Johan Cruyff is as Barcelona as anybody born outside Cataluyna could be. He played and coached the club, saw his son come up through their system, and even coached the Catalan national team. His family has lived in Barcelona off-and-on for the last 40 years. The man’s had his oranje blood replaced with blaugrana.
So it must take a special set of circumstances for the Dutch icon to speak kindly about Real Madrid and against Barcelona within the span of a couple of days. Perhaps, with the legend’s tendency toward contrarian opinions, it’s not as rare as I’m implying, but it’s still noteworthy when a Barça icon’s willing to heap so much praise on the club’s arch rivals.
“Ancelotti will be a breath of fresh air. Real Madrid has great players, they just need to play like a team. Ancelotti will make that happen. He has played and coached at the very top, so he knows full well what goes on in the dressing room”.
There’s a bit of a back-hand in there. The “play like a team” comment can be read as ‘Barcelona play the right way, which is as a team, so Real Madrid need to play more like us.’ Then again, with Real Madrid fans so disillusioned about their play in the wake of José Mourinho, Cruyff might not get an argument from the capital.
“I already had a very high opinion of Isco from his performances at Málaga and what he did at the Under-21 Euros only added to that. He has ability, but he’ll face stiff competition at Real Madrid because there are a lot of other players in his position”
With Neymar on board, I would have planned for the possibility of selling Messi, and some would agree with that, others not. You are talking about a team, its players, the things around it… There are too may things at stake. That’s why it’s so difficult to manage such a top class squad.
Cruyff’s logic seems pretty clear, thoughts which lean on a type of Alpha Dog philosophy. Messi’s and alpha. Neymar’s assumed to be an alpha. They can’t work together, the thinking goes.
Given the way the modern game’s going, clubs can’t abide by that philosophy. Whether you like it or not (most don’t), all the alphas are congregating onto a handful of teams – the eight or 10 clubs that can afford to pay top dollar in both transfer fees and wages. And while the Alpha Dog philosophy is strong, financial incentives are stronger, as are competitive desires. With those eight to 10 team monopolizing titles in the biggest competitions, a lot of players are going to Alexei Sanchez/Luka Modric it, moving into a crowded setup for chance to win big things.
If you’re a club like Barcelona, you just can’t be turning down one Alpha because of the presence of another. These days, you either make it work or fall by the wayside, and given there’s very little about Neymar and Messi’s games that conflict, odds are they’ll make it work.
The Anfield Wrap on Liverpool ahead of US tour: ‘They are in a new phase’
Liverpool are still in the hunt for a top four finish but Jurgen Klopp is now in charge of a big rebuilding process as the Reds are in ‘a new phase’ as they transition from the German’s first seven years in charge.
That is the view of Neil Atkinson from The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and it will be intriguing to see how Klopp reshapes his playing philosophy, adds to his squad and how it all slots together over the next few years.
“I think this is the key question for the next phase of Jurgen Klopp,” Atkinson said. “He has never had to do this before. He’s done seven years at Mainz, seven years at Dortmund and he’s now done seven years at Liverpool. Jurgen has signed his new deal and is staying until 2026 and now what he’s got to do is transition this football team in a way he hasn’t had to do in the past.
“I think that is an interesting challenge. Sides get used to the way you play and players themselves can become a little bit stale and there is also you yourself and how you see the game and how you’re going to interact with the game as a manager. I don’t think he’s had to do this in any of his other jobs. He’s done unbelievable jobs everywhere he has been, including Liverpool, but this is a new phase.”
THE TOUR IS THIS WEEK! 🇺🇸🇨🇦
75% of tickets for our North American tour are now sold with two shows sold out 🚨
🇨🇦 Toronto 🇺🇸 Detroit // Sold Out 🇺🇸 Boston // TEN tickets left 🇺🇸 New York 🇺🇸 Philly 🇺🇸 DC // Sold Out
Transition has arrived for the Reds. But what will it look like?
“The key question for Liverpool is Liverpool are clearly in transition, that is clear and apparent. That happens to a lot of sides and some sides manage to change and stay at the top, Liverpool haven’t managed to succeed in that. Last season they were beginning that process and last season you saw a bit of transition from Liverpool but not as much as you’ve seen now and they haven’t managed to stay at the top and the Champions League this campaign.
