Left behind: the best players not heading to the World Cup

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Yes, there are a host of players who aren’t going to the World Cup. That’s because the soccer gods have come to the conclusion that there can only be 32 teams in the tournament, which means some talented souls have to watch from the comfort of their own living room.

And yes, there are some incredible men that won’t be going due to the fact that fate is cruel, and they picked up severe injuries that will leave them out of contention in Brazil. This list includes Christian Benteke, Theo Walcott and, most likely, Radamel Falcao.

But what of the ones whose countries qualified, yet still won’t be boarding the plane? In some cases, their national team coaches had reasons for keeping them out of the squad. In others, their lack of inclusion remains a true head-scratcher.

(Clicking the country’s link will take you to the full provisional World Cup roster)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Manuel Neuer will be in the net for Germany. We all know it. But why can’t ter Stegen be included as backup? Instead it’s Ron-Robert Zieler, who at least has a fun double-barrelled first name as well. Still, ter Stegen plays for a better club, made more saves, and is on his way to Barcelona to continue his career. Maybe he made fun of Jogi at some point.

Ashley Cole (Chelsea and England)
Cole must’ve thought his chances for England were good after fighting his way back into the Chelsea squad. But Roy Hodgson, slightly surprisingly, gave his England squad a more youthful feel, and it’s Luke Shaw that will take up the role of the understudy of Leighton Baines. It’s a bonus for England, having to choose between talented left-backs rather than taking along Stephen Warnock, but it’s gotta hurt for the 33-year-old to miss out on his last chance for his country. Cole retired from international football after getting the news that he wasn’t headed to Brazil.

Miranda (Atlético Madrid and Brazil)
Miranda edges out Filipe Luís only based on the fact that he managed two goals, but really, why would Luiz Felipe Scolari neglect to bring either? Perhaps Big Phil is a Barcelona fan, and doesn’t like the fact that Atleti could trump them to the title. In general, Scolari seems intent on bringing veterans, but with these two at 29 and 28 respectively, it’s not like they’re short on experience (which could be a reason for leaving out PSG’s talented Marquinhos). And when you add the fact Napoli’s Henrique is going…well, he did play under Scolari for three seasons at Palmeiras, but he only made the partenopei starting XI thanks to injury crisis. Brazil may very well regret not giving one of these two a look.

Samir Nasri (Manchester City and France)
Well, this one was confusing. Nasri impressed at title-winning Manchester City this season, where he had seven goals and seven assists. He was involved in France’s World Cup qualification, making four appearances. So why isn’t he part of les bleus? Turns out Didier Deschamps thinks Nasri has a bit of an attitude problem, and doesn’t appreciate being left on the bench. He likely also now thinks Nasri’s girlfriend has an attitude problem, after she lashed out on twitter when the French squad was announced.

Radja Nainggolan (Midfielder, AS Roma and Belgium)
Yes, Belgium are stuffed to the gills with midfielders, so it’s natural that some of them get left behind. But Nainggolan is a special sort of midfield man – one that could add some protection to the defense, which often looks shaky and uncertain. Just ask Cagliari, who certainly slipped in the standings after Nainggolan went off to Roma in the middle of the season. He adds strength and steel to the middle of the field, but he’s not just an enforcer. Nainggolan can pick out a crisp pass and, when given a chance, loves to put in a shot from distance.

José Callejón (Napoli and Spain)
Yes, we could go on and on about players left off the Spain roster. The defending champions are simply way too well-stocked, particularly in the center of the pitch. But “Ziggy” Callejón deserves a special shout out. He failed to establish himself as a regular at Real Madrid and wound up scoring just three goals in 15 starts last season. Now in Naples, Callejón has blossomed. He may not fit Vicente del Bosque’s system, but in Rafa Benítez’s 4-2-3-1, the wide man has scored 19 goals in all competitions for Napoli.

Francesco Totti (AS Roma and Italy)
Roma’s captain began his international career back in 2000, and was part of the azzurri side that lifted the 2006 World Cup. He retired from international duty after the triumph, but made it clear he was open to returning this season. However, Cesare Prandelli decided to put his faith in younger players, and left the 37-year-old off the roster – despite an impressive season in Serie A, helping Roma fly into second place and challenge for the title.
(Honoroable mention to Luca Toni, another veteran having an amazing season in Serie A. The 36-year-old scored 20 goals for Hellas Verona this season).

