Diego Simeone

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It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.

Expectations high for Diego Costa’s long-awaited return to Atleti

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone finally has his favorite striker back at the club.

Now expectations are high in the Spanish capital that Diego Costa can again make Atletico a title winner.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City, Spurs in action on Tuesday (TV, stream info) ]

Costa helped the team win the 2013 Copa del Rey before topping that the following season with the Spanish league title — making Atletico the only team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the competition in the last 13 years.

Costa also led Atletico to the first of two Champions League finals in the last four years, but he was forced to abandon the 2014 final early on due to injury and Atletico lost 4-1 in extra time to Madrid.

In the three years Costa was at Chelsea, Atletico only won the minor 2014 Spanish Super Cup.

Costa faces a challenge to win more silverware immediately. Atletico failed to advance from the Champions League group stage and, although it is second in the Spanish league, it trails leader Barcelona by nine points. Its best chances are in the Copa and Europa League.

[ MORE: No surgery for Gabriel Jesus after MCL injury ]

“We were eliminated from the Champions League, which was bad luck, but we still have a lot to do this year and we are going to fight for everything we can achieve,” Costa said at his presentation on Sunday before being greeted by more than 25,000 fans at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

His immediate goal will be to recover his full fitness after not playing since last season when he helped Chelsea win the Premier League but fell out of favor with coach Antonio Conte.

Six months have passed since Costa played his last official match, scoring in a 2-1 win for Spain over Macedonia. He has been training hard with Atletico since the Spanish club agreed to a transfer fee reportedly worth $72 million in September.

“I am feeling a lot better than when I arrived,” Costa said. “I have prepared well and I am anxious to play and do what I need to do, which is to help the team and score goals. I have been waiting a long time for this moment. I am tired of training, I want to play.”

His first opportunity will likely come Wednesday when Atletico visits Lleida in the Copa del Rey’s round-of-16. Next up is a league match against Getafe on Saturday.

Costa and fellow winter reinforcement Victor “Vitolo” Machin weren’t allowed to play for Atletico until 2018 when the club’s one-year ban on fielding new players expired. The ban was imposed by FIFA after the club broke rules regarding youth players.

Simeone is hoping that the 29-year-old Costa is still the same caliber as when he scored 20 goals to lead Chelsea to the PL title.

[ MORE: January transfer plans for Mourinho, Man United? ]

The Brazilian-born striker will rejoin a team that maintains its pillars from 2014. Center back Diego Godin and left back Felipe Luis feature in defense, Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion and Gabi Fernandez are fixtures in midfield, and most importantly Simeone still stalks the sideline.

Costa’s goals, physical play and “bad boy” attitude that rattles rivals are the perfect fit for Simeone’s emphasis on hard work and a united team.

Atletico tried several times to find a replacement for Costa. But neither Mario Mandzukic nor Jackson Martinez panned out, and current striker Kevin Gameiro has only given Atletico goals in bursts.

Costa will slot in beside forward Antoine Griezmann, the team’s most creative player and its top goal scorer in recent campaigns who is reportedly being pursued by other clubs, including Barcelona and Manchester United.

In theory, the two should make a deadly force.

“We have worked very hard to get Costa and Griezmann together. I hope we can enjoy them for a long time,” Simeone said Saturday. “We have two forwards coming to the team and the competition is good for Atletico.”

[ MORE: Top 5 PL matches to come in 2018 ]

Atletico has also strengthened its attack with Vitolo, who is similar in his large build to Costa. Vitolo spent the first half of the season on loan at Las Palmas after Atletico lured him away from Sevilla in the offseason.

The additions of Costa and Vitolo may mean Atletico will look to move one or more of its forwards. Besides Gameiro, Atletico’s attack also includes Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco, Angel Correa and Luciano Vietto.

Costa also has a lot to play for individually. His spot on Spain’s World Cup squad is in jeopardy after he was dropped by coach Julen Lopetegui given his hiatus from football.

“If I start scoring goals and the team plays well, it will be easier for me to make Lopetegui’s list,” Costa said. “I am ready to give it my all and later the coach will decide.”

Atletico Madrid president labels Diego Simeone “untouchable”

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Atletico Madrid sits fourth in the La Liga table, winless in the Champions League, and in peril in the Copa del Rey, yet none of that troubles the club president.

