Koke

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

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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.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

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.

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.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.