Champions League is Back Thur-Sat 3 pm
Oh my goodness you American Tyler Adams – scores winning goal in 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid to send RB Leipzig to Semi-Finals vs PSG.
Man Wednesday’s game was out of this world – and shows once again why Champions League football is so very fun to watch. In these 1 game neutral location scenarios the chance for upsets is ripe – and little Italian wanna-be Atalanta was thinking just that up 1-0 vs giant French bohemouth PSG. Honestly Neymar makes more than the entire salary of Atalanta – but here they were about to knock out the favorites – a PSG side that has not gone past the Quarterfinals in forever. Again and again Neymar shot wide, low, to soft or just over the frame. A recovering Mmbape was inserted in the 2nd half –and again the shots came but Atalanta and their valiant keeper ____- stood tall. Finally in the 88th minute – PSG broke thru- a Neymar missed shot bouncing to teammate who finished to tie it at 1. Just 5 minutes later in stoppage time Neymar found Mmbape who found forward Choupa-Moting for the tap in and PSG miraculously survived – making the Semi-Finals for the first time. They’ll await the winner of RB Leipzig and my Atletico Madrid who faceoff today at 3 pm on FUBO TV, TUDN and (streamed on CBS all-access). Friday we get the showcase game of Barcelona vs Bayern Munich at 3 pm, while Saturday features Man City vs Lyon and Memphis Dupay at 3 pm. CBS all-access does have Free Month option – so its time to pony-up and at least try the Free Trial option for this month to see how CBS is going to handle Champions League and Europa League. All the games are available on the all access. I like Atletico Madrid along with Bayern Munich. I will admit the pre and post game UCL coverage is well done on CBS All Access–much more like NBCSN and the EPL than TNT and that joke set they had last year. Who will win? Also Sunday Man U fans they face Sevilla at 3 pm with a trip to the Europa League finals on the line.
Indy 11 – Home Sat 7 pm vs Pittsburgh
Indy Eleven’s Tyler Pasher scored late to secure a 1-1 tie at Louisville over the weekend. Their first draw of 2020 allowed Indy Eleven (5W-2L-1D, 16 pts.) to extend its Group E lead to six points over second-place Saint Louis FC (3W-3L-1D, 10 pts.). Indy Eleven remains the top points earner in the 35-club USL Championship, now sitting two points clear of fellow Eastern Conference side Tampa Bay Rowdies. Head coach Martin Rennie was named USL Coach of the Month for August, after leading his team to 5 victories in its opening 6 games. The 11 return home this Sat Aug 15 vs the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Tickets are available for the7:00 p.m. kickoff at Lucas Oil Stadium by visiting indyeleven.com/tickets or calling 317-685-1100.
Christian Pulisic Named to EPL Young Player of the Year List
Really cool that American youngster Pulisic has been named to the Young Player of the Year Award in the EPL this season the inaugural presentation of the award presented to the Premier League’s best player aged 23 or younger. If it was only for since the return I would say Pulisic would be a shu-in but obviously over the entire season chances are Trent Alexander Arnold of Liverpool or Anthony Martial at Man United will finish ahead. The list of nominees is a who’s who of some of the world’s most exciting young talents, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jack Grealish, Dean Henderson, Anthony Martial, Mason Mount, and Marcus Rashford. Still after a slow start that included injury – for Pulisic to finish with 11 goals/10 assists in just 34 games played is pretty impressive. More impressive is Chelsea’s offense was literally stuck in reverse without him on the field. Hopefully he recovers soon and is back on track at Chelsea within a few games of the start in September.
MLS Returns to In Market Games with fans after Portland Win vs Orlando
The MLS is Back month long tourney wrapped up with an exciting Final as Portland outlasted upstart Orlando City FC 2-1 on Tuesday night on ESPN. There was some exciting soccer over this month including some morning games and lots of national TV time on both ESPN and Fox Sport 1 coupled with some high scoring and exciting games overall. While certainly not with the hoopla of the NBA still I think MLS made some inroads on the casual sports fan. MLS now plans to return to in market games with limited fans in the stands – which will make them the 2nd US sports league to do so (behind the USL of course with teams like the Indy 11).
Bayern Munich turn up heat on Champions League bid against Barcelona
GAMES ON TV
Thur, Aug 13
3 pm FuboTV, CBSAA RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid (Champs League)
Fri, Aug 14
3 pm FuboTV, TUDN, CBSAA Bayern Munich vs Barcelona (Champs League)
Sat, Aug 15
3 pm FuboTV, TUDN, CBSAA Man City vs Lyon (Champs League)
7 pm ESPN+MyindyTV INDY 11 vs Pittsburg – Lucas Oil
Sun, Aug 16
3 pm FuboTV, TUDN,CBSAA Man United vs Sevilla (Europa League)
Mon, Aug 17
3 pm FuboTV, TUDN, CBSAA Inter vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Europa League)
Tues, Aug 18
3 pm FuboTV, Champs League Semis
Weds, Aug 19
3 pm FuboTV, Champs League Semis
Fri, Aug 21
3 pm FuboTV, TUDN, CBSSN Europa League Finals
Sun, Aug 23
3 pm FuboTV, CBSSN Champions League Finals
10 pm ESPN? Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders MLS
Champions League quarterfinal preview, predictions and the sleeper team to watch (hint: Atalanta)
5:00 AM ETESPN
After the last 16 wrapped up over the weekend and several big teams bowed out early — Juventus even changed managers after losing to Lyon — we are down to the final eight, competing in Lisbon, for the 2019-20 Champions League.The format has been altered in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with the traditional “two-legged” home-and-away structure for the quarterfinals and semifinals replaced by a simple one-and-done knockout through to the coronation of a winne. There are no more away goals or aggregate scores; instead, we get 90 minutes for a winner to emerge (or, if that doesn’t happen, another 30 minutes of extra time followed by a penalty shootout).Which teams have the best shot of advancing to the semifinals? Which players could be key in settling the quarters? Will Bayern cruise to the trophy, or will a brand-new team win it in 2020?Consider this your guide to the quarterfinals.
Jump to: Will we get a new champ? | Depay’s redemption | Don’t sleep on Atalanta | Why Bayern are confident | PSG’s best, and worst, chance to win | Key players | Atletico perfect for this competition | Picking the winners
Will we have a brand-new champion this season?
It’s a numbers game, isn’t it? You have eight teams left. Only two, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, have won it before, and as luck would have it, they play each other on Friday night, which means three of the four semifinalists, come what may, will be sides who have never lifted the European Cup.
