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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.

 

Report: Alexis Sanchez offered $505,000 per week to play in China

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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This is outrageous.

Alexis Sanchez, 27, has reportedly been offered a contract worth over $505,000 a week (that’s around $26.2 million a year) to play in China.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

The Daily Mail claims that several clubs from the Chinese Super League have already reached out to Sanchez and have offered the huge contract to try and entice him to play in China.

With just 18 months left on his current contract at Arsenal, the Chilean forward is in the form of his life with 11 Premier League goals in the opening 14 games of the season. That included a hat trick in the 5-1 demolition of West Ham last weekend which underlined just how important “El Nino Maravilla” is to the Gunners.

Reports on Tuesday claimed that both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (the latter also only has 18 months left on his current contract) want over $370,000 per week from Arsenal if they’re going to sign new deals. That would put them in line with the top earner in the Premier League, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, but it is believed the Gunners do not want to break their wage structure and pay any player over $252,000 per week.

In truth, in world soccer right now only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are above Sanchez with the Chilean forward strutting his stuff out wide and up top in a center forward role.

Ronaldo is currently paid $34.3 million per year by Real Madrid and Messi is paid $42.9 million a year by Barcelona. So, you can see why Sanchez’s head is being turned as he continues to churn out world-class displays for Arsenal and huge offers are coming his way.

With Arsene Wenger‘s future uncertain as his contract runs out at the end of this season, if he can’t entice Sanchez and Ozil to remain at the Emirates Stadium by this summer then Arsenal will have to think about selling both of their attacking superstars or else they’ll lose them for nothing in the summer of 2018.

And when it comes to China there’s no real surprise that this kind of money is being offered to Sanchez, if the reports are true.

Over the past 12 months a huge influx of foreign stars have joined the CSL with China’s President Xi Jinping a huge soccer fan and eager to not only grow the domestic game but links with European clubs and also develop top players for the Chinese national team moving forward with world-class facilities popping up and soccer is now on the school curriculum nationwide too.

Graziano Pelle. Jackson Martinez. Hulk. Ramires. Alex Teixeira. They’ve all joined the CSL in recent years on huge wages. Is Sanchez the next man to make the move if Arsenal can’t pay him what he wants, and probably deserves?

Man United announce squad for crunch Europa League clash

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Memphis Depay of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on October 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho has named his 19-man squad for Manchester United’s final group game in the UEFA Europa League.

There are some surprising omissions.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Both Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin aren’t included in the squad for the game at Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, as Zorya cannot play games in their home stadium due to the ongoing conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine.

United need a draw to guarantee their passage into the Round of 32 in the Europa League but a defeat to Zorya would see the Red Devils crash out of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

With Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw out injured they haven’t traveled, plus Bastian Schweinsteiger is ineligible after not being registered for the tournament and veterans Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia have been rested. It is the exclusion of Memphis, Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian which will raise eyebrows and it suggests they have no future at Old Trafford under Mourinho.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]  

Plenty of teams such as Everton and Fenerbache have already shown interest in signing Memphis on loan in January and the Dutch winger is way down the pecking order in Mourinho’s forward options. As for Schneiderlin, with Pogba’s arrival, Ander Herrera‘s good form and even Schweinsteiger getting some minutes recently, his time at United looks up.

Darmian also looks set for a move with Timothy Fosu-Mensah preferred for this trip and it is telling that Memphis, Schneiderlin and Darmian are all seen as some of the biggest disappointments of Louis Van Gaal‘s era. Mourinho obviously wants to clean house and he is sending them the message loud and clear that they aren’t needed, even if he doesn’t say it publicly.

Below is the full squad for United’s trip to Ukraine, which kicks of at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Man United squad vs. Zorya Luhansk: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone; Fosu-Mensah, Jones, Bailly, Rojo, Blind, Young; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Mkhitaryan; Martial, Rashford, Rooney, Ibrahimovic.

Mourinho’s agent: Coach paid $27 million in taxes in Spain

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United stands alongside his substitute Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Jose Mourinho’s agent says the Manchester United manager paid more than 26 million euros ($27 million) in taxes when he lived in Spain from 2010-13.

The information was made public on Tuesday by Gestifute, a company run by Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes.

[ MORE: Pulisic wanted by Arsenal, Spurs ]

The Portuguese company has been releasing details about its clients’ tax declarations after European media outlets published what they claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute, which also has Ronaldo as a client, has already published documents allegedly showing that Spanish fiscal authorities have certified that Mourinho and Real Madrid star Ronaldo are “up to date on … obligations.”

Mourinho coached Real Madrid from 2010-13 and took charge of United this season.

Staying in Dallas: New contract for MLS Defender of the Year Hedges

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 12:  Giles Barnes #10 of the Houston Dynamo battles for the ball with Matt Hedges #24 of FC Dallas during their game at BBVA Compass Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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This is going to turn out to be one of the most exciting years of Matt Hedges’ life.

The FC Dallas man lead one of the best back lines in Major League Soccer to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.

[ MORE: PST talks with Hedges, Zimmerman ]

He’s also likely set for a chance to return to the USMNT fold under new coach Bruce Arena, as Hedges is one of the best players to be largely ignored by Jurgen Klinsmann.

Hedges, 26, was named the MLS Defender of the Year and made the Best XI, and now he’s inked a new long-term deal with FC Dallas.

The four-year deal will keep Hedges in Dallas through his 30th birthday. Capped once, Hedges has 159 appearances with 11 goals for FCD.

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