Brazil, We Have a Problem

Brazil, the most decorated football nation on Earth, have not won the World Cup or Copa América in eight years. In fact, in those eight years, they haven’t even made the final of either tournament. Yesterday’s shootout loss to Paraguay confirmed their exit from the 2015 Copa América, and these whispers have turned into very loud groans.

In the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals, Brazil were stunned by a Wesley Sneijder brace as they exited South Africa. In the 2011 Copa América, Brazil bowed out in the quarterfinals after losing to Paraguay on penalties. At the 2014 World Cup…7-1. And yesterday, Paraguay happened again.

Watching Brazil against Paraguay without Neymar just felt…off. Paraguay didn’t look intimidated in the slightest. Paraguay outshot Brazil 11-6, and notched six shots on target compared to Brazil’s three. Brazil recorded 485 passes to Paraguay’s 324, but Paraguay were much efficient in creating dangerous chances. Brazil also tried 29 dribbles over the 90 minutes, but only 12 were successful, a success rate of just over 40% (Stats courtesy of WhoScored).

Even without the stats, it was very clear that, again, Brazil looked off. Brazil are spectacularly mediocre without Neymar. Their most lively spells came through the fullback positions with Dani Alves and Filipe Luis. Alves and Luis are both very good fullbacks who have demonstrated their proclivity for bombing forward. There’s nothing wrong with those two players’ involvement in a team’s attack. There is something wrong, however, when they’re seemingly the only players there. Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino had flashes of good attacking play, but weren’t the driving forces in the squad the way quality attacking midfielders should be.

Brazil are far too dependent on Neymar, but there’s no one else in the squad who is anywhere near his ability. Now, a lot of national teams could say that, but you don’t expect a side as decorated and lauded as Brazil to be in this situation.

The Seleção with Neymar currently find themselves in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he plays (which is a question at times, given his behavior), their attacking tactics are pretty easy to stop. Brazil under the last two managers have installed a philosophy of “give Neymar the ball and hope he does something awesome.” This tactic at times has been successful. Neymar was great against Peru, where he scored a goal and provided a dazzling 91st minute assist in a 2-1 win.

However, José Pékerman and Colombia knew what Brazil were planning to do and invited anyone besides the Barcelona forward to beat them. No one could. Colombia grabbed a 1-0 win and Neymar managed to get himself sent off and expelled from the tournament in a post-match kerfuffle.

And that brings us to what happens to when Neymar can’t play. Brazil lack a spark, and despite the presence of some pretty good creative midfielders, lack imaginative, intelligent play. They managed to get past Venezuela, but Venezuela still put a scare into the Seleção. Newsflash: Venezuela aren’t very good.

Right now, this current generation of Brazilian talent – with one obvious exception – is a shell of their Joga Bonito predecessors. Neymar has the flair and ability to make Ronaldo and Ronaldinho proud, and eventually become one of the country’s all-time greats. Those footballers don’t grow on trees. The guy needs a little help.

However, this isn’t necessarily all doom and gloom for Brazil. There are three years between now and the 2018 World Cup. At Euro 2012, the Netherlands didn’t have Memphis Depay, France didn’t have Paul Pogba and England didn’t have Raheem Sterling. A lot changes over three years.

Over the course of the next three years, Brazil could see promising 23-year-olds Coutinho and Firmino develop into consistent attacking talents at Anfield. Or perhaps players like Lazio’s Felipe Anderson, Fluminense midfielder Gerson or Chelsea-linked forward Kenedy will make their cases to become integral cogs in Dunga’s system.

However, as of now, Brazil don’t have anyone besides Neymar. And as long as Brazil have that problem, they will continue to disappoint and underwhelm at tournaments. It is a problem that is easy to spot and difficult to solve.

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The Real Housewives of Catalunya

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FC Barcelona, fresh off winning a second treble – a feat no other club in world football has ever accomplished – are having elections this summer. Here’s why you shouldn’t pay attention to any of it.

If you thought Barcelona was a soap opera last winter, what with Messi reportedly threatening to leave, Andoni Zubizaretta getting sacked and acting president Jose Maria Bartomeu calling for elections a year earlier than necessary, then you’re in for a rude awakening. This summer is the real doozy.

