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.

Defoe: Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore reminds me of Gareth Bale

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sunderland at Selhurst Park on November 23, 2015 in London, England.
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Duncan Watmore is highly regarded at Sunderland, as the 21-year-old was rewarded with a new four-year contract with the club earlier this week.

While the club has high hopes for the young winger, his teammates are taking notice as well.

[ MORE: Transfer Rumor Roundup ]

Watmore’s teammate Jermain Defoe, a seasoned veteran who knows all about succeeding in the Premier League, praised the 21-year-old’s play, comparing him to one of his former teammates at Tottenham, Gareth Bale.

In a funny way he reminds me of Gareth [Bale]. When he came on the scene at Tottenham, he used to just get the ball and glide.

He’s such a nice boy, I don’t think he’s bothered about signing new contracts and stuff, all he wants to do is play football and do well for the club.

If he can go on to do what Gareth has done then he’ll be fantastic. He’s the future of this club.

That’s quite the comparison, as Watmore has only made six Premier League appearances in his young career. Bale was twice named the Premier League Player of the Year before being sold to Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee in 2013.

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While it’s a bit too soon to be calling Watmore the next Gareth Bale, there’s no denying he could be a huge talent for Sunderland. After coming on as a substitute in the Black Cats’ win over Crystal Palace on Monday, Watmore showed his speed and willingness to run at defenders, something the club is in desperate need of. He made his debut for the England U21 side this fall, which shows his form has impressed many outside of just the North East.

After starting his career in the Manchester United youth setup, Watmore was released and played with non-league side Altrincham before signing with Sunderland in 2013. He scored 11 goals in 18 appearances last year with the U21 side, being named the Under 21 Premier League Player of the Season.

Five Premier League players make UEFA Team of the Year shortlist

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal with his team mate Sergio Aguero (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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UEFA has released the 40-man shortlist for the 2015 Team of the Year, with five Premier League players making the cut.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is on the list after being named the Premier League Player of the Year last season, as is Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez.

Manchester City accounts for the other three players, as Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne have been selected. However, De Bruyne makes the list mainly based off his play for Wolfsburg last season.

Three teams have more players selected than the entire Premier League combined. Barcelona leads the list with eight players, while Bayern Munich and Juventus each have six.

[ MORE: FIFA Ethics Committee seeks lifetime ban for Sepp Blatter ]

Cristiano Ronaldo already has the most appearances on the final list with nine, and is looking to make his ninth consecutive Team of the Year. No other player has been selected more than six times since the beginning of the award, which was started in 2001.

Below is the complete 40-man shortlist.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Denys Boyko (Dnipro).

Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), David Luiz (Paris St-Germain), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (Paris St-Germain), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

Midfielders: Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St-Germain), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen).

Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St-Germain), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).

New York Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch voted MLS Coach of the Year

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch has been voted Major League Soccer’s Coach of the Year, the first to earn the honor in the two-decade history of the New York team.

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The Red Bulls went a league-best 18-10-6 in Marsch’s first season after replacing Mike Petke, winning 14 of their last 20 games with one tie. They trail Columbus 2-0 going into Sunday’s second leg of their Eastern Conference final.

MLS said Tuesday that from combined team, media and player votes, Marsch received a weighted total of 152 out of a possible 300.

Dallas’ Oscar Pareja was second with 91 and Vancouver’s Carl Robinson third with 24.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.