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Thread: The Official TCSS Thread

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    Emre Can: High quality Germany are Confederations Cup favourites

    espnfc.com
    By Tom Marshall

    SOCHI, Russia -- Emre Can has said he believes Germany are favourites for the Confederations Cup as they prepare for a semifinal against Mexico on Thursday.

    Liverpool midfielder Can, who helped Germany navigate the group stage with relative ease, told reporters: "We have a young squad, but if you come as world champions to the tournament, I think you are favourite.

    "And if you played a good group stage and are now in the semis, a lot of people are expecting a lot of things."

    Can said winning the Confederations Cup would be a "big achievement" and added: "You can see the quality in the team on the pitch. I think the quality is very high."

    Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi echoed that confidence ahead of the closing stages of a tournament Germany have never won.

    "After the last games, maybe one or two people in this tournament respect us more than before because I think we've played a really good tournament up to now," he said.

    "Maybe before people were thinking: 'It's a young team, maybe it's going to be a bit easier for us,' but I think we've proved those people wrong.

    "We are hungry and I think we're going to go until the end."

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    Cristiano Ronaldo, Alexis Sanchez drive Portugal, Chile in different ways

    espnfc.com
    By Gabriele Marcotti

    KAZAN, Russia -- You want to look ahead to the first Confederations Cup semifinal, to the champions of Europe taking on the champions of South America (or, more accurately, given last year's Copa Centenario, the champions of "the Americas"). You reckon you're going to do it through the prism of each team's biggest attacking star.

    And then you run into a problem.

    Because when Cristiano Ronaldo is on one side of a parallel, unless the guy on the other is named Lionel Messi, there is no symmetry, no possible equivalence. Alexis Sanchez is one of the finest attackers in the world right now; Ronaldo is one of the finest ever and a fixture in the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate.

    Yet if you look at things a bit more closely, there is a common thread.

    Both are often referred to simply by their first name, a distinction reserved for sporting royalty: LeBron, Serena and Peyton do not need James, Williams and Manning.

    Both Cristiano and Alexis come from countries that -- were this NCAA hoops -- would be described as mid-majors: fine traditions, some outstanding individuals, but often denied silverware by bigger, better-resourced regional powers. Yet both have carried their respective countries to international success for the first time: Alexis' Chile won the Copa America in 2015 and, a year later, Cristiano triumphed with Portugal at Euro 2016.

    Both were hugely hyped from a very young age, plucked away from their oceanfront hometowns and sent to the big time.

    Alexis grew up in Tocopilla, a town in the far north of Chile known for its saltpeter mines. At 17, Italy's Udinese paid his club Cobreloa $2.5m; a huge fee at the time given his age. He was loaned out first to Colo Colo in the Chilean capital Santiago and later to Argentine giant River Plate.

    Cristiano was born and raised in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, an island in the Atlantic Ocean, some 600 miles away from the Portuguese mainland. At 12, he moved to Lisbon to join Sporting, where he remained until his move to Manchester United six years later.

    Precocious talent leaving home at a young age to pursue a calling is a familiar trope. What strikes you about these two if you watch old YouTube clips is how their game has evolved, in part responding to the passing of time -- Alexis is 28, Cristiano is four years older -- and in part responding to the how the game has changed over the past decade.

    Young Alexis was almost ethereal, skipping and floating around the pitch. He did little off the ball, mainly because he played for a counter-attacking side but also because he was a lot happier with the ball at his feet than without it.

    He'd roam around the opposition defense, looking for space and calling for the ball and, when he got it, he rarely gave it up until someone took it from him or until he had a chance to shoot. His critics said he'd be a complete player only if and when he learned to be physically tougher and learned to love the ball a little bit less.

    Today, he's a compact powerhouse, a pressing machine who plays with aggression and intensity. He seems as happy when he wins back the ball as he does when he scores.



    Cristiano had the Adonis-body back at 18 years of age just like he does now, except it came with a terrifyingly quick first step that enabled him to lose defenders almost at will. He thrived in open spaces and his footwork broke angles like an Allen Iverson crossover.

    Yet there too, the critics found flaws. His Man United teammate Rio Ferdinand said he was a "show pony" -- all style and little substance -- while others lamented his lack of "end product."

    (Younger readers may not believe me at this point given that Ronaldo is only the most prolific goal scorer in the history of Europe's five biggest leagues, but Google searches do not lie.)

    Today, while the diva routine is alive and well, he saves it for breaks in play like goal celebrations (usually his own): When the game is going on, no movement is wasted, everything has a purpose, nothing is done for the viral highlight. And, as for the "end product," well, more than 600 career goals speak for themselves.

    But perhaps most striking is how both men have adapted themselves to their national sides, tailoring their game to what is most needed when they represent their country.

    Alexis is ready-made for the high-energy, uncompromising style laid down first by Jorge Sampaoli and now by Juan Antonio Pizzi. On a team packed with charismatic leaders -- think Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal -- it's all about the collective and Alexis is more than happy to slot in and be a cog in that Big Red Machine, rather than the hub of the wheel, as he often is with Arsenal.

    With Cristiano, it's something of the reverse. He remains, of course, the Main Man of Madrid, but the European champions can beat you so many different ways that not everything is about him or has to go through with him.

    With the national side, it's a bit different. His contemporaries, including Nani, Ricardo Quaresma and Joao Moutinho, defer to him, while a gifted crop of youngsters -- Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva and Raphael Guerreiro among them -- look up to him.

    If, at club level, he is the biggest of many stars in a supergroup, with Portugal he is the star and the others are unnamed back-up musicians, their names written in seven-point type on the liner notes. It's the difference between Roy Orbison performing with the Traveling Wilburys and doing a show with a bunch of studio musicians.

    It's not a knock and it's not ego. Being the focal point means drawing all the pressure and attention and taking on responsibility, something the younger Portuguese players need. And that formula served him and them very well at the Euros.

    Both Alexis and Cristiano began their journeys in similar places, both went through comparable challenges and both are leading their national teams to new heights.

    Only they're doing it in different ways.

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    Claudio Bravo rises to the occasion in Chile's heroic semifinal win vs Portugal

    espnfc.com
    By Gabriele Marcotti

    KAZAN, Russia -- Claudio Bravo stood under the Kazan lights and gazed at Ricardo Quaresma, taking the longest walk you can possibly take on a football pitch: from the halfway line, enveloped in the embrace of your teammates, to the solitude of the penalty spot, with only a ball and your thoughts for company.

    Moments earlier, Arturo Vidal had slammed the ball past Rui Patricio to give Portugal the lead, celebrating with a fist pump and a glance at his yellow-clad teammate who stood off to the side of the goal.

    This was a time to be strong.

    Stronger than the VAR that had gone AWOL when it came to telling referee Alireza Faghani that yes, he really ought to have awarded a penalty when Jose Fonte felled Francisco Silva in the box just a few minutes earlier.

    Stronger than the nightmare season he endured at Manchester City, where he arrived as Pep Guardiola's hand-picked replacement for Joe Hart only to find himself dropped after a string of poor performances and ridicule from the English media, starting only three of his team's last 16 games.

    Stronger than the knowledge that next season doesn't bode too well either given that in less than 72 hours, Benfica's Ederson officially becomes his teammate at City. And he'll do so for a world record fee. People telling you they have confidence in your ability is one thing but actions speak louder than words.

    Stronger than the injury that had caused him to miss all but Chile's last group game as well as their pre-Confederations Cup warm-up games. In fact, this was only his second match of any kind in the previous two months.

    Bravo cocked his head, squared his shoulders and saved Quaresma's spot kick. Still, 1-0. Then, after Charles Aranguiz had buried his, he snuffed out Joao Moutinho's effort. 2-0. Alexis Sanchez converted his penalty to put Chile on the brink, 3-0, and Bravo did the rest by saving his third penalty, this time from Nani.

    Game over. La Roja in the Confederations Cup final, 90 minutes away from a three-peat in major tournaments after their back-to-back Copa America wins.

