Embarrassing loss should be wake-up call to woeful Newcastle


Steve Bruce has some good excuses at his disposal this season, what with COVID hitting his Newcastle United side hard and long, but there’s nothing that can rationalize Newcastle United’s performance Tuesday as the Magpies fell to the previously-winless Blades 1-0 on Tuesday at Bramall lane.

Facing a team who entered with a league-worst eight goals scored and third-worst 29 conceded, Bruce packed the back and played one forward, his tactics against a woeful attacking and defending side allowing Blades to more than double their season point total, as Sheffield United laid claim to its second-best attacking performance of the Premier League season.

Blades have only produced more xG (2.01) once this season, versus West Brom. They had scored one goal in their last four matches and averaged 7.25 shots per game.

They had 10 by halftime on Tuesday.


Bruce took responsibility for the loss but also lashed out at VAR after the Blades struck through a penalty and goal scorer Billy Sharp was not sent off for a poor challenge.

But the key is that a team with Newcastle’s talent might not be a top four contender, but it shouldn’t be losing to Sheffield United and drawing Fulham and West Brom while being second-best in all three outings.

Bruce couldn’t ignore it.

“First half was arguably as bad as we’ve played in a long time,” Bruce said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance going forward and we didn’t create.”

This is not a surprise. Bruce had five at the back including a center back at left wing back.

Newcastle is a relegation candidate without changes

There was also the confusion that comes with Bruce playing five across the back but having the left back be Paul Dummett, not exactly a pace merchant.

Sides who line up that way and cede possession almost need to mimic Sean Dyche at Burnley and play very aggressive: either lump the ball to big men up top or send speedy forwards zipping after the ball.

Newcastle seems to keep playing out of the back, giving the ball away in its own half, and — when Jonjo Shelvey or Fabian Schar is out — lumping loooooong passes that demand too much of the forwards too often.

Bruce kept big men Andy Carroll and Joelinton on the bench as well as Miguel Almiron, opting to play Callum Wilson alone up top with very little pace around him. That became almost zero pace once Ryan Fraser took two bad yellow cards in a half-dozen minutes.

Disturbing numbers and an exasperated goalkeeper

Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow has saved the Magpies several times this season and nearly did It get again on Tuesday.

He sounds exasperated.

“There can be no excuses,” Darlow said. “We need to come here and do the business. Talk is cheap, we need to show more on the pitch that the fans can be proud of. It’s back to the drawing board. We needed to put more pressure on, they were fighting for their lives. We haven’t delivered what we said in the changing room, on the training pitch. We didn’t get hold of the ball.”

Only West Brom’s Sam Johnstone is averaging more saves-per-game than Darlow, who is tied with Leeds’ Illan Meslier for second. He’s been forced into making the most clearances in the league, too.

Center back Federico Fernandez is leading the Premier League in clearances (89) and blocked shots (21) blocked shots.

Conversely, Newcastle is 19th in shot attempts, 20th in possession, 18th in passing, 19th in shots conceded, 18th in expected goals for, 15th in expected goals conceded, and 18th in expected points.

Newcastle has taken 100 less shots than their opponents in open play (195-95) and has only one player, Callum Wilson, with an expected goal total higher than 1.15. That’s for the whole season, not one game.

When playing five at the back — as they were Tuesday — the Magpies are being out-attempted 117-56. In a 4-4-2, where they are at their best, the Magpies are being outshot 96-79 but outperforming their opponents in xG.

Nine of their 18 goals have come after the 76th but so have 10 of their conceded goals. Newcastle is not out-scoring their opponent in any 15-minute segment of game play and continues to be dreadful without Allan Saint-Maximin.

Of qualified players making more than four appearances, Newcastle counts its players in the following spots in WhoScored’s overall rating.

0-50: None

51-100: Karl Darlow (61), Allan Saint-Maximin (79).

101-200: Ciaran Clark (103), Callum Wilson (106), Joelinton (114), Jonjo Shelvey (119).

201-300: Jeff Hendrick (207), Jacob Murphy (211), Jamaal Lascelles (221), Federico Fernandez (224), Isaac Hayden (231), Miguel Almiron (255), Andy Carroll (263), Matt Ritchie (273), Fabian Schar (278), Javier Manquillo (300).

301+: Jamal Lewis (302), DeAndre Yedlin (304), Sean Longstaff (312), Ryan Fraser (331).

That’s six of the top 200 performers in the Premier League. Not good.

The Saint-Max effect

Allan Saint-Maximin is one of the most electric players in the Premier League, and the long-term effects of COVID-19 he’s experiencing are terrifying.