Beyond that, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest we’ll get a new winner, starting with the fact that the format and circumstances are entirely unprecedented. These are single-leg, straight knockout games, and they tend to be less predictable than the standard home-and-away affairs. Everything, of course, is behind closed doors, and everyone will be in a bubble in Portugal. Most of these teams are accustomed to the former, but not the latter, as during their domestic seasons post-lockdown they were still living at home. We’re in uncharted waters here.But does that mean an underdog will triumph? Not necessarily. Whoever emerges from the heavyweight Bayern vs. Barcelona quarterfinal will still be a favorite. And while neither Paris Saint-Germain nor Manchester City have won it before, given their spending over the past decade and the fact that they’ve been Champions League knockout-stage regulars, you wouldn’t describe either as an underdog.Those four clubs are all in the global top six when it comes to spending on salaries, so it’s not particularly romantic, but it’s fair to say that while the others aren’t exactly “superclubs,” they aren’t all minnows either. Atletico Madrid have reached the final twice in the past decade, but they revel in the ugly, street-fighting underdog status, partly thanks to Diego Simeone, partly because they share a hometown with the game’s ultimate blue loods, Real Madrid.
Leipzig have been in the German top flight only since 2016 and this is only their second Champions League participation, but theirs isn’t quite the romantic upstart tale, which is why so many traditional fans dislike them. Or, more accurately, they might admire their state-of-the-art scouting, entertaining football and high-energy style, but lament their heavy reliance on corporate sponsorship. They’re underdogs of a different sort, more like outcasts.Never fear, though — Atalanta and Olympique Lyonnais fit the underdog tag to a tee. The former’s wage bill is less than a tenth that of PSG, whom they face on Wednesday. But they’ve punched way above their weight the past few seasons, playing an all-out attacking style that has seen them outscore almost everybody in Europe’s top five leagues.As for Lyon, because the French league was abandoned in March, they’ve played only two competitive games in the past five months. They also had a rough domestic campaign, changing managers in the fall and finishing seventh. Nevertheless, they managed to knock out a heavyweight, Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Juventus, in the round of 16. If you want to root for the (relatively) little guy, go for one of those two. — Gab Marcotti
Depay finds redemption as Lyon’s leader
When Memphis Depay left Manchester United for Lyon in January 2017, it was as much to do with the Dutch forward’s commitment and attitude as his performances on the pitch which, for a £25m signing, were consistent only in terms of their mediocrity. Louis van Gaal, United’s manager at the time, believed he could mould Depay into a team player, having worked with him during his spell as Netherlands coach, but when the then-21-year-old reacted to being dropped to the reserves by turning up for the game in a Rolls Royce while wearing a cowboy hat, it was clear that he had some growing up to do.
United proved to be the wrong club at the wrong time for Depay, but moving to Lyon has been his salvation and the 26-year-old will lead the French team’s Champions League assault in Lisbon having come of age with Les Gones.Depay was handed the captaincy by coach Rudi Garcia earlier this season — a remarkable turn of events to those who knew him at Old Trafford — but a cruciate ligament injury suffered in December halted his progress at Lyon, threatening to both end his season and force him out of Euro 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to both Ligue 1 and Euro 2020 being canceled, has inadvertently led to Depay being able to return to action, however, and his penalty in the round of 16 second-leg tie against Juventus in Turin proved to be the decisive goal that sent Lyon through to the quarterfinals on the away goals rule.Lyon will now face Manchester City in Estadio Jose Alvalade on Saturday and Depay will go into the game knowing he already has haunted his former club’s neighbours in the Champions League. Back in September 2018, Depay created the goal for Nabil Fekir for Lyon’s shock 2-1 group-stage win at the Etihad before providing the assists for both of Maxwel Cornet‘s goals in the 2-2 draw in the return game in France two months later.City were probably expecting to face another former United No. 7 (Juve’s Ronaldo) in the quarterfinals, but they should not feel a sense of relief that it will be Depay instead.
Unusually for United, they insisted on a buy-back clause in the deal that took Depay to Lyon three years ago. They knew what he was capable of in the right circumstances and he has clearly found himself in Lyon. — Mark Ogden
If footballing aesthetics are your thing, then Atalanta are playing arguably the most beautiful football in Europe at this point in time. But speak to those who have followed the club for years and they’re pinching themselves that their beloved Atalanta, so often the outsiders in every competition, are considered genuine Champions League contenders.
Having lost their Champions League opener 4-0 away at Dinamo Zagreb, they somehow edged through the group before dispatching Valencia 8-4 on aggregate in the second round, a pair of games that gained added notoriety in light of the coronavirus pandemic. This is all very new for the Nerazzurri faithful. Though they finished third in each of the past two seasons, they were traditionally a more midtable Serie A side, operating on a low budget and the equivalent of easy prey for other bigger footballing vultures. Their last major trophy was in 1961 when they won the Coppa Italia, but they’re now the envy of much of Europe, perhaps this season’s “neutrals’ favorite” as Ajax were in 2018-19.
Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2 formation is focused on overloading their opponents, with the midfielders there to dictate exactly which areas of the pitch they need to be playing in. It creates both space and opportunity — their speed in transition involves shifting the point of attack from left to right, and vice versa, creating space in the middle of the pitch for the brilliant roaming Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata. This tactical trickery is to manager Gian Piero Gasperini’s immense credit; he has moulded this team so the players can interchange positions in the blink of an eye, while making them structurally elusive to stop consistently.
This season, Atalanta scored the most goals in Serie A (98, third most in Europe’s top five leagues), had the most shots on target and third-most chances (535 — behind Manchester City and Napoli). In short, they will give PSG a real run for their money with a squad that cost £94m, less than half what their opponents paid for Neymar.
But equally, this is unknown territory for them. They’ve never been in the Champions League before this season, and they’re only a couple of injuries away from trouble — they are already potentially without Ilicic for the PSG game due to personal reason. While many pundits expected them to bow out gracefully, Atalanta are quietly adamant they will be a force come the final throes of this competition. The scariest thing for PSG? Atalanta have nothing to lose.
“We can beat anyone over a single leg,” said Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler. “We believe in our chances, of course, otherwise we wouldn’t even bother going to Lisbon.” — Tom Hamilton
Steve Nicol is surprised Bayern Munich dominated Chelsea despite time off after their Bundesliga season ended.
Bayern Munich are second-favourites to lift the trophy, and when you talk to those who were part of the 2013 class that won the Champions League, you’ll learn about two key factors that must swing in your favour if you are to conquer Europe.
Firstly, according to Bayern Munich centre back Jerome Boateng, you need “a little bit of luck.” Then you need to have a “strong mentality,” with everyone pulling in one direction. He thinks of Liverpool last year: “They were a little family sticking together.” But while Bayern are now in unison, earlier in the season they were a disconnected bunch.
Boateng was one of the club’s more experienced players, like Thomas Muller, who, back when the 2019-20 season was still in its infancy, found himself on the periphery of the squad under previous manager Niko Kovac. They were contemplating life away from Bayern, but now, under Hansi Flick, as Boateng reflects on winning his eighth straight Bundesliga and their Champions League aspirations, he smiles as he talks about his coach.
