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Handicapping the PFA Players’ Player of the Year finalists

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Only two of the six nominees for the Professional Footballers Association’s Players’ Player of the Year Award made last year’s shortlist.

And part of that pair should be the favorite to snare the award.

N'Golo Kante has arguably been the best player on the last two Premier League champions, assuming Chelsea goes on to win the league. Considering I’ve argued for his inclusion as a Ballon d’Or finalist, this should come as no surprise.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

With respect to Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, Kante is the most impactful on-field difference between 2015-16 and 2016-17 Chelsea.

Teammate Eden Hazard‘s return to form has no doubt been a catalyst for the side, but which player is more replaceable in the Blues’ side? We’re not talking like-for-like, but it’s more difficult to argue that Chelsea is still in first Nemanja Matic bearing Kante’s burden than with Pedro or Willian taking on more of Hazard’s responsibilities.

This is a player’s vote, which is a huge factor. Will fellow PL players be more swayed by dizzying dribbles or the man disrupted their attack to turn possession, defense, and attack on its ear? Unfortunately we can’t combine Kante and Harry Kane to make some sort of N’Garry Kante who puts up wild numbers while doing the sometimes unnoticed things in the middle of the park.

That takes us to Kane, who missed eight PL matches for Spurs, which seems a hefty sum in a race for such an honor, and Tottenham was unbeaten in that octet.

Alexis Sanchez has been phenomenal in leading Arsenal’s attack, but the club hasn’t matched his production. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may fall victim to the same fate, though he’s been the only goal scorer for Manchester United in seven PL contests.

Romelu Lukaku is having a wonderful season for Everton, but has too often gone quiet in big Everton fixtures. The Toffees could be fifth or better had Lukaku found the back of the net or been the prime set-up man for a goal in either Merseyside Derby loss or a pair of 1-1 draws against Manchester United.

If you’re asking for a ranking…

  1. Kante
  2. Sanchez
  3. Ibrahimovic
  4. Hazard
  5. Kane
  6. Lukaku

Mario Balotelli signs new Nice contract

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Italian striker Mario Balotelli has found himself the owner of a new contract after a successful season in Ligue 1 with French club OGC Nice.

Balotelli’s one-year deal was set to expire at the end of June, but he found a career revival in what many believed would be his last chance in major European soccer. The club officially announced his new contract on Sunday, and while they did not release the length of the deal, they confirmed that Balotelli turned down deals from other clubs to stay in France.

The 26-year-old scored 15 goals in 23 league appearances last year, helping Nice to a fabulous third-place finish in Ligue 1, earning them a Champions League playoff spot.

For a player who saw trouble follow him wherever he went, the only trouble he faced last season at Nice was an erratic bout with injury issues including calf and adductor problems. However, the spells on the sidelines didn’t douse Balotelli’s form. The Italian had an incredible start and finish to the season, scoring six goals in his first five appearances of the season and bagging six goals in the last eight games of the year.

The official release by Nice said that Balotelli made “considerable financial sacrifices and chose the sporting aspect with his heart” in re-signing with the French club.

Morris, Acosta, Roldan highlight USA 23-man Gold Cup roster

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Bruce Arena has released his 23-man roster for the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup, and it appears heavily experimental as expected, with 16 players MLS based.

The experience comes in spurts, with Brad Guzan paired with the less experienced Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid among the goalkeepers. Along the back line, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana all make their way from the World Cup qualifiers to the Gold Cup, joined by Chelsea youngster Matt Miazga and Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow.

In midfield, Kellyn Acosta gets additional international time after positive showings in the most recent World Cup qualifiers. Dax McCarty returns to the national team along with Alejandro Bedoya, while bright 22-year-old Seattle Sounders playmaker Cristian Roldan also makes the squad. In addition, New England Revolution winger Kelyn Rowe and left-sided Kenny Saief could be set for national team debuts. Saief has appeared twice for Israel but has yet to be cap-tied by playing in a competitive match for any country and recently had his one-time switch approved.

Jordan Morris leads the way along the front line, along with 24-year-old Juan Agudelo who has not played a competitive minute for the United States since the 2011 Gold Cup. Dom Dwyer also appears, with the 26-year-old striker also hoping for an international debut. Gyasi Zardes shows up as a midfielder, but provides the United States with another versatile attacker who could play up front.

The United States will take on Panama, Martinique, and Nicaragua in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and once that is complete, Bruce Arena will be able to make changes to the roster should the United States advance as expected. At that time, Arena can swap in up to six players who appeared on the initial 40-man roster, including more experienced players like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey.

Another name who could see time in the Gold Cup knockout round would be goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who does not appear on the initial 25-man roster as his one-time switch paperwork has yet to be cleared by FIFA according to a number of reports. If that happens in time, he can play for the United States. The 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper has played for the Mexico youth setup but has not been cap-tied by either country. After making the 40-man roster, Gonzalez confirmed he would play for the United States should he be called up. However, should he complete the one-time switch, Gonzalez wouldn’t need to be cap-tied, as completing the paperwork is enough to leave him no choice but to play for the United States.

