Without Radamel Falcao, should Colombia finally turn to Fredy Montero?

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José Pekerman already had Fredy Montero in his sights, but with Colombia’s wealth of attackers, it has been difficult for the former Sounders standout to find room. Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martínez, and Teó Gutíerrez have been automatics, and with James Rodríguez also capable of playing an advanced role, the Monaco midfielder offsets the need to select too many forwards. With Carlos Bacca, Carlos Darwin Quintero and Luis Muriel all receiving call ups since October, somebody like Montero has a lot to wade through to make it to shore.

Needless to say, Falcao’s injury changes things. Without their primary scoring threat, Colombia’s going to have to rethink everything, potentially shaking up how Pekerman organizes his team. The Cafeteros’ boss could just slide Martínez into his starting XI next to Gutíerrez, persisting with the same approach with which he finished South American qualifying. He could also decide a tendency to set up with two-striker approach playing to Falcao’s strengths needs to be reevaluated, perhaps leaving the door open for a 26-year-old whose 13 goals for Sporting Lisbon are tied for Portugal’s lead.

Unfortunately for Montero (and Pekerman), there’s almost no time for experimentation. National teams will be able to get together for one game in March. Beyond that, the only games teams will play before May will be without their European players, who will be obliged to their clubs. If the Argentine coach does need to overhaul his setup, he’ll be picking up the pieces as he arrives in Brazil.

That’s where somebody like Montero can help. As opposed to some of the other players who’ve already been called in, there’s a versatility to his game that could allow him to adapt to whatever solutions Pekerman’s forced to employ. He can play along the line, serve his role in a partnership, or be used as more of a creator while deployed in a withdrawn role. If Pekerman needs all options on the table when Colombia arrives in Brazil, Montero can provide them, perhaps more so than players like Bacca, Muriel or Quintero.

Unfortunately for Montero, the depth of Colombia’s attack and the size of FIFA’s World Cup rosters (23 men) means Pekerman doesn’t have to settle for a utility knife. If he wants an out-and-out forward, Bacca or Muriel might be better options. If he decides an on the ball playmaker will be more important in the absence of Falcao, Rodríguez and Macnelly Torres are already regulars in the squad.  Whatever needs end up surfacing in the wake of Falcao’s injury, it’s unclear the answer is Fredy Montero.

Of course, there is another, more obvious need we haven’t addressed: goals. With 20 goals in 50 international appearances, Falcao was Colombia’s only established international scoring threat. Though Gutíerrez has 11 goals in 27 appearances, the Cafeteros will still need to identify somebody to replace Falcao’s scoring.

Carlos Bacca has nine goals for Sevilla this year, and Martínez has a share of Portugal’s scoring lead with 13 goals in 16 games. Along with Montero, they’ve been Colombia’s most productive non-Falcao Europeans.

But as the person who shares Portugal’s scoring lead with Martínez, Montero has a case to make. If 13 goals in Portugal are good enough for Martínez to be a lock, why can’t they earn Montero one of the last spots in Colombia’s squad?

Edit: As @crashcarson15 pointed out in a reply to @NBCSportsSoccer, going by Colombia’s recent caps means I forgot another player who deserves a role in the conversation:

True.

Arsenal finishes atop UEL group despite defeat to Cologne

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The Gunners didn’t take care of business on Thursday in Germany, but luckily they got some help from two of their other Group H counterparts.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews ]

Cologne defeated Arsenal, 1-0, at the RheinEnergieStadion, but Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov ended in a scoreless draw to give Arsene Wenger‘s side the top spot in the group.

The difference on the day proved to be Sehrou Guirassy’s penalty kick, which came in the 62nd minute after he had been taken down by Matthieu Debuchy a moment prior.

Arsenal were forced back early on by the hosts, with Jhon Cordoba nearly breaking the deadlock inside the opening five minutes.

Meanwhile, the Gunners struggled to break down Cologne’s defense throughout the encounter, despite having an overwhelming amount of possession.

Arsenal will close out Group H play on Dec. 7 against BATE, while Cologne battles Red Star Belgrade for a shot at reaching the Round of 32.

Report: Earthquakes to name Mikael Stahre as new manager

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The San Jose Earthquakes are prepared to hire a new manager, leaving Chris Leitch’s status with the club unknown moving forward.

[ MORE: Michael Bradley issues strong views on Crew’s potential relocation ]

ESPN FC is reporting that the Major League Soccer side will hire Swedish coach Mikael Stahre in the coming days, replacing Leitch. The story was first reported by Swedish outlet Expressen.

The 42-year-old has primarily spent his managerial career in Sweden, but has also coached teams in Greece and China.

The Earthquakes qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012 this season under Leitch, but were bounced in the first round by the Vancouver Whitecaps — 5-0.

Leitch, who formerly played for the Earthquakes in his MLS-playing days, finished 2017 as both the manager and technical director for the Western Conference club.

Pending Stahre’s hire, the Quakes will be on their third coach in a span of roughly five months after Dominic Kinnear had been previously fired by the team back in June.

Study to look at long-term health risks of playing soccer

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LONDON (AP) A major study into whether soccer players are at risk of degenerative brain disease has been commissioned amid concerns that the sport’s authorities in England haven’t done enough to tackle the issue.

The Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association have appointed a research team, based in Scotland, to undertake a study entitled “Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk” from January 2018.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said it will be “one of the most comprehensive studies ever commissioned into the long-term health of former footballers” because “we feel compelled … to fully understand if there are any potential risks associated with playing the game.”

Researchers will address the question: “Is the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?”

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews

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Ready for Week 13 in the Premier League? Let’s do this.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Huddersfield vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester United vs. Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham vs. West Brom (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Burnley vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Southampton vs. Everton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

 

Newcastle United vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Liverpool vs. Chelsea – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

West Ham vs. Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]