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Benitez seethes, says Newcastle still in relegation race

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Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez is taking no comfort from a dominant display in a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday, saying the club is still in the relegation picture.

[ RECAP: Newcastle 0-1 Palace ]

Benitez has been saying the club needs one more win to seal safety, but instead it was Palace who basically claimed a spot in the Premier League’s next season when DeAndre Yedlin took down Wilfried Zaha in the box and Luka Milivojevic converted the Eagles’ lone shot on goal of the match.

“The next game is another final, we need to get three points and that is it,” Benitez said. “I said so that so many months ago, we need to keep going.”

The Magpies have a seven-point lead on Cardiff City, who holds the last relegation spot on the table, and both Southampton and Brighton are behind Newcastle by two points.

And Benitez is steaming, because 10 points ahead of the pack with five matches left would all but seal their spot in the top flight. From The Chronicle:

“My frustration today is we lost a massive game. We did everything for winning the game for 80 minutes but we didn’t do it. We need to manage the game, keep a balance. We need to be aware they are dangerous on counter attack.”

The Magpies are off to in-form Leicester City before hosting Saints, and traveling to Brighton and Hove Albion. Then it’s Liverpool at home before a trip to Fulham on the final day.

Palace wins at Newcastle behind Milivojevic penalty

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  • Yedlin takes down Zaha in box
  • Milivojevic converts PK with Palace’s first effort on target in 81st
  • Magpies’ Lejeune stretchered off

Luka Milivojevic scored his 10th penalty kick of the season in a 1-0 defeat of otherwise in-control Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Palace moves 12th with the win and is virtually assured of safety, while Newcastle is four points behind with 35 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The chances were almost exclusively Newcastle save for a Martin Dubravka denial of an offside Michy Batshuayi.

The Magpies attacked down the right and left with DeAndre Yedlin and Miguel Almiron, while Salomon Rondon looked the best bet for an opening goal.

Fabian Schar was also dangerous in the middle, as Newcastle was well in control of the match.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita was a busy man at times, and collected a Florian Lejeune header off an early second half corner.

Almiron cued up Yedlin for a right-footed strike from 17 yards that knuckled just a bit high and wide of the upper 90.

Lejeune then went down with a scary left ankle injury in which he was signaling for a change before he even hit the turf. He was given oxygen before being stretchered off the pitch.

Benteke flubbed a brilliant cross from Andros Townsend on the counter as Palace’s 78th minute opportunity was a rare one.

Yedlin conceded a penalty to Zaha in the 80th minute with a poor challenge on the free-running Ivorian winger.

A late cry for an Aaron Wan-Bissaka handball in the Palace box went unheard, and the Eagles walked away with three points.

Premier League preview: Newcastle v. Crystal Palace

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  • Newcastle has lost just 1 of its last 16 matches v. Palace
  • Crystal Palace has 19 away goals in 2019, a joint-league high
  • Newcastle has a five-game home PL winning streak

Amid speculation about Rafa Benitez‘s uncertain future, Newcastle takes to the field as the Magpies host Crystal Palace at St. James Park on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

With his contract set to run out this summer, Benitez claimed the “ball is in Newcastle United’s court” when it comes to an extension. While he looks to finish out the season strong amid the speculation, Newcastle takes on Crystal Palace to begin one of the more lenient run-ins among the Premier League, at least on paper. The Magpies have remaining games against Fulham, Brighton, Southampton, and Crystal Palace remaining to go along with top-half matchups with Liverpool and Leicester City.

[ MORE: Watch Newcastle v. Crystal Palace live on NBCSports.com ]

Newcastle also has good news on the injury front, with Isaac Hayden, Mohamed Diame and DeAndre Yedlin all either returning this weekend or close to doing so in the near future. In addition, Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-Yeung have both recently returned from long injury troubles and could see more time on the field in the coming matches.

For Crystal Palace, the magical 40-point threshhold is just four points away, and while they’re already all but safe with an eight-point cushion with six matches to go, matches such as this provide an opportunity amid a bit tougher of a late-season fixture list. The Eagles still have matches against Manchester City, Arsenal, and Everton remaining before meeting Cardiff City and Bournemouth to close out the campaign.

Roy Hodgson will have Andros Townsend to call upon, with the England international returning from a hand injury as a substitute midweek. Other than a long-term knee injury to Mamadou Sakho, there are no other certain injury concerns for Crystal Palace ahead of the road visit to St. James.

