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Lionel Messi’s stinker against Holland, explained

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It was, in the purest sense, a match neither side wanted to lose.

Holland and Argentina, both within a sniff of the World Cup final, had clear defensive objectives heading into their semifinal clash on Wednesday night.

Argentina’s objective: prevent Arjen Robben from being Arjen Robben.

Holland’s objective: prevent Lionel Messi from being Lionel Messi.

Ultimately, both game-plans ended in success as the two stars were prevented from scoring during regulation and extra time. But whereas both found it difficult to get into the match, it was Robben who shook off the cobwebs to become the danger man everyone has grown to fear.

After a first-half where Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez, Martin Demichelis and Marcos Rojo beat, battered and double-teamed Robben out of the match, the second-half saw the Dutch wonder assess his situation and make changes to find the ball. With Jordy Claise on for Nigel de Jong, the Dutch began spraying balls out wide and it clicked for Robben: get out of the middle and demand the ball.

He went wide right, then wide left and then back to the right. He looked to dart up the wings as well as take his dribbles on the diagonal. Was it a notable performance for Robben? Not particularly. But he kept trying, kept searching for answers and eventually, was rewarded with two glorious chances to score in the 91st and 96th minutes only to be denied by the brilliant Javier Mascherano.

Messi had similar problems with worse results. He had to deal with guys like Bruno Martins Indi, who was all too happy to thump Messi any chance he had, and Nigel De Jong, who hasn’t seen a shin he doesn’t like to crack. La Pulga’s true nemesis, however, came in the form of a heaving Ron Vlaar who played out of his mind making a handful of sensational slide tackles on the Argentine.

The physical approach was nothing that Messi hadn’t seen in every match he’s played in over the last ten years. The problem was, he let it get to him. It wasn’t just infringements that prompted Messi to throw his hands in the air, it was legal tackles.

His frustration was palpable. And yet, instead of searching for solutions, Messi seemed content standing on the center-backs and simply drawing defenders away from the ball. Which is a fine technique in small doses but for prolonged periods of time? When you’re supposedly the best player in the world?

That’s not good enough.

When Messi did look to see more of the ball it was always through the middle of the pitch where he was promptly swarmed by defenders. And when that didn’t work, well, that was it. He rarely went wide. He didn’t look to change his link-up approach with Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, that Messi was out of ideas.

Of course, Messi is never out of ideas. But the fact that he didn’t seem bothered to change his approach – to demand the ball, to ask for more from his teammates – was puzzling. How could his influence become so dulled on the one stage he had waited to so long to perform on?

Just 24 hours before the match news broke that a friend of Messi, Argentine journalist Jorge Lopez, had died in a car crash in Sao Paulo.

And just like that, the analysis of Messi’s anti-influence comes to a screeching halt.

So often we expect professional athletes to play through news and events that deeply affect their lives. Is it reasonable? No. But because the greats are just that, legends in human form, we expect them to rise up and conquer no matter what life throws at them.

On Wednesday, Messi faced difficult circumstances and was unable to be the hero we all expect him to be. Thankfully, fate – and four quality penalties – awarded him a second chance. And on Sunday he can prove the semifinal a flash in the pan by going on to stake his claim as the greatest footballer to ever walk the earth.

 

 

 

PSG loans goalkeeper Sirigu to Spanish side Sevilla

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 26:  Salvatore Sirigu of Italy speaks to the media during a press conference at the club's training ground at Coverciano on May 26, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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SEVILLA, Spain (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has loaned goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the season.

PSG said in a statement on Friday that Europa League winner Sevilla has an option to buy Sirigu at the end of his loan spell.

Sirigu will compete with Sergio Rico for the starting job on a Sevilla side being rebuilt under new coach Jorge Sampaoli.

The 29-year-old Sirigu, who has played 17 times for Italy, was a mainstay in the PSG side until Kevin Trapp replaced him as No. 1 last season.

Sirigu made 190 appearances for PSG after joining in 2011, winning four league titles, two French Cups, and three League Cups.

But his chances looked even more limited this season, with PSG recalling `keeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell in Spain with Villarreal.

Lewandowski hat-trick caps impressive Bayern win in Bundesliga return

MUNICH, GERMANY - OCTOBER 04: Robert Lewandowski of Muenchen celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Borussia Dortmund at Allianz Arena on October 4, 2015 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Micha Will/Getty Images for MAN)
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Robert Lewandowski continues to rack up goals in a Bayern Munich jersey, and the Bundesliga side reaps the rewards for their star striker’s production.

The Polish international began the new Bundesliga campaign on Friday with a hat-trick, as Bayern capped off a dominating 6-0 win against Werder Bremen.

Xabi Alonso opened the scoring for the home side after just nine minutes, but all eyes were on Lewandowski on the night as he netted his first three goals of the 2016/17 season.

