Spain vs Uruguay: Confederations Cup Group B Preview

Spain4 years have passed since the last Confederations Cup and another year left until the 2014 World Cup over at Brazil. Now, in recent lights, Uruguay have been booming with success as they reached their glorifying goal in winning the Copa America after knocking out Messi’s Argentina and the on-form Paraguay.

As for the Spaniards, there are few words that could be used to describe their European and international success. The recent European champions have continued to be indisputably consistent and haven’t stumbled upon many changes throughout their road to the world cup and their occasional friendlies.  Both teams will be working on each other’s weak-points rather than focusing on their own strengths.

Uruguay predicted starting line-up: Muslera | M Pereira, Lugano, Godin, Caceres | Perez, Gargano, A Pereira | Cavani, Forlan, Suarez

Uruguay completely rely on their front-line, and judging by the names mentioned in that line-up, you can’t blame them. Uruguay tend to play a solid (4-3-3) and use their midfielders as transitional distractions for the wingers. Caceres consistently makes the run-ins which, at times, forces a (3-3-4) when Uruguay go on full force.

Now Uruguay may not be the best team in terms of distribution of talent among each position, but they are extremely flexible and could play via aerial balls, possession, and flank penetration. Much like Bayern Munich’s attack-force, Uruguay have two world class forwards on the wings (Cavani and Suarez), and even-though they aren’t fully established as wingers, they definitely cause enough offensive impact. That over-whelming consistency of attacks on the wings could tire any back-line, let alone Arbeloa and the attack-minded Jordi Alba.

UruguayUruguay will be looking to counter at a blistering rate and break Spain’s weary offside trap. Spain’s weak point will be losing the ball upfront, and if the ball is automatically converted to either of the flanks, then Uruguay might just see themselves playing a 3v3 battle upfront; that could just be enough to score a goal or two. As for their back-line, it needs to be as compact as ever, and Caceres needs to control his runs upfront because any misinterpretation could lead to a through pass which eventually leads to an easy tap-in.

Spain’s predicted line-up: Valdes | Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba | Javi Martinez, Busquets | Navas, Xavi, Iniesta | Soldado

Starting with the Iker-less line-up, it is predicted that the Spanish captain will not be starting for tonight’s game as Spain probably will avoid risking a not fully fit Iker; therefore, Valdes will be the next best alternative. Seeing how Xabi Alonso is ruled out of the Confederations Cup with a back-injury, the Champions League-winning Javi will be the most probable replacement to compliment Busquets in the southern part of the midfield.

Moreover, judging by the offensive brilliance that Uruguay possesses, it will be most probable that Spain will play a double-pivot of Javi-Busquets and play a (4-2-3-1). This gives the Spaniards an easier task of getting the ball behind the midfielders, in addition to adding a pinch of defensive solidity to secure the back-line from any sudden counters plus adding possession to the table.

Cesc-Xavi-Iniesta seems unrealistic, and probably is, but in theory, Spain might be looking to switch up the positions and keep a bit of pace at the same time so the new citizen, Navas, might be the right solution for that equation. Spain will be looking to do the usual, keep the ball and eventually find spaces. Uruguay will definitely add the pressure and try to dispossess them in-hope of finding that one counter. Jordi Alba should be alert at all times and continuously look for spaces behind the midfield to make those run ins. The more spontaneous Spain get, the better.

This game should be a joy to watch; one being because they are two enormous squads with talent leaking from both sides of the pitch, and second because both play beautiful offensive football. I will not give any predictions regarding the outcome of the game, the Spaniards being the usual favorites, but I still see this game ending up with a few goals and hopefully an entertaining 90 minutes for the fans.

Written by Hasan Al

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AS Monaco: Rising Superpower or Flash in the Pan?

AS MonacoDespite all of the events occurring in London, Manchester, Madrid and elsewhere, since this transfer season began, the eyes of the footballing world have been firmly fixed on one of the world’s most glamorous locations: Monaco. Based at the Stade Louis II on the iconic Monte Carlo seafront, AS Monaco are one of France’s most successful clubs with numerous domestic successes and Champions League Finals to their name.

