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Antonio Valencia’s Manchester United exit reminds fans of better days

Antonio Valencia is as renowned for sentiment as he is for speaking English, but romanticism has not been lacking in his recent social media output. The Ecuadorian international is about to leave Manchester United and Sunday’s final game of the season against relegated Cardiff City will be the last that the club plays with him on the books.

“I want to enjoy until the last moment with you Man United” was just one example of the relationship-ending tone set by the 33-year-old’s recent posts and Valencia, who has not played for United since a 2-0 win at Newcastle on Jan. 2, is likely to have the chance to say goodbye properly this weekend.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

History will remember Valencia as a very good player — “He’s a been a fantastic servant to the club,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said on Friday — during the 10 years since he arrived from Wigan Athletic. He is the current squad’s longest-serving player, with 338 appearances and 25 goals, and ranks 47th on United’s all-time list for games played.2

Valencia was bought to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, who left Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2009. Initially, the man who supported Boca Juniors and Ecuadorian side Nacional as a child and idolised Francesco Totti thought there was a disciplinary issue when Wigan manager Steve Bruce called him into his office, only to discover United were interested in him.

Sir Alex Ferguson told his new signing that his job was to beat players and cross to the forwards. It was one trick, but it worked; Valencia set up Wayne Rooney’s winner in the League cup final as part of an impressive debut campaign in Manchester.

“I had a good first season (he was named in the 2009-10 PFA team of the year) and my family came to see the final games when we beat Spurs 3-1 at Old Trafford,” Valencia once told me. “A few weeks earlier, we beat Bayern Munich 3-2. It was one of my best games, a really exciting match against one of the best teams in the world. We’d already knocked AC Milan out of the [Champions League], we were playing well but then we lost 2-1 in Munich. We knew we had to play well in Manchester and we did. Unfortunately we went out on away goals.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

As well as having to take the place of Ronaldo, who won the Ballon d’Or in his final year at United, Valencia had to contend with an unsettled right-back situation behind him.

“Unlike with previous partners on the right where I had a 50/50 partnership, my legs had gone playing behind Antonio,” Gary Neville tole me. “Ronaldo said: ‘I attack, you defend!’ With Antonio, I needed him to defend and attack for me and I sat there hoping that he’s do that and cover me. He was 90 percent and I was 10 percent.”

Valencia broke his leg against Rangers in September 2010, but returned to play a role in his club’s run to the following year’s Champions League final, which he started vs. Barcelona. In 2011-12, having signed a new contract, his form saw him named United’s player of the year and players’ player of the year.

Spurs emerge from Ajax defeat with hope — something they didn’t have after 30 minutes

So in the end a 1-0 defeat turned out to be a relatively decent result. When Donny van de Beek had the penalty area to himself in the 15th minute, sat Hugo Lloris down and passed the ball into the corner of the net, it seemed utterly implausible that it would be the only Ajax goal of the night.

Ajax had sliced through the Spurs defence with such ease, Van de Beek finding himself in so much space because the home side almost looked hypnotised by the passing and movement in front of them that it seemed to slip their mind to mark him.

“The way we conceded the goal was so painful,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said, genuinely looking in pain as he spoke.

Spurs looked utterly suffocated. At one stage, Victor Wanyama tried to bring ball out of defence but was immediately set upon by three Ajax players and relieved of possession before he could even think about starting an attack. It was like a trio of velociraptors jumping on a lumbering stegosaurus.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

And yet, it might turn out to be enormously costly for Erik ten Hag’s side that they didn’t score a second in this period of dominance. After that opening salvo, they almost seemed to back off, either because no mortals could keep that pace up for longer, or they perhaps loosely assumed they were so much better than Spurs that the result of both match and tie was inevitable.6

Afterward, Ten Hag conceded that his team could and should have made more of their initial superiority, also admitting that his team “did not anticipate” Tottenham’s change in approach, their more direct and physical style.

