Strange to hear Johan Cruyff full of praise for Real Madrid, concern for Barcelona

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Johan Cruyff is as Barcelona as anybody born outside Cataluyna could be. He played and coached the club, saw his son come up through their system, and even coached the Catalan national team. His family has lived in Barcelona off-and-on for the last 40 years. The man’s had his oranje blood replaced with blaugrana.

So it must take a special set of circumstances for the Dutch icon to speak kindly about Real Madrid and against Barcelona within the span of a couple of days. Perhaps, with the legend’s tendency toward contrarian opinions, it’s not as rare as I’m implying, but it’s still noteworthy when a Barça icon’s willing to heap so much praise on the club’s arch rivals.

The praise starts with the acquisition of Carlo Ancelotti, a coach for whom Cruyff clearly has a high regard:

“Ancelotti will be a breath of fresh air. Real Madrid has great players, they just need to play like a team. Ancelotti will make that happen. He has played and coached at the very top, so he knows full well what goes on in the dressing room”.

There’s a bit of a back-hand in there. The “play like a team” comment can be read as ‘Barcelona play the right way, which is as a team, so Real Madrid need to play more like us.’ Then again, with Real Madrid fans so disillusioned about their play in the wake of José Mourinho, Cruyff might not get an argument from the capital.

But style and coaching were not the only areas where Cruyff had praise. While Cruyff shares concerns about Isco’s potential fit at Real Madrid, he’s full of plaudits for the player:

“I already had a very high opinion of Isco from his performances at Málaga and what he did at the Under-21 Euros only added to that. He has ability, but he’ll face stiff competition at Real Madrid because there are a lot of other players in his position”

Contrast that with what Cruyff’s said about Barcelona in the wake of the Neymar addition, comments which may hint at a bit of a generational issue in how he sees world soccer:

With Neymar on board, I would have planned for the possibility of selling Messi, and some would agree with that, others not. You are talking about a team, its players, the things around it… There are too may things at stake. That’s why it’s so difficult to manage such a top class squad.

Cruyff’s logic seems pretty clear, thoughts which lean on a type of Alpha Dog philosophy. Messi’s and alpha. Neymar’s assumed to be an alpha. They can’t work together, the thinking goes.

Given the way the modern game’s going, clubs can’t abide by that philosophy. Whether you like it or not (most don’t), all the alphas are congregating onto a handful of teams – the eight or 10 clubs that can afford to pay top dollar in both transfer fees and wages. And while the Alpha Dog philosophy is strong, financial incentives are stronger, as are competitive desires. With those eight to 10 team monopolizing titles in the biggest competitions, a lot of players are going to Alexei Sanchez/Luka Modric it, moving into a crowded setup for chance to win big things.

If you’re a club like Barcelona, you just can’t be turning down one Alpha because of the presence of another. These days, you either make it work or fall by the wayside, and given there’s very little about Neymar and Messi’s games that conflict, odds are they’ll make it work.

Bayern Munich activates clause to make Coman permanent

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Bayern Munich has announced its decision to make Kingsley Coman’s loan from Juventus a permanent move.

Coman, 20, operates as a right wing and striker, and can also play on the left. He’s made 40 Bundesliga appearances with six goals and six assists over two seasons for Bayern.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

It’s a $24 million option, and will bind Coman to Bayern through the 2019-20 season.

From FCBayern.com:

“Kingsley Coman is a crucial player for the future of our team, so we’ve decided to exercise the option,” commented Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Kingsley is a promising player with great potential. We’re convinced he’ll help us in the coming years.”

Coman, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich are all under the age of 22.

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

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The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

liverpoolfc.com