Blog Written by Joshua O'Byrne: (@JobJobBinks):
Italy's first two matches under new manager Giampiero Ventura showed little change from Antonio Conte's Euro 2016 team. Ventura seems content to slowly bring his own identity to this Italy team over the course of World Cup Qualification play. Italy will be expected to qualify either as group-winners or through the play-off format as anything less would be an absolute failure. So after a 3-1 friendly loss to France and an important 3-1 win away to Israel in the first qualifying match, we learned a lot about Ventura's Italy and what to expect from the Azzurri.
There wasn't too much debate over the selections in Ventura's first squad as Italy manager. New faces such as Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romangnoli, Andrea Belotti and the young Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma were called up. Giacomo Bonaventura made a return to the squad while Manolo Gabbiadini and Graziano Pellé were called up to some people's surprise. Domenico Berardi must have been expecting a call-up given his recent form but he was unfortunately ruled out due to an injury. The inclusion of out-of form- midfielder Riccardo Montolivo may have been a slight surprise. However Ventura's first Italy squad was similar to the one Conte brought to Euro 2016 and there were not any wholesale changes in his debut squad.
Ventura suffered a 3-1 defeat to France in his Azzurri debut however the performance was more important than the result and Italy played well in parts of the game. The former Torino coach started with Conte's 3-5-2 formation with Bonaventura and Astori being the only new faces to the line-up. One of the positives to take from the match was Italy's transition from attack to defense. The Italians did well going forward and Ventura's emphasis on wing play was evident with Italy putting 35 crosses into the box, 25 more than their French counterparts. Italy's defense, which is usually reliable, was poor against France with many errors made at the back, however nothing that Ventura shouldn’t be able to solve. Another positive was the debut of Donnarumma as he became Italy's youngest ever goalkeeper aged 17 and while he was at fault for one of the goals, he will no doubt be Italy's number one after Buffon's retirement.
Up next for Ventura was his competitive debut. A tricky trip to Israel for the Azzurri. Ventura stuck to a 3-5-2 line up for the Israel match with the Juventus trio of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini in defense; Candreva, Parolo, Verratti, Bonaventura and Antonelli in midfield and Eder and Pellé up top. After a shaky start Italy scored with their first threatening attack as Pellé got his second goal in as many games under Ventura. Soon after Bonaventura was brought down in the box and Candreva tucked home the penalty. Italy looked set for an easy night only for Ben Haim to cut the lead in half by scoring a delightful chip. Shortly after half-time Chiellini, who had an awful night, was sent off forcing Italy to play with 10 men for the last 35 minutes. Israel looked dangerous however substitute Ciro Immobile came to Ventura's rescue with a goal in the final 10 minutes. A vital victory for Italy and one that gets Ventura off to a great start in the qualifying campaign.
It was a good start for Ventura who has promised that he will make this team his own in the future. Ventura's first two games in charge were reminiscent of Conte's Italy. However, Italy looked a lot more fruitful going forward under Ventura and hopefully we can look forward to him implementing his favored 4-2-4 formation with the Azzurri. For his 4-2-4 to work Ventura will surely call on the likes of Insigne, Berardi and El Shaarawy to get the best of out Italy's attack force. Italy should qualify for the World Cup and under Ventura it looks set to be a thrilling qualifying campaign for the Azzurri on their long road to Russia…
85 years ago a ball, or what possibly resembled one, was kicked off from the center circle officially introducing Spanish club football to the world. Now in its 86th edition, La Liga is back and stronger than ever. Maybe no other league on the planet can boast more top shelf talent than what Spain has to offer, with arguably three of the strongest sides in the world calling the Iberian peninsula home -- Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. You are guaranteed to have your breath taken away weekly and if last season proved anything, it was that Spain is also still the king of European competitions. La Liga sides have won the last three Champions League (Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 1) and Europa League titles (Sevilla 3), while Atletico have reached 2 of the last 3 UCL finals, as well. According to Sporting Intelligence, when it comes to two-legged European ties against non-Spanish clubs, La Liga’s record is an absurd 45-4.
The Ballón d’Or winner will almost certainly be a La Liga player, just as he has been for the last seven years. The Golden boot winner has been a La Liga player for the last eight. The World Cup’s top scorer, James Rodríguez, is in Spain (for now) and so is the top scorer and player of the tournament from Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann. Barcelona won their 24th La Liga title last year under second year coach Luis Enrique and will most certainly go into the season again as a prohibitive favorite, but that won’t stop the other 19 clubs from vigorously trying to snatch their crown. So, gentlemen, wash that champagne out of your hair and toss out the confetti, because new hopes and campaigns are upon us. With that, let’s take a look at what to expect in España this season.
Different season, same story.
For the sixth time in the past eight years Barcelona brought the La Liga title back to the cava soaked party in the Plaça de Catalunya. On top of that, the Catalans did the league double, beating Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, while also winning the FIFA Club World Cup and the European Super Cup, taking their overall trophy count to four for the season. The attacking ferocity of Barcelona in the final third was once again the highlight of the campaign for most Blaugrana fans, as Barca scored a staggering 112 goals in the league last season – averaging almost 3 goals a game. 40 of them were scored by striker Luis Suarez, who became the first player, not named Messi or Ronaldo, to win the Pichichi award since Diego Forlan won it in 2009.
After an early October loss away at Sevilla, Barcelona went on an astonishing 39 match unbeaten streak in all competitions – a run which saw them open up a massive 12 point lead over their nearest league rivals in March. The streak included a 4-0 slaughtering of Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season, as Luis Suarez and Neymar ran riot at the Santiago Bernabeu, forcing the PA system to blast the club anthem at the end of the match to drown out chants from the blood-thirsty crowd for President Florentino Perez to resign.
Still, all was not rainbows and unicorns.
Barcelona let a two goal lead slip to draw 2-2 against Villarreal at El Madrigal in late March to drop their first points in the league since early January. Possibly overwhelmed by the passing away of club legend Johan Cruyff, Barcelona lost at home to Real Madrid in the second Clasico of the season, as arch-nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo put away the winner in the 85th minute playing with 10 men. Subsequent defeats to Real Sociedad and Valencia in early April saw Barcelona’s lead at the top of the table cut to zero points and left them with absolutely no margin for error. With a complete collapse looking almost inevitable, Barca went on an end-of-season run that saw them win their final 5 games, scoring 24 goals in the process to seal their 24th La Liga crown.
