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Europe’s Finest Frontmen from Barca, Madrid and Bayern

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In the last few seasons, the European football scene has been dominated by the gargantuan institutions from Spain and Germany. Champions League titles and an exhilarating style of play on the domestic scene and 4 consecutive international trophies for the respective national teams provide all the evidence one needs of sides bursting with attacking talent. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have wasted no time this summer in adding yet more quality to their forward options. The thought of these sides clashing in the coming year is a mouth-watering prospect, but who can boast the most potent strike force of the lot?

 FC Barcelona

While 2013/14 was far from a vintage campaign for the boys from Catalonia, their strike-force remains one of the most feared on the planet. Neymar arrived in last summer’s transfer window and although he didn’t quite hit the heights that his price tag demanded, a dazzling World Cup before his dramatic back injury should at least give him a much-needed confidence boost.

Barcelona may have lost Alexis Sanchez from their quartet of forwards but they have brought in perhaps the best striker over the last couple of seasons. Luis Suarez; wrought with controversy and shameful action, made a £75 million move to the Spanish giants. A front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez is nothing less than frightening. All with supreme dribbling ability, an eye for the spectacular, and capable of producing on the biggest of stages, Barca must be considered amongst the top contenders for Europe’s biggest competitions.

Pedro Rodriguez provided plenty of goals and assists for the Camp Nou side despite finding opportunities limited. He may well be forced to experience a similar turn of events in the coming season if you assume that new coach Luis Enrique will persist with a 4-3-3 formation. A front three combination of Messi, Neymar and Suarez is full of goals and skill. All capable of playing right across the front line, you are likely to find that rotating positions will be a key factor to Barcelona’s success.

Real Madrid

Victorious in the Champions League and Copa del Rey last campaign, and only just losing out in La Liga, it goes without saying that Real Madrid are highly effective going forward. Week to week on the domestic front, they are not necessarily tested to their maximum so it is difficult to judge them from this evidence alone. However, when you consider their performances in Europe’s elite competition, in particular in the latter stages, their true class is there for all to see. Defeating the favourites for the tournament 5-0 over two legs in the semi-final and then to win 4-1 against their neighbours in the final itself requires some serious talent up front.

Officially the best player in the world for 2013; Cristiano Ronaldo, belongs to Real Madrid and is their main man without a doubt. Despite injury problems curtailing his end to the season, he was still able to rack up 51 goals in all competitions at a rate of better than one every game. Once the most expensive player in world football, he lost that title to team mate Gareth Bale last summer and since then, they have combined to become a deadly duo. Both possess outstanding pace, power, dribbling ability, and an incredibly powerful shot. Many likenesses can be drawn between the pair but unlike others before them, their similarities have not held them back, instead allowing each to flourish and reach new heights.

Perhaps the most understated of Madrid’s chief attackers is Karim Benzema, and yet he is one of the most natural and accomplished finishers in the game today. Bayern Munich found this out to their cost as he was a constant thorn in their side during their match-up in the Champions League. A successful World Cup campaign with France on a personal level will only serve to give him a further boost for the year to come.

In many people’s eyes, the best player of the World Cup was Colombia’s James Rodriguez. He shot to stardom with 6 goals and 5 assists, soon becoming Madrid’s latest Galactico. It will be fascinating to see him applying the same form in Spain and attempting to build a relationship with the current heroes of Los Blancos. Most likely playing off one flank or in the hole behind the striker, I can see many an assist being served up for others along with popping up with a goal or two himself every so often.

Bayern Munich

At their worst last season, they held the ball seemingly just for the sake of it and had no thrust or penetration in the attacking third. While the fluidity was there for all to see when lining up without a nominal striker, in the biggest games they were found to be rather ineffectual. With no particular player to look for in attacking areas, the space which their outstanding movement created was not capitalised upon. At the World Cup, Germany began the tournament with a similar set-up and although they found joy against Portugal, the arrival of the knockout stages meant a much greater role for Miroslav Klose. The true number 9 made a noticeable difference to the side and did not have a detrimental effect on their passing game. Bayern and Pep Guardiola would do well to learn from this.

Bayern Munich’s key addition over the summer months has been the Polish forward, Robert Lewandowski. In a move that had been all but confirmed for 12 months, the ex-Dortmund man would take up the goal-scoring mantle. During Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final in 2013, Lewandowski struck four past Real Madrid to really demonstrate his class at the very highest level.

