Xabi Alonso: ‘It would be fair if Manuel Neuer won the Ballon d’Or’

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It’s fair to say that Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has had quite the effect on the club’s new midfielder, Xabi Alonso.

The Spanish international told Marca on Wednesday that not only is Neuer “the best keeper I have played with by far” but “it would absolutely be fair if he won the Ballon d’Or.”

High praise for Neuer but words that few would be up to argue against. Widely hailed as the best goalkeeper in the world, Neuer is chased by Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and, to a lesser extent, Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Manchester United’s David De Gea.

But what about the Ballon d’Or shout? If Neuer did capture the honors, would it be fair? While “fair” is a relative term it would be hard to envision the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and even Arjen Robben being shocked were it to play out that way.

The main problem with Neuer, of course, is that he’s a goalkeeper and offensive abilities tend to be the deciding factor in who wins the award. To wit, only three defenders – Fabio Cannavaro, Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer – have hoisted the trophy while only a single goalkeeper has managed the feat, the Soviet Union’s Lev Yashin in 1963. It goes without saying that to be the first goalkeeper in 51 years would be a massive achievement.

The competition is stiff, however, with Ronaldo putting up 52 goals and 16 assists in 52 total matches for club and country this year and Messi notching 46 goals and 21 assists in 59 appearances. For his efforts, Ronaldo hoisted trophies for victories in the Champions League, Super Cup and Copa del Rey while Messi failed to win a single trophy for club or country but did finish runner-up in the World Cup finals capturing the Golden Ball award along the way.

In his favor, Neuer is in the best form of his career having guided Bayern to Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles while winning the coveted World Cup finals with Germany and being named the best keeper in the tournament. Also to be considered is the fact that Neuer has single-handedly revolutionized the goalkeeping position, playing as a sweeper-keeper who spends more time between his 18 yard box and midfield than he does on the goal line. With his size, mobility, silky skills and excellent vision it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that had Neuer played in the field, there’s a good chance he could’ve made it to the top level.

Earlier today Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was asked who he thought should win the Ballon d’Or, to which he replied: “You always have to win something and the best thing to win is the World Championship. I hope it shall be a German player because they deserve it.” Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze have all been nominated alongside Neuer. But do any of them deserve it more than the goalkeeper?

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.