There are quite a few candidates in the running, but for the most part, I’m going to talk about Bartomeu and former president Joan Laporta.

Bartomeu is the incumbent, having risen to power last November when former president Sandro Rosell resigned over the Neymar contract fiasco. This will be the first time he runs for that office, and he’ll most likely be running on the success of last season. Oh, and that if he is reelected, he has assurances from Paul Pogba that the midfielder will join. Or Koke. Or, no, Reus. Heck, maybe all three.

Transfer ban, you say? What transfer ban? Ain’t no transfer ban these guys have ever heard about.

Joan Laporta, the former president and the guy who appointed Pep Guardiola, will most likely be running on the premise of “restoring old glories,” which if you ask me, are kinda moot at this point since BARCELONA JUST WON A DAMN TREBLE moving away from the old system.

He’s already trying to rekindle old emotions, appointing former Barcelona left back Eric Abidal – a person with no front office experience whatsoever – as his director of football. Also of note is club legend Johan Cruyff’s absence from voting proceedings this time around, since Laporta was the man who brought him back the first time (when, Laporta will no doubt tell you, Barcelona won everything under the sun).

Of course Laporta won’t only run on that – he probably has assurances from other players that they will join Barcelona if he were to be elected (some of these players may even be the same ones Bartomeu is targeting).

But in all honesty, if you’re a fan of FC Barcelona in its current iteration – with Messi, Neymar, Suárez and company – then the results of this election won’t matter much. Where the results will make a difference is in the lower reaches of the football program (remember La Masia?) and in other sports.

Bartomeu’s grand plan is to expand the Camp Nou – and maybe sell its naming rights. That project requires money, money that would have probably been used to supplement other areas of FC Barcelona.

Laporta, meanwhile, will probably leverage the strength of the first team, using the treble and all the winning that the first team did last season, to supplement other areas in the club. That could include, say, a new shirt sponsorship deal, which would be a step towards ending the club’s controversial relationship with Qatar.

I should point out that there are many other candidates running for this position. One of them, Agusti Benedito, claims that he has had talks with Paul Pogba and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli. Another candidate, Jordi Majó, has claimed that Sergio Ramos was offered as a way to win the elections, but that he “won’t play that game.” (This could all be because of the defender’s contract dispute with Real Madrid. The Ramos stuff is a saga all its own.)

You will be hearing a lot of things from now until July 18, when the elections will, at long last, take place. Whether any of it matters in the long run is another story altogether.

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Copa América Storylines

The 2015 Copa América begins today, when hosts Chile face Ecuador. Here are some of the storylines to watch for in CONMEBOL’s continental tournament.

Argentina are the favorites

Argentina came a Mario Götze goal away from winning the World Cup last year, so it should come as little surprise that Tata Martino’s troops are the favorite in this tournament. This is essentially the same Argentina squad from 2014. Javier Mascherano will still be a presence in central midfield and Lionel Messi will still be Lionel Messi. And if anything, this year’s attack may be even stronger than the 2014 squad, as Carlos Tévez has returned to the national team after being largely absent from the squad during Alejandro Sabella’s tenure. Argentina is hardly the only contender for this year’s tournament, but they are definitely the deepest team and the one with the fewest clear weaknesses.

Turnover in the Brazil squad

When you lose 7-1 in the semifinals as the host nation in the World Cup and have another international tournament a year later, it’s almost expected that a certain amount of turnover will occur. This is even less of a surprise when you remember that Big Phil Scolari (now China-bound) resigned and was replaced with Dunga. Dani Alves, Hulk, Julio Cesar and Maicon are amongst the big names that won’t find themselves in Chile for Copa América. Fred and Jo are not big names by any stretch of the imagination, but they also won’t feature in Chile after their dreadful combined efforts as Brazil’s striker last summer. Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be given opportunities at attacking midfielder, while Danilo will be expected to replace Alves and Maicon at right back. Filipe Luis and Miranda also have received call-ups, albeit a year too late.

