Spain’s reign may be over, but la Roja will be ready come Euro 2016

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It’s not so much that people hate Spain, though based on the reaction Wednesday’s result, you could come to that conclusion. More likely, the reaction’s about success, and how the sports world reacts to it. Through Spain’s triumph at Euro 2008 was adored, their elimination from Brazil 2014 was met with a backlash. After six years of being sold the Spaniards’ virtues, the world is done with la Roja.

Given how sports cycles work, it’s be natural to assume Spain need to reset, and to a certain extent, that’s obviously true. Carles Puyol is gone, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández are past their primes, and the opposition has had time to adjust. Tiki-taka’s not dead, in the face of waning talent, it’s no longer enough.

But as Sid Lowe reminded us today at The Guardianit may not be long before the emperor has new clothes. There’s a generation of new talent which, having already made an impact at club-level, is ready to step in, and if results at UEFA’s U-level competitions are any indication, this generation will again prove superior to their European peers. Opportunity seems to be their biggest problem.

That’s why Spain’s Brazil 2014 can turn into a blessing, of sorts. For too long, Vicente Del Bosque has had to consider whether to fix something that wasn’t broken, but one-sided matches against the Netherlands and Chile left no doubt. The team’s beyond broken. It’s shattered, giving Del Bosque license to not only tweak but completely rebuild.

But consider the collection of talent that will be part of that rebuild:

source: Getty ImagesDavid de Gea, G, Manchester United – It’s now clear the 23-year-old is the best keeper in Spain’s pool. Though an injury has kept him from contributing in Brazil, he’ll represent an upgrade if (or, when) he takes the one-shirt during qualifying for 2016. Having established himself a Manchester United, de Gea’s a tough call Del Bosque should have made before Brazil 2014.

Iñigo Martínez, CB, Real Sociedad – The lack of depth in central defense was one of Spain’s major problems in Brazil, but if Martínez (23) had been integrated into the team sooner, Del Bosque would have had more options when his central pair failed so spectacularly against the Dutch. After making the all tournament team at last year’s Euro U-21 championship. Martínez got his first senior team cap, but Del Bosque has since remained loyal to more established stars.

Koke, M, Atlético Madrid (above)
Thiago Alcantara, M, Bayern Munich
– Out injured for Brazil, Alcantara (23) captained the team that won last year’s U-21s, while Koke’s (22) performance at Atlético Madrid earned him time on Wednesday. If Xabi Alonso’s starting spot is also reconsidered (as it should be), these two could join Sergio Busquets as the new core of Spain’s team; at least, in midfield.

source: APIsco, M/F, Real Madrid
Jesé Rodríguez, F, Real Madrid (right)
Álvaro Morata, F, Real Madrid
Daniel Carvajal, RB, Real Madrid
Asier Illarramendi, M, Real Madrid
– Particularly with its three young attackers, Real Madrid has an enviable collection of up-and-coming talent, one that will threaten to from a gap between the Merengues and Barcelona. On the international level, the means a Roja side that won so much with a Barcelona core will turn to Spain’s other titans to prolong its success. The style of play may not shift dramatically, but it will change, proving more versatile in the future.

Marc Bartra, Barcelona
Martín Montoya, Barcelona – Not that the Catalan giants won’t be represented in the next generation, too, thanks to these two defenders. Unfortunately, neither of these prospects have gotten a prolonged chance at Barcelona. If they perform as they did at last summer’s U-21s (both making the team of the tournament), Spain will a have new generation to augment Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, and Cesar Azpilicueta, none of whom are over 28 years old. Sevilla left back Alberto Moreno (21) will be an option, too.

Iker Muniaín, Athletic Bilbao
Ander Herrera, Athletic Bilbao – Muniaín has been contributing to Athletic’s first team for so long, it’s had to believe he’s only 21 years old. Yet between him and Herrera (24), another enviable central midfield talent, the Lions have two more talents that can join Javi Martínez as contributors to La Roja.

And then there’s all the older players who, as Spain tweaks its approach, could become more valuable. Manchester City winger Jesus Navas was desperately missed over the last two games, and while Fernando Llorente is redundant to Diego Costa, redundancy isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a 23-man squad.

What will that look like on the field? Something like:

G – David de Gea
LB – Jordi Alba
CB – Sergio Ramos
CB – Gerard Piqué
RB – Daniel Carvajal
DM – Sergio Busquets
CM – Thiago Alcantara
CM – Koke
AM – Andrés Iniesta
F – Jesé Rodríguez
F – Diego Costa

Perhaps Isco’s in there instead of Jesé. Perhaps one or two other spots are different, but while some are critical of that central defense, when healthy, that duo has won titles. Regardless, Spain’s not going anywhere. In fact, la Roja may improve.

No longer worried about disrupting a proven formula, Spain’s coach can look at the team’s talent with a open mind. The right combination could help reclaim a spot on top of the soccer world.

Watch Live: The Manchester Derby

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Manchester United can send a message to the Top Four and lay down a marker for its manager when it visits Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

United enters the match on 21 points, eight back of losing Chelsea and two behind fifth place Spurs, while City looks to climb ahead of Leicester City ahead of the Foxes 9 a.m. ET Sunday visit to Aston Villa.

But really, this is about territory, and whether Manchester is blue or red for a few months.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Angelino, Rodrigo, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, G Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Williams, Young, Andreas, Mata, Greenwood.