    He got up and ran toward the corner flag, the same one where he had patiently waited for the sequence to begin. For a moment, he looked a lot like the Rocky statue on the Art Museum steps in Philadelphia. Only for a moment, though, because he was quickly swallowed up by the throng of his teammates, who then hoisted him up into the air.



    Football works in mysterious ways. If he ever bumps into Helmuth Duckadam, the two will have something to talk about.

    The old sporting trope is that the number of times you fall is irrelevant as long as it's less than the number of times you get back up. When you're a keeper though, it's different. It's that much harder to get back up for the simple reason that you often can't get back in.

    That's why this Confederations Cup meant so much to Bravo. He was Chile's captain and undisputed number one yet that cruel, persistent calf injury jeopardized his chance at getting back in, let alone getting back up.

    After the game, Bravo betrayed no emotion.

    "How do I feel?" he said. "Like I always do. ... I'm a very balanced person."

    But what about the injury? What about his Premier League horror show? What about Ederson?

    "I was injured, I didn't play and when I did, I didn't perform at the level to which I'm accustomed," he shrugged. "But I normally take things calmly and quietly. Like I said, I'm balanced."

    Balanced and ice cool. Like the iceberg that sunk Portugal's Titanic, with Cristiano Ronaldo in Leonardo Di Caprio's Jack Dawson role.

    A long-standing football truism holds that penalty shootouts are lotteries, that penalties can't be neutralized by keepers -- they can only be missed by attackers. Books have been written to dispute this. Bravo's boss Juan Antonio Pizzi is in the latter camp.

    "It's true that luck is involved in taking penalties, but I wouldn't say it's only about luck," he said. "You can prepare and you can study and you can improve your chances."



    Penalties are luck in the same way casino slot machines are luck. The house does have an edge, but if you out-prepare and out-analyze your opponents, you become the house. You get that sliver of an edge that can shift the odds.

    "[Bravo] had analyzed his opponents very well," Pizzi said. "Those who take penalties can be studied because you can see them with their country and their club. Claudio was prepared: he was able to predict what was going to happen. And he had the personality and mental strength to make it count."

    There will be time for him to reflect on what happens next. Time to figure out whether he gets to take a mulligan with City and show the Premier League who he really is. Time to fully heal his calf muscles, which are as important to a keeper as finger tips are to a pianist.

    But all that seems terribly remote right now. All that matters, all that's in front of the Chilean Iceberg is Sunday's final and a date with either Germany or Mexico.

    Tell it softly to the iceberg: Three-peat ahead. Sink Germany or Mexico, whichever one Thursday night throws into your path, and it's yours.

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    Humiliation vs. Germany reveals how tall Mexico's task is at Russia 2018

    By Tom Marshall
    espnfc.com

    SOCHI, Russia -- If anyone needed a barometer of how Mexico's 4-1 loss to Germany in Thursday's semifinal of the Confederations Cup was received back home, the country's greatest player, Hugo Sanchez, provided it.

    The former Real Madrid striker talked about the structure of the Mexican game, the lack of autonomy of the league, national team and federation, and said those factors keep Mexico from making a jump to the next level. Sanchez added that teams such as Spain and Chile have been given the time and have had a consistent project behind them in order to achieve international success and join the elite.

    In case anyone needed reminding, Mexico has struggled when confronted with elite-level competition. It's difficult to remember the last time El Tri defeated a top-quality opponent in a major tournament. Last summer, Mexico lost 7-0 to Copa America champions Chile, and world champions Germany swatted Mexico away on Thursday.

    Indeed, Mexico has never won a knockout game in a World Cup outside the country, and its last such win came in 1986.

    Sanchez, a former manager of the Mexico national team, went on to blame those who installed current manager Juan Carlos Osorio. Sanchez doesn't agree with Osorio's philosophy.

    "We don't have the style to think that [things] will change between now and the World Cup," lamented Sanchez on ESPN. "Osorio is stubborn. He keeps his rotations, center-backs [play] as full-backs, forwards as wingers, and that will not help make the most of football in Mexico in the league and with the national team."

    But while Sanchez may not agree with Osorio's philosophy -- and may still eye the job himself (if the power structure in Mexican football changes) -- he would surely accept that the Colombian deserves time and space to continue the process that hasn't yet helped El Tri reach new heights, but certainly hasn't been any worse than past performances and has shown some promise.

    The victory of this so-called Germany reserve side, however, was decisive.

    "We went up against the world champion, and it's been useful for Mexican football to know where we are," said Javier Hernandez after the game.

    It was a key statement. The match summed up where Mexico is at. El Tri were handsomely beaten by a Germany side featuring a number of players who won't be featuring next year at the World Cup.

    But Mexico wasn't without its merits in the game. El Tri had more than 60 percent of possession, had 26 shots (to Germany's 12), drew 17 fouls and forced keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen into seven saves compared to Guillermo Ochoa's three.

    These statistics perhaps don't mean much in the emotional sense when you lose 4-1, but they do highlight that Mexico has a style. El Tri's real problem is depth of the player pool compared to the top nations. Not having injured defensive duo Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo meant Miguel Layun had to move over to the right and center-back Oswaldo Alanis came in at left-back. It left Mexico weak on the left side, something Germany exploited ruthlessly.



    Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexico were thrashed 4-1 by Germany in the Confederations Cup semifinals.

    The world champions, on the other hand, are showing at the Confederations Cup and the European Under-21 Championship that every position is well-covered both now and for the foreseeable future.

    "This was for us a 10-year plan," said Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff on Thursday. "You can't change it in one or two years. Now you have to work with the players you have. It's good to have long-term investment, and every country that wants to improve the players has to do that."

    What Osorio has at his disposal is significantly weaker than Germany manager Joachim Low's arsenal, as Thursday's game highlighted. Playing more Mexicans in Liga MX, and then exporting them to the best leagues in the world, is the most accessible path.

    "The league is fundamental [to the growth of the Mexican game]," said Hernandez. "More than anything, for them to give opportunities to Mexican players like I got."

    With many of Mexico's 18 first-division teams fielding about five or six foreigners in each starting 11, the opportunities for Mexicans are limited.

    Osorio can't do too much about that, and the way his side came together in the Confederations Cup was positive. The worry is that in key games Mexico haven't been up to the test, although that is historical and not just down to Osorio, of course.

    Mexico can ill-afford to change things up one year from the World Cup. Sanchez may not particularly like Osorio's style, but he is right in ascertaining that if Mexico is to step up and make the leap to the elite in the future, someone needs time overseeing the project.

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    Confederations Cup final: Chile's experience to beat Germany youth

    By Nick Ames
    espnfc.com

    World Cup winners Germany will meet Copa America champions Chile in the final of the Confederations Cup in Russia on Sunday. But who will come out on top? Here is a breakdown of the two teams.

    Goalkeepers

    It has been a tough few months for Claudio Bravo at Manchester City but he has not let it get to him and those three penalty shootout saves against Portugal in the semifinals were evidence of his ability to be decisive at this level -- even if none of the spot kicks were of a high quality. Bravo also saved well from Andre Silva early in the game and has generally looked commanding throughout the Confederations Cup, although one errant kick against Australia started the move that allowed them to take the lead in the group stages. Germany will also look to turn his attempts to build from the back to their advantage.

    Marc-Andre ter Stegen did not start this tournament well, erring badly against Australia, but was singled out for praise by his manager, Joachim Low, after the semifinal win over Mexico. "Marc made some wonderful saves," Low said after the Barcelona goalkeeper helped keep their lead intact, although there is a sense that he is not invulnerable to errors when put under pressure.

    Edge: Chile

    Defenders

    Chile have looked solid during this tournament and were particularly impressive in limiting the number of chances afforded to Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Gary Medel will probably partner Gonzalo Jara at centre-back in the final as they look to repeat the trick, with Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla playing as attack-minded full-backs. All four are vastly experienced -- and all bar Isla have played in the Premier League -- although it would be a stretch to describe any of them as top-class defenders and Germany may yet feel they can ask questions of them.

