Ramiro Funes Mori

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Messi, Suarez both score in pre-Copa America friendlies

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Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are both in typical goalscoring form as their international sides ramp up for the imminent 2019 Copa America.

Messi bagged a quickfire brace in the first half of Argentina’s 5-1 beatdown of Nicaragua, scoring in the 37th and 38th minutes to key the win. The first was a classic Messi stunner where he dribbled past nearly the entire Nicaragua defense, skipping by no less than four defenders before depositing the ball in the back of the net with ease.

His second came as Argentina went right back on the attack with Sergio Aguero rifling a shot on net that was saved by Nicaragua goalkeeper Justo Lorente, only for it to fall right at the feet of Messi who completed a sliding finish under pressure. The Barcelona superstar was withdrawn at halftime for Juventus attacker Paulo Dybala.

Overall, it was a dominating performance from Argentina, holding 67% possession and putting eight of their 19 shots on target. Electric 21-year-old Inter striker Lautaro Martinez scored a second-half brace to double Argentina’s lead, a positive sign for the country that has searched far and wide for someone to share the goalscoring load with Messi. Roberto Pereyra completed the scoreline with a late tap-in, while the back line that consisted at times of Nicolas Otamendi, Juan Foyth, and Ramiro Funes Mori held Nicaragua to a measly two total shots with zero on target until stoppage time when Juan Berrera put Nicaragua on the board from the penalty spot.

While Messi was clowning the Nicaragua back line, his Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez was on target as Uruguay had no trouble dispatching Panama 3-0. The 32-year-old came off the bench alongside Edinson Cavani in the 63rd minute and six minutes later, he dispatched a Messi-like free-kick that found the top-left corner and left Panamanian goalkeeper Luis Mejia no chance, making the game 2-0 at the time.

The Uruguay defense looked tournament-ready as well, holding Panama to just one shot on target and five overall efforts on net. The game was a foul-fest, with the sides combining to produce 43 whistles, although only one yellow card was issued. Uruguay dominated the attacking play, holding 64% of possession and earning 10 corners while Panama did not take a single one.

Argentina will begin Copa America play next Saturday as it takes on Colombia in group stage play. Uruguay, meanwhile, gets under way a day later, set to face Ecuador before a meeting with AFC guest Japan.

La Liga: Sevilla held, Alaves falls late, wild draw at Betis

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Sevilla is still second in the La Liga table, but they’re beginning to run out of room for error. Sevilla fell four points back of Barcelona after a 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

The visitors were completely locked down at Anoeta Stadium, with just a single shot on target out of eight total efforts. Juanmi had the game’s only real big opportunity, but couldn’t cash in just six minutes after the opening whistle, and the two teams finished scoreless. Altogether, there were just two total shots on target between the two teams.

There is now a three-way tie behind Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table, with Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Alaves all on 20 points. The latter also fell to a disappointing result, as Alaves squandered an early 1-0 lead in a 2-1 derby loss to Eibar.

Manu Garcia scored just four minutes into the game, but after both teams had players see red, former Espanyol midfielder Joan Jordan equalized in the 69th minute before Pape Diop bagged the winner in the first minute of added time. It’s Diop’s first goal since 2016, serving as a bit-part player last season before earning a full-time role for this campaign.

The loss is just the third of the season for Alaves and their first in four league games. It left Alaves back in that three-way tie on 20 points, but back in fourth thanks to an inferior goal differential.

Real Betis and Celta Vigo finished even 3-3 after a crazy match that featured both teams clawing back from deficits. Betis went ahead 2-0 by the hour mark on goals from Lorenzo Moron and Junior Firpo, but Celta Vigo charged back to take a 3-2 lead thanks to a brace by 22-year-old Argentinian Maxi Gomez plus an additional from 21-year-old Brais Mendez. With the visitors taking the lead in the 84th minute, Betis would bring it back level once again just three minutes later as Sergio Canales delivered a fabulous free-kick that found the top-right corner. Aspas nearly won it moments later but put his shot off the post at the death. Both those teams still remain a point apart in the middle third of the table.

Villareal and Levante played to an entertaining 1-1 draw. The first half was scoreless, but each side had plenty of chances with each team combining for 36 shots. The home side treated the fans at Estadio de la Ceramica to a second half flurry, pushing for a winner, but they made it more difficult than need be. Argentinian defender Ramiro Funes Mori put the ball into his own net which put Villareal behind, and it wasn’t until the 93rd minute that Alfonso Pedraza burst down the left on the ball, charged into the box, and roofed the ball from a tight angle to salvage a point.

