2014 World Cup team preview: Argentina

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Getting to know… Argentina: Heading into this tournament Argentina are one of the favorites as the South American side aim to win their third World Cup. With Lionel Messi leading the way and the tournament being played in Brazil, their fierce rivals, Argentina will be hoping to upset the host nation. Argentina have two previous World Cups to their name as they won on home soil in 1978, then were inspired by Diego Maradona at the height of his power to win the 1986 tournament in Mexico. When you look at the incredible attacking talents they possess, Argentina will be a real threat this summer. However the last two tournaments they were also one of the favorites but fell at the quarterfinal stage on both occasions. They must do better this time around.

Record in qualifying: The South American powerhouse breezed through qualification from CONMEBOL as they finished top of the standings. Nine wins from 16 games and only two defeats saw La Albiceleste brush off Colombia and Chile to take the top seed. Messi banged in 10 goals, Gonzalo Higuain scored nine and the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero also chipped in with plenty of important strikes as Argentina finished with 35 goals to finish as top scorers. With old foes Brazil qualifying automatically at hosts, qualifying was a lot easier than it usually is for Argentina.

Which group are they in? The Argentine’s find themselves in Group F alongside dark horses Bosnia, outsiders Iran and African champions Nigeria. Simply put, they are huge favorites to win their group. If they do not, ,massive questions will be asked of manager Alejandro Sabella as to why he is not getting the best from his talented squad.

Game schedule:

15 June, 18:00, Rio de Janeiro – Argentina vs. Bosnia

21 June, 12:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran

25 June, 12:00, Porto Alegre – Nigeria vs. Argentina.

Star player: Lionel Messi

The skipper is ready to break out at a World Cup and after an unsuccessful season with FC Barcelona in Spain, expect Messi to be fired up and ready to go. This is the tournament where he will be in his prime and Messi’s powers should rip apart all of Argentina’s group stage opponents. In the past many have criticized Messi’s performances for the national team but he has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina. That is nowhere near his incredible numbers at club level and reflects his slight struggles internationally and the expectation of a nation on his shoulders. Messi has won everything else in the game, all he needs now is a World Cup.

source: Getty Images
Can Aguero and Messi fire Argentina to victory in Brazil?

Manager: Alejandro Sabella

A former assistant coach of Argentina under Daniel Passarella, Sabella has excelled since taking charge in the summer of 2011. The former Argentine national team player has a win percentage of just under 60 percent and has only lost four of his 32 games in charge of La Albiceleste. Sabella coached Estudiantes to Copa Libertadores success in 2009 and with Messi, Higuain, Di Maria and Aguero up top, he has been able to get the best out of Argentina’s attackers.

Secret weapon: Being behind enemy lines

Argentina will hop over the border to compete for the World Cup in Brazil. They will face a hostile atmosphere and plenty of adversity during the tournament from the home fans. Dealing with that adversity is key and can often get the best out of teams. If Argentina can succeed in channeling the negative energy shown towards them into a positive, then that will forge a fantastic team spirit.

Prediction: With their supreme attacking talents Argentina should blow teams away in Brazil however the one area you have to say is pretty weak is in defense. Martin Demichelis was in and out during his first season at Manchester City but the veteran will be at the heart of Argentina’s defense. If they can stay tight at the back like they did in qualifying, they have every chance of contesting the final against their old foes Brazil. What a final that would be.

West Brom: Evans relegation release reportedly just $4m

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Jonny Evans has been fantastic for West Bromwich Albion this season, shepherding the Baggies back line while being involved in as many goals as any player not named Salomon Rondon or Jay Rodriguez.

[ MORE: High profile loan for Palace ]

So it would make sense for West Brom to hang onto the player at almost all costs given its status as a team in danger of the drop after its slow start under Tony Pulis has kept its lackluster pace under Alan Pardew.

Here’s the rub: Some big clubs would like to purchase Evans, who has 18 months left on his deal but reportedly no interest in signing a new deal the Hawthorns. Even worse? Monday’s story that a Baggies’ relegation would make his buyout clause just over $4 million.

Defenders who cost more last summer on the Premier League market include Jan Bednarek, Nathan Ake, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Florian Lejeune, Mathias Jorgensen, Andrew Robertson, Bruno Martins Indi, and many others.

Heck, Evans’ buyout clause is the same price Derby County paid Liverpool for Andre Wisdom. And these fees are all pre-Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool madness.

Considering only Swansea and Brighton have scored fewer league goals than the Baggies, who are just now committing to a two-striker approach under Pardew, does it make sense for West Brom to sell now?

