Everton, the Premier League’s dark-horse for Champions League qualification

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With a brutal fixture list and an array of key injuries, there’s little doubt that Everton are the Premier League’s dark-horse to qualify for Champions League football.

The 6th place Toffees head to White Hart Lane this weekend for a clash with 3rd place Tottenham, who Everton beat 2-1 in the reverse fixture last December. Revenge will certainly be on the minds of Spurs but it won’t come easy for Andre Villas-Boas’ side who carry the added burden of facing FC Basel in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday.

With six points separating Everton and Spurs (and the Blues holding a game in hand), Leighton Baines & Co. are keeping it cool and the left-back insists it is not a make-or-break match. “It’s a big game but there are plenty more after that and it won’t be decided by next weekend,” Baines told the Liverpool Echo. “We are the ones who are trailing and that probably means we are the least favourite of the teams but we are fighters.” And fighters they’ll need to be as Moyes’ side will once again have to cope with the absences of Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, who will serve the second of their two match bans this Sunday.

To make their Champions League dreams a reality, the Toffees will need to finish on a dominant run of form. That means not only winning games they’re supposed to win – QPR, Sunderland, Fulham and West Ham – but also scalping at least two of the three big clubs they have yet to face – Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Currently just two points behind 5th placed Arsenal and four points behind 4th placed Chelsea, these contests will prove the difference makers at the end of the year.

To hit such form the notoriously thin Toffees will need to do everything to get their best players on the pitch, even if it means playing injured. In last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Stoke, Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka both returned, the former after more than a month out with a broken back and the later after three weeks sidelined with a gashed ankle. The center-back received a pain-killing injection to play, and that’s exactly the kind of determination and spirit that epitomizes this Everton squad. “At other clubs, you might get certain guys saying: ‘I will take another week and then come back’. But for me and Jags that never came into it – we love to pull on the shirt,” Howard said.

For Everton, qualifying for Champions League would mean more than the glory of playing in club football’s most prestigious contest as many believe the $30.3/£20 million in qualifying prize money would provide the impetus for David Moyes to end his contractual standoff and put pen to paper.

And who knows? With Champions League football on the horizon and a legendary manager locked down, maybe the fat-pocketed white knight that Evertonians have long dreamed of taking over the club will finally appear at the gates of Goodison Park.

Until then – ride, dark-horse, ride!

Napoli takes commanding Serie A lead after Juventus loss

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Six-time Serie A defending champions Juventus are in trouble. Not a lot, but the heat has been turned up.

A wild 3-2 loss to Sampdoria means the Italian giants are now four points back of Napoli in the Serie A table, and heading into their Champions League matchup with Barcelona, there is plenty of soul-searching to do in Turin.

Juventus nearly mounted what would have been a monumental comeback, down 3-0 heading into stoppage-time but posting goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in the first and fourth minutes of injury time. It was not to be, and the four-point deficit through 13 games not only leaves Juventus looking at Napoli more than a game in front of them, but also over their shoulders at Roma and Inter Milan both a point behind in third and fourth.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was kept out of the lineup as he continues to deal emotionally with the World Cup miss, and it showed. After a scoreless first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Duzan Zapata beat Stephan Lichtensteiner in the air and sent a looping header over a flatfooted Wojciech Szczesny for the opening goal.

With 20 minutes to go, Sampdoria struck again as former Premier League creator Gaston Ramirez fed 21-year-old Lucas Torreira at the top of the box, and with nobody closing him down, he fired into the bottom-left corner of the net. They got the eventual winner nine minutes later after an embarrassing defensive breakdown by the visitors. A free-kick saw two attackers in front of net against five defenders, but somehow Gianmarco Ferrari was completely unmarked in front of the net for a tap-in.

Higuain struck from the penalty spot and Dybala hit on the counter to beat Emiliano Vivaldo at his near post, but it wasn’t enough for Juventus. The defensive frailty will need to be corrected moving forward, as they face a vital match at Napoli on December 1st, and a loss there could spell disaster for their title charge.

American right back Moore makes first La Liga start

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La Liga saw an American amongst its Starting XIs on Sunday.

Shaquell Moore made his first La Liga start in Levante’s 2-0 win at Las Palmas on Sunday.

According to WhoScored, Moore completed 71 percent of his passes, had three interceptions and four tackles won. He was credited with one key pass and three crosses.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

The right back turned 21 earlier this month, and our primitive research shows him as the first U.S. player to make a La Liga start since Oguchi Onyewu at Malaga in 2013.

Oddly enough, Sunday’s opposition had an American on the books last season with Emmanuel Sabbi skipped college soccer to join Las Palmas. Sabbi joined Danish side Hobro this summer, and made his first start on Friday.

Jozy Altidore spent time with Villarreal and Kasey Keller played for Rayo Vallecano.

Levante’s next match is Sunday at Real Sociedad.

Spurs reportedly have right to match any Bale bid

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What’s Gareth Bale worth these days? And how much higher than that figure is Manchester United willing to go?

Those are the two main questions that arise from the idea that Tottenham Hotspur may have a contractual privilege to match any offer made to Real Madrid for the ex-Spurs star.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Bale, 28, was worth $112 million in today’s dollars when Real bought him in 2013. He has 70 goals and 55 assists in 159 matches for the Spanish outfit.

How much is he worth now? Certainly nothing near the same figure, as Romelu Lukaku went for $99 million this summer and Alvaro Morata went for $80 million.

The Express says Real expects $112 million right back for Bale, which seems insane. Bale has three goals and four assists in nine matches for Real this summer, and had nine and five in 27 outings last season.

Bale did, however, scored 19 goals in 23 La Liga matches two seasons ago, but he’s dealt with significant injuries on a near-annual basis.

Spurs transfer record is the $48 million it spent on Davinson Sanchez this summer. Whatever Manchester United, or anything suitor, will bid for Bale will likely be higher than that figure.

At one point would it make sense for Spurs to smash their record and wage structure to line up Bale, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen in the same attack (I mean, holy smoke, just close your eyes and visualize that!).

Real reportedly wants to make the move happen in January, while United wants to do it in the summer.

Moyes: West Ham mentality, confidence is shaky

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David Moyes needed to see his charges in action, and didn’t love the mental side of West Ham’s 2-0 loss to Watford on Sunday at Vicarage Road.

The Irons had plenty of chances on the day, with Cheikhou Kouyate seeing one shot saved before missing another in perhaps the two best of the day.

[ RECAP: Watford 2-0 West Ham ]

And Watford’s first goal was pretty unlucky, as Andre Gray bungled a shot that went right to Will Hughes for his first Premier League goal.

Moyes’ Irons also lost Marko Arnautovic with what he thinks is a broken thumb, but is more worried about the club’s poise. From the BBC:

“I was only ever going to find out what the players were like by working with them and seeing them play today. When the opportunities didn’t go for us, the confidence went away.

“We have to try to find a way of winning. The important thing is to be in the game, and when we lost the second goal, it became difficult.”