Christian Pulisic

Top Premier League storylines: Week 6

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Of the seven Premier League sides to handle midweek Europeans challenges, only two face-off and that predictably is the hallmark of the weekend in England.

[ MORE: Silva to Inter Miami? ]

What else is cooking? Smell the aromas of the weekend ahead, below.


How will Frank Lampard attack Liverpool?

  • Chelsea v. Liverpool, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The Blues’ 5-2 defeat at Wolves last week did not help spin a win over Valencia in the Champions League, and Frank Lampard’s next chance to make a statement comes against a team that is perfect in PL play and finds itself licking its wounds from a subpar performance at Napoli. Can a very fresh Christian Pulisic make the difference for Chelsea? Will Callum Hudson-Odoi take the positive vibes from his new contract and solid PL2 appearance into the fray?


Will Fernandinho help stabilize Man City against improving Watford?

  • Man City v. Watford, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

City went to Ukraine and blanked Shakhtar Donetsk with Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho at center back, and the Brazilian center midfielder says he’s been preparing for his possibility for some time. If Watford looks anything like it looked in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal, we could see a very decent test for City’s back line.


Weary Spurs get top-half test from Leicester City

  • Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Inconsistent Tottenham meets a Leicester City side with Top Six ambitions, licking its wounds from a 1-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford which probably deserved a point. Spurs aren’t feeling great following another blown 2-0 lead in a big spot away from home. How will they react in Leicester?


Will Solskjaer’s midweek rest risk reap rewards on Sunday?

  • West Ham United v. Manchester United, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to hand heavy minutes to youngsters and second-choice players against Kazakh side Astana on Thursday at Old Trafford. Will that pay off when trying to stop Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Manuel Pellegrini‘s Irons on Sunday morning?


Early season six-pointer at St. James’ Park

  • Newcastle United v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Look, it’s Week Six and normally we’d say anything can happen in a Premier League season, but let’s be reasonable: If you’re looking at the teams for Newcastle and Brighton, this result will matter as many as any down the stretch in determining Premier League status for 2019/20.

Barkley sails late penalty, Chelsea falls

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Ross Barkley missed a late penalty as Chelsea lost its UEFA Champions League opener 1-0 to Valencia on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Rodrigo scored the lone goal, and Valencia will be thrilled to collect all three points in London.

Christian Pulisic was an unused sub for Chelsea, who out-attempted Valencia 22-8 on the day.


Three things we learned

1. Pulisic down the pecking order: The American star didn’t start, and wasn’t the first name called when Mason Mount was injured. Granted Pedro played a little deeper, but not a good week for the Hershey-born Pulisic

2. Wide men the danger men: Willian was the likely Man of the Match for Chelsea despite the lack of goals, and full backs Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta were also key to the resutl.

3. Penalty drama: VAR gave Chelsea a chance to level from the spot, but Ross Barkley stepped ahead of Willian and missed the chance. The Brazilian looked aggrieved before and after the miss, and Barkley looked mighty confident right until the moment he missed his shot. Sort yourself out!

Man of the Match: Willian — No wonder he was angry to see Barkley demand the penalty, as a Willian goal would’ve been a fitting result for his clever and industrious day at the office.


Valencia keeper Jasper Cillesen made two stops early, denying Tammy Abraham to concede a corner before collecting a Marcos Alonso header on the ensuing set piece.

Would it be Christian Pulisic time when Mason Mount left the match with injury following a challenge from former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin? Nope. Pedro was called upon to fill the void.

It was a sleepy second half, with Pedro conceding a free kick to Valencia that didn’t amount to anything exciting.

Those who stuck around were rewarded with late drama, as Valencia took the lead through a Rodrigo flick off a free kick.

However, Valencia then had to watch through its fingers as Chelsea was gifted a chance at the spot through VAR when Fikayo Tomori headed a ball off the arm of Daniel Wass.

Willian was upset to see Ross Barkley take the penalty, and the English midfielder probably wishes he let someone else take it after missing over the bar.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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It was a slower weekend for Americans abroad, although there were a few who contributed to their club’s at some noteworthy capacity.

One of those was Lynden Gooch, who registered his third goal for Sunderland in League One this season. Elsewhere in England, Christian Pulisic, for a first time this season, didn’t take the field as new-look Chelsea battered Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2.