    Germany's back three, which they adopted after the win over Australia, appears to suit them and the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter have looked comfortable. Joshua Kimmich should retain his place although Niklas Sule and Shkodran Mustafi -- the latter's error let Arsenal clubmate Alexis Sanchez in to score for Chile when the teams met in the group stage -- are alternatives. It is an area where Germany do not have one especially commanding presence but they do have plenty of adaptability and composure. This is shown by the fact Kimmich played at right wing-back earlier in the tournament; Benjamin Henrichs did well there against Mexico and Jonas Hector will charge forward on the other side.

    Edge: Germany

    Midfielders

    Arturo Vidal is the beating heart of Chile's side and the sight of him steaming into tackles during extra-time against Portugal was a reminder that he is a competitor who will keep going until the end. He also converted his penalty emphatically and said afterwards that "unity, commitment and good old Chilean heart" were the key components of Chile's success. Vidal embodies all of that and is ably assisted by Charles Aranguiz, Marcelo Diaz and Pablo Hernandez. They will likely form a diamond that, as with other areas of the Chile team, is hugely experienced and knows when to raise the lower the tempo of a game. Their mixture of technique and energy is very difficult to play against.

    Germany have plenty of energy themselves, though, and will field one of this tournament's standout performers in Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder scored twice early on against Mexico and is likely to be partnered again by Sebastian Rudy although, similarly to their defence, Germany have plenty of options and are tactically adaptable. Emre Can is available and Kerem Demirbay, who notched an excellent goal against Cameroon, can also slot in. It is a mobile set of options that can handle themselves physically too -- and this will be exactly the kind of test Low hoped they would face.

    Edge: Chile

    Forwards

    Alexis Sanchez is one of this tournament's biggest names although he has not quite shone as brightly as usual. His group stage goal against Germany was well taken but he has not been at his threatening best otherwise -- maybe ongoing speculation about his club future is taking its toll, though manager Juan Antonio Pizzi stressed that he is "very happy" and "giving his best like everybody else." Sanchez could probably do with a little more help; Chile can blow hot and cold in front of goal and although Eduardo Vargas, his primary accomplice, has a good record at international level he is not a top-bracket finisher and missed a good chance early on against Mexico. It is an area where Chile lack high-quality alternatives.

    The goals have flowed for Germany. Eleven in four games is a formidable record and three of them have come from Timo Werner, the gifted RB Leipzig forward who looks a decent bet to force his way into next year's World Cup side. Werner has had plenty of help from PSG's Julian Draxler and the underrated Lars Stindl, while Goretzka has also pitched in tellingly. Amin Younes' goal from the bench against Mexico showed that there is strength in depth too; this German front line may lack experience but it is currently purring.

    Edge: Germany



    Managers

    Pizzi is a relatively unknown managerial quantity outside South America but has, by and large, retained the style Chile deployed so effectively under Jorge Sampaoli. "The only way we can compete is to take chances, always on the edge," he said after the semifinal win over Portugal. Chile still seek to play at a brisk tempo and take the initiative; essentially they have not changed and Pizzi has already experienced success by guiding them to the Copa America Centenerio title last year.

    There are still some who doubt Low's qualities, suggesting he has been fortunate to inherit such a formidable production line of German players, but it is difficult to argue with his record over the past 11 years. This time around he took the bold step of leaving his star names at home, but his faith in a thrilling set of young talents has been rewarded. The experience of this summer may pay even greater dividends next year for the reigning world champions.

    Edge: Germany

    Intangibles

    There are few teams as practiced at tournament football as this Chile side. The bulk of their likely starting XI defeated Spain in the 2014 World Cup and also represented their country at South Africa 2010. They have won two Copa Americas since then; this is a group of vastly experienced players that knows how to handle pressure and create results that are, arguably, greater than the sum of their parts. Chile got stronger as their semifinal with Portugal went on, which flew in the face of suggestions that a team that has faced such a rigorous schedule in recent years was growing tired. They have had longer to prepare for this final than Germany, which should offset their 120-minute haul on Wednesday night, and look ready for a third successive summer of celebration.

    Yet Germany are the team in better form after their battering of Mexico, and they are arguably under less pressure. Low picked this young squad, shorn of so many senior players, to see how they would be able to handle tournament football and put themselves in the frame for key roles next year. Whatever happens now, it is clear that they have responded -- and having drawn 1-1 with Chile in the group stage they have already shown they can handle their opponents' methods.

    Edge: Chile

    Prediction:

    Chile 2-1 Germany (after extra-time). This will be a meeting between a tournament machine and a group of players that could well become one. Germany have impressed everybody but Chile have the nous to see this one through -- possibly after another bout of extra-time.

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    Germany, Chile promises to be superb finale to 2017 Confederations Cup

    By Gabriele Marcotti
    espnfc.com

    On Sunday night, we may be crowning the last-ever Confederations Cup champion. Asked directly about it amid rumors that the competition might be replaced by some kind of global Champions League-lite extravaganza reserved for clubs, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was distinctly noncommittal.

    "Right now, the future of the Confederations Cup is the final," he said. "What happens after that is something we will analyze like we do with all our competitions. At this stage, there isn't much to say."

    On paper, a competition pitting the champions of each confederation against the world champion and the host of the next World Cup ought to have both appeal and raison d'etre. If it is scrapped -- and especially if it's scrapped in favor of a club-driven competition -- it will speak volumes about where international football ranks relative to the club game.

    These are considerations which likely will interest neither Chile nor Germany ahead of Sunday's final. Each has the opportunity to make history in its own way. For Chile, it would mean winning their third consecutive international tournament after the two Copa America competitions. Scoff all you like at the notions of three-peat, but the fact is this would be unprecedented. For a country which had won nothing on the big stage until two years ago it would be an extraordinary feat, built on the backs of a golden generation and three special managers: Marcelo Bielsa, who initiated the cycle, Jorge Sampaoli, who delivered the first Copa America, and Juan Antonio Pizzi, who had the humility to know what to change and what to keep.

    For Germany, it has a different meaning. This is not the side that won the World Cup or which contested the Euros a year ago. Just three of these players were in the squad that triumphed in Brazil and, of those, only Shkodran Mustafi actually played, and he's likely to be on the bench today. Joachim Low's decision to give a number of his big guns -- from Mesut Ozil to Manuel Neuer, from Toni Kroos to Sami Khedira, from Thomas Muller to Mats Hummels -- the summer off did undeniably take some gloss off this competition.



    The Confederations Cup in its current incarnation may be less than two decades old, but nobody had treated it like this before. Yet in many ways, Low is vindicated as the summer of rest may prove crucial when the World Cup rolls around in less than 12 months.

    What's more, his combination of understudies and up-and-comers has proven to be up to the challenge. They've rolled through the tournament putting three goals past both Cameroon and Australia and four past Mexico. The likes of Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka and Timo Werner have looked as proficient as the starters they were replacing. The only side that have slowed them, appropriately enough, are Chile, who held them to a 1-1 draw in their group stage encounter.

    It's worth reflecting for a minute on the immensity of riches at Low's disposal. Not only does he coach the world champions, but he reached the Confederations Cup final without eight or nine bona fide regulars. Meanwhile, Germany's U21 side were crowned European champions Friday, upsetting heavily favored Spain, and there are no fewer than eight players -- nine if you count Leroy Sane, who is injured -- in the Confederations Cup squad who would have been eligible to play for the U21 team at the Euros. Evidently, they weren't needed.

    The contrast with Chile is striking. Germany's most-capped player is Julian Draxler, with 34. There are no fewer than 11 Chile players with more international appearances. The Germany side who stuffed Mexico in the semifinal had 158 caps at kickoff: the Chile side who dispatched Portugal had 870. Seven likely starters tonight were also starters when Chile played Spain at the 2010 World Cup. By contrast, none of Germany's probable XI had even been capped at that stage, and more than half had yet to make their professional debuts.



    It's not just a case of young versus old either. Chile are one of those national teams that play like a club side. There's a chemistry there borne not just out of longevity -- this group have been together for a long, long time (four of the XI were on the under-20 side that fell to Argentina in the semifinal of the 2007 World Cup) -- but out of repetition and tactics as well. The methods of Sampaoli and Bielsa left their mark. The system isn't just intense and balls-to-the-wall, it's also predicated upon carefully synchronized movements of the sort you rarely see at the international level.

