The Banega Effect

Ever Banega has arguably been Sevilla’s most impressive player this season following his return from Inter last summer. A player who’s steadily improved since being sent off in his first league game since returning to the club.  The Argentina international played a vital role in Sevilla’s victory over Manchester United in the last round of the competition, he and Steven N’Zonzi dominated Jose Mourinho’s midfield in both legs. It was that very game against Manchester United where he picked up the suspension that ruled him out of the first leg versus Bayern Munich.

I spoke on this weeks podcast about how I thought Banega’s suspension proved a huge loss on Tuesday night. They lacked his creativity and incisiveness. Banega is a versatile midfielder capable of both playing off of the front man and dropping deep to collect the ball from the centre backs.

Sevilla missed his ability to link up play with the front men but moreover, his absence meant players such as Vidal (before the injury) were forced to play without Banega’s pressing and defensive awareness.  Unfortunately we are unlikely to see Sevila in the Champions League next season, which makes me wonder whether any clubs will turn the head of the 29 year old, particularly if he impresses at the world cup.

Words: Alavi_SSN

Twitter: @sofasportspod

A Volatile December for Valencia

The scene was set for Valencia in the first week of December . Lionel Messi had scored his 1st goal in 6 matches as Barcelona were held to an entertaining 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid had missed the chance to cut the gap on Barcelona at the top of La Liga as Athletic Bilbao held the champions to a goalless draw at San Mames. Throw in Atletico Madrid’s comeback win against Real Sociedad on Saturday, all eyes were on Valencia, but as ever in football nothing is guaranteed.

Sunday 3rd December: Getafe 1 Valencia 0

Instead, Markel Bergara fired 10-man Getafe to a shock victory over 2nd placed Valencia to leave Barcelona 5 points clear at the top of the Liga table. Very rarely do these opportunities happen in La Liga which makes Valencia’s 1st  loss in 16 games all the more exasperating.  Even against 10 men they just couldn’t create enough noteworthy chances. Admittedly the shot came off former Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista and sailed over goalkeeper Neto and into the net. The key for me in this game was Valencia missing decisive winger  Guedes and defenders Garay and Murillo through injury and coach Marcelino was serving a touchline ban. Guedes, in particular, is electrifying to watch. Fast and forceful he embodies everything Marcelino is known for as a coach with regards to the youth system, a player capped by Portugal when he was 18 years old is a testament to that conviction

My favourite Valencia player, Parejo criticised the poor playing surface “They took the 3 points but if you want to see great football then you can’t play on a pitch like this,” Parejo told reporters. Undoubtedly, the pitch didn’t look great, but other teams can adjust and dig in when it matters late in the game. We have seen this with Manchester City recently.  Marcelino eschews the slow build-up of other teams in La Liga and in its place is a very classic view of the game:  4-4-2 and counter as quickly as possible catching the opposition when they’re least prepared.  I’ve also heard stories of Marcelino obsessing over the diet of his players and has a reputation of putting a strain on his relationship with his players by being so neurotic. It remains to be seen if his obsessive characteristics can remain a positive influence on the team. If and when it all goes pear-shaped, as ever in Spain he’ll be the first in the firing line.

Saturday 9th December: Valencia 2 Celta Vigo 1

Valencia captain Dani Parejo stepped up to score a late penalty, sealing a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo and moved Marcelino’s men within 2 points of LaLiga leaders Barcelona. The hope remained! Los Che suffered their 1st league loss of the season last week (above), going down 1-0 at Getafe, but they responded with a hard-fought win back on home turf. Simone Zaza was again the man to deliver taking his tally for the season to 10 in the 28th minute when he stole in at the near post to flick Parejo’s corner past a helpless Ruben Blanco. Signs of what was to come next week were still apparent nonetheless when Valencia lost focus and conceded a disjointed equaliser only a minute after the restart. Valencia coach Marcelino, who was back in the dugout following a two-game touchline ban, said: ‘It was a really exciting game. The result is fair because we scored two legal goals but Celta played very well and if they’d drawn we wouldn’t have been able to complain.”

Saturday 16th December: Eibar 2 Valencia 1

The short and unlikely title bid is now all but over. An 8 point gap has developed behind leaders Barcelona with Valencia sitting now in 3rd place following the away defeat at the hands of Eibar. Japanese international Takashi Inui put Eibar ahead in the 49th minute following some calamitous defending by the away side. Again the missing players for Valencia were key, and perhaps a lack of a strong squad is truly why they cannot compete with the big boys. Top scorer Zaza was away through suspension while winger Carlos Soler was injured. Eibar had more than twice as many shots as the visitors did but managed to hit the target only 3 times, and Valencia coach Marcelino felt his side had been hard done by. “The last 2 away games have been tough for us but today I think we played well in the 1st half and didn’t have too many problems in the 2nd half either. What is happening is our opponents have few chances but they are taking them,” he told reporters.

