Stefan de Vrij

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Spalletti claims he sat De Vrij due to Lazio ‘atmosphere’

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Luciano Spalletti has guided Inter to 2nd in the Italian top flight, and after a roaring 3-0 road victory over Lazio at Stadio Olimpico, there’s talk that the former Serie A giant is back.

Spalletti’s tactical abilities have not just milked every last goal out of bellcow Mauro Icardi, who has been a constant on the scoresheet for Inter the last three seasons, but also out of the supporting cast. Marcelo Brozovic has followed up his fantastic World Cup with a great start to the club campaign, Matias Vecino has transformed into a vital part of the midfield, and Stefan de Vrij has matured to help lead Serie A’s most stout defense to this point.

So, there was some surprise when Spalletti left de Vrij off the teamsheet in a massive game against his former club on Monday.

Spalletti has gone on to explain his decision following the 3-0 victory, saying he wanted to protect the Dutch defender from the potentially hostile crowd. “It’s a question of the atmosphere,” Spalletti said after the match. “There was no need to have him whistled by the entire stadium. He is an infinitely mature and sensible lad, if he made a few mistakes he would not be in an optimal condition to play.”

The move is notable given de Vrij’s history between the two clubs. The 26-year-old’s last appearance for his old club at Stadio Olimpico came against Inter on the final day of the season, and his mistake put Mauro Icardi at the penalty spot in the 78th minute. Icardi would level the match, and Inter would go on to win and snatch a Champions League spot from Lazio on the final day of the season. His subsequent decision to leave Lazio and join Inter over the summer caused many Lazio fans to turn on the Dutchman.

Add another notch in Spalletti’s man management cap, although it was a risky one. Had things gone wrong at the back, it would have likely come back to Spalletti’s decision to sit de Vrij in favor of 34-year-old Brazilian center-back Miranda. Yet here we are, talking about a rousing victory that sent Inter above Napoli into second place on goal differential.

WATCH: Pirlo, Van Persie, others play head-tennis game in Miami

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Being in the United States, a crew of famous European footballers unsurprisingly vacationed in the Miami and of course, took to a friendly game of head-tennis while wading in the swimming pool.

This group was made up of Dutch trio Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij, joined by Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, who was in attendance at the NYCFC game today and will reportedly sign with the MLS expansion club next week.

Check out the above video to watch them in action. Compelling, professional heading.

Euro 2016 roundup: Netherlands, Bosnia upset as Italy, Croatia open with wins

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Though Italy and Croatia cruised to multi-goal wins, Tuesday’s Euro 2016 qualifiers were less about favorites’ statements than underdogs’ glory. In Prague and Zenica, World Cup qualifiers were left empty-handed after their campaigns’ first 90 minutes, while one of the day’s more compelling games turned into a one-sided result in Reykjavik.

Here are the day’s results:

Group A

Kazakhstan 0-0 Latvia – A match short on chances saw the home side pressure their conservative guests into halftime, though Latvia nearly took the lead through Vladislav Gabovs mid-way through the second half. Out-shot 10-4 on the day, the Latvians were fortunate to leave Astana with a result, with a late Andrejs Kovajvos blast off the Latvian woodwork denying the home side full points.

Iceland 3-0 Turkey – What looked like one of the day’s most competitive games became Tuesday’s most lopsided result, with Fatih Terim’s team handed an early rebuke. Jon Dadi Boedvarsson’s 16th minute opener put the home side up early, giving Iceland the lead they’d carry into the final quarter-hour. In the 76th and 77th minutes, the home team pulled away, with goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson building the day’s most one-sided result.

Czech Republic 2-1 Netherlands – Vaclav Pilar played hero as the Czech Republic, six days removed from a disappointing against the U.S., took full points from the group favorites, who saw a late mistake from Newcastle’s Daryl Janmaat cost them a result in Prague. After goals for Borek Dockal (21′) and Stefan de Vrij (55′) sent the teams into stoppage time even, the new Newcastle defender put an errand back-header off his own post, allowing Pilar to clean up for the 92nd minute winner.

Next up: Latvia vs. Iceland, Netherlands vs. Kazakhstan, Turkey vs. Czech Republic on Oct. 10

Group B

Andorra 1-2 Wales – A Europeon qualifier was played on an artificial surface, and the Earth decline to stop turning. Instead, Gareth Bale, bringing his team back after Ildefona Lima put Andorra up from the spot, scored on each side of halftime, with his 81st minute winner vaulting Wales to join-top of the group.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-2 Cyprus –  In one of the bigger surprises of the opening round (non-Portugal division), the World Cup qualifiers failed to defend their home ground, conceding two goals to Demetris Christofi in Cyprus’s comeback in. Vedad Ibisevic gave the home side a lead after six minutes, but after goals in the 45th and 73th minute, Christofi had secured his team’s upset result.

Next up: Belgium vs. Andorra, Cyprus vs. Israel, Wales vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina on Oct. 10

Group H

Azerbaijan 1-2 Bulgaria – Dimitrij Nazarov’s shot from just outside the area pulled back Bulgaria’s 16th opener just after halftime, nearly securing a home point for Barti Vogts’ side. Three minutes before time, however, Ventsislav Hristov headed home a Bulgaria corner, giving the Lions a valuable three points on the road.