Finally, Christian Pulisic does not appear on the 25-man roster as expected, after Bruce Arena admitted the Borussia Dortmund youngster was unlikely to play for the United States in the Gold Cup. Arena admitted getting rest and then meeting up with his club for preseason was more important for the 18-year-old than playing in the summer international tournament.

Players are set to report to training in Nashville today, with a warm-up match against Ghana scheduled for Saturday in Connecticut before Gold Cup play starts on July 8.

ROSTER

GKs: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid.

DEFs: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafaña, Graham Zusi.

MFs: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Gyasi Zardes.

FWDs: Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer.

Chile 1-1 Australia: Chile moves on despite Aussie show

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Australia looked the better side for good stretches of the match, and while it wasn’t enough to earn a semifinal place, the Asian champions will go home with a hard-earned point against a top South American team in Moscow. Had it not been for a pair of ugly misses in front of net, the Australians may have had a chance to advance. Alas, an equalizer by Martin Rodriguez was enough to cancel out Massimo Luongo‘s opener and send Chile through.

With Chile holding all the meaningful possession through the first half-hour, their best chance came in the 27th minute. Alexis Sanchez controlled a long ball from Eugenio Mena and was free on goal. While trying to settle and shoot, he was dispossessed from behind by Mark Milligan who recovered brilliantly. Sanchez went to ground, and after no initial call, VAR took a look and determined there was no reason to award Chile a penalty.

[ MORE: Germany eases by Cameroon 3-1 ]

Australia refused to be intimidated by their opponents’ stature. In the 36th minute, James Troisi lofted a brilliant ball for Luongo who had made a scything run into the box. Luongo slid to redirect the ball on net, only stopped by a charging Claudio Bravo.

That was a harbinger of what would come six minutes later. A shot by Robbie Kruse from just inside the top of the box clipped off a defender as he let loose, and the deflection sent the ball straight to Troisi who was free at the far post. With Bravo closing, the Melbourne Victory attacker looped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net for a shock lead.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The game opened up from there, and both sides had a chance on net before halftime. Arturo Vidal headed from close range, but it was blocked by a defender out for a corner. Down the other end, somehow three Australia attackers worked free on a failed offside trap, but Trent Sainsbury embarrassingly skied it well over the bar with nobody there to challenge.

After the break, it was more of the same as Australia proved dangerous, forcing Bravo into a number of saves. However, it would be Chile to score next and level the score. Past the half-hour mark, Australia failed to clear, and Eduardo Vargas headed back in front of net where Rodriguez was there to touch it in. Chile nearly took the lead moments later, but Vargas headed just wide after great work by Sanchez.

Australia had another golden opportunity to take back the lead, but when Troisi’s pinpoint ball to the far post found substitute Jamie Maclaren, the Brisbane Roar striker flubbed the huge chance, scuffing his first-time attempt, sending the ball skittering well wide. Chile’s point saw them through into the semifinals, where they take on Portugal. Australia’s two points were not enough to keep them in contention.

Germany 3-1 Cameroon: Germany cruises to Group B win

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The favorites in Group B completed the task as they topped 10-man Cameroon 3-1 in Sochi behind strikes from first-time international goalscorers Kerim Demirbay and Timo Werner.

Germany had a few decent opportunities early, but the best came on 20 minutes as Emre Can opened a bit of space to his right and ripped off a shot from outside the top of the box that skittered just wide.

[ MORE: Bright Australia performance earns 1-1 draw with Chile ]

The favorites held much of the meaningful possession, but had few truly solid chances. Cameroon was pesky down the other end, with a chance for Christian Bassogog that slipped away after a poor touch, and a dangerous free-kick from the left that somehow evaded all attackers in the box.

They had the best chance of the first half just before the whistle as a cross from Ernst Mabouka was misjudged by Josh Kimmich and fell to Andre Zambo Anguissa who hit it on one hop in an effort to chip Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the German goalkeeper produced an acrobatic tip over the bar.

Straight out of the break, Germany took the lead on the moment they were waiting for and doomed Cameroon to a trip home. Julian Draxler fed Kerim Demirbay with a sumptuous bit of skill, and as nobody closed down the Hoffenheim attacker, he let loose an absolutely vicious strike that found the top corner for a 1-0 lead and his first international goal.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Die Mannschaft nearly had a second minutes later as Timo Werner was clean through, but his poke was clipped by goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa and Kimmich’s follow-up was also saved as Ondoa recovered.

Things would get worse for Cameroon as Mabouka was sent off for a high boot foul on Emre Can. Initially the referee showed Mabouka a yellow card, but after a review changed the decision to a straight red. Immediately after going a man up, Germany bagged their second as Kimmich crossed into the box for Werner who was wide open and opted to use his head for his first international goal and a 2-0 lead.

Cameroon earned a consolation in the 78th minute as ter Stegen failed to aggressively take a cross by substitute Nicolas Ngamelu, and Vincent Aboubakar attacked it instead, glancing a header off the goalkeeper’s hands and into the back of the net for an own-goal.

Werner got his second with 9 minutes left on a cut-back from Benjamin Henrichs, and that put things to bed. The three points sent Germany to the summit of Group B, enough to top Chile after their draw with Australia. The Germans will take on Mexico in Sochi in the semifinals.