Losing time at Sunderland, Jozy Altidore needs to impress for U.S.

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Jozy Alitdore’s struggles have been well-documented, but until the Sunderland’s game at Wembley on Sunday, the United States’ first choice striker was still getting playing time with his Premier League club. For this weekend’s League Cup final, however, the 24-year-old was omitted from Gus Poyet’s team, and while Black Cats’ supporters were surely more concerned about their team’s outcome than the implications for Altidore, U.S. Men’s National Team fans undoubtedly looked at their striker’s omission as another warning sign. The 2013-14 season has turned into a nightmare for Jozy Altidore.

Sunday’s omission is one Jurgen Klinsmann surely noted, too, with the U.S. boss having previously detailed his views on winning playing time. After the U.S.’s win over South Korea in early February, the national team head coach said players need to ask what else they could be doing when they’re not being chosen by their clubs:

I tell players often that when they are not playing in their club teams, for whatever reason, to stop complaining about it and show your coach every day that you’re the hungriest on the training field, that you’re the most committed one that you’re the earliest guy coming in, and you’re the last that leaves. Tell me one coach in the world that would ignore that at the end of the day and not play him. When our players are not making certain teams, are not making starting lineups, there’s something that they’re not doing.

(MORE: Fear not, U.S. Men’s National Team fans: Ukraine is on the ground in Cyprus)

Altidore hasn’t been complaining, but it’s easy to see what he’s “not doing”. The former AZ Alkmaar, Villarreal, and New York Red Bulls striker has only scored twice in his return to England, where he previously spent an equally unproductive season on loan with Hull (two goals, 30 games in 2009-10). His work rate up top had previously won him playing time, clearing the way for Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson, but this weekend against Manchester City, Poyet decided to go in a different direction. For their most important game of the season, the Black Cats omitted Altidore.

Ahead of his national team’s only friendly (within a FIFA window) before pre-World Cup camps convene in May, focus now turns to Altidore’s international form. Should his club struggles affect his play for the U.S., the importance Klinsmann put on Altidore as part of his team’s spine may need to be reevaluated. Also from February:

“I think Jozy, once he’s keeping his playing rhythm and the quality that he has, is our number one center forward that we have. Clint [Dempsey] is the player behind him. We often talk about the spine of our team, which starts with Timmy [Howard] and goes through midfield with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, and then Clint and Jozy.”

(MORE: Players who need to make an impact for the U.S. on Wednesday (and there are a lot of them))

Having spent his tenure building that core, Klinsmann is seeing his plans undermined by what’s transpired at the Stadium of Light. Whereas so much was invested in working with Altidore — dropping him from the team and successfully reintegrating him a year ago — now a crash in production and Sunderland’s fight for survival could see Klinsmann’s lead striker lose valuable playing time ahead of the World Cup. The form that saw Altidore score eight times for the U.S. in 2013 is a distant memory, with the potential to struggle in Brazil  growing concern.

Sure, there’s Aron Johannsson, but he’s never had to be the main guy for the national team. As Altidore’s maturation shows, it’s not a given that club success will immediately translate to the international level. The likes of Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, and Chris Wondolowski are squad options, they’re not players who can carry the team into the second round. Already in his second World Cup cycle, Altidore has been groomed to lead the U.S.’s attack.

While a series of players are fighting for roster spots this week, Altidore’s performance Wednesday against Ukraine may be more important. Particularly with Clint Dempsey struggling, Altidore can’t go into May on this trajectory. With his spring playing time at Sunderland uncertain, the U.S.’s number nine could use a strong showing in Cyprus.

Mourinho: League Cup “important to” Man Utd, but asks if it’s necessary?

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Marcus Rashford‘s heroics helped Manchester United cruise past visiting Burton Albion, 4-1, in a League Cup third round match at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Mourinho said the League Cup is important to Manchester United because it’s an official tournament, and United wants to win everything it can as a club.

[ WATCH: Rashford’s sensational second ]

Yet he stopped short of endorsing the Cup’s long-term future, a tournament which his side won last season but is perhaps the major obstacle towards the Premier League joining other European leagues with winter breaks. From ManUtd.com:

“If the competition is an official competition then it is important for Manchester United and for me as a manager. If you ask me could the English football survive or even be better without this competition? Maybe, maybe we would be fresher for European competition for example. But we have this competition, we have to respect the sponsors, we have to respect the opponents and a lot of us are trying to do our best.”

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]

United drew a trip to Swansea for the fourth round, and is certainly among the favorites to win the whole thing with their solid depth (See their Starting XI below).