But the club have underachieved in recent years; they were relegated to Ligue Deux in 2011 and spent two seasons in the second tier, but were promoted as champions under former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri in the season just finished. Their owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, has signaled his ambition with a show of spending power rivaling that of Real Madrid and their French opponents Paris Saint-Germain, with the signings of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez from Porto and the world’s best out-and-out striker Radamel Falcao from Atlético Madrid.

The question must be asked - as it was when PSG splashed the cash on the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović - whether we are seeing a new world superpower in its infancy or whether Monaco will be just another flash in the pan. While the quality of the players they have bought can’t be questioned, everyone knows it takes more than good players to make a good team - think how long it took Manchester City to start properly challenging for titles after they started their spending spree with Robinho.

Some have questioned whether the likes of Falcao, who could have gone to literally any club in the world, is doing the best thing for his career by joining a club who won’t even be in Europe next season, but this could be a good thing for the squad as a whole. Without the pressures of European games to worry about, the players may stand a better chance of gelling as a team rather than a group of players, and they won’t be as closely scrutinized by the world’s media.

Claudio RanieriIt also gives them a better chance of winning silverware; although the Coupe de France is not as loved in France as the FA Cup is in England, nothing brings a team closer together than winning silverware. Again, think how brilliantly Manchester City began the next season after they won the FA Cup in 2011. That said, Monaco did win the cup in 2010, their last season before relegation to the second division.

A team is nothing without a manager, and Monaco certainly have a good one in the experienced Ranieri. Last season was his fourth promotion as a manager, and the wily Italian has won trophies at Cagliari, Fiorentina, and Valencia in a career spanning 25 years. These clubs show that he has form in winning honors with smaller clubs in countries with perennial trophy-winners at the top, but will he be able to cope with the heightened expectation in Ligue Un, where six different clubs have won in the last six years, and where Monaco were once one of the established winners in the sixties, seventies and eighties? Rybolovlev certainly seems to have faith in him, given the financial backing he has offered.

When all is said and done, though, it is the players on the pitch who win and lose games. One could be forgiven for not recognizing the names of any of the current squad, but the numerous superstars heading towards Monte Carlo would improve many of the world’s top sides.

Tottenham Hotspur target João Moutinho has been a fan favorite at every club he has been at due to his dynamism and determination, coupled with his overall skill on the ball. One of the standout performers at Euro 2012, Moutinho has amassed 57 caps for his native Portugal despite still being only 26 years old, and has the talent to become one of Portugal’s greats. He switched from boyhood club Sporting Lisbon to Porto in 2010 and won eight trophies in his time at the Estádio de Dragão, including the 2012-13 league title in stunning fashion, overtaking rivals Benfica with a stoppage time winner in the penultimate game of the season (see video below).

James Rodriguez & Joao MoutinhoMoutinho is known as an excellent passer of the ball as well as a tenacious ball-winner, although his scoring rate has fallen since his move to Porto. His relationship with James Rodríguez, who also makes the move from Portugal to France, should help the team to gel more quickly, as they already have a good understanding with each other.

Rodriguez is said to be one of the most exciting young prospects football has to offer right now, and already has 12 caps for Colombia at the tender age of 21. Many in South America have declared him the successor of icon Carlos Valderrama, and his speed, creativity, and shooting have led some to liken him to a South American Cristiano Ronaldo. He has a fantastic scoring record for a winger, and his exhilarating talent has already seen him rank in The Guardian’s top 60 players in the world. As such, his transfer was reportedly worth €45million of the double-deal with Moutinho. Although he still has to fulfill his promise, his £60million compatriot needs no introduction.

Radamel Falcao García Zárate is widely accepted to be the best striker in the world outside of Messi and Ronaldo, and his goal tally confirms this. Since he moved to Europe (another ex-Porto star) in 2009, Falcao has plundered 142 goals in 177 games, won six domestic titles, and three European honors. He helped Atlético to third place in La Liga behind the big two, and a surprise Copa Del Rey Final win against neighbors and hated rivals Real.

Atlético MadridDespite not being especially tall, he is incredibly strong and a superb header of the ball, and is one of very few people to have scored five goals in a La Liga match: against Deportivo earlier this season. With Moutinho supplying him and Rodriguez providing support, he should find scoring goals no problem against weaker French teams, and he should seek to emulate Ibrahimović’s 35-goal season last term. That in itself creates an interesting match-up, not only between the two big spending clubs of French football but also between its two biggest superstar strikers.

