Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines show their value to Everton in season opener

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If Everton fans needed any reminder why manager Roberto Martínez is unwilling to sell Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to Manchester United, they received it in Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Norwich City.

Fellaini ran up and down the field all game long, initiating attacks and supporting the center backs as a holding midfielder, while Baines was one of the Toffees’ most dangerous attacking players from an advanced left back position.

In fact, Baines and Fellaini showed that they are key parts of Martínez’s tactical system, which calls for attack-minded outside backs and central players who can work on both ends of the field.

Baines’ main job is to create two-on-one isolations with left-sided midfielder Steven Pienaar, while Fellaini initiates attacks with his distribution and remains available to drop between the center backs as the outside backs overlap on both sides.

The OPTA stats pegged Baines’ passing at 86 percent efficiency, as he completed 51 of his 59 attempts, including 22 of 27 in the attacking third of the field. That far outweighed his contribution in the back third, where he completed all of his six attempts. He also created five chances to score with passes that led directly to a shot, leading the team in that category.

Meanwhile, Fellaini’s passing was even more efficient, at 91 percent completion, mostly in the middle third of the field. Greater than his numerical contributions, though, was his intangible quality of work rate. He covered ground all over the field, making runs up the middle to join attacks before retreating quickly when Everton lost possession.

(MORE: Everton reject $42 million Manchester Utd bid for Baines and Fellaini)

“They are two great assets of the football club. I think they realise what they have done in the past, and they are very respectful towards that,” Martínez said of his stalwarts. “Football is a team sport, and the behavior of every player really matters. They have been a real example towards that.”

Further, the manager said he is not tempted at all to sell either player:

There is no temptation. In football, you want to keep your best performers, and that is where we are. You always get into a debate when there is a club that matches the valuation of a player. Then you need to make a decision. That has never been the case, and where we are is we want to keep our most influential players and build from that. It has been well reported what the approach has been. We take it as a football compliment and move on. Now, the focus has to be the games.

CONCACAF: USMNT, Trinidad & Tobago seek first points of Hexagonal

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Through two rounds of play in the Hexagonal, everything has gone according to plan for Mexico and Costa Rica.

Not so much though for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

While Los Ticos and El Tri currently sit in the top two positions of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the U.S. is left at the bottom and faces a difficult match against Honduras when play resumes on Friday night.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras match ]

Mexico and Costa Rica will face off at the Estadio Azteca in the second of Friday’s three slated qualifiers, and while both nations surely expect to reach the World Cup in Russia, both CONCACAF heavyweights have the opportunity to put their stamp on the group.

For Costa Rica, a victory could potentially open up a five-point gap over El Tri, while a win for Mexico would bring Juan Carlos Osorio’s side the opportunity leap over their Central American foes.

Friday’s action will kick off at 7 p.m. though when third place Panama travels to Trinidad & Tobago, who seeks its first points of the Hex. Trinidad will be led by captain Kenwyne Jones of Atlanta United as well as Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino, with the duo scoring a combined 39 international goals for the Soca Warriors.

Below is the schedule and current table ahead of Friday’s CONCACAF matches as the region turns its attention to Matchday 3 of the Hexagonal.


Trinidad & Tobago vs. Panama — 7 p.m. ET

Mexico vs. Costa Rica — 9:50 p.m. ET

USMNT vs. Honduras — 10:30 p.m. ET (PREVIEW)


1. Costa Rica — 2-0-0 — 6 pts.
2. Mexico — 1-1-0 — 4 pts.
3. Panama — 1-1-0 — 4 pts.
4. Honduras — 1-0-1 — 3 pts.
5. Trinidad & Tobago — 0-0-2 — 0 pts.
6. USMNT — 0-0-2 — 0 pts.

Spurs allowed to play all home matches at Wembley next season

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Tottenham was granted the right to play all of its home matches at Wembley Stadium for the 2017/18 season, but the club must now make a decision whether or not to remain at White Hart Lane for another year.

[ MORE: Man City weighing massive offer for Milan’s Donnarumma ]

The club’s application was granted on Thursday by Brent Council’s planning committee, giving Spurs the option to move into Wembley next season for all 27 home Premier League fixtures.

Spurs must decide if it will go ahead with that move though by March 31.

Tottenham continues to play at White Hart Lane while its new stadium, located next door to its current venue, is being constructed. The current plan is that the new venue will be open ahead of the 2019/2020 campaign, but the club is said to be weighing all of its options in the event that it could be ready for the 2018/19 season.

Prosecutors question Beckenbauer in World Cup fraud case

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Swiss authorities say prosecutors have questioned Germany soccer great Franz Beckenbauer in their ongoing World Cup fraud case.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum vs. Honduras ]

Criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee were opened in 2015. The four are suspected of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement, and misappropriation relating to a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) to FIFA in 2005.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

The Swiss attorney general’s office said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that federal prosecutors questioned Beckenbauer earlier in the day in Bern, adding that “Beckenbauer was cooperative.”

Beckenbauer’s home in Austria was raided last year for evidence on behalf of Swiss federal prosecutors investigating corruption linked to FIFA.

Report: Man City launching massive bid for AC Milan’s Donnarumma

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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly established himself as the best young goalkeeper in European soccer, and AC Milan won’t be letting the 18-year-old go without a pretty penny in return.

[ MORE: Schedule, preview for UEFA World Cup qualifying ]

According to Sky Sport Italia, Manchester City is preparing a massive bid in the range of $130 to $160 million to acquire the AC Milan shot-stopper as the English side’s goalkeeping situation is still unsettled.

The Citizens have failed to hunker down at the goalkeeper position this season despite spending big to bring in Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, who has underperformed. Willy Caballero has also been shaky at times for the English giants, while on-loan keeper Joe Hart will almost certainly move on from the club over the summer.

Donnarumma is currently second in Serie A in saves (110), trailing only Crotone’s Alex Cordaz, who has stopped two more shots.

Since turning professional in 2015, Donnarumma has quickly enjoyed his rise through Italian football for both AC Milan and with the national team. After previously featuring for the Under-15, U-17 and U-21 sides, Donnarumma has established himself as the surefire replacement for Gianluigi Buffon once he retires from the international game.