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

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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.

Allardyce on losing England job: “Entrapment has won”

BOLTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Former England manager Sam Allardyce leaves his family home on September 28, 2016 in Bolton, England. Allardyce left his position as the national football manager after only one match in charge following allegations made by a national newspaper. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The fallout from Sam Allardyce‘s shocking departure as England’s manager continues.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Allardyce ]

After being caught in a “sting” operation by undercover journalists discussing how to get around FA rules regarding third-party ownership of players, plus criticizing his employers, former England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville.

Following lengthy meetings on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, Allardyce, 61, agreed to leave his “dream job” as England’s manager after just 67 days and one game in charge.

Speaking to Sky Sports news he said the meeting where undercover footage of him discussing how to circumvent FA rules was filmed, was a favor to a close friend, agent Scott McGarvey.

Allardyce spoke to a large group of journalists on Wednesday morning outside his him before flying out of the county to “chill out and reflect” on a hugely damaging 24 hours for the veteran coach.

“On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help out someone I’d known for 30 years. Unfortunately it was an error of judgement on my behalf, I’ve paid the consequences. Entrapment has won on this occasion and I have to accept that. The agreement was done very amicably with The FA and I apologize to those and all concerned in the unfortunate situation I’ve put myself in.”

Asked if this would be the end of his managerial career in the game, Allardyce didn’t seem too hopeful. “Who knows. We will wait and see,” Allardyce said.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton manager lives in hope and he previously told Sky Sports he is “not a quitter” and hopes to get another job, but it is tough to see Allardyce returning to the game as a manager at the elite level in England ever again.

There is also the threat that Allardyce could face further action over his comments, with the FA waiting on the full transcripts from The Telegraph to decide if the matter will be taken further and if he broke any rules.

Yes, Allardyce only suggested he knew ways around transfer rules via agents and he wasn’t paid by the fictitious businessmen played by undercover journalists, despite agreeing  fee of over $518,000, but the fact of the matter is he obviously knows people who are up to no good in the game and the FA may well use his information to try and stamp out any kind of corruption.

It’s been a sad few days for Allardyce and for English soccer as the national team is without a manager after a shocking and quite unbelievable demise for Big Sam.

Qatar to set up desert tent camp to house World Cup fans

Sepp Blatter, FIFA
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) The committee organizing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar plans to try out a “fan village” that could house up to 2,000 soccer spectators in Arabian desert tents.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said Tuesday it is seeking bids to develop a pilot project near the Sealine Beach resort south of the capital, Doha.

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It will offer different types of accommodation in 350 temporary tents and 300 permanent tents, along with big viewing screens and other entertainment options. A total of five fan villages could eventually be built.

Qatar is racing to build hotels and other infrastructure needed to host the games. Visitor accommodation in Qatar is currently dominated by higher-end hotels in Doha.

Once more, with feeling: Who could be the next England manager?

MANSFIELD, ENGLAND - JULY 19:  Steve Bruce manager of Hull City during the pre-season friendly match between Mansfield Town and Hull City at the One Call Stadium on July 19, 2016 in Mansfield, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)"n
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It seems like mere months ago we were discussing who would take over for Roy Hodgson as the next manager of England.

That’s obviously because it was just 67 days ago that Sam Allardyce was hired as the next manager of the Three Lions, and 22 days since he oversaw what would be his only match in charge: a 1-0 win in Slovakia.

[ MORE: Ranieri laughs off England speculation ]

Now Allardyce’s mouth has engineered his exit from the job. How much has the landscape changed for managerial candidates?

Not too much. In no particular order, let’s look through some of the same names we studied this summer:

Steve Bruce — The ex-Hull City boss interviewed for the gig before Allardyce was hired. Is it as simple as going with choice No. 2?

Jurgen Klinsmann — The USMNT coach is again being listed by the oddsmakers despite the fact that England didn’t contact U.S. Soccer regarding an interview last time around. Has anything changed?

Gareth Southgate — The caretaker boss has worked with several of these players when they were U-20 and U-21 players, with his only other managerial experience coming with Middlesbrough between 2006-09.

Alan Pardew — The Palace man fancies himself for the job, that’s for sure. Would England really hire a ‘look at me’ man for such a high-profile position?

Eddie Howe — Bournemouth, and maybe Arsenal, fans won’t want to hear it, but the young manager would be a terrific choice for the job. But would he like running a team that doesn’t entail weekly game prep?

Harry Redknapp — If you’re looking for Pardew, only older and somehow even more sure of himself.

[ MORE: Dempsey out for 2016 ]

Other names on the oddmakers’ books are ex-Spain boss Vicente del Bosque, current Arsenal man Arsene Wenger, and Manuel Pellegrini (who is with Chinese club Hebei China Fortune). Leicester’s Claudio Ranieri has also been mentioned.

Allardyce’s issues really did no favors to club football in England, let alone country. The 61-year-old was hired in July, when clubs could’ve addressed their manager leaving better. Now in late September, the next England coach could wreak havoc on a PL team.

England hosts Malta on Oct. 8 in its second World Cup qualifier, before visiting Slovenia three days later.

Man City: Guardiola updates De Bruyne, Kompany injury status

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City talk during a training session at the City Football Academy on October 20, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Kevin De Bruyne has been as valuable an attacker as any in the Premier League season, so his injury suffered this weekend is quite a big deal.

There were fears that Manchester City’s Belgian attacker would be gone for more than a month, but manager Pep Guardiola has quelled those concerns to an extent.

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De Bruyne will miss Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match against Celtic, which shouldn’t bother the club too much, though his absence Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur could be felt more keenly.

Guardiola said that both De Bruyne and his Belgian teammate, Vincent Kompany, should be back in two to three weeks time. In De Bruyne’s case, Guardiola’s specifically mentioned after the international break. That puts him in line for an Oct. 15 trip to Everton.

The manager also related that he’s excited for his first trip to Celtic Park, as he’s not been to Glasgow to face Celtic in his career.

From ManCity.com:

“Everyone talks to me about the atmosphere, I’m looking forward to playing here. I know how strong they are here. I spoke with my old players, and they have said this is a special environment.”

Kickoff from Scotland is 2:45 p.m. ET.