Gareth Bale is back at Tottenham, on loan from Real Madrid for the remainder of the 2020-21 Premier League season, but was unavailable for the last three PL games due to a pre-existing knee injury. Having presumably recovered and regained a measure of fitness in the four weeks since sealing his move back to north London, where he ascended to global superstardom during his prolific 2012-13 season, Bale is expected to be selected in Jose Mourinho’s squad this weekend.
Spurs posted the following video, in which Bale can be seen rifling left-footed finish after left-footed finish past backup goalkeeper Joe Hart, on Monday.
Spurs thrashed Manchester United 6-1 last time out before the international break, but the return of Bale — assuming he is still 70 or 80 percent of the player he was not so long ago — looks set to be the biggest boost the club has enjoyed since returning to north London upon completion of their brand new stadium.
With Liverpool and Manchester City enduring varying degrees of struggles to start the season, could the return of Bale lift Spurs into the title race?
The United States men’s national team had, if we’re honest, the sort of World Cup we expected in Qatar this winter.
Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks came out of the group stage before losing to a superior program in the Round of 16, delivering a performance that was always energetic, at times naive, and at no point a real disservice to the USMNT’s reputation.
But the devil’s in the details, and the federation will have to dissect not whether the team could’ve done better this month, but whether it should’ve provided better performances.
There were absolute successes, like how the team got better in each successive game of the group stage. And how it’s stars — Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams — were mostly utilized in the best manners possible for their talents. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Tim Weah all had arguably the best USMNT stretches of their careers. That’s all real.
But there were also pitfalls. A timid side was bossed by inferior Wales at times in the second half of the tournament-opening 1-1 draw. Weston McKennie was uneven and missed multiple chances to give the U.S. a lead against England. And the rotation Berhalter talked about so often during qualifying was almost non-existent, leading to a team that looked cooked and borderline burnt out at times of the tournament-ender against the Netherlands.
What does it all mean for the program? That’s down to the powers-that-be, but we’ll let you know how we feel each player did, by minutes played, in Qatar. And maybe, as an aside, we can stop worrying about “changing how the world sees American soccer” and just worry about tangible deliverables.
USA player ratings out of 10: How did USMNT do at World Cup?
Sean Johnson: N/A (0 minutes)
Ethan Horvath: N/A (0 minutes)
Joe Scally: N/A (0 minutes) — What could this team have done against the Netherlands by finding a little more rest for Dest and Robinson? Berhalter clearly didn’t think they could get to the knockouts without them, and they were great. But they were also dead by the end of it and Scally’s play for club said he could’ve sidled up to the sub’s table just fine.
Aaron Long: N/A (0 minutes) — Glad he got to a World Cup, and slightly surprised Berhalter didn’t plug him into the lineup instead of CCV vs Iran (The decision was good, just surprising).
Cristian Roldan: N/A (0 minutes)
Jordan Morris: N/A (14 minutes)
Shaq Moore: N/A (20 minutes)
DeAndre Yedlin:N/A (31 minutes)
Kellyn Acosta: N/A (40 minutes)
Jesus Ferreira: N/A (45 minutes) — It would feel cruel to grade Ferreira on his 45 minutes against the Netherlands, as he was asked to lead the line at center forward while making his World Cup debut in a match that would be his first in front of a crowd since his FC Dallas season ended on Oct. 24. Will Ferreira be able to rise above or along with Haji Wright, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, and a host of new faces to make it two World Cup rosters? His career in MLS has given him the base for it.
Giovanni Reyna: N/A (57 minutes) — The tournament had been crying out for a combination player like Reyna (or Aaronson) but Berhalter felt he was getting enough out of Tim Weah and a rotating cast of center forwards plus Brenden Aaronson off the bench. It’s a shame that we’ll have to wonder if he could’ve done something with Wales pressing for an equalizer and looking unthreatened in the opener, or starting with Weah at center forward versus the Dutch. If Gregg Berhalter’s going to remain in charge — and who knows if the coach is even interested in that? — he’s got a huge task in re-earning the faith of a player who should be Pulisic-level important in 2026 if he wasn’t already.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 (90 minutes) — The Celtic star did what he was asked to do against Iran: keep and move the ball, and bully someone every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if a new coach values the big back more than he’s been valued by Berhalter, as CCV was one of Celtic’s Player of the Season candidates in their SPL run last season.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5 (105 minutes) — The Leeds man wasn’t bad at all. You can see why he’s valued by Berhalter as a super sub but Aaronson also feels like a player who should be needling opponents from the opening whistle. He’s a card-conjurer. Could he be one of two Aaronsons on the 2026 team?
