Shipped from Abroad: Finding mid-table significance on an English Premier League weekend

Leave a comment

If they don’t have anything to play for, something should tell them, because clubs like West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City are ruining it for clubs fighting for their Premier League lives.

At least, that’s what happened this weekend when two clubs scrounging for every point (Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn) travelled to face clubs mired in that oft-criticized (from this side of the pond) middle ground. Neither the Baggies nor Swans are going to make Europa League, and neither is in danger of being relegated to the second division. So what are they playing for? Were this baseball, every player under 26 years old would have been called up from AAA to play out September.

But since this not Major League Baseball, Roy Hodgson (West Brom) and Brendan Rogers (Swansea) put out their full teams. And, to the chagrin of their opposition, they won. West Brom’s 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers left another Fulham escapee (Mark Hughes) only two points above the drop. Blackburn, 3-0 losers at the Liberty Stadium, are much worse off, three points back of a survivor’s spot.

Amazingly, nobody asked Hodgson and Rodgers why their teams tried so hard. While clubs do get more money the higher the place in league, how could those managers justify risking their talent in games that mean nothing?

The most obvious answer is probably the correct one: They do mean something. While it’s probably true to say these late season matches only have competitive significance for about half the league, that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant in all regards. The standings are only one small reason why these matches are played.

The main reason these matches still matter is again the most obvious one: Highly skilled people, paid to play them, want to perform to the best of their abilities in front of thousands who bought tickets to see them. From the beginning of sports as business, that’s what these games have been about. Just because we’ve put a lot of importance in some meta-representations of these games (standings, leagues, trophies, etc.) doesn’t mean the individual matches mean squad when they don’t matter in our tables.

And even if players and coaches did buying that logic, there’s still huge incentive to play hard. It’s possible players may really like playing soccer, want to secure their jobs, and not know how to play in neutral.

For West Brom, Saturday’s match obviously mattered. Likewise, Swansea. While the significance argument is applicable one talking about competition format, it usually doesn’t matter when we’re talking about the 34th round of Premier League soccer.

It’s not September, yet.

Elsewhere in England

All results: Premier League: Norwich City 1-6 Manchester City; Sunderland 0-0 Wolverhampton; Swansea City 3-0 Blackburn Rovers; West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Queens Park Rangers; Manchester United 4-0 Aston Villa; FA Cup: Liverpool 2-1 Everton; Tottenham 1-5 Chelsea.

Stuff that stuck out

  • Another weekend, another Manchester United penalty kick controversy. Ashley Young apparently dived against his former team. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. I’m over it. I’m just tired of this sport getting disproportionate scrutiny for its players stretching the rules.
  • Sunderland drew at home to Wolves, a team that’s conceded their Premier League future. I can’t help but wonder if the end of the Black Cats’ FA Cup run also marked the end of their Martin O’Neill boost.
  • Both West Brom and Queens Park Rangers are behind Fulham in the standings. Neither Hodgson nor Hughes need to be reminded of this, and while Uncle Roy is probably perfectly content in the Midlands, Hughes gets to live with his choices while running the worst first division team in West London.
  • Arsenal and Wigan kick off in minutes, with the Latics only loss in their last four coming controversially in their last visit to London (at Chelsea). Don’t be shocked if Wigan either gets blown out or makes it four wins in five. It’s their annual late-season push.

Up next: Next weekend, Manchester City, still five back but with only four to play, visit Wolves. That’s three points, whereas Manchester United host Everton. In the race for fourth, Spurs are at QPR, Newcastle hosts stoke, while Arsenal can knock Chelsea out of the race when the Blues visits North London.

Reports: Ajax, Barcelona reach agreement over USMNT’s Dest

Sergino Dest Barcelona
Photo by Roy Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ronald Koeman couldn’t convince Sergino Dest to represent the Netherlands over the United States, but the Barcelona boss has reportedly talked the Ajax back into choosing the Blaugranas over the Bavarians.

Dest, 19, has been widely linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks, though Barcelona was also mentioned with the caveat that Koeman would have to sell players to bring others in due to the La Liga outfit’s salary problems.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

Wolves’ pursuit of Nelson Semedo and Atletico Madrid’s move for Luis Suarez may have opened the door for Dest, and multiple reports say Ajax and Barcelona have reached an agreement on a $22 million transfer with another $6 million in incentives in the deal.

Dest was named Ajax Young Talent of the Year last season and is also a member of the 2020 Golden Boy shortlist. He has two goals and six assists in 37 senior appearances for the club after coming through its vaunted academy. He’s also been linked with moves to Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

Capped thrice by the United States after the Yanks won a recruitment battle with the Netherlands, Dest went 90 minutes in eight of Ajax’s last 10 Eredivisie matches and came off the bench in their opening two Eredivisie matches of the 2020-21 campaign. That’s likely due to transfer issues.

Dest would become the second American to represent Barcelona on a matchday 18, just missing out on the honor of being first. Barca academy product Konrad de la Fuente signed a contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub when the Blaugranas beat Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Aug. 8.

 

League Cup: Manchester United wins; West Brom, Watford bounced

League Cup results
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luton Town made Manchester United work for its spot in the League Cup fourth round, while another lower league side simply ended another Premier League side’s tournament in Tuesday’s FA Cup results.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

West Bromwich Albion is out of the tournament after blowing two leads and losing in penalties at home to Brentford, while West Ham blasted Hull City after an alarming COVID-19 moment and League Two side Newport County dismissed Watford.

Then there’s Tottenham and Leyton Orient, who didn’t even get to play. It’s all in the FA Cup wrap.


Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United

The score line does not tell the story here (aside from, you know, the goal total).

