Wesley Sneijder’s Injury: How Real Madrid Will Cope

Good news from Spain’s defending Champion, Real Madrid, as their star midfielder, Wesley Sneijder, will only be out for three months and not the previously feared six.

The injury, suffered on a vicious tackle by Arsenal’s Abou Diaby in a friendly on Sunday in the Emirates Cup, was originally diagnosed as a torn cruciate ligament according to El Marca newspaper.

But after an MRI Monday Real Madrid reported on their Web site that Sneijder will avoid surgery and will only be out three months.

While this is much improved over the original assessment, it will still leave Madrid with out an integral piece for at least the first two months of the season, which is scheduled to kick off August 31.

Possible Replacements

Los Blancos did not any waste time adding midfield help in the form of Sneijder’s compatriot, Rafael van der Vaart. A deal that had been in the works for a few weeks between the Spanish club and Hamburg of the Bundesliga finally went through on Monday.

The 25-year-old van der Vaart—a central midfielder—will not directly replace Sneijder, who spent most of his time on the wings, but will be able to take on some of the playmaking responsibilities lost with Sneijder.

It will be very interesting to see how Madrid lines up to begin the season because Van der Vaart is much in the same mold as a Madrid standby, Guti, and manager Bernd Schuster will have to decide if the two of them can play together.

Besides Van der Vaart, the injury to Sneijder directly effects two players seeking transfer: Madrid’s Robinho and Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

I have read a few reports that say that the loss of a Sneijder will prompt Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon to step up his pursuit of Ronaldo, but I think this is completely the wrong move.

Real currently sports an imposing midfield and the last thing we need is another midfielder and especially one that is more focused on himself than the team—every player in this midfield is going to have to learn to share time.

A much better move would be to prevent Chelsea from signing Robinho. The Brazilian is incredibly skilled and is extremely dangerous streaking down the wing. Playing on one wing opposite Arjen Robben, Robinho can excel and help drive Madrid towards its title defense.

For a team that is weak at the back and thin up front after Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who are both aging, there are much better places to spend money than on more midfielders.

The Midfield Log Jam

Sure there is always the issue of what to do once Sneijder comes back and increases the log jam in the midfield.

Currently Madrid has three defensive midfielders in Mahamadou Diarra, Fernando Gago, and Ruben De la Red who all deserve playing time. I could see at least one of them tested out more in the center of midfield.

The heart of the Madrid machine will be run by Guti and Van der Vaart. Guti is one of the most inconsistent players for the team, but when he is on, he can be the best distributors of the ball in the world. Hopefully the young Van der Vaart can learn from the veteran Gutti and slowly take his place with the starting eleven.

Los Blancos also have Royston Drethe, Julio Baptista, and Javi Garcia in the midfield mix, but none of them have proven that they deserve consistent playing time as of yet.

How Schuster decides to figure out the players in the midfield could well determine how Madrid does this season.

What do you think Madrid should do in the middle? How much will the loss of Sneijder effect Real’s drive for their third league title in a row?

Report: Brian McBride On The Way To Chicago

During the half time report at the MLS All-Star game, MLS commissioner Don Garber stated that the Brian McBride saga is over.

Sure this saga was nothing compared to Cristiano Ronaldo-to-Real Madrid, but for fans of MLS—especially those fans of the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC—this has been drawn out far too long.

While Garber would not say full out that McBride is on his way to Chicago, he did say a deal was done and an official announcement would be made tomorrow.  He also said that it would be nice to see McBride playing in Chicago

These comments along with McBride’s persistence on playing for the Fire, lead this writer to believe that ex-Fulham player will soon be playing in Chicago.

This deal has been in the works for weeks and it looks like it was finally completed. Toronto FC owns the rights to McBride and Chicago needs to complete a deal with them in order to aquire the striker.

While I have no idea what Chicago gave up for McBride, I am sure it was worth it.

After a dry spell, the Fire have improved and currently sit third in the Eastern Conference behind the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew.

For a team that is traditionally strong in the second, the addition of McBride would be a huge boost for the Fire.

Paired with the likes of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, John Thorrington, and Chris Rolfe, the Fire could possess one of the top offensive teams in the league to go with their already stingy defense that has given up only 14 goals in 16 games this season.

Should be fun to watch.

Look Out La Liga: Atletico Is on The Rise

When the summer transfer window opens, owners and managers make lists of players they would like to sign, but rarely are they able to complete what they set out to do. That is unless you are Atletico Madrid boss Javier Aguirre.

At the beginning of the summer Aguirre set out a list of six players that he needed to sign to push his team to the next level.  Of those six, he has signed five—all since July 1.

Aguirre has used the momentum from a surprise fourth place finish in La Liga last season and the prospect of playing in the Champions League this season to reel in five top players:

Tomas Ujfalusi. The defender captained the Czech team in the recent European Championships and had a strong season with Serie A’s Fiorentina last season.

Florent Sinama-Pongolle. The French striker is just 23-years-old and scored an impressive 22 goals last season with Recreativo in Spain.

