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.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.

Argentina closes in on Sampaoli, according to FA boss

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Argentinian FA is hoping to convince Jorge Sampaoli to abandon Sevilla and take the opening in his home nation.

President Claudio Tapia confirmed that Sampaoli is their top target, calling the 57-year-old their “chosen one” in an interview with ESPN.

“We have chosen a coach that has a contract,” Tapia told ESPN. “We want to be respectful and wait because he has a release clause which is once the tournament ends. We will communicate it to the club and we will sit down and negotiate his departure and release clause. We want things to go well in the final games he has left.”

Argentina dismissed coach Edgardo Bauza after the country fell to fifth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification following defeats to Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile over the past six months.

Sampaoli is under contract with Sevilla until the summer of 2018, but has a $1.6 million release clause, to which Tapia was referring. Sevilla sits in fourth position in the La Liga table, level on points with Atletico Madrid but behind significantly on goal differential. The club finishes its league season on May 21st against Osasuna, and Argentina’s next game is a friendly on June 9th at home against Brazil. The next World Cup qualifier is in August against Uruguay.

Samapoli has been with Sevilla since since last summer in his first European club job, but the Argentinian has ample experience to take over for his home country. He managed Chile for four years, winning the 2015 Copa America in Chile. He resigned in early 2016 due to a contract dispute, paying a heavy price to do so as he gave up bonuses to wriggle free of his contract.

Argentina’s desire to secure Sampaoli as coach is nothing new, as the man himself confirmed an offer for the job a week ago, but said he would not consider it until the end of the season. It appears now that a deal is likely, and he will have a very short turnaround to get his first look at the team against a fierce continental rival.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 8: FC Dallas back on top

Associated Press
Leave a comment

FC Dallas relinquished the top spot in the Power Rankings last week. Their response? To beat the team that jumped them.

A number of teams grabbed much needed wins, including Seattle, Toronto, and Orlando City. The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake slipped up. See below where each team sits going into Week 8.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


[ MORE: Last week’s MLS Power Rankings ]

TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

22 (22)

 

21 (20)

 

20 (19)

Philadelphia Union: After Montreal’s 3-goal comeback, Alejandro Bedoya said it’s “hard to stomach” what feels like another loss. It’s only April, and the aura is already discouraging.

Colorado Rapids: Since beating New England, they’ve scored four goals in their last five. Losing to Minnesota is painful.

Montreal Impact: A crazy comeback and a rescinded red card have netted Montreal four points over their last two, but the big picture still screams struggles.