Report: Messi to skip upcoming Argentina friendlies in U.S.

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Fans of the Argentine National Team will get an early chance to see what life is like “after Messi” in the Albiceleste’s upcoming friendlies next month.

According to a report out of Argentina, Lionel Messi will be left off Argentina’s upcoming squad for a pair of matches in the U.S., and could stay away from the national team through the end of the year, if not until next summer’s Copa America. Argentina will face Guatemala at the Los Angeles Coliseum on September 7 and Colombia on September 11 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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Argentina has a major rebuild to undertake with the national team after a disappointing World Cup in Russia. The Argentine FA has yet to hire a new coach, with Lionel Scaloni and Pablo Aimar taking charge in the interim as co-coaches, and 15 of the 23 players at the 2018 World Cup are 30-and over, making it likely most won’t feature for Argentina at the next tournament in Qatar.

Argentine newspaper Diario Ole mused about some of the new names we could see in Argentina’s upcoming squad. Some of the younger members of the World Cup squad could stay, including Christian Pavon, Giovani Lo Celso and Paulo Dybala. But we could also see the introductions of Lautaro Martinez,  GerĂłnimo Rulli and Santiago AscacĂ­bar in addition to the return of Mauro Icardi, Leandro Paredes and Ramiro Funes Mori.

Argentina will have about 10 months to figure out its identity before the 2019 Copa America in Brazil, whether or not Messi is there. After so many years struggling at the youth level, Argentina is paying for it now with a poor crop of players compared to the national team’s history, and they’ll need to ask hard questions of themselves on how to rebuild.

In a way, it makes sense for Messi to recover and focus on his season at Barcelona before coming back to Argentina in 2019. It does him or the national team no good to have him there over the next nine months, taking the spot of a guy who will need to gain some valuable experience.

Season Preview: Can Silva ‘fix’ Everton?

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Everton at a glance

Premier League titles: 0 (English First Division titles – 9)

FA Cups: 5 (1906, 1933, 1966, 1984, 1995)

League Cups: 2 (1977, 1984)

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For the better part of the last 15 years, Everton have attempted — every which way imaginable — to burst through the glass ceiling that is the Premier League’s top-six (previously the top-four before Tottenham Hotspur’s rise to stability and Liverpool’s return to elite status). At first, they simply outworked their opponents (while spending next to nothing) under David Moyes; Roberto Martinez was supposed to bring about a free-flowing, attacking revolution (on a slightly larger budget); 12 months ago, Ronald Koeman was supposed to meld the two philosophies together (after spending spending more than $200 million in the transfer market).

Ultimately, all three came up short, each one failing more spectacularly than his predecessor. You can’t say, however, that the Toffees haven’t gone for it, that they’ve been happy to sit idly by and live a comfortable, unambitious life as a perennial top-half side in the PL. Of course, it’s where they’ve most commonly finished over the last decade and a half, but it hasn’t been without aiming higher.

In 2018-19, under the leadership of new manager Marco Silva (he’s more Martinez than Moyes, but with less PL experience than Koeman), the goal remains the same, but just as difficult — and unlikely — to achieve. Farhad Moshiri has owned the club for two and a half years now, and despite pumping nine figures into it (via transfer fees alone, not even including his investment as the club moves toward building a new stadium), the ceiling appears more opaque than ever before.

Everton could push for top-six because… Silva has shown (in a half-season at Watford, albeit) that he’s tactically astute and can piece together a formidable attacking unit. The jury is still out on whether or not he can set up a defense, but that’s where much of Everton’s experience lies, so the idea appears to be to rely upon them outperforming expectations and finishing bang in the middle of the goals-conceded column, at which point a positive goal differential is actually possible (-14 last season).

Everton will fall out of the top-half because…. all of the fancy, expensive pieces just don’t fit together/are redundant. Alongside Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson is arguably the most talented player on the roster (he should be, considering he cost $52 million last summer), but for the last few seasons he’s been the common denominator in a number of teams without any semblance of midfield balance. Richarlison and Theo Walcott aren’t going to cover up his defensive deficiencies out wide, at which point you’re asking an awful lot (read: absolutely everything) of Idrissa Gueye, who’s very good, but only about 75 percent of N'Golo Kante.

