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Brad Guzan comments on ‘chaotic’ Atlanta United season & Thiago Almada form

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Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan has described the club’s 2022 campaign as ‘chaotic’ and cited injuries as the main reason for failing to live up to expectations.

Much was expected of the Five Stripes heading into the 2022 season after returning to the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2021.

Atlanta had enjoyed a full pre-season under head coach Gonzalo Pineda, Josef Martinez had shown glimpses of his past form, and a number of key additions were made, including Thiago Almada and Osvaldo Alonso.

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However, injuries ripped through Pineda’s roster, with Guzan and Alonso joining the likes of Miles Robinson, Emerson Hyndman, Santiago Sosa, Brooks Lennon, Andrew Gutman, and Martinez in spending extended spells on the sidelines.

The latter also publicly endured a falling out with Pineda and was suspended for one match in September.

All of this compiled to destroy a promising start to the season, with Atlanta United sliding down the Eastern Conference and failing to make the Playoffs.

“The word I would probably choose to use is chaotic. I think there have been some highs, but there have obviously been some lows,” said veteran goalkeeper Guzan (via ESPN). “At the start of the year when we were down in Mexico for preseason, the vibe was one that we were all excited for the year. Slowly but surely though, a spell of injuries came in rapid fire.”

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That said, there were a couple of silver linings to the clouds around Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one of which was undoubtedly the form of Thiago Almada.

The 21-year-old joined Atlanta from Velez for a league-record $16m fee at the start of the season and after an initially modest start, has gone on to become the club’s most influential player.

Heading into the final day of the regular season, Almada has six goals and six primary assists to his name in 28 appearances, with 11 of his 12 direct goal involvements coming across his last 21 outings.

So strong has Almada’s form been in the second half of the season that he even picked up his first senior cap for Argentina during the most recent international break and is in contention to make their roster for the 2022 World Cup.

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“When you look at his recent performances compared to the beginning of the year, I think you see someone who found their footing,” Guzan said of Almada. “You are starting to see a much more comfortable Thiago. You see him fitting into the team and understanding movement of guys around him. Guys are understanding now where he likes to pick up the ball, what he likes to do with the ball at his feet and when you have that continuity, you start to see the excitement and skill he has.”

Regardless of Almada’s form, 2022 has been an utter disappointment for Atlanta United and the pressure is now heavily on Pineda to turn things around.

90min sources confirmed earlier this year that the Mexican will get his chance to rebuild over the winter and have another full pre-season with the Five Stripes. Steve Cannon, CEO of Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment, then went on record to back Pineda’s position.

“Gonzalo Pineda will be coaching Atlanta United in 2023,” he said, adding: “He will have our full confidence and the opportunity to manage a full and healthy roster next year.”

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So, with little room for error in the eyes of many supporters, what’s the aim for Pineda’s Atlanta United in 2023?

“From a sporting side we’re trying to get back to that success that we created early on and that’s winning games, winning trophies, and competing for trophies,” said Guzan. “Atlanta United is still a massive club, if not the biggest club in the league. Players are still eager to come and be a part of Atlanta United. It’s down to us as players to recapture that success by winning games.”

Watch the story of Charlotte FC’s journey to MLS in 90min’s The Making of Charlotte FC, presented by DoorDash, on 90min channels now. Subscribe to our new US YouTube channel.

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Gareth Southgate’s justification for Phil Foden decision is an insult to England supporters

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The Phil Foden discourse has rumbled on through the weekend. Now here we are, still talking about it. still scratching our heads and wondering what exactly Gareth Southgate’s thought process is as he picks his team (which is wrong) and makes his substitutions (which are also wrong), as we have done for every England manager since the dawn of time.

England managers always get a raw deal. Supporters always find a stick with which to beat them, even the fictional ones. Who didn’t feel the rage when Mike Bassett selected Tony Hedges (York City) and Ron Benson (Plymouth Argyle), for example? It isn’t often justified. But, then again, sometimes it is.

As England laboured towards a dreary 0-0 draw with the USA, fans understandably clamoured for Foden’s involvement. Southgate decided not to oblige them, afterwards citing the player’s lack of game time in the number ten position for Manchester City.

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This, more than anything else, should be cause for concern. Here we have the England manager essentially admitting that he saw no way through the mind-bending puzzle that is ‘fitting one of England’s most talented and versatile players into an already fluid 4-2-3-1 system.’

Let’s break this down. Foden can play as a 10, an attack-minded 8 and on either wing. Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham all had fairly ineffectual games against the USA and could have been replaced. Foden could have come on for each and every one of them with minimal reshuffling, depending on who else Southgate wanted off the bench.

