Manchester United and Thiago Alcantara – a good match?

Reports in Spain are linking new Manchester United manager David Moyes to Barcelona midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas as he looks to add some craft and creativity to his midfield. We all know what Fabregas can do, but how about his younger team mate? Could he be a cut-price, high-quality answer to a question that even Sir Alex Ferguson could never wholly answer?

One of the reasons that 22-year-old Thiago is being linked so heavily to Manchester United this summer is that a release clause in his contract has been activated. This is by virtue of him not playing at least 30 minutes in 60 per cent of Barcelona’s games this season. All player contracts in Spain have a release clause, a result of a previous agreement between the union and the clubs. However, most of these are designed to make the player unattainable. For example, Lionel Messi’s is £205 million and Cristiano Ronaldo’s over £500 million.

Before this season, Thiago’s release clause was €90million, about £80m. Obviously no one would have paid that. Now, it is just €18million, about £14m. £14m is exactly the type of price range that clubs such as Manchester United can easily afford. It is, for example, less than they paid for Anderson.

Thiago Alcantara

For Barcelona to have allowed this to happen is pretty incredible, verging on negligent. Considering that they had the league comfortably won by March, had an easy group in the Champions League and on top of that, plenty of Copa Del Rey matches in which to field him, it is ridiculous that they couldn’t find him 30 minutes in 60 per cent of games. The amount of games that they were three or four nil up by half time, surely he could have come on? But, he is now near enough unprotected.

The question Manchester United fans could ask at this juncture is ‘if he can’t even get that amount of playing time, why would he be a good signing for us? For the answer, it is best to defer to no less a judge than his Barcelona team mate Xavi, who describes Thiago as ‘the future of Barcelona’. Xavi knows first hand about being the Emperor in waiting as he spent the early years of his career, even in to his early 20’s, as Thiago is, waiting to succeed Pep Guardiola. Xavi is now 33 and there is some feeling that if he wins another World Cup next season he might call it a career; surely Thiago can wait another year? Well, maybe not.

Thiago has the talent to start for any club in Europe; it is literally only the presence of Xavi keeping him out of the starting eleven at Barcelona. He has a wider range of passing than any Manchester United player, he is an excellent runner from deep, he is fleet footed and he covers the ground easily. He is an athlete who also boasts the technical skill you would expect of a Barcelona youth graduate.

Manchester United don’t have anything like him. He’s more dynamic and multidimensional than Michael Carrick and would make for an ideal partner for him. He has the action-packed, athletic game of a young Paul Scholes, complimented by the field awareness and deep-lying vision of an older version of Scholes.

If Manchester United are to have any chance of overhauling the big Spanish and German clubs they need someone who can grab hold of a game by the scruff of the neck and dominate possession. Thiago Alcantara is at a stage of his career where he is ready to be given the keys, and signing him at such an affordable price would immediately give United what they need to take the next step in Europe.

Liverpool v Arsenal: Reds must win or kiss Champions League goodbye

Liverpool fans are on a high after winning the Carling Cup last weekend, with Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard heralding the triumph as the start of a new era of success for the club. Whether this season is a success or not may well depend on the outcome of this Saturday’s fixture against Arsenal however. With the Reds currently in seventh place, seven points behind the Gunners in fourth, anything other than an Anfield victory will leave the Merseysiders too far behind the other challengers to qualify for the Champions League.

Although success in cup competitions is a step in the right direction for Liverpool, whether it is the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, the ability to finish in the top four will be the real litmus test to whether the club are back amongst the country’s elite once more. Winning cup games is one thing; showing the consistency over 38 games to be adjudged as one of the top teams in England takes more doing.

So far this campaign Liverpool have blown hot and cold, with good performances and wins being counter-balanced by dropping points against the so-called lesser teams. This irregularity has blighted the team and frustrated the fans; it is the reason that a team that can beat anyone on their day is not currently in the top four Premier League teams. That said, the Reds have been relatively good against the bigger teams this season, and on the back of their cup success will look to shorten the gap on the top four with a win over Arsenal this weekend.

The Gunners were staring into the abyss this time last week, with FA Cup elimination and Champions League embarrassment threatening to spoil their season. However, Arsene Wenger’s men showed that they are not willing to go quietly into oblivion by outplaying, out-battling and thoroughly beating Spurs 5-2 in the north London derby. The Emirates Stadium outfit will have their tails up after the victory, especially given the fact that they fought back from two goals down, and the away fans will hope that the resolve and determination shown last weekend will be re-enacted this time out.