More signings have been promised by the club, with Victor Valdés and Ricardo Carvalho the most likely next arrivals, adding defensive steel to the already-imported attacking flair. Ranieri has been clever in his signings; three of them have played together before, and all speak the same language having played in Spain and/or Portugal at some point in their careers.

It seems unlikely that players of this caliber can do anything other than challenge for titles, domestic and European, but it remains to be seen how long such players will stay around if no silverware is forthcoming. There are already rumors that Falcao could be using Monaco as a stepping-stone to a bigger club such as Real Madrid, but the project of helping to rebuild a formerly great club may excite the players to enough of an extent to keep them in France for a few seasons at least.

With a less challenging league to compete in, Monaco should be guaranteed a Champions League place next season, but after that, nothing is certain. Will they crash out in the group stages like Manchester City, or challenge one of the greats like PSG? Literally millions of pounds are at stake, but whatever happens, with players such as Rodríguez, Moutinho, and Falcao around, there will certainly be excitement, and lots of goals.

Written by Sam France

Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano: Multiple Injuries See Barca Play Youngsters

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoThe weekend has passed, and the historic Milan-Barca game still comes in mind. Although the spirits might be up and running for the team and their fans, it was only a matter of time till some bad news struck them. Barcelona captain Carles Puyol could be sidelined for up to a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday. Xavi (hamstring) and Victor Valdes (suspension) also sit out Sunday’s clash, but youngster Marc Bartra is available after overcoming a knee problem.

Now, since we’ve covered the bad news, it’s time to highlight some of the good points. After an unbelievable comeback the Catalans put through, it showed the team could easily take on a top-flight team in Europe with very little tactical supervision. Barcelona upped their game defensively (quite literally if you look at how high their back-line was) and continued to apply masses amount of pressure. Physically, Barcelona showed initiative and good, clean tackles were made.

With Rayo’s game coming to place tonight and the several injuries that have struck yet again, the team needs to compromise and rotate with their formation. Both squads, having played out a goal-fest in previous times with Barcelona scoring a little under 13 goals in their last two visits to the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecan. Currently speaking, both won and lost twice in their last 5 domestic games, showing that Rayo is in terms of form, prove to be relatively fit; Starting with the Catalans:

Predicted Barcelona Starting XI

Pinto, Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Correia, Thiago, Song, Fabregas, Sanchez, Messi, Tello

Barcelona vs Rayo VallecanoBarcelona, having been 10 points clear at the top of the table, could afford a bit of rotations every now and then, and judging by the amount of center-backs they possess at the moment, it’s pretty safe to say that Bartra starting is a huge possibility. Tello and Sanchez should be a good defensive and offensive duo that act as pillars for the flanks, both pacy and both relatively on form, especially with the Chilean scoring and assisting twice during his last two previous games.

Barcelona’s midfield will probably be looking for some Thiago and Cesc action, and Alex song to probably start off the game instead of the over-played Busquets, giving a good sense of rotation and somewhat assures it will definitely be a free-flowing game. As for the back-line, it will be interesting to see how it forms. Personally speaking, I would like to see some youngsters start. Montoya is defensively brilliant and hasn’t gotten much playing time recently, so it would be a good time to rest Dani Alves. Marc Bartra is to form a partnership in the heart of the defense alongside  Pique.

Predicted Rayo Vallecano Starting XI

Ruben, Tito, Galvez, Amat, Arbilla, Trashorras, Adrian, Bangoura, Dominguez, Piti, Delibasic

Rayo might on paper approach the game with a (4-2-3-1), but will definitely play a different formation when off the ball. Most likely a (5-4-1) in attempt to tighten up the spaces between the midfield and back-line, plus stall Barcelona from attacking the flanks, especially with Dani Alves and Alba probably missing out on the game, it will be interesting to see how the Rayo players presume throughout the full 90 minutes within very compact spaces.