The opponents have indeed taken their chances, albeit few, very well. And with that they’ve taken Valencia’s title hopes.

Alavi

Twitter: @Alavi_SSN

Atleti are back!

Well back with a win at least. Atletico had travelled to Galicia without a win in in almost a month but Kevin Gameiro pounced on a loose ball to put Atletico ahead against the run of play in the first half, and although Celta Vigo had more than their fair share of the ball, the match ended in a 1-0 victory for Atleti.

Gameiro’s first goal of the season came in a second successive start, which is welcome news before Wednesday’s trip to third-tier Elche for a Copa del Rey last-32 first leg. Listeners of our SSN pod would have heard me praise Koke, Niguez and Carrasco regularly as three of La liga’s less known talents. Only Saul Niguez made the trip due to a hamstring and knee injury for Koke and Carraso respectively, so you have to give the Argentinian credit for adjusting his tactics accordingly.

Simeone, now in his sixth full season in charge of Atletico having signed a deal over the summer that commits him to the club until 2020, cut a relieved figure in the post-match press conference- “It is an important win, it was needed. Between the international break, the games against Leganes, Barcelona and Qarabag [in the Champions League], it was a long wait for a win.”

The bigger picture is that the club’s chances of making it to the knockout stages of the Champions League are currently hanging by a thread. Vitolo and Diego Costa arrive in January, which can’t come quick enough for Simeone. In the meantime there have been calls for a youngster Keidi Bare who impressed in preseason to be given his chance. Luciano Vietto is another omission in recent match day squads that have left the Atletico faithful puzzled.

However, Simeone remains unruffled “It would really be worrying if we had stopped being ourselves. The year we won La Liga, we lost in Almeria, who were relegated. I did not get carried away when we won in Bilbao, and I did not get too down when we drew in Baku. We must find some stability. We will find the right path.”

The right path is anything but an embarrassment this Wednesday.

Simon Alavi

@Alavi_SSN

Spain’s Surprise Package

Each season, from the top leagues around Europe there tends to be at least one surprise package. This can be as extreme as Leicester City winning the league or Juventus failing to wrap up another Scudetto before February. So far in La Liga we have Valencia.

Now 2nd in LaLiga following the weekend round of games, Valencia are cruising having netted 17 goals in their last 4 matches. A Real Betis comeback did loom for a period of time before ‘Los Verdiblancos’ succumbed to a 6-3 defeat. They play 4-4-2, tight, compact, extremely quick on the break and aren’t worried about dominating possession.

This summer Valencia found the right manager (Marcelino García Toral) and made the necessary changes higher up in the club (Mateu Alemany, once at Mallorca, is a football man and widely respected).  Every transfer is agreed with Toral, as it should be, but such is football nowadays it no longer goes without saying.

The summer targets of Goncalo Guedes and Andreas Pereira were bought in on loan with Diego Alves, Enzo Pérez and Álvaro Negredo all heading in the opposite direction. Worth keeping your eye on Geoffrey Kondogbia too. Valencia will always be a selling club, a club that once had my 2 favourite players in Europe on their books; Silva and Isco. However, it’s nice to see a different top 2, even if for a fleeting moment.

@Alavi_SSN

 

Just how good is Isco?

“Poor”

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has insisted that Isco is too poor a player to thrive at Real Madrid. I disagree. ‘Many people will say Isco is a typical Arsenal player,’ Balague said on Sky Sports. ‘He is an elegant player who fails to fulfill his potential, doesn’t score or assist enough and doesn’t work hard enough without the ball.” It’s hard to tell whether that is more of a dig at Arsenal or Isco himself. He may not thrive at Madrid due to competition and currently playing for Europe’s top side, nonetheless his ability would improve any Premier League side. “Poor” is not a word you can associate with Isco.

Arsenal or City?

Arsenal have been linked with Real Madrid playmaker Isco for as long as he has struggled to become an indispensable part of Los Blancos squad. Additionally, fresh rumours have surfaced today that the midfielder is excited by the prospect of playing for City manager Pep Guardiola, who assured him that he’ll have every chance to nail down a regular spot at the Etihad.

Profile

The 23-year-old began his career at Valencia, then had a stint at Malaga before moving to Madrid in 2013 for a reported fee of €30m (£23m). Best utilised in an attacking midfield position his job is to deploy his technical ability and influence the game in the final third.

As a wider player, he wouldn’t be your out and out winger, but instead cut inside into his more natural role. Isco has terrific vision and can unlock a defence with a perfect pass. Of course, playing with who I believe to be the best midfielder in the world (Modric) would have undoubtedly helped his development.

Not afraid to shoot form distance, Isco combines this talent with the aptitude of skipping past the opposition smoothly.

