2014 World Cup: How does it look for CONCACAF?

9 Comments

When CONCACAF found out its teams would be grouped in Pot 3, away from Europe, Africa and South America, it knew it was in for a tough World Cup draw. There would be no Iran, no Australia… it would be a battle just to find games where CONCACAF would be favored.

In the end, the results were a mixed bag. Costa Rica and the United States have their work cut out for them, Mexico faces a challenge to their attacking skill while Honduras may be the Confederation’s best hope.

Both Mexico and the U.S. made their way to the knockout rounds in 2010 — Honduras finished last in its group — but how many nations will survive the group stage this time around.

The United States and its fortunes are directly tied to whether its Top 15 ranking is a true indicator of where they — and CONCACAF — stand. The Yanks have done loads of good during a record-setting 2013, but have been eliminated from the World Cup by two of their group mates: Germany and Ghana. The States kept Portugal from advancing in 2002, so there’s history everywhere. Is Portugal as deep? No, but they have the man who almost single-handedly took them to Brazil in Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mexico’s challenge will be dictating their game to the opposition. Free-wheeling is going to be a challenge when it comes to stingy Croatia and Cameroon, while beating hosts Brazil would seem prize-enough for a Mexico team that’s been on quite the roller coaster ride. They’ll go as Oribe Peralta (pictured) goes, and his work against the Ivory Coast in their highest-profile win (outside of the playoff with New Zealand) was superb.

He’s scored in seven of Mexico’s last eight matches, producing a total of 11 goals.

Poor Costa Rica. Their reward for finishing second in CONCACAF qualifying is a team that will match their physicality (England), another that will out-flash them (Uruguay) and perhaps the finest defensive, counter-attacking country of all-time (Italy). They finished 31st in their last World Cup appearance (2006) and have to hope that England and Italy fare poorly on the other side of their world.

Honduras is playing in a group that quite literally could find any two teams advance out of the group. France is a wild card, with immense talent but uncertainty lurking after a simply horrible experience in 2010. Switzerland has been looked-past, which is hilarious given they’re the No. 7 team in the world. That said, where will the goals come from? No Swiss player other than Tranquillo Barnetta has 10-plus goals in their international career. Which brings us to Ecuador.

La Tri is captained by Antonio Valencia and haven’t been out of the Copa America’s first round, let alone World Cup, since 1997. Their Round of 16 finish in the 2006 World Cup seems ancient history, but again, this is a South American tournament. Honduras has won a single World Cup game in its two appearances, though one its draws came versus Switzerland. As many as five MLS player could feature for the Hondurans, who will lean on New England’s Jerry Bengtson and Guizhou Zhicheng’s Carlo Costly to score and score early.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
Leave a comment

Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

@Arsenal
1 Comment

The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

@ManUtd
Leave a comment

Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…