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23rd November 2017. Paris Saint-Germain’s summer of spending sent shockwaves around the European game, as the world transfer record was obliterated to sign Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million, while teenager sensation Kylian Mbappé joined on loan from champions Monaco… The post Six PSG Players Who Could Soon be on the Move appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
23rd November 2017.
Paris Saint-Germain’s summer of spending sent shockwaves around the European game, as the world transfer record was obliterated to sign Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million, while teenager sensation Kylian Mbappé joined on loan from champions Monaco with a view to a permanent €180 million switch at the end of the season.
So far, though, it has to be said that it was money well spent for PSG: the Parc des Princes club are storming toward recapturing the Ligue 1 title they lost to Monaco last term, and look like genuine contenders in the Champions League.
There will, however, have to come a balancing of the books, with player sales almost certainly required if the Parisians are to have any hope of avoiding Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions.
The incomings at PSG this season have pushed several top-quality players out of the side, forcing some who would be sure-fire stars at other clubs to settle for a bit-part role. And it is these players who are likeliest to be sold in the near future, and as such a string of Europe’s biggest clubs are waiting in the wings to pick them up.
Here are six players who could soon be searching for a more prominent role away from PSG.
- Julian Draxler
Draxler has been a PSG player for less than a year, having signed for the club from Wolfsburg in January for €36 million, and the Germany international has not disappointed since arriving in the French capital.
With 12 goals in 39 appearances for the club to date, Draxler’s record in France has been excellent, and the former Schalke man’s performances have been generally excellent.
But with just seven Ligue 1 starts so far this season, he has been one of the main victims of Neymar’s arrival, with the Brazilian assuming the left-wing role that had previously been Draxler’s. However, in recent weeks the German has excelled in a deeper midfield berth, which could yet set him retained at the Parc des Princes, despite rumoured Premier League interest.
- Ángel Di María
Another man who was previously one pf PSG’s outstanding performers but now is having to content himself with a supporting role is Argentinian winger Ángel Di María.
Signed from Manchester United for £44 million in the summer of 2015, the former Real Madrid forward has produced moments of magic in Paris, and, at his best, the 29-year-old is one of the best players in the world in his position.
But Di María tends to produce his best form in streaks, suffering spells of inactivity in between purple patches, and he too is no longer relied upon as one of PSG’s main attacking instigators as he had previously been.
A move to Barcelona almost materialised late in the summer transfer window, and it is believed the Catalan giants may resume their interest in Di María in January or at the end of the current campaign.
- Lucas Moura
Brazilian winger Lucas Moura has been one of Neymar’s best friends since they were six, but he could be forgiven for having mixed feelings about his compatriot joining him in Paris, as the former Barcelona superstar’s arrival has pushed him further down the Parc des Princes pecking order.
Lucas, a speedy right winger with an eye for goal, is yet to start a Ligue 1 game so far this season, making five substitute appearances for a miserly total of 72 minutes of playing time.
Before Joining PSG in 2013, the Brazilian was linked with a move to Manchester United, and the Red Devils have consistently been linked with the player ever since, while Arsenal and Liverpool have also been mentioned as potential suitors.
- Javier Pastore
Javier Pastore’s £37 million arrival from Palermo in 2011 was one of the first major signings made under PSG’s Qatari ownership, and signalled the club’s intent to compete with Europe’s elite, beating the likes of Juventus to the gifted Argentinian playmaker.
But, six years on, Pastore can no longer be considered a key player for the Ligue 1 leaders, with just four league starts under his belt this term and a combined total of 20 from the two seasons before.
The 29-cap Argentina international’s days at the Parc des Princes seem to be numbered, and a Serie A return is his most likely option, with Inter Milan said to be monitoring his situation.
- Thomas Meunier
When he arrived in Paris from Club Brugge ahead of the 2016/17 season, little was expected of right-back Thomas Meunier, who was brought in to compete for a starting role with Serge Aurier, who has since joined Tottenham Hotspur.
