Cardiff City v Everton - Premier League

Everton 1-0 Chelsea: Roberto Martinez finally has something to smile about (video)

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The opening goal of the match came as a surprise to…well, pretty much everyone. It was Chelsea that had been applying heavy pressure on Everton for the last fifteen minutes. Samuel Eto’o took advantage of an error by Tim Howard, but Gareth Barry flew in to save the Everton goalkeeper. Then Eto’o set up Ramires, but that time, Howard stretched his fingers just enough to keep out the ball. As the half drew to a close, Andre Schurrle, Branislav Ivanovic and Juan Mata all came close.

Chelsea would come to rue those missed chances.

Just before the whistle blew to signal the end of the first half, Everton knocked in their first and only goal — the goal that would wind up getting the Toffees all three points. Petr Cech had just saved a header from Seamus Coleman when his attention was drawn to Nikica Jelavic, lurking near the post. But rather than taking a shot himself, the Croatian headed across to Steven Naismith, who was able to easily head on past the Chelsea goalkeeper.

The visitors did not take kindly to this cheeky goal, and came out after the break ready to find an equalizer — or even better, all three points. But again, the goal remained elusive for the Blues. Eto’o and Ramires again went close, but just couldn’t seem to find their target. Oscar, on for Mata, had his shot blocked. Nothing seemed to be working for Chelsea.

So what did Jose Mourinho do? He took off Ashley Cole and replaced him with Fernando Torres, to the utter astonishment of almost everyone watching the match. Chelsea shifted to a back three, with Ramires and Eden Hazard operating more as wingbacks. With Chelsea chasing the game, conceding was of little importance — Mou simply wanted goals, and lots of them.

It very nearly worked — and it may have, if Howard hadn’t managed to keep his wits about him. John Terry got on the end of a cross from Frank Lampard, but Howard was there in time. Shortly thereafter, it was Eto’o and Ramires combining again, but Howard was up to the task. Finally, as sort of a final hurrah, Torres put his 90th minute shot wide.

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Osman, Barry, Mirallas (Deulofeu 92), Naismith (Stones 89), Barkley, Jelavic (McCarthy 65)

Subs not used: Robles, Heitinga, Oviedo, Gueye

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole (Torres 69), Ramires, Mikel, Schurrle (Lampard 57), Hazard, Mata (Oscar 57), Eto’o

Subs not used: Essien, De Bruyne, Schwarzer, Cahill

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.