“He [Flick] brought back the joy for us as a team to play football, to have fun,” Boateng says. And they play like they’re having fun, too: lightning-quick fullbacks, ridiculously talented midfielders, wingers sprinting infield to attack the middle and then Robert Lewandowski, arguably the most prolific striker in world football, leading the attack.
But do not underestimate the importance of Boateng and that partnership with Manuel Neuer. The experienced centre-back has seen it all in a rich and varied career, and he possesses a level-headed personality that gives the impression he is internally evaluating all potential influencing factors in the remaining rounds of the Champions League. He personally feels fitness will be king, with Bayern ideally playing four games in 15 days through to the final.
“At the end, whoever wins will say, we won the Champions League with this kind of little tournament, it was different but we made it,” Boateng says. “I think every season of course has its own story and to win this Champions League … it’s really hard work and it’s special.” — Tom Hamilton
Frank Leboeuf says Kylian Mbappe will make the final call on playing in PSG’s Champions League match.
Thomas Tuchel has been at PSG for only two years, but on Wednesday night, he neatly explained the dynamic between the club and the Champions League.”Every time we get close to a Champions League game, something negative happens. I don’t know why,” the German said. Through the years, even going back to the pre-QSI era, PSG’s European campaigns have often been jinxed by injuries, suspensions, mistakes, pressure and the stress of sky-high expectations. This season is no different.If you look at the season as a whole and where the team is now, with the progress made in the past 12 months, how Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have been playing, how they finally have a top goalkeeper in Keylor Navas, there’s a lot of optimism that this could finally be the year. The draw was kind to them. The one-legged games will take away all the ghosts of the humiliating remontadas they suffered last season against Manchester United at home in the last 16, and in 2017 away at Barcelona at the same stage. Over 90 minutes, the French champions are certainly capable of beating anyone. We saw it when they destroyed Barça 4-0, Bayern 3-0 and Real Madrid 3-0 in the past three years.With their Brazilian superstar and their French prodigy, they have two of the best players in the world, each capable of winning a game on their own. Neymar has never been happier in Paris; he finally feels at home, and the club is hoping that they could renew his deal, just like they did Mbappe’s. The atmosphere inside the dressing room is also the best it’s ever been. That’s why, collectively, they have become better on the pitch too.They still naturally rely a lot on the individual brilliance of Neymar and Mbappe, but the impact that Angel Di Maria had this season, the output of Pablo Sarabia and the creative talent of Marco Verratti have made the team stronger as a unit. And in Mauro Icardi, they have one of the best finishers in the game if he gets the service he needs.Strong defensively, balanced in midfield, exceptional offensively and with a manager who hopefully would have learned from his mistakes of last season, with great momentum after winning a domestic treble and a favourable draw: all the lights should be green for PSG. And yet, it’s the worst time for them to finally win this Champions League.The decision taken by the French league to stop Ligue 1 while the rest of Europe’s top leagues eventually concluded safely means that the Parisians have played only two competitive games in five months.Equally, PSG will struggle even more because they won’t have their strongest side out. First, Mbappe was the victim of a mistimed but horrible tackle from Loic Perrin against Saint-Etienne. He is a huge doubt for Wednesday’s game. After losing Neymar from January and February onward in the past two seasons, PSG really wanted to avoid losing another of their stars. Without the Frenchman, this is a totally different team given the added pressure on Neymar. Then defender Thilo Kehrer hurt his back and broke a bone in his ear, Layvin Kurzawa is out (hamstring) and to top it all, Verratti injured his calf at training last week and should miss the quarterfinal. Even if Mbappe and Verratti can play, they won’t be 100 percent for the game and it will be a much weaker PSG side as a result.On top of that, the club was hoping that the out-of-contract trio, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier, would stay to finish the season; PSG were also hoping to keep the very promising Tanguy Kouassi at the club. Only Silva will be there to face Atalanta. Kouassi left on a free transfer to Bayern Munich, while Cavani and Meunier declined the offer of a two-month extension. If you add that Di Maria is suspended, it means that PSG have gone from high hopes and ambition to gloom and pessimism.All the recent setbacks and bad news will certainly make their life harder. But considering PSG are a club that’s never ceased to amaze, both in good and bad ways, you can never say never. — Julien Laurens
Players who should make a difference in the quarterfinals
Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, FW, Atalanta: Although highly respected in Italy, the creative Argentine attacking midfielder still hasn’t quite achieved the worldwide recognition he deserves. Gomez is a technically brilliant player, full of lovely little touches and layoffs, with the ability take on opponents in wide and central areas, set up teammates or finish with a thunderous shot. Perhaps somewhat underappreciated due to never having played for one of the established Italian giants, Gomez has earned only four caps for his country.Now, at 32, Gomez is playing the football of his life, and Atalanta’s chances of causing an upset against PSG rest heavily on their inspirational captain.
Emil Forsberg, MF/FW, RB Leipzig: Once regarded as one of the most exciting, up-and-coming players in the German Bundesliga, the Swedish winger/attacking midfielder hasn’t quite managed to push on from his excellent 2016-17 season when he topped the assist charts with an impressive 22. Even so, Forsberg is still an outstanding footballer, and while Timo Werner has grabbed the headlines (and since gone to join new team Chelsea), the 28-year-old does have the technical ability and touch of class to make a valuable contribution — be it a brilliant cross or a well-executed direct free kick — when it matters the most.
He scored Leipzig’s first-ever Champions League goal (vs. Monaco in 2017-18) and will need to have a big game as a possible fulcrum in Leipzig’s attack.
Renan Lodi, DF, Atletico Madrid: The left-back had the most traumatic of La Liga debuts when he was sent off before half-time against Getafe in August last year. Then followed a period of inconsistency and frequent displays of defensive frailty, but Diego Simeone stuck with the young Brazilian. Renan Lodi is no longer a weak spot and has since established himself as a regular in the Atletico Madrid side. The 21-year-old masters both phases of the game; he loves defending (and an old-fashioned tackle), is able to deliver crosses from advanced positions and is smart and technically gifted enough to engage in combinational play. He was man of the match in the Champions League home leg against Liverpool. — Tor-Kristian Karlsen
Does it heighten your suspicion that Atletico might be the “shock” winners of this redesigned tournament if you know that under Simeone, they’ve never lost a knockout Champions League tie or match unless Ronaldo’s been in the other team? If nothing else, it should certainly heighten your appreciation of the Argentinian coach.Of course, Atleti lost two finals to Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid teams, plus a semifinal and a quarterfinal. Then, last season, it was Ronaldo’s hat trick for Juve that dumped Los Rojiblancos out at the first knockout stage.So is the fact that Ronaldo and Juve flopped last week and aren’t in Lisbon a hint that nothing can stand in Atleti’s way now?
