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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.

WATCH: Zlatan free kick gives Man Utd lead in EFL Cup Final

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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It should’ve been an equalizer, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s EFL Cup Final opening goal was brilliant nonetheless.

Minutes after Manolo Gabbiadini was incorrectly ruled offside on a would-be opener, Oriel Romeu gave away a free kick from a bit more than 25 yards away from goal.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

The big Swede lorded over the opportunity with Paul Pogba, and elected to have a dig. Ibrahimovic curled it around the wall and past the fingertips of a diving Fraser Forster to put United ahead.

LIVE – Southampton, Manchester United in EFL Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: A general overview of the stadium prior to the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Southampton looks to put icing on its incredible rise to the Premier League with an EFL Cup Final win on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Standing in their way? PL giants Manchester United, who could give Jose Mourinho his first full tournament title as Red Devils boss.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton vs. Man Utd ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic starts up top for United, with Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford on the bench.

New Saints signing Martin Caceres makes the bench along with EFL Cup Team of the Tournament midfielder Sofiane Boufal, while Manolo Gabbiadini and Nathan Redmond will be trusted in the Starting XI.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Martial; Ibrahimovic. Subs: Romero, Blind, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Rashford.

Southampton: Forster, Cédric, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis (c), Ward-Prowse, Tadić, Redmond, Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Long, Rodriguez, Caceres, Boufal, Hojbjerg, McQueen

Kane, Dele react to Spurs thrashing of Stoke

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with teammate Harry Kane during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli believe the side’s 4-0 win over Stoke City on Sunday is a good start in making amends for a lackluster Europa League exit.

That’s especially true for Dele, who was sent off in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Gent.

“I felt horrible after the game and at halftime I apologized to the boys,” Dele said. “I went to see the guy right after the game to see if he was alright.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-0 Stoke ]

Dele then scored Spurs’ fourth goal on Sunday, though he was a bit surprised to see hat trick hero Harry Kane slide the ball his way.

“We had a laugh at halftime,” Dele said. “I thought he was going to go for four.”

As for Kane, he was the clear cut star of the show in netting a hat trick before the break to help Spurs create a good feeling at White Hart Lane.

“It was important,” Kane said. “We wanted to come out and get back to winning ways. Thursday was very disappointing for us.”

As for the hat trick?

“Just trying to get my shots off,” he said. “Bit of luck with the third one but if you don’t shoot you don’t score.”

A bit of North London’s Wayne Gretzky in that quote.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 Stoke: Kane runs wild

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  • Kane tops 100 club goals
  • Dele Alli also scores
  • Cameron subs on for Stoke

Harry Kane and Tottenham Hotspur put on quite an advertisement for Sunday’s PL Download on NBCSN with an outright thumping of Stoke City at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Kane had a hat trick and an assist before halftime, as Spurs throttled Stoke 4-0.

The win moves Spurs back into second, 10 points back of leaders Chelsea and a point ahead of idle Manchester City. Stoke is 10th with 32 points.

USMNT back Geoff Cameron made his first appearance since Oct. 22, 2016, when he subbed into the game for the final nine minutes plus stoppage.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane’s deft dribble in the 10th minute could’ve provided a goal but didn’t even bring a shot as Spurs got a bit too cute with passing inside the 18.

Stoke found a rare early chance minutes later, though Spurs had their angles covered and Joe Allen‘s rip into the side netting was largely a cosmetic offer.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli’s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

Hugo Lloris thwarted an offside but unflagged Peter Crouch on the doorstep in the 24th minute.

Jan Vertonghen and Kane each had chances before the half-hour mark, with the former belting one off the cross bar and the latter shaping an aesthetically-pleasing effort just wide of the frame.

Kane’e second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant. He added a third with a deflected free kick for his 102nd club goal.

Kane turned provider for Dele before halftime, racing past Bruno Martins Indi to send the youngster forward for a sliding goal. 4-0.

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half started with a rough moment for Spurs, as stalwart center back Toby Alderweireld walked off injured. This on the day Vertonghen returned to the fold, and also left after little more than an hour.

Kane briefly left the match with an injury as well.