Three players who could leave Barcelona in January

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There are just another few weeks remaining until the transfer window is open for business once again.

Noises have already been made from various players and clubs, some more subtle than others it must be said.

Most of the spadework on deals will have been done prior to January 1, 2019, with the nuts and bolts of any switch to be ironed out in good time after that date. Continue reading

D’Ambrosio: “We need to win for our fans and because of our history”

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Danilo D’Ambrosio spoke alongside Matteo Politano during Inter’s pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow night’s crucial UEFA Champions League group stage match at home to PSV Eindhoven. Indeed, it will be a decisive game for the Nerazzurri, who must better Tottenham Hotspur’s result against leaders Barcelona in order to reach the Round of 16 stage of the competition. Here is what the former Torino full-back said to the gathered journalists in Appiano Gentile: Continue reading

Spalletti: “The PSV match is the most important one since I’ve been here”

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Earlier this afternoon, Luciano Spalletti held his traditional pre-match press conference at the Suning Training Centre ahead of tomorrow night’s crucial UEFA Champions League group stage match against reigning Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven. Here is what the 59-year-old Tuscan said to the journalists in attendance: “This match is the most important one since I’ve been here and it represents the next step that follows on from Lazio vs. Inter on 20 May. Since I’ve been here, we’ve got the points and put in the performances that we needed. Now, we’re here to play for a spot in the last 16 on the final day of the group stage. Continue reading

Self-criticism would serve Denis Suarez well

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In the wake of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey round of 32 second leg victory over Cultural Leonesa, Denis Suarez completely changed tack in his post-match interview.

To this point the Galician had always been more than happy to adopt the party line that he was going to ‘wait for his chance,’ and ‘work hard’ at Barcelona etc.

However, after a two-goal salvo against Barca’s Segunda B opponents, the attacking midfielder was in no mood to beat around the bush anymore. Continue reading

Riqui Puig is the player Barcelona have been waiting for

He was only on the pitch for 35 minutes, thrown on as a second half substitute with the game already won by then, but that was enough for Riqui Pique to catch the eye of everyone inside Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Long hyped as Barcelona’s next best thing, this was a glimpse of the future for the Catalan club.

There was something Xavi-esque about the display Puig put in against Cultural Leonesa, particularly his run and chipped through ball for Barcelona’s fourth goal on the night. Sure, it might have been against third tier opposition, but it takes a lot of ability for a player, any player, never mind one 17 years old, to command the Camp Nou turf like Puig did.

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Alongside Carles Alena, Barcelona fans were afforded a glimpse of what their team’s midfield of the future might look like. The Catalans have struggled to find players good enough to replace Andres Iniesta and Xavi, with Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, Arda Turan, Denis and Rafinha all given a shot. While Paulinho proved himself to be a decent option, and Vidal has played a lot in recent weeks, nobody has come close to filling the void.

Arthur has, so far, proved to be an astute signing, joining Barcelona from Gremio in the summer. Over time, it’s possible that he could form a midfield unit alongside Alena and Puig, who is still maturing. This could be the platform that sustains Barcelona in the post-Lionel Messi age.

What’s more, both Alena and Puig represent a recovery to the ways of old for Barcelona. The path from La Masia to the senior team has been walked by few in recent years, with the Catalan club instead splurging hundreds of millions on players in the transfer market.

Alena and Puig are both players forged from the Barcelona mould. They look like Barcelona players, they play like Barcelona players. Not since Thiago Alcantara has a midfielder looked like such a natural fit for the Catalan club. Now, Barca must ensure they don’t undervalue them and lose them to Bayern Munich.

Puig has been linked with a number of elite clubs, with Spurs the latest to be reported suitors for the teenager. Mauricio Pochettino took in a Barcelona B game during the international break, raising speculation that he could make a move for Puig, taking advantage of the contract regulations that leave Spanish sides at a disadvantage when it comes keeping teenagers.

Barcelona must do all they can to keep Puig. Not for years has a young prospect so clearly represented the future of the club. The era of Messi will one day come to an end and with the Argentinean now 31 Barca must start making plans. Puig is one of the players they should plan around. His 35-minute performance in the Copa del Rey demonstrated that.

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Spalletti: “We will go into this match to give it a real go”

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Luciano Spalletti held his traditional pre-match press conference earlier today ahead of Inter’s crucial Serie A encounter with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow night. Here is what the 59-year-old Tuscan tactician had to say about his return to Italy’s capital – a city in which he worked for the Giallorossi during two separate spells: “It’s exciting to be returning to a city where I lived and worked, a place where I have strong ties. We’re going into the match to give it a real go. Continue reading

Barca need to up the ante in the Champions League

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When your captain and talisman is steadfast in his resolve that this will be the year that the team is going to win the Champions League, the least that’s expected from every player is 100 percent concentration, commitment and effort in every game in the competition.

It’s a given at the top level, but since Lionel Messi uttered those words at the start of the campaign, the Argentinian has been the only one following his own advice in each European match that he’s been involved in. Continue reading

Lionel Messi is masking Barcelona’s problems

On the face of things, all went well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. Against a PSV Eindhoven side intent of giving it one last go to climb their way off the foot of Group B in this season’s Champions League, the Catalans claimed a 2-1 win to secure top spot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there was plenty to concern Ernesto Valverde.