But the 6ft 3ins Belgian excelled in his first campaign with PSG, making 22 Ligue 1 appearances, scoring once and registering five assists.
This term, however, Dani Alves’ arrival on a free transfer from Juventus has forced Meunier into a rotational role, starting six times in the league thus far. A self-confessed Manchester United fan, the 26-year-old might fancy a Premier League move if his prospects in Paris don’t improve.
- Hatem Ben Arfa
After getting his career back on track with Nice in 2015/16 and finally delivering on the promise he showed as a teenager with Lyon, Hatem Ben Arfa moved to PSG on a free transfer in the summer of 2016.
But the French playmaker seemed to fall out with manager Unai Emery almost immediately, and has never been able to establish himself as a regular first-team contributor in Paris, starting just five Ligue 1 games last season.
Yet to appear for PSG this term, Ben Arfa will be moved on as soon as the Parisians can find a suitor for the 30-year-old, although the Premier League is unlikely to be an option given the 15-cap France international’s less-than-impressive spells with Newcastle United and Hull City in the recent past.
This article was written by Ryan Baldi excessively for Soccer Box, where you can shop for all the latest PSG football kits.
21st November 2017. After just 211 days out of action due to a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) against Anderlecht, Zlatan Ibrahimović graced the field with his presence once again when coming off the bench against Newcastle United to a… The post We already knew he was superhuman, but what can Zlatan Ibrahimović bring to Manchester United at 36? appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
21st November 2017.
After just 211 days out of action due to a ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) against Anderlecht, Zlatan Ibrahimović graced the field with his presence once again when coming off the bench against Newcastle United to a jubilant Old Trafford crowd.
When the now-retired Sweden international went to visit surgeon Dr Freddie H Fu in Pittsburgh, America, for tests to assess the damage, he came out and said Ibrahimović was one of the most remarkable athletes he has ever laid eyes on. To say he was impressed in what good shape he is in for a then-35 year old was an understatement. He might well be a professional athlete, but the dedication to his craft and to better himself has allowed Ibrahimović to play on for so long at the elite end of football.
Ibrahimović: The Stats
Before his injury, in 46 appearances for the Red Devils, Ibrahimović scored 28 and recorded 10 assists. He was pivotal to United’s attack and played a pivotal part in securing the UEFA Europa League for Manchester United, which, in turn, gave them Champions League qualification.
There were frustrations with the Swede, who did, in fairness, waste a lot of golden opportunities, but his stats do not lie and he was the only player in United’s squad to score more than 11 goals in all competitions.
Ibrahimović is your typical leader. While he might not be the captain of Manchester United, when on the pitch, there are plenty who look towards him for guidance and inspiration. He has seen it all through his two decades in the sport and, outwardly, feels no pressure; no game is too big for him.
Mourinho’s Job to Balance Egos
So now that he is back and raring to go, it will be interesting to see how José Mourinho manages the egos of both Romelu Lukaku and the former Paris Saint-Germain striker. At 36, Ibrahimović is still trying the impossible. His first contribution when coming on in the latter stages of the Newcastle game was to leap into the air and successfully attempt a scissor kick shot on goal. There is no doubt about it that he is superhuman. To continue to perform in the acrobatic manner he is used to, after months and months out injured, is remarkable.
When Manchester United won trophies upon trophies in the past, Sir Alex Ferguson usually operated with four centre forwards. How the Scotsman kept them all happy, only he knows, but it showed dividends at the end of the season when fatigue started to set in to the squad.
Ibrahimović, Lukaku & Pogba
Throughout the past two months, when Paul Pogba has also been sidelined through injury, Lukaku’s goals had dried up as well as his overall influence on the game became scarce. This was, partly, due to the level of opponents being played against, but also because Pogba’s absence was apparent in midfield. There is no one who can come in and give what the Frenchman can for Manchester United: skill, intelligence, a vast array of passing, and, most importantly, belief. When you have Pogba in the side, there is always hope of creating something.
