Clubs, Real Madrid

Why sell an Angel?

A couple months ago I wrote an article with a poll question that asked readers who Di Maria pic for blogthey thought to be Real’s most valuable player this past year, obviously Cristiano Ronaldo won, but, Angel Di Maria ran away with second place – you can check out that article and poll question here.

Anyways, this brings me to the point of this article, and a question – why in the world is Angel Di Maria so undervalued by Real Madrid? I angrily ask this question because I think he’s been so integral to Real’s success this year. Not only did his run against Atletico set up Gareth Bale’s game winning header in the Champions Cup final, but, Di Maria also proved invaluable to the successes of Argentina at this past summer’s World Cup. He’s truly been solid all year, and I think he deserves much more respect and praise than he’s been given.

Di Maria and RonaldoFurthermore, why would Real sell a player that Cristiano told them to keep last summer? Clearly then, Ronaldo knew of how talented Di Maria was then, and that he could blossom even more over this past year…. It seems ridiculous that Real would sell him after such great form last year. When assessing Real’s transfers this past summer, I’m of the opinion that Di Maria is far more talented than James Rodríguez. I understand that James performed well at the World Cup, but I don’t believe that that merits Di Maria’s starting role. While I do think that it would be terrible for James not to start for Real this year, I also think that if I had to make a choice between Di Maria and James, I would pick Di Maria in a heartbeat, especially as he’s already used to King Carlo’s system of play.

With that said, if Real do sell him to PSG or Man United, and they don’t have a great campaign this year, Real’s management will take more slack than they would if they decided not to sell him. Moreover, I find it truly bothersome when the forces that be (management) take something that works, and try to make it better; in the footballing world management should adhere to this one old adage,  if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (or attempt to make it better)…

But back to Di Maria… His importance goes way beyond just his talent… He’s proven Messi and Di Mariahis ability to play well with the two best players in the world, with Ronaldo on Real, and Messi on Argentina. And, more importantly, he’s won their respect – which is an extremely difficult thing to do considering their God-like standard of play. The footballing gods that they are, have played well with their Angel, and Real’s management need to respect him more than they are by squashing transfer rumors and not even letting them begin.

From Di Maria’s perspective, I understand his desire to leave Real… I would also want to leave if my club’s management didn’t appreciate my efforts. Plus, considering that he’s at the pinnacle of his career, it’d make sense for him financially to make a big money move to a club like PSG and cash out… especially as his salary isn’t even remotely close to that of Gareth Bale’s.. Di Maria makes 3 million euros to Bale’s annual haul of 10 million… Which to me seem very ridiculous.

In review, it makes sense for Di Maria to want to leave, but, it doesn’t make sense for Real to want to sell him. Let me know in the comments section if you agree with my assessments or not!

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Clubs, Real Madrid

James Rodríguez will work well with Ronaldo, and be a huge success

James Rodríguez is an interesting signing for Real Madrid, he’s a playmaker – as proven by his time at Monoco, James Rodríguez pic for blogand he’s also a goal scorer – as proven by his World Cup performances. It’s difficult to assess where a player like him fits on a Real team with multiple playmakers… they just purchased Kroos, they already have Modric and Isco, and Di Maria for all intents and purposes plays an attacking playmaker role behind Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo. So where does a player like James Rodríguez fit in?

To answer that question let’s first assess the situation from Rodríguez’s perspective/point of view: after a world cup performance like his, he deserves not only a big money transfer (which he got), but also to start for the team that bought him. His mouth is probably watering at the prospect of playing with Real’s world class stars. He knows as well as anyone that this team is Ronaldo’s, and not his. He knows he must be humble, and work hard as he a smart young kid. But, in knowing that, he’s also aware that he will not have the limelight centered on him in the same way that it was at the World Cup (and for a very long time).

James Rodríguez pic 2 for blogFrom my perspective, James Rodríguez is not the kind of player that is going to get better sitting on the Real Madrid bench – he has a lot of potential to improve, but only through playing with his teammates and growing with them. Right now, he is only 23 years of age, he needs to be in the starting 11 to get a feel for his teammates and learn how they work around him on the pitch, and he must adjust to their movements and not the other way around: He is joining a team that found a lot of success last year, his job will be to figure out how he fits into Real’s current playing style; when Ronaldo transferred over to Real, the team was set with the objective to fit around him – this will not be the case for Rodríguez, as he will be left using his own ingenuity and smarts to gain respect on the pitch from his teammates.