But his absence from the field is haunting the team, especially as Bruce refuses to use the closest thing he has to ASM in Miguel Almiron.

This season, Newcastle is 3W-1D-3L when Saint-Maximin goes more than 33 minutes and 2W–3D-5L when he doesn’t.

They’ve drawn Wolves and beaten both Everton and West Ham with him, the caliber of teams Newcastle supporters expect to land amongst in any given season.

They’ve lost to Leeds, Sheffield United, and Brighton without him.

Last season, they went on a 5W-2D-2L run when he started nine-straight Premier League games, then promptly went 1W-1D-4L when he hurt his hamstring. He returned and scored when they beat Chelsea.

Get well soon.

How do they fix this?

The Magpies seem destined to fall short of their potential and potentially even dip into the Championship if they cannot address their errors.

Newcastle is not just undermanned in the midfield, it doesn’t have a cogent plan in the middle of the park. Jonjo Shelvey is a passing wizard, Isaac Hayden a tireless worker, and Matty Longstaff a promising prospect but so much is missing.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

It seems like Bruce is incapable of organizing this group in a way that functions well and Shelvey’s absence coupled with Allan Saint-Maximin’s long COVID-19 fight and the manager’s inability to use Miguel Almiron in his best position are combining to create chaos.

Is there a way to fix Newcastle without cutting ties with Bruce, who seems a lovely man but often doesn’t pick the right game plan and rarely makes meaningful in-game changes?

Well, a dominant box-to-box central midfielder has been missing for ages but transfers do not seem likely. If one does not arrive, he could and should try clogging the midfield. If he insists on Wilson as a lone striker, then a 4-5-1 over a 5-4-1 is better.

Or at least go the Leeds route and go down swinging, because their six-game winless run has handed a point to Fulham, three to Leeds, and another three to Blades.

Five teams are below Newcastle. There’s little reason to fear Blades or West Brom, but Brighton is five points back and significantly better in talent and preparation than the Magpies. Burnley and Fulham aren’t too far back and Newcastle next faces Arsenal, Leeds, and Everton.

Don’t be surprised if they open February with few new faces and the bottom three in sight when Crystal Palace visits St. James’ Park.

Advanced stats primarily from Understat and WhoScored.

USMNT projected starting lineup vs Saudi Arabia


The USMNT face Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain in their final warm-up game before the 2022 World Cup kicks off in November and there are plenty of question marks around their best starting lineup.

Especially at center back and up front.

[ MORE: Player ratings | What we learned | Reaction ]

Following the shocking defeat to Japan (where a 2-0 scoreline in Japan’s favor heavily flattered the USMNT), Gregg Berhalter has plenty to think about as he juggles his roster around ahead of this final audition.

Yes, this final camp before the World Cup has seen the USMNT without six key players (Weah, Steffen, A. Robinson, Carter-Vickers, Richards and Musah) but the most concerning thing is that nobody took the opportunity given to them against Japan. Will anybody step up against Saudi Arabia and cement their spot in the roster, or even the starting lineup?

Below is our projected lineup, plus analysis on what Berhalter should do for the final 90 minutes he has with the team before they kick off their World Cup campaign against Wales on Nov. 21 in Qatar.

USMNT projected starting lineup vs Saudi Arabia (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Scally — Zimmerman — Palmer-Brown — Dest —

—- Adams —- McKennie —-

—- Reyna —-

— Aaronson — Pepi — Pulisic —

What should Berhalter do?

It’s clear that Gregg Berhalter will make plenty of changes as eight players (six outfield, two goalkeepers) didn’t have any minutes against Japan last time out. That said, he needs key players on this team to find some rhythm playing together less than two months before the World Cup kicks off. This starting lineup should be a mixture between giving players a final chance to impress and letting star players alongside each other as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup.


Matt Turner proved he’s the undisputed No. 1 as he excelled against Japan (perhaps the only player to leave that game with any credit) and although Zack Steffen is better with the ball at his feet, Turner appears to have the upper-hand. That leaves Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson to battle it out for the final goalkeeping spot on the roster. Expect them both to get a chance in this game.


In defense, Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie should both get plenty of minutes to make their final claim for a spot on the roster but it may be a surprise to see them line up together. Perhaps they will have 45 minutes each alongside Zimmerman (a guaranteed starter at CB) to see who fares better as a duo?

At full back Joe Scally should get a run out at right back, while Sergino Dest will likely show off his versatility and play left back. The likes of Dest, and others, need the game time given they’re on the fringes of their starting lineup for their club teams. We now what DeAndre Yedlin can do and he is a leader on this team who is going to Qatar no matter what.


