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Lichaj starting to emerge at Villa


Five thoughts coming off the weekend action:

1. Eric Lichaj continues to impress. One U.S. defender whose star is on the rise is Illinois native Eric Lichaj, who's made substantial progress in his career the last few months. In October, he earned his first international cap; in November, he made his Premier League debut for Aston Villa. The 22-year-old fullback can now add his first Premier League start to that list.

Because of an injury to Luke Young, Lichaj started for Villa on Saturday in a must-win match against WBA -- under new manager Gerard Houllier, the Villans had won only two of 12 league games. Lichaj's debut was promising. He showed good skill and composure on the ball and he was clearly not overwhelmed by the occasion in Villa's 2-1 victory.

With veteran national team starter Steve Cherundolo aging (he's now 31) and no clear-cut replacement in sight, Lichaj has an opportunity to establish himself as a regular in the U.S. squad. He certainly has the potential to do so. A few years ago, a U.S. youth team national player told me that coming up through the ranks, Lichaj was by far the most talented player he'd faced -- and this was among a pool of players that included Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu.

2. What ails Carlos Tevez? After reports circulated late Saturday night that Manchester City captain Carlos Tevez had handed in a transfer request (citing homesickness), City swiftly responded by rejecting it. That led Tevez to further emphasize his desire to leave and cite his relationship with City executives as "beyond repair." That last statement, oddly, appears directed at Garry Cook and Brian Marwood; after all, it's no secret that Tevez doesn't see eye to eye with City manager Roberto Mancini (despite his denials). In addition to feeling disrespected by Mancini's constant substitutions, Tevez dislikes what he perceives as the coach's negative tactical mindset.

On the other hand, Tevez does genuinely miss his family back in Argentina and has long expressed a desire to return to the club of his heart, Boca Juniors. A contract renegotiating ploy by his agent can also be ruled out -- City's previous offers to make Tevez the highest-paid player in the Premiership have already been rejected. Instead, the growing suspicion is that Tevez is simply a political pawn in a personal dispute between his adviser Kira Joorabchian and Cook. However, with several years remaining on his contract, City won't let Tevez go cheaply, if at all.

Given his weekly wages and the prospective transfer fee (probably around $47 million), there's no chance cash-strapped Boca could afford him. That leaves Tevez with limited potential destinations or options -- one being Real Madrid, the other being to effectively go on "strike" in an attempt to force a January move.

3. Juggling Liverpool with the Boston Red Sox. Back when New England Sports Ventures purchased Liverpool, the fear from Red Sox fans was that cash flow from the baseball team would be used to help prop up the financially ailing soccer franchise. Those fears have since been allayed by the Red Sox's recent acquisitions of All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, who was obtained in a trade with San Diego, and Carl Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal. Now it's the soccer club's fans who are wondering why the owners are throwing around the money for their baseball franchise and not addressing Liverpool's need for new players.

It's time for some clarification on the matter. Unlike tycoon owners of the Roman Abramovich or Sheik Mansour ilk, NESV isn't drawing cash from its own pocket to fund its various franchises. Instead, NESV follows a business plan whereby each of its franchises subsists on its own revenues, with most of the profits reinvested into the franchise itself. In the case of the Red Sox -- one of the wealthiest teams in baseball -- adding Crawford and Gonzalez is well within the team's budget and means.

For Liverpool, while it'll never be able to spend at the level of Manchester City, Chelsea or Real Madrid, it will have a far healthier cash flow compared to recent seasons for which it can use to procure new players. By removing the club's debt burden, the £30 million ($45 million) per year that was formerly earmarked for interest payments is more or less freed up for transfers. With the new sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered kicking in (a four-year, $125 million contract), Liverpool is probably looking at an annual transfer kitty of £30 million to £40 million ($45 million-$60 million) in the summer, before even taking into account any revenue recouped from player sales and without the benefit of the even bigger boost it would receive should it regain Champions League status anytime soon.

4. January transfer window. The conventional wisdom is that the January transfer window is a poor value market and considered a bad time to buy. While it's true that, in certain instances, you might have to pay a higher premium for a player than would otherwise be the case, a quick review of the last three January windows would dismiss the notion that you can't obtain quality players, even at bargain prices in some cases.

For example, Chelsea obtained Nicolas Anelka in January 2008 for $23 million, Arsenal bought Andrei Arshavin in January 2009 for $25 million, not to mention Fulham's theft of Brede Hangeland in January 2008 for a fee in the $5 million range. Indeed, the argument could be made that in January, a team might be able to obtain players who might not be on the market come the summer, or might be considerably harder to obtain because of increased competition from other suitors or increased value due to stronger second-half season performances.

5. Stuart Holden back with a bang. U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden returned from injury to help steer Bolton past Blackburn with a superb chest-and-volleyed goal straight from the kickoff right after Blackburn had scored a late equalizer. Holden has grown in stature this season as a box-to-box central midfielder who can dictate play. Though he's been used in the past for the U.S. national team as a right-sided midfielder, his ongoing improvement presents U.S. coach Bob Bradley with an interesting quandary. Does Bradley stick to the U.S. team's customary 4-4-2 and his preference for Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as his two central midfielders, or does he shift to a lone striker and five-man midfield to accommodate Holden in his favored position? Should Bob Bradley choose to stay with the 4-4-2, Holden's form raises the question of whether the U.S. would be best served starting Holden as one of the central midfielders with the other spot a choice between Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones as the sole defensive holding option instead.