The Belgian international returned to goal scoring ways last weekend and looks to be back in form. Lukaku was bought for a reason and should stay put as the number one centre forward at the club. Ibrahimović’s past puts him in the all-time bracket list, but his influence can be used in a slightly different manner. While he will not be starting every game, the fact Mourinho can bring him on after 70 minutes will frighten teams.
Just when the opposition are feeling the lactic acid build up in their legs, they look over and see a player who is full of energy and wanting to make it physical. That is not a pretty sight for any central defender.
Exciting Times Lie Ahead for the Red Devils
The variety in United’s forward game will only improve, as well. Lukaku might have endured a baron run because teams were starting to figure out how the Belgian operates and nullified the passes into him. Ibrahimović offers a more physical and direct approach – he is also much better at holding up the ball and inviting players into the game.
Having Ibrahimović in the squad also does not automatically suggest that Lukaku will be dropped for him. Just like against Newcastle, the two players enjoyed their time up front together. To have both players on the pitch for United is going to cause havoc for defences, especially when the pressure is building and they are pinned in their own half.
Lukaku can learn a lot from how the Swede operates both mentally and on the pitch with his feet. Ibrahimović is a great role model to have and will only take his game to the next level by studying him and emulating different styles from him.
There is still a long way to go until the end of the season, with a lot of twists and turns to come. Mourinho will be thanking his lucky stars that Ibrahimović has returned as quickly as he has as Manchester United enter a season-defining Christmas period.
This article has been written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box, where you can shop all the latest Manchester United football kits. Why not get your jersey printed with Ibrahimović, Pogba or Lukaku lettering.
17th November 2017. With the World Cup just around the corner, there is a lot of excitement and hype bubbling on the surface of fans. It is not in full swing yet, given we are in November, but it is… The post England has some of the most promising youngsters in the game for Gareth Southgate to utilise appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
17th November 2017.
With the World Cup just around the corner, there is a lot of excitement and hype bubbling on the surface of fans. It is not in full swing yet, given we are in November, but it is noticeable.
Like with any tournament England are enrolled in, there are expectations of the Three Lions to perform, and each time they seem to fail worse than the previous. The England fans are certainly at ends with England’s senior team, especially under Roy Hodgson when England crashed out of the European Championships to Iceland, but Gareth Southgate might well start to change the reputation – slowly, but surely.
For England football, nothing appears to be a quick fix. England fans thought they hit the jackpot when a truly passionate manager in Sam Allardyce came along – only to find out the former Crystal Palace manager was sacked over a video which portrays Big Sam giving advice on how to circumvent the rules of third party ownership.
After Big Sam’s sacking, along came Southgate, who used to manage the England U21s. It seemed a very easy appointment to make at the time, but it now appears the FA Board made the right decision in hiring him.
What has been ever so promising is the former players’ use of young players. In just this past international break, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Joe Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were brought into the first-team for England’s game against Brazil (which ended 0-0).
Success of England Youth Teams
It seems England’s future is bright, whether they want to admit it or not – with the hope of expectations not exponentially rising.
Over the past year, England have enjoyed great success at youth level.
- U17 Euros: Final
- U17 World Cup: Winners
- U18-20 Toulon Tournament: Winners
- U19 Euros: WinnersU20 World Cup: Winners
- U21 Euros: Semis
It has been a truly magnificent time for young, English players. What you would hope would happen is that Premier League clubs notice such riches of talent and start to feature them more heavily in the match day squads. Of course, the youngest ones, like Phil Foden and Rhian Brewster, are not going to be near the Manchester City and Liverpool starting XIs, purely because they are both 17.
However, for some of the others, it would be disappointing to see those players continually trapped in the ‘loan bubble’, where players are sent primarily to the Championship, or lower, to gain their stripes. If anything, a move abroad could not hurt them if the clubs were going to continue this trend.
Perhaps for some of these youngsters, the majority of their football could well come for Southgate’s England. Players like Tammy Abraham, who is on-loan at Swansea from Chelsea, might well be featured more times for England’s senior team than he will be playing under Antonio Conte.
