Arsenal’s time vs. Man City, and can Messi-less Miami step up?

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Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world. From standout performances and what you might have missed to what to keep an eye on in the coming days, LME has a few things to say. This week, why Manchester City vs. Arsenal is Mikel Arteta’s most important game of his managerial career, soccer’s young stars, Inter Miami with and without Lionel Messi, and much more!


ONSIDE

Arsenal, this is your moment

Sunday’s game between Man City and Arsenal is massive because a victory for either side doesn’t only mean three valuable points, it also gives a bolt of energy and psychological boost in the Premier League title race, one that’s been extremely competitive and, as Liverpool vs. Man City showed us before the international break, one operating at the highest quality, showing why the English top flight remains the unrivaled king of entertainment.

In terms of Sunday’s encounter and the final hurdles of this campaign, Man City have been here before. So have Liverpool to a lesser extent, but they understand the demands. It is in this moment when the winners are forged, when they must overcome any insecurity, forget about “perfection,” and win by any means. So, this “onside” is not about City. They know what to do. They have Pep Guardiola as manager, a star-studded squad and precedent on their side after winning the previous three titles.

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2:20

Marcotti: Premier League title is Man City’s to lose

Gab Marcotti says he backs Manchester City to win the Premier League despite them sitting behind Arsenal and Liverpool.

This is about Arsenal and their manager Mikel Arteta. So, with that said. Here’s an open letter:

Dear Mikel,

This is the biggest game of your career. Everything that you have gone through, from the moment you arrived in 2019 as manager and alongside Edu [the sporting director] began to build a squad that could finally win a title in the era of superteams, it all comes to this final stretch. Sunday is your biggest test.

Make sure to embrace this opportunity and I hope, for the sake of your fans, you come out with a killer mentality. Last season, I had you as champions, but I was a season too early. There was inexperience (the youngest squad in the league) and a few missing pieces (Declan Rice) but now you have them.

You have shown it throughout this campaign that you can win with style, but you can also do it in ugly fashion, and that’s the testament of a champion. So, Mikel, as you face your former mentor, I hope you give this message to your young Gunners: Win. Whatever it takes. Go out there and win. Do something that has not happened in 20 years. Go out there and take what’s yours.

The era of the superkids

If this international window taught us anything it’s that national teams are not afraid to showcase their young stars. The kids are more than all right and ready for the limelight. Forget the ancient names of Kylian Mbappé (25), Erling Haaland (23) or even Jude Bellingham (20), who had might as well be baby boomers. I’m talking about players younger than YouTube or Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt.

There’s something special happening in the modern game with the continuous rise of young talents who keep living up to expectation. They’re not only graduating from their respective academies into the first teams, but they’re taking center stage.

Let’s begin with Brazil’s Endrick, who due to his stocky frame, might as well be the reincarnated embodiment of Brazilian legend Romario. They are so similar in physique and style, but Endrick is only 17, which is almost impossible to believe. He scored two goals in two matches during this break. One against England, which was the winner. The other was a decisive finish against Spain in a thrilling 3-3 result at Real Madrid‘s Santiago Bernabeu, his soon-to-be new home after he completes his $43.3 million move from Palmeiras to Madrid this summer when he turns 18. So in a way, Madrid is the perfect place for him, as he will have his compatriots Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior (both 23) serving as mentors.

He also wasn’t done scoring this week because on Thursday night, Endrick also notched the winning goal for Palmeiras against Novorizontino in the semifinal of Brazil’s Campeonato Paulista, helping them reach the final. That’s goals for him in London, Madrid and Sãu Paulo in the space of five days.

On the other side of that match was 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who has delighted Barcelona fans ever since he debuted last April when he was 15 years, 9 months and 16 days old, thus becoming the youngest Barça debutant ever in the history of Spain. He was magnificent against Brazil, dazzling with his skills and pace, winning a penalty and earning an assist for Dani Olmo. This kid is the truth, and I dare to ever mention the “M” word (after a certain Argentinian legend), but if everything goes well and he receives the proper support and patience, Yamal will go very far.

Finally, let’s talk about Kobbie Mainoo. My goodness, what a star. At 18, the Manchester United midfielder made his debut for England against Brazil and showed why he deserves a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad for this summer’s Euros. It was his drive that started the play that won the penalty for the Three Lions against Belgium, and his link-up work with Bellingham was great to watch.

“At 18, I was probably playing XBox,” said striker Ivan Toney when complimenting his teammate. “He’s out here being a man playing for England and he carries himself very well. He just glides with the ball and there’s a lot more to come and I’m sure he’ll go right to the top.”

