Sunday, August 9, 2015

As friendly fires burn, the De Gea deal is rekindled

Real Madrid lose to Bayern Munich and blank out in Norway, Barcelona's hoops beat Roma in Catalonia, while David De Gea is under pressure in Manchester 


The Spanish Week in Review

* Rafael Benitez fell to his first defeat as Real Madrid manager, albeit in a pre-season friendly.

Losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich away is no disgrace, especially as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were absent and the other galacticos did not come on until late.

Real's second string looked eager to impress, Sergio Ramos was sharp but the white shirts failed to make waves in the final third.

Keylor Navas however, now the confirmed No.1, made a number of key saves to keep Pep Guardiola's team at bay until conceding an 88th minute goal to Robert Lewandowski.

The day before, Real had beaten Tottenham 2-0 at the same stadium. Both teams enjoyed spells of dominance but Benitez's men applied the class when required, taking a first-half lead through James Rodriguez before Gareth Bale, as if scripted, fired in a long-range effort late on which bounced awkardly to confuse goalie Michel Vorm and find the net.

The general consensus was that Real look tight and organised in defence but rather rudderless up front. Benitez' defensive reputation is already bearing fruit it seems. Without the 'BBC' up front against Bayern however, the team looked lost in the final third.

James could not take it all on himself and the other replacement attackers, Jese, Marco Asensio and the yonngster Borja Mayoral, failed to make headway. Jese & James went down in flames.

The Colombian's two goals in six however make him Real's top-scorer in pre-season and have immunised him from criticism.

On Sunday, Real completed their pre-season with a trip to Valerenga in Oslo. The trip was largely to show off their Norwegian wonderboy Martin Odegaard and cement Scandinavian support for the whites, and the 16 year-old did not disappoint, playing in James Rodriguez's usual role in advanced midfield.

The rest of the team fluffed their lines however and trudged off after a 0:0 result. Gareth Bale took the attacking duties but failed to score, leaving Real looking reliant on the absent Ronaldo and Benzema.

Keylor Navas did well again though, making one crucial save and keeping thoughts of David De Gea off the front page for a day.

*Barcelona at last woke up from their pre-season slumber and dismissed Roma 3-0 at the Camp Nou.  The night was most notable for the home debut of the awful hooped Nike shirts, abusing years of tradition, and Lionel Messi headbutting Roma defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, albeit not strongly, and receiving a yellow card.

All rather unnecessary as the blaugrana attack was in full bloom and Ivan Rakitic unleashed a 25-yard scorcher to grab the third; a golazo indeed.
The pre-season is over for Luis Enrique's men, who must now start their new trophy trail with the European Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup on tap this week.

* Valencia might have fancied their chances facing Roma after Barcelona's mauling, but instead fell to a 3-1 defeat in front of their home fans in the Mestalla. A night to forget for a side who are part of the triumvirate of challengers to the big two, Atletico and Sevilla being the others of course.
The winners enter the group stage along with holders Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Sevilla, which is drawn on the 27th of this month. The crazy prospect of five Spanish sides in this season's Champions League draws ever closer.

* Neymar has gone down with a case of the mumps and will out for a couple of weeks, ruling him out of the Spanish Super Cup and European Super Cup.

Diego Godin will not be going to Manchester City after sitting down with manager Diego Simeone and management to agree on a new deal at the Manzanares. City were offering €40 million for the Uruguayan centre-back plus €5 million a season, but the rojiblancos have pulled out the stops to keep the 29 year-old in Spain.

Godin's no-go means City are focusing again on Nicolas Otamendi, the Valencia centre-back who has been linked with a move away from the Mestalla for some time.

* European Super Cup. It's that time again and this year's UEFA season opener is an all-Spanish affair between Champions League winners Barcelona and Europa League winners Sevilla.

It takes place on Tuesday night in Tbilisi, Georgia, as UEFA maintain their tour of smaller nations, following last season's match in Cardiff won by Real Madrid.

Sevilla, 2014's losing finalists, are without hit-man Carlos Bacca, now with Milan, while Barça can equal the rossoneri with a record five trophies if they win on Tuesday.

* Spain moved one place up to 11th in FIFA's World Rankings for August. La Roja's next match is their European Championship qualifier at home to Slovakia on Saturday the 5th of September in Oviedo.

* The season has not started yet but one top coach is already biting his fingernails. "In football, the month of August is a dangerous month," opined Atletico manager Diego Simeone. "Hopefully nothing goes wrong...but the month of August does not keep me calm. I worry a lot."

* Middlesbrough have completed the £3.6 million signing of Christian Stuani from Espanyol. The Paraguayan striker scored 16 in 48 last season and played in this summer's Copa America.

