Euro 2016: Why the Serbian National Team is a Dark Horse

The Serbian national football team hasn’t qualified for the European Championships since 2000 when they reached the quarter-finals. 2016 could be different. Qualifying has yet to officially begin, but the Serbs have been handed a manageable group—Portugal, Denmark, Armenia and Albania are their rivals in qualification. This won’t be a cake walk by any stretch; Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal is one of the top 20 teams in the world, Denmark is a solid squad and Armenia just missed qualifying for the playoff to get into Brazil 2014. Still, with the talent Serbia has, you would favor them to advance.

Coach Dick Advocaat’s selection pool features players plying their trade in numerous top leagues. With Serbs employed at club teams in Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France among others, there’s certainly talent. However, Advocaat’s strongest contingent comes from the Serbian internationals playing in England’s top flight. With players at top clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, the team has a strong nucleus. The team is especially strong in midfield and defense, two reasons why they could do serious damage in 2016.

Sitting in front of veteran shot-stopper and onetime Wigan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic is a defense that could arguably be one of the finest in Europe. The two most-capped players on the back line are Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov. These two will man the wide positions while the center back options give Advocaat a plethora of potential selections. At the coach’s disposal is Borussia Dortmund star Neven Subotic, Serie A veteran Dusan Basta, Kolorav’s club teammate Mastija Nastasic and Lyon defenseman Milan Bisevac. A theoretical back line of Ivanovic, Kolarov, Subotic and Nastasic arguably provides more stability and quality than the defenses of European big boys Spain and England.

Further up the pitch in the midfield are a diverse group of Serbs that provide dynamic play and defensive support. Whatever tactical formation is used, you can bet that Chelsea man Nemanja Matic will be sitting in front of the back four, providing key passing and making timely tackles. In addition to him, Advocaat can deploy a number of quality players in the central and wide areas of midfield. These includes recent Liverpool signing and lightning-quick Lazar Markovic, Southampton’s newest goal-creating threat Dusan Tadic, Roma attacker Adem Ljajic and Benfica owned Filip Duricic.

Serbia’s depth and quality is nowhere near that of Belgium, another recent dark horse from Europe, but they are similar in talent to Switzerland, a team that pushed Argentina to the brink in the World Cup. The Serbs won’t win Euro 2016, and at this point they haven’t qualified, but if they get there, they’ll make some noise.

Real Madrid: Why Kroos and James Don’t Make Sense Tactically & How the Hoarding and Exorbitant Spending Produce Results

Real Madrid has a tendency, or, more like a need, to employ the best players in the world in their team. In the process, the club spends absurd amounts of money. They will routinely spend tens of millions of dollars just for squad players.

Recent signings Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez are hardly squad players, but it shows how far the team is willing to go to be the best. Both signings undoubtedly help the team improve (they would help any team) but they don’t make the most sense tactically. In coach Carlo Ancelotti’s favored 4-3-3 formation, Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria were favored as the midfield trio. Admittedly, the team sold Di Maria, but with Kroos’ addition, the team will now field an overcrowded midfield group. A group that includes Modric, Alonso, Kroos, a healthy Sami Khedira and last summer’s splurge signings Isco and Asier Illarramendi. That’s a lot of midfielders who, if you combine their transfer fees, could fix a country’s economy.

While Kroos’ signing gives Madrid even more quality in the middle of the park, the team’s signing of Rodriguez produces questions. Lots of them. James is a superbly talented player, and his skill probably merits a place on a team like Madrid’s roster, but tactically it is a bit tough to fit him into the current team.

James Rodriguez can play as an attacking midfielder, a true No. 10 or he can be deployed out wide as a winger. In the current 4-3-3 that Ancelotti employs, there is no way on Earth Rodriguez displaces either Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo. It simply won’t happen. And to be fair, no one in the world is going replace Madrid’s two most expensive players. The team could alter the 4-3-3 and play him in his favored position as a traditional No. 10 with two pivot midfielders sitting behind him. This could provide deadly results offensively, but it would also limit the number of central midfielders Ancelotti can use. With a huge glut of them already, to accommodate Rodriguez he may have to sacrifice one of them, hence pushing someone further down the totem pole and potentially off the team all together.

This is where the hoarding strategy comes into play. Real Madrid is able to sell off star players in order to make room for star players. Or they simply sell off their highly priced squad players to other clubs where those players will play prominent roles.  While it may not be the most fiscally responsible thing in the world, it helps the team avoid the swinging axe that is Financial Fair Play.

