Top 5 teams most likely to win the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League

The Champions League is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and the easily the most prestigious club competition. Sixteen teams remain in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, a 334-day journey that ends in Kyiv next May. Those teams are:

  • Group winners: Manchester United (ENG), Paris (FRA), Roma (ITA), Barcelona (ESP), Liverpool (ENG), Manchester City (ENG), Beşiktaş (TUR), Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
  • Group runners-up: Basel (SUI), Bayern München (GER), Chelsea (ENG), Juventus (ITA), Sevilla (ESP), Shakhtar (UKR), Porto (POR), Real Madrid (ESP)

Real Madrid is the most successful club in the competition's history, having won the tournament 12 times, including its first five seasons. Spanish clubs have accumulated the highest number of victories (17 wins), followed by England and Italy (12 wins apiece). The competition has been won by 22 different clubs, 12 of which have won it more than once. The reigning champions are Real Madrid, who secured their twelfth title in the competition after defeating Juventus 4–1 in the 2017 final. Thus, they became the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to successfully defend their title. The 2018 final will be at NSK Olimpiyskyi Stadium, Kyiv – the stadium that staged the UEFA EURO 2012 final. The game is scheduled for Saturday 26 May 2018.

Below are the top 5 teams most likely to win this year’s competition...

5. Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions and had little problem in a Champions League group that featured PSG, Celtic, and Anderlecht. Granted, the German giants lost 3-0 in their away trip to Paris against the world’s most expensive footballer (Neymar) & co., but they beat Anderlecht and Celtic at home by a combined 6-0, defeated PSG 3-1 in the home leg and also took care of Celtic and Anderlecht in the away trips (2-1 wins for Bayern in both).

Most impressive, however, is Bayern’s form since the sacking of Italian maestro Carlo Ancelotti who was replaced by club legend Jupp Heynckes. Bayern have seen their energy transformed winning ten of their last eleven matches in league play, beating league rivals RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund to advance in the DFB Pokal, and they now sit 13 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table.

The lingering questions of Bayern’s pedigree under Ancelotti have been swiftly wiped aside by Heynckes’s “new year-same us” group. Is this spurt of form the direct result of Heynckes’ appointment, or has the team fully turned a corner into the familiar, well-oiled engine that fans are used to seeing?

Luckily, they have plenty of time to answer that and more. FC Bayern’s Champions League Round of 16 tie will come against Besiktas, with the first of two legs taking place on February 20.

Bayern Munich Champions League

4. Real Madrid

Nineteen... That’s how many points Real Madrid find themselves behind league rivals FC Barcelona. A matter of fact, "Loc Blancos" now sit in 4th place in La Liga behind Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. How’d that Clasico go, you ask? Let’s just say “not well” and leave it at that.

With Zinedine Zidane's men underperforming in the league, surely their Champions League form is soaring, right? Well, not necessarily. True – Real Madrid had absolutely no trouble with APOEL at any point in their aggregate 9-0 win over the Cypriot side, and they did beat Borussa Dortmund both home (3-2) and away (1-3). The trouble came in the form of Harry Kane and Spurs, with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 at home in the first meeting then falling 3-1 away in early November (thanks, Dele!).

Here’s the turning point, though: take all of this with a pinch of salt.

It is Real Madrid, after all. They are the first team to win the Champions League twice in successive years. Can they three-peat this year? No other club in the world – outside maybe Barca – expects more of its team each time they take the field (rightly so). No other club in the world jeers their team (not rightly so) like they do.

The overall point with Real Madrid is that, while they may not be a sleeping giant, per se, not counting them as title contenders – especially if they were to get past upcoming heavyweights PSG – would be downright foolish. The first leg between these two is on February 14 – an afternoon Valentine’s Day treat for those stateside.

3. Paris Saint-Germain

With the recent surge of talent headed to the French capital – looking at you, Neymar, Mbappe, etc. – it’s easy to see why Paris Saint-Germain have catapulted to the top of the favorites list for many pundits. Given the drama that seems to surround the club  week after week, it’s easy to see why Unai Emery’s men have become the “desired teams to face” for those with comparable power.

There isn’t really much to hide when it comes to PSG, though, perhaps a strength and weakness all in one. Outside of their league defeat against Strasbourg in the beginning of December, PSG have won every competitive fixture they’ve played in since late October’s 3-0 win over OGC Nice to all but wrap up the title. They top the French table with 53 points, well in front of AS Monaco (42 points), Lyon (42 points) and Marseille (41 points). PSG have a full month to prepare for a visit to Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.

PSG Champions League

2. Manchester City

The only English team with a claim to the throne (sorry Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea) - Manchester City are one of the most comprehensive teams in world football, and one who many are claiming might actually jump the Catalonians for the favorite in this year’s Champions League.

As always, the draw plays a crucial factor. We’re losing a top five favorite in the month of February alone just because Real Madrid and PSG go head-to-head, after all. Though fixture congestion is a major issue with Pep Guardiola this year, he’ll be more relieved than not to face FC Basel on February 13, no matter what he claims about them.

Whether Alexis Sanchez joins from Arsenal or not, this City team will be loaded to the max. Ederson has proven reliable and that backline is making significantly fewer mistakes than we saw in the earlier months. Couple that with the fact that City’s attack has yet to slow down and that Gabriel Jesus is due back in time to compete and you have one of the scariest sides in the league this year. Is a quadruple on the cards for @PepTeam? Maybe, just don’t ask him.

1. FC Barcelona

It should be of little surprise that, once again, FC Barcelona lead the line in the January list of favorites. Despite Philippe Coutinho being cup-tied after his move from Liverpool, Barca is stacked with a healthy Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Iniesta, Paulinho etc. – hence why Guardiola tipped his former club last month.

Clearing Group D with 14 points and no losses against Juventus, Sporting CP, and Olympiacos, the Catalan’s scored nine goals while conceding just one – impressive regardless of the opposition. The noticeable headline is doing it all without Neymar while retaining their impressive league position, but this Barca team goes a bit deeper than that. Valverde’s side are now unbeaten since August 20th and are poised to make a run even without their newest record signing Brazilian.

The Champions League draw, however, was not as kind to them as they would have liked. Barcelona travels for the first leg of their UCL tie with Chelsea on February 20. These two clubs have an interesting history when meeting in this competition (see 2009), and although the Blaugrana might be tipped as favorites for the entire show, even the biggest of giants fall.

barca.JPG

The UEFA Champions League returns to action on Tuesday, February 14 on Fox Sports.

Author: Scott Stewart

European Soccer Weekend Recap by the Numbers – 1/15/2018

If you thought you saw everything in soccer, over the weekend a referee kicked a player then gave him a red card in Ligue 1 and Real Madrid lost to Villareal for the first time EVER in La Liga. You’ve seen this before but not in a while, Manchester City lost. Liverpool ended their unbeaten run with the scoreline they know best, 4-3. Elsewhere, the Bundelisga returned into action seeing Franck Ribery and James Rodriguez breaking their goal droughts in Bayern Munich’s 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

Let’s rally all the top stories of the weekend in numbers, we’re starting in, 5, 4-3 (Liverpool vs Manchester City), 2-1 (Bournemouth vs Arsenal):

10. The best player wearing number 10, Lionel Messi, (don’t start an argument, Ronaldo wears number seven) broke Greg Muller’s record of most goals scored for a single cub in Europe’s top 5 leagues, tallying 366 goals. The Argentine netted the record breaking goal with an exquisite free kick in a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad. Sociedad surprisingly went up by two goals after 34 minutes but Luis Suarez bagged a brace and Paulinho scored again for Barca before Messi netted his record-breaking goal.

9. Liverpool snapped Manchester City’s nine-month unbeaten run. The Reds started their scoring display in the ninth minute with a goal from the beloved Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before scoring a trio of goals in nine minutes in the second half through Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. City hasn’t beaten Liverpool in nineteen of their 20 Premier League games.

8. Hannover striker Niclas Fullkrug leveled up to eight domestic goals in the eighteenth round of the Bundelisga. Fullkurg did so with a hat trick against Mainz on Saturday in a 3-2 win. Mainz was up by two goals half an hour into the game.

7. Referee Tony Chapron’s seventh game in charge of a Ligue 1 encounter this season was one sports fans will never forget. Nantes defender Diego Carlos knocked Chapron down on a counter. The offense looked accidental but as the 45-year-old ref was on his way up he threw a kick at Carlos’ ankle before giving him a red card. The France Football Federation (FFF) has suspended Chapron “until further notice” on Monday.

6. Arsenal lost for the sixth time in the Premier League this season. The Gunners fell to Bournemouth 2-1, a team that defeated them for the first time in six Premier League outings. Jordon Ibe scored the winner for Bournemouth after Callum Wilson and Arsenal fullback Hector Bellerin exchanged goals.

5. After defeating Pep Guardiola on Sunday 4-3, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp now boasts the most wins against Guardiola with five wins in total.

4. Fourth placed Chelsea drew for the fourth consecutive time in a scoreless tie encounter against Leicester City. It hasn't been a happy 2018 for Chelsea thus far: a draw with Arsenal, a draw with Norwich, another draw with Arsenal and now another draw, at home to a Leicester City side that played with 10 men for the final 20 minutes after left-back Ben Chilwell's dismissal. It's a poor run of results for the defending Premier League champions, who can still rely upon excellent defensive organisation but look desperately short of attacking inspiration.

3. James Rodriguez broke a three-month goal drought in a game against Bayer Leverkusen, which Bayern Munich won 3-1. Rodriguez also assisted Franck Ribery’s goal, helping the Frenchman overcome a goal drought of his own. Ribery hadn’t scored for Munich since Aug. 30th.

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspurs

Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspurs

2. Harry Kane tallied two goals against Everton in a 4-0 win. This was Kane’s second straight game scoring a double. The Englishman broke a second record this season in the game against Everton, tallying the most Premier League goals for Tottenham—98 goals in 135 appearances. The previous record the 24-year-old broke was netting the most PL goals in a calendar year, finding the net 39 times in 2017.

1. Villareal defeated Real Madrid for the first time ever in Liga, edging past the Spanish champions 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, thanks to Pablo Fornals’ 87th minute goal. One of the solutions to overcoming the crisis that is enveloping the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is to dip into the winter transfer market, but Real Madrid seam reluctant to do so. "To be clear, I don't want anyone," said Zidane at a recent press conference.

Author: Onz Chery

Premier League: The Sackworthy Seven

With Mark Hughes (finally) getting the sack at Stoke on January 6th, after their defeat to Coventry in the FA Cup 3rd round, seven managers in total have now lost their jobs since the beginning of the 2017-18 Premier League season. And what better time than the clean slate of a new year to look back with a critical eye upon the failures of these men, and the no doubt profound success their clubs have found without them. So, without further ado, let us begin in...September? How do you get sacked barely a month in?

1. Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

  • Sacked: September 11, 2017, 19th place.
  • League Goals Scored During Tenure: 0

Well, that’s certainly one way to do it. Following their sparing from relegation last season at the hands of Big Sam Allardyce, the board at Palace decided their side was ready for a more cultured, continental style of football. Enter: Ajax legend and assister to THAT Bergkamp goal in World Cup ‘98, Frank de Boer. The Dutchman’s managerial career had started strong, with four consecutive Eredivisie titles at Ajax, but more recently he had been sacked after only 85 days at Inter Milan.

His time in Italy proved to be more indicative of his success at Palace, as the season began with four straight goalless defeats. Total football? No, totally inept football. De Boer’s only consolation came in the form of a 2-1 victory over Championship side Ipswich Town in the League Cup. This, sadly, was not enough to keep the job, and De Boer was sacked following defeat at Burnley.

Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace

In some sort of attempt to head the exact opposite managerial direction, young and foreign de Boer was replaced by old as hell and English as hell Roy Hodgson. The former England national team manager began his tenure by continuing his predecessor’s strategy of never scoring a goal, losing 0-1, 0-5, and 0-4 to Southampton, Manchester City, and Manchester United, respectively. Barring victory over Huddersfield in the League Cup, this was not a great month for ole Woy the Boy.

But, oh how the tables turned on that fateful day in October. Palace’s first league goal came with Chelsea of all sides visiting Selhurst Park, but even then, it was the Blues’ own Cesar Azpilicueta who turned it into the net for them. Own Goal: 1, The Entire Rest of the Palace Squad: Nil. However, the confidence boost this goose egg-breaking provided led to their first proper goal from Wilfried Zaha, which proved to be enough to eke out a 2-1 win over the defending champions.

This monumental victory spurred Palace on to, well, the basic mediocrity that’s come to be associated with the club’s time in the Prem. They’ve scored 18 more goals since then, but still sit only two points above relegation in 14th place. Hodgson’s defensive solidarity seems to be paying dividends, but it’s a long way to May, and Palace are far from safe.

