Who: Kieran Trippier
From Where: Tottenham
To Where: Atlético Madrid
For How Much: €25 million ($28M USD), plus add-ons
Grade for Atlético Madrid: B
Grade for Tottenham: C
Kieran Trippier to Atlético Madrid Overview
Atlético Madrid lost a lot to start this summer. However, they are doing all they can to mitigate the exodus of star Antoine Griezmann and Co.
Atleti are particularly ravaged on the backline. They’ve lost Lucas Hernández (Bayern Munich), Diego Godín (Inter Milan) and Juanfran (unsigned) this summer. Filipe Luis is another longtime Rojiblanco defender who is widely expected to leave the Spanish capital, as his contract is up.
In comes Kieran Trippier from Tottenham on a three-year deal to help shore up what had been a stout defense.
Who is he?
Trippier, 28, started most of the season at right-back for Tottenham, including the Champions League final loss to Liverpool. He also played a big role for the England national team during the Three Lions’ run to the 2018 World Cup semifinal, scoring in the fifth minute of the loss to Croatia in the semis.
As we’ve talked about on this site, defense — for a number of reasons, including injuries — was an issue at times for Tottenham in ’18-19. Those injuries and general lack of depth particularly hurt in the Champions League against Manchester City in the quarters and Ajax in the semis. It’s worth noting, though, that Spurs allowed a respectable 39 goals in 38 EPL games. Those 39 goals tied Chelsea for third best overall for the 2018-19 Premier League season.
Atleti is spending a significant sum on a player in an intriguing place after a tremendous World Cup followed by what many viewed as an underwhelming EPL campaign.
However, was this really a “down” year? Peaking at WhoScored historicals, 2018-19 was more or less in line with who Trippier has been his entire career (save for a stellar World Cup showing).
Top to bottom, he’s moving to a weaker league, if we’re going by the ’18-19 season. He’s squarely in his prime right now. And he’s going to a less demanding league and to a manager known for “coaching up” his defense.
And about that: he’s going to a team with a manager who has molded one of the most consistently reliable defenses in Europe. Will he be able to meet Diego Simeone’s high demands for a defender?
Is the price fair?
The €25M fee strikes me as a very fair price for a player who did not top any of the “players to watch this summer” lists that I saw. I could argue Atleti is lucky to get a proven, world-class defender at that price.
Transfermarkt, for what it’s worth, priced Trippier at €35M ($39.3M) earlier this summer.
What impact should we expect?
Trippier will be expected to replace Juanfran at right-back, who was a key cog for Atleti for a long time before leaving this summer at 34. At this point, it’s hard to predict how he’ll perform on a squad that suddenly has a ton of new faces in the back after maintaining impressive continuity for such a long time.
For so long, you could pencil Atleti in as one of the best defensive teams in both Spain and Europe. That’s been good enough to perennially keep them in the La Liga title picture deep into the season – with the team’s ability to win La Liga or make a serious run in the UCL determined by what it could muster offensively.
So far this offseason, which also saw Rodrigo exit to Manchester City, Trippier is the highest-profile replacement for the team’s outgoing veteran defenders. Atleti has also signed defenders Renan Lodi (21) from Brazil’s Athletico Paranaense and Felipe Monteiro (30) from Porto.
UPDATE (July 18, 10:15 a.m. Eastern): During the press conference to announce the Trippier deal, the club also confirmed it signed Espanyol defender Mario Hermoso. Atleti is reportedly paying (again) around €25M for the 24-year-old, who signed a five-year deal.
Trippier’s potential impact is hard to overstate. Considering the turnover elsewhere in the back four, if the Englishman is not solid at his position, Atleti may not be the brick wall we’ve come to expect it to be. And if he’s great, it will just mean his team is maintaining, not improving, at what it already does best. In other words: no pressure!
Atlético Madrid (B): This is a solid B. Again, they get a proven defender at a position of need at a reasonable cost. If Trippier has just 2-3 more years in his prime at the same production level as his last 2-3, that’s money well-spent.
Tottenham (C): This one is harder to understand from Tottenham’s perspective. Do they have another major signing in the works and need to free up a little cash? Was Trippier a locker room problem? Do they really like what they saw from Juan Foyth that much?
Given the modest sum they received for Trippier, it feels like we’ll learn more about Tottenham’s motivation for moving him in the coming weeks.
Who: Matthijs de Ligt
From Where: Ajax
To Where: Juventus
For How Much: €75M fee, (€150m / year escalating release clause)
Grade for Juventus: A-
Grade for Ajax: B+
Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus Overview
Juventus now has two of the biggest stars on the planet.
Anchoring the defense for the foreseeable future is Matthijs de Ligt, one of the most imposing young center-backs we’ve seen in recent memory. His best days are still long in front of him. Up top is Cristiano Ronaldo. His best days are behind him, but he remains a force.
Physical defensive play and toughness have been two staples of Juve throughout their ongoing reign atop Serie A. De Ligt gives the Italians another physical, fearless presence in the back four. It’s hard to overstate how impressive the Dutch defender was throughout Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals, regardless of his age.
After looking that comfortable – and more importantly, playing at such a high level – on Europe’s biggest stage at the age of 19, it’s no surprise he’s been so coveted this summer.
Who is he?
Despite playing a position where even the best players are usually somewhat anonymous, the 19 year-old de Ligt turned many heads during this year’s UCL. While we’re talking about center-backs stealing the show, am I the only one wondering if de Ligt and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk are good enough to change the way (and how much) we talk about players at that position?
Back to de Ligt, though. The teenager has already played two-and-a-half full seasons for Ajax’s senior team (he played just shy of 800 minutes in the Eredivisie in ’16-17). And as if his on-field excellence weren’t remarkable enough, de Ligt was also his club’s captain for its memorable ’18-19 season.
Even for a prodigious talent, it’s extremely unusual to have enough command of a locker room to wear the captain’s armband at less than 20 years old.
Is the price fair?
This is another player you pay whatever it takes to sign. We at High Press Soccer, and seemingly everyone else who watched Ajax in the Champions League, have praised de Ligt ad nauseam at this point. For all the reasons mentioned in this piece, the €75M fee is as “reasonable” as such a sum is ever going to be.
One intriguing aspect of de Ligt’s choice of Juventus is who he didn’t choose. Barcelona was considered by many to be his most likely destination, but did not want to pay him €12M per year for the next 10 years, according to Marca.
What impact should we expect?
This is where this signing gets interesting.
When thinking about the missing ingredients that proved the difference between Juventus and the teams that made it further than the quarterfinals of the UCL this year, defense can’t possibly top the list. While Juve’s back line is hardly this team’s weakness, there’s no denying that de Ligt’s athleticism will be an asset for an aging group.
To that point: no matter how talented they are, most 19-year-olds are role players (not fixtures in their team’s starting XI) for their first season with an elite team. De Ligt will almost certainly be the exception. Veteran Juve center-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini will remain heavily involved, but expect them to spell de Ligt – as opposed to the other way around – as new Manager Maurizio Sarri gives his young stud as many minutes as anyone on Juve’s roster.
Juventus (A-): The issue with paying top dollar for de Ligt is that this team was almost certainly going to cruise through Serie A with no problem, with or without the Dutch star. Their last coach, Max Allegri, just left (we would assume) because reaching the Champions League quarterfinals was not enough. For a team so dependent on 34-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo carrying the offensive load, will de Ligt make the Bianconeri significantly more likely to reach the UCL semis (or further)? I, for one, don’t really think so.
As discussed in greater detail on the latest High Press Pod, de Ligt-to-Barcelona would have made a ton of sense. And whether it was Barcelona, Man United or someone else in the Premier League or La Liga, it would have been fun to see him push himself in one of Europe’s best domestic leagues. After watching him excel against the continent’s best players, European soccer fans (other than diehard Juventus supporters, of course) have to be disappointed that de Ligt joined a team that is unlikely to be challenged domestically.
Having said that, Juventus got a world-class defender at 19 years old, potentially a good 5-6 years before he even hits his prime.
Ajax (B+): After its UCL run, Ajax’s team was going to be picked apart. Losing de Ligt will hurt. If Harry Maguire does end up transferring to Manchester United, here’s the question: would you rather have Maguire for
€88.9m or de Ligt for €75M?
It’s de Ligt all day long, right?
Ajax maybe could’ve gotten a little more from Juventus, or worked out a loan back deal for a year. Regardless, they are flush with the kind of cash they’ve never had in their storied history. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to spend it.
Who: Antoine Griezmann
From Where: Atlético Madrid
To Where: Barcelona
For How Much: €120 million (with a €800 million release clause)
Grade for Barcelona: A
Grade for Atlético Madrid: A
Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona Overview
Finally, the wait is over.
But not without plenty of drama and intrigue.
As soon as Antoine Griezmann announced in mid-May that he was out the door at Atleti, Barcelona became the immediate favorite to land the Frenchman. Griezmann is one of the best forwards in the world, and at 28, he’s squarely in his prime.
He’s also a great fit on a team that probably would have won the Champions League if not for a meltdown in the second leg of the semifinals.
If there was one thing Barcelona was missing the last two seasons without Neymar, it was a consistently reliable third option up top alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Ousmane Dembélé has not been able to stay on the field. Philippe Coutinho (as we’ve mentioned here on High Press Soccer once or twice) did not fill that role. None of Barcelona’s young forward prospects appear ready for such a role, either. As good as Suárez remains, he is 32 and beginning to show signs of his age.
Who is he?
Griezmann needs no introduction at this point. He’s been the best-known player in La Liga outside Barcelona and Real Madrid for some time now.
With at least 15 goals and eight assists in each of the last three seasons, he’s carried a bigger share of a top European team’s offensive load than anyone other than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. His success the last few years is particularly head-turning considering the lack of help he’s had up top at defensive-minded Atleti. It’s a scary thought to consider what Griezmann is capable of alongside Messi and Suarez – does Barcelona once again boast the world’s best attacking trio?
