European Football, Football, Italian Football, Serie A

Ten young players to look out for in Serie A this season

Juventus, Marko Pjaca firma del contratto

Juventus beat AC Milan to the signature of Croatian winger Marko Pjaca and the 21-year-old could play a big part in the Bianconeri‘s success this year

Sergej Milinković-Savić (21), Lazio

After spurning the advances of Fiorentina in favour of a move to Lazio last summer, the pressure was immediately on Milinković-Savić. The 21-year-old was in and out of the side under Stefano Pioli but will be looking to become a regular under Simone Inzaghi. As a box-to-box midfielder, the Serbian showed his talent alongside fellow youngster Danilo Cataldi and has given the Biancocelesti fans a lot of reason to be optimistic for the season ahead.

Adalberto Peñaranda (19), Udinese (on loan from Watford)

As part of the partnership between Watford and Udinese, Peñaranda has joined the Zebrette to help fill the void of Antonio Di Natale. In a notably younger Udinese side, the Venezuelan will be looking to carry on his fantastic form from the second half of last season as he helped Granada avoid the drop. With five goals and three assists from 23 La Liga appearances, the 19-year-old will be looking to build on that record under Beppe Iachini.

Adalberto Penaranda

Stefano Sensi (21), Sassuolo

Sassuolo were able to beat Juventus to the signing of Stefano Sensi from Cesena in January, but immediately loaned the midfielder back to the Serie B outfit. The 21-year-old joined up with the Neroverdi squad this summer and has looked very sharp in pre-season, playing in the regista role. Since their promotion to Serie A in 2013, Sassuolo have been notorious for bringing through young players – particularly Italian ones – and Sensi looks like being the next player on the ever-growing list of future stars.

Federico Dimarco (18), Empoli (on loan from Inter)

The Inter left-back had a loan spell at Ascoli in January and looked solid as he got his first taste of professional football. The Nerazzurri will now be hoping that he can take the next step at Empoli, a hotbed for young talents in the past few years, with Piotr Zieliński, Riccardo Saponara, Elseid Hysaj and Lorenzo Tonelli all having thrived at the Tuscan club since their promotion to Serie A in 2013-14 under Maurizio Sarri. However, the 18-year-old will have to do a little more to impress new head coach Giovanni Martusciello as he has opted for the experienced Manuel Pasqual at left-back in pre-season.

M’Baye Niang (21), AC Milan

The Frenchman showed signs of his potential last season, scoring five goals and assisting four in an injury-hit campaign, but could be set for a breakout season in 2016-17. Niang joined Milan in 2012 and has been a source for frustration at times, but since a loan spell at Genoa, the 21-year-old has looked confident and assured. Ahead of Vincenzo Montella’s debut season in charge of the Rossoneri, he will be hoping that Niang can form a formidable partnership with Carlos Bacca as Milan look to end a three-year exile from European football.

M'Baye Niang.jpeg

Kevin Diks (19), Fiorentina

Signed from Vitesse in July, Kevin Diks is an example of Fiorentina’s new transfer strategy under sporting director Pantaleo Corvino. The 66-year-old stated that La Viola would now look at signing young players with a lot of potential, hoping to develop them for the first team. Diks fits that description perfectly and Paulo Sousa should push the 19-year-old Dutchman to the next level. He was signed for around €2.5 million and could play at right-back in a four-man system, or he could play as a right wing-back in a three-man defence. Regardless of which system he is in, Diks will no doubt thrive under Sousa.

Marko Pjaca (21), Juventus

There was a tug-of-war over the signature of Marko Pjaca this summer, with both AC Milan and Juventus keen to secure the Croatian winger. With his performances at Euro 2016, the 21-year-old attracted a lot of interest and that resulted in the Bianconeri paying €23 million for his services. Though it will be tough for Pjaca to hold down a place in Massimiliano Allegri’s first team, he will be hoping that he can play a part in Juventus’ aims of retaining their domestic trophies, along with making a deep run in the Champions League. Fans of Celtic will remember Pjaca for a hat-trick he scored against them for Dinamo Zagreb.