UPDATE: Dani Alves will indeed play in the Copa América. The Barcelona right back will replace Real Madrid’s Danilo after the latter suffered an ankle injury.

Uruguay doesn’t have Suarez 

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While Luis Suárez’ suspension from club football with Barcelona ended in October, his suspension from international play means he can not represent Uruguay in this year’s tournament. This is not good news in the slightest Óscar Tabárez and his side. Edinson Cavani will be the go-to-guy in the ex-Liverpool man’s absence. Cavani’s 2014-15 season for PSG was by and large solid, but his days as a world-class striker seem to be numbered. Bordeaux’s Diego Rolán scored 15 goals in a breakthrough campaign and could be of some assistance, too. But the absence of Suárez will hurt Uruguay a lot.

Chile are the hosts

One of the most entertaining teams from last year’s World Cup is back and this time they’re the hosts. In last year’s World Cup, Chile was a Mauricio Pinilla crossbar away from upsetting Brazil in the round of 16. Chile bring back all of their big contributors from last year’s squad: Claudio Bravo in net, Gary Medel at center back and most importantly, Arturo Vidal in midfield and Alexis Sánchez in attack. Everyone in Chile has spent the past year dwelling on that round of 16 game, and would love to avenge it with winning the Copa América as hosts this year. They won’t be the favorites, but they also won’t go down on home soil without a fight.

James Rodríguez

The 2014 World Cup turned James Rodríguez into a global superstar, whereas entering the tournament he was merely “that awesome young midfielder from Monaco.” The Real Madrid midfielder’s brilliant performance has hardly been forgotten, but for a refresher: he scored six goals in five games and led Colombia to the quarterfinals. There are massive expectations for James to, once again, be a major contributor for Colombia. Even if he doesn’t perform up to his World Cup level, the 2001 Copa América winners still have Carlos Bacca, Juan Cuadrado and Jackson Martínez, and perhaps Radamel Falcao will find form after a disastrous spell at Old Trafford. But as James goes, so go the hopes of a nation.

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The NYCFC Diaries, Vol. 4: Tyler Deric, John the Newcastle Fan, The First NYCFC Spot Kick and…JESÚS NAVAS AND DAVID SILVA

I took a writing break from NYCFC’s last match against the Fire, which—by the way— was awe-inspiring. Thanks, Khiry Shelton, for your 90th minute brilliance and NYCFC as a collective playing with 10 men. Anyways, enjoy volume four below, because lots of interesting stuff happened on a very eventful day.

Meeting Jesús Navas and David Silva Was Totally Worth It (With Pictures):

 

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The tri-state area is blessed to have Modell’s Sporting Goods all over the place. Where I am on Long Island—within a 10 mile vicinity— there’s, like, three Modell’s (too lazy to look up the locations). They always come in the clutch with their sporting goods, but also, their email list is, undeniably, glorious (except when they send me emails for their store credit card. Figures…a corporation is attempting to offer a college student a credit card…)

My parents and I get their promotion-laden emails constantly. We couldn’t care less about them – unless coupons are included. Because, you know, saving 25% off on any team-oriented apparel is always a gracious thing. However, it’s disconcerting seeing prices for certain things – like a Chris Johnson Jets jersey – at retail price when the value clearly looks deflated. (No Patriots joke intended, but I’ll take credit for it anyway.)

But let’s sweep the coupons aside for a second. The Times Square Modell’s on 42nd Street holds autograph signings. A couple years back, before I even knew about signing events there, Edin Džeko, Joe Hart, Yaya Touré and a few other Manchester City players were there for a Q&A session (and kit revealing, I believe), followed by an autograph and photo session.

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This past December, I met Jeb Brovsky, Josh Saunders (aka the goalkeeping benediction), Kwame Watson-Siriboe, and the man of the hour… (and a half plus stoppage) David Villa! Waiting for three hours in the cryogenic cold was absolutely worth it. It was historic for myself and everyone else in line, because everyone in line had met the first four players in the franchise’s history, although everyone was converging on Villa.

