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Anderson arrives: Can Pellegrini unlock West Ham’s potential?

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West Ham United has sealed another impressive deal, adding $48 million winger Felipe Anderson from Lazio.

It’s a club record deal from the Irons, whose ambitions have been short-circuited in recent seasons by stop-start play under Slaven Bilic and David Moyes.

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Now Manuel Pellegrini is in charge, and has made a series of purchases including Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Issa Diop, and Jack Wilshere amongst others.

Anderson was fantastic for Lazio last season, though he was part of a loaded attack with Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, and Sergej Malinkovic-Savic.

Now the challenge is gelling quickly inside a short window. As we’ve seen in the past with markedly changed mid-table sides — see: Everton’s 2017-18 season — hitting the ground running is key.

Players have been convinced of West Ham’s ambition. Here’s the latest, Anderson, from WHUFC.com:

“West Ham is a club with a lot of tradition, lots of great players have played here, like Bobby Moore, Carlos Tevez and Di Canio. They were great players and idols here, and I’m aiming big, who knows, maybe I could hit their heights and be a legend here too.”

But turning that into on-field success and in-room culture has been a challenge. The move to London Stadium didn’t help, and managerial instability has been anything but a boon to the Irons. There have been plenty of self-inflicted wounds, too.

West Ham’s lineup could be frightening, even in the face of injuries to Andy Carroll (surprise!) and Winston Reid. But managing egos new and old is a challenge, which is why the Pellegrini hire could be a masterstroke.

Consider this possible XI from Pellegrini, who largely operated his Manchester City with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with two holding/defensive/deep-lying center midfielders (There have been rumors West Ham could sell Cheikhou Kouyate).

There are a lot of options for Pellegrini’s front four. Anderson and Yarmolenko both prefer right wing, while Arnautovic likes the left but has proven adept as a center forward if Pellegrini becomes the latest manager to eschew the idea of Javier Hernandez up top. Manuel Lanzini‘s injury does seem to put Wilshere in the No. 10 role.

Fabianski

Fredericks — Diop — Balbuena — Masuaku

Obiang — Kouyate

Anderson — Wilshere — Yarmolenko

Arnautovic

So the ingredients are there, with Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Zabaleta, and Jordan Hugill joining Chicharito in keeping training competitive.

But Pellegrini will have to navigate a culture that saw a seedy finish to the season, with protests and ugly incidents amongst supporters and players on the field in London.

And he does seem the man for the job. But if he can’t do it… well, stay tuned.

Jorge Sampaoli is this World Cup’s biggest loser so far

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The World Cup is all about moments – moments of triumph, moments of heartbreak, moments of relief and weight lifted. On Tuesday night in Saint Petersburg, as Argentina secured a knockout round spot with a thrilling win over Nigeria, one moment stood above them all.

Not Lionel Messi’s first 2018 World Cup strike, a masterpiece of movement and high-speed ball control woven by the world’s most brilliant goal craftsman. Not Marcos Rojo’s winner, a life-changing howitzer launched from the most unlikely right boot.

No, the lasting image was beleaguered Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli heading down the tunnel alone immediately after the final whistle, leaving his players to celebrate the triumph without him on the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

His disappearance was beautifully symbolic of his World Cup performance leading the tournament’s most disappointing blue blood (that is, until Germany faceplanted its way to group stage elimination) considering he had hardly bothered to show up in the first place. Argentina is set to take on France in the knockout stage not because of Sampaoli, but in spite of him.

Chile’s 2015 Copa America knight errant has somehow become Argentina’s floundering jester with absurd lineup choices and tactical experiments that would make even Jurgen Klinsmann cock his head in confusion. Sampaoli has proven so clueless at the helm that a group of senior Argentine players even reportedly attempted a full-on coup, desperately pleading with FA chairman Claudio Tapia not for Sampaoli’s dismissal, but simply for control of the starting lineup. That reportedly fell short, but it proved to the world the former Sevilla boss is on an island.

Lionel Messi jumps on the back of Marcos Rojo after the defender scored a late winner against Nigeria to send Argentina through to the knockout round (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images).

The biggest and most glaring issue for Sampaoli’s squad selections have been the midfield, where he has proven utterly lost. In Argentina’s opening game against Iceland, Sampaoli started international veteran Javier Mascherano alongside fellow deep-lying midfielder Lucas Biglia in a central midfield pivot that proved redundant, leaving Lionel Messi on an island further up the field. With Manuel Lanzini injured in the buildup to the tournament, Sampaoli turned to little-known Independente playmaker Maximiliano Meza on the wing opposite perpetual international dud Angel Di Maria, leaving Messi completely isolated with the creative load on his shoulders. Meanwhile, electric Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, passing wizard Ever Banega, and midfield link Giovani Lo Celso were left to contemplate their thoughts among the substitutes. Argentina dominated Iceland in every facet of the game, but, as they have on many occasions throughout the last few years, produced no end product.

