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What we learned from Real Madrid’s five-goal, Champions League rout of Schalke

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  • Europe has a clear one-two

Count Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund among teams that could win Champions League, but if you see a European power ranking than has anybody but Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the top two spots, hit Ctrl+W, go to Twitter, unfollow the author and be thankful for all the free time you’ll have going forward. On current form, there’s no question Bayern and El Real are the world’s top two teams. Anything other ranking is talking potential, not present day reality.

After today’s 6-1 blowout in Gelsenkirchen, Real Madrid hasn’t lost since late October. In that time, they’ve climbed to the top of the Spanish league and dealt two lopsided defeats to an Atlético team that entered the month with one all-competition loss. Today at Schalke, their 6-1 served as a counterpoint to the moderation Ancelotti preached in yesterday’s press conference. Whether planned or not, this was a statement of intent, one which saw their talented attack pile on its overmatched opponent.

Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund both lost in league this weekend. Paris Saint-Germain lost to Montpellier last month. All of England’s top teams have stumbled recently. In the meantime, Bayern and Real press on. Bayern hasn’t lost since Dec. 10 (their only competitive defeat under Pep Guardiola), while Real Madrid hasn’t fallen since Oct. 26’s trip to the Nou Camp.

(MORE: Real Madrid sends Champions League message with 6-1 demolition of Schalke)

  • Harsh realities for the German Bundesliga 

Only Spain’s Liga sports a better one-two than Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but beyond that duopoly, the Bundesliga looks a lot like the Spanish Primera División before Atlético Madrid’s recent emergence. While a BVB team that’s struggling in league gives the false impression teams like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke can match their play, the league actually has two European elites that are head and shoulders ahead of the circuit’s versions of Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal and Málaga.

Last week provided the first evidence, with Bayer Leverkusen putting up no fight as Paris Saint-Germain took a 4-0 lead of the BayArena. Today, Schalke’s result was even worse, with three Real Madrid players scoring twice as the Miners fell behind, 6-1. If this is what the Bundesliga has to offer beyond Bayern and Dortmund, it’s difficult to argue this is the best league in the world.

And in fairness, that argument’s only gained momentum over the last two years. And compared to leagues like Italy’s or France’s, Germany certainly has enviable depth. Ligue 1 only placed one team in the knockout round, while two of Serie A’s three qualifiers also departed in the group stages.

But where the Bundesliga is now being mentioned with England and Spain as the top leagues in the world, results like Bayer’s and Schalke’s are informative. The circuit still has a way to go to make the argument its on the same level as the Premier League or La Liga.

(MORE: Chelsea fails to kill off Galatasaray as home side earns a 1-1 draw)

  • source: APSan Iker still capable of brilliance

The scoresheet speaks to Real Madrid’s attacking brilliance, but a highlight at the other end of the field shouldn’t be overlooked. One minute after Karim Benzema gave los Blancos and early lead, Iker Casillas — the team’s No. 1 in cup competitions only — offered a reminder of why he’s still Spain’s first choice. On a cross from the right for Julian Draxler, San Iker was able to get back from the left post to the middle of goal, his leaping stop denying the talented German from four yards out. On a day where Casillas saw little action, the Madrid icon made one of the tournament’s best saves.

The controversy around the Madrid legend’s benching died down this summer, but performances like today’s offer a reminder. Casillas may not be the elite keeper he was four years ago, but he’s still more than capable of moments that evoke similar qualities. Whether it’s for Real Madrid or another club, the 32-year-old is still worthy of being somebody’s starter. He is, after all, in goal for one of the top teams in this year’s Champions League.

Joel Matip set to miss a month as FIFA dispute continues

DERBY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Joel Matip of Liverpool in action during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Derby County and Liverpool at iPro Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Liverpool could be without central defender Joel Matip for another month.

[ MORE: Costa trains on own ]

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

Now, Matip and Liverpool are in limbo and the Reds do now want to risk facing a FIFA sanction for playing someone who is deemed ineligible for selection.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules which are as follows:

“A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”

What now?

Cameroon is not releasing Matip as they obviously feel slighted that he didn’t want to play for them (even though he hasn’t made an appearance for The Indomitable Lions since Sept. 2015) so now Liverpool must wait for them to be knocked out of AFCON unless an agreement is reached. If Cameroon make it to the final on Feb. 5 then Matip will not be available to play for Liverpool again until Feb. 10.

Matip was left out of Liverpool’s squad for the 1-1 draw at Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday as there wasn’t any clear guidance given to the club by FIFA on his availability.

After the game his manager Jurgen Klopp revealed his true feelings about the situation.

“Our understanding is Joel is retired from international football and we, the club, did everything we had to do to make this clear but until now we could not get the response we need to be 100 per cent sure that he can play,” Klopp said. “It’s pretty difficult and pretty frustrating, to be honest. He’s been in training for five days and would have been in the squad, 100 per cent, maybe on the pitch today, so I don’t think it’s fair. But we cannot do more and are still waiting on the decision. We could not take the risk. It is public now, we have this problem and we are not the only team with this problem.”