Germany’s top goal scorer at the past two World Cups has been Thomas Müller and yet he is not always given the regular football he deserves. It will be very interesting to see how Guardiola accommodates both Müller and Lewandowski into his plans for the new season. The form of fellow attackers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben will play a large part in how much game time each receives. The latter had a hugely impressive World Cup in Brazil and while Ribéry has probably peaked, he still has a great deal to offer. It would be an exceptionally attacking line-up that housed all 4 of these star names, possibly requiring others such as Schweinsteiger and Thiago to take up deeper roles. When you think of the firepower at their disposal, and names such as Mario Götze who have not even been mentioned, it is clear that the defining factor will be their ability to gel together as a unit. Individual talent a-plenty, defenders across Europe will be quaking in their boots.

Overview

Statistics alone would give the impression that the most potent forward line belongs to Real Madrid (109 goals), closely followed by Barcelona (106 goals) with Bayern (91 goals) lagging behind somewhat. I tend to agree with the statistical analysis; that on top form, the Spaniards have a little more at their disposal. I believe that Bayern’s attacking prowess lies in the fluidity of movement rather than relying primarily on supreme individual talent. In Suarez, Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, and Bale, the two Spanish sides have players who are quite simply on another level to all other challengers in the world game.

Are Real Madrid Europe’s most deadly attacking side? Get involved in the discussion by commenting with Matchchat.

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

Barcelona

Who are the five most valuable players under the age of 21?

Jake Jackman

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The CIES Football Observatory have produced a list of the 100 most valuable players under the age of 21 and it makes for interesting reading, with three Premier League players in the top five.

CIES are a research group based within the International Centre for Sports Studies. It was created in 2005 and has looks to specialise in the statistical analysis of football, which is a growing field within the sport.

A lot of their studies are based in the financial side of the game and given the continued increase of transfer fees, they produce a lot of information that is of interest to clubs.

This particular study focuses on the top five leagues and it won’t come as a surprise that the Premier League features heavily.

Here are the five most valuable under-21 players according to the CIES study:

5 – Marcus Rashford (€116.7 million)

Amid all the spending that Manchester United have done in recent seasons, the value of producing your own players through your academy continues to be shown in the Manchester United squad. It is important to their supporters to have homegrown players and Marcus Rashford is one of the best that they have produced in recent seasons. According to CIES, he is already worth more than £100 million and it is remarkable to think that he may not have been given a chance if it wasn’t for injuries to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

It has been a good start to the season for Marcus Rashford as he continues to get significant minutes, despite the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Across the Premier League and Champions League, he has contributed six goals and four assists. His goal involvement is one every 113.8 minutes. Considering he has been used in various positions and not played every week, this is impressive. United need to continue showing faith in him. If they do, the sky is the limit.

4 – Ousmane Dembele (€120.4 million)

The French winger made headlines during the summer, as he was selected to be the replacement for Neymar at Barcelona. There is a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to live up to his price tag, which was £135.5 million. There were clauses included in the deal, but the overall value is more than the £120.4 million that he has been estimated at by CIES. However, there were circumstances driving that. Namely, the desperate position of Barcelona.

Last season, he was one of the best players in the Bundesliga as he contributed eight goals and 18 assists across the two major competitions. His goal involvement was one every 108.2 minutes, which underlines why Barcelona were keen to buy him this season. An injury has hindered him at the beginning of his La Liga career, but he remains one of the most exciting young players in the game.

3 – Leroy Sane (€124.5 million)

The £37 million that Manchester City paid for the German international is looking more and more like a bargain with every passing day. CIES value the winger at €124.5 million and that underlines the improvement he has made under Pep Guardiola. He is now one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier Leaguer and it will be fascinating to see how much further he can go, as he is only 21.

His record in the Premier League this season has been remarkable and he is well on his way to contributing at least ten goals and ten assists. Sane is already on six goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 78.75 minutes. The quality of the team helps him, but his own performances have contributed significantly to the success of City.

2 – Dele Alli (€180.2 million)

It has been a difficult start to the new season for Dele Alli, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the world. In the list of these five players, the England international is the most attainable for the biggest clubs in Europe, as Tottenham have the lowest chance of winning major trophies. It will take a huge fee to secure the midfielder and the valuation of €180.2 million from CIES is around the fee that Spurs would expect.

Since joining Tottenham as a teenager, he has been a revelation and scored 28 goals during his first two Premier League seasons. This season has been harder as he has only three goals in 15 matches, but he was always going to go through a drop-off in form at some point. The test will be how he recovers. The next few months will show us how far Alli can go in the game.

