Shipped from abroad, England: League clearly irrelevant for Chelsea, Liverpool … Newcastle?

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Argue that Liverpool’s potential trophy haul (two) offsets their league swoon and you’ll likely finds new friends from Chelsea’s camp. The Blues’ disappointing home display on Wednesday almost assures they’ll finish outside the top four for the first time in 10 years. But they’re in the Champions League final, so I guess that doesn’t matter. They lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Who cares?

Judging by Roberto di Matteo’s selection, he doesn’t. At least, it seems he came to grips with losing before the opening whistle. With Saturday’s FA Cup final on the horizon, Chelsea’s manager made it very clear who’ll be selected for Wembley. Didier Drogba sat. Frank Lampard sat, as did Ashley Cole and Juan Mata. John Terry played, but that’s only because Chelsea’s central defenders are nearly all tapped out. As always, Fernando Torres starting was the biggest indicator of Chelsea’s intent (no, a hat trick against QPR doesn’t change that).

But here we are, three paragraphs into an England update, and we’ve failed to mention to whom Chelsea lost. Newcastle got two more goals from Papiss Demba Cisse (who, by my erroneous count, is up to 102 goals in 14 games since moving from Freiburg), and their fifth place position (tied for fourth with Spurs, on points) justifies more than the passing phase or patronizing analysis they’ve been treated to all year. Though they still have to navigate an impending meeting with Manchester City to pose a serious challenge to Spurs, Newcastle has locked up a place in Europe, something few pegged them for before the season.

Back then, nobody had can of chestnuts to crack open for the Magpies. Who is this Yoann Cabaye guy? From Lille? He’s certainly no Joe Cole. And they’ll have to resort to Tim Krul in net? Oh, my. I’ve got nothing to say about him. Demba Ba’s their striker? Well, he couldn’t keep West Ham up. They’ll do well to survive. (Full disclose, I picked them eighth, so I both resemble this and am gloating.)

Given how much media on each side of the pond has relied on the “Moneyball” crutch for content, Newcastle should really be getting more column inches. Or whatever column inches are in the digital world. Within the last two years they’ve let Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan, and Joey Barton go. In their place  they’ve looked abroad for value buys – players who can use Newcastle as a shop window and a foot in the door of English soccer. Ba, Cisse, Cabaye, Chiek Tiote, Gabriel Obertan, Davide Santon, Hatem Ben Arfa’s combined transfer fees come in at £5 million less than Andy Carroll’s.

In fairness, it’s difficult to trump a victor’s virtues when their opposition’s not giving their best effort. And given major media’s need to generate hits and keep promises to their advertisers, it’s no surprise that the six big boys have relegated the Magpies success to blogs and social media. Site stats bare it out: Few people go to major sites for Magpie content. Even as Newcastle looks set to spend the season’s last days fighting for a Champions League spot, only the insatiable soccer consumer is digging for more stories about the Toon. Then again, they’re insatiable.

Most sites are more interesting in looking at Chelsea and Liverpool and debating the significance of a league most see as being wrapped up on Monday. Today, Chelsea revealed their view, ting to rest the heart of their team ahead of a cup final. Yesterday, Liverpool’s latest step toward mediocrity made their feelings clear.

But if you want a real measure of how little placement in this season’s table matters, search for the adulates greeting Newcastle’s rise. Don’t waste too much time, though. Aside from the devoted fan blog or the subtly irony a mainstreamer is using to provide counter-narrative (wink), you’re unlikely to find them.

Elsewhere in England

Tuesday’s results
Liverpool 0-1 Fulham
Stoke City 1-1 Everton

Wednesday’s results
Chelsea 0-2 Newcastle
Bolton 1-4 Tottenham

Races

Champions League: Manchester City (83 points/36 games), Manchester United (83/36), Arsenal (66/36), Tottenham (64/36)*

Europa League: Newcastle (64/36) (Liverpool has already qualified by virtue of winning the League Cup; Chelsea has qualified by virtue of making the FA Cup final)

Survival (relegation): Aston Villa (37/36), Wigan (37/36), QPR (34/36), Bolton (34/36), Blackburn (31/36)

* – if Chelsea wins Champions League, they take Spurs’ spot in the 2012-13 tournament, relegating Tottenham to Europa.

Stuff that stuck out:

  • With the loss, Chelsea sits sixth, leaving the fight for fourth to Tottenham and Newcastle. A week ago Spurs were thought to be conceding fourth to the Magpies, but seemingly seconds before the specter of the England national team chalice stopped hovering over Harry Redknapp, Tottenham start winning.
  • Bolton’s games in hand are now used up, and they sit 18th and close out the season with winnable matches against West Brom and (at) Stoke. QPR hosts Stoke before visiting the Etihad. Don’t sleep on Villa. They’re winless in eight, and led by the most dispiriting manager in the Premier League, they’re far from safety.
  • Peter Crouch’s Tuesday opener may have been for the wrong team, but it was still the 10,000the goal in Premier League history. Which means nothing.
  • Papiss Demba Cissé scored both goals at Stamford Bridge, including this … this-ness. Uhhhh …
  • Fortresses aren’t made like they’re used to. Or, at least, teams are less interested in erecting them than they’re used to. Both Liverpool and Chelsea must in a couple of “meh” performances mid-week, something you can’t really fault them for in light of Saturday’s stakes. It’s still a bit strange seeing them not only lose but also be blanked.

