Sunderland teammate backs Jozy to start scoring as the two prepare to go head-to-head

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They may be playing each other on Friday, but their relationship remains friendly – just like the upcoming match between the United States and Scotland.

Fellow Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher has offered up big support for Jozy Altidore, whose Premier League goal tally with his new club remains on the goose egg.

But according to Fletcher, Jozy’s contribution to the Black Cats has much more to it than just a number.

“He has done really well since he joined the club” said the 26-year-old Scot. “He has really put himself about on the pitch and his work rate is amazing. I think you have to look at everything he has brought to the club and not look at him purely in terms of goals.”

Fletcher even gave specific examples, always a good idea when putting together a well thought-out argument.

“He set up both goals against Southampton as well as the winner against Newcastle and there is no way anyone should be complaining. He is a 100 per cent committed player every time and the goals will definitely come.  Jozy has settled in really well and he has been doing a fantastic job at the club. He is the sort of player who you know every time he goes on the pitch will give everything and that’s the sort of player we need right now.”

Perhaps the biggest compliment, however, came when Fletcher not only backed his teammate, but said any club would jump at the chance to grab a player of Jozy’s commitment level and work rate.

“In fact, it’s the sort of player every club needs” continued Fletcher. “Jozy will want to score a few more goals as all strikers do, but they will come. The important thing is he is contributing and in his last few games he has been one of our best and most consistent players.  His attitude is first class and that’s one of the reasons why he has been such a success at both club and international level. His goalscoring record for USA is incredible and that shows what a fine player he is.”

Those are some fine words from Jozy’s teammate/opponent.  They may be rival goalscorers on Friday, but int he dressing room, it’s clear the Sunderland players value the American’s presence and appreciate what he brings to the pitch.

Oh, and Fletcher finds the American’s stature a bit imposing as well. “I think I will bounce off Jozy if I go anywhere near him. Have you seen the size of the lad?”

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

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Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.