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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.

WATCH: Chelsea’s Chalobah nutmegs two Manchester United players in seconds

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea is closed down by Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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For the first time since the 2011-12 season, Nathaniel Chalobah is not on loan and getting the chance to show what he can do for Chelsea.

At the very least, the 21-year-old midfielder has given the club a viral video.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby “a final” ]

Chelsea uploaded a video of Chalobah going double nutmeg on Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera.

Given the opposition, it’s gone quite well to the tune of several hundred thousand views inside of four hours.

Watch the ex-Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading, and Napoli man go.

BVB boss Tuchel not worried about Real Madrid links

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 27:  Thomas Tuchel, head coach of Dortmund looks on during team training session for 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
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Less than five months have passed since Real Madrid won the Champions League final, yet in Florentino Perez’s mind that’s a lifetime. ()

Real’s president is anything but patient with managers, the latest example being Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian was fired a year after winning the club’s long-desired Decima and losing a whopping 19 of 119 matches in charge.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby “a final” ]

So even though Real Madrid leads La Liga under Zinedine Zidane and won the UCL last season, people are always imagining the future.

Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel’s style of play has captured the imaginations of so many supporters. And with BVB president Hans-Joachim Watzke claiming that Real is tracking the German, the questions are heading for Tuchel.

From Goal.com:

“It’s dangerous if you are flattered as a coach.You lose focus on the important things. I read it as a rumour before our game in Ingolstadt and so I already said back then that it’s dangerous to admit it and to think about it because it takes on too much importance.”

There’s no reason for Tuchel to have to ask those questions. Perez has called Zidane’s appointment one of his proudest moments, and that was just three days ago. Even in Perez’s world, that’s only a solid month, maybe two. %tags%

“It is a final” — Manchester Derby day finds both City, United craving win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Images of Pep Guardiola the manager of Manchester City and Jose Mourinho of Manchester United are seen on a scarf ahead of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s bonus Manchester Derby Day thanks to the EFL Cup, and so many eyes will be trained on Old Trafford come 3 p.m. ET.

There’s plenty at stake on the day, as both Manchester United and Manchester City have undergone a run of disappointing play in recent weeks.

[ MORE: Tues’ EFL Cup roundup ]

United was spanked 4-0 by Chelsea on Sunday, bringing their Premier League run to 1W-2D-1L over four games. City’s had it far worse, winless in five with a trio of draws in the mix.

For those considering that this derby could take on any lesser feel, rest assured that longtime rival bosses Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will not be operating at full blast (even with rumors of youth-heavy teams on Wednesday).

Here’s Guardiola, from Sky Sports:

“I think everyone can believe this competition is not the big one but I am going to prepare to win the game.

“For the players who play, we’ll be depending on them to make the best performance possible. It is a final.”

Mourinho seems under special pressure given the losses against Man City and Chelsea in the Premier League, ones in which the genius was clearly outfoxed. He was talking about the PL when he said Tuesday that Man Utd needed wins, but there’s little doubt he’ll want to lose to City at home in any competition.

Get your proverbial and actual popcorn ready.

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”