I’m with Klopp. Shambles.

West Bromwich Albion are also dealing with a similar situation with Cameroon as Allan Nyom cannot get FIFA clearance to play after he also refused a call up.

As for Liverpool, Matip has been key since arriving last summer on a free transfer, playing 14 games in all competitions and scoring once. His partnership with Dejan Lovren has now been broken up and Ragnar Klavan has looked shaky since coming back into the team after Matip’s ankle injury which last saw him play on Dec. 11 against Middlesbrough.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa trains on his own

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Emirates FA Cup sixth round match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on March 12, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Reports from multiple outlets in the UK claim that Diego Costa trained on his own on Monday.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable

That shouldn’t be too surprising but anything to do with Costa right now is news.

Costa, 28, was left out of Chelsea’s squad for the 3-0 victory at Leicester City on Saturday but manager Antonio Conte cited a back injury for the absence of the Premier League’s leading scorer who has 14 goals and five assists this season.

However, reports emerged last Friday that Costa was involved in a training ground bust up last Tuesday with a member of Chelsea’s medical staff and had a heated debate with Conte. Couple that with reports of a monster contract offer of over $40 million per year from the Chinese Super League and you have, reportedly, a player in turmoil.

Pro Soccer Talk can confirm that Chelsea’s players who played on Saturday were given two days off by Conte, so the vast majority of the squad were not in training on Monday.

Photos taken on Monday (below) show Costa on his own at Chelsea’s Cobham base on Monday and he has supposedly been working on his own for the past two days as he tries to regain full fitness.

All of this will add further fuel to the fire that Costa has been exiled from the first team due to his supposed row with Conte, but it must be noted that it is not uncommon for players returning from an injury to train on their own until they get back up to speed.

It is thought that Costa has been working hard in the past two days in individual sessions to prove to Conte and his staff that he can return to first team training. Whatever you want to believe is going on, Costa’s importance to Chelsea is clear as their top scorer is needed back fast despite their seven-point lead at the PL’s summit.

Chelsea is a different team without Costa and although Eden Hazard and Co. breezed past Leicester at the weekend, they didn’t look the same in attack and they need Costa back ASAP.

Both Costa and Conte should put their differences aside, but it seems as though Conte will be the one who will be dictating the next step and its up to Costa to make amends.

What lies ahead for USMNT in January camp?

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Bruce Arena’s reign as the new U.S. national team head coach is well under way and the veteran seems to be enjoying his second stint in charge after 10 years away.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable ]

The USMNT have been training in Carson, Calif. over the past five days and a pretty cool behind-the-scenes video of the opening day of training was released by U.S. Soccer (see above) to show how Arena has been getting on.

With 31 players currently in camp, Arena is enjoying himself (banter with DaMarcus Beasley and waxing lyrical about Jermaine Jones says as much) but he already has one eye on the two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama coming up in March.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

This camp will be key for the MLS-heavy contingent, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo getting another chance to impress for the Stars and Stripes. So many youngsters have emerged from these camps in the past, with Kekuta Manneh, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman just some of the young talent looking to not only make their debuts but also become regulars in the USMNT setup.

Veterans Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and others are all around and ready to prove their worth to the new boss too.

Below is a quick look at what lies ahead for his team during January camp (and beyond) as they prepare for two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to tune themselves up for the World Cup qualifiers when the European contingent will join the squad.


Training

  • Jan. 11-28 – Carson, Calif.

Friendlies 

  • Jan. 29 – Serbia in San Diego, Calif.
  • Feb. 3 – Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn.

2018 World Cup qualifiers

  • Mar. 24 – vs. Honduras in San Jose, Calif.
  • Mar. 28 – at Panama in Panama City

Study reveals Europe’s 100 most valuable players

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (L) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur (R) during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Wait, what?

[ MORE: Title race over for City? ]

A study from the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has slapped valuations on Europe’s top stars and both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t the most valuable.

Hmm.

The guys over at the Football Observatory, the soccer arm of CIES, always do a great job with these kind of studies and below you will find who they’ve ranked as the 100 most valuable players in Europe’s top five leagues.

CIES take players’ performance on the pitch, contract length, age and many other factors into place when ranking them and in the extensive study 10 Premier League clubs have players included as stars from Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur feature.

In total, 38 PL players are in the top 100.

Neymar is the most valuable player in Europe as the Barcelona star has a valuation of $261.5 million, which puts him way ahead of Lionel Messi who sits in second place with a value of $180.6 million.In third place is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba who has a value of $164.5 million, while Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez round out the top five.

Below is the top 100 list in full, courtesy of CIES, with their club, age and when their current contract runs out listed.

Do you agree with their valuations?


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