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USMNT-Brazil preview: Sarachan, meet gauntlet

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Let’s recap the Dave Sarachan interim spell in charge of the United States men’s national team.

Two wins, three draws, and a loss to Ireland in Dublin are on Sarachan’s record, the most notable perhaps being a 1-1 draw against France that leaves the Yanks as one of the last two teams to play Les Bleus to a stalemate over 90 minutes (Denmark at the World Cup group stage).

[ MORE: What’s at stake for USMNT? ]

The Rochester, N.Y. born 64-year-old has been a steady hand for a reeling program, one which has yet to announce its next full-time boss (There’s reason to infer it could be Tata Martino, but let’s leave that for a later date).

It’s legitimate to wonder whether Sarachan will add another win to his resume before the end of the year. The manager will lead the U.S. against Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, England, and Italy (though the first four will be hosted on American soil, at least the first two will be without national team phenom Christian Pulisic).

That won’t change what’s easy to see as a successful tenure by the Sarachan, who has navigated the fact that he was a part of the staff who failed to qualify for the World Cup with calm if not savvy while introducing several new players to the fold.

We say all this now because the odds are that the USMNT fan base’s good vibes could be rocked on Friday night when Brazil rolls into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Tite’s Seleção includes Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Alisson Becker, Philippe Coutinho, and Casemiro.

The United States has beaten Brazil once, a 1-0 win at the 1998 Gold Cup, and frankly the Yanks have had a lot of trouble keeping their CONMEBOL visitors from scoring boatloads of goals. Brazil has scored three of more goals in five of six against the USMNT, the outlier being a 2-0 loss.

The latest was a humbling 4-1 defeat for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men that was only saved from a clean sheet by Danny Williams‘ absurd blast in the direction of Marcelo Grohe.

[ MORE: Hernandez to MUFC or Real? ]

Sarachan can choose 10 of the 11 men who started the 1-1 draw against France by sliding DeAndre Yedlin into Shaq Moore’s shoes (though we must say he could start 11 of 11, however unlikely).

Brazil’s 4-3-3 will look different for sure, with Marcelo, Paulinho, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Miranda, and Fagner all absent after starting for Tite in the Selecao‘s 2-1 loss to Belgium at the World Cup.

Assuming a Firmino start between Neymar and Willian with Coutinho handling some playmaker duty underneath, this is another massive test for (presumably) Zack Steffen, Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, and either Eric Lichaj or Antonee Robinson.

There are ways it could go well and the Yanks could still lose by two, which is why the utmost of caution should be given to any poor performance. But if the Yanks win or draw, it would not just be a positive step but a historic one for a team that enters the day 1-17 all-time against Brazil.

Reports: Barcelona completes Vidal move ahead of Inter

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It seemed like 31-year-old Arturo Vidal would be headed back to Serie A, but oh how things can change in the course of a few days.

With Inter appearing to close in on the Chilean international, Barcelona swooped in and snatched Vidal out from under the Italian club’s nose, reportedly completing the deal for $35 million.

Vidal has won a league title in each of his last seven seasons, the last three at Bayern Munich and the four prior at Serie A giants Juventus. The midfielder has proven his world-class status time and again, as a rock in the midfield for both clubs and in exactly 100 caps for his country. However, injuries last season limited him to just 22 Bundesliga appearances, pushing Bayern to let him go.

The Chilean will serve as a direct replacement for Paulinho, who was stellar in his year at Barcelona before returning to the Chinese top flight. Paulinho struggled mightily in the World Cup with Brazil, and was then shipped back to Chinese club Guanzhou Evergrande a year after leaving.

Meanwhile, at Bayern, the rise of Corentin Tolisso made Vidal expendable, with the French international proving a viable option for title-hungry club. Between Tolisso, Thiago, Sebastian Rudy, Javi Martinez, and the versatile Joshua Kimmich, Bayern will be just fine in the middle of the pitch.

Vidal’s capture pushed Barcelona’s expenditure this summer over $130 million, having already secured French defender Clement Lenglet, plus Brazilian duo Malcom and Arthur.

Barcelona formalizes Arthur purchase which could reach $47m

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Barcelona is making its first purchase of the summer, and it’s an exciting one (even if we’ve known it was likely for some time).

Arthur Melo is coming to the Camp Nou from Gremio in Brazil, where the 21-year-old has won the Copa Libertadores and is a box-to-box talent who can operate in defensive or attacking functions.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood staying in Bundesliga ]

You can call him just Arthur, if you like.

The cost is approximately $36 million with a potential $11 million in incentives.

Having sent Paulinho on loan to Guangzhou Evergrande and Gerard Deulofeu to Watford while losing Andres Iniesta on a free transfer to Vissel Kobe, there are openings in Barca’s set-up.

According to a Barca release:

Arthur likes playing with quick touches and short, triangulating passes involving his teammates. One of his virtues is his ability to get open, which makes him a dangerous right-footed threat near the penalty area. At 172 cm tall (5 ft 8 in), Arthur also stands for his skill at protecting the ball and his eagerness to play vertically up the field.

Arthur has been on the Brasileirao’s top-rated players for two seasons and represents an interesting piece to Barcelona’s long-term puzzle. We expect we’ll be hearing plenty from him.