    Germany, on the other hand, have been largely thrown together, and it's a credit to Low's coaching that in the space of a couple weeks, he has turned them into a coherent team. Even though, most likely, it was less of a priority than evaluating individual talent and winning games in the short term, they look like an accomplished unit.

    On paper, the narrative is simple. Can Chile's older legs sustain the demands of the intense high press against a younger, physically stronger (and bigger) side blessed with individual quality and flat-out speed in the form of Werner and Julian Brandt?

    Individual matches, however, rarely play out the way you expect them to. So perhaps it's more appropriate to think in terms of a side on the cusp of making history with its golden generation vs. a group who know the best is yet to come, and this could be the beginning of a cycle, rather than the latter stages of it.

    Either way, we're in for a doozy. And if this really is the last-ever Confederations Cup match, there's reason to believe it'll go out with a bang.

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    Low's German youngsters come of age as they withstand Chile's onslaught

    By Gabriele Marcotti
    espnfc.com

    SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia -- On a day when they were frustrated, intimidated and pegged back by the red horde in front of them, Germany kept their nerve, hunkered down and punished an opponent's mistake for a 1-0 win that sealed the country's first Confederations Cup trophy.

    It's what you'd call a veteran performance, borne out of age-old experience and tactical savvy -- except this German side has an average age of 23 and had hardly played together until 3½ weeks ago.

    You hate to slip into stereotypes, but when a side this green in terms of experience displays such maturity, you're tempted to credit the magical powers of the white shirt with the four stars on it. Either that or Joachim Low is simply one heck of a coach.

    Chile were the home side at the steeply banked Zenit Arena, in which cries of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Fuerza Chi-le!" rained down before kickoff. It might take a minimum of 18½ hours to fly here from Santiago -- with a stopover in Paris -- but a surprising number of La Roja enthusiasts had made the trip.

    Maybe it was knowing that, for this Golden Generation, the window of opportunity won't stay open forever -- another World Cup, another Copa America maybe -- and that while travel is pricey, you regret the things you don't do more than the things you do. The dream of telling their grandkids that they saw their nation win silverware in three different continents, over three magical summers, was too special for many to turn down.

    But they won't be able to do that. Instead, they will be able to go home and say that their team dominated long stretches of a final against the world champions -- a fearsome side, no matter the absentees -- only to see the trophy slip through their fingers like dust.

    "We dominated, we played very well, we controlled the game, but football is the way it is ... sometimes, it's not enough and accidents happen," Chile boss Juan Antonio Pizzi said after the match.

    Despite a draining semifinal against Portugal and with Teutonic young legs in front of them, Chile came out of the gate as if the fast-forward button was stuck on. They pressed high and they pressed hard, and Charles Aranguiz, Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal (twice) all had cracks at goal in a furious opening 20 minutes that had Low pacing the sideline as Germany struggled to get out of their own half.

    Chile's best chance came after 19 minutes when Marc-Andre ter Stegen spilled a vicious shot from the effervescent Vidal. The ball fell to Alexis Sanchez -- exactly who you'd want in this situation -- but, with ter Stegen on his knees, the forward screwed his finish wide.

    And that's when the totally unscientific "Law of Football" kicked in: Miss a chance at one end, get punished at the other.

    Marcelo Diaz, dropping deep between the center backs as he always does to build play, made an ill-advised turn into the path of the lurking, ubiquitous Timo Werner. The RB Leipzig striker nicked the ball away and knocked it into space before squaring past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo for the unmarked Lars Stindl to tap it into the empty net.

    The classic sucker-punch. We've seen this script before, though rarely with Germany -- they normally take the game to the opposition -- as the ones who turn the run of play on its head.

    Low's initial lineup, with three center-backs and Werner on his own up front with Stindl and Julian Draxler behind, was set up to both contain and attack. Before the goal, Germany had little chance to do the latter; afterward, it made more sense to sit and unleash Werner's wheels. A mistake by Gary Medel -- not dissimilar to that of Diaz -- gave Leon Goretzka a shot at making it 2-0, which would have been harsh on Chile.



    Pizzi's side pushed on in the second half, but Germany were all too happy to wait and pounce. Tension rose and tempers flared: Bravo clashed with, of all people, Joshua Kimmich, who got an earful from Vidal, his Bayern teammate. Kimmich had talked about how Vidal was a kind of mentor/big brother. Not during these 90 minutes, he wasn't.

    Hope for a final without video replay were dashed when Werner, chasing a long ball, was whacked in the jaw by Gonzalo Jara. Referee Milorad Mazic missed the incident, but the VAR did its job in flagging it up. Mazic, following procedure in these situations, took a look at it himself but showed Jara only a yellow card.

    "He hit him in the face," Low said after the match. "You expect that to be a red, no?"

    The German manager was right, and Mazic's reluctance to send off Jara is sure to further inflame the replay debate. Whatever your view on VAR, it's worth remembering that, without the guys in the booth, Jara would have got away scot-free with what he did.

    Still Chile pressed on, taking greater risks and inevitably conceding more at the back. Vidal skied over a great chance, and tempers flared again when, after Sanchez went down, Mazic refused to consult replays. Vargas was booked for his protests.

    Pizzi rolled the dice by sending on Edson Puch and Angelo Sagal. They're not part of the Golden Generation, but they had a gilt-edged chance to become honorary lifelong members when Puch cut a ball back for Sagal in front of an empty net. In his first competitive match for his country, the striker skied over the crossbar.

    "One of the most difficult things to do in football is score," Pizzi said afterward with a trace of bitterness. "That's why strikers get paid so much money."

    (It's not necessarily cruel to point out that Sagal is not one of those strikers with the telephone-number salary.)

    Testament to the red fury at the end of the game -- and Low's respect for Chile's threat -- was shown by Germany's use of two defensive substitutions: Emre Can came on for the marauding Goretzka, and the man-mountain Niklas Sule replaced Werner. Germany finished the match with four central defenders, two full-backs and two defensive midfielders.

    "We had to fight for every single meter of the pitch to defend our lead," Low said later. "They are an outstanding team. But we were single-minded about this victory. And I am so, so impressed with that. We're talking about a team with so little international experience dealing so well with the pressure, with the nerves, with a talented, experienced opponent. I am mega-proud of them."

    Pizzi was proud, too, if deflated: "We knew we can compete with the very best in the world, and we showed it again today. We have to accept that luck and incidents are a part of it. We can't complain."

    Referring to the intense, high risk-high reward philosophy that has been a hallmark for Chile under his predecessor Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli, Pizzi added: "We know this is the way forward for us, and we've had confirmation of it again. We go home with no energy left, lots of glory and no trophy. That's football."

    As for Low, Germany are like those boxers with an alphabet soup of championship belts: world champions, Under-21 European champions and, now, Confederations Cup champions. And they possess an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to next summer; folks will have a lot of fun speculating who in this squad will crack the 23 for the World Cup.

    "You shouldn't be asking that," Low said, stone-faced. "You should be asking which of the guys we left at home are good enough to make it into this squad."

    Then he broke into a smile. He was joking. Sort of.

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    Man United agree £75m Romelu Lukaku fee, end Morata talks - sources

    By Rob Dawson, Man United correspondent
    espnfc.com

    Manchester United have agreed a £75 million deal to sign Romelu Lukaku, sources close to the Old Trafford club have told ESPN FC, although an Everton source has insisted no deal is in place.

    The United source said Jose Mourinho's side have also stopped negotiations with Real Madrid over Alvaro Morata after the Spanish side refused to drop their asking price.

    They are hopeful a deal for Lukaku can be completed in time for the Belgium striker to be in the squad that departs for the preseason tour of the United States on Sunday.

    The Everton source, though, said Chelsea remain in the race for the striker and nothing has yet been agreed.

    Negotiations are also set to continue between United and Everton to take Rooney, 31, back to Goodison Park.