2. Craig Shakespeare, Leicester City

  • Sacked: 17 October, 18th place. 
  • Days Since Winning the Title in the Greatest Underdog Story in Football History: 533

Yes, I know Ranieri was manager of the title-winning side, but Shakespeare was his assistant at the time, and the stark contrast in fortune makes for a funnier statistical joke as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, Shakespeare’s year started off well enough, narrowly losing 3-4 in an opening day shootout at the Emirates, before taking down Brighton in the league and Sheffield United in the League Cup.

Little did he know, however, that victory over Brighton would be Leicester’s last win for nearly two full months. While this run had its fair share of imposing opposition (losses to Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool), it also showcased Leicester’s ineptitude on both sides of the ball (draws with Huddersfield, Bournemouth and West Brom). After sharing the points with Tony Pulis’s (don’t worry, his time will come soon enough) side, chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the king of the King Power stadium, decided it was time for Shakespeare to exit stage right.

Leicester soon found their managerial rose with another name: Claude Puel. Was this to be, or not to be? Well, six wins in his first nine matches in charge is hardly tragic. Puel seems to have fashioned the squad back into the shape and style which gave them so much success two years ago, holding tight in the back and launching a rapid fire counterattack led by Mahrez, Okazaki, and Vardy.

Although the winter congestion took a toll on their results (three losses and a draw from 16 December to 30 December), Puel began 2018 anew, with a 3-0 victory over Huddersfield. The Foxes still sit comfortably in the top half at 8th place, closer in points to the Europa League spots than relegation. Poetic justice, perhaps?

3. Ronald Koeman, Everton

  • Sacked: 23 October, 18th place
  • Difference in League Goals Between Romelu Lukaku and Wayne Rooney: 0

Manchester City have dropped seven points all season thus far. Koeman’s Everton claimed two of them in the second gameweek. This would prove to be the high water mark of the Dutchman’s campaign, a 1-0 victory over Stoke the previous week notwithstanding. Following that impressive stalemate at the Etihad, Koeman managed to take a meager four points out of the next 21 available, bringing his side down to 18th in the table.

On the continent, things weren’t so hot either, Everton beginning their Europa League campaign with a devastating 0-3 loss to Atalanta and a 2-2 draw with an Apollon Limassol side that only finished third in the Cypriot First Division. Cyprus, mind you, is a country with roughly half the population of the Liverpool metro area.

Ronald Koeman, Everton

Ronald Koeman, Everton

Koeman’s summer transfer policy turned out to be a real Gift of the Magi situation. (Editor’s Note: does anyone but you actually remember or know The Gift of the Magi, you pretentious mug?) Apparently, selling one of the league’s top strikers to buy players whose main jobs are to provide assists for top strikers is not a particularly effective technique. Koeman found this out the hard way, getting the sack following a 2-5 mauling to Arsenal at Goodison Park.

Sitting in 18th, Everton were faced with a monumental hole to climb out of. And who better for a monumental task, than a monumental man. BRING IN THE BIG SAM. Mister Allardyce finished the 16/17 season having saved Crystal Palace from the drop before seemingly announcing his retirement from club football. As it turns out, family time is far more stressful than relegation battles, and Big Sam’s break from the Prem lasted a mere 191 days. More summer vacation than sunset years.

Following a managerless month with U-23 coach David Unsworth at the helm, Big Sam was appointed as Everton’s permanent manager. Allardyce managed to sure up the Toffees’ defense and figure out how to get hometown hero Wayne Rooney scoring again, leading to a six match unbeaten streak in the league (seven if you count his talismanic appearance in the stands during a 4-0 drubbing of West Ham) as well as their only win in the Europa League group stage.

Despite the early worries, it looks like Big Sam will do what Big Sam does: not get relegated. Everton currently sit in a luxuriously high 9th place, having conceded only seven league goals since the change in management. The Toffees look in good shape, and should make it to a 65th consecutive year in England’s top flight.

4. Slaven Bilić, West Ham

  • Sacked: 6 November, 18th place
  • Percent Thinner Slaven’s Hair Got From the Stress of Managing West Ham: 37.89

Oh, Slaven...poor Slaven. It’s one thing to watch a journeyman manager take their leave, but it’s always a sad day when a man is sacked by a club he truly loves. Having spent a year and a half as a starting central defender for the East London club, Bilić certainly endeavored to lead his side to its former glory. With the help of then new signing Dimitri Payet, he led West Ham to 7th and a berth in the Europa League qualifying rounds in the 15/16 season. But following an offseason move to London Stadium and the departure of Payet in January 2017 things began to careen downhill.

West Ham finished last season in 11th, and looked ready to return to form following an impressive transfer window which saw the Hammers pick up Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautović, and Javier Hernández. The added defensive solidity and goalscoring threats seemed on paper like perfect patchwork for the missing links in Bilić’s side. But once the whistle blew to start the season, that patching proved poor as they lost their first three matches by a combined score of 2-10.

September proved fruitful, with West Ham picking up seven out of a possible 12 points. This was a false dawn, however, and following a draw at Crystal Palace and a 1-4 embarrassment at home to Liverpool, the “Dildo Brothers” gave poor Slaven the boot. (For a moment of levity in the midst of these sad, sad paragraphs, take a moment to look up any stories involving Sporting Lisbon’s president referring to the West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan as the “Dildo Brothers.”) It should be noted for the sake of Slaven’s reputation that, despite the abysmal start to 17/18, he left the club with an average of 1.33 points per league game, the highest of any West Ham manager in the Premier League era.

With Slaven out, West Ham needed a reinvigoration, a spark, an infusion of fresh blood. Naturally, this meant David Moyes. The long-time Everton and short-time Manchester United manager took over the day after Bilić’s sacking, and immediately set to work trying to top the Croatian’s work. And improve he did, taking a single point from his first three matches in charge, and garnering a combined scoreline of only 1-7. Take that, Slaven.

But since a far-closer-than-it-had-any-right-to-be defeat to Manchester City, Moyes has had the Hammers on a bit of run. With only one loss in seven and picking up 12 points along the way, West Ham are now out of the drop zone for the sixth consecutive gameweek. Granted, they’re only two points and three places clear, but things do seem to be looking up for the claret and blues.

5. Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

  • Sacked: 20 November, 17th place
  • Number of Tracksuits That Will Go Unworn With Pulis Out of a Job: Uncountable

What’s this? A manager sacked BEFORE falling into the relegation zone? Surely the need for immediate results has gotten out of hand! This managerial roundabout is purely symptomatic of the overfunded capitalistic drive of the modern game! Oh, wait, it’s Tony Pulis. Nothing to see here.

The season started off brightly enough for Pulis’s West Brom, winning their opening two matches. And, perhaps believing the league table over 38 weeks functions the same as a match over 90 minutes, Pulis decided to park the bus. The tracksuit aficionado would be in charge of the Baggies for three more months, and in that time his team managed to pick up four more points. That “winning run” to start the season was enough to keep West Brom in the top half into October, but that record, like his defensive setups, would rapidly collapse.

Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

Tony Pulis, West Bromwich Albion

First came a 0-1 loss to Southampton. Caught on the break in the 85th minute by a balletic Boufal drifting in and out of the West Brom defenders with grace and poise before slotting it past Ben Foster in net. Unlucky. Next was Manchester City, who left the Hawthorns with their eighth consecutive win. Saw that one coming; hardly alarming. Then falling 0-1 again, this time to Huddersfield. Newly promoted Huddersfield? Okay, this is getting a bit ridiculous. And what’s that on the horizon. Ah, pack your bags Tony. It’s Chelsea. The Blues battered West Brom 4-0, and Pulis was sacked two days later.

The hero brought in to save the day? Alan Pardew. And his effect was profound, transforming the club into a well-oiled goal-scoring mach-...sorry, what? Still no wins? Not even a flukey one? Well, surely they’re scoring a bit more. Pards loves the attacking game. SEVEN? Seven goals in 10 games? I see they’re eking out some draws again. Pardew must have a better points per game record than pathetic Pulis. You’re joking? He’s managed to DROP a further 0.23 points on average. Eh, at least he’s not wearing a damn tracksuit.

Pardew has the distinct honor of being the only manager on this list to take his adopted side further down the table. West Brom now lie in 19th, four points clear of safety. Their new manager can take solace in the fact that, at their current pace, his side will end the season on roughly 26 points which has...never been enough to survive relegation from the Premier League. Yikes.

6. Paul Clement, Swansea City

  • Sacked: 20 December, 20th place
  • Percent of Matches Clement’s Side Failed to Score: 55

Credit where credit is due: Paul Clement saved a dreadful Swansea side from relegation last season. Repeating such a miraculous feat was never likely. But the downfall began off the pitch, Clement selling off Sigurðsson and Llorente, two absolutely massive pieces in 16/17’s turnaround, without anyone close to suitable replacements.

This showed on the field almost immediately, the Swans finding goals nigh on impossible to come by. Their defense was somewhat more successful, only allowing more than two goals against on four occasions. But “two or less against” is rarely going to be enough when you average an abysmal 0.62 goals per game. Under Clement, Swansea did not manage to take a single point from matches they conceded in.

Following back-to-back multiple goal defeats, and staring down a third consecutive gameweek at the bottom of the table, Swansea’s American owners gave Clement the pink slip. Eight days and one 0-5 demolition at Anfield later, and Carlos Carvalhal was appointed as permanent manager.

It’s certainly too early to tell, but Carvalhal has already managed to get a win out of the Welsh side, topping Watford 2-1 in the final game of 2017. The Swans still remain in the basement, however, 20th place and four points off of safety.

7. Mark Hughes, Stoke City

  • Sacked: 6 January, 18th place
  • Number of Unique Formations Hughes Managed to Lose With: 8

Mark Hughes has twice completely transformed Stoke City Football Club. Unfortunately, only one of these transformations resulted in a half-decent footballing squad. Hughes began his tenure before the 13/14 season, and showcased his ideals almost immediately by releasing long throw expert Rory Delap. This side was not going to play ugly football, and the philosophy paid off. Stoke finished ninth, their highest top flight finish since 74/75.

The 14/15 season saw Hughes extending a continental reach, bringing in Barcelona forward Bojan. Their game was expanding, and once again, Stoke finished ninth. The following summer saw the arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern Munich, adding even more attacking flair and continental prestige. Once again, they finished ninth. This proved to be the beginning of the end.

Mark Hughes, Stoke City

Mark Hughes, Stoke City

Following three successive seasons of a growingly expansive counter-attacking game, other Premier League clubs were beginning to catch on to Hughes’ methods. Resorting to a far more negative approach, Stoke took until the third to last match of the season to secure safety. They finished a paltry 13th.

We enter the current season. Stoke are back to playing old-school hoofball, knocking it long and hoping someone gets on the end of it. Shaqiri is the last real playmaker left in the side, but without any consistent targets to provide for (Diouf? Crouch? Seriously?), his impact has been limited. The Potters begin 2018 with losses in the league and F.A. Cup to Newcastle and League Two side Coventry city respectively. The loss from three tiers below is the final straw. Hughes is sacked.

Stoke have yet to appoint a new permanent manager at the time of writing, and are currently helmed by caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki. While early reports had Slaven Bilić as the odds on favorite for the job, club officials say their number one target is former Watford manager and Bilić’s tan lookalike, Quique Sánchez Flores. Whoever takes the job, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them

So who’s next? Bournemouth sure are struggling, maybe Eddie Howe gets the sack. Or maybe Southampton aren’t content to just sell off all their players, and decide to offload their manager as well. Or, could it be...Wenger? Out? No, no, now we’re getting ridiculous. It’s a new year, though. Anything is possible.

Author: Busby Cagle

NCAA players poised to breakout in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft

What do Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Seitz, Darlington Nagbe, Eric Miller and Sacha Kljestan all have in common? (That is, besides all being decent picks for an all-MLS Team on FIFA)... They all made the leap into Major League soccer after successful NCAA careers via the MLS SuperDraft.

U.S. Soccer's pyramid is structured unlike any other federation’s, and the prevalence of high school stars going on to play soccer in college makes the NCAA a hotbed for future MLS talent. Each year, a committee of MLS coaches and NCAA coaches selects a group of players to be invited to its player combine in Orlando Florida. Back in December, Major League Soccer announced the initial list of 60 NCAA Division 1 college players invited to participate in the combine, a group led by 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy finalists Jon Bakeroa (Wake Forest) and Tomas Hilliard-Are (Stanford).

