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Liverpool's deficits without Salah, Mane give Arsenal hope

Without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Liverpool managed just one shot on goal against the ten-man Arsenal in Thursday's Carabao Cup semi-final draw. (Author: Gardener)

LiverpoolLIVERPOOL, England - If there was ever any doubt about the importance of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to Liverpool, Takumi Minamino provided the only evidence they got in the 90 on Thursday. Minamino, who was given a starting role by coach Jürgen Klopp due to the absence of Salah (Egypt) and Mane (Senegal) at the Africa Cup (AFCON), had the opportunity to make himself a victorious hero in the last few seconds with goals from 10 meters . The former FC Salzburg striker had a clear goal perspective, but with the chance to score a goal and give Liverpool a potentially decisive 1-0 lead ahead of next Thursday's second leg in the Emirates (2:30 p.m. ET, livestream on ESPN +) , he shot high over the bar. It was the kind of chance that Salah and Mane, who have scored 33 goals together this season, would have devoured and ruthlessly scored another crucial goal for Klopp's side. But Minamino is not in the same league as Salah or Mane. Neither is Diogo Jota, who is an excellent support act alongside the two world-class Liverpool strikers but is nowhere near able to fill the void their international commitments have created. Divock Origi has often been Liverpool's late super-subject but a knee injury continues to keep the Belgium international on the sideline, making him unavailable to replace Salah or Mane. At the end of a game against an Arsenal side who had to play with 10 men for 66 minutes after Granit Xhaka was sent off for a foul on Jota in the first half, Liverpool scored just one shot on goal and that went well into the Extra time from substitute Curtis Jones. "Any team would miss Salah, Mane and [Naby] Keita," said Klopp. This team was what we had tonight, they can definitely play and score. "Had Liverpool been at full strength, with Salah and Mane on the forwards, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't have taken this draw beyond Arsenal It's no surprise they don't have the same strong strength without Salah and Mane, but Liverpool's impotence against Arsenal will worry Klopp in both the immediate and future just two Premier League games (against Brentford and Crystal Palace) influenced by the absence of Salah, Mane and Keita (Guinea). Salah and Keita could even return in time for the Palace game on January 23rd if Egypt and Guinea fail to advance from the group stage. All three have missed this game and will Missing the second leg, so a possible trip to Wembley for an important trophy on February 27 against Chelsea due to their unavailability au f could stay the course, um, there is the prospect of having to replace two players in June 2023 who have left the contract with their already thin title hopes as good as survived. Klopp has to somehow find a way to make his team more potent and threatening when they travel to London for the second leg next week. Whatever he comes up with, the Liverpool manager will now know that Mikel Arteta, his Arsenal counterpart, will have a plan to undo it. Arsenal have made steady strides under Arteta since his appointment in December 2019, but this season they have added steel and consistency. They lacked power and possession on Anfield, but with Xhaka sent off, right-back Cedric Soares was injured after just 11 minutes and midfielder Martin Odegaard reported a positive COVID-19 test shortly before kick-off, and Arsenal found it spent most of the game in crisis mode, relying on the spirit and efforts of their young side to frustrate Liverpool. "We revel against the situation," said Arteta. "The players showed great struggle, determination and brotherhood." I don't know if the red card inspired them, but it cost the fight. You have to have a certain attitude to play in these games and that's what the guys did. Saka had Arsenal's only clear scoring chance in the 72nd minute when he saw Alisson parry his close-range shot after a cross-country pass from Tierney, although he should have scored. However, a 0-0 draw is as good as a win for Arsenal considering the obstacles they faced. If Arteta really got the club moving again, the players involved at Anfield Road will see the performance as a landmark moment that has shown they can be resilient and successful. They now have to build on that by winning the second leg and advancing to the final. It won't be easy, but with Salah and Mane still missing, Arsenal will now believe they can quit the job.

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Kylian Mbappé's graphic longing for Real Madrid reveals the joyless state of PSG

The striker's open desire to move to Spain is at least partly due to the lack of real fun at Paris Saint-Germain (Author: Gardener)

Kylian Mbappé'sOver the years, footballers advocating a transfer have hatched all sorts of plans and tricks to achieve their dream switch. Few players, however, went to the trouble of commissioning and writing a 220-page graphic novel only to earn a move to Real Madrid. You don't have to be a literary scholar to take a look at the subtext of "Je M’Appelle Kylian", the comic autobiography that Kylian Mbappé published in collaboration with the illustrator Faro in November. The young Mbappé makes no secret of his desire to play for Real Madrid in his old age, until he is visited in an early passage even in a dream by Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. In the dream, Ronaldo and Mbappé do keepie-upies while Zidane hands him a freshly laundered white Madrid jersey. Later, Mbappé is actually invited to Madrid, an experience he describes as "the best of his life". Mbappé is even later in Monaco when Paris Saint-Germain makes a record-breaking offer. “You know Madrid still want to sign you. Won't you get bored in Ligue 1? ”At this point, Mbappé representatives tell them they are about to reach an agreement with PSG that will allow Mbappé to earn € 18m a year plus bonuses. “Um, that's not bad,” Mbappé grimaces and reluctantly assumes that the wheels of this high-end transfer have been irrevocably set in motion. And yet, with Mbappé entering the final six months of his contract with PSG and his move to Real taking on a ring of inevitability, it is worth re-examining the fundamental absurdity of what is being proposed here. One of the richest clubs in the world - with no real financial pressure - is about to lose one of the best players in the world for free, also because Ronaldo visited him in a dream. Someone here, you think, is going to be ambushed. Watching Mbappé in the rain-soaked 1-1 draw for PSG in Lyon on Sunday evening provided some clues. Mbappé wasn't the best player on the court, or very likely the best player on his own side (that was probably Marquinhos). But with PSG - already 10 points ahead in Ligue 1 - toiling in an abandoned Stade Groupama, the moments when Mbappé got the ball seemed the only moments when the game mattered at all. He dived and dodged and wriggled out of three-man challenges. At its best, Mbappé takes the game to new places, unknown places; Places you thought soccer couldn't go For all its bloodless excellence, PSG appear to be a particularly unfortunate club at the moment, both on and off the pitch. Every win feels like a temporary relief from the agony. Every new week seems to bring new revelations from the dressing room, a kind of sporty Great Gatsby where everyone celebrates but no one really has fun. A few weeks ago, a large L’Equipe exposé lifted the lid on the many cracks in the club. The indulgence of Lionel Messi, who reportedly missed training the morning after a private party to celebrate his Ballon d'Or victory, has been met with outrage. Who exactly, did you think signed you?) Few people grasp this malaise like the increasingly lost Mauricio Pochettino, the alchemist trainer who seems more tangential with each passing week. He's probably the man in charge. In reality, he is little more than a spectator, the coaching equivalent of Rowan, the training teacher in The Office: Helplessly watching the amorous Icardi bare his soul, Mbappé describes his ultimate fantasy in ruthless detail ("Ronaldo. Zidane. If one A 37-year-old billionaire from Qatar buys a football club on an unlimited budget to attract the best players in the world to one of the world's largest cities and wins seven league titles by a margin of seven over the course of a decade 101 points. On paper - and let's leave the moral of the matter aside for a minute - that sounds like the most fun project in football history. It feels dissatisfied and unsatisfactory and overstimulated and overly serious and thoroughly joyless. Leaves Mbappé Therefore? On one level, this may just be a loveless marriage that simply ended and an unstoppable fulfillment seed childhood dream. And yet, whatever Mbappé's motives, it's hard not to see this as a verdict on PSG: a club that seems lost despite its wealth, lost itself, forgot why it stepped on it in the first place is. When you have all the money in the world, few players are truly irreplaceable. And yet PSG might just discover that Mbappé is one of them.