Perhaps we should give Spurs more credit for the shift in the game. Pochettino switched formations after about 20 minutes, moving Danny Rose into midfield, and then Jan Vertonghen’s horrible-looking injury — knees buckling when he was initially allowed to return to the pitch, after his nose ploughed into the back of Toby Alderweireld’s head — actually turned out to be, from a tactical perspective at least, a positive.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Moussa Sissoko changed a Champions League semifinal. For his side. For the better. Lots of strange things have happened in the world in the past few years, but that’s among the more curious. Or, more accurately, would have been curious nine months ago. Sissoko’s influence faded in the latter stages of the game, but his initial impact after replacing Vertonghen allowed Spurs to take more control of midfield, and to play in that more direct manner that Ten Hag didn’t expect.

Spurs decided that the way to stop Ajax was to plug the holes in midfield, which Sissoko helped with hugely, and then aim as many crosses as possible at Fernando Llorente. There’s no shame in that: You win games of football by being better than your opponent at the things you’re good at. It’s no good trying to compete with the things they’re good at, just for the sake of it.

Liverpool made Lionel Messi angry and paid the price as Barcelona take charge play

The best way to deal with Lionel Messi is to treat him like football’s version of the Incredible Hulk: Don’t make him angry and you might just be spared an ordeal of pain and humiliation.

Liverpool midfielder James Milner did not get the memo, judging by his crude first-half barge on the home side’s No. 10 during Barcelona’s 3-0 Champions League semifinal first-leg win Wednesday at the Nou Camp, and it is fair to say that the Premier League side went on to reap a whirlwind of two-goal Messi’s annoyance.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“In these moments, he is unstoppable,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said afterward of Messi. “My boys didn’t show him too much respect or treat him harshly to try to stop him, but he is a world-class player and he showed that again tonight. What else can I say?”

For Milner, perhaps there was a sense of déjà vu. Back in March 2015, while playing for Manchester City, the former England international inadvertently became a YouTube sensation when he was nutmegged by Messi during a Champions League round-of-16 tie against Barcelona.5

On that occasion, the Argentine forward played the ball through Milner’s legs and left his opponent sliding on his backside before scampering away on another of his mazy runs. Four years on, Milner saw the opportunity to exact revenge.

Gerard Pique rolled back the years with a majestic performance in defence, while Arturo Vidal was an incessant bundle of energy in midfield for Ernesto Valverde’s team. But in truth, while others deserve their honourable mentions, this game was all about one man.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Klopp joked in his pregame news conference that Messi sounded as though he was issuing a “threat” in August when he insisted Barcelona would make up for last season’s quarterfinal exit to Roma by going all the way in the Champions League this year. On Wednesday, the Liverpool manager saw at first hand that the 31-year-old had not been joking.

Messi played like a man on a mission against United, and Liverpool got the same treatment. His first goal, a tap-in after Suarez had hit the bar, came after a period of Liverpool pressure early in the second half; his second, seven minutes later, was a jaw-dropping free kick from 30 yards that is up there with the best he has ever scored.

It prompted 90,000 Catalans to bow as they chanted his name, but as ever, there was so much more to Messi’s display. Perhaps the best example of his genius was borne out in the final seconds of second-half stoppage time when, after breaking clear, he teed up Ousmane Dembele with a sumptuous reverse pass inside the penalty area.

Learning languages, talking race and soccer: U.S. U20 captain Mark McKenzie opens up over dinner

It has been a busy day in the McKenzie household; that’s only natural when there are inhabitants ages 20 and younger. One of them, Mark, just so happens to be a second-year center-back with the Philadelphia Union and one of the rising stars within U.S. Soccer. But it’s another McKenzie who has the more pressing matter. Younger sister Madison has prom coming up and a decision needs to be made.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“Sorry I’m late,” says Mark, who slides into a booth at a Buffalo Wild Wings, just miles away from the McKenzie home. “I had to help my sister pick out her prom dress. It’s a big deal, you know?”

“The last year has been great. There were a lot of ups and downs but it’s been a learning experience,” McKenzie says. “I just wanted to put my head down and do my work, and ultimately, I feel like my play would do the talking and it did. It’s been a whirlwind to keep it all together, but I’m extremely humbled and thankful for what happened last year.”6

On this night, however, McKenzie is like any U.S. fan experiencing the emotions that comes with watching the national team, this one a late March friendly against Chile. There is praise for Michael Bradley (“Dude, I picked his brain so much during camp”) and Gyasi Zardes (“That first touch bro, how ’bout that?”). But there is also angst when Chile equalizes. (“Argh! Can’t let that happen.”)