With the 2018 adidas MLS Player Combine set to kick off this weekend (the first matches streaming Saturday, January 13, on MLSsoccer.com), here's a look at some of the top pre-combine prospects coming out of NCAA soccer:

  • Francis Atuahene (Winger, University of Michigan): Touted as arguably the most exciting player in this draft class, Atuahene boasts tremendous pace and power -- two crucial elements to succeed as a winger in MLS. A Generation adidas signee, the Ghana native can strike the ball with both feet and has the potential to become a dangerous attacker in the league. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joao Moutinho (Defender, Akron): You might read "Joao Moutinho" and think: "How is a 31-year-old Portuguese international eligible for the MLS SuperDraft?” But this Joao is of a (slightly) different breed. Raised in Portugal, Moutinho is a former Sporting CP youth academy standout who played college soccer for a strong Akron side that reached the Final Four of this past year's College Cup. A left-footed center back, Moutinho's passing range and positional awareness set him apart as one of college soccer's best defenders.
Wyatt Omsberg, Dartmouth

Wyatt Omsberg, Dartmouth

  • Wyatt Omsberg (Defender, Dartmouth): Omsberg is an Ivy League product who grew up in Scarborough, Maine. A two-time All-American, two-time Ivy League Defender of the Year, and three-time first-team All-Ivy selection, Omsberg has been compared to U.S. men's national team young-gun Matt Hedges of FC Dallas. At 6-foot-4, the center back certainly has the size and aerial presence to compete at the highest level, but he will need to show that he is quick enough to keep pace with the burners of MLS.
  • Rafael Andrade Santos (Midfielder, VCU): One of the most highly touted No. 10's in college soccer this past season, Santos can change a game at the drop of a hat. Able to create chances for others as well as finish with his powerful left foot, Santos could -- with the proper defensive coverage -- slot into an attacking midfield role and make an instant impact on a MLS side. 
  • Gordon Wild (Striker, University of Maryland): The curious case of Gordon Wild is one of the most intriguing stories of this year's MLS Combine. After scoring 33 goals in two seasons of college soccer at Maryland, Wild went wild to start the 2017 campaign, scoring five goals before reversing course and going cold for the final 13 games of his college career. The German-born striker is a left-footed poacher who has displayed goal scoring prowess in the past, so look for a team to take a chance on him early in the first round. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
Mac Steeves Providence College

Mac Steeves Providence College

  • Mac Steeves (Striker, Providence College): A two-time All-Big East first-time selectee, Steeves scored 35 goals and notched 12 assists in his career with the Friars. Playing as a strong, powerful target forward, Steeves also has surprising shiftiness and technical ability for his size. A natural goal-scorer, don't be shocked if Steeves gets scooped up late in the first round by a team with a need for offensive depth and goal-scoring support.
  • Tomas Hilliard-Arce (Defender, Stanford): Hilliard-Arce won three-straight NCAA National Championships at Stanford to supplement his back-to-back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. A four-year stud for Stanford, Hilliard-Arce practiced alongside (and against) the likes of Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent, and should be one of the first defenders off the board in this year's draft. Tomas is known for his cerebral reading of the game and leadership intangibles.
  • Chris Mueller (Midfielder, University of Wisconsin): Beer, brats and cheese -- that's what Wisconsin does. As of late, Wisconsin also excels on the soccer field, and Mueller was one of the main reasons why. The shifty midfielder was far and away the Badgers' most talented player in 2017, and his prolific set-piece ability makes him an intriguing prospect. Mueller may have a tough time playing as a traditional #10 in MLS, so it remains to be seen how teams will envision using him.
  • Mason Toye (Forward, Indiana): Another Generation Adidas signee, Toye starred as a target forward for the national runner up in his freshman season. Boasting solid technique and explosive athleticism, Toye sets himself apart due to his ability to create his own shots and get past defenders to the end line. He did not impress as an aerial target at Indiana, but is still young and should be on the radar of many MLS teams as an immediate contributor. VIEW HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mo Adams (Midfielder, Syracuse University): Although the Orange did not perform up to their usual standards this past fall, Adams' versatility and outstanding decision-making helped him to a stellar year for 'Cuse. The box-to-box midfielder has a tremendous work rate that allows him to cover a ton of ground while his composure allows him to be consistent with the ball.
  • Ema Twumasi (Winger, Wake Forest): Say that name five times fast. Similar to countryman Atuahene, the Ghanaian winger is a huge threat on the flank. A skilled dribbler with the ability to play at pace, Twumasi was best known in college for his ability to set up his teammates; however, his lack of consistency in terms of finishing is one of the knocks on him as a prospect. If he can develop a true eye for goal, Twumasi could make an immediate impact as a rookie in MLS.

Author: Nick Woolf

Fantasy Five - Tips for your Fantasy Premier League team 1/12/18

Pep Guardiola’s Man City are STILL undefeated with 16 games left of this year’s league, but this weekend comes one of their toughest challenges to date – a trip to Anfield to face free-scoring (but now Coutinho-less) Liverpool. Regardless of the result, this could be a high-scoring affair, which should raise the eyebrows of Fantasy Premier League managers. There are plenty of other juicy fixtures this week too, and here to guide you through them are our friends at Armchair Fancast – the weekly podcast discussing all the latest happenings from the Premier League – with their top five player picks for the weekend. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here, and follow them on Twitter here!

  1. Karl Darlow (NEW, £4.4): Rob Elliot’s thigh injury has meant a second run in the starting line-up for Darlow, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity so far with consecutive clean sheets against Brighton and Stoke. This week the Magpies host rock-bottom Swansea, who have failed to find the net in over half of their away games so far this season and still have by far the worst scoring record in the league. Look for Darlow to go a third straight game without a blot on his record.
  2. Phil Jones (MUN, £5.7): A trip to Old Trafford for managerless Stoke seems a prime contender to be another workmanlike victory for United, whose 12 clean sheets remains the best defensive record in the league. Jones has been an important figure in all but one of those shut-outs and he has more bonus points in FPL than any other player in Mourinho’s squad. Nothing is certain in this game, but a United win and a dependable performance from Phil Jones are both pretty good bets.
  3. Richarlison (WAT, £6.4): Somehow Richarlison has been in the top three midfielders in the whole league for shots inside the area during the past 10 games and yet has failed to score in any of those matches – undoubtedly a contributing factor to his team only getting 7 points out of a possible 30 during that time. Watford’s fortunes seem to mirror those of their young Brazilian, and we’re guessing both will take an upturn when the Hornets host a Southampton side that is struggling even more than they are.
  4. Manuel Lanzini (WHU, £6.8): You’ll struggle to find a more appealing run of fixtures than West Ham’s over the next few weeks, and the stage is set for Lanzini to play a leading role in David Moyes’ efforts to escape the drop. If it wasn’t for missing the season’s first six games through injury then he would almost certainly be the club’s top FPL scorer – a feat that he may achieve anyway this weekend if things go his way at Huddersfield. Best of all, he’s still only in 2% of teams so if he scores points then the vast majority of your fantasy rivals will miss out.
  5. Callum Wilson (BOU, £5.7): Might this be the perfect time for Bournemouth to host Arsenal? The Gunners have just been knocked out of the FA Cup and are distracted by the transfer rumours swirling around Sanchez, Ozil and Walcott. All of this makes Bournemouth a smart pick to be this weekend’s surprise package, and if it happens then expect Wilson to be on the scoresheet. His injury woes now apparently behind him, he’s netted in two of the last three games and on 3 out of 4 occasions this season when he has played for the full 90 minutes.

Author: Dave Bradshaw

7 up-and-coming USMNT players to pay attention to during the January camp

Every January, U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) fans get to enjoy watching a crop of players that they might not normally see. The annual January Camp is an opportunity for under-the-radar players to get a chance in the spotlight. This month there are 30 names released by U.S. Soccer on the roster and 21 of those players are 24-years-old or younger. For USMNT fans, that is exactly what we want to see, the youth. Do we have another Christian Pulisic coming through the ranks? Fifteen of the 30 players called up have never received a cap for the stars and stripes, and these players will be aiming to do so in the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28 at 7:30pm EST.

While there are a few names on the roster that are household names to American fans (Paul Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Juan Agudelo, Jordan Morris), there are a many names that people may not know unless you follow their MLS careers. The 7 players listed below are young, talented, and mostly uncapped, but could provide great support to the USMNT moving forward.

#1: Cody Cropper, GK, New England Revolution (0 Caps)

2017 was Cropper’s breakout season, starting 28 games and posting 8 shutouts and 71 saves in that time. Cropper might not have had the best team in front of him, but he did produce 10 wins and 4 draws in his first full season in MLS. Cropper was born in Atlanta to an English father before moving to Minnesota when he was 12. He moved to England in 2010 and joined the Ipswich Town academy before making a move to Southampton in 2012. Cropper never saw action for the senior team however, and was released after 3 seasons.

After being released by Southampton, Cropper signed a 1 year deal with MK Dons in the Summer of 2015 after they were promoted to the English League Championship. He later debuted for the club in August of 2015. After only making 9 appearances for the first team, he was not resigned. This led Cropper back to the United States, being signed by the New England Revolution in August of 2016. He made one appearance that season, and became the every day starter in 2017 after New England traded Bobby Shuttleworth to Minnesota.

Cropper has represented the USA at the youth level on many occasions, including 21 appearances for the U20 team, and was the first choice GK for the US at the 2013 U20 World Cup. He also was the first choice GK for the 2015 Toulon Tournament, where he helped the US finish 3rd overall.

Cropper comes in as one of the 3 goalkeepers at the January camp who are uncapped, along with Alex Bono and Zack Steffen. Bill Hamid rounds out the goalkeeping corps for the camp. It will be interesting to see who gets the start between the sticks for the US in their friendly, and if they are switched out at halftime. Even if Cody does not pick up a cap at the January camp, he is a name to keep an eye on for USMNT fans moving forward.

#2: Nick Lima, Defender, San Jose Earthquakes (0 Caps)

Defender Nick Lima had a huge rookie season in 2017. The Earthquakes defender made his professional debut in March helping his team to a shutout victory, and went on to be nominated for MLS Defender of the Year and MLS Rookie of the Year. Although he did not win either award, his season was one to remember.  Playing in 22 games, Lima scored 2 goals, including the first ever goal by an Earthquakes homegrown player.

Lima played college soccer at UC Berkeley from 2013-2016 before signing a homegrown player contract in December of 2016. He has quick feet and the ability to start the counter attack out of the back. His club’s technical director says that Lima has all the qualities to be an elite-level player at center back. Lima also cites Jurgen Klinsmann as one of his mentors, with Jonathan Klinsmann being one of Nick’s closest friends from college. It will be hard to know how Lima will develop going forward after the January camp, but he is a name to watch out for during the friendly as well as this upcoming MLS season.

#3: Tim Parker, Defender, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (0 Caps)

Tim Parker might be a name familiar to USA fans if they think back to the 2016 January Camp. Tim was called in for that camp under Jurgen Klinsmann for 2 friendlies, but did not see action in either game. Drafted in 2015 by the Whitecaps, Parker has become a consistent part of the Vancouver defense, starting in 32 league games last season, notching 1 goal and 1 assist.

After his cal lup in January after his rookie season, Parker’s second season did not go as well, and his team as a whole slumped. 2017 was different, however, with Parker leading a defense paired with Kendall Waston and helping his team go to the Western Conference Semifinals. Parker says he hopes “I’m able to contribute in whatever way that they see me contributing in.” This was after his team was knocked out of the Western Conference Semifinals and the US failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Parker has the ability to lead a back line, something he did not have the last time he was called in in 2016. Hopefully Tim Parker will get some minutes against Bosnia at the end of camp, and the fans will be able to see what he can do first hand.

#4: Matt Polster, Defender, Chicago Fire (0 Caps)

Much like Tim Parker, Matt Polster was called into the 2016 January camp riding a high from his rookie season in MLS. Polster has seen significant minutes in all 3 seasons he has played in Chicago, starting out as a midfielder, before being moved back to right back. In this past season, Polster had 7 assists and 1 goal, using his ability to find open space on the right side and send in a great cross.

Matt Polster, Chicago Fire

Matt Polster, Chicago Fire

Matt also contributed to the US U23 team during Olympic qualifying in 2016, although the team did not progress to the Olympics. He is joined by 7 other players from that U23 team at the January camp, including Cody Cropper, Tim Parker, and Walker Zimmerman. Even though that team did not progress to the Olympics, and is considered part of the lost generation of US talent, players on that team have big upsides, including Matt Polster.

It is possible that after a good January camp, Polster could be competing with DeAndre Yedlin for minutes at right back in upcoming tournaments. Keep an eye on Polster in the friendly, he’ll be running up and down the right side, pushing into space and sending in crosses to the forwards in the box.

#5: Russell Canouse, Midfielder, DC United (0 Caps)

Russell Canouse is a name many people would not have had on their radar until he came back to MLS from Hoffenheim this past season. Canouse is a midfielder, who can play deep as a holding midfielder or at right back if needed. Leaving for Germany to become a better player, Russell went to TSG Hoffenheim where he signed and played for their youth teams, before making his senior debut in a win in March 2016. Unfortunately, this was his only senior appearance for the club, and they sent him out on loan to VfL Bochum in the 2. Bundesliga. While on loan, Canouse made 20 appearances and scored 1 goal.

