Monthly Archives: October 2011

Three main problems for Inter in 2-1 home loss to Juventus

Gian Piero Gasperini
“This was another amazingly open match – all the goals came in the first half. Juventus move top of the table. The away side weren’t completely dominant. Their first goal came against the run of play as Inter started strongly, but Juve had plenty of opportunities and for a brief spell midway through the first half, they were able to open up the Inter defence at will. Claudio Ranieri’s side lacked compactness and their defence still seems to be recovering from the early season experiment with a back three under Gian Piero Gasperini – their positioning is frequently poor despite the return to their favoured four-man defence. Lucio seems uncomfortable on the turn and Cristian Chivu isn’t a great partner for him, whilst he full-backs are both stronger going forward than they are defensively.” Zonal Marking

Internazionale 1 – 2 Juventus
“Juventus retained their two-point advantage at the top of Serie A and piled even more misery on Claudio Ranieri’s Inter Milan with a win at the San Siro tonight. Mirko Vucinic put the Bianconeri in front in the 12th minute, but Maicon levelled for the hosts in the 28th minute. Claudio Marchisio restored Juve’s advantage in the 33rd minute and he was unlucky not to earn a penalty just before half-time.” ESPN


Colombia’s rising stars and lost potential

“Like watching a sneak preview of future blockbuster films, the best thing about South American football is the chance to catch remarkable talent on the way up. Barcelona’s Argentine Lionel Messi tops the list but I have lost count of the extraordinary players whose early professional steps I have been lucky enough to witness. Inevitably, plenty fall short of fulfilling their potential.” BBC – Tim Vickery

West Bromwich Albion 0 – 2 Liverpool

“Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez showed more signs of forging a potent strike partnership as Liverpool strolled to victory over West Brom – and former Reds manager Roy Hodgson – at the Hawthorns. A Charlie Adam penalty and Carroll’s third goal of the campaign confirmed Liverpool’s superiority as they climbed into fifth spot in the Barclays Premier League. But it was the way that Carroll and Suarez gelled which would have given the most satisfaction to Reds boss Kenny Dalglish.” ESPN

Liverpool wait on Gerrard results
“Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will have to wait until at least Wednesday to discover how long his latest injury will keep him on the sidelines. Gerrard, who had only recently returned from a groin problem that kept him out of action for six months, missed Liverpool’s 2-0 win at West Brom on Saturday and was pictured leaving hospital with his right leg in a protective cast.” ESPN

Gritty Stoke subdue sizzling Reds but Suarez’s brilliance secures the win
“A wonder-goal from Suarez and a wonder-assist from Henderson (for Suarez’s second) ensured Liverpool left the Britannia Stadium bound for the next round of the League Cup. The Reds were good value for the win and we saw some fantastic early play from them before the game petered out into a somewhat scrappy contest.” Micro LFC

Questions being asked of Villas-Boas’ tactical approach at Chelsea

“There was one doubt about Andre Villas-Boas when he arrived at Chelsea in the summer. Astonishing as Porto was last season — it won a treble of Europa League, Portuguese Cup and Portuguese League (in which it dropped only four points) — it never really faced a test. Sporting is at a low ebb and Benfica looks much stronger this season, while in Europe it faced no side from England, Germany, Italy or France. Of teams from the top five leagues in Europe, Porto met only Sevilla and Villarreal.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Barcelona 5 – 0 Mallorca

“Lionel Messi’s hat-trick led Barcelona to a resounding 5-0 victory over Real Mallorca at the Nou Camp. The Argentina forward netted three times in 18 first half minutes as his side quickly took control of the game. The second half brought a first senior goal for Isaac Cuenca and a superb late goal from Dani Alves to round off the scoring. Barca hit their stride immediately and Seydou Keita’s header from Thiago Alcantara’s corner was saved by Dudu Aouate and Dani Alves’ long-range effort was blocked by Ivan Ramis.” ESPN

Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal: Chelsea’s high line ripped to shreds in amazingly open game

“Chelsea had a clear weakness coming into the game – their defence plays high up the pitch and are prone to pace in behind – and Arsenal exploited it to great effect. Andre Villas-Boas brought Branislav Ivanovic into the side for David Luiz, who was poor at QPR. Jon Obi Mikel played rather than Raul Meireles in the holding role – the rest of the side was as expected. Arsene Wenger continued with Johan Djourou at right-back and Thomas Vermaelen was fit only for the bench. This was a game with plenty of chances and some terrible defending – Arsenal were better at exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent.” Zonal Marking

