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France goes coast-to-coast, smothering Switzerland in 5-2 rout

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The French controlled Switzerland through and through, and from the very start it was clear not “if” but “by how much” would be the appropriate question.

Les Bleus hit twice in the first 20 minutes, as Olivier Giroud powered in a header and Blaise Matuidi took advantage of a Swiss mistake, and they never looked back, putting themselves on the brink of a place in the final 16.

From the very start of the game it was clear who would be the most dangerous, and Giroud put them up in the 17th minute.  Off a corner kick, he powered in a header from a good distance out, and it split the difference between Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and the near-post defender Ricardo Rodriguez.

Just a minute later, the restart saw a back pass from Valon Behrami go horribly wrong, and it was intercepted by Karim Benzema. The striker found Blaise Matuidi coming down the left flank, and the PSG midfielder struck home between Benaglio and the near post for a second goal just 67 seconds after the first.

From there the French never looked back, and Switzerland looked shell-shocked for the rest of the match.

Granit Xhaka thought he’d pulled one back after the initial shock, but his header off a 27th minute free kick was ruled out for offsides.

La Nati did have a few chances, but nothing came of them. Their best came in the 30th minute, when a straight-on Admir Mehmedi shot was kept out by Hugo Lloris.  The rebound fell to Xherdan Shaqiri who ripped a bouncer across the face of goal, but Lloris dove expertly and got a fingertip to the shot, which trickled just wide and out of the reach of Haris Seferovic streaking to the far post.

Despite the few moments of brightness, the Swiss didn’t look like they were going to make anything of the first half, and the French put them away with a third before the break.

source: AP
There was plenty of celebrating for the French after annihilating their second World Cup opponent.

They had one chance to do so which wasn’t taken, when Johan Djourou played a mind-boggling tackle on Benzema was the ball was trickling out of play, a clear penalty which the referee gave. Benzema’s spot-kick was saved, however, and Yohan Cabaye blasted the rebound off the crossbar.

Les Blues would find their triple, however, on a corner-kick counter. Switzerland’s try from the flag found only French feet, and Raphael Varane played Giroud in down the left touchline. Giroud, already with a goal to his name, shared the wealth to Mathieu Valbuena in the box, and he struck home the chance with ease.

The second half was just a formality at this point, and the French were happy to sit back and deny the Swiss any serious chances.  They shut up shop for good with a half-hour left as manager Didier Deschamps removed Giroud in favor of midfielder Paul Pogba.

Well…we thought they shut up shop. They added a fourth just for fun when Matuidi delivered a perfect ball into the box, and Benzema beat Philippe Senderos with a scissor kick through Benaglio’s legs.

And another, for Moussa Sissoko after Benzema found him in space on the right edge of the box and the Newcastle midfielder picked up his first international goal with a shot across the face inside the far post.

Switzerland got a pair of consolations to destroy France’s clean sheet, and they’ll feel a little better after taking advantage of France’s let off at the end. The first came on a free kick by substitute Blerim Dzemaili that trickled under the way and past a diving Lloris for a slow-rolling goal. With three minutes to go, Gokhan Inler poked a ball over the French defense for Granit Xhaka to finish with a quality volley.

France may have even had six, had the referee not blown

With a pair of dominating wins, the French look a lock to move into the knockout round, if not a mathematical guarantee.  They would go through with an Ecuador win or draw against Honduras this evening.

LINEUPS:

France – Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Varane, Sakho (Koscielny 63′), Cabaye, Valbuena (Griezmann), Giroud (Pogba 63′), Benzema, Matuidi, Sissoko

Goals – Giroud 17′, Matuidi 18′, Valbuena 40′, Benzema 67′, Sissoko 73′

Switzerland – Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen (Senderos 9′), Inler, Seferovic (Drmic 69′), Xhaka, Behrami (Dzemaili 46′), Rodriguez, Mehmedi, Djourou, Shaqiri

Goals – Dzemaili 81′

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.