This summer Barca has reinforced itself by making a concerted effort to bring in youthful legs, packed with skill and, even more to prove. Excluding Jasper, all of the players brought in are 23 years old or younger, highlighted by the uber-talented Andre Gomes of Portugal. This past year at Valencia was a bit of a disappointment, but if he can regain his form from two years ago, Barca got a steal. Club legend Dani Alves has departed and questions still remain at right-back. Tactically a midfielder, Sergi Roberto is the front-runner to start, while flop signing Aleix Vidal will attempt to push him for minutes.
Still, barring a catastrophic injury, Barca possess the world's most fearsome attack with Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Until someone can pry the trophy from their dead, lifeless fingers, they are favorites.
Key Players In: Paco Alcacer, Jasper Cillessen, Lucas Digne, Samuel Umtiti, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes
Key Players Out: Dani Alves, Marc Bartra, Sandro Ramirez, Adriano, Thomas Vermaelen, Claudio Bravo
What a difference a summer makes.
Following the 2014-15 trophyless campaign, the summer months provided a script of drama written straight from Days of Our Lives. The ever popular Carlo Ancelotti was sacked and replaced with yawn, Rafa Benitez. Club icon Iker Casillas was disposed of like last week’s newspaper and brought to tears at his farewell news conference. For weeks another icon, Sergio Ramos, threatened to leave for Manchester United if he didn’t receive a more lucrative contract before the club finally caved to his demands after an ugly back-and-forth in the press. David De Gea looked like he was on his way from Manchester United, for the transfer to only collapse in the final hour because of a faulty fax machine (people still use those?) in the Bernabeu offices. This summer? You could hear a pin drop.
Real’s only genuine dip into the transfer market has been to bring Alvaro Morata back. He will offer competition to Karim Benzema, and at the very least, provide a serviceable back-up that was desperately missing all of last year. All eyes will also be on how Zinedine Zidane’s first full season as manager will go. His incredible Champions League triumph just 5 months into the job following Rafael Benitez’s uninspiring reign has been deemed lucky by many, but the Frenchmen proved his acumen in the league as well, finishing just a mere point behind winners Barcelona, including a 2-1 triumph at the Camp Nou.
The Champions League is the trophy that has come to define Los Merengues and, with two wins in three years, all is well on that front. But domestically, it's been an entirely different story. With just three crowns in the last 13 years, Madrid are in the midst of their worst league run since the 1930’s. New emphasis has been placed organizationally on the league this year and getting off to a fast start will be imperative. There will surely be bumps in the road and the health of their major stars is something to monitor throughout the season but, if Zidane can manage the squad correctly and keep everyone somewhat satisfied, Madrid should have no problem contending for the League crown.
Key Players In: Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio, Fabio Coentrao
Key Players Out: Denis Cheryshev, Jesé Rodriguez, Álvaro Arbeloa
Just when you thought they had maxed out all of their potential, they continue to amaze. Atleti once again defied their skeptics and proved the bookies wrong. They fought all the way to the end in La Liga and marched past Barcelona and Bayern to get to the Champions League final. Although they ended up broken hearted and empty handed, Atleti gained respect. No only from the die-hards that watch La Liga week-in and week-out but also from the casual fan.
Now, Atleti must regroup and shake off the crushing memories of a second consecutive UCL final defeat. To do so, they have brought in some shiny new toys to bolster an attack that too often last season couldn’t match their defensive capabilities. Kevin Gameiro was purchased from Sevilla, a major victory for Simeone, holding off Barcelona to his signature in the process. It was even more imperative once priority targets Diego Costa and Edison Cavani proved out of reach. Nico Gaitán comes in to add creative depth, while Sime Vrsaljko is a versatile defender that can fill-in when needed and provide some much needed rest to Juanfran or Filipe Luis.
Atleti remain a side built for two-legged European games, and should remain one of the most feared on the continent in this regard, but Simeone believes he now has the depth and the talent to challenge on all fronts. Another Ballon D’Or worthy season is crucial from Antoine Griezmann and Gamiero will be expected to match his goal output from the season prior at Sevilla. A slow start to the campaign, including two draws against newly promoted sides, have already put Atleti 4 points adrift of Barcelona and Real Madrid. League titles may not be won in August but they can most certainly be lost.
Key Players In: Nico Gaitan, Sime Vrsaljko, Kévin Gameiro
Key Players Out: Borja Bastón, Luciano Vietto, Leo Baptistão, Matías Kranevitter, Oliver Torres
On The Hot Seat
James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
Will he or won't he go? That's the question everyone's asking in regards to the Colombian's future. For now he's safe but knowing what the future holds is anyone's guess. It's almost inconceivable, considering what a hit he was in his debut season, scoring 13 goals and dishing out 13 assists in 29 games. But much like Gareth Bale, he fell victim to the sophomore slump. His numbers plummeted to 7 goals and 8 assists in 26 games, and he failed to gain the confidence of new manager Zinedine Zidane, often time relegated to spot duty in the second half or a rare start against bottom feeders of the league. With his mental condition in question and Isco and Marco Asensio nipping at his heels, the future of a once glittering prospect is in question.
Alexandre Pato (Villarreal)
I know what your’e thinking, and yes, this is the same Pato that once lit Serie A up as a pimply faced teenager for AC Milan. It’s been a strange and depressing last 6 years for “the duck”. Two injury plagued years in Milan saw the Brazilian seemingly quarantined to his native country, where he featured for both Corinthians and Sao Paulo with little to no fanfare. When given another opportunity in Europe, a disastrous loan stint at Chelsea didn’t help either, where he only featured twice, scoring 1 goal, in almost 4 months. Still, Villarreal saw enough in him to give the Brazilian a chance by signing him as the primary back-up to striker Roberto Soldado. But only one week into his new surroundings, Soldado would tear up his knee and his manager, Marcelino, would be fired. With little other choice, new manager Fran Escribá gave Pato a starting nod in the Champions League qualifier against Monaco and he repaid his faith with a goal. It was a good start for Pato, but his performances since have only reinvigorated old questions if the player is finished. He must take advantage of this opportunity If he wants any chance of reclaiming his once elite standing in the world of football.
Peter Lim (Valencia CF owner)
Valencia’s massive debt problems have been public knowledge for quite a while now, So when Singapore billionaire, Peter Lim, took over a 70% ownership stake in 2014, most Valencia supporters were beyond excited. It started off well enough with a 4th place finish that season, culminating in them qualifying for the play-off round of the Champions League the following year.
