Spotlight USA: Geoff Cameron enjoying new lease of life at Stoke City ahead of USA’s World Cup adventure

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Geoff Cameron hasn’t looked back since joining Stoke City from the Houston Dynamo in August 2012 and things are getting better for the U.S. international.

In his second full season in the Premier League, Cameron has consolidated his place as a starter for Stoke as new manager Mark Hughes replaced Tony Pulis, the man who bought Cameron.

The 28-year-old defender — whose versatility and incredible engine has seen him used in a variety of positions for club and country but mostly right back for the Potters — is excelling as an attacking full back under Hughes and speaks about the change in philosophy from Pulis to Hughes suiting his talents.

(MORE: Read the full archive of Spotlight USA, including Tim Ream, Brad Friedel)

During the two recent USMNT friendlies in Europe, Cameron excelled at center back and was arguably the USA’s best player against Scotland and Austria. Not a bad thing to be doing as he looks to rubber-stamp his spot in the starting lineup at the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

Cameron played in 35 PL games during his debut season in England, he’s been ever present in Stoke’s team this season so far too.

I caught up with him — as well as throwing a bit of banter at each other as our path crossed many moons ago amongst the college soccer circuit — whilst he was on international duty with the U.S. squad.

This is what the marauding right back had to say.

On playing for new Stoke manager Mark Hughes:

I think it’s been tremendous, he’s a really, really good coach. He’s positive, he’s playing the ball on the pitch and that suits my style better than the way we played under Pulis which was a lot of long balls. That didn’t suit my style as much as I would’ve wanted it to. Saying that, I had 38 games last year under him [Pulis] I’ve been fortunate. And as for playing for Hughes, it’s been great so far.

On being encouraged to attack from right back:

He wants the outside backs to get involved and be a part of the offense and make it difficult for the other team so they have to defend me as well. And, I’m seeing the ball a lot more. Where last year, you just get it and you hump it down the line and you just hope for something. Whereas this year there’s intention of going forward, coming in, getting it back and creating stuff.

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Since joining Stoke in 2012, Cameron has cemented himself as a regular and a fans favorite at the Britannia.

On Stoke’s mixed bag of results so far:

I think overall, we’re disappointed with some of the results that we’ve had. You know, the Manchester United and Swansea game and Man City at home we should  have won, we had opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net, so those things and those little points here and there hurt you. Saying that, we’ll be okay. I think once we get another win under our belt, our confidence will go and we will get on a roll. I think sometimes we get in a situation where you go up and we’re not used to being up on teams because you kind of fight for a goal in the last minute or something like that and you don’t really realize, ‘hey, you’re up 2-0 against Swansea, let’s keep doing what we’re doing, play the way we played to get the two goals.’ All of a sudden I think we get a little nervous and you’re not confident with keeping the lead. That’s something that we obviously have to work on and get that mentality. I think it’s a mentality thing. (They obviously have been, as Cameron helped Stoke defeat Sunderland 2-0 in Week 12 of the PL, their first home win since August.)

On cementing his place for USMNT:

Just put your name on the list. That’s obviously the goal, going to the World Cup. You just have to be consistent and be a regular player and go from there, little baby steps you know?

On the tough World Cup draw ahead:

I’ll watch it on December 6 and kind of go from there….

On having the other American players at Stoke:

It’s cool. We’re challenging the British guys now, which is cool. I’ve been outnumbered for a while, then Brek and Mo came and slowly we’re taking over the locker room which is pretty cool. It’s good, I think it’s easier for people to adjust because there are a few other Americans to support you if you need anything.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.