    United had been led to believe Lukaku favoured a return to Chelsea and that a deal to take the Belgian back to Stamford Bridge had, at one stage, been close.



    The club had also baulked at Everton's valuation of £100m and were convinced Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata would cost significantly less.

    However, reaching an agreement with Real Madrid for Morata has proved more difficult than originally thought with the Spanish side holding out for close to £80 million.

    The United manager knows Lukuku from his time in charge at Chelsea. It was Mourinho who sanctioned Lukaku's sale to Everton in 2014.

    The 24-year-old has become one of the Premier League's most prolific strikers in his three seasons at Goodison Park, scoring 71 goals in 133 games.

    Everton were desperate to keep their main goal scorer, especially after spending close to £100 million this summer to help Ronald Koeman's side break into the top four.

    However, Lukaku has made no secret of his desire to play in the Champions League.

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    Wayne Rooney rejoins Everton from Manchester United after 13 seasons

    By Rob Dawson, Man United correspondent
    espnfc.com

    Wayne Rooney has left Manchester United to rejoin Everton for an undisclosed fee.

    The 31-year-old has signed a two-year deal at Goodison Park after leaving Old Trafford.

    Rooney said in a statement: "It is some time since I said that the only Premier League club I would play for other than Manchester United was Everton, so I am delighted that the move has happened.

    "Thirteen years ago I went to United with the intention of winning trophies and I have been fortunate to be a part of one of the most successful periods in the club's history.

    "I have come back to Everton because I believe Ronald Koeman is building a team that can win something and I look forward to playing my part in making that a reality for the club I have supported since a boy."

    Everton manager Ronald Koeman told the club's official website: "Wayne has shown me that ambition that we need and that winning mentality -- he knows how to win titles and I'm really happy he's decided to come home.

    "He loves Everton and he was desperate to come back. He is still only 31 and I don't have any doubts about his qualities. It's fantastic he's here."



    In 2004, Rooney signed with United, leaving Everton as an 18-year-old in a £25.6 million deal.

    He went on to score 253 goals in 559 appearances, winning the Premier League title five times. In January, he scored his 250th goal for United to break the record set by Sir Bobby Charlton.

    Rooney, fifth on United's all-time list of appearance makers, also won the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and three League Cups during 13 seasons at United.

    He was appointed club captain by former manager Louis van Gaal in 2014 following Nemanja Vidic's departure to Inter Milan.

    United manager Jose Mourinho told his club's official website: "It is no secret that I have long been an admirer of Wayne. He has been a model professional throughout his time at the club and will remain in the history books for many years to come.

    "It is never easy to see a great player playing less football than he would like and I could not stand in his way when he asked to go back to Everton. His experience, focus and determination will be missed and I wish him well for the future."

    Rooney began to fall down the pecking order at United last season and made just 15 Premier League starts.

    He was linked with moves to China and the United States but, when it became apparent he would be leaving United, the chance to rejoin Everton always seemed the most appealing.

    United's interest in Everton striker Romelu Lukaku -- for whom they have agreed a fee of £75m with the Merseysiders -- helped ease the way for a return to Goodison Park.

    Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, said: "Wayne has been a fantastic servant to United since the moment he signed for us as a prodigiously talented, explosive teenager some 13 seasons ago.

    "Who can forget his storybook debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce, the spectacular overhead kick against City and the countless match-winning performances in his time here? But after much discussion, the club has decided to accept his request to rejoin his boyhood team.

    "He goes having created some of the most magical moments in some of the most successful years in the club's history. Wayne leaves us as our greatest ever goalscorer and having won every major trophy in the game.

    "His record will take decades for anyone to get close to matching and I am extremely grateful for the way he has led from the front since being appointed club captain three years ago. "On behalf of the whole club and our hundreds of millions of fans around the world, we wish Wayne all the very best for the next phase of his incredible career."

    Rooney's departure from Everton 13 years ago did cause resentment among fans but the player has never lost touch with his roots and has spoken about his love of Merseyside.

    As time wore on, antipathy towards Rooney from Evertonians eased and he even played for the club again in Duncan Ferguson's testimonial in 2015.

    His signing continues a busy summer at Everton with Rooney, also England's record goal scorer, joining Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen, Michael Keane, Henry Onyekuru, Nathangelo Markelo and Sandro Ramirez as new additions.

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    Wayne Rooney: I wore Everton pyjamas during my time at Manchester United

    espnfc.com

    Wayne Rooney says he has always remained an Everton fan and even wore their pyjamas during his time at Manchester United.

    The 31-year-old's anticipated move back to his boyhood club after 13 successful years at Old Trafford was confirmed on Sunday.

    He leaves United as their record goal scorer with 253 strikes and after winning 12 major honours, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League.

    But Rooney, who has signed a two-year deal at Goodison Park, says Everton always remained close to his heart.

    "It feels great [to be back]," Rooney, who burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old with the Toffees, told Everton TV. "To be honest, I've kept it quiet for the last 13 years, but I've actually been wearing Everton pyjamas at home with my kids. I had to keep that a bit quiet!

    "It's a great feeling to be back. I'm excited, I cannot wait to meet the lads, get on the training pitch and then get on the pitch to play. I'm ecstatic -- I just cannot wait to get back playing.''

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    Real Madrid's James Rodriguez joins Bayern Munich on two-year loan

    By Dermot Corrigan
    espnfc.com

    Bayern Munich have signed Real Madrid star James Rodriguez on a two-year loan deal with an option for a permanent transfer, subject to a medical.

    Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Juventus were among the clubs linked with Colombia international James, 25, in recent weeks as Madrid president Florentino Perez reportedly held out for a fee of at least €70 million.

    However, Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti has made a successful bid to be reunited with a player he coached while at Madrid in 2014-15, with the two clubs agreeing a two-year loan with an option to buy in June 2019.

    Sport Bild reporter Christian Falk has said Bayern agreed an annual loan fee of €5 million and can pay €35.2 million to make it permanent.

    Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: "We are delighted to have realised this transfer. It was our coach Carlo Ancelotti's big wish to sign James Rodriguez, following their successful spell working together in Madrid.

    "James is a versatile player. He's dangerous in front of the goal, sets up a lot of strikes and takes great set pieces. Without a doubt, we've increased the quality of our squad with this transfer once again."

    James has had a mixed three-year spell at the Bernabeu since joining from Monaco for €80 million following the 2014 World Cup and had seemed certain to leave this summer, having been left out of the squad as Zinedine Zidane's side won the Champions League final in June.

    Madrid's club statement was short on detail but said the deal was still subject to James completing a medical at Bayern.

    "Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have agreed the loan of the player James Rodriguez for the next two seasons, pending the completion of a medical," the Madrid statement read. "Bayern Munich reserve the right to buy the player at the end of the loan period."

    James was due to fly out with Madrid to California to begin their preparations ahead of the summer's International Champions Cup, but will now instead join up with Bayern's tour of Asia starting on Sunday.

    Despite not being a regular first choice under Ancelotti's successors Rafa Benitez and Zidane, James played 111 times in total for Madrid, scoring 36 goals and providing 41 assists. He also leaves the Bernabeu having won two Champions League medals, one La Liga title and two FIFA World Club Cups.

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    Liverpool fans anxious about lack of business while Everton keep spending

    By Iain Macintosh
    espnfc.com

    There are still seven weeks to go until the transfer window shuts, but anxiety is spreading across Merseyside and for once, it's spreading across only the red contingent. Everton, haunted by financial worries for decades, are now affluent and ambitious. They've bought well, filling the obvious gaps in their squad, adding depth and even bringing an old hero back into the fold.

    Is the signing of Wayne Rooney driven by reasons of football or reasons of sentimentality? Perhaps it doesn't matter. Never before in the Premier League era have their fans looked forward to a season this much.

    If only the same could be said on the other side of Stanley Park.

