Is Wesley Sneijder really inching closer to … Galatasaray?

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As unlikely as this move seemed at the beginning of the month, now it appears Wesley Sneijder could actually move to Turkey. No joke. Galatasaray, one of the country’s two huge clubs, have confirmed a €10 million agreement is in place with Inter Milan. An just as remarkably, Sneijder’s agent claims player and club are working toward a deal.

How is this even possible? Wesley Sneijder? In Turkey? This deal seems three years and one World Cup cycle too soon; yet perversely, it also a lot makes sense.

To understand why you have to remember how Sneijder and Inter have painted themselves into this forlorn corner, a process that started when the Nerazzurri rewarded Sneijder with a new contract after their 2009-10 treble-winning season. At the time, Sneijder was being discussed as a Ballon d’Or candidate, a status earned by winning the Champions League in the same year he helped the Netherlands to a World Cup final.

Since, his brilliant technical quality and playmaking has been rejoined by the fitness concerns that plagued him at Real Madrid. Combine that with a player who has become accustomed to having an attack building around him in Italy’s more tactical, less athletic game and you have a player whose value as regressed sharply. And you have a club that’s spend two years regretting their generosity.

That’s why Inter’s entered this gambit. While in theory they’re a more competitive team with an integrated Sneijder, the Dutch creator’s value has become so skewed that it makes sense for them to try to force his hand. They want him to cut €2 million from his annual salary or move, and as leverage they’ve used his playing time. Sneijder hasn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 26.

If Sneijder was willing to give that money back, he’d be playing for Andrea Stramaccioni right now. And that may still happen, but you can’t blame a guy for expecting his club to perform a contract in good faith.  Sniejder’s tried to wait Inter out with the hope they’ll change their mind, but now that the winter window is open, he’s exploring the market. In his ideal world, Sneijder will find a team willing to give him something close to his current salary while offering Inter’s competitive opportunities.

But when you think about it, the list of teams that would be willing to pay Sneijder’s £4.8 million salary, a transfer fee, offer him European competition while actually having a need for him is very small. The very few teams that have those financial resources already have stacked rosters. Real Madrid has Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Kaka. Barcelona has no lack of playmakers. Same for Bayern Munich. Perhaps teams like Paris Saint-Germain or England’s top three have spots, but if they don’t want to add a high-earner who hasn’t played to his reputation for two years, you can hardly fault them.

That’s where a team like Galatasaray comes into play. They may not be they type of club Sneijder envisioned what the calendar turned, but they’re a huge, well-resourced club that’s in Champions League. They face Schalke in the Round of 16. If they can add Sneijder to already has Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, Ivorian defender Emmanuel Eboué, Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo and striker Burka Yilmaz (Champions League’s co-leading scorer), they might be able advance in the competition. At least, that’s what they convince themselves.

And if, along the way, Sneijder happens to reestablish his value ande can be sold on in the summer, all the better. The proposed €10 million fee is high (and Sneijder’s wages won’t help), but what if he’s only on the books for six months before moving on (at a small profit) this in summer? It could be worse.

And if that doesn’t happen and you have to hold on to the player, then you’re a Turkish club that landed Wesley Freakin’ Sneijder. You trim payroll in other places, turn to the east, and scoff at your rivals: “We have Wesley Sneijder.” This idea could actually work.

It’s just a matter of Sneijder signing up. Undoubtedly, his agent is calling around, begging another club to come in. But if nobody does, that’s probably a good sign that it’s time to go to Turkey. There are a lot worse places to play than Istanbul.

 

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.