“What is it moving to? Is it simply different players? Or is he looking to change his approach a little bit? Is he looking to add creativity to the side? What does that come at the expense of? I think that is a key question. On the whole I feel like talk of Liverpool’s overall demise is vastly overstated. I think it is a side that will right itself. There have been injury issues this year, I don’t think a number of the players and coaching staff have had their best season by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they will come back strong.”
Top four finish essential this season
“I’m of the view that as long as they can find a way to a top four finish then I feel they will summer strongly and they will be able to come out of the other side and we will really be able to see what the next phase of Jurgen Klopp’s blueprint is. I am absolutely certain he has a blueprint and has a way he wants this team to play and knows which players he wants to keep and move on. I think we will see that again in the summer and Liverpool come again. But it is important for Liverpool to come top four.”
Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka each scored in the first half and then Granit Xhaka added a third and Saka added his second and Arsenal’s fourth after Palace briefly threatened a comeback through Jeffrey Schlupp’s goal.
The home fans at the Emirates sang ‘we are top of the league!’ with gusto throughout and the positive vibes are swirling around this part of north London heading into the international break.
Arsenal now have 69 points, eight clear of second-place Manchester City but City do have a game in-hand over the Gunners and host them in April in a title showdown. Palace remain on 27 points and although they sit in 12th place they are just three points off the bottom three and four points off the bottom of the table.
First half blitz theme continues to lead title charge
Most teams are beaten by Arsenal before they know what happened. That was the case for Crystal Palace on Sunday. They did have the best chance of the early stages but Zaha’s shot hit the post, hit Ramsdale and somehow squirmed wide. That woke Arsenal up (perhaps their Europa League exploits delayed their usual early blitz a little?) and normal service resumed about 20 minutes into the first half. Saka, Martinelli and Trossard were too quick for Palace and Gabriel Jesus came on to help them close it out in the second half. Arsenal’s intensity is too much for teams they play against and that hunger combined with pace, skill and understanding is so tough to stop. Eight points clear with 10 games to go, which includes that trip to Manchester City in April. Arsenal’s fans are so close to believing that almost two decades of waiting for a league title is over.
🔝 Arsenal go 8 points clear atop the Premier League table. Real party atmosphere here at the Emirates.
Stars of the show; Arsenal vs Crystal Palace player ratings
Bukayo Saka: Two goals and an assist in the first half and was so sharp cutting in from the right. Back to his very best.
Granit Xhaka: Lovely move and finish for his goal and plugs the defensive gaps so well.
Ben White: Supported Saka whenever he was needed and gave Arsenal an extra attacking outlet down the right.
Arsenal host Leeds United on Saturday, April 1, while Crystal Palace host Leicester City in a big relegation six-pointer on the same day.
How to watch Arsenal vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time + analysis by Joe Prince-Wright at Emirates Stadium!
Kick off: 10am ET, Sunday TV Channel: USA Network Online:Stream via NBCSports.com
FULL TIME: Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace – That is a very, very comfortable win for Arsenal who have now won six in a row in the Premier League. They are full of confidence, all of their main men are standing tall and with 10 games to go they are eight points clear.
Smith Rowe and Jorginho come on for Arsenal. Plenty of cheers for Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli. A really party atmosphere here now.
GOALLLL! Game. Set. Match. After a few poor clearances from Palace, substitute Kieran Tierney crosses for Saka and he finishes beautifully. Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace. Again, this is too easy for the Gunners.
Ramsdale saves at the near post from Zaha. Maybe Palace have a little bit left in them here?
The second half is underway. No changes but a few more chances for Arsenal early on. This could get ugly quite quickly for Palace.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace – After a shaky start, total control from Arsenal. Martinelli and Saka (once again) with the goals and Mikel Arteta’s side are cruising and eight points clear at the top. They are way too good for Palace.
GOALLL! Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace. Bukayo Saka strokes home. He has been unstoppable in this first half. Arsenal cruising and going 8 points clear atop the Premier League table.