One of the biggest takeaway from watching the Chile game with this budding U.S. star is that McKenzie is a true student and lover of the game. He’ll sit there and patiently wait for your reasons as to why Lionel Messi is better than Cristiano Ronaldo while munching on his sandwich, and then counter it with his own in support of the Portuguese superstar.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

He’ll also wade into waters that divide much of American soccer. Promotion and relegation? “We need it. We need that incentive so we don’t get complacent.” That night in Trinidad in October 2017? “It was a sad night. So much buildup for a big game and to see it crumble hurt me personally, because I’m part of it in a way.”

McKenzie has a passion for other sports, too. His occasional glances at the other televisions in the restaurant reveal as much. The NBA is a favorite, and while he enjoys watching the games, it’s the off-court stuff that really gets McKenzie’s attention. “NBA Twitter, man. It’s so petty! I love it,” he says with a laugh.

Jozy Altidore blasts Toronto FC president over ‘games of ego’

After limping out of Friday night’s game, Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore said his injury could have been avoided had club president Bill Manning “put his ego aside” and allowed a former trainer to stay with the club.

Altidore left Toronto’s 4-3 win over Minnesota United in the 82nd minute with hamstring tightness, then sought out reporters to express his dissatisfaction with management.

“It’s bittersweet because this could have been avoided, but you’ll have to ask Bill Manning why it’s not avoided,” Altidore said of his exit. “It’s just disappointing. I’m just disappointed.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Altidore said that following former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco acrimonious exit from Toronto FC this winter, the club also cut ties with trainer Giuseppe Gueli, who had worked with Altidore and a number of players “every day” to prevent muscle injuries.

And Altidore said Manning’s “vendetta” against Giovinco and those associated with him was what led to Gueli’s termination.4

“Well, we had a trainer here the last three years that’s been helping me with muscle injuries, but because he was attached to Seba [Giovinco], he’s not allowed at the club, which I think is ridiculous,” Altidore said. “And so now this is what I’m faced with — games of egos and that (kind of) thing. Hopefully [Manning] can put his ego aside and I can get the guy that’s kept me healthy, kept Michael [Bradley] healthy, kept a bunch of the guys healthy, and we can make things move forward.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“He’s not here. He’s not around, so you can’t find him,” Altidore said. “You go to his office and he’s not there, he’s travelling, he’s this and that, so I wish I knew, but I don’t know.”

In a text message sent to ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle, Manning said of Altidore that “he was frustrated” and added that he would talk privately to the U.S. international striker.

Bradley was more diplomatic of his longtime Toronto and United States teammate when asked about Altidore’s comments.

“Jozy is a guy who feels like at this point in his career he knows exactly what he needs,” Bradley said. “He knows exactly what he needs to do day in and day out to keep himself healthy, fit and ready to play at the highest level.

Afcon 2019: Nigeria’s ‘easy’ group isn’t as easy as it looks…

It is hard not to picture Gernot Rohr, an impish smile lurking beneath his serious visage, doing all he can to restrain himself from rubbing his hands in Grinch-like glee as he contemplated the kind draw for his side at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Rohr could not have asked for a more favourable group if he had stood on the podium and dipped his hands into the bowl himself. Guinea, Madagascar, and Burundi are as good as he, or any other Nigerian, could have hoped for going into the ceremony on Friday night, under the shadow of the legendary Sphinx.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Straightforward as the group may look, it likely won’t be the case. The last time Nigeria were at the Nations Cup, they also had an easy draw. With Burkina Faso, Zambia, and Ethiopia to face, and they barely managed to scrape through on 5 points out of an available 9. To be fair, they did go on to win the tournament.6

The German was practically preening as he attempted to keep his eye on the details on Friday. “It would be a great showpiece of football but it is important for our players to avoid injuries as the season heads towards the end,” he told ESPN.