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Valverde's goal in extra time brings Real Madrid to the final of the Spanish Supercup

Fede Valverde's goal in extra time was enough for Real Madrid to beat Barcelona 3-2 in Riyadh (Author: Gardener)

Real MadridBy the time that was over, it was well after midnight in Riyadh, they could barely walk, let alone run, and they were 6,500 km from home, but Real Madrid had made it. Thibaut Courtois caught the last ball and it was lying on the grass to secure her place in the final of the Spanish Super Cup as anticipated. A fun evening could have gone either way, from 1: 0 to 1: 1, 2: 1 to 2: 2 and finally 3: 2. It went to Madrid, the fifth goal of the evening scored at the time when Barcelona appeared to be holding. And although they were struck by Valverde's long run from his territory to hers, they had come close. But above all, they looked like a team again, especially after the introduction of Pedri and Ansu Fati. It had ended the way it had started, Barcelona caught and Madrid seized the opportunity. 24 of the 122 minutes had passed when Karim Benzema sneaked up on Sergio Busquets and snatched the ball off his toe. When the Barcelona captain realized what was going on, they were gone. Luka Modric immediately returned the ball to Benzema, who let go of Vinícius and sprinted into the box to pound high into the net. The space they were offered was an invitation they did not want to refuse, which went through almost at will, a movement that began a moment earlier in their own area and ended with Marco Asensio bending over and already a portrait of offered what was to come. But when there was a sense of inevitability here, given Madrid's superiority, Barcelona reacted well - even if that feeling of vulnerability never went away, the feeling that Madrid could reach their area in the blink of an eye and with minimal resistance. Luuk de Jong was at the center of it all, and if that may seem counter-cultural to a coach like Xavi, it was effective - apart from the fact that he equalized just before half-time. Barcelona had found a foothold that was soon a big step forward as the break brought Pedri back from injury. He and Abde came for the debutants Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong. In three minutes, Ousmane Dembélé, Pedri and De Jong had successive chances. Five minutes later, Dembélé shot a volley out when the position called for a better finish. And yet it was Madrid that took the lead again. A nice touch from Modric resulted in an even nicer touch from Benzema, which pulled the ball back, spun and fired. The shot hit the post, but it was back within the next minute when Ferland Mendy Dani Alves escaped to start a train that ended up turning at close range. Barcelona tried and exposed themselves and Madrid too. With seven minutes remaining, Fati headed 2-2 on a great cross from Jordi Alba, then Courtois had to move quickly to stop Dembélé and Nacho made a great block on Pedri to bring extra time into extra time, where Abde pered Head missed. Barcelona's grip tightened until Madrid broke it in the 99th minute, slipped between their fingers, rose again and ran again, the field opening up in front of them. Courtois parried a double save in the 100th minute, Abde flashed past the post in the 108th minute and both teams got a clear chance in the very last minute when they were all seized by a cramp, Fati and Rodrygo were unable to grab them.

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Barcelona behind Real Madrid but Xavi and Ancelotti are more alike than you might think

Xavi may need more time to bring Barcelona back to Real Madrid levels but he has a lot in common with the man who rebuilt Real Madrid. (Author: Gardener)

