Arrigo Sacchi cautious about Neymar at Barcelona, evokes Ibrahimovic

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When Arrigo Sacchi speaks, it’s worth a listen, particularly if he’s willing to prognosticate as to how the most celebrated transfer of the summer will do upon his European debut. But contrary to how these quotes were widely packaged, the Milan legend doesn’t do that here. No, he’s not comparing Neymar’s move to Barcelona to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s, a transfer that ended with the Swedish icon moving back to Italy after one season. That’s how Sacchi’s comments are being sold, but that’s just not the case.

Instead, all Sacchi’s is doing is noting there are a wide array of possibilities for Neymar’s immediate future. Because Barcelona are such a style-driven team, it’s possible the young Brazilian could fail to fit in. And if so, then yes, he could end up like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Or Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Or Alex Song, or any of a number of players that haven’t meld with Barcelona as well as originally expected.

(Also worth noting: Barcelona is not the only club in the world that occasionally fails to see a transfer live up to expectations, though their dogmatic approach does leave them more susceptible to this happening.)

So while there are a number of interpretations online that summarize these quotes with something like ‘Neymar could fail like Ibrahimovic,’ it’s worth noting Sacchi never makes a direct comparison. His words (as complied by Sambafoot):

“I don’t know how Neymar will do at Barcelona,” Sacchi was quoted as saying by Marca, as reported on Goal.com.

“At Barca, the style of play is more important than anything else. We will have to wait and see if Neymar fits in.

“All I’m saying is that you don’t know how something will pan out. Just look at what happened with Ibrahimovic.

“He had all the talent to play at Barca, yet in the end he did not fit in with the rest of the players.”

We’ve written before about Neymar at Barcelona. It seems like a good fit, though all of Sacchi’s caveats still apply. In addition, with so much talent at the Nou Camp, the margin for error’s even smaller. If you’re not cutting it, there’ll be somebody right behind you.

That said, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar are obviously entirely different players. A number nine, Ibrahimovic was being brought in precisely because he wasn’t a typical Barcelona player. He was somebody that gave Pep Guardiola an option to play a more direct game, when needed. He was always more likely to fall flat than most, if stylistic fit is the biggest barrier.

But his failure in Cataluyna may be more attributable to a personality conflict with his coach and the evolving tactics of the team (Lionel Messi’s move to being a player who plays centrally). Even not being able to drive the cars he wanted seemed to be a big deal to “Ibra”. His was a complex situation, one that transcended mere stylistic concerns.

Neymar’s situation is entirely different. Likely to be played wide left and used as an alternative to what Barcelona tries to accomplish through Messi, his game doesn’t have to be as tightly integrated stylistically to the players who play through the middle. Even if that changes — if Neymar does find himself playing more and more through the middle — he possesses more ability to play Barcelona’s style than anybody who’s been brought in, short of Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba.

Nobody knows how Neymar will do in Barcelona, so we can all agree with Sacchi’s skepticism. But if stylistic concerns and comparisons to Ibrahimovic are the root of somebody’s concern, they probably shouldn’t be too worried about Neymar’s future with Barça.

2017 CONCACAF Awards shortlist revealed

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The 2017 CONCACAF Awards shortlist is up, and fan voting counts.

Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Christian Pulisic are among the nominees for Men’s Player of the Year. Philadelphia Union’s Jamaican backstop, Andre Blake, is also on the list along with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and others.

[ MORE: Big American Soccer Survey results ]

The Female Player of the Year is predictably American-heavy, with Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz, Megan Rapinoe, Sam Mewis, and Tobin Heath competing with a trio of international players.

Tim Howard is the only American up for Male Goalkeeper of the Year, though Blake is again in the running. The female side has American backstops Adrianna Franch, Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, Jane Campbell, and Nicole Barnhart.

The full ballot, including Best XI, coaches, referees, and goals, is up for your votes here.

UCL: Chelsea advances vs. 10-man Qarabag (video)

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  • Chelsea into knockout rounds
  • Willian draws two penalties, scores two more
  • Hazard, Fabregas score

Willian scored two goals from the run of play and drew a pair of penalties in Azerbaijan, as Chelsea beat 10-man Qarabag 4-0 on Wednesday.

His second goal was a fantastic thump from atop the arc, and further iced the result in the 85th minute.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Qarabag hung tough for the first 20 minutes, but saw its odds of getting a point take a hit with a penalty and red card.

Rashad Sadygov made contact with Willian inside the 18, and Portuguese referee Manuel de Sousa awarded a penalty. That was understandable, but surprisingly he produced his red card to send Qarabag down a man.

Eden Hazard converted his low penalty, wrong footing keeper Ibrahim Sehic, and Chelsea took a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute.

Willian would score a goal of his own in the 36th, part of a terrific team goal with Hazard and Pedro.

The Blues were largely content to let Qarabag have the ball early in the second half, but resumed control around the hour mark and Sehic made an outstanding stop on Hazard before substitute Alvaro Morata dragged a shot wide of the far post.

Willian drew a second penalty in the 71st minute, as Maksim Medvedev tugged on the Brazilian’s jersey on a dribble into the 18. Yellow card for this foul.

Cesc Fabregas scored but two Chelsea players infringed on the 18 thanks to the shooter’s stuttering — and stopping — PK. He finished the second as well as the first. 3-0.

Willian added the fourth with a vicious strike five minutes from the end of scheduled play.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia fires coach Edgardo Bauza

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) World Cup-bound Saudi Arabia has fired coach Edgardo Bauza nine days before the draw.

The Saudi Arabia Football Federation announced the Argentine coach’s exit after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria this month.

[ MORE: Big American Soccer Survey results ]

Bauza has been fired twice this year by teams in the World Cup lineup. He lost the Argentina job in April, after eight months in charge, when the two-time World Cup champions risked missing out on qualification.

In September, Bauza was appointed by Saudi Arabia to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to its first World Cup since 2006.

Saudi Arabia joins Australia without a coach for the World Cup draw in Moscow on Dec. 1.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man Utd in Champions League

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Manchester United is in Basel as one of six 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday kickoffs, as the Red Devils can qualify for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League.

Jose Mourinho’s men line up like this: Romero; Darmian, Rojo, Smalling, Blind; Pogba, Herrera, Fellaini; Lingard, Lukaku, Martial

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Champions League scores ]

There was a Premier League side in action to kick off another day of UEFA Champions League action.

Chelsea picked up a 3-0 win versus Azerbaijan side Qarabag in Baku on Wednesday, boosting the Blues into the knockout rounds. CSKA Moscow beat Benfica in Russia at the same time.

Full schedule
Qarabag 0-4 Chelsea — RECAP
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Benfica — Shchennikov scores winner
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Celtic — 2:45 p.m. ET
Juventus vs. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Roma — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon vs. Olympiacos — 2:45 p.m. ET
Anderlecht vs. Bayern Munich — 2:45 p.m. ET
Basel vs. Manchester United — 2:45 p.m. ET