Player Ratings: How players fared in Netherlands-Argentina

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The 2014 World Cup finals are set: Germany v. Argentina in what should be a clash of the highest order.

On Wednesday it was Argentina who booked their place in the finals after 120 minutes of scoreless action with the Netherlands was settled in a penalty shootout.

Both managers made changes to their teams entering the match with Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella replacing the injured Angel di Maria with Enzo Perez and swapping left-back Jose Basanta for Marcos Rojo and Dutch manager Louis van Gaal bringing on Nigel de Jong in the place of Memphis Depay.

Here’s how each player from the Netherlands-Argentina fared on a scale of 1 to 10.

ARGENTINA PLAYER RATINGS  

Sergio Romero – 9

With the exception of a few key punches, Romero had very little to do in regulation and extra time but came up huge in penalties, saving shots from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.

Marcos Rojo – 7

After serving a suspension against Costa Rica, Rojo inserted himself beautifully into the Argentine defense, working particularly well with Martin Demichelis in shutting down Arjen Robben.

Martin Demichelis – 8

A different player on the international level, Demichelis has established a fantastic partnership with Ezequiel Garay and was rock-solid for 120 minutes.

Ezequiel Garay – 8

Nearly scored a 25th minute header and was a constant nuisance to Robin van Persie.

Pablo Zabaleta – 8 

Alongside Philip Lahm, Zabaleta has proven himself the best right-back in the world. Made a handful of fantastic sliding tackles while proving himself a nuisance overlapping on the wing.

Javier Mascherano – 9 STAR MAN

Best match of his career. Mascherano was everywhere on Wednesday, dropping into the back four to help defend and driving the midfield forward on the attack. His most impressive feat came in the first minute of injury time when his slide tackle on Robben saved a surefire goal. He then duplicated the tackle in the 96th minute. Sensational.

Lucas Biglia – 5

Despite putting in a furious shift, Biglia didn’t see much of the ball and arguably had his smallest impact of the tournament.

Enzo Perez – 6

Did decent in the place of Di Maria with a few notable overlaps and link-ups but faded throughout the match.

Ezequiel Lavezzi – 7

Strong match for Lavezzi, who found plenty of space down the right side and was arguably Argentina’s most creative attacker moving forward.

Gonzalo Higuain – 5

Got caught dropping deep to pick up balls and did well to hold up the play but stymied his side from going forward by doing. Couldn’t establish a link with Messi but did come close to scoring, putting his effort on the wrong side of the side netting. Frustrating.

Lionel Messi – 4

A shocking performance from Messi, nowhere near his standard or where he needs to be if he’s to guide his country to glory. Looked frustrated, lost dribbles and didn’t seem bothered by the fact that he wasn’t seeing enough of the ball.

Substitutes

Rodrigo Palacio – N/A

On for Perez in the 81st, Palacio was lively and came closest to scoring with a header that Jasper Cillessen did well to save.

Maxi Rodgriguez – N/A

Came on for Lavezzi with 20 minutes left and saw little of the ball but did convert the final penalty to seal Argentina’s spot in the final.

Sergio Aguero – 5

An 81st minute substitute for Higuain, Aguero was too slow dispatching the one chance he saw. Clearly still injured, he’s a shadow of his former self but did manage to convert his penalty.

NETHERLANDS PLAYER RATINGS 

Jasper Cillessen – 7

Enjoyed some confident saves and showed some nice foot-skills in regulation but could’ve done better in the shootout, missing Garay’s and Rodriguez’s efforts when he should’ve done better.

Dirk Kuyt – 7

Typical Kuyt. Nothing special but hard-working and dependable. Even dispossessed Messi a few times and took his spot kick well.

Ron Vlaar – 8

Like Mascherano, this was the best performance of Vlaar’s life. Yes, he missed his penalty but he should’ve never been shooting in the first place. During regulation and extra time, Vlaar was a beast, putting in a number of brilliant sliding tackles on Messi.

Stefan De Vrij – 7

Enjoyed a few big tackles and kept the back five tight, De Vrij has made a name for himself in this tournament.

Bruno Martins Indi – 3

A poor game from the big man, who found himself caught out of position a number of times and subbed out at half time.

Daley Blind – 6

Found it difficult containing Zabaleta, Perez and Lavezzi early on but settled in late in the match when it counted.

Georgino Wijnaldum – 5

It was a big ask for this young player, especially to play inside the park opposed to his preferred winger position. Did ok at times but too often gave the ball away needlessly in the offensive third.

Wesley Sneijder – 6

An inconsistent match from Sneijder, who looked dangerous at times and lost at others. A disappointing end to a great World Cup.

Nigel De Jong – 7

Despite returning from injury De Jong put in a typical yeoman-like shift for Van Gaal, leaving it all on the pitch. It’s never pretty but it’s so effective.

Arjen Robben – 6

Quiet and subdued early on but found a way through in the 91st and 96th minutes only to see his shot blocked by Mascherano. Looked lively and likely to score in extra time when everyone else’s tongue was wagging. Spot kick was well taken sealed a fantastic cup for Robben.

Robin Van Persie – 4

Brutal match for Van Persie. Clearly affected by the flu he’s had over the last few days, the striker wasn’t helped out by Van Gaal’s setup that required him to drop deep to pick up balls in the midfield. Arguably shouldn’t have started.

Substitutes

Daryl Janmaat – 6

In for Martins Indi at halftime, Janmaat was unspectacular but solid in disrupting the link between Messi and Higuain/Aguero.

Jordy Claise – 8

Brilliant in possession coming on for De Jong. Settled the midfield and had the Dutch playing their best football. An orchestrator for the future.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar – N/A

Barely touched the ball after coming on in the 96th minute.

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).