Gervinho comes into form to fit nicely into Arsène Wenger’s grand plan
“Arsenal fans have a lot to look forward too if Gervinho’s first man-of-the-match in the 3-1 win over Stoke City is anything to go by. Daniel Jeandupeux, the man responsible for bringing Gervinho to Ligue 1 at Le Mans, tells Sabotage Times that “if he continues to improve, he could become one of the very best players in the world — like Messi.” It’s certainly a bold statement to make but Gervinho has the capability to be explosive. Fans complaining about a lack of high-profile signings in the summer cannot but be moved to stand in anticipation when Gervinho runs with the ball – he’s the type of player who gets bums off seats. His goal and two assists come at the right time; he’s effectively where he should have been three games ago were he not suspended in his first game at the club. But he’s slowly adjusting and his improvement can help take the growing reliance off Robin van Persie.” Arsenal Column

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal
“John Terry and Chelsea’s nightmare week was complete as his slip and a Robin van Persie hat-trick handed Arsenal an amazing victory in an absolute classic at Stamford Bridge. Terry looked set to enjoy some respite from the Football Association and police probes into allegations he racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand when he gave the Blues a 2-1 half-time lead. But the Gunners staged a sensational second-half comeback to turn the game on its head and, though Juan Mata equalised at 3-3, Terry’s mistake allowed Van Persie to make it 4-3 before the Dutchman completed his treble in stoppage time.” ESPN

The Legend of Arsene Wenger
“If Arsene Wenger’s career was a kung fu movie, we would be in the part where the search is on for the villain who poisoned Arsene’s rice. Taking cues from the charismatic Frenchman, all eyes would be on the usual suspects, the media, referees, disloyal players, Roy Keane, Sam Allardyce, and the most obvious targets, those pin-stripe-suited figures throwing around Scrooge McDuck money for fun. But this film’s twist is that Arsene may have stubbornly poisoned his own rice.” Run of Play

Levante pulls off the impossible

“Raimon is the groundsman at Levante, a man who practically lives in the Ciutat de Valencia stadium and does everything from cut the grass to sweep the steps and paint the lines on the pitch. In a room under the stand he has, over the 24 years he has been at the club, constructed a mini-museum of all things Levante — including press cuttings and posters, shirts and photographs going back years. That is not all he does: under the stand he also collects old farm equipment — his other passion — and cooks. When Levante has a team meal, it sometimes hold it down there with the groundsman as chef.” SI

Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in German soccer circles

“Michael Sternkopf became the latest in an ever growing list of soccer personalities to go public with a very private matter this Tuesday. Not long ago, the 41-year-old general manager of Kickers Offenbach would probably have done anything in his powers to keep his secret out of the limelight. But German soccer’s attitude has changed to the point that the former Bayern Munich midfielder felt able to talk to the biggest tabloid Bild openly about his condition: he has checked into a clinic for treatment of burnout syndrome. ‘I’m not able to do my job at the moment,’ he told the newspaper.” SI

Napoli 2-0 Udinese: 3-4-3 against 3-5-1-1, and Mazzarri beats Guidolin

Jean Lattre and Charles Francois Delamarche – 1800
“An interesting first half, and ultimately a convincing win for Walter Mazzarri’s side. Mazzarri was without Walter Gargano, so played Blerim Dzemaili alongside Gokhan Inler in the centre of midfield. Francesco Guidolin had Antonio Di Natale, Mauricio Isla and Maurizio Domizzi unavailable, meaning there were plenty of changes, resulting in a disjointed side. Antonio Floro Flores played upfront against his hometown club. This was tactically exciting and yet also very basic – Napoli were the clear winners.” Zonal Marking

The Curious Career of Blagoje Vidinić: Bribes, Bank Notes and Balls

“Champagne, bags of bank notes and Adidas balls: these were amongst the gifts Macedonian Blagoje Vidinić received during his African odyssey in the early 1970s. This was a man who presided over the joint-worst World Cup performance of all time, but also a man who as a goalkeeper had once rivaled Lev Yashin in many eyes, who had played in Los Angeles, San Diego, St Louis in a pioneering era of American soccer; a man who as coach took two African countries to unprecedented heights – and managed to change the course of world sporting history, by tipping off Horst Dassler just in time for the Adidas head to back the right man in the 1974 FIFA presidential election.” Pitch Invasion

