Arsenal miss out on Higuain – Liverpool’s Suarez a gamble

A few weeks ago Gonzalo Higauin’s move from Real Madrid to Arsenal seemed to be set in stone, a case of mere formalities. But yesterday he completed a move to join Rafa Benitez at Napoli. Perhaps over a disagreement on how much Higuain was worth, communications between Arsenal and Real slowed and the Gunners turned their targets to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. Where Higuain seemed to fit Arsenal character wise, Suarez seems the opposite. Not only is he an on and off field risk, but the chances of them actually signing him are much lower than they had of getting Higuain. But Arsenal’s ponderousness in the market this summer has seen all of the top available strikers already seal moves and it leaves them with near enough just Luis Suarez left to pursue. They’ve resisted the much easier to sign Higuain to go after the more expensive and more risky Suarez and even if they do get him, the gamble doesn’t end there.

Gonzalo Higuain is a world class striker. He has scored 107 goals in 187 games for Real Madrid. He’s proven himself over a much longer period in an elite league and the Champions League than the likes of Falcao, Cavani, Lewandowski and even Suarez and it was a surprise that he was initially only catching Arsenal’s eye. The price of £22m that was originally mooted was always going to be too low and it was suitably rejected by Real Madrid. It seems that when Madrid raised their price, and not just as was reported, because of the Cavani deal, Arsenal backed away. The recipients of £55m from PSG, Napoli then had the kind of money available to go out and sign Higuain themselves. After interest from Juventus had quietened down, suddenly only Napoli were competing for Higuain with Arsenal.

Gonzalo Higuaín

Whether or not Arsenal’s bid for Suarez was initially to try and ruffle Real Madrid’s feathers or not, they have ended up possibly competing against Real for the Uruguayan. Maybe that first bid was to hurry Real in to accepting their offer for Higuain, or maybe it was just an opening salvo in what has become a long drawn out chase. But either way, they’ve gotten themselves distracted with going for Suarez and the reason could be that he is encouraging it. When the offer first came in it was met with befuddlement. Suarez had said he wanted to leave Liverpool to get out of England, but when no serious interest from overseas showed itself, the offer from Arsenal suddenly appealed to him. Perhaps at this stage, what had started as a speculative approach suddenly became very serious for Arsenal. They must have persuaded themselves that they could get him for £40m on the understanding of a release clause and that he was willing to come to the club.

Once they’d come to this conclusion, and decided that they could justify paying the £40,000,001 they thought would get him, they’d laid down arms in the pursuit of Higuain. In the mean time, Higuain, perhaps alienated by Arsenal’s stance, had agreed a move to Napoli who were willing to pay Real Madrid the £32m they asked for. So now, with Higuain in Naples, and Liverpool saying they want £55m because the £40m clause didn’t mean they had to sell, Arsenal are in no man’s land.

Luis Suarez

Higuain is a predator of a striker, a natural and easy finisher who has thrived on the Real Madrid supply line over many years. He is a wonderful professional and team mate who doesn’t get involved in controversy, he just keeps his head down and scores goals. That is exactly what Arsenal needed coming in to this summer and why his possible signing was causing so much excitement. They’d have the man to put in the chances created by Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. They’d have gotten that for £32m if they’d just given Real Madrid the money before Napoli sold Cavani.

Instead, they are now looking to pay £40m+ to even get a chance to negotiate with Suarez. Suarez, who is banned until October in the Premier League, is anything but a saint either on or off the pitch. He plays on the edge, and although this creates moments of unstoppable skill, pace and goals, it also means he is on the verge of self destruction at all times. I don’t need to list his various travails in England, but with a 10 match ban on his slate, he is one big explosion away from an even longer one.

Suarez is a more dynamic player than Higuain but that dynamism is going to cost a lot more to buy and comes with a huge amount of risk. Arsenal have gotten themselves in a tangle in the pursuit of Suarez, one that might not even end in success if Liverpool stand firm or Real Madrid match any offers, and they might end up buying themselves a beautiful nightmare.

Manchester United and Chelsea should be in for Gonzalo Higuain

If you were to list the best ten strikers in the world off the top of your head, where would Gonzalo Higuain come? Probably nowhere. And yet, he has been the starting striker for Real Madrid for seven years, in which time he has managed to score 107 goals in 187 games, which makes him the club’s 11th highest scorer of all time. He has scored 20 goals in 32 games for Argentina and was their first choice at the last World Cup, arguably only losing his status as that to accommodate Lionel Messi more centrally and because he is not as glamorous as Sergio Aguero or Carlos Tevez. He’s done all of this already, and is only 25 years old. Whether it is because he doesn’t seek fame off the pitch or because he is just quietly efficient on it, he doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as the other top strikers. Even rotated around this season he’d have been the joint seventh top scorer in the Premier League with his 15 goals coming in just 27 games. Chelsea have his ex-manager who made him captain joining them, and they badly need a striker. Manchester United are in the process of selling Wayne Rooney, and need a striker. They should be swarming all over him. We are talking about a genuinely world class forward, and he is available this summer.