But this time around, the same Modell’s emailed me a promo for a David Silva meet and greet, with Wilfried Bony by his side, only to be fooled by when I saw Jesús Navas sitting beside Silva at the autograph table. But hey, that’s fine with me. However, get your facts straight, Modell’s!

I didn’t wait nearly as long as the NYCFC signing. It took a languid three hours to walk in the store and get the autographs. Surprisingly, for a World Cup winner and a mediocre winger (this year, at least. Forgive me, Jesús), it only took 45 minutes to get in and take a swift photo with the duo. Splendid.

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Please Abolish the “Puto” Chants and the Wave:

Remember this past World Cup? Remember when host nation Brazil and Mexico started using “puto” chants to try and get into any goalkeeper’s head? Oh, and remember how there was backlash over it, with people debating about the term being homophobic and racist?

I don’t feel like debating what “puto” actually means. Point is, the term generally has a negative connotation and it shouldn’t be the staple chant of any fan base. But that doesn’t matter, because ultimately, if you’re at any New York sporting event, chances are your eardrums are going to be abused with vulgar stuff (I do it all the time, but not “puto”).

But here’s the thing: The chants have transcended from the World Cup to USMNT friendlies, Liga MX matches and everywhere else. They’re everywhere and it’s like people want to conform because “But Mom! All of the cool kids are doing it!”

I sit in section 233B, which is a great section. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to sit around. From Danny to his friends (when they’re present), the experience is like being at a bar, people with beers in hand and raucous cheering. Most of us are a vivacious bunch, except, when other belligerents from other sections join in the empty seats in our section to cause a stir, which is exactly what happened at this game.

A few rows above me – in section 234 – a posse of loudmouths, who should have no business of being at the games, decide to be choir leaders. These guys are amazing, considering that they’re more disrespectful than entertaining. Then, what seemed to be a double date (two guys and two girls caressing each other while standing up, completely blocking my friend and I’s view for the remainder of the match), asked me if anyone was sitting in the empty seats in front of me. I like being nice and I said there’s no one sitting there. Looks like I’m changing my mind next time around…

Chanting “puto” and screaming “asshole” and “fuck you” each and every time the opposing team’s goalkeeper – in this case, Tyler Deric – sets up to take a goal kick is obviously disrespectful, but more irritating.

Tyler Deric Is an Amazing Shot Stopper:

You know, while we’re talking about Tyler Deric…sometimes, when you see the opposing goalkeeper (or any goalkeeper of that matter) make an astounding save on the goalline, there’s nothing you could do but say “wow” or “what a save.”

Deric did just that in the minutes approaching stoppage time, where he saved Jeb Brovsky’s diving header off of a nicely placed cross from fan favorite Kwadwo Poku. Everyone thought that was going in on my end. “YeaaahhhhhhAHHHHHOOOHHHHHHNOOOOOOOO,” was the crowds exact reaction.

Deric is one of the best shot stoppers in MLS right now. He’s made some brilliant saves in the past, like this one against Orlando City earlier this season (which they later lost after a blunder by Deric). With great positioning and anticipation of a rifling header, comes a great diving save on the line from a great MLS keeper.

David Villa Scores First Ever NYCFC Spot Kick…Thanks to Adam Nemec:

Every Adam Nemec loather that thinks each game he plays in is his swan song needs to CGTcQDTW8AEPtKKshut up about him being a piece of hot garbage that can’t do anything outside of turning the ball over. He won a critical aerial duel in the box to force the handball in the first place. As a matter of fact, he won so many jostling battles, that NYCFC gained possession almost every time he won a header.

Something I do agree with is that Nemec isn’t the most mobile forward. Neither is Patrick Mullins, despite him almost curling a late game winner. But if it wasn’t for Nemec winning headers on every other goal kick/punt from Josh Saunders or every long ball from whoever launched it, the possession percentages would probably be heavily in favor of the Dynamo.

People must realize what a target man’s role is. Nemec doesn’t rely on flair or long shots, his purpose is to hold up possession and wait for the reinforcements to come forward. Certainly, Nemec isn’t fucking Mario Mandžukić, but he’s a supreme example of a “better than nothing” scrappy forward that does the dirty work.