1- Kylian Mbappe (€182.8 million)

The valuation from CIES is fractionally higher than the reported fee that PSG will pay for the teenager next summer when his transfer is made permanent. He was a revelation last season and played a major role in Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. PSG have made the move to sign him and he could become the best player in the world at the club if he is managed correctly.

This season hasn’t been as eye-catching as his debut season in senior football, but he has been very impressive still, especially when his age is taken into consideration. He has contributed nine goals and seven assists across the two major competitions, with a goal involvement of 86.5 minutes. This is incredible, but there have been some critics as he isn’t as noticeable playing alongside Edinson Cavani and Neymar. He is clearly the best young player in the world and this list from CIES reflects that.

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The conductor of the Barcelona orchestra: Reflecting on the career of Xavi Hernandez

Martyn Cooke

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Xavi

Barcelona is an iconic city. FC Barcelona is an iconic football club. The Nou Camp is an iconic football stadium that has been graced by the presence of countless prestigious and legendary players over the last century.

The esteemed names roll off the tongue. Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Pep Guardiola, Johan Cryuff – the list in almost inexhaustible.

Even amidst the glamour, sensationalism and capitalist ideology of modern football Barcelona have entertained the world through the magic dust sprinkled by Lionel Messi with the supporting cast of Luis Suarez and, prior to the summer, Brazilian superstar Neymar.

However, among the stellar names it is hard to identify an individual who has won more trophies and influenced the very essence of the game itself than Xavi Hernandez.

No other Spaniard in the history of football has lifted more trophies. No other player in the history of Barcelona has made more appearances. No other player has been as synonymous with the development of a club.

He is truly a legend of the game.

The conductor of the orchestra

Xavi Hernandez first joined Barcelona via the club’s La Masia academy as an 11-year-old, where he swiftly proceeded to rise through the ranks. He was technically efficient, intelligent and appeared to possess an instinctive awareness of when, and more importantly how, to alter or influence the rhythm and flow of the game. When he was handed his first team debut in 1998 he seamlessly slotted into the side.

However, Xavi developed into much more than just another star player. He represented the definitive transformation of Barcelona during the early twentieth century and he embodied the new total football philosophy that was implemented and progressed by a series of managers, culminating in the tiki-taka style of play that was fine-tuned by Pep Guardiola.

He was synonymous with the possession-based football that led to Barcelona dominating European football for almost a decade and played a pivotal role in the club’s development.

Whilst other players produced exuberant moments of skill or brilliance he adopted a different style of play that was crucial to the tiki-taka philosophy. You would rarely see Xavi dribble beyond a player and he was never a regular goal scorer from midfield, but his contribution was no less important.

He was the conductor of the Barcelona footballing orchestra, dictating the flow and rhythm of the game with a range of elegant, measured passes. When he received the ball he never looked flustered or unsure and there was an air of confidence and assertiveness that made him attract the ball, like a flame attracts a moth.

He stroked the ball around the pitch unperturbed by the pressure of the occasion or the state of the game – when Xavi played well, so did Barcelona.

By the time that Xavi departed Barcelona, joining Qatari side Al-Sadd in 2015, he won eight La Liga titles (the first coming in 1999), the Copa del Rey three times, six Spanish Super Cups, two European Super Cups, two Club World Cups and four Champions League titles.

However, he was equally as impressive for the Spanish national team, playing in four World Cup tournaments and three European Championships. His haul of 133 caps is a record for a Spanish outfield player and he lifted two European Championships (2008 and 2012) and one World Cup (2010) during an era in which he became the embodiment of domestic and international dominance.

The very best of a generation

As with every great player, a decline eventually began to set in and Xavi Hernandez’s powers began to wane. It is perhaps testament to his importance and influence that his departure has coincided with the gradual deterioration of Barcelona’s authority in world football.

In 2015 he joined Qatari club Al-Sadd after agreeing a three-year deal, in essence taking a step into semi-retirement, and in April 2017 he won his first trophy – the Qatar Cup. In addition to his playing commitments, Xavi is also undertaking his coaching qualifications and has taken up an ambassadorial role in order to promote the 2020 World Cup as he ultimately begins to plan for a career beyond the realms of playing football.

Xavi’s impact and influence at Barcelona and for the Spanish national team is arguably unparalleled for a player in the modern era. His style of play was unique and embodied the emergence of a new tiki-taka, total football philosophy which came to dominate domestic and international football for over a decade. Whilst he became a genuine icon, Xavi always avoided controversy or contradiction and is looked upon with respect and admiration by his peers and all those connected with the game.

It is little wonder that the conductor is regarded as one of the very best players of his generation.