19 (21) Minnesota United: It came against hapless Colorado, but a win is a win is a win. Seven points in the last four. A solid defensive record. A chance to build further comes against San Jose.
18 (15) LA Galaxy: The transition away from Bruce Arena is an obvious excuse for a truly bad start, but the squad also looks porous. Questions may be asked soon.
17 (13) Vancouver Whitecaps: With a tough immediate schedule ahead, Vancouver could be headed for a second-half fightback just to make the playoffs. Can’t dig too deep a hole.
16 (17) New England Revolution: This team’s all over the place. A lot like DC United in that they seem to have good moments and bad moments each week.
15 (16) DC United: Positives and negatives taken from the draw with New England. Sums up the season so far.
14 (14) San Jose Earthquakes: No matter the home form, winless in five is very concerning.
13 (18) Seattle Sounders: Well. They certainly needed that. Soundly trouncing the Galaxy is promising, and games against New England and Toronto are a huge chance to truly turn the poor start around.
12 (9) Real Salt Lake: Oops. Maybe last week’s leap of faith was slightly premature. Falling in to Atlanta’s fantastic start isn’t the end of the world, but losing momentum from a 2-game winning streak hurts.
11 (11) Houston Dynamo: Great at home. Not a single road point. Will we learn anything more about Houston when they visit Toronto? They’re still hard to gauge, but seem more dangerous than not.
10 (6) Columbus Crew: Road travels are tough no matter where you go in MLS play, but the Crew cannot turn two straight road losses into a bigger habit.New York Red Bulls:
9 (12) New York Red Bulls: Soundly beating Columbus means they get to jump the Crew on this list, and a win over Chicago next time out would see them climb further up the Top 10.
8 (10) Toronto FC: Their table position is still slightly unnerving given the team’s talent, but a win Friday over defensively challenged Houston would give Toronto a much more deserved location.
7 (7) New York City FC: All 3 of NYCFC’s losses have come by 1 goal. It’s early, and those are correctable. Moving up after a loss is rare, but this team is well-managed and dangerous.
6 (5) Chicago Fire: There’s little shame in losing to a pair of Giovinco goals on the road, but the manner of the loss is somewhat startling. Outpossessed Toronto, yet obliterated 9-1 in shots on target.
5 (8) Atlanta United: After forever on the road, Atlanta returns home in fantastic position. The one concern has to be discipline – they picked up four more yellows in the RSL win.
4 (4) Portland Timbers: A home win over a Cascadia rival goes a long way towards putting a bad four-game stretch to bed.
3 (1) Sporting KC: A lack of goals has been mitigated this season by a fantastic defensive unit, but that proved their downfall against FC Dallas, and could be an issue going forward against better attacking teams.
2 (3) Orlando City: Jason Kreis emphatically put to bed the thought that Orlando City couldn’t win on the road. Cyle Larin is absurdly good. But can they survive shouldering the entire goalscoring responsibility on one man?
1 (2) FC Dallas: After dropping to #2 last week due to a lack of marquee results, they promptly went out and became the first team to beat Sporting KC this year. Welcome back to the top spot.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Burnley

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Palace unbeaten in 10 vs Burnley at home
  • Burnley has 1 goal from open play in last 6
  • Burnley has just 4 points on road all season

The old 40 point target is within grasp.

One more win for Crystal Palace would put them over the cusp, as Sam Allardyce leads his Eagles into battle against Burnley at Selhurst Park on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Palace’s recent form suggests they’ll do just that, with a massive surge of six wins in their last nine to boost them out of the relegation zone and into a push towards the table’s top half. Their last three wins have come against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. However, they’re depleted in central defense, with Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann, and James Tomkins all out injured.

Burnley, meanwhile, could get to 39 points with a win, a big boost in their bid to outrun those below them in the table. The Clarets are looking to buck the league’s worst road record, with just a single win and a single draw away from Turf Moor. They’ll be without Joey Barton, whose career could be over after an 18-month suspension for gambling. That’s a big miss for the Clarets, as Barton has played all but 10 minutes of their last 12 matches. Scott Arfield could be a candidate to replace Barton, with the 28-year-old a regular in the side before Barton’s arrival midseason.

What they’re saying

Allardyce on Burnley“I think he has built a very good football club from top to bottom on stability that he has brought to Burnley, he has made Burnley’s owners and directors look at the financial side of their club and they now see one that is financially secure. That money has been brought to the club by him getting them promoted to the Premier League, evolving at a nice, steady pace and as a club they have not panicked and been patient, which is a word that doesn’t happen in football anymore. If you look at the football dictionary, the word patient you can’t find anymore because there is none. But there is at Burnley.”

Burnley manager on survival“We have more points than we did ever in the Premier League and it’s now about taking it all the way. It’s now about everything we’ve learned over the season and delivering performances in these last four games. We, as a club, without a shadow of a doubt are in really good shape going into this last bunch of games. But we aren’t naïve enough to think it takes care of itself, because it doesn’t. We have to go and step on and take care of what we need to.”

Prediction

Burnley has been horrid away from home this season, and while they should stay up given the poor squads below them, Crystal Palace is playing too well to fall to lesser opposition at Selhurst Park. Christian Benteke will continue to feast as the Eagles win.