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2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 10 months B.W.C.

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Can Germany become the first nation since Brazil (1958 and 1962) to repeat as World Cup winners? Can the Brazilians exorcise their demons of 7-1? Has the next wave of Spanish brilliance/impending dominance arrived?

Will Italy contend again after failing to advance from the group stage two tournaments in a row? Can one of the up-and-comers — Belgium, Colombia, Portugal or England — make good on years (decades, in England’s case) of promise and potential? What are the U.S. national team’s chances, assuming they manage to qualify?

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These are just a handful of the questions at the forefront of so many folks’ minds, as we now sit just over 10 months from the start of the 2018 World Cup. Beginning today (10 months B.W.C.), and following every international break leading up to next summer’s tournament in Russia, the PST staff will be keeping tabs on these stories, and more, in our World Cup Power Rankings.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — there are five or six sides with a genuine shot at being crowned world champions in July. As always, if you disagree with the final results, feel free to shout at all of the above, except me, on Twitter (links above).

Team Points Best Worst
Germany 116 1 3
Brazil 115 1 2
France 106 2 4
Spain 105 1 5
Belgium 91 4 10
Colombia 84 6 9
Italy 75 5 16
Portugal 72 5 16
Uruguay 71 7 11
Switzerland 61 9 13
Mexico 54 10 16
England 52 9 15
Nigeria 33 12 NR
Chile 33 7 NR
Costa Rica 23 14 NR
Japan 20 9 NR
Ivory Coast 16 14 NR
Peru 16 13 NR
Poland 12 12 NR
South Korea 9 16 NR

As you’ve probably already noticed, the USMNT didn’t make the final top-20 list. Here’s everyone’s thoughts on the USMNT, and where they slot in among 2018 hopefuls:

JPW: USA rank — 30th. The last international break summed up just how much work needs to be done between now and next summer if the USMNT qualifies for the World Cup. Getting out of the group stage would seem like a big achievement as things stand.

NM: USA rank — 25th. The U.S. entered September ranked 30th in ELO, and 26th by FIFA, though not every team in front of them will be going to Russia, either. If I project a 32-team field, placing the U.S. with a seeded team, a European team, and probably an African side or South American side (The U.S. has been in a pot with Asian sides the last two draws), it’s not good. In most scenarios, barring hosts Russia being in the U.S. group, I’d expect this current bunch to fail to reach the group stage. Of the teams who may make the field, I’d put U.S. hopes ahead of most of the Asian sides, one or two European sides, and another couple of African qualifiers.

KB: The United States is currently ranked 26th in FIFA, and that’s with a Gold Cup win that included a number of B squads. I would not put this current US team anywhere near the Top 20 until it shows it can win consistently against even mid-level sides like Honduras or Panama.

AE: USA rank — 22nd. Once you move past the top five or so sides — you know, the ones that actually have a chance of winning the World Cup — everyone is fatally flawed in any number of ways. The USMNT is no different than the rest of these, but with one favorable exception: 14 of the 23 players on the most recent roster have World Cup experience, with the majority of those having been to multiple finals tournaments. If/when they qualify, they’ll leapfrog a half-dozen other sides without that experience, making them a fringe Round of 16 side, if they get there.

MR: USA rank — 25th. Let’s face it. It’s been a difficult week for the USMNT, and while the squad is still very much in the running for a trip to Russia next summer Bruce Arena and Co. are crawling into the World Cup at this point. Solely judging this team off of what I believe they can be versus what they are right now, I’d say the U.S. can and should be a top 20 team heading into 2018, however, watching these last two matches have reiterated several of my previous concerns, especially in the central midfield. I’d put the U.S. somewhere around 25 in the field of 32 World Cup teams, assuming a bid to Russia is in the cards.

DK: USA rank — 19th. I had the USA in No. 19 because I actually am taking a more positive look at the draw in Honduras. The USA lost this game in the last World Cup cycle under Klinsmann and coming back on the road in the Honduran heat in a World Cup qualifier with everything on the line takes guts and determination. Just as the fortunes turned with the famed “snow game” in Denver against Costa Rica, perhaps this could be a moment like that for this USMNT team that basically needs to win out to ensure safe passage to the World Cup

LIVE, FA Cup: Leicester v. Chelsea

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Leicester City host Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET) in an FA Cup quarterfinal clash between two Premier League clubs.

