Willian, Hulk, and Fred: What Neymar’s absence means for Brazil

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When Neymar emerged in the Brazilian national team, he was a wide attacker that served as more of an outlet than a focal point.  Over time, that outlet’s slowly developed into a playmaker, one that Brazil head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari moved to the middle of the attack before the World Cup. A text book number 10, he’s not, but by the time the team kicked off its tournament against Croatia, Neymar certainly had become the focal point of his country’s attack.

Without him, Scolari needs to re-think how his team generates chances, and while we shouldn’t expect a huge shift in formation or style, a deep attack will have be creative with its options to replace the Neymar’s impact.

Here’s what might change in Brazil’s Neymar-less world:

1. Willian will likely come into Scolari’s team – There’s also a chance Ramires, who started for Hulk in the team’s second group stage match, could move into Scolari’s starting lineup. Bernard, a slight but quick 21-year-old winger is an option, too, but given the type of player Brazil has lost, Willian’s the more likely choice.

An attacking midfielder who moved to Chelsea last summer, Willian can play anywhere across the three in Scolari’s 4-2-3-1, though he’ll likely be deployed wide. Highly skilled, intelligent in possession, and a great striker of the ball, the 25-year-old also offers a high work rate, something that could prove especially valuable if he’s played opposite Phillip Lahm. If that happens, Hulk will be allowed to move back to his preferred right side, with a centrally deployed Oscar allowing the team to more-easily shift between a three- and two-man midfield. Against possession-hogging Germany, that could prove especially valuable.

A former standout at Shakhtar Donetsk, William offers a different type of creativity to Brazil’s attack, albeit at the expense of Neymar’s goal scoring. His familiarity with club teammate Oscar will help as the 22-year-old becomes more of a focal point in the team’s attack, while his crossing could get more out of Fred in the middle. In the space in front of the defense, he’ll provide a second player able to play a final ball, putting more pressure on Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger to pick him up when he comes off the wing.

With both Willian and Oscar capable of attacking across the width of the field, Brazil can target specific weaknesses in the German defense. Scolari may not need to return Dani Alves to the team to outnumber left back Benedikt Höwedes.

Downgrading from Neymar to Willian certainly hurts, but the true impact of that swap will likely be felt elsewhere. Few nations are lucky enough to have a player like Willian in reserve.

source: AP
Brazil’s Fred holds off Colombia’s Mario Yepes during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Brazil and Colombia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

2. Fred’s role may change – Brazil’s heat maps showed something that’s confusing, if you think of Neymar as his team’s central playmaker. Often over the course of 90 minutes, his average position rivaled Fred’s, Brazil’s forward. While Scolari moving Neymar to the middle allowed his best player to play a bigger part in Brazil’s attack, it allow allowed him to push forward and play along the line when Fred dropped back to win and hold up the ball.

That dynamic changes if Willian comes in. For all his talents, he’s not someone plays along the defense. Neither is Oscar. Fred can continue to drop back to help Brazil get out of their own half, but there’s no Neymar to burst forward to fill that space.

Ideally, instead of playing as much with his back to goal, Fred would stay higher, trying to push central defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. Regardless, is movement will become much more important. As Germany’s fullbacks have to deal with Hulk, fullback Marcelo, or possibly Alves, his ability to exploit the channels could be the difference between merely having Oscar and Willian’s skills and truly leveraging them. If he can’t, we may see Jô come on earlier than usual.

3. Hulk’s movement will matter more – In that same vein, Hulk’s ability to play higher and provide an option for Oscar and Willian’s creativity could be more important. Whereas with Neymar it was more important to read defenses as they reacted to Brazil’s focal point, creating options for the team’s playmakers may prove more important against Germany. Instead of waiting for Oscar and Willian to generate space, Hulk and Fred will need to read the defense and adjust. As the German’s adjust to Brazil’s two creators, Hulk could have space to exploit.

There’s also the chance Hulk can see more opportunities isolated against defenders if his team becomes less worried about maintaining space for Neymar. If Oscar and Willian team up toward the left or middle, Hulk may have room to take on Höwedes and cut onto his favored left foot. Clearing their right side for Hulk may also give Scolari reason keep Maicon at right back, knowing Alves will only be blocked fi he tries to get forward.

source: Getty Images
Hulk has failed to score in four games, but with Neymar out, his production could prove vital in the World Cup’s semifinals. (Source: Getty Images)

The undercurrent here, though, is the importance of replacing Neymar’s scoring. With four goals in five games, Neymar was responsible for 40 percent of his team’s production. Hulk, who has failed to score thus far, is one of the few players who can replicate that threat.

He needs to be put in positions to succeed. Against a team of Germany’s caliber, he may also need to deliver.

4. Will Scolari be tempted to use Paulinho – If Scolari’s looking for other way to replace Neymar’s goal scoring, restoring Paulinho to the starting XI could work. The Spurs midfielder was back in the team that faced Colombia, but only because Luiz Gustavo was suspended due to a second yellow card. With the Wolfsburg midfielder available, it’s expected he’ll partner Fernandinho in the middle.