    On the Liverpool Echo's website, rolling news coverage began on Tuesday morning with a GIF of Smithers from "The Simpsons" pacing up and down nervously, which seemed as appropriate an approximation of the mood as any. Last season ended well, with back-to-back wins over West Ham and Middlesbrough securing Champions League football, but there was more than enough in the home defeat to Crystal Palace at the end of April to suggest that Jurgen Klopp had plenty of room for improvement in the summer.

    The arrival of Mo Salah, for a record fee of £39 million, will lessen the reliance on Sadio Mane, profoundly missed when he left for international duty, and the capture of Dominic Solanke (who is expected to start in the development squad) could prove to be a real bargain. But it's at the back where the real problems lie.

    Last season was the seventh successive Premier League campaign in which Liverpool have conceded more goals than they played games. The parsimonious days of Rafa Benitez, whose teams conceded an average of 26.75 goals per season in the four seasons between 2005-06 and 2008-09, are long gone. Klopp's Liverpool (who shipped 42) were certainly fun to watch. With 78 goals, they scored more than any Liverpool team in the Premier League era -- apart from Brendan Rodgers' 101-goal side in 2013-14.

    It was a haul as big as that accrued by the last Liverpool title-winning team of 1989-90, but they were frequently compromised by horrible moments of defensive weakness, particularly at set-pieces. Reinforcements were expected, but with preseason already underway, they haven't arrived yet.

    We can assume that Klopp has no plans to buy a new goalkeeper. Simon Mignolet's performances improved markedly after the arrival of Loris Karius, who proved quite the motivator, and Danny Ward, a hero of Huddersfield's promotion campaign, will not be allowed to leave on loan. From that three-way tussle, a trusted No. 1 will emerge. But if the improvement isn't going to be between the sticks, you'd expect it to at least be in front of them.



    Joel Matip enjoyed a promising debut season at Anfield and Dejan Lovren has been steadily improving, but there isn't much in the locker after that. In the "Which Rival Champions League Clubs Would Sign My Players?" test, Ragnar Klavan scores poorly and there seems to be little chance of Mamadou Sakho and Klopp making up. Liverpool need something more if they're to retain their top-four place, let alone push for the title.

    They need something in the middle, too, but Red Bull Leipzig have no intention of letting preferred target Naby Keita go for anything less than an eye-watering fee that would almost double that paid for Salah. The Guinean midfielder looks an all-action, nuclear-powered creative phenomenon, but will the owners really sanction that sort of spending? It would be quite a change of policy.

    By contrast, Everton have already signed six players, and it seems that they are just as ambitious off the pitch, too. Leaked documents appeared on social media this week that suggested the club's plans for a new stadium are far grander than first thought. It may yet come to nothing, but at 60,000 seats, the Bramley Moore Dock development would be larger than Anfield. You can imagine how well that has gone down in the blue parts of Merseyside.

    With nearly two months of business still to be done, there really is no need to panic. But when has panic ever required legitimacy? Liverpool's supporters can see Manchester United spending £75m on one player; they can see Arsenal spending £53m on one player; they can see Manchester City spending £43m on one player; they can even see Chelsea spending £31m on a central defender. But far worse than that, they can see their next-door neighbours flexing their muscles and growing more powerful with every signing.

    The mood in the blue bits of Merseyside is buoyant. For the reds, there are only increasing concerns.

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    Bonucci headlines the five biggest transfers in Serie A this summer


    By Michael Cox
    espnfc.com

    Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus to Milan

    This is unquestionably the most significant move of the European transfer window so far. Bonucci is probably Europe's best ball-playing centre-back, quite possibly the best centre-back in Europe full stop. His decision to leave Juventus after six consecutive Scudettos would have been a huge blow regardless of his destination, but moving to Milan feels particularly significant.

    Milan, after all, have been in the Serie A wilderness recently, with finishes of eighth, 10th, seventh and sixth in the past four seasons. But with new owner Li Yonghong ploughing serious money into the club, new arrivals like Andre Silva, Ricardo Rodriguez, Mateo Musacchio and Hakan Calhanoglu providing genuine excitement and coach Vincenzo Montella among the most promising in Italy, Milan are now a force to be reckoned with once again.

    This almost feels like revenge for Juventus snatching Andrea Pirlo away from them in 2011, with the regista's arrival in Turin, combined with the appointment of Antonio Conte and the move to the new stadium prompting Juve's modern period of dominance. Indeed, just as Max Allegri overlooked Pirlo's brilliance toward the end of his spell at Milan, his relationship souring with Bonucci seems to be the primary reason Juve have lost one of their most dependable performers.

    Curiously, it's arguable that since Pirlo's departure, Bonucci has been the Juventus player who has replicated his role. Although clearly playing in a different position, Bonucci's booming long diagonals have helped to compensate for the absence of Pirlo pulling the strings from deep in midfield. Six years after that transfer, Milan may have found a technical leader who can dictate their play.

    Borja Valero, Fiorentina to Inter

    If Valero played in any other position, or was any other nationality, he would be a regular at the international level. But there never has been a worse time to be a Spanish passing midfielder, and therefore Valero has earned only one cap -- now six years ago. In Italy, however, his playmaking qualities are very much revered.

    Upon his move from Villarreal to Fiorentina five years ago, Valero made an instant impression, dictating the Viola's play from an increasingly advanced midfield role, and being voted into Serie A's Team of the Season in his debut campaign. Since then he has been admirably consistent, and became the most popular Fiorentina player for his off-field antics, constantly posting selfies of him enjoying Florence with his family.



    But with the Della Valle family falling out with supporters and seemingly desperate to sell the club, Fiorentina's prized asset was allowed to leave. "I don't think I was as important to [Fiorentina's directors] as Florence has always been to me."

    Fiorentina's loss is Inter's gain. With the talented but hugely frustrating Ever Banega returning to Sevilla after a year away, Valero now feels like Inter's key midfielder. With the likes of Marcelo Brozovic and Geoffrey Kondogbia providing the defensive security and energy, Valero should be allowed the freedom to slalom forward into attack and create chances.

    Now 32, Valero has been waiting his whole career for a chance at a big club like Inter. Now is his time to shine.

    Douglas Costa, Bayern Munich to Juventus

    As a general rule, Italian clubs don't really do wingers particularly well. Yes, there have been the odd exceptions down the years, but generally Italian sides play narrow in midfield, rely on width from full-back, or push players out of position to the flanks.

    Juventus' run to the Champions League final, with right-back Dani Alves on the right of midfield and centre-forward Mario Mandzukic deployed wide left rather summarized Italian coaches' distrust of natural speedy wingers -- although that shape worked perfectly well for Juventus for most of the campaign. Even Juan Cuadrado often felt like a converted wing-back rather than a true winger.

    Costa, though, is the purest winger around. He can't play at full-back, he'd be uncomfortable up front, he doesn't have the guile to play as a No. 10 for a top club and he'd managed only four goals a season for the past four league seasons. In an era of multidimensional attackers, there's a lot he can't do.

    But wide left or wide right, Costa stretches the play, goes down the outside and whips in devilish crosses. And at this simple, almost old-fashioned skill, Costa might well be the best player in Europe. Few full-backs can cope with his incredible acceleration, and in Italy full-backs simply don't come up against that type of threat regularly. With Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain waiting for crosses in the middle, Costa could prove one of Serie A's star players next season.



    Josip Ilicic, Fiorentina to Atalanta

    Another classy playmaker jumping ship from Fiorentina sees Ilicic moving north to join Atalanta, having previously seemed set for a transfer to Sampdoria.

    Atalanta might suit Ilicic well. They're a club who have often got the best from talented, slightly misunderstood Italian playmakers -- Cristiano Doni, Domenico Morfeo, Giacomo Bonaventura -- and will be prepared to tear up last season's template and construct a side around Ilicic's talents.

    Although primarily an assister, on his day Ilicic can be a major goal-scoring threat. Few Serie A players boast such an explosive left foot. The Slovenian isn't a world-beater, but in the right situation he's capable of dominating his side and running the game. He's in the Gylfi Sigurdsson mould, a player who seems more suited to a midtable club with the entire side based around him, rather than playing for a Champions League challenger where consistency is expected every week.