[ LIVE: Leicester v. Chelsea ]

Claude Puel has Leicester in eighth in the Premier League table and the Foxes can smell an upset with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in fine form.

Chelsea have had a long week with Antonio Conte‘s men going to Barcelona and being taught a lesson by Lionel Messi as they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League but played well apart from Messi’s heroics. Conte’s admission that he doesn’t see the FA Cup as being too important may give Leicester an extra boost.

In team news Leicester start Kelechi Iheanacho up top after his fine display off the bench last week, while Chelsea are pretty much at full strength with Cesc Fabregas dropped, Thibaut Courtois rested and Alvaro Morata starting up top.


Leicester City


Hughes defiant after debut win as Saints boss

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Mark Hughes got off to the perfect start at Southampton as the new manager led his team to the FA Cup semifinals.

Saints beat third-tier Wigan 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday to reach the last four of the FA Cup for the first time in 15 years. They are in the relegation zone in the Premier League but are two points from safety with a game in hand.

Second half goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric did the job for Southampton as Hughes’ side weathered and early Wigan storm. Speaking to the BBC after the game, Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke in January, was in a defiant mood.

“People have questioned this group before I arrived and maybe questioned my appointment as well. It is only a start but a statement of intent,” Hughes said. “We have work to do in the Premier League but we will enjoy this moment. A Wembley semifinal which will be a great experience for our fans.”

Hughes’ side did what Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City couldn’t in knocking Wigan out of the FA Cup as Paul Cook’s team fairytale run was ended.

In truth Saints could’ve won by a more comfortable scoreline in the second half as Manolo Gabbiadini had a penalty kick brilliantly saved by Christian Walton, but given Wigan’s dominance in the first half, 2-0 was a fine result. Saints looked more dangerous in a 4-4-2 formation and Hughes knows there is plenty more work to do but confidence will perhaps grow with a trip to Wembley coming up.

When it comes to Hughes’ future at Saints he only has a deal until the end of this season. He has eight games to turn their fortunes around following Mauricio Pellegrino‘s firing earlier this week after just five wins in 30 PL games this season.

It appears that Hughes believes he can not only get the Saints out of trouble but also make some waves in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley next month.

“It has been a difficult week for the guys,” Hughes said. “I am really pleased with the amount of talent I have to work with with this group.”

Southampton beat Wigan, reach FA Cup semis

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  • Wigan’s fairytale ended
  • Hojbjerg, Cedric score first Saints goals
  • Saints reach FA Cup semifinal for first time since 2003
  • Gabbiadini’s penalty kick saved

Southampton beat third-tier Wigan Atheltic 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday as Mark Hughes‘ first game in charge ended in a victory in the FA Cup quarterfinal.

Saints were second best in the first half but Wigan spurned several chances, while Southampton went ahead via Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s first goal for the club as he finished well from a corner.

Christian Walton then saved Manolo Gabbiadini‘s penalty kick brilliantly but a late goal from Cedric Soares sent Saints into their first FA Cup semifinal since 2003.

For Wigan, their fairytale run is over as they knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City to reach the last eight.

Wigan started well enough as the Latics settled into the game on a difficult surface. Southampton caused some problems for Wigan goalkeeper Walton who dropped a cross but Guido Carrillo couldn’t make the most of it.

Will Grigg then raced clear after a rapid counter from Wigan and his shot was deflected wide with Southampton caught out. Soon after another deflected shot found Cheyenne Dunkley in the box but he couldn’t get anything on the ball with the goal gaping. A massive chance for Wigan.

Gary Roberts then had another great chance for Wigan as a loose ball found him in the box but he looped his effort over the bar. The Latics continued to look the better team and took the game to Saints with 10 corner kicks, as Max Power’s corner almost crept in at the near post.

Jacobs curled a shot just over after half time as Wigan threatened but Southampton improved. Sofiane Boufal curled a free kick onto the top of the net and then Gabbiadini had a glorious chance.

Dan Byrne accidentally played in Southampton’s Italian striker and 10-yards out he only had to beat Walton but Wigan’s goalkeeper produced a fine stop.

Walton denied Hojbjerg’s header soon after as Saints cranked up the pressure and from the resulting corner they took the lead.

Dusan Tadic‘s corner found Hojbjerg and he finished well to score his first goal for the club and the first of Hughes’ reign.

