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United States down one in latest FIFA World Ranking; Spain stays top

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The United States Men’s National Team has fallen one spot in May FIFA’s World Ranking, but at 14, the U.S. remains the only team outside of Europe and South America in the list’s top 18 spots. Though the team maintained the same number of points in FIFA’s formula (which factors in the last four years’ worth of results), Chile gained enough points to pass the U.S., who sits one spot above the Netherlands.

Spain remained at number one ahead of Germany and Portugal, leaving the top three unchanged. Brazil, moving to number four, leads a quartet of South American teams in the middle of the first 10, with Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina occupying spots five through seven. Switzerland, Italy and Greece round out the top 10:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
2 Germany UEFA 1340
3 Portugal UEFA 1245
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
5 Colombia CONMEBOL 1186
6 Uruguay CONMEBOL 1181
7 Argentina CONMEBOL 1178
8 Switzerland UEFA 1161
9 Italy UEFA 1115
10 Greece UEFA 1082

As is the case most months, the more interesting part of the ranking is noting where the teams outside Europa and South America happen to fall. The U.S. is the highest, but you have to drop another five spots to find another team from outside big two confederations (Mexico, 18).  Cote d’Ivoire is the highest-ranking African team (21), while Asia doesn’t check in until Iran at 37:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
14 United States CONCACAF 1015
21 Cote d’ Iviore CAF 830
37 Iran AFC 715
111 New Zealand OFC 271

The FIFA rankings are used for so few things, there’s little point to getting too upset about where teams sit. Besides, there’s a pretty compelling argument that Europe and South America are so much better than the other regions that the disparity fair. Regardless, there’s a cyclical nature to this, where teams in highly rated regions are not only more likely to face highly rated teams (based on geography alone) but get other bonuses for playing teams from tough confederations.

It’s that lack of mobility that’s the problem. There’s almost no way the U.S., Cote d’Iviore, or Japan (sorry, Iran) can make significant strides without a huge run in the World Cup. But the World Cup only happens once every four years. If FIFA is trying to assess which teams are strong at a given moment, having so much tied to World Cups and the Confederations Cup is an issue.

That’s not saying any of those countries should be higher, right now; but if they did, FIFA’s system would have no way of picking that up.

It’s not the worst system in the world, but it is interesting to compare them to the Elo ratings, a measure based on the methodology used to rank chess players:

Rank FIFA Elo
1 Spain Brazil
2 Germany Spain
3 Portugal Germany
4 Brazil Argentina
5 Colombia Netherlands
6 Uruguay England
7 Argentina Portugal
8 Switzerland Colombia
9 Italy Uruguay
10 Greece Chile

And the regional leaders:

Region FIFA (Rank) Elo (Rank)
AFC Iran (37) Japan (24)
CAF Cote d’Ivoire (21) Cote d’Ivoire (22)
CONCACAF United States (14) United States (13)
CONMEBOL Brazil (4) Brazil (1)
Oceania New Zealand (111) New Zealand (69)
UEFA Spain (1) Spain (2)

Elo balances out the South American teams at the top and is a little more forgiving to Asian (and Oceania’s) teams at the bottom. To the degree that conforms with your intuition, you’ll see Elo as a better system.

But beyond some regions using FIFA to order teams for competition (and draws), neither system matters that much. Once every four years, the top teams get World Cup seeds. Beyond that, it’s just data.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.