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.

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

‘Ranieri old, Wenger a failure’ – Mourinho mockery coming back to haunt him

The Chelsea boss has made fun of the Leicester and Arsenal managers, plus Manuel Pellegrini, but they are challenging for the title while he languishes near the foot of the table

'Ranieri old, Wenger a failure' - Mourinho mockery coming back to haunt him

Throughout his coaching career, Jose Mourinho has often had the last laugh. The most successful coach in the past decade along with Bayern Munich and former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, the Portuguese has relished putting down some of his counterparts. This season, however, it no longer seems so clever.

On Monday, Chelsea travel to Leicester for a meeting with the Premier League’s surprise package in 2015-16 – and his old foe Claudio Ranieri.

The Portuguese replaced Ranieri at Chelsea for his first spell in 2004. “It was the end of the cycle,” he said back then. But he later attacked the Italian when the two men were working in Serie A, Mourinho at Inter and Ranieri at Juventus.

“Ranieri has the mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win,” he said in 2008. “He is almost 70 years old, he has won a Supercup and another small trophy and he is too old to change his mentality. He’s old and he hasn’t won anything.”

The Italian was actually 56 at the time, while he has won a little more than Mourinho gave him credit for: a Copa del Rey and a Uefa Super Cup with Valencia, plus a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italiana at Fiorentina. Nevertheless, Mou’s Inter side beat Ranieri’s Juventus to the title and he kept his reputation as a master of mind games.

Ahead of Monday’s match, however, Mourinho’s Chelsea are languishing just a point above the drop zone while the Italian’s Leicester side sit only one from the top with a game in hand. So, perhaps logically, it was a more gracious Jose who spoke on the eve of the game.

Nevertheless, there was still a hint of damning his rival with faint praise. “I think he won manager of the month,” the Portuguese said of Ranieri. “He should win manager of the half-term… the first six months.” And he couldn’t resist a barbed comment to go with it. “Last year, Ranieri was sacked by Greece for losing to the Faroe Islands,” he said. “Now, top of the league. It’s exciting.”

It’s nothing new, of course. Mourinho has often attacked Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, famously calling the Frenchman a “voyeur” in his first spell in charge of Chelsea, before labelling the Gunners boss a “specialist in failure” last year. He has also questioned how the 66-year-old has been able to stay in his job for so long.

But ahead of Leicester’s game at home to Chelsea on Monday, Arsenal are on top of the Premier League, while the question marks these days surround the future of Mourinho and not Wenger, who has put together an excellent side in north London on a much tighter budget than the Portuguese has had at any of his clubs with the exception of Porto.

And the other team looking like title contenders at the moment, Manchester City, are managed by another of Mourinho’s many adversaries: Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean coach was replaced by the Portuguese at Real Madrid and when the former later visited the Santiago Bernabeu as Malaga boss, he quipped: “If Madrid sacked me, I would go to a big team in England or Italy. I wouldn’t go to Malaga.”

It is all very well making such remarks while winning league titles and Champions Leagues, but Mourinho’s current tenure is proving much less successful, despite winning the Premier League and the Capital One Cup last season, and he may have to reassess his options if his Chelsea spell is brought to an end in the coming months.

In the Premier League, he has already had to do so and after last weekend’s shock defeat at home to promoted side Bournemouth, he said: “Our objective is to fight for the top four, but maybe now we have to think of finishing in the top six.”

It is quite a fall from grace and whatever does happen in the rest of the season, Chelsea’s current predicament means there is now little room for Mourinho’s customary smugness and arrogance.

And if Ranieri, Pellegrini or Wenger walk away with the title next May, it will be they who will have had the last laugh. For Jose, meanwhile, it’s just not funny any more.

Culled from goal.com

Tactically outdated Mourinho must reinvent himself – just like Guardiola

COMMENT: The Special One has used the same 4-2-3-1 formation for the last five-and-a-half years but must modernise if he is to save his job and win more major trophies 

Tactically outdated Mourinho must reinvent himself - just like Guardiola

“During our first team meeting at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho didn’t talk much about tactics. In tactical terms, you just have to look at how he eliminated Barcelona in the Champions League with Inter in 2010 by playing defensive, counter-attacking football. Despite all the talented players he has had at his disposal, the recent years have shown that he has probably become outdated tactically.”

This was the damning response of an ex-Mourinho player when asked by Goal if his former Madrid mentor was to blame for Chelsea’s disastrous season.

The player in question asked to remain anonymous – he is active and may have to work with Mourinho again. But he is not alone in his criticism of the Chelsea boss. There have been numerous theories as to why the flailing Premier League champions, who sit just two points above the relegation zone following Saturday’s humiliating home loss to Bournemouth, have collapsed so spectacularly this campaign.