XaviIt's only been a few weeks since Xavi commented that there is "a deep gap" between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Honestly, it will be quite a surprise if Los Blancos fail to back up the truth of his words by giving the Blaugrana XI a blow in Wednesday's Supercopa de Espana semi-finals (Livestream, 2pm ET, ESPN +). Barcelona's former magical midfielder, who is now the coach hired to make a silk bag out of the sow's ear cup he inherited, essentially talked about the point gap in the table. But with Barcelona's looming fifth straight defeat to Madrid - something that hasn't happened between 1962 and 1964 - Xavi likely wishes he hadn't said something like that. Because somehow he has to convince his injury-ridden, coronavirus-afflicted, super young, ultra-young team that Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao, Toni Kroos & Co. are back again. Suddenly, with the exuberance of Nico and Gavi, the return of Ansu Fati, the possible return of Golden Boy winner Pedri, goals from Luuk De Jong and Ferran Torres' € 55 million commitment to great fanfare, Barcelona ( in principle at least.)) should be able to form the best team that can keep up with most teams - Madrid included. Ansu and Pedri missed most of the season - as did Torres. Midfielder Frenkie De Jong is at risk at his start as his recovery is well ahead of schedule. If defender Ronald Araujo manages, he'll be on the court five days after surgery for a broken bone in his hand. This is, to put it bluntly, about a million miles away from the best time to play against a Real Madrid side that recently hosted a number of major games to put rivals such as Real Sociedad, Atletico, Athletic and Sevilla into the LaLiga and Italy's champions Inter Milan in the Champions League have to put up barriers. - Watch the Supercopa de Espana this week on ESPN + (U. The Russian Nobel Prize winner famously played with the conditioned reflex of dogs and trained them so that when a buzzer sounded, it was time to drool with hunger. best "on show" to continue the analogy, because although they've shown an Achilles' heel to players like Espanyol, Sheriff Tiraspol and Getafe this season, whenever a big rival is in their sights they react with a prickly, relentless, winning character. and very dangerous for this version of Barcelona. "I am optimistic that we can harm them," said the 34-year-old defender earlier this week. "It was unfair that they won the Camp Nou Clasico this season but we were on the brink back then. Football is an unpredictable sport, but Barcelona would shatter those special opportunities, which is a positive aspect of the old equation "Glass half full" is that Barcelona's coach has already had a time when Madrid Barca kneels down when it comes to C. Go & Nou were messy, in debt and deeply lacking Catalan confidence. And Los Blancos took full advantage. On the positive side, Xavi suffered as a footballer learned from it and then wrote the best seasons in all of Barcelona and Spain's football history. Xavi made his Clasico debut as an exciting 20-year-old organizing midfielder but was promptly beaten 3-0 by a pre-Galactico team including Nicolas Anelka, Geremi, Aitor Karanka and Guti. He could only enjoy one Clasico win (out of eight games) over the next four years and was part of the Barcelona side that suffered the ultimate humiliation when they were knocked out in the 2002 Champions League semi-finals by Vicente del Bosques Madrid. It was misery for the Catalan who supported and even adored Barcelona long before it was found he could reach the class there. Like Raul, Iker Casillas or (currently) Dani Carvajal at Madrid, Xavi's passion for the Barca badge began long before the high wages guaranteed such loyalty to the club. Ironically, it was around this time - when Xavi was young, dominated Madrid and his future was neglected by most at Camp Nou - he was close to playing for the man who will be in the opposing dugout at the sold out King Abdullah Sports City Stadium this week: Carlo Ancelotti. AC Milan recognized Xavi's brilliance, sniffed the chance to take advantage of Barcelona's clumsy handling of the man who would eventually become their greatest midfielder of all time, and launched a smash-and-grab operation. Ancelotti was still a few months away from running Rossoneri for eight hugely successful years, but then-Milan CEO Adriano Galliani came to the Catalan capital, met Xavi's father and put a hefty five-year deal on the table. His father liked the idea, while Xavi of the fascination with San Siro and the club that had so devastatingly won the Champions League (with Ancelotti as a player) at Camp Nou, 4-0 against Steaua Bucharest in 1989, was a star Nine year old. It was only when Xavi's mother Maria Merce literally told her husband that this was a divorce matter should their youngest son join Serie A that AC Milan was informed that the deal was wrong. Xavi would make the most of life in a trophyless, rudderless Camp Nou era ... In fact, there are more things that unite Ancelotti and Xavi than separate them. The players were positionally similar: each of them stood out for their organization and attacking midfield. Each of them debuted at the age of 18; Together they won the Champions League trophy nine times. They left Barcelona and Madrid respectively in June 2015 - Ancelotti was sacked for failing in the Champions League and LaLiga; Xavi with a full Camp Nou, Bruce Springsteen booming on the Tannoy, his whole family there in tears and three trophies, his second triple for the club. However, they don't train in the same way or have the same philosophy of how their teams are supposed to play: Ancelotti is the specialist in "I adapt to what I've been given" while Xavi is the seeker of the Holy Grail of the Position, possession, pressing, 4-3-3 football. But they are incredibly similar in what is almost the most difficult facet of coaching in an elite club full of superstars today: the whispering of players. John Terry told Ancelotti's ghostwriter in his book Quiet Leadership that “You know his training is excellent, but it's the personal details - asking about family, taking care of things outside of the field - that For me, that's why the players, instead of being aloof, it's always that group mentality. " Change the name Carlo to Xavi and despite the huge differences in coaching experience, the same words could apply to the Catalan. They are still passionately obsessed with the sport and not just with their own careers but with the men who make football great. Little changes behind the scenes, but each of them has an unshakably tough side again when they have the feeling that they are working for them, not quite "there". During the half-time break when he was eliminated from the Champions League last month, Xavi let his players absolutely listen in the locker room: his words had stripped the paint. After the game, he said that "FC Barcelona deserve better than what we've seen before: a new era begins here and now." Ancelotti rarely shows, publicly or to his squad, the steely edge that all of his ex-players and ex-assistants swear can be unleashed if his standards are not met. Once the Italian with the caterpillar eyebrows as the boss of Paris Saint-Germain in a game against Evian that did not go so well, lost so much control at halftime that he pushed the door open so wide that his assistant Paul Clement thought that he might have harmed himself. Ancelotti then kicked a box on the floor, which flew away and gave Zlatan Ibrahimovic a headache. In Ancelotti's last two seasons at the Bernabeu, Xavi, the player, has beaten him - easily. The Clasico counted 3-2 in favor of Barcelona, ​​although one of Ancelotti's victories was the Copa del Rey final; maybe the honors were even pound for pound? Shortly after both left their respective clubs in June 2015, they were reunited at the Leaders Conference in London, where Xavi was asked to present Ancelotti with an award. His opinion was: "It is an honor to give Carlo such an award, which has been exemplary in every country he has trained in. He has won trophies in every league he has worked in, but by simply winning and losing out, he has always set standards: respectful. " definitely to his players, his rivals, referees. Ancelotti's response was typically: "Xavi is great, a great example for anyone in football. Besides his tremendous quality as a player, he has always shown fantastic attitudes and behavior on the pitch." Although they disagree, gesticulate and maybe even skip Wednesday, and even though they are at significantly different stages in their coaching careers, Ancelotti and Xavi have a lot more in common than what separates them: great midfielders, great coaches, football obsessed.

