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It’s too early to discount Spain, but there were some definite warning signs on Sunday

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In previewing Spain’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Italy, we noted that with the possible exception of Portugal at last year’s European Championships, no team had been able to go toe-to-toe with Spain and survive. Yes, Switzerland (World Cup 2010) and the United States (Confederations Cup 2009) had beat La Furia Roja in competitive matches, but they did so by employing a low-percentage approach that gave them the proverbial puncher’s chance. Like Holland in the 2010 World Cup final, they didn’t exactly play their game.

Yet in the span of four days, we’ve seen two teams stay true to themselves, stand flat-footed in front of the world champs, and survive. Other teams have done this in friendlies – Italy and France are two that come to mind – but Italy’s semifinal performance was the first time since Portugal we’ve seen a team truly trouble the Spaniards.

And then Sunday, Brazil not only troubled Vicente del Bosque’s side, they routed them. A goal in the second minute followed by a half of pressure led to a 2-0 lead by intermission. Scoring two minutes into the second half, Brazil couldn’t have made it look simpler. It was an unfathomably easy win over a team many consider to the best of all time.

Since there’s no way to know whether this was just an off day or the first cracks in the dam, it’s of little use to proclaim this is the end of the Spanish armada. It might be. Results as dramatic as these often hint at something bigger. But without the context of future matches, we can’t draw broad conclusions. All we can do is look at possibilities.

As it concerns their future dominance, the most concerning part of today’s performance was their midfield’s ineffectiveness. Yes, their defense was troublesome, but that’s never hindered them before. And although Iker Casillas was bad, Spain has a slew of other goalkeepers. But they don’t have another Xavi Hernandez. They don’t have another Andres Iniesta. If other teams can find ways to limit that duo’s effectiveness, be it through athleticism and physicality (like Brazil) or pure numbers (like Italy), Spain is in as much trouble as their doubters may proclaim. You don’t need super talent, only a particularly type of talent, to implement either of those approaches.

Compounding this possibility – and as this point, it’s nothing more than a distant possibility – is Spain’s unwillingness to develop another option. Jesus Navas’s wide play could be thought of as a significant change, but there was a time before Vicente del Bosque where Spain used to make better use of their forwards, be they David Villa, Daniel Guiza, or an in-form Fernando Torres. Now, with Spain rarely playing real wingers and seemingly accepting forward’s a synonym for black hole (they’re still starting Torres), there are no alternatives. They’ve imposed their own tactical limitations, making themselves a sitting duck.

It’s a testament to Spain’s talent that they haven’t been exploited before, exactly why predictions of their demise are so confounding. We can talk Xs and Os all day, but those are ultimately mere plans which make teams more or less likely to win. At some point, Iniesta can just better than his opponent. Same for Xavi. Same for any of the myriad of options del Bosque has at his disposal. Even if that doesn’t mean reintegrating a player like Fernando Llorente, Spain is more than capable of adjusting.

The question is whether they will. Their lack of adjustments over the last five years is both understandable and what’s led to this point of doubt. Is this a flaw in their DNA, something that can’t be changed without compromising what makes them Spain? Or will Spain evolve?

Or, is this result just a one-off? Spain is old. Their Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy squad has played an unprecedented number of games (club and country) during Spain’s run, and unaccustomed to the Brazilian heat, La Roja may have wilted. Had they not played four games leading into the Brazil match, or if they had more preparation ahead of the games (as they will at next year’s World Cup), perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

We are, in fact, having this conversation, though. Brazil proved Spain was not only mortal but potentially vulnerable: exploitable. While it’s too early to know the extent to which Spain have faded, based on the lofty stature they held after their game against Uruguay, it’s fair to say they have faded. If only a little.

 

Transfer news: Renato to Man United; $50 million Batshuayi to West Ham

SEIXAL, PORTUGAL - MARCH 17:  Benfica«s midfielder Renato Sanches during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final between SL Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk at Caixa Futebol Campus on March 17, 2015 in Seixal, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images for UEFA)
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Benfica teenager Renato Sanches could cost Manchester United $60 million this summer and the Portuguese youngster is already preparing for his move.

[ MORE: Mourinho to wait? ]

According to Record in Portugal, Sanches is “prepared and excited” about a move to United and knows a deal is being discussed about a move this summer. It is believed the deal could cost in excess of $80 million when all is said and done.

The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder is one of the hottest properties on the planet and despite Louis Van Gaal‘s struggling to get into the UEFA Champions League for next season, it still won’t stop them splashing some serious cash on Sanches. Plus, it worked out pretty well for United the last time they signed a teenager from Portugal… (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).


Another big money move, and a surprising one at that, could see West Ham United move for Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

The Guardian believes that the Hammers have put in a bid in excess of $50 million for the Marseille striker who has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season. He is 22-years-old and it is believed Slaven Bilic wanted to sign him in January but was told he wouldn’t be available until the summer.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

With the 2016 European Championships coming up, Batshuayi should be included in Marc Wilmots’ 23-man Belgian squad but will face competition to get into the team from the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. Like the aforementioned trio, Batshuayi is a powerful striker who can hold the ball up but is also able to get in-behind opposition defenses.

West Ham have enjoyed great success in plucking Dimitri Payet from Marseille for $15 million last summer but they will likely face competition from Juventus, Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others for the Belgian’s signature.


The Daily Mail claims that new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has earmarked Gonzalo Higuain as his main transfer target this summer.

