U.S. vs. Azerbaijan: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

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The big lesson from Tuesday night? The U.S. has a lot of work to do. There’s no way a performance like tonight’s against Azerbaijan carries water in Brazil; then again, it doesn’t have to. The U.S. has three weeks to improve before meeting Ghana on June 16. Tonight established a baseline, but it’s not the level the team will take into Natal.

That doesn’t mean tonight’s performance was irrelevant. In addition to that baseline, there were some small, subtle indicators of what the U.S. might look like when they finally face the Black Stars. Between the play of its new right back, the positioning of its wide midfielders, and the ease of its center backs, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men provided some hints of what the team might look like 20 days from now.

[MORE: Diskerud, Johannsson come through | Player ratings | Subs shine]

Here’s three things we learned on Tuesday night that may matter in Brazil:

1. The new right back can sure cover some ground …

We all knew Brad Evans was a midfielder doing his best in an improvised role, but it’s still amazing to be reminded how much ground an athlete like Fabian Johnson can cover at right back.

For those who watched Hoffenheim this season, this is no revelation, and fans who’ve called for Johnson to get the call on the left did so remembering his ability to get up the field on that flank. At right back, however, it’s been a while since the U.S. has used somebody that can so effortlessly get from penalty area-to-byline. Johnson, mostly a left-sided player before tonight for the U.S., looked like a solution.

2. … which is good, because the “wingers” are going to have to be very strong in the middle.

U.S. Soccer advertised tonight’s formation as a diamond midfield, but given the depth at which Michael Bradley was playing, this was closer to a setup we’d see on Bob Bradley than something from Jason Kreis’s whiteboard (even if it wasn’t that, either). Regardless, the widest midfielders — Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, in the starting XI — were often staying as narrow as the defense’s channels, setting up in a formation that will rely almost on its fullbacks for width.

Given the pair Klinsmann’s starting there, it’s not the worst idea. Why not use players like Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley to help the team better use that space in front of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones? If the U.S. can rely on its midfielders-cum-fullbacks to man the flanks, Klinsmann can get numbers in the middle.

3. The new center back tandem looked comfortable together, but they were untested.

Given how little Azerbaijan threatened the U.S., there’s almost nothing you can say about the team’s starting center back tandem: Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron. Almost.

If you’re looking for a reason to be encouraged, look at not only duo’s play on the ball (aside from a few Besler miscues) but the times Cameron jumped into midfield to try to keep possession in the Azerbaijani half. The thin, perhaps premature lesson: After two weeks working together in Palo Alto, the Cameron-Besler pair looked like a tandem that’s used to playing with each other; or, at least, a duo that knows what it wants to become.

Big, huge caveat, though: It’s only Azerbaijan.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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The Premier League is back and that means and that can only mean one thing… a fresh batch of Player Power Rankings.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

Based on their play before the international break and their form for their countries over the past 10 days, plenty of injuries have seen some superstars slide down our rankings.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Up 1
  2. Romelu Lukaku (Everton) – Up 1
  3. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 2
  4. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Even
  5. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Even
  6. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – Even
  7. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Even
  8. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City) – Even
  9. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Up 1
  10. David Silva (Man City) – Up 2
  11. Gary Cahill (Chelsea) – Up 3
  12. David De Gea (Manchester United) – Up 1
  13. Jermain Defoe (Sunderland) – New entry
  14. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 5
  15. Adam Lallana (Liverpool) – New entry
  16. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Even
  17. Michael Keane (Burnley) – New entry
  18. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Even
  19. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Even
  20. John Stones (Man City) – New entry

FIFA’s plan for 48-team World Cup; 6 slots for CONCACAF

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FIFA has announced where it thinks the 48-teams should come from for the largest-ever World Cup proposed for 2026.

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In a statement on Thursday soccer’s world governing body released its recommendations for how many teams from each confederation around the planet should qualify for the tournament.

The recommendations will now be put forward for the ratification of the FIFA Council which next meets in Bahrain on May 9, two days before the next FIFA congress.

Here’s what they are proposing, with the CONCACAF region potentially having its number of direct slots increased from to six, while Europe will be increased from 13 to 16. Plus, the Bureau of the FIFA Council has also suggested a six-team tournament in 2025 to decide the final two spots in the World Cup.

  • AFC (Asia): 8 direct slots
  • CAF (Africa): 9 direct slots
  • CONCACAF (North & Central America): 6 direct slots
  • CONMEBOL (South America): 6 direct slots
  • OFC (Oceanic): 1 direct slot
  • UEFA (Europe): 16 direct slots

There is also more information below from FIFA on how that mini-tournament would work in 2025 as a test event ahead of the World Cup.