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Vinicius Junior can play for Brazil at the World Cup to put pressure on Neymar. to reduce

Tite has a not-to-be-enviable collection of attacking talent, but Vinicius has fought his way into the competition and could ease the pressure on Neymar. (Author: Gardener)

NeymarAfter his outstanding performance against Barcelona in the 3-2 win in the Spanish Supercopa semi-final in Real Madrid's Clasico, Vinicius Junior was selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay. After his outstanding performance against Barcelona in the 3-2 win in the Spanish Supercopa semi-final in Real Madrid's Clasico, Vinicius Junior was selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay. After all, the 21-year-old winger is developing into one of the stars of world football. The latest proof comes on Wednesday with his great goal performance in the Saudi Arabian King Fahd Stadium. After all, the 21-year-old winger is developing into one of the stars of world football. The latest proof comes on Wednesday with his great goal performance in the Saudi Arabian King Fahd Stadium. But when Brazil last put up a squad for the qualifying matches in November and coach Tite read 23 names out, none of them were Vinicius. But when Brazil last put up a squad for the qualifying matches in November and coach Tite read 23 names out, none of them were Vinicius. - ESPN FC 100: The best male players and managers of 2021 - ESPN FC 100: The best male players and managers of 2021 Without a subsequent injury to Liverpool's Roberto Firmino, Vinicius would have been left outside. Without a subsequent injury to Liverpool's Roberto Firmino, Vinicius would have been absent. Instead, the youngster had the chance to prove his worth, off to Argentina; he played for O Seleção in the first full 90 minutes, Vinicius terrified home defense and Brazil have a goalless draw. Instead, the youngster had the chance to prove his worth, off to Argentina; he played for O Seleção in the first full 90 minutes, Vinicius terrified home defense and Brazil have a goalless draw. That performance alone made it impossible to leave him out now, but his club performances have been so consistently excellent that Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has had to fend off questions about an alleged Vinicius addiction. Six days later, Vinicius was back for a 4-1 win over Valencia, which his coach praised for goals rather than flicks and solo dribbles. "He scored twice," said Ancelotti, "as if he were the team's center forward." Vinicius has always stood out by his pace - what Tite calls his fifth gear - but the game is about sudden changes in rhythm and knowing when to do them. It's about slowing down at the right moment, keeping your head steady enough to take the pass, flank, or shot. Vinicius has been criticized for his decision-making or wayward finish. That's no surprise - it's harder to be accurate when he's moving as fast as he does - but he's able to mix deadly pace with precision, which is what makes him so exciting. Then why was it so difficult for him to establish himself in a Brazil shirt? He made his debut late in a friendship loss to Peru in September 2019 from the bank and appeared again for the 2021 Copa America, making four appearances as a substitute. Vinicius was eventually played in a World Cup qualifier against Chile, but was substituted at halftime. The qualifiers against Venezuela and Colombia were followed by a few more bench appearances, which meant Brazil's November game against Argentina was only his second start, and the first time he played more than 45 minutes. He had to wait patiently while fewer players got a longer run, and it seems clear that Tite was surprised by the rise of "Vini"; Brazil's coach built a team where the young man from São Gonçalo had no obvious place in the starting XI. The template was clear in the 4-1 win against Uruguay in October, Brazil's best performance in a long time. In it, Neymar could run around freely and bond with a striker; Gabriel Jesus on this occasion, although Gabriel Barbosa has also been tried and Matheus Cunha looks like the best option. Now Tite is obliged to rethink. With Brazil already safely qualified for the World Cup, it would indeed be foolish not to look long for a way to get the most out of Vinicius. Someone in this Uruguayan lineup has to give up and Tite's challenge is to find his best mix of attacks. It is, as they say, a nice problem and an immediate opportunity is presented by Neymar's injury-related absence from the current squad. The rise of Vinicius helps take some focus and pressure off Neymar. Qatar 2022 means so much to Neymar's legacy as a Brazilian player; it's the last thing he'll play in his best form, and after the injuries and disappointments of 2014 and 2018, the stakes couldn't be higher. Too much attention was paid to Neymar, but the burden can now be shared. The only younger thing about Vinicius is his name. He is ready to become a Senior Partner in Brazil to end the two decades long wait for the sixth world title.

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Barcelona vs. Real Madrid Supercopa Clasico round table

The Supercopa de Espana promises fireworks when Barcelona and Real Madrid clash. How will they line up? Who will win? (Author: Gardener)

