Real Madrid sign Asier Illarramendi for $52 million, who is he?

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Carlo Ancelotti is beginning to find his feet as Real Madrid manager. We know that because he’s splashing the cash.

But have you heard of ex-Real Sociedad midfielder Asier Illarramendi, who Madrid just snapped up for a cool $52 million?

Chances are unless you’re an avid fan of La Liga or the Spanish youth setup, Illarramendi’s name may have been off your radar.

Until now.

The 23-year-old holding midfielder was picked in the team of the tournament, as he played in every game the Spanish Under-21 side that won the European Championships in Israel this summer. Illarramendi has been at Real Sociedad for his entire his career and played a leading role as the Basque side finished fourth in La Liga last season, securing a Champions League spot in the process.

And Madrid’s new man was humble after leaving his hometown club for one of the world’s biggest teams.

“It hasn’t been an easy decision, it has been very difficult for me to decide because Real Sociedad have given me so much,” Illarramendi said. “I was on holiday when we started to hear about the interest from Real Madrid. There were contacts, we mulled it over and came to the conclusion that it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. It’s a unique opportunity.”

Unique, maybe. Life changing, definitely.

(MORE: Real Madrid confirm Isco capture, set to unveil former Málaga star)

The Spanish youngster is seen as the long-term replacement for Spanish international Xabi Alonso in the engine room of Madrid’s midfield and with fellow Under-21 star Isco joining him, Illarramendi will have a partner in crime straight away. So is this what Real will become under Ancelotti? Instead of buying top foreign talent, it seems as if Madrid’s new mantra is to snap up the best domestic players available.

Splashing out on Isco and Illarramendi has cost over $90 million and the future of Real seems to have been placed on their shoulders. Investing in two rising stars for the future was never Madrid’s way in the past, now, refreshingly, it seems to be the way forward.

And now relative veterans such as Kaká, Pepe and Gonzalo Higuain are being forced towards the exit door as the young stars roll into town.

(MORE: Ancelotti promises “most spectacular football” at Real Madrid)

Can Isco and Illarramendi wreck havoc in a new-look Madrid side next season? Bet on it. These two are something special. And if you hadn’t heard of Illarramendi before this huge transfer, you’ll be hearing plenty of rave reviews this season from the Santiago Bernabeu.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”