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?

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?