From there, things only went downhill.
The summer saw Valencia spend £122.19m on new signings but most were all flops. The following season Los Che finished a disappointing 12th in the table, all the while sacking two managers -- one of whom, Gary Neville, had no prior managerial experience. This summer, Valencia were forced to make-up for all of their mistakes and have a full blown fire sale. Players like Paco Alcácer, Shkodran Mustafi and André Gomes were shipped off with little in the way of reinforcements brought in. After losing their first two games of this new season for the first time since 1999, the negative noise is reaching a fevered pitch around this once proud club. If things don’t turn around soon, Lim could be in store for an all-out mutiny.
Players to Watch
Cristiano Ronaldo / Lionel Messi (Real Madrid / Barcelona)
You knew it was coming didn’t you? The world’s greatest two players are debated more than Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton.
No matter where your allegiances lie, you must admit that we are witnessing two of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch. They both return on the back of very different summers. While Ronaldo won Euro 2016 with Portugal, Messi announced his retirement from international football as Argentina were again beaten by Chile on penalties in the Copa America final. Ronaldo is now the strong favourite for the 2016 Ballon d'Or but the ginger beard man will be eager to get back in the conversation, with his master-class against Betis a convincing start. The two won’t meet until December’s Clasico, but their battle to end the debate of best player in the world rages on weekly.
Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)
He’s a quick, modern, versatile left-footed forward with an eye for goal and, not many players on planet earth had a better footballing year than the Frenchmen. Griez lightning bagged 33 goals while dishing out 7 assists across all competitions, leading his Atléti side to another Champions League final in the process. He then guided France to the Euro 2016 final, winning the tournament’s best player award and the Golden Boot as its top scorer. All of these accolades led him to the UEFA Best Player stage in Monaco with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Unfortunately, like the two finals before it, Griezmann came up short.
Earlier this summer, when asked about Ronaldo and Messi: "I want to eat at their table," Griezmann told The Guardian. "I want to get as close as possible to their level and win titles. My objective is to be among the best."
The ambition and confidence are obviously there but with it also raises the fame and expectations. The pressure has already seemed to have gotten to Griezmann early in the season after their draw against Leganes: "If we continue like this we are only going to fight to avoid the drop." His comments did not go over well at all in the dressing room and tempers are boiling to the surface. If Antoine truly wants to upgrade his table from the Ruth Chris to a Michelin star he must keep his composure and lead this team; their season depends on it.
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)
If you were to look up athletes that aged like a fine wine, Aduriz would be the poster boy. Fresh off a call-up to Spain’s Euro 2016 squad, the towering striker, who will turn 36 in February, just continues to improve. Having never scored more than 12 La Liga goals in a single season when he joined the Basque side from Valencia in 2012, his tally has consistently risen each and every year: 14, 16, 18 and 20. He has been the top scoring Spaniard in each of the last two La Liga seasons, and his overall total of 36 goals in 55 games last season was by far the highest of his two-decade long career. The old man was instrumental in Athletic’s 5th place finish in the table last term, so he will be counted on for a similar output this year if they are to take the next step and compete for a spot in the Champions League.
Under the Radar
Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
Like much of La Real before him, 19 year old Mikel Oyarzabal struggled under the management of the now departed David Moyes. New boss Eusebio Sacristán immediately saw the promise in the left-winger, giving him the consistent minutes that he so desperately craved. Mikel would go on to make 16 starts in La Liga, scoring six goals and providing one assist. With Carlos Vela now looking more interested in drinking a Corona in Puerto Vallarta than playing any actual Fútbol, the San Sebastian youth-product could make the city and, the club, his own.
Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
Ok, so maybe to most ardent La Liga supporters Asensio is anything but under the radar, so please excuse me. But for the rest of the world -- start paying attention. Asensio returns to the Spanish capital after an extremely impressive loan stint with RCD Espanyol. The 20-year-old made 33 starts for Los Periquitos, racking up 11 assists and four goals, all for a club that didn’t provide much in the way of talent around him. It was initially believed that the Spaniard may go out on loan again, but his pre-season form has impressed Zidane so much that not only will he stay, but he could be pushing James Rodriguez out of the club in the process. Vicente Del Bosque has lauded him as the “greatest talent there is in Spain”, and his stunning goal against Sevilla and sublime chip at Sociedad provided just a small glimpse into what he may become.
Santi Mina (Valencia CF)
As the fire sale at the Mestalla continues with seemingly everything being engulfed in it, there remains one shiny sliver of hope. Santi Mina, The 20-year-old Spaniard, was signed for €10 million from Celta last summer, but was unable to seal a regular place in the line-up under Nuno, Gary Neville and then current boss, Pako Ayestarán. So far this year? A completely different story. Through 2 matches, Santi has played 179 of a possible 180 minutes and has scored 2 goals in the league, already half the total (4) he bagged all of last year. The Spaniard is a throw-back striker -- Quick movement inside the box, excellent spacial awareness and a natural instinct for goalscoring. With the departure of Alcacer, Valencia will need Santi to step up more now than ever -- their La Liga fate could depend on it.
Other Musings and Random Thoughts
- Osasuna are back up after a 2-year absence, making it five Basque teams in the Primera for the first time. Their notoriously unfriendly stadium, El Sadr, comes with them, hostile to any visitor from all of Spain’s autonomous regions, politics and history be damned.
- Granada are under new Chinese ownership, and new management too. Paco Jemez stays in the top-flight after his Rayo was relegated and comes with his Wall Street suits, outlandish rants, and wide, wide open football.
- A ruling comes into effect this season that decrees that if the stand opposite the main TV camera during televised games is not full to 75% capacity, then fines will be finding their way to the plush mahogany desk of the offending club. Instead of more affordable ticket prices or the altering of kickoff times that run close to when discotheques open their doors, the league has opted for illusions, believable or not.
- Under Eduardo Berizzo, Celta play some of the most attractive attacking football the league has to offer (remember their 4-1 torching of Barcelona in Vigo?). The loss of Nolito stings, but the club responded with the shrewd signings of Pionte Sisto and Giuseppe Rossi. Although they have managed 0 points through two games, their performance at the Bernabéu was an encouraging sign.