He’s also a proven commodity for the reigning World Cup champs. In terms of hype, Griezmann (and everyone else in the tournament) took a backseat to Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba in Russia. Griezmann, however, still scored four goals (tied for the second-most behind Harry Kane’s six) and tallied two assists for the champs.
At Euro 2016, Griezmann piled up six goals to win the Golden Boot and added two assists. He and Eden Hazard will — barring something completely unforeseen — be the best players to change teams this summer.
Is the price fair?
OK fine, I’ll put it in different words, but the same logic holds true whether you’re talking about Hazard, Griezmann or any other star in their prime.
Yes, the €120 million fee is exorbitant at first glance (and shield your eyes from the €800 million release clause!). But no, it’s not unreasonable.
Consider that similar, if not more, will be spent on players like Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus?) and has been spent on Atléti’s new #7 João Félix. Any team would be thrilled if those players become even 70-80% as productive as Griezmann.
The only two possible red flags with a 28-year-old making a move after so much time in one place are injuries and fit. The former is hardly a concern with a player as durable as Griezmann over the years. And in terms of fit, he’s upgrading his surroundings, dramatically, by moving to one of the best offensive teams in Europe. It doesn’t hurt that he’s linking up with the greatest player we’ve ever seen.
Is anyone in soccer in a better spot than Griezmann, who will be playing alongside Messi for his club and Mbappe for his country for the next phase of his career?
What impact should we expect?
With Hazard as the exception, for most of the players we’ve graded, this section has been where we wonder how much playing time they’ll get.
With Griezmann, the question is whether he’s the difference for his new team between an embarrassing UCL flameout and a European trophy. Griezmann alone does not make Barcelona the favorite to win its first Champions League title since ‘15. However, he’s a massive addition at his team’s biggest position of need. He also adds the athleticism that an aging roster needs more of this upcoming season.
No need to over-complicate this. Barcelona gets an A for getting a potentially transformational player in his prime. He’s the perfect player to lead the transition from Suárez and pair with Messi as he begins to age (if he ever does actually age).
From Atlético’s perspective, they got the full post-July 1st €120m and have already wisely re-invested it on Griezmann’s replacement. They earn a long, drawn-out, painful A as well.
During a recent trip to the United States to promote Liverpool’s preseason tour, Reds legend John Barnes spoke to High Press Soccer about the team’s memorable ’18-19 season.
Liverpool will play July 19 vs. Borussia Dortmund at Notre Dame Stadium, July 21 vs. Sevilla at Fenway Park and July 24 vs. Sporting at Yankee Stadium.
Barnes, now a Liverpool ambassador, talked about whether before the ’18-19 season, he expected 97 points in the Premier League and a Champions League trophy, the second leg of the UCL semifinal vs. Barcelona, the team’s identity under Jürgen Klopp and more.
Liverpool John Barnes HPS Interview
HPS: Did Liverpool’s success this year surprise you?
Barnes: It did. I always felt that if we could keep our 11 players fit and healthy, then we had a chance. Man City’s got a much deeper squad. But in terms of going the whole season losing one game, I don’t think anyone would have expected that. In the English Premier League, what we’re told – and it’s true – is that all teams can beat each other. You can see some of the bottom teams taking points off the top teams.
I didn’t think that Liverpool, or any other team apart from Man City, would have been able to go through a season virtually unbeaten. It shows the togetherness and the harmony and the spirit that Jürgen Klopp has injected in the team. In the game against Barcelona, for example, where we didn’t have Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, to go through with a weaker team shows that the demand that the players are now under to perform under Klopp – regardless of whether you are one of the top players or not – means that they maximize their potential.
Next season, do I expect them to go unbeaten? No. Do I expect them to lose only one game? No. To lose one game and finish on 97 points, one point behind the champion, and win the Champions League, it was incredible.
HPS: Where does the atmosphere for the second leg of the Champions League semifinal vs. Barcelona rank in franchise history?
Barnes: In terms of the passion of the fans and the atmosphere, it’s comparable to anything in the past.
But in terms of the result, that has surpassed any other result in Liverpool history, as far as I’m concerned. Because of course we have overturned deficits, but not against a team like Barcelona, and with a depleted team as we had. And to win 4-0, not just 1-0 or 2-1 to go through, was incredible.
But the atmosphere has always been at Anfield. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that atmosphere was better than the year before or in previous years, but yeah, it was fantastic.
HPS: At what point during the second leg did you start to truly believe the Reds would go through?
Barnes: When it went to 3-0. Even at 2-0, because I really expected Barcelona to score. But looking at the nature of the game after it went 3-0 … I have to say I was disappointed in Barcelona’s response. Not in terms of their attacking, but in terms of the way they were defending and vying for the cause as a team. I’m not talking about expecting them to score, but expecting them to help out and to run around and to try defensively. It was just nonexistent. After it went to 3-0, I felt that was it.
If you look at the first game where we lost 3-0, we should never have lost 3-0. We created enough chances to score a goal, but I didn’t feel that [in the second leg] we would have been able to score four without Salah and Firmino and keep Barcelona out.
HPS: What are your impressions of Klopp, and how does he compare to the managers you played for?
Barnes: He’s completely different to Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness or Roy Evans.
Klopp has brought back an identity to Liverpool. Liverpool always had an identity in the past — the way you played, the profile of the players you had – which I think was lost, but I think he’s now brought that back. It’s a new profile because they’re Klopp-style players. He’s created a new identity which people now understand. Liverpool had been searching for an identity for too long.
It was a bit like what Manchester United are doing now. To go back and recreate an identity from years ago, you can’t do that anymore because football has changed, players have changed …
Klopp has now created a new identity at Liverpool which is synonymous with Liverpool. As much as you may say he’s only been there three years, it’s fully identifiable now. When you see Liverpool play, you know it’s a Liverpool team, you know it’s a Klopp team, you know it’s Klopp-type players.
HPS: How would you describe FSG’s impact on the club?
Barnes: Off the pitch, in terms of the stadium and what they’ve done to give them an opportunity to make the stadium bigger, they upgraded the facilities so that from a financial point of view, there’s money coming in.
On the pitch, all they’ve done is give the manager the opportunity to do whatever he wants. … They’ve supported the manager.
HPS: How do you compare Liverpool’s international fanbase right now to what it was like during your career?
Barnes: I’ve been doing this now for the last 20 years, going to Africa and different places, it’s always been huge. Of course, now [it is more publicized] because of the media attention and the fact that players are now engaging with the fans more. But in terms of the fans always being around the world – Boston, New York, Atlanta, Australia – they’ve always been there. What’s happening now is the club is making a concerted effort to engage with them by having the ex-players go out to a lot of the events.
Before, the fans were always there, they were watching on television, but there wasn’t that connectivity and interaction between the club and the fans. That’s the biggest difference; they’re now connecting with fans all over the world.
Atlético Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann’s summer move to Barcelona has reportedly been in the works for months. But while many expected him to be introduced as a new member of the Catalan club on July 1, he remains a member of Atleti more than one tumultuous week later.
Griezmann’s departure has quickly become an ugly divorce in the Spanish capital. We know that he’s on his way out – his old club wouldn’t have committed a record transfer sum to Portuguese star João Félix if there was any chance Griezmann was staying – but it’s unclear exactly when he’ll join his new team.
Below is our best effort to sort through Barcelona’s latest complicated acquisition of a star forward.
Griezmann to Barcelona History
Early last summer, Griezmann’s days with Atleti appeared numbered.
The longstanding rumors about his desire to join Barcelona were steadily intensifying until June 14, 2018, when he signed a new contract that was set to run through ’23. He not only renewed his deal with the team he’d played for since ’14-15, he did it in dramatic, LeBron James-style fashion.
Griezmann to Barça Summer Transfer
Less than a year later, he and Atleti confirmed he would be part of a massive offseason exodus of longtime key contributors. It was an open secret that the allure of Barcelona had finally become too much for him to resist. Many believed – and reported – that the deal would be signed on July 1, when his release clause would drop from €200M to €120M. Easy enough, right?
Instead, we’ve been reminded that nobody does summer drama quite like Barcelona (Google the club’s signing of Neymar from Santos, or the Brazilian’s move from Barca to PSG, to learn about the two most recent examples). Could this ordeal be responsible for the exit of VP Jordi Mestre last week? Considering the timing, it’s hard to believe the two are completely unrelated.
Back to Griezmann, though. The hangup here is related to Atlético’s anger that Barcelona negotiated with the Frenchman back in February and had an agreement with him by March. Anyone too caught up in the 4th of July weekend missed Atleti releasing a statement expressing their “strongest disapproval” of the behavior of both Griezmann and Barcelona.
The latest development was Griezmann’s absence from Atleti training Sunday and Monday. Atletico said it has opened disciplinary proceedings – with a fine a possibility – as it had ordered Griezmann to attend practice since he’s still under contract.
Now, Barcelona wants to pay the €120M release clause in staggered installments, but Atleti reportedly wants it all at once. To spice things up further, at Atleti’s presentation of Felix, club President Enrique Cerezo called the No. 7 jersey – which will be worn by Felix instead of Griezmann next season — “the shirt of commitment.” If that’s not a shot at the longtime Atleti striker, I don’t what what would be.
What happens next?
I expect that whether Griezmann puts pen to paper this week or next, it won’t be long before his move goes through. He reportedly said on Monday that he’s willing to pay the €120M himself if he has to (in which case Barcelona would reimburse him over time). That seems like the most likely end to the standoff.
The big question is what happens if Atleti can prove Barcelona reached an agreement with Griezmann in March. If it’s proven that a deal was agreed to then, Los Rojiblancos would have a case that Barcelona would have to pay the €200M release clause that was in effect at that time. There has also been speculation that Atleti could demand one of Barcelona’s young players to make the deal go through. That seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened in transfer dealings involving the Catalans.