Ádám Nagy (21), Bologna

In one of the more understated transfers of the summer, Hungary’s diminutive regista Ádám Nagy joined Bologna from Ferencváros. There is no doubt that they signed the 21-year-old to replace the exciting Amadou Diawara, who has been strongly linked with a move to Roma and Napoli. It will be the job of Nagy to sit in front of the back four and intercept passes in behind, while also being smart in possession. Alongside Godfred Donsah and Saphir Taïder in midfield, the Hungarian will be fun to watch.

Adam Nagy

Gerson (19), Roma

Roma fought off plenty of competition from some of Europe’s biggest sides to sign Brazilian playmaker Gerson from Fluminense in January, loaning him back until the summer, and he could be a valuable asset for head coach Luciano Spalletti. He joined the club on their pre-season tour of the USA and showed glimpses of what he has to offer. Able to play central midfield, behind the striker or as an attacking winger, the 19-year-old should find a way to contribute to the Giallorossi’s success in this upcoming campaign.

Nicola Murru (21), Cagliari

As the only member on this list from a promoted side, Nicola Murru’s main aim will be ensuring that Cagliari remain in Serie A. The Rossoblu waltzed to promotion, winning the division, and Murru was a constant presence in the side. The last time that Cagliari were in Italy’s top division, the preferred option at left-back was Danilo Avelar, but that will not be the case under Massimo Rastelli. Along with the additions of Bruno Alves and Mauricio Isla in defence, Cagliari’s back line will be a key asset in determining their safety this year.

 

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European Football, Football, La Liga, Spanish Football

Ten young players to look out for in La Liga this season

Santi Mina

Valencia have lost some key players this summer, but that could lead to more game time for their exciting 20-year-old attacker Santi Mina

Pione Sisto (21), Celta de Vigo

In one of the more surprising transfers of the summer, the much-wanted Pione Sisto joined Celta de Vigo from FC Midtjylland for a fee rumoured to be €5 million. For Manchester United fans, they will no doubt remember Sisto for tearing their defence apart in both of their Europa League fixtures last season, and the 21-year-old will be hoping to surprise some of the bigger sides in La Liga as well. Celta lost Nolito to United’s neighbours, Manchester City, this summer but with a plethora of young attacking options, they have certainly added to their riches by signing the Dane. Sisto is definitely a name to watch this season.

Marco Asensio (20), Real Madrid

Deemed not ready for the Real Madrid first team, Marco Asensio spent last season on loan at Espanyol. The 20-year-old made 33 starts for Los Periquitos, racking up 11 assists and four goals as they escaped danger to finish 13th. Since his return to Real Madrid this summer, Asensio has reportedly impressed Zinedine Zidane and was given a start in the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla, where he scored an absolute beauty. Currently Asensio has to battle with James Rodríguez and Isco Alarcón for minutes, but there are reports that Isco could make way for Asensio’s place in the squad before the end of the transfer window.

Asensio

Jorge Meré (19), Sporting de Gijón

With the departure of Luis Hernández to Leicester and Bernardo Espinosa to Middlesbrough, Jorge Meré is set for a big season at Sporting. There has been a lot of hype around Meré for a few years now, but it is obvious to see why. Along with Jesús Vallejo (who has recently joined Eintracht Frankfurt on loan from Real Madrid) and Atlético de Madrid pair Lucas Hernández and José Giménez, the 19-year-old is one of La Liga’s most promising defenders. He made 24 starts in Sporting’s first season back in the top division and will no doubt play a pivotal part in their success in this upcoming campaign.

Pablo Fornals (20), Málaga

Fornals made his debut for Málaga away to Real Madrid last September and the 20-year-old became an important player for former head coach Javi Gracia. With 27 appearances in La Liga, of which 12 were starts, Fornals was able to show the Málaga fans what he is capable of. The next step for the midfielder is to impress new head coach Juande Ramos, with the aim of holding down a regular place in the starting line-up. The Spaniard joins a list of notable Málaga academy graduates, with Samu Castillejo, Samu García, Sergi Darder and Juanmi all progressing to the first team in recent years.

