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Was Tim Howard’s injury a tiny blessing in disguise?


No one should ever find joy in athlete injury; remember what they say about karma being a “you-know-what.”

As such, none of the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer supporters would ever be “happy” that Tim Howard fell to injury three weeks ago at Everton, causing the highly respected American backstopper to also miss two massive World Cup qualifiers for his homeland.

But now that it’s over, now that Howard is once again stately guardian of Goodison  Park goal – pitching a shutout while presiding over his team’s 1-0 win Saturday against Stoke City – it seems OK to chew on this bit of delicious gristle:

Was all this a positive thing in the long run for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team?

Brad Guzan (pictured) was flawless in goal over two U.S. nights. The duty was hardly extensive in that memorable March 22 fluffy white madness outside Denver, but what Guzan did handle that snowy evening required military grade attention, not to mention the surest of gloved hand. Four nights later in Mexico City, heady and hardy U.S. center back play prevented Guzan from being stretched too often. But again, what the U.S. backup did that cool evening at Azteca, he did with calm assurance and impeccable technique.

So … now we know.

We all suspected Guzan, so heroically nimble and well-placed this year while standing in the shooting gallery of Villa Park, had the stuff to handle the pressure cooker of a World Cup qualifying effort approaching the skids. (We did tell you so, after all.) But suspecting is one thing; putting on your flight suit while standing on deck beneath the “Mission accomplished” banner is something quite different.

Howard will be back in goal next time around. No need for Klinsmann to over-think this one, eh? It’s Howard as No. 1, now with Guzan as No. 1A.

It does help put this drive for Brazil 2014 into a better place, knowing a highly capable backup is around to stave off significant dropoff should Howard become less available once again.

Away fans banned from French league games until mid-December

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France has placed a temporary ban on traveling supporters for upcoming league games due to security concerns in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Play resumed last weekend in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 without away fans, and the French League (LFP) announced that ban would extend until at least mid-December.

[ MORE: Europa League roundup ]

A statement from the LFP said the ban was “because of a lack of availability of security forces during the state of emergency” as security has been tightened throughout the country. Paris is also hosting a United Nations summit from November 30-December 11.

Not only will league games be affected, but also European competition, as PSG is set to host Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 8.

Paris Saint-Germain currently sits atop the Ligue 1 table, the only team remaining without a loss. Just 14 matches into the season, PSG already has a 13-point lead over second place Lyon.

Week 14: Top Premier League storylines – Leicester vs. Man United for the top spot

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31:  Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City and Marcos Rojo of Manchester United compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on January 31, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Week 14 of the Premier League is upon us, as teams get ready to kick-off one of the busiest and most important stretches of the season.

[ WATCH: PL TV schedule — Week 14 ]

Below are five things to keep an eye out for as things get underway on Saturday morning.

Can Vardy keep Leicester top?

Just as we all expected, Leicester City is currently top of the table in the Premier League. This weekend, the Foxes have a massive match against Manchester United, who sit in second place just one point behind Claudio Ranieri‘s men. In last season’s fixture between these two sides at the King Power Stadium, Leicester stunned United in a wild 5-3 victory. While you should expect to see a bit of a different scoreline on Saturday, there’s a good chance Jamie Vardy could find the back of the net yet again. Vardy scored Leicester’s fifth and final goal in that match last season, and is currently on a record run with goals in ten straight Premier League games. One of the hottest strikers in Europe right now, Vardy will look to extend his streak to 11 straight in an effort to keep Leicester at the top of the table.

[ MORE: Ranieri still focused on reaching 40 points with Leicester ]

Not only does Saturday’s match pin the top two teams against each other, it also pins the most potent attack in Leicester against the stingiest defense in United. Leicester’s 28 goals lead the Premier League, while United has conceded just nine goals on the year. While the Foxes have shocked everyone, United and Louis Van Gaal have taken their fair share of criticism despite the fact that the Red Devils sit second on the table. A win on Saturday would move United into first place, as LVG is looking to prove that defense really does win championships.

Spurs look to stay hot vs. Chelsea

While Jamie Vardy is the hottest English striker right now, Harry Kane isn’t far behind. Kane has scored nine goals in his last six matches in all competitions for Tottenham, a major reason why Spurs are the most in-form team in the league. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have not lost since opening day, currently sitting just outside of the top four. On Sunday, Tottenham will keep their unbeaten streak intact as White Hart Lane hosts Chelsea in a London derby. Despite their poor start, the Blues come in on the heels of two straight wins and are playing some of their best football of the season. While Norwich City and Maccabi Tel-Aviv are far from the quality of Tottenham, there have been good signs as Eden Hazard is starting to find his game while Willian continues to produce. A win over Tottenham could be the spark Chelsea needs to go on a big run before Christmas.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

Will City rebound after two straight losses?

Manchester City has dropped two straight matches, losing the top spot in both the Premier League and their Champions League group. City was thrashed at home to Liverpool before losing away to Juventus, as it’s no longer smooth sailing at the Etihad. Factor in a disappointing 0-0 draw against Aston Villa, and Saturday’s match against Southampton is City’s last chance to earn a league win in the month of November. Injuries have been a big reason for City’s drop in form, with captain Vincent Kompany missing out again this weekend, as will Joe Hart, who injured his hamstring against Juventus. Pellegrini’s men could receive a massive boost though, as David Silva is hoping to make his return against Saints after a seven-week absence. A result at home against Southampton is massive, as a loss could see City drop out of the top four for the first time this season.