Gareth Southgate Can Lead these Promising Youngsters to Success
There is no doubt about it that Southgate has an incredible wealth of talent in his young Lions, and what the benefit of having the ex-Middlesbrough man in charge, is that he has previously worked with a lot of the younger players. Having that relationship already built is going to be a huge beneficiary, given these players will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders.
But to know that Southgate is someone they know, recognise and respect, is something that will help them through the process from youth football to the senior team.
There is also a reason why Germany, Spain and especially Italy are now taking note of England’s youngsters, who are always being loaned out. Reece Oxford took the brave step of going out on-loan to German side Borussia Monchengladbach this season, which will be more common each season.
Southgate is hitting the right strides and doing well with England. He has a resolute defence – as shown in their 0-0 draws against Germany and Brazil – and the transition into attack will come with more playing time.
No one should be expecting England to win the World Cup next year, but there should be a vast improvement on their campaign than in 2014.
This article was written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box, where you can shop for all the official England football shirts, shorts, socks and training kit ahead of Russia 2018.
15th November 2017. Italy’s 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in their World Cup qualification play-off has sparked a maelstrom of emotion within the Italian football community, with an outpouring of sadness, disappointment and anger greeting the final whistle at the… The post Italy’s next generation of star will help overcome World Cup disappointment appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
15th November 2017.
Italy’s 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in their World Cup qualification play-off has sparked a maelstrom of emotion within the Italian football community, with an outpouring of sadness, disappointment and anger greeting the final whistle at the end of the goalless second leg at the San Siro.
The defeat means the Azzurri fail to qualify for a World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years, denying legendary goalkeeper and 2006 World Cup winner Gianluigi Buffon the dream career bookend of bowing out at next summer’s tournament in Russia, while fellow veterans Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini have also confirmed their subsequent international retirements.
Many observers are calling for a root-and-branch review of the Italian football system, feeling that systemic issues are at the heart of Italy’s recent failures, and deeming the current pool of Azzurri players inferior to past generations.
But, in truth, as much as anything, Italy’s qualification flop was a result of poor selection and coaching from Gian Piero Ventura, who was unable to find a tactical system that maximised the gifts of Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, his two most talented players, and ignored Brazil-born Italian international playmaker Jorginho for the bulk of the qualifying campaign.
An astute coaching appointment and a plan to build around Verratti and Insigne could see the Azzurri back on track, while there is a crop of gifted young players deserving of a more prominent role with the national team, waiting in the wings to step up in the place of the recent retirees.
The natural heir to namesake Buffon, Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma is already among the world’s best in his position despite still being only 18 years old.
The Rossoneri custodian has been a regular at senior club level since he was 16, and is destined for greatness if he continues along his current career trajectory.
At 6ft 5ins and with sound handling, Donnarumma commands his area with real presence, an invaluable asset for a goalkeeper, while the towering teenager is blessed with godly reflexes that allow him to pull off breath-taking saves with stunning regularity.
Donnarumma doesn’t turn 19 until February, yet he already has 91 first-team appearances under his belt for Milan and four caps for Italy. After waving goodbye to an all-time goalkeeping great in Buffon, Italy are fortunate to have such a talent to take the great man’s gloves.
Since joining Juventus in 2013, Rugani has had to be patient. The Bianconeri’s ‘BBC’ backline of Leonardo Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini has formed the foundation of the club’s Serie A dominance over the last half-decade, and as such any central defender looking to break into the starting line-up at the Allianz Stadium has come up short.
That’s why, upon joining Juve, Rugani was initially loaned straight back to Empoli, where he could benefit from one further year of unobstructed first-team football before moving to Turin.
However, now 23, the 6ft 3ins centre-back, who has long been considered the future of the Italian defence, is only just beginning to make headway into the Juventus side on a regular basis following Bonucci’s shock summer departure for Milan.
Strong in the air, positionally astute and excellent with the ball at his feet, Rugani is the complete package, and now that he is getting a healthy amount of game time at Juventus, he is ready to step up and assume a similar role with the Azzurri.