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While that result was disappointing, it provided Sampaoli with all the answers he needed to make changes for the better moving forward. 34-year-old Mascherano looked a step behind the play, and partnered with Biglia the midfield was static. Yet the boss failed to draw from the fountain, sprinting in the opposite direction completely. Instead of benching Mascherano (admittedly a bold move to make with a team leader) and introducing Lo Celso and Banega to patch the holes and give Messi some creative help, he threw common sense to the wind with the incomprehensible decision to press Croatia into oblivion.

Not only did Sampaoli’s tactics fail miserably, his team selection proved he learned nothing from the first 90 minutes. He left Mascherano in and paired him with Enzo Perez, another static midfield duo. He sat Di Maria and replaced him with an even more confusing wing pairing of Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna. Instead of withdrawing Max Meza, he pushed him even higher up the pitch in a creative yet undefined role. He started a back three that included full-back Nicolas Tagliafico chosen over Roma standout and natural center-back Federico Fazio, who was ranked by Squawka as the 6th best defender in Serie A this past campaign. The result was a gloriously chaotic mess as Luka Modric carved Argentina to bits on the counter. Here’s the Sparknotes version:

(Dashboard stats from Opta via StatsZone app)

Lionel Messi was completely and utterly wasted. Arguably the world’s best player had one shot on goal, which was blocked. He completed two take-ons in the attacking third. He created two chances. Meanwhile, Croatia sliced Argentina’s midfield to pieces on the counter, as Mascherano again had a miserable showing and the rest of the players were too scattered to make a difference. Willy Caballero made another mistake in goal, and the makeshift back three was torn to shreds.

With Argentina staring down the barrel of group stage elimination, Sampaoli was given a vote of confidence from management and turned in another flop in a do-or-die scenario against Nigeria. The 58-year-old scrapped the back three and deployed Manchester United bruiser Marcos Rojo into central defense, again leaving Fazio on the bench. He organized a flat 4-3-3 with Mascherano behind two central midfielders, which admittedly was better than anything he flung onto the pitch in the previous two games. He gave Ever Banega a deserved start, but Mascherano again made a fool of himself on multiple occasions, complete with blood streaming down his face. He continued to utilize Perez, who put in a laughably useless shift on the wing with 25 of his 32 passes backward or square despite living on the same side as Messi. Di Maria came back into the team and was again invisible. Sampaoli handed perennial punchline Gonzalo Higuain the start up front in favor of the insubordinate Sergio Aguero, and he did what he’s come to do best – send one to the moon in a huge moment down the stretch. All this while Dybala, Lo Celso, and Christian Pavon rotted on the bench, while Mauro Icardi laughed himself silly on the couch at home.

Nobody has seen their stock plummet quite like Jorge Sampaoli this World Cup. In a tournament full of moments – ones on the biggest stage that shape our image of players and coaches more than any others in the game – Sampaoli has managed to dismantle his reputation from Copa America hero to World Cup goat. No, this Argentina team isn’t very good, but it certainly isn’t this grotesque.

Messi ended up on the shoulders of Rojo after the defender’s magical moment against Nigeria, and he hugged every teammate and staff member on the pitch after the final whistle. Truthfully, it should have been the other way around, because the magical maestro has willed his team to the knockout stage despite the repeated failures of his manager, and that truly is a feat worthy of recognition. Jogi Löw certainly made mistakes with Germany en route to their massive failure, but it also felt as if he still possessed a talented roster that simply didn’t gel. Argentina – unlike Germany – is still kicking this summer, but because of the boss; they’re still around in spite of him.

Germany looks to become first to repeat at World Cup in half-century

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MOSCOW (AP) After raising the World Cup eight miles from Copacabana Beach four years ago, Germany hopes to lift the trophy four miles from the Kremlin on July 15 and become the first repeat champion in more than a half-century.

[ MORE: PST’s 2018 FIFA World Cup roundtable ]

The soccer world gathers at 12 stadiums in 11 cities across the European portion of Russia starting Thursday for a 32-day, 64-match championship. Much has changed since Die Mannschaft humiliated the host Selecao 7-1 in the 2014 semifinals, then left Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium with a 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina on Mario Goetze’s 113th-minute goal.