* The "Saviour of Barcelona" has been commemorated in a Belfast mural. Patrick O'Connell might not be a familiar name these days and he lies in an unmarked grave in London, but the Dubline-born man coached Racing Santander and Real Oviedo, then Real Betis to their only league title in 1935 before taking over at the Camp Nou.

With General Franco persecuting the symbol of Catalan identity, the club almost folded if had not been for the Irishman, 'Don Patricio', organising money-spinning tours of Mexico and the USA and setting up a bank account in Paris.




PRE-SEASON FRIENDLIES

Barcelona 3:0 Roma
Real Madrid 2:0 Tottenham Hotspur
Bayern Munich 1:0 Real Madrid
Valerenga 0:0 Real Madrid
Shanghai SIPG 0:3 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid 0:0 Guadalajara (45 mins)
Atletico Madrid 0:1 Leganes (45 mins)
Atletico Madrid 2:0 Real Sociedad
Inter Baku 0:0 Atheltic Bilbao
Recreativo Huelva 1:2 Real Betis
Celta Vigo 3:0 Boavista
Real Oviedo 2:1 Deportivo La Coruna
Mensajero 1:1 Eibar
Tenerife 1:1 Eibar
Albacete 1:2 Getafe
Udinese 0:2 Granada
Maritimo 1:2 Las Palmas
Levante 0:2 Villareal
Malaga 3:1 Al Wasi
Malaga 2:0 Lekhwiya
Rayo Vallecano 1:1 Real Oviedo
AEK Athens 1:1 Sevilla
Ponferradina 1:0 Sporting Gijon
Sporting Gijon 3:1 Palermo
Valencia 1:3 Roma
Espanyol 1:1 Real Betis
Almeria 2:0 Las Palmas
Sassuolo 1:1 Villareal

TRANSFER RUMOURS

* It looks like the David De Gea saga will last until transfer deadline date and beyond, which led Louis Van Gaal to call for an end to the transfer window overlapping the new season.

Van Gaal kept the fire stoked by telling Manchester United's website that the Spaniard leaving was "a threat" and thus the club had to "be insured and prepared" for any eventuality.

"He is not the De Gea of last year," he ominously told reporters, laying the ground for an exit for the Spaniard.

Then on Friday, the Dutchman annoucned De Gea would not play in United's opener against Tottenham."You already know the problems we have with him," he explained, pouring kerosene on the transfer rumour flames.

The fact the Red Devils have yet to issue a shirt number to the new recruit between the sticks Sergio Romero has only fueled the uncertainty. With De Gea's contract up in a year, a move between now and then seems likely if the Red Devils want any cash for their keeper.

Their valuation of €45 million is a long way from Real's budget of €25 million, which is another obstacle and could lead to a rift between Man Utd and their coach.

If Van Gaal refuses to play De Gea the club will have no option but to cash in before his contract expires next summer but will lose millions as Real are not prepared to meet the Red Devils' price.

"We are asking money and they have to pay the money," said Van Gaal in typically blunt Dutch fashion.

Real are not as carefree with their cheque book as people might think. €45 million does not seem excessive for De Gea but previous big captures have been accompanied by big sales too and Real have not sold anyone for big money recently.

The fact Keylor Navas and Kika Casiilla have been performing adequately between the sticks in pre-season has reassured Madrileño minds about their custodians.

Navas, signed after an impressive World Cup with Costa Rica, has waited a season in Iker Casillas' shadow and is not about to fluff his chance to cement the No.1 shirt as his now.

Plus Sergio Ramos is staying put which means Man Utd would probably need to find another marquee signing before the month is up.

Could that be Pedro. subject of another long-running rumour? According to Marca this week, United have met the €30 million valuation and are all set to sign the Barcelona and Spain attacker, which would unleash the cashflow to sell De Gea to Real.

As for De Gea, he must either get his head straight and commit to United, either by signing a new contract or by performing in training again, or get busy moving to Madrid.

* Barça have offered Celta Vigo €14 million rising to €18 million for Nolito, according to Mundo Deportivo. The 28 year-old would be a like-for-like replacement for Pedro if he leaves.

Nolito has recently broken into Vicente Del Bosque's Spain squad and is no stranger to Catalonia - he played 106 times for Barcelona B between 2008 and 2011 but only twice for the first eleven.

Any deal would most likely happen in the winter transfer window as Luis Enrique's side are banned from using new players until then.

* Liverpool are eyeing Real's German midfielder Toni Kroos as well as teammate Asier Illarramendi, the latter of whom is also interesting Arsenal. World Cup winner Kroos has not exactly set La Liga alight despite much opening hype while Illarramendi has been limited to substitute cameos.

* Real Madrid are thinking about swapping Karim Benzema for Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus, according to speculation in Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport.

