Italy Soccer Serie A

Fernando Llorente: Carlos Tévez and I deserve to go to the World Cup

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Combining for 32 goals this season, imputed strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tévez have helped Juventus run away with another Italian title, with the Spaniard adding his latest in the Old Lady’s 2-0 Monday win at Udinese. Yet despite their roles on a prominent club, neither man is set to feature in Brazil, with the depth of talent in the Spanish and Argentine national teams meaning two of Serie A’s leading goal scorers could miss out on this summer’s World Cup.

It’s a situation Llorente doesn’t understand:

“How is it possible that Tevez and I won’t play at the World Cup?” Llorente told Sky Italia, as reported by Football Italia. “The Italian League is difficult and competitive and we are hoping we can go to the World Cup.”

I think I see the problem. Is Llorente is looking at his relevance at club-level and assuming it somehow makes Spain’s talent pool more shallow than when he was at Athletic? Surely that can’t be the case, but that appears to be his logic.

And it’s not entirely faulty. The thinking goes ‘perhaps I wasn’t doing enough with Athletic, but now I’m at a bigger club showing I can play with the best. What move can I prove?’

But that success doesn’t diminish the quality of Diego Costa. Or Álvaro Negredo. Or Pedro Rodríguez, or Cesc Fábregas, who Spain use as a false nine. Those were the forwards Vicente del Bosque recalled for the Italy friendly in early March. Is Llorente suggesting he has passed any of them?

Or course his is, but his potential inclusion need not be at any of their expense. In del Bosque’s mind, the choice will more likely be ‘should I sacrifice some midfield depth to include this late match option?’ At this point, he doesn’t appear inclined to do so.

I doubt anybody in Spain is surprised Llorente is doing well in Italy. He has always been respected, but he’s also been a strange fit – one that became less viable when players like Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado started stepping up. Soldado’s struggles with Tottenham change the picture a little, but Llorente’s strong year at Juventus is unlikely to sway hearts or minds. He is what they thought he was.

As for Tévez, a player who at times has enjoyed huge popularity in his home country, the situation is similar. Argentina look set to start Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín. Alejandro Sabella has Ezequiel Lavezzi as a change-of-pace option. He can move Ángel Di María up from midfield. He also has José Sosa at his disposal. For a team that needs options in midfield and defense, extra strikers may not be possible.

source: Getty Images
In his first season in Italy, Carlos Tévez has 18 goals for Juventus. He is also unlikely to be selected for Argentina this summer. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Besides (and unlike Llorente), there’s a feeling of “been there, done that” with Tévez, who hasn’t appeared for Argentina in three years. Even when he was in the team, his production fell short of his performances at club level (13 goals, 64 appearances). An ill-fit with Argentina’s other attacking options, Tévez’s inclusion would only be an acknowledgement of his club performance or popularity. On the field for Argentina, he hasn’t worked since Messi emerged, part of the reason he’s never been called up under Sabella.

That one part of the equation Llorente is overlooking. The other: Just because you’re having a good year doesn’t mean others aren’t also performing well. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s a mistake we all make. We see performances and compare it to an implicit standard in our heads, saying things like “surely he should go to the World Cup.” But the standard isn’t some abstract World Cup Guy. It’s the rest of the field.

Llorente may be performing well, but does that make him one of Spain’s four-or-five best strikers? And also a good fit for how del Bosque wants to play?

And Tévez may end up leading Italy in scoring. Does that mean he would suddenly start replicating those performances for the Albiceleste?

The best answer to Llorente’s question, how it’s possible he and Tévez won’t be going to Brazil, might be a question in return: Why, after years of irrelevance to your national team, do you suddenly see yourself as a necessary part? Why has your performance for Juventus suddenly redefined the Spanish soccer world?

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.