La Liga - Real Madrid
Copa Del Rey - Barcelona
Champions League qualifiers - Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla
Relegation - Leganés, Deportivo Alavés, Osasuna
Biggest surprise - Las Palmas
Biggest disappointment - Valencia
Blog Written by Joe Pizziferri (@_joepiz):
Before the ink even dried on the newest television contract, the handwringing began over the unfair advantage Premier League teams will have over their rivals in Europe across the English Channel. Clubs relegated to the Championship could earn prize money on par with the actual champions of Serie A. Mid-table squads will be able to outbid all except the biggest giants (Real, Barça, Bayern, etc.) for the worlds' top talent. A new age will be born where the lucrative contracts English teams are able to provide, thanks to these television riches, might make playing anywhere else undesirable for elite players. The cycle begins where Europe's other top flight's become unattractive and even more money is poured into EPL media rights, only to further the divide by an even larger magnitude. All of this seemed to be confirmed when Crystal Palace of all clubs made a legitimate approach for Belgian star Michy Batshuayi, who ultimately signed with Chelsea.
All of the above of course is the worst-case scenario for La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A. However, it does not take into account there are many media companies competing for a shrinking pool of content. With the need to justify increases in carriage fees paid by cable/satellite companies, they need more live events since sports are one of the few partly immune to ad skipping. The EPL set a new market level with the contract starting this season. When the other leagues come up for re-negotiation, should we expect to see large increases from current levels? Those companies who don't win the EPL bidding war could be tempted to allocate larger resources in other locales, as not to be left with a soccer void in their schedules. In turn, while there will still be a premium paid to the English clubs vs. their Spanish/German/Italian rivals, the discrepancy may not be as jarring.
When this time comes, Serie A becomes a very attractive option. Although many casual observers see Serie A as dominated by Juventus, those who watch know differently. Napoli and Roma, especially after the return of Spalletti as the man in charge for the Giallorossi, are pure joy to watch. Small sample size for AC Milan, but during the preseason they look to have a more fluid style of play under Montella than at any point over the past few disappointing campaigns. Inter could make a similar leap in watch-ability under new head coach De Boer since we all know the talent is there on the field. Fiorentina is also always one of the more entertaining Serie A clubs. Add Sassuolo to the mix ('Sassy-olo" as dubbed by Ray Hudson), you have a minimum of seven clubs who could draw interest from the less than die-hard supporters, which is vital to increased ratings.
Look at just one market for how this might unfold. NBC's massive success has shown the market exists in the United States to justify paying large fees for soccer. Those who were outbid (or didn't even bid) for the Premier League could look to make their own splash in the world of international soccer. European games fill the morning and early afternoon void that any smart media company would be foolish not to exploit. Yes, Fox is tied to the Bundesliga until 2020, but this did not preclude them from making a failed bid for the newest EPL contract. In this vain, not out of the question they could look to bring Serie A back in their fold as was the case with the now defunct "Fox Soccer Channel". While there may be scheduling overlap between Italy and Germany, Fox has enough distribution options to make it work. In addition to Fox Sports 1 and 2, FX and FXX could be options when the aforementioned channels are occupied with other events. ESPN has to be mentioned as well, but they have heavy scheduling commitments in the fall/winter/spring for other sports that may preclude them from making a financially viable offer, as soccer would be an afterthought.
So in addition to beIN Sports (current USA rights holder) and Fox, who could emerge in the United States to cause escalating fees? CBS Sports Network jumps out immediately. They currently have nothing to note aside from second tier college football and basketball, nothing viewers are exactly flocking to watch. This leaves them with ample room to make Serie A the centerpiece of their weekends, much like NBC has done with EPL. With proper marketing and promotion, Italian soccer could be a ratings bonanza compared to their current Saturday and Sunday morning/afternoon offerings, and give them an identity sorely lacking at the moment.
Remember that this is for U.S. only. Extrapolate similar scenarios worldwide and it isn't hard to foresee Serie A (La Liga, Bundesliga & Ligue 1 as well) closing the current gap with the Premier League. In the end, all the doom and gloom about the impeding English hegemony might look more overwrought than "Brexit" implications.
Blog Written by Nicholas Dobbin (@1958MUFC_Calcio):
The talk of the summer so far has been that Manchester United are readying a world record bid of £100 million for the 23 year old Frenchman Paul Pogba. The very same man they let leave their football club four years earlier for free. Pogba became frustrated at the lack of first team opportunities at Manchester United, recording only three first team appearances being on the field for only sixty-three minutes of football during his tenure. The Frenchman in his early years was seen as ‘the new Patrick Viera’ for his tall, gangly, energetic style. However, in recent years he has been used as more of an attacking midfielder which has brought comparisons to Real Madrid manager and French legend Zinedine Zidane, who also left for a world record transfer fee of £47million from Juventus in 2001.
Paul Pogba arrived in Turin as a relatively unknown entity in 2012. However, the former World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo said “We saw in his first training session with Juventus that he was special. There was a disbelief among the senior players that Manchester United had allowed him to leave.” Paul Pogba immediately was placed alongside Pirlo in the middle of midfield forming a formidable threesome in the middle of the park with Arturo Vidal. A three that combined goals, assists, creativity, energy, power and bite. Something that Serie A sides struggled to live with as Juventus recorded their second Scudetto in successive seasons. Pogba himself in an interview with French magazine L’Equipe indicated that he was not in the same league as Messi and Ronaldo yet, while mentioning that he needs to add more goals to his game in order to reach his dream of winning a Ballon d’Or. What stems from this interview is his determination to win everything, “I want to be the best, I don’t want to be like everyone else. When I do something, I like to differentiate myself from the rest and I don’t like to lose… I don’t like to come second”. This is a mentality that is ingrained in you from a very young age at Manchester United and Juventus that you must win at all costs.
