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.

Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Watford

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  • First-ever meeting in PL
  • Watford looking for third-straight win
  • Burnley haven’t won in last three
  • Clarets without suspended Gray

Burnley host Watford on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) at Turf Moor in the first-ever Premier League meeting between these two teams.

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Watford is on a roll with Walter Mazzarri‘s side beating Manchester United 3-1 last time out and the Hornets are looking to make it three wins on the spin in the Premier League. Burnley have just one win to their name back in the PL which was at home in the second week of the season against Liverpool. In home games against Hull City and Swansea they’ve conceded goals late on which is a trend manager Sean Dyche (former captain and manager at Watford) will look to end on Monday with his side going three games without a win in the PL.

In team news Burnley are without Andre Gray as the striker was banned three games by the FA for homophobic comments he made on social media back in 2012. Ashley Barnes is out injured for Burnley, while Watford will be without right back Daryl Janmaat plus Younes Kaboul and Jose Holebas are both fitness doubts.

What they’re saying

Dyche on his time at Watford: “It’s well-documented I’ve always had respect for the club. The situation, the business changed etc etc but I mean every word when I say I had a fantastic time there as player, youth coach, assistant manager and manager. Because business changes and you lose your job it doesn’t mean I hold any baggage at all, I certainly don’t. It’s a lot of water under the bridge and they’ve gone on to become a Premier League club so their model of working has worked for them.”

Mazzarri on Troy Deeney: “Of course he is international level. I would be proud and really happy if Deeney went to the national team He has improved physically and he is much fitter now. He is a strong striker – he just needs to look after his fitness. I respect the England manager and his decision, and I am biased as he is one of my players.”

Prediction

Despite Gray’s absence being a big blow for Burnley, I fancy the home side to get all three points. On a chilly night in Lancashire, Burnley have a stacked midfield which can dig deep and frustrate Watford. With the Hornets playing a 3-5-2 formation, this game will be won in midfield and the creativity of Steven Defour and the bite of Jeff Hendrick may get them over the line for a big win. 2-1 to Burnley.

Bob Bradley to take over at Swansea City?

Bob Bradley, Stabaek Fotball
AP
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Bob Bradley is continuing to be linked with jobs in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

After a poor start to the season Swansea City’s current manager Francesco Guidolin is under plenty of pressure with reports suggesting he could lose his job with Ryan Giggs the favorite to replace him.

However, a report in the Sun newspaper says Swansea’s U.S. owners want to speak with current Le Havre head coach Bradley, 58, about potentially replacing Guidolin at the Liberty Stadium.

The former U.S. men’s national team coach has carved out a wonderful resume since leaving the USMNT in 2011. From taking the Egyptian national team to the brink of World Cup qualification amidst some of the most difficult circumstances in world soccer, he then took tiny Stabaek in Norway to third-place in the top flight and European qualification.

Bradley was also one goal away from getting Le Havre  promoted to Ligue 1 last season as on the final day of the 2015-16 campaign they came agonizingly close to getting out of France’s second-tier.

With the Swans losing four of their six games in the Premier League so far this season, it is clear the fans and perhaps the board aren’t happy with the direction the club is going in under Guidolin’s guidance. The veteran Italian manager arrived in the second half of last season and despite keeping the struggling Swans up quite comfortably, losing the likes of Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew this summer hit him hard.

[ MORE: Donovan talks about Swansea role ]

When it comes to Bradley the reports says American investors Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan — who now own a majority share of the club after their takeover this summer — are concerned about the lack of experience Giggs has as a first team manager. They believe Bradley would be the perfect candidate to build something sustainable and it is hard to argue with that.

Wherever Bradley has been he’s worked miracles on a shoestring budget and often against all odds he has surpassed expectations. Swansea is a club which won’t spend big but will buy young players and hope to develop them while still being able to maintain their PL status, five years after they gained promotion to the top-flight.

Although Giggs still seems like the favorite if Guidolin does leave the Liberty Stadium, it will be intriguing to see if Bradley will finally get a job his abilities as a coach clearly deserves.

After reportedly coming close in the past for the main job at West Bromwich Albion and being linked to Aston Villa, Hull City, Fulham and countless other gigs in the Premier League, the New Jersey native has always been overlooked for whatever reason. He  That’s something he spoke about at length here as he doesn’t believe there’s much difference between himself and the managerial juggernauts such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

“I’ll tell you what, maybe I’m stupid but I think I am a manager in and around that level. I’m not saying I am better than those guys, I haven’t had those kind of opportunities,” Bradley said. “But I think that people who have played for me have always feel the experience in the team was different, that training was challenging, that there were a lot of things done to help them become better players and better people. I believe in my work. I don’t go around every day complaining, I just roll up my sleeves, try to show people what I’m all about and see what happens.”

Maybe, just maybe, Bradley will finally get to show what he’s all about in the Premier League.

Report: Chelsea set to overhaul defense with clear out

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At times during Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte looked like he was going to cry.

The defending was that bad.

[ MORE: Conte bemoans defending ]

Chelsea gave up three first half goals, the first in calamitous fashion as Gary Cahill was inexplicably caught on the ball to let Alexis Sanchez in to score, and Conte was seething in his post-match press conference about the level of defending and the fact that Chelsea has now conceded at least twice in each of their last four games.

The Daily Mail reports that the Italian manager has seen enough from both Cahill and struggling right back Branislav Ivanovic and he will “phase them out” in the coming weeks at Stamford Bridge.

With captain John Terry set to come back from injury, plus Kurt Zouma close to a return too, Conte has other options and it seems likely he will now use those.

Per the report, Conte is also looking elsewhere to bolster his defensive options with Burnley’s Michael Keane and Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson both linked with a January move to the Blues with the west London said to be scouting both players closely.

It will be intriguing to see how Conte changes things up in the games to come, especially as the Blues face tough tests against Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United in their next three Premier League games.

Chelsea played the final 35 minutes at the Emirates in a 3-5-2 formation which is one Conte mastered at Juventus and with the Italian national team in the past. That formation may well get the best out of Terry, the erratic David Luiz and perhaps Zouma alongside them. Truth be told, Ivanovic and Cahill have both struggled for the last 12 months and it is about time they were held accountable for some of the defensive mistakes they’ve made.

Whatever Conte does, it has to be something drastic because the way he sets his team’s up they won’t win games 5-0. As long as Chelsea keep things tight, they’ll do well under the Italian manager. But right now that’s a big ‘if’ for the Blues.

As I wrote from the Emirates this weekend, Conte knows he has a huge job on his hands to transform their defense.

FIFA disbands racism task force ahead of World Cup in Russia

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior in 2018 World Cup host Russia.

FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and “is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.”

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not,” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.

“I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done – the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

“We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship,” Obayiuwana said. “I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”

Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force.

“The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA,” wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s diversity and anti-discrimination manager.

“We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing.”

FIFA pointed to the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a “Good Practice Guide ,” starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first female and non-European secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.

FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives “actually exceed the working group’s recommendations” – trumpeting its “Say No to Racism” campaign, women’s leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.

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