Levante continue to defy the odds

“The biggest spenders in Spain in the last 3 seasons naturally occupy the top four positions, Barcelona and Real Madrid are on another level, fan base, investment and a disproportionate tv deal ensure it’s difficult for others to keep up. Málaga’s fairly recent new ownership and strategy mean they are now well positioned to challenge in future seasons, although the jury is still out as to what they can achieve in the present. But the other team that currently sits in a Champions League position after 6 games is a lot more surprising – Levante.” La Liga UK

The First of the Liberos

“Everyone with a modicum of football knowledge has heard of Catenaccio – the system synonymous with generations of Italian defenders. Yet very few remember its finest practitioner Armando Picchi, the man around whom the system of La Grande Inter was built. The first of the famous Liberos made an indelible mark on the game’s tactical history. The memory of Picchi presents football historians with an obvious contradiction. Italian teams since the 1960s have been associated with a pragmatic, safety first approach to the game which was founded on the beauty of the 1-0 victory. Meanwhile individual Italians have long been seen as stylish exponents of the Beautiful Game.” In Bed With Maradoma

Mancini’s City exposes Man United’s season-long vulnerability

“When Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 5-1 at White Hart Lane at the end of August, Manchester United did what they have been doing for half a century and eclipsed the majesty of that performance by beating Arsenal 8-2. If these had been four anonymous teams, it might perhaps have been rather easier to acknowledge what at the time was barely a puff of dust on the horizon: that it had been City’s performance that had been more impressive, that the ‘noisy neighbors’ might perhaps have arrived.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Why Sebastián Coates’ Clanger Proves Him To Be Liverpool’s New Jamie Carragher

Sebastian Coates
“Last night for a brief moment Jonathan Walters made Liverpool’s Sebastián Coates look distinctly average. With Walters bearing down on him, deep inside his own half, the Uruguayan international hesitated on the touchline with the ball. Several failed attempts to jink past the striker later, and a particularly lack lustre effort at a clearance and Liverpool were 1-0 down. It looked amateurish, it was clumsy and had seemingly provided Liverpool’s hoards of pessimists with a new scapegoat. Move over Lucas Leiva, farewell Emilano Insua, we’ve got a new young, South American to spit venom at for 90 minutes every Saturday.” Sabotage Times

The effects of Chelsea’s pressing game in 2011/12

“Amongst all the nonsense about Andre Villas-Boas being the new Jose Mourinho, the irony is that he’s done more to move Chelsea away from Mourinho’s overall playing style than Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. In particular, the way they play without the ball. Though not as much of a purely defensive manager as often made out, Mourinho was a fan of defending deep at Chelsea. The 4-3-3 looked more like a 4-5-1 in the defensive stage, with players asked to get behind the ball quickly and retreat into a deep, compact unit.” Zonal Marking

Soccer Cities: Budapest

“Divided by the Nepliget park, city rivals Ferencvaros and MTK are the country’s two most successful clubs, winning every title from 1903 until 1929 between them, and boasting a combined total of 51 championships (28 and 23 respectively). MTK are by tradition a club with Jewish origins, while Ferencvaros – due to much of the anti-Communist uprising of 1956 taking place in the area surrounding their stadium – have a big right-wing following, so racial undertones now blight any game between the two teams. However, their intense rivalry is currently on hold as MTK were relegated at the end of last season and they now play in the second-tier NB II.” World Soccer

QPR’s Anton Ferdinand must speak up in row with Chelsea’s John Terry, says Lord Ouseley

“Anton Ferdinand, the QPR defender, should “demonstrate courage”, remember the sacrifices black players made in the past and state publicly what he believes Chelsea’s John Terry allegedly said to him, according to Lord Ouseley, chairman of the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign group and a Football Association Council member.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Which of Southampton’s players will step up?