Mikel Oyarzabal (19), Real Sociedad

Following David Moyes’ acrimonious stint in charge of La Real, one of his successor’s best decisions was giving an opportunity to Mikel Oyarzabal. The left-winger was fantastic and made 16 starts in La Liga, scoring six goals and providing one assist. Since the departure of Antoine Griezmann in 2014 and the inconsistency of Carlos Vela, Real Sociedad’s fans will be ecstatic that one of their academy products can look so comfortable at such a young age. The hope will now be that the 19-year-old can help lead the club back to European football.

Mikel Oyarzabal

Charly Musonda (19), Real Betis (on loan from Chelsea)

Musonda was the youthful spark in an ageing Betis side after joining on loan from Chelsea in January, and he has now renewed that loan for another season. With both Pepe Mel and Juan Merino during their respective spells as head coach, the 19-year-old looked very impressive, but could take yet another step forward under Gus Poyet. Though Rubén Castro and Joaquín Sánchez remain, Los Verdiblancos now have a much younger looking side and can look forward to the prospect of Musonda being paired with the very promising Dani Ceballos (see further down) and Villarreal loanee Nahuel Leiva.

Marc Roca (19), RCD Espanyol

After coming through Espanyol’s youth academy and performing well in the club’s B team last season, Marc Roca made his debut for Los Periquitos in a friendly against Utrecht. The 19-year-old looked assured and calm in possession, and that led to new head coach Quique Sánchez Flores placing a lot of faith in Roca for the remainder of pre-season. Over the course of this upcoming campaign, Roca will be looking to break into the Espanyol first team and hold down a place as the club look to secure Europa League football.

Dani Ceballos (20), Real Betis

The Seville-born playmaker only turned 20 in early August and showed just why there was so much hype around him entering last season. With an ability to evade defenders and with a final ball to match, Ceballos will be looking to build on a very impressive debut season in La Liga.  However, he did display moments of immaturity, such as mocking Juan Cala – once of rivals Sevilla – after Getafe’s relegation to the Segunda División. Poyet will be hoping that Ceballos can begin to show more maturity and become a real leader for Betis.

Dani Ceballos

Santi Mina (20), Valencia

The future of Valencia is hard to predict after the departure of André Gomes, who could soon be followed by Shkodran Mustafi and Paco Alcácer, but Santi Mina is one player that could bring some joy to the notoriously tough Mestalla crowd. The 20-year-old was signed for €10 million from Celta last summer, but was unable to seal a regular place in the line-up under Nuno, Gary Neville and then Pako Ayestarán. Nevertheless, there are high hopes that the young Spaniard can take the next step and become a key player for Los Che as they look to bounce back from a disappointing season.

Adrián Marín (19), Leganés (on loan from Villarreal)

As Villarreal finished 4th in La Liga, Adrián Marín made a total of 11 appearances and looked very promising at left-back. However, in order to get more game time, the Yellow Submarine have loaned the 19-year-old to newly-promoted Leganés, who finished 2nd in the Segunda División last season. Marín will be the youngest member of a youthful defence that will be aiming to defy the odds and remain in Spain’s top division, despite many tipping the Pepineros to make an immediate return to the second tier.

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European Football, Football, La Liga, Spanish Football

Espanyol ready to take the next step under Quique Sánchez Flores

Quique

As the curtain came down on the 2015-16 season, there was certainly the feeling that change was coming to RCD Espanyol. The head coach went, many of the fringe players soon followed, and the club became very active in the transfer window. Arguably the biggest signing, however, has been the appointment of Quique Sánchez Flores as head coach.

Sergio González began last season as head coach but was sacked just before Christmas. His replacement, Constantin Gâlcă, won just one game from his opening nine fixtures, yet the Romanian was able to guide the team to a 13th-placed finish. Under Gâlcă, the team lacked an identity and often relied on individual brilliance to win games. Ultimately, that was enough.

Espanyol’s new owner Chen Yansheng has made it clear that within three years, he would like to see his club in the Champions League. Simply doing ‘enough’, therefore, will not cut it. As a result, the appointment of a Europa League winner in Quique Sánchez Flores is a big step forward. Not only does this show the direction of the club, but it also shows that the 51-year-old has bought into the project.

