Alan Curtis will be Swansea’s manager through the end of the Premier League season

Photo credit: AFP.
Photo credit: AFP.

Alan Curtis will remain as Swansea City manager until the end of the season, the struggling Premier League club announced on Thursday. Curtis, who had three spells as a Swansea player in the 1970s and 1980s, took over from the sacked Garry Monk in December and won just one of his five games as caretaker boss, drawing two and losing two of the other four.

But Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins has been sufficiently encouraged by the team’s performances to hand the 61-year-old the reins for the rest of the campaign as the south Wales side bid to extend their stay in the top-flight to a sixth successive season.

“Alan Curtis and the current staff set-up will continue until the end of the season,” Jenkins told Swansea’s website.

“We firmly believe it is the right decision for Swansea City. Alan has been with us through good and bad times and was part of the management team that helped the club secure its Football League status over 12 years ago.

“He is fully aware of the next important job he has ahead of him to dig deep and find the required levels of performance and motivation to secure our Premier League status – our main goal this season.

“We believe there is nobody with more knowledge and experience of the club to do that than Alan Curtis.”

Monk had been axed after a dismal run of only one win from 12 matches, and despite the change in managers, Swansea are still 17th in the Premier League, just one place and two points above the relegation zone.

Former Sunderland boss Gus Poyet and former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo had been among the reported candidates to replace Monk. But Jenkins admitted that perilous position had made it difficult to persuade top-class managers to take over the Liberty Stadium in mid-season, so instead he opted to stick with Curtis, who had been working as a member of Swansea’s coaching staff before Monk’s dismissal:

“I know some people will query why we didn’t have a replacement lined up when we parted company with Garry Monk, but we didn’t expect to be in the situation we were in when you look at our position mid-September.

“Finding a replacement hasn’t been easy because we didn’t want to make a short-term decision that would be detrimental to the club long-term.

“It’s a unique situation for us and I think we are only now appreciating what other Premier League clubs in our position have gone through in the last five years.

“We’ve spoken to a lot of potential managers. Some didn’t want to leave the clubs they were at this late stage in the season, while others didn’t want to put their reputation on the line by joining a club at the wrong end of the table.

“In the end, we felt the best decision was to keep things in-house and change as little as we can until taking stock in the summer.”

Word to the soccer wise: Never overreact to the US’s January camp roster

klinsmann

When it comes to assessing and dissecting the U.S. national team’s January camp rosters, here is this most important thing to remember: You really should conquer any urge to overreact.

Generally speaking, what happens in the January camp has only marginal bearing on what happens through the rest of the year, also known as the time “things get real,” or something like that.

January camp has always been about experimentation and exploration, so getting too upset about things happening on the StubHub Center training fields and at those two winter friendlies is just wasted energy. Remember how much breath we all wasted last year in deliberation of the three-man back line? Well, that thing was like the latest failed app out of Silicon Valley; it lasted 45 minutes and was never seen again.

So this is where it’s better to give Jurgen Klinsmann a pass on any mixed messages, spin and instances of wandering philosophy that have marked his time in charge. Yes, anyone could find a few things not to like about the January camp roster, but it was ever thus.

SEE MORE: January roster presents sharp contrast between old and young.

Would it be better to see a few more guys in the mid-career range (thinking mostly about Dax McCarty, Matt Hedges, Andrew Ferrell and Robbie Rogers here) invited into camp? Probably. After all, if this is a camp of opportunity ahead of World Cup qualifiers, as Klinsmann says, they seem closer to being battle hardened and ready to contribute than others.

Would it be better if Jermaine Jones, now 34 years old and likely to become an increasing drag on the program in various ways, were not any part of it? You could make that case.

Would it perhaps have been better to have two separate groups, one complete under-23 version ahead of the critical, last-hope Rio Olympics qualifier, alongside a more typical January senior team bunch? Perhaps.

But again, these are all meandering and somewhat pointless suggestions. The January camp has always been a bit of an odd duck, a camp whose purpose wanders and shifts with the times. It’s not something most national teams have, so its very structure and purpose is perennially “under construction.”

That’s not a criticism; it’s just a product of shifting priorities, shifting coaching staffs and shifting player pools. Remember, this is always an MLS-heavy camp, designed in large part for those MLS types. So the winter camp’s targets and intent evolve, based in part on how many national team candidates are in Europe. (Actually, even then it changes based on current dispersion patterns of the Yanks abroad. Players employed in Scandinavian leagues can participate in the camp, while most in England, Germany, Spain or elsewhere cannot, since their clubs remain in mid-season.)