BarcelonaThis week is all about the Supercopa de Espana - stream LIVE on ESPN + - as four of LaLiga’s biggest teams travel to Saudi Arabia to compete for the trophy. (Oh, and we have a "bonus Clasico" when Real Madrid battles old rivals Barcelona on Wednesday: 2pm ET, ESPN +.) What is the rivalry between Spain's big two in 2022? What are their likely tactics and line-ups, and how much influence do both sides have on this summer's biggest players, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland, in the transfer window? ESPN FC's Graham Hunter, Alex Kirkland, Sid Lowe and Sam Marsden prepare you for a particularly dramatic Supercopa semi-final. Jump to: State of Clasico | Setting | Haaland / Mbappe prospects | Selection of the XIs | Player to watch | Predictions Let Barcelona's chaos be a healing lesson: inability cannot thrive just because a genius (aka Lionel Messi) is in the books, which is a recap of their last five years. Even so, they are blessed to be almost Teflon in their situation; What other club could owe 1.4 billion euros, treat their greatest player like a flotsam and still watch the most extraordinary young players break through with a club legend as coach? It will take time to be a world power again, but the process will be enormously interesting. - ESPN + viewer guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more - you don't have an ESPN? Madrid, meanwhile, deserve schadenfreude. As soon as Florentino Perez Neymar lost when the Brazilian moved to Barcelona, ​​he hired his staff to repeatedly identify and sign the best young talents in the world. Vinicius Junior, Federico Valverde, Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga, to name a few. Their formidable midfield is not athletic enough to compete with the best of the Premier League in European football, but they are world elite in every other way. Their stadium, which will soon generate tremendous additional revenue once the renovations are complete, is light years ahead of Barcelona. In short, Los Blancos have the option to be scorching hot for a generation while the Catalans stay lukewarm. Madrid's 17-point lead over Barca in LaLiga suggests the gap between the two is wide right now, but things are changing fast. Madrid's dependence on Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior - an injury or loss of shape for both of them would be a major handicap - and their midfield (Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro) won't last forever. Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid also has a history of the second half of the season, although the coach says he learned from the mistakes made in 2014-15 when they lost three losses in seven games (including Atletico and Barcelona) their lead in Title race. With Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati, Nico Gonzalez and now Ferran Torres, Barca have arguably the best group of young players with the time and patience to build. Mbappe's likely arrival at the Bernabeu - let alone Haaland - would further tip the balance in Madrid's favor, but I expect Barca to be competitive shortly. Clasico has a habit of not going the way it's supposed to, so making assumptions may not be a good idea. But the fact that Ancelotti was ready to admit Madrid are favorites was pretty illuminating. (He's not the type for that kind of chatter.) Bring out their strongest team (which they won't) and Barcelona could be fine. And yet, Madrid's lead over Barcelona feels like it's going to last quite a while - even more so when this Mbappe guy shows up in the summer. Barcelona are stabilizing, even if it doesn't always seem like it, but it won't happen right away. President Joan Laporta's claim that Barcelona is back was premature but they are finally moving in the right direction after - as they hope - falling as far as they can. The new coach Xavi Hernandez will be given time, who will be supported, as demonstrated by the signing of Ferran Torres for 55million euros. Real Madrid are too far ahead of them at the moment but with most of their best players this season (apart from Vinicius Jr.) having the wrong side of 30 there is no reason Barca shouldn't be behind until the start of next season can decrease dramatically. While many sports (and other football competitions) have brought events to Saudi Arabia - including the Italian Supercup, a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and an earlier edition of the Supercopa de Espana under a three-year deal, with a reported extension to 2029 - it has been a point of contention for some sports leaders. Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish football association RFEF, defended the decision to move the competition to Saudi Arabia when asked if he expected a backlash. "We hope our opinion, which is to support the people of Saudi Arabia and work with the country's federation to serve as a tool for social change, will be respected," he said in 2019. There are others with others Opinion, some created out of nowhere, but we will respect that too. "Almost without exception, clubs crave more money and larger sources of income like divas for attention. When RFEF President Luis Rubiales signed a contract to take this competition to the Middle East Bringing was a three-year deal supposedly worth 120 million euros, it was always very unlikely that the leading La Liga outfits would decline. For neutrals and I bet a lot of journalists and fans it feels like an unjust move, but what you can't take away from Rubiales - even from someone like me, who argues that too often we ask our footballers to be of a high standard - is that the format of the four teams has dramatically improved the entertainment and competitive attitude of the Supercopa now played. Last season's edition in Seville was sensationally good and dramatic. Overall, this week will be further proof that football is not just talking about money, but that football is listening. It's all about money, of course, but regardless of the hosts' concerns, it's hard to argue that this new Supercopa format hasn't been a huge hit since it was launched in 2019-20. The competition feels a lot more like an "event" than ever when it was essentially a glorious pre-season friendly. The mid-January window of time - and the juggling that comes with it to keep it fit - feels awkward, but given the overcrowded calendar of football, there's no ideal solution. The bottom line is that this week the association delivered what the LaLiga would love to have: a competitive Clasico to be played overseas. "A powerful gentleman is Mr. Money," as it is called in Spanish. For the players who are used to traveling around the globe with their clubs and national teams, not much has changed in the setting, although they could do without more unnecessary flights. But it will take off from the atmosphere normally associated with the Clasico. Jeddah fans showed two years ago that Barca and Madrid have a lot of support in Saudi Arabia - 30,000 tickets were sold for Wednesday's game according to RFEF - but it won't be the same as when the two teams clashed at Camp Nou or the Santiago Bernabeu. In terms of competition, the move from two to four teams worked well. Barca's 2020 loss to Atletico Madrid (and the subsequent sacking of Ernesto Valverde) were particularly memorable, as was Athletic's triumph last year. If Mbappe isn't a Real Madrid player by August 2022, you have my permission to support the Houston Rockets to take home the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy, the Jets to win the Super Bowl after an undefeated