The 28-year-old added Bayern’s second goal in the 13th minute, before finishing off his hat-trick performance with tallies in the 46th and 77th minutes, respectively. While his final finish came from the penalty spot, Lewandowski already looks more than ready to help Bayern retain its Bundesliga crown.

Veteran defender Phillip Lahm and Franck Ribery also converted their chances past Bremen goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald on an afternoon that saw Bayern tally an overwhelming 27 shots, 14 of which landed on target.

Werder Bremen’s chances were limited, with Viktor Skrypnyk’s group recording a mere two shots on net throughout the night.

Meanwhile, U.S. attacker Julian Green was on the bench for Bayern, however, the young American wasn’t introduced into the match.

Why Dortmund shouldn’t sell Christian Pulisic

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Christian Pulisic #11 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Frustration has set in with the young American, but is a move away from Borussia Dortmund really the best move for Christian Pulisic’s growth?

With the additions of Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele this summer, Dortmund has not only retooled its already dangerous attack, but also created a tricky scenario for one of its most promising youth talents.

For Pulisic, it’s a simple dilemma with two possible outcomes; remain at the club and try to earn his way into the side over the next few seasons or move on his way to a destination that presents more promise towards his development as a budding star within the club and international levels.

The 17-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania bursted onto the Bundesliga scene a season ago, making 12 appearances for the German runners’ up while also notching two goals.

While it was only a small sample size, there was no question that Pulisic has already earned the respect of his teammates due to his impressive control on the ball and high work rate on both ends of the field.

Now, several clubs have already shown interest in the young American, which is certainly promising for the attacker as he looks to make a name for himself.

It just seems too early though for Pulisic to try to maneuver his way out of the Borussia Dortmund set up. In only one season with the club — a major one at that — Pulisic has already made himself relevant within U.S. and foreign circles as a young talent that will be seen for many years to come.

ALTACH, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 05: Christian Pulisic of Dortmund (c) challenges Patrick Van Aanmolt of Sunderland (l) and Lee Cattermole of Sunderland (r) during the friendly match between AFC Sunderland v Borussia Dortmund at Cashpoint Arena on August 5, 2016 in Altach, Austria.  (Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images)
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The situation isn’t optimal for a player seeking first-team minutes this season, but his age certainly plays into the equation. At 17 years old, very few players are starting on elite squads. That’s not a knock on Pulisic or any other aspiring player, but a mere fact when looking at how top teams are built.

On Friday, Bundesliga club RB Leipzig emerged as a suitor for Pulisic, reportedly offering over $16 million for the young USMNT attacker, before further reports linked Liverpool with a bid of $14 million to the Dortmund product.

While a move to Leipzig doesn’t seem so far-fetched, particularly at this stage of his career, picking up and heading to Anfield doesn’t seem like the ideal scenario for a player looking to further his young career and find consistent playing time.

Liverpool’s defensive issues remain a concern for Jurgen Klopp, but the former Dortmund boss has a plethora of options with the Reds in the attack, which would make it nearly as difficult for Pulisic to break into the squad on a regular basis if he were to complete a move to England.

Ideally, as a 17-year-old player it’s all about how much playing time you get. That essentially applies to every player, but especially to someone like Pulisic who is looking to establish himself at Dortmund and break into Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT lineup.

A loan move for Pulisic seems like the best scenario for the youngster, and with the reported interest in him it appears quite likely that Dortmund can find a suitable team to house the U.S. midfield as he continues his development.

Leipzig appears to have legitimate interest in Pulisic, and with the Bundesliga newcomers looking to make an impact in their first season in Germany’s top flight. With other clubs expressing interest in Pulisic as well, it seems unlikely that Dortmund would have a tough time offloading him for a season or two, but selling the American would be a bit of an oddity.

Report: Liverpool offering $14 million for USMNT’s Pulisic

Hamburg's Gotoku Sakai, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Even if Christian Pulisic does remain at Borussia Dortmund this summer, at least the young American knows that there’s interest in him.

[ MORE: RB Leipzig expressing interest in U.S. attacker Pulisic ]

On Friday, fellow Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig emerged as a potential suitor for the U.S. Men’s National Team winger with a reported offer of $16 million on the table for Pulisic.

However, the Times is reporting that Liverpool has made an offer of roughly $14 million for the budding USMNT star, as he potentially seeks a move away from Dortmund after their summer spending spree.

[ MORE: Dempsey out vs. Timbers with irregular heartbeat ]

Stoke City was rumored to have expressed interest in Pulisic as well, but the Premier League side has since denied reports of making a sizable offer to Dortmund.

The Bundesliga side remains firm with its stance that they don’t want to part ways with Pulisic, who has three years remaining on his contract.