FBL-BRAZIL-SANTOS-FLAMENGO-NEYMAR

One-man Plan B: Neymar could fill Barcelona’s biggest need

4 Comments

Happily, I was wrong about this future — speculation we were in for another summer of interminable Neymar gossip. Instead, the various entities with ownership stakes in Brazil’s biggest star decided to sell. Instead of trying to improve their negotiating stance by pursing an extension to Neymar’s Santos deal (which expired next year), the club and other investors paved the player’s route to Barcelona, even though the 21-year-old was willing to stay.

It made for an emotional scene today as Santos opened their Campeonato campaign against Flamengo at the country’s new national stadium in Brasilia. Before what was expected to be his final Santos appearance, Neymar was clearly emotional, a state the perhaps played into the team’s performance. The match produced the first 0-0 of the Brazilian weekend, Neymar allowed to see out the full 90 at a venue named after another Brazilian legend: the right-winger Garrincha.

It’s on the opposite flank where Neymar may make his mark for Barcelona, a team that desperately needs a second threat to offset their increased dependence on Lionel Messi. It’s not just that Barça’s attack has become increasingly centered on their Argentine dynamo, a process with extremes that became evident when Messi picked up an injury late in the Catalans’ Champions League campaign. Tito Vilanova team has lost all their Plan Bs. Whereas previous editions in this Barcelona run had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, and a year of Zlatan Ibrahimovic — players who were scoring goals independent of Messi’s play — now David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Pedro Rodríguez are entirely dependent on Messi. Either through what Messi creates or the attention defense pay to him, Barcelona’s other goal scoring is a function of Plan A.

Of course, we’re speaking in relative terms. Barcelona has scored 111 goals in 37 La Liga games, so their attack isn’t exactly weak. By any reasonable, broad measure, it’s still prolific, but in big games, they’ve become easier to predict, their lack of variety allowing teams like Milan and Paris Saint-Germain to compete. Demurring into a deep, compact shape that declined to engage until the edge of Barcelona’s attacking third, Milan defeated Barça at home in Champions League’s Round of 16. PSG arguably outplayed Barcelona in the quarterfinals, while Bayern Munich were eventually able to counter the Catalans into embarrassment. Along the way it became apparent: Teams with the talent to compete at Europe’s highest level were having little trouble competing with Barcelona.

Barça needs a solution, particularly with defenses playing so deep, so tight that the influences of Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta are also being offset. In lieu of another experiment with a target striker, an exercise that’s unlikely in the wake of Ibrahimovic, Barcelona needs a player who can stretch defenses – somebody who can offer more of a threat than the mere width of Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba. Before suffering a broken leg in Yokohama in December 2011, Villa could have been that threat his ability to cut in from wide left and create goals a proven catalyst for the Spanish national team. Villa, however, has yet to regain his full place in the team, having scored only 15 all-competition goals this season.

Neymar has the potential to fill this void. If he lives up to his promise, the Brazilian will stretch opposing defenses, his skill on the ball giving Barça the type of one-on-one threat that can’t trusted to most right backs. Should teams decline to go out and play him, Neymar has the ability to pick his spots coming in or threaten with right-footed crosses from wide.

It’s a threat the team hasn’t had since Henry, whose second year in Barcelona produced 29 goals and 12 assists as a Plan B in Pep Guardiola’s attack. As he faded, Ibrahimovic left, and Messi gravitated toward a central role, Barcelona stopped utilizing this type of wide threat, their persistent winning ways perhaps obscuring the inevitable problem.

It may be a bit much to expect Neymar to replicate the numbers Henry produced in 2008-09, though he certainly has the talent. Still, there’s reason to doubt he can be so prolific, at least in the short-term. The jump to Europe presents unique challenges for every player, especially one leaving his country for the first time. Because of his early rise to stardom, Neymar’s been able to live a self-defining existence in Brazil, something that will change once he lands in Catalunya. Near-30-goal output is too much to ask for the coming season, which is not to say Neymar needs produce that much to be an immediate success.

On the field (or, on the chalkboard), Neymar seems a perfect fit – a player that allows Barcelona to regress to a most-balanced approach. Were they to persist as a vehicle Messi’s used to take on the world, Barcelona would face the same obstacles next season, and be equally troubled traversing them.

With the addition of a true Plan B (and what a Plan B, at that), Barcelona may be able to jumpstart its dynasty. Whether Neymar produces 30 goals or 15, as long as he scares opponents into accounting for him, he will have a huge impact on Barcelona’s success.

They still need to improve their defense, determine how to move forward with their coaching position, and improve their depth. But with the addition of a second legitimate threat, Barcelona may have solved their biggest problem – big time opposition having figured them out.

Man City beat Dortmund on PKs after Pulisic scores late goal

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 28:  Kelechi Iheanacho (R) of Manchester City contests the ball against Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on July 28, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund on penalty kicks at Shenzhen Longgang Stadium in China as Pep Guardiola picked up his first win as City’s manager and both teams completed their 2016 International Champions Cup campaigns with a 1-1 draw in regulation.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]

On a pitch which cut up badly, Dortmund started brightly but after a raft of changes at half time City were the better team in the second half as Guardiola gave plenty of his more experienced players a run out.

One of those players grabbed the goal as Sergio Aguero tapped home a flowing move 12 minutes from time to hand City their first goal of preseason but right at the death 17-year-old U.S. international Christian Pulisic — who came on at half time and impressed on the right flank — slotted home to make it 1-1 and send the game to penalty kicks.

