Good and not-so-good: Taking inventory of the U.S.’s qualifying week

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Four points in their bag, it’s time for the U.S. to move forward, a process that will involve assessing what they learned from their week of qualifiers. Having gone 180 minutes without allowing a goal, it’s not difficult to find the positives, nor is it hard to nitpick at ta team that didn’t generate many chances.

So let’s take inventory and look at some of the good, not-so-good, and mixed bags from the break that was:

Good

  • Central defense – In each game, the team’s best performers where at the back. Omar Gonzalez replicated his MLS dominance, Clarence Goodson reasserted his place in the pecking order, while Matt Besler’s qualifying debut proved he can perform in the most tense of situations. Particularly once Geoff Cameron can move back in, Jurgen Klinsmann will have a full, viable core of central defenders. That may not be great news for Carlos Bocanegra, but at a spot that’s seen the captain and Oguchi Onyewu diminish in relevance, those are reassuring options.
  • Brad Guzan – Given the lack of work he got during the Costa Rica and Mexico games, I’m not convinced there should be a battle for Tim Howard’s No. 1 shirt; however, if somebody wants to point to Guzan’s work in Birmingham and note the job he did in the second half against Mexico, I’ll point to some iffy moments in the second half against Costa Rica but think “maybe they have a point.”
  • Jermaine Jones – There’s a portion of the U.S. fan base who is never going to like the combative German, and with possibly good reason. But even though he missed Tuesday’s game in Mexico, this was a good week for him. In Colorado, his versatility and experience helped the States’ midfield control a match played under strange conditions, and as his replacement Maurice Edu was ridden off the ball on consecutive second half possessions, you could see where he would have been valuable in Mexico.
  • Depth – It was so long ago you may not remember, but when the U.S.’s squad was named nine days ago, there were legitimate worries as to whether Klinsmann would be able to account for a rash of injuries, particularly at the back. Two games, four points, and no goals allowed later, the U.S. haves shown their system can paper over a lot of holes. When Klinsmann talks about adaptability, that’s it, and given the coach set expanding the player pool as an explicit goal of his tenure with the States, the (formerly?) maligned boss deserves some credit.

Note: We’ll get to Jurgen Klinsmann in another post.

Not-so-good

  • The attack, as a whole – The disappointment of two goals in three games is mitigated by the front-loaded schedule. Early games in Honduras and Mexico were destined to make these early numbers would look skewed. Still, the pure lack of chances has to be disturbing, particularly since the attack was a problem in third round qualifying. The U.S. has become a team that can compete with most opponents while controlling few, a state that’s inevitable when you can’t score goals.
  • Graham Zusi – By the second half at Azteca, Zusi was finally falling back to give Cameron the help he needed. His late header to deal with a Giovanni Dos Santos ball from the endline was one of Tuesday’s highlights. But that play came after a game and a half of being a defensive liability. Bryan Oviedo was able to consistently get past him and onto Cameron in Colorado, while Dos Santos and Andres Guardado were able to get balls in from their left throughout the match in Mexico. Two nice second half plays can’t offset 135 minutes of struggles.
  • Geoff Cameron – Like Zusi, Cameron struggled badly along the U.S.’s right in Colorado. In Mexico, he was much better, but he still left too much room behind him, and when Dos Santos moved through the channel and behind the right back to attack with Guardado and Jorge Torres Nilo, the U.S. struggled. The most disappointing part of Cameron’s performance: Right back is where he plays at club level. Now that Besler has been be tested, you wonder if Cameron’s positional uncertainty (not getting reps in the middle for Stoke) could eventually see him passed on the depth chart.
  • Maurice Edu – He played a part in nice first half movement, and his tracking runners into the back helped the U.S. withstand Mexico’s first half onslaught. But woe, those times he got caught on the ball. And woe, the penalty that should have been. It might be time to consider who else can step in when Jermaine Jones is out. “Dear FIFA: What say you about Osvaldo Alonso?”