Carlos Vela (Forward, Real Sociedad and Mexico)
Again, everyone knew this was coming. Vela hasn’t played for El Tri since 2011, despite various coaches trying to entice him back to the side. After accepting the management gig, Miguel Herrera did his best to convince Vela as well, but the attacker didn’t feel himself mentally ready to return to international competition. That’s too bad for the struggling Mexico team. Vela’s done well for himself in Spain, putting in 41 goals in 104 appearances with Real Sociedad. There are even strong rumors that he just might make a return to Arsenal – assuming he’s mentally prepared for that, of course.

Max Kruse (Forward, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Joachim Löw don’t need no strikers. Or at least, not strikers that can actually put the ball in the back of the net. Ok, ok, Lukas Podolski had eight goals for Arsenal this season. And Kevin Volland, of Hoffenheim, did score eleven. But Kruse has twelve to his name, along with nine assists. He’s paccy, he’s precise, and he can get the job done better than Miroslav Klose. The veteran managed just seven for Lazio this season, but sentiment wins out, and he’s the one boarding the plane to Brazil.

Carlos Tévez (Forward, Juventus and Argentina)
A falling out with Alejandro Sabella means Tévez hasn’t played for La Albiceleste since 2011. Of course, Argentina have plenty of firepower up top, what with Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and…what’s that guy’s name again? Oh right, Leo Messi. Still, 19 goals and 7 assists in 33 league games with Juventus is nothing to sniff at. Who knows, if Tévez scores four this weekend, he could even become Serie A’s top goalscorer this season. But no matter – he’s going to Disneyland instead.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden)
So what if Sweden didn’t qualify? Someone high up at FIFA should’ve worked through a quick rule change that would’ve allowed Ibra to switch his nationality. Because what is a World Cup without Zlatan? Nothing. Just wait. You’ll see.

Manchester City season restart preview

Manchester City season restart
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Manchester City is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things City when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: City’s two-year spell as defending champions will end very soon, but Pep Guardiola has reason to believe three pieces of silverware could again arrive at the Etihad Stadium. Leroy Sane is now available again, making a Sane-Aguero-Sterling front line a tantalizing possibility, while Aymeric Laporte is healthy, too. That’s an even bigger deal as City is unbeaten in the seven PL appearances Laporte has made this season (6W-1D).

That’s good news considering City is about to miss out on European competition for two seasons pending an appeal next week.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: It’s Pep Guardiola, so it’s all about the ball. Man City’s league-leading 66 percent possession rate sees it having made the most passes (18,927) and the most successful passes (16,817) in the PL. Since Guardiola took charge, Manchester City have averaged 68 percent possession, the highest rate in the PL. How good is that? Second-place Liverpool is six percent behind.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Laporte — Fernandinho — Zinchenko —

—– Gundogan —– Rodri — De Bruyne —

 —–  Sterling—– Aguero —– Sane —–

There’s been a lot of 4-3-3 in City’s 2020 and their forward trident is going to be as venomous as ever. Consider that Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus are having sensational years but will rotate into an attack with Sterling, Aguero, and Sane expected to feature plenty. Rodri may be the straw that stirs the drink, but Kevin De Bruyne’s status as the probably PFA Player of the Year will be one to watch as he approaches the PL single season assist record.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Man City’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Burnley, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Norwich City
Away: Chelsea, Southampton, Brighton, Watford

Predicted finish: Second with a bullet. City has six of its remaining 10 matches at home, including intriguing matches with old pal Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal and a rematch with soon-to-be champions Liverpool. Don’t be surprised if Pep prioritizes the FA Cup and preparing his team for a (probable) August return of the UEFA Champions League. City leads Real Madrid after one leg of the Round of 16.

USL Championship announces provisional July 11 return

USL Championship return
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The USL Championship intends to return to matches with a provisional restart date of July 11, the league announced Thursday.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The league began its season in March, though three of 35 teams did not play a match while Tacoma and San Diego played two.

There is no indication that the league intends to play at a single location, as MLS reportedly intends with an Orlando restart.

USL Championship sides have been allowed to train in small groups from May 11. USL had previously canceled its League Two season.