Goalkeeper: Kelvin Davis
“Earlier this year, we analysed then Championship Queen’s Park Rangers in order to guess which of their stars might successfully negotiate the jump in standard once promotion was secured. Of course much of that thinking has been rendered moot by a squad overhaul that has left many of last year’s heroes either elsewhere or out of the team, although there is an argument that Alejandro Faurlin has confirmed our belief in his ability, that the jury is still deliberating on Adel Taarabt (well…a one man one at least) and that Sean Derry has defied the years and our lack of faith in him.” thetwounfortunates

Reconstructing An Identity: This Is Dynamo Dresden

“Things are going well for SG Dynamo Dresden at the moment, a club rich in history as a former giant of East Germany. Back in the 2. Bundesliga this season for the first time in five years, a positive atmosphere at ‘Dünamö’ is growing rapidly, as they seek to put recent troubles behind them. Dresden, the ‘Florence of the Elbe’ is one of Germany’s most politically and culturally important, and most beautiful, cities. Saxon neighbour Leipzig has always been seen as the more modern city compared with Dresden’s classical and traditional atmosphere, a city better-known for its Baroque architecture, as an important centre of art and music in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and as the proud centre of the old Kingdom of Saxony.” In Bed With Maradona

World Cup 2014 – a scheduling headache

“‘It’s been a big task and long work,’ said Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke last week when the calendar of the 2014 World Cup was presented. “We had 57 versions of this match schedule and finally nine on which we have been working. We took into account the medical aspects, logistics, travel and accommodation.” Staging a World Cup in a country the size of a continent is not easy, and Brazil in June/July offers a specific challenge – winter bites hard in the south and barely touches the north.” BBC – Tim Vickery

The new creators

Javier Mascherano
Saturday night’s the night I like, sang Elton John (that ages me), especially when you’ve got Malaga v Real Madrid followed by Barcelona v Sevilla on the telly. It sets you up nicely for the in-the-flesh Sunday game, ultimately something of a snooze-fest in Anoeta between Real Sociedad and Getafe (0-0). Perhaps it just paled by comparison, although that should never be the case when it comes to savouring the live experience. Putting your feet up on the sofa and popping open a half-decent Rioja is one thing, but getting down to the local stadium should always be the aesthetic priority.” ESPN

Granada 0 – 1 Barcelona
“Champions Barcelona returned to winning ways in the Primera Division but had to grind out the three points in a 1-0 win against nine-man Granada. Although it was a less than emphatic success, Barca they did get the job done against their struggling hosts as captain Xavi’s first-half free-kick was just about enough to earn them the victory.” ESPN

Watching Tractors In Tehran

“It is a swift six hour drive along the modern, three-lane freeway from Tabriz to Tehran. Descending from the historic city, the driver traces the ridge of the Sahand volcano, where the tower blocks of Tabriz give way first to sparse, sandy villages, then to vast, empty dust plains. The journey skirts the eastern edge of the Angoran protected area, where wild boar and wolves roam freely in the grey, scudded hills. On arrival at Qazvin, an ancient city once razed by Genghis Khan, the traveller joins Freeway One for the final ninety minute run into the capital.” In Bed With Maradona

Energie Cottbus 0-2 Greuther Fürth

“Fürth beat Energie Cottbus 2-0 and shot back to the top of the 2. Bundesliga table thanks to a performance that was built on a solid defence and deadly attack. The Bavarians were just too good for their East German hosts, who struggled for inspiration and urgency. Although the visitors were under the kosh for about 20 minutes straight during the second half, Cottbus barely created a single chance in that period, let alone during the whole match. Fürth could easily have scored several more goals at the Stadion der Freundschaft this afternoon, and nobody in green put a foot wrong all game: defensive midfielder Edgar Prib was in particularly fine form, and my man of the match. Surely there can be nobody out there now who doubts the title-winning credentials of Mike Büskens’ side?” Defensive Midfielder

Beckham’s Last Stand

“On a sun-drenched day in Southern California, it’s hard to imagine a more peaceful vibe than the one at The Home Depot Center. A dog frolics on the grass in front of the south goal. The scent of honeysuckle fills the air. Landon Donovan leans back in a bleacher seat and shares a wish he wouldn’t have dreamed of three years ago: that Los Angeles Galaxy teammate David Beckham extend his expiring contract and turn down overseas suitors (Paris! London!) to return to MLS next year.” SI

Man United 1-6 Man City: City turn a dominant performance into a historic thrashing

Aurora, The Goddess of Dawn, Guido Reni
“City crafted a clever first half advantage over United, then were rampant after half time. Sir Alex Ferguson went with the 4-4-2ish shape he’s favoured this season (but moved away from last weekend at Liverpool). There was no Nemanja Vidic, nor Phil Jones at the back. Danny Welbeck was alongside Wayne Rooney. Roberto Mancini had to replace Nigel de Jong with Yaya Toure (though this might have contributed to the fluidity of his side), and used Mario Balotelli rather than Edin Dzeko as the main striker.” Zonal Marking