Is Mourinho suffering from third season syndrome? Is the dressing room broken? Is a poor summer transfer market to blame? Did the controversial departure of first team doctor Eva Carneiro affect the squad?

However, the former Madrid player’s narrow focus – whether Mourinho has been at fault tactically – is not a question that has been explored in depth. There can be little argument that since taking over Real Madrid in 2010, Mourinho has not evolved in a strategic sense. During his three-year spell at the Santiago Bernabeu and his two-and-a-half seasons back at Chelsea, he has almost always utilised his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

But this is a system that – despite emerging as the most popular and innovative formation of the new millennium – is now out of fashion among the elite. None of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus or Atletico Madrid use it. Carlo Ancelotti quickly abandoned it after succeeding Mourinho at Madrid, although the under-fire Rafa Benitez has flirted with its return this term.

The 4-2-3-1 is still relatively popular in the Premier League, so the formation alone cannot be used as an excuse for Chelsea’s dismal domestic form – even if it could help explain why English sides have flopped in Europe in the last few years. But it is just as much how Mourinho’s players interpret their roles within this system that is hurting Chelsea.

Jose’s obsession with fielding a team that is solid, organised and protected by a flat back four and two holding midfielders has not once wavered. Although Eden Hazard and Willian do have some licence to roam and switch flanks in offensive phases and Cesc Fabregas can act as a floating playmaker, the position of each player in the team is rigid. Each occupies a place on the right, the left or the centre and generally holds their position throughout the game. With such clear reference points, Chelsea are not only painfully pragmatic but also very predictable.

Top football teams today need to be far more flexible and expansive. They can’t use the same formation and occupy the same positions each game. If they do they will soon be found out, especially with so much technology and data available to analyse every movement on the pitch.

Pep Guardiola is surely the most advanced coach tactically right now. On Saturday, he selected the same Bayern Munich XI for the first time in 100 games. Last season, 10 of Mourinho’s team started at least 26 of their Premier League matches and three were ever-presents.

Attempting to decipher Pep’s formation on the pitch is virtually impossible. To Guardiola, there is no such thing as a set formation, it is all about interpreting space depending on the scenario and where the ball and opponents are. Then it is about exploiting this space by creating ‘passing lanes’ to provide multiple channels of attack in each move. As a result Bayern can line up at the centre circle in a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3, then 10 seconds later be attacking in a 2-3-5.

“We can play a back three or a back four, we can play with one or two support strikers, whatever,” captain Philipp Lahm told Goal last month. “I don’t know how many systems we have. Our game is very flexible in any case. [A formation to us] is often only about how you write in down.”

Guardiola is a proponent of total football. He demands that his players are comfortable in any area of the pitch – and that his defenders are just as proficient going forward as they are backwards. Compare David Alaba, Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng starting moves from deep and pushing into midfield with Chelsea’s John Terry, Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma, who are incapable of crossing the halfway line unless it is to go up for a corner.

Then look at Diego Costa, a lone striker with little to no lateral or off-the-ball movement – once again an easy reference point for defenders unless he is in peak condition. A big hulking target man has been a favourite of Mourinho for most of his career, with Didier Drogba his crown jewel. But, this type of physical striker may also be going out of fashion.

The best team in the world, Barcelona, employ a trio of small, skilful, interchanging forwards. Manchester City have the premier attack in England with the pint-sized Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva buzzing around. Juventus and Atletico are building their futures around the tiny but incredibly talented Paulo Dybala and Antoine Griezmann, respectively. PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski may be big but they are technically the equal of anyone.

Guardiola’s philosophy that players and formations need to be eclectic and adaptable is catching on. Last season, Massimiliano Allegri won the domestic double and reached the Champions League final with Juventus by deploying numerous different systems. He regularly switched from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-3 – often during the same game. This ability to “change the menu”, as Patrice Evra described it, is crucial.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have little variation to their play. Indeed, this season 13 of their 28 goals in the Premier League and Champions League have come from set pieces, while many others have been via deflections or goalkeeping gaffes. Very few have been well crafted.

“Juventus are developing a system that will be used by most of the big European teams in a couple of years,” former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli told Tuttosport.

“Juventus are at the vanguard: they use a hybrid tactical method that highlights the individual quality, even changing tactically during the course of a single move.”

Mourinho must also embrace this change. He cannot stand still. As Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli pointed out on Tuesday: “Guardiola is constantly developing tactically”. The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson was successful for so long because he was always evolving. He won the 1999 Champions League with a flat 4-4-2 formation, then changed to a 4-4-1-1, lifted another European title with a 4-3-3, before returning to a 4-4-2 to win his 13th and final Premier League title in 2013.

The 4-2-3-1 formation and Mourinho’s interpretation of it is simplistic and outdated. It is no coincidence that in the last five-and-a-half years he has won five trophies (including two trophyless campaigns and no European titles), compared to the 17 he bagged in the seven years prior – which comprised of six league championships, two Champions Leagues and a Uefa Cup.

