Monday Musings

Ronaldo, Donnarumma don't have "player power" as clubs still in charge

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 09:22:00 PDT

Gab Marcotti assesses Cristiano Ronaldo's future at Real and the theories regarding his reasons for wanting to leave. ESPN FC's Mark Ogden addresses the latest news on Cristiano Ronaldo and looks ahead to his upcoming press availability. The FC panel remark on the continued rumours of Ronaldo's exit from Madrid, and if that means Mbappe would fill his place. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez says you must presume Ronaldo is innocent following tax evasion reports. This may be remembered as the summer of player power. Cristiano Ronaldo, speaking via his minions, says he has made an "irrevocable" decision to leave Spain and Real Madrid. Gianluigi Donnarumma, who only became old enough to legally buy alcohol in Europe last February, turns down a contract extension that would have made him one of the highest-paid goalkeepers in the world. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil sit tight as their contracts tick down towards free agency at Arsenal. Marco Verratti's...

Confederations Cup is more than just a World Cup warm-up

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 06:04:00 PDT

The FC crew discuss their thoughts on the Confederations Cup and a a possible replacement played by club teams. The guys answer your tweets on Man City's shaky defence, Lindelof's skill ceiling, and the Confederation Cup's importance. John Sutcliffe details Mexico's ambitions for a strong Confederations Cup start ahead of their clash against Portugal. Ange Postecoglu says while it may sound ridiculous, Australia have their sights set on winning Confederations Cup. Portugal's head coach Fernando Santos believes Portugal are determined to win the Confederations Cup to prove they're the best in the world. MOSCOW -- The Confederations Cup is routinely referred to as a warm-up for the World Cup. It's not inaccurate, of course, but it's also not exactly a summer invitational either. Unless you're the host nation, you have to qualify for the event by winning your continental competition, or the World Cup itself. Which means getting here is tougher than qualifying for a World Cup. Much tougher, in fact. (Unless you hail from Oceania, in which case it's easier, because you don't have to go through a playoff...

With 365 days to go, 2018 World Cup faces an uphill, but winnable, battle

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 01:51:00 PDT

Shaka Hislop reveals an international edition of his power rankings, listing the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup. The hype and excitement surrounding the 2018 World Cup hasn't yet started. Are we excited for it? MOSCOW -- In some ways, it's sneaking up on us. Russia 2018 is a year away, yet it feels almost subdued relative to the hype and anticipation ahead of the previous two World Cups. A clear narrative for 2018 has not emerged. In 2010, you had Africa's first-ever World Cup and a nation bouncing back from the ravages of racism and apartheid. Four years later in Brazil, it was about an economic boom and a World Cup coming home to the country that most defines it -- 64 years after hearts were broken...

Can anyone topple Real Madrid? Man Utd, Juventus, Chelsea have a chance

Thu, 8 Jun 2017 08:07:00 PDT

Sid Lowe firmly believes Barca have a desire to acquire Hector Bellerin, but thinks he isn't their top priority this summer. Sid Lowe discusses the much sought-after Kylian Mbappe and where he would fit in Real's lineup. With Bayern Munich thought to be bidding on Sanchez, Sid Lowe reveals that Man City may now throw their hat in the ring. Last week, Real Madrid won their third Champions League of the past four seasons. They're also the defending Liga champions and an economic juggernaut that boasts one of the two best players in the world (and a gaggle of superstars beyond him), as well as a manager who thus far has barely put a foot wrong and who seems tailor-made for them. So if those are the ingredients for a dynasty, who is best placed to unseat them? Take this exercise for what it is: a bit of crystal ball juggling. And...

Zidane proves he's perfect for Real right now, Wenger's big risk, Inter mess

Mon, 5 Jun 2017 07:50:00 PDT

The FC crew react to Cristiano Ronaldo's comments saying his critics have to 'put their guitar back in its case.' When Zinedine Zidane was appointed to replace Rafa Benitez back in January 2016, plenty were skeptical -- including yours truly. Boy, were we wrong. His first 17 months at the helm of the club have been close to unparalleled, and any concerns over his experience and personality have been blown away. What about his lack of experience? Fact is, Real Madrid -- especially this Madrid -- is so different from any other club that a long track record elsewhere isn't quite as relevant. Far more important...