Best possible XI:


Martina — Keane — Jagielka — Digne

Sigurdsson — Gueye — Davies

Walcott — Niasse — Richarlison

Transfers In: Richarlison ($45 million, Watford), Lucas Digne ($23 million, Barcelona)

Transfers Out: Wayne Rooney (free), Ramiro Funes Mori (undisclosed, Villarreal), Joel Robles (free), Davy Klaassen (undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: B-

After lighting $225 million on fire last summer, one would imagine there wasn’t a ton of money to be spent this time around — nor was it needed — though Silva clearly earmarked Richarlison as a must-have marquee signing. Lucas Digne was tabbed to become one of the world’s best left backs as recently as three years ago, but it hasn’t quite happened for him at Paris Saint-Germain or Barcelona. 

Star player: Richarlison was the PL’s “Wait, who’s he?” breakout star during Silva’s six months at Watford. Equally adept at winning the ball in the air and dribbling past defenders, the 21-year-old possesses an especially unique blend of skills that Silva clearly values and knows how to maximize. 

Coach’s Corner: If not for Ronald Koeman’s untimely departure last October, Silva might still be the manager at Watford. Silva didn’t make any bones about wanting the Everton job, though, which ultimately led to his dismissal by a quick trigger finger a couple months later. The squad, as it exists now, plays perfectly to Silva’s strengths and ideas as a manager, but we already knew he could set a team out to attack and entertain. It’s the other part — the defending — that he struggles with, and that Everton struggled with last season (58 goals conceded, 7th-most, even after six months under Sam Allardyce).

PST Predicts: They have the seventh-best squad in the PL, and they’re so predictably — and boringly — likely to finish with the seventh-most points in the PL this season. Outside of the “big six” finishing 1-6, Everton finishing 7th is the safest bet one could make.

West Ham 3-1 Everton: Lanzini, Arnautovic finish off Toffees

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Everton will head into the off-season on a down note as West Ham had the last laugh on the final day with a 3-1 win at the Olympic Stadium. Manuel Lanzini scored in the first half and Marko Arnautovic bagged one in the second half to give the Hammers the final three points of the season.

West Ham started well and had a spectacular early chance as Arnautovic played a brilliant one-two with Mark Noble to carve up the Everton defense, but Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made a fabulous save to keep the latter out.

The Hammers were forced into an early change as Arthur Masuaku turned his ankle and was forced off, replaced in the 21st minute by Edmilison Fernandes. They worked another big opportunity as West Ham striker shot low five minutes later, and while he beat Pickford, he just barely beat the post as well.

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Everton had its first big chance in the 32nd minute as West Ham defender Angelo Ogbonna made a meal of a long-ball, leaving Everton striker Cenk Tosun clean through on goal, but Adrian made a fantastic save. West Ham had a handball shout near the end of the 1st half as Tosun tried to defend a low cross to the middle of the box, hitting his arm as he slid towards the ground, but the referee waved it off saying the incident was inadvertent and unavoidable.

The opener came seven minutes before the halftime break, one of the messier goals you’ll see. Chiek Kouyate spun in the middle third and looked to play Arnautovic in through the middle, but the pass threw Arnautovic for a loop and he was unable to control. Luckily, Lanzini was right there to latch onto the misplaced pass, and somehow the Everton defense suddenly appeared lost as Lanzini took the space given to him at the top of the box and fired a low shot past Pickford and tucked inside the right post for the game’s first goal. The strike was a deserved lead for the home side who had mostly dominated the opening frame.

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Everton had a bright start to the second half, having brought on Davy Klassen for Ramiro Funes Mori at the break. Sam Allardyce then brought Theo Walcott on at the hour mark in exchange for Tosun, who was visibly angry with coming off.

It made no difference, as West Ham went 2-0 up moments later on a fabulous goal by Arnautovic. He received the ball in space above the box, turned and shook Michael Keane, and fired into the to the top-right corner giving Pickford no chance. The Hammers had a third in the back of the net on 68 minutes, but on the Arnautovic free-kick, Aaron Cresswell was correctly judged to be offside as he headed home the goal.

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Everton got one back in the 75th minute through Oumar Niasse on a corner as the ball pinged around the box, not cleared before it fell to Niasse at the near post for the striker to smash home for his eighth of the season. That would be as close as they get, because Lanzini grabbed another for West Ham to put it away. Against a pair of defenders, Lanzini cut inside on his right foot and fired a curler that Pickford could only get his fingertips to before it tucked inside the back of the net. Adrian made sure to protect the lead with an impressive double save with five minutes to go.

The win pushes West Ham up a number of spots on the final day, sitting them in 13th with 42 points. For Everton, they end the year with 49 points, enough for a top-half finish in eighth.