On Sunday he told reporters that ‘I feel that my time here is over, I want a change…I want to go to another club, new challenges’. Higuain has never been popular in Madrid, and he wants to ‘go where they tell me they love me’. Nowhere quite does player adoration like Old Trafford but after having watched Fernando Torres for nearly three years, Chelsea fans will love him if he keeps scoring at his career rate. Real Madrid are intent on signing Luis Suarez and have not moved to say Higuain cannot leave. He could be available for as little as £20m, which is absolute theft.

Gonzalo Higuain

For Chelsea, the fit with Higuain is obvious. If Jose Mourinho isn’t ready to commit to Romelu Lukaku as his starter, then who better to fill the gap upfront than Higuain. With the chances created by Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, he could comfortably get 25 goals in the league. He is ready to go, ready to score goals right now. Even if they only had it in mind for him to be the starter for two or three years he would still be the perfect option. He and Edinson Cavani are basically the same standard but with a possible £30m price difference. If Chelsea sign Higuain, who is also a perfect tactical fit, able to hold the ball up nicely and quick enough to cause defenders problems, they could spend their budget on upgrading the central defence, which is a relative chasm compared to the rest of the team.

For Manchester United the fit is a little less obvious as it doesn’t fit an immediate need but he would still be an excellent signing. David Moyes usually played a 4-4-2 type system at Everton but with Wayne Rooney leaving and doubts over the quality of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, Higuain could be a perfect foil to Robin van Persie. They would both be as comfortable dropping deep as hanging around the box which would give United extra attacking fluency, and most importantly, goals. Van Persie delivered spectacularly in the league last year but they were reliant on lots of players scoring, rather than players scoring lots. This hindered them in Europe. If Moyes does sell Rooney, then a ready-made, world-class replacement such as Higuain would be ideal.

Higuain has previously spoken of his comfort with playing in England and has the body type and game to adapt easily to the Premier League. He doesn’t look like a player who will take time to acclimatise, and can be bought, put in the team and left to score goals. He wants to be loved and both crowds are known for adoring their heroes no matter what. Chelsea and Manchester United should definitely move in on the cheapest world-class striker on the market.

Real Madrid vs Manchester United: The game where anything can happen

According to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, this is ‘the match the world is waiting for’.  When you consider the talent on display, the numerous subplots and their history, it is hard to disagree. In short, when Manchester United face Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Just look at the sides’ eight previous meetings in Europe’s premier competition; 31 goals have been scored between them, 11 of which came in the epic quarter-final of 2003. Many are predicting a similar total this time round, but the tie could just as easily be a tense affair where goals are at a premium.

Much depends on how United cope with their former player Cristiano Ronaldo.  If they manage to shackle him, they will nullify Madrid’s most potent threat. But if they don’t, they may be torn apart by the Spanish side’s incisive counter-attack. Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his instructions are carried out to perfection, whilst being blessed with a little luck on the side.

Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho

Phil Jones has found fitness and form at precisely the right time and he, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, will bring the regimented energy the Red Devils need to keep the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo at bay.

In defence, Rafael will hope his man-of-the-match performance against Everton can be replicated in a competition where his rashness has proved most costly. While the rarely-spotted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have to be at their very best.

At the other end, the likely attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will have chances they must take. It is games like this that Kagawa was bought for, and that van Persie has the ability to win with one movement.

Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid’s strike-force is out of form of late, but both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema possess such natural ability that they can punish the smallest misjudgement. Meanwhile, even Kaka was hailed by Spanish newspaper Marca as being back to his best after a rare start in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sevilla.

First legs of knockout competitions are too-often cagey affairs.  And don’t bet against the pressure on Madrid to perform – from a home crowd desperate for success in a season that is fast becoming a write-off – to have a bearing on the game. Already 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and with a fight to stay in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League may be Mourinho’s only chance of a trophy this season; a trophy that would go down in history as the fabled Décima – their tenth European title.

Too often, pre-game hype is unjustified; but not this time. It may be the second leg that ultimately proves to be the one the world is waiting for, because it is then that a winner will be decided.  But this week’s match will be both clubs’ biggest challenge so far this season – for United to raise their game in a year when they have hardly needed to, and for Madrid to prevent theirs from ending three months too soon.