The safest bet, though, is that Griezmann participates in Barcelona’s summer training, while the legal imbroglio over who gets paid what, and when, drags on for the next year (or five, if the Neymar saga is anything to go by).
His history with Argentina and his age (32) mean that every time his country is eliminated from an international tournament, there will be questions about Lionel Messi’s future with his national team. For now, though, it seems like Messi will play in at least one more Copa America, and probably one last World Cup in 2022.
There was plenty not to like in Tuesday’s Copa America semifinal loss to Brazil: the 2-0 score, for starters, as well as another series of defensive gaffes.
A different Messi reaction than the past
This piece, however, is going to focus on the “positive.” The good news is that Argentina’s latest elimination from South America’s version of the Euro did not end with HPS’ G.O.A.T. appearing deflated and uninterested. Yes, he was bounced from the tournament after scoring just once in five games. But this time, instead of resignation — he literally retired from the national team immediately after his team lost to Chile in the 2016 Copa America final — Messi reacted with raw anger.
And it was directed, at least publicly, at the referees, and not his teammates. Considering Messi’s history, Tuesday night was the rare time it was encouraging to hear a player talk about how bad the officiating was. And was it just me, or did Messi have a point? Judge for yourself based on the clips below, neither of which even resulted in a foul.
In the first, Sergio Aguero certainly appears to be tripped. Brazil put the game away with its second goal on a counter immediately after.
Clear pen against Aguero not given before Brazil scored its second goal. Argentina got absolutely robbed. pic.twitter.com/GeVuPvX0Fx— Matias Wodner, First of His Name (@matiwod) July 3, 2019
And in the clip below, Barcelona’s Arthur absolutely levels Nicolás Otamendi. So while it’s hard to argue that the refs are the reason Argentina was beaten, their gripes are legit.
Second clear pen, this time against Otamendi. CONMEBOL has rigged this Copa America for Brazil. A total football travesty. pic.twitter.com/9dHS7AmwG6— Matias Wodner, First of His Name (@matiwod) July 3, 2019
Going down swinging
Messi’s defiance Tuesday night, when he said, “I don’t think we should feel bad for anything” after insisting the referee’s performance “must be looked into” was noteworthy. It was especially relevant because of his words after the loss in the ’16 Copa America final: “I’ve done all I can.”
His fiery demeanor matched his team’s as a whole, as Argentina lost not due to a lack of effort or fire, but a shortage of experience and talent compared to Brazil. A lack of the latter two is (obviously) no minor issue. It was nevertheless nice to see Argentina play with heart, even as the bad breaks mounted. Between the missed calls and two shots that hit the woodwork, Argentina can make a compelling case that it was unlucky to lose this one.
probably definitely enough about one postgame rant against the refs, though.
A new supporting cast
As strange as it sounds after a Copa America that got off to such a terrible start – Argentina was in legitimate danger of not getting out of its group – there might be reason for long-term optimism. And to answer the question we asked on this site, it turns out that no, Argentina was not en route its biggest Copa America fiasco yet.
Before going any further, I’d like to clarify that I don’t think Argentina will be raising any trophies any time soon.
The roster will, however, be very different, which the Argentine faithful will not mind one bit. By ’22, the veteran players from so many past failures (Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, etc.) will surely be out of the picture. The 2019 versions of those players will not exactly be sorely missed. The same is true for Gonzalo Higuain, who retired from international duty in March.
The question is who fills their shoes. Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez was the closest thing to a non-Messi bright spot in this tournament. The 21-year-old did not play in his team’s first game against Colombia, but scored twice in four games (once against Qatar and once vs. Venezuela) and averaged a solid 3.5 shots per game. He appears to be a solid young complement to Messi up top if he can continue to play at that level.
Who else impressed enough in this tournament to make this team’s future truly encouraging? Unfortunately, no other name immediately comes to mind. This is where I reiterate that this piece aimed to explain why things are not as bad as they were three years ago. Right now, that is the best thing that can be said about a team that remains a painful distance from a coveted major trophy for Messi.
The La Liga table for ’19-20 is finally set: Osasuna (1st in Spain’s second division), second-place Granada and promotion playoff winner Mallorca will be in the top flight. They replace Girona, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano.
Osasuna and Granada secured their places in La Liga weeks ago. The journey for promotion was more memorable for Mallorca, which is owned by Robert Sarver.
Yes, the same Robert Sarver who owns the Phoenix Suns. Also involved in the club are Basketball Hall of Famer/Bleacher Report Football analyst Steve Nash (who is on the board of directors) and ex-U.S. internationals-turned-broadcasters Stu Holden and Kyle Martino (minority stakeholders).
The club also claims tennis legend Rafael Nadal as a fan. The point is: Mallorca isn’t your typical promoted team.
A night to remember
In Sunday’s playoff final against Deportiva La Coruña, Mallorca entered the second leg down 2-0 and in need of a historic effort. They got exactly that, turning in a dominant performance in front of their home fans. Mallorca won 3-0, scoring in the 21st, 62nd and 82nd to set off a chaotic celebration.
Few will compare it to the miracles Liverpool and Tottenham pulled off in the semifinals of this year’s Champions League. Reversing a 2-0 deficit with promotion on the line nevertheless made for memorable scenes on the island, even if the result did not get the headlines a UCL thriller would.
Nash and Holden looked like they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A quick rise from rags to riches
Mallorca has now been promoted in back-to-back seasons. They were relegated to Spain’s non-professional third tier after the ’16-17 season. However, they were promoted to La Liga 123 (as the second tier is titled for sponsorship reasons) after one year in the third tier. This year, a fifth-place finish in the regular season got them into the four-team playoff for the final spot. They knocked off Albacete in the semis to set up the showdown with Deportivo.
Mallorca, which was acquired by Sarver’s group in January 2016, played in La Liga from the ’97-98 season through the ’12-13 campaign. The club won the Copa del Rey in ’03 and plays at the 23,000-seat Iberostar Stadium. It will be interesting to see what kind of investments are made in the squad ahead of next year’s return to Spain’s top flight, as Mallorca’s pockets are much deeper than the typical club that earns promotion.
But will they spend appropriately?
If you follow the NBA, you’re aware that Sarver’s Suns have been inconsistent in sticking to a plan at best, and totally directionless at worst.
Having the likes of Nash involved may help steady some of Sarver’s worst impulses. And if Sarver is less involved due to unfamiliarity / geography, Mallorca could benefit from a sort of “hands off” approach.
Given what a great story Mallorca’s promotion is for La Liga, that would be a major positive for the club and the league.
Based on the players at Tata Martino’s disposal, the 2019 Gold Cup is clearly not a huge deal to a number of El Tri’s biggest stars. But don’t tell that to Mexican fans, who swarmed the area around Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium long before kickoff of Sunday’s doubleheader.
Below are my takeaways from attending Canada’s 7-0 blowout of Cuba and Mexico’s 3-2 win over Martinique last night.
Mexican fans show out
The energy from Mexico’s supporters made the matches feel much more consequential than they were. The sounds of horns and rattles and the sight of countless green and red luchador masks, flags and sombreros among the horde that filled Morehead and Mint Street was something to behold.
I’ve attended a number of Carolina Panthers games, and I would compare the vibe around the stadium to what you’d expect for a late-season NFL game with playoff implications. It was hard to fathom how raucous El Tri’s World Cup matches will be in ’26.
Last night’s atmosphere for Mexico-Martinique was something. Taken from the celebration after the first goal pic.twitter.com/fP5ehPUXVE— Tyler Everett (@MtEverett44) June 24, 2019
The atmosphere was the biggest highlight of the night, as Canada-Cuba was a snoozer in front of a few thousand people.
From there, Mexico and Martinique played an entertaining match before a crowd of 59,283. The lower bowl was packed, and the sections of the upper deck with decent views – the end zones and 50-yard lines – were full as well.
The announced attendance should not have shocked anyone – Mexico has drawn big crowds for previous games in Charlotte – but is still notable. It’s that much more impressive considering no Copa América group stage match has attracted more than 48,000.
As for the on-field action, Mexico looked worthy of their status as tournament favorites. The first goal did not come until the 29th minute on a beautiful finish from LA Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna, whose low left-footed strike beat diving Martinique keeper Loïc Chauvet. Most in the stadium, including the few who weren’t wearing green and red, expected that to be the first of many in a blowout for Mexico. It didn’t play out that way though, as Mexico’s halftime lead was just 1-0.
Martinique equalized in the 56th on an absolutely stunning free kick by Kevin Parsemain. His strike showed that even CONCACAF’s minnows can produce moments of EPL- or La Liga-level quality.
Mexico quickly responded, picking apart the Martinique back line for goals in the 61st (Raúl Jiménez) and 72nd (Fernando Navarro).
Martinique scored in the 84th to make it 3-2 and create a bit of intrigue down the stretch, but never came terribly close to equalizing.
Cuba no match for Canada
It was hard to tell if Cuba is just awful or if Canada really is a threat to Mexico and the USMNT. I have a feeling the truth is somewhere in the middle. Mexico, however, certainly had no problems head-to-head against Canada, winning 3-1 while holding a 69-31 advantage in possession.
As for Canada-Cuba, the score tells you just about everything you need to know. Cuba lost its other two matches 7-0 to Mexico and 3-0 to Martinique, but Canada’s performance was nevertheless impressive. The team’s reputation for a dangerous attack appeared well-deserved on Sunday. Three goals came from 19-year-old Jonathan David, and Lucas Cavallini also recorded a hat trick. Junior Hoilett scored the game’s other goal.
Canada scoring seven times without a goal from Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies is notable, regardless of the opponent. It was also interesting to see Davies line up at left back. It’s hard to imagine we’ll see that in the biggest games of the tournament, but it’s an interesting wrinkle that worked out well Sunday.
Canada’s quarterfinal matchup will take place next Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern, while Mexico’s quarterfinal match-up is scheduled for 10 p.m. that night. Neither team’s opponent has been decided.