NYCFC Under Tyne:

(Note to tourists of New York, this could actually be helpful train information, in case the subways become the Da Vinci Code).

This time around, I had to take an alternate subway route. Because I took the LIRR to Penn Station, I had to take the A or C line to 59th Street then transfer over to the B or D maxresdefaultline, which gets me to Yankee Stadium. It sounds tedious, but when people master the NYC subway maps (and was weird as it sounds), they take casual subway rides just for the sake of doing it, despite an MTA hike every year or something.

You’d think that the experiences at the games are a fun sight. That they are, but coming back from the games are fun and at the same time, droll. I already encountered a Union supporter who, at first glance, was a nice dude turned into massive douchebag after speaking to him and a bunch of other conversations with people who had pungent smells of alcohol on them (and it wasn’t just their breath).

With the abundance of people who needed to be crammed on to the next D line corral, there was this one particular guy who looked like he just went to the beach. This guy was wearing flip-flops, massively short shorts and a shirt that said Brixton on it. I thought to myself “this guy has to be from the UK. But at the same time, that could be some guy from St. Mark’s Place wearing New York City’s version of French Connection’s “FCUK” shirts (damn, I’m old).”

Funny enough, the guy starts talking to me after a plentitude of gawky eye contact. “Hey lad, what a game it was tonight, eh?” he said. This guy’s accent was hard to rummage. He sounded Australian. Maybe this guy is a Socceroo?

“It was an epic game tonight,” I said. “It’s too bad Tyler Deric had to make that epic save on Jeb Brovsky near stoppage time.”

“Yeah, that was a terrific save from Houston’s keeper,” he said.

“Sometimes,” I said, “you just have to applaud. I go nuts when it’s the keeper I root for, but seeing astonishing saves like that, no matter who it is, are a sight to see.”

We spoke throughout the length of the ride.

“By the way, what’s your name?” he asked. “You seem like a knowledgeable NYCFC supporter.”

There was no way I was lying this time. This guy was way too nice.

“James,” I said. “Yours?”

“John.”

“Where are you from, John? I take it you’re from the UK?”

“You guessed right.”

John and I started discussing the Premier League and what teams we both support. I said I’m an Arsenal supporter by default.

“The club I support is a club that has the best manager in the Premier League,” he said.

The Riddler showed up. But this sounded like a surefire Newcastle supporter, because I’m pretty sure John Carver said something like, um, being the best manager in the Premier League.

“I take it you’re a depressed Newcastle fan?” I asked.

“Boy, you are prophetic,” John said. “I think when I said ‘best manager in the Premier League,’ I gave it away.” Both of us laughed.

John and I then talked about the amount of games we’ve both attended. Of course, I’m a season ticket holder, so I’ve been to the majority of the games.

“I’ve been to three games this season,” John said. “The home opener against New England, Sporting KC and tonight’s game. How about you?”

“That’s cool,” I said. “I’m a season ticket holder, so I’ve been to every game, except their fixture against the Timbers, where they lost 1-0. Also, I see you’re one of the 43,000+ people who got to witness their first and only win so far.”

“Oh yeah, and it sure was a delightful win of epic proportions,” John said.

Exiting the train wasn’t easy, because John was one of those guys that could talk all night. I mean, he could have gotten off at 59th street with me for a drink (with a fake ID), but, alas.

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Nerves, Swerves and Lionel Messi

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When Alvaro Morata scored the equalizer last night for Juventus, I feared the worst. In the immediate aftermath of the goal, it looked like Juventus was going to beat Barcelona. And Barcelona really had themselves to blame. I’m not trying to belittle Juventus here – I’m really not – but Morata’s goal was so against the run of play it might as well have been in a different game.

Until that delicious Marchisio back heel to start the move, it looked likely that Barcelona was going to score – a lot. Then Claudio laid it off for Stephan Lichtensteiner who passed it off to Tevez. Carlitos got a good shot off, only for Marc Andre Ter Stegen to punch it away towards Morata, who calmly put it in the back of the net. Barcelona, I felt, let the Old Lady back into the game. And for ten minutes, Juventus were confident. For ten minutes, Barcelona was flustered, losing the ball easily and seemingly wilting under the Bianconerri pressure.