Continuing on the above points: James Rodríguez can and will succeed at Real, but only if he starts immediatelyJames Rodríguez crying pic for blog – He knows as well as anyone that this Real Madrid squad is not his team, but that it’s Ronaldo’s, and considering his awareness of this situation (and his talent, I’m sure he can adjust to playing with him, and the rest of the squad). James is undoubtedly in one of the best situations ever, especially being that the talent surrounding him is at an extremely high – they will give him an opportunity to play well, but he can’t be content with a role off the bench, and I don’t think he would be… Rodríguez, like Ronaldo, is a competitor, sure he just received a massive paycheck to play for Real, but clearly that’s not what drives him to win.

Ronaldo crying pic for blogHe will find success because he plays with a heart and a desire similar to Ronaldo. I think that it’s a genuine display of drive, heart, and also a love for the sport when players cry. It’s a sign of how much the competition means to them – James cried at this past summer’s world cup, just as Ronaldo did back at Euro 2004 after being knocked out. Both of these players will learn to respect one another through their competitive natures and ultimately through this, James will be a great success at Real – but he must start!

I don’t know where he will start, but I only see Di Maria’s current role as a great fit for him. I suppose we’ll see how King Ancelotti figures him into his plans. For Ancelotti, it can’t hurt having so many insanely talented players… Unless, of course, you lose many competitions with them…

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Clubs, Real Madrid

Real Madrid going for a Kroos

Kroos pic for blogToni Kroos’ transfer to Real Madrid makes perfect sense; he is an extremely adaptable and balanced player, two attributes (along with many others) that make him a complete midfielder. What I mean by “complete” is that he can fit into any tactical scheme.  At Bayern over the past couple seasons he got used to a system that emphasized speedy attacks emanating from the wings. He manhandled the midfield and distribute the ball to the likes of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery, (two worldclass wingers) that benefited greatly from his vision, tenacity and calm. Also at this past summer’s World Cup he fit into Germany’s tactical alignment,  playing a style of football that slowly grew attacks through fluid short passing. In other words, he can do it all…. Except one thing, but I’ll get to that later…

Aside from being a complete midfielder, he’s also a winner. Kroos already has German league titles, a Champions League victory and a World Cup under his belt.  Not only is he used to big competition, but he’s used to winning them. Moreover, he’s pretty smart too: he left Bayern at a perfect time: their team, although outstanding, is getting older… Who knows how long Ribery (31), Robben (30) and Schweinsteiger (about to turn 30) will last?

On the other hand – Real’s Benzema is 26, Di Maria is 26, and Bale only just turned 25 (all of them about to hit the peak of their careers). And then, there’s also Ronaldo, a player who is at the peak of his career. Furthermore, when you look at their defense, Ramos is 28, Marcelo 26, Carvajal 22, and Varane only 21… Real Madrid have a young team that’s already gelled together quite a bit, and when you add the adaptable Kroos into the mix, their team only gets better.

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The most interesting aspect of his transfer will be finding out how Carlo Ancelotti fits him into his current lineup. In my opinion, he’ll replace Xabi Alonso, and learn to play a slightly deeper role than he’s used to. If not, then I would imagine he’d split time with Modric, or, if Real Madrid do end up selling Di Maria, he would take his attacking midfield role.

Now, here’s the issue with this, Kroos can do it all except one thing: have the ability and flair to dribble the ball with speed past defenders whereas Di Maria is masterful at this.  Di Maria has been incredible in the attacking mid position right behind the front three BBC… So, if Acelotti truly wants to use the same system that he did last year that brought him so much success, then it would be to his benefit to use Kroos in either Modric’s box-to-box role, or Alonso’s role in front of the back four.

In my opinion, Kroos will be a great fit if played in the right position. He’s a great replacement for Alonso, and will be a mainstay in the Real side for years to come.