Up next: Two huge matches this weekend: Saturday’s FA Cup final and Sunday’s visit to Newcastle from Manchester City. We’ll probably do some offshore drilling on each.

More packages – check out previous shipments from abroad.

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.

USMNT roster announced for pair of World Cup qualifiers

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The regulars are all aboard as Bruce Arena has announced a mostly full-strength roster for the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The only true regular missing from the 27-man list is midfielder Jermaine Jones, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered back in early May.

Leading the line are Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey up front, with Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood alongside. Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, and Christian Pulisic headline the midfield, along with Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe. Kellyn Acosta is called up as a like-for-like replacement for Jermaine Jones.

Along the back, Geoff Cameron is available for selection after navigating a few injuries this past season. John Brooks is back as well after his muscle tear suffered in late April. DeAndre Yedlin is back as well after missing the last pair of qualifiers with an injury and winning the Championship with Newcastle. Fulham’s Tim Ream is called in after showing improvement all season at the club level. Jorge Villafana returns at the thin left-back position, as is DaMarcus Beasley, who is listed as a midfielder.

In goal, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando present an experienced trio, also supported by 21-year-old Ethan Horvath.

The US takes on Venezuela in a friendly on June 3rd in a warm-up to the pair of qualifiers. First, they’ll host Trinidad & Tobago in Denver on June 8th. Then, on just a three day turnaround, they head to the Azteca to play Mexico.

After earning four points in the last international break, the United States sits in 4th position in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The top three teams advance automatically to the 2018 World Cup, while the 4th placed team can qualify via a two-legged playoff against a team from the Asian confederation.


GKs: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFs: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

MIDs: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

FWDs: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg).

Totti’s loyalty one of the great soccer accomplishments ever

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During the prematch ceremony to celebrate the retirement of Roma legend Francesco Totti, there were fans crying. There were mascots crying. There were family members crying. There were players crying. The man himself was crying.

When 25 years with one club, no celebration can keep back the tears that naturally follow such a glorious career. Instead, an entire stadium paid tribute in one massive outpouring of emotion.

He was never flashy, he was never self-concerned, he never attracted the spotlight. All Francesco Totti did was give and give and give to his club. As the Italian’s career progressed, the game changed around him, with more and more money flowing through a landscape that gave players every reason to change teams as often as possible.

Through it all, Totti stayed put.

Roma’s Francesco Totti enters the field for his final salute to his fans after an Italian Serie A soccer match between Roma and Genoa at the Olympic stadium in Rome (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

At the end of it all, 25 years produced 618 league appearances, and 782 appearances overall. He scored 250 Serie A goals on the nose, and another 66 amid all other competitions. Those are just numbers, and Totti gave Roma far more than a laundry list of big numbers.

But for now, we focus on the bookkeeping, because even those are staggering. 250 league goals leaves Totti 2nd all-time in Italy, behind just Silvio Piola, but even the great 1938 World Cup champion never scored more than 143 league goals for a single club. Only three active players have over 100 league goals.

Totti racked up 618 Serie A appearances, his final one a 3-2 win over Genoa that earned Roma a Champions League group stage spot. That total is good for third all-time, one (for now) behind the great Gianluigi Buffon and 29 back of all-time leader Paolo Maldini. Maldini, who retired in 2009, also spent his entire career with one club in AC Milan, an equally commendable accomplishment. But in the modern game, 8 years adrift of Maldini’s playing days, the overwhelming temptations to move clubs make what Totti has done even more remarkable. Plus, he out-lasted Maldini’s career by a year (24 vs. 25 years active).

A note: only two players in the top 30 list in Serie A appearances are still active: Buffon, and 34-year-old Alberto Gilardino, who has played for 11 clubs in his career and is still 104 appearances back of Totti.

Past all the numbers stands a humble man who served one fanbase as loyally as humanly possible. Totti’s accomplishments are not only among the greatest in the history of the game, but it also may never be surpassed by anyone as long as we live.

Mascherano out 6 weeks, will miss Argentina vs. Brazil

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano will be out of action for six weeks to recover from a right knee injury.

[ MORE: Luis Enrique leaves Barca with feeling of accomplishment ]

Barcelona’s season is over, but the injury will rule out Mascherano from Argentina’s friendly against Brazil on June 9.

Mascherano injured his leg early in Saturday’s final of the Copa del Rey, when Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to defend its title for a third straight season.

He also cut his head during the collision with an Alaves player that produced the leg injury. He returned on crutches to join the team celebration.

Argentina doesn’t play its next World Cup qualifier until it plays Uruguay on Aug. 28.