Following the 2016-2017 season, Russell transferred back to the United States, signing for DC United along with fellow US international Paul Arriola. Arriola and Canouse were teammates on the US U20 side during the CONCACAF Championship in 2015, where Russell captained the team. He missed out on the U20 World Cup due to injury the same year.

Canouse can hold the ball and find the right pass anywhere on the field, and his leadership will be valuable to the team throughout the camp and moving forward should he get more callups.

#6: Ian Harkes, Midfielder, DC United (0 Caps)

MAC Hermann Trophy winner Ian Harkes came out of college in 2016 and signed a homegrown player contract with DC United, the club he spent his entire youth career with. Harkes went into his rookie year in DC with the ability to play quick passes in an attacking midfield role and move the ball through the midfield and up with ease. Unfortunately for him, this was not something that appeared to be the style DC wanted to play, and he saw only limited success, scoring 2 goals and setting up another.

Ian Harkes, DC United

Ian Harkes, DC United

Notably, Ian Harkes is the son of John Harkes, a former USMNT captain in the 90’s. John Harkes has seen his son have mixed reviews in his rookie season, and some people think he might have been lucky to get called into this January camp, but this might not be the case.

Ian has a high work rate and the ability to ping the ball in and out of the middle of the field to get through a defense. This could prove very useful to the US as they move forward, depending on the style the new manager will want to play.

#7: Rubio Rubin, Forward, Unattached (4 Caps)

The only capped player on this list, and yet the only player on the roster without a club, Rubio Rubin is a man in limbo. Once he turned 18, Rubio signed a deal with FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands. After only a few months in the youth academy, he was given his senior debut, and he had an assist. Unfortunately for Rubin, he has not had much luck in front of net since he started his career. In 57 appearances for senior teams, he has only found the back of the net 3 times.

Rubin has had better luck in the US youth national teams, where he scored 14 goals for the U17 team and 6 for the U20 team. This led Jurgen Klinsmann to cap tie Rubin in November of 2014 in a match against Colombia. Rubio has had 4 caps for the US, all under Klinsmann, and he has yet to live up to any hype so far. Rubin is currently without a team, as he was let go by Stabaek at the end of his contract in December.

This could make his January camp very compelling to watch, as fans could see Rubio do everything he can to show he still belongs. This camp will be a tryout for him as many teams will be watching and could see him shine in the moment.

These 7 players will be showing their best at the January Camp, which began January 10th. The US will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 28th at the StubHub Center in California, with kickoff slated to begin at 9:30 PM Eastern on FS1 and UniMas.

Author: Sam Nelson

The top 3 Bundesliga stories going in to the second half of the 2017-18 season

Unlike every other major European Soccer League, the Bundesliga enjoys an annual six-week winter break over Christmas and New Years. But this Friday, January 12th, the ball will start rolling again in Germany when Bayern Munich visit Bayer Leverkusen 2:30pm EST on Fox Sports 1. As the second half of the campaign gets underway, here is a dive into the top 3 Bundesliga stories you should be following over the final 17 matchdays.


Story 1: Can anyone stop Bayern Munich from winning their 6th straight title?

The short and simple answer, in my opinion, is no! The Bavarians currently sit 11 points clear atop the German top flight, ahead of Schalke 04. Although they have lost 2 of their opening 17 games, it is very unlikely they will let an 11-point lead slip. Bayern are poised to cruise to their 6th title in a row and will have it secured early enough so they can shift their attention to the Champions League (assuming they are still in the competition). Can Bayern win the Treble as they did in 2012-13?

The deeper question, however, is what will happen below the top spot in the Bundesliga? Who will qualify for the Champions League, along with Bayern, and who will claim a Europa League spot next season? Between 2nd place Schalke 04 and 10th place Hertha BSC, there is a slim 6 point difference. Dortmund struggled during the latter half of 2017 but they remain the favorite to finish as Bundesliga runner-ups due mainly to their sheer talent and depth. Below Dortmund, it could get interesting with Schalke, Leverkusen, Leipzig, Gladbach, and Hoffenheim all having Champions League ambitions. Whoever doesn't finish within the top 4 will have to be satisfied with a Europa League ticket for the 2018-19 season. Frankfurt, Augsburg, and Hertha, currently sitting in 8th , 9th and 10th only have outside chances of finishing in the top 7 and thereby qualifying for European competition.

Bundesliga table as of 1.11.18

Bundesliga table as of 1.11.18

Story 2: Can the "Bundesliga-Dino" yet again avoid relegation?

“Bundeslgia-Dino” you ask? That is none other than the Hamburger SV, the current home of US men's national striker Bobby Wood. They are the only club in Germany never to be relegted from the German top flight dating back to 1919. However, over the past few years they have cut it awfully close. In 2014 and 2015, Hamburg barely remained in the Bundesliga after surviving relegation-playoff thrillers. And in 2016 the club sealed Bundesliga-safety again in the dying minutes of the final game. Luca Waldschmidt scored the game-winner against Wolfsburg in the 88th minute, sending Wolfsburg into the relegation battle instead of the Hamburger SV.

Bobby Wood and Hamburger SV 2017-18

Bobby Wood and Hamburger SV 2017-18

As the second half of the 2017-18 Bundesliga kicks off this Friday, Hamburg are only 2 points clear of 15th place, which Mainz 05 currently holds. Management upheaval, backoffice turmoil, injuries and outside pressures are the challenges the club faces as it seeks to remain in the Bundesliga. In their home stadium, the Volksparkstadion, Hamburg proudly present a clock displaying the time that they have remained in the Bundesliga. Currently at 54 Years and 139 days, this clock may finally be reset to 0 in early May...


Story 3: Who will impress Joachim Löw and get the call-up to Germany’s World Cup squad?

Germany World Cup 2014 Champions

Germany World Cup 2014 Champions

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the 21st World Cup, and is scheduled to take place in Russia from June 14 to July 15, 2018. Of the 32 competing nations, 20 will be making back-to-back appearances following the last tournament in 2014, including defending champions Germany.

One of the biggest questions facing Germany coach Joachim Löw is the left-back position. In the 2016 European Championship tournament, Cologne’s Jonas Hector played that part. However, his season has been plagued by injuries and poor performances. It seems he has fallen out of Löw’s favor as he was not part of Germany’s recent squads which finished out their World Cup qualifying campaign. For those games, as well as the 2017 Confederations Cup, 25-year old Marvin Plattenhardt from Hertha BSC served as Germany’s left-back. Whether he gets the final call before the national team heads off to Russia remains in doubt, as Hertha, and Plattenhardt, have not performed as well as they did last year. 

Lepizig’s Marcel Halstenberg has an outside chance of taking over Plattenhardt’s spot. However, what is more likely is that Germany will play in a system with 3 defenders. If everyone is healthy, those slots should be filled by Hummels, Boateng, and Süle. Healthy: that is the key word in the run-up to Germany’s quest for back-to- back World Cup Championships. 

Manuel Neuer represents a major issue. Neuer has only been on the field for merely 270 minutes this year before breaking his left foot for the 3rd time in his career. Whether he will return to play, and return to form, is still up in the air. Although Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona's number 1 goalkeeper, is certainly a solid back up, having Neuer between the posts surely makes opposing strikers and teams a little more nervous. 

The same issue regarding health can be asked about Borussia Dortmund midfielder Marco Reus. When fit, the winger is without a doubt one of Germany’s most gifted players and a must-have at the World Cup in the Russia. However, he continues to be plagued by severe injuries. He missed the 2014 World Cup after injuring himself during a friendly prior to the competition and once again Reus is attempting to fight his way back from a major injury, this time an ACL-tear. It certainly would not hurt Germany’s chances if Reus returns to form and stays healthy ahead of the tournament in Russia.

Which strikers will Löw call into the team? Over the past year, youngster Timo Werner and resurging Sandro Wagner have performed well for club and country. However, do not count out veteran Mario Gomez just yet. Gomez, who has a similiar physique and style as Wagner, has scored important goals for Germany in the past. After limited success in Wolfsburg over the past two seasons, Gomez has moved back to his boyhood club VFB Stuttgart. He will not only attempt to keep them out of the relegation battle but also make a case for himself to be included in Germany’s World Cup squad. Whether or not that happens will be seen as early as Saturday, when Stuttgart kick off the 2nd half of their Bundesliga campaign against Hertha BSC. I myself will be watching him closely, as I will be in the stands with my fellow compatriots. However, as a die-hard Hertha fan, I will naturally be rooting against Gomez this time.  


In addition to the stories above, below are must-watch Bundesliga games in the second half of the campaign

  • Schalke v Dortmund (Matchday 30: Likely April 14th)
  • Werder v Hamburg (Matchday 24: Saturday February 24th)
  • Dortmund v Bayern (Matchday 28: Likely March 31st)
  • Final Matchday (Matchday 34: May 12th)

Author: Felix Dalstein

NCAA: University of Akron's wild 2017 campaign

The beautiful game at the division I collegiate level is often associated with the University of Akron men's program. The iconic soccer school continuously produces quality players that not only consistently keep the Zips as national title contenders, but also go on to play at the next level after college. It's almost an expectation when stepping on the field as an Akron men's soccer player. A matter of fact, 32 Zips have gone on to play professionally either in Major League Soccer, USL or overseas since 2006, including No. 1 overall pick Steve Zakuani in 2009, and No. 2 overall picks Darlington Nagbe in 2011 and Darren Mattocks in 2012 - just to name a few. Nagbe was part of a draft class that set MLS draft day records for most players drafted from a single school in the first round (5) and overall (8).

This past season however, Akron dropped their first two games to start the 2017 campaign forcing them to reevaluate what it means to represent the Zips tradition on the pitch. The coaching staff have continuously tested their players by playing quality opponents through out the season. The opponents in the two opening losses were no slouches either. Both matches were road contests that ended in 1-0 defeats to Utah Valley (ranked #16 at the time), and then on the road to the University of Denver (ranked #3). Furthermore, the last exhibition game before the two road slates also ended in a 1-0 defeat as well against Loyola Maryland at Akron's historic First Energy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field. The late goal came in the 90th minute. A string of 1-0 defeats could break the will of any team. Especially a program with lofty expectations every season. Perseverance and the will to succeed, despite set backs, defined the men's program at Akron from this point on.

The battle back to greatness began on September 1 with a chance to knock off the University of Washington, Pac12 powerhouse and nationally ranked at #10. The result was a resounding 2-0 triumph for the the Zips. The first win of the season being one of such quality would prove to be a fire starter as the team would make a long trip to the west coast to meet with fellow national soccer power, UC Santa Barbara a week later on September 9th. Previously ranked #16, Akron dropped to #20 in the national poll going into the contest, despite the win the week before. However, the Zips would come away with a 3-1 road victory in front of 1,759 fans at an electric Harder Stadium. The program was looking more like it's predicted self. Now 2-2 and gaining momentum, the Zips went on an admirable run over the next 5 games. Winning four and drawing one, with 5-0 and 4-1 wins over #21 Umass Lowell and #1 ranked Michigan State. The Zips moved up to #8 in the nation and look poised for a huge conference game a month later in Kalamazoo, Michigan where the #12 ranked University of Western Michigan stood ready to rumble in a conference clash. The result did not go in Akron's favor falling 1-0. "We were poor on the day this afternoon," Akron head coach Jared Embick was quoted saying. The Broncos had a slight edge in shots, but a huge advantage in the conference standings. The question of who this Akron team really is was still to be determined. But the nation soon found out. 

From that fateful loss on October 7th, the Zips would not lose another game until the NCAA DI national semifinals where they fell 2-0 to the three time defending national champions, Stanford. The streak saw the Zips exact revenge on the University of Western Michigan when the two played again in the MAC conference championship game. Akron defeated the 4th ranked and conference #1 seed UWM 3-1 to claim its sixth straight conference tournament title and eleventh straight selection to the NCAA national tournament. 

For NCAA soccer fans, the season was interesting to say the least. High expectations clashed with poor early results but the campaign was reignited by a familiar conference foe. The Zips maintained a commitment to their season and were rewarded with a phenomenal run that saw them finish one game away from playing for the national title. THey finished the season with a final record of 18-4-2. 

With the 2018 MLS SuperDraft approaching, several Akron players have a chance to follow in the footsteps as their successful predecessors. Five players been invited to the MLS Adidas Player Combine. Seniors Pau Belana (Barcelona, Catalonia), Manuel Cordeiro (Porto, Portugal), Niko De Vera (Camas, Wash.), Sam Gainford (Liverpool, England) and Nate Shultz (Mayfield, Ohio) are among the initial list of 60 NCAA Division I college players invited to participate at the 2018 MLS adidas Player Combine in Orlando, FL. The league's annual combine will be held in Orlando, Jan. 11-17, at Orlando City Stadium, with representatives from all 23 MLS clubs scouting the top college prospects ahead of the Jan. 19 MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia, PA. A committee of MLS coaches and NCAA D1 coaches from every conference selected the invitees, all of whom completed their college eligibility this season. 