Southampton should have sealed it late on as Gabbiadini was brought down in the box but his penalty kick was superbly saved by Walton to keep the score at 1-0.

Wigan threw everything at Saints late on as Noel Hunt almost equalised but the visitors broke and sealed the game.

Nathan Redmond released Cedric and the right back, in the left wing position, ran free and finished superbly to make it 2-0 and send Saints to Wembley.

Mourinho’s deflection game suggests big changes

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“I’m not the problem, they are.”

That would have been the more succinct (and boring) way for Jose Mourinho to sum up the current situation at Manchester United after their disappointing UEFA Champions League exit to Sevilla on Tuesday.

Instead he went on a 12-minute rant on Friday about Manchester City’s heritage and then following Man United’s FA Cup quarterfinal win against Brighton Saturday he slammed his players, saying they were “scared” to play and many lacked “desire” and “personality” throughout the game.

With player power at an all-time high in the Premier League and Mourinho a recent victim of that in 2015, just six months after leading Chelsea to the title, this is a dangerous game for him to play.

He wants the club to back him unreservedly ahead of his players and even though some fans are already showing their disdain towards Mourinho, he’s powering on.

What is the end game for Mourinho here?

Having just signed a contract extension in January to keep him at Old Trafford until 2020, Mourinho looks hellbent on cutting some serious deadwood this summer and trying to totally rebuild this squad.

That’s his main aim and heading into an international week and a two-week break from action, that’s the message ringing loud and clear not only in the minds of his players but also the hierarchy at United.

He always has an agenda and he always knows the correct time to ramp it up.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will know the main aim of Mourinho’s rant is to be given more money to spend and get rid of players like Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera from previous regimes.

“A few guys were scared to play. I think it is a relation with personality, trust and class. When the sun is shining and you win matches, every player is a good player and is confident to play. When it is dark and cold and you have a period of bad results, not everybody has confidence and personality to play,” Mourinho said after Saturday’s unconvincing win against Brighton in the FA Cup.

Nemanja Matic was singled out for praise, while Scott McTominay was scolded for his display against the Seagulls but praised for his attitude. As for the rest of the players, well, Mourinho didn’t even bother mentioning them.

That says it all.

Mourinho is playing a dangerous game here. With clashes with Paul Pogba making the news in recent months as the power struggle between the two is clear for all to see, Mourinho is flexing his muscles and asserting his power on the club and he is blaming the players for their lack of success. Along the way he has also hit out at fans for their criticism of his team and it is starring to create a fractious atmosphere at the club.

This is exactly why Sir Bobby Charlton was said to be wary of Mourinho taking charge of United in the past.

It is a case of Mourinho’s way or the highway. That’s how it is.

Is that a bad thing? Right now there is clear progression. From winning the League Cup and Europa League last season and finishing sixth in the PL to being in second in the PL, in the FA Cup semifinal and reaching the last 16 of the UCL this season, Mourinho is moving things forward, even if it is incredibly slowly.

You can talk about the style of play all you want but Mourinho just wants to win. United’s fans just want to win too. Yet their manager is now constantly telling them that the players they have, no matter how much you spend on Romelu Lukaku, Pogba or others, aren’t good enough to get the job done.

With Pep Guardiola‘s dynasty at Man City about to add a Premier League title and red-hot favorites to win the Champions League, United have a big decision to make.

Do they ignore player power and go all-in and let Mourinho make the sweeping changes he wants, even if that means saying goodbye to Pogba and Co. and perhaps a dip between now and August until he can get in the players he wants?

Or do they cut out Mourinho and risk not being able to replicate his recent success, even if the style of play may improve with someone else in charge?

Mourinho is forcing Man United’s hand and it appears that a lot of the fans aren’t all on board with the way he is doing this. Yet the lofty expectations which engulf United needed addressing for some time as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s shadow still looms large over the club.

Like Fergie, Mourinho is calling the shots. Now it’s all about if he will be given the time, and the funds, to completely rebuild this United side. He is trying to buy himself extra time by solely blaming the players for his team not going deep in the UCL and seriously challenging Man City for the title this season.

Given the fact United just gave him a new contract we should expect Mourinho to be around at United for at least the next two years. We shouldn’t expect many of this current squad to be joining him.

But this risky deflection game could signal the end game for Mourinho at United sooner than he thinks.

One way or another the three-year syndrome which has encapsulated his managerial career seems to be extinct.