Vying with Rugani for the title of Italy’s most promising central defender is Milan’s Romagnoli. Signed from Roma for €25 million in 2015, the 22-year-old has 70 Serie A appearances to his name – 29 more than Rugani at this stage of their respective careers.
Although the Juventus man may have the edge in terms of natural talent, the fact that Romagnoli has been playing regularly at a high level over the last four seasons has seen the Milan man catch up developmentally to the point where they are now almost on level footing regarding their future international prospects.
Fast, technically gifted and tenacious, Romagnoli has the makings of a top-class centre-back. And Milan’s acquisition of Bonucci means he has the perfect role model alongside him in Vincenzo Montella’s defence.
Signed as part of the Milan revolution this summer which saw the seven-time European champions splash around €200 million following a takeover by Chinese investors, Conti adds the kind of quality in the full-back areas that has been lacking at the San Siro for some time.
The athletic 23-year-old was hugely impressive with high-flying Atalanta last season, helping La Dea rise to fifth in Serie A and convincing Milan to part with €24 million, plus Matteo Pessina moving in the other direction, to snap up the fast-improving right-back.
A regular with the under-21s, Conti made his senior international debut in a 1-0 World Cup qualification win over Israel. However, an ACL injury in September has curtailed his progress this season, ruling him out until 2018.
Just days after his 19th birthday, Pellegrini left Roma, the club he’d joined as a nine-year-old, to pursue first-team opportunities with Sassuolo, departing the Stadio Olimpico in a €1.25 million deal.
In two seasons with the Neroverdi, the box-to-box midfielder blossomed into one of the hottest prospects in Serie A, showcasing a fine range of passing, intelligent movement and a combative edge.
When Sassuolo boss Eusebio Di Francesco took over from Luciano Spalletti at Roma this summer, he was soon reunited with the midfielder he helped shape, as the Giallorossi
wisely exercised their €10 million buy-back option on Pellegrini, returning the youngster to the capital where he is set to star for years to come.
Pellegrini made his senior Azzurri debut in May’s 8-0 demolition of San Marino, before then taking part in the European Under-21 Championship, impressing greatly during the tournament in Poland and producing a memorable bicycle-kick goal against Denmark.
With his well-rounded skill set and sky-high potential, Pellegrini should become a regular feature of Italy’s midfield going forward, alongside Verratti and Jorginho.
The post Italy’s next generation of star will help overcome World Cup disappointment appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer News.
10th November 2017. Over the course of the last six years, Serie A’s title race has been something of a formality. Juventus, under Antonio Conte and now Massimiliano Allegri, have cruised to the Scudetto year after year without any serious… The post Serie A is at long last rejuvenated – we have a proper title race on our hands now appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
10th November 2017.
Over the course of the last six years, Serie A’s title race has been something of a formality. Juventus, under Antonio Conte and now Massimiliano Allegri, have cruised to the Scudetto year after year without any serious competition. However, in the famous words of Bob Dylan, for the times, they are a-changin’.
Competition in 2017/18 Serie A
We are finally immersed in the wonderful spectacle that is a competitive Italian league. After 12 games – AS Roma and Lazio have only played 11 – Napoli sit at the summit, one point ahead of reigning champions Juventus and two in front of Luciano Spalletti’s Inter.
Just behind the top three is Lazio, 28, and Roma, 27, with a game-in-hand to catch up the three teams ahead of them on 30, 31 and 32 points.
Milan were supposed to be in the mix, but problems with Vincenzo Montella’s selection policy and the overhaul of the squad has prohibited them kicking on and competing for a Champions League place.
There is now a sense of a rejuvenation in Serie A, something we have not seen in many, many years. It is a sheer delight to watch Italian football each week because of the unpredictability that is going to occur.
European Football at its Best
For this is the same reason why the Premier League is, arguably, the most enjoyed league in the world.