Would you miss the League Cup if it went away?

Serie A: Mertens scores unreal goal; Napoli, Milan, Juve win (video)

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It’s early but signs of an actual title race in Italy are truly delightful.

Juventus and Napoli remain perfect, with the latter above the former in the Serie A table this early season following Wednesday wins.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | League Cup ]

Roma and Atalanta posted blowout wins, while AC Milan won a day after their Milanese rivals Inter needed a 77th minute penalty to draw at Bologna.

Lazio 1-4 Napoli

There were five goals in this one, but the only one you need to witness comes on this unreal shot from an odd angle by the world’s top under-appreciated scorer: Dries Mertens.

Juventus 1-0 Fiorentina

Mario Mandzukic scored the lone goal as The Old Lady slipped further behind Napoli in goal difference.

AC Milan 2-0 SPAL

I Rossoneri scored on a penalty in each half, with new boys Ricardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie converting the chances.

Benevento 0-4 Roma

Edin Dzeko buried a pair of goals and the hosts gifted i Lupi a pair of own goals.

Elsewhere
Bologna 1-1 Inter Milan — Tuesday
Cagliari 0-1 Sassuolo
Genoa 1-1 Chievo
Verona 0-0 Sampdoria
Udinese 2-3 Torino

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Napoli 5 5 0 0 19 3 16 2-0-0 3-0-0 15
 Juventus 5 5 0 0 14 3 11 3-0-0 2-0-0 15
 Inter Milan 5 4 1 0 11 2 9 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
 AC Milan 5 4 0 1 10 6 4 3-0-0 1-0-1 12
 Torino 5 3 2 0 10 5 5 1-1-0 2-1-0 11
 Lazio 5 3 1 1 10 8 2 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 Roma 4 3 0 1 9 3 6 1-0-1 2-0-0 9
 Sampdoria 4 2 2 0 6 4 2 1-0-0 1-2-0 8
 Atalanta 5 2 1 2 9 7 2 2-0-1 0-1-1 7
 Fiorentina 5 2 0 3 8 7 1 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Cagliari 5 2 0 3 4 6 -2 1-0-1 1-0-2 6
 Chievo 5 1 2 2 5 8 -3 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
 Bologna 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 0-2-1 1-0-1 5
 SPAL 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 Sassuolo 5 1 1 3 3 8 -5 0-1-1 1-0-2 4
 Udinese 5 1 0 4 7 10 -3 1-0-2 0-0-2 3
 Genoa 5 0 2 3 5 9 -4 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Verona 5 0 2 3 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-1-1 2
 Crotone 5 0 1 4 1 11 -10 0-1-2 0-0-2 1
 Benevento 5 0 0 5 1 14 -13 0-0-3 0-0-2 0

History denied! Real Madrid loses, fails in bid to beat Pele-led record (video)

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Real Madrid did everything but score, and now find themselves denied a chance at unparalleled history and in a relatively deep early hole in La Liga’s table.

A stoppage time loss to visiting Real Betis ended the club’s 73-match run of matches with a goal, and it came on the day it could’ve passed Pele’s Santos for sole possession of the longest scoring streak in history.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Perhaps more important, Madrid now sits seven points back of first place Barcelona. Their eight points leave them sixth.

Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

The hosts looked so good, and so fluid… and provided any number of finishes which would’ve been goals on another day. Unfortunately for them, the only goal came from Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time.

That’s because Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sensational, including a stunning stop on Gareth Bale‘s backheeled volley in the final quarter hour.

It could’ve gone worse for Madrid, as Mexico’s Andres Guardado had an assist called back for offside.

Before that, there was this from one of the best in history:

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco helped the visitors go second in La Liga, as ex-Atleti midfielder Raul Garcia provided Athletic’s only goal deep into stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Leganes 0-0 Girona
Deportivo de la Coruna 1-0 Alaves
Sevilla 1-0 Las Palmas

League Cup draw: Spurs host Hammers; Everton off to Chelsea

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Sixteen teams are five wins from a berth in the Europa League following the fourth round draw for the League Cup.

Eleven of the 16 belong to the Premier League, leaving Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Bristol City, and Middlesbrough to dream of dream runs to Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

There are only a trio of all-Premier League ties in the bunch, including a high-profile London clash between Spurs and West Ham.

Chelsea will host Everton, while Manchester United heads to Wales for a date with Swansea City.

All-in-all, we could have quarterfinals without a single Cinderella story.

Full draw
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Chelsea vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Leeds United