At High Press Soccer, we’re in agreement that Lionel Messi is the GOAT. We’d even go so far as to say that it’s not particularly close between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But if he’s so great, his critics ask, why hasn’t he enjoyed more international success with Argentina? It’s a debate that crops up every time Messi’s national team stumbles, and even Barack Obama has recently weighed in on the matter.
This year’s Copa America is poised to be the latest tournament overshadowed by the Messi-Argentina mystery, as La Albiceleste have turned in two disappointing performances in group play. Anyone hoping that it would be a matter of “no Gonzalo Higuaín, no problem,” is quickly learning otherwise. (And maybe starting to realize that Higuaín was not solely responsible for this team’s struggles in last two Copa Américas).
A rough start
Messi and Co. were not good enough to score in a 2-0 loss to Colombia last Saturday. They arguably did not play any better in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Paraguay. It’s one thing to open this tournament with a loss and a draw, but the way Wednesday’s game played out – Argentina’s only goal came on a penalty by Messi after a handball, and Paraguay botched a PK in the 63rd that would have put them ahead – Argentina was lucky to get the draw.
Could a team with the likes of Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María be on the verge of their most disappointing Copa America flameout yet? The losses to Chile in the final in ’15 and ’16 were brutal (both on PKs!), but they would barely register as setbacks compared to a failure to make it out of a group featuring Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar.
The draw against Paraguay means a win over Qatar on Sunday should be enough to advance to the quarterfinals of the 12-team tournament, but Argentina have no margin for error.
Before examining what’s plaguing Argentina at this tournament, let’s look ahead to Sunday’s do-or-die clash with Qatar.
Can Qatar beat them?
Coming into this tournament, it was hard for casual fans to imagine non-South American squads Qatar or Japan making much noise. Qatar, however, is fresh off a surprising Asian Cup title in February. They were led in that tournament by 22-year-old Almoez Ali, who scored an absurd nine goals to lead his team to its first continental trophy. The Asian Cup is a big step down from a Euro or Copa America, but anyone sleeping on a team that scored 19 goals and allowed just one in any major competition is making a big mistake.
It’s quickly become apparent in Brazil that Qatar are no pushover. They fell behind 2-0 in their first Copa America match against Paraguay, but rallied for a 2-2 draw. Ali scored once in that match. Qatar then nearly earned another draw against Colombia, losing 1-0 as Colombia scored the game-winner in the 86th.
Considering they have to win to advance, I would bet on Argentina doing enough to stay alive, but I don’t think they will do so comfortably. A loss would not surprise me, though, and I can’t imagine anyone who’s watched these teams recently would be stunned to see Qatar pull the upset.
What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, the issues are myriad. The defense looks slow at times and disorganized at others. Keeper Franco Armani has also had a shaky moment or two, and nearly put his team down 1-0 with an awful pass in the first half against Colombia.
Argentina’s midfield is also struggling to link up with Messi and the rest of the Argentine attack, a familiar issue for this team.
Up top, Messi is (surprise, surprise) being asked to do way too much. A picture says a thousand words — and all of them express anger and/or disappointment if you’re an Argentina supporter.
Is it just me, or do we get an image or two like this from every major tournament Messi plays in?
*We’ll save the talk about whether this might be Messi’s last match in blue and white for after his team is eliminated (or crowned champion, to cover our bases), but keep an eye on High Press Soccer for that piece.
The Gold Cup starts Saturday when Canada takes on Martinique at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Most coverage Stateside this week has focused on the USMNT’s awful form in its last two matches. There’s plenty more to be said about whether Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. can make a run in this tournament.
This piece, though, is going to focus whether El Tri and the U.S. are as far ahead of the field as the oddsmakers seem to think they are.
One of the most interesting things from the betting angle is how similar the odds at DraftKings Sportsbook NJ are for Mexico (+145) and the U.S. (+175) to win the Gold Cup. I hate to overreact to two friendlies, but the U.S. looked so far from competent against Jamaica and Venezuela (especially in the latter) that I think the lines for this tournament’s traditional juggernauts should be further apart.
Are the current odds due to skepticism about Tata Martino or optimism about the impact Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley will have? Is the U.S. essentially having home-field advantage being overestimated?
Mexico, U.S. appear beatable
Upon a closer look at who El Tri has available, the main reason is pretty obvious. This is not quite Mexico’s B team, but it’s certainly not the line-up they would have if this were a World Cup. Mexico is missing Chicharito, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela, to name just a few key contributors that won’t be suiting up.
For the U.S., playing without Tyler Adams or John Brooks will be difficult. Does anyone on this roster other than Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, 31-year-old Michael Bradley and 29-year-old Jozy Altidore inspire a lot of confidence? Are four proven commodities enough to win a Gold Cup?
Considering all the cause for concern around Mexico and the U.S., if it were possible to bet on “the field” vs. those two, I’d give the field a long, hard look.
ESPN’s SPI does not agree, as it gives the U.S. a 43.4% chance to win, followed by Mexico (30.7%), Costa Rica (12.4%), Canada (2.8%) and Panama (2.7%).
It’s well-documented that in Gold Cup history, someone other than Mexico or the U.S. has won this tournament just once (Canada in 2000). The payout if anyone bets on someone other than those two will be substantial, as Costa Rica has the third-best odds but is a massive underdog at +850, followed by Jamaica (+1,800).
Below are a few underdogs worth keeping an eye on:
There is more buzz around them than there has been in a long time. The first name that comes to mind when thinking of this team is Alphonso Davies, who is among the top players to watch. The teenage Bayern Munich striker was excellent in the 2017 Gold Cup, scoring three goals in four matches. Canada, whose FIFA ranking is No. 78, is a long shot to win the whole thing, but could very well make a run. At +3,300 to raise the trophy, they’re worth a flier (this will be a common refrain).
As far as sides in this field that have given the USMNT trouble historically, Costa Rica is at the top of the list (though Trinidad and Tobago has caused an issue or two). It also has the highest FIFA ranking (38) after Mexico (18) and the U.S. (24). Los Ticos will be missing keeper Keylor Navas, but if I’m betting on anyone other than the favorites, it’s Costa Rica. Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, 26, are both proven players in World Cups. There aren’t many teams in “the field,” if any, with two veterans with their pedigree, even if the 33-year-old Ruiz is past his prime.
The last intriguing dark horse I could see hoisting the trophy is Jamaica, which finished second in both ’15 and ’17. For one thing, the Reggae Boyz have by far the best nickname in this tournament. More importantly, the No. 56 team in the FIFA ranking should enter the Gold Cup with confidence after beating the U.S. 1-0 on June 5th.
Anyone looking to really roll the dice may want to think about Curacao, which is led by a pair of ’18-19 EPL players in Everton’s Cuco Martina (on loan this season at Feyenoord) and Leandro Bacuna of Cardiff City. At +25,000 to win, if they aren’t the definition of “why not?” then who is?
Who: Ferland Mendy
From Where: Lyon
To Where: Real Madrid
For How Much: €48M
Grade for Real Madrid: B
Grade for Lyon: B+
Ferland Mendy to Real Madrid Overview
As expected, Real Madrid really is not messing around this summer. Mendy is now RM’s fourth addition for significant money, following the March signing of Porto’s Eder Militão and last week’s moves for Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard. A week after bolstering their attack, Los Blancos have now added another young defender to the mix alongside Militão, who is 21. The 24-year-old Mendy is joining RM on a six-year deal.
Who is he?
Mendy was a key cog for a Lyon team that finished third in Ligue 1 this year behind annual runaway champion PSG and second-place Lille. Lyon also advanced as far as any French club in the Champions League – both Lyon and PSG bowed out in the round of 16.
Lyon was an above-average defensive team (47 goals allowed in 38 Ligue 1 matches) thanks largely to Mendy and 22-year-old Tanguy Ndombele. Mendy also performed well in the Champions League this year, playing 707 minutes in eight appearances and earning a solid 6.82 WhoScored rating in the UCL.
No, that’s not a head-turning rating, but most defenders have ratings on the low side against Lionel Messi and Co., who eliminated Lyon 5-1 on aggregate in the round of 16. The encouraging thing for Mendy and Lyon was Leg 1 of that match-up, when they notched a shutout.
Mendy also has three caps for France, including a start in Tuesday’s 4-0 romp over Andorra.
Is the price fair?
It seems to me like RM is paying quite a bit for a player I haven’t seen on many “best young talent in Europe” lists. A big reason for that is that defenders get far less notoriety than attacking players, but still.
Mendy is on the younger side at 24, but is by no means a teenage prodigy. I believe that’s worth mentioning because €48M makes a lot more sense for a 19-year-old with Mendy’s accomplishments and experience (this was just his second season in Ligue 1) than it does for a player in his mid-20s. The price tag does make more sense when we remember that in addition to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and PSG were all hoping to sign him.
What impact should we expect?
Manager Zinedine Zidane has made his interest in Mendy well-known for weeks. Zidane is obviously well-connected in France and probably has as much info on the player as anyone outside Ligue 1. Is Zidane so high on him that we should expect Mendy to see a ton of minutes in his first year? That is the €48M question.
One of the many players for Real Madrid who struggled for most of ’18-19 was Marcelo. Mendy, in terms of physical talent (insert comment about Marcelo being out of shape last season here), has a great shot to beat the 31-year-old Brazilian for that spot. But Marcelo is a veteran fixture at RM, so that battle figures to be a compelling one.
Few teams among this year’s Champions League are quarterfinalists will lose more than Atlético Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann, the team’s top offensive threat in recent years, has confirmed his departure, which is a massive loss (you’re welcome for the newsflash). If it seems like he produced a disproportionate share of his team’s offense in each of his five seasons with Atletico Madrid, it’s because he did. Below is a quick look at his production in domestic play since ‘14-15:
2014-15: 22 goals, 1 assist
2015-16: 22 goals, 5 assists
2016-17: 16 goals, 8 assists
2017-18: 19 goals, 9 assists
2018-19: 15 goals, 9 assists
As if the loss of Griezmann were not enough, the club will also lose Juanfran, Diego Godín and Lucas Hernández. The loss of those players, one year after Gabi walked away, means that Koke will be one of the few staples of the last several years who is still around next season
To continue with the tough reading for Atleti supporters, now keeper Jan Oblak is reportedly interested in a move. We should also mention here that Filipe Luís has an uncertain future with the club as well.
