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.

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.