Heading into the summer transfer window, €13.5 million was the highest total amount spent in one window by the club, back in 2005. That was on Eduardo Costa (€4m), Pablo Zabaleta (€3.5m), Albert Riera (€3m) and Luis García (€3m). The season didn’t go so well, however, as Ferran Corominas’ 91st minute goal against Real Sociedad at Montjuïc ensured that Espanyol only just avoided relegation.

Since then, times have been tough for Barcelona’s other club. In the past 12 years, €68.8 million has been spent on 91 players, most of whom were cheap recruits from the Segunda División. Times, however, appear to be changing.

Espanyol have spent €10.7 million on seven players, with most of whom arriving with a plethora of experience. Roberto Jiménez returned to Spain from Olympiakos (€3m), and José Manuel Jurado also returned home from Watford (€1m). Manchester City centre-back Martín Demichelis comes back for a second spell in Spain (€0), while José Antonio Reyes (€0), Léo Baptistão (€3.5m), Javi Fuego (€3m) and Pablo Piatti (€0.2 loan fee, €1.3m to buy) have all arrived at the RCDE Stadium.

Arguably the biggest factor of these signings is that most have arrived from big clubs. Reyes arrived from Sevilla, Baptistão joined from Atlético de Madrid, and the duo of Fuego and Piatti came from Valencia. For a side who last summer signed a handful of free agents and loanees, only spending money on the return of Gerard Moreno, this is a big step forward.

The next step is bedding all of these players together, while retaining a good playing style. If pre-season is anything to go by, Flores is doing an outstanding job. On Espanyol’s trip to the Netherlands and to England, Los Blanquiazules drew to FC Utrecht and beat Excelsior Rotterdam, and then drew to Southampton and beat Everton. On Saturday evening, they also drew 2-2 against Italian champions Juventus. Two of the biggest revelations from pre-season were a couple of the club’s youth players, Marc Roca and Aarón Martín.

Roca made his Espanyol debut in the friendly against Utrecht and was given plenty of playing time by Flores. A tall midfielder, the 19-year-old is elegant and has a fantastic vision of the pitch, spraying long-range passes in a similar fashion to Bayern Munich’s Xabi Alonso. Aarón, meanwhile, is also 19 and is following in the footsteps of Rubén Duarte at left-back. Though he featured less prominently than Roca, he provides further evidence that all is well in the youth academy of Espanyol.

Though the 4-2-3-1 formation was used for much of the pre-season, the 4-4-2 looked the most deadly. With one up top, Baptistão would lead the line. However, when Flores played two forwards, Baptistão would be joined by last season’s top goalscorer, Felipe Caicedo. By bringing the Ecuadorian into the side, that took away the role of the number 10, often resulting in either Reyes or Jurado making way. In the final pre-season fixture against Juventus, however, Flores went with one striker, perhaps an indication of the formation he will use in Espanyol’s opener away at Sevilla on Saturday evening.

For this upcoming season, the target has to be Europa League football. The wealth of experience and optimism now at the club mean that anything less would be a disappointment. Plus, if Flores’ side are going to achieve Chen Yangsheng’s target of Champions League football within three years, there needs to be signs of progress this season. But with just under two weeks of the transfer window remaining, there could still be changes to the squad.

There is a long season ahead for Los Periquitos, but this pre-season has shown that Quique Sánchez Flores is the right man to steer the club forward.

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Basketball, Golden State Warriors, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder

Durant has chosen the easy way out

KD Curry

Leading up to 4 July, American Independence Day, many people were checking Twitter to see one thing: Kevin Durant’s version of ‘The Decision’. Sure enough, at 1pm E.T. that decision came. In a post on The Players’ Tribune, Durant announced that he would be leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors.

Durant’s decision had been the topic of discussion in many bars across America, but the 2014 MVP and four-time scoring champion has chosen to join the 2015 NBA champions on a two-year, $54.3 million contract, sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein. In order to create the salary room, the Warriors are expected to part ways with Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, while they will likely try to trade away Andrew Bogut.

After leading the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012, and to the Western Conference finals in four of the past six years, he has decided to leave and pursue an NBA ring. That choice, however, feels weak.

Many will make the comparison with LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, but this is different. At that time, James had no supporting cast. Durant, instead, was 48 minutes away from reaching the NBA Finals. On three occasions.