At 5 ft 9in, he may not win many aerial duels and offers little defensively. Quite often when the team is faced against an attack, Isco turns invisible and is not able to contribute enough. Let’s just say Jose won’t be calling anytime soon.

Playing time

I had a look at the number of minutes Isco has played in the last 10 Madrid games: 68, 79, 71, 90, 14, 18, 90, 20, 11 and 79.

Perhaps not ideal, but hardly an under-valued player at Madrid. We see similar statistics for a player like Raheem Sterling, a player hardly synonymous with an up-coming summer transfer. The Madrid boss recently commented in a post-match press conference Isco is a great player and he has shown that Madrid is where he belongs. He has shown with his performance that he is a great player.”

Zidane rings the changes regularly and on current form it’s hard to argue with him. Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Modric and Kroos have all been rested when needed. In have come Isco, James Rodriguez, Morata, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez forming a formidable front five. Each of those players would be starters at most other sides, but Isco is head and shoulders above any of them for me. “If I have been unfair to Isco I have been unfair to all who do not play. In the end we are 24 players and everyone can play outside of Real Madrid.”

The future

Out of contract in 2018, Madrid must convince the 24-year-old that he has a future at the Santiago Bernabeu and tempt him into signing a new deal. If they cannot, Europe’s elite clubs will be lining up to offer the Spain star a permanent place in their first XI – because he is simply just too good to be on the bench.

Alavi

sofasportsnews.com

 

The Madrid Derby – Preview

Introduction

It may not be El Classico but it’s my second favourite game in La Liga…the Madrid derby at the Bernabeu this coming Saturday . The two rivals, 10 points apart, meet this weekend in one of Spain’s biggest clashes, but British fans will not be able to watch it live due to the fact that the clash is scheduled for 3.15pm on a Saturday. The FA rules still prohibit any football being shown on television between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on a Saturday.

Midweek

Zidane made 9 changes for their midweek game giving Bale and Ronaldo a much deserved rest ahead of a busy month. Some of the games ahead include Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Leganes almost made Real Madrid pay for the risk before Morata’s 3rd and Real’s 4th early in the second half saw out their 6th win on the trot. The 4-2 victory means Real go 2 points clear of Barca with a game in hand. A player I mentioned on the pod a few weeks ago, and one to watch out for caught the eye once again. Marco Asensio could well start to make a difference in these big games.

Filipe Luis put Atletico Madrid 1-0 up at home to Real Sociedad on Tuesday night. Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa all missed chances to add to that lead in a game they never looked like losing. As always Atletico are proving hard to break down, with 1 goal conceded in the last 6 (all comps). The defensive unit seems like it’s back to its tight best as they prepare for both Real Madrid and champions of England Leicester! Simeone commented “We’ve been playing much better, a much more balanced team, more consistent in our play.”

Injuries

Raphael Varane looks set to miss a number of crucial battles for Real Madrid, with reports on their official website confirming a ‘grade 2’ hamstring injury, with up to four weeks estimated as recovery time. Not only will Varane be missed this Saturday, but also both legs of their Champions League clash with Bundesliga titans Bayern Munich.

Atletico Madrid have confirmed that Kevin Gameiro, Nico Gaitan and Miguel Angel Moya have all sustained injuries at what is set to be a pivotal stage of their season. Atletico haven’t confirmed how long each will be out for, but all 3 are doubts for the weekend. Specifically, striker Gameiro and goalkeeper Moya have both picked up thigh problems, while Gaitan is suffering from arthritis in his toe. All 3 will undergo physiotherapy treatment, and as aforementioned, Atletico are currently unable to put a time frame on their respective recoveries

Prediction
Real Madrid 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Alavi

sofasportsnews.com

The Surprise Package – La Liga

On the pre-season pod, when discussing La Liga, I tipped our listeners to put some money on Sevilla et each way for the title. In betting terms, you’re putting half your money on them finishing 1st and half on them finishing 2nd. Currently, they’re sitting at joint second with Barcelona, and whilst you wouldn’t bet your mortgage on them finishing above the 2 best team in Europe, they’re certainly this season’s surprise title contenders. Following 3 successive Europa League trophies, why has it gone so well at and are now aiming to be crowned league champions for the first time since 1945/46?

The Commitment

They have bolstered their midfield with the signing of Walter Montoya from Rosario Central.The 23-year-old has signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with the club, who are eager to overhaul Real Madrid’s four-point lead in the Spanish top flight while also competing in the Champions League. Steven N’Zonzi has also signed a new contract that will keep him at Sevilla until the summer of 2020

The Coach

Sampaoli recently stated: “To say that we are going to fight for La Liga is not a dream, it’s a reality.” Confidence in the Sevilla camp has been soaring since the team’s 2-1 home triumph over Madrid earlier this month — a result that brought an end to their opponents’ Spanish record 40-game unbeaten run in all competitions. Sampaoli was already a respected coach in South America before he replaced Unai Emery at the helm of Sevilla last summer. He led Chile’s national team into the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup, where they only exited after losing on penalties to hosts Brazil. However, one year later Sampaoli steered Chile past his native Argentina in the final of the Copa America.