The stats that show Ronaldo could be losing his magic

The former Manchester United man has struggled to convert chances in La Liga this term, though he could be set for a welcome boost against Getafe on Saturday

The stats that show Ronaldo could be losing his magic

Of all the issues facing Real Madrid this season, perhaps the most worrying for Rafa Benitez and fans at Santiago Bernabeu is the form of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portugal international found the net on five occasions against Espanyol on September 12, but has only netted a further four times in La Liga since as the Blancos slipped behind Barcelona in the race for the title.

And Ronaldo can only blame himself for his poor returns in front of goal, with the former Manchester United man’s shot conversion rate of 12.12 per cent his worst since moving to the Spanish capital.

Ronaldo’s efforts pale in comparison to Barca duo Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have been in electric form both with and without Lionel Messi in the side, though both are trailing behind Real Sociedad’s Imanol Agirretxe.

But there could be some good news this weekend for Ronaldo, with Madrid’s opponents Getafe having conceded more goals from the penalty spot this season and the reported Paris Saint-Germain target his side’s designated spot-kick taker.

Culled from goal.com

 

Unprecedented security for Madrid-Barca clash

A unprecedented series of security measures will be put in place for Saturday’s La Liga clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona in response to the attacks that killed 129 people in Paris last week.

The exact number of security personnel will be ironed out in a meeting on Thursday between representatives of both clubs, police and local and national government.

“Security will be greatly reinforced. There will be a lot of security personnel to control not only the access to the stadium, but also the outskirts and the transport that will bring fans to the stadium,” said Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

Spain’s anti-violence commission met with political, police and sporting authorities on Wednesday and declared the match as “high risk”, which is customary for the biggest games in La Liga, especially those between eternal rivals Madrid and Barca.

However, the events in Paris, allied to a terror threat level of four out of a maximum five in Spain, means that the security measures have “no precedent for the celebration of sporting events,” according to Francisco Martinez Vazquez, secretary of state for security.

No official figures have yet been released, but according to reports in the Spanish media, there will be a triple ring of security around Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium with over 1,500 police, who will be armed with horses, dogs and metal detectors.

A capacity crowd of 81,000 fans are expected to attend the match widely seen as the biggest in the world with an estimated television audience of 500 million.

The Stade de France, where an 80,000 crowd were watching France host Germany, was one of a series of targets across the French capital on Friday.

As a result of the increased terror threat, Spain’s friendly in Belgium was postponed on Tuesday, as was Germany’s clash with the Netherlands due to a bomb threat in Hannover.

The Bernabeu was the target of a bomb threat in December 2004, just months after the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.

The stadium was evacuated quickly and calmly near the end of a league match against Real Sociedad.

Two years previously, the Basque separatist group ETA planted a car bomb near the stadium on the day of a Champions League semi-final between Madrid and Barcelona causing 17 injuries. However, the game still went ahead.

Fernandez Diaz insisted at the moment there is no reason to think about postponing the game.

However, “should those circumstances arise, the priority is to ensure people’s lives,” he added.

Ramos: Clasico is almost orgasmic

The defender admitted that derbies with Barcelona are ecstatic affairs, while dismissing the suggestion Saturday’s defeat at Sevilla was a “disaster”

Ramos: Clasico is almost orgasmic

Sergio Ramos is already getting excited about Real Madrid‘s upcoming clash with Barcelona, joking the Clasico can be an almost orgasmic experience.

Los Blancos host their great rivals at the Santiago Bernabeu on November 21, with Rafa Benitez’s men having fallen three points behind the Liga leaders after Sunday’s shock loss at Sevilla.

Ramos has had his ups and downs against Barca, getting sent off in the infamous 5-0 loss at Camp Nou in 2010 but heading the winner in their meeting in March 2013.

Barca defender Gerard Pique claimed on Sunday that the Clasico “turns us on” and Ramos admitted he finds the derby nearly as arousing.

“I don’t know, I’ve never reached an orgasm personally during the Clasico – but almost,” the Spain international, who is a veteran in clashes with Barca having been at Madrid since 2005, quipped to reporters.

Ramos was speaking after Madrid’s 3-2 loss at Sevilla, a game in which he had opened the scoring with a spectacular overhead kick only to see the hosts mount a stirring comeback.

It was put to Ramos that the result was a “disaster” from Madrid’s perspective but he felt that such talk was over the top.

“Every person is free to use the adjective they want,” he added. “We didn’t play well and that is always reflected in the result but this is one of the most complicated grounds for visiting teams, not just Madrid.

“We know we played a poor game but we also have to recognise the great game Sevilla put in.

“I thought we were a little static. We’ve lost some very important points today and we’ve got to change our mindset. But we are still in the title race.”