Paulo Assuncao. The Brazilian midfielder spent last season in Portugal with three time champion FC Porto.  His arrival most likely spells the end of the line for Portuguese midfielder Maniche.

Gregory Coupet. The French goalkeeper joins Atletico from Olympique Lyon where he had won seven straight league titles.  While he is 35-years-old, he is still considered one of the best in the world.

John Heitinga. The most recent and the most expensive of the signings, Heitinga is a strong defender who was at only 24 was named the Netherlands’ player of the year last season.

These players will be added a team that is stacked with young talent in every part of the field and will surely challenge their cross-town rivals to the crown in La Liga this season.

One place where Atletico was weak last season was on the back line.  They were known for scoring goals but also giving them up.  Heitinga and Ujfalusi, along with Coupet, will immediately fortify the back line and give the talented midfield more freedom to roam.

Speaking of the midfield, Atletico has one of the most creative and dangerous midfields in La Liga and possibly the world.

While Assuncao is expected to play right away, it may be hard to sqeez him in.  The midfield is led by Argentine playmaker Maxi Rodriguez and Portugues winger Simao.

Last season Raul Garcia played in a more holding midfield position often joined by young star Ignacio Camacho. Liverpool cast-off Luis Garcia, José Reyes, Jose Jurado, Cleber Santana will all be fighting for playing time in the center of the pitch.

Up front was where Atletico were extremely dangerous last season.  The pairing of Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero and Diego Forlan combined to score 44 goals last season and was one of the most dangerous pairs in the world.

Add Sinama-Pongolle to that mix and this team is sure to score a lot of goals.

Atletico has not appeared in the Champion’s League in the last 11 years but with this club they have a chance to make a deep run.

If nothing else, Aguirre signalled the rest of La Liga—especially Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Villareal—that they are here to stay and are prepared to win.

Report: Real Madrid Signs Van Der Vaart

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Spain newspaper El Marca is reporting that Real Madrid have come to an agreement with 25-year-old Hamburg midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.

The Dutch midfielder would join fellow countrymen Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, and Ruud van Nistelrooy in the attacking half for the defending La Liga champions.

After being linked to Tottenham earlier this summer, van der Vaart had reportedly said he would rather stay with Hamburg than leave for a club at the same level. But he did hint that he would be open to a move to one of the major clubs in England, Spain, or Italy.

Over the last two summers Madrid has signed four dutch players—Robben, Sneijder, and Royston Drenthe joined the club last season—and will now sport five on their roster.

After watching this year’s European Championship, it looks like Madrid hope to replicate some of the attacking prowess that the Oranje showed in Austria/ Switzerland.

When my friend sent me a post from the German newspaper Kicker announcing the trade this morning, the only word of the article I understood was “Madrid.”

Both Kicker and El Marca are reporting that a deal is done with van der Vaart and a transfer is expected to be completed with over the next few days in the neighborhood of €20 million.

Where will van der vaart fit in with Madrid? The Spanish giants seem to have an abundance of attacking midfielders with Robben, Sneijder, Robinho, Baptista, and Guti.

If recent reports are correct, Robinho could be on his way to Chelsea which would explain Madrid’s thinking when bringing in van der Vaart.

Another big issue this raises is Los Blancos’ interest in Cristiano Ronaldo. Earlier this summer the transfer looked inevitable but with talks slowing down lately and this deal, it looks less and less likely that Ronaldo will join Madrid.

With this deal all but finished, here is a look at what Real’s starting lineup could look like as they attempt to defend their La Liga title:

GK: Iker Casillas.

DEF: Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos, Gabriel Heinze, Pepe.

MID: Fernando Gago, Sneijder, Robber, van der Vaart.

ATT: van Nistelrooy and Raul.

This is an incredibly potent team that can score goals and will not give up many. They also leave Bernd Schuster a lot of options whether he wants to play a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, he has the players.

What do you think about this transfer and what it will do for Madrid this next season and what it means for Ronaldo’s future with Man U.

Ballack Out For The Final

A report this afternoon stated that Michael Ballack could potentially miss Sunday’s Euro 2008 Final against Spain.

Soccernet reported that Ballack suffered an injury to his right calf. The German midfielder missed training on Friday and then again on Saturday night—24 hours before the match.

The effects of not having their star midfielder in the final could be devastating for the Germans.

Ballack has been hot and cold all tournament long—scoring two goals but also struggling against Croatia. Regardless, Ballack is incredibly important to his side and would be sorely missed.

Spain’s major weakness against the Germans will likely be in the air and without Ballack the German’s will be without one of their most dangerous aerial weapons.

The German Football Association said that the situation on whether Ballack would play or not is still “fully open.”

Can Germany win without their captain?

Euro 2008: Spain on Their Way to The Finals

Spain is on their way to the finals of the Euro 2008 against Germany on Sunday.

No matter how many times I say that it does not get old.  It has been 44 years since Spain last won a major tournament, but Sunday they will have their chance.

The game was not pretty for the first half with both teams playing more to avoid defeat than grab the victory.  But that all changed in the second half when Xavi buried a shot/pass from Barça teammate Andres Iniesta.