season, and William Shatner to win an Oscar. Haaland is another fish kettle. Everyone wants him and, bizarrely, Barcelona are not out of the running. The pitch that President Joan Laporta puts before him (via Agent Mino Raiola) is that, should Haaland sign for Barcelona, ​​it will allow Barcelona and Madrid to engage in a second version of the all-consuming, historical Messi-Cristiano battle. "Then don't take part, defeat them," Laporta sells the Haaland Raiola ticket. Madrid, which aims to match Haaland and Mbappe with Benzema and Vinicius, are also struggling to find an easy path to stardom. Financial rewards and potential trophy power will be central, but Haaland's personality and how he sees his place in the world sky over the next few years will make the difference. Mbappe, who lands in a location other than the Bernabeu next summer, would be a surprise at this point, even if Paris Saint-Germain pulled out all the stops - including hiring Zinedine Zidane as manager - to persuade him to stay. Haaland loves Spain, spends time here and speaks the language, and the iconography of replacing Messi or Ronaldo as the next global superstar at one of the world's two biggest clubs must appeal despite the undeniable strength of the Premier League. The question is whether the Norwegian wants to compete for the limelight with Mbappe in Madrid or compete with him in Barcelona. The latter makes sense from a branding point of view even if the finances aren't working out - but that has never stopped Barca in the past. Mbappe will be at the Bernabeu. Haaland will (probably) not be at the Camp Nou, even if Laporta would like to have him and he agrees to believe it is possible. One look at Barca's finances - with gross debt of over € 1bn and an estimated loss of € 400million last season - will tell you they stand no chance of signing Haaland. He has met twice with the forward's agent, Raiola, and said "anything is possible" before the summer transfer window. "We're back a player in the market," he added. Barca will try for Haaland but they could fall short against other clubs' fortunes. Madrid's Mbappe signing, meanwhile, seems to be a given as his PSG deal expires. They could even afford Haaland, but the Norwegian striker might prefer to be at the heart of a project elsewhere. Madrid (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Lucas Vazquez, Militao, David Alaba, Ferland Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos: Vinicius, Benzema, Eden Hazard. Los Blancos start playing with Barcelona. They know that if they reach their full capacity, they will win this week. Barcelona's inability to score freely coupled with Courtois' absolutely extraordinary form means it will be a huge shock if Madrid are not in the final. Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Nico, Sergio Busquets, Gavi; Abde, Ansu, Ferran Jutgla. Xavi's young brigade is fun, daring and guarantees a golden future. Do they have the discipline, the know-how and above all the great match temperament to end their four Clasico losing streak? Ancelotti's Real Madrid team choose themselves, with one notable exception. The Italian has not varied his formation (or his key personnel) in months. It's a classic 4-3-3 with Courtois in goal, a back four from Vazquez - the game probably comes a little early for Dani Carvajal - Alaba, Militao and Mendy; the classic midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Modric; and Vinicius and Benzema in front. The right position is the only one to win, with Ancelotti most recently favoring Marco Asensio over Rodrygo. Real Madrid is the team that chooses itself: Courtois, Carvajal or Lucas, Milita, Alaba, Mendy, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius. The only real doubts are with the right-back (until and as long as Carvajal is fit) and the right wing, where Asensio seems increasingly to be ahead of Rodrygo. Gareth Bale, who might even have had a chance in the only position, seems to have just disappeared. Barcelona is much harder to predict but their team will include young hopeful Daniel Alves da Silva. So ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Araujo, Alba, Gavi, Busquets, Nico, Abde, Depay, Dembele. Barca's team are dictated by injuries and absences due to positive COVID-19 tests. Fati is back but shouldn't be risked from the start while late decisions are made about the fitness of Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong. The availability of Torres and Pedri is subject to their returning a negative coronavirus result. With that in mind, Xavi should focus on the team's strength by picking four key midfielders. Gavi has proven that he can play on the left of the front three and fall back to a four in midfield if necessary. It would help against Madrid's seasoned midfield with Casemiro, Kroos and Modric. As long as Araujo is still fit, the defense takes on itself and is tasked with taking action against Madrid's formidable attacking duo of Benzema and Vinicius. It has to be Vinicius. The Brazilian has added serenity, intelligence and what the Spaniards call "Pausa" - the concept of producing cleverness in a split second. But his fundamental ability, which Madrid has primarily attracted to, is something that this Barcelona cannot handle well. The 21-year-old has a tremendous, rocket-propelled pace and dribbles with will-of-the-Ispe ability. If he sings, the Catalans will not cope. Alternatively: Dani Alves. His record against Madrid is an odyssey: four different clubs, 45 games, 22 wins, seven draws, two goals, multiple yellow cards and a dismissal 16 years ago in a 2-2 draw when he was still a Sevilla man. He lives for games like this, and although objective analysis says he's not ready at 38 to face the combined threat of Vinicius, Benzema and Mendy pounding on him on the left side of Madrid, he would by your side say tricky. Vinicius Junior: the best improved and most entertaining player in Spain this season. There is no better sight in football these days than Vinicius with the ball at his feet running towards a panicked-looking defense. His duel with his Brazilian compatriot Alves - 17 years older than him - will be a pure box office. It's reached a stage where you know it won't be long, so every minute of Modric is a delight. Benzema is an obvious choice - so is Vinicius - but actually it's all about Alves versus a real team. It will definitely be fun to find out. Plus, it's always fun when Pedri can play. And of course Ferran Torres. There is no doubt that Madrid have the most exciting players in Spain right now. Benzema and Vinicius are the top scorers in the country this season, making them favorites for the Supercopa. This is a big week for Dembele, however. The French striker has played a number of games since returning from injury and came off the bench to save Barca in the Copa del Rey at Camp Nou last week. His current term expires in the summer and Barca have so far been unable to come to an agreement with the striker's camp. If Madrid don't win then watch out for Catalonia trying to anoint Xavi a saint. Ancelotti's side should really give Barca a two-goal lead: Real Madrid win 3-1. The same result as in the teams' last two games: Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona. Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona: They'll likely be too good for this Barca side in transition. Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid. Madrid have the level of Barca this season but what Xavi at least wants to see is a team that play in his style and compete with Ancelotti's side.

