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.

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

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Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.