Southgate’s reasoning – that Foden doesn’t play as a 10 for City – is complete nonsense. Players can operate in different roles for club and country, something he should know given how often he has fielded Kyle Walker at centre-back. When they’ve been training under Pep Guardiola for six seasons, they are not just comfortable doing it, but accustomed to it.

The justification also fails to hold up given that Marcus Rashford came on to replace Saka down England’s right-hand side, a position he very rarely plays for Manchester United.

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Double standards and logical inconsistencies have been a recurring theme during Southgate’s reign whenever he has attempted to defend his decisions – as though his quotes to the media were cynically engineered to enrage fans.

If they were, he hits the bullseye every time.

There were plenty of valid reasons for not bringing Foden into the game against the US. Given the situation in the group, it made sense to ensure England didn’t lose rather than going all out for the win and being caught out on the counter.

Foden’s defensive contribution and off-the-ball work isn’t as strong as other players, and we are yet to see him produce his level at Man City in an England shirt. Jack Grealish and Rashford both scored against Iran and therefore deserved their chance to impact the game off the bench too.

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Each argument has a fair rebuttal, though. England could have sealed qualification there and then with a win. Ostensibly attacking changes can prove to be defensive. Would Foden’s ability to receive the ball in tight spaces not have helped England get hold of a game they were struggling to control in midfield?

Does he need to be defensively robust when he has a solid back four and Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson behind him? What exactly is Foden on the pitch to do in the first place? It’s not to defend.

We haven’t seen his best for England because he’s so often been playing in Southgate’s favoured 3-4-3, as restrictive as it is depressing. Given Foden’s form this season, he should be lightyears ahead of Saka, Mount and Sterling, never mind Rashford and Grealish.

That debate can rage on and on. The point is that Southgate had a number of reasonable explanations to choose from. As a manager, we are by now well-accustomed to the overt pragmatism he wears as tightly as a Marks and Spencer waistcoat. Fans wouldn’t have been happy, but they might, at least, have understood.

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Instead, Southgate’s comment hinted at cowardice, disdain for supporters or, even worse, ineptitude. When a player with the ability of Foden isn’t coming off the bench at 0-0 there needs to be a damn good reason.

Southgate couldn’t come up with one. No wonder a national inquest is being held. His game-changing substitutions, or lack thereof, have cost England dearly in both the World Cup semi-final and Euro final. For all the talk of England fans picking anything to moan about, they absolutely have a right to be in up in arms over this.

These decisions can decide matches in knockout football. If you’re not making them in the group stage you’re certainly not going to be brave enough later in the tournament. Southgate still doesn’t seem to be able get them right, or even know why he makes them at all.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

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How Karim Benzema could return for France at World Cup

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Karim Benzema may be available to France for their World Cup defence after all after reports emerged of rapid progress in his recovery from injury.

Benzema was feared to be unavailable for the entire tournament after picking up an injury but did not withdraw from the squad, and France manager Didier Deschamps did not call up a replacement, instead opting to take 25 players to Qatar.

Initially feared to be out for around three weeks, Benzema had been the subject of multiple reports in Spain which claim that the Ballon d’Or winner is ahead of that schedule, and he could return to training as early as this week.

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Given he remains a part of the France squad, Benzema is technically still eligible to play at the World Cup and could return to Qatar if all goes well.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click to download or listen to the episode in full!

France have made a strong start to their World Cup defence with victories over Australia and Denmark securing their spot in the last 16 with one group game to spare.

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Les Bleus play Tunisia on Wednesday to round out the group stages, before looking ahead to the knockout stages.



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Who could England face in the World Cup knockout stages?

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Four points from their opening two games have England in the driving seat in Group B at the World Cup.

One final game against Wales will decide whether they reach the knockout stages as group winners or runners up, though there remains the outside chance of an early elimination.

Gareth Southgate will be planning for the knockout stage, however, with a myriad of different nations standing between his squad and the World Cup final.

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Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

England currently top Group B and a win would take them through in first place. A draw is also good enough to progress, though that would open the door for Iran to take first place with a win over the USA.

Only a thrashing of three or more goals from Wales will result in an early elimination for the Three Lions.

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England will have designs on going through the group stage as winners, which would result in a favourable last 16 clash against the runners up of Group A, where the Netherlands, Ecuador and Senegal reside. Finishing second in Group B would see England face the winners of Group A.

As group winners, a win in the round of 16 would see Southgate’s side book a quarter-final clash with either the Group D winners – likely to be France – or the runners up from Group C, where Poland, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Mexico are all still in contention.

As group runners up, a win in the round of 16 would set up a quarter-final tie against the Group C winners or the runners up from Group D.

There are a number of sides England could face in the semi-finals, but all come from Groups E, F, G and H. That pool includes nations like Spain, Japan, Croatia, Belgium, Brazil and Portugal.

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