Top 10 midfielders from the 2014 World Cup

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Picking up where we left off with the forwards, here are PST’s 10 best midfielders from the 2014 World Cup (in alphabetical order):

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

Juan Cuadrado, Colombia – At club-level, Cuadrado’s wide play often flatters to deceive, his clearly prodigious talent productive in flashes for Fiorentina. For three or four games in Brazil, however, Cuadrado put it all together, recording one goal and four assists. The 26-year-old was the best attacker player at this year’s World Cup.

Kevin de Bruyne, Belgium – An inconsistent but promising group stage gave way to a decisive performance in the Round of 16 against the U.S., with a goal and assist highlighting the role de Bruyne played in Belgium’s ever-dangerous counter. With a goal and two assists, de Bruyne helped pick up where some of his more famous teammates left off.

Ángel Di María, Argentina – Di María’s absence was keenly felt in Argentina’s final, where the Albiceleste failed to offer the extra attacker that could have made some of Lionel Messi’s work pay off. Before the final game, however, Di María was that guy, combining his typical high energy game with an attacking sense that left him in position to score the winner against Switzerland in the Round of 16 .

Héctor Herrera, Mexico – Had Mexico held on against the Netherlands, Herrera would have been celebrated as one of the tournament’s breakout stars, with the spotlight of the tournament final eight settling on the 24-year-old as one of the main reasons for El Tri’s success. Of course, Mexico didn’t make it that far, but that shouldn’t diminish what we saw from Herrera, whose single assist understates the value he brought to the team’s three-man middle.

Jermaine Jones, United States – Jones is normally one of the most scrutinized members of the U.S. national team, but in Brazil, he never gave those doubts a chance to surface. Seemingly leveraging the experience he’s garnered in Germany and the Champions League, Jones rose to the occasion for the U.S., providing vital solidity for a midfield that was asked to spend much of its time focusing on positioning over possession. With Jozy Altidore injured, Jones picked his spots to surge forward and provide an outlet out of the back, and with this second half goal against Portugal, the German-born American provided one of the best finishes of the tournament:

Toni Kroos, Germany – Kroos’s two goals and three assists would be impressive in their own right, but the 24-year-old also completed 89.9 percent of his passes. The key man linking Germany’s deep midfield with its forwards, Kroos may have been the most important in a series of vital cogs.

Javier Mascherano, Argentina (pictured) – The competition’s best defensive midfielder earned consideration for player of the tournament, a just reward for protecting a defense that only allowed three goals in seven games. Though he plays mostly as a defender with Barcelona, the former Liverpool destroyer reminded the world that he’s still one of the game’s best anchors in midfield.

Paul Pogba, France – Voted the tournament’s best young player, Pogba combined with Blaise Matuidi to lock down France’s midfield, a hold only Germany managed to solve. Scoring once and setting up another, the 21-year-old Juventus star showed why he is one of the most covered young players in the world, on track to be a regular in Les Bleus midfield for a decade to come.

James Rodríguez, Colombia – Arguably the tournament’s best player, Rodríguez gets grouped with the midfielders even though he did all of his damage going forward. Scoring at least once in each of his team’s games, James eventually claimed the tournament’s Golden Boot, even though he played two fewer games than the likes of Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, and Lionel Messi.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany – Not completely healthy at the beginning of the tournament, Schweinsteiger’s improvement as the tournament progressed allow Joachim Löw to move Philipp Lahm back to fullback, a change that helped balance the eventual champions. In Lahm’s place, Schweinsteiger offered a more robust option in the middle, one that liberated Kroos and Sami Khedira in Germany’s historic route of Brazil.

Lyon hires Rudi Garcia as new manager

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Olympique Lyonnais has announced they have hired Rudi Garcia as manager, replacing the fired Sylvinho.

Lyon has struggled mightily to start the Ligue 1 season, winning just two of its first nine league games and sitting 14th in the table with nine points. Sylvinho, who was only hired at the end of May, was let go last week.

Garcia has formerly taken charge of Roma, Lille, and St. Etienne, and most recently managed Lyon rivals Marseille for three seasons before departing this summer. He left with Marseille having failed to claim a Champions League place amid the Ligue 1 top three.

“I chose Rudi Garcia because he is a fighter who, like us, has the ambition to win titles and succeed on the European stage,” said Lyon sporting director Juninho. The Brazilian had chosen his countrymate Sylvinho this summer, but made a change just nine matches into the season with the club winning its first two matches of the season and failing to win since. They have lost three of the last four, with all three defeats coming via a 1-0 scoreline. They have scored just five goals in the seven-match winless run, shutout on four different occasions.

The 55-year-old Frenchman will have plenty of proving to do to Lyon fans. Coming straight over from a direct rival, . Fans were outspoken about their cautious feelings, as the introductory tweet was ratio’d by those expressing a distaste for the hire.

“He is an experienced coach who has already won trophies,” added Juninho.“Wherever he has been, he has had above-average performances and has always managed to make the most of what he had at his disposal.”

