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Dario Felman: Spurs ace Lo Celso belongs at Villarreal; Man Utd whiz Garnacho & Argentina; Benzema not Di Stefano

In his fresh column for TribalFootball.com, Valencia and Boca Juniors great Dario Felman talks Karim Benzema, Villarreal manager Unai Emery and whether Barcelona can catch Real Madrid



GARNACHO AT THE WORLD CUP

Lionel Scaloni is proving to be a very successful manager of Argentina. If I'm not mistaken, the team has been unbeaten for over 30 matches. Now that he has a strong base, he is building for the future.

I believe he is developing players like Alejandro Garnacho and Nicolas Paz more with an eye on the 2026 World Cup, actually. They are all players with great potential who need more football with their clubs to reach their true level before they can really represent their country on a world stage

It may be that Scaloni will include Garnacho and Paz in pre-World Cup extended squads of, say, 45 players or so, but I don't think he will select them for the finals and more specific squad of players for the actual World Cup of 2022. Scaloni wants to blood these young players for the future by giving them some international experience but I believe he feels it is too soon, for Garnacho and Paz, to play in the 2022 World Cup. They will form part of the preparation for the World Cup 2022 and the experience will do them both good.



GIOVANNI LO CELSO

Lo Celso is a marvellous player. I was at the match (last night) and saw him play for Villarreal against Valencia and he really gave a "recital ", as we say in Spanish. I would say his best position is "libre" (free) in front of the midfield and behind the forwards. Lo Celso works best as a 'false nine', like Pablo Aimar was when he was at his best for Valencia.

Lo Celso is also growing as a footballer because he is being given the continuity to play many matches with Villarreal, something that he was lacking at Tottenham, where he was only getting the occasional match. You give the ball to Lo Celso and you get real quality given back to you. I see Lo Celso with the quality to be playing alongside Messi in the coming World Cup of 2022, if he is given continuity on a club level.

The Argentina international is not a player who wants to defend, that's not his game. He prefers to be free from the midfield upwards and going forward. He knows how to create space even when there is a limited amount of space. His passing, his vision, his clarity, a great striker of the ball, including long passes and with short, incisive passes too between the lines to reach the forwards and outclass the defence. Some of his passing amazed me, last night!

I believe Lo Celso has found his "home" here in the Valencia region. It happened to me as a player with Valencia CF. I came for a year and ended up staying for five years. The language helps too and the climate. Valencia is a region that has something special, it traps you…in a good way!



UNAI EMERY

Villarreal are having a really impressive run in the Champions League, slaying really powerful rivals like Juventus and Bayern Munich. Unai Emery has two great virtues as a football manager. He is very hard-working and he also knows how to get the very best out of his players, in terms of work-rate and potential.

Some didn't appreciate him when he was manager of Valencia CF because he was seen as the type of manager that was too thorough rather than charismatic. He's the type of manager who would not be looking at his watch towards the end of a training session, he would be looking to give the players another hour on the training field!

Having been a manager with Arsenal, Emery understands the Premier League and English football and knows how to play against English teams too.

If Villarreal can beat Liverpool in the semi-finals they will be a serious candidate for winning the Champions League. However, it's going to be really difficult to beat Liverpool. If you see where Villarreal are in La Liga, their position in the table shows that they are weaker playing away than playing at home.



KARIM BENZEMA

I believe that Benzema is truly playing at his very best at the moment, "en su maximo rendimiento" as we say in Spanish. Today, he feels that he is a "figura" at Real Madrid; he feels that he is important at the club which is not something that he felt before. You saw how Real Madrid suffered a heavy defeat to FC Barcelona when Benzema wasn't playing! Real Madrid depend on Benzema now.

Influenced by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema set up his own gymnasium at home and worked very hard to get the fittest he could possibly be even away from training with Real Madrid and it shows in his performances on the pitch. We call that work off the pitch as "Invisible training".

I'm not the person to decide which player should win the Ballon d'Or but Benzema does merit the award. At 34 years of age, it's very impressive the fear he's putting into rivals with the vital goals he is scoring...especially at the end of matches too!

Compared to my time as a player at Valencia CF, I would compare Benzema to Carlos 'El Lobo' Diarte to a certain extent. Both of them being strong and tall and superb strikers of the ball. However, I would say that Benzema is more skillful but physically similar with similar 'movimientos' to 'El Lobo' both great goal scorers and with an "olfato" (nose) for goal.

On an international level, perhaps Gerd Müller reminds me of Benzema, despite the height difference. Müller was lethal in the box just like Benzema. Indeed, Müller held the world-record for the number of World Cup goals scored for many years. I'm sure Benzema will be effective for France in the 2022 World Cup too. I would say Benzema is the best number 9 in the world at the moment. Let's see if Real Madrid go on to win La Liga and the Champions league this season…

Today's football is harder, faster and less forgiving too. The pace of modern football can be asphyxiating! You could get away with the occasional mistake in my day because the game was slower. Now, if you make a mistake, you get punished very quickly! Now it's all about quality and precision, which Benzema has in abundance.

