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Emery insists Ramsey a key piece, wants contract situation resolved

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While he’s nowhere near the high-profile superstar that Alexis Sanchez was for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey presently finds himself in the exact same position in which his former Chilean teammate sat this time last year: fewer than 12 months remaining on his contract, and unsure where he would be playing in a year’s time.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

It can be argued that Arsene Wenger and Co., completely botched Sanchez’s contract and eventual transfer saga — the Gunners got Henrikh Mkhitaryan when Sanchez left for Manchester United — and Wenger’s replacement, Unai Emery, is keen to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself on his watch — quotes from the Guardian:

“I am very happy with him. Every training is with the ambition I want, working with quality and the competitive spirit I want. I want to work with him. His future is a question for the player and club. I said to Ivan, Raul and Sven [Gazidis, Sanllehí and Mislintat, the collective dealing with contracts and transfers] he’s an important player for me.”

[ MORE: Mahrez, Man City share no. 1 goal: win the Champions League ]

Emery has also offered up some insight into his conversation with another former Arsenal player, Jack Wilshere, while prompted the longtime Gunners midfielder to leave the club this summer and sign for West Ham United on a free transfer.

“It was a very good conversation very directly together. I explained to him my opinion and how I wanted to create the team and could not be sure to say to him he is going to play into the XI. He explained to me the decision is not easy for him but he wanted to chose the best option for him. I know this player is important for the supporters and grew up here in Arsenal, but I don’t give him one position in the starting XI and for that he chose to leave. I also respect this.”

Spain boss Lopetegui to take charge of Real Madrid

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Julen Lopetegui will be the new manager of Real Madrid.

The current Spanish national team coach has signed a three-year deal to take charge of the reigning European champions and he will leave his role at the end of the 2018 World Cup.

Following the departure of Zinedine Zidane in mic-dropping fashion just days after he delivered a third-straight European title, Real had been linked with bringing in Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino as their new boss.

In a brief statement on their website, Real announced they’ve appointed the former FC Porto manager on the eve of the World Cup.

“Julen Lopetegui will be the Real Madrid coach after the celebration of the 2018 World Cup. Real Madrid C. F. announce that Julen Lopetegui will be the coach of the first team during the next three seasons. Julen Lopetegui will join the club after Spain’s participation in the World Cup, after two years leading the national team.”

The 51-year-old has an impressive resume after leading Spain’s youth national teams to glory and then leading the Spanish national team to a waltz through World Cup qualifying after he took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016.

This is somewhat of a surprise but Lopetegui is among the most promising coaches in the world and he will now return to the club where he began his journey. Lopetegui graduated from Real’s academy but played just once for the first team in a nomadic 17-year career across Spain.

Quite what this announcement means for Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup this summer remain to be seen, but Lopetegui will no doubt be fully focused on guiding his nation to success to begin his reign as Real boss in the best possible fashion.

Three things we learned from France v. USMNT

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The U.S. men’s national team drew 1-1 with France in Lyon on Saturday as the youngsters came close to causing a huge surprise against one of the favorites to win the World Cup this summer.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings

Julian Green put the USA 1-0 up right on half time to stun France, but Didier Deschamps’ side equalized late on through Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Below is a look at what we learned from Dave Sarachan’s kids impressing against France.


CCV TO LEAD NEW-LOOK DEFENSE

The main reason the USMNT took such a young squad to Europe for these games against Ireland and France as for experience, and these youngster will have learned so much from playing on the road in tight games.

Especially in Lyon against a virtual first-choice France side.

10 of the USA’s starting 11 had less than 10 caps to their name, and that showed in a shaky start in a 3-5-2 formation. But Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga looked particularly assured, with both Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson also impressing at wing back.

CCV and Miazga (who left the game early in the second half after a nasty clash of heads) have played together throughout the U.S. youth ranks and they will now get the chance to shine together for the USMNT. Carter-Vickers was particularly impressive as he stepped in and stopped attacks, plus kept Olivier Giroud quiet. The Tottenham Hotspur youngster is maturing rapidly.

Miazga’s ball-playing ability complements CCV power well and with DeAndre Yedlin and Moore to battle it out for the right back spot, plus Robinson pushing hard to start at left back, a long-term back four of Yedlin-CCV-Miazga-Robinson would be able to develop together over the next few years with all four playing for clubs across the top-flight of European soccer.

A special shoutout for Zack Steffen too, as the Columbus Crew goalkeeper looks to have cemented his spot as the heir to Tim Howard‘s throne as the USMNT’s starting stopper. Steffen came up big late on with a fine double-stop.

It’s a cliche, but you know what: the kids, they’re alright.


USMNT STILL A LONG WAY OFF

Yes, there were some promising displays, especially defensively, but let’s not get carried away here. This was a France side which had one eye on the World Cup kicking off in Russia next week.

And you can totally understand if a few of the French stars didn’t want to get injured and join the long list of heartbreaking World Cup absentees (Manuel Lanzini, Sergio Romero, Kamil Glik et al.) ahead of what is the biggest tournament of their careers so far.

The U.S. bunkered down and barely got in the France half in the first half but when they took the lead, they weathered the storm and despite Mbappe’s equalizer, the USMNT were fairly comfortable. But they were also far from adventurous in what resembled a 5-3-1-1 formation for most of the game.

This draw will give the young group confidence as U.S. Soccer will now focus on implementing Earnie Stewart’s plans as the new GM (appointed on Wednesday) will focus on hiring a new head coach over the summer.

A long, tough road to recovery is ahead but the nucleus of this side which drew at France should be given the chance to lead the USMNT to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.