That has to be too big a conclusion given Simeone still has a fitness concern over a key player, Thomas Partey, and ongoing calibration required to get the best out of his decent array of attacking players. The likelihood, you’d say, is that he doesn’t double down on his post-lockdown idea that Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa don’t work well enough as a starting pair. Meaning, in all likelihood, that Costa is preferred up front, potentially with Marcos Llorente as his partner. In fact, there’s a good chance that this is his starting XI against RB Leipzig: Jan Oblak; Santiago Arias, Stefan Savic, Jose Giménez, Renan Lodi; Angel Correa, Koke, Saúl, Yannick Carrasco; Costa, Llorente.
Realistically, Atleti are one of those sides who lose something with the absence of a home crowd. The brand-new Wanda Metropolitano might not be quite as rabidly passionate as the Calderon was, but those fans are special, and they help. The huge plus for Atleti in one-off matches is that they’re awfully hard to beat, starting with a keeper in Oblak who often plays like he’s the best in the world in that position. There have been three Champions League/European Cup finals for Atleti and three terrible “sob” stories thanks to two extra-time equalisers from opponents to deny victory, and a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss. This might just be the panacea year. — Graham Hunter
Picking the winners
Last, but not least, we have predictions! Which teams will be left standing in Lisbon? Here are our best guesses.
PSG vs. Atalanta (Wednesday): Before the coronavirus stoppage, PSG had been one of the three most dominant teams in the Champions League field thus far, generating 19 points from eight matches (third best) with an average goal differential of +2.0 per match (second best). EloFootball.com ranks them third in Europe, too. But March was a long time ago, and Atalanta played a lot of matches, at a solid level, this summer. If the layoff, and Mbappe’s absence, don’t matter, PSG is a solid favorite.
RB Leipzig vs. Atletico Madrid (Thursday): This is a stylistically fascinating matchup, and it might be the most statistically tight, too. FiveThirtyEight gives RBL a 52% chance of advancing, while Atletico has a slight edge per EloFootball. Atleti’s form was better after the summer restart, though, and while Leipzig should be formidable again next season, they haven’t yet had an opportunity to replace new Chelsea addition Timo Werner. That alone probably tips the scales in favor of the 2014 and 2016 finalists.
Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona (Friday): Despite the seemingly nonstop existential crisis around Messi and co, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Barcelona. But Bayern has played like one of the top two teams in Europe for much of the past nine months, while Barca has been merely very good. Bayern had the best post-restart goal differential among the top leagues, and they have yet to suffer a single blemish in the Champions League. They would be favored against anyone except maybe Manchester City, and it’s no different here.
Manchester City vs. Lyon (Saturday): Here’s your David vs. Goliath matchup. FiveThirtyEight ranks Manchester City and Lyon as the No. 1 and No. 40 teams in Europe, respectively. For context, Lyon ranks between Everton and Sheffield United, two teams that were outscored by Man City by a combined 8-2 in four Premier League matchups this season. City have had an attention span problem this year, suffering about one baffling loss per month during the Premier League season, but that’s really the only thing you can reference to think Lyon’s got a chance. — Bill Connelly
Key battles in Champions League quarterfinals
Joe Prince-WrightNBC Sports•August 11, 2020
The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus intriguing ties between Atalanta and PSG, plus RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit and Atalanta and PSG could end up 6-5 to either team as two free-flowing attacks collide.Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.
Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera
Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.
RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa
This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.
Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba
Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.
Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay
Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.
Juventus Takes a Romantic Gamble in Hiring Andrea Pirlo as Manager
Andrea Pirlo’s managerial experience is limited to nine days as Juventus U-23 coach. So why was he installed as senior team manager within hours of Maurizio Sarri’s ouster?
JONATHAN WILSONAUG 8, 2020 sI
That Maurizio Sarri would be sacked if Juventus failed to progress past Lyon to reach the Champions League quarterfinals was widely expected, but when his dismissal came on Saturday, it didn’t change the sense of profound weariness at what football has become. He had, after all, won the league this season, but that for Juventus is no longer enough. This is the joyless truth for the modern elite: league titles have become so familiar that they mean almost nothing in themselves.Far less anticipated was that Andrea Pirlo would be announced as his replacement within hours of Sarri’s ouster, with Juventus seemingly not considering any of the alternatives who may be available. It is, frankly, an extraordinary decision, one that smacks of a romantic punt on a club legend made more through hope than any carefully considered plan. “Today begins a new chapter of his career in the world of football,” said a club statement. “As it was said about a week ago: from Maestro to Mister. From today he will be the coach for the Juventus people, as the club has decided to entrust him with the technical leadership of the first team, after having already selected him for Juventus Under-23. Today’s choice is based on the belief Pirlo has what it takes to lead, from his debut on the bench, an expert and talented squad to pursue new successes.”It feels at the moment as though every club wants their own Pep Guardiola. They want their own former player, somebody steeped in the traditions of the club, who can do what Guardiola did in 2008 at Barcelona, taking over the club in a first senior coaching role and leading it to new heights. It’s one of the major reasons Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea appointed Frank Lampard.But Guardiola was appointed after an exceptional year in charge of the reserve side. It was a gamble, but one based on serious evidence. Solskjaer was appointed after winning championships in Norway. Even Lampard had a moderate level of success in his season in charge of Derby County in England’s second tier (before he, too, replaced Sarri). Pirlo has had nine days in charge of the Under-23s. Those first training sessions must have been sensational.All of that raises its own questions. When Pirlo was appointed Under-23 coach, was he already being considered for the senior job? Were Juve directors already thinking they could shuffle him into the role if Juve was embarrassed by Lyon? Or is this a decision made on a whim in the past week, by directors whose actions have been increasingly erratic over the past couple of seasons?It’s only been a year, of course, since Max Allegri was deposed after winning five league titles in a row, supposedly because his football was deemed less likely than Sarri’s to bring the Champions League title that Juve craves more than anything. And perhaps it was. But the decision would have been more convincing if Sarri hadn’t been expected to produce the free-flowing football of his Napoli side with Cristiano Ronaldo’s static individualism up front. Ronaldo remains a phenomenon, but to include him in the team is to accept that everything has to go through him, and that is not the Sarri way.Pirlo was a cerebral player. The assumption is that the understanding of the angles of the game he demonstrated on the pitch will translate to tactical acuity from the bench, although that doesn’t always follow. His air of calm composure, similarly, leads to the assumption he will not have any problems with the more political aspects of the job. But all of that is unproven.And whoever is in charge has to deal with the Ronaldo issue. He was the first of the board’s gambles to try to bring a first Champions League title to Turin since 1996, brought in at immense cost despite his being 33 at the time, under the assumption his goals and his capacity to perform at key moments were what Juve was missing. He has not disappointed, but his presence restricts how his side can play. To use late-period Ronaldo effectively, a club has to do what Zinedine Zidane did at Madrid and effectively build a team to service him, taking few risks and sitting deep in midfield.Yet at the same time, the board seems to hanker after something more modern and progressive. Ronaldo is 35. He’s not getting any more mobile. He has no place in an expansive team. Nobody has any idea what sort of football Pirlo may favor–there is quite literally no evidence from which to draw–but it may be that the twin demands of Juventus’s board are irreconcilable.