Arsene Wenger’s backing of under-fire players has been a trait during his 15-year tenure at the club, and the French coach sternly believes in the ability of the players that he has nurtured from a young age. The current case in question is Theo Walcott, who’s potential has not been replicated into performances this term and the winger is at risk of missing out on Euro 2012 after playing at a sub-standard level for the majority of the campaign. Wenger left in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench against Spurs; it will be interesting what role the latest Southampton youth protégé plays on Saturday.

There are a number of key battles that will decide the game. Daniel Agger broke a rib in the win over Cardiff, and will be replaced by dependable but ageing Jamie Carragher. The veteran’s centre defence partnership with Martin Skrtel at the back will be key, especially given the fact that Arsenal scored five in their last outing. Robin van Persie should play despite suffering a slight injury whilst on international duty, and is currently at the pinnacle of his abilities.

In midfield it is time for Steven Gerrard to get back to his best, but Alex Song will be keen to shackle the Anfield talisman come Saturday. Mikel Arteta is no Cesc Fabregas, but he is starting to make his mark on the north London club; the Spaniard will be motivated to win against Liverpool given his time at their rivals Everton.

Arsenal’s defence wasn’t especially tested against Tottenham, but it is likely to be pushed harder at Anfield.  Thomas Vermaelen looked shaky in the loss of two early goals to Harry Redknapp’s men, and the Belgium international and Laurent Koscielny must be better to foil Luis Suarez and the Liverpool attack.

Expect a close game; both sides need the points and are on a high after good results last weekend, but there isn’t room for both of these giants in next year’s Champions League.

Published – Soccerlens

The draw of home: Why Chelsea could face losing Oriol Romeu

With Spanish football on an all-time high, there is no wonder that Premier League clubs are eager to bring players from La Liga to England.

With Pepe Reina’s current and Xabi Alonso’s past importance to Liverpool, Juan Mata’s immediate impact at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas’ legendary status in North London and David Silva leading Manchester City’s title charge, the English top flight has been blessed with incredible talent from Spain in recent times.

However, seemingly more than any other nation, Spanish players yearn for home and have left English teams at the peak of their individual abilities.

An emerging talent at Stamford Bridge is quickly proving his worth and may well one day be added to the impressive list of world-beating Spanish players that have graced British shores.

Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona last summer, and despite only making one solitary substitute appearance for the Catalan giants before departing, he has become a crucial member of Andre Villas Boas’ squad almost instantly. Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and even Frank Lampard have seen their time on the pitch impacted this season by the Portuguese coach’s use of the youngster, and Romeu is already one of a host of players that Andre Villas Boas is building a new-look Chelsea team around.

Romeu has a great blend of the traditional Spanish qualities, and a battling nature that has suited the pace and aggression of the Premier League. Technically gifted with the ball at his feet, Romeu has an eye for a pass and calmness when in possession that is uniquely distilled through the ranks at La Masia. Add to this his ability to read the game, a keenness to put in a tackle and excellent positional play and Romeu is already at 20 years old an accomplished defensive midfielder.

However, just like in the case of Fabregas and Alonso, the draw of his homeland may hamper Chelsea’s long-term ambitions and plans for the Ulldecona-born man. Reports have emerged that Barcelona have a buy-back option integrated in Romeu’s contract, which can be implemented at the Camp Nou outfit’s request in the summer of 2012 or 2013.

With the abundance of midfield talent currently at Pep Guardiola’s disposal it is unlikely that the European champions will opt to bring Romeu ‘home’ this summer, but given another season of Premier League and European football and it may well be deemed that the starlet could be an asset in the Catalan senior squad.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta currently at the peak of their powers, Sergio Busquets filling the defensive midfield slot, Fabregas being deployed as a second striker and Thiago Alcantara an impressive back-up, Guardiola’s options in the centre of the park are simply salivating.

However, given another 18 months, the two current dominant playmakers in Catalunya may well be starting to feel their age, and with Busquets gradually making the transition to central defence, Romeu could be summoned.

This would be a big blow for a team like Chelsea, who are not accustomed to losing key players; anyone who leaves Stamford Bridge is generally surplus to requirements. With Roman Abramovich’s billions, an ambitious young coach in place and an exciting team being built around the Spaniard, surely Romeu would be tempted to knock back Barcelona’s potential advances?