Swansea in desperate need of a result at Liverpool

Swansea City’s last Premier League win came way back on October 24 against lowly Aston Villa, as Garry Monk‘s side has hit a bit of a rough patch. After being kept off the scoresheet in consecutive losses to Arsenal and Norwich City, the Swans found themselves two goals down at home against Bournemouth last week, needing to fight back to earn a draw. The side from Wales has dropped to 14th on the table, and must try to stop the slide in a tough trip to Anfield. Liverpool won both meetings between the two clubs last season, and are looking to build on a huge 4-1 win over Manchester City in Week 13. With this match being so important to Swansea City, Jurgen Klopp must make sure there is no letup from his men on Sunday.

[ MORE: Klopp gives injury updates on Sturridge, Henderson ]

Bottom feeders look to climb

With a vital stretch of games from Saturday to the New Year, teams towards the bottom of the table will look to start things off on the right foot. Sunderland returns home after a big win over Crystal Palace in a vintage Sam Allardyce performance, as the Mackems host a Stoke City side that has not conceded in three matches. Newcastle travels to Palace and will try to follow in the footsteps of their North East rivals and get a result at Selhurst Park. Bournemouth hasn’t won in the league since September, and with a tough match against Everton this weekend before matches against Chelsea and Manchester United, things could go from bad to worse for the Cherries.

Friday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Messi to Man City for $1.2 million per week

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) hugs his Head coach Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on May 5, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. This is the last match as head coach of FC Barcelona for Josep Guardiola at the Camp Nou Stadium.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The rumor mill is officially wide open.

After reports came out yesterday that Pep Guardiola could be on his way to manage Manchester City next season, today they are saying Guardiola could be in for a reunion at the Etihad with Lionel Messi.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

The Sun is reporting that Messi’s camp has had discussions about a move to Manchester City that would see the superstar take in a ridiculous $1.2 million in weekly wages. With both Messi and Neymar in need of new contracts at Barcelona, it is believed that the club would not be able to afford both players, making a move for one of them a possibility.

If Guardiola was to move to Man City, he would have quite the pull in trying to lure Messi there as well, as the two achieved unparalleled success together at Barca. City’s massive finances and Messi’s ongoing tax issues in Spain make a move to Manchester a possibility.

Andre Ayew’s time at Swansea City could be shorter than expected, as Liverpool is reportedly interested in bringing the winger to Anfield. Ayew moved to Wales from French side Marseille this summer and has been brilliant for Garry Monk, scoring six goals through 13 matches. Speaking to French radio station RMC, Ayew admitted he had gotten offers from bigger clubs, and has put teams on high alert as he said that although he is happy at Swansea, “Now, I am ambitious and we will see what happens.”

[ RELATED: Manchester United send James Wilson on loan to Brighton ]

Tottenham are hopeful they can fend off the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, as the two are keen to move Harry Kane away from White Hart Lane. With Radamel Falcao‘s loan a flop and reported tension between Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea is believed to be preparing a bid for the Spurs striker, who has scored nine goals in his past six games for Tottenham.

In other news, often-troubled midfielder Ravel Morrison is on his way back to England after leaving Italian side Lazio for “personal reasons.” Morrison came up through the Manchester United academy before moving to West Ham and bouncing around on a few loan deals. Still 22-years-old, it is believed Morrison could look to rejoin the Hammers or Queens Park Rangers, who he played for in 2014.

Manchester United loan young striker James Wilson to Brighton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28:  James Wilson of Manchester United takes on George Friend (L) and Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on October 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has sent 19-year-old James Wilson on a season-long loan to Championship side Bright and Hove Albion.

The striker signed a new contract with United earlier this year, but has seen limited playing time under Louis Van Gaal, making just one Premier League appearance this season.

[ MORE: Klopp on Sturridge setback ]

Many have called for Wilson to get more of a run with the first team, as United has had a bit of a struggle to score goals this season. With Wilson being one of the only true striker options for Van Gaal, this move may come as a bit of a surprise.

Van Gaal himself admitted that some may not be happy with the move, but said it would be better for the player’s development to get more minutes at Brighton.

Players of his age need to play and I can imagine that fans are saying that this is ridiculous, they have difficulties to score, but that is a short-term thought.

We have to think what is better for a player like Wilson and at the moment he does not have too many possibilities to play on a higher level. We believe in him so he has to develop himself elsewhere. If we need him, we can call him back.

Wilson burst onto the scene at United during Ryan Giggs‘ short stint as interim manager, scoring twice in his Premier League debut against Hull City. However, he has featured almost exclusively for the reserves under LVG and will now spend the rest of the season away from Old Trafford.

[ RELATED: Aston Villa’s Grealish sent down to U21’s after heavy partying ]

Brighton currently sits tied at the top of the Championship table, the only remaining team without a loss in league play. Despite the Seagulls’ hot start to the campaign, they haven’t been the most potent attacking side, as their leading scorer Tomer Hemed has just five goals and hasn’t tallied since September.