Tottenham Hotspur's Dempsey scores a goal against Panathinaikos during their Europa League soccer match in London

Clint Dempsey returning to normal self (and the rest of the day in Europa League)

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It hasn’t been a smooth transition across London for Clint Dempsey, but given the U.S. international had not been training with Fulham prior to his move to Tottenham, it was reasonable to expect a period of adjustment. New coach, new club, new system, and having to recover from a broken routine is a recipe for struggles. That Dempsey was frequently leaving his new teammates to join the U.S. for third round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying didn’t help.

But now in December, the effects of those excuses are started to run out, which is why today’s Europa League performance against Panathinaikos was so encouraging. Dempsey set up Spurs’ opening goal (a 29th score from Emmanuel Adebayor) and forced an own, game-winning goal in the 76th. When he came off in the 80th, Dempsey had been his team’s best performer, Spurs going on to win at White Hart Lane, 3-1.

Beyond his strong performance, what was most interesting about Dempsey’s day was André Villas-Boas’s formation. The Spurs manager deployed a 4-4-2, pushing Dempsey out of the middle, to the same wide left position where he enjoyed much of his success at Fulham. The spot produced one of Dempsey’s best performances since moving to Tottenham.

Don’t expect Dempsey to keep that spot. When Gareth Bale returns to full health, the wide left position will be all his. However, if Dempsey can use this interlude to gain some confidence, he might be able to take some swagger back into his role in the middle of the park.

Other results (by group)

Group A: Liverpool tops the group after their 1-0 win at Udinese (23′ Jordan Henderson) coupled with Young Boys’ 3-1 win over a 10-man Anzhi Makhachkala left three teams tied atop the group with 10 points. Young Boys end up missing out.

Group B: Hapoel Tel Aviv and Atlético Madrid were through before the day started, but a 2-0 home win over Académica combined with the Atleti’s 1-0 loss at Viktoria Plzen gives the group to the Israeli club.

Group C: Borussia Monchengladbach routed Fenerbahçe in Istanbul (3-0) but it didn’t matter. The two teams had already locked up second and first in the group (respectively). Marseille and Cyprus’s AEL are out.

Group D: Bordeaux’s 2-0 win over Newcastle give the Ligue 1 side the group. The Magpies had already confirmed a knockout round spot. Portugal’s Marítimo and Belgium’s Club Brugge go hom.

Group E: Molde’s 1-0 upset in Stuttgart guaranteed the group to Steaua Bucharest, but it was the Romanian club’s draw at Copenhagen that ensured the German side squeaked through in second place, besting the Danes on a tiebreaker.

Group F: Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk finished a 15-point group stage with a 4-0 rout of Sweden’s AIK, while third place PSV got a for-pride win in Napels, 3-1 over second place Napoli.

Group G: Basel’s 0-0 draw at Genk assured the two club go through, the Belgian’s in first place. Sporting’s match against Hungary’s Videoton was suspended because of a waterlogged field in Lisbon. When it’s played on Friday, it won’t matter.

Group H: Rubin Kazan and Inter Milan were guaranteed first and second going into the day. Each drew on Thursday, Inter at home to Azerbaijan’s Neftçi and Rubin at Partizan Belgrade.

Group I: Another group that was settled two weeks ago. Lyon’s 2-0 win over Israel’s Ironi Kiryat Shmona put them on 16 points, while Sparta Prague finished second after their 0-0 drew at Athletic Bilbao.

Group J: Tottenham finished two points behind Lazio after the Italians win 4-1 in Maribor. Sergio Floccari had two goals. For Spurs, Brad Friedel got the start in goal.

Group K: Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv and Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen had already locked up spots one and two. Metalist lost a meaningless game at 10-man Rapid Wien (1-0) while Bayer defeated Rosenborg (1-0) at home. Both Mix Diserkud (Rosenborg) and Terrence Boyd (Rapid) saw time, though Boyd started on the bench.

Group L: Hannover’s 1-1 draw at Levante kept the group in their hands, holding the Spaniards in second place. Steve Cherundolo played the last 20 minutes for Hannover. Helsingborg’s 3-1 win at Twente was meaningless.

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.