Evans’ value at 18 months out will be more than it is at 12 months out even if the Baggies avoid relegation, but he’s possibly a lynch pin of the team. And the volatile value for attackers mean the $25-35 million he’d generate may not make for like-for-like value.

It’s not an easy decision, but desperate times call for similar measures. The Baggies have played in four nil-nils this season, and lost 1-0 to relegation rivals Southampton and Huddersfield Town away. Both of the reverse fixtures remain.

There are creative options here, too. Would Jurgen Klopp sanction a high(ish) profile attacker loan to WBA in order to pair Evans with Van Dijk? Same for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

Palace loan: Rakip joins Malmo hero Hodgson

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Erdal Rakip’s whirlwind season is heading to London.

The Swedish international sealed a permanent deal to Benfica this month, but is set for a loan at Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Rakip, 21, has made 120 appearances with 12 goals for Malmo in betrayal of his tender age, including a career-high nine goals in 2017 as the Swedish champs sealed a fourth title in five years.

Helping seal the deal was Hodgson’s status as Malmo legend, leading the club to five league titles and two Swedish cups. From CPFC.co.uk:

“It will be an honour playing for Roy. He is a legend in Malmö and everyone know who he is,” Erdal added. “Crystal Palace is a fantastic club with a lot of history that plays entertaining football, and was the best option for my development and my career at this stage.

Malmo has lost two big players in the past six months in Rakip and Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun.

Given Palace’s injuries, players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye were going to be taxed a lot by the run-in to safety. Rakip will help with that.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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  • Reds clobbered Swans on Boxing Day
  • Swans six points adrift
  • Reds go third with three-goal win
  • Liverpool leads all-time 23W-8D-11L

Liverpool looks to avoid a letdown when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea City has managed a win over the Reds in each of the previous two seasons, but was simply crushed by Jurgen Klopp‘s men in a 5-0 defeat at Anfield last month.

WATCH ON NBCSN AND ONLINE HERE AT 3 P.M. ET

The hosts badly need to pick up points, though few expect them to do so on Monday. Skeptics, however, will note that Liverpool under Klopp has been giants against the top teams and often lackluster against the other sides.

What they’re saying

Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal on springing an upset“I would prefer to be Goliath, I would rather be in his position. But during my career most of the time has been spent in the position of David, and we have been able to do some surprises as David. We have done it often, we are working to make more of them. I was kind of the Goliath when I was with Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon, but during those moments Goliath was a little ill.”

Liverpool’s Klopp on goalkeeper Loris KariusMy favourite solution, always, is that we do it with our boys. They step up, they deliver, they improve. The problem they have is that everyone is watching them (through a magnifying glass) and saying ‘still not good enough!’ I will only mention one name. Everyone talks about him with us and that is Butland. I only saw the game (against Manchester United). Fantastic goalkeeper but was he perfect? No. He wasn’t in that game. But everyone says ‘still better than our boys!'”

Prediction

It’s hard to see this going in Swans favor at all, though we’ll peg them to keep it close on the score board: 2-0 to Liverpool.

Transfer rumor roundup: Schurrle to Newcastle, Spurs

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A new name has emerged on the loan market, as Borussia Dortmund forward Andre Schurrle is reportedly being made available for the second half of the Premier League season.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Newcastle United reportedly leads the pack for the former Chelsea scorer, who is struggling to get time at BVB thanks to a glut of fantastic wingers including Christian Pulisic.

Magpies boss Rafa Benitez has a good relationship with the Westfalenstadion set, having taken Mikel Merino off their hands in August. Newcastle currently uses Christian Atsu on the left wing and Matt Ritchie on the right, but Schurrle can play center forward and Benitez may prefer to use the 27-year-old in the middle of his trident.

But they’ll face competition, and HITC says BVB is willing to pay half of his wages on an 18-month deal to keep him reasonable for some clubs. This could be a boon for Spurs.

Newcastle and Stoke City have also been linked with Galatasaray midfielder Papa “Badou” Ndiaye, with the Magpies said to have bid just a bit higher than the Potters but still under Gala’s buyout clause.

And here’s a wild one, according to ESPN: Chelsea’s rumored pursuit of current Premier League scorers now includes Marko Arnautovic. The audacious Austrian attacker cost West Ham around $35 million when his head was turned from Stoke City in the summer.

He didn’t perform well but Slaven Bilic, but David Moyes has been able to get some fine performances from the powerful Arnautovic. Chelsea has previously been linked with West Ham teammate Andy Carroll, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, and Stoke’s Peter Crouch as it attempts to find a center forward to ease the burden placed on Alvaro Morata in his first Premier League season.