Ibrahimovic: Ronaldo took the credit for Rooney’s work

The 34-year-old says the striker’s efforts were key to the success of the Real Madrid star during his time at Manchester United

Ibrahimovic: Ronaldo took the credit for Rooney's work

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Cristiano Ronaldo took the credit for Wayne Rooney’s unselfish work during their time together at Manchester United.

The pair helped fire United to Champions League glory in 2008, with Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or the following January for his efforts the previous season.

However, Ibrahimovic feels Ronaldo would not have been able to shine if it wasn’t for Rooney’s hard work.

“These great players, they have their moments over one to three years. But to continue over five years, for 10 years the way Wayne Rooney has done is not easy. It’s pressure everyday playing for a big team,” Ibrahimovic told the BBC.

“He runs a lot, he fights a lot, he sacrifices a lot,.

“When he played with Cristiano Ronaldo all the work was done by Rooney, but he didn’t get the credit because Ronaldo was scoring all of the goals.

“I’d prefer to have him in my team than play against him. I’ve not been lucky enough to play with him but I enjoy seeing him on the pitch – if I cannot play with him, I will watch him.”

Culled from Goal.com

How Lionel Messi’s injury will impact Barcelona, Luis Suarez, team tactics

On the face of it, we’re about to learn something about the ability, character and talent of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona squad while Lionel Messi is absent for at least two months. Who will step up to the plate, who’ll be missing, and what “extra” will this bring out of the manager’s repertoire? These are the types of questions that fans, media and other teams will be posing.

But I think there’s a gaping opportunity to learn more about Messi himself.

Looking back to precisely a year ago and superimposing this “Messi-absent” template on Barcelona’s performances from late September to late October, it’s genuinely surprising to find that on paper only, the impact would have been very low. The Copa del Rey hadn’t started by then, so like now, all that were in play were La Liga and the Champions League.

Had Messi been absent from Sept. 21 to Nov. 22 last year (the span that medics are currently predicting he’ll miss), not a single Barça result in La Liga would have changed. They’d have lost out on nine goals and a handful of assists, but while the goal margins would have shrunk in many instances, not one single result would have been altered. Wins would remain wins; the solitary draw and two defeats would remain untouched, too.

So, in theory, Barcelona would have gone on to win the title, hypothetically — but let’s come back to that in a minute.

How about Europe? It’s remarkably similar. Even if you remove Messi for the final five group games, erasing his goals and assists, which takes that hypothetical injury absence into the second week of December and strips away precisely 70 percent of his Champions League goals last season, only one result changes: The 2-0 away win at Ajax becomes a draw, but every other result remains identical, albeit with narrower win margins.

Barcelona without Messi in the group stage last season still qualify but in second place behind PSG. Whether they go on to win the tournament via a different knockout route is a fun one for those of you who want to debate it, but it’s not my brief.

What I think that really rather strange picture underlines to us is that Messi’s importance, his contribution to the team, goes far beyond goals and assists.

Two clear ideas emerge, I believe. First, Barcelona play differently, think differently and approach challenges differently if they have a fit and fully-firing Messi in their ranks — whether he scores, “makes” a goal or not. I mention again the senior Barcelona player who shared with a friend last Autumn: “we are going to win trophies, not just a trophy, this season because Messi is really enchufado [switched on/in the zone].”

Playing with a problem-solver, someone who scares other teams and who can do things nobody in the current game even dreams of, also changes how robust and how confident the mentality of his teammates will be.

At Barcelona’s level (as with Madrid, Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City and, increasingly, Manchester United) the ultimate difference over a significant space of time playing other top sides is mentality. The talent and fitness can be signed and honed, but winning “mentality” in all its forms is both the most fragile and the hardest to control.

A fit, happy Messi in your team is like a tiger in your tank. How to cope without that when he’s absent? Question 1 for Luis Enrique.

The other significant element of the two main “hangover” factors without Messi, if his goals and assists don’t actually vitally change statistics, is how other teams set up and react to playing Barcelona.

Tracking Messi has always been something of a nightmare; not only will his positional choices lull you into fatal complacency, but so will his tendency to spend a lot of time mooching about the pitch at walking pace as if he’d dropped a contact lens and was looking for it irrespective of the thundering herd around him. Then a split second later, he’s gone, you’re lost and it’s a goal.

Teams will now mark Neymar and Luis Suárez quite differently. They’ll go more tightly on the Uruguayan in the knowledge that his first-time flicks and wall-passes are just that fraction less likely now that he doesn’t have Messi to play off. Likely they’ll attempt to bully Neymar more in the knowledge that free kicks are less likely to be punished with Messi not available and feeling safer that the Brazilian, too, will attempt to dribble more often than he does when Messi is on the pitch. Neymar the sharp and first-touch passer is far less easy to catch and bully than Neymar the dribbler.