Last summer the team spent over 150 million euros (a little over 200 million US dollars) bringing Bale, Isco, Illarramendi, Daniel Carvajal and Casemiro into the fold. Normally a team spending that kind of capital would be hit with FFP sanctions. However, unlike fellow big spenders PSG and Manchester City, Madrid made some cash to offset that absurd sum. They unloaded Mesut Ozil to Arsenal for 50 million euros and sold striker Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli for 40 million euros. Combine those with the sales of Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon (both also to Napoli) among others and Madrid made nearly 130 million euros from outgoing players.

This allows the team to recoup some of the money they spent, but more importantly it allows them to escape those FFP sanctions. PSG wasn’t able to avoid the axe as they spent nearly 140 million euros on four players. Of the players they sold or let go, they collectively brought back 26 million euros.

City, on the other hand, spent north of 90 million pounds, while recouping a little over 15 million pounds on player sales.

These may not seem like serious issues, but they have impacted both teams’ current offseason spending. PSG, who doesn’t want to cross the line with FFP having already been sanctioned, tried and failed to acquire Di Maria from Madrid without paying a deservedly large sum of money. This is mainly due to the fact that they don’t want to, and can’t spend too much money.

Meanwhile, City has lost a number of spots on their team as part of the sanctions, and thus their international slots are full. Because of this, the team had to sell Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia in order to acquire long rumored target and French center back Equiliam Mangala.

The penalties only get worse for clubs like PSG and City if they continue to breach FFP guidelines. Real Madrid seems to have figured it out. The team buys star players. Should the star players fail to adapt or a bigger, better star comes along, then the incumbent stars get the boot. Because of this, Madrid escapes Financial Fair Play penalties all the while being one of the best, if not the best, club in the world.

 

The Mariners Really Need to Trade Felix Hernandez

The Upper Echelons of Major League Pitchers-

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. David Price, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver
  3. Matt Cain, RA Dickey , James Shields, Zack Grienke, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez
  4. Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg,  Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto
  5. Ian Kennedy, Anibal Sanchez, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Trevor Cahill, Jordan Zimmerman etc.

Those, in a nutshell, are the top pitchers in baseball. Notice the placement of RA Dickey and James Shields. Both have been traded in the last month, yet both are ranked below (in my estimate) Felix Hernandez. In addition to those two big offseason moves, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton. I say this for one reason, Texas isn’t going anywhere,  and Los Angeles just added Hamilton to their team. The other team in the division is Oakland who, I might point out, was probably the second best team in the AL playoffs last year.

Regardless of Seattle’s current talent (meh,) the team is in a stacked division. Anything besides last place is probably a miracle (barring an Angels’ season-long flop.)

The team isn’t going anywhere soon. Thus it makes sense to trade Felix Hernandez, especially since their top two pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen) are ranked fourth and eighth in terms of the top 100 prospects in the game per Jonathan Mayo.

There are two, if not three, (James Paxton could be special as well) potential Hernandez replacements waiting in the system. Yes, the fences are being moved in and the Mariners need to sell tickets, but dealing Hernandez makes sense.

Let’s put a few things out there. One, Hernandez is four years younger than Shields and twelve younger than Dickey. Not surprisingly, King Felix is a much better pitcher than both. The point on Shields, or even Dickey, is that Shields fetched the number three overall prospect (again all this per Mayo,) Wil Myers, who has at least “star” potential if not more. Another prospect that went to Tampa was starter Jake Odorizzi, ranked the 30th best in all of baseball. Tampa also picked up two other prospects who are ranked in the top 20 of their system.

New York got the 11th and 83rd best prospects in the game by selling high on a 38-year old.

What I’m getting at, if you haven’t gotten there first, is that the Rays and Mets got some of the better packages of prospects that the trading market has seen in the past few years. I would think that the Mariners would want to cash in with a haul of that kind.

The Mariners need a hitter to lead them into the next phase of the franchise (hopefully contending.) I’m sure they’d jump at a package of Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt (not that Texas would consider that seriously.) But Seattle needs a corner stone. They need the next Miguel Cabrera or Evan Longoria. They need someone who can carry a team on his backs/bats. Maybe Felix Hernandez is the way to find that player.

Surely if James Shields and RA Dickey can fetch outstanding hauls of prospects, then a younger and better pitcher (Felix Hernandez) can get a better one.

What do you think? Should the Mariners trade King Felix or should they keep him and try to contend?