The Calibre

Stevan Jovetic is on loan from Inter Milan until the end of the season- and what a temporary addition that might turn out to be. The former Manchester City striker, who hasn’t played since November, has already bagged a couple against Real Madrid. He will be right at home with Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan because Samir Nasri, Franco Vazquez and Steven N’Zonzi. Players whose careers looked all but over at the highest level.

They’ve also got their keeper Sergio Rico to thank, with more saves to his name than any of his rival stoppers. It’s also key to note that the team from Andalusia have also been reprimanded by referees more than the other three clubs.

Last, but certainly not least, top scorer and summer signing Wissam Ben Yedder not least for the hat-trick against David Moyes’ former club Real Sociedad earlier this month

Concerns

My main worry is experience. The old cliché about having that know-how to deal with the pressure at the top. At the weekend just gone, Sevilla never fully recovered from the shock of losing their captain just two minutes into their clash with mid-table Espanyol, eventually slumping to defeat. I just hope for the sake of some competition in La-liga, that defeat will be nothing more than a minor blip, in what has been a fantastic first half of the season for Sevilla.

Up next is Villareal in 6th place.

Comon Sevilla!

Alavi

sofasportsnews.com


 

El Classico – The world’s best clash this weekend!

El Classico Preview…

Form

Barcelona go into this weekends Classico in less than ideal form.  Two draws in their last two games and unpersuasive performances to say the least. This means they have only won twice in five matches. Conversely,  Real Madrid have won their last five matches, and have won nine out of their last ten. Since Andres Iniesta hobbled off against Valencia in late October, Barcelona have only won three of their seven games played.

While Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored a combined 21 La Liga goals already this term, the special affinity we’ve witnessed between these players in the past hasn’t been quite as prominent. Suarez, in particular, has looked a little off in the last few games. However, this is still Barcelona, and this is the Camp Nou in El Classico. Interestingly, Barcelona need to avoid defeat to avoid a very big dent in their title hopes. It’s rare for Barcelona to have that to content with in December, though I can’t seem curbing their attacking tendencies.

Madrid can build a nine-point buffer with a win on Saturday. Even without Bale and Kroos, Zidane’s side will expect to take something form the game. Los Blancos have showcased an unshakeable authority; they’ve lost just one league game since the Frenchman took over, accumulating 86 of a possible 99 points. And while Barcelona have Messi, Madrid have Ronaldo. After a hat-trick against Atletico, he netted twice against Sporting Gijon on Saturday. The Portuguese loves silencing the Camp Nou.

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History

The history of this fixture is filled with great matches and stunning goals. Real Madrid have the advantage with five wins in ten games. Focusing just on the league, though, paints a different picture because Barcelona have three wins in the last five games.  Messi and Ronaldo have twenty-one and sixteen goals respectively in this fixture which puts them first and third on the all-time list. Goals are common when these two meet due to both teams playing attacking styles of football, and this game shouldn’t be any different (although I’m going for a low scoring draw !).

Memories of Bale leaving Marc Bartra for dead and scoring the winning goal in the 2014 Copa Del Rey final are still fresh in the minds of both sets of fans. Of course, the anticipation ahead of the Classico typically centres around the attacking players on show, but so often it’s the footholds achieved in this area of the pitch that have swung the game. Casemiro’s dogged performance in the 2-1 in at the Camp Nou in April, when he disrupted Barca’s passing patterns, was a fine example.

Tactics

Real Madrid have been playing possession based football whilst getting the results under Zinedine Zidane’s management. They usually play in a fluid formation with it being 4-3-3 when they attack, and 4-4-2 when they defend.

Gareth Bale is usually the player who pulls back into the four in midfield when defending due to his ability to track back which he learned when he used to play as a left-back. Lucas Vázquez is likely to start due to his willingness to track back.  It will be interesting to see whether Casemiro starts because he was effective at cutting up Barca’s attacks when they played each other earlier this year or whether Zidane will trust Isco and Mateo

The 4-3-3 system used by Barcelona means Modric and Kovačić. will be tasked with containing their compatriot Rakitic and Iniesta in what should be a tremendous midfield tussle. Both are adept on the ball and have a defensive edge to their game. While they are both playmakers for Madrid, there’ll be an extra onus on their work off the ball on Saturday, especially with Iniesta returning. If the Los Blancos pair can hamper him on his comeback from injury and track the incisive vertical surges of Rakitic,

In years gone by, the Barcelona midfield was the hub of the team, where games would be won and lost, Under Pep Guardiola, the most successful coach in the club’s modern history and a primary disciple of Johan Cruyff, the man behind their definitive style, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were more central to play.

