Santi Cazorla

Getty Images

Spain squad short on players from Real Madrid, Barcelona

Leave a comment

Is it a sign of the times, or an injury crisis?

Spain National Team coach Robert Moreno announced his 24-man squad ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Norway and Sweden during this month’s international fixture dates, and it was notable more for what wasn’t there than what was.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

From the big three in Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, only four total players earned a call-up this month. Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal from Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets from Barcelona, and Saul from Atletico Madrid.

Meanwhile, Villarreal alone had four players called up to La Roja, including former Arsenal and Premier League star midfielder Santi Cazorla. The veteran midfielder is having another strong season so far despite being 34-years old. According to Moreno, the makeup of this squad is more of a sign of the times.

“It is a reflection of current football…historically the big teams have been backed by seven or eight players from a great team, such as Bayern or Ajax,” Moreno told reporters, via Spanish publication Sport. “But now there are not many national players in the teams. In this squad, Villarreal is the one who contributes the most, but it is the one that has more Spaniards apart from Athletic (Bilbao). As a coach I would love to have nine of the same team because I already know they would know, but it is not that moment now. Neither Barça nor Madrid have many Spaniards unless they are holders. That makes our work difficult.”

One thing is clear. There are some injuries, as well as technical decisions that have kept players from the Big Three out of this squad. From Real Madrid, there’s no Isco, Marco Asensio, or Nacho. For Atletico Madrid, Diego Costa, Koke, Alvaro Morata are all out, while for Barcelona, there’s no place this month for Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto.

However, we’re no doubt a long way from a decade ago, when Barcelona and Real Madrid made up the bulk of the starting lineup. The 2010 World Cup winning squad included 12 players from Real Madrid and Barcelona alone. Barcelona had the likes of Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, while Real Madrid had Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Xabi Alonso.

If you look at both clubs, with the exception of Pique and Ramos – who are both still there – each of these players has been replaced at their club by a foreign-born player. Both clubs’ desire to bring in the best, already developed talent, has taken their gaze abroad.

Real Madrid’s goalkeeper is a Belgian international while their holding midfielder is a Brazilian. For Barcelona, they had just three Spanish nationals in their lineup for the 2-1 win over Inter in the UEFA Champions League. Xavi and Inesta have been replaced by Artur (Brazil) and now Frankie de Jong (Netherlands), while all three forward positions are foreign-born.

Ultimately, until Real Madrid and Barcelona either provide young Spanish players more chances to play, or commit to buying the best young players in the league and developing them – like Real Madrid did for Sergio Ramos after buying him from Sevilla – this trend of Spanish National Team players playing for other clubs than the Big Three will continue.

Report: Granit Xhaka named permanent Arsenal captain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a report by David Ornstein of the BBC, Arsenal coach Unai Emery has named midfielder Granit Xhaka as permanent captain, a position that had been vacant since Laurent Koscielny‘s departure this summer.

The Frenchman had held the position since early 2016 when handed the armband by Arsene Wenger with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta both in the twilight of their Arsenal careers.

Emery has notably dragged out deciding on who to name as permanent captain despite handing Xhaka the armband in six of their eight matches to this point. Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil have also both served as captain once, both coming with Xhaka out of the lineup, although Monreal has since departed the club. Ornstein reports that a vice-captain has not yet been chosen, with strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both in consideration.

Xhaka, who turns 27 years old today, is considered to be a contentious choice by Emery given his up and down performances for the club since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016. His first season was dreadful, with the midfielder twice sent off in his first season of Premier League play. He had raised his level of performance since, proving an important piece of the puzzle last season, but early this season his performances have again dipped, with Gunner fans voicing their displeasure on his withdrawal on 72 minutes in the narrow win over Aston Villa.

Defender Rob Holding confirmed after the Villa win that Emery has presented a group of five players to the rest of the squad to be voted on. “He likes his five captains,” Holding said. “We all did a vote the other week so we’ll see what happens and see who gets named. It was just a case of writing names down and then giving them to the manager and he will go through them – obviously with his input – and we’ll see what happens.”

Holding called it a “good environment” with a lot of players able to “get more input.” He also pointed out David Luiz as someone who has taken up a sort of leadership role.

Europa League: Alonso gives Chelsea advantage over Slavia Prague, and more (video)

Leave a comment

In what had been a quiet affair, it was Marcos Alonso of all people who popped up late to score the winning goal.

Chelsea defeated Slavia Prague, 1-0 on a header in the 84th minute by Alsonso, latching onto a terrific cross from Willian to find the breakthrough. The win puts Chelsea in the driver’s seat to advance to the Europa League semifinals, with a lead and an away goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The goal is a big boost for Marcos Alonso, who has struggled mightily at times this year and has been benched in recent Premier League games for Emerson as the team’s left wing back. In addition, it cools the coach’s seat ever more for Maurizio Sarri, who could still secure a top-four finish and even potentially win the Europa League.

Slavia Prague was lively and energetic in the opening half hour, putting pressure on Chelsea’s defense and pinning the Blues back in their own half for long stretches. However, Slavia never managed to get a good shot on target, with strikes either right at Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa or wife of the net.