Here is the league’s full statement, from USLChampionship.com:

While additional information on competition format, scheduling, broadcast and other important details will be made available in the coming weeks, it’s important to note that the league’s return to play will be conducted in strict alignment with all local and state public health guidelines. USL HQ also remains in regular dialogue with the USL Players Association on all matters concerning player health and wellness protocols and looks forward to continuing those discussions.

To USL supporters across the country, we are grateful for your support throughout this process and look forward to being back in action with you all soon.

 

Manchester United season restart preview

Manchester United season restart
Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Manchester United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Red Devils when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Very, very good. While United supporters will feel aggrieved to know their club cannot. catch their two biggest rivals, you wouldn’t laugh off the idea of them finishing as high as third given a wildly straight-forward fixture list and the fact that we are about to see Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford together for the first time. Perhaps those players will have some growing pains, but the club has the depth to finish in the Premier League’s top four, challenge for the FA Cup, and win the Europa League.

[ MORE: Ranking every Man Utd player’s 2019-20 PL season ]


Tactical analysis: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s favorite formation this year has been a 4-2-3-1, though he turned to a 3-4-1-2 in memorable wins over Chelsea and Man City just before the coronavirus pause.

We don’t know his plans to produce an attack with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford together, but the best possible XI is going to leave out some very good players. Playing Scott McTominay and Fred, both revelations, leaves out either wide players or puts Pogba or Fernades out of position (unless he opts for a 4-4-2 which will ask a lot of Rashford and Anthony Martial).

Since making his Manchester United debut on February 1, Fernandes leads the club in all competitions in shots (33), shots on target (12), assists (4) and chances created (24), and ranks third in goals (3).


Possible XI (4-3-1-2) 

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — B. Williams —

—– Fred — Pogba — McTominay —–

—– Fernandes —–

—– Rashford —– Martial —–

This lineup excludes Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Daniel James, Odion Ighalo, Marcus Greenwood, and Eric Bailly. That’s a very decent bench. Solskjaer could also put a lot of responsibility on Fred or McTominay by putting Fernandes and Pogba in the center of the pitch with him and using a three-man forward line of Rashford, Martial, and another.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Man Utd’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Sheffield United, Bournemouth, Southampton, West Ham
Away: Spurs, Brighton, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Leicester City

Predicted finish: Depending on your faith in Leicester City, United will probably be favorites if not heavy favorites in seven or eight of their nine matches. Their home matches feature sides both surprising and desperate but it’ll be stunning if a side that found its groove to the tune of a five-match unbeaten run before the coronavirus pause and returns Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford fails to finish in the top four.

Newcastle’s Saint-Maximin, Liverpool’s Lovren speak against racism

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Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren are speaking out on their squad photos that showed both Magpies and Reds taking a knee against racism at the center circle of pitches earlier this week.

All 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism earlier this week, and players have continued momentum. The gestures were born from the May 25 killing of American black man George Floyd, who died in handcuffs after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Saint-Maximin said he was inspired in part by his French youth national teammate Marcus Thuram, who took a knee last weekend after scoring for Borussia Monchengladbach.

“I have one big friend of mine who scored a goal, Marcus Thuram, and he did a great celebration,” Saint-Maximin said, via NUFC.co.uk. “It’s important that everyone knows this is not a joke. You have to claim that this is important. Everybody has to know this doesn’t have to happen again. It’s a difficult time for everyone. Even if it’s not you, or it’s not your brother or sister, you cannot know if this will happen again.”

Saint-Maximin said he experienced racial problems especially in his youth, and admitted that it meant a lot for his teammates to kneel together and make a statement as one.

“Everyone wanted to stay together because we all humans,” he said. “For me, everybody is the same. I have some things I can’t understand and some I don’t want to understand, too.”

As for Lovren, the Liverpool center back has never been shy around microphones.

His words to Sky Sports on Thursday echo Saint-Maximin and many of their peers.

Sky asked him why the Liverpool players took a knee as a team earlier this week.

“I felt we needed to do it. What happened in America is unacceptable. We are all equal and we wanted to share it to the world. We did it and it’s unbelievably great that people are getting this message. Everyone should be treated equally.”

Lovren, whose family became refugees from Yugoslavia when he was young, also stressed the import of footballers using their public platform for good, saying, “I want to be recognized also as a man who is spreading love and positivity. I’m looking at myself and it’s like I have a duty.”