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Juventus vs. Celtic: When all else fails, talk about the referees

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Juventus is up 3-0 over Celtic ahead of the teams’ second leg in Turin, and while miracles can happen, nobody’s going to chide you for assuming this one’s done and dusted. The Italian champions have only given up three goals at home once in since Jan. 2011, a game in which they still managed to score a goal. Celtic would have to better that result (by Internazionale on Nov. 3) to make it to the quarterfinals.

And while it would be tedious to focus on that improbability in the lead up to today’s Champions League eliminato., we’ve somehow found an even more tiresome topic: Complaining about officiating.

After the first leg in Glasgow, Celtic was irate that Juventus defenders were allowed to be so physical while defending corner kicks. At one point, the game stalled as Celtic players incredulously appeared to Alberto Undiano to stop wing back Stephan Lichsteiner’s holding on set pieces.

From Ewan Murray’s report in the Guardian:

The Italians left Glasgow with a 3-0 victory from the first leg three weeks ago but also having sparked fierce debate over their glaring, grappling tactics when defending corners. Celtic’s ire over the approach of Juventus was so great that they took their complaints to Uefa, the European game’s ruling body.

Celtic coach Neil Lennon:

“[Celtic’s chief executive] Peter Lawwell said we will get a call from Uefa but we haven’t had anything yet,” Lennon added. “I am disappointed but is it really a surprise? We have a Turkish referee now – I don’t know what Turkish referees are like but I hope he is stronger than the Spanish one.

“All I want is for him to do his job and I don’t think [Undiano] did his job properly in the first leg. I don’t think I’ve seen it as blatant as that, ever. It was just so galling.”

Galling enough to stay on his mind for three weeks, apparently.

Juventus’s first leg tactics would still be in focus regardless of the score, but with Celtic given almost no chance of advancing, it seems to be the only thing on anybody’s mind.

And we can’t just place this blame on Lennon. Somebody’s asking him these questions. He’s just saying what he thinks. Sure, it’s a little weird that he’s holding on to what happened in Glasgow, but certainly there’s something else we can talk about.

(And yes, I realize the irony of talking about what I don’t want to talk about. That’s criticism for you.)

More from Lennon:

“I’m not expecting to win the game three or four nil but I’d like to win it 1-0, 2-1 – if we could do that it would be a fantastic achievement again.

“Is the tie beyond us? I’m a realist. It will take a minor miracle but miracles do happen sometimes.

Consider the contrast in his comments. On one hand (regarding set pieces), Lennon’s resorted to typical coach speak. Oh, this is outrageous, even though that kind of cynical defending is pretty common.  But about his team’s second leg chances, he’s being more honest than most, saying he’d be happy with a result that would eliminate his club from Champions League.

Lennonian dualism – so much more interesting than dwelling on officials.

As for Antonio Conte’s part, he’s taking Lennon’s complaints in stride.

“If Lennon complains about the referees perhaps he is a coach who can come [to] Italy because here we all complain.

Barring a complete collapse, Juventus is going through. If they can do so without aggravating Neil Lennon, our soccer coverage will be better off.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.

LIVE – West Ham vs. Liverpool in FA Cup 4th round replay

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool is watched by Dimitri Payet of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on January 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Two Premier League teams clash in the FA Cup on Tuesday with a place in the last 16 on the line.

West Ham United welcome Liverpool to Upton Park (Follow live, 2:45 p.m. ET) following the 0-0 draw between the teams at Anfield 10 days ago.

[ LIVE: Follow West Ham-Liverpool here

Slaven Bilic‘s side will fancy their chances of getting past an injury-hit Liverpool squad and creating another famous FA Cup memory in their final season at the Boleyn Ground. With Dimitri Payet in contract negotiations about extending his stay at the Hammers, can the French playmaker lead them to a big win?

After missing Liverpool’s late collapse on Saturday during the 2-2 draw with Sunderland due to a bout of suspected appendicitis, manager Jurgen Klopp will return to the dugout. The German coach has already guided the Reds to one Wembley final during his debut season in charge as they face Manchester City in the League Cup final in less than three weeks time.

The winner of this clash will travel to second-tier Blackburn Rovers and they’ll be heavy favorites to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Click on the link above to follow the game live, plus we will have a recap, reaction and analysis following the encounter in east London.

State of the USMNT: What is Klinsmann’s best XI for World Cup qualifiers?

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With the U.S. men’s national team ending their January camp with two narrow friendly wins over Iceland and Canada, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff will now be sitting back and thinking: “What did we learn? Who impressed? Who struggled?”

Or something like that.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

Each year the January camp provides domestic based players — mostly from Major League Soccer but a sprinkling of other guys too — with the chance to impress Klinsmann and his staff in close quarters for multiple weeks in California. Many current U.S. regulars earned their stripes in January’s gone by and have established themselves ever since.

This January was no different as the experienced core of players — Michael Bradley, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore among them — showed their class and several promising players worked hard to get minutes in the friendlies.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

However, despite some glimmers of hope from youngsters such as Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter, what we learned about the USMNT heading into the two CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers in March is that the established players remain the best hope for success. Sure, the likes of John Brooks is impressing in the Bundesliga, Matt Miazga sealed a move to Chelsea and Lee Nguyen took his chance in January camp, but the old guard should remain in place through this next batch of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala home and away on Mar. 25 and 29 and the Copa America Centenario this summer.

Question marks remain regarding some veterans, which could keep the situation a little more fluid than it should be.

One of those is Tim Howard with speculation of him moving away from Everton mounting plus a straight-up battle between Howard and Brad Guzan for the starting spot, while Clint Dempsey‘s status with the national team still seems to be somewhat clouded. Overall, though, the settled core of players who played together at the World Cup — plus or minus a few who have performed consistently over the last 18 months — should be kept together by Klinsmann. During last summer’s Gold Cup disappointment there was plenty of experimenting, especially in defense, but now is the time to settle things down and realize the following guys are the players you should count on going forward.

Below is my selection — feel free to select your own in the comments section — for the best XI available to Klinsmann, plus seven subs, assuming everyone is fit and available.

USMNT’s Best XI as of Feb. 9, 2016

—– Howard —–

— F. Johnson — Cameron — Besler — Ream —

—- Bradley —- Williams —-

—- Bedoya —- Dempsey —- Zardes —-

—– Altidore —–

Subs: Guzan, Brooks, Jones, Yedlin, Nagbe, Morris, Johannsson

Ahead of huge title clash, influential Leicester scout transfers to Arsenal

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Ben Wrigglesworth might not be a man you’ve heard a lot about, but he has been influential in helping Leicester City’s unlikely charge to the top of the Premier League.

Now, he’s been poached by Leicester’s main title rivals: Arsenal.

[ MORE: Spurs, Arsenal to battle for title?

Ahead of the monster clash between the Foxes and Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) the man who unearthed the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante has transferred to Arsenal and is now their First Team Video Scout.

Wrigglesworth, Leicester’s former Head of Technical Scouting, announced he would be leaving the Foxes via his Twitter page (see below) and he has now accepted a new role as part of Steve Rowley’s team at Arsenal.

It is believed he will not only help with the scouting of players but will also analyze Arsenal’s first team and the opposition.

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Arsenal will unveil a new player performance center at their training HQ this summer and have recently purchased a soccer data company based in America, statDNA, to help them with scouting and player analysis.

With several Premier League teams now having huge player databases monitored by a team of talented individuals — often, like Wrigglesworth, with no pro playing experience — scouring the globe for the next bargain, the Moneyball vibe is strong.