Mario Balotelli sets Manchester City ablaze at Manchester United
“Manchester United must endure a result that will figure in the lore of this fixture for generations. The red card in the 46th minute for Jonny Evans, after he had pulled back Mario Balotelli, was damaging, but Manchester City already held a 1-0 lead by then. While the hosts went on to trim a growing deficit to 3-1 with an impeccably directed drive from Darren Fletcher, that simply galvanised City. They struck three times more in the closing minutes, two of the goals coming from the substitute Edin Dzeko, with a David Silva strike to separate them.” Guardian

Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6: match report
“By the end of the Demolition Derby, Manchester City fans were convulsed with joy, revelling in the sight of the majestic David Silva putting the champions to the sword, serenading Sir Alex Ferguson with “getting sacked in the morning” and designing their “Six and the City” T-shirts. Incredible. The noisy neighbours just marched into Manchester United’s back yard and staged their own party. Roberto Mancini brought a bottle of wine.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Cesc denies racial abuse

“Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas has firmly denied accusations he racially abused Frederic Kanoute during Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla. After Barcelona were awarded an injury-time penalty at the Camp Nou, Kanoute kicked the ball away from the spot. The striker was then sent off when he lashed out at Fabregas, and a fracas involving a number of players from both teams ensued.” ESPN

Canaries on song as Reds fine-tune

“Some three-quarters of an hour before kick-off, Harry Redknapp entered Anfield, posing obligingly for supporters taking pictures on their camera-phones. If the smile seemed a little forced, the chances are that, when he left Liverpool’s ground, his grin was altogether wider. While Newcastle have a four-point cushion in fourth place, Tottenham’s status as favourites to finish there was cemented by a combination of fine goalkeeping, profligate finishing and the Merseyside woodwork.” ESPN

Liverpool 1 – 1 Norwich City – Match Report
“The lynch mob went into overdrive yesterday following the 1-1 draw with Norwich. The sheer volume of over-the-top reactions to the game was astonishing. Away from all the blood and thunder, a statistical analysis of the draw offers us a calm, rational sense of perspective. Norwich will not give points away easily in the league this season, as they proved against Manchester United. Their league position of 8th is justified and they gave a good account of themselves again yesterday. They had 8 shots on goal, one less than the total United managed last week and on par with Arsenal’s shots against us at the Emirates. They were, therefore, somewhat of a force to be reckoned with.” The Empire of the Kop

After torrid World Cup, Evra embroiled in controversy yet again

Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra
“The joke in Manchester is that Patrice Evra is passionate, but not as passionate as his father, because the Manchester United defender has 24 brothers and sisters. Evra’s passion was seen in three separate incidents during last week’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield, none of which covered United’s captain for the day in glory, and the last of which could have long-lasting consequences.” SI

Antonio Conte’s system isn’t a 4-2-4, but it still provides excitement

“The 4-2-4 is a mythical formation, immediately bringing to mind the Brazil side of 1970, maybe the greatest international side in history. It is seldom used in modern football at the top level, and therefore the arrival of Antonio Conte at Juventus this summer excited many – he was set to play the system, and perhaps bring all-out-attack football to Turin. It’s surprising that so many thought this would bring about a revolution (in pure formation terms), for if there was any other manager in Europe that could vaguely be described as using a 4-2-4, it would be Juve’s manager from last year, Gigi Del Neri. He made his name with a similar system at Chievo, then re-established himself with the formation at Sampdoria, and last year tried to make it work with Juve.” Zonal Marking

Boateng inspires Milan comeback

“Substitute Kevin-Prince Boateng inspired AC Milan to a thrilling 4-3 comeback victory in Lecce with a second-half hat-trick for the visitors. Guillermo Giacomazzi, Massimo Oddo and Carlos Grossmuller established a 3-0 lead for the home side by half-time, but Boateng sprang from the bench to score three goals in 14 minutes to bring Milan level.” ESPN

How The Stone Roses stopped the hooligans

“The relationship between drugs and football hooliganism was on the slow-burner for many years but, according to the academic researcher Mark Gilman, this changed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Drugs and raves suddenly became popular in football culture, as the Madchester and acid house movements managed to unite football fans in peace. To understand how this happened, a look into the history of football hooliganism is required. Until the late 1980’s, as Gilman explained in his fascinating study ‘Football and Drugs: Two Worlds Collide’, football hooliganism was rife amongst the working classes.” In Bed With Maradona