The good news (not there’s truly a positive way to spin this) is that Atleti is going to have some money to spend for a change. Though his former team, Real Sociedad, will get a percentage of the release clause for Griezmann, Atlético should still be left with nearly €100M from his exit. Hernández also left for a hefty fee that should help his former team restock the cupboard.
Despite all the revenue the team has made the last few years as its standing both on and off the pitch has improved, it has not become a destination for elite talent. That’s going to have to change this summer, though.
Without some significant additions to offset the loss of Griezmann — not that he’s someone you should expect to “replace” — it’s hard to see Diego Simeone’s team making much noise in La Liga, much less the Champions League. Here’s to hoping Los Rojiblancos can work some transfer magic and prevent La Liga from reverting back to a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Let’s Go Shopping: Atlético Madrid
Tyler: Let’s transition from the hand-wringing to the shopping part of this feature. Few players, regardless of position, are more highly-sought than Benfica’s João Félix. Atleti, along with Manchester United and Manchester City, is among the teams that have been mentioned the most as Félix’s next home. Could he choose to become the next Portuguese star to score his goals in the Spanish capital?
Chops: I don’t think that Atleti is Félix’s ultimate home, although I get the thinking about him wanting more first team minutes there vs. a situation like City.
In general, I think Atleti have a major problem: if you’re a top-tier offensive talent, why would you want to go there? Yes, Griezmann found success in the system, but it’s not one that makes Madrid a top destination for first-tier young talent.
Tyler: I won’t rule this out, but based on Los Rojiblancos’ history (not only their unwillingness to spend, but also their lack of appeal to top strikers), I’d certainly be surprised. However, you can’t overlook the first team playing time issue. Atléti can build their offense around Félix. City can’t.
Chops: The type of players Atlético should target–and ultimately the only ones I think they could get–are the second-tier offensive creators. They should look at once-productive stars who are languishing with teams now.
Romelo Lukaku would be interesting for them. Had this been two years ago, a good two-way midfielder like Naby Keita would’ve made sense. While too dainty to be the kind of stout defender who would excel at Atleti, a reclamation project like Philippe Coutinho would be a huge boost in helping them break down defenses (assuming the old Coutinho is still in there, somewhere).
Tyler: I like the idea of Lukaku. Maybe I’m just excessively impressed/traumatized by what he did to the U.S. in the World Cup five (!) years ago, but I’ve always believed in Lukaku. I’ve been puzzled (admittedly from afar) by his relatively unsuccessful stint with Manchester United, but let’s remember that he’s still only 26. He remains a talented scorer and seems like a player whose physicality would fit in well with Atleti. Could he be had for around €50M or less?
Chops: Agree about his physicality being a fit. If you add €10M, then the price you mention I actually think is in the ballpark of what United could fetch (although it’s a far cry from what he’s theoretically valued). He just seems like the right kind of player for Atlético.
The other types of players Atlético should target are the talents left standing in the musical chairs shuffling from top teams. If Manchester City is ready to move on from Leroy Sané, he’s the right age and has the right goal-scoring mentality that would help lessen the blow from losing Griezmann. If Real Madrid can’t find the right price on Christian Eriksen, he’s actually a great fit for their midfield.
On one hand, Atlético Madrid is absolutely an elite top-tier club. On the other, in the context of offensive players, they’re a notch well below the more attractive open systems played by Liverpool, City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and others.
Tyler: I think you’re all over it re: talented players that top teams like City, RM and Barca are forced to sell to afford their outlays for the Eden Hazards of the world.
I think Eriksen will end up either staying at Tottenham or joining RM. Coutinho is an interesting possibility. Speaking of him, it will be fascinating to see how much anyone is willing to spend on him. Though he’s just one year removed from being an elite producer in the more grueling Premier League, he’s coming off a disaster of a season and I have no clue how much Barcelona will be able to get for him.
Chops: Just as an aside–has anyone had a worse transfer ever in the history of soccer than Coutinho? Like, that has to damage his psyche forever, right? You whine your way out of a great situation at Anfield, go to Barcelona and get booed off the pitch every game. You watch your former club get much better after you leave, then go on to lose a Champions League game in the most epic of spectacular meltdowns in front of the home crowd you spurned. And your former team goes on to win the biggest soccer competition in the world after embarrassing you on your old home field. It’s like he dumped a girl, but that girl became a super model overnight and dated the world’s biggest celebrity who is also hung like an elephant and then you were forced to watch them have sex right in front of you while her family stood behind you and laughed at you the whole time.
Anyway, where were we?
Tyler: Wow, that escalated, and is going to be tough to follow. At this point, I honestly have no idea where we were. But to answer your first question, no, I can’t think of a transfer that has gone worse, and after you put it the way you did, it’s hard to imagine any move from one elite team to another working out any worse. To wrap up the Coutinho portion of this piece, I don’t see him as a fit on a team that places so much emphasis on physical toughness.
To leave your beloved Coutinho alone, for now … until very recently, Oblak’s future at the club seemed secure. However, he has said this week that he wants out — apparently he’s hoping for a move to Manchester United. Considering all the other players on the way out, the loss of Oblak would be huge. No Simeone-coached team is going to become a sieve in one offseason, but replacing so many veteran defenders and Oblak would be a hell of a task, to make the understatement of the summer.
One possible GK target for Atleti would be Keylor Navas, who is likely leaving Real Madrid. Staying in Spain — and sticking with the idea of a former rival joining Simeone’s side — Jasper Cillessen is expected to leave Barcelona. Could he join Atlético? Chops, are there any keepers from the EPL who are on the move?
Chops: First, if Oblak leaves, that’s another massive blow. It’s crazy to think a team that just finished second in La Liga and consistently plays Champions League football isn’t more desirable for in-house talent. If you’re Oblak, why would you leave Madrid for Manchester United? What’s the draw? To play in worse weather on a rebuilding mess of a squad?
The only Premier League goalie who comes to mind as a getable option is Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge. He was the best statistical GK in the Premier League the last month of the season, and Liverpool has shown us the benefits of mining unearthed gems from relegated teams. At 29, he’s on the older side of his prime curve, but could serve as a one- to two-season stop-gap while they find the next great keeper.
Tyler: For what it’s worth, apparently Oblak’s upset about the team’s inability to keep its top players other than him. But I’m with you, it makes no sense to leave Atleti because it’s losing defenders, especially when your apparent preference is to go play for a Manchester United side that struggled mightily in the back end this year.
Let’s wrap this up by talking about some under-the-radar signings this team could make. Hector Herrera is a player the Spanish papers expect to join the fold at some point this summer. The Mexican midfielder, 29, currently plays for Porto. A few other names I’ve seen linked to this club are Eintracht Frankfurt forward Ante Rebic and Juve’s Rodrigo Bentancur.
Both are intriguing possibilities, especially the 21-year-old Bentancur, who could look to become the next Uruguayan to hold down Atleti’s back line after Godín’s long tenure in Madrid. Two other options are 20-year-old midfielder Exequiel Palacios from Argentina’s River Plate and Real Madrid’s Mariano, who was not a factor in his first season at RM.
Chops: I like where your head is at with Palacios. That’s one that would make some sense to grow up.
One target I like for them is midfielder José Campaña from Levante. He is right in his prime (26), plays strong and aggressively defensively (12 yellow cards last year), and services through balls well (9 assists). At €15m, he doesn’t break the bank but is a good building piece for whoever your next striker is.
Tyler: Based on this team’s history, Atlético is not going to be adding any household names. Throughout their run, they’ve kept winning despite quiet summers, but they’ve never experienced roster attrition like this. They’re not the highest-profile team in Europe, but to me, they have the most interesting summer ahead of anyone.
While Real Madrid has wasted no time adding new pieces to bounce back from a miserable season, the rest of Europe’s top teams have not yet made many splashes.
Below are five questions worth considering this summer as the Premier League looks to follow up on an incredible season in Europe. How will the rest of the continent’s top teams look to dethrone Champions League winner Liverpool, Europa League champ Chelsea and FFP violating Manchester City?
1. Will the EPL give us two more all-England European finals?
I doubt it. I have no questions about how loaded Liverpool and Manchester City will be. And honestly, even if they stagnated or regressed a bit, they’d likely be the two best teams in Europe again next season.
Tottenham, however, was extremely fortunate to make it as far as they did in the Champions League. I expect Spurs to finish around the top four in the Premier League again next season, but elimination in the UCL round of 16 seems as likely as another trip to the final. This club has a fascinating summer ahead. Will Manager Mauricio Pochettino return? Will Christian Eriksen leave for another club? Last but not least is the question of whether this team will finally make a notable offseason addition or two.
As for Chelsea, their best player, Eden Hazard, is already gone. Manager Maurizio Sarri also has a very uncertain future with the club. The addition of Christian Pulisic will make them fun to watch, especially for U.S. fans, but the loss of Hazard and a managerial transition will make it tough to finish in third place in the Premier League again.
Arsenal narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification for ’19-20, but along with Manchester United, they will be major threats in the Europa League (not exactly music to the ears of either team’s fans). Manchester United, as usual, promises to have one of the most interesting offseasons of anyone. Could Matthijs de Ligt join them and shore up the defense? Is Paul Pogba on his way out?
*Want more on this topic? Check out this week’s High Press Pod.
2. Will Real Madrid’s marquee transfers return the club to European glory?
Club President Florentino Pérez is clearly not going to spare any expense this summer.
Luka Jovic and Hazard have already moved to the Spanish capital, and will surely not be the last high-profile moves by RM. The question is whether Zinedine Zidane and his new players can make a run in the Champions League or La Liga after finishing 19 points behind Barcelona this year – and eight behind second-place Atlético Madrid.