Like the English Premier League, Serie A is not the best competition in terms of quality. That has to be Spain’s La Liga. But not every spectator tunes in to be utterly wowed by the world-class dominance of Juventus – hence why Italian football went out of fashion through the Bianconeri’s six-year dominance.
However, what the average fan does enjoy, is competitiveness. And finally Serie A has a show every match day that promises great, attacking football with a great sense of ambition thrown into it for each team.
Highlights of Serie A 2017/18 so Far
Just last week, before the international break, Benevento, sitting bottom of Serie A without a win in 11 games, took a half time lead against Juventus in Turin. They might have gone on to lose the game, as expected, but they challenged spectacularly and did their bit to show that the Old Lady’s impenetrable reign is starting to diminish.
Fans want to see goals, but they also want to see a proper match being played. Tactics, mind games, a fiery atmosphere both on and off the pitch, and a winner and loser.
We have already seen a fantastic representation of this new Serie A: Derby della Madonnina. When Inter rose to triumph their across-town rivals Milan at the San Siro in a 3-2 extravaganza, it was one of the classics being portrayed. Plenty of talking points and a highly enthusiastic game played out.
Napoli, under Maurizio Sarri, are playing perhaps the second-best football in Europe right now – just behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. It is slick, tactical and pleasing on the eye to sit down and watch Napoli strut their stuff for 90 minutes.
Tactics, Defence and Goals
Italian football has predominantly been based around tactics and the art of defending; but, like in every walk of life, things come in and out fashion all of the time. What Serie A has done incredibly well is open the floodgates to goals, goals and more goals.
Ciro Immobile, of Lazio, has already scored 14 goals this season, leading the way in Italy. Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi have both scored 11, while Dries Mertens is just behind with 10.
There has not been more goals scored in any of the top European leagues this season than in Italy. That is not something which is expected of Italian football, but the goals are flying in and the league’s profile is back on the rise.
Serie A and Italian football is back in a big way. It has everything you could wish a league to have, apart from a new champion. Whether it is Napoli, who look best equipped to dethrone Juventus, or Inter, as long as there is a changing of the guard every so often, Serie A will continue to be popular.
This article has been written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box, where can shop for latest Serie A football kits, including the title race leaders Juventus, AS Roma, Napoli, Internazionale and Lazio.
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8th November 2017. By Ryan Baldi. Barcelona’s transfer dealings over the last couple of years have left a lot to be desired, with overspending on under-qualified new arrivals, the unfortunate and unexpected enforced sale of superstar Neymar, and an apparent… The post Samuel Umtiti: Barcelona’s unassuming star becoming La Liga’s best defender appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer...
8th November 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
Barcelona’s transfer dealings over the last couple of years have left a lot to be desired, with overspending on under-qualified new arrivals, the unfortunate and unexpected enforced sale of superstar Neymar, and an apparent lack of joined-up thinking within the club’s hierarchy regarding player acquisitions.
But, despite a series of transfer market missteps, there is one recent Barcelona signing that can only be regarded as a stellar piece of business.
He didn’t arrive to any great fanfare and, aside from Ligue 1 aficionados, many would have had to resort to a Google search to find out exactly what Barça were getting for their €25 million outlay, but, since his arrival in the summer of 2016, French centre-back Samuel Umtiti has become the bedrock of the Camp Nou backline.
“He passed all the filters,” Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernández said upon signing the 23-year-old defender from Lyon. “He has a maturity out of the norm.”
For the uninitiated, there was a glimpse of Umtiti’s vast qualities offered by his performances with France at the 2016 European Championship, with his move to the Catalan giants confirmed while the competition was already under way. Uncapped ahead of the tournament, the Cameroon-born star only made Didier Deschamps’ 23-man squad when then-Barcelona defender Jérémy Mathieu was forced to withdraw with an injury.
Adil Rami’s suspension meant Umtiti was thrust into the fray for his international debut in the quarter-final against Iceland, playing all 90 minutes of the home nation’s 5-2 win. Immediately the new man looked at home, confidently sweeping up alongside Laurent Koscielny and exhibiting his remarkable range and accuracy of passing.