Bayern’s attack proved its worth in the first leg; their defence is key in the return against Real Madrid

Bayern Munich are 90 minutes away from a home Champions League final, with a massive Bavarian fanbase praying that this year will end an eleven-year wait to be crowned European champions once more. Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu is as daunting a fixture as any in world football, and the German visitors will be up against it from the first whistle. The side’s attack has given them and advantage; it is now down to the at-times criticised backline to secure progression.

Jupp Heynckes’ men showed their worth in the first leg of the crunch tie, with a no-fear and attacking outlook resulting in a slight but deserved victory. Goals from Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, who secured victory in the dying moments, mean that the Bundesliga giants take the smallest of advantages to the Spanish capital.

Die Roten’s ability on the offence has never been in doubt; with the likes of Gomez, Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller at their disposal, Bayern’s prowess on the front foot is rightly respected by all in the game in Europe. However, despite the team’s defensive efforts improving from last term, there are still question marks over the back four and the organisation of the Bavarian rearguard.

Traditionally Bayern’s approach was based around a solid backline, with the Allianz Arena outfit recording countless 1-0 victories on the back of a hard-fought early goal and a dogged defensive effort. However, the class of 2012 do not give the club’s followers the same confidence as teams of the past. Jerome Boateng has been brought in to solidify the centre of the German defence and although the side has leaked less goals than previous campaigns, the reformed full back and Holger Badstuber have come in for criticism, specifically aimed at their concentration and positioning. They will be severely tested on Wednesday, but given an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong on the biggest stage.

In Cristiano Ronaldo the hosts have arguably the form player in world football, and with the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria in support, Los Blancos have set records and all but won the Primera Division title back this term. A 2-1 win at Camp Nou on Saturday, no mean feat, will mean that the Santiago Bernabeu crowd will be baying for German blood in midweek.

To successfully negotiate this tricky task, Heynckes must get his tactics right and the starting XI must show discipline and play to their strengths. As the game progresses, if Bayern can stave off Madrid’s attacks, the crowd could get edgy and the home players slightly desperate. The likelihood is that the Bundesliga outfit may well need an away goal (or two) to get through, and to achieve this the likes of Ribery and Robben must take advantage of the positional mediocrity of Madrid full backs Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo or Alvaro Arbeloa.

Finally, rumours that Robben and Ribery had a falling out and came to blows at half time of the first leg must be firmly banished; a monumental team effort is needed for the German club’s dream of participating in a Champions League final at the Allianz Arena to come to fruition.

Champions League semi-final second legs: Chelsea and Bayern with work to do to oust Barcelona and Real Madrid

This season’s Champions League hangs in the balance, as perennial challengers and favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid trail after their semi-final first leg ties. Chelsea’s stubbornness at Stamford Bridge and a last-gasp Bayern Munich winner at the Allianz Arena, means that the Spanish giants have work to do if they are to meet each other on Europe’s biggest stage.

Barcelona vs Chelsea 

European champions Barcelona have had the worst week in their recent history over the last seven days, with a frustrating 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in England followed in quick succession by a league title-surrendering 2-1 loss at home to Real Madrid on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s men have been the team to beat at home and on the continent for recent seasons, but their reign of dominance is currently being threatened.

The Camp Nou side will be confident of getting back into this tie however, as a poor track record in England over the last ten years continued last week. The Blaugrana will know that Chelsea rode their luck slightly in the first leg, but will hope that home advantage will inspire an attacking performance and victory.

Chelsea’s rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo continued in the win over the Spaniards, and although the Blues sacrificed the bulk of possession and an attacking outlook to seal their victory, will be pleased to take an advantage to Catalunya. The fact that the English side prevented the free-scoring champions from hitting the back of the net in the first match-up will provide as a motivation, and give Di Matteo’s men belief that Barcelona are not unstoppable.

Despite going into the game expecting to have to soak up a lot of pressure and territory, Chelsea must look to get at least one away goal if they are to stand a chance of progression. Not many teams prevent Barcelona from scoring over 90 minutes, never mind 180, and the Blues will look to the likes of Didier Drogba to get an invaluable goal at the home of the European champions.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich

Real Madrid will be on a high after their exploits at Camp Nou at the weekend, and will be confident of overturning a 2-1 defeat against Bayern Munich from the first leg in Germany. Jose Mourinho will be upset at the nature of conceding in the last minute in the first exchange, but a Mesut Ozil away goal will mean Los Blancos go into the game as overwhelming favourites.

The Santiago Bernabeu have all but wrapped up the Primera Division title, and will look to complete their overhaul in superiority over their Clasico rivals by making the final of the Champions League also. With Cristiano Ronaldo in record-setting form and supported by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Kaka, the Spaniards have the ability to get the goals needed to secure progression.