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Barcelona turn around, Real Madrid is not perfect

Wednesday's Supercopa de Espana clash ended with Real defeating Barca, but there were many things that are encouraging and worrying for both sides. (Author: Gardener)

BarcelonaWednesday's Supercopa de Espana clash between Clasico rivals did not disappoint as Real Madrid captured their 3-2 win over Barcelona in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Saudi Arabia. (Stream highlights here: US only.) After Barca fought back two goals to bring the game into overtime, Federico Valverde's 98th-minute goal cleared the matter and brought Carlo Ancelotti's side to Sunday's final where they will meet at Athletic Club or Atletico Madrid for the title. - ESPN + viewer guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more Alex Kirkland (Real Madrid) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) portray the game from both perspectives. Real Madrid's win was, in a way, the season so far. The win highlighted some of their notable strengths - and they will be enough to run them through most games - but it also revealed some weaknesses, some of which could cost them in more important competitions than this mid-season Supercopa. In the first half the team was cheerfully direct and clinical, with Vinicius Junior cutting inward to initiate the attack and Karim Benzema and Luka Modric pulling the strings. Vinicius' opening game in the 25th minute was an example of how far he has come as a player as he made a difficult opportunity look effortless. When they go up against all but the very best, the sheer quality of Madrid's best players will tend to pull them through. Benzema prepared Vinicius for his start with a carefully weighted pass and scored his own goal with typical composure in the 72nd minute, having forced a good save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen shortly before. Madrid also have a well-built, strong squad, although coach Carlo Ancelotti is reluctant to use them. Rodrygo, Lucas Vazquez and Matchwinner Valverde were all hands-on, energetic introductions when the starters ran out of legs in the second half. Ancelotti is doing his best to minimize this by allowing them to skip the pressing and sit deeper in midfield instead, but there will still be games where they will be overrun like they sometimes do early in the second half of Barcelona's exuberant youth. He is complicit in both Barca goals. Ancelotti has many admirable qualities and deserves credit for quickly turning this team into a largely efficient counter unit looking to play to their strengths, but his insistence on staying with the same side week after week could keep Madrid later in the season cost season. Back home, the points from the first half of the La Liga season should be enough to bring Ancelotti his long-awaited first Spanish championship title. But one wonders whether it will be enough against Manchester City, Chelsea or Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Finally there is light at the end of the tunnel for Barcelona. They've been in the dark for most of the season, knocked out of the Champions League and sixth in LaLiga, but Wednesday's loss to Real Madrid at least showed that they are able to keep up with their rivals again. "Compete" has been a catchphrase for coach Xavi Hernandez since beating Bayern Munich 3-0 in December. After that defeat in Germany, he said it was time for the club to turn the page and start a new chapter in its history. Ahead of his game against Madrid this week, he urged his players to make this extra Clasico a turning point for their season. Based on the Madrid game, it could prove to be just that, even if it ended in loss. For the first time in a long time, Barca faced what many would call favorites in the Champions League. Madrid are at the top of LaLiga, 17 points ahead of Barca, but the gap wasn't apparent on the pitch in Riyadh. Barca worked intermittently in the first half and may have been too cautious but they woke up after Vinicius' opening game. Luuk de Jong had already seen two header hits saved by Courtois when he accidentally turned into the house after Militaos for a casual equalizer. The Catalans have fought for goals this season - they have only scored two goals in six Champions League games - but they forgot their problems after De Jong equalized. They even looked like they were having fun. With the introduction of the always brilliant Pedri, who came back for the first time since September after his recovery, they started the second half on the forefoot. Chances came and went, but it looked like their efforts would be in vain as Karim Benzema restored Madrid lead. Another catchphrase from Xavi was "bravery". He wants his players to take risks with the ball and he certainly set a good example there as Barca have been forced to watch the game, switch to a 3-2-3-2 formation and receive his reward . Ansu Fati, like Pedri, headed a cross from Jordi Alba to put the game into extra time. "Tiene gol", they say in Spain ("he has a goal") and Ansu determined it. It was his fifth goal of the season in his only ninth appearance, five of them as a substitute. Barca had chances to win the game in extra time but got caught at break and left two on four when Madrid countered to win the game through Valverde. The history books will show a fifth straight win for Madrid in the Clasico but it could also mark a turning point for Barca. For the first time since December 2019, they avoided a 90-minute defeat against Madrid and could have won the game in addition to the competition. There was also a return for youngsters Pedri and Ansu, both so important to this Barca side, and a full debut for Ferran Torres after his € 55m move from Manchester City. President Joan Laporta recently announced that "Barca are back". They still have a long way to go on and off the square, but under Xavi they see them on the right track. With a well-trained squad and one of the most exciting young players in Europe, they should at least make it into the top four this season and not miss the Champions League.

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PSG shot for Antonio Rudiger, outbid Real Madrid, Chelsea - report

But who will he choose? (Author: Gardener)

Antonio RudigerThe Antonio Rüdiger competition is getting hot. A report by Foot Mercato over the weekend said PSG made their offer and it is a spectacular one indeed. They are said to offer an annual net salary of 7 million euros, which roughly corresponds to a weekly gross salary of around 200-250,000 pounds. That is obviously a fair bit better than Chelsea's last offer in September of £ 140,000 and apparently better than any offer from Real Madrid - who, despite Rüdiger's alleged fondness for them, may or may not still be on the matter. The report claims that for the 28-year-old there is now a head (i.e. if he chooses money (PSG) or prestige (Real) or maybe “connection and trust”, as Thomas Tuchel did on the Friday before our FA Cup third round match "He's a guy who has to trust you. He has to feel the connection and the trust. He has to feel it through minutes and actions. I don't have the feeling that Toni needs a lot of words, coffee conversations or invitations to dinner or something Anyway. He's a top professional. “The talks are in good hands.

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Difficult questions for Mikel Arteta about Arsenal's progress after early FA Cup exit in Nottingham Forest

The FA Cup made Mikel Arteta a name at Arsenal. Now, after an early exit at Nottingham Forest, he has to prove the competition is irrelevant. (Author: Gardener)