So the camp’s purpose varies. Sometimes it’s a head start on fitness. Sometimes it’s about hard and fast prep for a meaningful World Cup qualifier. Sometimes it’s about examining a bigger crop newbies ahead of a fresh World Cup cycle. Either way, there’s always plenty of trial and error that lead to proportionally predictable results: a good “hit” here or there but a lot of “misses,” players who demonstrate through performance that they are overmatched at international level.

Even the size of the camp varies measurably; last year Klinsmann summoned 28 players, five more than this time around.

“The January camp has always been the camp of opportunities for players that badly, badly want to knock at the door of the senior national team and want to become a player of international status,” Klinsmann said in the federation’s press release. “Here we are giving that opportunity now to kind of already mature players like a Tony Tchani, like Ethan Finlay, or Luis Robles. You want these players really to come in and make a point and take that opportunity to try to come back into that group by the end of March and maybe play World Cup Qualifying.”

There’s a lot to like here as the camp plays out over a month in currently marshy Southern California, culminating in friendlies against Canada and Iceland. The camp starts Jan. 11 and finishes Feb. 5 with the second of two matches at the StubHub Center just outside of Los Angeles.

So, a better and longer look at Darlington Nagbe? Yes, give us a heaping helping of that, pretty please. Same for Jordan Morris. This is the chance for them to more solidly establish themselves as longtime roster staples.

It’s a good chance for Michael Bradley to put his so-so 2015 year behind him and find an early, appropriate pace to ease into a better 2016. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the best from the longtime “brains” of this operation.

San Jose’s Fatai Alashe, Chicago Fire’s Matt Polster, Columbus’ Will Trapp and Tony Tchani all have an opportunity to establish themselves as the program’s No. 6, the heir to Kyle Beckerman’s role. You could perhaps add Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta to that list since he plays as a dual-defensive screener for Oscar Pareja, although he’s listed on the U.S. roster as defender, which is where he played in last year’s Under-20 World Cup.

 

 

Alexis Sanchez ruled out of Arsenal’s FA Cup opener against Sunderland

Photo credit: AFP.
Photo credit: AFP.

Arsene Wenger has ruled Chile forward Alexis Sanchez out of Arsenal’s FA Cup third round clash with Sunderland on Saturday. Sanchez missed the entire Christmas and New Year program after suffering a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s draw at Norwich in November. The 27-year-old was expected to make his comeback for the win over title rivals Manchester City before Christmas but suffered a setback in his recovery.

In his absence, Arsenal have opened up a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League and open the defense of their FA Cup trophy against strugglers Sunderland.

Gunners boss Wenger is not ready to rush Sanchez back into the team with crucial league fixtures to come and a Champions League tie against Sanchez’s former club Barcelona on the horizon.

“The bad news of the week is that Alexis is not quite ready,” Wenger told Arsenal’s website on Thursday.

“It is a precaution because of his hamstring, and it takes a few more days. He’s not bad but he’s not ready.”

Three things Manchester City must do to win the Premier League

mancitytrio

After delivering a psychological blow to Manchester City and moving into 2016 on top of the table, Arsenal are now the bookie’s favourites to win the Premier League this season, a fact that made for some sweaty palms among the traveling fans last week at Vicarage Road. City supporters knew it was a ‘must win game’ for their team to follow Arsenal and Leicester closely, but at the same time, they were unable to overlook Man City’s recent poor away form. Two points from a possible 12 haven’t been good enough for a team that is expected to challenge for the title.

It was not going to be easy against Quique Flores’ side, especially with the prospect of facing in form strike pair Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. But Manchester City proved the critics wrong, their dramatic late comeback win demonstrating the character within the team.

The problem is the English Premier League is very demanding, and character alone cannot win you most games. On that day, Man City lacked the positional discipline, were slow to press and often gave opponents too much space on the ball. But no one would have left Vicarage Road more relieved than Aleksandar Kolarov, whose spectacular headed own goal would not cost City points.

Manchester City have got to be objective. They got away with it that day. On any other day, things could have been very different. There are remains issues for them to sort out before they can be backed for the title. Here are three vital things City need to fix to win the Premier League.

