Australia v Spain: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Studs and Duds: How MLS and Premier League players have faired in the World Cup

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Yesterday The Guardian released a highly-addictive World Cup infographic (photo, below) that allows users to track players competing in the tournament based on what domestic league they play in.

Scrolling over each individual entry in the bar graph reveals the player, his position, nationality and club, and updates his country’s status as the tournament progresses. As teams bow out, down goes the strength of each domestic league.

The infographic is particularly interesting when examining how the stars of the Premier League and Major League Soccer have performed on the world’s biggest stage. So with that, let’s take a look at the studs and duds of the World Cup from each respective leagues.

PREMIER LEAGUE: STUDS

The Premier League put 106 players into the World Cup, 44 of whom are already on vacation and 62 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

For the Premier League studs, it’s all about Belgium. The contingent of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Nacer Chadli, Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen have all enjoyed strong tournaments while Adnan Januzaj and Kevin Mirallas are reserves destined to contribute. Diables Rouge is a squad clicking on all cylinders, holding onto that dark-horse reputaion bequeathed to them months, even years, ago.

One surprise stud nation is Nigeria, with John Obi Mikel, Peter Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo,  Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses all moving on to the Round of 16. Other individual studs out of the Premier League enjoying solid tournaments include Pablo Zabaleta, Tim Howard, Pablo Armero, Hugo Lloris and Per Mertesacker.

PREMIER LEAGUE: DUDS

The Premier League duds are led by the English, who bowed out of the tournament with only two goals to their name, the worst performance ever by an England squad in the World Cup. And while many will point to Roy Hodgson as the primary culprit there were some notably shocking performances from veterans like Steven Gerrard, who appeared burnt out and error prone, Leighton Baines, who looked over-matched and lost, and Joe Hart, whose decision making off the line remains a major problem.

On par with England’s poor display was Spain as Cesc Fabregas, David De Gea, Fernando Torres, Cesar Azpilicueta, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla are all going home early. The real culprits here are the La Liga based players but outside of Fabregas and Mata’s performance against Australia, the Premier League based players were largely ineffective and unimpressive with De Gea being the only one to get a pass due to injury.

Other Premier Leaguers failing to impress include Edin Dzeko, a no-show in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first two matches, Dejan Lovren, whose center-back partnership with Verdan Corluka failed to prevent Mexico from a late-match walloping, Shinji Kagawa, who is a shell of his former self, Yaya Toure, who’s shoulders simply weren’t big enough to carry the Ivory Coast, and Antonio Valencia, who at the age of 28 has recently acquired a major discipline problem.

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MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: STUDS

MLS, a league desperate for recognition on the international stage and deserved of much more than it gets, put 21 players into Brazil, seven of whom are going home early and 14 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

When talking MLS studs it’s all about Tim Cahill and Clint Dempsey. Scorer of two fantastic goals, one of which was arguably the goal of the tournament, Cahill’s passion and leadership made this Australia team an incredibly tough nut to crack. He and the Socceroos deserved much, much better.

Similarly, Dempsey encompasses everything that is great about the US. His goal against Ghana was sensational while his performance of playing the majority of the match with cotton stuck up his broken nose was heroic. Against Portugal, it was a new position and more of the same story – he was a major disruption, leading brilliantly, scoring a timely goal and flat-out inspiring not just a team but a nation. Other Americans enjoying classy World Cups include Kyle Beckerman, a defensive midfield stalwart, and super-sub Deandre Yedlin, who has the making of a full-back destined for true greatness.

A final MLS stud shout goes out to Julio Cesar, who rediscovered his form while on loan at Toronto FC and has done well so far for the Selecao. If the host nation has any hope of hoisting the cup come July, Cesar’s form will be absolutely crucial.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: DUDS

For MLS duds look no further than the Honduran four-some of Marvin Chavez, Victor Bernardez, Boniek Garcia and Jerry Bengsten, all of whom played a signficant role in Brazil. To beat up Los Catarachos may feel a bit harsh but it’s difficult not to at least classify Bengtson’s performance as a major let down. A much more clever player than he showed in Brazil, Bengtson is a veteran who needed to step up if Honduras was to have any chance. He didn’t and they suffered.

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worth display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

United States 1-0 Canada: Altidore snatches late winner in sloppy meeting

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States battles with Steven Vitoria #15 of Canada during the first half of their international friendly soccer match at StubHub Center February 5, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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It was sloppy. It was sleepy. It was cringe-worthy at times. By the final whistle, Jozy Altidore refused to let it end goalless.

January USMNT camp wrapped up with an erratic, disjointed but successful 1-0 win over their northern neighbors as Jozy Altidore bagged a headed winner in the 89th minute.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to start a number of players out of position, including a trio of central defenders along the back line and an odd midfield combination that sat back for much of the game. Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris partnered up front, and worked well with the sparse service they received.

Both back lines looked relatively shaky to start, and each midfield was sloppy under heavy pressure from the opposition. The first true chance came on 15 minutes as a beautiful touch with the outside of Gyasi Zardes’s foot found a cutting Jozy Altidore, and the forward’s shot beat Maxime Crepeau but crashed into the post. The ball then rebounded into the back of Crepeau and back off the post a second time before the Canadian goalkeeper finally collected.