Bayern are looking to salvage their season after missing out on the Bundesliga title for the second campaign in a row, and have all their hopes of success firmly rested on this season’s Champions League. A 2-1 win in the first leg showed that the Bavarians have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s best, and with the final of the competition at the Allianz Arena this year, the club is dreaming of glory.

Whether or not Jupp Heynckes’ men make the final of the tournament will depend on the ability to stave off a lethal Spanish attack. Bayern’s defence has come in for criticism over the last couple of seasons, and the likes of Jerome Boateng, Phillipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer will need to prove their worth. Similarly, one would think that Mario Gomez or one of his attacking colleagues will need to get at least one away goal for the Germans to overcome the Spanish giants.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich: Six tactical factors that could decide the Champions League tie

Perennial European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been coupled together in the semifinals of the Champions League, in what should be a captivating and close tie.

The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on 17 April, with the deciding fixture in Spain a week later on 25 April. With world-class players on both sides, here are six tactical situations that could well decide which team progresses to the final.

Can Real Madrid Be exposed in wide areas?

One of the areas that Bayern will look to get joy from, especially in the first leg at home, will be out wide. In former Santiago Bernabeu wideman Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes’ side have two of the most potent wingers in the game, who play a major part in orchestrating the Bavarian outfit’s attack.

With attacking-minded full-backs such as Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao in Los Blancos’ side, and Philipp Lahm looking to get forward for the German team, Bayern may well find joy down the flanks. Although Madrid will most likely play two holding central midfielders in front of their defence in the away leg, out wide the likes of Angel Di Maria will be reluctant to track back—Bayern can use this to their advantage.

The predatory instinct of Mario Gomez

In Mario Gomez, Bayern have one of Europe’s form strikers, whose predatory instinct, finishing and movement off the ball is pivotal for club and country. The Bundesliga’s current top scorer showed his calibre in front of goal in the last round, hitting the back of the net four times against a hapless Basel side in the quarterfinals.

Jose Mourinho’s team selection at centre half will be interesting given that Gomez will need to be paid close attention. With Sergio Ramos currently on the sidelines through injury, the Portuguese trainer will pray that the Spain international returns in time to go head-to-head with Bayern’s main forward. If not, the less-assured Raul Albiol, hotheaded Pepe and ageing Ricardo Carvalho may well have their hands full.

Sami Khedira vs Thomas Muller

Real Madrid have recently looked to the Bundesliga for new signings, with Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, Hamit Altintop and Sami Khedira all moving from Germany to the Spanish capital. Khedira may well have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Bayern playmaker, and international colleague, Thomas Muller.

At times petulant and inconsistent, Muller has the ability to be anonymous or a match-winner; at his best the attacking midfielder’s supply to hitman Gomez is a key feature of Die Roten’s play going forward. Muller will look to play in the hole between Madrid’s defence and midfield, and as such Khedira looks like the most likely option to shackle the talented playmaker.

The goalscoring threat of Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite it being widely acknowledged that Lionel Messi is the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo has inspired Madrid to the top of La Liga and is having a record-breaking season. The Portugal international has matured from a tricky winger at Manchester United to a powerful and at times almost unplayable attacker in his time in Spain.

Ronaldo’s threat is two-fold. Given a free reign to wreak havoc by the Spanish giants, CR7’s mobility, constant movement and lethal eye for goal make him a devastating attacker, and a major goal threat.

To be shackled or even partially stopped, Bayern will have to instruct the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo to be very disciplined in their positioning, and combative in their tackling. However, over-exerting resources to stop the world’s second-best player may well leave room for the likes of Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to dominate possession.

The creativity of Mesut Ozil

An unsung hero in a star-studded Madrid attack, Mesut Ozil will be an all-too-familiar face for the German side. Where the likes of Ronaldo pose a direct threat through pace and power, Ozil’s main strength is passing and precision.

The playmaker is the fulcrum of Madrid’s possession play, and arguably has the most ability to supply the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, and create goalscoring opportunities.

With the Germany international’s guile, ability to slip a marker and superb eye for a pass, Bayern’s aforementioned defensive midfielders will need to get through a lot of work if the Allianz Arena outfit are to stand a chance.

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs Xabi Alonso

Two of the most accomplished midfielders in the European game, the battle between Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be key in the outcome of the two-legged tie. Although not always in direct competition due to Alonso’s deep-lying position, the pair are the heartbeat of their respective midfields and teams.

Alonso has the passing ability and regimented positional sense to allow those more gifted teammates in attack to prosper, whilst Schweinsteiger’s energy and influence on Bayern’s other players makes him a vastly important man for the Germans. With the pair potentially locking heads for their countries at Euro 2012 in June, these influential midfielders will be key men in deciding this tie over 180 minutes.

Published – Bleacher Report

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