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Tottenham end Barkley interest amidst negotiations for Andre Gomes – Here’s why Gomes is a better fit

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Gomes

Ross Barkley’s hamstring problem always looked like throwing a spanner in the works of any move away from Goodison Park this summer, and it seems to have ended his prospects of a move to North London, at least this window, with Tottenham seemingly put off by what may be a three-month injury lay-off, as reported by the Sky Sports Transfer Centre.

Of course Mauricio Pochettino may re-ignite that interest in January, providing that Chelsea don’t tie up a deal for the England international before deadline day is up, but in the meantime, Spurs have turned their attentions to another midfield man, Barcelona’s Portugal international Andre Gomes, according to the London Evening Standard.

But, this sudden change of heart begs the question, does Spurs’ new target suit Pochettino’s style of play better, and what does he offer compared to Barkley?

What the stats say

In five seasons at Everton including this, Barkley has featured 150 times for the Toffees in the Premier League, netting 21 goals and clocking up 18 assists. He has averaged overall roughly 40.25 passes per game, and succeeded in 75% of his tackles in midfield. He also has 22 England caps to his name.

If we compare Gomes based on his time in La Liga with Valencia and Barcelona, Gomes has made 105 starts and 18 substitute appearances, the majority of his cameos coming with Barcelona (13 last season). He has also made a total of 12 Champions League appearances for both clubs and a further three in the Europa League. He also has 25 caps for Portugal, and was a member of the side that was triumphant at Euro 2016. Arguably, therefore, he seems a more seasoned player than Barkley, despite only being one year older.

He is less prolific in front of goal than Barkley admittedly, with just 12 career goals, but given that by trade he is a less attack-minded midfield option than his counterpart, this is to be expected.

Styles of play – do Spurs really need another attacking midfielder?

Barkley is known for being a primarily attacking midfielder, with dribbling, passing, playmaking, long shots and key passes all a part of his game. Defensively is where the Liverpudlian lacks, although he does complete most of his tackles.

Gomes, interestingly, isn’t particularly proficient with defending either, and tries to avoid diving into challenges given his tendency to give silly fouls away. He is a great dribbler like Barkley, but is less direct and far more focused on retaining the ball and building up play, rather than being a more direct player. He does contribute significantly more defensively than Barkley though, albeit if this is only pressurising opponents in possession, and whereas Barkley has often being found wanting in possession, Gomes appears far more calm and collected on the ball.

Arguably, a midfield player of Gomes’ mould is more of what Tottenham need at the moment. They already have a direct-minded attacking midfield man in Christian Eriksen, and Barkley is arguably a less refined version of the Dane when one compares how both may fit into Pochettino’s system. Alongside Eriksen just behind the forward, Pochettino already has two attacking options that Barkley may find difficult to dislodge: Son Heung-Min- who has proved more than a reliable source of goals himself- and Dele Alli, another young prodigy who has arguably impressed more than his Everton counterpart since being tipped for the top.

Depth – where could Gomes fit in?

Depth was one of the key issues in Pochettino’s squad over the past two seasons, and Gomes would certainly provide another reliable option in midfield in a squad that has seemed thin in the past, much to the detriment of Spurs’ title challenges over those years.

Around the focal point of Kane and the three attacking midfield men behind him, a more defensive midfield duo is needed to slot in front of the back four  as is customary in Pochettino’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

Gomes could fit in nicely alongside Victor Wanyama or Eric Dier in Spurs’ formation, given that Gomes isn’t primarily a defensive minded player. His presence alongside the defensive-minded Wanyama could even make room for Dier slot into the defence, which could see Jan Vertonghen go out to left-back in place of the younger Ben Davies.

It is most likely, therefore, that given Gomes’ ability to retain possession and build-up play that he will provide competition for Mousa Dembele in midfield, but he provides Pochettino with a different type of midfielder to throw into the mix, should he choose to dispense with the midfield engine and try to keep the ball, although Gomes is no stranger himself to galloping forward.

In the event of injury problems, the Argentine may even opt to bring the Portuguese into the attacking three, most likely in the event of a Dele Alli absence, given Gomes’ experience playing on the left of a midfield three in the past for Barcelona and indeed Portugal.

All in all, when broken down, Andre Gomes appears more the type of versatile midfielder that Tottenham need in their squad at present. They are blessed with an array of attacking options but need a midfielder that specialises in retaining possession, playing passes and helping build-up play. He is a different type of midfielder to the Dembele engine and the defensive-sweeping Dier and Wanyama, and could, therefore, be the new midfield option Pochettino needs. That in mind, he may well prove a more sensible acquisition that Barkley at this time.

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