Four minutes later, Canada had a penalty shout as Jermaine Jones lunged into the back of Cyle Larin who was attempting a volley from the top edge of the box, but the referee waved it off.

As those chances faded, the game became a snoozer and the U.S. attack devolved into long balls lumped forward. Jones was miserable at the back, looking completely out of position. Both Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud sat back in possession, leaving Lee Nguyen and Gyasi Zardes isolated up front with no wide threat.

The U.S. had another spell of attack before halftime. Altidore sprung Jordan Morris on the left edge of the box, but his chipped effort skittered just wide. Bradley tried a left-footed effort on net on 39 minutes, but his shot was easily saved low by Crepeau. Matt Besler earned a yellow card by clipping the heel of Larin just before the break, forced into the foul after Jones was caught out of position.

Thankfully, the first half ended. Klinsmann made one halftime change, bringing on Brandon Vincent for his first USMNT appearance in place of Kellyn Acosta, whom the manager said had a hamstring problem. The U.S. pushed forward early, and they had a 53rd minute chance when Diskerud lofted a ball to the far post where Altidore met it with his head, but he pushed an effort on goal just wide left, inches out of reach by Morris.

Things settled until the 66th minute, when substitute Jerome Kiesewetter found Altidore in the box, but he drove it into the ground meekly. In the 70th minute some U.S. pressure bought a shot for Vincent, but it was saved well by Crepeau’s feet. Altidore had another big chance with six minutes to go, and he went for the off-balance chip that aged as it traveled through the air, slow enough to allow Crepeau to recover and slap it out of danger.

Klinsmann brought Morris off with just three minutes to go in regulation, bringing on Steve Finlay, who had an instant impact. Finlay cut inside from the left and lofted a ball to the far post, one which Altidore lept to meet, finally finding the back of the net after having bungled a few earlier headed opportunities.

The win leaves the United States 2-0 in January camp, and despite a few clear deficiencies, the end results were there.

USMNT lineup vs Canada sees Jermaine Jones at CB, Morris and Altidore up front

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States takes on Canada for the second of two friendlies that test those involved in January camp. With Iceland already dispatched 3-2, Canada is next up, at 10:30 p.m. ET from the StubHub center in California.

Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen his lineup, and it’s not easily discernible.

[ MORE: Full preview United States vs Canada ]

The back line is the biggest head-scratcher, with three central defenders starting, and at least one of them out of position. Jermaine Jones, who performed well in a midfield distribution role against Iceland, has been moved back to the defensive line, partnering with Matt Besler. Steve Birnbaum, also a central defender who had ups and down against Iceland, is back in the lineup. There’s nowhere to fit a third central defender, so he will play out wide. Kellyn Acosta, a natural full-back, rounds out the back four.

In midfield, the personnel lends itself to a flat four, if only because there’s really no other way it can go. Again, a multitude of central defenders are deployed, with Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, and Mix Diskerud forming some kind of CM/CM/Winger combination (Nguyen is likely the odd man out wide), with Gyasi Zardes out wide on the other end.

[ MORE: 3 key battles for USMNT vs Canada ]

Jozy Altidore returns up front, this time to partner with Jordan Morris, who makes his first USMNT appearance as a professional player.

Finally, San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham makes his USMNT debut between the sticks.

Jurgen Klopp says Daniel Sturridge is focused on getting healthy, not leaving Liverpool

during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on December 2, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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Jurgen Klopp has made his frustrations with Daniel Sturridge‘s injury history very clear, but he still knows the England international is a crucial part of his squad, and he will be patient, no matter how frustrating it is.

Sturridge has been out since early December, and has made just five appearances all season due to a number of recurring injuries that have sapped him of his consistency for the last two years.

But with the 26-year-old back in training the last two days, the English media has speculated that Sturridge is looking to leave Liverpool, and that the club is trying to rid themselves of him as well. Klopp does not see it that way.

[ RELATED: Daniel Sturridge says he’s “good to go” ]

“I have no feeling that Daniel is thinking like this so stop thinking about it,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, speaking ahead of the match Saturday against Sunderland. “I spoke to him but not about this. I didn’t ask: ‘do you want to leave?’ “Why should I? He’s been back in training for two days. I don’t go over and say: ‘Daniel, I hear you want to leave? Is there truth in it?’ I don’t believe that it is like this.”

Klopp called the rumors a “non-story” and believes as soon as Sturridge is out on the field, the rumors will stop. He just has to get out on the field first.

“Since I was here I’ve had a normal relationship with Daniel Sturridge,” Klopp said. “The only problem is I have only had him 10 or 12 times on the training pitch – that is the truth. Now he is back we hope he can stay in team training and everything will be good. If everything is normal from now on then he is in the race.”

The German said that just having returned to training, Sturridge won’t be ready for Saturday’s game, but he could potentially be back to action for the FA Cup match against West Ham on Tuesday.