Author: Justin Perna

Source: gozips.com

Source: gozips.com

European Soccer Weekend Recap by the Numbers – 1/8/2018

The good thing about the end of the holiday season is that soccer doesn’t end with it. The top European soccer leagues had their first weekend-round since the festive season. English Championship side Nottingham Forrest had the finest weekend as they stunned Arsenal 4-2 in the FA Cup. Diego Costa had the most forgettable weekend as he received perhaps the most unexpected red card of his career in his La Liga return. And 2017 didn’t leave with Real Madrid’s nightmare in La Liga, they drew yet again in Spain.

New year, same ol’, same ol’. Let’s recap the top European leagues with numbers. We’ll start with a 10 of diamond from England…

10.  Tottenham number 10 Harry Kane rolled his dashing goalscoring form into the new year.  After netting the most goals in 2017 (56), Kane bagged a brace in his third game of the year for Tottenham as his side blanked AFC Wimbledon 3-0 in the third round of the FA Cup. Center back Jan Vertonghen scored the Spurs’ other goal.

9. Fiorentina number nine Giovanni Simeone led his club to ninth place last weekend with 90th minute goal in a 1-1 draw with Inter Milan. This tie keeps Inter nine points away from league toppers Napoli. Simeone wasn’t the only number nine on target, Mauro Icardi, who’s having the season of his life with the Nerazurris scored his 18th Serie A goal in 20 appearances.

8. Atletico Madrid number eighteen Diego Costa was red carded for the eighth time in his professional career (you thought he had more, didn’t you?) in a 2-0 victory over Getafe. It was Costa’s second game in his return to Atletico. The Spaniard netted Atleti’s second goal and ran to his club’s beloved fans to get a celebration-hug. When Costa went back on the pitch, to his unbelief, referee Jose Munuera gave him a second yellow.

7. Lazio’s number seventeen Ciro Immobile has now scored as equaled or more goals than seven teams in the Serie A. What pushed him to this tremendous stats is a four-goal display against SPAL 2013 in a 5-2 victory. Immobile leads Italy’s top flight with 20 goals. The Italian knows where the net is, he only needed four shots to score four goals on SPAL.

6. England Championship club Nottingham Forrest avoided a six-game winless streak and it came against their toughest opponents of the season, Arsenal who are currently in 6th place in the Premier League. Forrest downed the Gunners 4-2 at home in the third round of the FA Cup. U.S International Eric Lichaj scored two goals for Nottingham. His second goal was probably the most watched goal in England of the weekend, an out-curling volley from the top of the box. The fans were chanting “USA! USA!” in England; you know you scored a cracker when this happens.

5. Real Madrid drew for the fifth time in La Liga playing to a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo. Daniel Wass was instrumental in Celta’s tie with Madrid, his fifth assist of the season led youngster Maximiliano Gomez to the game-tying goal and he netted the opener. Gareth Bale scored Madrid’s two goals.

4. Liverpool’s number four Virgil van Dijk scored a game-winning header in his debut for the Reds against Everton in the Merseyside Derby. Van Dijk’s was a Liverpool player for just four days when he netted the winner. The Dutch’s goal ushered Liverpool to a fourth straight win. James Milner scored the Reds’ opener while Gylfi Sigurdsson tied it for Everton to complete the 2-1 scoreline.

3. The last three minutes of regulation in Lyon’s game versus Nancy in the Coupe de France was intense to say the least. Lyon was losing 2-1 until Marcelo tied it up in the 87th minute before Gnaly Maxwell Cornet won it with a sublime low free-kick in the 90th.

2. Two was the number in Paris last weekend. Kylian Mbappe scored two goals for PSG against Rennes in the Coupe de France, Neymar netted two goals too and Angel Di Maria scored… two goals of his own. Les Parisiens swept past Rennes 6-1.

1. The one and only Lionel Messi scored one goal and provided one assist in his number one game of 2018, which was a 3-0 win over Levante. Luis Suarez didn’t have a bad game himself either, he netted his 11th La Liga goal. Paulinho scored Barca’s third goal.

Fantasy Five - Tips for your Fantasy Premier League team

We’re at the point in the season where things start to get a bit complicated. There are only nine fixtures in Gameweek 21 this weekend, so if you’re playing Fantasy Premier League you need to make sure you don’t put any Tottenham or West Ham players in your starting XI, because those teams won’t play. But in Gameweek 22 both of those teams play twice, so you want to fill your team with as many of them as possible. This kind of manoeuvring is going to take some excellent use of transfers and the subs bench, and here to help you are our friends at Armchair Fancast – the weekly podcast discussing all the latest happenings from the Premier League – with their top five picks for the tricky few days ahead. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here, and follow them on Twitter here!

  1. Jonjoe Kenny (EVE, £4.5): Everton’s stunning defensive improvements under Sam Allardyce continue to turn heads, with Boxing Day’s goalless draw against West Brom the fifth clean sheet for the Toffees in seven games. Jonjoe Kenny is now entrenched at right back, at least until Seamus Coleman returns, and he’s even managed to grab a couple of assists during those past 7 games. Everton visit Bournemouth next – a side that hadn’t scored in three games until that bizarre 3-3 scramble against West Ham on Boxing Day – and then host a Man United team that sometimes seems more concerned with holding their back line than pushing forward when they go on the road against decent opponents. There is scope in both of those games for more Everton clean sheets.
  2. Jesse Lingard (MUN, £6.1): Alternatively, if you’re of the opinion that United will turn on the style at Goodison Park then your best attacking option from Mourinho’s men is undoubtedly Jesse Lingard. He’s cheap at £6.1, he’s still owned by less than 8% of fantasy teams for some bizarre reason, and he’s scored 6 goals in the last 7 games. A home game against Southampton prior to the Everton match seems nicely set up for him too, but there is one reason to be wary: for all of his recent success, Lingard is still yet to complete a full 90 minutes for United in the league this season.
  3. Jack Wilshere (ARS, £5.4): Unbelievably, when Jack Wilshere completed his fourth consecutive 90-minute appearance against Crystal Palace last night it was the first time in four years he had managed such a streak without injury. Arsenal fans will be praying that the good fortune continues because he has looked electric since he returned, and his assist for Sanchez yesterday was world class. The England international is the spark that the Arsenal midfield has needed for most of the year, and he could do some real damage at West Brom on New Year’s Eve. He might even surprise some people in the huge London derby against Chelsea three days later too.
  4. Harry Kane (TOT, £12.9): If, like 41% of fantasy teams, you have Harry Kane leading your line then it might be tempting to transfer him out during Tottenham’s idle weekend and free up almost £13.0 to spend on others. Do that if you want, but you absolutely must buy him back straight afterwards. In Tottenham’s double gameweek they play Swansea and West Ham. That’s a prospect so good that you need to not only play Kane, but seriously consider using your triple captain chip. We wouldn’t bet against yet another hat trick in one of those two ties.
  5. Roberto Firmino (LIV, £8.9): Liverpool have scored 12 goals in their last 3 games, and Firmino was directly involved in half of them (4 goals and 2 assists). As either a replacement for Kane this weekend or (preferably) as a partner for him in the longer run, the Brazilian looks like a very solid pick. Liverpool host Leicester this weekend and then visit a Burnley side who, having not conceded more than one goal against any team other than Man City all season, managed to let in 3 against Tottenham and 2 against United this week. This may be the ideal time for Jurgen Klopp’s attacking forces to maraud into Turf Moor.

Author: Dave Bradshaw

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European Soccer Weekend Recap by the Numbers – 12/25/2017

With only three of Europe's top leagues in action over the weekend (Premier League, La Liga and Serie A) we still had more than enough soccer to fulfill our footy hunger and to produce our European weekly countdown. Barcelona blanked Real Madrid 3-0 in el Clasico, Tottenham star striker Harry Kane bagged a hat trick on Burnley and Sergio Aguero and Marek Hamsik reached scoring milestone for their light blue clubs, Manchester City and Napoli respectively. It’s not yet the new year, but let the countdown begin!...

10. 10 x 10 = 100. That’s the number of goals Manchester City’s number 10 Sergio Aguero has scored at the Eithad Stadium. Aguero’s century of goals at the Eithad was the home team’s opener in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth. The Argentine started his quest for 200 home-goals as he netted a second goal in the 79th minute. The in-form Raheem Sterling was also on target for the citizens along with Danilo.

9. After Korey Smith’s 90th minute goal that eliminated Manchester United from the League Cup in a 2-1 loss to Championship side Bristol City. United was hit with another heartbreaking 90th minute goal, in gameweek 19, from Leicester City defender Harry Maguire in a 2-2 draw.

8. Atletico Madrid suffered their first loss in La Liga in eight months. Espanyol brought the defensive powerhouse down 1-0 home at the RCDE Stadium through Sergio Garcia’s 88th minute game winner.

7. Tottenham forward Harry Kane scored a hat trick against seventh placed Burney in under seventy minutes (it started in the 7th minute and ended in the 79th minute). 24-year old Harry Kane has been a pro for how long again? For seven years. The Spurs blanked Burnley 3-0.

6. Liverpool has lost a second half lead six times this season, most recently over the weekend in a 3-3 draw with sixth placed Arsenal. The Reds were up 2-0 in the 52nd minute with goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah before…

5. Arguably the worst five minutes of Liverpool’s season came against Arsenal this weekend when they allowed three successive goals against (53rd, 56th and 58th minutes) to go behind 3-2. Fortunately for Jurgen Klopp’s men, Roberto Firmino earned them a draw, scoring the game-tying goal in the 71st minute.

4. Juventus edged fourth place Roma 1-0 to notch 44 points. Number 4 Medhi Benastia scored the Italian champions’ lone goal. The Old Lady is in second place, one point below Napoli.

3. We’re up to number three and we still haven’t mentioned El Clasico?! Well, Barcelona defeated Madrid 3-0. The three goalscorers were Luis Suarez, Aleix Vidal and of course Lionel Messi. Check out these three el Clasico stats bellow from the Barcelona superstar's performance:

  1. Messi scored more goals against Real than any other players in La Liga, tallying 17.
  2. The Argentine is also the all-time top scorer for a single team in Europe’s five top flight leagues, passing Bayern Munich legend Gerd Muller with 526 goals.
  3. Messi is also El Clasico’s leading top scorer and assist-man with 28 goals and 15 assists.

2. La Liga’s second placed team Atletico Madrid is no longer unbeaten after falling to Espanyol. Now only Two unbeaten teams remain Europe’s top five leagues, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona. Can anyone stop either of these two clubs?

1. Diego Maradona is no longer Napoli’s number one all-time top scorer. Marek Hamsik has bested Maradona’s club goal scoring record with 116 goals, netting his side’s game-winning goal over Sampdoria in a 3-2 victory. Hamsik keeps The Light Blues in first place in Serie A. Hamsik tallied 116 goals in 478 games. Maradona however scored 115 in goals 259 appearances...

Marek Hamsik

Author: Onz Chery

Fantasy Five - Tips for your Fantasy Premier League team

It’s Christmas week in the Premier League! The action starts tonight with a potentially epic showdown between Arsenal and Liverpool – the first of 11 days in the next 14 when there is action in England’s top division. Here to guide you through your Fantasy Premier League selections for the first half of this extravaganza are our friends at Armchair Fancast – the weekly podcast discussing all the latest happenings from the Premier League – with their top five picks for gameweeks 19 and 20. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here, and follow them on Twitter here!

  1. David De Gea (MUN, £5.9): If there was ever any doubt that De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the league then the first half of this season has surely dispelled it. The Spaniard has kept 10 clean sheets in United’s 18 games so far this season, and with a favorable run of fixtures right up until the end of January he looks sure to add to that total. Leicester away and Burnley at home are up first, both of which look like games with such potential that this is a rare case where you can justify spending £5.9 of your budget on a goalie.
  2. Angelo Ogbonna (WHU, £4.4): Three consecutive shut-outs for West Ham show just how difficult to beat they have become in a very short time under the tutelage of David Moyes. Ogbonna has become a mainstay in the defense over the past 10 games and even got on the scoresheet a few weeks ago, against Man City of all teams. With the Hammers’ next two games against Newcastle and Bournemouth – both of whom are struggling badly at present – it’s a good time to gamble on one of their defenders, especially one who will only set you back £4.4.
  3. Wilfried Zaha (CRY, £6.9): The focal point of Crystal Palace’s remarkable revival, Zaha scored his 4th of the season last weekend at Leicester. He also looks likely to benefit from the possible return to form of Christian Benteke, with whom he could plausibly form a pretty formidable partnership at the sharp end of the Eagles’ attack. Managerless Swansea are up next for Palace, which looks mouth-watering even if the next game after that is against Arsenal.
  4. Raheem Sterling (MCI, £8.5): One of the world’s most talented young players in the form of his life – what more needs to be said about Raheem Sterling at present? He could have easily had 5 goals rather than 2 against Tottenham last week, and his stunning recent performances have seen him play every minute of City’s last six games – impressive stuff given Pep’s tendency to rotate. The risk is that this weekend’s game against Bournemouth might be seen as so easy that it’s a good chance to finally give the man a rest – but if he plays then you shouldn’t just pick him, you should make him your captain.
  5. Wayne Rooney (EVE, £7.6): If you had said a few weeks ago that Everton might be Chelsea then you would have been rightly laughed at. But they might, you know. The Toffees’ change in fortunes since the arrival of Sam Allardyce has been so dramatic that it’s hard to remember this was a club in crisis a month ago, tipped by some for relegation. Rooney has epitomized the recent shift, scoring a hat-trick against West Ham followed by goals in each of the past three games. If he keeps this run going – and he probably will for a while at least – then it could be a very merry Christmas for England’s all-time top goalscorer.