Mixed bags:

  • Jozy Altidore – A lot more positives than negatives for Altidore this week. The Costa Rica game was one of his best under Klinsmann, while he played a part in a couple of nice first half movements in Mexico. At some point, the U.S. is going to need more from their first choice No. 9, whomever that may be. But for Altidore, it’s all part of a process of getting where the coach wants him to be.
  • Clint Dempsey – He scored the goal in Colorado and did some decent work in Mexico (feeding Herculez Gomez for an early first half ball that was blocked out for a corner), but the U.S. is still lacking a danger element at their playmaking position. Put simply, there are no plays being made. Dempsey is a resourceful goal scorer, and his experience underneath the striker helps, but the U.S. just isn’t as dangerous as they should be. Dempsey and Altidore need to generate more chances.
  • DeMarcus Beasley – It’s not that DMB was great (though in Colorado, he was pretty close). It’s that he showed he can be an option, something that’s valuable for a pool that has had to ask José Francisco Torres to play left back this cycle. Yes, he was torched in Mexico, but that’s Mexico. If he’s needed against other teams in the group? He might be viable.

Diego Costa moves out of his London home

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The clearest indication yet has arrived that Chelsea striker doesn’t intend to return to England.

According to multiple reports in the UK Costa, 28, has sent in a removal firm to clear up his remaining belongings at his home in Surrey on the outskirts of London and has also had all amenities cut off at his base in England.

His friends say he no longer has a home in London, as Costa had been living in the $10 million home previously occupied by Fernando Torres.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international striker is currently back in Brazil at his family home, refusing to return to Chelsea until they sell him to his former club Atletico Madrid.

This all came after Costa was told by Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, reportedly via a text message, that he was no longer needed at Chelsea and could leave this summer. Chelsea say that Costa has known since January that he would be sold this summer, but his lawyer has threatened legal action against Conte and Chelsea for their handling of the situation.

With Atletico unable to register any new players until January 2018 due to a current transfer ban from FIFA, Costa’s situation is complex.

What isn’t complex is his stance that he will stay in Brazil and isn’t bothered about being fined by Chelsea who insist he should return to their Cobham training base and train with their reserve team.

Five Premier League new boys set to become stars

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There have been plenty of ins and outs this summer across the Premier League, so we forgive you if you aren’t exactly on top of which new names are set for a breakout 2017-18.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.

After the opening two weekends of the season there are plenty of #hottakes out there but below is a look at five newbies who have already shown they’re set for a fine spell in the PL after arriving in the league this summer.

This is a ranking of players who have never played in the PL before this season.


Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – A stunning strike for Huddersfield against Newcastle to win the Terriers the game in their Premier League opener at the John Smith’s Stadium. The Australian international is comfortable on the ball and able to link midfield with attack and he has an impressive engine. He did play for Huddersfield last season on loan from Man City, albeit in the Championship, but he has never played in the PL before. Mooy is one of those players who will be picked up by PL Fantasy team managers readily over the next few weeks. Expect him to be Huddersfield’s main man when it comes to goals and assists.

Richarlison (Watford) – Watford look to have unearthed a gem from Fluminese in Brazil. The talented 20-year-old forward became the first Brazilian to score for the Hornets and bamboozled Bournemouth’s defense time and time again at the weekend. At $14.3 million he could be one of the bargains of the season with his pace and trickery complementing the power of Andre Gray perfectly.

Jese (Stoke City) – On loan from Paris Saint-Germain, the Spanish forward delivered the game-winner against Arsenal on his debut. Stoke’s fans have a new hero. Jese, 24, has landed at Real Madrid, PSG and Las Palmas in a nomadic career but he appears to possess the pace and cutting edge to finish chances. Exactly what Stoke needed.

Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea) – Okay, it wasn’t his most polished display in midfield but after being out in preseason with injury, Bakayoko stepped in admirably and played a full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against Tottenham. A gritty player who put himself about, the former Monaco man gave a good account of himself. Imagine how much of a beast the 23-year-old will be alongside N'Golo Kante when he is fully fit.

Danilo (Man City) – He only played for 25 minutes against Everton but he showed plenty of attacking promise (forcing Jordan Pickford into a fine stop down low) from right back as well as defensive solidity. He did the same in his PL debut at left back at Brighton in Week 1. Danilo won’t steal the headlines but he will soon become of Pep Guardiola‘s most important defensive players due to his impressive versatility. The experience of the Brazilian international will be key in holding City’s leaky defense together.

