Fernando Llorente: Carlos Tévez and I deserve to go to the World Cup

Leave a comment

Combining for 32 goals this season, imputed strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tévez have helped Juventus run away with another Italian title, with the Spaniard adding his latest in the Old Lady’s 2-0 Monday win at Udinese. Yet despite their roles on a prominent club, neither man is set to feature in Brazil, with the depth of talent in the Spanish and Argentine national teams meaning two of Serie A’s leading goal scorers could miss out on this summer’s World Cup.

It’s a situation Llorente doesn’t understand:

“How is it possible that Tevez and I won’t play at the World Cup?” Llorente told Sky Italia, as reported by Football Italia. “The Italian League is difficult and competitive and we are hoping we can go to the World Cup.”

I think I see the problem. Is Llorente is looking at his relevance at club-level and assuming it somehow makes Spain’s talent pool more shallow than when he was at Athletic? Surely that can’t be the case, but that appears to be his logic.

And it’s not entirely faulty. The thinking goes ‘perhaps I wasn’t doing enough with Athletic, but now I’m at a bigger club showing I can play with the best. What move can I prove?’

But that success doesn’t diminish the quality of Diego Costa. Or Álvaro Negredo. Or Pedro Rodríguez, or Cesc Fábregas, who Spain use as a false nine. Those were the forwards Vicente del Bosque recalled for the Italy friendly in early March. Is Llorente suggesting he has passed any of them?

Or course his is, but his potential inclusion need not be at any of their expense. In del Bosque’s mind, the choice will more likely be ‘should I sacrifice some midfield depth to include this late match option?’ At this point, he doesn’t appear inclined to do so.

I doubt anybody in Spain is surprised Llorente is doing well in Italy. He has always been respected, but he’s also been a strange fit – one that became less viable when players like Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado started stepping up. Soldado’s struggles with Tottenham change the picture a little, but Llorente’s strong year at Juventus is unlikely to sway hearts or minds. He is what they thought he was.

As for Tévez, a player who at times has enjoyed huge popularity in his home country, the situation is similar. Argentina look set to start Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín. Alejandro Sabella has Ezequiel Lavezzi as a change-of-pace option. He can move Ángel Di María up from midfield. He also has José Sosa at his disposal. For a team that needs options in midfield and defense, extra strikers may not be possible.

source: Getty Images
In his first season in Italy, Carlos Tévez has 18 goals for Juventus. He is also unlikely to be selected for Argentina this summer. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Besides (and unlike Llorente), there’s a feeling of “been there, done that” with Tévez, who hasn’t appeared for Argentina in three years. Even when he was in the team, his production fell short of his performances at club level (13 goals, 64 appearances). An ill-fit with Argentina’s other attacking options, Tévez’s inclusion would only be an acknowledgement of his club performance or popularity. On the field for Argentina, he hasn’t worked since Messi emerged, part of the reason he’s never been called up under Sabella.

That one part of the equation Llorente is overlooking. The other: Just because you’re having a good year doesn’t mean others aren’t also performing well. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s a mistake we all make. We see performances and compare it to an implicit standard in our heads, saying things like “surely he should go to the World Cup.” But the standard isn’t some abstract World Cup Guy. It’s the rest of the field.

Llorente may be performing well, but does that make him one of Spain’s four-or-five best strikers? And also a good fit for how del Bosque wants to play?

And Tévez may end up leading Italy in scoring. Does that mean he would suddenly start replicating those performances for the Albiceleste?

The best answer to Llorente’s question, how it’s possible he and Tévez won’t be going to Brazil, might be a question in return: Why, after years of irrelevance to your national team, do you suddenly see yourself as a necessary part? Why has your performance for Juventus suddenly redefined the Spanish soccer world?