Author: Dave Bradshaw

DFB-Pokal: Bayern Munich v. Borussia Dortmund Preview

DFB Pokal Preview

We’re down to the last 16 clubs competing in the DFB-Pokal, the annual German cup competition that features Sixty-four teams from the Bundesliga and the 2 Bundesliga. It is considered the second-most important club title in German football after the Bundesliga championship. The most eagerly anticipated match this round is Bayern Munich versus Borussia Dortmund which will be shown on ESPN2 Wednesday, December 12 at 2:45pm EST.

While the two German giants are used to seeing each other much later in the tournament, the luck of the draw has them squared up in the third round. Bayern will be seeking revenge on Wednesday, after losing to Dortmund in last year’s DFB-Pokal semi-finals 2-3 at home. Back in April this year, it was Ousmane Dembélé who scored the game-winner in the 74th minute in the Alliance Arena. Dortmund will surely be wishing they still had Dembélé in their ranks on Wednesday. However, others will be poised to leave their mark on the game. Shortly after being crowned U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, youngster Christian Pulisic lifted Dortmund to a late victory in a crucial game against TSG Hoffenheim on Saturday. The 19-year old will look to continue his ascend in Germany and within a talented Dortmund squad. What better opportunity could you have then knocking out the 18-time DFB-Pokal Champions, Bayern, in their own stadium.

Bayern Munich vs. Dortmund preview

Wednesday’s match will be the 7th DFB-Pokal matchup between Dortmund and Bayern in the past 7 seasons. The last 6 duels have been split evenly, with both teams winning 3 of those games. This season, it was Bayern who had the upper hand when they travelled to Dortmund and left with 3 points in their bag, following a 3:1 victory. However, back in early November, when that game was played, Peter Bosz was still Dortmund’s coach. The loss to Bayern was part of an awful Dortmund run in which they went 9 games without a win. Ultimately, Peter Bosz was sacked last weekend. Since then, former Cologne boss Peter Stöger has been in charge; and the move seems to be paying off. Dortmund have won their two games with Stöger, most recently thanks to Pulisic’s sensational game-winning goal. A third win in a row will certainly be a challenging task for Stöger’s squad. However, they have proven in the past that they travel to Munich and shock Bayern. With a chance to make history, Dortmund will have a little extra motivation on Wednesday. The last time that Bayern has failed to reach at least the quarterfinals of the DFB-Pokal was in the 2000/01 season. Can Dortmund spoil the party? We will see on Wednesday.

Author: Felix Dalstein

European Soccer Weekend Recap by the Numbers – 12/18/2017

Soccer fans don’t count the days before the holidays, we count down the top stories from the elite European leagues. Last weekend, Manchester City extended their record winning run to 16 games. Mohamed Salah became the second fastest player to score 20 goals for Liverpool. Serie A had another week of shocking results. And an American teenager netted a beautiful 89th minute winner for Borussia. Daily Soccer Digest writer Onz Chery brings you another exclusive must-read recap of European soccer in this unique column. Get the numbers ready, let the countdown begin:

10. Take a moment and process this: Paris Saint Germain’s attacking trio has scored more than 10 goals than 10 other teams in Ligue 1 (15 teams to be exact). The attackers were all on target against Rennes on Saturday in a 4-1 win. Number 10 Neymar shined with two goals and two assists while Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani scored one each. The three PSG strikers’ goal tally amounts to 36.

9. Nineteen-year-old Christian Pulisic scored an eighty-ninth minute game-winning goal for Borussia Dortmund in a 2-1 win over Hoffenheim on Saturday. Pulisic netted the winner in elegant fashion as he flicked Shinji Kagawa’s inch perfect through ball away from keeper Oliver Baumann with his right foot then hit the ball in midair in the net with his left. Here’s the best part: he pushed the club’s current top scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, down to go celebrate.

8. Valencia, a team that was glowing in Spain just last month, lost to eighth place Eibar 2-1. Valencia has now lost two matches this month after going unbeaten the first four months of the domestic season, which included draws with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Los Che’s other loss was inflicted to them by ninth place Getafe.

7. Manchester City is undefeated in the league after playing Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. City have the most goals scored and the least amount of goals scored against in the league. Their number seventeen, Kevin de Brune, is arguably the best player in the PL right now. De Bruyne netted in the club’s 4-1 win over Tottenham, number seven Raheem Sterling scored a brace in that game and Ilkay Gundogan netted the other goal.

6. Fernando Torres’ scored his first La Liga goal in six months to give Atletico Madrid their sixth league-win of the season, a 1-0 victory over Deportivo Alaves. Atletico is now six points behind league leaders Barcelona in second place.

5. Thomas Muller broke a five-game goalless drought to grant Bayern Munich their fifth consecutive win as the club slimmed by Stuttgart 1-0 on Saturday. Keeper Sven Ulriech, who played for Stuttgart, saved Chadrac Akalo’s 94th minute penalty to secure Bayern’s win.

4. Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola won his fourth Premier League Manager of the Month of award. The Spaniard won the accolade for the month of November, October, September and February. According to The Guardian, the club wants to offer Guardiola an improved four-year deal contract worth 20 million pounds a season in the summer, which will make him the highest paid soccer coach in the world.

3. Three for these three results in Italy: Hellas Verona, a promoted side that sits in 18th place, blanked Gennaro Gattuso side’s Milan’s 3-0. Inter lost to 11th placed Udinese 3-1. And Lazio drew with Atalanta 3-3. Lazio was down 2-0 after 22 minutes, this game is quite up there for the most entertaining match of the weekend. Don’t be shy, go ahead and watch the highlights.

2. Mohammed Salah was a player Chelsea sent on loan two years ago. Now he’s the Premier League’s top scorer with a two-goal gap over Harry Kane and is the second fastest player to reach 20 goals for Liverpool, doing so in 26 matches. The Egyptian tallied 20 goals for the Reds faster than Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres.

Kevin De Bruyne

1. One for the best player in England so far this season: Manchester City attacking midfielder Kevin de Brunye who has been putting top class performances in City’s midfield week in and week out. The Belgian leads the league in assists tallying eight and has netted six goals, including one against Tottenham last weekend. City fullback Benjamin Mendy agrees that his teammate is the current best player in England. How do we know? Mendy kissed de Bruyne in a press conference after the team’s game against Tottenham on Saturday.

Author: Onz Chery

Fantasy Five - Tips for your Fantasy Premier League team

The grueling December schedule rolls on with another full round of Premier League fixtures this weekend. Can Tottenham halt the historic Man City winning streak? Will Burnley beat Brighton and return to the top four? Will Leicester’s fine recent form continue against a resurgent Crystal Palace? And most importantly, which players will score you the most points on Fantasy Premier League? Here to help with that last question are our friends at Armchair Fancast – the new weekly podcast discussing all the latest happenings from the Premier League – with their top five picks for the week. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here, and follow them on Twitter here!

  1. Jordan Pickford (EVE, £6.0): Whatever Sam Allardyce is doing at Everton, it’s working – especially at the back. Pickford is the league’s in-form goalkeeper with three clean sheets from his last four games, and a home fixture this weekend against the worst team in the league means there is every chance of improving that record even further. Swansea have scored just 9 goals in 17 games so far – three less than any other side – and have failed to score in half of their away matches, all of which is great news if you have the Everton keeper in your side.
  2. Laurent Koscielny (ARS, £6.0): Koscielny was spectacular against West Ham midweek en route to ensuring Arsenal secured their fourth clean sheet in six games. This weekend they host a Newcastle team who are in a tailspin, which means another shut-out is a distinct possibility. The Frenchman has also been known to grab an occasional goal or assist at the other end of the field – he hasn’t done either yet this year, but playing the Magpies should provide a few decent opportunities to get forward.
  3. Ashley Young (MUN, £5.1): After a quiet couple of gameweeks against Arsenal and Man City, Young was only given 7 minutes in the 1-0 win against Bournemouth on Wednesday night, but that might make him a likely starter at West Brom. Until very recently Young was in some of the form of his career, bagging 2 goals and 2 assists in the three matches prior to the Arsenal game and earning himself an England recall. If he can recapture that spark against one of the league’s poorer teams this weekend then the rewards could be plentiful.
  4. David Silva (MCI, £8.2): Many of the plaudits for Man City’s imperious midfield this season have been directed at Kevin De Bruyne, but David Silva is arguably just as crucial to the team dynamic, and he’s £2.0 cheaper than his Belgian teammate. With a jaw-dropping 33 points from the past three gameweeks, Silva is getting close to being a must-have at this point, even though the title favorites have a potentially tricky match against Spurs on Saturday evening.
  5. Shinji Okazaki (LEI, £5.4): Japan’s star forward has outshone Jamie Vardy during Leicester’s recent run, in particular on the south coast midweek when he scored twice and caused chaos in the Southampton defense throughout. The 2016 champions are looking for their fifth consecutive victory when they host Palace on Saturday lunchtime, and with Mahrez also in scintillating form, there should be plenty of chances created for Okazaki to keep on scoring.

Champions League: Last 16 draw recap, team guide rankings

The best clubs in Europe, and the best players in the world, were placed into Round of 16 pairings on Monday, December 11th . Five clubs from England, three from Spain, two from Italy, and one each from France, Germany, Ukraine, Portugal, Switzerland, and Turkey, have qualified for the knockout round of the tournament.  

Two seeding pots were formed: one consisting of group winners and the other of runners-up. No team can play a club from their qualifying group or their own association. 

  • Pot 1: Manchester United, PSG, AS Roma, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester City, Besiktas, Tottenham
  • Pot 2: Basel, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Juventus, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto, Real Madrid

Champions League last 16 draw

Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern Munich all avoided scary draws. Chelsea, meanwhile, must find a way past five-time winners Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, while Tottenham face a tricky tie against last season’s runners-up Juventus. The third most exciting Round of 16 match is between Real Madrid and PSG. Below is the full draw:

  • Juventus v Tottenham (February 13 and March 7)
  • Basel v Manchester City (February 13 and March 7)
  • Porto v Liverpool (February 14 and March 6)
  • Sevilla v Manchester United (February 21 and March 13)
  • Real Madrid v PSG (February 14 and March 6)
  • Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma (February 21 and March 13)
  • Chelsea v Barcelona (February 20 and March 14)
  • Bayern Munich v Besiktas (February 20 and March 14)
Dybala Juventus

From February to May, 2018, fans worldwide will have the privilege of watching the top players in world soccer compete for one of the highest honors in the game, the Champions League Trophy.  Daily Soccer Digest writer, Nick Barron, ranks the remaining 16 teams. Below are the rankings. Do you agree? Leave a comment!