    That said, Ilicic also thrived at Palermo when playing in the same side as another playmaker, Javier Pastore. If he can strike up a similar relationship with another Argentine, Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta could be one of Serie A's surprise packages.

    Antonio Cassano, Sampdoria to Verona

    For nearly two decades, Antonio Cassano has been among the most entertaining players in Italian football. The absurdly talented, ludicrously lazy and entirely undisciplined creative forward has enjoyed a nomadic career taking in Bari, Roma, Real Madrid, Sampdoria, AC Milan, Inter, Parma, Sampdoria again -- and now joins Verona. After turning 35 last week, this might be Cassano's final chance to remind everyone of his quality.

    A switch to Verona, one of Serie A's more romantic clubs, seems to suit Cassano well in itself -- but the most exciting thing is that Cassano will be linking up with his old pal Giampaolo Pazzini, whom he played alongside at Sampdoria. Their partnership was perhaps the most devastating Serie A has witnessed in recent years, with Cassano playing as an inside-left, drifting inside onto his right foot, and Pazzini playing up front and making clever runs while acting as a traditional target man too. They took Sampdoria to fourth place in 2009-10, and turned the side into among the most exciting in Italy.

    Seven years on, it remains to be seen whether Cassano and Pazzini still boast the requisite quality. Pazzini banged in 23 goals last season, finishing as Serie B's top goal scorer, but the step up to Italy's top division is significant. Cassano, meanwhile, lacks some of his old mobility but still boasts tremendous vision and guile, and is perhaps the closest thing to a true Italian genius in this post-Totti world. Cassano is always unpredictable, but there's a chance he'll give us one final flourish.

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    Kyle Walker sale to Manchester City is bad news for Tottenham

    By Dan Kilpatrick, Tottenham correspondent
    espnfc.com

    Manchester City have completed the signing of Kyle Walker from Tottenham for about £50 million -- a record fee for a defender and an English player.

    Mauricio Pochettino has repeatedly said the club will only sell the players they want to, and on paper, there are reasons to think it is a good deal for Spurs and City.

    Walker was plagued by injury problems in 2014-15 and he was never trusted to play three times in a week by Pochettino thereafter. He is a player who relies on his pace and physique, and at 27, those attributes will have begun to diminish by the end of his five-year contract at City. Plus, Spurs have another England international right-back on the books in Kieran Trippier.



    Spurs have strengthened a rival

    Manchester City finished one place and eight points behind Spurs last season, and the biggest difference between the teams -- aside from calamity keeper Claudio Bravo -- was in defence. In selling Walker, Spurs have weakened themselves and strengthened a rival, helping City to close that gap. The deal also sends out the wrong message; that Spurs are open for business with richer Premier League rivals, even if that is not generally the case.

    Trippier is a downgrade

    There's an ongoing effort to rewrite history by some Spurs fans, who've admirably convinced themselves that Trippier finished last season as first choice. Yes, Trippier started the FA Cup semifinal and the emotional matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, but only after Walker's head had been turned.

    The former Burnley defender has started 11 league games since he joined Spurs and four of those have been against Watford. He's never been first-choice because he is not as good as Walker. Given Pochettino's talent for coaching players, particularly full-backs, Trippier will probably improve, but the rest of the Premier League was terrified of facing Danny Rose and Walker, and it will not be the same now.



    ... And Spurs will struggle to buy an upgrade

    Spurs could, of course, spend all or most of the cash on a new and improved right-back. But whenever Spurs sell a Ferrari, they are quickly ushered into the Audi garage. Any £30-50m full-back will demand wages higher than Spurs can pay (at least until that new stadium is finished) and Walker's replacement will either be a calculated risk -- like 23-year-old never-played-in-England Ricardo Pereira -- or a proven Premier League player who is solid but unspectacular, like Ben Davies or Trippier.

    It will demoralise the squad

    In one respect, footballers are not so very different from supporters: new signings give them a lift. Returning to preseason to find a couple of new and improved players in the squad puts a spring in everyone's step. But returning to find that one of the best players of last season has been sold and no new signings have arrived will leave the Spurs squad a little flat, particularly if they depart for the United States on Wednesday without having made a signing. A low mood at the start of preseason can be difficult to lift.

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    Tiemoue Bakayoko follows Chelsea tradition of smart midfield signings

    By Liam Twomey, Chelsea correspondent
    espnfc.com

    After weeks of difficult negotiations, Chelsea have finally secured the midfield signing Antonio Conte wanted.

    Tiemoue Bakayoko has completed a £40 million move from Monaco, paving the way for Nemanja Matic -- who has been training alone since the Blues players returned to Cobham for preseason training on Monday -- to be sold.

    Bakayoko's price tag makes him the second-most-expensive signing in Chelsea's history, surpassed only by the £50m deal that brought Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge from Liverpool in January 2011 (though Alex Sandro will eclipse both if his reported £61m move from Juventus comes to pass).

    It is also the largest fee that Chelsea have ever paid for a midfielder, beating the £32m paid to acquire fellow France international N'Golo Kante from Leicester City last July. Given that Kante went on to sweep virtually every individual award while propelling the Blues to the Premier League title last season, it's safe to say expectations for Bakayoko at Stamford Bridge will be high.

    Every transfer carries an element of risk, and Bakayoko's body of work at the elite level is smaller than most. He enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence at Monaco last season after two years of being viewed as an unfulfilled talent, and he only earned his first international cap for France in March.

    Yet history suggests that when Chelsea splash out on a central midfielder, they generally know what they are doing. Prior to Kante, the most expensive player ever signed by the Blues in the position was Cesc Fabregas, who joined for £30m from Barcelona in the summer of 2014. The deal looked to be good value the day it was announced and proved to be a bargain.

    Fabregas brought a new level of imagination to the Chelsea midfield and registered 18 assists as Mourinho's men claimed the Premier League title in 2014-15. This season he managed 12 assists, helping the Blues become champions again and bolstering his reputation as one of English football's most impactful players despite starting just 13 matches in the league under Antonio Conte.



    For much of the 2000s, the consistent excellence of Frank Lampard -- widely considered to be overpriced when he arrived from West Ham for £11m in June 2001 -- limited Chelsea's need for marquee midfield reinforcements, but Roman Abramovich made an exception for Michael Essien in the summer of 2005.

    The dynamic Ghana international joined for just over £24m -- making him, at the time, Chelsea's record signing -- and was recognised as one of the finest all-around midfielders in the world in his first four years at Stamford Bridge, winning a Premier League title, two FA Cups and a League Cup before a succession of debilitating knee injuries took their toll, reducing him to a squad player.

    Not all of Chelsea's more lucrative central midfield signings have been unqualified successes, but only Juan Sebastian Veron -- who signed from Manchester United for £15m in 2003 and made just 15 largely underwhelming appearances for the Blues -- can be classed as a genuine failure.

    Ramires, signed from Benfica for £18m in the summer of 2010, has one of the more interesting Chelsea legacies. Despite frequently exasperating fans with his inconsistent first touch and impetuous tackling, he will always enjoy hero status at Stamford Bridge because of his sensational lob at Camp Nou against Barcelona on the Blues' miraculous run to Champions League glory in 2012.

    In truth, the Brazilian was never reliable enough to be a key cog in the best Chelsea teams of the Abramovich era, and he fell out of favour when Mourinho returned the club to Premier League title-winning form in 2014-15. Yet he still left Stamford Bridge having won every major domestic and European trophy.

    Matic returned to west London for £21m at the insistence of Mourinho in January 2014, and quickly emerged as the midfield destroyer Chelsea had been sorely lacking since the decline of Claude Makelele. Matic's partnership with Fabregas appeared perfectly balanced and propelled the Blues to the title in his first full season at Stamford Bridge.

    His second was a disaster. Few players declined more drastically than Matic did in Mourinho's torrid final months, and only the presence of Kante this season has seen the Serb regain a measure of his old confidence -- though he has never quite rediscovered the performance levels of his first 18 months.