Real Madrid look to confirm dynasty status with Juve standing in their way

Thu, 1 Jun 2017 09:43:00 PDT

ESPN FC's writers and experts, USWNT star Alex Morgan and two NBA stars make their picks for the Champions League final. Sid Lowe believes Real Madrid will enter the Champions League final with more confidence than they did in 2014 or 2016. Gab Marcotti and Stewart Robson run through their individual battles to watch when Juventus and Real Madrid clash. Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero evaluates the success of former teammate Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid's manager. The FC crew debate Cristiano Ronaldo's remarks that Madrid shouldn't show humility, and believe they're the UCL favourites. CARDIFF, Wales -- Dynasties are cyclical. Right up until the 1990s, Real Madrid prided themselves on having won more European Cups (six) than any other club. While it is true, their rivals could always snort and cruelly point out that all of that happened "in black and white" -- meaning it was a long time ago, belonging to the age of sepia-tone newsreels. Indeed, 32 years passed between 1966 and 1998 when the club appeared in just one final (1981), which they lost. But Real Madrid won it three times...

Why sponsors find Pogba hard to resist even after humdrum season

Tue, 30 May 2017 04:55:00 PDT

As the world's most expensive player, Paul Pogba's return to Man United has been anything but sunshine and rainbows. When Paul Pogba -- who ranks No. 40 on ESPN's World Fame 100 -- moved from Juventus, five-time consecutive champions of Italy's Serie A, to Manchester United, the most successful English club in the Premier League era, it followed a familiar miniseries pattern. You knew where the narrative was going. You knew how it was going to end. And yet you could not take your eyes off it. From the incessant hype that accompanied him as the star player for the host nation, France, at the European Championships...

Arsenal pendulum swings, farewell Totti, Messi magic, Tuchel future, more

Mon, 29 May 2017 08:46:00 PDT

Steve Nicol looks at the saga of Arsene Wenger's future, and his belief that he'll walk should he lose any personal power. Arsene Wenger guided Arsenal past Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup final. It finished 2-1, although in truth Arsenal could probably have scored more. The Gunners finished the season with six straight victories in all competitions, winning nine of their last 10 overall. What to read into this? Probably not that much other than the basic fact that for all the bile and invective thrown at some Arsenal players, on the day they can turn up and play and be pretty darn good. And when it comes to fight...

Jose Mourinho's 'spin' doesn't hide the hard work ahead for Man United

Thu, 25 May 2017 07:16:00 PDT

The conversation gets heated among the FC guys when talking about whether this season can be considered a success by Man United standards. Rafa Benitez famously commented that "Football is a lie." I wouldn't go quite that far, but it's pretty obvious to me that so much of the game is "spin." Often, the very same event, viewed from different perspectives, can be read and defined in so many ways. Watching Jose Mourinho after Man United won the Europa League drove the point home. It felt as if he was an actor in someone else's play. I don't mean it in a negative way, either. He has little choice. We like very simple, black-and-white...

Zidane guides Real to La Liga glory, Allegri's Juve win again, Terry's sendoff

Mon, 22 May 2017 08:41:00 PDT

The ESPN FC crew hail Zinedine Zidane for his part in bringing Real Madrid back to the summit in La Liga. There was no last day miracle, no "Tenerifazo" like a quarter-century ago when Real Madrid contrived to blow the title 90 minutes from the finish line. What you got instead was an early lead to settle the nerves, some great goalkeeping from Keylor Navas, and Karim Benzema putting the title out of reach by giving Real Madrid their 2-0 lead in the second half. The victory away to Malaga sealed the club's 33rd league title, although only the club's second since 2008. Whether this reflects shifting...

Antonio Conte reveals a calmer, cooler side in guiding Chelsea to the title

Wed, 17 May 2017 12:37:00 PDT

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley praises the work of Antonio Conte in taking the club to the Premier League title. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte says switching his defensive formation was the catalyst for their title triumph. Hiring a new manager isn't entirely dissimilar to making a commitment to a significant other. You know it might not last forever. You know you might not be the one who gets to decide when it ends. Most of all, while you hope that the bad will be far outweighed by the good, you know that there will be a whole load of cons. There always are. It was no different for Chelsea when they made Antonio Conte their top target over the holiday period between December 2015 and January 2016. They thought he...

Chelsea, Antonio Conte's remarkable title, Roma rout Juve, Ronaldo hits 400

Mon, 15 May 2017 08:26:00 PDT

Former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley praises the work of Antonio Conte in taking the club to the Premier League title. It's done. Chelsea are Premier League champions and given that it happened on Friday, it seems like old news. But in Antonio Conte's world, there's no time to reflect. Instead, it's onward to the next challenge (the FA Cup final), a new contract and then the summer transfer session, which will supposedly see some serious cash splashed. That doesn't mean it's not worth reflecting briefly on what this group has achieved. With two home games left -- Monday vs. Watford and next Sunday against...

Juventus -- fix it even if it ain't broke

Wed, 10 May 2017 08:36:00 PDT

After dispatching Monaco comfortably, the FC panel assess if Juve are favourites to claim the UCL crown in the final. You have to go all the way back to Chelsea in 2012 -- five years and five managers ago -- to find a Champions League winner that has changed more than Juve have in the past two seasons. Well-run clubs never need to rebuild; they simply reload. It's an old maxim and it's generally true. If you're a dominant side, you maintain that dominance through continuous small changes rather than periodic blow-ups. Get the small changes right and you won't need to rebuild. But for every rule, there's a counterargument:...