Willian, who was dangerous all night along the wings, hit a shot off the crossbar in the 25th minute, but that was the extent of Chelsea’s dangerous chances. That is, until Eden Hazard was introduced 14 minutes into the second half. Hazard’s dribbling ability and skill on the ball forced Slavia to shade his way, which led to more Chelsea chances down Willian’s side, and eventually may have played a role in the winner.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Elsewhere, Benfica’s 19-year-old budding star Joao Felix had himself a day, scoring a hat-trick as Benfica topped Eintracht Frankfurt, 4-2. Felix scored a hat-trick, fired home a laser into the bottom corner, and then scored on a low strike in the box. Felix also had an assist off a corner kick that was headed in. It was a heck of a match for the teenager, and if Europe’s biggest clubs weren’t already on his radar, they are now.

In Spain, former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a penalty kick but it wasn’t enough as Valencia picked up a confidence-boosting 3-1 win on the road over Villarreal. Portugal international Goncalo Guedes finished with two goals for Valencia.

Watch: Villarreal’s insane introduction for Cazorla

Getty Images
Leave a comment

At Barcelona and Real Madrid, new signings show off a little skill with keepy-uppy juggling. At Feyenoord, new signings descend onto the field in a helicopter.

None of that stands up to what Villarreal did on Friday.

Officially unveiling former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla, Villarreal used an illusionist to magically summon Cazorla into a cylinder with dry ice smoke billowing out of the top. You have to see it to believe it.

Cazorla made his professional and La Liga debut with Villarreal way back in 2003, and now with his return he’s come full circle, after a well-documented struggle overcoming an Achilles injury that nearly cost him his career.

4,500 fans packed El Madrigal to watch Cazorla’s introduction. Cazorla has actually been training with the side since the beginning of July.

Season Preview: Arsenal to return to top-4?

1 Comment

Arsenal at a Glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 13 – last in 2003/2004 season.

FA Cups: 13 times, last in 2016/2017.

League Cups: 2

FA Community Shield: 15 (last in 2017).

Top Four Finishes: 20-in-a-row between 1997 and 2017.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


It’s a new era at Arsenal.

After 20 years at the club, Arsene Wenger stepped down at the end of last season, in which Arsenal failed to break into the top four for a second consecutive season, allowing for a fresh set of eyes to come in and manage the side. In comes veteran Spaniard Unai Emery, who perhaps couldn’t live up to expectations in France but certainly beat the odds over and over again with Sevilla and Valencia in Spain.

Emery’s attention to detail and defensive focus could pair well with Arsenal’s wonderful abundance of creative, playmaking midfielders. But based on Arsenal’s preseason performances, there’s still plenty of work to be done at both ends of the pitch.


Arsenal will finish top four because….the new signings gel and add strength in depth to what is an already very strong squad. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hits the ground running in his first full-season at the club with 20 or more goals, partnering at times with Alexandre Lacazette or trading spots with him between the heavy workload of matches. More importantly, the summer signings of Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner help shore up Arsenal’s leaky defense after a few months of struggles to start the season. Torreira, affectionately called “pac-man” for his ability to eat up attackers all over the field, morphs into the best defensive midfielder Arsenal has seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.

Arsenal will miss out on the UEFA Champions League because….defensive problems remain. While the team is beautiful in its attack, Emery is left pulling all the hairs out of his head wondering why Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis can’t figure out how to play together and defend as a unit. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss a large chunk of the season coming back from his torn Achilles injury, Arsenal miss his defensive leadership. In addition, both Lacazette and Aubameyang struggle to score in the big games, making Arsenal fans continue to suffer as the team fails to live up to expectations.

Best possible XI: List the team’s strongest lineup for this season when everyone is fit

———————Leno———————-

—-Bellerin—-Mustafi—Sokratis——Kolasinac

—————Torreira——-Xhaka——————

——-Mkhitaryan——Ramsey———-Ozil——

———————Aubameyang———————

Transfers In: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient, $9.1 million), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria, $34.4 million), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen, $25 million), Sokratis (Borussia Dortmund, $23 million)

Transfers Out: Per Mertesacker (retired), Santi Cazorla (Villarreal, free), Jack Wilshere (West Ham, free), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Angers, undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: A-

Arsenal found itself outside the Champions League for the second straight season, and with a new manager entering, the club could have been in for a rough summer. Instead, it’s been very good so far by all accounts. Arsenal spent strategically and already, Guendouzi looks like a strong signing, having performed well as a holding midfielder in multiple preseason matches. Leno looks like the future goalkeeper the Gunners have been wanting with Torreira and Sokratis shore up a creaky defense. In addition, the Gunners were able to hold on to Aubameyang, Lacazette, and though his future is still up in the air, Aaron Ramsey so far. Through preseason, it’s clear that Arsenal needs to work more defensively, but in terms of the attacking side they’re looking good enough to start the season.


Getty Images

Star player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The French-born Gabon International was a star both domestically and in Europe for Borussia Dortmund. If he can produce at his old level, Arsenal will be just fine.


Coaches’ Corner: Unai Emery: The 48-year-old manager comes from Paris Saint-Germain, where he gained valuable experience coaching some of the biggest names in world football. But the majority of his coaching success has come in Spain. With Valencia and Sevilla, Emery constantly beat expectations and helped his side play better than the sum of its parts. If he can pull that off for Arsenal, he will quickly win over fans. 

PST predicts: After a strong offseason, Arsenal look set to return to the club’s old glory as a regular top-four team. The spine of the squad was improved, which should give players like Mesut Ozil, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi the freedom to attack down the wings and through the heart of the opponent’s defense. The new manager should refresh the player’s attitudes and deliver a fitter, more defensively-sound squad, which will help in terms of getting back in the Champions League. Arsenal may still be a bit away from challenging for a league title, but they’re not that far off.