In midfield, I’d start Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie together again. They looked awful against Japan which was very surprising. This duo have to get some kind of partnership going and 60 minutes together here could see things click back into place for them. We know what Luca de la Torre and Kellyn Acosta offer, while Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman could both get another, longer, chance to push for a spot on the roster.


Gio Reyna playing in a central role as a No. 10 should be something Berhalter prioritizes, while Christian Pulisic is fit and will start (according to Berhalter) so he should start on the left and Brenden Aaronson should start on the right. Getting Aaronson, Reyna and Pulisic used to playing together and interchanging is something that has to be done.

Up top, Berhalter has confirmed that Ricardo Pepi will get his chance to start and his physicality and speed should combine very well with the trio underneath him. Expect Josh Sargent to get a good chunk of minutes too, while Jesus Ferreira is the other option up top but maybe we could see Pulisic or Reyna playing up there as a false nine at some point of the game?

Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits


With the 2022 World Cup fast approaching, plenty of World Cup kits are starting to be released and there are some intriguing looks.

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From Mexico’s snazzy away number to Germany going for a solid new look for their home kit and Puma rolling out a very specific and similar look for their national teams, just like they did for their club teams on their away kits, there is a lot to unpack here.

When November rolls around and the World Cup kicks off, which one of these jerseys will you be wearing with pride? And which one will you be wearing because it looks really cool?

Below is our rankings of the World Cup kits which have been released.

Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits

1. Mexico

This is a lovely away kit and will become a classic. Expect these beauties to fly off the shelves and be a jersey that neutrals love just as much as El Tri fans. The home kit is very decent too.

2. Portugal

Absolutely sensational work. The home kit is unique enough but still sticks to Portugal’s bold colors, while the away kit is a classic too.

3. Poland

Oh, wow. This is absolutely beautiful. The away shirt is majestic and the home shirt is classic but with some intriguing detail on the sleeves. Nicely done.

4. Japan

Well, this is another classic. Japan’s home kit is inspired by anime and the design is bold and recognizable. The away kit is fantastic too, especially the long-sleeved version.

5. France

The home and away kits are both lovely and the colors just work together. Well done.

6. Argentina

The home kit is classic. You can’t really mess up the blue and white stripes. Again, another lovely away kit. The purple is perfect and this just looks slick and silky. Much like Lionel Messi’s footwork.

7. Wales

These are beautiful. The right color red on the home shirt and just enough going on without overdoing it. The away shirt is also bold and the collar is lovely. Well done.

8. Brazil

Home kit looks like a classic and the away shirt is pretty decent too, but some people may not like the funky print on the shoulders.

9. England

The blue panels on the home kit are a bit meh but the away kit is a retro beauty.

10. Croatia

They kind of ruined a classic with the home kit. It’s still cool but only having the checkered design on part of the home shirt is weird. The away kit is majestic.

11. Saudi Arabia

Pretty nice designs here. They could have gone with the plain white for the home and plain green for the away, but the snazzy designs work. Especially for the away kit.

12. Netherlands

The home shirt looks kind of velvety? Not the usual bright orange, which will upset some. The blue away kit is sleek and the real winner here.

13. Senegal

This is the best of the Puma jerseys, as Senegal’s away kit is very distinctive and the green is lovely. This big panel on the middle of the kit is something we will get used to seeing a lot of during the World Cup.

14. Ghana

Again, another Puma away kit but this Ghana shirt has plenty of personality.

15. Germany

This is fine. Expect a bit better from Die Mannschaft and it feels like they should have an all white jersey for their home kit.

16. Qatar

The hosts have a simple, clean look. The away shirt has a nice golden pattern on it. Not bad.

17. USA

The home shirt has not been received well by fans, and some players, for being too boring. But the away shirt is pretty nice.

18. Morocco

A bit plain, but like the collar and sleeve trims and the circular pattern around the middle is very cool.

19. Spain

Eh, this could have been so much better. Spain’s home kit looks bland and the away kit is just too much with that pattern.

20. Australia

Not quite sure what to make of this. The same velvety style as the Netherlands home shirt on Australia’s home shirt. Just doesn’t work. The away kit is also just very bland.

21. Belgium

These home kits are just a little too plain and the flame pattern on the shoulder isn’t great and looks like a shirt I’d wear to my midweek bowling league. A missed opportunity. The same applies for the away kit. Belgium’s golden generation won’t look golden this World Cup.

22. Uruguay

Again, another Puma away kit which looks very similar. Uruguay’s iconic sky blue could have been used a lot better on this away shirt.

23. Serbia

Lovely gold in the design and makes the white away kit pop a little.

