Spain’s reign may be over, but la Roja will be ready come Euro 2016


It’s not so much that people hate Spain, though based on the reaction Wednesday’s result, you could come to that conclusion. More likely, the reaction’s about success, and how the sports world reacts to it. Through Spain’s triumph at Euro 2008 was adored, their elimination from Brazil 2014 was met with a backlash. After six years of being sold the Spaniards’ virtues, the world is done with la Roja.

Given how sports cycles work, it’s be natural to assume Spain need to reset, and to a certain extent, that’s obviously true. Carles Puyol is gone, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández are past their primes, and the opposition has had time to adjust. Tiki-taka’s not dead, in the face of waning talent, it’s no longer enough.

But as Sid Lowe reminded us today at The Guardianit may not be long before the emperor has new clothes. There’s a generation of new talent which, having already made an impact at club-level, is ready to step in, and if results at UEFA’s U-level competitions are any indication, this generation will again prove superior to their European peers. Opportunity seems to be their biggest problem.

That’s why Spain’s Brazil 2014 can turn into a blessing, of sorts. For too long, Vicente Del Bosque has had to consider whether to fix something that wasn’t broken, but one-sided matches against the Netherlands and Chile left no doubt. The team’s beyond broken. It’s shattered, giving Del Bosque license to not only tweak but completely rebuild.

But consider the collection of talent that will be part of that rebuild:

source: Getty ImagesDavid de Gea, G, Manchester United – It’s now clear the 23-year-old is the best keeper in Spain’s pool. Though an injury has kept him from contributing in Brazil, he’ll represent an upgrade if (or, when) he takes the one-shirt during qualifying for 2016. Having established himself a Manchester United, de Gea’s a tough call Del Bosque should have made before Brazil 2014.

Iñigo Martínez, CB, Real Sociedad – The lack of depth in central defense was one of Spain’s major problems in Brazil, but if Martínez (23) had been integrated into the team sooner, Del Bosque would have had more options when his central pair failed so spectacularly against the Dutch. After making the all tournament team at last year’s Euro U-21 championship. Martínez got his first senior team cap, but Del Bosque has since remained loyal to more established stars.

Koke, M, Atlético Madrid (above)
Thiago Alcantara, M, Bayern Munich
– Out injured for Brazil, Alcantara (23) captained the team that won last year’s U-21s, while Koke’s (22) performance at Atlético Madrid earned him time on Wednesday. If Xabi Alonso’s starting spot is also reconsidered (as it should be), these two could join Sergio Busquets as the new core of Spain’s team; at least, in midfield.

source: APIsco, M/F, Real Madrid
Jesé Rodríguez, F, Real Madrid (right)
Álvaro Morata, F, Real Madrid
Daniel Carvajal, RB, Real Madrid
Asier Illarramendi, M, Real Madrid
– Particularly with its three young attackers, Real Madrid has an enviable collection of up-and-coming talent, one that will threaten to from a gap between the Merengues and Barcelona. On the international level, the means a Roja side that won so much with a Barcelona core will turn to Spain’s other titans to prolong its success. The style of play may not shift dramatically, but it will change, proving more versatile in the future.

Marc Bartra, Barcelona
Martín Montoya, Barcelona – Not that the Catalan giants won’t be represented in the next generation, too, thanks to these two defenders. Unfortunately, neither of these prospects have gotten a prolonged chance at Barcelona. If they perform as they did at last summer’s U-21s (both making the team of the tournament), Spain will a have new generation to augment Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, and Cesar Azpilicueta, none of whom are over 28 years old. Sevilla left back Alberto Moreno (21) will be an option, too.

Iker Muniaín, Athletic Bilbao
Ander Herrera, Athletic Bilbao – Muniaín has been contributing to Athletic’s first team for so long, it’s had to believe he’s only 21 years old. Yet between him and Herrera (24), another enviable central midfield talent, the Lions have two more talents that can join Javi Martínez as contributors to La Roja.

And then there’s all the older players who, as Spain tweaks its approach, could become more valuable. Manchester City winger Jesus Navas was desperately missed over the last two games, and while Fernando Llorente is redundant to Diego Costa, redundancy isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a 23-man squad.

What will that look like on the field? Something like:

G – David de Gea
LB – Jordi Alba
CB – Sergio Ramos
CB – Gerard Piqué
RB – Daniel Carvajal
DM – Sergio Busquets
CM – Thiago Alcantara
CM – Koke
AM – Andrés Iniesta
F – Jesé Rodríguez
F – Diego Costa

Perhaps Isco’s in there instead of Jesé. Perhaps one or two other spots are different, but while some are critical of that central defense, when healthy, that duo has won titles. Regardless, Spain’s not going anywhere. In fact, la Roja may improve.

No longer worried about disrupting a proven formula, Spain’s coach can look at the team’s talent with a open mind. The right combination could help reclaim a spot on top of the soccer world.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.