Critics have come in droves in a difficult season for Atleti and manager Diego Simeone, and while the public might point fingers, Madrid president Enrique Cerezo is fully backing the boss. “I want to say this in a loud voice,” he told Spanish publication Marca. “Simeone is untouchable at Atletico Madrid, for the players, for the directors and for the supporters.”

Cerezo followed up by saying criticism of the head man “is not allowed here.”

Simeone has been wildly successful at Atletico Madrid, taking the club to new heights and turning his back on offers from more traditionally giant clubs. Yet this season has proven tumultuous. Despite what Cerezo referred to as the club’s best-ever squad, he also shrugged his shoulders as to why the season has proven difficult.

“I keep saying so. We are playing a game, and games are the way they are. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Madrid sits fourth in La Liga, level with Real Madrid on points but behind on goal differential. They are eight points back of leaders Barcelona after just 11 matches.

The Champions League has proven even more baffling, with Madrid in a distant third in Group C after a trio of draws, including two against Azerbaijani minnows Qarabak FK despite holding a man advantage at various times in both matches. With remaining games against Chelsea and Roma and a four-point deficit, it’s increasingly unlikely that Madrid will be destined for the drop to the Europa League, or worse.

Even in the Copa del Rey 2nd round, Madrid suffered a 1-1 draw in the first leg at third-tier side Elche and now come home needing a win or 0-0 draw to advance.

The club has suffered just a single defeat in any competition this season through 16 total matches, but they continue to settle for the minimum, owning just six wins in comparison with nine draws.

Nevertheless, the club president remains true to the course. “We could have scored four against Roma and then we had 14,000 chances against Qarabag,” he said. “It’s not just a problem specific to Atletico that players can be more or less clinical, but it’s a problem for a lot of elite clubs.

“I keep saying we have a fantastic squad, a wonderful coach and a phenomenal fanbase. That’s enough for me.”

One must admire his steadfastness and ability not to panic, appreciative of what the club has despite a modern environment where team management is often reactive and quick to act.

Report: Everton has Diego Simeone atop its managerial wish list

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Diego Simeone is atop Everton’s wish list to replace fired manager Ronald Koeman, according to Sky Sports.

The outlet says Simeone is unlikely to leave Atletico Madrid in the middle of a campaign, meaning Everton’s next manager could be signing a deal through the end of this season.

[ MORE: Robbie Rogers retires ]

The Toffees are just outside the Premier League’s drop zone after 11 matches, though many believe they have too much quality to spend the season in a relegation battle.

Simeone has a contract at Atletico Madrid through 2020, and Atleti sits tied with Real behind Barcelona and Valencia in La Liga.

The three-time La Liga Coach of the Year has won one league title, a Europa League crown, and led Atleti to a pair of Champions League Finals.

Also in the mix are Sam Allardyce, caretaker boss David Unsworth, and Watford leader Marco Silva.

Real Madrid reaches third UCL final in four years with win over Atletico

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The Vicente Calderon hosted its last European match on Wednesday, and unfortunately for the hosts the end result didn’t go in favor of Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Rafa Benitez will remain with Newcastle in club’s return to PL ]

Atletico picked up a 2-1 victory on the day over Real Madrid, however, Zinedine Zidane’s side still advanced to the UEFA Champions League final with a 4-2 aggregate win.

The victory pushes Real through to its third UCL final in the last four seasons, and the Spanish giants will now meet Serie A leaders Juventus after they defeated Monaco on Tuesday.

Real certainly didn’t replicate its first leg performance during the first half, but Isco’s finish on the stroke of halftime gave Los Blancos a crucial away goal and pushed the score to 4-2.

Antoine Griezmann didn’t hit his penalty kick as well as he would’ve liked but it still ended up in the back of the net after a quarter hour when Keylor Navas couldn’t keep the attempt out.

The pressure mounted for Atleti from the start and Saul Niguez gave Diego Simeone’s side the lead after 12 minutes when he headed home Koke’s corner kick.

Yannick Carrasco nearly gave the hosts a dream start after five minutes when Navas punched the Atletico midfielder’s attempt wide of goal, while Jan Oblak responded with an equally good save for Atleti a minute later after Casemiro’s close-range header.

Navas made a brilliant double-save with under half an hour remaining when Carrasco was sent in on goal from a long Felipe Luis through ball.