Traditionally the Catalans dominate the ball, while Madrid are usually quite happy to relinquish possession for periods before striking their opponents on the counter. However, in the Luis Enrique era possession hasn’t been a priority and Barcelona have actually struggled to keep hold of the ball. Against Man City, Sevilla and Real Sociedad they have seen their opponents have spent more time trying to recover the ball than passing it about

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Injuries

Some great news going in to the match is that Andrés Iniesta is back. Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba picked up knocks against Real Sociedad, so there is doubts over whether they can play. However, the importance of the match may give them the extra motivation to recover in time, and they are both back in training. Aside from that, there is no other issues with the first team players who are likely to start.

Real Madrid have a few injuries of their own to contend with. Gareth Bale is out for the match which will be a major blow for them. He has been one of their best players this season due to the goals and creativity he provides. They are also missing Toni Kroos, and Danilo is doubtful to play, but Dani Carvajal was likely to start over him anyway. Los Blancos also have a few players who have just returned from injury such as Pepe and Casemiro. Summary below: 

  • Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta is likely makes his comeback from injury.
  • Jordi Alba will be hoping to overcome from knee and ankle concerns to start at left-back.
  • Real Madrid will be without Gareth Bale, who picked up a long-term ankle injury last week. Lucas Vazquez is likely to take his place in the front three.
  • Toni Kroos remains out, meaning Luca Modric will continue in a deeper midfield role.
  • Casemiro could also feature on Saturday. Having recently returned from injury, the Brazilian midfielder started against Leonesa on Wednesday.
  • Raphael Varane will be hoping to get the nod ahead of Pepe at centre-back

SSN geek fact: If Barcelona score in the game then they match the record for most amount of El Classico matches consecutively scored in, which is currently at twenty-two games.

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SSN Classico Predictions:

Harry: 2-2

Alavi: 1-1

De Luca 1-2

Alfredo Di Stefano Pichichi Awards – La Liga

Monday night saw the Alfredo Di Stefano Pichichi awards in Madrid this is an award night for the success of the players from La Liga.

The Worlds biggest players attended Mondays show-piece in the Spanish capital Cristiano Ronaldo,Lionel Messi,Gareth Bale and Antoine Griezmann.

Best Player was the first award of the night it was given to the Portugese superstar Ronaldo who had yet another record breaking season winning the Champions League and Euro 2016.

Luis Suarez picked up the top scorer best attacker after another sensational at Barcelona scoring forty goals five ahead of Ronaldo .

Jan Oblak won the best Goalkeeper award the Atletico Madrid keeper really is amongst the top stoppers in world football after some eye catching performances.

Manager of the year went to fiery Argentine Diego Simeone after leading Atletico to third in the league and the Champions League final.

Ronaldo’s best player awards means Real Madrid are still the most successful club in the awards as a Los Blancos star has walked away with a trophy thirteen times since the awards began .

By Josh Bunting

Valencia vs Atletico Madrid Preview

On our Podcast I mentioned that this game coming up in la liga intrigues me- Valencia will look to extend their two game winning streak against undefeated Atletico Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 2.

Last weekend

Valencia have pulled 2 victories out the bag, recently beating newly-promoted side Leganes at the Estadio Municipal de Butarque last Sunday to put Los Che has now climbed to the 15th spot of the current league table. Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid kept their loss free recording by beating Deportivo La Coruna, 1-0, at the Vicente Calderón Stadium. Griezmann is in form to say the least, spearheading Atletico to 3rd place behind the big two. Early days yet, as they sit a single point behind Barça and only two points adrift of current league leaders Real Madrid. However, the hosts’ victory was overshadowed by an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered by midfielder Augusto Fernandez before half-time that will keep him out for much of the remainder of the season. Jose Maria Gimenez also had to be replaced in the first half with a groin injury.

Midweek injuries for Atletico

Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin sprained ligaments in his left ankle while helping his team to Wednesday evening’s 1-0 Champions League win at home to Bayern Munich. Additional tests will be performed in the next day or so to determine the extent of the injury

Prediction and Predicted Line-up

2-1 win for Atletico

Valencia starting lineup (4-2-3-1 formation): Alves; Montoya, Santos, Mangala, Gaya; Perez, Suarez; Cancelo, Parejo, Nani; Rodrigo

Atletico Madrid starting lineup (4-4-2 formation): Oblak; Juanfran, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Gaitan, Fernandez, Koke, Carrasco; Correa, Griezmann

Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona – Preview

Bilbao are scheduled to host back-to-back La Liga champions FC Barcelona at the San Mamés Stadium this coming weekend

Athletic Club failed to continue the momentum from last season with a loss to Sporting, meanwhile Barcelona continued their winning ways by beating newly-promoted side Real Betis, 6-2, at the Nou Camp last Saturday.  Luis Suárez netted a hat trick after Arda Turan opened the scoring.

