Friday could be bring a commanding United States win, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann’s and Co. to go bounding into Kansas City for next week’s group play finale needing nothing more than a draw to secure passage into final round World Cup qualifying.
Most American soccer fans would like to see the United States do just that, ride roughshod over the tiny nations of Central American and the Caribbean, establishing regional dominance as more or less a practice exercise en route to bigger and better at the World Cup finals.
But history suggests otherwise. Whether it’s down to an ongoing U.S. failure to capitalize on the enormous advantages in resources, or whether it’s the far more vague province of “is what it is,” these regional lands are rarely pushovers when playing at home.
And that’s not just when playing the United States:
Let’s look quickly at Antigua and Barbuda’s other home games this round:
- Guatemala did escape Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in September with all three points, but it was awfully close. Carlos Ruiz scored in the 25th minute, and it took a solid night of work from visiting goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez to hold the score to 1-0.
- Back in June, Jamaica could do no better than a scoreless draw in Antigua. This is where the Antiguan team’s cohesiveness as a group, not just a collection of individuals – most of the regulars play together in the U.S. third-tier league (USL Pro) – greatly assists the effort. They are far more organized than most Caribbean sides, not committing too many players into the attack, remaining in the best places for recovery once the ball is lost, and generally managing the game fairly well. The United States saw as much in only winning by two goals (3-1) earlier this year in Tampa Bay.
So, two matches so far at the cricket ground in Antigua have produced just one goal.
My expectation: a 2-0 United States win. (Followed by a predictable amount of subsequent teeth gnashing that it couldn’t have been more.)
With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.
[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]
After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.
Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”
There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.
They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.
[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.
Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.
[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]
Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.
Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.
City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.
[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]
However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.
We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.
Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.
Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.
[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]
With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.
- CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
- Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
- Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches
Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).
The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.
[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]
Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.
[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]
For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.
What they’re saying
Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”
Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”
Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.
Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.
The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.
[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]
Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.
When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”
[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]
Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.
Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.