Not very likely. The draw of La Liga’s top sides is huge, not least to those who have witnessed their allure up close. The fact Romeu is a Barca youth product means he has been instilled with the mindset that playing for the Blaugrana is the Holy Grail since the age of 13, and Chelsea now have a problem.

One only has to look at the demise of Liverpool since the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid to see the potential effect of losing a Spanish midfield general. Cesc Fabregas openly admitted to ‘feeling English’ during his time in North London and frequently spouted his love for the Emirates outfit.

He was part of a team unbeaten for an entire season in England, played in a Champions League final and had the adoration of one of the most respected coaches in world football, his fellow players and fans. Nevertheless, he could not resist the appeal of home.

An equally concerning thought that Chelsea will need to keep in mind revolves around Juan Mata, and like his countrymen, whether or not he would be able to resist either Barcelona or Real Madrid’s charms in a year or two’s time.

Mata is a Madrid youth player who again did not make the first team, and was later farmed out to Valencia. One feels there may be unfinished business at the Santiago Bernabeu for the attacker. Finally, even Sheik Mansour’s unlimited financial resources would probably not stop David Silva doing all in his power to forge a move away from Manchester City if one of Spain’s big two came knocking.

Spain’s World Cup-winning golden generation is currently the best crop of players in the game, with the country’s top two domestic teams the biggest clubs on the planet. For an English side to snag a leading Spanish player must be seen as a massive coup, however it should be advised that over-reliance on this superstar may end in tears; only time will tell in the case of Romeu.

PublishedFourFourTwo

Write off Barcelona at your peril: The European champions show their worth at the Santiago Bernabeu

Saturday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid lived up to all expectations; there was passion, spell-bounding skill and goals – the only thing missing was the heavily anticipated Madrid victory. Pep Guardiola’s European champions are not ready to hand over the Primera Division crown to their bitter rivals just yet, as an Alexis Sanchez strike, a Marcelo own goal and a Cesc Fabregas header gave the Catalans a deserved 3-1 victory.

With Jose Mourinho’s men top of the Spanish top flight by three points having played a game less and winning their last 15 fixtures in all competitions in menacing fashion, the stage was set for a change in power in the country and the continent. When Victor Valdes inexplicably gave possession away within the first minute and Karim Benzema converted from close range to give Los Blancos a 1-0 lead after 22 seconds, Madrid were ready to overtake their age-old rivals. However, this Barcelona team, as so many times in the last three years, collected themselves and showed world football just why they are the best club team on the planet.

After a mesmerising run and through-ball by Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez displayed a clinical finish under pressure to level things up. Madrid were rocked and needed half time. The second half saw the Blaugrana emerge from the tunnel as the team we have all come to love, applaud and fear, and complete dominance in the second half resulted in a comfortable victory.

Barca’s second goal did have a touch of fortune as Xavi’s shot deflected off Marcelo and the post to give the visitors the lead. Despite this, Barcelona were simply too good for their star-studded opponents in the second period, and their familiar brand of possession football had the Madristas chasing the ball like a bunch of schoolboys. The killer blow came as a sweeping counter attack resulted in Dani Alves delivering an inch-perfect cross for Fabregas to head home, and condemn the home team to defeat.

Messi was mercurial and at the heart of everything in the Camp Nou side’s attack, linking up with his midfield confidants Xavi and Andres Iniesta to blistering effect, and looking almost unstoppable every time he received the ball to feet. Pep Guardiola made a brave decision to select Sanchez for his first Clasico ahead of established European champion David Villa, but his decision proved to be a masterclass, as the Chile international forward hounded and plagued the home defence throughout. At the back Carles Puyol displayed as good a defensive performance as has been seen in recent times, as he, at times single-handedly, snuffed out everything Madrid had to throw at Barca.

With Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up for this year’s Ballon d’Or, the 90 minutes in the Spanish capital should put any doubters over who the winner should be to bed. The Portuguese attacker missed two glaring opportunities and proved largely ineffectual throughout, whilst the Argentine gave a masterclass in a highly-pressurised environment to once more prove his mantle as the best footballer on this planet.