Instead, he – and OKC – faltered. The Warriors grew in confidence with each game, and few believed that the Thunder would win game seven; mentally, they had already lost the battle. Rather than play the brand of basketball that had given the Thunder a 3-1 lead over the Warriors, Durant and Russell Westbrook resorted back to the isolation-ball that was prominent under former coach, Scott Brooks.

Now, rather than try and bring a first NBA championship to Oklahoma, the side that drafted him with the 2nd overall pick in the 2007 draft (albeit the side were based in Seattle at that point), Durant is abandoning them when they’re so close to that elusive title. What he is choosing to alternatively do is hop on to the Warriors’ bandwagon in the hope of getting a ring.

The reason that the James comparison is invalid is that Durant had plenty of talent around him. Durant is one of the top three players in the NBA and his accomplice, Russell Westbrook, is in the top five; Steven Adams proved in the play-offs that he is developing into one of the league’s elite centres; they have a fantastic coach in Billy Donovan; and they have made moves to make the side stronger. Plus they are one of the best run organisations in the whole of the NBA. So, why leave?

The Warriors set an NBA regular-season record with 73 wins and led the league in scoring, but they ultimately came short as they lost 4-3 in the NBA Finals to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. They also have the reigning MVP in Stephen Curry, and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson. Both averaged 30.1 and 22.1 PPG respectively.

Draymond Green, the man considered to be the heartbeat of this team, also averaged 14.0 PPG, along with 9.5 RPG and 7.4 APG. Durant is joining one of the best teams in the league, rather than creating a dynasty at OKC.

Perhaps the Thunder saw this coming. On draft night, they traded away power forward Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. Those three will add to Kanter, Cameron Payne and the rest of the team as they look to cover the blow of losing Durant.

Durant averaged 28.2 PPG and made 8.2 RPG, as well as 5.0 APG in his 72-game season with the Thunder. Along with this, he had a run of 67 games where he scored 20+ points, the first player to do so since Michael Jordan in the 1990-91 season. He and Curry will be frightening and very, very difficult to stop, and last season they were ranked first and second in the NBA in player efficiency rating.

Next summer could see the Warriors paying out a lot of money. Durant is likely to opt out after one year, and Curry is also expected to get a max contract, so $328m is expected to be shelled out with $176m over five years for Curry, and $152m over four years for Durant.

Back in 2010,in the aftermath of LeBron James joining the Heat, Durant posted this on Twitter:

KD 2010

Rather than create what could have been one of the Western Conference’s best emerging rivalries between the Thunder and the Warriors, Durant has taken the easy way out and jumped ship.

The Thunder called Durant a ‘Founding Father’ in their statement after his departure. Had he stayed and won a title for Oklahoma, he would have been seen as a God. Instead, he will be seen more as Judas.

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Casemiro, El Clásico, European Football, Fútbol, Football, La Liga, Real Madrid, Spanish Football, Sport, Zidane

Real Madrid’s gladiator key in clásico victory

Casemiro

A lot can change in just over three months. And at Real Madrid, three months feels like a lifetime.

On 21 November 2015, Rafa Benítez left his first clásico a dejected man. After losing 4-0 against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabéu, there were many questions about Rafa but one continued to crop up: was this his line-up, or was the side selected by Florentino Pérez?

In the big games, Benítez had previously set his team up to be solid with the capability to break; that clásico was the opposite of that. Despite only having played 27 minutes of football in the previous dozen games, James Rodríguez was selected ahead of the more defensively-minded Casemiro. €31.5m acquisition Danilo was also chosen ahead of academy graduate Dani Carvajal. Benítez had gone by the players’ reputation over those who were in-form and that ultimately proved to be his undoing.

From the start of the game, the frailties were clear. There appeared to be a giant gap between Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and the front four; nobody appeared to want to track back; and Barcelona, who did not even start Lionel Messi, ran riot.

A month and a half after the clásico defeat, Rafa was gone. In came one of Real Madrid’s original galáctico’s, Zinedine Zidane. A flurry of drubbings at the Bernabéu followed, but away performances remained sketchy. In order to address this, Zidane turned to a 24-year-old Brazilian. No, not an attacker; a holding-midfielder: Carlos Henrique José Francisco Venâncio (Casemiro for short).