16) Beşiktaş

  • Turkish Süper Lig: 4th Place (7-6-2)
  • Recent Form (all competitions): 4-6-0
  • Recent Results: Besiktas 3 – 0 Galatasary (Dec. 2), Besiktas 1 -1 Monaco (Nov. 1)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 4-2-0
  • Player to watch: Pepe (three-time Champions League winner)
  • DSD Rank: 16

 

15) FC Basel

  • Swiss Super League: 2nd Place (10-5-3)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 7-2-1 (W-D-L)
  • Notable Results: Basel 1 – 0 Man. Utd. (Nov. 22), Basel 1 – 2 CSKA Moscow (Oct. 31)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 4-0-2 (Second in Group A, behind Man. Utd.)
  • Player to watch: Dimitri Oberlin (4 goals in group stage)
  • DSD Rank: 15

 

14) FC Porto

  • Portuguese Primeira Liga: 1st Place (11-3-0)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-4-0
  • Notable Results: Porto 5 – 2 Monaco (Dec. 6), Porto 1 – 1 Besiktas (Nov. 21)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 3-1-2 (Second in Group G, behind Besiktas)
  • Player to Watch: Vincent Aboubakar (5 goals and 2 assists in group stage)
  • DSD Rank: 14

 

13) Sevilla FC

  • La Liga: 5th Place (9-1-5)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-2-2
  • Notable Results: Sevilla 0 – 5 Real Madrid (Dec. 9), Sevilla 3 – 3 Liverpool (Nov. 21)
  • Group Stage Record: 2-3-1
  • Player to watch: Wissam Ben Yedder (6 goals, Tied for 2nd most in Group Stage)
  • DSD Rank: 13

 

12) FC Shakhtar Donetsk

  • Ukranian Premier League: 1st Place (13-3-3)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-1-3
  • Notable Results: Shakhtar 2 – 1 Man. City (Dec. 6), Napoli 3 – 0 Shakhtar (Nov. 21)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 4-0-2 (Second in Group F, behind Man. City)
  • Player to watch: Bernard (Left-sided Brazilian known for his pace and energy.)
  • DSD Rank: 12

 

11) Juventus

  • Serie A: 3rd Place (12-2-2)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-3-1
  • Notable Results: Juventus 0 – 0 Inter Milan (Dec. 9), Juventus 0 – 0 Barca (Nov. 22)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 3-2-1 (Second in Group B, behind Barcelona)
  • Player to Watch: Gonzalo Higuaín (9 goals and 3 assists in Serie A.)
  • DSD Rank: 11

 

10) Roma

  • Serie A: 4th Place (11-2-2)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 7-2-1
  • Notable Results: Atletico Madrid 2 – 0 Roma (Nov. 22), Roma 3 – 0 Chelsea (Oct. 31),
  • CL Group Stage Record: 3-2-1 (Top of Group C)
  • Player to Watch: Eden Džeko (3 goals, 2 assists in group stage)
  • DSD Rank: 10

 

9) Tottenham

  • EPL: 6th Place (8-4-4)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 5-2-3
  • Notable Results: Tottenham 1 – 2 Leicester (Nov. 28), Tottenham 3 – 1 Real Madrid (Nov. 1)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 5-1-0 (top of Group H)
  • Player to Watch: Harry Kane (6 goals in 5 Champions League matches. 12 Premier League goals.)
  • DSD Rank: 9

 

8) Chelsea

  • EPL: 3rd Place (10-2-4)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-2-2
  • Notable Results: Chelsea 0 – 1 West Ham (Dec. 9), Chelsea 1 – 0 Man. Utd. (Nov. 5)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 3-2-1 (second in Group C, behind Roma)
  • Player to Watch: Eden Hazard
  • DSD Rank: 8

 

7) Liverpool

  • EPL: 4th Place (8-6-2)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 7-3-0
  • Notable Results: Liverpool 7 – 0 Spartak Moscow (Dec. 6), Liverpool 3 – 3 Sevilla (Nov. 21)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 3-3-0 (Top of Group D)
  • Players to Watch: Salah, Firmino, Coutinho, and Mané (combined for 19 goals in group stage). Liverpool scored 23 goals total in the group stage, setting a record for English clubs in the competition.
  • DSD Rank: 7

 

6) Manchester United

  • EPL: 2nd Place (11-2-3)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 7-0-3
  • Notable Results: Man. Utd. 1 – 2 Man. City (Dec. 10), Man. Utd. 1 – 0 Tottenham (Oct. 28)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 5-0-1 (Top of Group A)
  • Player to Watch: David De Gea (Allowed just 3 goals in 6 group stage matches.)
  • DSD Rating: 6

 

5) Bayern Munich

  • Bundesliga: 1st Place (11-2-2)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 8-1-1
  • Notable Results: Bayern 3 – 1 PSG (Dec. 5), Bayern 0 – 3 PSG (Sept. 27)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 5-0-1 (Second in Group B, behind PSG)
  • Players to Watch: Correntin Tolisso, Robert Lewandowski (3 goals and 1 assist, each)
  • DSD Rank: 5

 

4) Paris Saint-Germain

  • Ligue 1: 1st Place (14-2-1)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 8-2-0
  • Notable Results: Bayern 3 – 1 PSG (Dec. 5), PSG 7 – 1 Celtic (Nov. 22)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 5-0-1 (Top of Group B, with 25 goals netted in six matches)
  • Players to Watch: Neymar and Cavani (12 goals and 5 assists, combined, in 6 matches)
  • DSD Rank: 4

 

3) Real Madrid

  • La Liga: 4th Place (9-4-2)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 5-3-2
  • Notable Results: Real Madrid 5 – 0 Sevilla (Dec. 9), Real Madrid 1 – 2 Girona (Oct. 29)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 4-1-1 (Second in Group H, behind Tottenham)
  • Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (2017 Ballon D’Or Winner and self-proclaimed best player ever, most goals scored in group stage with 9.)
  • DSD Rank: 3

 

2) Barcelona

  • La Liga: 1st Place (12-3-0)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 6-4-0 (Unbeaten in 23 matches)
  • Notable Results: Barca 0 – 0 Juventus (Nov. 22), Barca 0 – 2 Real Madrid (Aug. 16, last time Barcelona lost a match)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 4-2-0 (Top of Group D)
  • Player to Watch: Lionel Messi (20 goals and 5 assists in last 25 appearances for club and country)
  • DSD Rank: 2

 

1) Manchester City

  • EPL: 1st Place (15-1-0)(48 goals in 16 Premier League matches)
  • Recent Form (all comps.): 9-0-1
  • Notable Results: Man. City 2 – 1 Man. Utd. (Dec. 10), Man. City 1 – 2 Shakhtar Donetsk (Dec. 6)
  • CL Group Stage Record: 5-0-1
  • Players/manager to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero. Pep has lifted the Champions League trophy twice, both times with Barcelona, in 2009 and 2011.  
  • History: Manchester City won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1969/70.  The closest they’ve come to the title since then was a semi-final appearance in 2016, which they lost to Real Madrid, 1-0.  
  • DSD Rank: 1

European Soccer Weekend Recap by the Numbers – 12/4/2017

Paris Saint Germain lost their first game of the season to promoted side Strasbourg FC 2-1. But shockingly enough this wasn’t the most notable headline of the weekend. Goalkeepers stole the show— both offensively and defensively. Benevento goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli netted a 95th minute equalizer against AC Milan in Gennaro Gattuso’s first game coaching the Rossoneri club. And in England, Manchester United keeper David de Gea put up the most breathtaking performance between the sticks this season, racking 14 saves again Arsenal, a Premier League record. Daily Soccer Digest writer Onz Chery brings you another exclusive must-read recap of European soccer in this unique column. So without further ado, your weekend recap by the numbers:

10. Inter Milan is on top of the Serie A. What is this 2010? The Italian superclub fell off their standard a season after the 2009-10 campaign when they won the Serie A. The highest Inter finished in the table since then is in fourth place. But this season they’re back at their old swagger, Luciano Spalletti’s men jumped at the summit of the Serie A by a point over Napoli after sweeping past Chievo 5-0. League top scorer Mauro Icardi was on target of course. Ivan Perisic scored a hat trick and Milan (not a good name for an Inter player) Skriniar one.

9. Napoli number nine Gonzalo Higuain netted his ninth league-goal of the season against his former club Napoli on Friday in a 1-0 win. Higuain scored by steering the ball to the bottom right corner of the net from his compatriot Argentine Paulo Dybala’s pass on a counter.

8. Ex-Milan number eight Gennaro Gattuso coached his first game for his old club, that’s struggling in eighth place, on Sunday against Benevento. Gattuso was hit by a 95th minute 2-2 equalizer from Benevento scored by their goalkeeper. “Maybe it would’ve been better to get stabbed than to concede this goal,” the new Milan coach said. Good to have Gattuso back in top flight football, right?

David De Gea

7. It’s a miracle David de Gea is still in Manchester United after seven seasons. The Spanish keeper had one of the most prolific performances in his seven-years with United, tallying 14 saves against Arsenal to lead his side to a 3-1 win, a joint-record in the Premier League since records began... Oh and behind de Gea’s breathtaking display, Paul Pogba picked up a red card for planting his studs on Hector Bellerin’s thigh and will miss the Manchester derby next week. Pogba has already missed seven league-games for United.

6. Bayern Munich grew their gap on top of the Bundesliga to six points after a poor week from the other teams from the top four. Second placed RasenBallport Leipzig lost to Hoffenheim 4-0, third placed Shackle drew with FC Cologne 2-2, and fourth placed Borussia Moenchengladbach lost to Wolfsburg 3-0. Bayern downed Hannover 3-1 with goals from Robert Lewandowski, Arturo Vidal and Kingsley Coman. Is Bayern on its way to a sixth straight league title?

5. Kylian Mbappe’s fifth goal of the season wasn’t enough to hold PSG’s unbeaten run as the club lost for the first time in five months to Ligue 1 newcomers Strasbourg 2-1. Last time Les Parisiens lost to Strasbourg was in 2005. Nuno Da Costa scored the promoted side’s first goal and Stephane Bahoken the winner in the 65th minute.

4. Real Madrid drew for the fourth time in La Liga this season, playing a 0-0 stalemate with Athletic Bilbao. Madrid sits in fourth place. Head coach Zinedine Zidane said the team is far below Barcelona in the standings because the players “don’t score enough.” Four teams netted more than Los Blancos’ 25 goals in 14 games: Barcelona, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo. Madrid's number four Sergio Ramos picked up a red card (second yellow) for elbowing Artiz Arduriz on a header. Ramos is now the most red-carded player in the history of La Liga with 19 red cards.

3. Manchester City played their third straight 2-1 victory with a late winner.  It was West Ham this time and no it wasn’t Raheem Sterling who netted the winning goal. David Silva scored the winner in the 63rd minute with a semi-bicycle kick from Kevin de Bruyne’s pass.

2. Barcelona played a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo. Barca had a disallowed goal when the score was 1-1 as the assistant waived his flag for offside when video replays show that Luis Suarez was onside. It’s the second time Barca suffers a disallowed goal in a draw in La Liga as they did two weeks ago when Valencia keeper Neto fumbled Messi’s shot in his own net but was unnoticed by the referee.

1. Benevento keeper Alberto Brignoli doesn’t wear number one but he will receive top class treatment in Benevento this week for giving the club their first ever point in the Serie A. Brignoli hit a flying header via Danilo Castaldi‘s free kick in the 95th minute to grant Benevento a 2-2 draw. The last keeper who scored in the Serie A was Massimo Taibi on April 1st, 2001 for Reggina in a 1-1 draw against Udinese.

2018 FIFA World Cup draw

DSD Guide to the FIFA World Cup - Part I

The draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place at the State Kremlin Palace concert hall in Moscow on Friday, December 1, 2017.   It will begin at 6PM in Russia (10AM on the East Coast).  If you’re watching from your desk like me, Nick Barron, you can tune into the live stream on FIFA’s official website.

In this all new FIFA World Cup DSD mini-series we profiles the nations, the players, and the coaches that will compete next summer for the greatest trophy in the world. We offer insight, analysis, and historic context for you, the most passionate soccer fans. The first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be played on June 14, 2018.  

There will be four “Pots” on the stage on December 1.  Each pot holds the names of eight nations. The Pots are organized by FIFA rankings (released in October), with the highest ranked teams in Pot 1 (plus host nation, Russia).  Pot 2 holds the next eight best teams, Pot 3 the next eight, and Pot 4 the final eight.  Teams will be drawn from the four Pots into eight groups (Group A – Group H).  Each lettered group will contain one team from each of the four Pots. The Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk) has provided a very fun World Cup Draw Simulator.  

Of the six worldwide confederations, UEFA have the most sides at the competition with 14 (Russia, France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark). South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Peru), Africa (Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal, Egypt) and Asia (Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia) have five each. CONCACAF have three (Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama). Oceania have none after New Zealand lost to Peru in a playoff.

2018 FIFA World Cup draw:

Pot 1

  • Russia – FIFA ranking: 65 (Automatically qualified and enters pot 1 as host nation)

Russia began competing as Russia, rather than the Soviet Union, at World Cup ’94 in the United States.  The Soviet Union reached the semi-finals at England ’66, losing to West Germany 2-1.  Russia qualified in ’94, ’02, and ’14, failing to make it out of the group stages on each occasion.  South Africa is the only host nation to be eliminated in the group stages (2010).  

  • Germany – FIFA ranking: 1

The reigning champions have played 106 World Cup matches (more than any other nation), scored 224 World Cup goals (more than any other nation (3 more than Brazil thanks to the 7-1 thrashing in 2014), and have won 4 World Cup titles (tied for second).  

  • Brazil – FIFA ranking: 2

Brazil is the only nation to participate in all 20 World Cups.  They have won 5 World Cup titles. Will Russia be too cold for them?  Or will their free-flowing football inspire Russian fans to ditch their ushanka hats, learn the samba, and stop fighting once and for all?