Individually speaking, Rayo have their mad-men as well, Piti being the name. The winger has scored 11 goals in the league already and masters many positions. His flexibility will come in handy against a team as dominant as Barcelona. Tactically speaking, Rayo probably won’t start up the build-ups to their attacks via the midfield, they will try to blast those over-head kicks as much as possible and it’s Piti’s job to receive them, control the ball for a while, and wait for his players to go all out.


Rayo is no easy side, but judging by current forms and by taking the mental attributes into consideration, Barcelona will be out for a win from the start, and the youngsters will be out to prove their worth. I see the game kicking off to a tight start but once both teams get the hang of the playing field, 2-3 goals should be scored. Now, my predictions are rarely ever true, but I’ll go with an unusual one this time.

Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Rayo Vallecano

Written by Hasan Al

Deportivo La Coruña 4-5 Barcelona: A Game That Will Never be Forgotten

What a game. Deportivo’s match with Barcelona on Saturday proved to be one of the most exciting and unexpected games in soccer history. The match featured a red card, a goal straight from a free kick, terrible defending, a hat trick, and huge comebacks from both squads.

Probably one of the most interesting facts is that Deportivo, a team that was promoted this year to La Liga from the Segunda División, scored a total of 4 goals against a team that has won the UEFA Champions League 4 times. No one could have predicted that 9 goals would have been scored during the match, with both teams scoring roughly half of that amount. This game definitely has the potential of being the match of the season, and it is one that fans all around the world needed to see.

In just the first 18 minutes of the match, Barcelona had already given themselves a comfortable 3-0 lead, but little did they know just what a game was still ahead of them. Just two minutes later, Mascherano committed a foul on Riki in the box, resulting in a penalty that Pizzi had converted with ease. Bergantinos and Messi managed to each score another one for their respective teams by the end of the first half, and the Catalans rushed to their lockers with a two-goal advantage.

Two minutes into the second half saw Pizzi scoring another goal for the Galicians. He scored a challenging goal from a free kick that made the score 3-4. To make things even more interesting, Mascherano racked up a second yellow for connecting elbows with Riki, resulting in his removal from the pitch. At 77 minutes, Messi put in a hat trick, his 15th in La Liga, that Deportivo had no way of stopping. Just two minutes later, when fans thought all surprises were already over, Jordi Alba, a Barcelona defender, put in a bizarre own goal that made it 4-5. Luckily for Barcelona, they were able to hold on to their lead this time, awarding them another 3 points on the La Liga table.

Throughout the game, the referee had made controversial calls. Iniesta, Fabregas, and Messi had expressed their concern that Mascherano was punished undeservingly on both occasions and that neither the penalty or the red card should have been given. In addition to that, Fabregas (who was previously substituted out) was booked for entering the pitch in celebration of Barça’s 5th goal. In response to the yellow card, Fabregas said, “If you can’t celebrate a goal anymore, we better stop this game.” Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova was also unhappy with the decision and said “I was just surprised that Cesc was given a yellow card for celebrating a goal.”

Messi, who was clearly the man of the match, is now just 4 goals from Brazilian soccer god Pelé’s record of 75 goals for his club and country in a single calendar year. In this game alone, the Argentine forward had scored 3 beautiful but different goals and assisted another. Following the game, Messi flew immediately to his wife and newborn son Thiago. For all the amazing work he has done for the team, he definitely earned his time off.

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés clearly had a bad game, but it wasn’t entirely his fault that the team conceded 4 goals. Their defense was very disorganized, sending bad clearances and failing to successfully stop attacks brought out Deportivo. The own goal was not his fault, because Jordi Alba made a bad pass that was out of Valdés’ reach. The two goals that depended on the goalkeeper alone were the penalty and the free kick, both of which would have been a challenge for any goalkeeper to fend off. Barcelona’s primary tactic during the game was obviously to outscore their opponents, not to prevent any goals.

With another 3 points, Barcelona remains in 1st on the La Liga scoreboard with a total of 22. Their record is currently 7 wins and 1 draw, which is equal to that of Atlético Madrid’s. They still maintain an 8 point gap between themselves and arch-rivals Real Madrid, who seem to have recovered from their slow start. Deportivo La Coruña remained in 18th place following the game, which means they are still in the relegation zone. They have a total of 6 points and a 1-3-4 record.

Written by FutbolPulse