Premier League awards: End-of-season finalists announced

Premier League awards
Photo by DAVE THOMPSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League announced its end-of-season awards finalists in four categories on Friday, with voting set to remain open through 1 pm ET on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap ]

Here’s a look at the finalists for the four key awards, and a prediction of who will take home each one…

Premier League Player of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Jordan Henderson (Liveprool), Danny Ings (Southampton), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Nick Pope (Burnley), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

Who will win? First things first, Footballer of the Year — which was won by Henderson, according to the Football Writers’ Association — and Player of the Season are very different awards. FotY awards have typically gone to the individual deemed most important to the title-winning team; PotS generally goes to the most outstanding individual performer. Thus, De Bruyne should receive somewhere between 96 and 98 percent of the vote. The Belgian’s 20 assists tied the PL record (Thierry Henry, 2002-03) and he chipped in with another baker’s dozen goals. No one else’s numbers even approach that level of absurdity, so let’s just pause for a moment and consider how far City would have finished the season behind Liverpool without De Bruyne going superhuman.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Premier League Young Player of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Mason Greenwood (Man United), Dean Henderson (Sheffield United), Anthony Martial (Man United), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Marcus Rashford (Man United)

Who will win? It goes without saying the Pulisic takes this award for the post-Project Restart period of the season, but did he do enough over the course of the entire season to edge out, say, Alexander-Arnold, who was a genuine difference maker for not only the league champions, but also one of the most dominant sides in PL history? Probably not. Plus, how rare is it that a defender — let alone a full back — gets his due credit when the awards are handed out? It takes a truly special player to put forth a truly special season to earn that kind of recognition as a full back, and Alexander-Arnold checked both of those boxes in 2019-20.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Premier League Manager of the Season – VOTE HERE

Finalists: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City), Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)

Who will win? Through 30 games played, Sheffield United sat seventh in the table and were just two points out of fifth place — at the time, thought to be a Champions League place with Man City’s impending, but since-lifted, European ban — which probably made Chris Wilder the slight favorite for Manager of the Season. Unfortunately, the Blades lost four of their final eight games and slipped to ninth — still a remarkable first season in the PL, but just far enough outside of Europe — and many, many months ago — that most voters will likely forget their brilliant start to the season. Frank Lampard will likely receive a fair share of the vote given Chelsea’s transfer ban, the exceedingly youthful nature of the Chelsea squad and qualifying for Champions League — and rightly so — but there remains one likely, and perhaps runaway, winner: Klopp. Call it a “career achievement” award if you must, but anyone who considers the state of Liverpool when Klopp took over in 2015, and compares that to where they are now, will vote for Klopp in the blink of an eye.

[ MORE: Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions ]

Premier League Goal of the Season – VOTE HEREWATCH HERE

Finalists: Harvey Barnes (Leicester City), Moussa Djenepo (Southampton), Matthew Longstaff (Newcastle United), Kevin De Bruyne no. 1, v. Newcastle (Man City), Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Matej Vydra (Burnley), Bruno Fernandes (Man United), Kevin De Bruyne no. 2, v. Norwich City (Man City)

Hit the link above and watch all the goals, then let’s have a debate in the comments.

Who will win? Given his otherworldly popularity back home in South Korea, it’s easy to see the votes flooding in for Son, whose solo goal against Burnley was spectacular from the first yard all the way to the 75th. That’s the easy and obvious answer, but if you’re looking for something of a dark-horse candidate, De Bruyne’s blast against Newcastle, due to not only the chest control but also the height at which he strikes the ball and bangs it off the underside of the crossbar, is the likely first runner-up.

League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap

Salary cap
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Clubs in League One and League Two have voted to introduce a salary cap, “effectively immediately.”

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Under the agreed proposal, clubs in England’s third tier, League One, will be allowed to spend up to $3.25 million (£2.5 million) per season on player salaries, while League Two sides will be limited at $2 million (£1.5 million).

The salary cap is, at least in theory, expected to create greater sustainability for lower-division clubs after a number of sides recently relegated from the Premier League and/or the Championship have endured great financial hardship and, in some cases, received hefty punishments for failing to maintain certain financial standards.

