifinal and final. 1 to 23 this was a heck of a squad and plenty of players can feel aggrieved that they didn’t play more minutes.

With this USWNT standing as one to fight for equal pay with the USMNT, it is clear what needs to happen now. The U.S. Soccer Federation needs to make it happen, as the U.S. women’s national team is a juggernaut and one which deserves to be rewarded financially in alignment with how they are recognized internationally as one of the best-ever teams.


Ertz, Lavelle, Mewis a perfectly balanced midfield trio

This midfield trio was a perfectly blend for how Ellis wanted the USWNT to play. Rose Lavelle ran at the heart of opposition defenses whenever she could. Sam Mewis too got forward but also won her aerial duels and harassed opposition midfielders. Julie Ertz was outstanding throughout and moving her from central defense to holding midfield was a masterstroke.

These three were perfectly balanced and although many hated the way the USWNT sat back late in games to protect their leads, having Ertz able to drop into the defensive line and clear and head balls away made perfect sense. Horan was often the odd one out, but it’s hard to argue with the midfield trio as World Cup debutants Mewis and Lavelle will be around for many years to come.


Rapinoe, Morgan steal the headlines, but for how long?

We know that Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are USWNT legends (not just for their goal celebrations) and both scored big goals at big moments during the World Cup glory. But can we ignore the fact that they both struggled at points during this tournament? Rapinoe is now 34 years old and although she won the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot at the tournament, the USWNT often looked more dangerous with Press and Tobin Heath out wide.

Rapinoe is a wonderful ambassador for the USWNT and will go down as one of the greatest sportswomen in history for the way she has stood up for what she believes in off the pitch, then backed it up with pivotal displays on it. But now may be a good time for her to pass the baton on to the next wave of USWNT stars. As for Morgan, her five goals in the opener against Thailand padded her stats as she only scored one more goal in the tournament. She won a key penalty in the final and put her body on the line as defenders clattered her time and time again, but you got the sense she was frustrated throughout much of the tournament. Morgan, 30, will still be around for a few more years but Mallory Pugh may well push her all the way for minutes between now and the 2023 World Cup.


The initial buzz is incredible, but now comes the hard part

From the celebrations in France throughout the summer with a huge U.S. fanbase, and neutrals, on their side, to the welcome home in the first 24-48 hours, it is clear the USWNT have stirred the emotions of so many people in the USA and further afield. Now comes the hard bit. The U.S. players were celebrating as they arrived at Newark Airport on the tarmac, with plenty of drinks flowing on the charter flight back from France. But there was no real time for them to chill out. The players then embarked on visiting pretty much every single TV network that is based in New York City to appear on morning shows to talk about their journey. And that journey, in many ways, has only just begun after becoming just the second team in history to win back-to-back World Cups.

What needs to happen now is crucial to not only the USWNT’s success in four years time, but how successfully the sport can grow in the USA. Having a strong, deep NWSL still remains a problem and investment is needed to grow the game across the U.S. at the professional level. France, England, Germany and even Spain are putting plenty of resources into domestic leagues and the U.S. needs to follow, and better that, if the national team will prosper. We already saw at this tournament that Europe has caught up with the U.S. plenty, if not enough, and in another four years time you can expect their squad to be even better. The NWSL needs to be the top women’s soccer league on the planet and the lasting legacy from this World Cup win should be that this group of players, and their federation, made that happen.

Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Europa League: Man United, Inter Milan advance to QF

Europa League Man United
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Results from the round of 16 in the Europa League: Man United and Inter Milan advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday…

[MORE: Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth ]

Man United 2 (7)-1 (1) LASK

Manchester United had a virtually insurmountable advantage following their first-leg demolition of Austrian side LASK, which gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the freedom to rotate his team ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.

Philipp Wiesinger opened the scoring not long before the hour mark, and did so in spectacular — if understated — fashion. LASK’s free kick was initially headed out of the penalty area, but the ball fell to Wiesinger with not a single red shirt within 10 yards. The first-time rocket he unleashed couldn’t have been placed any better.