Nobody doubts the Frenchman’s talent. The question that remains is Paul Pogba worth a world record £100 million transfer fee? Since arriving at Juventus, Pogba has consistently scored and assisted goals from the middle of midfield. His statistics in the past three seasons have been similar in Serie A:
Pogba Stats at Juventus (ESPNFC.co.uk)
2015/2016 Italian Serie A- 35 Games, 8 Goals, 12 Assists, 124 shots
UCL- 8 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists
2014/2015 Italian Serie A- 26 Games, 8 Goals, 3 Assists, 56 shots
UCL- 10 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists
2013/2014 Italian Serie A- 36 Games, 7 goals, 7 assists, 73 shots
UCL- 6 Games, 0 goals, 1 assist
The issue with Paul Pogba is whether he impacts the biggest games at the highest level enough to be seen as ‘the most expensive man in world football history’. A question that has yet to be answered. His UEFA Champions League statistics are relatively average only scoring twice in the Champions League for Juventus. Also, now the European Championships are over, another opportunity has gone for Pogba to stand up and be counted at the highest level. By no means did Pogba play poor during Euro 2016 but he did nothing to convince anyone that he is worthy of the £100 million price tag. On the other hand Pogba’s rise has been very similar to that of Zidane. They were both the poster boys for the French National team, they both moved to Juventus relatively unknown, Zidane also left Juventus for a world record transfer fee and Zidane was also seen has a ‘big game bottler’ in his early career. This nickname came from three average performances in three successive European finals in 1996 with Bordeaux and 1997 & 1998 with Juventus. A nickname that he put to bed in the greatest possible way during the World Cup 1998 in his home country when he scored twice in the final against Brazil which secured France their first World Cup and another European Title two years later in Euro 2000, where Zidane played a huge part. Zidane’s greatest moment in his club career was when he scored arguably the greatest goal in Champions League final history as he scored a volley against Bayer Leverkusen securing Real Madrid’s ninth UEFA Champions League crown. These are the moments that separate where Paul Pogba is now and where Zidane was when he was winning Ballon d’Or titles.
To conclude, it is relatively obvious to all that Paul Pogba has huge potential that could rule the footballing world for the next decade. However, he needs to find that next level like Zidane, at World Cup ‘98 and many other legends of the game have before him. This is what stands in the way of him being considered as a genuine world-class footballer who could seriously compete with Messi and Ronaldo for individual honours in the future. To answer the question is he worth £100 million? Right now, the answer is no. Although, if he adds that last match-winning characteristic to his game at the highest level on a consistent basis there is no doubt that Paul Pogba will be a name edged in to footballing folklore for years to come.
Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott):
It wouldn’t be the same summer transfer window that we have come to know and love, without rumoured moves for at least a dozen Brazilian ‘wonderkids’. Thankfully, this summer has been no different with a host of Brazilians, young and old, looking to make the move from South America to Europe. In the past five to ten years, these moves have been hit and miss - players such as Neymar and Douglas Costa have flourished, whilst others such as Keirrison and Kerlon have seen their careers stagnate enormously. Let’s take a look at the chances of success for the four high-profile players who will be making the move, this year.
Paulo Henrique Ganso
The 26-year-old deep-lying playmaker became Sevilla’s sixth summer signing since Jorge Sampaoli took over, completing a move from Sao Paolo for an undisclosed fee. His name may ring a bell for many readers, as he was once talked about in the same breath as Neymar, whilst they played at Santos together. Both were widely regarded as the next big things to come out of Brazil, and whilst Neymar is certainly on the way to fulfilling his potential, Ganso never really kicked on since leaving Santos. He finally leaves Brazil having made 140 appearances for Sao Paolo, with the hope of becoming the player the world was once so desperate to see. Ganso is likely to be the replacement for the recently departed, Ever Banega, who left Sevilla to join Inter Milan on a free transfer earlier this summer. His lack of pace and dynamism are a big concern however, as Sampaoli is known for his exhausting pressing tactics.
Chance of success: 5/10
Alexandre Pato is another Brazilian who has already sealed his move to Europe this summer, as Villarreal have snapped up the striker, striking a deal with Corinthians. Pato, who is also 26, has of course already played in Europe before, having had a successful spell at A.C. Milan between 2007 and 2012. The striker scored 51 goals in 117 games for the Rossoneri, a very impressive return for a young player in a tough league. Unfortunately, Pato’s career has regressed significantly since leaving Milan, with disappointing spells at Corinthians and Chelsea in the past few years. It is now surely make or break for Pato in Europe, and I am not convinced he has what it takes to succeed.
Chance of success: 3/10
The highly rated 19-year-old forward, nicknamed ‘Gabigol’ has been linked with a whole host of clubs around Europe since he broke onto the scene for club and country.
Since 2013, he has scored 24 goals in 82 games, whilst also scoring twice in four appearances for his country. Modesto Roma, the president of Santos F.C confirmed on Tuesday that that the club had accepted a €20 million bid for Gabigol from Juventus but that the player and his family will need to make a decision. It is widely rumoured however, that Barcelona have first refusal on the youngster and may be tempted into moving for the youngster, with Luis Enrique desperate to boost his squad depth. Gabigol has consistently impressed for both club and country and in my opinion, stands a very good chance of being a success, if he makes the move to Europe.
Chance of success: 7/10
Despite playing fifty games less than Gabriel Barbosa, Jesus is seen by many who watch Brazilian football as the better talent. The 19-year-old forward looks to be heading to England, with both Manchester City and Manchester United interested in the youngster. Jesus appears to be closer to City however, with his agent claiming that talks with The Blues are at a ‘very advanced’ stage. It is said that Pep Guardiola played a huge part in swaying Jesus away from the clutches of Real Madrid, with MARCA claiming that Madrid are furious with Guardiola’s ‘tapping up’ of the forward. Manchester United are supposedly willing to outbid City, but according to numerous reports, the youngster is desperate to work with Guardiola. Having scored 10 goals in his first 14 games this season, Jesus wants to finish what he started with Palmeiras, and then move to Manchester when the Brazilian league is concluded in December. Under the fantastic guidance of Pep Guardiola, a man who is known for his youth development skills, it seems unlikely that Gabriel Jesus would fail.
Chance of success: 8/10
History suggests that there is little chance of the four Brazilians mentioned, all succeeding. In my opinion, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa are by far the most likely to do well in Europe. Whilst Pato has been a hit previously, he is at least four years past his peak and will struggle to reach the levels shown during his time in Milan. Ganso could go either way, he has undeniable quality but there are question marks over how well he will adapt to La Liga and Sampaoli’s tactics. Both Jesus and Barbosa have unlimited potential and under the right guidance, they could flourish in Europe. The duo are set to star for Brazil in the forthcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with clubs around the world undoubtedly watching on eagerly.
Blog Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
Earlier this month the inevitable was announced -- Vicente Del Bosque was resigning.
The man at the head of the golden era of Spanish football is gone. What Luis Aragones started, Del Bosque finished, winning a World Cup and European Championship, while leaving the world as it’s admirers in the process.