Croatia 2-0 Malta – Worries arising from Croatia’s scoreless first half were alleviated less than a minute after intermission when Luka Modric put Niko Kovac’s team in front. Nine minutes before time, Andrej Kramaric doubled the home side’s lead, giving Croatia full points to start what’s expected to be a successful qualifying campaign.

Norway 0-2 Italy – Four days after making his international debut, Simone Zaza had his first Italy goal, scoring in the 16th minute to give the Azzurri a 1-0 lead in Oslo. Holding the Norweigans without a shot on target, Italy cruised to a two-goal victoryafter Leonardo Bonucci’s 62nd minute score secured Antonio Conte’s first competitive win.

Next up: Bulgaria vs. Croatia, Italy vs. Azerbaijan, Malta vs. Norway on Oct. 10

Serie A season preview, predictions: Juve still class of deep league

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Will Inter Milan and AC Milan find their swagger, or will Juventus again cruise to another Serie A title? The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.

Yup.

Which is a shame for Roma, who had a great season. I Lupi were otherwise the class of Serie A, finishing second by seven points over Napoli and 20 over No. 4 Fiorentina. With the UEFA Champions League back on Roma’s schedule, life’s going to be tougher (Call it the Liverpool effect). Let’s see how Serie A could shake out this year.

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Relegation battlers: This could be a very interesting battle to stay in Serie A, as all three teams coming up from Serie B have good top-flight reputations. Palermo was only down for a year, Cesena for two and Empoli returning for the first time since 2008. Palermo could lose striker Abel Hernandez, which would hurt, but also monitor the plights of last season’s strugglers: Sassuolo, Chievo and Cagliari.

The title fight: Juve is still class, and now it looks like Arturo Vidal will be sticking around. So far, they’ve held onto transfer rumor veterans Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez while picking up Alvaro Morata. So, yes, they are going to be very, very strong.

Fiorentina was strong last year before a series of crushing injuries derailed their fight for the top, while Roma has hung onto a great deal of its talent (though will have to deal with the aforementioned congested schedule). Inter got stronger with the pick-ups of Gary Medel (Cardiff), Dani Osvaldo (Southampton) and Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), all of whom should thrive in Serie A.

AC Milan should be better, swapping out Mario Balotelli for Jeremy Menez, while Napoli is poised to become a power. Lazio addd Stefan de Vrij and… well, Serie A is looking as good as it has in a long while.

Predicted order of finish (2013/14 finish)

1. Juventus
2. Fiorentina
3. Roma
4. Inter Milan
5. AC Milan
6. Napoli
7. Lazio
8. Udinese
9. Parma
10. Torino
11. Verona
12. Atalanta
13. Cagliari
14. Genoa
15. Palermo
16. Sassuolo
17. Sampdoroa
18. Cesena
19. Chievo
20. Empoli

Van Gaal admits Manchester United need “better players” but why are they struggling to sign them?

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“I thought that before this match. When we were playing in the United States I saw the same. I know in what positions we need better players but I won’t discuss [how many].”

Those were the harsh words of Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal after the shocking 2-1 loss to Swansea City at Old Trafford to start Manchester United’s Premier League season.

With plenty of hype and promise surrounding van Gaal’s “new era” to bring the Red Devils back to European prominence, instead he picked up right where David Moyes left off.

The Dutchman knows it and we know it – Manchester United is a club usually bursting at the seams with talent, skill, and class, but at the moment the squad lacks the ability to compete at the highest level.

Van Gaal talks of adding players, but with just two weeks left in the transfer window, the club has added just two players – left-back Luke Shaw, who is injured for a month, and attacking midfielder Ander Herrera. And they’ve reportedly missed out on countless others.

The new manager has installed a brand new system featuring three center-backs, but with both starters last year Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand departing Old Trafford on account of age this summer, van Gaal has failed to add to his CB arsenal.  This left Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and 20-year-old debutant Tyler Blackett starting against Swansea.

That flat out won’t cut it.

It’s true Ferdinand and Vidic were not longer capable of lifting United to its usual heights, and their departures were warranted. But with no one to replace them, the current crop is no better. United is reportedly tracking and working on a deal for Roma star Mehdi Benatia – which would be a fantastic capture – but they have gobs of competition for his signature, and may miss out.

The stark truth remains – nobody is flocking to Old Trafford like they used to.

There’s plenty of time for United to sign players before the end of the transfer window, that is true. But with so many names floated around in the media before moving elsewhere, the window has more of a feeling of missed targets than it does patient selectivity.

The biggest miss in van Gaal’s defender quest seems to be Thomas Vermaelen, who is a quality central defender who was unlucky to find himself behind the brilliant pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at Arsenal. Instead of bringing the wealth of Premier League experience to Old Trafford, van Gaal instead watched Vermaelen sign for Barcelona as the Catalans continue a rebuild of their own.

Rumors of a move for Juventus box-to-box midfielder Arturo Vidal have simmered all summer, but again the club has plenty of reported competition and thus far United have failed to convince the player he even wants to leave. Years ago, that wouldn’t even be a question.

They even failed to land Dutch central defender Stefan de Vrij, as the 22-year-old signed for Lazio over Manchester United, turning down his own national team manager in the process.

All this has left Louis van Gaal brooding over the blueprints master plan, wondering where he can turn for players who are better than the club currently has. It’s no secret they need an overhaul, and the summer has come and gone without any such tilling of the land. It remains to be seen whom van Gaal can persuade to help United back to its former glory.

It would help if players would stop turning them down.