Neymar and his Barcelona compatriot were expected to return to Spain immediately following the Olympics victory for Brazil, although only the latter will play this weekend after it has emerged Luis Enrique has permitted Neymar to stay in Brazil a while longer.

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Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has been given a double injury boost ahead of the weekend trip to Athletic Bilbao, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Javier Mascherano returning to training on Wednesday (24 August). However, Andres Iniesta and Jeremy Mathieu remained side-lined while Rafinha Alcantara also missed the workout due to a cold.

Barca are in the market for another forward to provide cover for Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Alcacer, is a player I rate highly, and at 22, still has plenty of potential. The youngster scored 15 goals and provided eight assists last season despite Los Che struggling for much of the campaign. My only reservation is that I wouldn’t want to see a player like Alcacer sit on the bench, when he would walk into the starting line-up of all but about 5 teams across Europe .

On the other hand, Bilbao manager Valverde still have Ager Aketxe until early December. It should be noted that earlier in the summer, Athletic Bilbao have announced defender Aymeric Laporte has extended his contract with the club through to the summer of 2020.The 22-year-old Frenchman had been strongly linked with Manchester City during the summer but a statement from Athletic on Monday evening said Laporte had committed his future to the Primera Division club for the next four years.

I’ll be watching the game, which is live on Sky sports on Sunday evening-

Prediction- 3-1 Barcelona.

Alavi

Sofa Sports News

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Player Profiles: Alvaro Morata

Real Madrid unveil summer signing Alvaro Morata.

I’ll be the first to admit I expected more from Spain in this European tournament. Arguably the most talented squad, failed to perform when it mattered, although credit has to be given to the Italians in that final 16 game. One stand-out player for Spain was Alvaro Morata. The striker boasted 3 goals in 4 games and a 64% on target shot percentage On 21 June 2016, Real Madrid smartly exercised their buy-back clause to bring back Morata from Juventus for €30 million.

Morata’s footballing journey started on the other side of Madrid with Athletico back in 2005, he spent two years there before moving to Getafe’s youth system. He spent a year there before moving to Real Madrid where he finished his footballing education with the C team where he won two youth cups and scored 34 goals, earning him a promotion to the B team in July 2010. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was quick to notice his potential, inviting him n a pre-season tour of America in his first month.

In his first year with the Castilla, Real Madrid’s reserve side, Morata hit 15 goals in 28 matches as well as emerging onto the fringes of the senior squad, making a handful of substitute appearances under Mourinho. Despite his numerous cameos, Morata was ignored by Mourinho when filling the void left behind by Gonzalo Higuain’s injury in January 2011.Morata’s goals were vital to Spain’s triumph in the under-21 European Championship, the second trophy he has won during his time with Spain’s youth system after he won the under-19 European Championship back in 2011, where he also finished with the Golden Boot. More recently, Morata impressed in his 2 seaons at Juventus. In late May of this year he came off the bench to score the winning goal in the 110th minute of extra time to win the Coppa Italia 1–0 against A.C. Milan

Morata stands at 6ft 2 inches tall and offers an impressive presence in the air, winning most of his aerial duels and also being a deadly target for crosses.He doesn’t stay true to the old-fashioned cumbersome centre-forward that usually correlates with tall players either, possessing excellent mobility and fine movement when leading the line, dragging defenders around to create space for other players to run into, a trait that fits perfectly into the ultra-fluid Spanish system. Such a style has seen him draw comparisons with Fernando Morientes.Mostly comfortable in drifting out to the left-hand side of the attack, Morata can use gifted technical skill to glide last defenders to create chances for others, or even to get shots away with his lethal finishing. He has shown his ability to clinically dispatch chances from crosses or even after creating them himself with direct runs into the box with the ball.

With his gifted control and technical skill however, Morata needs to work on bringing others into play as sometimes he struggles to link with other attacking players. Some may level the accusation that Morata is sometimes too selfish in the final third, preferring to go for goal himself when a pass is the better option, though that will be ironed out as he matures and further progresses with more first-team football. For me, he was sometimes guilty of this during Euro 2016.Morata is also known for his high work-rate which you’d probably expect from a Spanish player, hailing from a country ingrained in the art of intense pressing. Constantly hassling and harrying defenders off the ball, he is a huge asset to a team that likes to defend from the front.

I hope this tournament wasn’t a flash in the pan for Morata, and I for one, certainly looking forward to watching him in La Liga this season. No longer just a “potential”, it’s time for the Madrid born man to step up.