He went on to feature in the semi-final victory over Germany and the disappointing defat at the hands of Portugal in the final, and has been a regular for Les Bleus ever since, accumulating 12 caps to date and netting his first international goal in a 3-2 friendly win over England in June this year.
Umtiti took to life at Barcelona as readily as he adapted to his role with France, too. It has long been a prerequisite of any Blaugrana defender to be as capable in possession as they are without the ball, and the former Lyon academy graduate is no exception. Indeed, in his initial displays with his new team, his incisive forward passing, breaking the lines of the opposition and springing attacks from deep, was starkly apparent, quickly becoming a major asset for Luis Enrique’s side.
The 23-year-old’s superlative technical skills are perhaps owing to the fact that he began life in the Lyon academy as a centre-forward, gradually moving back down the pitch until settling into his central-defensive role.
Standing 6ft tall, Umtiti is not especially imposing physically for a player in his position, but he is a tremendously gifted athlete, able to turn quickly, call upon searing recovery pace and spring into aerial challenges, making him more capable in headed duels than many defenders much taller.
But beyond his athletic prowess, Umtiti is an immensely intelligent defender, whose ability to anticipate how opposition attacks progress has allowed him to make an impressive average of two interceptions per 90 minutes since arriving in La Liga, a figure only truly appreciated when considering that Barça enjoy more than 60 per cent of possession on average, meaning defensive tasks are less frequent yet demand increased concentration levels to carry out effectively.
In possession, Umiti’s influence on Barcelona’s ability to build from the back often goes underestimated, but the part his plays is key, and is increasing. Last term, he attempted 72 passes per 90 minutes in La Liga at a staggering completion rate of 92.9 per cent. This term he is averaging 81.4 passes per 90, while maintaining an accuracy of 92.1 per cent.
This is not only evidence of Umiti’s growing role in Barcelona’s passing moves, but also of his developing confidence and comfort within new coach Ernesto Valverde’s system, feeling increasingly at home under the intense expectations of the Catalan footballing cathedral that is the Camp Nou.
It’s just as well that Umtiti has proven himself unfazed by his step up from Ligue 1 challengers Lyon to the La Liga giants, who are expected to contest major honours domestically and in Europe year on year. Had he required a long adjustment period, as is regularly the case when young defenders move to new clubs in foreign leagues, the flaws of those around him would have been fatally exposed.
Umtiti’s addition to the Barça side has enabled the 2015 treble winners to transition away from needing to use 33-year-old Javier Mascherano every week, with the former West Ham United and Liverpool man’s physical gifts declining, as errors of judgment slowly creep into his game.
Gerard Piqué, too, has benefitted from Umtiti’s presence. The Spanish international, jeered by large sections of La Roja’s support, is adored inside Camp Nou, and even sees himself as a future club president. But the 30-year-old ex-Manchester United centre-back, who has unquestionably been one of the world’s foremost defenders over the last decade, has struggled for form for some time now. Partnered by the dependable and unassuming Frenchman, Piqué, and Barça, have an ever-ready insurance policy, adept at dropping off when required or bailing out the errors of others with his blistering speed across the turf and quickness of thought.
Umtiti’s success since joining Barcelona should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise when considering he has been receiving advise from the best possible source in former club captain Carles Puyol, a man who knows a thing or two about what it takes to thrive as a Barça defender.
“I speak with Puyol a lot. It’s flattering because he’s an example for me,” Umtiti told Telefoot last season. “I feel really good in this team, I’m having fun.
“I didn’t expect to play as much in my first season,” he added. “I’m trying to play as well as I can.”
With the level of consistency he has shown since swapping Lyon for Catalonia, Umtiti is arguably La Liga’s best defender right now, and he’ll be crucial to Barcelona’s hopes of wrestling domestic superiority back from Real Madrid.
The post Samuel Umtiti: Barcelona’s unassuming star becoming La Liga’s best defender appeared first on Football Shirt & Soccer News.
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