  • Portugal – FIFA ranking: 3

Portugal failed to qualify for the first seven World Cup tournaments.  In their first appearance at the World Stage, the late great Eusebio led them to a third place finish.  The Portuguese won their first major title at Euro 2016.

  • Argentina – FIFA ranking: 4

World Cup champions in 1978 and 1986, Argentina (a.k.a. Lionel Messi) has some work to do to reassure the world that they are, in fact, a global football superpower.  Argentina came within one game of missing out on Russia ’18.  Messi provided a comeback hat-trick against Ecuador in their final qualification match – after going down 0-1 in the first minute – to book their ticket to Russia.   

  • Belgium – Current FIFA ranking: 5

In their most successful campaign (Mexico ’86) Belgium lost to Argentina 2-0 in the semi-final after beating Spain 5-4 in penalties in the quarterfinal.  With a star-studded cast the Belgians hope to make a deep run, but recent history is against them.

  • Poland – FIFA ranking: 7

Poland qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.  The last time they advanced out of their group was in 1982, when they finished third, beating Brazil in the third place match.  Now ranked in the top ten, they plan to bring glory back to Poland.  

  • France – FIFA ranking: 9

France has been the most erratic nation in recent World Cup history.  After failing to qualify for Italy ‘90 and USA ’94, Didier Deschamps (current head coach) and Zinedine Zidane led France to their first World Cup title in ’98 on home soil.  After an embarrassing dismantling in 2010, young talent emerged in 2014, and now France look to be a favorite in 2018.  

Pot 2

  • Spain – FIFA ranking: 6

After winning the World Cup for the first time at South Africa ’10, Spain couldn’t make it out of their group in 2014, losing their opening two matches to the Netherlands and Chile.  Messi recently called them a team to avoid at Russia ‘18.

  • Switzerland – FIFA ranking: 8

As the eighth best team in the world, the Swiss have reason to believe that they could make the best World Cup run in the nation’s history.  Switzerland made it to the quarter-finals in 1934, ’38, and ’54.  In 2014, Switzerland advanced to the round of 16, where they lost to Argentina on an Ángel Di María goal in the 118th minute.   

  • Peru – FIFA ranking: 11

Peru will participate at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years (Spain 1982).  In their 15 World Cup matches, Peru has tallied 4 wins, 3 draws, and 8 losses.  

  • England – FIFA ranking: 15

England failed to make it out of their group in 2014 (the first time since 1958).  The three Lions have claimed just one World Cup title (1966).  Geoff Hurst notched the only hat-trick to be scored in a men’s World Cup final, beating the West Germans 4-2 (Carli Lloyd completed a hat-trick in the 2015 women’s World Cup final against Japan).

  • Colombia – FIFA ranking: 13

At Brazil ‘14, Colombia made their most successful run at the World Cup, losing in the quarter-finals to the host nation by a score of 2-1.  James Rodriguez, with six goals to his name, brought the golden boot back to Colombia in 2014, adding his name to an elite list that includes Eusébio, Gerd Müller, Ronaldo (the original), and other all-time greats.  

  • Mexico – FIFA ranking: 16

Mexico played in the first match of the first World Cup on July, 13, 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay, losing 4-1 to France.  Mexico will make their sixteenth appearance at the World Cup next summer.  Their experience at the world stage makes them a formidable team.

  • Uruguay – FIFA ranking: 21

Two World Cup titles, 5 semi-final appearances, and a total of 51 games played (20-12-19).  Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup in 1930, then won again in Brazil in 1950.  At South Africa 2010, Uruguay made their fifth appearance in the semi-finals, losing to the Netherlands 3-2.  

  • Croatia – FIFA ranking: 17

Since gaining independence in 1991, Croatia has qualified for four World Cups in six qualifying campaigns.  In their World Cup debut at France ’98, Croatia shocked the world by beating the Germans in the quarterfinals 3-0, then narrowly falling to France in the semi-finals 2-1.  They beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the third-place match.

Pot 3

  • Denmark – FIFA ranking: 12

Denmark failed to qualify for Brazil ’14 and failed to make it out of their group in South Africa in 2010.  In 1998 in France, the Danes made it to the quarter-final before dropping to Brazil 3-2.  

  • Iceland – FIFA ranking: 22

Iceland will participate in the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever next summer.  With a population just under 350,000, Iceland is the smallest nation (by population) to qualify for a World Cup (an honor formerly held by Trinidad & Tobago; population 1.3 million).  

  • Costa Rica – FIFA ranking: 26

Costa Rica has some recent World Cup success to build on.  Los Ticos were a fan favorite in Brazil, topping a group of death that included Uruguay (win 3-1), Italy (win 1-0), and England (tie 0-0).  After beating Greece in penalties to advance to the quarter-final, Costa Rica battled the Dutch to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes, ultimately losing 5-3 in penalties.  

  • Sweden – FIFA ranking: 18

After missing out on South Africa ’10 and Brazil ’14, Sweden will return to the world stage next summer to participate in their twelfth World Cup.  The Swedes have made an impressive four semi-final appearances.  In 1958 Sweden hosted the World Cup and made it all the way to the final where they lost to Brazil and a 17-year-old Pelé.

  • Tunisia – FIFA Ranking: 27

Tunisia will aim to make it out of the group stage for the first time in four WC attempts (’78, ’98, ’02, and ’06).  Their qualifying campaign has convinced many that this might be the year.

  • Egypt – FIFA ranking: 31

After a successful qualification run leading up to Brazil ’14, Egypt very narrowly lost their spot to Ghana.  This year Mohamed Salah sealed their spot with a penalty kick, and the nation erupted in celebration as Egypt qualified for the first time since 1990. The Pharaohs have qualified for just two World Cups (’34 and ’90).  They have won more AFCON titles than any other nation (7).  

  • Senegal – FIFA ranking: 23

In their only World Cup appearance, Senegal advanced all the way to the quarter-finals before falling to Turkey 1-0 in overtime.  In 2016, Liverpool completed a transfer for Sadio Mané worth £34 million ($45.5 million), making him the most expensive African player in history.  He will be priceless for Senegal next summer.  

  • Iran – FIFA Ranking: 32

Iran’s only win in their four previous WC appearances came against the United States, winning 2-1 at France ’98.  Their WC record is 1-3-8.
 

Pot 4

  • Serbia – FIFA ranking: 37

Serbia first competed as an independent nation in 2006.  The White Eagles qualified for South Africa ’10.  They didn’t make it out of their group, but they did beat Germany.  They failed to book a trip to Brazil in 2014.  

  • Nigeria – FIFA ranking: 50

The “Super Eagles” first qualified for the World Cup in 1994.  In the round of 16 that year, they grabbed a goal in the 25th minute and were minutes away from a spot in the quarter-finals. Roberto Baggio scored in the closing moments to send the game into overtime, then Baggio scored again in overtime to win the match.  

  • Australia – FIFA ranking: 39

Russia ’18 will be the fifth World Cup appearance for the Australians.  The Socceroos qualified in 1974, 2006, 2010, and 2014.  They’ve only made it out of their group on one occasion (Germany ’06).  In the round of 16 they fell to Italy 1-0 in the 95th minute of regulation on a Francesco Totti penalty kick.  Tim Cahill scored one of the best goals at Brazil ’14 against the Netherlands.  He’s still playing and still scoring.  

  • Japan – FIFA Ranking: 55

Japan have made it out of the group stage twice in their history; losing in the round of 16 to eventual third-place finishers Turkey 1-0 at Korea/Japan ’02, and losing 5-3 on penalties to Paraguay at South Africa ’10, also in the round of 16.

  • Morocco – FIFA ranking: 40

Morocco will appear at the World Cup for the first time since 1998.  In 1986 the Atlas Lions made their best run, going undefeated against Poland (0-0), England (0-0), and Portugal (win 3-1) to advance out of their group before falling to the eventual runner-up, West Germany, 1-0 in the round of 16 on a goal scored in the 87th minute.  They were one of two nations (Algeria the other) to represent the continent of Africa in 1986.  

  • Panama – FIFA ranking: 56

Panama will make their World Cup debut next summer.  Roman Torres scored a goal in the 88th minute against Costa Rica, with two minutes left in the qualifying campaign, winning the match 2-1 and leaping over the United States and Honduras in the qualification table.  

  • Korea Republic (South Korea) – FIFA ranking: 51

Historically the most successful Asian nation at the WC stage, Korea Republic has qualified for eight consecutive World Cups (1986-2014). On home soil in 2002, the Koreans made it all the way to the semi-final before losing to Germany, beating Italy and Spain on the way.

  • Saudi Arabia – FIFA ranking: 53

The “Green Falcons” are 2-2-9 in their four World Cup appearances.  Saudi Arabia reached the round of 16 at USA ’94, losing 3-1 to Sweden at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX.  

NCAA: Quarterfinal matchups set for 2017 College Cup

After Sunday's third round matchups, just eight teams remain in the hunt for the national championship. All top four seeds remain (Wake Forest, Indiana, UNC and Louisville) while just 1 unseeded team has advanced to the final eight (Fordham - pictured below). The four quarterfinal matches on December 1 and 2 will determine which schools travel to Philadelphia for the College Cup.

fordham.jpg

Columbia nearly forced overtime against top-seeded Wake Forest but the Demon Deacons were able to escape with a 1-0 win as Jon Bakero beat the keeper to the left on a penalty kick in the 89th minute... Coastal Carolina advanced to the elite 8 after a 3-1 win over No. 8 seed Clemson. Martin Melchor scored twice – the first and last goals of the game – including a beautiful header in the 4th minute... While many top-seeded teams fell in the second and third rounds, Akron avoided being a part of that group by escaping Wisconsin 3-2 in overtime. Stuart Holthusen scored the golden goal in the 92nd minute... Colgate played the role of spoiler, knocking off No. 13 seed Michigan 3-2 thanks to Aram Ouligian's header off of a corner kick with less than three minutes to play... North Carolina sophomore midfielder Jack Skahan had only scored one goal this season before the Tar Heels' third round game against SMU. He doubled his yearly total with a bouncing strike from 25 yards out that proved to be the game-winner... After beating St. Francis (Brooklyn) in the first round, Fordham have knocked off No. 11 seed Virginia and No. 6 seed Duke. Next up? Another seeded ACC foe, North Carolina. Can they do it again?!... With a 2-1 win over New Hampshire, Indiana returned to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since winning the national championship in 2012.

Quarterfinal matchups:

  • Wake Forest (1) vs Stanford (9) - Dec 2

  • North Carolina (3) vs Fordham - Dec 2

  • Akron (5) vs Louisville (4) - Dec 1

  • Indiana (2) vs. Michigan St. (7) - Dec 1

Fantasy Five - Tips for your Fantasy Premier League team

The pace is about to pick up in the Premier League, with a grueling schedule ahead as the festive season approaches. That means there are two gameweeks ahead in the next seven days – a weekend one as normal and an extra one on Tuesday and Wednesday. With that in mind, here are five players to consider including in your FPL team for this big double header, brought to you by our friends at Armchair Fancast – the new weekly podcast discussing all the latest happenings from the Premier League! Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here, and follow them on Twitter here!

  1. César Azpilicueta (CHE, £6.8): The champions have rediscovered their mojo in the past few weeks, winning their last four games and keeping a clean sheet in the last three. Azpilicueta has played every single minute of Chelsea’s campaign so far and has scored more points than any other defender in the league, with a goal and five assists to complement his achievements at the back. Granted, a trip to Anfield on Saturday evening could be a defensive challenge, but just look at the Blues’ run of games after that – it’s a great time to invest in them.
  2. Shkodran Mustafi (ARS, £5.3): Mustafi marked his return to the Arsenal team last weekend with a goal against arch-rivals Tottenham and a points tally of 14 for the mere 2% of FPL managers who own him. Games against Burnley and (in particular) Huddersfield over the next week look like decent prospects for more success from an increasingly in-form Gunners side, so this might be a good time to get on the bandwagon.
  3. Heung-Min Son (TOT, £7.9): During Harry Kane’s recent injury absence Son really stepped up for Tottenham, and he continued that form midweek with the winning goal for his team in Dortmund. You’d be a fool not to field a Spurs player this weekend when they host manager-less West Brom at Wembley, and Son is a cheaper option than Kane, Eriksen or Alli so he’s well worth a look. Just bear in mind that his number of minutes on the pitch could be limited with such competition for places.
  4. Fernandinho (MCI, £5.2): Man City are so good at present that it’s really not a question as to whether you should pick their players, but rather how many and which ones. In previous weeks we’ve recommended all the obvious choices, but don’t overlook
  5. Romelu Lukaku (MUN, £11.5): It’s no coincidence that the Belgian’s five-week goal drought ended last Saturday in the same game that Paul Pogba made his return. With Pogba in the side United create far more chances in each game – and that is very good news indeed for the man leading their attack. A home game against Brighton this weekend seems particularly promising for Lukaku to show that his poor run of form is well and truly over.