Since the Brazilian’s introduction to the side under Zidane, Real Madrid have won every away game that he has played some part in (Roma, Levante, Las Palmas, Barcelona). But it is the last game in that list that has really announced Casemiro to the world.

Playing as the deep-lying holding-midfielder in a 4-3-3 system, Casemiro was being overworked in the first half of his first ever clásico. Nevertheless, the occasion never looked too big for him. The Brazilian broke up play, was dominant and was wholeheartedly committed; just what Real Madrid were missing in November’s defeat. Zidane had learnt his lesson from Benítez  and went with players who were in form, rather than purely going by reputation.

At half-time, the score was 0-0 but Barcelona had dominated and the first goal appeared to be imminent. Rather than try and beat Barcelona at their own game, Real Madrid seemed more concerned with stopping their Catalan opponents than actually creating chances of their own. One of the main instigators of this disruption was Casemiro in midfield.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Barcelona opened the scoring. Gerard Piqué was able to get away from Pepe and thunder home a header from Ivan Rakitić’s corner to cause a major headache for Zidane. Despite the feeling that pressure was mounting on the Frenchman, he remained calm and so did his players.

Casemiro knew his role in the team and so, when Marcelo went bombing forward in the 61st minute, he sat and covered his compatriot. Marcelo’s run culminated in Toni Kroos’ deflected cross falling to Karim Benzema who scored an outrageous overhead kick to equal his highest ever tally of goals in a La Liga season: 21 (in 22 games).

The Brazilian midfielder continued to patrol the middle of the park as Real Madrid withheld the pressure that Barcelona were putting on the defence, but with seven minutes to go Sergio Ramos stupidly fouled Luis Suárez to receive his second yellow card of the game. From here, Casemiro would act as an amalgamation between a central defender and a holding-midfielder.

Before Casemiro could get adjusted to his new role, Real Madrid went 2-1 ahead. Despite being down to 10 men, Los Blancos continued their late onslaught and a counter-attack led to Gareth Bale’s deep cross finding Cristiano Ronaldo at the back post. Dani Alves missed his header and Ronaldo excellently chested the ball inside the vacant space and beat Claudio Bravo at his near post.

Real Madrid went on to win the game, but even in the last minute of stoppage time Casemiro was vital as he blocked Arda Turan’s goal bound effort. By the end of the game, Casemiro’s stat sheet read: six tackles; three interceptions; three blocks; 81% pass accuracy; and he was dominant in the air, winning 100% of his aerial battles. On the whole, it was an excellent night for the Brazilian international.

This victory cuts Real Madrid’s gap to Barcelona to seven points with seven games remaining and is their first win against a top four side so far this season, but the performance shows that they are able to adapt their style to win in the big games under Zidane. Although Barcelona dominated the first half, Real Madrid showed a resilience that was missing under Benítez. That resilience was epitomised by the performance of Casemiro, but also by the work rate put in by Ronaldo and Bale. In terms of going forward, nobody can doubt Real Madrid’s ability.

Next up for Real Madrid is a trip to Wolfsburg in the Champions League and this clásico has proven that they can go all the way. Many appear to believe that it is a two-horse race between Bayern Munich and Barcelona for the Champions League this year, almost forgetting about Real Madrid’s ability. If anybody doubted Zidane before this game, he has proven that he deserves to have this opportunity to manage Los Blancos.

By Zidane sticking to his ideals and going with a holding-midfielder, he becomes the first Real Madrid manager to win his first clásico since Bernd Schuster in December 2007, and also ends Barcelona’s 39-game unbeaten run. This was an excellent win for Zidane, but Casemiro’s importance in the victory should not be overshadowed.

Since Claude Makélélé’s departure from the club in 2003, Real Madrid have been looking for an elite holding-midfielder to allow the players further forward to flourish. It now looks like they’ve found that in Casemiro, their gladiator among the stars.

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European Football, Fútbol, Fran Escribá, Getafe, La Liga, Pablo Sarabia, Pedro León, Spanish Football, Watford

Getafe continue to fly under the radar

Fran Escriba

Looking at the press in Madrid, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there were only two La Liga sides in the nation’s capital: Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. Instead, there are four as both Rayo Vallecano and Getafe are also situated in the Community of Madrid. And Getafe, led by Fran Escribá, are currently one of the in-form sides in La Liga and are quietly climbing up the table.