With Iniesta and Messi still attacking in the dying moments of the clash, Madrid were lucky to escape with only a two-goal deficit, as Barca could and probably should have scored more than their three goals. The teams were worlds apart in the second half; and despite all the hype surrounding the likes of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo, the trio were completely and utterly toothless. Barca’s almost telepathic understanding between their midfield players, ability to completely dominate possession and pass their opponents to submission shows that the European champions should not be questioned; they are still at their unrelenting best.

If Madrid win their game in hand they will still lead La Liga by three points, but Mourinho and his men will be demoralised by the nature of their thorough defeat. Madrid can still win the Spanish top flight this season, but one thing has been proven in their defeat on Saturday; Barcelona are still Europe’s top team and will take some beating this term.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/write-off-barcelona-at-your-peril-the-european-champions-show-their-worth-at-the-santiago-bernabeu/86379/

Barcelona to add Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to their ranks – but where will they play?

Barcelona have been Europe’s best side for a number of seasons and showcased total football in winning their third consecutive La Liga title and the Champions League crown in 2010-11. With the transfer window well and truly open, the Catalan side have signed Alexis Sanchez from Udinese for €37.5 million and are in negotiations with Arsenal over the return of Cesc Fabregas to Catalunya. The new faces are of top quality, no doubt, but with the dream team already at Pep Guardiola’s beaconing, will the new men get into the team?

Sanchez is fresh from a Copa America campaign with Chile, and the 22-year-old suitably impressed once-more, showing trickery, speed and great ball control to standout as one of the brightest lights in the tournament. Internationally, he Tocopilla born man is used as a second striker alongside Humberto Suazo; he tends to drop deep to pick up the ball, and also offers a ball over the top with his speed. For Udinese, Sanchez found himself in more of a right winger role, with licence to support main striker Antonio Di Natale, but starting from wide.

The European champions play a 4-3-3 formation, with Lionel Messi supported by David Villa and Pedro last season. It looks evident that the new South American signing will be in direct competition with La Masia graduate Pedro for a starting berth, but this is by no means a given. The 24-year-old Spanish international has made a real impact since entering the first team fray in 2008, and scored valuable goals last season, including in the Champions League semi-finals and final. He has recently just signed a new contract at the club with a €150 million buyout, giving you an idea of his worth to Pep Guardiola.

Fabregas has not yet signed for the Blaugrana, but a deal looks set to be completed, as the player wants to leave and Barca are closing in on the Emirates’ club’s asking price. The 24-year-old had a dip in form last term, and if he does return to the side he started his career with, he will have to be at his best to commandeer a place in the side.

In the 4-3-3 system, one holding player (Sergio Busquets) plays in front of the defence, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta playing ahead of him and orchestrating the game. This Spanish international trio have their play down to a fine art, and are the reason that the Catalans boss almost every match they play; they are the fulcrum of the team.

As good as the Arsenal man is, he, nor anyone in world football, is going to take Xavi or Iniesta’s place in the Barcelona starting line-up. When they are fit and available they are automatic selections, and are as important to the Barca team as Lionel Messi. Busquets has more of a battling quality than his two more creative team-mates and the potential new arrival, and protects the Barcelona centre-halves with the utmost diligence.

If Fabregas is to get a start for Barcelona, one would think it would be in place of Busquets, and in a more deep lying role than he is accustomed to at Arsenal. It would also mean that he would be responsible for the winning of the ball and anchoring of the midfield, something he has not been accustomed to doing in England. Does the new man really want to be the one to try to shackle Cristiano Ronaldo? And is he the man to do it?

Such is life; if you want to join the best team in the world, even for almost €40 million, you are not guaranteed a place in the team, as the players who are already in the position you want to play in are worth that and more.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/fans/barcelona-look-to-add-alexis-sanchez-and-cesc-fabregas-to-their-ranks-but-where-will-they-play/

Does the senior player exodus at Arsenal make them a selling club?

The Cesc Fabregas transfer saga has rolled on throughout this transfer window, and must be an unwelcome distraction to Arsene Wenger in his preparations for the 2011-12 season. As negotiations between Arsenal and Barcelona continue, it looks like the Spaniard will return to his homeland. With Samir Nasri’s future unclear, and Gael Clichy opting to swap the Emirates for Eastlands, are Arsenal becoming a selling club?

Much has been made of the way Wenger has ran the club since the Frenchman took over from Bruce Rioch in 1996, with his thrifty approach to the transfer market and commitment to nurturing young talent delighting and frustrating Gunners fans in equal measure. The London outfit have a competitive, but regimented wage structure that is not as lucrative for the players as that of their major English or European rivals, whilst the discovery of prospects and sensible approach to recruitment is preferred to excessive splurging.