Brandon Williams won a late first-half penalty that Juan Mata smashed home as the Red Devils labored to a win over the Championship’s Hatters.

Marcus Rashford came off the bench to ice the game off a feed from fellow sub Mason Greenwood, who was later assisted by another sub in Bruno Fernandes.

Dean Henderson made an outstanding save in his long-awaited Manchester United senior debut.

The 23-year-old has been United property since he was 14 and has taken loans with four clubs including a highly-celebrated two years with Sheffield United.

Henderson did not have to make a save until the 81st minute, when he made a big stop to keep United on top at Kenilworth Road.

Mata’s goal came in his 200th appearance for the Red Devils. Donny van de Beek made his first Manchester United start in the win.

West Ham United 5-1 Hull City

Andriy Yarmolenko scored twice and set up two others as the Irons showed no ill effects of learning that David Moyes, Issa Diop, and Josh Cullen tested positive for coronavirus (The club says all three are asymptomatic).

Yarmolenko now has nine goals and five assists in just over 1700 minutes with West Ham. He missed 2.5 months with a muscle tear last season.

Sebastien Haller had a brace and Robert Snodgrass scored the other goal as West Ham’s “second string” continues to beat up on lower league competition while awaiting chances off the bench in the PL.

Mallik Wilks had brought Hull within two in the 70th minute only to see Haller and Yarmolenko complete their braces in stoppage time.

League Cup results
West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko (center front) with Felipe Anderson, Haller, and Lanzini (Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Newport County 3-1 Watford

The Hornets had little going for them despite having the better of possession, outshot 12-2 by the time League Two’s Exiles reclaimed their two-goal lead with 25 minutes on the clock.

Adelberto Penaranda came off the bench to score for Watford after the Exiles built a 2-0 lead through Tristan Abrahams and Josh Labadie. Padraig Amond bagged County’s third goal to turn the screws on the former Premier League side.

Stipe Perica sealed Watford’s fate with an 88th-minute red card. The Hornets have a win and a draw in their return to the Championship and will focus on that until the FA Cup.

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 (4-5 pens) Brentford

The Bees couldn’t catch the Baggies in the race for the automatic promotion last season but kept scrapping en route to a pair of equalizers at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Brentford made all of its penalties, its fifth sealing the win after Grady Diangana’s effort was saved by David Raya.

Hal Robson-Kanu scored both of West Brom’s goals but answers came from Emiliano Marcondes and Marcus Forss to have it level with 17 minutes left in scheduled time.

Leyton Orient (ppd) Tottenham Hotspur

A raft of positive COVID-19 tests for the hosts put this tie in doubt Monday and we’re still awaiting the plan.

For now, health aside, Spurs are probably quite happy to have day off given a wild fixture list across three competitions which includes a trip to Macedonia for Europa League action on Thursday.


Next League Cup third round fixtures

All times ET

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Manchester United

USMNT learns Nations League dates, says no October friendlies

USMNT news
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCACAF’s summer is going to be red-hot as its top sides will scrap multiple times on the road to World Cup qualifying.

In other words, we might see the USMNT meet Mexico twice in a month.

The USMNT, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica are among the group of sides waiting to see who advances from the postponed first stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The final round of World Cup qualifying had already been postponed.

It was revealed Tuesday that the quartet will now play the first ever CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, three months behind schedule and just before the 2021 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

The Gold Cup was previously postponed to June 10 – July 1 and the draw is set for Monday.

The Nations League semifinals see No. 1 seed Mexico against No. 4 Costa Rica and the No. 2 Catrachos of Honduras meeting the third-seeded USMNT.

A U.S. Soccer Federation release said the move is to put the focus on first stage of qualifying (It also gives all of the participants more time to figure out the pandemic atmosphere if it, as anticipated, reaches into a second year dramatically affecting sporting competitions):

This official competition Finals event will take place in a centralized location in the United States in June 2021. Concacaf will now work with our stakeholders to finalize the location and specific dates for this competition.

Playing this competition in June 2021 will enable the First Round of the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, which involve 30 Concacaf Member Associations, to take center stage in March 2021.

Concacaf remains in discussions with FIFA to agree a new schedule for the Concacaf Qualifiers which retains the current format.

[ WATCH: Gooch’s solo goal for Sunderland ]

U.S. Soccer also announced that it will not play any matches or train in the October international break, aiming for a November return. That means Christian Pulisic will have even more time to find top form for Chelsea.

General manager Brian McBride says Gregg Berhalter’s group may have an additional December camp with its January camp, which is great news for MLS players hoping to cement their statuses in Berhalter’s mind while the European talent continues to play overseas.

“After extensive conversations about holding a men’s national team camp in October, we ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward,” men’s team general manager Brian McBride said, via the Associated Press. “While we won’t have the team together in this upcoming window, we are making considerable progress for November.”

West Ham manager Moyes, two players test positive for COVID-19

West Ham COVID-19
Photo by Ben Stansall/Pool via Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Ham United’s preparations for Tuesday’s League Cup match against Hull City were rocked by positive COVID-19 tests for three members of the first team.

Irons boss David Moyes, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen all were informed of positive coronavirus tests before the match. All were sent home and said to be asymptomatic.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

The match went on with assistant manager Alan Irvine taking the reigns.

Diop is by far the most significant name on that list when it comes to West Ham’s competitive fortunes (Yes, we know Moyes in the manager).

West Ham stressed that it’s been vigilant when it comes to COVID-19:

The Club’s measures and protocols around COVID-19 remain stringent. This included offering to test the Hull City team ahead of tonight’s fixture – an offer which they opted not to accept.

Diop went the distance in both of West Ham’s PL matches this season, while Cullen has not featured for Moyes. The Irons lost 2-0 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Arsenal.