Teams who play Barcelona will on the whole be surer that if they pack defensive midfield and the back four (aka “parking the bus”) they are less likely to be picked apart by Barcelona without Messi. I suspect we’ll see more opponents attempting to suck Barcelona in, thwart any attacks and then charge forward on the break. We shall see.

Regarding Neymar, it’s reasonable that the Brazilian’s reaction to Messi’s absence will be more relevant and more educational than that of Suárez, based on the contention that the Uruguayan’s reaction will be much more similar to what you already get at the moment.

When last Barcelona’s beacon of brilliance was absent for this length of time (between November 2013 and January 2014) Neymar was less integrated and significantly less mature than now. He more often than not stepped into the central striker role that Messi vacated, and Neymar patently enjoyed that “team leadership” position. His play flourished but not necessarily his goals: He managed just two in the league while Messi was out (albeit a pair in a 2-1 win over Villarreal) and three against Celtic in a Champions League rout.

Where Luis Enrique requires Neymar to play should, in theory, be quite different now. Suarez is well established as the club’s centre forward, so much so that Messi moved to the right wing last season and was operating in a quasi-Xavi role this season.

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Las Palmas doesn’t provide unequivocal proof of anything, but the initial reactions to added responsibility were at least interesting: two smashing goals from Suarez and a missed penalty from Neymar.

So, what of the third striker?

Last season it became clear that Luis Enrique sees something in Munir that he doesn’t yet in Sandro. The former lingered on in the first team squad long, long after he really needed to return to Barca B and get the game time his deflated confidence screamed out for.

Sandro was returned back to the B team much more quickly, and while that season was awful for the club and coach Jordi Vinyals, who lost his job, the striker has clearly benefited. Quick, confident, aggressive and physical, Sandro looks ready for duty.

It’s pretty clear that Munir has a greater technical array of skills. Without question, Munir is an unpolished gem of a player, but still with the appearance and the actions of a kid. He was first choice to replace Messi after that knee injury made the Argentinian rip off the captain’s armband and throw it to the ground in disgust at being forced to quit Saturday’s match.

Munir played a pivotal (and creatively clever) part in the first goal and then crossed really intelligently for the second. Head up, waiting for the melee to clear, vision engaged: what the Spanish call pausa. In between, however, Munir constantly showed the inhibiting effect of eroded confidence, choosing the right thing to do over and over but doing it badly over and over. Short with passes, mistiming the connection with a teammate’s run; he was talented but timid.

After featuring for Barcelona early in 2014-15, Munir's first team appearances have been few and far between.

As for Sandro? His position and movement for the last big chance of the game spoke of a guy who’s ready now. But his inexplicable ability to shoot just wide from a nailed-on scoring position undermined his case.

You’d imagine that the pace, pressing and maturity of Sandro would win his manager’s favour to complete Barcelona’s “trident” but knowing Luis Enrique’s ability to see the kaleidoscope differently, it’ll probably be Munir.

Andrés Iniesta could, of course, play wide left up front with Suarez and then Neymar across the line of three to his right. Were Xavi still at the club to supplant him in midfield, that’s what might be about to happen. But any further injuries aside, Barcelona still have options, regardless of whether they are allowed by FIFA to register Arda Turan to compensate for Rafinha’s season-long absence.

On that subject, what price might Barcelona now pay for their arrogance in telling FIFA that they may have breached some rules on recruiting junior talent but the rules shouldn’t really have an impact because the club is “elite” at youth development?

That’s the gist of the conversation which ended in this transfer market ban, meaning that the departures of Xavi, Pedro and Martin Montoya couldn’t be compensated for by signing players who can be registered and perform in this brutal first half of Barcelona’s season.

What is Sod’s law? The rule that things will go wrong at precisely the time you can least afford them to. A spate of injuries at a time when Barcelona aren’t allowed to replace with new signings? Sod’s law. Do people like the departed Sandro Rosell and current president Josep Maria Bartomeu feel a bit peremptory now? A bit stupid? I hope so.

Finally, there’s the little genius himself. Doctors reckon that it’s touch and go that he makes it back for the first clasico of the season, in Madrid on Nov. 21. Previous injuries have shown us that Messi will be pawing at his physical recuperators, fitness coaches, doctors and coaching staff to let him back early. Previous injuries have also shown us that that can easily be a false boost for him and the team.

The debilitating effect of Messi playing early, following injury, against PSG and Athletic Club in the spring of 2013 was in fact catastrophic for Barcelona’s chances to perform competitively against Bayern Munich in the semifinal. There in body but absent in spirit, Messi was anonymous in Munich and not picked for the return in that 7-0 aggregate humiliation.