Paulinho leaves Barca after one year to rejoin Guangzhou

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He came, he saw, he conquered (La Liga and Copa del Rey), and now Paulinho is leaving Barcelona after just one season to return to the club from which he came, Guangzhou Evergrande.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Paulinho’s move to Barcelona was already quite a curious one when it happened last summer: he was already 29 years old, had left Tottenham Hotspur two years earlier after an infamously poor spell in the Premier League, and was making (presumably) far more money playing in the Chinese Super League than he could just about anywhere else in the world. In defense of the transfer and coaching staffs, he proved a totally competent replacement-level player for a side that won two major trophies, at a cost of $47 million.

Of course, Paulinho would have wanted to showcase himself at a higher level ahead of the 2018 World Cup, with his place in the Brazil squad very much still up in the air fewer than 12 months ago. In a sense, it’s a deal that largely worked out for all parties involved.

[ MORE: Ranking World Cup semifinalists | Schedule for semis, final ]

Now, comes the truly strange — perhaps, unsavory — part: the transfer which Guangzhou announced on Sunday is a one-year loan deal with an already-agreed future fee for a permanent transfer. According to reports, that future fee will be considerably larger than the amount Barcelona paid last summer, for a player who will, in 12 months’ time, be two years older at 32.

Essentially, Barcelona will have rented the player for a season, and made a profited — perhaps in the neighborhood of $10 million — on the back-and-forth transaction, rather having paid a rental fee themselves.

Key battles in each World Cup quarterfinal match

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The World Cup has reached the quarterfinal stage – the point in the competition where no slouches are left, all the pretenders have packed their bags, and only the truly cohesive squads remain. We’ve seen some barnburners, some defensive grinders, and plenty of exciting moments.

With just eight teams left, there will be plenty of key matchups in each game for pundits to dissect, white boards to draw, and coaches to highlight. Here are a few of those battles that each team must work around.

Uruguay vs. France – Edinson Cavani vs. Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane

France will get its opportunities to score goals, of that there is no doubt. Diego Godin leads one of the most gritty back lines remaining in the big dance, but Kylian Mbappe has already shredded enough defensive units to know that he will provide France chance to take.

With that in mind, the true test will come on the other end of the pitch. France’s defensive unit has been shaky, while Uruguay’s attack is banged up. Cavani came off injured in the dying minutes of the 2-1 Round of 16 victory over Portugal, while Luis Suarez was reportedly injured in Uruguay training. Can they test the French central defenders enough to keep up with the high-powered France attack? They may be forced to play in from the flanks, where France is the weakest. Lucas Hernandez has been surprisingly solid, but aside from scoring a wonder goal against Argentina, young Benjamin Pavard has been mediocre at best. That may be Uruguay’s best chance to score.

Brazil vs. Belgium – Philippe Coutinho and Willian vs. Belgium midfield

Brazil defensive midfielder Casemiro is out thanks to picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in the previous match, so that may very well leave his midfield partner Paulinho on an island.

[ MORE: Tite’s biggest tactical test comes in Casemiro’s absence ]

That’s not where we’re focused on here. No, we’re looking in the other direction. With Brazil likely to maintain a significant portion of the possession, They will look to build their attack through the midfield where Japan exposed a serious weakness in the Belgian setup. In the first half of their Round of 16 matchup, Japan ran the ball straight down Belgium’s throat, with only Axel Witsel covering the back line. It worked. After halftime, Roberto Martinez brought on Marouane Fellaini to shore up the midfield, plus Nacer Chadli to help give the Japanese something else to think about, and it shifted the tide of the match.

So who will Roberto Martinez start in midfield against Brazil? If Witsel and Fellaini are paired from the opening whistle, it may nullify Coutinho’s influence and put pressure on Willian, who has had an underrated tournament thus far. If Witsel is by himself, Coutinho may have a field day.

Sweden vs. England – Emil Forsberg vs. Kyle Walker

Emil Forsberg could give England problems on Sweden’s left wing (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Is this a matchup we could see in the Premier League this coming season? Emil Forsberg has seen one of the tournament’s biggest breakout performances, and he could be on the radar for a summer switch. He plays on the left wing, the same side as Walker’s assignment as part of the back three.

Walker has been impressive in his center-back role, but has slipped up at times. It hasn’t cost England dearly yet, but could Forsberg make Gareth Southgate pay for his experimentation on the biggest stage? Sweden’s shape and structure have been incredibly impressive so far in Russia, and if they can keep Harry Kane and company at bay, one goal may decide the match, and Forsberg’s movement and creativity will be critical for Sweden.

Russia vs. Croatia – Roman Zobnin and Daler Kuzyaev vs. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic

Croatia’s midfield is being hailed as the best of the remaining World Cup teams, and they have carved up defensive shape after defensive shape. Croatia has beaten Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland, and Denmark so far, all teams known for their ability to lock down the center of the pitch.

Luka Modric has deserved the Golden Ball noise he’s getting to this point, but Ivan Rakitic has been the secret weapon, pairing with Modric flawlessly moving forward. If Russia is going to win this match, they won’t be able to just bunker in and earn a 0-0 draw. They will have to open up to score, and that means keeping Modric and Rakitic locked down despite the additional space. Zobnin and Kuzyaev performed fabulously against Spain, but were aided by Fernando Hierro’s static tactics. Can the inexperienced duo – just 26 caps between the 24- and 25-year-old pair – repeat the performance against the tournament’s best midfield tandem?