Three things we learned: Man United v. Liverpool

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Manchester United and Liverpool played out a tense, absorbing clash at Old Trafford as Adam Lallana snatched a late point for the Premier League leaders.

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Marcus Rashford‘s first half goal looked to be leading Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s injury-hit squad to a huge victory over their bitter rivals, but Jurgen Klopp‘s men dug deep to find a way to secure a point.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a nervy encounter.


VAR TAKES CENTER STAGE, GETS BIG MOMENT WRONG

After a Saturday which was dominated by big VAR calls, it was only fitting the big game of the weekend also saw VAR take center stage. Two key moments in the first half shaped this game, and one was incorrect. Rashford’s opener should have been chalked off after Divock Origi was fouled by Victor Lindelof in the build-up. VAR was used but didn’t overturn the goal, with Liverpool livid. As for the other big moment involving VAR, Sadio Mane’s goal just before half time was correctly ruled out. Without VAR, that goal would have stood because the replays clearly showed the Senegalese forward handled the ball and then scored.

We saw the best and worst of VAR on Sunday, and United were on the right side of the new technology. VAR is still far too subjective and the fact Premier League referees aren’t willing to head to the TV screen on the side of the pitch to double check their decisions is taking the decision out of their hands and leaving the decisions down to the subjective views of officials sat in front of a TV in Stockley Park. Fans and players won’t mind if a referee has a quick look on the TV screen to double check and the fact no penalty kick decision (which has been awarded) hasn’t been overturned shows that VAR officials aren’t keen to overturn a refs decision and signal for a ‘clear and obvious’ error.


MAN UNITED’S NEW FORMATION SHOULD STAY

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer caused a shock with a 3-5-2 formation and it worked a treat to lock down Liverpool’s wide players. This looked like a specialist formation to make United better defensively against a stunning attacking team, but they should use it more often. When you have full backs like Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw (when he’s back fit) you have to make the best of their strengths, and that is going forward.

Harry Maguire loves to maraud out of the back, and having two center backs alongside him gave him the license to do that. Midfield is still a problem area for United, but the trio of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Andreas Pereira and their movement made up for that with Rashford and James playing centrally unnerving Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk. The pressure and pace United’s attackers put on Liverpool’s defense meant United could push themselves higher up the pitch and Solskjaer got his tactics spot on, even if his young team tired and hung on for a draw.

Sometimes you stumble on the right system and Solskjaer should probably stick with these tactics going forward. Yes, United couldn’t hang on for the win, but they played much better than they had in recent weeks and with Pogba, Martial and Shaw to come back in, things will get better. It’s okay to tweak your tactical plan while staying in line with the masterplan. Solskjaer’s youngster did him proud.


NERVOUS LIVERPOOL MISSED SALAH

Liverpool’s winning streak came to an end at 17, as they failed to match Man City’s record for most consecutive Premier League wins and their 100 percent start to the season is over. In truth, they never looked like winning this game but they will bee happy with a point. Klopp cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as Liverpool’s attack didn’t fire and they looked nervous in possession and made bizarre decisions in midfield. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane had both been touted as Liverpool’s new leading men in attack, but they missed Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian winger was out injured over the international break after Hamza Choudhury‘s late challenge on him two weeks ago, and although Salah’s form has been up and down this season Liverpool didn’t look the same without him. Adam Lallana got them out of jail late on after Firmino’s dummy and Klopp will be happy enough to grind out a point without playing well. Liverpool are six points clear at the top of the table and they’ve yet to get out of second gear this season. Man City will stay in touching distance and Klopp knows he needs Salah fit and back to his best to help Liverpool kick on in the winter months. Liverpool know they have to play much better than this if they’re going to win the Premier League title this season.

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

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Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

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Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.