Son scores a throwback, full-field dribble goal to up Spurs lead

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Heung-Min Son saw Harry Kane‘s stunner and pushed all his chips into the pot.

The South Korean continued Spurs first-half demolition of Burnley by providing a third goal via a wonderful, near field-length dribble and finish that would make Diego Maradona nod in approval.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

He must’ve covered 80 yards or more on the dribble, winding his way into open space with a couple of touches past wayward defenders.

Don’t sleep on the speed, either, Son in possession and blazing past defenders at full sprint.

Scores, streams

Bournemouth 0-2 Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
Tottenham 3-0 Burnley
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

WATCH: Harry Kane’s emphatic rip from distance puts Spurs up

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If Harry Kane is about to find his best self, then the Premier League should be quite concerned that Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may return to its finest form.

On evidence of this strike versus Burnley on Saturday, it’s possible.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

Kane absolutely pummeled a shot from distance past the excellent Nick Pope on Saturday, the first of two early goals (Lucas Moura) as Spurs are making a quick rebound from a midweek set back at Old Trafford.

Heung-Min Son perfectly settled a long ball to Kane, who was in space and cognizant of the goalkeeper’s position. The Englishman bashed the ball home for his eighth league goal of the season and 14th in all competitions.

Everton: What was different, and what’s the way forward?

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Everton got off the mat in style on Saturday, three days after a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to its Merseyside rivals.

While that loss wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked on the score board, it was wretched at the back and enough to warrant a change at manager.

[ RECAP: Everton shock poor Chelsea ]

Duncan Ferguson took the reins at Goodison Park, and things were much improved in a 3-1 defeat of Chelsea.

What was different? Plenty, though most came in the form of personnel performances rather than changes (Also, Chelsea was terrible, but that negates little for an Everton side which had been insipid against inferior competition to Saturday’s visitors).

1) The Formation: Duncan Ferguson opted for a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that often came closer to your traditional 4-4-2. The Toffees hemorrhaged possession but pounded away at the Chelsea attackers and counted on their swift, talented attackers to do their damage with limited chances. Call it the Newcastle United model. With Chelsea a bit off, it played out perfectly for Ferguson.

“Who knows? A new face, a new voice, a new message, who knows? These things just happen in football and the players give a reaction when they lose a manager.

“I think that’s right. What we really need at this club is the work ethic, the team really needs to work their absolute socks off. The fans really got behind us and believe me that gets you an extra goal.”

2) The Force: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, given the stage and his track record, had the game of his life. That’s not exaggeration. The 22-year-old had six shots, two goals, and won 10 aerial battles. That’s exactly what’s required given the formation and tactics outlined in Point No. 1. After scoring three goals in four matches a month ago, “DCL” had been very poor and flubbed his chances against Liverpool. This was a beauty, and Calvert-Lewin was clearly playing for his coach.

“It was a massive game for us and I have a very close relationship with Duncan. He has stuck by me for the three years I have known him. The most important thing was to go out and give 100%.”

I mean, that’s always the most important thing, but we can’t blame a 22-year-old for trading on the cliche market.

3) Other changes: Ferguson took a risk in deploying Morgan Schneiderlin over Tom Davies. The former had been one of the Toffees worst statistical players this year, while Davies is a hometown kid who had admittedly been very poor for the better part of a month. Schneiderlin wasn’t great in passing, but was steadier than the kid and won six tackles. When Davies came into the match, he wasn’t great but was more advanced and his lone positive contribution was a big one:

Yerry Mina missed the match through injury, which may’ve played a role in Ferguson’s decision to go to four at the back, but the difference in defense was down to both Mason Holgate and Michael Keane playing dramatically better. Keane especially, having not been credited with a single tackle in the loss to Everton.

We should save some space for Jordan Pickford, whose passing stats suffered from a directive to “get the ball out of there ASAP” but registered three saves in an improved performance. Pickford hasn’t been steady for his club — incredible against West Ham, terrible versus Liverpool and Brighton, and if he can eliminate the bad days and be just a bit above average he can be a big difference. Steadier work from the backs will help that.

And really that’s what will fix the Toffees. The attack hasn’t been amazing but it hasn’t been relegation worthy. And frankly the backs have not been awful, allowing the third-fewest attempts per match in the league, but have been prone to absolutely horrendous mistakes that left Pickford on an island. The less the keeper is in damage control, the higher Everton can rise.

4) So Big Dunc? Given the immediate road ahead, Ferguson’s approach and passion could give the club the leeway to wait a few weeks to make sure it hires a steady, experienced hand considering their long-term goals. Ferguson might be a name for the future, but as we outlined earlier this week… European spots remain there for the taking! Their next few matches provide chances to directly affect teams above them, with Manchester United at Old Trafford and Arsenal visiting Goodison. There’s also an opportunity to beat Leicester City and get to a League Cup semifinal.

Those are two routes to Europe right in front of the Toffees. Ferguson’s Brucian (or Benitezian) tactics and system can give them a chance to get two or three points from the league matches, and certainly can be enough to out-duel the Foxes at home. And you might say, so maybe he’s the man! Don’t look past what the club means to him. But in the long run, the talent and ambition of Everton needs a sustained system that isn’t just about “grinding it out.” Maybe Ferguson can supply that but is that a risk to take now, with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spurs all wobbling in ways you wouldn’t expect in a given season? A commitment to working hard is just the first step to success.