* Real defender Fabio Coentrao has allegedly asked the club to sell him back former team Benfica. Atletico defender Filipe Luis meanwhile, newly returned from Chelsea, says he wants to retire playing for the Colchoneros.

* Alvaro Vadillo, the Real Betis winger, is a target for Tottenham Hotspur.

* Barcelona have announced U-21 midfielder Sergi Samper, an Arsenal target, is staying at the Camp Nou and will be offered an improved deal. He made four first-team appearances last season.

* Atletico's Mexican reserve striker Raul Jimenez is on the verge of joining West Ham. Hammers boss Slaven Bilic confirmed the rumour this week. "Jimenez is close," he told the media.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES; kick-off times GMT

Tue 11th Aug   UEFA Super Cup 2015
Barcelona v Sevilla   19:45  (Tbilisi)

Fri 14th Aug    Spanish Super Cup 1st leg
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona  21:00

COMING SOON

Mon 17th Aug Spanish Super Cup 2nd leg
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao 21:00

Weds 19th Aug UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st leg
Valencia v Monaco 19:45

Fri 21st - Sun 23rd Aug - First Weekend of La Liga season.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Benitez stays unbeaten while Barça lose again

SPAIN'S BIG TWO SHOW CONTRASTING PRE-SEASON FORM

The Spanish Week in Review

* Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a back strain and will sit out Real Madrid's clash with Tottenham in Munich this week. Karim Benzema has a thigh strain and also misses out.

Real Madrid drew 0:0 with Milan in Shanghai before edging the Rossoneri 10-9 on penalties.
RM - Navas, Pepe, Arbeloa, Danilo, Varane, Modric, Bale, Casemiro, Ronaldo, Benzema, Vasquez
2nd half subs: Ramos, Kroos, Casilla, Jese, Isco, Nacho, Rodriguez, Marcelo, Carvajal, Cheryshev.

* After losing 3-1 to Man Utd in California, Barcelona travelled to Maryland where they drew 2:2 with Chelsea before losing a shoot-out 4-2.

Eden Hazard waltzed through the red and yellow shirts to hand the Blues the lead in the tenth minute before Luis Suarez and Sandro Ramirez put Luis Enrique's side ahead after the break. Gary Cahill equalised with five minutes to go. Enrique made eleven substitutions.

Starting lineup: Ter Stegen, Mathieu, Correia, Perreira, Bartra, Rakitic, Busquets, Gumbau, L.Suarez, Ramirez, Munir. Subs used: Roberto, Pique, Vermaelen, Iniesta, Alba, Masip, Rafinha, Samper, Pedro, Halilovic, J.Suarez

Barcelona then lost 2-1 away to Fiorentina with a sleepy, half-hearted defence giving two goals away before Luis Suarez pulled one back from an Ivan Rakitic chip. Two defeats and a draw in three pre-season games does not scream champions of Europe, but all will soon be forgotten as the season gets underway.

BAR - Ter Stegen (Masip 78'), Vermaelen, Pique, Alba, Iniesta (Munir 46'), Rakitic (Bartra 64'), Busquets, Roberto, Rafinha (Gumbau 78'), Suarez (Ramirez 64'), Pedro.




* Rayo Vallecano, on tour in China, revealed Zhang Chendong, 26 year-old Chinese international stirker, as a new signing. It can only be a matter of time before the first Chinese takes the field in La Primera.

FRIENDLY RESULTS

Barcelona 2:2 Chelsea
Real Madrid 0:0 Milan
Fiorentina 2:1 Barcelona
Derby 1:1 Villareal
Bayer Leverkusen 4:0 Levante
Rayo Vallecano 1:0 Real Sociedad
Granada 2:0 Albacete
Avellino 0:0 Espanyol
Huddersfield Town 0:0 Deportivo La Coruna
Mirandes 0:0 Eibar
Middlesboro 1:0 Getafe
Koln 3:2 Valencia
Darmstadt 3:1 Real Betis
Reading 0:0 Espanyol
Watford 0:1 Sevilla
Nastic 2:2 Real Zaragoza
Fleetwood Town 2:0 Getafe
San Lorenzo 0:0 Malaga
Mensajero 0:5 Las Palmas
Osasuna 1:0 Eibar

TRANSFER RUMOURS

* Javier Mascherano was a new name on the rumour mill this week with Juventus said to be keen to purchase the Argentine veteran from Barcelona after selling Arturo Vidal to Bayern Munich and seeing new signing Sami Khedira get injured.

* Pedro to Man Utd looked closer this week after the player's mother let slip he was on his way to England, Angel Di Maria moved closer to an Old Trafford exit and the English club sent a representative to Barcelona to negotiate. He has a €30 milllion release clause.