Until Lionel Messi got a chance to run down the middle.

Ivan Rakitic, who had a hell of a game yesterday, pressing Juventus’s midfield four and scoring the opener just four minutes into the game, passed it to Messi who ran at Bonucci before firing a low shot towards Gianluigi Buffon. The Italian parried it away, but Luis Suarez, who wasn’t having the greatest of games until that point, fired the rebound back into the top corner. 2-1 Barcelona, and my nerves were settled. Barcelona would score another one just two minutes later, Jordi Alba crossing for Neymar to head in, but that was disallowed. What it did, though, was hammer home the point that this Barcelona will demolish you if you give them any space. With Juventus needing to score, you’d think that would have to happen.

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Barcelona would score once more in the dying minutes of the game, in a move started by Lionel Messi and capped off by Neymar with the final kick of the game. As Neymar played a one-two with Pedro, the architect of the move was nowhere to be found, instead chilling by the center circle, probably in admiration of the carnage that he had wrought. Messi sat back, watching Neymar slot home the 3rd Barcelona goal, and his Champions League leading 11th (three way tie with Messi and Ronaldo, because of course), thinking “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

Or maybe he was just tired.

In many ways, that game was an encapsulation of the type of season Barcelona have had. Described by the Spanish media as a team in crisis (the Spanish are very subdued when it comes to football), few would have predicted this ending in January. And yet, despite the tumultuous nature of this season, a season that included the sacking of the director of football who put this team together, a call for elections, and the death of former manager Tito Vilanova from cancer, this team was awfully talented from the start. The front three of Suarez, Neymar and Messi were always going to grab the headlines, but this team does not win a treble without Gerard Pique’s return to form, Ivan Rakitic doing the dirty work needed to be done in midfield, and Dani Alves playing in the form of his life.

In fact, it was Alves who put it best, in his press conference a few weeks back: a team is much more different than a club. And while this club was a mess, the team was something different, something mès.

Absent of all the drama surrounding the club, all the politics, and away from what Johan Cruyff called the eterno, this team is pretty damn good.

 

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Juventus vs. Barcelona: The Great(ish) Debate

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IT’S HERE IT’S HERE IT’S FINALLY HERE. The 2015 Champions League Final will kick off this evening from Berlin, as both Barcelona and Juventus seek the third and final piece of the treble. The Spanish champions are heavily favored, but in a one-off affair, who knows what can happen? Ahmad, Cole and Jeremy certainly don’t, but they sat down and engaged in some pre-match banter regardless.

Jeremy: Well, lads, the day is finally upon us. I, personally, think it’s a travesty we’ve been forced to wait until June 6 for the 2015 Champions League final, but our appetites shall be satisfied today. I know Ahmad’s excited because DUH, so Cole, I’ll start with you. What are you most looking forward to in this match?

Cole:  I just love taking in the Champions League final day. In my opinion, it’s the best day for world football. And really I think as FIFA keeps imploding it will be more of a common thought. The soccer is better, there’s more chemistry, the managers know their teams more. It’s great.

It doesn’t matter if Barca eat up Juve — like I, and many others think they will — it’s still the best day for the sport, and I’m ready to just take it all in.

Ahmad: I mean, I’m really just looking forward for it to be over, with Barcelona hopefully victorious. #HotTake, right? But seriously, this Barcelona team has been the best team all (calendar) year, with Messi doing some things I have never seen him do before.

This might be both Xavi and Dani Alves’s last match as Barcelona players, and while plenty has been written about how much Barcelona will miss Xavi, and rightly so, not much has been said about Dani Alves (probably because Sid Lowe said it all). I’m gonna miss him, and more importantly for this football debate, Barca will too.

I want to see how Juventus handle the front three, and whether Sergio Busquets is gonna be tasked with marking Andrea Pirlo out of the game. We’ve seen Juventus handle that brilliantly last round against Madrid, when Gareth Bale man marked Pirlo. I want to see if Max Allegri handles that against this squad (he’s had some brilliant games tactics wise against Barcelona in the past, with a Milan vastly inferior to this Juve squad).

