The London Rush

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Last season, just three points separated the top 3 London football clubs; Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs. Now, after a couple of months of peace, the rush hour is back on in London. But this time the battle takes place in the transfer market rather than the football field or points table.

The three powerhouses of the great city are once again scrambling to shape their squads before August. For Chelsea this only involves buying ever more players, but for Tottenham and Arsenal, those unfortunate clubs not being backed by billionaires, this also involves cutting off the deadwood to make way for new additions. Arsenal have already sold Andrey Arshavin and are also willing to listen offers for Gervinho. Tottenham have a bit more excess baggage and according to reports they are ready to offer Aston Villa anyone out of Assou-Ekotto, Jake Livermore, Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone as make-weights in a cash+player deal for last season’s sensation Christian Benteke.

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Christian Benteke is one of the many strikers these three clubs have been after this transfer window. For that is the one thing which can give one of them the edge over the others, even make them title contenders; a quality, 20+ goals striker. They all missed such a spearhead last season. Chelsea could not pose any threat to the Manchester clubs in the title race and were instead involved in a scramble for the last two Champions League places with Arsenal and Spurs. They had to make do with two terribly out of form forwards in Torres and Demba Ba. Arsenal, who had supposedly replaced Robin van Persie with Olivier Giroud last summer, were badly mistaken, as the Frenchman could only score 11 goals and seldom won games for them. Jermaine Defoe scored the same number of goals for Spurs; and the other Spurs striker, Adebayor, was inconsistent as ever, from getting sent off in the first half at the Emirates to giving a classy centre-forward’s performance at the Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea, as always, have been after the best the market has to offer. They were trying to complete a dream team of Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski. But those dreams look to be dashed as Cavani looks set to join Ligue 1 giants PSG and Lewandowski will stay at Dortmund for one more year before switching to Bayern Munich. They have now turned sight on the Belgian star Benteke.

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Arsenal tried to lure Wayne Rooney to the Emirates after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but new Red’s manager David Moyes was stern in saying the striker is not for sale. They are now after the controversial Suarez, although Liverpool is trying hard to out-price them. A deal for Higuain seemed close after he agreed personal terms with them, but they have not yet managed to reach an agreement with Madrid. In fact, Arsenal have yet to make a signing, despite having the largest ever transfer kitty at Arsene Wenger’s disposal this year.

Tottenham have also been in the hunt for strikers. They pursued their long-time target Leandro Damiao, but Internacional are reluctant to part ways with the forward. They have also been linked with Soldado, Benteke and David Villa (before he joined Athletico Madrid) among others.

It remains to be seen which striker finds his way to which part of London, but one can say for sure this London rush for strikers will decide who challenges for the title and who is left to languish in the Europa League next season.

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Why Spain’s days are over

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One week ago, the tables turned. Spain got a taste of their own medicine. An year back in the Euros final, Spain had thrashed a good looking Italian side 4-0. An year later, they were thrashed 3-0, got their poster boy sent off, and looked a shadow of the team that claimed consecutive European and World titles. They rode on luck throughout the tournament. Got the easier of the two groups, and had it not been for Italy’s missed chances and the brilliance of Casillas, Spain might not have crawled past the semis like they did, winning on penalties.

Parallels have often been drawn between Barcelona and Spain, and not surprisingly so. The two sides share the same core players. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Fabregas, Villa, Jordi Alba, Pedro, are all automatic choices for both club and country. Consequently their style of play is identical. Short passes, intricate through balls, and midfield domination are typical for both sides. Since the last two seasons or so Barcelona has not been the formidable team they used to be (although that might change with the signing of Neymar). This was highlighted by the 7-0 drubbing on aggregate by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League semi final. When the same players went to Brazil with the same system, they were drubbed 3-0 by a home-charged Brazilian side. So, has the system been finally beaten?

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Spain’s formula is fairly simple. Tire out your opponents by making them chase the ball, then find little holes in their defense and exploit them with their precise through balls. And they are brilliant at it. What they are not brilliant at is chasing the game, working under pressure and fighting against time. In the World Cup and Euros, Spain nearly always scored the first goal. They would then tire and break the opponents morale, making him mindlessly chase the ball. That is why people started labelling their football ‘boring’. Because this way they could make it look a one-sided contest against the best of teams. But now the others have caught up. They have learned the best way to defeat this system is to score first, like Brazil did against Spain and Munich did against Barcelona. They then have to chase the game. Instead of dictating play, they have to force the issue, something they are evidently not good at. Why?

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The problem with Spain’s strategy is that it is inflexible and rigid. They do not know alot of ways to score goals except the one they use all the time. Their aerial threat is minimal, crossing ability mediocre, and free-kick goals negligible. Hence when they need to create something out of nothing, they fail miserably.

Spain met two brilliant and rising teams at the Confederations Cup. They struggled against both. At the World Cup next year, they meet atleast a dozen more, and at the same territory. Will Spain continue to dominate World Football? I don’t think so. But then again, they still have some of the best players in the World. The system might not be as formidable now, but these players are still class. So how will Spain fare in the Mega Event next year? Your guess is as good as mine.

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