But as is always form with the Nigeria coach, he was quick to advise caution: “It is a tough group and we have to be at our best and our fittest.
Skipper Ahmed Musa also toed the same line: “I think it is a tough group for the Super Eagles. It is important for us to stay fit and avoid injuries so that everyone would be in great shape in Egypt.

“We have a young team who have played at the World Cup but have not played at the Afcon. For me, we are ready for any country in Egypt. It would be an interesting experience.”cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Both men are wise to advise caution. Both Guinea and Madagascar will throw up bad memories for the Super Eagles. All three were in the same group for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

During that series, which was the last time the Super Eagles met either side, interim coach Austin Eguavoen’s side lost 1-0 in the first leg of the qualifiers in Conakry.

Premier League goalkeeper didn’t know what Nazi salute was, says FA panel

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey “did not know” what a Nazi salute was, a Football Association panel has said.

The Wales international was charged after appearing to perform a Nazi gesture in a photograph posted on Instagram by German teammate Max Meyer. Hennessey denied the allegation, and suggested the gesture was “absolutely coincidental” — and the charge was eventually dropped.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The written reasons for the decision, published on Tuesday, stated the 32-year-old was not punished because he proved he was unaware of the historical significance of the gesture.4

“Mr. Hennessey categorically denied that he was giving a Nazi salute,” the statement read. “Indeed, from the outset he said that he did not even know what one was.

“Improbable as that may seem to those of us of an older generation, we do not reject that assertion as untrue. In fact, when cross-examined about this, Mr. Hennessey displayed a very considerable — one might even say lamentable — degree of ignorance about anything to do with [Adolf] Hitler, fascism and the Nazi regime.

“Regrettable though it may be that anyone should be unaware of so important a part of our own and world history, we do not feel we should therefore find he was not telling the truth about this.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“All we would say [at the risk of sounding patronising] is that Mr. Hennessey would be well advised to familiarise himself with events which continue to have great significance to those who live in a free country.”

Ajax add substance to style vs. Juventus to raise hopes of UCL upset

Johan Cruyff famously once remarked: “Italians can’t beat us, but we can certainly lose against them.” It summed up the clash of footballing cultures at the time. His Ajax and Barcelona teams could outplay their Serie A counterparts but give up one chance, allow one counter, make one mistake and expect to be punished.

Cruyff’s words rang as true Wednesday night as they did back then. Ajax dominated the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal against Juventus. They deserved to win but yet, their streetwise and vastly experienced Italian opponents fly back home with a draw and an away goal from their only shot on target. The advantage is now with the Old Lady and history stands by her side. On the seven occasions Juventus have drawn the first leg away from home 1-1, they have progressed six times including against Ajax in 1978.cheap nfl jerseys nike china

That said, Ajax must draw strength from this encounter. A team that has scored 100 goals in the Eredivisie, 44 on the road, will back themselves to score at the Allianz Stadium even with Juventus’ captain and best defender Giorgio Chiellini expected to return for the seven-time defending Italian champions.6

On the eve of Wednesday’s game, Jordi Cruyff told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “My father would have liked this Ajax side.” Wednesday’s showing did nothing to change that opinion. Ajax stayed true to their values and managed 60 percent possession. Frenkie de Jong commanded, giving and going, twisting and turning, always moving, losing whomever it was who followed him.

Hakim Ziyech, for one, will be cursing his accuracy. The Moroccan’s aim failed him as the game wore on, but Wojciech Szczesny still needed to produce a world-class stop in the 17th minute to tip over one of Ziyech’s seven shots. Van de Beek blasted another chance high and wide soon afterward, and Nicolas Tagliafico, who will miss the second leg through suspension, caught Joao Cancelo napping but couldn’t steer Ziyech’s far-post cross on goal.cheap youth nfl jerseys

The inability to take the opportunities they created risked coming back to haunt Ajax and so it proved. Cristiano Ronaldo had not been peripheral. He’d volleyed a Miralem Pjanic corner wide and set up Federico Bernardeschi with a knock-down. But his opener — the last act of the first half – definitely came against the run of play.

