How the U.S. players fared in the 2013-14 Premier League season

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As we continue our extensive review of the Premier League season, it is time to switch our attentions to Americans in the PL.

Throughout the 2013-14 PL campaign we have all been keeping an extremely close eye on the performances of the U.S. national team stars plying their trade in the English top-flight, as the World Cup in Brazil is just around the corner.

FULL COVERAGE: Premier League season review

Four USMNT players played regularly for PL teams and enjoyed contrasting fortunes throughout the season.

Here’s a look at how your American heroes performed in the PL this year, as we mark them out of 10.

Jozy Altidore – Sunderland

Oh, Jozy. It has been a season of struggle at Sunderland for the USA’s main striker. A regular under Paolo Di Canio at the start of the season, Altidore’s $11 million pricetag seemed to be weighing him down in the early stages as Sunderland scrapped around at the bottom of the standings. Low on confidence and in a team that failed to carve out regular scoring chances, life hasn’t been ideal for Alitdore at the Stadium of Light. When new boss Gus Poyet arrived Altidore has been in and out of the team and has scored just one PL goal in 31 appearances this season. However later in the campaign he often came off the bench to give the Black Cats plenty of energy and a real target up top, while I watched him live in Sunderland 3-0 derby win over Newcastle in February and his hold up play was superb. Will the 24-year-old attacker move on this summer? Let’s wait and see. Not a dream start to life back in the PL for Altidore.

Mark: 4/10

Geoff Cameron – Stoke City

A fantastic season for Cameron at Stoke City, as the 28-year-old was the Potters’ first-choice right back for the entire campaign. Cameron, in just his second season at Stoke, has now racked up 73 appearances for the Midlands club and is a fan favorite at the Britannia Stadium. His versatility is key and he can slot into central midfield or play as a center back whenever the team needs him to. Stoke finished the campaign in their highest-ever PL position of ninth as Cameron played an integral part in a stellar season which saw him often bombing on from right back and whipping in plenty of delightful crosses. He is in top form going into the World Cup and even added two goals this season to his name. Will Klinsmann play him at right back, center back or midfield this summer? Wherever Cameron plays, he’ll do a great job.

Mark: 8/10

 

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Howard had a wonderful season for Everton.

Brad Guzan – Aston Villa

Is there another ‘keeper in the PL who gets more reps than Brad Guzan at Aston Villa? I don’t think so. Guzan has been incredibly busy once again and has kept Villa in plenty of games this season on their way to yet another successful battle against relegation. There were a few small slip ups here and there but for the most part Guzan put in another solid year in his second-straight season as Villa’s first-choice ‘keeper. 110 stops for Guzan this season, who continues to push Tim Howard all the way.

Mark: 7/10

Tim Howard – Everton

What a great year for the USMNT veteran, on and off the field. Howard helped Everton to a fifth-placed finished and a record points tally in the PL as they took the league by storm with an attractive style of play. Off the field Howard joined NBC’s Premier League coverage regularly as a color commentator and also signed a lucrative new deal with Everton that will take him up to his retirement. Howard made 111 saves, fifth most in the PL, and kept 15 clean sheets which was the second best total in the PL. His standout performance came against Arsenal at the Emirates when Everton drew 1-1 and their goal was bombarded with efforts that Howard kept out.

Mark: 8/10

Best of the rest…

It is hard to give the following guys a mark because they didn’t play in any Premier League matches, but young U.S. stopper Cody Cropper was on the bench several times for Southampton and is making a name for himself down on the South Coast as Klinsmann has called him up to the full USMNT squad. Brek Shea is still waiting to break through at Stoke but he looked useful in brief appearances in friendlies for the U.S. and also had a short spell on loan with Championship side Barnsley.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”