What should Thomas Vermaelen do?

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With Arsenal’s rumored interest in Swansea center-back Ashley Williams, the focus shifts to out-of-form Gunners center-back Thomas Vermaelen.

For the last two months of the season, the Belgian’s backside was firmly planted on the bench as Arsene Wenger opted for a center-back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Wenger implemented the decision following Vermaelen’s horrid showing in the 2-1 loss to rivals Spurs on March 3rd.

Since that match, the Arsenal captain has only appeared in a single Premier League fixture, the 3-1 victory over Norwich City (Mertesacker was suspended for the match). Wenger’s decision to bench Vermaelen proved a stroke of genius, as the Gunners finished on a brisk run of form going undefeated in their last 10 matches (winning eight and drawing only twice) to finish in 4th place and capture a coveted spot in the Champions League.

So what’s prompted Vermaelen’s drop in form this season?

Mainly, he’s been too aggressive making runs out of the back. This overly zealous desire to get forward leaves the rest of the Arsenal defense exposed. Then, when Vermaelen tries to recover he’s either unable to do so or commits daft fouls. Good teams punish these mistakes.

So the question becomes – If Arsenal do snap up the £12 million rated Williams, what should Vermaelen do?

With the Brazil World Cup now a mere 12 months away, the decision will prove vital to Vermaelen’s career.

If he stays at Arsenal and reclaims his starting spot in a club with four (above-average) center-backs, it’s highly likely that Belgian national team coach, Marc Wilmots, will call Vermaelen into his squad for next summer. If, however, Vermaelen stays at the Emirates and his form fails to improve, there’s little chance that he’ll be suiting up for Diables Rouges come June 2013.

The other option is to leave North London and look for a rebirth at another club. If you believe the rumors, clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United are both interested in Vermaelen’s services.

The Catalan giants are desperate for a new center-back to partner with Gerard Pique and Vermaelen’s speed and offensive capabilities could be a tremendous fit for the Blaugrana. But again, if the Belgian’s form fails to improve there’s no guarantee of a spot on that squad, especially with Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Javier Mascherano all expected to be fully fit by next August.

Cracking the Starting XI at Manchester United would be even more difficult for Vermaelen. Despite his 34 years of experience, Rio Ferdinand enjoyed such a brilliant 2012-13 campaign that United recently handed him a new one year deal. Jonny Evans is another center-back who quietly impressed this season while Nemandja Vidic is nearly back to peak condition following 14 months of injury hell. A wonderful club to play for, surely, but can he hack it at Old Trafford?

Of course, if Vermaelen wants to reduce the risk of not playing and to prove himself worthy of a call into Belgium’s World Cup squad, he can always transfer to a Premier League club outside the Top 4.

With Newcastle’s struggling defense and captain Fabricio Colocinni set to leave Tyneside, the Magpies could be a wonderful fit for the Belgian. Vermaelen could also make an immediate impact at Liverpool, where Martin Skrtel has fallen out of favor and Jamie Carragher is set to retire. The 27 year old would also be welcome at a club like Everton where Sylvain Distin is showing signs of aging and a partnership with Phil Jagielka could prove lethal.

One way or another, Thomas Vermaelen has some serious decisions to make. What do you think Vermaelen should do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.