OFFICIAL: Crystal Palace sign Adebayor

The Eagles have scored only one goal – an own goal – in their last six Premier League matches but have now bolstered their attack with the arrival of the Togo striker

OFFICIAL: Crystal Palace sign Adebayor

Crystal Palace have signed free agent Emmanuel Adebayor on a six-month contract.

The Togo international was released by Tottenham in September and has been without a club since, but has now signed a deal with the Eagles until the end of the season.

Palace boss Alan Pardew has made clear his desire to sign a striker this month and the club have also been linked with the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Loic Remy and Emmanuel Emenike.

Palace’s only goal in their last six Premier League games was an own goal scored by Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen on Saturday.

Adebayor was reportedly close to joining Aston Villa in the summer but was eventually let go by Spurs having failed to find a new club, and has not played since May 3 of last year.

The former Arsenal and Real Madrid player will wear the No.25 shirt at Selhurst Park.

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Neymar is very, very, very happy at Barca – Zubizarreta on Madrid rumours

The Catalan club’s former sporting director is confident the Brazilian will resolve his contract saga and remain with the La Liga champions

Neymar is very, very, very happy at Barca - Zubizarreta on Madrid rumours

Neymar is completely content at Barcelona and will remain with the club, according to former Camp Nou sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

A goalkeeper for Barca and Spain during his playing days, Zubizarreta served on Barcelona’s board from July 2010 to January 2015.

Neymar’s controversial move to the Camp Nou came during this period and, while the ramifications of that deal are still being played out in Spanish court rooms, the Brazil captain has dazzled on the field in an irresistible forward trio alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Speculation has swirled over the 23-year-old’s future as he mulls a fresh contract with the Spanish, European and world club champions.

But Zubizarreta echoed the thoughts of coach Luis Enrique when he told Cadena Cope he could not envisage the forward leaving.

“Neymar is happy at the club,” Zubizarreta said. “Very, very, very happy at the club ”

Zubizarreta oversaw the acquisitions of Neymar and Suarez either side of Barcelona being hit by a player registration ban for breaching Fifa rules on the transfer of youth players.

Suarez arrived during the appeals process before the punishment spanning two full transfer windows took hold – meaning close-season signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal were only able to make their Barca debuts earlier this month.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have landed similar sanctions for comparable offences, although Zubizarreta maintains that Barcelona were innocent of any wrongdoing.

“Barca did nothing wrong with the signing of underage players,” he said. “We complied with the law and were supported by the Catalan Federation.

“Fifa understood that a rule had been breached but we disagreed with them.”

Barcelona are level on points with Atletico at the top of La Liga, with Madrid four points further back.

Zubizarreta expects the title race to go down to the wire and be influenced by the three clubs’ participation in the latter stages of the Champions League.

“The league will be decided in the last 10 games” he added.

Luis Enrique targets further Barcelona success after a remarkable year

What an absolutely extraordinary week Luis Enrique has just had.

Exactly one year ago, he was about to rise from what seemed to be footballing ruins, and the events of the past few days have been a brilliant way to mark that anniversary.

In turn he has been idiosyncratic, daring and shrewd, but above all, the Barcelona manager has been true to himself.

It’s one of the all-time great comeback stories.

For context, do you remember early January 2015? Barcelona appeared to be mired in crisis.

There was the standup row with Lionel Messi in training on the Friday before losing to Real Sociedad — with the Argentinian and Neymar left on the bench — followed by the sacking of Luis Enrique’s friend and mentor Andoni Zubizarreta a couple of days later.

Four points behind leaders Real Madrid and only in second place ahead of Atletico Madrid because of their goal power, Barca were as close to Valencia in fourth as they were to first.

(One year later, a four-point gap between Real Madrid and league leaders Atletico was enough to see Rafa Benitez sacked at the Bernabeu.)

After losing in San Sebastian, Luis Enrique’s next match was at home to Elche in the Copa del Rey, and fewer than 28,000 fans turned up at the Camp Nou to see it. Albeit that he was a Barcelona hero as a player, it looked like a vote of no confidence for “Lucho.”

“The sacking of ‘Zubi’ weakens my position and makes me sad,” he admitted in his press conference.

The rest is history and represents one of the most astonishing turnarounds in football. Barca played scintillating football and barely misplaced a footstep in winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

But now it feels like the continued superlative football, especially from the MSN of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, as well as Barcelona’s five-trophy haul since that traumatic January, might be combining to leave some of Luis Enrique’s excellence in the shade.

So, how about this for his last week of work?

1. Barcelona 4-0 Granada

Messi hit a hat trick two days before he would collect his historic fifth Ballon d’Or, but the man of the match, by a distance, was Sergi Roberto. Perhaps the success story of Barcelona’s season so far, it was already clear just how much faith his manager has in the 23-year-old.

Comfortable in right or left midfield and stellar at right-back in Dani Alves’ absence, Sergi had already put in a stunning performance “overloading” Madrid in midfield and attack during the 4-0 Clasico win.

But this was an exponential step forward.

The single most demanding and specialist position in Barcelona’s version of the 4-3-3 formation is in central midfield. It’s called the “Pivote” and there’s a gatekeeping role.

Possession passing through this position needs to be ultraswift and shrewd, with no hesitation, no mistakes. It’s like speed chess.

If the player in this position loses the ball, misses a tackle or misjudges where to be, then it can leave Barcelona horrifically exposed.