What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on his contract situation: “The only club I’m talking about my future [with] now is Newcastle United, and I’m waiting for an answer. Why? Because we have been in contact and I’m waiting for an answer.”

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson on their table position:  “We haven’t actually gone out saying we’re safe. We can’t stop the general opinion that’s out there – we realize we need more points and we also realize we’ll be coming across some very good teams that’ll make it hard for us to get those points.”

Prediction

While there’s not a ton on the line for these two teams, these two seasoned managers know how to motivate a squad with little to play for. Benitez in particular will have his job – not on the line, but plenty to prove. The home crowd should boost Newcastle, and with a healthy squad, the Magpies will win a fun one 3-2.

Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

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For the first time in a long time, I did not have any writing responsibilities during a United States men’s national team camp. That gave me the opportunity to ask a friend to meet me out at the local soccer pub here in Buffalo and just kinda take in the match without obsessing over the player rating of each player to don a U.S. kit.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

What that allowed was a more free appraisal of how I felt about the USMNT, and frankly it was a bit surprising to see what registered in this maniacal mind.

What’s the future for the January guys who earned time in this camp?

The answer to the heading, if we’re honest, is a mixed bag.

I’ve been the first to question whether Gyasi Zardes would be called into U.S. camp with a good look at starting atop the formation for any other coach than Berhalter, who relied on him with Columbus, but the industrious if touch-trouble forward was very good for large parts of both March friendlies and played a role in both goals.

Aaron Long continues to impress at center back, to the point where it would not have been surprising if he earned another start in front of Matt Miazga.

It was less happy for Corey Baird, who at 23 still has some time to season but has not shown the requisite finishing touch to meet his fantastic engine. Nick Lima and Christian Ramirez did not feature while Jonathan Lewis only got a token call. Daniel Lovitz was good in his cameo.

We’re not in the wilderness, but a Golden Generation isn’t guaranteed

There are so many reasons to be excited as a USMNT supporter, especially if you can ignore the fact that Mexico is somehow the first and second best team in CONCACAF. Christian Pulisic is a generational player, and the side has two other 20-year-old central midfielders who are key components to their Bundesliga clubs in Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Beyond that is a strong center back in John Brooks, as well as some serious competitors to start next to him in Chelsea property Matt Miazga and the Red Bulls’ Aaron Long.

With apologies to Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin, new Man City backstop Zack Steffen, and exciting teen talents Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, it dips off a bit after that in terms of guarantees (And Weah and Sargent still have a bit to go to reach the level of even Jozy Altidore). Djordje Mihailovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jaylin Lindsey, and Ulysses Lainez are exciting prospects, but little more than that now.

If we’re being honest, QPR’s Geoff Cameron is probably still the best partner for Brooks. And whether you hate or love Michael Bradley — more on him in a minute — you cannot say that any player has done anything to claim his place in the midfield (Hey USSF, remember Jonathan Gonzalez? Great work!).

Assuming he sticks with Adams as a right back, these is almost unquestionably the most hopeful team for 2022 given Berhalter’s formation preference. And there is A LOT of hope in hopeful given the inclusion of Weah and Sargent.

Steffen

Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???

Bradley

McKennie — Pulisic

Weah — Altidore — Sargent

Michael freaking Bradley

This is the sixth season since Michael Bradley returned from Europe to make some big dollars in Major League Soccer, and it’s mostly been rather triumphant for Toronto FC’s captain.

The exceptions are big ones: Toronto FC failed to build on its treble-winning 2017 in MLS, spectacularly failing to make the playoffs and using Bradley as a center back for a quarter of the season, and the USMNT failing to get a draw out of Trinidad and Tobago and breaking its long streak of going to the World Cup (which is a pretty cool soccer tournament, team).

Bradley’s been quite good for TFC early this season, and Gregg Berhalter has him looking back at his best in a USMNT shirt. While Tuesday’s performance against Chile wasn’t perfect, the veteran showed a terrific range of passing including a downright ethereal bomb that Corey Baird couldn’t handle in the first half. And he did it against a midfield that included Europe-based stars Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz.