Over in Mexico, Rubio Rubin scored for second-division side Dorados, while in Germany Julian Green and Terrence Boyd added to their accounts yet again.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made Frank Lampard‘s bench, but did not play in Chelsea’s triumphant victory against Wolves. Is it time to worry about the Pennsylvania native’s lack of playing time? Absolutely not.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The left back started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-2 draw with Hull City.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain  featured all 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-2 draw with Wigan on Saturday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender was left on the bench in QPR’s 3-2 win over Luton Town.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw with West Brom on Saturday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — The Potters might be in shambles, but Carter-Vickers keeps adding minutes. On Saturday, he started and played 90 minutes in Stoke City’s 2-1 loss to Bristol City.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played 81 minutes in Derby’s 1-1 draw with Cardiff City.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie came off the bench and played 28 minutes in Schalke’s 5-1 victory on Sunday, his first minutes since his start against Mexico with the men’s national team.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg on Friday. Morales, on the hand, did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Following a goal-scoring performance, Sargent came off the bench and played 22 minutes for Werder Bremen in their 2-1 victory over Union Berlin.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 in their 1-0 win over Koln on Saturday.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback started and played all 90 minutes in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss against Augsburg.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Another positive shift from Wright. On Saturday, the 21-year-old started and played 70 minutes in VVV-Venlo’s 2-1 win over FC Groningen.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Fresh off international duty, Dest dressed but didn’t play in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of Heerenveen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 this weekend. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — On Saturday, the Washington D.C. native featured for 74 minutes in Rennes’ 0-0 draw with Brest.

Honorable Mentions:

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – England’s League One isn’t a world-class league by any means, but the Californian continues to leave his mark. On Saturday, the 23-year-old scored his third goal of the season in the Black Cats’ 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley. Not bad, Gooch.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played all 90 minutes and scored in Greuther Furth’s 2-1 win over Wehen Wiesbaden. That’s three goals in six games for Green this season in Germany’s second division.

Terrence Boyd, Hallescher – Germany’s third-tier league is resulting to be too easy for Boyd, apparently. The forward scored two goals against Ingolstad on Sunday, making it his fourth and fifth of a young season.

Rubio Rubin, Dorados de Sinaloa – Rubin was the difference for Dorados on Friday night. After coming off the bench, the scored the goal that earned the Sinaloa-based team a 1-1 draw against Correcaminos.

What is the Best XI for USMNT?

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We haven’t been able to enjoy the USMNT at full strength for some time, regardless of player choice.

Key pieces were injured at the Gold Cup and others haven’t been called up as favors to their clubs, as Gregg Berhalter navigates the international soccer world for the first time.

For instance, one of the reasons not to panic over this poor international break was the absence of Tyler Adams, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley amongst others.

[ MORE: USMNT’s first year with Berhalter ]

We’ve asked our staff to gaze into a crystal ball where all players are healthy and available, and deliver their USMNT Best XIs.

An important note: We are playing the role of GM/coach here. Berhalter, like any manager, has shown a propensity to favor certain players that others wouldn’t select. In some of these players’ instances, not one of our writers would select them for duty.

We will, however, stick with his preferred formation because he would not be budging from it if he had his full complement of pieces.

Joe Prince-Wright‘s Best USMNT XI

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Couple of surprises here, as Joe opts for Stoke City center back Cameron Carter-Vickers over Matt Miazga or Aaron Long, and plays Brad Guzan ahead of Zack Steffen. There’s no room for Michael Bradley, with Tyler Adams taking his spot and making room for Sergino Dest at right back.

Nick Mendola’s USMNT Best XI

This was a difficult one for me, especially once I decided that if we’re sticking with Berhalter’s formation, then I need to put Tyler Adams in his coach’s preferred spot. Steffen is just ahead of Ethan Horvath here, and would not be had Club Brugge not bought Simon Mignolet short-circuit the 24-year-old’s playing time.

I’d like to see Tim Ream in a back two with Brooks, but both are left-sided pieces and Miazga is doing really well at Reading when healthy. I’m giving Antonee Robinson the left back spot for now because he’s No. 1 at Wigan and prefers left back (Sergino Dest is an easy plug-in if we’re allowed to play Adams at CM).

The most difficult decision was left wing and center forward. We just haven’t seen Tim Weah in some time, but that’s not enough to take him out of the XI if healthy. The same is true for Jozy Altidore, who remains the side’s best finisher even if he butchered a chance to score versus Mexico in the Gold Cup Final. Jordan Morris’ rebirth would make it easy to dismiss Weah or Altidore, but for now I’m holding off.

I need Lletget at center attacking mid because McKennie isn’t yet the playmaker needed for that spot. Morales over McKennie might be the call in an immediate “must win,” but McKennie is the guy long-term. This is almost an empathy play, because I was so slow to appreciate Lletget. Julian Green should get a look there, too, at some point, but if Berhalter’s hasn’t rung up the Greuther Furth man by now, is he ever going to value him enough for a look?

Kyle Bonn’s USMNT Best XI

Kyle is counting on DeAndre Yedlin to return to his 2017-18 form and allow Adams to move up the pitch. He’s also not been moved by Long’s terrible international break and is keeping him No. 2 in the center back pool. Dest is Kyle’s answer for the left back problem, at least for now.

Daniel Karell’s USMNT Best XI

Dan omits Michael Bradley for Adams, and plugs Dest in at right back. Long maintains his place, while 28-year-old Greg Garza’s problematic calf isn’t a problem in this exercise.

Joel Soria’s Best USMNT XI

Joel also likes Carter-Vickers next to Brooks, and helps the English-American CB with Premier League experience to his right in Yedlin. Like Johnny Cash, Joel is going to Jackson — San Jose’s Jackson Yueill — to link Adams to the attackers.