It’s time to start trusting the kids, because they’re more than ready.


OFFSIDE

Amid Messi’s absence and injury, can Inter Miami step up?

Messi was unavailable during the international break with Argentina, as he has been rehabilitating from a leg muscle injury suffered on March 13 during Inter Miami’s Champions Cup matchup with Nashville SC. During his absence, which included the match against Montreal before the injury, Inter Miami won 3-1 against D.C. United and lost 4-0 against the New York Red Bulls.

On Thursday, he trained in the gym separately from the squad and on Friday, it was confirmed that he will miss the game against NYCFC on Saturday. Manager Tata Martino did say it after the D.C. win right before the international break. “Messi’s injury must be dealt with week by week, and we will evaluate it,” he said. “What is clear is that there is a goal with him, which is to play in the Concacaf quarterfinals.”

That game, against Liga MX‘s CF Monterrey, is next Thursday. Messi’s current absence raises questions marks, but can Martino use this as a opportunity to see how his team can handle multiple matches without their World Cup-winning captain? So far, it’s a bit of an inconsistent sample. Luis Suárez has been great, scoring six goals and four assists in all competitions, but as I have said from day one, the team can’t always depend on him where there are three matches in the space of seven days. April is also about to get very busy.

So, Martino has to act like an NBA coach and balance the minutes of his star players, including Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, both 35. And then to make matters worse, on Thursday night, new signing Federico Redondo suffered a ligament injury and will now be out for approximately eight weeks. This is NOT good. Especially since the club also lost Facundo Farías after suffering an ACL in pre-season. There’s a lot for Tata to deal with.

But it’s the defensive side of things that really need to improve. They have the best offensive record in the league (13 goals) but the worst defensively (nine goals) from the current top 10 in the east. Just this week, they welcomed Boca Juniors defender Marcelo Weigandt on loan until the end of the season with an option to extend. This makes up for the departure of DeAndre Yedlin, who was traded to FC Cincinnati.

The good news is that the season is young and Inter Miami has the tools to go far. They’re second in the Eastern Conference, preparing for a Champions Cup quarterfinal and are scoring without Messi. Now, they have to see who they are without him so when he comes back they’ll be stronger for it.

Giroud’s international career finished? Give MLS some respect

The news of Olivier Giroud nearing a move to LAFC at the end of this season gives me two thoughts. First, Hollywood and Giroud are a match made in heaven, and I don’t think we’re ready, as this might just be the most photogenic transfer since David Beckham to the Galaxy. Second, and more importantly, I am getting a little tired of some of the headlines I have been reading regarding this pending move and how the French star’s decision to come to MLS basically means the end of his international career.

Why exactly? First of all, LAFC is an excellent club that’s well run with a tremendous fanbase and as one of the favorites to win MLS Cup, there’s no shortage of quality within the roster or infrastructure. Giroud will have the best possible opportunities to deliver, even at 37.

The idea that a player coming to MLS damages their chances with their national team is ridiculous. I believe the greatest player in the game — Miami’s Messi — is still captaining Argentina whilst his younger teammate Thiago Almada became the first active MLS player to win the World Cup, thanks to his performances with Atlanta United. This type of criticism on aging players coming to MLS is more about Europe’s continued lack of understanding of the league than anything else. There is a high-and-mighty air to it.

MLS is far more competitive than people think. No, it’s not the Premier League or LaLiga, but it’s growing and strengthening season by season thanks to four main factors: a continued growth of domestic/North American talent, an attractive destination to undiscovered gems — specifically in South America — and equally attractive to European stars who wish to come here and finally, a country that is aching for more soccer.

It is also a transactional league where other leagues come to sign players, and that’s massive. Giroud will be a great addition, and if he ends up shining for LAFC and France doesn’t select him, then that’s on France. Not the league or Giroud.

Final word

Richarlison‘s interview with our colleagues at ESPN Brazil was heroic, touching and an important a reminder to us all that mental health wellness is not something to debate over, but rather necessary part of our health. Sports psychology and therapy, just like actual training on the pitch, are essential for a player. I salute Richarlison for speaking with so much emotion, passion and humility. There is nothing braver.

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3:18

Richarlison discusses his depression after 2022 World Cup and how therapy helped

Spurs and Brazil striker Richarlison talks exclusively to ESPN Brazil about his mental health after the World Cup in Qatar and how going to therapy has helped him.



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