Higuain, 28, has been in fine form for Napoli this season, scoring 34 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. Per the report, the Argentine striker is said to be concerned of playing second fiddle to Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. However, if Costa is moved on with lucrative offers from China reportedly lined up, then Higuain could provide the goals to kick off Conte’s reign in west London.

The former Real Madrid striker has scored 223 goals in 451 career games and has 25 goals in 52 games for Argentina. It is clear Conte wants to stamp his authority on this team and with Costa scoring just 11 times this season, getting in a goal-machine will be the biggest target for the new Chelsea boss. Higuain will cost Chelsea over $60 million.

Riyad Mahrez has “50/50” chance of staying at Leicester

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Riyad Mahrez‘s chances of staying at Leicester City have been rated at 50/50.

The Algerian winger has been crowned the PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season as his 17 goals and 11 assists inspired Leicester to win the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

However, the man who the Foxes signed from Le Havre in January 2014 for just $800,000 is now being linked with a $45 million move to the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain among several other elite European teams.

Despite previously stating that he was happy at Leicester, his agent (Kamel Bengougam) is singing from a different hymn sheet as he spoke to the Guardian.

“Yes of course there is a possibility. When you have been playing the way Riyad has this season it is bound to attract attention. He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well so he would be happy to stay.

“But at his age if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”

His agent also added that they have interest “from the UK and overseas” and would “see what develops over the next few weeks” as the season comes to a close.

Mahrez is 25 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career following years of battling his way through the French lower leagues and has burst onto the scene this season as an integral part of Leicester’s success.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait?

The Algerian international winger is bound to have suitors and his ability to bamboozle defenses and score stunning goals with his supreme composure has reportedly seen Barcelona scout him constantly over the past few months.

Leicester doesn’t need to sell players and are financially set. However, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has already said that if players want to go, they can leave but has warned them they could be bit-parts at bigger clubs.

They could well be the case with Mahrez but in reality, is he ever going to have a season like this again? Should he and his agent cash in while they can?

Fellaini, Huth handed three-game suspensions

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Robert Huth and Marouane Fellaini will not play in the Premier League again this season.

The duo were both charged with violent conduct after they clashed in the first half of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City last Sunday.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Fellaini will miss United’s remaining three PL games of the season but will be available for the FA Cup final versus Crystal Palace at Wembley on May 21, while Huth will sit out Leicester’s two remaining games (he will, however, be able to participate in their title celebrations against Everton on Saturday and pick up his medal) and will also miss the opening game of next season.

The incident in question saw German defender Huth pull on Fellaini’s hair and the Belgian midfielder reacted by striking the Leicester defender in the face. Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s manager, described the incident as one of “sex masochist” in a hilarious video you can see above.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ] 

Below is the statement in full from the FA on their ruling:

Marouane Fellaini and Robert Huth will both serve a three-match suspension with immediate effect after being charged with violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

The Manchester United midfielder and Leicester City defender were involved in a 21st-minute incident during their fixture on Sunday 1 May 2016.

Both players accepted the charge, however, Huth contested that the standard penalty of a three-match suspension would be ‘clearly excessive’.

This claim, however, was rejected following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing today [Thursday 5 May 2016].

FA in “advanced talks” with Tottenham over move to Wembley

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur look set to play at Wembley Stadium while White Hart Lane is reconstructed.

Spurs will be without a stadium for the entire 2017-18 campaign as their current home will be demolished and a new $600 million stadium holding 61,000 will be built in its place.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]

The Chairman of the English FA, Greg Dyke, believes a deal with Spurs will get over the line soon and he also claims they Spurs are also in talks about playing their UEFA Champions League games at the 90,000 capacity stadium next season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Speaking on Sky Sports News in the UK on Thursday, Dyke revealed that talks with Tottenham were at an advanced stage.

“We’re in discussions with Tottenham that they should come in for a full season when they’re building their new stadium, and we are a long way down the path on reaching agreement,” Dyke confirmed.

“I think there are some discussions about whether they will play Champions League games at Wembley next year but I don’t know much about that. But on the full season (2017-18), I think we’re quite close to a deal.”

So, as expected, Spurs will likely pay the FA a fee to rent the stadium — the FA then plan to reinvest it at the grassroots level — and play temporarily away from White Hart Lane.

That’s pretty standard and the only issue will be if Chelsea’s plans to renovate Stamford Bridge go ahead (the Blues are also looking to temporarily relocate to Wembley) but they’ll likely use it for three seasons and may not need to until 2018-19, such is the magnitude of their stadium project.

However, the real juicy bit of news here was that Spurs is looking to host Champions League games at Wembley next season.

With Mauricio Pochettino‘s men missing out on the title to Leicester, they are still guaranteed a spot in next seasons UCL and will return to play among Europe’s elite after a five-year absence.

I’m sure Spurs will get close to a sellout of 90,000 at Wembley for their UCL games and make a lot of money from it but does something about that seem a little strange? Having a season of UCL action in the old White Hart Lane stadium seems fitting and the cozy surroundings and electric atmosphere (it’s one of the loudest and best venues to watch a game in the PL) would certainly intimidate some of Europe’s big boys who may roll into town.

Yet, the fact that the Lane will only hold just over 32,000 fans next season, due to some seats being taken out for construction work, means that almost trebling crowds for big European nights makes sense. It will also give both the FA and Tottenham a chance to test out how things will work for the 2017-18 season.