Pedro could slot in easily as a wide attacker for Man Utd and like Isco at Real Madrid, impresses when playing for Spain so much you wonder why he is not given more starts at club level.

The problem for the 28 year-old is that the blaugrana can only start with the Messi-Neymar-Suarez trident ahead of him, which limits him to being an impact sub, but as well as the desire for first-team football, there is Euro 2016 and Spain to think about. A move makes sense for the player.

* Villareal are expected to tie up the signing of striker Roberto Soldado from Tottenham this week. €16 million has been floated as a fee.

* West Ham are looking at Atletico Madrid's Mexican striker Raul Jimenez.

* Liverpool are in negotiations to sign Barcelona B's Spanish-born Malian winger Adama Traore, 19. Traore has ten caps for Spain's U-19 side and one for Barça's first team. Everton, Southampton and Stoke are also said to be interested.

* Arsenal are lining up a €65 million offer for Karim Benzema, according to reports. If the Frenchman leaves Madrid for London, Real will go for one of Alvaro Morata, Fernando Llorente (both Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Man City) or promote Real youngster Borja Mayoral.

That said, Arsene Wenger denied he was after the Real striker when questioned at the Community Shield and Rafael Benitez said he saw no reason why Benzema should leave.

* Louis Van Gaal has asked Man Utd to try again to take Gareth Bale back to Britain according to the Sunday Express, with a figure of 122 million being bandied about.

Van Gaal also admitted David De Gea might want to leave Old Trafford, which fanned the rumour flames no end, but Angel Di Maria's imminent move to PSG could mean the Red Devils are in no rush to sell for another cash windfall.

A number of Spanish voices are wondering out loud now if Real need De Gea given Keylor Navas is an international goalkeeper and new boy Kika Casilla has impressed since moving from Porto.

The money in the English game means the flow of Spaniards is unlikely to stop any time soon. 33 Spaniards are now on the books of Premier League clubs and 17 in the Championship.

Transfers to English clubs might be affected by the Premier League season beginning in a week, while La Liga resumes on Friday the 21st of August when Sevilla visit Malaga. The rest of the first round of Spanish matches are on the Saturday and Sunday.

The transfer window of course closes at the end of August.

* Sergio Ramos however, seems a dead story now Real boss Florentino Perez agreed to renew his contract until 2020 along with that of fellow defender Rafael Varane. Pen should be put to paper this week.

* Arsenal would like to buy Sergio Busquets from Barcelona but Real Madrid's Asier Illarramendi has reportedly turned down Liverpool's advances and will instead fight for first-team football at Real Madrid.

* Pepe has not renewed his contract at the Bernabeu, sparking transfer rumours as his current deal has only one season left.

* Lyon are angling to buy Malaga midfielder Sergei Darder for around €10 million.

* Real Madrid were said to have had a €26 million bid for Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia rejected this week.

* Newly promoted Las Palmas have signed Everton's Paraguayan centre-back Antolin Alvaraz.

* The Italian press rated Sevilla as favourites to land Fernando Llorente, but no deal is expected until close to transfer deadline day.

BIGGEST LA LIGA TRANSFERS THIS SUMMER

1. Jackson Martinez €35 million - Atletico Madrid from Porto
2. Arda Turan €34 million - Barcelona from Atletico Madrid
3. Alvaro Negredo €32 million - Valencia from Manchester City
4. Danilo €31.5 million - Real Madrid from Porto
5. Rodrigo €30 million - Valencia from Benfica
6. Aleix Vidal €22 million - Barcelona from Sevilla
7. Luciano Vietto €20 million - Atletico Madrid from Sevilla
8. Filipe Luis €16 million - Atletico Madrid from Chelsea
9. Carrasco €15 million - Atletico Madrid from Monaco
Andre Gomes €15 million - Valencia from Benfica
Joao Cancela €15 million - Valencia from Benfica

FRIENDLY FIXTURES

Tue 4th Aug   Real Madrid v Tottenham (Munich), Shanghai Sipg v Atletico Madrid
Wed 5th Aug  Barcelona v Roma, Ponferradina v Sporting Gijon, Leganes v Rayo Vallecano, Real Oviedo v Deportivo La Coruna
Thu 6th Aug   Villareal v Levante
Fri 7th Aug    Recreativo Huelva v Real Betis
Sat 8th Aug    Inter v Athletic Bilbao, AEK Athens v Sevilla, Valencia v Roma, Rayo Vallecano v Real Oviedo, Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad, Deportivo La Coruna v Sporting Braga, Albacete v Getafe, Sporting Gijon v Palermo
Sun 9th Aug   Valerenga v Real Madrid, Sassuolo v Villareal, Real Betis v Espanyol, Almeria v Las Palmas

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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