The USMNT will be on familiar ground at the Worlds – ESPN’s Insider’s Notebook has the latest. PLUS: The tense relationship between Christian Pulisic and Thomas Tuchel.
Jump to: Pulisic seeks a fresh start under Potter | Why Man Utd overpaid for Casemiro, Antony, Martinez | Madrid’s passport to future Brazilian stars | Barcelona’s high hopes for teenagers 15
USMNT on familiar ground at the World Cup in Qatar
The United States will play on home soil when they meet England, Wales and Iran at the World Cup… as host nation, Qatar will use American turf to ensure pitches at the eight host cities can withstand the rigors of the month-long tournament.
Seven new stadiums have been built for the World Cup, which begins with the hosts taking on Ecuador on November 20 at Al Bayt Stadium. The 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium will be the latest new venue to open on Friday as Saudi champions Al Hilal and Egyptian Premier League winners Zamalek meet in a friendly. With the World Cup less than three months away, sources told ESPN that tournament organizers will begin removing existing pitches and seeding the pitches with American grass seed at the seven new stadiums and the already-built Khalifa International Stadium starting early next week.
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The seed, developed by a Georgia-based company, was chosen by FIFA, which has instructed Qatar 2022 organizers to use it for pitches across all stadiums and training grounds.
“The American grass seed gives you a more robust playing surface,” Aspire Turf’s David Graham, who is responsible for the Qatar 2022 pitches, told ESPN. “With the climate and conditions in Qatar, the pitch wouldn’t hold together without the right grass seed.
“Starting next week we will start skimming the pitches that are already in place and seeding them all to be ready for the November tournament.”
Although Qatar 2022 will be the first World Cup to be hosted in a northern hemisphere winter to escape the scorching Middle East summer heat, air conditioning will continue to be used to cool stadiums, both on the pitch and in the stands. Seat-level vents ensure fans can watch games at 21-22 degrees Celsius (69-71 F), while larger pitchside units regulate temperatures for players, with underground sensors measuring heat and humidity to keep the field temperature at optimal levels . – Mark Ogden
Pulisic’s strained relationship with Tuchel has met England’s hopes
Christian Pulisic is targeting a fresh start at Chelsea under Graham Potter after the USMNT international’s relationship with Thomas Tuchel soured, sources told ESPN.
Pulisic was a substitute in all seven games this season and was ready to leave the club in the summer transfer window if he didn’t receive assurances about his playing time ahead of November’s World Cup. However, sources told ESPN that Pulisic has had a breakdown in communications with Tuchel for some time, with the winger frustrated at not being given a precise explanation as to why he rarely had a lengthy run with the team and was often played out of position. Pulisic played in a variety of positions last season, including fake No.9 and left-back. He was even used as a right-back in last week’s defeat at Southampton.
– Marcotti: Will Chelsea regret sacking Tuchel?
Sources have also hinted that Tuchel, who was sacked on Wednesday, had been willing to allow Pulisic to leave the club. Manchester United made an inquiry before Antony was signed from Ajax, while Newcastle and Juventus among others have expressed interest, but co-owner Todd Boehly is said to have blocked the 23-year-old’s departure.
Sources say Pulisic hopes Potter’s appointment will give him another chance to establish himself. The same goes for a number of attacking players who were frustrated by Tuchel’s tactics, including Hakim Ziyech, who was in talks with Ajax about a transfer before a move didn’t materialize, and Kai Havertz. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was assured of his role in the team after partially signing from Barcelona on deadline day to reunite with Tuchel after the pair found success at Borussia Dortmund in the mid-2010s.
Meanwhile, Potter’s appointment to Chelsea could complicate the English Football Association’s search for Gareth Southgate’s successor as England manager, given his esteem for senior members of the organisation. Southgate is contracted until 2024 and there is no reason to suggest parting ways before that date. However, a poor showing at the World Cup in Qatar later this year could force both parties to reconsider, and in that scenario ESPN Potter has been considered a possible candidate because of his work at Brighton, according to sources.
His style of play, amiable management approach and skillful handling of the media are among the reasons he has his admirers within the FA, although his decision to take charge at Chelsea on a five-year contract marked an FA move for the 47-year-old would mean -old extremely difficult.