Unfortunately, he failed to evolve the team beyond mere sterile possession in his final four years as coach. Loyal to a fault, Del Bosque blindly held on to the glory years gone by, calling up players whose form, or attitude, didn’t warrant it. The world caught-up to tiki taka, and the engines that made it go -- Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso -- were retired from international football.
Perhaps four years too late, Spain have made their change. Many options were considered but not many were good ones. The surly Joaquin Caparros was seen as the front-runner, while the uninspiring Roberto Martinez was mentioned, but in the end, the RFEF went with someone they know well.
In steps Julen Lopetegui, a 49 year-old manager with promise and ambition. Born in the Basque Country, Lopetegui grew up to become a part of La Liga. As a player he was a goalkeeper, starting over 100 La Liga games for both Logroñés and Rayo Vallecano. In-between those spells he was even a back-up for Real Madrid (winning La Liga in 1990) and Barcelona (winning the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners Cup in 1997).
He first foray into coaching came back in 2003, and to say it didn’t go very well would be an understatement. He lasted just 10 matches at Rayo Vallecano before being sacked effectively into a brief retirement. Lopetegui began sports commentating, including for laSexta in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, before he returned to coaching with Real Madrid Castilla in 2008.
This experience eventually led to Lopetegui being handed the keys to perhaps the best youth system in the world. With the Spanish U19s, he built a side with the likes of Gerard Deulofeu, Jesé, Óliver Torres and Paco Alcácer starring, as well as Denis Suárez and Juan Bernat in lesser roles. They won the U19 European Championships in 2011, and again in 2012, extending the domination exhibited by the senior side.
As a result, He was promoted to the U-21 side the following year and the domination continued. While Del Bosque’s side were being embarrassed in the Confederations Cup, Lopetegui side won every game with an aggregate tournament score of 12-2. It wasn’t until the final until the defense conceded, but still, it wasn’t enough to deny the Spanish another title.
More so than just the end result was the players he accomplished it with. The starting XI was stacked with talent that now lights up the pitch at some of the world’s biggest clubs. But for all of their accolades on the club level, many have found the senior national side a tougher nut to crack. Del Bosque rode with his horses and the ponies were left behind. Lopetegui was obviously primed to take over from Del Bosque in 2013. One could say that 2012 would have been an even better time to make a switch, but nothing happened, even after the unmitigated disaster that was the 2014 World Cup.
This year's European Championship saw Alvaro Morata and David De Gea finally get their long awaited opportunity but others barely featured, or even worse, didn’t receive a call-up. Chief among the omissions was Isco. A polarizing talent, Isco has shown the potential to be one of the world's very best midfielders, but at times has let outside factors interfere with his form. With Lopetegui, he has a coach who instilled a consistent confidence in him and became a champion with. Players of his caliber hold the keys to future Spanish success and need to be treated accordingly.
La Furia Roja are dying for a refreshment of young legs and revitalized commitment, and nobody recognizes this more than their new manager.
"Everything we've achieved before no longer matters. Internally, we can be happy with what we did then but we are fully focused on the job we have to do now," Lopetegui said.
"Some of them have been the best in Spanish footballing history, winning honours that no one could before them. But they must also understand that they have to live in the present and what they bring to the squad now. We will focus on that.”
Instead of abandoning their established style and mentality in order to function with a new coach, Spain have appointed a young manager who knows and has worked with a large percentage of the young players that need to make up the majority of the squad going forward. His understanding of the systems and style of play will provide a smooth transition that is imbedded into this golden generation of talent.
For 44 years, an entire country was dying for the taste of victory. Finally, they were satiated, even more so than their wildest dreams could have imagined. Somewhere along the line that hunger and passion devolved into complacency. Lopetegui is now back and his puppies are with him. It’s time to eat.
Blog Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona / April 23, 2017 / Santiago Bernabéu
Let’s face it: each and every Clásico is a must-watch affair. A rivalry full of hatred, politics, and some of the best players to ever grace the pitch, is enough to pique the interest of even the most neutral of futbol fans. This match takes even greater importance due to its timing, as Madrid face a murderer's row of opponents in April including Atletico, Valencia and at Sporting. This doesn’t even factor in any possible Champions League matches, provided they advance that far. Barcelona’s month doesn’t get much easier with matches against Sevilla, Malaga and the always tricky Catalan derby, against Espanyol. This month will go a long way towards deciding the champion of Spain, and no match will carry more weight than El Clásico.
Barcelona vs. Atlético Madrid / September 21, 2016 / Camp Nou
The first truly titanic match of the season. The league’s most aesthetically pleasing and efficient attack (Barcelona) takes on the most impenetrable and disciplined defense (Atletico Madrid). Atletico have more than proved their worth over the past few years but remain without a win at Barcelona since 2006. Diego Simeone’s men would love nothing more than to make an early season statement against the current title holders, while making more history for the Rojiblancos in the process. Barcelona will have something to say about that, as it was this same Atleti side that killed any dreams of back-to-back trebles, knocking Barca out of the Champions League in spectacular fashion. The match may not mean a ton relative to league standing, but it will go a long way in shaping the psyche of the clubs going forward in the season.
Sevilla vs. Real Betis / September 21, 2016 / Sanchez-Pizjuan
When Real Betis got promoted back to first division football last season most fans were ecstatic, while the select few that weren’t resided in the north end of the same city. The derby of Seville has been going on since 1915 and remains one of the fiercest and most passion-filled rivalries La Liga has to offer. Both sides will come into this season with new managers in Gus Poyet, and Jorge Sampaoli, respectively. Personnel has been vastly changed during the transfer window for both clubs -- with a combined 12 new players -- signaling a change in philosophy towards more of an offensive mindset that should make this matchup lively from the start. Hopes are high this upcoming season for both clubs, and this will be an early measuring stick of what to expect.
Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid / November 20, 2016 / Vicente Calderón
For years, the Derby madrileño was dormant. Real Madrid went 22 straight league games (11 years) without tasting defeat to their cross town rivals. But that all changed in the 2013 Copa Del Rey final, when Atleti finally broke through by a score of 2-1 to lift the silverware. Since that point, the sides have met 14 times (Liga, Copa, UCL) and have each won 5, while drawing 4. Unfortunately for Atlético, two of those losses came in absolutely gut wrenching fashion in the Champions League Final to further cement Los Blancos as the kings of Europe. League play has been a different story, as Real Madrid have not won a single match in the series in nearly four years, which just so happens to be the last time they were Spanish champions. Simeone has played the stepchild card to perfection, galvanizing a club and it’s fans to heights many believed didn't exist. Now, Zinedine Zidane must do the same for a club almost always fancied as favorites. Their chance at a league title may depend on it.