Paulinho, however, provides more of a threat going forward, with his ability to read a defense from deep and exploit available space, particularly valuable if Oscar and Willian can play well. Whereas Gustavo is a pure destroyer and Fernandinho’s more comfortable in a deeper role, Paulinho’s main value is his ability to be that extra man in the box.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t played very well this tournament. Though his showing against Colombia was an improvement on what we saw in group stage, he still wasn’t as good as Fernandinho, who took his spot in the starting lineup before the knockout round. On performance alone, there’s almost not augment for choosing Paulinho over one of Scolari’s two other options.

But with Oscar potentially augmenting that two-man midfield, Brazil may be able to sacrifice one of Gustavo or Fernandinho. If, however, he feels Scolari thinks his team is capable of generating chances with just his attackers, Paulinho should be on the bench when the teams kick off on Tuesday.

David Moyes charged by FA for “slap” comments

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Sunderland manager David Moyes has been charged by the English Football Association after he was filmed telling a female BBC reporter “you still might get a slap even though you’re a woman,” and warned her to “be careful” the next time she came to their Stadium of Light home.

[ MORE: Barton banned 18 months ]

Moyes, 53, has since apologized for the outburst which occurred after a post-match interview following Sunderland’s 0-0 draw with Burnley. He believed the cameras had stopped rolling but his comments were filmed on a cell phone.

The Sunderland manager has his team rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, 12 points off safety with six games remaining.

Below is the statement in full from The FA:

David Moyes has been charged in relation to comments made after the game against Burnley on 18 March 2017.

It is alleged the Sunderland manager’s remarks were improper and/or threatening and/or brought the game into disrepute, contrary to FA Rule E3(1).  He has until 6pm on 3 May 2017 to reply to the charge.

Joey Barton banned for 18 months amid betting scandal

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Burnley midfielder Joey Barton has been banned for 18 months from all soccer related activity with immediate effect.

The English Football Association have issued the ban after Barton, 34, accepted the charge but requested a personal hearing. Barton admitted to placing 1,260 bets on soccer games over a 10-year period.

Here is the statement in full from the FA about the charge.

Joey Barton has been suspended from football and all football activity for 18 months with immediate effect after he admitted an FA misconduct charge in relation to betting.

It was alleged that between 26 March 2006 and 13 May 2016, he placed 1,260 bets on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, football matches or competitions in breach of FA Rule E8.

Following the Independent Regulatory Commission hearing, the Burnley midfielder was also fined £30,000 and warned as to his future conduct. Written Reasons will follow in due course.

Burnley released a short statement saying that “Joey Barton plans to appeal the length of this suspension” and the former Manchester City, Newcastle and Rangers midfielder issued a lengthy statement stating just that.

He also offered plenty of context into his hearing as he believes he was treated harshly by the FA.

“I am very disappointed at the harshness of the sanction. The decision effectively forces me into an early retirement from playing football. To be clear from the outset here this is not match fixing and at no point in any of this is my integrity in question. I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players. I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem.

“I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration. I think if the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet.

“Having consulted with my friends and lawyers, I have decided I will be appealing against the length of the ban. I hope that I shall be afforded a fair hearing by an independent Appeal Panel. If I am, we are confident that the sanction will be reduced to a fair one that both reflects the offences as well as the mitigating factors and the fact that there was nothing untoward or suspicious about the bets I made.

Barton also admitted that between 2004 and 2011 he placed “a handful of bets on my own team to lose matches” and tried to defend his actions, saying he had no way of influencing the outcome of those matches. The Liverpudlian also stated that he grew up in a culture of gambling and wants the FA to do more to help players from similar backgrounds.

At the bottom of his statement he also listed 30 of the “most pertinent bets” for the FA as he tries to be as transparent as possible.

Barton last played in midfield for Burnley — he re-signed for the Clarets in January after leaving Glasgow Rangers following a disastrous six-month spell in Scotland — last Sunday against Manchester United and that could well have been his final game as a professional if he does not get the length of this ban cut down.

The controversial midfielder has previously been banned three times by the FA for violent conduct, while he also spent time in prison in 2008 for an assault on a night out in Liverpool and was also handed a four-month suspended sentence after assaulting Man City teammate Ousmane Dabo on the training ground.

Newcastle, West Ham raided as HMRC make arrests

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Both Newcastle United and West Ham United are at the center of a huge fraud investigation by tax authorities in the UK.

HMRC released a statement on Wednesday saying that 180 officers had been deployed across the UK and France and that it had arrested “several men working within the professional football industry.”

Financial and business records, cell phones and computers were seized in the raids which is in relation to income tax and national insurance fraud.

In a statement HMRC had the following to say about the ongoing investigation.

“180 HMRC officers have been deployed across the UK and France today. Investigators have searched a number of premises in the North East and South East of England and arrested the men and also seized business records, financial records, computers and mobile phones.

“The French authorities are assisting the UK investigation, have made arrests and several locations have been searched in France. This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences. As this is an ongoing investigation HMRC is unable to provide any further detail at this time.”

Unconfirmed reports state that Lee Charnley, the managing director of Newcastle United, was arrested during raids on the training ground and St James’ Park.

West Ham released the following statement following the raid on their London Stadium home early on Wednesday.

“The clubs is cooperating fully with HMRC to assist their inquiries. No further comment will be made at this time.”

HMRC has recently stepped up its investigations into the tax paid by soccer clubs on lucrative transfer fees and image rights.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.