Christian Pulisic nominated for Premier League Young Player of the Season
He’s up for an individual award. By Brendan Joseph Aug 7, 2020, 12:23pm PDT Stars and Stripes
Christian Pulisic has the opportunity to take home an award to commemorate his fantastic debut season in England. The Chelsea superstar was nominated for TAG Heuer Young Player of the Season. The award is decided by a fan vote, which can be performed here. Voting ends on Monday, August 10th.This is the inaugural presentation of the award presented to the Premier League’s best player aged 23 or younger. The list of nominees is a who’s who of some of the world’s most exciting young talents, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jack Grealish, Dean Henderson, Anthony Martial, Mason Mount, and Marcus Rashford.After a slightly underwhelming start to his time at Stamford Bridge, Pulisic received praise for adjusting to the league and taking over matches. “He’s got that confidence now, that arrogance,” said broadcaster and former player Don Hutchison. “There’s not many people in the Premier League that can take the ball at their feet and take players on and dribble past people with ease like Christian Pulisic does. It’s difficult to compare him [to Eden Hazard], because they’re both their own characters, but they’re quite similar. I don’t think Hazard in his first season at Chelsea was as good as maybe Pulisic was this season. He’s certainly on the right path to being close to Eden Hazard’s level.”The Hershey, Pennsylvania native contributed 11 goals and 10 assists in 34 appearances across all competitions despite missing several months due to injury. He began his career with Borussia Dortmund, where he rose to fame as one of the Bundesliga’s top young prospects. He moved to England in a record $73.1 million transfer deal.Unfortunately, his fantastic year ended on a down note. The 21-year-old attacker suffered a hamstring injury after scoring a goal in Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the recent 2020 FA Cup Final. According to manager Frank Lampard, it’s serious enough that he will likely miss the beginning of next season.“It’s going to be touch and go for the start of the season,” Lampard told the media. “Six weeks probably gets into the start of the season, but we have to treat the injury right. In the big scheme of things, when Christian reflects on his first season, he should be very happy with his improvement levels. He’s had the most goals and assists in his career, and that’s in his first season in the Premier League. We’ll get him fit and get him ready. If he misses the first one or two games, we’ll have a firing Christian and hopefully as hungry as he looked after restart.”Despite the setback, 2019-2020 was an incredible Premier League debut for Pulisic. Based on Lampard’s praise, it should be the first of many prolific seasons as he continues to break records and fulfill his potential to become one of the greatest American players. Winning this award, while not essential, would be a unique achievement signaling that he’s well on his way.
Pulisic’s first year at Chelsea: The U.S. star’s highs and lows since dream move to Premier League
Aug 7, 2020Tom HamiltonSenior Writer
When Christian Pulisic looks back on his first season in the Premier League, there will be a mental circle around one date: Oct. 26, 2019. That was the night he may finally have felt he belonged in a Chelsea shirt, finally showing the promise and talent he knew he had to give for his new club, as he scored a breathtaking hat trick against Burnley. First Chelsea goal, first hat trick all ticked off in three wonderfully worked strikes.While that night served to quiet the doubters and alleviate some of the pressure a $73 million price tag can place on young shoulders, Pulisic also used it as a springboard. From arriving at his new club without a meaningful break, carrying the pressure of personifying a watershed moment for American soccer and moving to another new country, the trio of goals in his perfect hat trick (left foot, right foot, header) gave him the chance to push on.But in this never-ending campaign in which weeks and months have merged into one exhausting year of football, Pulisic will have to forensically analyse the past year to make any sense of it. It was a spell of injuries, stunning goals, unforeseen postponements and dazzling dribbling — the Burnley game was where he stuck his stars and stripes flag into the ground.Prior to that night at Turf Moor, there were whispers at the stop-start beginning to his Chelsea career; now, a year on, those doubts have been replaced by overtures of praise. Pulisic might hate the wonderkid monikers, and probably quietly bristles at the “Captain America” nickname, but he has certainly made the Premier League sit up and take notice, finishing his debut season making the shortlist for Young Player of the Year.The challenge now is doing it consistently. This is the story of Pulisic’s first season in the Premier League.
The arrival at Chelsea
When Pulisic’s move to Chelsea was announced back in January 2019, the $73m (£58m) fee smashed the previous record for a U.S. player, when Wolfsburg paid Hertha Berlin $19.4m for defender John Brooks in 2017. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman heralded it as a “watershed moment for the American soccer player,” but there were others who wondered if this move might have come a season or two early.
The agreement saw Pulisic, then 20 years old, spend the rest of the 2018-19 campaign on loan at Borussia Dortmund before moving to London. Former U.S. international Landon Donovan was concerned that Pulisic would find game time limited at Stamford Bridge. “If you are not playing games, you are getting worse,” he told ESPN. His fears were hardly alleviated by then-Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri’s original take on Pulisic’s signing; when asked about his future winger, Sarri responded by saying he “didn’t know anything about [the] Pulisic [transfer]” until the day before it was announced.
At that time, Chelsea were then still trying to keep hold of superstar Eden Hazard, who was already into the “meet the parents” stage of his long courtship with Real Madrid, and Pulisic was playing out his final hits for Dortmund. It was a tough final five months for the American at Dortmund: injuries didn’t help his cause while Jadon Sancho was starting on the wing. The German press was merciless, too: Bild said Chelsea’s decision was “madness” and that they’d bought a player who was “positionally limited” and had “stagnated.”
