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Chelsea draws Valencia despite Pulisic goal

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The Chelsea defense was shambolic, but Valencia’s finishing was worse, and it seemed that Christian Pulisic‘s goal and Kepa Arrizabalaga’s penalty save would be enough. Then Daniel Wass produced a moment of sheer brilliance good enough to keep the Spanish side’s Champions League hopes alive.

Valencia missed a host of big chances that should have won them the game, but in the 80th minute Wass arrived to deliver a goal worthy of points from acres away to secure a 2-2 draw.

Valencia were on the front foot the first 30 minutes, but they were left empty-handed as Maxi Gomez missed a blinding chance on 20 minutes that left the home fans stunned. A wonderful cross form Rodrigo on the break fell right to the feet of Gomez, but the Uruguayan completely whiffed while sliding in awkwardly at the far post, a surefire miss of the season candidate.

Gomez again was left begging on the half-hour mark as the cross from Dani Parejo was too far for Ferran Torres but reached Gomez at the far post where his effort was saved by a charging Kepa Arrizabalaga despite the goal gaping.

Chelsea began to push after that, and worked a pair of chances with N’Golo Kante firing over the bar and Tammy Abraham forcing an exceptional save from Man of the Match Jasper Cillessen who tipped his poke over the bar. Just as the Blues were getting going, Valencia finally found the back of the net. From the right flank Rodrigo delivered a fabulous lofted cross into the middle of the box and Carlos Soler volleyed it home past Arrizabalaga.

The Blues responded right away, with Mateo Kovacic delivering a speculative turn-and-shoot from the top of the box that squirted inside the left post past a diving Cillessen for the Croatian’s first Chelsea goal. He nearly had a second before halftime as he rifled in a silky Pulisic delivery from the far post and Cillessen saved. Chelsea suffered a blow just before the break as Tammy Abraham landed awkwardly and was in serious pain, holding his left hip. Abraham was replaced by Michy Batshuayi upon the second-half restart.

Just moments after the whistle blew, Pulisic put Chelsea in front 2-1 as he nodded home Kurt Zouma‘s header with a toe poke. It was initially ruled out for offside, but after an extremely long VAR review, the goal was given as technology proved Pulisic was just level with the defender. Ezequiel Garay was booked for dissent after the goal was given, appearing to argue that he was fouled by Zouma on the aerial challenge.

Yet again the Chelsea defense was let off as Valencia should have scored, but Torres missed over the goal with a chip attempt as the Blues scrambled and Arrizabalaga was out of his net. Chelsea again allowed Valencia through as Jorginho was harshly whistled for a penalty in a clash with Jose Gaya, but after VAR allowed the call to stand, Arrizabalaga made a spectacular save to maintain the lead.

The game remained wide open as Chelsea nearly doubled the lead through Willian whose feed from Batshuayi left him alone with a charging Cillessen who saved well. Valencia began to pour on the pressure, and ultimately it bore fruit. A feed to the right by Parejo was dummied and left to Wass whose cross (it was absolutely a cross) stunningly found the top corner and into the back of the net off the woodwork.

Chelsea nearly found a winner thanks to a massive deflection on a Batshuayi shot, but Cillessen somehow managed to make a kick save despite already having gone to ground to meet the initial hit. For good measure, Valencia missed a sure winner at the death, with Rodrigo mishitting at the far post from a Gaya cross along the face of goal.

The two points lost for Chelsea were valuable ones in a crowded Group H, with the trio of Chelsea, Valencia, and Ajax all coming into the day level on seven points. With the Blues still to play Lille while Valencia has to take on Ajax, they will still believe to be holding the upper hand, but it will all come down to the final match day.

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.