Modric to Real Madrid: The Luka-Xabi Alonso conundrum

2 Comments

Let’s start with a conclusion: Luka Modric is a better soccer player than Xabi Alonso.

This needs to be said because many would claim otherwise. So be it. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but when we’re talking about Real Madrid’s purchase of the former Tottenham centerpiece, it’s very important to establish what the Spanish champions are getting. Have they acquired an upgrade to Xabi Alonso, a stalwart at the base of midfield since being bought from Liverpool three years ago? Or, have the Spanish champions bought a mere insurance policy? Because at $52.2 million, Modric would be an absurd Plan B.

Discerning who’s better: Alonso, or Modric

Imagine we had a list of possible attributes for a soccer player, picked out all the good ones, and asked where Alonso had advantages over Modric, and vice versa. The goal is to break the question down into enough parts that we can make a series of small, objective, non-controversial decisions. Once we have enough decisions, we’ll be able to piece them together to answer the bigger question.

In attack, there is one attribute where Alonso has Modric trumped: The ability to play a beautiful long ball. This skill alone, envied by anybody who’s ever kicked a ball, makes Alonso a world class player in many minds, and for Real Madrid, it’s a perfect fit. The potential to quickly transcend midfield and find Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria wide allows Real to play to José Mourinho’s conservative defensive preferences while still being one of the most potent attacks in the world.

But that’s the only attacking area where Alonso has an advantage over Modric. Modric is faster, can play more positions (and at different levels). He doesn’t have Alonso’s range of passing, but he has a wider variety. He’s a better and quicker decision maker on the ball and has better goal-scoring instincts.

All of that sounds like a real hatchet job on Alonso, but he’s being compared to one of the best players in the world. Take the unavailable Barcelona players out of the picture, and how many central midfielders have better attacking talents than Modric? “None” is an acceptable answer here (though if you disagree, the comments are at your disposal).

Defensively, the players are similar in their positioning acumen (when Modric is deployed in a deep role), though Alonso is more physically imposing. But with his lack of lateral quickness, Alonso’s physicality (and his use of it) isn’t always an advantage. Although he recorded twice as many tackles per league game last season (3 to Modric’s 1.6), Alonso committed more than three times as many fouls (1.7 per game to Modric’s 0.5) and was dribbled past at a greater rate (1.6 times per game to Modric’s 0.9). Given how Spurs used Modric last season, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, though it’s pretty close. And it does confirm what you’d expect from the players’ skill sets: Modric is the quicker, less imposing player who’s both less likely to go in for (and win) a challenge and less likely to give up a bad foul.

It may be nuanced and take a few more words than you’d like, but it’s not difficult to make the case that Modric is a distinct upgrade to Alonso. Still, there’s a more interesting proposition at play with Real Madrid’s purchase: Is Modric a better fit for the Merengues?

Who’s the better fit: Alonso, or Modric

As it pertains to Real Madrid’s attack, that long ball ability shouldn’t be undersold, and while Modric may offer other qualities Alonso can’t, those qualities aren’t distinct from one of Modric’s new teammates: Mesut Özil. Özil tends to operate in more advanced areas than Modric. He’s best as the beneficiary of a team’s transition, not orchestrating it (one of Modric’s best skills). As complementing pieces, the prospect of watching Modric and Özil play together may be the best thing to come from this move (something that could happen with Alonso staying in the team, with Angel Di Maris sacrificed).

But was this the best use of $52.2 million? And even if he is more than an insurance policy, is Modric really worth that price to Real Madrid?

It’s not really a fair question. Under most circumstances, a $52.2 million signing would have a dramatic, squad-shaping impact, and we tend to judge purchases by that standard. But with the talent in Real Madrid’s fold, these aren’t normal circumstances. Aside from Lionel Messi (and perhaps Andres Iniesta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic), any potential Real acquisition would only marginally improve the team. That’s what happens when your team sits at the far right of the talent spectrum. Marginal improvements are all you’ve got, and with only the world’s best players dwelling in those margins, upgrades are going to be ridiculously costly.

Under such absurd circumstances, we need a different standard. If Modric can make any improvements to a team that posted 100 points and a +89 in last year’s Liga, he should be considered a spectacular success.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

Leave a comment

We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $68 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

Twitter/@NewYorkRedBulls
Leave a comment

For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

Twitter/@futballnigeria
Leave a comment

Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

Weekend soccer games called off after Mexico earthquake

Miguel Tovar/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled all first-division games this weekend as stadiums are being used as relief centers after the country’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup crown ]

The federation announced Wednesday that there would be no games in the 10th round of the Apertura tournament or any other professional competition, including the women’s league.

“All the clubs are doing their bit,” Mexican league president Enrique Bonilla said in an interview on Fox Sports before the decision to cancel all matches was announced. “We would like to bring people a moment of joy, but it is a more complex decision, and we need to have all the information from authorities.”

The postponed league games will be played in mid-October, including the derby between Chivas and America.