Best stats from Week 2 in the Premier League

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Looking back at Week 2 of the Premier League, there were plenty of intriguing stats.

[ MORE: PL Playback – Week 2 ] 

Milestones were reached and possession records were broken among many other notable moments.

Below, via Opta, you will find some stats to impress your mates at the bar ahead of the third round of games in the PL.


  • Wayne Rooney scored his 200th Premier League goal in this match – the only player with more in the competition is Alan Shearer (260).
  • Arsenal posted their highest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (77.3%), since 2003-04 (the first season Opta have this data from). Stoke City posted their lowest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (22.7%).
  • Indeed, only five teams have won a Premier League game with a lower share of possession than Stoke against Arsenal, since 2003-04.
  • Geoff Cameron became just the sixth American to play in 150 or more Premier League games.
  • Manchester United have scored 4+ goals in their opening two league games of a season for the first time in 110 years (1907/08).
  • There were just 3 minutes and 41 seconds between Manchester United’s final three goals of the game against Swansea.
  • Watford boss Marco Silva enjoyed his first-ever away win in the Premier League in his 10th game on the road in the competition (W1 D2 L7).
  • West Brom have won their first two games of a top-flight season for the first time since 1978/79.
  • Liverpool have kept five clean sheets in their last six Premier League games, as many as in the previous 21.
  • Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal ended a run of nine hours and 15 minutes without a Premier League goal at St. Mary’s for Southampton.
  • Javier Hernandez scored his first Premier League goals since April 2014 vs Newcastle (1232 days ago) – all 39 of his goals in the English top-flight have come inside the box.
  • Tottenham have lost seven of their last nine matches at Wembley (W1 D1) and lost each of their last four games against Chelsea there.
  • Harry Kane has now had 34 shots and played 12 games in the month of August without scoring in the Premier League.
  • Excluding the debut season of the Premier League in 1992/93, Huddersfield are the first team to win their opening two games in the competition.
  • 23 of Huddersfield’s last 27 wins in league competition have been achieved by a one-goal margin.

 

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Vardy to Chelsea; Kovacic to Liverpool

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With his good mate Danny Drinkwater edging closer to a move to Chelsea, this Jamie Vardy to Chelsea talk makes sense.

The 30-year-old striker has looked sharp in the opening weeks of the new Premier League season as he scored twice in the defeat to Arsenal on opening night.

A report in The Telegraph claims Vardy is one of three players Chelsea want with Drinkwater and Virgil Van Dijk the others.

Vardy will surely look around and see Drinkwater on his way out, N'Golo Kante thriving at Chelsea and Riyad Mahrez pushing for a move to AS Roma and wonder “what about me?” He has every right to do that and with Chelsea eager to add another striker given the ongoing Diego Costa situation, would Vardy be a good fit at Stamford Bridge?

He would certainly give Antonio Conte something completely different in his attack with Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi two bruising frontman who prefer the ball to their feet, and with the pace of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian on the break, Vardy could be vital away from home. Vardy proved he is more than a one season wonder as he battled back from a slow start to last season with 16 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions.

The England international only signed a new long-term deal at Leicester last summer but if Chelsea manage to offload Costa before the end of the window and offer the Foxes a huge amount for Vardy, could they turn it down and would Vardy turn this move down? He shunned Arsenal last summer but Chelsea may be a different proposition with UEFA Champions League action a huge pull.

Vardy’s value is somewhat difficult to judge given his age, his streaky nature and how important he is to how Leicester are set up. If the Foxes sell Vardy then their entire season would be in jeopardy.


Liverpool are said to be targeting Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic with Spanish outlet Diario Gol claiming a deal has already been verbally agreed.

The Croatian midfielder is not seen as a replacement for Philippe Coutinho as it seems increasingly likely the Brazilian playmaker will remain at Anfield after the latest bid from Barcelona (thought to be a whopping $145 million) was turned down.

Kovacic, 23, is a silky central midfielder who has found minutes hard to come by at Real with Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric in his way.

Real signed him from Inter Milan in 2015 for $32.5 million and it is likely they’ll want to at least recoup that fee for the talented Croatian. With Emre Can stalling on a new deal at Liverpool, plus inconsistent displays from Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, Klopp has also talked about using James Milner in central midfield.