However, I would not compare Benzema to Alfredo Di Stéfano. As a player, I played under Di Stéfano as a manager at Valencia CF and was able to see video clips of Di Stéfano as a player. His nickname was 'La Saeta Rubia' because of his blonde hair. In the slower pace of football at the time, Ferenc Puskas, Gento and Di Stéfano were like airplanes! I've seen clips of Di Stéfano playing behind the 'Iron curtain' against really tough teams from Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and he ends up scoring something like seven goals against them. Di Stéfano was from another planet for the times he was playing football in. I would put Di Stéfano up there with Pelé and Maradona. I've known former players who had the pleasure of playing with Di Stéfano and they have said he would have been just as effective in the modern game… 'un todoterreno' (all-round player) as we say in Spanish. Di Stéfano was ahead of his time!




JOAO FELIX

I would say it is '50-50' if João Félix stays at Atlético Madrid or leaves the team. I believe a change of club will do him good. It will be a chance to get away from the demands of his current manager, Diego Simeone. João is only a young lad and he is being given too much responsibility and he is not being allowed to enjoy his football. I think he could do well at PSG and, to a certain extent, at Manchester United too.

Felix loves to dribble and use his natural skills but he lacks tactical discipline, which is why English football could be good for him as a player who needs to grow in the right environment. It is said that a good manager has to get the very best out of his players and 'El Cholo' Simeone is not getting the best out of João Felix, unfortunately.

Simeone prefers a different type of player, like Koke and Marcos Llorente or Angel Correa and Luis Suarez and his entire Atlético defence too… because they are tough! Simeone hasn't been able to get Felix to adapt and commit to his vision and way of playing football. Simeone wants Felix to make more sacrifices for the team and defend more and João wants to enjoy his football!

Antoine Griezmann is a team player, he understands what Simeone wants and accepts the manager's vision and system. Griezmann thought that when he went to FC Barcelona he was going to become the best player in the world but then he found out that he was just one amongst a lot of great players at Barça. So, he has come back to Atlético Madrid and is still a great player, he's fast and he has technique. He's not so much a goal scorer now but he enjoys the role that Simeone has given him, including making sacrifices for the team and being a team player. He understands and accepts what Simeone wants. João has technique but he doesn't have Griezmann's experience. João Felix is younger and is like the kid who wants to play and enjoy football like he is playing in the 'barrio' in the street. You can't play football like that at Atlético Madrid, which is a pretty big club now and with massive demands of its players. Mamma mia!



BARCELONA

It is difficult for Barcelona to catch Real Madrid now. They have one less match to play than Real Madrid in la Liga. Barcelona lost a good chance to win at home against Cádiz and lost to a side who are not one of the bigger teams in la Liga, shall we say. Barça were still hurting from being knocked out of the Europa League by Eintracht Frankfurt. Going 3-0 down to the Germans actually revealed a lot of weaknesses in a FC Barcelona team that the goals conceded were just a reflection of. It revealed that there are players who are not at the level required by a really big club. They have problems in defence when Gerard Piqué is not fit and Ronald Araújo is a player that still lacks experience, for example. Samuel Umtiti is often injured too and so seems to have disappeared from the team, in a way. Sergi Busquets is the player who holds the team together, a superb player with real quality. However, when Busquets is below par, the team falls apart. They are having an identity crisis at the moment. When big teams make mistakes, they suffer more than smaller teams because they are not used to going behind in matches!

Real Madrid are not going to let go of their lead in La Liga. It's too difficult now for FC Barcelona to catch up. Things happen for a reason, after Madrid lost to Barcelona they went to Celta (which was a really key match) and were awarded plenty of fouls and Madrid beat Celta! If Madrid had drawn or lost that match against Celta , things may have turned out differently. They then went on to beat PSG in the Champions League and, like only Real Madrid do, when they get back into their stride they become formidable. I would say that Thibaut Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world; he's saved Real Madrid a fair number of points…in a sport where people are looking at the strikers. Casemiro is the best player in his position in the world too, as a defensive midfielder.

FC Barcelona is obliged to compete with Real Madrid in all competitions. I believe that Ferran Torres was a good signing. If he looks after himself, I believe that Ousmane Dembélé will be a very important player for Barcelona if he stays on. Pedri plays amazing football already and he is still at the age where he has the right to enjoy his football too. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a great signing, lots of goals already! Luuk de Jong has scored vital goals, coming on towards the end of matches, and has gained vital points for Xavi's team too.

I believe that Xavi is a good manager and that the players are going to commit to try and achieve great things together as a team. Xavi was a fantastic player with Barcelona and a Word Cup winner with Spain. I believe that there is more patience with Xavi, from the public and the club. He has their respect and understanding, he's one of theirs. And remember that Barcelona has probably the most demanding fans in La Liga. The team is obliged to fight for every title. I believe Xaxi's signings in January has improved the team too.


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