24. Switzerland

Just very bland. Not a lot going on and the panel in the middle is just a bit of an eyesore.

World Cup 2022 rankings: Who are the favorites?


With less than two months to go until it all kicks off, it is time to update and release the latest 2022 World Cup rankings.

[ MORE: USMNT react to Japan defeat ]

There are a few clear favorites to win the trophy in Qatar but some of the giants have been handed tougher group stage draws than others which will obviously impact their chances of lifting the famous trophy.

Given that some of the favorites have also been struggling in recent Nations League games and friendlies with plenty of heavy defeats and strange results, there remains no real frontrunner to win the tournament. That is great news for neutrals.

[ MORE: Full schedule for World Cup ]

Keep an eye out on a few underdogs too, as there are some real opportunities which have opened up depending on what side of the bracket you’re on.

We will updates these rankings before and during the tournament in Qatar, which takes place from November 21 to December 18, 2022.

[ MORE: Betting odds for 2022 World Cup ]

Let us know what you think of the rankings below.

Schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
Group stage game kick off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
Location: Qatar
TV channel in EnglishFox
TV channel in Spanish: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock

World Cup Rankings – September 26, 2022

32. Tunisia – Down 1
31. Qatar – Down 4
30. Australia – Up 2
29. Ghana – Even
28. Cameroon – Down 3

27. Saudi Arabia – Up 1
26. Costa Rica – Up 4
25. Wales – Down 5
24. Iran – Even
23. Ecuador – Down 5

22. Morocco – Even
21. Canada – Up 2
20. USA – Down 4
19. Japan – Up 7
18. Poland – Up 3

17. Mexico – Up 2
16. South Korea – Down 1
15. Uruguay – Down 5
14. Serbia – Up 3
13. Senegal – Down 1

12. Switzerland – Up 1
11. Croatia – Up 3
10. Denmark – Up 1
9. England – Down 3
8. Germany – Down 3
7. Spain – Even

6. Netherlands – Up 3
5. Portugal – Up 3
4. France – Even
3. Belgium – Down 1
2. Argentina – Up 1
1. Brazil – Even

UEFA Nations League: Schedule, how to watch, stream, TV, standings


UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is behind Spain in its bid to return to the throne room, highlighting the odds that a new Nations League winner will be crowned at the end of third edition of the tournament.

England and Wales are also coming to terms with the concept of relegation to UEFA Nations League B after underwhelming campaigns. Hungary look set to reach the semifinal round, which is a huge surprise as they faced Germany, England and Italy in A3.

France lost to Denmark and just remained in League A as Austria were relegated, with Croatia pipping the Danes to a place in the semifinal round.

[ MORE: European Nations League hub — Scores, stats ]

Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well but the Dutch triumphed down the stretch (thanks to a 1-0 win as Virgil van Dijk scored the lone goal in Amsterdam) to advance to the semifinal round.

UEFA Nations Leagues B, C, and D also have drama built into the final days as Ukraine and Scotland are jockeying for promotion in B1; Russia’s punishment has left B2 promotion open to Israel, Iceland, and Albania. B4 sees Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard, and Norway fighting to join League A for the next cycle.

There’s also drama as Kazakhstan and Georgia currently lead their League C groups, with Latvia and Estonia in League D’s best spots.

UEFA Nations League live: How to watch, stream links

When: June 1, 2022 – March 26, 2024
How to watch: Fox Sports Live, Fubo TV

UEFA Nations League A, Group 1

Croatia– 4-1-1, 13 pts [ADVANCED]
Denmark — 4-0-2, 12 pts
France — 1-2-3, 5 pts
Austria — 1-1-4, 4 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark

Denmark 2-0 France
Austria 1-3 Croatia

UEFA Nations League A, Group 2

Portugal — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Spain — 2-2-0, 8 pts
Switzerland — 2-0-3, 6 pts
Czech Republic — 1-1-3, 4 pts

Next fixtures

Czech Republic 0-4 Portugal
Spain 1-2 Switzerland

Portugal vs Spain
Switzerland vs Czech Republic

UEFA Nations League A, Group 3

Hungary — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Italy — 2-2-1, 8 pts
Germany — 1-3-1, 6 pts
England — 0-2-3, 2 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary

England vs Germany
Hungary vs Italy

UEFA Nations League A, Group 4

Netherlands — 5-1-0, 16 pts [ADVANCED]
Belgium — 3-1-2, 10 pts
Poland — 2-1-3, 7 pts
Wales — 0-1-5, 1 pt [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales

Netherlands 1-0 Belgium
Wales 0-1 Poland