– Connelly: The numbers that show Pulisic’s impact
Pulisic arrived at Chelsea in late May 2019, talking up how excited he was to be training alongside Hazard. “Any player would be dumb not to want to be in the same team as him [Hazard],” Pulisic told the BBC in May. But by June 7, Hazard had joined Real Madrid for €100m (£88.5m), Chelsea had been hit with a one-season transfer ban, Sarri had departed for Juventus and Frank Lampard had taken over as manager.And then, as soon as Pulisic arrived at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, he was off to the Gold Cup with the USMNT. There, he ended up being named Young Player of the Gold Cup, helping his team to the final. Rather than taking a proper break, he was back on the plane to Japan after a week off to link up with Chelsea on their preseason tour — an attitude that pleased his new manager.”It’s how I would have been [coming back from holiday early],” Lampard said. “It is a huge move for him to a big club and he is a top young player who will only go one way. It was important we start the season as well as we can. I know we have injuries but we will need him. I have not met him, I have spoken to him, but it was a good impression.” Privately, sources have told ESPN, Lampard was wary of overloading the new signing and conscious of managing Pulisic’s fatigue upon his arrival with his new team.Pulisic remembers boarding the team coach for the first time and how nervous he was, pinching himself at what he was achieving. “I remember thinking ‘I’m at Chelsea … this is insane,'” he said — his emotions quickly overtaken by the quiet bus that welcomed him as his jet-lagged teammates caught up on sleep.”I go and sit on the bus and nobody even noticed me. Nobody said anything. There were maybe one or two guys who said ‘hey hello’ and I was like what’s going on here?” Pulisic told his former U.S. teammate Jermaine Jones on the 13&Me podcast. “Those first couple of days of training, I was nervous. You know how it’s like when you move to a new team. They’re nice guys off the field, but to earn that respect, you have to show on the field you have that ability — that’s just how it works.”By Day 3 of their preseason camp, Pulisic had started to show some of his lethal finishing in training and was striking up friendships with his new teammates.
Getting settled at Stamford Bridge
Lampard’s first Chelsea side was to be, out of circumstance, built on youth. The transfer ban meant he would look to the club’s emerging talent and Pulisic, 21, was part of a burgeoning group of bright prospects that included playmaker Mason Mount, midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi, striker Tammy Abraham and defender Fikayo Tomori.
As the new season started, though, Pulisic found himself largely named on the bench.”Maybe my confidence wasn’t fully there, I wasn’t fully ready for the whole thing,” Pulisic said in June to Sky Sports, looking back at his start. His debut came in Chelsea’s 4-0 loss at Manchester United. He made his first start three days later in Chelsea’s European Super Cup clash with Liverpool — Chelsea would lose 7-6 on penalties — and grabbed his first assist in the process, teeing up Olivier Giroud‘s opening goal.”There’s more to come from Pulisic. We must remember his age, he’s only 20,” Lampard said after the match. “It took him a bit to get into the game, but when he got into it we saw what a player he is and that’s a good sign for the club.”It would be a frustrating couple of months. Pulisic was adjusting to the physicality of the league, and also battling the knock-on effects of an intense summer for club and country. His first Premier League start came against Leicester on Aug. 18, and his first topflight assist came vs. Norwich on Aug. 24. But in September he was an unused substitute in three straight league matches and once in the Champions League — only an appearance in the 7-1 thrashing of Grimsby in the Carabao Cup would break the run of bench duty, where he’d managed just one assist on a day when even the kit manager would have fancied scoring.Pulisic said at the time he was “frustrated” and had to “grind” this time out; Lampard wanted Pulisic to prove himself in training in order to get a chance on the field. It was a slow process: against Valencia on Sept.17, 2019, Mount picked up an early injury and Lampard went for Pedro instead as replacement. But as he remained patient, Pulisic took his opportunities when they were given to him, notching an assist against Southampton on Oct. 6 when he set up his former Dortmund teammate, Michy Batshuayi.All the while, as he kept a lid on his own frustration, others started to talk on his behalf, speculating about how he was feeling about the move and whether it was a bad call.Looking back now with hindsight, Pulisic’s former USMNT manager, Jurgen Klinsmann, got it spot on amid the speculation: he said at the time Pulisic would need to bring his “elbows out” and be “patient.” Pulisic remembers trying to second-guess Lampard, wondering why he wasn’t getting the starts he wanted, but had to frequently remind himself of the importance of moderating his own expectations. “I wasn’t going to go in and score a hat trick immediately,” he later said. “I didn’t start [as many games as I wanted] so I was thinking, OK new team, so it’s about staying strong in your head and realising everything wasn’t going to come instantly,” he told the 13&Me podcast.
Then Burnley happened.
“It’s about patience and timing, man, and once you get that feeling and confidence, then everything changes — then next game, goal, next game, goal, next game, assist — you have to stay level-headed and be ready for your time,” Pulisic said.It was the perfect hat trick and showed exactly why Chelsea bought Pulisic. “It was meant to be, it was my day,” he’d later tell NBC when looking back on the hat trick. His critics were silenced.”I know what a good player he is — I see that first-hand,” Lampard said of Pulisic after that hat trick. “There are things he has to learn and improve because he’s just turned 21. It’s the same with all young players. There are things that he’s going to work on, and I think he knows it. He knows that I’m driving that daily in training. The way he’s trained in the past few weeks, and the impact he’s had when playing, he’s said to everyone, ‘Here I am’ and what talent he does have. I’m really pleased for him.”It’s what we need from all our attacking players; to be a threat, to play like that, have a ruthless edge about how they finish and he showed the full package.”
Building — and rebuilding — momentum
Christian Pulisic addresses his role at Chelsea next season after Timo Werner and Kai Havertz joined the club.
Pulisic’s November was impressive. He made it five goals in three league games with a close-range finish against Watford and he nodded in another vs. Crystal Palace, the anchor of Chelsea’s youngest-ever starting XI in their Premier League history. A hip injury saw him miss out on USMNT duty, but he scored against Valencia at the end of the month and was starting to show his lethal, evasive running, drifting in off the wing, turning defenders on their heels and creating space.
December was more a stop-start month, and then on Jan. 4, 2020, Pulisic picked up a thigh injury that was meant to keep him out of action for at most four weeks. It would rule him out for far longer. Chelsea tried to get Pulisic back at the end of January and then again in mid-February, when he was back training with the under-23s, but the thigh injury took longer than expected to heal.”Of course you miss him,” Lampard said in mid-February. “He’s a quality player and he was having a really good patch pre-Christmas. Others have to stand up too, but we’ll be happy when he’s back.” And then the world was stopped by COVID-19.
Pulisic used the break as an opportunity to return home to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and recharge surrounded by friends and family. But rather than staying sat on the sofa, he’d wake early for the Chelsea Zoom training sessions and then spend the afternoons delivering food packages for feedingamerica.org or helping the local hospital. The time, as he later told Sky Sports, gave him an opportunity to make sure he was “100 percent fit and ready to go.” When he checked back in at Cobham ahead of the restart, Lampard described him as “hungry” and was impressed by the “real desire about him” and “sharpness in his game.”Captain America was ready for liftoff.
On June 21 in Chelsea’s first Premier League match since the restart of the season, Pulisic came off the bench to score an equaliser at Aston Villa, drifting in at the far post to knock home Cesar Azpilicueta‘s cross. Four days later he scored the opener against Manchester City, running through the City defence from his own half and calmly slotting the ball past Ederson. (The goal, and ensuing Chelsea win, cemented the Premier League title for Liverpool.)