    This is why Chelsea are open to a £40m deal for Matic who, at 28, is unlikely to improve further (though it is possible that United's successful hijacking of Romelu Lukaku has eliminated Old Trafford as a potential destination). Similar value was extracted for Ramires when it became clear that his time at Stamford Bridge was at an end, with Jiangsu Suning persuaded to pay £25m for his services in January 2016.

    Bakayoko's status as Chelsea's most-expensive-ever midfielder is more indicative of transfer market forces than anything else. In this hyper-inflated window, £40m for a 22-year-old does not look like bad value, and the Blues will regard him as a smart investment regardless of whether he fulfills every inch of his potential.

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    Alvaro Morata: Chelsea's Antonio Conte 'has placed the most faith in me'

    By Michael Cantillon
    espnfc.com

    Alvaro Morata has said that he is joining Chelsea because Antonio Conte is the manager who has put "the most faith" in him in his career so far.

    Morata, 24, is on the verge of joining the Premier League champions from Real Madrid after they confirmed on Wednesday that a deal had been agreed for him to move.

    The striker, who notched 20 goals for Madrid in all competitions last season, all but confirmed the transfer late on Wednesday night and also spoke in glowing terms of Conte ahead of the proposed move.

    "I've already spoken to Conte," Morata told AS. "I'm going to the team managed by the coach who has placed the most faith in me, and that's great for me.

    "I'm not disappointed [at how my return to Madrid went]. I've won four titles here, among those my second Champions League with Madrid but now I only think of putting on the Chelsea shirt.

    "Thank you very much to all the Madridistas who have supported me. I will always wish the best to Madrid."



    Born in Madrid, Morata progressed through Los Blancos' academy and made his first-team debut in December 2010, before joining Juventus in the summer of 2014 for £17.5 million.

    In June 2016, Real Madrid exercised a buy-back clause to bring Morata back from Juventus for £26.2m, but the forward struggled for regular playing time.

    Morata had been a target of Manchester United earlier in the window, before they signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton instead.

    "It has been quite a strange summer for me. Many things have happened," Morata added. "In the end tomorrow I am joining a club who have wanted me for many years, with a boss with whom I have spoken constantly, so I am very happy. I have been giving everything in training to be ready for whatever happened.

    "But I was clear that this [exit] was my objective. It is a pity to leave Madrid, but I hope it all goes well for me at Chelsea."

    Asked if he could envisage returning to Madrid for a third spell, Morata said: "A third time would be difficult. At the moment I am not thinking about that.

    "My only thought is to get there as quickly as possible, pass the medical and put on my new jersey.

    "I have spoken with [Cesar] Azpilicueta, also with Fernando Torres who told me he would help me out with whatever was needed."

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    Default Re: The Official TCSS Thread

    Barcelona star Neymar agrees terms with Paris Saint-Germain - source

    By Jonathan Johnson, PSG Correspondent
    espnfc.com

    Barcelona forward Neymar has now told Paris Saint-Germain he wants to move to the Parc des Princes and agreed terms on a contract, a source close to the French club has told ESPN FC.

    His decision means PSG can now push forward with their plans to trigger the Brazil international's €222 million buyout clause.

    The source said Neymar and his father, who has been in discussions with PSG's ambitious Qatari owners and sporting director Antero Henrique for the past few days, have agreed to a massive contract at least four years in length.

    If the 25-year-old ends up in Paris, he will be earning approximately €30m a year after taxes and will also be handed an astronomic signing on fee in excess of his net annual sum.

    On top of those earnings and significant bonuses, the source indicated Neymar and his father will also profit from a number of club owners Oryx Qatar Sports Investments' other commercial ventures in Paris and away from the world of football.

    According to French newspaper Le Parisien, Barca's No. 11 -- who is currently in the United States with Ernesto Valverde's men for preseason -- has already told some of his current teammates that he is leaving for PSG.



    The ESPN FC source indicated that the biggest remaining question is no longer whether or not Neymar is willing to swap Camp Nou for Parc des Princes but how the capital outfit finance what would be a world-record fee.

    PSG's transfer budget at the start of the summer was €220m, all within the framework of UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) rules.

    However, after the signings of Dani Alves and Yuri Berchiche, the French club's ability to finance Neymar's proposed salary has been questioned.

    Although the sale of Jean-Kevin Augustin effectively cancelled out the signatures of Alves and Berchiche in terms of transfer fees -- €13m spent and then recouped -- players including Serge Aurier, Hatem Ben Arfa, Grzegorz Krychowiak need to be moved on to create sufficient space on the wage bill.

    According to the source, a number of methods to complete the Neymar deal are being considered, with almost all of them concerning third parties -- notably player and club sponsors Nike. The club know that when they make their move, they must meet the player's release clause.

    If successful, though, PSG's summer business would not end there. Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez remains a target, while the defence could be boosted by Estudiantes' Juan Foyth, and Henrique is still very keen on luring Monaco's Fabinho to Paris to restructure the midfield.

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    Default Re: The Official TCSS Thread

    Danilo seals Manchester City move from Real Madrid

    espnfc.com

    Manchester City have announced the signing of defender Danilo from Real Madrid for a reported fee of £26.5 million.

    Brazil international Danilo, 26, has agreed a five-year contract with City and joins subject to a work permit.

    Sources told ESPN FC in recent days that Chelsea had also been interested but Danilo told City's official website: "I am very, very happy to be joining Manchester City. There has been strong interest from other clubs, but it has always been my ambition to play for Pep Guardiola.

    "As soon as I heard of his interest, I knew immediately I wanted to be a City player. I can't wait to get started and I'm looking forward to getting to know my new teammates over the coming weeks."

    City director of football Txiki Begiristain added: "Danilo is a fine player who offers great versatility to our squad. He can operate in several different roles in both defence and midfield, increasing Pep's options ahead of the new season.

    "We feel he has all the attributes needed to succeed at City and we look forward to helping him develop during his time here."

    Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had confirmed on Saturday that Danilo, who plays predominantly at right-back, would be leaving the club.

    City have already brought in England right-back Kyle Walker from Tottenham Hotspur for a fee worth up to £50m, and sources have told ESPN FC they have agreed to pay Monaco £52m for left-back Benjamin Mendy.

    Guardiola allowed full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy to leave on free transfers at the end of last season while Aleksandar Kolarov has joined Roma.

    City are set to bring in an extra central defender as cover after allowing Kolarov to leave, sources have told ESPN FC.

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    Default Re: The Official TCSS Thread

    Man City complete signing of left-back Benjamin Mendy from Monaco

    espnfc.com

    Manchester City have signed Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy from Monaco, both clubs have confirmed.

    Neither club disclosed the fee, but sources told ESPN FC at the weekend that the deal could be worth up to £52 million.

    "I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City," Mendy told City's official website. "They are one of Europe's leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football.

    "I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful."

    Txiki Begiristain, City's director of football, added: "Benjamin has all the qualities we are looking for in a full-back. For such a young player, he has a wealth of top-level experience.

    "He is undoubtedly one of the world's best full-backs, our No. 1 target in this position. We are all delighted to have him here at Manchester City.

    "I'm sure he will prove a fantastic addition to the squad."

    The 23-year-old left-back was a top target for Guardiola, who wanted to bring three new full-backs to the Etihad this summer after allowing Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy to leave at the end of last season when their contracts expired.

    City signed former Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker for a fee that could potentially exceed £50m as well as Danilo from Real Madrid, and Mendy's arrival fills an opening on the left side of City's defence.

    Premier League champions Chelsea had also been linked to a move for the France international.

    The former Marseille man spent just one season at Monaco, playing 25 games and providing five assists in the club's Ligue 1 title-winning campaign last term.

    He supplied a further four assists in the Champions League, where he helped the principality side to the semifinals before bowing out to runners-up Juventus.

    Mendy, who began his career at Le Havre, was a youth international at U17, U18, U19 and U21 level for France.

    His Monaco contract was set to run until the summer of 2021.

  20. #14260
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    Default Re: The Official TCSS Thread

    Inter Milan's Geoffrey Kondogbia scored an amazing long shot own goal vs Chelsea in Singapore!


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