Brazil’s failure shouldn’t overshadow Germany’s performance

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The early leader for most common reaction after today’s result: “Brazil just weren’t that good” – five words which, in an ideal world, would go without saying. But we’re not immune to reiterating the point, too. As good as Germany was during today’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte, the host nation may have been just as bad. 7-1’s a dance that requires a partner.

Usually, that partner is a bad one. Looking back at the history of these results (one team scoring seven; winning by six-or-more), you see nations like Bolivia, Ziare, Haiti, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea on the losing end. Even the United States (in 1930), South Korea (1954), and Scotland (1954) make the list – all nations that would prove more competitive at future tournaments. In the 84 years of World Cup play, there’ve only been 12 games where one team scored at least seven times while conceded one or fewer.

[MORE: Germany hammer hosts Brazil 7-1 to make eighth World Cup final]
[MORE: Emotional captain David Luiz apologizes to the people of Brazil]

The big difference between most of those results and what happened today: 10 out of those 11 came in group stage or the opening round (back when the tournament was only single-elimination). Only one result comes close to today’s in terms of significance, quality of teams, and magnitude of result: Brazil’s 7-1 win over Sweden in 1950’s final four.

Obviously, a lot has changed since 1950. The soccer world is much deeper. The tournament format is completely different. Tactically,  more risk-averse styles mean fewer outlandish results.

Consider all of that before writing off what Germany’s done. Yes, Brazil’s quality may have been the main factor, but were the Selecao really history-making bad by themselves? Where they Zaire in 1974 bad? Or as poor as Saudi Arabia in 2002? Were they so bad that we should completely discount Germany’s contributions?

Perhaps, but there’s a far more likely story. A team with David Luiz, Dante, Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho, and Júlio César may have a bad day, but they’d have to reach unexpected lows to match the South Korea team of 1954. And while it’s possible the defensive form the team’s first five games (four goals allowed) was a complete lie, that lie would have to be a huge one to say the team, on its own, was also capable of a performance that rivaled North Korea’s in 2010.

The more likely story is that the finishing we saw from Miroslav Klose, Toni Kroos, and Andre Schürrle played a huge part. The quality in the middle we saw from Kroos and Sami Khedira was also a factor, as were the talents of players like Philipp Lahm, Thömas Müller, Mats Hummels and, early in the second half, Manuel Neuer.

[MORE: Talking points after Germany’s rout of Brazil]
[MORE: Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari takes blame for huge defeat: “I am responsible”]

As the score says, Brazil were terrible, but that score also implies they were playing an extremely good team — a team which, since before the 2010 World Cup, people have projected to grow into one of the world’s dominant sides. Tonight may have been our first glimpse of that potential being actualized. Maybe, as bad as Brazil were, they needed to play against a great team to be part of a historic result.

Whether Germany really is a great team, well, that’s where we can get too carried away with what’s happened. That’s where the backlash will come. Right now, there’s a 60-minute stretch that says Germany can be great. With their ascendance has been predicted for some time, their larger body of work doesn’t touch this level.

But for that 60 minutes in the middle of today’s game, Germany were certainly great — undeniably so. They were great in a way not even Brazil’s terrible day could fully overshadow.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.