Where does USMNT stand after Mexico, Uruguay friendlies?

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The USMNT has wrapped up yet another international break, and questions remain about the process, direction, and future that Gregg Berhalter is building.

The ultimate goal is qualification for and performance at the 2022 World Cup, there is no debating that, but how to get there is still very much up in the air. So what did we learn from the 3-0 friendly loss to Mexico and subsequent 1-1 draw against Uruguay? The feel of the fanbase is extremely negative, especially following the pasting at the hands of the southern rivals, but it doesn’t have to be.

[ MORE: Berhalter believes USMNT on right path ]

There are plenty of questions to be answered, debates to rage, and player performances to weigh. Here is a starting point, with three very real things we learned from this past international break, observations that must be considered before Berhalter and the rest of the USMNT staff can move forward.

1) The USMNT player pool is still extremely thin and top-heavy

There is no debating that the player pool – especially at the younger end of the spectrum – is as talented as ever. Players like Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, and Weston McKennie are proving that it is possible to produce talent that can play at the highest levels in Europe.

And yet, at a few key positions, the USMNT player pool remains absurdly thin. When we say “thin” we do not mean “bad.” What we mean by “thin” is that a few injuries in the wrong places can absolutely decimate the squad.

For example, take the full-back position. Without DeAndre Yedlin‘s availability, the right-back and left-back positions are without direction and ability. Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon are a promising young talents with growing to do (more on that in a moment), Tyler Adams is still learning the position and clearly does not offer what he does as a midfielder, Daniel Lovitz and Nick Lima are fine players who do not inspire long-term confidence, and Tim Ream is a veteran player who offers little more than leadership.

At center-back, who’s a proven consistent option alongside John Brooks? Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Ream all have significant downsides. Is anyone truly a reliable option?

Look further forward to the defensive midfield position, an area of the pitch that has become extremely important – and valuable – in the modern game, especially in Europe. With Michael Bradley in and out of the squad as Berhalter looks for other options, Wil Trapp has not performed at an adequate national team level, Alfredo Morales has only proven his capability in bits and pieces, Jackson Yueill is promising but at 22 years old is nearing an end to the “youngster” status, Christian Roldan offers little in defensive cover and threat, and Adams has been moved to fill another position of need.

This is not to bash all of these players mentioned above – as one or two may well prove to be a more permanent option – but to explain how much jockeying Berhalter still must do to find a deep enough squad capable of competing not only at the highest level but also to cover the inevitable injuries bound to crop up and disrupt an otherwise humming national team. Which brings us to our next point…

2) Time is running out to trust the process

Friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay serve as solid barometers for where the United States is at heading into CONCACAF Nations League play, the precursor competition to World Cup qualifying. Yet Gregg Berhalter is still experimenting, rather than piecing together a consistent squad that can grow and build together, using rare and valuable national team time learning to play cohesively together as a unit.

It’s troubling that Berhalter is still unable to separate fringe and squad players from one another, still hoping someone will stand out as a consistent performer and earn further time on the field in more high-leverage situations. The time for experimentation is generally over.

And yet, as described above, who of the fringe players have stood out enough to be trusted with more important minutes? It seems much of the negative backlash from USMNT fans of late has more to do with a worrying feeling that time is running out before World Cup qualifying – and there’s still a full 12 months before that begins. A year out and fans are feeling a time crunch – that says a lot.

Berhalter must make the tough decisions soon and stick to them – soon – so this squad can have time to come together and gel. He speaks about building a culture, and instilling his own tactical mentality and system, but the players are still too numerous and playing time is too sparse for that to take effect. Even when it comes to friendlies, results must become more important that performances sooner rather than later, or the mentality will never stick.

3) The young talent still has growing up to do, and not much time to do it

The play of Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Paxton Pomykal is promising to say the least. For these young players, many of whom have become regulars in the starting lineup and others who seem destined for that role, the sky is the limit.

They’re clearly not there yet. Dest has miles to go with regards to defensive positioning and decision-making. Sargent must become a more clinical finisher and a bigger presence when the team plays more direct. Weah – once healthy – must take the leap from quality contributor to game-changer, as Pulisic did years ago. In Berhalter’s system, McKennie at times seems lost and frustrated.

As mentioned above, there’s just 12 months to go before the World Cup qualifiers begin. While that’s an eternity in terms of player development – good news for the United States – it’s also not that long in the eyes of a national team, which only comes together every few months.  In conjunction with the previous point, these young players need every opportunity to grow together and be able to absorb Berhalter’s vision for the present and future.

Every player saddled with expectations must make the successful jump from promising young prospect to career-long contributors, and that time is nearing for this crop of talent. Some are at different stages of the process than others, but with the critical stage of the 2022 World Cup cycle nearing rapidly, the key leaps of development must be seen soon. That falls on the players to continue developing, their club coaches to help them along on a day-to-day basis, and Berhalter’s staff to give them every opportunity for success. Constant rotation and experimentation with so little time and precious minutes remaining can only go so far.