Arsenal probing for a second as we approach half time. The youngsters dressed in the same black shirts are banging their drum loudly at the Clock End. Arsenal then go so close to scoring a second. Odegaard drags a shot just wide.
Reminder: as it stands Arsenal are eight points clear atop the Premier League table. Not that Arsenal fans anywhere needed a reminder of that. But still. For the rest of us.
GOALLL! Gabriel Martinelli smashes home across goal after Bukayo Saka found him with a lovely cross. All came from Ben White winning the ball in front of Wilfried Zaha. The Emirates erupts! Arsenal 1-0 Crystal Palace.
Caretaker Palace boss Patrick McCarthy will be delighted with this first 25 minutes for his side. They look well organized and have a threat on the counter. Arsenal are getting a little frustrated.
Rob Holding doing his best Virgil van Dijk impression so far. Some majestic passes out of the back.
SAVE! Teenage goalkeeper and lifelong Palace fan Joe Whitworth with a really good stop to deny Odegaard who fired a shot on goal from the edge of the box. Saka tried to get on the rebound but he was offside.
That chance for Palace has quietened down the home crowd a bit. Then there is a good save by Ramsdale to deny Edouard but he was offside as the flag goes up. Arsenal are getting caught out on the counter quite a bit here.
POST! So close to an opener for Crystal Palace. They find Wilfried Zaha on the counter, he beats Ben White easily and his shot hits the post, hits Ramsdale on the back and goes out for a corner. So close for Palace.
Arsenal having plenty of the ball early on but Palace look okay on the break. The managerless Eagles are holding firm. For now. The rhythmic beating of a drum in the home end is keeping the atmosphere nice and lively as the sun peeks through the grey London clouds.
The first song of the day from the Arsenal fans is for their legendary midfielder Patrick Vieira who was sacked. Harshly treated, Vieira.
KICK OFF! We are underway. Palace’s fans in the away have lit flares. There is a drum beating in the home end. A brilliant atmosphere.
🚨 Welcome to the Emirates! It is bouncing here. What an atmosphere.
Hello and welcome to a lovely spring day here in north London! That smell in the air is expectation. Arsenal fans are hoping for an easy home win against out of form and managerless Crystal Palace. We all know it isn’t quite as easy as that.
Key storylines & star players
Gabriel Jesus started Thursday in the Europa League, so it’s easy to predict a depth flex from the Gunners on Sunday rather than another start for their just-fit star. Leandro Trossard, Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Thomas Partey, and Bukayo Saka were kept on the bench at the start versus Sporting Lisbon, but the Gunners going 120 minutes and then losing on penalty kicks will certainly challenge them.
Palace is going to hope to get something out of Wilfried Zaha here. He’s looked more like a red card candidate lately but we all know an in-form Zaha is electric. Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze will look like even better playmakers once Zaha starts punching home some goals.
Arsenal team news, injuries, lineup
OUT: Eddie Nketiah (ankle), Takehiro Tomiyasu (knee), Mohamed Elneny (knock), William Saliba (back)
🔴 𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗠𝙉𝙀𝙒𝙎 ⚪️
💪 Holding at the back 🧱 Xhaka in midfield 🪄 Trossard up top
Who’s looking like title contenders and/or favorites?
As we head into the final months of the 2022-23 season, Arsenal and Manchester City are looking head and shoulders above the rest and although Manchester United briefly surged into the picture, they look more likely to cement their spot as the third best team in the Premier League.
Uneven Tottenham are hanging in the top four battle and for the moment have hunted down Newcastle, while Liverpool is back in the Champions League picture after their return to form and Chelsea looks like a top six finish is their ceiling. For now.
Surprising Fulham, Brentford, and Brighton are all hanging around on the periphery with fine campaigns. Can one of them surprise and qualify for Europe?
Who are the candidates for relegation?
Southampton, West Ham, and Bournemouth currently occupy the relegation places but that keeps changing all the time and it is so tight at the bottom of the table.
Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Wolves, Leeds, Everton and Crystal Palace all find themselves within a few points of the bottom three as the race to stay in the Premier League intensifies. This could be the craziest relegation scrap in Premier League history.
Below you will find the latest Premier League table.