The above allocation accounts for 46 of the 48 participating teams. The proposal reviewed by the Bureau of the Council includes a play-off tournament involving six teams to decide the last two FIFA World Cup berths:

  • One team per confederation with the exception of UEFA + one additional team from the confederation of the host country;
  • Two teams to be seeded based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The seeded teams will play for a FIFA World Cup berth against the winners of the first two knockout games involving the four unseeded teams;
  • Tournament to be played in the host country(ies) and to be used as a test event for the FIFA World Cup;
  • Existing play-off window of November 2025 suggested as tentative date for the 2026 edition.

Injury update as Premier League returns

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With the international break over and 10 Premier League games coming your way this weekend, there is plenty of injury news to catch up on.

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Below we take a look at some of the key injury updates from across the PL.


Arsenal
Petr Cech is out with calf injury he suffered against West Brom but could return next weekend
Lucas Perez is out with a thigh injury
Santi Cazorla is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his injured Achilles

Burnley
Steven Defour is available and could start against Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea
Eden Hazard was seen taken part in full training session after missing the win at Stoke, plus Belgium’s games on international duty, with a thigh injury

Everton
Seamus Coleman is having surgery on two broken bones in his right leg as the Toffees’ right back will be out until next season
Ramiro Funes Muri is also out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury with Argentina on international duty
James McCarthy has once again been injured while on international duty with Ireland, reportedly leaving Ronald Koeman fuming

Liverpool
Adam Lallana is out for the next four weeks with a thigh injury he picked up on England duty
Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be checked up on after the duo flew back to Liverpool on a private jet on Wednesday following their displays for Brazil in World Cup qualifiers

Manchester City
Bacary Sagna suffered a tear in his adductor while on international duty with France
Kevin De Bruyne did not feature for Belgium after suffering a groin injury and is doubtful

Manchester United
Paul Pogba is out with a hamstring injury
Chris Smalling is missing with a knee injury he picked up when playing for England
Phil Jones is out with a toe injury suffered on international duty
Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo have both returned late from international duty and will be assessed

Southampton
Manolo Gabbiadini will not play against Bournemouth after picking up a groin injury against Tottenham two weeks ago
Virgil Van Dijk may well be out for the season as he continues to recover from an ankle injury he picked up in January

Tottenham Hotspur
Harry Kane is back working on the training pitch after his ankle injury and is ahead of schedule. Reports state he may be back on April 22
Danny Rose will see a specialist about his knee ligament injury but he is not expected to return until late April at the earliest
Erik Lamela is out for the season

Sanchez: “I’d like to stay in London… but with a team that wins”

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Alexis Sanchez may have some explaining to do when he arrives back at Arsenal…

[ MORE: Sanchez, Ozil to stay?

The Chilean forward starred for Chile on international duty, scoring and grabbing an assist in their 3-1 win over Venezuela to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

He also spoke to Chilean media outlet Publimetro and is quoted as saying the following about his future as he has just 15 months left on his current contract at Arsenal.

“I am happy in London and hope to finish my contract there,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to stay in the city but with a team that is winning things, that has a winning mentality. I’m 28 years old, I still have a lot of years ahead of me. I am a player who looks after himself.”

With Chelsea linked heavily with a move for Sanchez this week, those comments will fuel the fire further that Arsenal’s leading scorer could cross England’s capital this summer and the Gunners could lose yet another top talent to a direct Premier League rival (see: Van Persie, Robin. Cole, Ashley and Nasri, Samir).

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Arsene Wenger responded to Sanchez’s reported comments in a light-hearted manner as he revealed that he believes both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who also has just 15 months to run on his current deal too, want to stay at Arsenal.

“In a positive way, there’s only one team in London, so he’s happy,” Wenger smiled. “He wants to win the championship, that’s what everybody wants. You have to be cautious when they give interviews in their home country. The interpretation is not always correct.”

“I have not a lot to add. I think he’s happy here. We have not extended his contract, I hope he will stay at the club. It happened before when we had to sell our best players. But that’s not the case any more. He has one and half years contract. I don’t think it is an immediate concern for Arsenal.”

So, Sanchez’s comments may have been lost in translation a little but it is intriguing to decipher what he’s saying as this whole game of cat and mouse plays out. Wenger has said that contract talks regarding Ozil and Sanchez will not happen until the season is over and that means the duo will have just one year left on their deals when they sit down to discuss a huge raise.

With Arsenal also having another eight players out of contract in 2018 there could be a huge rebuild on the way at the Emirates with or without Wenger. There’s no doubting Sanchez is the best player Arsenal have with Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Juventus all linked with him and the fact he’s won one FA Cup in his three previous seasons with the Gunners obviously isn’t enough success for a player who seems to have an insatiable hunger for success.

If Sanchez does leave then that could be the signal for several other stars to move on too.