Americans Abroad Preview: Yank vs. Yank match-ups in England and Mexico

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Call it “What to expect when you’re expecting the World Cup to be awesome.” It’s this week’s Americans Abroad Preview.

Cardiff’s immediate path out of the drop zone involves putting a goal or two past Everton’s Tim Howard, while Timmy’s Toffees would love to get all three points to keep the heat on Manchester United and Tottenham in the quest for sixth place in the Premier League.

Geoff Cameron will again be in focus for Stoke City in a breathing room match with West Ham United. The Potters are at home, with both teams on 31 points but Stoke having played one more match.

Brad Guzan and Aston Villa get the marquee match at 1:30p.m. ET against Chelsea on NBCSN, with the Blues in fine form and seven points ahead of No.2 Liverpool. Guzan’s boys are level with West Ham and Stoke for 10th place and coming off a big win over Norwich.

Sunderland is playing a rare Premier League match, which have been scarce thanks to two strong Cup runs. But this is the real deal for Jozy Altidore, who is getting over illness. Sunderland are just one point out of escaping the drop zone with two and even three games-in-hand on the competition. A win over Crystal Palace on Saturday is close to a “must.”

All English Championship matches are on Saturday this week, meaning there will be a plethora of Yanks on the pitch at 3p.m. ET.

It’s an American back battleground in Sheffield, where Will Packwood, Jonathan Spector and Birmingham City visit Oguchi Onyewu and Sheffield Wednesday.

Eric Lichaj‘s season with Nottingham Forest is done as he needs double hernia surgery.

Other Championship appearances could see:

Tim Ream for Bolton host Brighton.

Reading using Danny Williams as they play host to Derby County.

Duane Holmes for Yeovil Town in a visit to QPR at Loftus Road.

Juan Agudelo and FC Utrecht are away to NEC Nijmegen in a big relegation six-pointer, with Utrecht in 14th place, five points ahead of its opponents and three points above the drop zone. Agudelo has cooled off a bit since his hot, shot-ripping start in the Netherlands and was an unused substitute to start the month before subbing on after 61 minutes at PSV last week.

Eredivisie mate Aron Johannsson of AZ Alkmaar is having no such problems, which you certainly know if you’ve hung out around Pro Soccer Talk. He has three goals, two assists and nine shots on goal in his last three league matches, with AZ boasting a 3-0 record and 9-0 aggregate scoreline. Alkmaar is lurking three points behind sixth-place Heerenveen.

Anderlecht has lost two of three in the Belgian Jupiler League, so Sacha Kljestan needs a home win over KV Oostende on Sunday if he hopes to catch Club Brugge this season for second in the standings.

Terrence Boyd and SK Rapid Wien are hosting SV Josko Ried on Saturday. It’s the third match-up of the two teams, with the home teams putting up 2-0 wins. Boyd scored in Vienna’s home win in late September.

Nantes has dropped down the Ligue 1 table after their strong start and now have some small survival doubts as Ale Bedoya and company go away to third-place Lille for a Saturday match. Bedoya hasn’t been in tremendous form for a striker, not scoring since tallying back-to-back goals in December wins over Marseille and Valenciennes.

Jermaine Jones and Besiktas can keep pressure on Galatasaray in the race of second place in the Turkish Super Lig with a road win at low-in-the-table Caykur Rizes on Saturday.

In Germany, Jon Anthony Brooks will hope to see the pitch for Hertha BSC as they host Hannover 96 on Saturday. Meanwhile, Fabian Johnson will look to put forth another impressive showing at right back, presumably, as Hoffenheim host Mainz. Both of those matches are on Saturday.

No Friday night matches in Liga MX means the US contingent South of the border has weekend duty. Tijuana’s bevy of Yanks including Herculez Gomez and Joe Corona have a big matchup with Cruz Azul on Saturday, while Tigres’ Jose Torres will see DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Puebla on Sunday at Estadio Cuauhtémoc.

The latter two were in the headlines for tough reasons earlier this week, protesting missing wages. They’ll need their focus, as Puebla is just one point below Tigres in the Clausura table. Let’s just say both clubs are much nearer to the bottom than the top. The two clubs drew 0-0 in Copa MX play on Thursday, also in Puebla.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.