Luca Toni – The outsider

June 24, 2015

“One of the key narratives sorry for using that word around this year’s Champions League final was the return of some of Italy’s World Cup winning squad to the stadium where, back in 2006, they had claimed Jules Rimet in a penalty shoot-out win against France. Alas, while the return to Berlin was not a happy one for Buffon, Pirlo, Chiellini and Barzagli, another member of that squad from 2006 had much reason to cheer as this season ended. Turning 38-years-old as the season came to an end, Luca Toni, playing for lowly Hellas Verona, finished as joint top scorer in Serie A. In doing so he became the oldest player to win the Capocannoniere (Serie A Golden Boot). It completed a remarkable resurgence in fortunes for a player who, two years ago, seemed destined for retirement after a season in the United Arab Emirates with Al Nasr, scoring three times in eight appearances.” backpagefootball


Book review: All Played Out – The full story of Italia ’90 by Pete Davies

June 16, 2015

“My battered old 1991 paperback edition of this is subtitled ‘The full story of Italia ‘90’ with the blurb on the back headlined ‘The Story of England In The 1990 World Cup’. The cover features the iconic blurred picture of Gascoigne lifting his shirt to his face. Later editions have seen the title changed to One Night In Turin with a now unblurred picture of Gascoigne and the lengthier subtitle of ‘The Inside Story Of A World Cup That Changed Our Footballing Nation Forever’. That in itself is a sign of how things changed in the intervening 20 plus years.” Football Pink


Remember BBC’s Italia 90 opening credits? Here’s the incredible story behind them

June 16, 2015

“FOR SO MANY, the untimely passing of the late, great Bill O’Herlihy struck a chord. The legendary broadcaster’s death was greeted by an universal outpouring of sorrow as his unmistakable humility and generosity made him one of, if not, the most popular figure to appear on our screens. As the nation remembered his storied career, it was a trip down memory lane for most of us as we recounted the iconic days of our sporting childhood. The World Cups, European Championships and Olympic games. The highs and lows, the tears and laughs.” BBC (Video)


Barcelona 3-1 Juventus: Barca pounce to end spells of Juve pressure

June 11, 2015

“Barcelona won the European Cup – and completed a treble for the second time in seven years – with a 3-1 victory over Italian champions Juventus. There were no surprises on Luis Enrique’s teamsheet. Andres Iniesta had been the only slight injury doubt, but he was fit to start and wore the captain’s armband. Luis Enrique continued with his policy of using his reserve goalkeeper in cup competitions, which meant Marc-Andre ter Stegen started on home soil, with Claudio Bravo on the bench.” Zonal Marking


Juventus, Barcelona, and Beyond: How the Champions League Final Challenges What We Thought We Knew About Soccer

June 7, 2015

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“Thanks to Sepp Blatter, the FBI, a hastily called FIFA press conference, and years and years of unchecked corruption, the state of the game has been the talk of the soccer town this week. Of course, none of that talk has anything to do with, well, the way soccer is played on the field. Thankfully, tomorrow we get the biggest (men’s) soccer game of the year: the Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus. With championship games, there’s always a temptation to turn the result into a referendum after the fact, to take what happened in the final and retroactively apply it to the season gone by. But if Barcelona lose tomorrow despite their status as heavy favorites, it doesn’t mean they were any less dominant for the six months prior, and if Juventus get blown out, that doesn’t make their unlikely finals run any less meaningful. It’s not the final game that makes the trend; it’s everything leading up to it.” Grantland

How do Juventus stop Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s front three?
“It’s a question that opponents have been asking since the four-year-old Lionel Messi first wandered on to a dusty pitch in the Rosário suburb of Grandoli, nudged the ball in front of him and set off on a slaloming gambeta that took him past three players. How do you stop him? Before the semi-final Pep Guardiola, who perhaps knows his game as well as anybody, admitted that you just couldn’t. As Messi demonstrated against Athletic Bilbao in last Saturday’s Copa del Rey final, when he’s in the sort of form he is in at the moment, even surrounding him with three players and placing another three between him and the goal isn’t enough. So what do Juventus do?” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Vintage Barcelona display suggests Champions League legacy has a future
“The holy grail of becoming the first team to retain the Champions League remains unclaimed but this Barcelona, after winning a third European title in seven years on Saturday, can surely be regarded now as not merely a great team but a great dynasty. This Barça perhaps now stand comparison with the Real Madrid team that won the first five European Cups. That is not to say that winning three times in seven years with three semi-final appearances is greater than winning five in a row, it’s to say that the core of this Barça side has remained more consistent than the core of that Madrid one; that – remarkably in this age of transfer-market frenzy – this Barcelona have managed to keep winning with essentially the same players.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 1-3 Barcelona | Barcelona’s quality, and poor positioning from Juventus make the difference
“We all waited for this fantastic evening, and what a game it was. Barcelona took on the lead very early after a pretty shaky period for Juventus, thanks to the man of the match, Iniesta who found Rakitic with a cut-back pass into the penalty-spot. Juventus did eventually shake things up and did also find the equalizer to keep the final dramatic enough, but with the attacking-trio of Barcelona, Juventus proved to be too vulnerable to direct counter-attacks.” Outside of the Boot