From that point on it was all Spain. The Russians looked the part of the inexperienced, overmatched side and could not recover from the Spanish goal.

The goal actually made things much worse for the Russians who were suddenly forced to attack with more players and thus leaving their back line unprotected to the deadly Spanish counter attack.

A one goal lead soon expanded to two on a beautiful flick from Cesc Fabregas that found Daniel Güiza alone in the box.  Güiza chested the ball down and then used his right foot to flick the ball past the diving Igor Akinfeev.

Spain added one more goal for good measure when Iniesta found Fabregas streaking down the left hand side of the pitch.  Cesc settled and found David Silva in the box for his first goal of the tournament.

Spain now enters their biggest test of the tournament against the pre-tournament favorite Germans.

Here is a look at the keys to Spains victory over the Russians:

1. Depth

The depth of this Spanish side cannot be understated.  It was on display against Greece in the meaningless group game when 10 new players started for Luis Aragonés and won.  And it was on display again tonight

When the tournament’s top scorer, David Villa, went down with an injury in the first half, Aragonés brought on Fabregas and Spain adjusted their lineup from two strikers to a formation with Fernando Torres up top alone.

Cesc made an immediate impact—he assisted on the goals by Güiza and Silva—and controlled the midfield well along with Marcos Senna.

Fabregas, the youngest player on the Spanish squad and the star midfielder at Arsenal, will most likely take Villa’s place in the final after he was ruled out with a quad injury.

Spain will miss Villa for sure.  There is no doubt about that.  But this team is very deep and will be able to adjust.

2. Sergio Ramos and the defense

I was not a fan of the way the Real Madrid defender had played in the first four games of the tournament.  I thought he went forward too much without any results and struggled at the back.

That all changed against Russia.

Ramos got forward like always but, this time, he was incredibly dangerous.  He took on, and beat, defenders and played a few very nice crosses into the box.

But what impressed me most about Ramos was his play at the back.  Sure a few times he was beaten, but every time he fought back to win the ball.  His sure play shut down Yuri Zhirkov who has caused so many problems going forward this tournament.

The solid play by Ramos set the tone for the rest of the defense as well.  Throughout the tournament, Spain has looked shaky at the back and vulnerable, but except for a couple of early chances for the Russians, the back four were a rock.

Casillas is a great keeper.  And a goalies best friend is a solid defense and only had to save one shot against Russia.

3. Counter Attack

I have written this before, but I will say it again: Spain is at their best when they are running at teams.

They are amazing on the ball and are the best passing team in the world.  But they spend way too much time moving the ball in circles without actually accomplishing anything.

This was the story in the first half of the game.  But then things changed.

In no way am I saying the loss of Villa was a good thing, but it did cause more of the midfield players to get involved at run at goal without the ball—exactly how Xavi scored.

And then the next two goals were pure counter attacks after Russia began to push everyone forward—very reminicent of the first game between the two teams when Spain won 4-1.

Against Germany it is most likely that Torres will be up front with five midfielders behind him.  While he and Villa worked great together, Torres is better suited to working up front alone and making magic in the counter attack.

It will be something Germany will have to be weary of, especially if Spain takes the lead and Germany must push more bodies forward.

4. Superstitions

Spain is known for coming up short in every major tournament and being unable to live up to expectations.

The team seems to have shaken all of those sentiments this tournament.  First it was defeating Italy—on the dreaded June 22nd and on penalties no less.  Then came the dreaded yellow jerseys—mustard colored according to the very superstitious Aragonés—that did not seem to slow Spain down against Russia.

Now the only thing that stands in the way of Spain and breaking their “curse” is the Germans.

No matter what team lines up for Spain on Sunday, the game should be incredible.  Both teams are world powers and the game should be a true slugfest.

HALA ESPAÑA!

Damn I Am Going To Miss Barry Melrose

I will put it out there right now: I don’t care much about hockey in general. But Barry Melrose made me care.

Whether he was calling a game or analyzing games in the closing moments of SportsCenter, I loved the mulleted man.

Melrose was the best analyst in any sport.

He was simply a joy to listen to. And no matter what he was talking about it was entertaining and more educational than any other analyst.

Hockey is a sport in the United States that has begun to fall behind the other big four national sports in recent years. And in accordance, ESPN dedicated less and less attention to it, but still Melrose was there in the studio doing his thing and giving life to hockey.

And if the three minutes he was given during SportsCenter was not enough (it never was) there was always the Melrose Line—one of two podcasts I was willing to listen to week-in and week-out.

Melrose and his savvy commentary and incredibly deep knowledge will be sorely missed by hockey fans and non-fans alike.

Tampa Bay got a steal when they brought Melrose in. He has a genius mind for the game of hockey and with talent like Vincent Lecavalier, No. 1 pick Steve Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis, look out.

I am not predicting Stanley Cup the first year—or any year for that matter—but I do know that the Lightning are a lucky team and fans of the NHL everywhere will sorely miss his witty commentary.