According to Sky Sports, discussions about a potential salary cap began back in March, prior to the shutdown, and canceling of the remainder, of the League One and League Two seasons due to COVID-19.

When calculating total salary spending, the salary cap will include not only weekly wages paid to players, but also bonuses, agent fees and image rights, among other mechanisms by which clubs have spent and — again, in far too many cases — lost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in recent years.

Per the English Football League, “any contract entered into on or prior to today’s vote will be capped at an agreed divisional average until that contract expires,” meaning clubs will not be forced to immediately shed contracts in order to comply with the newly implemented rule.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From the EFL’s statement, which can be read in full here, released shortly after the vote:

“The term ‘salary cap’ is an emotive one, creating the impression of a restrictive measure but we are clear in our view that this is neither the objective nor the likely effect of these changes to EFL Regulations. The financial impact of COVID-19 will be profound for EFL Clubs and today’s vote will help ensure Clubs cannot extend themselves to the point that could cause financial instability.

“Over the last two weeks the discussions amongst Clubs in both Leagues One and Two have been healthy and constructive, allowing us to reach a clear consensus today and I am pleased that the Clubs have determined to adopt the new approach. We will now work with all Clubs, the PFA and, where appropriate, other stakeholders to implement the new rules and continue our efforts to bring long-term sustainability to the EFL.

MLS is Back: Orlando City advances to final on Nani brace (video)

MLS is Back
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Nani scored a pair of first-half goals and Orlando City advanced to the MLS is Back tournament title match with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United on Thursday night.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Orlando will play the Portland Timbers, who defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night, in the championship game on Tuesday.

Mason Toye pulled Minnesota within 2-1 with his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute, but the Lions withstood United’s attack down the stretch before Benji Michel’s goal late in stoppage time for the final margin.

“It was very satisfying for us because we worked the whole week just working as a team, making sure all the pieces were put together,” Michel said. “For us to be able to get the win was very, very good for us.”

Minnesota’s Chase Gasper had an early attempted that was pushed over the goal by Pedro Gallese. On the other end, Tesho Akindele’s chance off a cross from Ruan just barely sailed over the crossbar.

Nani gave Orlando the lead in the 36th minute, taking a long ball from Robin Jansson and shaking off defender Hassani Dotson before beating Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

Some seven minutes later, the Portuguese winger who played for Manchester United made it 2-0 with a goal from distance.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

There was some shoving between the two teams in the 73rd minute when Junior Urso’s foul resulted in a Minnesota free kick. Gallese came up big for the Lions, leaping to stop Raheem Edwards’ attempt.

“I thought we rushed everything,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “After the first 15 minutes, where we started the game really well, we needed an extra pass in the final third and we rushed it, we crossed it when there wasn’t anyone in the box. We made a lot of wrong choices in the final third tonight and that’s probably cost us dearly, I think.”

Heath was coach of Orlando City for four seasons before the team joined Major League Soccer in 2015. Heath led the Lions until July 2016, when he was fired.

Heath had not lost against his former club. The Lions are now led by Pareja.

Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with just nine wins.

“We have worked hard, and it has been, so far, difficult times for us. But the players just put all the excuses away, and then just kept going and going,” Pareja said. “And I think they’re happy. They’re playing with confidence and they accept each other and they understand this is day-by day. The guys who came from different countries, different clubs. They help us as well to gel.”

[ MORE: Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions ]

Minnesota’s Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino both had hamstring injuries and were on the bench to start the game. United centerback Ike Opara – the reigning MLS Defender of the Year – did not join the team in Orlando because of a pre-existing condition.

Orlando’s Chris Mueller, whose arm in a sling after the team advanced on penalties following a scoreless draw against LAFC in the quarterfinals, was in the starting lineup.

Lions striker Dom Dwyer had surgery last week on his left knee as is expected to be out for up to six months.

The monthlong World Cup-style tournament has been played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. Players have been sequestered at a pair of Disney resorts.

Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)