One of Getafe’s keys to success has been their manager, Fran Escribá. It was during Escribá’s spell at Elche that he really established himself as one of La Liga’s top managers.

After being appointed by the Valencian club in 2012, he led Elche to their first promotion in 25 years during his first season in charge.

The club’s first season in La Liga resulted in a sixteenth-placed finish, and Escribá continued to build on that in their second year as they finished thirteenth. They would, however, be relegated in the summer of 2015 due to financial irregularities.

Escribá resigned in June and soon joined Getafe. This came as a surprise to many as it was thought that he would hold out for a job of higher prestige. Nevertheless, the Spaniard came in to become the club’s fourth manager in a year after the departures of Cosmin Contra, Quique Sánchez Flores and Pablo Franco.

In the weeks that followed, Getafe made a couple of impressive signings as they brought in Víctor Rodríguez and Damián Suárez from Elche, along with the loan signings of newly-signed Atlético midfielder Bernard Mensah and Villarreal’s talented youngster Moi Gómez. Though Mensah and Gómez have had limited minutes this season, bringing them in has added good depth to the side.

The season didn’t begin as Escribá would have hoped, however. After securing two wins and a draw in their first five games, Getafe went on a horrific run as they picked up only two points from eleven games. They would then see their home form pick up after a 1-0 win against Málaga. Since that result, Getafe have only lost one game at home, a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona; that means Escribá’s men have picked up 21 points from a possible 30 at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.

One of the big reasons for the upturn in form is the players understanding Escribá’s methods. At the beginning of the season, Getafe’s players appeared to be stuck between how they had been playing and how Escribá wanted them to play. They are now implementing his methods and are reaping the rewards. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this has been Getafe’s very talented midfielder, Pablo Sarabia.

Sarabia has always been a player that has had an abundance of talent, but inconsistency has often blighted his chances of moving to a bigger club. After coming through the Spanish youth team system, Getafe have been waiting for their €3 million investment to bear fruit. Now, under the tutelage of Fran Escribá, the Madrid-born trequartista has been unplayable at times, and this has seen him linked with a move to Premier League side Watford in recent weeks; a move that would see him link up with former coach Quique Sánchez Flores.

Another key component in Getafe’s side in the past couple of months has been Pedro León. Like Sarabia, his talent has always been clear but he has not had the consistency to go alongside it. After a big move to Real Madrid in 2010, he soon moved back to Getafe on loan in 2011 and made it a permanent return in 2013. Despite having one of the best right foot’s in La Liga, he would often fade out of games and only impact the game from dead ball situations, but he appears to be rejuvenated under Escribá and playing alongside the in-form Sarabia.

This weekend both Sarabia and Pedro León got on the scoresheet in Getafe’s 3-1 win against Espanyol at Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, though the low attendance – something that has been common since their promotion to La Liga in 2004 – was a shame considering the form of the side. In the game, Getafe also hit the woodwork four times as they looked far superior to their Catalan opponents. That win was their third on the bounce, and they are now unbeaten in six games as they move into the top half of the table.

Despite having some very talented players in recent years, Getafe have appeared to be a club without an identity. Escribá has given them that and they’re flourishing as a result. Although it looks like Pablo Sarabia could be leaving this January, these are great times for one of Madrid’s forgotten sides.

Even though they won’t get the recognition they deserve from the Madrid press, anything is possible for Getafe this season with Escribá at the helm.

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Football, Ligue 1, Prospects, Sport, Toulouse

Toulouse Aiming To Avoid The Drop With Youth

Toulouse Article

It had been a tough season for Toulouse fans up until a few weeks ago. Sitting in the bottom three in Ligue 1, with relegation to Ligue 2 looking imminent, Dominique Arribagé knew that something had to change.

With many of their experienced players looking like shadows of their former selves, the youthful Arribagé (he is only 44-years-old, the fifth youngest manager in Ligue 1) decided to bring some of the club’s top academy talents into the first team. Alban Lafont (1999), Issa Diop (1997), Zinédine Machach (1996), Alexis Blin (1996) and Yann Bodiger (1995) have all been fully introduced to an already youthful side.