Few teams will be more interesting to watch early next season as we see whether the new-look squad can make Madridistas forget a nightmarish first season without Cristiano Ronaldo.
3. Where will Antoine Griezmann land, and how will his absence affect his former team?
When Griezmann first announced his departure from Atleti, a move to Barcelona seemed like a certainty. So why haven’t we heard an announcement yet? There are a couple possible explanations. For one thing, it’s been reported in several places that the Frenchman’s release clause in his Atlético contract will drop from €200M to around €125M on July 1. That would certainly explain why Barcelona would want to wait a few more weeks.
Speaking of reports to be taken with a grain of salt, Barcelona-based Sport has claimed the Barça locker room is opposed to a Griezmann signing. Could this be the reason Griezmann ends up elsewhere? (I admit I have no idea how to answer that). What I do know is that Atleti’s top striker is leaving a team that often struggled to score with him in the line-up, making his exit a huge blow to Los Rojiblancos.
4. How depleted will Ajax be by the end of this summer?
We know that stars Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) and Matthijs de Ligt (??) are leaving Amsterdam. Those players’ departures have been certainties for months.
A slew of their teammates are also going to be in high demand after shining in the Champions League. Hakim Ziyech (26), Donny van de Beek (22) and David Neres (22) are at the top of the list because of their age. Will the massive fees the club receives for de Jong and de Ligt be enough to keep the rest of the roster largely intact? You would like to think so if you’re an Ajax supporter.
However, if a top EPL or La Liga side goes all-in on one of them with an offer of around €50M or €60M, it will be extremely interesting to see how Ajax reacts.
5. Will João Félix move to the EPL?
The 19-year-old Benfica star has been one of the most widely discussed teenagers in the world for quite some time. The question is whether this was his last season outside the continent’s top leagues. The hype around Félix is about more than flashy YouTube highlight videos, as he scored 15 goals and added seven assists in Portugal’s top flight this year in just 1,736 minutes. He alone is reason to tune in (if for some reason CR7 alone isn’t enough for you) to Sunday’s Nations League final between Portugal and the Netherlands at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.
Right now, it seems to be a battle between Manchester United and Manchester City, despite Félix having no shortage of suitors. Benfica’s buyout clause for the player is €120M. He said this week that he will decide on his future after the Nations League final. Time will tell whether he means next week or next month, but either way, it will be one of the most important decisions of the summer.
For a quick look at what he’s capable of, check out what he did vs. Eintracht Frankfurt in Leg 1 of this year’s Europa League quarterfinals.
3 goals, an assist, and a penalty-forcing pass from 19-year-old Joao Felix 🇵🇹— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) April 11, 2019
Not bad at all 👏 pic.twitter.com/wvNIdcM7Wf
Who: Eden Hazard
From Where: Chelsea
To Where: Real Madrid
For How Much: £88.5M (add-ons could take it to £130M)
Grade for Real Madrid: A
Grade for Chelsea: B
Eden Hazard to Real Madrid Overview
Real Madrid’s busy week continues with the signing of Eden Hazard, who is likely the highest-profile – and best – player who will be changing teams this summer.
As we’ll do for each major signing this summer, below is High Press Soccer’s breakdown of the transaction:
Who is he?
Hazard, 28, leaves Chelsea after scoring 110 goals and piling up 81 assists in seven seasons at Stamford Bridge.
The Belgian appears squarely in the middle of his prime: he scored 16 goals and had 15 assists in the EPL this year. Last year, he scored 12 goals. Dating back to ’13-14, he’s scored at least a dozen goals in the EPL in five of the last six years.
In addition to his consistency, another of Hazard’s strengths is his positional versatility. He’s proven that he’s capable of playing well just about anywhere in the midfield or up top. That will come in handy at a team as in flux as Los Blancos. Expect him to be as impactful as any transfer this summer.
Is the price fair?
RM is certainly paying an arm and a leg, but that’s to be expected for such a proven commodity.
It’s been reported that Real Madrid is paying at least £88.5M (€100 million/$112M USD) – a figure that could reach £130M based on add-ons (which are presumably incentive-based).
I don’t have anything too profound to say on the cost: this is simply what players with this kind of pedigree go for. If I’m a Madridista, I’m OK with this price because of how consistent Hazard has been for such a long time.
Teams who spend this kind of money on young players are making a massive gamble; the risk is much lower on a player who’s played this well for this long. The flip side of that is that at 28, Hazard is not exactly an up-and-comer. We should still, however, expect to see another four of five years of him as one of the best players in the world.
What impact should we expect?
As has been established at this point, Hazard is a mega-star who will provide a much-needed boost to his new team. The only question is fit. His versatility is more of a blessing than anything, but it does make you wonder where he should line up for Zinedine Zidane. Playing him up top alongside Karim Benzema, who prefers to play centrally, seems like the best move IMO, but time will tell.
Having two players who are as good at facilitating for their teammates as Hazard and Benzema should make RM extremely dangerous. The only potential issue is chemistry/fit, as both players like to have the ball.
Despite all that, it’s really hard to imagine this addition being anything other than a huge boost for a team that sorely lacked both playmaking and goal-scoring this past season.
But before moving on from this year’s thrilling UCL, let’s recognize the tournament’s Starting XI. The emphasis is on everything that happened in the round of 16 and after, so yes, the semifinalists are going to make up the bulk of this group (which to be fair, they should).
2019 Champions League Starting XI
To keep things simple, we’ll line them up in a 4-3-3.
Keeper: Alisson (Liverpool)
This was the easiest decision.
Alisson would likely have been the pick before Saturday’s final vs. Tottenham. His work with the trophy on the line, particularly after the 70th minute, cemented his place in the line-up. He recorded clean sheets in both the second leg of the semifinals vs. Barcelona (when one slip-up would have meant his team was eliminated) and in the finals for a strong finish to an excellent season both domestically and in Europe.
Center-backs: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) and Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)
As we’ve said several times – most recently on this week’s High Press Pod – VVD was absolutely impenetrable. He was the most impressive player on the pitch in Leg 2 against Barcelona and somehow played even better against Spurs in the final. No one had more to do with Tottenham generating next to nothing for the first 70 minutes of the final than van Dijk.
De Ligt also has an unquestioned place in this group. Ajax turned heads with their attacking play in the midfield and up top. But they would not have made the semifinals without their defense quietly being rock-solid.
Real Madrid never got anything going in Leg 2 of the round of 16 until it was too late, and Juventus was lucky to score in Leg 2 of the quarters as de Ligt and the Ajax back line were stout.
He also added impressive goals on headers against Juve in Leg 2 of the quarters and in Leg 1 of the semis. If not for a still-incomprehensible meltdown against Spurs, the 19-year-old (!) and his teammates would have gone down as the biggest Champions League story in years, regardless of the outcome in the final.
Left-back: Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Andy Robertson is the choice at LB by a hair. It was tempting to ignore natural positions here and go with Gerard Piqué. But while his team’s meltdown at Anfield was hardly his fault, in a close call, I’m going with the player on the winning side of that unforgettable evening.
Speaking of left-back, if you’d have told me before Leg 2 of the semis that I wouldn’t have Jordi Alba in the UCL Starting XI, I’d have wondered what on earth was about to happen. Well, Alba made two uncharacteristic mistakes that led directly to Reds goals in Leg 2 of the semis, making it impossible to put him in this line-up.
TAA was an easier decision at right-back. He and Robertson combined to make bigger offensive contributions than any other defensive duo in this tournament. They did that without any drop-off on their own end. For that, they’ll go down as two of the biggest heroes of this run. The Liverpool native also came up with one of the most memorable plays of the year. Everyone will remember the carelessness by Barcelona that allowed it to happen, but TAA’s feed to Divock Origi for the semifinal-winner in the 79th was perfect and should not be forgotten.
Midfield: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax), Lucas Moura (Tottenham), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
De Jong was among the easiest decisions. No midfielder was more consistently impressive throughout the tournament. His versatility and ability to cover the entire field were evident against RM, Juve and Tottenham. Despite how young and unknown most of the Ajax roster was before the UCL, it was hard to consider the Dutch club a “scrappy underdog” after watching de Jong and de Ligt for a game or two, regardless of their age.
I’m going to allow one burst of brilliance to completely sway me on Lucas Moura. His one-half hat trick, including one of the most incredible game-winners you’ll ever see not just in a Leg 2 semifinal–but anywhere ever– gives him a spot here.
His team was dead in the water and had been dominated for three halves before he took over and stunned Ajax. Other than CR7 in Leg 2 of the round of 16 vs. Atleti, no player singlehandedly influenced a result more than Moura, who became an improbable Spurs legend.
We’ll round out the midfield with the player who was the most fun to watch. Hakim Ziyech’s swagger stood out, even on a team full of players with no shortage of confidence. His talent and speed justified his daring approach, as he made opposing fans hold their breath every time he got the ball.
In addition to his goals against RM (one in each leg) and vs. Spurs in Leg 2 of the semis, he also tallied assists vs. Juve and Tottenham. And it wasn’t just the eye test or the goals: Only two players in the WhoScored UCL XI (Lionel Messi and Raheem Sterling) finished the tournament with a higher rating than Ziyech’s 7.7. Here’s to hoping we haven’t seen the last of him in Amsterdam.
Forwards: Messi (Barcelona), Sterling (Manchester City), Son Heung-min (Spurs)
There were plenty of choices here, but Lionel Messi’s ridiculous production – 12 goals and three assists – made him an indisputable pick.
The fact his team failed to reach the semifinals with the most talented roster in Europe is the reason Raheem Sterling is the lone Manchester City representative. They couldn’t be left off altogether, though, and Sterling (five goals, two assists) struck me as the best pick. He was tremendous against Tottenham in a losing effort in Leg 2 of the quarters, scoring twice. In most years, that game would have been the most incredible one of the tournament, but Liverpool and Tottenham had other ideas in the semis.