The United States will be missing from soccer’s showcase after seven straight appearances. Four-time champion Italy will be watching from home for the first time since 1958, its streak of 14 consecutive appearances ended by a playoff loss to Sweden. The Netherlands, which lost the 2010 final to Spain, missed out after slumping to third in its qualifying group. And Chile failed to qualify after consecutive Copa America titles.

Iceland and Panama are World Cup debutantes, Peru is back for the first time since 1982, and Egypt ends an absence dating to 1990.

Germany and Brazil are the pretournament favorites, and France is fancied behind them with a young roster . England will try to end more than five decades of hurt since winning its only major title on home soil in 1966. Mexico will try to advance past the second round for the first time since 1986, but El Tri opens against Germany and its likely second-round opponent is Brazil.

There also has been a generational change within FIFA. Many of its leaders have moved from penthouses to prisons following indictments by the U.S. Department of Justice that detailed kickbacks to be as much a part of soccer as free kicks.

Expect controversy on a regular basis.

FIFA’s Congress votes June 13 on the host of the 2026 tournament, and a joint bid by the U.S., Mexico and Canada is competing against Morocco – where most of the infrastructure would have to be built – on a ballot that includes a none-of-the-above option.

Following the drug-testing scandal that engulfed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, FIFA’s medical committee chairman said no Russians will be involved in collection of urine and blood samples, which will be flown to Lausanne, Switzerland, for analysis.

VAR will be the acronym of the moment: video assistant referees in soccer-speak, instant replay for most viewers at home.

And as soon as the final whistle of the tournament is blown at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, attention will shift to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, moved to Nov. 21 through Dec. 18 because of summer desert heat and compressed to 28 days because it is in the middle of the European club season. Gianni Infantino, who succeeded the disgraced Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2016, has discussed increasing the World Cup field from 32 to 48 in 2022, four years ahead of schedule.

Some of the top storylines likely to dominate play in Russia:

MESSI AND RONALDO

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have split the last 10 FIFA Player of the Year awards, and this is likely their last chance to win a World Cup. Messi turns 31 on June 24, two days before Argentina finishes the first round against Nigeria, and has lost four finals with the national team. Ronaldo, 33, helped Portugal win the 2016 European Championship for its first major title.

BREAKOUT STARS?

Brazil’s Neymar, England’s Harry Kane, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, France’s Antoine Griezmann and Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne are stars who could lift themselves into Player of the Year contention with stellar World Cups.

BACK TO BACK

Italy in 1934 and `38, and Brazil in 1958 and `62 are the only teams to win consecutive World Cups. Germany was 10-0 in qualifying, the only European team with a perfect record, and outscored opponents 43-4.

PLAY IT AGAIN

Following the first use of goal-line technology at a World Cup in 2014, FIFA has expanded off-the-field decision-making. A video assistant ref can notify the referee by headset of the need to reverse a decision if there is a “clear error” involving goals and their buildups, penalty kicks, straight red cards, and mistaken identify for red and yellow cards.

ICE ICE BABY

Iceland at about 335,000 becomes the least-populous nation to appear in a World Cup, a mark that had been held since 2006 by Trinidad and Tobago at 1.3 million.

MISSING

Injured players missing the tournament include Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero and midfielder Manuel Lanzini; France defender Laurent Koscielny; Serbia defender Matija Nastasic; Brazil right back Dani Alves; and England midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain.

SPLIT SCREEN?

The World Cup final starts two hours after the beginning of the Wimbledon men’s singles final. If Spain and Rafa Nadal are playing for titles, and the tennis isn’t decided in straight sets, which event do fans watch?

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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.

Lanzini tears ACL, out of the World Cup

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Manuel Lanzini‘s World Cup dream was brutally vanquished on Friday after suffering a serious injury.

The Argentine National Team announced that Lanzini tore the ACL in his right knee, effectively ruling him out of the World Cup as well as a majority of the upcoming Premier League season for West Ham. It’s a tough blow for Lanzini, who at 25-years of age was set to make his World Cup debut this summer.

Instead, Lanzini will have to watch with millions of others from home.

The Argentine playmaker’s loss will be felt more for West Ham than Argentina, which has an embarrassment of riches in attack.

Lanzini scored five goals and assisted on six others in 27 Premier League matches last season as West Ham managed to stave off relegation, but under fellow South American Manuel Pellegrini, Lanzini could have taken his game to a new level, feeling more comfortable in a familiar style of play.

Still, the Argentine playmaker was making a name for himself within the national team, and a goal vs. Italy in a friendly match in Manchester may have even pushed him into consideration for the starting XI. Now, he’ll be on the mend for six to nine months, recovering from a serious injury.