WAKE-UP CALL FOR FRANCE

Boos rang out during spells of the game in Lyon as the home fans weren’t overjoyed with what they saw from their team in their final outing before flying to Russia on Sunday.

A virtual full-strength France started well but faded badly.

Didier Deschamps is under pressure (he has been for a while) and with the likes of Arsene Wenger and Zinedine Zidane now out of jobs, it’s likely that anything other than a trip to the World Cup final this summer will see the current France boss keep his job.

France looked disjointed and although Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba came close to scoring in the first half, they never really got out of second gear. Hugo Lloris shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post for the USA’s goal and Djibril Sidibe should have cleared the initial cross as a lapse in concentration cost Les Bleus.

Placed in Group C along with Denmark, Peru and Australia, France are still expected to get out of their group and go far this summer in Russia. But unless Deschamps’ men gel remarkably fast in the next few weeks, they won’t go all the way.

2018 World Cup team preview: France

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Getting to know France: Les Bleus come into this tournament as one of the favorties after they came so close to winning EURO 2016 on home soil. In Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann they have one of the most feared strike partnerships in the tournament.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Didier Deschamps led this young side to the quarterfinals in 2014 and the European Championship final in 2016, but he will be expected to take them to at least the World Cup semifinals this time around. The captain of the French national team for their only World Cup win in 1998 has his work cut out. Find out more about France’s history, here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? Group C with Australia, Peru and Denmark. France are the overwhelming favorites to win the group but they will be cautious of Denmark and Peru in particular given their strong defensive unit and gamechangers in Christian Eriksen and Paolo Guerrero respectively. Still, a very decent draw for France.


Game schedule – Group C – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Saturday, June 16: France v Australia, Kazan 6am, ET
Thursday, June 21: France v Peru, Ekaterinburg 11am, ET
Tuesday, June 26: Denmark v France, Moscow (Luzhniki) 10am, ET


Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Lloris —–

— Pavard — Varane — Umtiti — Mendy —

—— Matuidi —— Kante —— Pogba —— 

—— Mbappe —— Griezmann —— Dembele ——


Star player: Antoine Griezmann – The leading scorer in EURO 2016 has excelled at Atletico Madrid in recent years as there’s no surprise the likes of Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United have all been linked with the feisty forward. Griezmann, 26, is entering his prime and a fine showing at the World Cup would see his value saw further. He has 20 goals in 53 appearances for France but he leads the line superbly and along with Mbappe and Dembele they can interchange across the front three and rip teams apart.


Manager: Didier Deschamps – A second World Cup as manager of France will see expectations much greater than four years ago in Brazil. Deschamps has built this French team into a young, energetic side and several of the players who starred last time out are still in the squad. That said, if Deschamps doesn’t deliver at least a semifinal berth then the likes of Arsene Wenger and Zinedine Zidane are being lined up to take charge of France this summer. That’s harsh but Deschamps knows all of his hard work since taking charge in 2012 depends on how his team play this summer.


Secret weapon: Olivier Giroud – He may feel a little hard done by not to start most games for France given his superb scoring record for his country (31 goals in 73 games to rank fifth all-time) but Giroud is deadly off the bench. Imagine being a defender and locking down Griezmann, Dembele and Mbappe for 75 minutes, only to then see Giroud coming on to bulldoze headers at goal? He’s the perfect Plan B and France must use him wisely.

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Prediction: This feels like the right moment for France to win a big tournament again. They came so close to winning the European Championships in 2016 and they certainly have the attacking and midfield talent to go far. The only concern is in defense with Hugo Lloris making some big areas in the second half of the season at Tottenham, plus young defenders perhaps a little untested at the top level. France should get to the semifinals based on their talent alone but they are capable of having a dramatic collapse as we saw in 2002 and 2010.

Zinedine Zidane leaves Real Madrid

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Zinedine Zidane has left Real Madrid just five days after delivering a third-straight UEFA Champions League title.

Talk about going out while you’re on top…

[ MORE: Wenger, Conte in at Real?

Zidane, 45, called a press conference in the Spanish capital on Thursday where he announced that he would be stepping down as head coach of the team he led to a 13th European title.

In just three campaigns in charge at Real Madrid he won the biggest prize in club soccer three times, plus added two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, one La Liga title and and the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Real Madrid win UCL title, again

Speaking in the announcement Zidane had the following to say as he sat alongside Real’s president Florentino Perez.

“It had to be done for everyone. This team has to continue winning and needs a change. After three years they [the players] need a new voice and possibly another way of working,” Zidane said. “I love this club and I love this president who has given me the chance to come as a player, and a manager, and I am eternally grateful to him. Today, for me and for everybody, we have to change and that is why I have taken this decision.”

Perez revealed that Zidane told him on Wednesday at his house that he wanted to step down and the Real president said it would be impossible for him to change Zizou’s mind.

The legendary French playmaker, who won the Champions League with Real as a player, has had three superb seasons in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu after being promoted from his role as assistant coach in Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching staff in the season where Real won the Champions League title in 2013/14.

Zidane’s side finished third in the Spanish top-flight this season as they switched their full attention to a Champions League three-peat after a poor start to the domestic campaign.

Now the focus switches as to who will take over from Zidane as Real Madrid seemed stunned by Zidane’s decision to step down.

With both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo talking about potentially leaving Real this summer, Zidane has paved the way for both to potentially stay under a new manager, with Arsene Wenger the bookmakers favorite, plus the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Joachim Low are also high up on the list.

The future for Zidane seems quite clear: he will chill and have a cigar for the next 6-12 months and then maybe he can think about taking over the French national team in the future.