Sticking with that game, the last spot goes to Son Heung-min, who carried his team time and again – domestically and in Europe – when Harry Kane was unavailable this season.
His goal in Leg 1 of the quarterfinals vs. Manchester City came on one of the best individual efforts of the UCL, and he came up huge again in Leg 2 of that match-up, scoring twice. Though he was quiet in the semis and final, more than one player from the runners-up had to get some recognition here, and Son was Spurs’ Champions League MVP.
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
Though the logical pick might be Jurgen Klopp, I’ll go against the grain and give the nod to Pochettino. It’s hard to imagine any other coach leading his players to the finals considering the obstacles they faced (did I mention they had to knock off Manchester City??) and how shorthanded they were. It’s also hard to blame him for the loss in the final after the way that game played out.
In the end, a tough break in the opening minutes and a significant talent shortage compared to Liverpool denied his team a trophy, but Pochettino nevertheless deserves a ton of credit.
Who: Luka Jovic
From Where: Eintracht Frankfurt
To Where: Real Madrid
For How Much: €60M
Grade for Real Madrid: B
Grade for Eintracht Frankfurt: B
Luka Jovic to Real Madrid Overview
Real Madrid’s offseason overhaul is officially underway.
On Tuesday, Los Blancos finalized their widely expected signing of 21-year-old Serbian Luka Jovic. Real Madrid announced the contract will run through June 30, 2025.
As we’ll do for each major signing this summer, below is High Press Soccer’s breakdown of the transaction:
Who is he?
Jovic has been one of the most sought-after young players in the world for months thanks to his deft scoring touch.
Players as productive at the age of 21 as Jovic was in a league like the Bundesliga (17 goals, 5 assists this year) will always be coveted, and Jovic was no exception. His success was not limited to domestic play this year, either, as he scored in both legs of the UEL semifinals against Chelsea. His WhoScored rating of 8.45 in Leg 2 of that matchup also shows how well he played throughout the game, in addition to finding the net. That capped an extremely productive Europa League run in which he scored 10 times in 14 games.
He could, however, use some work on his celebrations.
One of the most interesting/impressive things about Jovic is his versatile finishing. His 17 Bundesliga goals included eight with his left foot and six with his right, to go with three headers, according to Bundesliga.com.
Is the price fair?
As will probably be the case with nearly every major signing this summer, there’s no consensus on the fee RM is paying. It’s either €60M, €65M or €70M, depending on which outlet you believe.
Jovis is by no means cheap, but several players will be on the move this summer for bigger fees. It’s hard to overpay for a 21-year-old with Jovic’s finishing ability. I wouldn’t call this a bargain, but I do consider it a reasonable fee.
What impact should we expect?
Jovic will likely be a key contributor to a club that, as we’ve mentioned, sorely missed CR7 this year. Karim Benzema was solid from start to finish – scoring 21 goals and adding six assists – but no one else was consistent enough.
Vinicius showed flashes, and will have a chance to establish himself next season, but is by no means entrenched up top. Isco will be eager to bounce back from a year to forget. RM also has other options, but the playing time will be there for Jovic if he’s as good as advertised.
An attacking trio of Benzema, Vinicius and Jovic would potentially be a lot for opposing defenses to handle, but questions surround Benzema (due to his age), Vinicius (far from proven at this point) and Jovic (if for no other reason than the fact this was just his second season playing major minutes).
Before transfer season officially takes over La Liga, let’s look at what the biggest storylines in Spain will be this summer and going into ’19-20.
The initial plan was to cover Barcelona and their top competitors in one piece, but it quickly became apparent that Barça warranted a story of their own.
It’s unclear at this point what Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will look like next season, but we can rule out either team running it back. We’ll also look at Valencia, and whether they can play the way they did the second half of this year – and in the Copa del Rey — for all of ’19-20.
New-Look Los Blancos
The second RM was eliminated from the Champions League by Ajax in the round of 16 in March, the wheels were already turning on an offseason overhaul. Throughout this entire season, Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence was beyond glaring. Other than one brief stretch in February, it was hard to believe this team had won the Champions League the last three (!) seasons.
Zinedine Zidane will likely revamp this roster from top to bottom, and there’s a good chance next year’s primary starting XI will barely resemble this year’s. Before getting into the “rampant transfer speculation” portion of this piece, it’s worth pointing out that Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos will all be back.
Let’s start with the players on the way out. We have seen the last of Gareth Bale in Madrid, right? Zidane made it clear he’s unimpressed, giving Bale few opportunities even after the team was locked into third place in La Liga. The problem is that offloading a player with a contract like Bale’s is going to be extremely difficult.
The list of players whose RM tenures are likely over (including a few on loan this season) also features James Rodriguez (on loan at Bayern Munich), Mateo Kovacic (on loan at Chelsea), Marcos Llorente and Dani Ceballos.
RM are going to need all the money they can get from the sales of those players. Eden Hazard’s move to Madrid is all but a formality, and he could be just one of several splashy additions. Speculation linking Paul Pogba to this team has yet to be put to rest. Rather than list every star who has been “linked” to Los Blancos the last month or two, though, let’s mention the all-but-done deals for Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic and Porto’s Eder Militao (that contract has already been signed) and move on.
On a scale of 1-10 (10 being second half at Anfield in the UCL semis-worried), how threatened should Barcelona feel?
Maybe a 6???
Hazard is among the best players in the world, and his impact will be massive. However, this team was too flawed in the midfield and defensively for one attack-minded player – not that Hazard will be the only key addition — to make this group 20-some points better in La Liga.
I can see Zidane getting the players he wants this offseason and righting the ship. Regardless, Los Blancos should not be a major threat to Barcelona until ’20-21.
Atlético enters a new era
Already gone are Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godín (who is expected to sign with Inter Milan). Few players on this roster have played bigger roles for one of the toughest teams in Europe over the last several years. In fact, of Atleti’s four captains this year – Griezmann, Godin, Koke and Juanfran – only Koke is expected to be back. Defender Lucas Hernandez is already out the door as well.
Atlético will surely spend more than usual this summer. That being said, Diego Simeone will almost certainly be working with a less talented group than the one he’s had the last few years. As long as Simeone is the coach, I’d suspect this team will be hard to score on. That will mean they are likely to win more than they lose and remain an opponent nobody wants to face.
However, unless they add some serious star power this summer, it’s hard to imagine Los Rojiblancos challenging Barcelona or making another deep run in the Champions League.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll say 4.
It’s hard to even guess what this roster will look like since Atleti is not nearly as widely discussed as its rivals, but it’s tough to imagine this team bringing in more than it lost. For a group that never really was on Barcelona’s heels this year after February, I’d imagine third or fourth place is more likely than first or second in ’19-20.
Is Valencia quietly the team Barcelona should be most afraid of?
If we go by head-to-head results this year, then yes.
In three games against the Catalans this year, Valencia recorded two draws in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey final — as predicted here. They remain under the radar for most fans, but their goals allowed – just 35 in 38 La Liga matches – makes them a bit of an Atleti-lite, at least at first glance.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll go with a 5. Because of the strong defense they played all season and their solid finish – they played as well as anyone other than Barcelona the last half of the year – Valencia could enter ’19-20 as a dark horse candidate to break up the Barcelona-RM-Atleti trio atop the La Liga table.
I’ll believe that when I see it, though. For one thing, even if they play the way they did over their final 19 games this season, they’re going to have to become much better in the final third. It’s impressive that they won as many games as they did without a go-to scorer, but you’re not going to compete with Barcelona (and probably won’t keep up with RM or ATM, either) if you score just 51 goals in 38 games and your leading scorer (Dani Parejo) only finds the net nine times.
I certainly think, however, that Valencia have a shot to stay near the top of the table. A hard-fought, three-way battle featuring Valencia and the Madrid powerhouses for second, third and fourth place seems likely.
Before transfer season officially takes over La Liga, let’s look back at the ’18-19 season and see what the biggest storylines in Spain will be this summer and going into ’19-20. The initial plan was to cover Barcelona and their top competitors in one piece, but it quickly became apparent that Barça warranted a story of their own.
The club has won the league four of the past five years, and it has done so comfortably the last two years. Last Saturday, Valencia prevented the Catalans from winning back-to-back doubles. Barcelona has nevertheless owned both the Copa del Rey – which it has won four of the last five years and La Liga for a while now.
Despite some speculation about his future, especially after the Valencia loss, the club has confirmed that Manager Ernesto Valverde will be back. Will he be able to lead his team to another league title? While the answer is largely dependent on how much better Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid get this summer, there’s plenty to talk about regarding the Catalans themselves.
A May to forget
What a difference a few weeks make. Barcelona appeared poised to cruise to at least a double in early May. The La Liga trophy was already in the bag, they had a commanding lead in the semifinals of the Champions League after one leg and a fifth straight Copa del Rey trophy seemed like a virtual certainty. The week leading up to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final at Wanda Metropolitano was supposed to be spent focused on completing a historic treble.
What Went Wrong?
Instead, after two devasting losses, many have spent this week questioning Valverde. In addition to questioning whether he should remain at the helm – we’ll get to that later – many Blaugrana fans are wondering which members of this team’s veteran core should start to see significantly fewer minutes next season. Barcelona suffered at Anfield in the UCL and against Valencia in the Copa final due to two things: they appeared more Messidependent than ever, and they were outmatched physically (especially in Leg 2 of the UCL semis vs. Liverpool).
Luis Suárez was unable to pick up the slack against Liverpool in Leg 2 of the UCL semis, and he missed the Copa final due to knee surgery. Last Saturday was the latest proof that this team must find another complement to Messi up top. The Uruguayan, who we should mention is 32, was excellent in La Liga this year. But he can’t be his team’s only quality non-Messi option in the final third. Ousmané Dembélé is dangerous when healthy, but Barcelona can’t count on him if he remains as injury-prone as he’s been his first two seasons with them. Philippe Coutinho appears more likely to be on another team than make an impact at Camp Nou next season.