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Argentina, Germany, World Cup

German depth and genius won them the World Cup

IMG_4184This world cup final was one to behold, many many people (including me), were watching with a hopeful eye, wishing that Leo Messi would bring glory to Argentina by beating Germany (like Maradona in 86), and not just cement his legendary status, but allow him to be crowned as the best player of all time. But if one thing was proven by today’s result, it’s that football is a team sport, and every member of Germany has stepped up at one point or another to offer a decisive game winning moment… More on this later…

Germany Celebration World Cup pic copyThrough the first half of the game it became clear that Argentina had the edge, as Messi, Lavezzi and Pérez ran at Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels. This opened up space for crosses to Gonzalo Higuaín, and although he was caught offside for one of his finishes, I thought i was a nice indication of things to come.  Unfortunately for them, Argentina weren’t able to capitalize on many of those runs, and in the second half were also halted. That said, Messi played really well behind the top striker, it allowed him space using his dribbling and create chances from midfield (he should play the same role behind Saurez at Barcelona this year).

Towards the end of the second half, Germany’s attack was at it’s best, taking advantage of a tired Argentine defense. But ultimately, neither team could find a goal by the end of 90 minutes. And, in extra time it was really clear that Argentina couldn’t attack full steam ahead as it would have been a risk for their defense. It’s worth mentioning that a huge part of their defensive success was due to Javier Mascherano, who had the World Cup of his life – his performances have been top notch and have proven that he’s still in his prime at the defensive midfield position.

When Mario Götze scored in extra time, one thing became very clear: Germany have more depth Gotze Germany pic for blogthan any other team in this tournament. While Argentina also has a lot of attacking talent, they weren’t able to effectively replace Di Maria, whereas when Marco Rues went down for Germany, they still had more than enough players to come on and play well enough to replace him. Some of their other players didn’t even have a chance to shine at this World Cup due to their massive amount of depth and talent. For example, Julian Draxler didn’t have any role on this team/nation, yet he would have started for most of the others that battled it out for the cup. Germany proved that the World Cup is a battle of attrition- they have such an experienced and well disciplined squad – their team has gotten so far in previous tournaments and failed, yet this time they were more than ready to take on every challenge that was handed to them.

Leo Messi Argentina pic for blogI’m not sure how this loss will affect Messi’s legacy, especially as he won the Golden Ball, an award given to the most excellent player at the World Cup. All considered, he played admirably through each match, even despite the fact that he didn’t score after the group stages. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t produce a moment of brilliance today to take the life out of the German squad. Furthermore, his determination and drive to show up on such a large stage was extremely apparent today – He was awake, ready, and motivated as he took on the German defense more than once all by himself. Gonzalo Higuaín also played well throughout the tournament, although today he had a difficult time, missing an easy opportunity in the first half when the ball was essentially passed to him for a one on one with Neuer (a moment that I’m sure will haunt him for years to come).

But anyways, congrats to Germany for a great performance at this year’s World Cup!

Also, attention to American readers – please follow The Soccer Dice on twitter for a chance to win a new Adidas World Cup Soccer ball (just click the twitter link above, then click follow, and you’re entered for a chance to win. A random winner will be selected in the next five days and I will message them for address details to send over the ball. Cheers!)

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FC Barcelona

Biting Barcelona!

Saurez Barca pic for blogHere is the question: Is Luis Suarez exactly what Barcelona need? I truly don’t know, but I also don’t doubt Suarez’s ambition and drive as a player –  he’s been the best player in the premier league for the past two years and considered a top five striker in the world… but does he fit into Barcelona’s team? Let’s examine…

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived at Camp Nou I was very Zlatan Barca pic for blogexcited, I thought his technical prowess and height would be extremely helpful on a team with a bunch of shorter and faster players, and that he would finish off their moves both on the ground and in the air. Upon Zlatan’s arrival at Barca he was considered a World Class striker (he still is now), yet he didn’t fit into Barcelona’s scheme. He is extremely physically gifted, but his style of play didn’t fit in with his team’s. He was an individual amongst team players that had grown up together at La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy. Ultimately Zlatan didn’t end up finishing moves on Barca’s attack, but rather, he ended up slowing them down – and because of this, he left the club a couple seasons later. In other words, Samuel Eto’o was a better fit than Zlatan in Barcelona’s system. That said though, it’s worth noting that Zlatan wasn’t a good fit for other reasons as well – supposedly his personality didn’t mesh well with Guardiola’s, plus – the team wasn’t his, it was Messi’s, and I’m sure this was a point of contention for both players…