Man United are running out of time to give David De Gea a new contract. Can they do it before he leaves for free?

In 2015, after a summer of rumour and speculation, Manchester United accepted defeat in their attempt to get David De Gea to sign a new contract and agreed to sell the Spaniard to Real Madrid. Four years and a faulty fax machine later, and United are back where they started. In less than three months’ time — July 1, to be exact — De Gea will officially have one year left on his deal at Old Trafford and the decision facing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazer family will be whether to cash in on their prized goalkeeper or hold their nerve.cheap wholesale nike nfl jerseys

Sources have told ESPN FC that their plan, as of writing, is to stand firm. Bids in the summer will be rebuffed in the hope that De Gea can be convinced to stay. Their view is that they can take the financial hit should the worst happen and he leaves for nothing in 12 months; to the club, it’s worth the risk if it gives them extra time to negotiate a fresh agreement.

At the moment, though, an agreement is some way off. Sources close to De Gea have suggested the club do not have the “capacity” to meet his demands. Other sources have hinted that associated costs (including agents’ fees) have driven up the price of the deal.4

De Gea and his representatives believe he deserves to be one of the highest-paid players at United. He has, after all, won the club’s player of the year award in four of the past five seasons and is among the best goalkeepers in the world. At 28, he is in the prime of his career and is keen to cash in while he can. You can see his point.

United, meanwhile, are trying to manage a wage structure that has been wrecked somewhat by Alexis Sanchez’s mega-money move from Arsenal in January 2018. More than that, they’re also trying to cope with a shifting landscape in the transfer market. Neymar’s £199m move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 blew the roof off the market in terms of transfer fees and it’s taken time for wages to catch up. During negotiations with De Gea and Ander Herrera in particular, they’ve started to feel the pinch. After more than a year of talks, Herrera is two months away from leaving on a free transfer, cheap nfl jerseys from china nike with PSG linked most closely to the Spanish midfielder.

Neymar and Sanchez have set a benchmark, but United are at least learning. From now on, their top players will be offered five-year contracts with the option of a sixth rather than the four-plus-one deal De Gea signed in 2015 when his transfer to Real Madrid fell through at the last minute. Club chiefs hope it will give them more protection from situations like this happening again in the future.

Playing two upfront becoming a viable approach again in the Premier League

The Premier League remains Europe’s most international, multicultural top-flight league in terms of players and managers, and yet somehow there often seems to be a distinctly old-school feel to the football. For instance, Pep Guardiola has spoken of the importance of coping with winning second balls, while Jurgen Klopp has spoken about the need to deal with the inclement weather.

Tactically, things are somewhat different: We’re in the age of false nines and gegenpressing, rather than long balls and the use of 4-4-2 formations. But the past couple of weeks have felt like something of a throwback, with various sides using two centre-forwards upfront together, often with great success.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

The most interesting example came the weekend before last, in the contest between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates. This fixture always stirs up memories of the 1990s, and tactically both sides started the contest with two forwards, albeit in very different formats. Arsenal started with a 3-4-1-2, featuring Mesut Ozil behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Manchester United began with a 4-4-2 featuring Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, numbers 9 and 10 respectively.6

These remain the principle two ways to deploy a two-man strike force, especially because the midfield diamond — as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has occasionally used this season — now largely means the two forwards are starting from the flanks, too far apart to combine regularly. The difference, of course, was that Arsenal had a designated playmaker conducting things from behind the lines, while Manchester United’s duo needed to cope by themselves.

Arsenal’s back three, in theory, should have been capable of coping with two strikers, but Rashford and Lukaku appeared to be on the same wavelength. They may not be quite at the level of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole yet, although the familiar sight of Solskjaer on the bench offers a link between the two that the manager will surely mention.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Lacazette and Aubameyang have a curious relationship. Off the pitch they’re extremely close; on the pitch they can function together in the same side, although their combination play isn’t particularly notable, and there are questions about whether the 3-4-1-2 suits Arsenal’s other players. Ozil hasn’t particularly thrived in his No. 10 role, despite that being his best position on paper.