Sergi deputised for Sergio Busquets in the middle of midfield and played brilliantly, looking as if he had trained and performed there for several seasons.

This was an exceptional decision by Barcelona’s manager and, suddenly, a relatively inexperienced footballer, who many would have been relaxed to see leave the club the previous summer, had shown he was the perfect deputy for a player who seemed not to have a proper replacement.

Luis Enrique retained Sergi, promoted him, used him in his preferred position and then kept on testing how many more challenges he could pass. Great vision by the coach.

2. Ballon D’Or Award

You might think him rude, and I don’t think he’ll be distraught if you did.

But Luis Enrique profoundly disapproved of the 2014 ban, which FIFA imposed on Barcelona for transgressing the rules on when and how to sign juvenile footballers. Accordingly, he was true to himself and refused to attend.

The Ballon d’Or itself, without its recent ties to FIFA, is an award of prestige and merit and one which puts winners in esteemed company. To opt not to turn up on a point of principle is, you’d have to say, staying true to personal values — something which the demands of modern football often undermines.

3. Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

Eleven days after their city rivals harassed and pressed Barcelona into submission in a very aggressive 0-0 draw in La Liga, Luis Enrique saw no danger, only an opportunity in the second leg of this cup tie.

Now I have a vested interest here, having written for ESPN FC back in December 2013: “Why, given the myriad of tactical niceties out there, is this club hidebound to never, ever think about reducing deficiencies and augmenting remaining strengths with a team shape of 4-2-3-1?”

It transpires that Luis Enrique is open to that way of thinking and, against Espanyol, he lined his team up in such a formation. With a whole host of niceties that made the decision stand out:

– Drawing conclusions from Sergi’s performance against Granada, the two organising midfielders in this new tactical scheme didn’t include Busquets who, having played several hundred minutes more than at the same stage the previous season, was rested. That’s vital if he’s to be on form for the trophy-winning part of the season. In his absence, Sergi was paired with Rakiti, and the two functioned like hand in glove. Nice work, coach.

– The formation also facilitated Munir El Haddadi at centre-forward, Messi at No. 10 and Aleix Vidal as a winger. Munir, evidently classy in technical terms but shorn of goal confidence this season, was deployed nearer to his perfect position instead of wide right, which is largely the case when he substitutes for one of the MSN. This, with Suarez suspended, was probably the only formation in which Munir can start in the No. 9 position and the youngster responds by scoring twice. Round peg, round hole. Ring the bell for the coach.

– Messi, who has already been playing as a hybrid between the front line and that which Xavi Hernandez used to occupy, was returned to the position where he orchestrates everything. He plays superbly and sets up Munir’s first with a shimmering pass. “We want a formation which gives Messi, our best player, the most time on the ball, and we might well use this setup again this season,” admits Luis Enrique. Ring the bell twice.

– Vidal, who is technical, clever, quick and adventurous, not only turned in a vibrant performance on the right of the attacking three behind Munir but also saw the opportunity to change position late on and overload Espanyol down Barca’s left. It is a surprise move via which he supplies Munir with the second goal. Following Sunday night’s 6-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, it means that in the four games since the two players became eligible, Luis Enrique has used Arda and Vidal in five different positions, from where they have combined for three goal assists. Just ring the bell again.

Thus, it has been a great week, featuring personal excellence from the coach, as well as three Liga and Copa wins with an aggregate 12-0 scoreline.

But there’s no time for Luis Enrique to pat himself on the back, not that it is a propensity of his anyway. The Copa del Rey quarterfinals bring two more meetings with Athletic Club, starting on Wednesday at San Memes, where Barca lost 4-0 in the Super Cup last August.

And beyond that tie, everything is building to a miniclimax on Jan. 30, when current leaders Atletico play at the Camp Nou. In the same fixture last year, one week after that Real Sociedad defeat, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona sprang to life and never slowed down until everything was won in June.

Culled from soccernet.com

Lionel Messi not winning Ballon d’Or would be ‘madness,’ says Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry says it would be “madness” if Barcelona star Lionel Messi is denied the Ballon d’Or trophy on Monday.

Thierry Henry says it would be “madness” if Barcelona star Lionel Messi is denied the Ballon d’Or trophy on Monday.

Along with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca teammate Neymar, Messi is a finalist for the award, which will be announced on Jan. 11.

Messi, who led his club to a historic Treble last season, has been named world’s best player a record four times in his career. And Henry, who played with the Argentine from 2007-10, has declared it would be an injustice if the Blaugrana No. 10 did not add to his collection this time around.

“All we can do is enjoy what he does because what he is doing is not normal,” Henry told Barca’s official website on Thursday.

“We used to say that a player who got 23 to 25 goals in a season was an incredible striker, but Messi does that in three months.

“We had incredible players in that [Barca] team [that Henry played in] and whenever you did not know what to do, you always looked for Messi.

“I think it would be madness if he does not win the Ballon d’Or. He deserves it because the team won another Treble.

“But what I do not understand is why Suarez isn’t there.”

Barcelona beat Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final last year and look the early favourites to lift the trophy in 2016, which would make them the first side in the Champions League era to repeat — a feat Henry believes will happen.

“In a single game, Bayern [Munich] can win it and you have to be careful with PSG too,” he said.

“You never know what might happen, but I think Barca can win it again.”