Manchester United took another step toward another trophies thanks in huge part to Fulham’s misplacing of the plot at Old Trafford in an FA Cup quarterfinal on Sunday.
Leading 1-0 with under 20 minutes to play, Fulham’s Willian used his hand to block a would-be Jadon Sancho goal. It was 2-1 to the hosts within minutes, as Fulham finished the match with nine (?!) men and a 3-1 loss.
A penalty was confirmed by VAR review and Willian was shown a red card, leading to goal scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic shoving the referee to earn a red card of his own, and Fulham manager making it a trio by berating the fourth official
Bruno Fernandes rolled home the penalty and the 9-man Cottagers needed to somehow find extra time, which they decidedly failed to do thanks to Luke Shaw setting up a Marcel Sabitzer goal. Fernandes scored late to complete the scoring.
Having already secured the League Cup this season, Erik ten Hag’s side is also into the last-eight of the Europa League after finishing off Real Betis on Thursday.
Manchester United haven’t won the FA Cup since the 2015-16 season. Fulham, on the other hand, continues its wait to win England’s most famous trophy in a knockout competition.
Fulham loses the plot, Man Utd gratefully accepts it
From manager to star forward, Fulham can only blame itself for an a dictionary definition of losing the plot on Sunday.
The visitors were leading 1-0 and frankly the better team at Old Trafford, as Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal was an absolutely fitting marker of the occasion.
Manchester United was 20 minutes away from blowing a semifinal date with Brighton and a potential Manchester derby final when Fulham lost control of itself.
VAR review determined that Willian blocked Jadon Sancho’s would-be equalizer with his hand, and the behind-the-net view showed the Fulham star swatting down at the ball to stop it from going across the line. It was an undebatable penalty and got Willian sent off.
But, wait: surely Fulham manager Marco Silva was getting his men together to discuss the plan if United converted the penalty, right? He was getting them focused on the alternatives and how they were just 15-20 minutes away from extra time, that their FA Cup Final dreams were still right there for them, especially with Mitrovic capable of anything up top?
Silva was shown a red card for berating the fourth official, and the formerly notoriously combustible Mitrovic could not control his emotions with a bustle into the referee, who had no choice but to send Fulham down to nine men and no manager.
Manchester United at this stage in the Erik ten Hag project knew exactly what to do. Bruno converted his penalty as the Red Devils seized the control of the game they had wonted for so long. They read the plot word-for-word.
Manchester United vs Fulham player ratings: Stars of the Show
Bruno Fernandes: Those questioning his leadership after the Liverpool rout have seen a sincere and perhaps expected response. Dynamic, dangerous, and ready to strike at any time.
Issa Diop: That his flick cued up Mitrovic’s goal was fitting, as the center back had five recoveries and four clearances while passing at 90 percent out of the back.
Marcel Sabitzer: What a signing, and what a touch of class on the match-winning goal. The January window in the Premier League this season really shaped so many competitions, as Sabitzer, Jorginho, and Leandro Trossard found new and welcoming homes.
The fixtures continue to come thick and fast for Manchester United, who will play their 14th game since the start of February (47 days – a game every four days, on average, for a month and a half) before a brief respite in the form of the international break next week. They will, however, be without Casemiro, perhaps the most important player (and summer signing) at the club after the Brazilian picked up his second red card of 2023 in a 0-0 draw with Southampton last weekend. He featured, and starred, in the second leg against Betis, but will almost certainly give way to the Scott McTominay-Fred double pivot which often roamed the field at Old Trafford prior to his arrival. The Red Devils have lost just two of their last 26 games in all competitions (to Arsenal and Liverpool, in Premier League play).
Fulham, on the other hand, find themselves suddenly in one of their worst moments all season, having lost back-to-back games while conceding six goals to Brentford and Arsenal. Aleksandar Mitrovic hasn’t scored a goal in his last nine appearances (all competitions) after starting the season with 11 in 15. The 3-0 defeat to Arsenal snapped Manor Solomon’s run of five straight games with a goal, picking up the slack amid Mitrovic’s downturn.
Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Casemiro (suspension), Alejandro Garnacho (ankle), Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE), Anthony Martial (hip)
📋 Introducing our line-up for today's #FACup quarter-final 👊#MUFC