Alavi

Sofa Sports News

ALAVI’S La Liga Team of the Year 2015/16

As the final day of the La liga Season approaches and the big two go head to head- Here is Alavi’s best 11 of the 2015/16 season

Jan Oblak- Athelico Madrid

Mario Gaspar- Villareal, Godin- Athletico Madrid, Pique- Barcelona,  Marcelo- Real Madrid
Bruno- Villareal
Koke- Athletico Madrid, Greizman- Athletico Madrid

Messi- Barcelona

Ronaldo- Real Madrid & Suarez- Barcelona

‘Squeaky Barca Time’… Alavi talks La Liga

A few weeks ago I sent my fellow SSN host the following message

“Shame the el classico won’t mean much in terms of the title race, it’s already over”………….I was wrong.

To be fair, I was in good company. Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair. If this is Ronaldo having a bad season, then he has set some serious standards. And what about Athletico? A team I have always maintained should not even be in contention for the league but for their manager Simeone. As discussed on the pod, he’s the type of manager you are willing to go that extra mile for, and buy in to his way of playing. Goals from Koke, Fernando Torres and Angel Correa guided the second-placed Rojiblancos to a third straight league victory that kept the pressure on Luis Enrique’s pacesetters, who lost 2-1 to Valencia. For me, they also have the most underrated player in the league- Koke. The Spanish international has provided four assists and scored two goals in his last five appearances

Barcelona’s stuttering title bid suffered another setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atlético Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granada. Shell-shocked Barça have 76 points along with Atlético, who knocked the holders out of the Champions League in midweek, and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.An own goal by Barça midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Camp Nou and Santi Mina added a second just before half-time to stun the Barça supporters. Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser

It feels unfair to single out individuals but the reason that Neymar stands out is because, for the first few months of the season, he was probably the best player in Europe. Throughout the Autumn and particularly while Messi was out injured, the Brazilian was unstoppable .In number form, Neymar scored 18 goals in the September, October and November, while February, March and April have seen him net just six times

Fatigue has certainly had a negative effect on Barcelona’s superstar front three. Luis Suarez has started 30 La Liga games and not missed a minute. He’s started nine Champions League games and not missed a minute. When you’re talking about a team that has hammered sides this season it makes no sense, but that’s on Luis Enrique, the point that concerns the player is that it’s simply not possible to keep playing at an elite level when you are so far off peak condition.Suarez and Neymar both appear among the top 15 of outfield players in La Liga for minutes played, while Messi would almost certainly be above both had he not spent eight weeks out with a knee injury. Every team can use the “tired” excuse, but this one is exacerbated by a lack of squad depth. Yes, Barca….a lack of squad depth. When Messi was out with his injury in the Autumn, the next in line were Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez. The pair played 16 games between them in La Liga and Europe but mustered just three goals – all of them Munir’s. Most players aren’t going to be able to step up to the standard of the front 3, though the replacements this season have been particularly poor.

Barca went in for Denis Suarez (remember the name), who is impressing at Villarreal but had a €3million buyback clause in his contract for the summer. Despite their best efforts, however, Barca couldn’t convince Villarreal to part with the youngster and although he will almost certainly sign this summer, his arrival could have added impetus to the side in January. What about other squad players? Turan and Vidal? Turan’s ability playing in Barca’s midfield three has been exposed in recent matches and Aleix Vidal is now third-choice right-back.
For the record, I still think Barca will win the league based on their run-in. But, as always in football, it is no foregone conclusion.

Arsenal’s European woe’s continue…Harry compares Arsenal to the ‘benchmark’ that is Barcelona.

Sloppy error’s mean that Arsenal are crashing out of the Champions league and once again the second leg is yet to be played. My beloved Arsenal have had some really difficult draws in the last 16 over the past 6 seasons but its not just down to bad luck. Failure to win our group has put us in a position to draw the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Milan (before their demise). Perhaps the most disappointing one of them all was the defeat to Monaco – a side we really should have beat over 2 legs. Once again a disappointing result at the Emirates has left us with too much to do on our travels.

This time around the defeat at home was a harder one to swallow. For the most part of the game we were able to contain the deadly trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar until we (yep, you’ve guessed it) pushed the self destruct button – that’s what is so frustrating.

Being at the Emirates last night and having spoken to many different fans it’s seems this was the failure the ‘Wenger Out’ mob were looking for to cause another uproar.  I still don’t entirely agree with them but I can understand some of their arguments and I guess as paying fans everyone has the right to voice their opinions.

I don’t necessarily think we lost due to employing the wrong tactics.  I actually thought Monsiuer Wenger set us up right and the first 70 minutes of the game supports my view.

Where did it all go wrong?

My conclusion on this one is simple really, you can sit and watch the game over and over again and try to find a thousand reasons as to why we lost but in all honesty you would be wasting your time. The fact is they have a whole team of world class players whereas we have three or four at best.

