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An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras

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Avaya Stadium will have a different feel on Friday night when the U.S. Men’s National Team hosts Honduras as CONCACAF World Cup qualifying resumes.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

USMNT manager Bruce Arena will be coaching his first competitive match with the Stars and Stripes since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and now it’s his job to help guide the squad back to the World Cup after stumbling early on in qualifying under previous manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up?

The U.S. currently sits bottom in the Hexagonal with zero points through its first two matches, while Friday’s opponent — Honduras — holds three points after picking up a victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Matchday 2.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Arena will have his hands full though, not only with the U.S. opposition, but also with his lineup, which is set to see some serious changes both due to injuries and suspensions.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for USMNT return

Jermaine Jones won’t feature for the USMNT as he serves a yellow-card suspension against Honduras, while Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Brad Guzan are among those left off the 26-man roster after sustaining injuries in the lead up to the match.

[ MORE: Wondolowski grateful for USMNT call up after Wood injury

There is some good news for the U.S. though, as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron return to the squad after going through their own injury layoffs. Dempsey has already scored twice for the Seattle Sounders since MLS action resumed earlier in March, while Howard has also found his form through the opening three weeks for the Colorado Rapids.

Meanwhile, Honduras will look to make matters worse for the Americans as Los Catrachos attempt to beat the USMNT for the second time on U.S. soil. The only time the USMNT has lost to Honduras in the U.S. was back in September 2001 when the Americans fell 3-2 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.

Several familiar faces will take the field for Los Catrachos, including five MLS players and various other former MLSers. Houston Dynamo trio Boniek Garcia, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis all figure to play a role for Honduras, while Sporting KC’s Roger Espinoza and captain Maynor Figueroa of FC Dallas will also play dangerous roles for the visitors.

One name to keep an eye on will be 24-year-old midfielder Andy Najar, who now plays for Belgian side Anderlecht after previously plying his trade in MLS with D.C. United.

Podolski goes out with super goal; Germany tops England

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The highlight of Wednesday’s international friendly docket was Lukas Podolski‘s final match for Germany, and the former Arsenal man did not disappoint his crowd.

But first, Canada plays its first match since unveiling new coach Octavio Zambrano.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

Scotland 1-1 Canada

Zambrano saw plenty to like from his new side, as Canada went ahead early with a goal from former Scottish youth Fraser Aird. Toronto-born, the ex-Rangers and current Falkirk man got his first Canadian goal against the team he represented at U-17 and U-19 levels.

Norwich City’s Steven Naismith redirected Tom Cairney‘s shot to make it 1-1 before the break, but Scotland never found its way back into Canada’s net.

Germany 1-0 England

Lukas Podolski scored his 49th international goal in his final cap for Germany, and it was spectacular.

Joe Hart didn’t stand a chance.

The match saw big stops from both ‘keepers, as Hart thwarted Leroy Sane on a second half break after Marc-Andre Ter Stegen defied Dele Alli in the opening 45.

Podolski subbed off in the 84th minute to wild applause, but it must sting slightly to know you finished an illustrious career one goal short of a nice, round 50. We guess he’ll have to rest on his millions and millions of earnings and loads of on-field honors.

Elsewhere
Vietnam 1-1 Chinese Taipei
Philippines 0-0 Malaysia
Cyprus 3-1 Kazakhstan
Yemen 0-1 Palestine
Cambodia 2-3 India

Germany, England to test depth; Canada off to Scotland

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International week gets kicked off bright and early Wednesday, as Papua New Guinea and Tahiti tangle to stay alive for Oceania’s berth in the 2018 World Cup at 2 a.m. EDT.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

There’s also a nine-spot of friendlies on tap.

Germany vs. England — 3:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday

It’ll be called a glamour friendly, but England’s trip to Germany is more of a depth test than anything else thanks to injuries on both sides.

There’s no Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, and Mesut Ozil for Germany, while Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, and Daniel Sturridge are out for England and Raheem Sterling is a question.

Lukas Podolski takes the arm band for his final cap, No. 130, as Germany looks to keep up its fine international form. It’ll be interesting to see whether Joachim Loew hands uncapped striker Timo Werner of RB Leipzig a start.

A perfect 4-for-4 in World Cup qualifying, Germany is off to Azerbaijan after the match. Gareth Southgate has England atop Group F with a 3-1 record, and the Three Lions have yet to concede in qualifying. They host Lithuania on Sunday

Scotland vs. Canada — 3:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday

New manager Octavio Zambrano will get his first look at the Canucks since being named Canada boss when they visit Gordon Strachan’s Scottish side.

Canada will be captained by FC Edmonton’s Nik Ledgerwood in his 50th cap, and his leadership will be needed with the new boss and eight of 18 call-ups having five or fewer caps. Two defenders, La’Vere Corbin-Ong (FSV Frankfurt) and Luca Gasparotto (Falkirk) are complete uncapped.

Scotland will boast several in-form players, including Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser and Fulham’s Tom Cairney. Strachan will want to get the squad humming in the absence of Matt Phillips and James McArthur and a huge World Cup qualifier looming Sunday versus Slovenia.

Elsewhere
All times EDT

Vietnam vs. Chinese Taipei — 7 a.m.
Cambodia vs. India — 7:30 a.m.
Philippines va. Malaysia –7:30 a.m.
Cyprus vs. Kazakhstan — Noon
Yemen vs. Palestine — Noon
Curacao vs. El Salvador — 8 p.m.
Bahrain vs. Tajikistan

WC Qualifier – Oceania
Papua New Guinea vs. Tahihi — 2 a.m.

Top relegation six-pointers on the Premier League docket

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Though 10 matches is plenty of time for a slide in form to dip another side into the drop zone, five teams look set to duke it out for two safe spots in the Premier League.

There are varying degrees of desperation in the bunch at this point. Sunderland is seven points shy of safety and cannot handle many more losses, while Northeast neighbor Middlesbrough is also multiple results from safety.

Hull City is three points back of 16th place Swansea City, while Crystal Palace is four points above the drop.

[ MORE: Should injured USMNT be worried? ]

You can see why Boro made a managerial change with a massive April on the way which includes two six-pointers in four days, both on the road. Those days could swing the drop zone race altogether, with both Swans and Hull having a chance to gain three points, doom Boro, while Palace plays at Chelsea and Southampton.

Swansea City vs. Middlesbrough — 8:30 a.m. EDT on April 2

Hull City vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. EDT on April 5

Boro then gets the next six-pointer as well, though it will be looking mighty academic if Sunderland keeps losing and Boro falls to Swans and Hull.

This kickstarts a trio of six-pointers for the Black Cats, who have to hope to be alive when this run starts.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. EDT on April 26

Hull City vs. Sunderland — May 6

Sunderland vs. Swansea City — May 13

Palace could well be safe by now, as their talent really does sit above a relegation race (Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend, and Christian Benteke alone make Sam Allardyce‘s task easier than it’s looked).

Crystal Palace vs. Hull City — May 13