La Masia pic for blogAnyways, let’s examine Suarez in comparison: 1, For the first time in a long time La Masia graduates will not be dominating Barcelona’s first team this season, so Luís Enrique won’t have an issue with fitting him into a system, but instead he’ll be able to start fresh and create his own system of play that hopefully will benefit Suarez as Barca look to move past Tika-Taka and into new waters. 2, Saurez doesn’t seem to have much of an ego, he knew Liverpool was Gerard’s team and he respected that, so I don’t think Messi will have an issue with him but rather, they’ll drive each other to play better. Furthermore, when Saurez is on the pitch he always plays the game with a stern love, determination, and anger – an anger that I think will benefit Barca and drive their players to new heights and breathe life into Barca’s fan, especially after last years terrible campaign. 3, Saurez fits in culturally, and will have no issue transitioning to the Spanish lifestyle – plus being Uruguayan, he speaks Spanish, and this will surely benefit his ability to get to know both his teammates and fans better.

Now, while that all sounds very positive, the question remains whether or not he can fit in at Barca tactically? Now, this is a really difficult question to answer considering that we don’t know what tactics Luis Enrique will employ this year – if he employs a 4-3-3 as Barca has for the last decade, It’s difficult to say where Messi, Saurez and Neymar would fit in as they are all best in a center forward position. Neymar thrives in a free roaming attacking mid/striker role for Brazil, and Saurez thrived at Liverpool playing in e two striker formation with Sturridge supporting his attack… and, Messi has set many scoring records playing as a center forward for Barca over the last couple years.

Luis Enrique pic for blog 2Luis Enrique has a lot to think about. That said, if I were to guess, Messi would stay at center forward, Neymar would take left forward, and Saurez the right. If I were to pick a starting lineup though, I would use Saurez in the middle, Messi on the right as he used to play very effectively as a right forward during the Eto’o days, and Neymar in a free roaming left wing/attacking mid role. In this way Neymar can help lead an attack from midfield as he does for Brazil and also utilize his playmaking to feed Messi and Saurez, almost in a way that allows them to be a striking partnership.Ivan Rakatic would play attacking mid with Iniesta and if Barca knew what was good for them, they’d employ Mascherano at defensive mid and rid Busquets of that duty as I don’t believe he has the ability to disrupt the opponents attacks. Behind the midfield, Barcelona need to bolster their defense with a new Center back, especially as Marquinhos’ transfer has been halted by PSG management for now.

I’m excited to find out how Saurez fits in at Barcelona, but I’m even more thrilled at the prospect of Barca deviating from their Tika-Taka ways with their new manager and players. But back to the original question: Will Saurez fit in and be a success at Barcelona? I say yes. Let me know what you think in the poll question below.

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Argentina, World Cup

A Messi conclusion

Javier pic for blogArgentina had a very strong first half today, and this was very much due to the fact that Javier Mascherano has been employed in his natural defensive midfield position. Today vs the Netherlands he disrupted many of their attacks, preventing them from playing their fierce counter-attacking football and took Arjen Robben out of his element (also making a last ditch tackle that prevented him from scoring in the last five minutes). Furthermore, Wesley Sneijder had tracked back quite a bit to help defend against Messi runs, assisting the not so fully fit Nigel de Jong in his defensive duties at midfield.

That said, here was the theme throughout the entire match: Argentina could not take advantage of the Dutch’s inability to attack – and anyone could tell that they truly missed Di Maria’s pace which surely would have haunted the slower Dutch defenders like winger turned wingback Dirk Kuyt. Lavezzi played well, but he is not as great of a dribbler as Di Maria, and neither is Gonzalo Higuain. Tactically it would have made more sense for Messi to start at the right wing to let Higuain work at center striker as he does for Napoli. Or, alternatively, let Messi play a free role from the midfield (like Neymar does at times for Brazil), or similarly to how Di Maria has been employed by Argentina (and Real) so that they could at least have some ability to create chances from the midfield.

