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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.

VIDEO: David Beckham stars in new Sky Sports commercial

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12:  UNICEF GWA Honoree David Beckham speaks onstage during the Sixth Biennial UNICEF Ball Honoring David Beckham and C. L. Max Nikias presented by Louis Vuitton at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on January 12, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for U.S. Fund for UNICEF)
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David Beckham will forever be in the hearts and minds of soccer fans across the globe.

It’s just the way it works.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]  

Ahead of the new 2016-17 Premier League season, Becks is front and center in Sky Sports’ commercial to promote the new season.

Take a look at the video below to see the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star take a bizarre jog…

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad for U.S. tour ]

You’ll see what I mean shortly.


Transfer Rumor Roundup: Stones to Man City, Chilwell to Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: John Stones of Everton clears during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Manchester City is continuing to push hard to seal a move for John Stones.

Stones, 22, is still said to be keen on a move away from Everton, despite new manager Ronald Koeman arriving at Goodison Park this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Stones wants to work with Pep Guardiola, according to a report from the Daily Mail, and he failed to play for Everton at Barnsley at the weekend after going down with a slight knock.

The same report states that the former Barnsley defender has made it known he wants to leave Everton and City will kick off the bidding at $65 million. Stones has been consistently linked with a move to Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona since bursting onto the scene during the 2013-14 season.

The England international defender had a down year last year as Roberto Martinez lost his job at Everton largely due to several inept defensive displays from his side. Stones made multiple individual errors and was said to have been upset that Martinez blocked a move to Chelsea last summer. He hasn’t been the same player since but with his silky skills on the ball and Guardiola’s penchant for having defenders carrying the ball out of defense, it is believed Stones could kick on under the Spanish coach.

Is it just me or does Stones remind you of a young Gerard Pique? He, of course, was nurtured by Guardiola at Barcelona.


Sunderland could make a move for winger Adnan Januzaj from Manchester United. Januzaj, 21, was a favorite of new Sunderland manager David Moyes while he was in charge of Manchester United and the Belgian youngster has struggled at Old Trafford since Moyes was fired in 2014.

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad ]

With a report suggesting that Januzaj has been told he won’t be a regular under Jose Mourinho, the Daily Mail claims that Moyes and Sunderland want to take the talented winger on loan to the Stadium of Light. Januzaj spent the first half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund but was recalled in January after playing in just 12 games for the Bundesliga outfit. His skill and pace cause defenses problems but his lightweight frame has often led to him being overpowered in the Premier League.

The Black Cats haven’t made many moves this summer due to Sam Allardyce‘s departure for the English national team but they do have decent options out wide with Duncan Watmore, Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini all able to play there.


Liverpool are making a final attempt to sign Leicester City’s talented youngster Ben Chilwell.

Chilwell, 19, made three appearances for Claudio Ranieri‘s side last season and the left back impressed with mature, attacking displays. Jurgen Klopp has earmarked Chilwell as his top target for the left back position as it is believed Liverpool’s manager in unsure about Alberto Moreno‘s defensive abilities.

The Sun claims that Liverpool has offered $11 million for Chilwell and to try and counter the offer, Leicester have offered the England U-21 international a new five-year deal. Liverpool is said to be willing to also offer the youngster a five-year contract with better wages and Klopp has heard good things about the left back who played for his old assistant at Borussia Dortmund, David Wagner, on loan at Huddersfield Town last season.

Chilwell played for Leicester in their International Champions Cup game at Celtic last weekend.

PHOTOS: Tottenham release new images of stadium development

Photo credit: TottenhamHotspur.com
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Tottenham Hotspur is cracking on with work at White Hart Lane.

Big time.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Spurs have already demolished part of their current home as they continue to construct their new $570 million stadium next to the footings of the original stadium which has stood for nearly 117 years.

Check out the dramatic images below to see a large chunk of White Hart Lane missing as part of the redevelopment which will see a brand new 61,000 seater stadium built on land adjacent to the current White Hart Lane stadium, with the their old home to be demolished next summer.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

Next season Tottenham’s home will have a reduced capacity of just under 30,000 and they will have to move away to another stadium for at least the 2017-18 campaign as work to demolish the original WHL continues.

Wembley Stadium is said to be the favorite to house Spurs for at least a season with the English Football Association confirming talks had taken place between the two organizations.

All being well, Spurs plan to move into their new home for the start of the 2018-19 season with a whole new area created around the stadium with schools, housing, shops and more included in the Northumberland development project.

I know they won’t enjoy comparisons to Arsenal but their new digs — check them out in full here — looks very similar to the Emirates Stadium but, crucially, it will have an extra 740 seats to make it the biggest club stadium in London…


USMNT youngster Zelalem in Arsenal squad for US tour

Gedion Zelalem, USMNT U-23s
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Gedion Zelalem, 19, is heading to the United States of America with Arsenal.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]

On Monday Arsene Wenger and his squad — he named 23 players to the roster which included teenager Zelalem — flew to the U.S. ahead of their game against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday.

The Gunners will also play Chivas Guadalajara at StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. on Sunday to round off their two-game tour of the U.S.

[ MORE: Allardyce bullish on England ]

Wenger has named a strong squad for the tour, with the full list below.

The only major absentees are players who made a deep run in major tournaments with their countries this summer.

Arsenal’s French contingent who reached the final of EURO 2016 — Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud — aren’t in the squad, while Alexis Sanchez is omitted after winning Copa America Centenario with Chile and suffering an ankle injury plus Aaron Ramsey hasn’t been named in the squad after reaching the semifinals of the European Championships with Wales.

Mesut Ozil is also left out after reaching the final four of EURO 2016 with Germany but the likes of Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla all make the trip.

As for Zelalem, Arsenal boss Wenger thinks highly of the youngster who was born in Germany but spent his formative years in Maryland, hence why he was able to obtain U.S. citizenship and play for the U.S. national team. The fluid two-way midfielder has silky skills on the ball but is still young and his body is yet to develop into a powerful unit.

That perhaps explains why Zelalem is yet to make his debut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s full national team but he did play a starring role in Tab Ramos’ U-20 side during the World Cup in 2015. His progress with the U-23 side has somewhat stalled in recent months after Zelalem was loaned out to Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish second-tier last season. After a good start to the campaign with Rangers he found minutes hard to come by in the second half of last season.

ProSoccerTalk spoke to Wenger about Zelalem in the summer of 2015 and he said he will always give him, and other youngsters, a chance to impress in preseason before either including him in the first team squad of loaning him out.

With Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Xhaka in front of him in the pecking order for a midfield spot, it seems likely that the young U.S. national team prospect will again spend time away from the Emirates Stadium in the upcoming season.

A few strong performances in preseason could change that though.