Athletic Bilbao vs. Málaga / March 5, 2017 / San Mames
No, you aren't drunk and this isn’t a mistake. It may not be a rivalry, but this matchup will be one to keep an eye on next season. You would be hard pressed to find a more even series anywhere in the world, as these clubs have met 26 times, each winning 8, while drawing 10. Athletic hold a 0.1 advantage in goals per match, making each encounter nail biting stuff. Málaga have been extremely active during the transfer window bringing in 9 new faces, including the criminally underrated Jony from Sporting, and Sandro Ramirez from Barcelona. After a slow start last year -- including a catastrophic ouster in the Copa Del Rey at the hands of Mirandes -- Málaga played well in the second half to finish a respectable 8th in the table. Athletic finished in 5th led by Mr. Benjamin Button himself, Aritz Aduriz, and his 20 goals. Both sides will challenge for the Europa League, and maybe even the Champions League with a bit of luck.
Blog Written by Sebastian Fazio (@CalcioASRoma):
"This is the worst Italian team ever"
"Antonio Conte is ruining Italian football!"
"From Totti, Del Piero and Vieri to Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini"
"This team won't make it out of the group stages"
These are just some of the things people said about Italy going into Euro 2016. Never had there been so much negativity towards an Italian team in terms of what they could achieve. It's safe to say no one expected the Italians to do anything. Boy, were many wrong.
The tournament started against Belgium. Italy were looked at as the underdogs since Belgium had all these stars like Eden Hazard, Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bryune, Romelu Lukaku and the list goes on. Italy outside of BBC was also playing Giaccherini, Parolo, Eder and Candreva. Four guys who not too long ago were playing for Serie B side Cesena. At the 33rd minute of the match, Giaccherini popped one in to put Italy in front and from then, the dream began. Giaccherini became Giaccherinho. That goal stands out because it was the beginning of 23 men proving so many wrong.
Italy would go on to dominate the match and shut down Belgium's superstars while Graziano Pelle scored a second goal in the 90th minute to top off a great victory. Daniele De Rossi after the match said he had friends in Rome who said they'd bet their house Italy would lose versus Belgium, showing you what people thought of Italy going into the Euro. Still though many didn't want to bat an eye at Antonio Conte and Italy, still considering Spain, Belgium and heck even Croatia were better threats then the Italians.
But credit to Conte's squad, they knew this team was not what many thought it was. Next came Sweden, a tough match where Italy struggled to find a breakthrough. Many complained over Conte's trust in Eder throughout the match, calling him useless, saying Italy were playing with 10 men because of him. Cometh the hour, cometh Eder. 88th minute a beautiful Eder goal to send Italy into the next round topping the group of death, which many said Italy would 'struggle' in. 1st place with a game to spare.
Then came Ireland with Italy playing with no real meaning, losing 1-0. But there was a bigger fish to fry, as Spain was next up. And once again Italy were looked at as underdogs and were not favored, but ONCE AGAIN they proved many wrong. Completely taking the game to Spain. Disrupting the Spanish attack. At the 32nd minute Cheillini put Italy ahead and Gli Azzurri never looked back. Once again in the 90th it was Pelle smashing the ball home making it 2-0 to knock out Spain.
Antonio Conte put on a tactical master class that ended the Spanish Era and got sweet revenge for the Euro 2012 final loss. Beat Spain? Okay, here's Germany, probably the best national team on the planet. From the first minute to the last penalty kick, Italy-Germany was a very tactical and intense match. When Mesut Özil put Germany ahead it seemed Italy was done, not being able to create anything going forward for an equalizer. Then came the 78th minute, Italy wins a penalty that Bonucci puts home, every Italian erupts, the players on the field and on the bench completely lose it. Italy was back in it and not ready to quit. Unfortunately it was penalties that decided who went on and the Germans came out on top, ending a dream.
This Italian team would have died before giving up and the way they were eliminated shows that. Stefano Sturaro himself said he played Italy-Germany injured from 2nd half on. Pelle, Eder, Giaccherini and Parolo gave everything they had even if they ran out of steam after 120 minutes, they were still running at 100% even before the final whistle was blown. Though he missed his penalty and later apologized for it, Graziano Pelle deserves so much credit for his performances at the Euro. Many doubted him but he delivered and was a reason Italy went as far as they did. He was one of the best strikers at the Euro. Same with guys like Giaccherini, Parolo, Eder and De Sciglio. This game showed the belief and enthusiasm that these players and Antonio Conte brought back to a nation that really was dead following the 2014 World Cup. A bunch of 'nobodies' and the 'worst Italian team ever' proved the world wrong and in that that made their nation proud. Football is cruel and weird; Italy gave everything and deserved a lot more. Conte was always hit with the hardest obstacles. Italy topped their qualifying group yet still wasn't seeded in Pot 1 for the draw because of a stupid loss in a friendly, guaranteeing a hard group at the Euro but they overcame that with a first place finish. What are they rewarded with? The hardest route to the finals with Spain, Germany and then what would've been France. Meanwhile, Portugal finished 3rd place in the easiest group and have yet to win a game in 90 minutes yet are in the semifinals.
Conte always had to play with a disadvantage, whether it was the draw, injuries, lack of talent or the trust of fans and the media, yet he and his 23 players proved everyone wrong. And for that, I salute Conte and every player on this team for bringing joy back into Italian football. Italy's run at the Euro 2016 will always be memorable and it was a joy to watch, if you're Italian or not.
Blog Written by Jordan Elgott (@JElgott)
Having joined Manchester City from Partizan Belgrade at the young age of 20, Stefan Savic was not expected to set the world alight in his first season at the club. He wasn’t signed to start in the big games straight away, the plan was that he would be eased in gently, first appearing in cup games and then a few of the less challenging league games. For a while, this plan looked to be running smoothly, making his debut as a substitute during a 4-0 home win over Swansea, in August 2011. He then scored his first goal for the club against Blackburn Rovers, once again appearing in a 4-0 victory as a substitute. Savic made his first start for the club in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with the Montenegrin putting in a confident performance from right-back. So where did it all go wrong for Savic in Manchester?