It’s a problem the FA hopefully won’t have as they remain cautiously optimistic about a positive experience under Southgate in Qatar. – James Olley
Steve Nicol explains why he thinks Chelsea should target Graham Potter as Thomas Tuchel’s replacement.
Man United impressed by targets’ desire to join
Manchester United were persuaded to pay Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Antony above market value after the players impressed club bosses with their determination to move to Old Trafford, sources told ESPN.
The trio cost nearly £200million and while Old Trafford accepted that the club had overpaid for them, they were willing to go higher to get the deals over the line as each player had the strong desire to join.
Sources told ESPN the United hierarchy had been made aware that Martinez had confronted an Ajax official amid fears his move to United would stall while Antony, his former team-mate at the Dutch side, is effectively in the went on strike to enforce his transfer. Sources added that after just speaking to the Brazilian midfielder, United were convinced to switch their attention from Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong to Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro.
According to sources, the recruitment staff now accept they should have dropped a deal for De Jong earlier, although the club remain interested in the Dutchman should he become available in the future.
Manager Erik ten Hag placed great importance on the “character and personality” of his summer signings after concerns about the atmosphere in the dressing room after back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Brentford earlier in the season. Sources said he believes part of the team’s resurgence – United have won four straight league games – is due to the impact of his signings both off and on the pitch. – Rob Dawson
Craig Burley believes Antony has room to improve despite a positive start with a goal on his Manchester United debut.
Real Madrid’s passport to future Brazilian stars?
Rodrygo and Eder Militao are set to follow Vinicius Junior and receive Spanish passports in early 2023, sources have told ESPN, raising the possibility of Real Madrid signing more top talent from Brazil and other non-European countries.
LaLiga clubs are allowed to include three players from countries outside the European Union in their first-team squad. In the case of Madrid, those places were occupied by Vinicius, Rodrygo and Militao. Madrid confirmed earlier this week that 22-year-old Vinicius had been granted Spanish citizenship after the process – which has been delayed by the pandemic – started back in 2020. Sources told ESPN that Rodrygo and Militao will be granted their citizenship early next year, meaning the club could now target non-European players to boost the first-team squad in the January window and again next summer.
– Rise of the machines: Real Madrid use jumping robots to perfect free-kicks
Real Madrid have been approached about the possibility of signing Gabriel Jesus before he joins Arsenal, sources told ESPN, but the idea was scrapped because his Brazilian passport made such a deal impossible at the time.
In February, ESPN reported that Madrid are following the development of Palmeira’s prodigy Endrick, 16, although a move for him would have to wait until he turns 18 in 2024.
Madrid opted not to strengthen their attacking line for this season, relying on the form and fitness of Karim Benzema, 34, and allowing the disgraced Luka Jovic to join Fiorentina. Benzema was injured in this week’s Champions League win against Celtic and will now spend a month on the touchlines recovering. – Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
Watch as Real Madrid take free-kick practice to the extreme with a bouncing wall of mannequins.
Barcelona teenager steps over rising youngster Yamal
Barcelona are keen to protect rising star Lamine Yamal from other clubs and help him keep a low profile after a tumultuous week for the 15-year-old. Sources told ESPN.
Yamal was one of a number of youngsters called up by Xavi Hernandez for training with the first-team last weekend. Then, on Wednesday, he became the youngest player to represent Barca in the UEFA Youth League when, aged 15 years and 56 days, he came on as a second-half substitute in their 3-0 win over Viktoria Plzen.
Of course, Yamal’s rise means he’s caught the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs. Born in 2007, he isn’t yet old enough to sign a professional contract at the Camp Nou but Barca hope he won’t be distracted by the promise of a move before next July when he turns 16 and has terms for up to three can arrange years. The Catalan club are also aware of the attention his development is drawing from fans and media and are working with the player and his camp to ensure he can focus fully on his young career without distractions.
Yamal was born in Mataro, just outside Barcelona, and was capped by Spain when he was young. The striker, who can play for either side, is also eligible to play for Equatorial Guinea or Morocco. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4741498/qatar-world-cups-secret-ingredient-american-grass!-plus-pulisics-strained-relationship-with-tuchel Pulisic’s strained relationship with Tuchel