The goalkeeper position at Toulouse has been a point of heavy debate and that has seen Zacharie Boucher, now at Auxerre, Ali Ahamada and Mauro Goicoechea between the sticks in the past twelve months. Now, similarly to AC Milan, the club have turned to youth to fill the position. That man, or boy, rather, is Alban Lafont.

After making his debut in the 2-0 home victory against high-flying Nice, the 16-year-old followed that up with another clean sheet, this time away at Troyes as Toulouse won 3-0. In making his Ligue 1 debut, Lafont became the league’s youngest goalkeeper at 16 years and 310 days old – four days younger than Nice’s Anthony Mandréa, who came on as a substitute in November 2013.

The player that Lafont replaced in goal is Ali Ahamada and he is arguably the opposite to his predecessor; comfortable in the air, very composed, and he brings confidence to Toulouse’s back line. He is still young and there is plenty to work on, but the signs look very promising for the young goalkeeper who will be looking to emulate another former Toulouse youngster, Fabien Barthez.

Just ahead of him in defence is Issa Diop. The 18-year-old central defender came in at the same time as Lafont, also making his debut against Nice. Since then, he has been a mainstay in the defence and has racked up one goal and two clean sheets since coming into the side. This weekend, though, he received his first red card after pushing Nantes striker Thomas Henry to the floor in the 90th minute following Henry’s late jump for the ball with Lafont.

In midfield, Yann Bodiger and Zinédine Machach have featured heavily in the past few weeks. Bodiger, at 20-years-old, has made 16 appearances in all competitions this season and has scored one goal. His performances have been so good that Étienne Didot and Adrien Regattin, two regulars in the past, have been unable to retain their place in Arribagé’s line-up. 

Machach, like Bodiger, initially made his debut under Arribagé last season, but he has only began to make an impact for Toulouse in recent weeks. A couple of weeks after signing his first professional contract with the club, the French-Algerian midfielder came on as a substitute in the Coupe de la Ligue against Auxerre and impressed. Days later, the 19-year-old was rewarded with a start in the line-up as Toulouse faced Montpellier in the league at home. He grabbed the equaliser just before half-time and has been a regular in the side ever since.

Since 17th October, either Yann Bodiger or Zinédine Machach have appeared in the line-up for Toulouse and, particularly in recent weeks, that youthful exuberance in midfield – along with the introductions of Alban Lafont and Issa Diop – has really aided their cause as they look to climb out of the bottom three.

One name that is often forgotten is Alexis Blin. The 19-year-old made six appearances last season, and has followed that up with a further nine so far this year; although he has only made one start. Coming off the bench, he offers solidity and enables Toulouse to see out the game. Unlike Bodiger and Machach, though, he is still a little bit away from becoming a regular under Arribagé.

In the latter stages of the Coupe de la Ligue fixture at Rennes on Tuesday night, 18-year-old Quentin Boisgard came on to make his debut for the club – perhaps the next player to come through from the promising carousel of youngsters at the club.

Goals have been an issue at both ends this season for Toulouse, and it looks like Arribagé may have sorted out the amount of goals conceded with the introduction of Lafont and Diop. The amount scored, however, continues to be low, and the club’s top goalscorer is Martin Braithwaite with six.

In recent seasons Toulouse have largely relied on Wissam Ben Yedder for goals, and the French striker has hit fourteen goals or more in his last three seasons at the club. This season, though, he has yet to hit form and has just the three goals so far this term. He got a double at Rennes on Tuesday night and, along with two goals in his past four Ligue 1 games, his confidence appears to be showing signs of a return.

Prior to this month, Toulouse had lost fifteen of their last eighteen games, winning only one. The turnaround by Arribagé and his youngsters has shown that they have nothing to lose, but they still have a lot to do. The signs are looking good, though.

The club remain in the bottom three, but heading into the Christmas break, Toulouse – with all of their youngsters alongside talents like Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro, Wissam Ben Yedder and Martin Braithwaite – could be one of the most exciting sides to watch in Ligue 1 and are looking like they will surely play their way away from relegation danger in the second half of the season.

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