Garcia’s first match in charge will be a home league match this weekend against Dijon, followed by a Europa League visit to Benfica.

Barcelona denounces Spanish court decision on Catalan independence

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Barcelona released a statement criticizing a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision that saw 12 political activists jailed for their role in the 2017 push for Catalan independence.

The statement said that “prison is not the solution” and called the decision “condemnatory.” Instead, the club said that “the resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

The political activists were punished for pushing through an October 2017 referendum in Catalonia that resulted in over 90% of the population voting for independence. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain and seen within the country’s political hierarchy as an act of treason.

As one of the biggest social institutions of Catalonia, Barcelona’s statement on the matter carries significant weight both within the region and across Spain. Barcelona games often feature flags and banners calling for Catalan independence. Catalonia has also made a recent push for an independent FIFA-recognized squad, unsuccessful to this point. However, they played their first match inside a FIFA-sanctioned international window this March against Venezuela.

As a result of the court decision, the Catalan Football Federation suspended all its matches for Monday in solidarity with the accused. This includes only clubs and leagues that fall under the federation, which does not include Barcelona, La Liga, or the Spanish national team.

“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom,” the club said in the statement. Gerard Pique re-tweeted the social media version of the statement, adding the caption “Proud to be part of this Club.” Pique is a Catalan native and has appeared for the Catalonia national team 10 times.

Barcelona reportedly set to sign young Ansu Fati to first-team

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According to a report by Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona is readying a first-team contract for 16-year-old Ansu Fati after a collection of positive performances for the club.

The youngster was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season thanks to an injury crisis that swallowed up Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele.

He made his first appearance off the bench in the opening league game, coming on for 12 minutes against Real Betis. He then was handed a 45-minute substitute appearance against Osasuna where he registered his first goal in a 2-2 draw. That saw Fati handed his first start, and he scored again just two minutes into the eventual 5-2 win over Valencia.

With Messi struggling of late with injuries and Suarez also struck down and seeing his minutes carefully watched thanks to his advanced age, Fati’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for Barcelona. Therefore, the report states the new contract will feature an astronomical release clause of $220 million.

He only just signed a contract with the club back in July that saw him tied to Barcelona through 2022 and put him on a tiered pay scale that would reward him based on appearances for various youth and senior squads. His release clause in that contract was set at $110 million – already a record for a player of his age – but after his recent outburst the club may feel even that is not enough to ward off outside interest. The new contract will also reportedly boost his salary to a fixed $1 million for the season.

Convincing Fati to stick around long-term is of the utmost importance to Barcelona who has been forced to consider the future of the striker position at the club. Suarez’s age is the most pressing concern, but even the potential decline of 32-year-old Messi is a possibility for the near future. With those in mind, Fati’s contributions are critical and could signal a positive future for the Barcelona attack despite the necessary upcoming transitions.

Liverpool, Manchester United set for injury returns

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According to reports, both Manchester United and Liverpool are preparing to welcome back a number of important players from injury for their rivalry meeting at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Most notably, the Reds will reportedly have goalkeeper Alisson ready to take his place between the sticks, having missed nearly the entire season to this point with a calf injury. The Brazilian made it just 39 minutes into the Premier League opener against Norwich City before succumbing to injury, and Adrian has filled in since. While the Spaniard has played exceptionally well in his teammate’s stead, The Guardian reports that Alisson will take back his starting place no questions asked, having rigorously tested his injured leg with intensive training to make sure he is ready.

In addition to the Brazilian goalkeeper, Liverpool is also reportedly set to see Mohamed Salah prove fit to start despite his injury scare against Leicester City just before the international break.

For the hosts, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has received welcome news on a number of players prior to the matchup. Paul Pogba, who has missed three of the last four league matches and five of the last seven overall thanks to an ankle injury, is ready to go and will be available to start. The Mirror reports that Pogba spent much of the international break training in Dubai to aid in his recovery.

Also returning for Manchester United is Aaron Wan-Bissaka who has missed the last two Premier League matches with tonsillitis. It was reported that Wan-Bissaka was ready to return for the Newcastle match prior to the international break, but he missed out nonetheless and was absent from the England national team as well. Also reportedly returning is the oft-injured Luke Shaw who has not played since late August thanks to a hamstring problem.

Finally, Anthony Martial could be ready to return from his own hamstring injury. The report is that Martial would be in contention for a place in the Manchester United18-man squad, suggesting that he may need a match or two to regain full fitness for a starting spot but would be an option off the bench if needed.

Liverpool and Manchester United meet on Sunday for the 203rd time overall and 173rd time in the top flight, kicking off at 11:30 a.m. ET from Old Trafford. The matchup is significant for both sides as Liverpool looks to maintain its perfect record and eight point lead atop the Premier League table, while Manchester United is hoping for a boost from its vastly mediocre record to this point in the season, having recorded just two wins through the first eight matches.