Berhalter’s plan for his deep-lying center midfielder fits Bradley to a T, and allows both Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie to take care of the “be everywhere” role that Jurgen Klinsmann expected from the No. 4 (and perhaps we should go back to credit MB90 for not lighting the coach on fire a bit more often). Wil Trapp is a solid 5.5 years younger than Bradley, but not everyone has the same level of class as the TFC man. Berhalter will be wise to consider that old Bradley in 2022 might be a step up from a second-tier holding midfielder in Qatar (or just try someone who isn’t Trapp. That could also be a thing).

It’s easy to forget that Bradley is an all-time American soccer legend given what happened in Couva; The 31-year-old has 144 caps and he’s got a solid shot to become the States’ all-time leader by the time he hangs up his boots. Bradley is 20 caps back of Cobi Jones and 13 shy of Landon Donovan’s second place spot. In the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, we should “forget where we differ, and get big picture.”

In other words, find me the player champing at the bit to take the place of a former Serie A starter who then led the best team in MLS history? He’s not there right now.

What’s the Best XI of players Berhalter has yet to call into camp?

Every manager has guys he serially overlooks, or at least is accused of overlooking, and critics of Jurgen Klinsmann were quick to shout the names Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan from the rooftops on occasion.

No one’s clamoring for those two this go ’round, and that’s more a generational thing than anything else, but there are still some guys who’ve been on the outside looking in (and not at U-23 or U-20 camp).

Here’s a halfway-promising (or experienced) XI to consider:

Brad Guzan

Shaq Moore — Palmer-Brown — Carter-Vickers — Kyle Duncan

Russell Canouse

Darlington Nagbe  — Memo Rodriguez

Lynden Gooch — Andrija Novakovich — Kenny Saief

Player ratings: USMNT starts strong, quickly fades v. Chile

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Who stood out — for better or for worse — in the U.S. men’s national team’s 1-1 draw with Chile on Tuesday?

[ MORE: USMNT, Chile wrap up March window with 1-1 draw (video) ]

GK – Ethan Horvath — 6: It was Horvath’s long ball that started the sequence on the USMNT’s goal — and it appeared he meant to hit it where it went — which is a part of the position we’ve never really seen with this team.

RB – DeAndre Yedlin — 5.5: As uninvolved in the attack as he’s been during his entire USMNT career, which is frustrating given the fact he’s playing the best soccer of his career with Newcastle United right now.

CB – Omar Gonzalez — 5.5: Not Gonzalez’s most confident, sure-footed showing defensively, but he was better and more controlled in possession than we’ve come to expect.

CB – Matt Miazga — 6: It’s quite jarring to contrast the passing maps of Miazga and Gonzalez, as Gonzalez tends to play simpler, shorter passes (oftentimes to Miazga), whereas the Miazga is tasked with progressing the ball from the backline, and doing so quite aggressively. He remains very, very good at it, by the way.

LB – Tim Ream — 5: Should have conceded a penalty when he went studs-up into Arturo Vidal in the box, and was one of few who failed to clear the danger on Chile’s equalizer. His showing when in possession was… not great.

MF – Michael Bradley — 7: Bradley’s full range of passing was on display in the first half, when he slotted a curled ball into acres of space to release Corey Baird down the right win, then dropped a feathery ball over the heads of two defenders and landed it on Baird’s foot. Finally, after a decade, a role suited to many of the things Bradley does well.

MF – Cristian Roldan — 6: If nothing else, Roldan’s presence deeper in midfield frees up Bradley to get farther forward — while still not the most advanced midfielder — and affect the game by finding spaces and applying pressure. Roldan was mostly tidy in possession, as always.

MF – Christian Pulisic — 7: The goal was stunning in how confidently he chipped the goalkeeper and strolled away, but he lasted just 34 minutes due to injury — something that’s becoming just a little too common for comfort…

RW – Corey Baird — 6.5: Baird brings an intriguing blend of skills — quick and shifty, strong and physical, always looking to attack upfield — without having fully settled on a positional home. He was constantly getting into good positions, but couldn’t produce the final ball or take the chance when it came to him.

CF – Gyasi Zardes — 6: His first touch to set up Pulisic for the goal was, in theory, sensation, assuming you believe he intentionally flicked the ball behind him as he took it down from the goalkeeper.

LW – Paul Arriola — 5.5: Considering the USMNT have barely 33 percent of possession in this game, Arriola wasn’t on the field for his creative work. He made as many, if not more, ball recoveries deep inside his own half than he completed passes.