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How USMNT can top Canada without Bradley, Pulisic

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There’s definitely neither Michael Bradley, Zack Steffen, nor Christian Pulisic for the United States men’s national team in their last bids to qualify for the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.

Some have joked, “Who cares?” about the new competition, but this matters for the Gregg Berhalter era considering a second loss to Canada would… well… look, it would be a second loss to Canada.

[ MORE: USMNT trims squad to 23 ]

How bad is that? First of all, considering the ire sent south from Canadian media and fans when we didn’t brand John Herdman’s triumph over the USMNT in Toronto as “the time soccer was reinvented by the Children of Bobby Orr (TM),” let us say that Canada:

A) was very, very good in the October win, led by a tactical demolition.

2) is genuinely much improved over the past half-decade (We’ve covered this much over the years, though it was a slow burn)

D) will be a nation to be reckoned with come World Cup qualifying, led by the remarkable Alphonso Davies.

There. And we mean it.

But losing twice inside of one month to a nation who hadn’t beaten you since Berhalter was in middle school would be a monumental step back for a program already swimming in the shallow end thanks to a string of monumental step backs.

We’re gonna have so many monuments to our setbacks. It’s gonna be beautiful. People will love them.

So make no mistake about it: No Bradley and a less-than-100 percent Pulisic is a real problem. The club is still without Timothy Weah and Tyler Adams, but does have a healthy John Brooks and in-form Josh Sargent to go with recent commitment maker Sergino Dest.

That doesn’t help the Bradley-, Adams- and Pulisic-less midfield, but it’s something. We’d note that Julian Green is playing the sort of game that can help a team down its prime influential playmaker, but 2.Bundesliga or something, we guess.

A back four with DeAndre Yedlin, Dest, Brooks, and Tim Ream is going to do a lot better job with Alphonso Davies than the one with, checks notes, Daniel Lovitz, Ream, Aaron Long, and Yedlin. Dest will be out of position at left back, but he’s been there before and better than the alternative.

So, yes, the back four should be fine in front of, presumably, Brad Guzan, but how will Berhalter deal with Scott Arfield‘s game-busting work in the midfield? Alfredo Morales and Weston McKennie are a great start assuming it’s a 4-3-3 scenario. Berhalter for some reason hasn’t been impressed with Sebastian Lletget‘s work for the USMNT, so it seems likely either Jackson Yueill or Cristian Roldan will get run against Canada.

The forward are going to be fine with Jordan Morris, Sargent, and either Paul Arriola or Tyler Boyd, as long as Berhalter lets them press a Canadian back line which is by far their weakest aspect (and sits ahead of a very good goalkeeper in Milan Borjan).

The absence of Bradley and Pulisic doesn’t make Canada a favorite in Florida, even given last month’s abomination at BMO, but Herdman bamboozled Berhalter last time and doesn’t even have to go for a win this time, as a draw will be enough to end the USMNT’s CNL hopes.

Given the electricity of Davies and Jonathan David, the steel of Arfield, and the game-stealing ability of Borjan, the Yanks can play well and still lose. But a speedy back line with two strong center backs combined with an industrious and energetic midfield, and a press against Canada’s inexperienced backs should be enough.

Now we await Berhalter’s plan.

Atletico Madrid stunned by Cultural Leonessa in Copa del Rey

Atletico Madrid upset in Copa del Rey
Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP via Getty Images
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A day after UD Ibiza and Barcelona threatened to provide a signature upset in the Copa del Rey, Cultural Leonessa and Atletico Madrid did the darn thing.

Joao Felix set up Angel Correa for an early goal as a strong Atleti took a lead over their third-tier hosts into the final throes of the match.

That’s when Julen Castenada Nuin scored to force extra time, where 20-year-old Sergio Benito sent the Estadio Reino de León into ecstasy with a winner.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti has made it to 19 finals, winning 10. Diego Simeone’s men go out in the Round of 32 this season.

Several La Liga sides bowed out this round, and two to third-tier sides on Thursday after Badajoz beat Eibar. Also eliminated were Mallorca, Levante, Valladolid, Espanyol, Celta Vigo, and Real Betis.

Love this game:

Klopp: Liverpool “worked their socks off” in late win

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Jurgen Klopp is loving life after Liverpool gutted out another three points in a thrilling if shaky 2-1 win over Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

Klopp gave full marks to Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves, who pushed Liverpool to the brink.

The Reds got a series of fine interventions from Alisson Becker after Wolves equalized through Raul Jimenez in the second half.

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That allowed Liverpool’s Brazilian center forward to deliver the match-winning goal.

Klopp didn’t love the performance, but he enjoyed the resolve.

“The genius moment of Bobby Firmino can help us,” Klopp said. “We won the game, incredibly difficult but who cares?”

“We didn’t panic but it was not like we we completely in the mood I wanted us to be in when we went 1-0 up. You saw then a couple of balls we played into their feet it makes no sense. It’s completely normal. It’s the most difficult thing in football. You start with a complex plan but the development of the game has influence on each individual on the pitch. One sees a chance, sees the space, are not exactly in the same mindset.

“So much to improve for us but knowing if we defend really well like we did in the third system we played tonight. Defending in a 4-4-2, offensively in a 4-3-3. Sadio off doesn’t help. Finishing the game in a 4-5-1. … Everybody worked their socks off. I’m so proud of the boys. It’s incredible.”