United hit back through Jesse Lingard just two minutes later, though, restoring the five-goal lead and ruining any dreams of a miraculous comeback at the Theater of Dreams. Anthony Martial added to the lopsided final scoreline in the 88th.

United will face Danish side Copenhagen in the quarterfinals on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Inter Milan 2-0 Getafe

The first and only leg (due to the previous coronavirus shutdowns in Italy and Spain) of Inter Milan’s last-16 clash with Getafe was played at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena, and Romelu Lukaku proved to be the hero of the day for Antonio Conte’s side as he bagged the game’s opening goal in the 33rd minute. After getting on the end of Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball forward, Lukaku put his left foot through the ball and snuck it just inside the far post.

Super-duper sub Christian Eriksen sealed Inter’s place in the quarterfinals, where they’ll face Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen, with a cool second-chance finish in the 83rd minute.

Other Europa League scores

Copenhagen 3 (3)-0 (1) Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 (5)-1 (1) Wolfsburg

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Sevilla v. Roma — 12:55 pm ET
Bayern Leverkusen (3) v. Rangers (1) — 12:55 pm ET
Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) v. Olympiacos (1) — 3 pm ET
Basel (3) v. Eintracht Frankfurt (0) — 3 pm ET

Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth

Man City sign Nathan Ake
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Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth: Another day, another potentially transformative signing for Pep Guardiola and Co., as they reload for their quest to reclaim the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Ake joins Man City after four hugely successful seasons at Bournemouth, which initially took him on loan from Chelsea in 2016 before making the deal permanent for $26 million a year later. With the Cherries relegated from the PL this season, Ake was always going to leave the Vitality Stadium for top-tier pastures.

The transfer fee is said to be in the neighborhood of $52 million, which makes the 25-year-old a relative steal in comparison to fees now being paid for center backs around Europe. Given he has ample experience in the PL, and earned much of it playing in a side that favored a hugely expansive possession style of soccer, Ake should gain Guardiola’s trust and favor rather quickly as we begin to look toward the 2020-21 season.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

John Stones has mostly struggled to impress and raise his level to that of City since moving to the Etihad Stadium in 2016, leaving Guardiola with a serious need at center back alongside Aymeric Laporte. Midfielder Fernandinho was regularly deputized in recent seasons, but that will no longer be necessary with one of the 10-12 best central defenders in the world arriving this summer.

Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal

Arsenal offer Willian
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Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal to join on free transfer: According to multiple reports out of the UK, the Gunners have made the soon-to-be former Chelsea winger a very high priority in the opening hours and days of the summer/fall transfer window of 2020.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

With other interest reportedly coming from Barcelona and MLS side Inter Miami, Willian undoubtedly has options as a free agent following the expiration of his Chelsea contract. According to Sky Sports, the weekly wages offered by Arsenal are “still some way short” of those coming from Barca and Miami.

The 31-year-old is said to have been open to remaining at Stamford Bridge, but he was only offered a two-year contract to do so, prompting him to explore possibilities elsewhere.

Despite starting the season at 30 and turning 31 in September, Willian put together his best season for the Blues, at least statistically speaking, in 2019-20. The Brazilian tallied nine goals and seven assists (in 36 appearances) in Premier League action, plus another pair of goals and an assist between the Champions League and FA Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League transfers: Every deal from all 20 clubs ]

Factoring in their willingness to give him the third year he clearly desires, in order to secure his earning power until he’s 35, Arsenal could very well be favorites to land Willian.

Let’s say they’re offering $150,000 per week, which comes out to a little over $7.8 million per year, bringing the grand total to more than $23 million over three years. Even if Barca have offered $200,000 per week for just the two seasons, the total package falls roughly $4 million short over the life of the respective offers. Sure, Willian could take the gamble of the shorter, more lucrative offer and then be available for another move in the summer of 2022, but such a decision would come without the added security given he’ll be 34 years old at the time and could see his abilities and production fall off dramatically.