Have these lessons been learned by club and player? We shall see.

Two months without Messi will mean less fun for all of us, apart from Barcelona’s direct opponents. But it’ll cast up dozens of ways in which we’ll learn a great deal about him, his fellow players, his manager and those who’d like to topple Barcelona from the power seat in Spanish and European football.

Culled from Soccernet.com

Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski scores five in nine minutes to down Wolfsburg

Robert Lewandowski scored an incredible five goals in nine second-half minutes to propel Bayern Munich to a sensational 5-1 victory over Bundesliga title rivals Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.

Daniel Caligiuri gave the visitors the lead, but that was wiped out in stunning fashion by the Polish striker, who took matters into his own hands after coming on at half-time, beginning his scoring spree in the 51st minute.

Lewandoswki levelled the score with a toe poke from six yards in the 51st minute, and Bayern took the lead on his blast from 20 yards a minute later.

He had to work harder for his third goal in the 55th minute, first hitting the post and seeing his follow-up saved before finally finding the back of the net.

The fourth came in the 57th minute, when he scored from a cross on a high bounce. But he saved the best for last in the 60th minute, volleying Mario Gotze’s cross with a scissor kick to send the crowd further into raputres as Bayern claimed their sixth win from as many matches to go three points clear at the top of the table.

Cristiano Ronaldo one of the best players I’ve ever coached – Benitez

Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez says Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best players he has ever worked with.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been the face of frustration recently having not scored since late July.

Benitez, who took over the Madrid job in the summer, has managed the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Wesley Sneijder and Eden Hazard during a career that has seen him coach such clubs as Liverpool, Inter Milan and Chelsea.

However, the Spaniard said Ronaldo, who on Saturday surpassed Raul Gonzalez to become the club’s all-time leading goal scorer in La Liga, ranks among the biggest talents he has come across

“[Cristiano] is excellent,” Benitez, who has also previously managed Madrid’s youth team, said at a news conference.

“He is among the best, and I cannot say the best, because I have coached some very good players. But today he is the best player in the world.

“I didn’t have the good luck to see [Madrid legend Alfredo] Di Stefano on the pitch, but he was that. Raul, yes, I coached him and he was a competitor and a winner. Cristiano has that same mentality.”

Benitez was speaking ahead of his side’s Champions League group-stage opener against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.

And the Madrid boss hinted that he could make some changes to his starting XI following Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Espanyol.

“[Team] rotation is not a whim, it is a way to take advantage of the entire team,” he said. “The fact that you switch players depends upon performance, their position.

“It is not the same for a centre-back as a winger. Cristiano is offensive. He is naturally a winger, but he always cuts in to the centre. Each player has a distinct role on the field. We look at each match to see what we need on the pitch and decide whether we rotate or not.

“It is not a policy to have rotation, it is a way to think about the function of the players in their positions. There are matches in which they get more worn out than others. Beyond that I think we have a quality squad and I want to take full advantage of them.”

Benitez conceded that trying to find room for all of his attacking talents is not easy, but that those who do play are given the freedom to express themselves.

“The attack has a lot of liberty,” he said. “In training, we develop movements that they can later decide upon based on their talent. We look at which movements one makes that the others can build upon.

“Gareth [Bale] has a lot of speed and goes deep, Cristiano goes to the centre and the play of Karim [Benzema] or James [Rodriguez] or Isco does a lot of damage to our rivals.

“Finding the balance on the field between them all is not easy, but when they understand what they have to do they are a team who can demolish on the attack, and that is why they end up in positions that are not their original ones.

“I am not going to take away the possibility for Bale to run nor for Cristiano to take his shots. You can’t take it away from them, I want them to coordinate it amongst themselves and when they confuse their opponents, they can run less.”

Luka Modric played just 56 minutes of the Espanyol win following his contributions while on international duty with Croatia.

And Benitez suggested that if there was the opportunity to give the midfielder further time to rest then he would.

“Modric is coming off national team duty,” he said. “If we have to give him fewer minutes we can but if he has to play he will. If the other day I could have used fewer players to save them I would have, but one has to analyse which positions need a rest.”

Benitez, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, says he is not prioritising one competition over another this season.

“I feel the challenge to win each match, not one competition or the other,” he said. “We face each match with the mentality that we are out to win titles. To avoid having to choose between one title or the other, we go out with the mentality of winning first.”

Steven Gerrard’s claims in book I didn’t like him are ‘wrong’ – Rafa Benitez

Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez says Steven Gerrard’s description of their relationship at Liverpool is “wrong,” hinting that the motivation for making the claims is to sell his new book.

In Gerrard’s soon-to-be-published second autobiography, “My Story,” the current LA Galaxy midfielder claims Benitez was an excellent tactical coach, but “emotionless and distant” as a person, and that they have no relationship at present.

