Thigh injury will likely sideline di María for rest of the World Cup; what are Argentina’s options?

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One of Argentina’s most important players will miss the final two games of the World Cup, but since his name isn’t Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, or Sergio Agüero, his contributions may be overlooked. Yet anybody who watched the UEFA Champions League final (or, any Real Madrid game over the last four years) knows the value of Ángel di María.

Within a talented Argentina team that often lacks flexibility, the winger/forward/midfielder’s presence may be even more valuable. His combination of talent, versatility, and relentless work makes Di María a player that would fit into any team in the world.

Unfortunately for the Albiceleste, over the final two rounds of this year’s World Cup, that team won’t be theirs. Having suffered a right thigh tear today against Belgium, the 26-year-old is expected to be ruled out of the semifinals and, if Argentina defeats the Netherlands, Brazil 2014’s final. An official announcement is expected on Sunday.

From reporting by The Guardian:

Di María suffered the tear when mustering a shot, which was blocked by Vincent Kompany, with his team leading 1-0 in Brasilia. He received treatment on the pitch and attempted to play on, but crumpled back to the turf moments later before hobbling away in tears … The Argentina manager, Alejandro Sabella, initially expressed hopes the injury would not prove too serious … However, the severity of the tear became clearer over the course of evening with media in Argentina reporting the Real Madrid player, who had scored the team’s late winner against Switzerland in the round of 16, was now resigned to missing the remainder of the finals.

With Argentina showing so many different looks this World Cup, it’s difficult to know how, exactly, this will affect Sabella’s team. Maybe that can turn into an advantage against the Dutch, who have tailored their set up for each opponent.

Without di María, Sabella could elect to put Agüero back in the team, switching back to 4-3-3 that worked before the tournament. But if di María’s not there to severe as the midfield’s linking element, Messi may be drawn further from goal. Perhaps Enzo Pérez could be that guy, but the Albiceleste may not have another central midfielder who can fill that role.

With that in mind, it makes more sense than ever to keep Agüero on the bench and simply replace di María with somebody who can play wider. That replacement could be Pérez, who came on against Belgium, or it could be veteran right-winger Maxi Rodríguez, if Sabella wants to tweak his team’s shape. Ricardo Álvarez and Rodrigo Palacio are other possibilities, but with the width the Netherlands has utilized through their wing backs, relying on either of those Inter Milan attackers to keep up is more hopefully than prudent.

Then again, Argentina could go back to the five-defender setup -the one they used in their tournament’s opening match. Unfortunately, that leaves Sabella with the same questions he’d have with a 4-3-3: How does Argentina play an effective three-man midfield without Di María?

At some point over the next three days, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal will have to make an educated guess about how Argentina will play and set up his team accordingly, but given di María’s importance, a guess will be as good as it gets. Even van Gaal will some uncertainty as to how Argentina replaces Ángel Di María.

Soccer world reacts to the Manchester attacks

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NBC News is reporting that at least 19 people have been killed and another 50 are injured following a possible suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials who are monitoring British authorities told NBC News that preliminary reports indicate that a single explosion took place outside the arena on the southwest side opposite the train station. The explosion occurred as the concert ended, catching people as they exited.

Soccer clubs, players and personalities around the world are reacting to the horrible event.

Juventus purchases Cuadrado from Chelsea

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If you didn’t realize Juan Cuadrado still belonged to Chelsea, you’re forgiven.

The Colombian attacker will complete his second season at Juventus after the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and won’t be headed back to Chelsea afterwards.

Juve has purchased Cuadrado, and the fee is $22 million, and Juve will pay it over three seasons. Cuadrado, 28, is now signed through 2020 with The Old Lady.

Cuadrado first went on loan to Juve in Aug. 2015, and has eight goals and 18 assists in 83 career appearances with the club.

Chelsea bought Cuadrado from Fiorentina for around $32 million in the January 2015 transfer window, but made just 14 appearances with the club.

Report: Jermain Defoe meeting with Bournemouth

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Sky Sports is reporting that Jermain Defoe may head back to the south of England following Sunderland’s relegation.

Defoe, 34, spent two seasons with Portsmouth between 2008-09, scoring 15 goals in 31 appearances.

[ MORE: ‘The Moment’ of each PL club’s season ]

The 56-times capped England striker had a clause in his Sunderland contract allowing him to leave the Stadium of Light were the Black Cats to be relegated, as they were this season. He’d have little interest in dropping into the Championship given his desire to stay a part of the England squad ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Bournemouth’s strike corps includes Joshua King, who scored the most goals of any player not on a Top Seven side this season. King’s 16 goals were one more than Defoe’s 15, though the latter scored just one goal following a brace against Crystal Palace on Feb. 4.

Chelsea’s Conte wins pair of top managerial honors

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Antonio Conte took league and national honors from the League Managers Association on Monday night.

The Chelsea boss was named Premier League Manager of the Year and Manager of the Year after leading the Blues to the PL title and an FA Cup Final in his first year on the job.

Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton nabbed another Championship boss of the year award after leading the Gulls to the Premier League. He also won the honor with Newcastle United in 2010.

The League One winner is Chris Wilder of Sheffield United. Wilder won the honor with Northampton Town last season.

In League Two, Paul Cook of Portsmouth was named the winner.