As mentioned earlier, great things were not expected of Savic to begin with, but almost single-handedly costing City the league was certainly not on the agenda. The City fans are a fairly forgiving fan base; if a player looks to be putting in 100% effort, they are generally forgiven for a poor game every now and then. Therefore it is a measure of just how terribly Savic performed, that he quickly became the most maligned name on the City squad sheet during his first season with the club.
There are two particularly poor performances which epitomize Savic’s time in England, the first being the 3-2 win over Spurs at the Etihad in December 2011. After sitting in a comfortable position mid-way through the second half, Savic helped City to squander a two goal lead, as his dreadful attempt at a clearance allowed Jermaine Defoe to pull one back for Spurs, before Gareth Bale equalised. In what was a clash of title challengers at the time, Savic nearly lost the game for City, with his shockingly poor pass leading to a two-on-one chance for Spurs. Had Jermaine Defoe’s legs been a couple of inches longer, Savic may well have had to hire private bodyguards to ensure his safety.
Things went from bad to worse for Savic, as his worst performance in a City shirt came in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield. City, already trailing 1-0 from the first leg, needed a brave and confident performance in order to win at one of England’s toughest grounds. Unfortunately, Savic turned in a performance of the exact opposite of what was needed. After giving away a penalty in the first leg, he endured a torrid 45 minutes at the hands of Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt, before being substituted in what Phil McNulty described as a ‘merciful release’. It was the final nail in the coffin of a very short City career for Savic; there was to be no coming back from this, in the mind of the manager, and the minds of the fans. After a confident start in England, it does beg the question: What went wrong?
Savic may have been excused for a disappointing first season, purely on the basis that the transition into English football is an incredibly tough one. It should not be expected for a 20 year old, playing in the relatively easy Serbian League, to adapt well to the relentless and unforgiving nature of the English Premier League. Savic however, had a much deeper problem affecting his game. What many people don’t know, City fans included, is that Savic had suffered a personal tragedy just before his move to Manchester. His father, Dragan, who was the president of the municipal assembly in Mojkovac, committed suicide in April of 2011. This would have been heartbreaking for a person of any age, never mind a 20 year old who was attempting to adjust to life in a strange, new country. A friend told The Sun back in 2011 that Savic ‘will never get over it (the death of his father)’. Factor this into his already exceptionally tough transition and all of a sudden, the explanation for Savic’s dreadful first season becomes abundantly clear. Savic was never a bad footballer, he was just a victim of devastating circumstance, and his form suffered as a result.
Savic clearly needed a change of scenery, a fresh start, before his career was irreversibly damaged. Fiorentina came to his rescue, with La Viola completing the Montenegrin’s transfer as part of a deal which saw fellow Balkan, Matija Nastasic, join Manchester City. It would have been easy for Savic to never recover from his time in England, but the way in which he has revived his career since 2012 shows that he possesses a brave and strong character. During his three seasons at Fiorentina, Savic averaged a very respectable WhoScored rating of 7.26, with the football stats site featuring him in their 2012/2013 ‘Under 21 Team of the Season’ XI, alongside current stars of the game such as Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Götze and David Alaba. It was a fantastic revival by Savic, becoming a player unrecognizable to the nervy and error prone centre-half who departed Manchester in 2012.
Savic’s great spell in Italy brought him to the attention of Atletico Madrid manager, Diego Simeone. Had Savic only been linked with Simeone’s Atletí once, it still would have been a great validation of his fantastic defensive ability, as Simeone certainly knows a great defender when he sees one. So for Atletico to sign him in the summer of 2015 showed just how far he had come since he left Manchester. Despite arriving as one of the most promising defenders in Europe, Savic was not a regular in his first season in La Liga. After spending most of the season as understudy to Jose Maria Gimenez, he was thrown in at the deep end against Real Madrid in the Champions League Final and managed to make his mark. Savic, who could not take his opportunity at City when thrown into the deep end after Vincent Kompany got injured, did not let his new manager down. Savic performed excellently, making the most blocks out of any player on the pitch, with no mainstream media journalist rating him less than 7/10 in their final player ratings. Despite losing the game on penalties, it was a coming of age for Savic, making the transition from an erratic youngster with potential, into an experienced, calm head – something which was inconceivable four years ago.
So where does Savic go from here? The next step is to become a regular in the Atletico starting eleven, and he will have done his chances no harm with his performances towards the end of the season. Perhaps the Montenegro captaincy could also be on the cards, if compatriot, Stevan Jovetic continues to falter at Inter. Jovetic should really be taking a leaf out of Savic’s book on how to get his career back on track. Regardless of what happens with Jovetic, if Savic continues to apply himself in the way in which he has over the past four years, the future is certainly bright for both him, and Atletí.
Blog Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
The end of an era: This loss officially closes the book on the Vicente Del Bosque reign. It was a magical six years that included a Euro Cup and Spain’s very first World Cup, but unfortunately, a lack of imagination and the ability to adapt, did him in. It seemed like everything needed to go right for the ball to hit the back of the net.
A perfect pass.
A perfect cross.
A perfect shot.
Sometimes you just need to be able to produce a score out of nothing. Pure individual brilliance that shines through from out of the shadows. David Villa was that light and nobody has been able to replicate it since.
Where were the kids? Spain may take years to recover from this. The failure after the 2012 Euro’s to evolve or integrate youth into the ranks transformed La Roja into a slow and inconsistent side. Del Bosque picked his favorites, overlooking their atrocious form on the club level, to not feature players such as Isco and Thiago who should've played more after their U-21 success. There was a lack of energy in this side that was apparent to even the most amateur fan. Maybe the hunger that drove this generation to end 44 years of misery and mockery faded away on that starry night in Kiev.
The Italian’s and Conte put on a technical master class: So much for the the pundits eh? Heart, passion and will are things that can never be measured, and Conte extracted every last drop of it from this roster. Players who were almost laughed off the selection sheet were the ones left smiling. Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini caused the Spanish back line problems all game with their pace and link up play. If it weren’t for the stellar play of David De Gea, the score could've been much, much, worse.
Onto the world champions: Italy now get a date with Germany in the quarter-finals on Saturday July 2. They will again go in as underdogs, but have the strength of history behind them. Italy have never lost to the Germans in a major competition (4 wins and 4 draws), and will not be looking to start now. Italy are winning as they always do -- with grit, defense and passion and if Germany are not careful, they will be their latest victim.