Cue more questions about Liverpool’s inevitable first Premier League title and a possible unbeaten season.

“It’s over when it’s over, not before. So why should we really think about it? Let’s carry on. It’s difficult enough. We have to find solutions for the different games then we will see.”

Liverpool visits Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup on Saturday, then heads to West Ham United on Wednesday before hosting Saints on Feb. 1. The congested schedule won’t ease up unless the Reds get knocked out of some competitions, and you wouldn’t want to bet on that right now.

Tranmere upends Watford in FA Cup; Hosts Man Utd on Sunday

Tranmere upsets Watford in FA Cup
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)
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Paul Mullin scored in extra time to lift League One side Tranmere Rovers over a much-weakened Watford in a FA Cup replay at Prenton Park on Thursday.

Tranmere runs out a 2-1 winner and gets a lucrative home date against struggling Manchester United on Sunday.

The pitch condition still wasn’t great nine days after heavy rains caused a postponement of the tie.

Watford didn’t have many familiar faces on the pitch due to the match being its third match in six days. Jose Holebas, Andre Gray, and Christian Kabasele did start the contest.

Tranmere out-attempted Watford 20-11 and had nearly 60 percent of the ball.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Kaylen Hinds scored for Watford, his first goal coming in his first match since 2017/18 when the ex-Arsenal academy man was with… Greuther Furth II.

Tranmere took the lead after Manny Monthe swept a ball home after a half-clearance from the box (Can anything be a half-clearance? Self-reporting to the language police).

Manager Nigel Pearson playing a bevy of youth players. The first team will now get nine more days off before a Feb. 1 visit from Everton.

Of course, they would’ve featured Sunday versus Manchester United in the fourth round.

 

Watford leveled the score on a grimy goal in the 18, but Mullin delivered the goods in the 104th minute.

Liverpool overcomes Wolves challenge to win 14th-straight

Wolves v. Liverpool match recap and video highlights
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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If this ends up being an unbeaten Premier League season for Liverpool, this one may be called “The Alisson Game.”

Liverpool’s star goalkeeper kept the Reds quest for legendary status alive long enoiugh for Roberto Firmino to supply the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jordan Henderson might like the game’s title role, too, scoring a goal and assisting the 84th minute winner.

Raul Jimenez leveled the score after halftime for Wolves, who stay seventh with 34 points.

Liverpool increases its table lead to 16 points with a match-in-hand on the field.


Three things we learned

1. Alisson’s smart goalkeeping keeps dream alive: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have gone behind in eight matches this season, claiming a win in three of them. That would’ve been four if Alisson Becker wasn’t between the sticks for Liverpool. The Brazilian was calm at the back despite being put in several predicaments, his positioning exquisite with plenty of high claims and parries.

2. Henderson has himself a day: Liverpool’s favorite Mackem brings plenty of grit to the side, and his crunching Traore at least thrice in the first 21 minutes shows his tactical duty. But don’t let that take away from his nose for goal. Henderson made sure to back up his motivational “business as usual” post-match interview after beating Manchester United by thundering into the mix to head a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner home after just eight minutes at the Molineux. His alert assist after Salah was dispossessed was plenty pretty, too.

3. Traore puts Reds off balance: As stated above, Jurgen Klopp clearly had a plan for handling Traore when he was in the center of the park. The winger, however, was a much bigger ask for Andy Robertson out wide. Traore blazed down the left to deliver an assist after Robertson’s failed challenge on Jimenez, then won a free kick off Robertson minutes later (Alisson saved the danger).

Man of the Match: Traore. Perfect on contested dribbles and nearly so on 50-50 challenges. A proper menace.


Henderson opened the score when he rose at the near post to head Alexander-Arnold’s cross off Rui Patricio’s hand and into the side netting.

Two of the game’s more lethal finishers were stymied in tight in the 17th and 18th minutes, with Virgil Van Dijk defying Raul Jimenez and Wolves smothered a Mohamed Salah drive.

Sadio Mane limped off with an injury, allowing Takumi Minamino to make a Premier League debut, and Van Dijk was slowed by a 50-50 challenge with Adama Traore before halftime.

Salah drove by two Wolves in stioppage time, but is shot deflected into the air and was corraled by Patricio.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Egyptian picked up where he left off in the 47th, stripping Traore and forcing a save out of Patricio.

Salah raced back upfield moments later to block a Pedro Neto shot after Wolves led a promising charge.

Wolves made it 1-1 with a bit of lightning down the right, as Traore raced onto a through ball and crossed for Jimenez to head past Alisson Becker.

Traore then won a free kick and a yellow card for a poor sliding challenge on Traore, but Wolves couldn’t deliver a second goal in five minutes.

Liverpool answered, Firmino pumping a shot into the keeper despite a half-emptty net at the hour mark.

Alisson then made a fine save on a Traore drive in the 65th, blocking a Jimenez shot two minutes later.

That’s not to say the Reds weren’t busy, and Rui Patricio made a fine low save on Firmino in the 82nd minute.

Firmino got his goal in a flash, taking a pass frorm an alert Henderson and burying a shot past Patricio.

Diogo Jota blew a point blank chance to make it 2-2 in the second minute of stoppage after Traore and Jimenez set him atop the six.