Young goalkeeper Angus Gunn saved three spot kicks as City eventually won 7-6 on penalties.

City now have just one more preseason game before they being Guardiola’s debut season in the Premier League, as they play Arsenal in a friendly in Sweden on Aug. 7.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in Chelsea’s win over Liverpool ]

A shaky start for City saw goalkeeper Willy Caballero give the ball away and Ousmane Dembele was clean through but Nicolas Otamendi blocked his shot brilliantly.

Jesus Navas then raced up the other end and picked out Fabian Delph but he scuffed his shot wide. Emre Mor curled a shot just wide and Dembele blasted an effort miles over the bar after another bad giveaway by City as Dortmund’s high-pressing was catching out their defense.

During a first half water break Guardiola barked orders at several of his players including Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Zinchenko who looked bright in spots. Despite looking more dangerous, Dortmund couldn’t break through and right on half time Kelechi Iheanacho had a great chance after good build up play but Roman Burki saved well from close range.

Wholesale changes took place at half time with U.S. national team starlet Christian Pulisic coming on for Dortmund who made a host of changes. Man City brought on Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva at half time with some of their big-hitters getting some minutes under their belts.

With all the changes the game was disjointed but City looked the more likely to take the lead.

Wilfried Bony, another half time sub, looked bright as he turned and hit a shot on goal which was saved and then cleared. Aguero then smashed an effort over the bar as City pushed hard for their first win, and goal, of preseason so far.

Silva then set up Bony on the edge of the box but he smashed another effort just over the bar, while late on Gonzalo Castro went clean through but drilled his effort over.

Aguero’s goal then arrived and it was a beautifully worked team goal.

Young center back Tosin Adarabioyo sprayed a long ball out to former New York City FC left back Bersant Celina and then Aleix Garcia combined with Silva on the edge of the box and the latter slotted the ball across to Aguero to tap home.

Dortmund had a strong shout for a penalty kick in stoppage time as Shinji Kagawa went down but then Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

In penalty kicks Gunn was the hero as he saved three penalty kicks.

VIDEO: USMNT’s Pulisic nets late equalizer for Dortmund vs. Man City

Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, left, celebrates with Felix Passlack, right, after scoring the opening goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic is making quite a name for himself.

The 17-year-old U.S. international came on at half time of Borussia Dortmund’s International Champions Cup game against Manchester City in Shenzhen, China on Thursday.

[ MORE: City beat Dortmund on PKs ]

He looked bright on the right flank, giving Jason Denayer plenty of problems, and he saved his best moment until last.

Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

He also scored his spot kick in the shootout but Dortmund ended up losing to City on penalty kicks 6-5.

Watch the goal below as Pulisic popped up at the right time to squeeze the ball home.

 

VIDEO: Man United’s Jesse Lingard sets up “Dab University”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Jesse Lingard of Manchester United celebrates with Wayne Rooney of Manchester United after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

We all know Jesse Lingard loves a good dab celebration after scoring and now the Manchester United winger is trying to teach others his supreme technique.

Lingard, 23, had a breakout season for United in 2015-16, scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace in extra time in the FA Cup final and he became a regular for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Rooney won’t dab ]

The English winger also broke out “the dab” after scoring a beauty against Chelsea in the Premier League too and along with Paul Pogba and many others it has become their celebration of choice.

Cam Newton, you’re a pioneer.

In the video below Lingard sets up “Dab University” with his United teammates and it turns out Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has some moves.

Click play to see Professor Lingard break it down.

Fabregas sent off as Chelsea beat Liverpool in fiery friendly

PASADENA, CA - JULY 27:  Cesc Fabregas #4 of Chelsea receives a red card from referee Baldomero Toledo after a hard challenge to Ragnar Klavan #17 of Liverpool in the second half during the 2016 International Champions Cup at Rose Bowl on July 27, 2016 in Pasadena, California. Chelsea defeated Liverpool 1-0. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool vs. Chelsea is never a friendly encounter.

That was proved correct on Wednesday as Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in their opening 2016 International Champions Cup clash.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]  

The lone goal of a feisty match came in the first half as Gary Cahill headed home Cesc Fabregas’ corner, but the latter was sent off in the second half for an awful lunging tackle on Ragnar Klavan.

There were six yellow cards — five to Liverpool players — dished out in the game in front of 53,117 in California.

Fabregas apologized to Liverpool after the game for his 70th minute tackle (see video below) according to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp,

[ MORE: Zlatan reveals MLS offer

Both Klopp and Antonio Conte acknowledged this game was more combative than most friendlies and given the recent history between the two clubs you can understand why.

Chelsea’s new manager was pleased with the reaction of his side when they went down to 10-men but urged his team to play more

“I saw a lot of positive things about the defensive situation but we must improve when we have the ball because I love to play the ball, but we are improving,” Conte said.

Liverpool’s biggest concern was an injury to Marko Grujic who clashed heads with Bertrand Traore and was taken to hospital.

“The biggest problem for me in this moment is that Marko Grujic is in hospital, because he can’t remember anything. That’s not too cool,” Klopp told the media. “Hopefully it’s not too serious. Injuries after games like this in pre-season is the biggest problem obviously.”

Liverpool now head to Santa Clara, Calif. to play against AC Milan on Saturday before flying to St. Louis and playing AS Roma on Aug. 1 on their way back to England. Chelsea will fly to Michigan as they take on Real Madrid at “The Big House” on Saturday.