Greater tactical flexibility

Going back to their title-winning seasons in 2011/2012 and 2013/2014, Manchester City principally operated in a 4-4-2 formation, switching to a 4-2-3-1 for games they needed to be more compact in the middle. This season, City have predominantly used the 4-2-3-1. This makes sense because this it allows them to accommodate talisman David Silva and ‘big money’ signings Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. The approach seems to be working against teams that come out and play.

But what it fails to do is break down teams that sit deep from the start. With the likes of Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne, City have enough creativity, but the side lacks the goal-scoring needed to finish off those chances. In the games against West Ham, Stoke and Aston Villa (two losses and a draw), Manchester City’s edge in possession only resulted in one goal. In all of those three games, manager Manuel Pellegrini sent in a striker late in effort to break through.

Why not do that from the start? City have got to be more ambitious. They need to start taking risks by playing two natural strikers up top against teams that require a box overload to break down. This puts them in a better position to score goals and win those games.

City have the resources to play 4-4-2 more often. Fernandino and Yaya Toure are the most athletic central midfield pair in the league. They’re physically strong and can run for 90 minutes. If City decide to provide an alternative to their existing 4-2-3-1 formation, just like Leicester, Watford and West Ham, they can certainly count on the 4-4-2.

SEE MORE: Manchester City should reconsider ditching Pellegrini for Guardiola.

Buy another striker

Man City clearly need another striker. I’m not quite sure why they let Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic go, with Wilfried Bony as the only replacement. Sergio Aguero is a reliable striker but he has been sidelined for seven games already this season. In his absence, Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho have done alright, but the former lacks the pace to threaten teams that defend high up the pitch. The latter is more for the future.

When City won the league in 2011/2012 and 2013/2014 seasons, they had 4 strikers they could count on. In 2011/2012 season, they had Aguero, Dzeko, Balotelli and Tevez. And in 2013/2014 season, Jovetic and Negrado replaced the outgoing Balotelli and Tevez. Currently, City seem to be short of one. Now that the winter transfer window has opened, City need to look at signing another striker.

Address their fullback crisis

Many will point their fingers to central defenders Equalum Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis as the architects for City’s unstable defensive, but Otamendi and Mangala improved over the course of the season, especially in the goalless draw against Leicester.

With Man City, their fullbacks seem to be the greatest liabilities. Kolarov and Bacary Sagna lack pace and energy down the flanks, and their overall contributions haven’t been good enough this season. While it seems unrealistic to sign two fullbacks in the January window, City need to sign at least one.

With Zabeletta due to come back from injury, and Bacary Sagna providing the assist for the winner on Saturday, I think Alexander Kolarov should be the one replaced. City need someone with more vitality on the left flank. They should turn their attentions to PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa, or possibly Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez.

Barcelona’s Luis Suarez faces Copa del Rey ban after confrontation with Espanyol

Photo credit: AFP.
Photo credit: AFP.

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez faces a ban of up to three Copa del Rey matches after being cited in the referee’s report for calling Espanyol players “a waste of space” at the end of a heated Catalan derby.

Barca won the first leg of the Copa de Rey last-16 tie between the sides 4-1 on Wednesday as Espanyol had two players sent off and were lucky to escape further punishment as goalkeeper Pau Lopez’s violent stamp on Lionel Messi went unseen. However, it is Suarez, who was also booked for a clash with Lopez, who is expected to receive a one to three-game Cup ban for sparking a brawl in the tunnel after the game that security personnel had to break up.

“Whilst all the Espanyol players climbed the stairs in the tunnel towards the dressing rooms, he (Suarez) waited for them and confronted them saying on various occasions: “Here I am waiting for you, come here; you are a waste of space,” referee Juan Martinez Munuera wrote in his report.

“That provoked a clash between players from both clubs forcing security personnel present and the managerial staff from both teams to intervene.”

SEE MORE: Luis Enrique hints Barcelona is ready to buy in the January window.

Espanyol’s physical approach had frustrated Barca in an equally fiery clash between the two in La Liga on Saturday which finished 0-0. And Barcelona boss Luis Enrique praised the referee’s more strict approach to Espanyol’s roughhouse tactics in midweek, comparing the visitors’ style to American football.

Suarez’s controversial career has seen him receive four long bans; three for biting opponents and once for allegedly racially abusing French defender Patrice Evra during his time at Liverpool. Yet, the Uruguayan’s behavior since joining Barcelona 18 months ago has been exemplary, and a suspension would be his first since the four-month ban he received for his latest bite on Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup.