100 Days to the World Cup, Spain/Italy Start and Other notes So we are just 100 days until the World Cup starts in Qatar the Nov 20-Dec 12 World Cup in the middle of the European Seasons. Yes the start has been adjusted as now the WC will start on Sunday night not Monday as Qatar moved the schedule so they could launch the games with Sunday night home game. Messi is missing from the Ballon d’OR list for the first time in 7 years – but he still had the goal of the weekend with this beauty in PSG’s opening win of the season. Spain and Italy start their season’s this weekend. (see full previews in the The Ole Ballcoach). Goalkeeping Predictions for 2022-23 in Europe.
EPL Fulham America and Leeds United States of America good starts
Wow the EPL season got off to a great start if you like to watch American’s succeed in the EPL – Fulham with American’s Jedi and Tim Ream holding down the left side of defense tied Liverpool at home 2-2. Then America’s favorite EPL coach – Jesse Marsch and his American signees shined as Brendan Aaronson scored this goal and Tyler Adams had the most break-up plays of anyone in the EPL in week 2. Can Americans play soccer ?? Heck yes !! Leeds might now be looking at Tim Weah from France – lets hope!! Disappointing to see that Pulisic seems to be on the outs a Chelsea – listen their Manager Tuchel is THE WORSE OFFENSIVE COACH in the history of soccer. Pulisic should have left for Juventus this summer – we’ll see if he gets a chance this Sun at 11:30 am when Chelsea hosts Tottenham in the biggest game of the weekend the LONDON Derby on USA Network. Aston Villa host’s Everton Sat at 7:30 am on USA then Brentford hosts Man United on NBC for the boring game of the week Sat at 12:30 pm – yey NBC. Leeds travels to Southampton at 10 am on Peacock the same time as Fulham travels to Wolverhampton also on Peacock while Man City host Bournemouth on USA (yey).
Indy 11 @ Hartford Sat Night, 7 pm ESPN+
After closing its three-game homestand last weekend, the Eleven will take to the road for its next two, beginning tomorrow Aug. 13, with a 7:00 p.m. ET kickoff at Hartford Athletic (live on ESPN+). Following a pivotal meeting for postseason hopes at FC Tulsa on Aug. 20 (8:30 p.m., live on ESPN+), Indiana’s Team will return home with two games against top of the table sides in four days’ time on Aug. 27 against Louisville City FC (7:00 p.m.) and Aug. 31 versus San Antonio FC and USL leading GK former 11 GK Jordan Farr. Tickets for those matches – and all future contests at Carroll Stadium – can be purchased online at indyeleven.com/tickets, and fans can learn more about promotional themes for the evenings at indyeleven.com/promotions.
MLS AllStars Beats LIGA MX All Stars 2-1
Really cool watching both the skills challenge and the MLS Allstar game this week – as MLS beat Liga MX (Mexico) in everything. Yes we dominate them in Ladies/Mens/Boys/Girls and now Concacaf Champions League (Seattle) and now for back to back seasons – MLS All-Stars kicked Liga MX All Stars on the field – again. The best thing I saw was the return of the Goalkeeper wars !! More of that is needed.
Huge Congrats to our Former and current Carmel FC players and GKs who made their high school teams – Season’s Start this Weekend
10 Carmel High School GKs played at Carmel FC (All 7 Ladies) (3 Boys)
On the Girls Side for Carmel High – we are proud that all 7 of the GK’s on the roster are former or current Carmel FC Players. Seniors Bethany Ducat and Aubree Empie, along with Junior Chloe Fouts, JV has Claire and Mary Grace, while 9th Grade has current CFCer’s Paulina Arana and Lilly Bose. On the boys side the Varsity has former CFC’ers Charlie Featherson and Jacob Havice, and JV has Will Hartsock. Both our Zionsville GKs made it as Cooper Cass made the Freshmen team along with Avery Keller making Varsity Girls.
A huge reminder for those who didn’t make it – you are really good players – Carmel is a huge school – chances are you all would have made it at HSE/Fishers/Guerin or Noblesville. Keep the head up and get ready for the club fall CFC season or rec at CDC!
Carmel High School Girls & Boys Varsity Schedules
I will have local high school previews next week – exciting with Carmel High School Girls and Boys teams coming off of State Finals Appearances last year.
BIG GAMES ON TV
Fri, Aug 12
2:30 pm ESPN+ Freiburg vs Dortmund (Reyna)
3 pm beIN Sport Lille (Weah) vs Nantes
8:30 pm Para+ Houston Dash vs Racing Louisville FC NWSL
10 pm FS1 Juerez vs Pachuca
Sat, Aug 13
7:30 am USA Aston Villa vs Everton
9:30 am ESPN+ RB Leipzig vs Koln
10 am USA Man City vs Bournemouth
10 am Peacock Southampton vs Leeds United (Adams, Aaronson)
10 am Peacock Wolverhampton vs Fulham (Reem, Jedi)
12:30 pm NBC Brentford vs Man United
12:30 ABC Schalke vs Mgladbach
3 pm ABC Barcelona (Dest) vs Rayo Vallencano
7 pm ESPN+ INDY 11 @ Hartford Athletic
7:30 pm ESPN+ Cincy v Atlanta United
10:30 pm Para+ San Diego Wave (Morgan) vs Orlando Pride NWSL
10:30 pm ESPN+ LA FC vs Charlotte
Sun, Aug 14
9 am USA Nottingham Forest vs West Ham United
9:30 am ESPN+ Stutgart vs RB Leipzig
11:30 am Peacock Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Tottenham
11:30 am ESPN+ Bayern Munich vs Wolfsburg
4 pm ESPN+ Almeria vs Real Madrid
3 pm Para+ Seattle OL Reign vs NY Gothem FC NWSL
8 pm Para+ Angel City vs Chicago Red Stars
Mon, Aug 15
1:30 pm ESPN+ Getafe vs Atletico Madrid
2:45 pm para+ Juventus vs Sassulo
3 pm USA Liverpool vs Crystal Palace(Richards)
Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw
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What the heck is up at Manchester United?
Hi everyone! First off, my apologies for this Friday Newsletter coming out on Saturday. I put so much into finishing my 5,000-word story for Friday on the Leeds United Americans—working well past midnight Wednesday and Thursday—that I was a hollowed-out shell of myself for most of the day Friday. It turns out that pulling all-nighters in your 40s isn’t the same as when you were in your 20s. Who knew?!?
But I hope you enjoyed the Leeds story. If you haven’t yet, check it out. I’m really happy with how it came out. And I’d appreciate it if you could do me a favor: If you like the Leeds story or any of the 30 other premium magazine stories I’ve written for this site over the past 11 months, spread the word about GrantWahl.com to people you know. That’s the best way to help me be able to spend the money to keep doing ambitious stories like this that you won’t see elsewhere
This has been a wild work stretch for me. After reporting trips in July to Mexico and England (sandwiched around a not-fun, long-awaited bout of Covid), I’m at home for this part of August writing the stories that I’ve had in my notebook—Leeds and, next up, Qatar—while my wife is on a two-week reporting trip of her own in Asia. So it’s been me and our two toy poodles, Zizou and Coco, who spend their time watching me write or sitting on the sofa with me checking out games. It’s the start of the European season, so I’m trying to see a bunch of matches and get a handle on how teams look to kick things off.
That meant our Saturday went like this:
• Watch Southampton 2, Leeds United 2. I skipped the 7:30 am ET game (Aston Villa 2, Everton 1) trying to catch up on sleep, but I think it’s fair to say I’m likely to watch every Leeds game live this season with the American coach (Jesse Marsch) and two USMNT stars (Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson). Leeds seemed like it was in control after going up 2-0 in the second half on Rodrigo’s second goal, but Marsch waited too long to make his subs and Ralph Hasenhüttl made a big tactical change for Southampton, which equalized at 2-2 in a brutal nine-minute stretch for Leeds. It’s a bummer for Leeds, which could have been at the top of the table with a perfect six points with Man City and Arsenal, but four points after two games isn’t bad at all for a team that was in a relegation fight to the final day last season. Leeds has Chelsea at home next weekend, which will be a US-palooza with Christian Pulisic coming to Elland Road.
• Watch Brentford 4, Manchester United 0. Easily the craziest result of the weekend with United being down 4-0 after just 35 minutes and David De Gea melting down in front of us. But don’t put the blame entirely on the goalkeeper. United deserves to be at the extreme bottom of the table after two ugly losses in two weeks, and every time the camera showed Erik ten Hag it was essentially a meme. Here’s an idea: Put Lisandro Martínez at the six (where I guarantee you he’ll be better than as a CB) and start Raphaël Varane and Harry Maguire in the central defense. I’d also rather see Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial as the starting nine than Cristiano Ronaldo. The faster Ronaldo can get his wish to leave, the better for United as a whole.
• Watch Barcelona 0, Rayo Vallecano 0. Even if most of what Barcelona’s directors did this summer seemed shady and terribly risky for the future, the one thing we were supposed to agree on was that this Barça team would be much improved on the field. Well, not today! Robert Lewandowski, Raphinia and Gavi looked a bit off, Sergio Busquets got sent off, and while things picked up somewhat after Frenkie de Jong came on, it wasn’t enough to keep Barça from dropping points at home to start the season. One cool thing about today: The second and third games I saw were on over-the-air NBC and ABC, which I hope keeps happening more. I understand the economics of why so much soccer on U.S. TV is on streaming services these days, but we’re still a country where millions of new soccer fans remain to be created, and the best way to do that is by making good games easily available.
OPENING THE MAILBAG
We are less than 4 months away from the World Cup, and it seems like Qatar officials have so many issues to solve before the tournament, including the schedule for the first 2 days and whether fans can drink alcohol. Is this going to be a disaster?
It seems kind of crazy that after Qatar has had 12 years to prepare for the World Cup, FIFA literally changed the opening day of the tournament this week! So now Qatar-Ecuador will kick off the World Cup on November 19 as a stand-alone game. That probably should have been the case all along, but I don’t like that FIFA seems to be accommodating Qatar and doing something at the last moment that will make life difficult for Ecuador fans. Based on what I learned from the announcement of the World Cup 2026 host cities, it seems like FIFA does a lot these days by the seat of its pants.
The Qatar World Cup has a lot of big issues, obviously. But I actually don’t think consuming alcohol will be a problem. I was in Qatar in late February, and it was pretty easy to get a drink at a hotel bar or restaurant, much easier than when I visited Qatar in 2013. One significant concern I see will be for hotel rooms for visiting fans. I’ll try and get more info on this in the coming weeks.
Dan Le Batard got BigSoccer riled up during the 2006 World Cup with some anti-soccer comments. Now he employs Fancy Lad Chris Wittyngham. How much is this an indicator of progress for soccer?
Ha! Maybe not the best indicator, but it’s something. Dan still isn’t a huge soccer guy, but he has people on his show who care about the sport. And I’m seeing a few other signs on big sports shows. Colin Cowherd had Stu Holden on his show this week, and Cowherd not only follows the U.S. national teams now, but he also knows what he’s talking about. We’ll see if we can get Stephen A. Smith (“Let’s do that soccer!”) in a place like that before long.
How do you think the NWSL compares in terms of quality of play to the European leagues? Do you foresee a day when there will be a match between the European champions and the American ones?
It was revealing not long ago to interview Lindsay Horan, who spoke about the differences between the NWSL and playing at Lyon. She noted that Lyon was better technically, while the NWSL was more rough-and-tumble athletic. I agree with her. But I’d also add that the NWSL is much more competitive than the French league and has a better distribution of talent among the teams. And while the WICC games next week will be fun, I’m waiting for FIFA to get its act together and get a Club World Cup for women started ASAP. We needs those games, and it should have already happened by now.
I feel sad about the rough season my hometown Washington Spirit is having after winning the NWSL championship last year. Do you have any insights—general or specific—about how they’ve gone from red hot to almost bottom of the pack? (I wonder if it’s particularly hard for team cohesion to have a whopping seven players disappear from time to time for USWNT camps?)
It’s been a crazy turn-around this season for the Spirit. There’s more stability under the new ownership of Michele Kang, and you’d think things would be better with previous abusive coaches out of the picture. But the team has gone a long time without winning (not since May 1), and the situation at Segra Field is a mess, and you’re right, it hasn’t helped to miss so many players with the national team. But if you have that many national team players, you should start getting results when they’re back. And that hasn’t happened.
From the USMNT perspective, is the team better with Pulisic playing with Chelsea as a super sub or as a regular player with a lesser Premier league team (ex: West Ham)? Ultimately, the goal is to have Christian at his peak going into the WC.
If you’re the USMNT, you obviously want Pulisic playing as much as possible. Right now it seems like Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are being preferred by Thomas Tuchel, but I’m hoping Pulisic finds a way to crack that soon. We’ve seen some discussion about the potential of a Newcastle transfer for Pulisic, but it’s still hard for me to envision him making a move this month.
If Seattle doesn’t make the playoffs, is Schmetzer out? Does whether Lagerwey stays affect Schmetzer’s future? If Brian is fired, is Preki the obvious choice for interim coach?
Even if the Sounders miss the MLS playoffs (and I think they’ll end up making it), I would be stunned if Schmetzer or Lagerwey would be in trouble at all this season after the Sounders won the CCL title. That trophy, and the two MLS Cups they’ve won in recent years, buys a lot of credit for those two. That said, I kind of like that the question is being asked, because I think it’s a good thing for there to be more pressure on MLS coaches and sporting directors than we have seen in the past.
What outrageously wild predictions would you have for the first half of the Euro season? Some team coming from nowhere or some player we never heard of? Who’s the next Sheriff? Or just who should we turn an eye toward?
I’m fascinated by what’s going on at Rangers. You’ve got a team that went to the final of the Europa League (losing to Frankfurt), a team that has USMNT players James Sands and goal-scorer Malik Tillman, a team that has one more hurdle to clear with PSV Eindhoven to get to this season’s Champions League group stage. So how about predicting that Rangers gets there, and that Tillman becomes the goal-scorer (his ups are crazy) that the USMNT needs for the World Cup?
Why is it that women’s clubs in Europe are attached to men’s clubs as opposed to the “expansion style” in the U.S.? Do you think one model is better for the development of the women’s game?
It’s just the soccer culture in Europe, where we haven’t seen any real situations pop up yet where someone wants to start a women’s team from scratch and compete with the established order. It’s instructive that it was seen as important for the women’s game in Europe when Manchester United and Real Madrid finally took women’s soccer seriously enough to start investing in top-division teams (even though they aren’t the best teams in their leagues at this point). I don’t think one model is clearly better, and you do see some NWSL teams owned by people who also own MLS teams, but as long as the owners show they care, that’s what matters to me.
With the self-imposed announcement date passed and nary a peep during the All-Star break, is MLS to Vegas off or do we still expect to hear something soon? Also, I’m assuming MLS goes to 32 teams. When will that happen and who are the most likely candidates?
I still expect that Las Vegas will get the next MLS expansion team to bring the league to 30 teams. At that point, the next leading candidates are San Diego, Phoenix, Sacramento and maybe Detroit. MLS commissioner Don Garber indicated last week that he’d like to get to 32 teams. But it’s in his interests for there to be the appearance of scarcity, so I doubt we’ll hear him say anything about the potential for more than 32 teams for a while to come.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thanks for reading!
USMNT weekend viewing guide: We’re all rolling now
With LaLiga and Serie A beginning this weekend, all the major European leagues are back.
- By jcksnftsn Aug 12, 2022, 7:11am PDT
Here we go! The action is in full swing now as La Liga and Serie A sides begin their season this weekend, joining the other European leagues who kicked things off last weekend and leading to a full slate of action. There are already some injury concerns impacting our watch schedule, as well as transfer rumors suggesting some individuals could be on the move, but at least for now here’s what we’ll be watching:
SC Freiburg v Borussia Dortmund – 2:30p on ESPN+
Gio Reyna made last weekend’s matchday squad for Borussia Dortmund but was an unused substitute in the team’s 1-0 win over 10-man Bayer Leverkusen. It is not surprising the club would continue their cautious approach with Reyna, who barely saw playing time during the preseason. Marco Reus scored 10 minutes into Dortmund’s opener, and the team would hang on to win 1-0 in what was an important, if unconvincing, victory over a Leverkusen side that seems likely to be a competitor for Champions League qualification by season’s end.
This weekend, Dortmund will take on a Freiburg side that finished last season in 6th place and opened their new campaign with a 4-0 thumping of Augsburg. Their match was scoreless through the first half, but Freiburg scored twice within the first three minutes of the second half kickoff and coasted to victory through a balanced attack that saw four different players find the back of the net.
- Timothy Weah missed Lille’s opener last weekend (a 4-1 win over Auxerre) due to yellow card accumulation and now looks like he will miss a couple weeks due to a foot injury. Lille face Nantes at 3p on beIN Sports.
Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano – 3p on ABC
Sergiño Dest could be on the move yet this month as Barcelona has reportedly made him available, and it seems that he is third in the pecking order at the right back spot, having seen limited playing time during the preseason. It’s no secret that Barcelona have wage and money issues, but it’s also no secret that they don’t operate in typical fashion so it remains to be seen whether they are seeking to move Dest to recoup some money and register some of the numerous players they have already added this summer or if they are trying to replace him with yet another signing.
For now, Dest remains with Barcelona as the team kicks off their season against Rayo Vallecano Saturday afternoon on ABC. Barcelona finished a distant second place to Real Madrid last season and, as we mentioned above, has brought in a number of reinforcements (Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen, and Raphinha, to name a few) in an attempt to close the gap. However, it isn’t without a high degree of risk. In fact, it has been argued that unless Barcelona are able to close the gap on Real Madrid in both La Liga and Champions League and reap the financial rewards, then president Joan Laporta’s summer strategy could send the club into an unrecoverable financial tailspin. They will be dealing with a different kind of pressure this season as they look to make good. They will start their campaign on Saturday against a Rayo Vallecano side that finished 12th place in La Liga last season, just four points out safe from relegation.
- Ricardo Pepi came off the bench last weekend in Augsburg’s 4-0 loss to Freiburg. This weekend, the team face Bayer Leverkusen at 9:30a on ESPN+.
- Timothy Chandler was an unused substitute for Eintracht Frankfurt last Friday as they were smashed by Bayern Munich 6-1. Things should get easier this weekend as they face a Hertha Berlin side that needed to win the relegation playoff to escape being dropped to the 2. Bundesliga. This match will also be played at 9:30a on ESPN+.
- Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson, and Jesse Marsch look to build on last weekend’s season opening win over Wolves when they face Southampton at 10a on Peacock. Southampton opened the season with a 4-1 loss to Tottenham.
- Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson and Fulham were involved in the shock result of last weekend as the newly promoted club drew with title contending Liverpool 2-2. Fulham take on Wolverhampton Wanderers at 10a on Peacock.
- Luca de la Torre could make his LaLiga debut as his new club Celta Vigo open their season against Espanyol at 11a on ESPN+.
- Joe Scally got the start for Borussia Mönchengladbach last weekend in the team’s 3-1 win over Hoffenheim. ‘Gladbach look to build some momentum as they face a newly promoted Schalke side that lost to Köln 3-1. The match will be played at 12:30p on ESPN+.
MLS mashup (all matches on ESPN+):
- Aaron Long and the New York Red Bulls take on Orlando City at 6p.
- The New England Revolution host DC United at 7:30p.
- Brandon Vasquez looks to continue his scoring ways as FC Cincinnati take on Atlanta United at 7:30p.
- Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union and their young quartet host Gaga Slonina and the Chicago Fire at 7:30p.
- Toronto FC and the Bradleys host the Portland Timbers at 7:30p. Eryk Williamson saw 30 minutes off the bench for Portland last weekend.
- DeAndre Yedlin and Inter Miami host NYCFC and Sean Johnson at 8p.
- Gyasi Zardes looks for a little payback as the Colorado Rapids take on his former team, the Columbus Crew, at 9p.
- FC Dallas and Jesus Ferreira, et al. take on the San Jose Earthquakes and Cade Cowell at 9p.
- The Houston Dynamo host Djordje Mihailovic and CF Montreal at 9p.
- Kellyn Acosta and league leading LAFC host Charlotte FC at 10:30p.
Mainz v Union Berlin – 9:30a on ESPN+
Jordan Pefok got his Bundesliga career off to the perfect start last weekend, scoring the opening goal for Union Berlin in the team’s 3-1 Berlin Derby win over Hertha Berlin. Pefok redirected a cross in with a header from a sharp angle in the 30th minute and his side were off and running, getting out to a 3-0 lead before conceding a consolation goal in the 85th minute. It was a dream debut for Pefok, who joined Union Berlin over the summer following a prolific year for Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys, with 27 goals across all competitions. It would be unreasonable to expect Pefok to maintain such a high scoring rate with the jump in leagues, but if he is able to continue slotting home goals with some regularity for Union Berlin, it should help keep the attention on USMNT fans and, more importantly, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter.
- Christian Pulisic saw 25 minutes off the bench for Chelsea FC last weekend in the club’s rather mundane 1-0 win over Everton. They now face a Spurs side that looked rather explosive last weekend in putting four goals past Southampton. The match will be played at 11:30a on USA Network.
- Yunus Musah has been playing regularly in the middle of the pitch for Valencia during the preseason, which is a welcome development for USMNT fans. His side open their 2022-23 campaign against Girona at 1:30p in a match that can be seen on ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.
- Walker Zimmerman and Nashville SC host Minnesota United at 9p on FS1. Nashville sit just a point ahead of the Seattle Sounders in the playoff race.
- Erik Palmer-Brown and Troyes got their season off to a rough start last weekend suffering a 3-2 loss to Montpellier. They’ll look to rebound this weekend as they face Toulouse at 9a on beIN Sports.
- Real Sociedad start their season with a trip to Cadiz at 11:30a on Sunday in a match that can be seen on ESPN+. Jonathan Gomez reportedly will get some opportunities with the first team this season, though it remains to be seen in what capacity. It would take a flurry of activity to grab the attention of Gregg Berhalter ahead of November’s World Cup.
MLS Mashup (all matches on ESPN+):
- Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and the Seattle Sounders host Diego Luna and Real Salt Lake at 10p.
Bonus Monday action:
- Weston McKennie remains sidelined for Juventus, who begin their Serie A campaign as they take on Sassuolo at 2:45p on Paramount+.
- Chris Richards was an unused substitute for Crystal Palace last weekend. The side now face Liverpool at 3p on USA Network.
Let us know what you’re eager to keep an eye on this weekend and what other action you see in the comments section below.
LaLiga 2022-23 preview: Will Barcelona topple Real Madrid? What to watch for ahead of new season
8:19 AM ETESPN
Football fans around the world will tune in as LaLiga returns to action (stream matches, highlights on season on ESPN+). Spain’s top flight kicks off Friday with Osasuna hosting Sevilla, while Barcelona host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday at Camp Nou. On Sunday, Real Madrid begin their title defence against promoted side Almeria.
Coaches have swapped dugouts, players have departed, others have arrived with much fanfare (and lots of controversy), and fans are already debating whether Karim Benzema or Robert Lewandowski will score more goals.
Before the action gets underway, though, let’s examine some of the biggest storylines worth following as the 2022-23 season begins to unfold. ESPN contributers Alex Kirkland, Sam Marsden and Sid Lowe look at players to watch for, and Cesar Hernandez rounds up United States and Mexico players in LaLiga.
– Stream every LaLiga match on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access
Who are the faves? | Who will struggle, who will thrive | Big questions | Players to note | USMNT, Mexico stars in LaLiga
The euphoria generated by Real Madrid’s 14th Champions League win in May hasn’t faded yet. That victory over Liverpool, close on the heels of a 35th LaLiga title wrapped up a month earlier, left Madrid feeling self-assured and confident about this team’s trajectory. Stability and prudence have been the watchwords this summer, with no panic buying, and a determination to move only for elite players who can genuinely add something to the side.
– Stream LIVE: Real Madrid vs. Almeria, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Antonio Rudiger — a Champions League-winning central defender at Chelsea — fits into that category, and so does top midfield prospect Aurelien Tchouameni, who joined from AS Monaco. Otherwise, Madrid trust in the players who won it all last year — and unflappable coach Carlo Ancelotti — to go out and do it again.
There’s a belief that veterans like Karim Benzema and Luka Modric can deliver for one more year; that up-and-coming stars such as Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have even more room for improvement; and that generational change is already underway with Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde in midfield. — Kirkland
Will Benzema or Lewandowski have the better season this year?
Julien Laurens and Don Hutchison debate whether Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema or Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski will have the better season this year.
Barcelona finished second last season and it was reluctantly accepted as a success after Xavi Hernandez took over as manager in November with the team languishing ninth in LaLiga. A second-placed finish this time round will not be so highly regarded after what could perhaps be dubbed one of the most remarkable transfer windows of all time.
More on Barcelona’s mess:
– Lowe: How is the club signing, chasing players?
– Marsden: Explaining who can, can’t yet register and why
– Barcelona, reimagined: What if they made no signings after 2016?
After losing Lionel Messi a year ago because they could not afford to keep him, Barca have since sold off 25% of their domestic television rights and 25% of in-house production company Barca Studios for over €600 million.
That money, as well as helping reduce debt, has fuelled the signings of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen. And president Joan Laporta says they are not done yet, either — although a bloated payroll also needs reducing first. As a result, Xavi has been handed a stacked, highly competitive squad. The team looks especially exciting in attack, with Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang complementing Lewandowski and Raphinha. Finishing 13 points behind Madrid this season will not be acceptable. — Marsden
Last year’s LaLiga season was characterised by the failure of any of Real Madrid’s rivals to deliver a proper title race. Nowhere was that more evident than at Atletico Madrid, whose bid to defend the 2020-21 crown fell apart in an identity crisis as coach Diego Simeone struggled to find a balance between defence and attack.
This season could be different, especially with the departure of Luis Suarez — Joao Felix is increasingly influential at one end of the pitch, while Reinildo Mandava has brought back some of the old bite at the other. Summer business has been limited to the free transfer signing of Axel Witsel and the belated arrival of a specialist right-back in Nahuel Molina.
Elsewhere around the league, there are concerns about Sevilla’s readiness for a top four battle, having lost both Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, although sporting director Monchi looks to be readying a late sweep of the transfer market. Villarreal are strong contenders to follow up last year’s remarkable Champions League semifinals run by pushing for fourth, while Real Betis and Real Sociedad will both expect to challenge. — Marsden
Teams to struggle …
Gennaro Gattuso’s coaching record in Italy (AC Milan and Napoli) was passable, if not exceptional, but Valencia represent a different challenge altogether.
Los Che are one of the biggest teams in Spain, but it feels like until the continued confrontation between supporters and owner Peter Lim ends, they will struggle to be where they should be in LaLiga: at least competing for the Champions League places.
For years now Valencia have struggled to fill their potential, in part because of that tension between Lim and the fans. Stability has also been a problem as they have raced through coaches. Each of the past four campaigns has now begun with a new manager. Their summer has been low-key, with Samu Castillejo and Samuel Lino interesting signings, but there remains uncertainty around two of their best players. Both Carlos Soler and Jose Luis Gaya are in the final 12 months of their deals, with no immediate resolution to their futures in sight. — Marsden
If there’s a club that has made a virtue of departures, always able to assimilate loss and reinvent itself, that club is Sevilla. And yet, this time feels different: sales are happening because they have to rather than because they are planned per se, both central defenders (Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos) have departed, and they have actually not been very good for quite a while now — look at their results since the turn of the year and they don’t lose often at all but they don’t win much either.
The signing of Isco and the loan of Alex Telles from Manchester United can help, but there’s already a slight sense of loss and maybe even a little mistrust that might accelerate problems if things don’t start well for manager Julen Lopetegui. There are stalwarts such as Ivan Rakitic and Youssef En-Nesyri, but no sign of a new striker yet. Conceding six at Arsenal in a preseason friendly was a warning. — Lowe
Isco: Real Madrid did not let me play
New Sevilla signing Isco explains why he decided to join Julen Lopetegui’s side and insists he will give his all for the club.
… and teams to surprise?
Ernesto Valverde is back at San Mames for a third spell in charge of Athletic Club and refreshed after over two years out of the game following his departure from Barcelona. During his second spell in Bilbao, which lasted four years and ended in 2017, he led the Basque side into the Champions League and never failed to finish outside the top seven, qualifying for Europe in every campaign. In the five seasons since he left, Athletic have finished 16th, 8th, 11th, 10th and 8th.
Athletic will always have their hands tied due to the fact they are committed to signing only Basque players, but Valverde knows the club inside and out and how it operates. There is talent in the squad in the form of Inigo Martinez, Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams, and the club’s academy at Lezama continues to produce talent for the first team. — Marsden
Getafe’s transfer window — led by new director of football Ramon Planes — has been quietly excellent. Defender Domingos Duarte, midfielders Jaime Seoane and Luis Milla and forwards Portu and Borja Mayoral are all sensible additions who will strengthen a team that lost a record seven consecutive games at the start of last season.
Quique Sanchez Flores has also steadied the ship after previous coach Michel’s struggles. Sanchez Flores is a seen-it-all, underrated manager who knows how to build a solid, effective team, and will be hoping for a straightforward midtable finish rather than a relegation battle. — Kirkland
Hutchison blasts ‘amateur’ Barcelona for registration issues
Don Hutchison and Julien Laurens discuss Barcelona’s problems with registering their new signings.
Can busy Barcelona stop Real’s repeat?
First of all, let’s assume all of Barcelona’s signings can be registered and there is a satisfactory outcome to the Frenkie de Jong situation. If so, there can be no excuses for Xavi and Barcelona this season. While it’s true Xavi transformed Barca last season after floundering midtable for a part of it, it’s also true he was given much more leeway than his predecessor, Ronald Koeman.
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Xavi was backed in January with the signings of Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and has been spectacularly backed this summer. Robert Lewandowski is the standout arrival at €45 million, but big money has also been invested in exciting Brazil winger Raphinha and vibrant defender Jules Kounde. It’s going to be fascinating to see how all the new signings do at Camp Nou, but also to see how Ousmane Dembele progresses after signing a new contract and how youngsters Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati continue to evolve.
Club president Joan Laporta says success is a requirement at Barca and that is why he has sanctioned this summer’s spending. Now it’s up to Xavi to stop Ancelotti’s Madrid, who have also strengthened with the signings of Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni, retaining the title. The Clasico battles (Oct. 16 in Madrid, March 23 in Barcelona) for the top of the table will be full of promise. — Marsden
Will Madrid be fazed by Mbappe snub?
“Kylian who?” That’s been the message from the Bernabeu ever since Madrid missed out on their long-term top target when France star Kylian Mbappe signed a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain. The timing of that abrupt U-turn — a week before the Champions League final — looked awkward at first but turned out to be a godsend when Madrid’s victory over Liverpool helped reassure fans that not signing Mbappe was, perhaps, no big deal. In fact, it’s been remarkable how quickly the saga has disappeared in the rearview mirror.
In any case, Mbappe’s arrival would have caused Ancelotti an unnecessary headache, likely shifting Vinicius Junior from his preferred left-wing berth just as he’d established himself. Nonetheless, Madrid are all-in on Vinicius now. The Brazil winger will do well to repeat his 17-goal haul from last season. With no forward expected to arrive, it will be down to him and Rodrygo to support Karim Benzema (can Eden Hazard rebound from his injuries?) in the goal-scoring department. — Kirkland
Eden Hazard ‘focused’ on proving himself at Real Madrid
Eden Hazard speaks about potentially joining MLS and his hopes for this season with Real Madrid.
What about the coaching carousel?
Appointing a new coach refreshes expectations, and three LaLiga sides will be hoping a change of face on the touchline will improve their fortunes this season. It proved true for Cadiz and Mallorca last term, who dramatically stayed up after appointing Sergio Gonzalez and Javier Aguirre, respectively.
Ambitions will be loftier at Athletic Club, Valencia and Espanyol, though. Ex-Barca boss Ernesto Valverde returns to Athletic with the task of helping the Basque side back into European football. That will also be the task facing Gennaro Gattuso at Valencia. The former AC Milan and Napoli coach replaced Jose Bordalas this summer.
Finally, Diego Martinez is an intriguing appointment at Espanyol. He produced miracles to take Granada to the Europa League, and the Barcelona-based side will want the same success. Realistically, though, they will struggle to break free from the no-man’s land between the relegation battle and the hunt for European places. — Marsden
Promoted sides offer a challenge?
There’s an element of intrigue to the owners of all three promoted teams. Real Valladolid are owned by Brazil legend Ronaldo, Almeria by Saudi Arabian billionaire Turki Al-Sheikh and Girona‘s majority owner is the City Football Group. Modern football, eh?
Of the three, Real Valladolid have had the most low-key summer, perhaps because it’s been only a year since they were last in the top flight. However, Almeria have spent over €15 million, which is a fortune in Spanish football for a team outside the top four. Among their key signings is Brazilian defender Kaiky, who is only 18 and was scouted by Barcelona. The real sign of Almeria’s wealth, though, is that they have so far resisted bids for star forward Umar Sadiq, a Nigeria international with over 40 goals in his two years at the club.
Girona, meanwhile, have had a good summer on paper. David Lopez adds experience to a squad that already includes veteran striker Cristhian Stuani. And the City Football Group has used its network of clubs to make some interesting additions, none more so than Valentin “Taty” Castellanos, who joins on loan after winning Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot in 2021 and leading NYCFC to the MLS Cup title.
Yangel Herrera and Yan Couto have been added from Manchester City and Rodrigo Riquelme from Atletico Madrid. Keep an eye on young, versatile defender Arnau Martinez, too. — Marsden
So, who wins LaLiga? Who’ll play in Champions League?
“The hunger is the last thing I am worried about,” Carlo Ancelotti said. If Madrid can maintain the basis of last year, and integrate Rudiger and Tchouameni, plus last season’s big signing Eduardo Camavinga, it feels like they should be the strongest side again — although the absence of another striker might be a concern.
Given the way that they finished last season and how they have signed in the summer, Barcelona really should compete all the way to the finish this time.
And not being defending champions might be good for Atletico Madrid. Sevilla and Real Betis probably won’t be as good as they were. Considering the stability and resources, fourth place should be there for Villarreal. Look for Real Sociedad to aim for fifth place and the Europa League berth.
Looking for a revelation: how good might Athletic Club be with the return of Ernesto Valverde as coach? Or what about Getafe, who impressed once Quique Sanchez Flores took over and seem to have signed well too. — Lowe
Lewandowski: I don’t want to be compared with Benzema
New Barcelona signing Robert Lewandowski praises Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema but says he isn’t keen on being in direct competition with him.
Benzema, Lewandowski. Anyone else in Golden Boot mix?
There’s nothing like a head-to-head Golden Boot race between two of the biggest names in world football to get people’s attention. That’s been absent since Cristiano Ronaldo and then Lionel Messi left LaLiga, but the arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Bayern means it’s back with a vengeance.
Last season, Karim Benzema walked it — his 27 goals were nine more than second-placed Iago Aspas‘ 18, with Vinicius Junior and Raul de Tomas each having 17 — but this year will be a different story altogether. Lewandowski won the European Golden Shoe in both 2021 and 2022, and if anyone can outgun Ballon d’Or favourite Benzema, it’s he.
Otherwise, expect Celta Vigo icon Aspas to retain his crown as the top-scoring Spaniard. De Tomas’ prospects depend on whether he’s still at Espanyol come the end of the transfer window, and three players who disappointed in terms of numbers last season — Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno (9), Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak (6) and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann (3) — should all improve their tallies significantly. — Kirkland
‘Taty’ to keep Girona up?
Girona‘s signing of Valentin “Taty” Castellanos from Major League Soccer champions New York City FC would have been more out of left field if both clubs were not owned by the City Football Group. However, despite that fact, the Argentine forward’s loan move to Catalonia still has the potential to be one of the most exciting deals in Spain this summer.
Castellanos, 23, who won the MLS Golden Boot last year and was leading this season’s race before leaving, already has Girona fans excited after preseason goals against Andorra and Napoli. If you have goals in your side, you have a good chance of staying in LaLiga, and with Castellanos and veteran Cristhian Stuani, Girona should have them in abundance. — Marsden
Morales key to Villarreal’s top four hopes?
The player known as “El Comandante” built a reputation as one of LaLiga’s most fun-to-watch players at Levante. Jose Luis Morales‘ best efforts — and 13 goals — couldn’t keep them up last season, and his tears of frustration on the pitch when relegation was eventually confirmed were hard to watch.
The 35-year-old’s initial insistence on staying at Levante in Segunda was admirable, but he shouldn’t be judged too harshly for the change of heart that saw him join Villarreal. Morales deserves a late-career crack at European football, playing alongside footballers of a similar calibre. His quality might help Villarreal break into the top four. — Kirkland
U.S., Mexico players in Spain
The two traditional powerhouses from the CONCACAF region will each have a handful of representatives in LaLiga for the 2022-23 season.
Starting with the United States, 24-year-old midfielder Luca de la Torre is the newest USMNT player in LaLiga, making the move over to Celta Vigo this summer. Fullback Sergino Dest will be entering his third season with Barcelona, and midfielder Yunus Musah should feature more for Valencia. All three appear to be USMNT roster locks for the upcoming World Cup.Another name to keep an eye on is Espanyol‘s 17-year-old midfielder Luca Koleosho. Last season, Koleosho became the youngest American-born player to debut in Spain’s top flight. Also eligible for Canada, Koleosho hasn’t made a decision just yet regarding his national team future.
Is De la Torre’s Celta move a risk in a World Cup year?
The Futbol Americas team discuss the USMNT’s Luca de la Torre moving to Celta Vigo with the World Cup on the horizon.As for Mexico, Sevilla‘s Jesus “Tecatito” Corona is the most noteworthy name from the El Tri contingent. The 29-year-old winger has looked promising in the preseason with a couple of goals during July friendlies. Mexico captain and veteran Andres Guardado will be entering his sixth year with Real Betis, helping the team win the Copa del Rey last season.Over at Real Sociedad, fullback Jonathan Gomez will aim to break into the first team after earning consistent minutes for Real Sociedad B last season. Gomez has represented both the United States and Mexico at the youth and senior level, but last featured for El Tri during a friendly in April. He has yet to commit to either side.Both Corona and Guardado are shoo-ins for Mexico’s World Cup roster. Gomez is unlikely to be included due to his national team status being up in the air, but plenty could change if he establishes himself with Real Sociedad’s first team.Also of note for Mexico are three newcomers in Spain’s second division. Real Oviedo have brought in Daniel Aceves and Arsenal academy product Marcelo Flores, while Gijon have added Liga MX Rookie of the Year Jordan Carrillo from Santo Laguna.
A new Barcelona No. 1, outsider for Premier League Golden Glove: Bold goalkeeper predictions for 2022-23
Aug 11, 2022
- Mouhamad Rachini
Erling Haaland bagging two goals on his Premier League debut; Aleksandar Mitrovic bullying Liverpool in his return to the English top flight; Lionel Messi scoring an overhead kick in the first game of the Ligue 1 season.
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It’s hard to believe the 2022-23 season has already kicked off. It feels like just yesterday that Manchester City won the Premier League on the final matchday of the season, and Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt and AS Roma clinched some historic European silverware.
Now it’s time to do it all again: to watch new teams write history, new players make a name for themselves and new stories come to life. To celebrate the start of a new European football season, I’ve compiled a list of some of my goalkeeper predictions for the 2022-23 season — but with a twist. Instead of going the safe route, I’ve added a little bit of spice to my predictions. From a star goalkeeper losing his starting position to a World Cup record getting broken, here are some of my boldest goalkeeper takes for the new season.
Inaki Pena will take Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s spot at Barcelona by season’s end
The prediction: After a short loan spell at Galatasaray, Inaki Pena is back with Barcelona, replacing Neto as the club’s backup goalkeeper. But the promotions won’t stop there for Pena. I predict that by the end of the 2022-23 season, Pena will have supplanted long-time starter Marc-Andre ter Stegen as the club’s No. 1.
Why it’ll come true: There was a point in time when Marc-Andre ter Stegen was undisputed as one of the world’s top goalkeepers. But since his career season in 2017-18, the German’s performances have dipped. His league save percentage has dropped each season since his Barcelona career high of 79.7% in 2018, down to 70.9% last season; he’s failed to keep more than 11 league clean sheets in each of his past two seasons; and his expected league goals saved above average has been below zero for the past three seasons.
He’s also been involved in some humiliating losses, such as the Liverpool comeback in 2019 and Bayern Munich’s 8-2 dismantling of Barcelona in 2020. Ter Stegen hasn’t been able to find his composure since these losses, and his inability to bounce back has led to some fans calling for him to be replaced. This is why I believe the 23-year-old Pena is poised to take over Barcelona’s starting duties by the end of the 2022-23 season.
The Alicante native is one of the brightest prospects in Spanish goalkeeping. He’s displayed great agility and aerial dominance throughout his development, and his quick footwork and steely composure have made him an excellent sweeper-keeper for both the Barcelona and Spain youth ranks.
Pena is not a finished product, nor will he be one by the end of the season. And for the time being, the starting position isn’t Pena’s. But what happens if Ter Stegen’s numbers don’t improve over the first half of this season? What if his save percentage continues to dip? What if Ter Stegen continues to play at the level that has plagued him in recent years?
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These are all legitimate concerns, and if Pena impresses in the limited Copa Del Rey minutes he’s likely going to get, I can see Xavi Hernandez giving the youngster a chance.
With Barcelona back in win-now mode after Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha’s signings (among others), they need a goalkeeper who can provide them with the same consistency, game-stealing performances, mental stability and drive for success they relied on a few seasons ago. This is something I’m afraid Ter Stegen can no longer do (at least, not over a full season, and certainly not in the Champions League).
The club has to look ahead to a future without Ter Stegen as their first-choice goalkeeper, and by easing Pena into the No. 1 role by the end of this season, I think they’d be setting themselves up for success in both 2023 and beyond.
The World Cup penalties saved record will be broken this year
The prediction: In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic matched the World Cup’s all-time penalties saved record when he stopped four penalties in seven appearances. It was an incredible achievement — but this year, it will be bested. I predict a goalkeeper will break the all-time penalties saved record in the World Cup.
Why it’ll come true: Penalties are a tough thing to predict when it comes to major international tournaments. Since most of these tournaments only require a team to play a maximum of seven games from start to finish, goalkeepers don’t tend to face a lot of penalties. This is especially true for the average goalkeeper, since most teams tend to play four or fewer games in a single international tournament and might not qualify for another World Cup for years.
But even with that context, I can’t shake off the feeling that four is a beatable number. The numbers also suggest that more penalties are being taken at World Cups, leading to more chances for a goalkeeper to break the record. We see this in the rise of the number of World Cup penalty shootouts.
The record for most penalty shootouts in a single World Cup is four, set initially in the 1990 World Cup. Three of the past four World Cups have matched that mark, including each of the past two World Cups. This isn’t a World Cup-specific occurrence either. Though no Copa America has matched the shootout record set in 1995 (also four), four of the past five Copa Americas have seen three shootouts take place. In Europe, Euro 2020 matched the all-time single-tournament shootout record (also four, seeing a pattern?), and Euro 2016 hit the three shootout mark for the first time since 1996.
Another number that seems to lean in favour of this prediction is penalty conversion percentage. Since the first shootout took place in a World Cup in 1982, only four World Cups have seen players record a total shootout conversion percentage below 70%. One of those World Cups was the 2018 edition (66.7%), and two others were World Cups that took place in the 21st century (2006: 63.6%, and 2022: 68.4%).
Penalty conversion rates seem to be on the decline elsewhere too. In the Premier League, penalty conversions have dropped significantly since the 1990s; and the 2021 Copa America had the lowest percentage of successful shootout penalties (62%) since 1997.
Though these percentages include off-target penalties, I reckon it also has to do with improvements in penalty knowledge and gamesmanship in goalkeeping. Given the talent today’s goalkeepers have as well as the numbers presented above, I’m confident this prediction will come true.
Premier League’s Golden Glove will be won by a goalkeeper not representing a top-3 club
The prediction: The Premier League Golden Glove is awarded annually to the league’s goalkeeper who kept the most clean sheets in a specific season. Usually, this is a goalkeeper playing for one of the season’s top clubs. But this season will be different because the award will be won by a goalkeeper not representing a top-three club.
Why it’ll come true: To understand just how bold of a prediction this is, we need to understand how exclusive the Premier League Golden Glove award is.
Since the award’s inception in 2005, the Golden Glove has been awarded 18 times. Over that time, nine different goalkeepers have won the award, representing one of just five different clubs: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Only two goalkeepers — Pepe Reina in 2008 and Wojciech Szczesny in 2014 — have won the award while representing a club that finished outside of the top three that season and in both cases, their club finished fourth.
Given this context, what makes me think things will be different this season? First, although the winner has almost always been a goalkeeper representing a top-three club, the runner-ups, while still largely made up of goalkeepers from the top three clubs, aren’t nearly as exclusive.
Of the 54 goalkeepers who have finished first, second or third in a Golden Glove race, 23 of them represented a club that finished outside of the top three that season. These include goalkeepers who were playing for a club outside of the top six, like Emiliano Martinez in 2021 (Aston Villa finished 11th), Nick Pope in 2020 (Burnley finished 10th) and Fraser Forster in 2017 (Southampton finished 8th).
Many of these goalkeepers came in second place too. In fact, eight of the 18 Golden Glove silver medallists were goalkeepers who played for non top-three clubs. These include two of the past three runner-ups.
Although the winners of the award have almost exclusively been goalkeepers representing a top-three team, the podium has a much healthier dose of goalkeepers representing non top-three clubs. So it’s not unreasonable to think one such goalkeeper could have a good year and finish the race on top — especially when you consider the current crop of talented goalkeepers the Premier League boasts.
In the past, most of the Premier League’s top goalkeepers were those playing for one of the league’s big five or six clubs. In the 2010-11 season, for example, only five goalkeepers hit the 10 clean sheet mark — and of those five goalkeepers, four of them were playing for a club that finished in the top six (Mark Schwarzer played for 8th-placed Fulham).
Another example is the 2016-17 season, which only saw six goalkeepers hit the 10 clean sheet mark. Again, four of those goalkeepers were representing a top-six club (Forster played for 8th-placed Southampton and Tom Heaton played for 16th-placed Burnley).
Fast-forward to the 2020-21 season, though, and 13 different goalkeepers hit the 10 clean sheet mark — a record in the 38-game Premier League era. These goalkeepers ranged from Premier League winner Ederson to Nick Pope and Robert Sanchez, whose clubs finished in 17th and 16th.
Many of those goalkeepers are still in the Premier League, in some cases with their same club, and I can see them not only breaking the 10 clean sheet barrier again but challenging for the Golden Glove too. Last season, only four clean sheets separated Alisson and Ederson from Lloris (whose Tottenham finished fourth). If a couple of bounces worked Lloris’ way or against Alisson and Ederson, it might’ve been Lloris lifting the Golden Glove last season.
Throw in some of the new faces we’ll see this season (such as Thomas Strakosha, now at Brentford) and I think there’s a decent pool of goalkeepers outside of the top three to bet on to win the Premier League Golden Glove.
Conte’s revitalised Tottenham face first big test in London derby at Chelsea
Aug 11, 2022
- James OlleySenior Writer, ESPN FC
- On Sunday, Antonio Conte returns to the place where his worst fears about Tottenham were realised for the first time. It was particularly galling for a former Chelsea manager that the scale of his task was made clear at Stamford Bridge of all places, as the Blues eased to a 2-0 win in the Carabao Cup semifinal, first leg in early January.
- The scoreline wasn’t particularly savage, but Spurs conceded two dreadful goals and failed to register a shot of any description until the 50th minute in a meek surrender that left Conte unwilling to pull any punches in his post-match assessment. “There’s an important gap, an important difference, there’s a big job to do to retrieve the situation,” he said in assessing the distance between Spurs and the top sides.
Conte was barely eight weeks into the job, and he had already masterminded a draw against Liverpool and seven wins from his first 12 games in charge.
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But the chastening nature of that defeat to Chelsea — followed by an equally insipid showings in the return leg and a Premier League defeat to the same opponents later in the month — began a series of public utterances which raised questions over whether he would even stick around. After losing to Burnley on Feb. 23, Conte publicly doubted whether he was the right man for the job.
Even after pulling off an improbable fourth-place finish by thrashing Norwich 5-0 on the final day of the season, he still refused to commit to remaining as Tottenham head coach amid concerns the club would not back him to the extent he felt necessary to turn Spurs into title challengers.Conte knows enough about London to “mind the gap.” Optimism that this “gap” between them and the top clubs is finally closing comes from six summer signings, a full preseason working under the Italian and an encouraging 4-1 win over Southampton on the opening day. But Sunday’s trip to Chelsea represents the first meeting of the Premier League’s traditional Big Six this season, and will also offer the clearest indication yet whether Conte’s rebuild is on track.Both Conte’s brilliance and his volatility are well documented. The 53-year-old is an elite manager, but has never spent more than three consecutive seasons at the same club, often leaving in acrimonious circumstances. Juventus were Serie A champions when he quit after one day of preseason ahead of 2014-15 following disagreements over the club’s transfer strategy. He was sacked from Chelsea in 2018 after falling out with the hierarchy and several senior players, again over the direction of the club. Conte departed Inter Milan last May in opposition to an unloading of top stars triggered by financial problems related in part to COVID-19.He did win four Serie A titles and the 2016-17 Premier League with Chelsea during this span, but his combustible personality always seemed an improbable fit with Tottenham, a club that has long prioritised financial prudence and long-term planning over short-term, boom-and-bust under the watchful eye of chairman Daniel Levy.
Conte’s unstable rhetoric around last season effectively built to a two-day meeting in Italy as the summer began and, together with the club’s football managing director, Fabio Paratici, they finalised a list of summer targets. Significant backing was required. Previous managers — perhaps most obviously Mauricio Pochettino — became disillusioned when failing to receive the support they felt necessary to take Spurs to the top, meeting a brick wall built from financial caution. This time, it was different. Levy and the majority shareholders, ENIC, agreed to help realise Conte’s vision for the future. It was a significant moment.
February’s departure of the club’s longstanding director of technical performance, Steve Hitchen, was a sign of Paratici’s growing influence, but here, emboldened by Conte guiding Spurs back into the Champions League, was a real sea change in Tottenham’s willingness to support their head coach.
Previously, players were signed with potential and a clearly defined future transfer market value. This time, they were in large part being targeted for the here and now. The arrival of 33-year-old wing-back Ivan Perisic embodies this shift more than any other signing. Spurs announced a £150m cash injection from ENIC that’s helped finance a spending spree with Perisic, Richarlison, Fraser Forster, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence and Clement Lenglet arriving at the club.
This activity has generated a sense of momentum that quashed any concerns England captain Harry Kane could look for to leave the club — having tried to force a move away last summer — and, significantly, most of these signings were acquired early in the window, giving Conte a full preseason to work with his new players.
Conte’s training sessions are infamously tough. An agent of one player at the club told ESPN about double sessions involving tens of shuttle runs at the end. Another expressed surprise that Conte chose to work his players so hard in a session open to the cameras in Korea that Kane was sick by the side of the pitch, while others including Son Heung-Min could hardly stand during a brutal running drill. But the players have fully bought into Conte’s methods, in part seduced by his track record, and respectful of the level of control he clearly enjoys having been wholeheartedly supported by Levy in the transfer market.
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ESPN has also been made aware of other data their coaches are using to explain the need to improve player fitness, including the high number of late goals Tottenham concede. If last season’s Premier League matches are broken down into 10-minute blocks, with each of the nine segments assigned an aggregate score based on goals scored and conceded in those minutes, Liverpool and Manchester City are the only sides ending with a positive score in all of them. Spurs had positive net scores in the first eight, but in those crucial final 10 minutes of matches, they scored seven and conceded 10, leaving them on -3. By contrast, City were +15 and Liverpool +14 in the final 10 minutes of matches last season; Chelsea were +8.
There are a plethora of reasons to explain this, not least the manner in which City in particular wear teams down with their level of possession, but it is one indicator which Conte is demanding greater intensity from his players for the entire game — they also fell behind in 17 league matches last season, a figure higher than Arsenal (15), Liverpool (12), Chelsea (11) and City (eight). Combined with Conte’s devotion to a 3-4-3 system, the players have been left under no illusions about the physical and tactical expectations placed upon them this season. Although it still remains a tall order on paper to match City and Liverpool, perhaps the biggest doubt over Spurs remains their ability to implement what is being asked of them under pressure.
The “Spursy” tag — a derogatory term essentially meaning “to falter with the winning line in sight” — is one the club have found difficult to shake. They were superb for the majority of the Pochettino era but ultimately ended his five-year stint without a trophy to show for the progress made. Their last success of any description remains the 2008 League Cup.
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Jose Mourinho’s appointment as his successor was made with the idea in mind of fostering a siege mentality to galvanise the group, but he never achieved it. Nuno Espirito Santo’s 17-game tenure was a brief as it was unmemorable, and so Conte now finds himself charged with responsibility of changing this mindset. When asked in May whether he knew what “Spursy'” meant, he said: “I am trying to cut this.”
The only way is to win silverware. A smaller step on that path is improving Tottenham’s record away at the traditional Big Six. They have lost 37 of their last 60 league games away to Arsenal, Liverpool, City, Manchester United and Chelsea, winning only nine. Although Spurs beat City and drew at Liverpool under Conte, they have won just one league game at Chelsea since 1990 — a 3-1 victory in April 2018.
“Obviously when you face that kind of opponent [in Chelsea] it’s a good moment to judge yourself,” captain Hugo Lloris said after their opening-day win over Southampton.Chelsea may have the proven pedigree but their summer transfer business is far from complete, and a new defence is bedding in after the departures of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. There are certainly worse moments to play them.By contrast, Tottenham have enjoyed a more settled preseason, building nicely from the last. Spurs improved considerably in the second half of last season, winning 10 of their last 14 league games to show a level of form, which prompted Conte to suggest he wished they could have another crack at Chelsea soon to see where they were at.This weekend, he will finally get his chance.
Twice as nice! MLS All-Stars beat Liga MX All-Stars behind Vela, Ruidiaz goals
By Johnathan Wright @jwrightofficial
Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022, 10:54 PM
ST. PAUL, Minn. – With goals from Carlos Vela and Raul Ruidiaz, the MLS All-Stars held off the Liga MX All-Stars for the second straight year, securing a 2-1 victory in the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Wednesday night at Allianz Field. The MLS All-Stars got the party started early with Vela heading home a cross from LAFC teammate Diego Palacios in the third minute. The Black & Gold’s left back showcased his skill by chopping a Liga MX defender before serving in a perfectly-placed ball to his forward on the back post. Liga MX pushed to find an equalizer before the halftime break, with their best chance coming from Juan Dinenno in the 44th minute. The Pumas UNAM striker elevated for a header after receiving a cross from Juan Escobar inside the 18-yard box. He connected well, directing the ball to the lower left corner, but Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair pushed the attempt wide in front of his home supporters’ section. Ruidiaz added to the MLS All-Stars’ lead in the second half through a penalty kick after New England Revolution playmaker Carles Gil wiggled his way through the Liga MX defense after receiving a pass from FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira. The Seattle Sounders FC striker made no mistake in the 73rd minute. Liga MX pulled one back in the 85th minute when Kevin Álvarez blasted a shot from outside the box that zoomed past New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Mexico national team forward Alexis Vega was credited with the assist, but the comeback attempt proved futile as MLS celebrated a win for a second straight year.
- THE BIG PICTURE: It was an electric evening, with the MLS All-Stars claiming bragging rights over the Liga MX All-Stars for the second year in a row. MLS won the first iteration on penalty kicks in 2021 at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber hinted it might be the last time we see these two leagues face off in an All-Star match, but in 2023 an expanded Leagues Cup will be introduced, where all of the clubs from MLS and Liga MX will compete in an annual, month-long tournament.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The game-winner from Vela in the third minute. The LAFC duo of Vela and Palacios showcased their league-leading quality with a clinical cross and header combination.
ALL-STAR GAME MVP: Dayne St. Clair earned MVP on the night by making four saves in front of his home fans.
MLS All-Stars prize party in St. Paul: “Everybody’s enjoyed being with each other”
By Charles Boehm @cboehm
Wednesday night in St. Paul, Minnesota represented a showcase for the top talents from North America’s largest leagues, a lively international spectacle for fans of many stripes and a much-deserved close-up for the Twin Cities’ thriving soccer culture and the graceful venue at its heart.
“A great group of guys”
Above all, the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target provided a celebration, a gathering of luminaries both on and off the field that served as another milestone for an explosively-growing league, and a pleasant distraction before the 2022 season’s final sprint.
“The most pleasing thing was the competitive nature of all the guys,” said MLS All-Stars and Minnesota United FC coach Adrian Heath after his team’s 2-1 victory over their Liga MX counterparts at Allianz Field. “Everybody’s actually, I think, enjoyed being with each other in the group. So the atmosphere in the dressing room is terrific. The guys have been an absolute pleasure to be around for the last two or three days.”
The honor of making this roster is one thing; the firsthand experience offers another level.
“A great group of guys here,” said Loons goalkeeper and All-Star MVP Dayne St. Clair. “Just seeing some guys off the field and being teammates with them, because sometimes when you’re playing against some guys, they’re a little bit different than when you’re teammates with them. So that’s been nice, and I’m sure they’d probably say the same about me.”
The MLS All-Star Game provides a change of pace for elite professionals accustomed to facing off as rivals in club play, a chance to work as teammates, to train and break bread together. This one, in particular, had a real family atmosphere, with children like Walker Zimmerman’s young son Tucker front and center.
Walker Zimmerman and his son Tucker play after the match
The Englishman is now an MLS veteran, having led Orlando City SC into MLS before moving north to oversee a comparable project at MNUFC. He’s seen the growth and maturation of US and Canadian soccer, and spoke with pride of his club progressing along a similar journey, a story they and their supporters proudly shared with the rest of the league this week.
“The way that the club has shown itself,” said Heath, “I knew that people would turn up. I didn’t think that so many would turn up last night in the skills game, that speaks volumes. And then tonight, I knew the stadium would be full tonight.
“It’s been a great way to showcase what the club is about. I’m so pleased for all the ownership and everything we’ve tried to do here, and it shows. Six years in, the club is now firmly on the map and I think that we can only get bigger and stronger and better.”
Mutual respect between leagues
Such links stretched across to the Liga MX side as well. The cut and thrust of the game itself, with heavy tackles, emotional reactions and other signs of full commitment from the players, revealed this to be an exhibition match with some stakes, some pride on the line.
But the nastiness of yore between the US and Mexican national teams, the bad blood that so enflamed past border matchups, has evolved into something closer to mutual respect and recognized commonalities.
“We had a great game. Like I said to the boys, this is a great experience, and especially because we got to meet and to know each other,” said Liga MX All-Stars and Atlas manager Diego Cocca, an Argentine who has coached across Latin America.
“Rivalry is good. We can grow. If you have a strong rival, you can grow, you can get better. And both leagues can grow like this. And I think that the barometer is going to be the Concacaf Champions League. We came here and we lost, they can go there [to Mexico] and they can lose. For example, at Estadio Jalisco, the result could be different.”
New fronts of competition between the two leagues loom large, like the upcoming 2022 Campeones Cup between Atlas and New York City FC, and next year’s launch of a dramatically expanded Leagues Cup. The hope is that broad, sustained, toe-to-toe competition between member clubs can expand on the spectacle served up by these last two All-Star meetings.
“MLS won today. We had many opportunities; we played very well. There was no big difference, there is no big gap between the leagues,” said Cocca. And those who’ve followed the region’s soccer scene for any length of time will recognize the quiet revolution represented in his words.
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