The comments have generated much media publicity and surprised many given the pair appeared to have worked well together during six years at Liverpool — with Gerrard playing some of the best football of his career and lifting the Champions League and FA Cup under Benitez’s guidance.

Asked for his reaction to the furore by Spanish TV show Jugones, the Madrid coach said he did not agree with Gerrard’s telling of the story, but did not want to get into any public exchange of opinions.

“I have read the comments, and I believe [Gerrard] is wrong,” Benitez said. “But, what we must do now is just enjoy things. I have respect for Stevie and affection for him, for Liverpool, the club, and its fans. So I think it is best to let it go and not add anything else.”

The serialised extracts from Gerrard’s book also include criticism of Benitez’s lack of manners, with the Spaniard apparently bluntly asking the midfielder’s mother when they first met if her son “liked money.”

Benitez also told Jugones that such controversial comments about someone who is now coach of a club like Madrid would help Gerrard make more money from his latest book.

“He is publishing a book, and now that I am Real Madrid coach, it will sell better,” he said.

Mario Balotelli is ‘unmanageable’ – ex-Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard

Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard agrees with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho that Mario Balotelli is “unmanageable.”

Balotelli, 25, has been loaned to AC Milan after struggling to make an impact at Liverpool following his move from the San Siro in 2014 — and he impressed in the Milan derby on Sunday night despite a 1-0 loss to Inter.

The Italy international played under Mourinho when the Portuguese was in charge of Inter Milan, and in 2010 he warned clubs about his poor attitude.

Gerrard said in his book “My Story,” which is being serialised in the Daily Mail: “After his promising debut against Tottenham, he had lapsed in training and the subsequent games. His demeanour was very poor. I made my up mind pretty quickly after that about Balotelli.

“We got on fine. I still tried to help him and I kept looking for chances to praise him but I could see why Mourinho had been right when he said Balotelli is unmanageable.

“He is very talented with the potential to be world class, but he’ll never get there because of his mentality and the people around him. Balotelli’s always late, he always wants attention.”

Gerrard was unimpressed with the way Balotelli, who has scored four goals in 28 appearances for Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, conducted himself in training.

The LA Galaxy midfielder said: “He made an immediate impression when we were doing work on our defensive set pieces and Balotelli said to Brendan: ‘I don’t mark on corners. I can’t.’

“I nearly fell into the goalpost. I was thinking, ‘What are you? 6-foot-3, and one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen on a football pitch? And you can’t mark on a corner?’

“Brendan was very firm. He said to Balotelli: ‘Well, you can now — and if you can’t then you’re going to learn.’

“That was the first conflict between Brendan and Balotelli, on day one, but the manager stood up to Mario really well. From that point, Balotelli started marking on corners.”

The ex-England captain added: “In my last season, Brendan Rodgers came to me at Melwood one day in mid-August. We had a chat on the training pitch.

“He said, ‘You know we’ve missed out on a couple of signings. I’m basically left with no option but to have a bit of a gamble.’

“Brendan paused before he spoke again: ‘The gamble is Mario Balotelli.’ My instant reaction was, ‘Uh-oh.’ I’d never met Balotelli but I’d heard all the stories about the indoor fireworks and Jose Mourinho describing him as an ‘unmanageable’ player.

“I could see that, in the right mood, he was a quality footballer but the rest of his career seemed like a spectacular waste of talent. That was my opinion of Balotelli.”

Louis van Gaal promises Manchester United players more ‘boring’ meetings

Louis van Gaal has told his Manchester United players to prepare themselves for more “boring” meetings because he thinks they are working.

Van Gaal was in just as defiant a mood on Saturday night as he was on the eve of his team’s morale-boosting 3-1 win over Liverpool.

The day after breaking into song mid-press conference to underline how he still had the support of his players and the fans, Van Gaal again poked fun at the stories of apparent unrest in the Old Trafford dressing room.

The United manager was at pains to point out that his team would not have taken the lead had they not planned and practiced the free-kick drill that led to Daley Blind’s opener.

“I have to say the meetings about the set plays and the sessions about the set plays have paid off,” he said. “So I am very happy because the first goal was the deciding goal.

“We have a lot of meetings, you know,” Van Gaal added with a grin.

David De Gea had made a successful return to action, Anthony Martial scored a stunning goal on his debut and United recorded a big win over their most bitter rivals.

The day after breaking into song mid-press conference to underline how he still had the support of his players and the fan

s, Van Gaal again poked fun at the stories of apparent unrest in the Old Trafford dressing room.

The day after breaking into song mid-press conference to underline how he still had the support of his players and the fans, Van Gaal again poked fun at the stories of apparent unrest in the Old Trafford dressing room.