Haji Wright: 6.5 (135 minutes) — There were good moments and bad ones for the Antalyaspor center forward, the best clearly being his goal to bring the Yanks within one against the Netherlands. What is the future with the program for the 24-year-old Wright? You could see him starting another four years or dropping further back on the radar, but let’s celebrate a big, strong young man who went from LA Galaxy academy to New York Cosmos to Schalke to four other European clubs in order to make a World Cup roster.
Josh Sargent: 6.5 (163 minutes) — The argument’s there if you want it: Sargent’s better when he’s running around like a maniac at Norwich City and either helping wreak havoc with a Teemu Pukki type or doing the grunt work for Milot Rashica. But Sargent showed himself to be an adequate hold-up man for the USMNT and he’s certainly maturing by the game for club and country. It seems likely he starts against Netherlands if not for the ankle injury that hampered him all week. Where will he (and Norwich) be when 2026 arrives on Planet Earth?
Weston McKennie: 6 (275 minutes) — The enduring tournament questions for “What if” types will be how the Round of 16 game would’ve shaken out if Pulisic buries his chance in the 3rd minute, and how the 0-0 draw with England might’ve ended had McKennie not failed to convert two chances including an early one that was close to gimme status. McKennie, at times, has been the team’s heart and engine. His passion seeps into the room and onto the pitch. But fitness and sharpness kept him from being above his average and — perhaps — the Yanks from winning the group.
Walker Zimmerman: 7 (278 minutes) — Yes, the penalty conceded to Gareth Bale was poor. But Zimmerman has been shining on big stages at every stop of his career since he was running Dallas’ back line with Matt Hedges. His 15 clearances — what he was there for — rank Top 20 in the tournament and his 13 completed long balls show just how far his passing’s come since his early days in MLS.
Sergino Dest: 7 (309 minutes) — Again let’s not let the recency bias of his very poor defending against home nation the Dutch gloss over a sensational group stage. Dest had his two best games in a U.S. shirt versus England and Iran, keeping talented wings honest while also holding it down at the back. He finished just ahead of Robinson and Musah with the most successful dribbles on the team with five.
Christian Pulisic: 8 (315 minutes) — Fouled an almost absurd 11 times over 315 minutes, the Pennsylvanian Pulisic earned his moments in the sun and paid for them with a hospital visit to treat a pelvic contusion. Pulisic will lament having a third-minute shot saved by the Dutch, but he had a hand in three of the Yanks’ goals, which — checks notes — were all of their goals. Led the team in goal contributions, assists, and key passes, finishing behind only Adams in duels won.
Timothy Weah: 7 (320 minutes) — If Weah was playing center forward, we might have to ding him for a failure to convert some difficult chances. But the Lille wide man — often used as a sort of right mid by Paulo Fonseca — was explosive and his goal against Wales one of the finer in recent USMNT memory. Weah was especially tidy in the passing game for a winger, and his work on the right worked oh-so-well with Dest to give left backs a tremendous amount of headaches.
Yunus Musah: 7.5 (345 minutes) — Out of gas by the end of the Netherlands tilt, yes. But did any player do more for his transfer value in this tournament than Musah? The Valencia man will have certainly impressed clubs in his home nation of England, as his ball progression was exceptional and he snapped into eight tackles, too. By the way, he left his teenage years in the middle of the tournament. We may see him for another three World Cup cycles.
Antonee Robinson: 8 (359 minutes) — It’s going to be difficult for readers eyeballing this piece close to the final whistle of the Netherlands loss to see the ‘8’ and not think of Robinson completely losing his way on the third Dutch goal, but it would be a shame to shade the perception of his tournament. “Jedi” was a relentless and critical part of the program’s success in Qatar and looks very much like the best left-sided defender in the program since… Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley were jostling for ownership of the wingback position? His seven interceptions show a wise reader of the game who is now more than electricity and industry.