Later in the match it was interesting that Alejandro Sabella took off Higuain to put in Aguero, especially considering Wesley pic for blogthat Gonzalo had seemingly found his stride as the game went on – and also because Aguero’s fitness has not always been at 100%.  That move clearly suggested that Sabella and Argentina were content to play conservatively and believed that their attack could get it done in extra time or in the last ten minutes (or in penalties).

Sabella pic for blogThis was the safe move, and it really shouldn’t be criticized, and despite all the reports that he isn’t an adequate coach (and that Messi coaches them), he should ultimately be praised for getting Argentina as far as he has in this World Cup. When he subbed Maxi Rodriguez for Lavezzi, I thought it was a great move – Maxi plays with exceptional energy which is exactly what teams need in extra time. And fortunately for him, he powered a penalty kick in after 120 minutes.

Throughout the match, I eagerly anticipated a moment of brilliance from either Robben or Messi, but both teams understandably played without taking risks, and in doing so went against Nike’s slogan to “risk everything” and this lead to penalty kicks (soccer’s ultimate fallacy). Ultimately though, I believe that this is one of the most exciting World Cup finals in a very long time as it will decide whether or not Messi can take the title of “best player of all time.”

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Brazil, World Cup

Samba Sadness

Scolari Pic for BlogBrazil’s game today was not a clear indication that Germany is a thousand times better than them – rather, today’s game was a clear indication that they missed their best defensive player and their best offensive player.

Germany didn’t have much of a challenge today (if any), and Brazil lost their game against Germany before it even started (which I honestly didn’t expect). I said in a previous post about Brazil that Scolari missed the boat with some of the selections he’s made for the World Cup. Lucas deserved to be called up as he offers the flair that they so sorely missed without Neymar today. With Thiago Silva missing the game, Filipe Luís would have been a great player to put in the back next to Dante, especially considering that he is more defensive-minded than Marcelo – who I believe has been a weak link throughout the World Cup.

But all of that is quite irrelevant, and what is relevant is Brazil’s unfashionable demise… In this World Cup David Luiz pic for blog
Brazil never emphasized playing their Joga Bonito style football. Instead of playing the “beautiful game” as they are known for, they relied on midfield grittiness from the likes of Paulinho, Luis Gustavo, and Fernandinho – and in my opinion this proved to be their downfall. They simply could not compete with Germany’s midfield offensively, and as a result were completely take advantage of. Brazil’s best defense has historically been it’s attack, and today that was clearly proven as they lacked any semblance of attacking structure. Their dependence on Neymar throughout the World Cup was impeccably obvious today. Their team got by when Neymar was healthy, and it would have certainly been interesting to see if Thiago Silva could have influenced their defense if he were in the game. But ultimately, and as I said before, their absence is irrelevant, and Brazil should have never lost so terribly to Germany in the first place. Furthermore, I can’t comprehend why the best right back in the world – Dani Alves – didn’t start in such an important game. While I do like Maicon, he is way past his prime and should not have been given the chance on such a big stage today. Brazil will now need to respond with fury if they are to defend their World Cup performance – and the best way to do this is to dominate in the third place game.

Andre pic for blogBut anyway, Luiz Felipe Scolari will have a really tough time dealing with the football press as Brazil’s suffered it’s worst defeat in their 94 years of football. This game was not just a loss, but it was a uppercut to Brazil’s football willpower and a microcosm of their larger issue – that they need to field more technically sound creative players. Joga Bonito is not dead, just as Tika-Taka is not dead – Brazil just needs to find the players to play with a technical love and passion that they have seemed to miss this entire world cup. Also, Brazil lacked depth, and that is Scolari’s fault first and foremost. Countinho deserved a spot after his year at Liverpool… Pato is better in Scolari’s system than either Fred or Jo, and Miranda played lights out for Atletico this year. Yet, Scolari overlooked them all, which is utterly unbelievable.

That said, Germany’s performance should be admire as they took all the chances that Brazil gave them. Germany is playing much better with Khedira and he should continue to start. Furthermore, Hummel’s return seemed to have shored up a defense that was terrible against Algeria.

One more point: André Schürrle should start in the final and for Chelsea this year. He’s more clinical than people give him credit for and takes all the chances he gets without a moment’s hesitation.

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