Pulisic was named man of the match against Leicester in the FA Cup three days later, and won a penalty and a free kick with nifty footwork in Chelsea’s defeat to West Ham at the start of July. The Hazard comparisons were becoming more frequent, and as he twisted and turned Watford on July 4 and won a penalty, he cemented his spot in Chelsea’s starting lineup. He grabbed his eighth Chelsea goal against Crystal Palace on July 7, and after a dismal team performance against Sheffield United, he teed up Giroud’s winner at home against Norwich on July 14.
Sat in the stands watching Pulisic that night, you saw a calmness about him. As he warmed up prematch, largely on his own, he looked assured, joking occasionally with teammates but resembling an Olympic sprinter loosening up before exploding out of the starting blocks. He looked at home, no longer the nervous newcomer. Norwich manager Daniel Farke, who coached Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund II from 2015 to 2017, described him as “top class” and “worth each and every pound” Chelsea spent on him.”Christian will have a bright future and will be a world-class player one day and this is the best way to develop in this direction,” Farke said.Later that week, Lampard was asked by ESPN about Pulisic’s form, and he revealed they had done work on the training pitch to improve the winger’s physicality. “I’ve seen real improvement in his all-round game,” Lampard said. “Coming to the Premier League is very difficult because of the physical nature of the league. We have to remember how young Christian is and also the summer that he had.
“I think he found those physical demands pretty strong in the beginning and now you’re seeing him deal with those better. A lot of that is a credit to himself and how he’s approached it — he’s worked with our strength and conditioning coach Adam Burrows, who’s fantastic, but they’ve worked together — so it’s Christian who has to take on that responsibility, and he has.”Physically that’s helped him, but it’s also just his talent is coming through. Looking forward, I want to see more of what he’s shown in recent times, which is goals and assists, because that’s what the best in the world do in that position. I feel he has the capability to do that as he improves and that can be the edge as his game moves on levels.”Pulisic’s form also made good viewing for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.”You see now that he’s picking the ball up in space, in pockets and just being really aggressive going at defenders, dribbling defenders,” Berhalter said on July 24. “It’s not just only on the sidelines, now he’s getting it towards the middle of the field and he’s had some really positive effects taking players on.”And then getting used to his teammates and his teammates gaining trust in him. If you watch the games, you can see the dramatic shift and how his teammates relate to him, that they actually look to him. Whereas times in the beginning, you’re thinking, ‘Wait, why don’t they pass him this ball?’ Now, they get the ball and their first glance is to him. And you know he’s really grown to be an important part of that team, and it’s been fun to watch.”When Pulisic arrived at Chelsea, winning the respect of his teammates and Chelsea’s supporters was all he wanted.
The turning point vs. Liverpool
The game that made even casual fans sit up and take notice came at Anfield against the recently crowned champions, Liverpool. Pulisic didn’t start, but he changed the game after coming on as a 59th-minute substitute. In the space of 14 minutes, he helped Chelsea battle back from 4-1 down to 4-3. To set up Abraham for an easy finish, he danced past Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Joe Gomez before squaring for Abraham, and then grabbed a superb goal for himself. The U.S. star drifted into the penalty box off the right flank, collected a beautifully weighted cross from Hudson-Odoi, cushioned the ball on his chest, took two tiny touches to dodge past Alexander-Arnold and then rifled a shot past Alisson.It gave a sign of his immediate talent, but equally showed what he could offer next season and beyond for Chelsea and the USMNT.Though Pulisic said he was uneasy about any comparisons with Hazard, aware of the incredible legacy he’d left at Stamford Bridge over seven sparkling seasons (including two league titles and two Europa Leagues), Lampard was seeing similarities between the two.”I was here for Eden’s first year and it is not easy coming to the Premier League, and for Eden in that first year it was [all about] adapting to the Premier League,” Lampard said after the Liverpool game. “Christian has had his moments of that, but in midseason he had a really good patch and then since the restart, he has been in incredible form. Only the injury he picked up in the Norwich game has kept him out of the semifinal when he’s flying.
“He is so young and he has such natural talent and he creates goals and scores goals. He is a big player for us so I’m delighted to see him come through fit. Clearly he will be a big player in these next few games for us and going forward as well.”
And then came the FA Cup final, where Pulisic started brilliantly, scoring a lovely worked goal and then as he attacked again in the second half, his hamstring went. He was helped off the field, distraught and watched on as Arsenal went on to lift the trophy.
But once he recovers, it’ll be back into training and continuing that process of nailing down a first-team spot. He’s already training with new teammates Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner; with rumours continuing around Chelsea’s pursuit of Germany‘s next big thing, Kai Havertz, it won’t get any easier for Pulisic. But Lampard’s preseason challenge to Pulisic will be to improve his number of goals and assists — that’s what eventually set Hazard apart, and Pulisic has the capability to achieve similar numbers.
Pulisic is a reluctant trend-setter and wary of the weight on his shoulders as the record-breaking American in the Premier League, but he’s comfortable in his own shoes and showing the world why Chelsea paid $73m for him. The pundits who questioned the purchase at the start of the season are now putting him in the world-class bracket, but above all, Pulisic’s biggest achievement, on a personal level, is that he now feels at home at Chelsea and has earned the respect of his teammates.The next Hazard? No, Pulisic is making a name for himself in his own right.
Juventus hope Pirlo can be a ‘Ronaldo Whisperer’ after Sarri mess
Aug 10, 2020Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC
Saturday’s announcement that Juventus were hiring Andrea Pirlo as first-team manager made shockwaves, but it’s not the first time they’ve picked a former club legend with no experience as a number one.
Ciro Ferrara was appointed with two games left in Juve’s 2008-09 campaign, and he stuck around the following season. Barcelona had promoted a young youth-team coach named Pep Guardiola the previous summer, and things had turned out rather well: it was very much en vogue at the time. Ferrara never turned into an Italian Pep and lasted until his sacking in January 2010.If you want to draw parallels between his appointment and Pirlo’s, there are plenty. Each became a legend at another club (Napoli in Ferrara’s case, AC Milan in Pirlo’s) before joining Juve in mid-career. Both worked for Sky Italia. Ferrara was an assistant with the Italian national team, Pirlo agreed to be part of Roberto Mancini’s staff only to then pull out due to prior sponsor commitments. Both were 41 years of age when they were appointed to the Juventus job. ADVERTISEMENTThis is not to say Pirlo’s tenure will end up like Ferrara’s. That was a different Juve, with different men in charge and different circumstances; this one has won nine straight titles, that one was fresh off promotion to Serie A and emerging from the Calciopoli scandal. Rather, it’s to note that while Pirlo’s appointment may have taken many off guard, we’ve been here before — and in Gianluigi Buffon‘s lifetime, no less.The vibe coming from Juve, however, obviously isn’t about Pirlo emulating Ferrara. It’s about him following in the footsteps of another great who was elevated without significant prior experience: Zinedine Zidane. Zidane’s name comes up repeatedly in conversations with people familiar with Juventus’ thinking. It’s not a perfect parallel — Zidane had been retired for 10 years when he replaced Rafa Benitez in January 2016, but he had held various assistant and youth-team gigs at the club — but Zidane and Pirlo share qualities that Juventus value.