Wenger runs Arsenal as a business, and it should be applauded as the Gunners are financially stable and live within their means. Nonetheless, in the current era of fantasy football where sides such as Manchester City, amongst others, are willing to use wealthy owners to buy their way to success, Arsenal are in risk of being left behind.

Despite being there or thereabouts, Arsenal have not won a trophy since their FA Cup victory in 2005. Fans are getting annoyed with their lack of success, whilst players watch on as their equivalents at other teams get paid more and are more successful. But does this pragmatic approach adopted by Wenger make Arsenal a selling club?

The loss of Gael Clichy will be a bitter pill for the Emirates faithful to swallow, as their long serving left-back left the club to get paid more in Manchester. Fact. Nasri has rejected a new £80,000 per week contract because he is frustrated at the lack of competition success – and the Manchester clubs, who are both eager to sign him, will potentially double that wage. In the last year of his contract, Arsenal are under threat of losing the ex-Marseille midfielder for nothing this time next year.

This is not an all of a sudden occurrence. Mathieu Flamini left the Gunners to get paid more at AC Milan, as did Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to move to Manchester City. Although these players’ temperaments and attitudes may be questioned, it is no doubt that the financial limitations in place at the club are the reasons why these established internationals, and some of the current crop, have looked to leave the Emirates.

The North London club are not in the wrong here, it is the money men who are destroying the integrity and even playing field of the game. Hopefully Fifa’s new financial fair play ruling will go some way to reinstating football related reasons as the primary motive for transfers, but in the meantime Arsene Wenger must accept that his club face losing their best players to other clubs who are willing to break the bank for their signature.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/fans/does-the-senior-player-exodus-at-arsenal-make-them-a-selling-club/

The £30 million transfer shortlist

With the end of the season upon us, the transfer window re-opens in June and the biggest clubs in European football will look to strengthen their playing squads for the forthcoming campaign. The continued investment in the world game has resulted in transfer fees rising, and there are a number of players that this summer could conceivably cost £30 million and up.

1) Javier Pastore
The Palermo playmaker has had another sparkling season and has led the Sicilan side to the Coppa Italia final; ‘El Flaco’ or ‘the skinny one’ is one of world football’s hottest properties. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Roma are all ready to part with £30 million to secure the services of the 21 year old, however this may not be enough as controversial Palermo president Maurizio Zamperini has been quoted as saying he feels the player is worth €100 million.

2) Kaka
With Real Madrid in the hunt for Pastore and already signed creative midfielder Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund, first team opportunities for Kaka may be limited. Since his world record £56 million move from Milan to Los Blancos in 2009 the Brazilian has failed to make the required impact, and is currently playing second fiddle to Bernabeu main-man Cristiano Ronaldo. I Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a return to the San Siro, so England looks the most likely destination, with long term admirers Manchester City and Chelsea battling it out for his signature.

3) Alexis Sanchez
The Chilean left sided midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Udinese’s charge towards Champions League football, with pundits raving over the 22 year old’s performances. Both Milan and Inter are believed to want the ex-River Plate attacker, but Manchester City again seem to be the frontrunners, with a £30 million summer transfer touted in the Italian press.

4) Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal’s captain has been linked with a move back to Barcelona for a number of seasons, and the move may happen this summer as The Gunners may look to cash in on the 24 year old whilst he is out of form. With Jack Wilshere emerging this season to potentially take Fabregas’ place as Arsenal’s go to midfield man, a move back to the Nou Camp for £30 million or more could be on the cards.

5) Gareth Bale
The PFA Player of the Year has had a strong season domestically and in Europe, and shot to worldwide acclaim with a hat-trick against Inter at the San Siro in the Champions League Group Stages. Due to Tottenham missing out on the competition for next season, Bale may be tempted by the bright lights of Italy or Spain, with Inter and Barcelona linked with the player. United and City are also thought to want the Welshman to come to Manchester, and given his performances the fee would exceed £30 million.

6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Tevez
Big spending City may find a change of personnel in attack, with any big name departures or arrivals costing more than £30 million. The club have been linked with an audacious move for Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst club captain Carlos Tevez’s future at Eastlands is under scrutiny, with Inter the reported chosen destination for the Argentine forward.

Published – http://forum.footballidentity.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=1852916

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