The Catalans are the favorite to sign Antoine Griezmann, who strikes me as a natural fit alongside Messi. With him in the fold, we’re suddenly talking about arguably the best attacking trio in soccer. However, while buying too much into what you read in Marca and As can give you whiplash, it’s worth mentioning that recent (last 48 hours) articles in both papers have cast doubt over whether Griezmann-to-Barcelona is truly a done deal.
Against Liverpool, veteran leaders like Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, and to a lesser extent Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué, showed their age.
The same was true against Valencia. Barcelona could use an infusion of youth and speed.
Without one, it’s hard to imagine them getting further than the quarters or semifinals of the Champions League. Frenkie de Jong will fit right in as a young midfielder who offers the technical skill we associate with Barcelona midfielders as well as immense physical tools. Adding him and Griezmann – not to mention fellow Ajax export Matthijs de Ligt, who we’ll discuss in detail if and when he joins Barca – would not make up for every weakness we saw late this season, but it would come pretty close.
Staying the course
Barcelona’s decision on Valverde was a fascinating one. Elite European teams seem more likely to make coaching moves a year early than a year too late (see Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri). In keeping Valverde, Barcelona showed patience, and let us know that they value what they’ve accomplished in La Liga the last two years.
The choice was somewhat surprising, though, considering this team has experienced catastrophic UCL meltdowns the last two years (AS Roma in ’18, Liverpool this year). There are plenty of top jobs in Europe where just one such disaster would probably see the coach kicked to the curb. It’s impossible to know exactly what went into the decision to keep him, but I’d imagine Valverde’s standing with Barcelona’s top players – Messi publicly expressed support for him ahead of the Copa final — was a major factor. He’ll need that respect more than ever next season when he inevitably begins to diminish the roles of the likes of Rakitic, Busquets, etc. to give younger players bigger opportunities.
One last thing on Valverde: it’s hard to imagine him surviving any extended slump next season. A large segment of the fanbase will never get over what happened in the Champions League the last two years. The noise from his detractors will quickly become a huge distraction at the first sign of major trouble next year. It seems ridiculous to say it about a coach with so much domestic success the last two years, but Valverde enters next season on the hot seat.
Casual fans can be forgiven for expecting Barcelona to walk all over Valencia on Saturday afternoon in the Copa del Rey final.
The Catalans recently won the Spanish league for the fourth time in five seasons. Last year, they finished 14 points clear of second-place Atlético Madrid. This year, they “only” finished with 11 points more than Atleti.
Manager Ernesto Valverde’s team has also won the Copa del Rey each of the past four seasons. Barça cruised through the tournament again this year, beating Sevilla 6-3 on aggregate in the quarters before knocking off Real Madrid 4-1 on aggregate in the semis.
However, in case the first line of this piece didn’t give it away, I expect Saturday’s match at 3 p.m. Eastern at Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarín to be a slugfest.
The quick case for Valencia at +340
Fanduel, however, lists Barcelona at -390 and Valencia at +340. If Barcelona were at full strength, that would make perfect sense. They’re far from it, though. Their injuries, as well as the fact that Valencia quietly finished the season playing much better soccer than people realized, make the underdogs great value at +340.
Over at DraftKings Sportsbook NJ, Valencia has even longer odds at +430 which given recent form, is hard to believe.
Will Barcelona’s MASH unit be good enough?
Let’s start with Barcelona’s expected XI.
Luis Suárez was by far this team’s best player other than Lionel Messi at both creating opportunities and finishing them. He’ll miss Saturday’s game due to a recent knee surgery he hopes to recover from in time for the Copa America. It goes without saying that the absence of a player who scored 21 goals and had six assists in La Liga this year will be huge. Anyone who’s watched Barça down the stretch will agree that Suárez is critical to his team.
Démbéle has not been on the field enough lately for his most recent likely absence (there’s a chance he plays, but it’s hard to imagine more than a brief appearance) to be a major problem in itself. But there’s a hard-to-answer question if – and it’s a massive if – Valencia can make someone other than Messi beat them: Where does the offense come from for this team if Suárez and Dembélé are both unavailable?
That brings us to Philippe Coutinho, who has not made an impact despite several chances to do so in the Champions League quarters and semis.
In keeping with the theme here, the Brazilian also seems to be less than 100% healthy. He did practice Wednesday, however, after missing last Sunday’s La Liga season finale. Coutinho will likely be in the squad Saturday. But how many Barça fans currently feel great about needing a significant contribution from Coutinho, regardless of his fitness level? If it’s up to Malcom and Coutinho to provide the offense, should Barcelona really be such a prohibitive favorite?
Unfortunately for Valverde, the injury problems are not confined to the attacking third. Barça will also be without keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who has been excellent this year. This team’s defenders have occasionally picked really bad times for lapses. The pressure on them to play error-free increases without ter Stegen between the sticks.
Other injury concerns are Arthur, Nelson Semedo and Kevin Prince-Boateng, who are all hobbled as well.
Can Valencia stay hot?
Valencia’s chances at an upset are better than many realize for several reasons:
- Both of their La Liga games against Barcelona this year ended in draws.
- They’re in great form and in great spirits after qualifying for the Champions League despite an awful start to the season.
- The pressure, or lack thereof, is real for both sides. Barcelona is looking at a brutal offseason if they follow the UCL disaster at Anfield by losing the Copa final. For Valencia, on the other hand, this game is the definition of playing with house money: their fans will be thrilled with a victory, while a loss would hardly dampen spirits considering their finish to the season.
I hate to go to such great lengths to explain why an upset feels likely and then contradict all that by making a safe pick … but Lionel Me… actually, forget it, I’ll go with Valencia. Don’t ask me exactly how Valencia will pull it off, but despite how hard it is to pick against Messi, I think Barcelona will be too shorthanded to complete the domestic double: Valencia 2, Barcelona 1.
Patience is not a virtue when it comes to European soccer.
As the top teams in Europe wrapped up their regular seasons the last few weeks, rumors of coaching changes are rampant. Consider:
- We heard speculation about a possible coaching change at Chelsea, where Maurizio Sarri’s future appears unclear.
- Many also wonder if Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde will survive his team’s second Champions League meltdown in as many years, especially if the Catalans lose to Valencia in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final.
- There have even been questions about Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac despite his team winning the German league again. His critics seem to think the club’s seventh straight league title was just a result of a late-season meltdown by Borussia Dortmund. (Here’s where I should acknowledge that every fanbase contains segments that make noise that should be ignored, but I digress…)
Among European powers, Juventus appeared as unlikely to make a coaching change as anyone. Yes, the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer made it Champions League or bust for Massimiliano Allegri and Co.
Despite that, it didn’t feel like the loss to Ajax in the UCL quarters was the type of outcome that would spark significant personnel changes. Yet there we were last Friday, reading a statement saying Allegri and the club were going their separate ways, despite one year remaining on his contract.
In five years with the Italians, Allegri led the team to five Serie A titles and no shortage of Champions League success. Juve finished as the UCL runner-up in both ’15 and ’17.
So why make a change now?
I could rattle off a long list of Allegri accomplishments with Juventus. But simply put, Allegri won just about everything possible domestically since the ’14-15 season. After five very successful years, I can only think of two reasons why this relationship is ending.
- The Dreaded Plateau. The first possibility is that both parties believe they’ve plateaued. This seems somewhat plausible, but I doubt a team that has come this close to winning the Champions League believes European glory is out of reach under the current setup. The age of Juve’s best players, though, does make you wonder how bright the immediate future is. Ronaldo is 34, Mario Mandzukic is 33, Blaise Matuidi is 32, Giorgio Chiellini is 34 and Leonardo Bonucci is 32. Maybe Allegri reached the conclusion that there was nothing more he could do with this roster. There were enough young contributors on this team, though, that I struggle to buy that it was entirely a matter of feeling like this roster’s best days are behind it.
- Not a matter of “if,” a matter of “what.” The matter of what changes to make to finally bring home a UCL trophy — and disagreement between Allegri and Juve execs over how to do so — strikes me as the more likely reason for the split.
At what point do Mandzukic, Chiellini, Bonucci, etc. – the team’s veteran leaders — take on smaller roles to make way for fresher legs? How do you build an attack around this vintage of Ronaldo, who remains arguably the best in the world at finishing, but is far less versatile than he used to be? On a related note, can Paulo Dybala ever blossom into the star he’s shown flashes of being while playing alongside CR7? The Argentine’s production fell off a cliff in his first year with Ronaldo — from 22 goals and five assists in Serie A last year to five goals and four assists this year.
Those are just a few of the questions whose answers are unclear. If Allegri and club execs differ on the way forward, going their separate ways makes plenty of sense.
Perhaps the true reason for his exit will emerge later this summer or further down the road, but those currently seem like the best possible explanations for this puzzling move.
Who takes over?
The Juventus job is the most prominent one available right now, and how it is filled is sure to spark a carousel effect. Everyone from Pep Guardiola (that can’t possibly be a legitimate possibility, can it??) to Sarri has already been mentioned.
Someone like Antonio Conte, who played for Old Lady for more than a decade and coached the club from ’11-14, would seem like a decent bet. That obviously only happens if the speculation he’s set to take over at Inter Milan proves false.
Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi has also been mentioned, and would make sense — if for no other reason than the fact that this club has been managed exclusively by Italians, with Didier Deschamps from ’06-07 one of the few exceptions — since the ‘70s.
One closing thought: instead of joining the rest of the internet in coming up with a list of 10 or 20 possible Allegri replacements, let’s get back to Juve’s thought process here. They must have had a replacement in mind – and one they felt confident they could sign – before ending things with Allegri, right? This team has been too good, and stable, for too long, for it to say goodbye to a proven commodity without a defined succession plan. With that in mind, expect a new Juve coach to be introduced some time this month. If not, an already head-scratching move will quickly make even less sense than it currently does.