Comparing Arsenal & Barcelona – As Club’s and Tactically

FC Barcelona – ‘Mes Que Un Club’ (More than a club)…Never has a slogan been so true, they’re not just a football team who have overspent their way to success after years of mediocrity like a Man City or Chelsea. The Catalan club have a philosophy, one that is followed right throughout the club. There is no doubt in my mind the fact that they play the most attractive football in the world is a much bigger attraction for the top players than the salaries they can pay. FCB is a brand and one that doesn’t look like fading away any time soon.

Arsenal – A club of tradition and one of the UK’s largest and successful clubs, since Arsene Wenger took the reigns back in 1996 he has instilled a philosophy and a brand of football that the club are globally recognized for. The move to the Emirates stadium limited the Gunners resources for a number of season’s but the fact they managed to stay in the champions league places through this transition has put them in the strong financial position. Despite all of the off the field positives there has simply not been enough success on the pitch where it matters.

Many would argue that Arsene Wenger’s team are the best passing side in the Premier League but does that mean we are as good as the mighty Barcelona in possession?

Two teams with similar idea’s of how the game should be played but in reality we play in two totally different competitions (The EPL and La Liga). In order to succeed in the EPL you require a higher level of physicality than in La Liga and the game is played at a totally different pace. I’m not saying one is harder than the other and I won’t disrespect any other league, what I will say is there are clearly differences in the attributes Arsenal and Barcelona require to flourish in their respective league’s.

Barcelona must be doing something right, they continue to dominate both domestically and in Europe and overcome talented sides from all over the continent with relative ease. Since 2005-06 they have won the UEFA Champions League 4 times and are probably the favorite’s to lift the trophy for the 5th time in just over a decade. Therefore proving that technical football, played in the right way conquers all. This is the benchmark, to play the game in the ‘Barcelona’ way and be successful is what I call perfection.

At the Emirates on Tuesday night Luis Enrique’s side faced a stubborn Arsenal for the most part of the game. A narrow, compact and well organised Arsenal were able to keep them out but eventually on 71 minutes the resistance broke and the rest is history.

One of the key reason’s Barcelona are such a formidable force is that they are able to completely control the pace of the game, whether home or away they dictate the play. There were some short periods in the game where we had them on the back foot and were able to create the odd chance but whenever there was a sign of the game becoming ‘fast and furious’ they would win possession, slow the game back down and string together 20-25 short passes. The perfect way to kill your opponents momentum.

A criticism I often throw at Arsenal is that when teams come and ‘park the bus’ at The Emirates Stadium we struggle to open them up.  This was evident in the recent draws versus Southampton and Hull.

Barcelona don’t seem to have that problem and here’s why…

• Width – when struggling to open up a compact team I believe you need to try and stretch them as much as possible.  Pull defenders out of position and widen the gaps between the individual defenders therefore creating openings for midfield runners to expose the space.  Barcelona are extremely effective in this.  For example when their GK is taking a goal kick the two full backs pull out to the touch lines and so do the wingers (Messi & Neymar) I’m talking chalk on their boots!!! The starting positions of Neymar and Messi are so wide that they either a) pull the full backs out with them creating gaps between FB’s and CB’s or b) in the case the FB stays tucked in they recieve the ball in space and have plenty of time on the ball. We all know how dangerous that can be.  With both playing on the ‘wrong’ side if you like, them starting so wide allows them to move into space on their stronger feet.

• Pass completion/ball retention – They simply do not lose the ball, their ability to hold possession gives them rest bite when on the odd occasion their opponent is giving them the run around.  Barcelona had a huge 66% of the possession on Tuesday! I thought we kept the ball well!  The truth is Arsenal don’t anymore and it’s proving to be a problem, more so when you face the likes of them.  I mentioned in my blog a few weeks back that I don’t feel we keep the ball well enough without Santi Cazorla in that midfield and I’m only being proved right.  Aaron Ramsey was much more disciplined yesterday and for that I give him credit, he also worked his socks off! Problem is he gives the ball away far too much and maybe at times tries to play that killer pass too early.  On the rare occasions we won possession last night we had to keep it for periods and make it count.

• Dictating the tempo of the game – Arsenal at times on Tuesday tried to up the tempo and really get at Barcelona, unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it for any period of time. At times, when Barcelona wanted to they were slowing the game down so much they were almost walking in possession.  They have that ability to switch it up at any time with such ease.  Once they have ‘passed you to sleep’ they wait for that lapse of concentration, the slightest gap and they’re in!

Finally, back to my original point… They just have a different calibre of player and the likes of Messi only need a chance whereas the Oxlade-Chamberlains, Theo Walcotts and Olivier Giroud’s of this world need far too many opportunities to score a goal.  It’s not just at the top end of the pitch though, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at the back fit into that bracket of technically gifted footballers whilst managing to not make the costly errors Per Mertesacker has been making of late in the vital games.  Different class. That’s why they’re winners and those are some of the things we could implement and learn from, I mean we’ve lost to them enough times by now!

Harry

UTA