Oh, and I’d love to see some goals, preferably by the Blaugrana.

Jeremy: I’m very interested to see how Max Allegri plays things tactically without Giorgio Chiellini. The Italian international will be absent thanks to a calf injury, and his presence allowed Allegri to insert Andrea Barzagli late in games to facilitate a switch to the 3-5-2 and close games out. Remember when Luis Enrique was tactically brain-dead? Or when people on Twitter said he was? Well, if Barzagli isn’t totally fit, there’s something for him to exploit.

But irrespective of who’s in at the back for Juventus, they’ll be trying to stop the world’s best player, who wears #10 for Barcelona. Would you say that, regardless of what happens today, this has been Lionel Messi’s best-ever season? I think it has, and I’m not sure it’stumblr_nphk6yg5xR1r3ut4bo1_400 particularly close. Of course, Messi has always been a lethal goalscorer, but his evolution as a passer in this 4-3-3 (along with the requisite 58 goals) has been outstanding. He will win the Ballon D’or at the end of this year.

Ahmad: In terms of stats, I don’t think anything touches 2012, when he scored 73 goals and had 29 assists in all competitions. But in terms of impact? Definitely. Messi is a threat from just behind the center circle now. He might start from the right wing, but his heat map is all over the place. He might slide in behind Suarez, play one twos with Neymar on the left, or just chill on the right and lob passes to Jordi Alba and Neymar.

He controls the way the entire team functions, without him being the end result. When he used to do that in the tail end of the Guardiola era, it seemed that everything relied on Messi making something happen. It’s not the case with this Messi.

Cole: I would definitely rate this as Messi’s best season, along with Busquets’s and Neymar’s. But for Messi, as Ahmad has touched on, he’s become the complete presence, stringing together the midfield and attacking force. It’s also been the most in touch he’s been with his attacking partners, well ever. Henry, Eto’o, and Messi were very good chemistry wise, but also were a bit more traditional in the way they played. Messi and Henry were the defacto wingers, and Eto’o played more of a striker role.

This team? It’s only Neymar really, and it’s not so much that the Brazilian isn’t talented enough as much as he’s kind of third in line in the attacking force. And even as Barca’s finisher, he still provided 7 assists.

It’s really the Messi-Suarez chemistry that’s incredible. Both play so fluidly between their roles, and really, in my opinion has been the most chemistry Messi has had with another attacker. And part of that is Lionel. He’s found a guy that he trusts to man the middle while he’s on the wing, and Luis does a fine job of still letting Messi be Messi. It’s been breathtaking football, and all three attackers have hit another level — yes including Luis, fight me EPL fans — this year.

What I’m most interested in is the real burning question, how does Juve leave with a win?

Jeremy: Juve need to score first. That is the primary objective. Once Barcelona break through, they are capable of turning a closely-contested affair into a rout within a few minutes. The most prominent example, of course, would be against Bayern Munich in the semifinals. I don’t believe Barca will put up four today – Juve’s defense is quite stout, as we know – but if there’s blood in the water, MSN will smell it. Juve need to utilize their smoldering counterattacking pace to trouble the blaugrana backline and get a lead to download (1)protect. Carlos Tevez is the man with the key to unlocking Barcelona.

Ahmad: Yeah, I’m gonna agree with Jeremy there – Tevez is key. You’d be hard pressed to find a defense that can stifle Barcelona for 90 minutes and leave them scoreless, but this squad – provided they get a lead – can do it. Losing Chiellini hurts, but I don’t think it’s as big a loss as advertised. Of the three center backs – Barzgali, Bonucci and Chiellini – I feel like Giorgio is the one who is most susceptible to making a mistake. He’s like Gerard Piqué in that regard – great defender who’s prone to an occasional brain fart. Which brings me to how Juve can get a lead – a Piqué brain fart. Carlitos will feast on that, and I don’t think Mascherano can sweep up behind Piqué if Tevez is running at him.

All right, now for the most important question: Who y’all got? I want to say it’ll be 3-1 Barcelona, but I’m not entirely confident.