Both are generally quiet, thoughtful men, the sort who lead by example on the pitch but also the sort who, when they do speak, people tend to listen to. Both reek charisma, a sort of understated cool that goes beyond their (however immense) achievements on the pitch. Both have worked under and absorbed the teachings of top coaches, both pragmatists and dogmatics, and both, it is thought, lean towards the former while entirely understanding the latter.And both are seen as Ronaldo whisperers.Just as Zidane’s appointment in 2016 hinged on his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo and the belief that he could best harness the Real Madrid No. 7’s talents (after some decidedly stormy moments under Benitez), so too is this choice about the Portuguese superstar. It couldn’t be otherwise. He has two years left on a contract, which — when you factor in wages and amortization — will cost Juve some $185 million. He held up his end of the bargain this season, scoring 37 goals in all competitions, including two against Lyon when they were knocked out of the Champions League on Friday.For better or worse, Juve are committed to him. They’ve put all their chips on CR7 and there’s no turning back, so they had might as well give him the best possible platform to succeed — incidentally, one of the reasons, though by no means the only one, Maurizio Sarri is gone. The coach who built his entire team play and reputation on “the collective” tried to reinvent himself as something else to accommodate Ronaldo — and failed. Juventus were neither fish, nor fowl — just a group of individuals. With this version of Ronaldo on the pitch, “Sarriball” was impossible and the milquetoast, watered-down football Sarri produced himself was ineffective.Can Pirlo do better? What Juve are hoping for is that he channels the credo of the coaches who shaped his career. Starting with Carlo Ancelotti, who made the journey from dogmatist to pragmatist and, starting in his Milan days, always believed that you fit your formation and style of play to the personnel available and not the other way around. This is also pretty much what Zidane did after taking over from Benitez.In some ways, it’s really Juve’s only option. This is not a team that can be rebuilt, let alone revolutionized, right now, nor should it be. They are stretched financially and their eggs are in the Cristiano basket. But there’s more than enough for Pirlo to work with.
Wojciech Szczesny has turned into a very good goalkeeper. At center-back, Matthijs De Ligt and Merih Demiral (now that he’s fit again) will continue to grow, and you can squeeze another year or two out of Leonardo Bonucci. Alex Sandro can be solid on the left. Up front, Paulo Dybala was Serie A’s player of the year for a reason, Ronaldo is still productive and a difference maker, and you get the added benefit of a force of nature like Dejan Kulusevski to freshen things up.
However, major surgery is required in midfield, where it’s not clear who got the better of the Arthur–Miralem Pjanic swap and the Panini-sticker collection of high-priced free agents (Sami Khedira, Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot) have been a disappointment in the past few years. That will be his biggest challenge.
But Pirlo has something else on his side, and it’s another reason why he was chosen over more-accredited alternatives like Mauricio Pochettino or Simone Inzaghi: time and goodwill. Juve fans greeted Sarri with all the enthusiasm you might muster for a trip to the dentist. His mystique was all about the football on the pitch, and considering it was atrocious at Juve, all he had left to muster the troops was his charisma, which ranks somewhere between that of a tax accountant and a can opener.Juventus have always seem themselves as a “results-first” club, but given the emptiness of this last Scudetto — their ninth in a row — there is reason to believe that many are willing to trade a season of growth and perhaps a run in the Champions League for yet another grind to the top of Serie A, especially if it’s as joyless and soulless as this year’s. Pirlo will get that benefit.The other reason Pirlo was appointed is rather more cynical. A Pochettino (or even an Inzaghi) would have demanded investment, and maybe even some flexing of muscle towards the senior stars, most of whom are too old or too well paid to shift — you’ll recall even Sarri tried to offload Dybala. Pirlo, in his very first job, is unlikely to do that. He will have been told what’s realistic and what’s not and accepted it.(If you really want to get even more cynical, there’s a Plan B some Juve fans have long dreamed about. Zidane’s contract in Madrid expires in 2021. He may extend it, he may have zero interest in returning to Turin, but at least there’s an option to pursue down the road that you wouldn’t have if you were tied down to a massive multiyear deal for a Pochettino or even the return of Massimiliano Allegri.)Pirlo may or may not become a great manager. What’s pretty evident is that either way, we likely won’t find out in his first year at the club. There are too many hurdles, too many handicaps, too much inherited baggage to judge him fairly, no matter what he does.From Juve’s perspective, that’s not a bad thing. Best-case scenario: he turns into a bearded version of Zidane, quietly but firmly getting his superstars to punch their weight and putting the players first. Worst-case scenario: Juve downshift for a season or two, without taking a major hit financially, the high-priced underachievers finally leave and they lay the foundations for a rebuild with a different manager.
MARTIN RENNIE VOTED CHAMPIONSHIP’S COACH OF THE MONTH
By Indy Eleven Communications, 08/12/20, 1:00PM EDT
Led Indiana’s Team to Five Victories in First Six Games of 2020 Campaign
Indy Eleven’s Martin Rennie has been voted the USL Championship’s Coach of the Month for July, earning the award after leading his side to five victories in its opening six games of the 2020 Championship season across March and July.Now in his third season at the helm for Indy, Rennie has built one of the leading contenders to reach the 2020 Championship Final. After a comeback victory against Memphis 901 FC in March, Indy won four consecutive games to start the season, including a thrilling late road victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on July 22. Indiana’s Team capped the month with a 4-1 victory against Hartford Athletic to finish with the most points of any side through the end of July. “I’m very happy to receive this award on behalf of the players and staff at Indy Eleven,” said Rennie. “The players did an amazing job of keeping fit and focused during the months of lockdown, and as a result were able to start the season well on their return. I think everyone in the league is happy to be playing, so let’s keep it going and make the most of 2020.”“On behalf of the organization, I want to congratulate Martin on this well-deserved recognition,” said Indy Eleven President & CEO, Greg Stremlaw. “To lead our squad to the top of the table under such unique and challenging circumstances is a testament to his approach and professionalism and our players’ commitment to excellence. We look forward to seeing where he and our entire technical staff can take the squad during the rest of the season.”Rennie received 68 percent of the vote to take the first monthly award of the season. Hartford Athletic’s Radhi Jaïdi and Saint Louis FC’s Steve Trittschuh finished tied for second on 13 percent, with Trittschuh having led his side to victory in three of its opening four games, including STLFC’s first road victory against Louisville City FC in its history, and Jaïdi recording victories in three of the club’s first four games in its second season.The USL Championship’s Coach of the Month award is voted upon by the USL Championship National Media Panel and the USL Championship Technical Committee, with each group responsible for 50 percent of the overall vote.
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