4 Champions League Final Storylines – and How Messi’s Presence Could Make Them Irrelevant
“In coming up with an angle for writing this, I was conflicted. On one hand, there are an exorbitant number of spectacular storylines for Saturday’s Champions League Final. When this many legends-in-the-making take the pitch at once, there are bound to be more than a few fascinating plot points. But then I kept coming back to one thing: Lionel Messi will be on the field. I’m going to run through four of the most interesting storylines for Barcelona vs. Juventus on Saturday, and then I will get to Messi. As you read them, just remember the presence of that diminutive Argentine could render all of them basically irrelevant. Here we go.” Soccer Pro

Europe’s best, Barcelona finishes treble run with 3-1 win over Juventus
“Barcelona capped an incredible season with a 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday, sealing a treble of trophies and ending the 2014-2015 European soccer season on an exciting high note. Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring in the fourth minute with the fourth-fastest goal in a Champions League final, and it looked like Barcelona would ease to the title. But Gianluigi Buffon made a number of clutch saves, and Alvaro Morata, the former Real Madrid striker, found an equalizer in the 55th minute, finishing off a rebound from a Carlos Tevez saved shot.  Luis Suárez scored the eventual winner 13 minutes later, though, and Neymar, who earlier had what he thought was Barca’s third goal ruled out for a handball, tallied the insurance goal with the last kick of the game.” SI

How Barcelona’s tactics helped it beat Juventus in Champions League final
“As long as it played to its capabilities, Barcelona always seemed likely to win the Champions League final against Juventus on Saturday. It did just that, taking its fifth European Cup with a 3-1 victory while controlling most of the match with its flexible possession. Barcelona’s unchanged lineup set out in its traditional 4-3-3 system. Neymar played wider than Lionel Messi, who cut inside as a situational No. 10. A relatively flat line of three in midfield filled in the front line’s gaps, and the fullbacks also provided width when the forwards tucked in.” SI


Smart spending has allowed Juventus to close the gap with Europe’s elite

June 7, 2015

“Mixing misfits is an art, and the Old Lady is ready to show off her collection. She’s been welcoming in the young, the old and the unwanted for years, but she’s now grown a bit more discerning, and the result is a Juventus side set to challenge for the UEFA Champions League trophy. It’s not a lack of money that’s kept Juventus from splashing out on flashy buys. It’s now one of the 10 richest soccer clubs in the world, valued at $837 million. The club’s ownership of Juventus Stadium, a rarity in Italy, has dramatically increased its matchday takings, and having the biggest share of the Serie A broadcasting pie adds to its revenue. But Juventus still operates as though it’s on the verge of losing money, with a smaller budget than that of even West Ham United.” Fusion


How Barcelona’s Luis Enrique proved everyone wrong – and ended the hunting season

June 4, 2015

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Juventus’ possible defensive formation.
Luis Enrique declared hunting season open in the first week of November and it lasted well into the new year. Barcelona had just been beaten at home by Celta de Vigo, the first time the Galicians had ever won at the Camp Nou, and the Catalans’ coach, who had watched the criticism grow almost from the start, sarcastically foresaw a ‘nice week’ ahead. As it turned out, that was optimistic: it was more than a week and it would get a whole lot ‘nicer’. A 0-0 draw with Getafe followed in December and when 2015 opened with a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad, a crisis opened.” Guardian

UEFA Champions League Final: How will the teams tactically set-out?
“We have now finally come to the final stage of the Champions League, with a team that has not been good enough in the past few editions of the Champions League in Juventus, and Barcelona, who also started off this season with problems as well on and off the pitch, with an apparent rift between Messi and Enrique, but after the defeat against Moyes’ Real Sociedad, has transformed into an unstoppable team, not losing a single game. If we could separate these teams in any way, than that would without doubt be on the basis of style of play. The percentage of the ball-possession that Barcelona has in a game on average (this season) is 62 % while on the other hand you have Juventus with 52 %.” Outside of the Boot

Juventus and their Champions League conquest
“For the first time since 2003, the black and blue striped jerseys of Juventus FC, will be seen in the Champions League Final, which this year will be held at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. On June 6, Gianluigi Buffon will have the chance to lift the trophy for the first time in his career and there is no better time than right now for him and Juventus to win the Holy Grail. After many years of failure in Europe, Juventus have finally made it to the big time. What has changed? What finally made the Old Lady sing in tune? To start off, we must address what makes Juventus such a difficult team to beat. What cannot be denied, is their defensive prowess, composure and organisation.” backpagefootball

Find a Free Pirlo: How Juventus Built a Champions League Finalist on a Budget
“Why are Juventus in the Champions League final? The short answer is Paul Pogba, the guy who might just be the best player in the world not named ‘Lionel Messi’ or ‘Cristiano Ronaldo.’ After joining Manchester United at 16, Pogba’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson soured over a lack of playing time. He left on a free transfer,1 signed with Juventus, and, three years later, here they are: one win away from a treble. Of course, the longer answer is, well, longer. But Pogba’s move is of a piece with an approach that built a team capable of overcoming plenty of more expensive teams.” Grantland


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