Cole: Your lack of confidence in Barcelona has been well-documented, Ahmad. But yeah, barc3a7a-3-1-atletico-suarez-neymar-and-messi-20153-1 is a good score. Barcelona will likely pounce early, and I can see it getting out of hand quickly before they coast in the 2nd half.

Jeremy: If there’s one team that can frustrate and stifle that front three, it’s this one. I think this will be a close, hotly-contested final, and under the right circumstances I can see Juve catching a break and winning. But they’re heavy underdogs, fairly or unfairly. 2-1 to Barcelona, with a late winner. Not dissimilar to the 2013 final.

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Looking Ahead to the Summer International Tournaments

The Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 are all done. Serie A will be finished on Sunday. The Champions League Final on June 6th will mark the end of the 2014-15 season of European club football.

This year is an odd year, which sadly means we won’t have the World Cup or the Euros to entertain us this summer. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no football to watch while we frantically track transfers and wait for the season to begin. Let’s learn about the four international tournaments that’ll take place this summer.

2015 Copa América.png

COPA AMERICA

Location: Chile

Date: June 11 – July 4

Teams: 12

Defending Champion: Uruguay

The most exciting tournament for the casual football fan of the four this summer is surely Copa America. The South American continental tournament will be give everyone a chance to see some of the best players from the World Cup representing their countries once again. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, James Rodriguez will be amongst many other South American stars on display in the tournament. There will not be Luis Suarez, however, due to his suspension. World Cup finalists Argentina are unsurprisingly the favorite, but Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will want to make sure Chile puts on a strong showing as the host nation. In additional to continental bragging rights, the winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

2015_CONCACAF_Gold_CupGOLD CUP

Location: United States and Canada

Date: July 7 – July 26

Teams: 12

Defending Champion: United States

This tournament is less likely than the Copa America to interest fans from countries that aren’t in CONCACAF. That is because it admittedly has less star power and a lower quality of play than the Copa America. Paraguay facing Jamaica, for example, isn’t the most enticing matchup ever, but it pales in comparison to Cuba against Guatemala. The tournament still has four teams that made the 2014 World Cup (Honduras, United States, Mexico and Costa Rica) and even if the group stage is lackluster, the semifinals and final should be very good games. Much like Copa America, this tournament also offers Confederations Cup qualifying, but with a twist. If the United States win, they’re in. If anyone else wins, they will be forced to play the United States in a one game playoff on an unknown date and at an unknown venue with the winner heading to Russia.

2015_FIFA_U-20_World_CupU-20 WORLD CUP

Location: New Zealand

Date: May 30 – June 20

Teams: 24

Defending Champion: France

Any sort of competition featuring U-20 or U-21 players is much more interesting several years after it has happened than when it is going on. It is fun to look at who succeeded in the tournaments and if they lived up the potential they showed. In 2013, Paul Pogba won the Golden Ball for France. In 2007 and 2005 a pair of young Argentines named Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi won the individual trophy. But as has anyone heard from the 2009 winner, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah? A young Brazilian named Henrique scored five goals in the 2011 tournament, but as a grand total of zero senior caps to his name. The quality of play will not be as high as the normal World Cup, but it should be an interesting tournament given that we could be seeing the future stars of football, or the future flops. The same goes for the U-21 European Championship, also this summer.

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP

Location: Canada

Date: June 6 – July 5

Teams: 24

Defending Champion: Japan

Do not watch the Women’s World Cup if you expect to be at the exact same level of play as the men’s game, because it isn’t. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a highly entertaining tournament with the very best women’s players in the world. 2011’s tournament produced great drama. In the quarterfinals between the USA and Brazil, the USA sent the game to extra time with a 122nd minute goal from Abby Wambach and then won on penalties. Then in the final, Japan sent their game against the USA to penalties with a 117th minute goal. Japan then won the World Cup on penalties. So if you want to watch soccer only to see the highest possible level of play, just watch Copa America. But if you’re interested in seeing an exciting and entertaining tournament that the USA has a good chance at winning, watch the Women’s World Cup.

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