Barca gave up enough opportunities for the result to be very different – ‘gave up’ being the key term. As effective as PSV were in the final third, hassling and harrying the Spanish champions, Valverde’s side were unusually slack with possession. Sergio Busquets surely can’t have had many looser games. Ivan Rakitic wasn’t much better, with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also extremely uncomfortable.

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The xG plot maps produced after full time backed up the notion that PSV, had they taken their chances, probably should have beaten, or at least taken a point off, Barcelona. The visitors were fortunate to leave with all three points, once again owing to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, whose stunning opener changed the course of the match as a contest.

Fears that Messi may be slowing down have been, so far, unfounded this season, with the Argentinean as lethal as ever. Playing in a ‘false nine’ position on Wednesday night, with Luis Suarez missing for the match, Messi was both Barcelona’s attacking hub and their cutting edge. He is good enough to play both roles at the same time.

Elsewhere, though, there was reason for Valverde to be concerned. Barcelona’s midfield was far too deep against PSV, with Philippe Coutinho positioned only slightly in front of the central platform of Busquets and Rakitic. This resulted in Barca holding the ball closer to their own goal than is normal, which subsequently incentivised PSV to press high on the Catalans.

Last season, Valverde was criticised for not rotating his squad sufficiently. This resulted in Barcelona running out of steam when they reached the latter rounds of the Champions League, demonstrated by their infamous collapse to Roma in the quarter finals.

While Valverde is rotating his squad better this season, his changes on Wednesday night were peculiar. Busquets and Rakitic were quite clearly struggling from the 60-minute mark onwards, yet the Barca boss chose to withdraw Ousmane Dembele rather than resting one of his fatigued central midfielders.

This only accentuated the positional issues that Barcelona were experiencing in the middle of the pitch, giving PSV a way back into the match when the points should have been secured with the scoring of the second goal through Gerard Pique. Against better teams, Barca could come unstuck if they continue to play in this way. They might be through to the Champions League last 16, top of their group, but Valverde has plenty to think about.

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Lionel Messi’s season so far for Barcelona has been very impressive

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Some may believe that Lionel Messi arguably the greatest player of his generation if not all time is having  a quiet season so far with Barcelona. It has been a testing summer of course after Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup by eventual winners France in the last 16, and failure seemed to follow Messi around in Russia.

The transfer window saw the departure of Andres Iniesta from Barca, a player that Messi has relied on for the past decade for his sublime touches and passing of the ball. Now Messi has had to link up better with the likes of Ivan Rakitic and his trustworthy lieutenant Sergio Busquets. Is Messi also a little in mourning of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus- that rivalry seems to have calmed now that the players are plying their trade in different leagues. Perhaps there isn’t that push to do well anymore against one another. Something that could be reignited if the two teams meet in the Champions League.

The league could well be Barcelona’s most difficult challenge in a while. Whilst Real Madrid have significantly dropped off other rivals have taken their place and Barcelona find themselves in 2nd place but all around them are the likes of Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and let’s face it Real still remain a danger.

Still if some think that Messi is going quiet then they haven’t been watching much of La Liga this season. He has 9 goals in the league and has scored 14 goals this season in 14 games, even at 31 he is not slowing down. He is sure to break his 600 club goals this season too. Currently he is in 2nd place in the top goalscorers chart and with 6 assists he is top of the pile in Spain.

Messi is also playing well for the team, dropping back when he needs to, scoring great goals and assisting well. Truth is nothing much has changed at the Nou Camp even if it has at the clubs direct rivals Real Madrid. Next month will be about pushing on for the club who apart from having to play Espanyol in the derby away from home they seem to have a good fixture list.

There is still a recklessness about the team in part, due to their attacking mode but they still look like the best team in Spain. Messi won’t win the Ballon d’Or this year after missing out on all of the top prizes in a season where his club won the domestic double. But he will be thinking about next year and capturing that title once more along with a few others too.

Juventus Do The Bare Minimum, Again

After a relatively comfortable win against Valencia, Juventus booked their ticket to the round of sixteen of the Champions League and look like good value for money to top their group. However, their performance on the night, especially in the final third, left a lot to be desired as the bianconeri struggled to break down their Spanish counterparts and were typically lethargic. While Massimiliano Allegri’s side exhibited complete control throughout the ninety minutes, outside of Diakhaby’s header on the stroke of half-time, Juventus’ play still had fans asking for more. With a star-studded attack spearheaded by Ronaldo and Dybala backed by an all-star bench, this is a reasonable expectation.

It’s gotten to a point where it’s no longer a question of talent for Juventus, but rather one of belief. The Italian champions have enough quality in their ranks to go toe-to-toe with any opponent, yet consistently fail to impose themselves on games outside familiar confines. In the buildup to this game, Juventus boss Allegri was asked about his favourite to win it all.

Naturally, one would expect a manager to pick his own team, especially considering the current climate in Turin. Since Ronaldo has signed, the message from the top brass has been clear and consistent: Irrespective of domestic success, winning the Champions League is the ultimate objective – at all costs.

When you think about it, it’s not exactly an unrealistic aim. After all, the team has one of the best defences in the world, if not the best, and possesses arguably the most decisive forward in the game. Factor in Bayern Munich’s and Real Madrid’s respective struggles this season, and you quickly realize Juventus have what it takes to win it all. If there was ever a year to pick yourself as a favourite, this is the year, and yet Allegri still downplays his side’s chances.

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