Nottingham ForestArsenal were eliminated from the FA Cup after losing 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in the third round. Arsenal were eliminated from the FA Cup after losing 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in the third round. NOTTINGHAM, England - The FA Cup was made by Mikel Arteta as coach. Arsenal's pathetic 1-0 third-round knockout at Nottingham Forest on Sunday was exactly the kind of performance he'd hoped to make history, riddled with indifference and devoid of the focus their hosts had all along. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang went from talisman to underdog for not having shown the required "dedication and passion" according to Arteta - but if that's the benchmark then some of the cast here are at risk for spells in the wild after. Even taking into account the lack of staff - which was almost double-digit due to a mix of COVID-19, injuries and absences from the Africa Cup - this felt like a real step backwards in Arteta's mission to build a high base. Level of performance from which Arsenal can rediscover former glory. Arteta won this competition in 2020 through a series of determined and clinical achievements that validate a first-time manager's methodology. Arsenal have subsequently backed that ruling by moving up to the Premier League's top four halfway through the current season. That advance has sparked real optimism that they can soon return to the Champions League and rise to a status that makes the FA Cup a trivial proposition rather than a defining event. They didn't register a single shot on target and their all-white kit, a one-off as part of a knife crime initiative, was the best thing about them on the City Ground. "First of all, I'm really disappointed with the performance," said Arteta afterwards. "Not with the attitude, but with how much we are aiming and the determination we have shown to change the game when it is difficult to play against them and how they play, based on what we saw on the pitch , it is difficult to agree with the assessment. " Arsenal's stance was on point, but what seemed most irritated was Arteta about his team's possession of the ball for a simple square pass rather than a more dynamic attack. Faced with a hot spell for Djed Spence - the Forest right-back on loan from Middlesbrough and certainly destined for the Premier League if he holds that level - Tavares was substituted off after just 35 minutes. The Portuguese threw his gloves on the floor and sank into the dugout after everyone was housed in it except Arteta. When asked what Tavares was doing wrong, Arteta replied simply, “I don't want to“ talk about individuals. ”Kieran Tierney replaced Tavares but Arsenal barely improved. Eddie Nketiah headed Arsenal's best chance when he scored Bukayo Saka in Missed the 58th minute, but Forest received the reward for his greater effort with the only goal seven minutes left. Albert Sambi Lokonga lost the ball cheaply in midfield so Ryan Yates could break the forest right. Lokonga has been around since his Summer arrival from Anderlecht showed promising but Belgian and teenager Charlie Patino, who made his first start for the club, was unable to gain a foothold in the game for a long time. Lokonga's negligent loss of the ball at the crucial moment brought Arsenal's already recognized need for a midfielder in This month to the point, but the combination of all four left Arsenal lights in the most combative area of ​​the field in a typically hostile FA Cup encounter that Arteta knows well. "I know because I've played in games like this for the last 18 years and I know how complicated it is to get here and it's no surprise the difficulties you face," said Arteta. I want to try to get the most out of the players we have. I think it's clear where we need to strengthen [in January] but for now we have it. And with what we have, we have to play. "No club has won the FA Cup more than Arsenal's 14. But here they wrote an undesirable story: This was only the second time in 26 seasons that the Gunners had won their third Losing lap last time was on the same ground in 2018 and it turned out that Arsene Wenger was the last season in charge that couldn't stop a decline into mediocrity. It was the same slide that Arteta is still trying to get to arrest.

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PSG makes an expensive offer for Rüdiger

With Antonio Rudiger's Chelsea deal running out this summer, Madrid seem like a likely target but PSG have made a high-priced official offer to poach him. Sebastian Frej / MB Media / Getty Images The January 2022 transfer window is open (find out when it closes here) ... (Author: Gardener)

PSGWith Antonio Rudiger's Chelsea deal running out this summer, Madrid seem like a likely target but PSG have made a high-priced official offer to poach him. Transfer Talk brings you the latest gossip, comings and goings, and of course, closed deals! Paris Saint-Germain have made an official offer to sign Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger, according to Foot Mercato. The Ligue 1 club want to dissuade him from a possible move to Real Madrid and have therefore proposed a more lucrative salary package: a contract worth 7 million euros per season, according to the report. The move would be official when his contract with Chelsea expires in the summer. It seemed the 28-year-old center-back's preferred destination would be the Santiago Bernabeu. PSG sports director Leonardo is doing everything possible to convince Rüdiger to choose Paris as his next home. The German international has been a priority for Thomas Tuchel's side this season and the club are hoping he will extend his current tenure at Stamford Bridge. But the arrival of another top European club on the negotiating table could mean that the Blues will have to look for alternatives before next season. 08:00 GMT: Edinson Cavani has told Ralf Rangnick that he will be staying at Old Trafford until the end of the season, the interim manager of Manchester United said. Uncontracted this summer, Cavani has been linked with a January move to Barcelona or a return to South America, but Rangnick said the 34-year-old has promised to stay until the end of the season. "I told him that I would like him to stay if I had my way," said Rangnick. He came into my office and we talked for almost half an hour and he told me that he will definitely stay and that he wants to stay until the end of the season. "Not just because I told him to or must stay, he did it on his own behalf and he told me that I could count on him to stay and do his best until the end of the season there and plays a role. " Model for the young players. Aston Villa: Stream LIVE at 2:55 p.m. ET on ESPN + in the US. - Lucas Digne's next club is expected to be Aston Villa, according to Sky Sports. The Everton left-back has been on the radar of a number of Premier League sides during the winter transfer window but now it looks like a £ 25m transfer deal has been agreed with Steven Gerrard's side, and the 28-year-old stood too shortlisted by Napoli, although the Serie A club pulled back with reports that their salary claims are around £ 8.5 million per season. - Jürgen Klopp has no plans to leave Divock Origi during the current transfer window, according to Ekrem Konur, has recently been linked to moves to West Ham United and Fenerbahce but his performances have seen him be a frequent tool off the bench and scoring in December the winning goal against the wolves. - Philippe Coutinho could sign a permanent deal with Aston Villa. According to Fabrizio Romano, Barcelona have included a € 40million option clause to make the summer move permanent. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder is expected to have announced his loan deal with the Premier League club shortly after negotiations began on a deal last week. - Sevilla are ready to take another approach for Manchester United striker Anthony Martial, said Ekrem Konur. The La Liga club have maintained interest in a loan deal for the 26-year-old despite struggles with the salary the Red Devils would contribute and are now reportedly ready to try again to add firepower to the attack. Martial has fought for minutes this season and only started two games in the Premier League. - Newcastle United continue their search for a striker following Callum Wilson's injury and the Telegraph reports they have Burnley's Chris Wood in their sights. It is reported that they have already made an official request to the Clarets regarding a possible deal. The 30-year-old presented himself in mixed form this season and scored three goals in 17 league games.

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