Arsenal won but Mourinho becomes the big story, Real's "B Team," more

Mon, 8 May 2017 09:24:00 PDT

After Man United's defeat at Arsenal, the FC crew lambaste Jose Mourinho for his excuses about his side's shortcomings. Jamie Redknapp, speaking early in the second half, described Arsenal's 2-0 clash with Manchester United on Sunday as "putrid." That may have been a bit over the top from the ex-pro turned analyst, but the match was a surreal spectacle, particularly when compared to past clashes between these two sides (not to mention these two managers). Part of it was their respective league positions. Part of it was the fact that you had one team that's not particularly good taking on another team whose manager...

Marcelo, Dani Alves continue to redefine full-back role for Real, Juve

Thu, 4 May 2017 07:11:00 PDT

Gab Marcotti reveals his two reasons why Barcelona let Dani Alves leave as the Brazilian continues to shine for Juventus. Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves teamed up twice for spectacular goals as Monaco are left in a big hole heading in to leg 2. Craig Burley breaks down the defensive lapses that lead to Juventus' two goals against Monaco in the Champions League. Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe there is no deeper tactical significance. Maybe they aren't a dying breed but rather a one-off. Maybe they're just two hugely gifted Brazilian full-backs who interpret the game in their own unique way. The fact that, for many years, they were teammates with the Selecao and rivals on the pitch is just another wrinkle. I honestly don't know. I just find Marcelo and Dani Alves hugely compelling. And the fact that within the space of 26 hours, each played a key role...

Tottenham's superb season, gauging Bayern's success, Real Madrid's secret

Mon, 1 May 2017 09:15:00 PDT

ESPN FC's Stewart Robson critiques Arsene Wenger's tactics in Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Tottenham. It was the perfect way to celebrate the demise of St. Totteringham's Day, that moment in the season (usually in the spring) when Arsenal are so far ahead of Tottenham that they can't be caught. Well, there will be no St. Totteringham's Day this season, and Spurs fans got confirmation of this in the most satisfying ways: beating Arsenal 2-0 and in the final North London Derby at White Hart Lane, no less. By switching to the 3-4-2-1 a few weeks ago, Arsene Wenger may have shown that he is not...

UK arrests at football clubs is hopefully start of genuine change, transparency

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:38:00 PDT

Soccer has long been a sport in need of transparency. Will some be forthcoming? Is something finally happening? Are they actually getting off their rear ends? Clubs in France and England, including West Ham and Newcastle United, newly promoted to the Premier League, woke up this morning to raids from tax authorities. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said in a statement that "several" men working in "professional football" have been arrested for suspected tax fraud. We don't know the details, so there's no point in speculating right now about who and why and what...

Lionel Messi's Clasico for the ages, Arsenal surprise us, Inter in trouble

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 07:03:00 PDT

The FC crew debate if Lionel Messi truly is the greatest footballer to ever play. Sometimes they live up to the hype. Sometimes they surpass it. From the neutral's perspective, Sunday night's Clasico took it to another level. No matchup in the world has as much talent on the pitch even with Neymar missing and Gareth Bale succumbing to injury after just more than half an hour, and few have had as much drama, individual displays of talent, handbrake turns in the narrative and end-to-end excitement as what we witnessed. And, as far as Lionel Messi is concerned, we've had the...

Mistake-filled Madrid vs. Bayern tie a prime example of why VAR is needed

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 07:23:00 PDT

Paul Mariner is fully supportive of VAR amid the refereeing controversy surrounding Real and Bayern's quarterfinal 2nd leg. The black mark of Madrid's stunning win over Bayern, were the many refereeing gaffes, which the FC crew dissect fervently. We really ought to be discussing 210 minutes of captivating football between arguably the two best teams in the world. Instead, the aftermath of Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich has been dominated by talk of the match officials and their decisions. With it is the usual talk of conspiracies and it's not just fans and media fanning the flames: Two World Cup-winning teammates, separated by the age-old Barcelona-Madrid divide, have been going at it as well. Moments after Cristiano Ronaldo's goal to make...

Mourinho gets it right, Conte gets it wrong; drama in Milan; Messi, Isco star

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 08:56:00 PDT

Jose Mourinho made it seem like it was no big deal. It was, he said, pretty much the same game plan that Manchester United used against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup last month, and had that quarterfinal tie remained 11 vs. 11 -- Ander Herrera was sent off in the first half -- he was "totally convinced" that it would also have resulted in victory, just as it did on Sunday when his side beat the Premier League leaders 2-0. In fact, though, it was a big deal. Mourinho left out the likes...

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