Kicking the can on Clint Dempsey’s precarious place with Spurs

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Clint Dempsey may have bagged a goal to start 2013, but yesterday was a decidedly mixed one for the U.S. international. With Gareth Bale suspended for diving too much, you would have expected Dempsey, having returned from a groin injury during Spurs’ trip to Sunderland, to start on the left side of André Villas-Boas’s 4-4-2. Instead, Gylfi Sigurdsson got the call.

To his credit, Sigurdsson has forced Villas-Boas’s hand. For the better part of a month, the attacking midfielder has been Spurs’ best player on the ball. If it wasn’t for Gareth Bale’s Boxing Day explosion, you could argue the Icelander has been the team’s best attacker (per minute) period. If he’s fighting Clint Dempsey for playing time, there’s little doubt Sigurdsson has started to get the upper hand.

It’s a battle that’s been implied since Deadline Day, when Spurs took advantage of a short-sighted Liverpool to land the American on the cheap. The move pushed Sigurdsson down the depth chart, and while both players struggled in their first months at White Hart Lane, Dempsey was able to maintain his relative advantage.

Now that Sigurdsson is flashing his Swansea form, he and Dempsey may have swapped spots, a state that could see “Deuce” eventually struggle for playing time. Over the next month, if Emmanuel Adebayor goes the Africa Cup of Nations (for Togo), Dempsey should get starts up top (provided Villas-Boas doesn’t use the absence as an excuse to switch back to a 4-2-3-1). There, Dempsey will be expected to produce goals. If he can’t catch fire, he’ll may slot in behind Sigurdsson on the depth chart when Adebayor returns.

On a fully healthy Spurs team, that means Dempsey is the second attacker off the bench. Specific matchups and game situations may see him used before Sigurdsson, but unless Dempsey can start to winning this one-on-one with the Icelandic international, he’s going to scrounging for playing time in the new year.

It’s a situation that’s always brought the best out of Dempsey in the past. At Fulham, he would habitually lose his place whenever the Cottagers were forced to swap coaches. Within months, he’d not only be back in the starting lineup but be one of Fulham’s best players.

The only difference this time: Dempsey had a spot to lose. André Villas-Boas has never forced him to prove himself. The Portuguese manager has put his faith in Dempsey.

At a competitive place like Tottenham, though, faith is not enough. Bottom line: Dempsey needs to play better to keep his spot.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.