Matt Turner: 7 (360 minutes) — Not gonna lie: There were moments against Wales — mostly in ball control — that had us doubting the decision to leave Zack Steffen home (nothing against Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But that was a thing of the past as Turner’s skill as a shot-stopper, something we knew about, was joined by a vast improvement in distribution since we saw him leave New England for Arsenal. Love another college soccer player working his way to USMNT starter, too, don’t we?
Tim Ream: 8 (360 minutes) — He
Think about that. Fulham’s Ream combined with club and country teammate Robinson to make the left side a very strong side until the late stages versus Holland. His 274 passes led the team, his 16 long balls trailed only Adams and Turner, and his 11 clearances were only four fewer than Zimmerman’s team-best total. The U.S. has a long history of funny paths to the team and Ream’s career journey, long-term and short-term, is almost as good a tale as Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit.
Tyler Adams: 8 — 360 minutes — Made arguably one significant mistake over the whole tournament and it helped Memphis Depay score the Netherlands’ first goal, but don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment of the captain and player most likely to captain the side on home soil in 2026. The Leeds United man led the team in tackles with 11 and handled off-field controversy like a 35-year-old veteran. Health will be wealth for the MLS-grown wonderboy.
As for the 2018 World Cup runners, Zlatko Dalic’s side continue to fly under the radar as they got out of Group F with minimum fuss. The experience is plentiful in this side, while emerging talents are also starting to star. Can they go on another deep run?
How to watch Japan vs Croatia live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 10am ET – Monday, December 5 Stadium: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Japan’s comeback wins against Germany and Spain have been a joy to watch and anybody who watched them before this tournament will not be that surprised. Moriyasu has created a squad which has a total ‘team first’ mentality and so many players are stepping up to deliver in midfield and attack. From Maya Yoshida captaining the side and dominating at center back to Mitoma, Doan, Endo and Tanaka dazzling in midfield and attack whenever they feature, this is a joy to watch. The energy Japan plays with is dizzying and they will create plenty of chances against Croatia. The big question: can they be more clinical?
As for Croatia, the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic have been here before. They exude confidence and Josko Gvardiol is a fine young center back and the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic add extra class. This is a side which always seems to overdeliver and they will be thinking another deep run at the World Cup is on the cards. Surely they can’t get to the final again, right?
Japan quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ritsu Doan
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group E with 6 points (+1 GD)
Croatia quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group F with 5 points (+3 GD)
Australia, on the other hand, are in the knockout stage for just the second time ever (2006 – round of 16). The Socceroos were also beaten, and battered, by defending champions France in their opener, but a pair of back-to-back 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark were enough to see them through on a dramatic final day of Group D play.
How to watch Argentina vs Australia live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday (December 3) Stadium: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Without looking ahead and past Australia, Argentina will know that their half of the bracket is shaping up rather nicely for a run to at least the semifinals, where they could potentially meet bitter rivals Brazil. Messi has been in fine form thus far in Qatar, scoring twice and assisting once more during the group stage, even if he was denied from the penalty spot by Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny in the finale. The main question regarding Lionel Scaloni’s selection revolves around Lautaro Martinez (2 starts in the group stage – 0 goals, 0 assists) and Julian Alvarez (1 start – 1 goal, 0 assists) at center forward.
Australia head into Saturday’s showdown having not conceded a goal in 199 minutes, going back to France’s fourth in the opener. The Socceroos have had success since switching to a 4-4-2 in both of their victories, keeping eight, nine and sometimes 10 men behind the ball while averaging just 36.7 percent of possession over the three games. Australia are one of four sides (Morocco, Poland and Japan being the others) to have held less than 40 percent of possession and make it through to the knockout rounds.
Argentina quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez
Australia quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 38
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified from AFC via the intercontinental playoffs
Coach: Graham Arnold
Key players: Mathew Ryan, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie
Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.
From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.