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Will the Premier League miss out on Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado?

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Somewhat overshadowed at the World Cup by the performances of his countryman James Rodriguez, Fiorentina’s flying winger Juan Cuadrado certainly showed enough promise to warrant the interest of some of the top European clubs to. Even before the World Cup begun, Cuadrado was being strongly linked to Barcelona with the exit of Dani Alves looking likely. However, with Alves now set to stay put, would a Premier League move be of more benefit the Colombian?

Born in Necoclí Colomia, Cuadrado began his career as a striker for local club Atletico Uraba aged 12. It was at Uraba that club founder Nelson Gallego insisted the youngster was moved to the wing due to his blistering pace even at such a young age. Cuadrado eventually impressed local scouts enough to earn a move to top division Colombian side Independiente Medellin in 2008 aged 20. While the initial progression from youth player to professional maybe took longer than normal, his rise has been almost meteoric since.

In July 2009, Udinese signed Cuadrado to a five year contract for fee that was never disclosed, and made his debut as a Right Wingback. First team opportunities were limited at Udinese however, with the formation at the time meaning Cuadrado’s only way into the side was indeed as a Right Wing back. Udinese having a settled defence, including another of Cuadrado’s fellow countrymen Cristian Zapata, meant a loan move was best for all parties. Lecce was the destination – but 33 league games and 3 goals wasn’t enough to save his adopted side from relegation from Serie A.

Evidently, Fiorentina saw something in Cuadrado that few other teams had at the time. For only £880,000, Fiorentina got Cuadrado for two seasons initially. While not setting the world alight, Cuadrado impressed whilst helping La Viola to a 4th place league finish, finishing the 2012-13 season with 5 goals and 6 assists.

Cuadrado felt the confidence of manager Vincenzo Montella in 2013-14 season, and the summer signings of Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez appeared to give the whole club an added lift. A second successive 4th place finish left Fiorentina just short of the Champions League spots, but with plenty to build on. Cuadrado himself was one of the outstanding performers in the league. In 32 league games, Cuadrado scored 11 goals and provided 7 assists for his teammates too. Naturally, this lead to speculation from the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid, but he wasn’t finished just yet.

Selection in the Colombia World Cup squad was the next obvious step. Jose Pekerman started Cuadrado in every game out in Brazil – and the flyer didn’t disappoint. A penalty against Japan opened his goals account, but he also finished the tournament tied with Toni Kroos as the assist leader with 4 assists. His gifted dribbling ability, close control and astute end product was perfect for Colombia’s quick tempo play, but his great stamina and brave tackling showed a different side to his game too – something which would suit him to the Premier League you would think.

Versatility is another string to Cuadrado’s bow, and could be major factor in such widespread interest too. While being able to play on both wings, he has operated at Right Back, Right Wing Back, and even in the number 10 position behind the main striker. In Serie A last season, Cuadrado averaged an impressive 4 successful dribbles and 2 key passes per game, with a pass success rate of 86%.

Pep Guardiola’s willingness to play Phillip Lahm in Centre Midfield for Bayern Munich means the Bavarians lack a World Class operator at Right Back/Right Wingback, despite Rafinha filling in well. Cuadrado could be the perfect addition to Bayern’s already star studded squad, and who could pass up the chance to play for such a special young side under one of the best managers in the game.

Barcelona could be a good destination for Cuadrado too. New manager Luis Enrique looks set to ring the changes throughout the side while focusing on the defence primarily. Dani Alves has been a great servant to Barca over the years, but his questionable defending lead to long term question marks over his club future – and even Luis Felipe Scolari dropping the Right Back after three games at the World Cup. Cuadrado would make sense as a long term replacement.

Manchester United need to spend big this summer to find their way back into the Champions League, and Cuadrado would be perfect for Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation. A nice balance of attacking and defensive qualities in his game could only have impressed Van Gaal over the last last year. With a rumoured £150million available should the Dutchman see fit to use it, Cuadrado would be a great addition to the Starting XI for around £30million.

After such a season, Cuadrado will have a host of top clubs to choose from all over Europe. As much as I would love to see him in the Premier League, it looks very likely that he will join Barcelona at this stage, (and who could blame him?!) with rumours building every day. Fiorentina had to pay £17million only two months ago to obtain full ownership of Cuadrado’s playing rights. It now looks like money very well spent whether they end up keeping the player for next season, or sell him for up to £30million and make a good return for their money this summer.

19 Year Old Manchester United fan from Northern Ireland with a keen interest in European Football. Lover of (almost) all sports. Aspiring football writer and trainee football coach. Keen follower of Borussia Dortmund since 2008. Can be found on twitter @CameronStrutt95.

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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