Gerrard return brings Anfield relief

“It’s often said that a player returning from a long-term injury is like having a new signing and that is certainly true for Liverpool after Steven Gerrard’s first start in more than six months last weekend. He couldn’t have asked for a much better comeback, playing 90 minutes against Manchester United and scoring a goal too. As the captain and the driving force of Liverpool, his return is obviously a massive boost and he will be looking to kick on again when Norwich visit Anfield on Saturday.” ESPN

Bayer Leverkusen rallies for win, but are Dutt’s days numbered?

“It was a historic win of sorts — Bayer Leverkusen had not won any of its last seven games against Spanish teams in Europe — and remarkable in the most enigmatic of ways. After the 2-1 win over Valencia on Wednesday night, players and officials weren’t quite sure whether they should revel in a rather sensational second-half comeback or be shocked about the opening 40 minutes, when the whole team had ‘disappeared into an abyss of horror,’ as Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote. Michael Ballack, a 35-year-old veteran who has been around the block a few times, declared that non-performance before the break ‘probably the worst I’ve been involved in as a footballer’.” SI

The football professor: a profile of Dettmar Cramer

“A seldom-heralded midfielder for Germania Wiesbaden and Viktoria Dortmund, Cramer served as an officer in a parachute division during World War Two and later coached several minor club sides in his native North Rhine-Westphalia region before his appointment as a talent scout and coach for the DFB in 1948, where he worked under the tutelage of Sepp Herberger, the future architect of ‘The Miracle of Bern’.” World Soccer

Dettmar Cramer
“Dettmar Cramer (born 4 April 1925 in Dortmund) is a German former football player and coach who led Bayern Munich to the 1975 and 1976 European Cups. Cramer is commonly considered to be the father of modern football in Japan and is a member of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd Class. He also briefly coached the United States men’s national soccer team.” Wikipedia

Shakhtar and Zenit share the spoils in wide-open, high-tempo affair

“With two minutes remaining of Wednesday’s Champions League game between Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg, Razvan Rat, the Shakhtar left back, sprayed a cross field ball to the right back, Dario Srna. Nothing too extraordinary about that, except that both were 20-30 yards inside the Zenit half. That’s how attacking the game was, that’s how much Shakhtar chased a late winner its performance wouldn’t have merited.” SI

Victory from the Jaws of Triumph: Ireland’s Euro 2012 So Far

“European Championship qualifying group B was a strange one: Ireland beat Armenia who beat Slovakia who beat Russia who beat Ireland (while poor fourth-seeded Macedonia looked on and whimpered). The logical progression would have been for a match to be played out between twenty-two footballs kicking a man around the pitch. That man turned out to be Richard Dunne, and the final score was Russia 0-0 Ireland, a result you could only call miraculous if you consider Dunne to be a gift from heaven. (Full disclosure: I do.) But things would have got even weirder had Slovakia beaten Russia last Friday. This wouldn’t have been odd per se: they had already beaten Russia away from home. But it would have left Ireland atop the group. That’s the weird part.” Run of Play

The Revolution Will Be Televised

Ian Ayre
“The last few days have provided a great deal of ammunition for those lamenting the state of football, specifically the seemingly inevitable march towards a game completely dominated by financial matters. The charge was led by Liverpool’s managing director, Ian Ayre, who suggested that the leading clubs should receive a larger slice of the money from overseas TV rights, as the average fan in Kuala Lumpur ‘isn’t subscribing… to watch Bolton.'” Swiss Ramble

Napoli 1-1 Bayern: all the action in the first half

“These two sides seemed to settle for a draw in the final stages – they remain in the top two positions in Group A, the toughest in the competition. Walter Mazzarri went with his first choice XI with one caveat – Juan Zuniga played instead of Andrea Doessena as the left wing-back, although he is seeing a lot of playing time this season anyway. Jupp Heynckes’ selection was also his most-used players this season with a single exception – Jerome Boateng played instead of Rafinha. This was a peculiar match – a very interesting tactical battle in the first half with the two goals both owing much to the formations and positioning of the sides, and then (in tactical terms) a completely dead battle in the second.” Zonal Marking

Uncertainty interfering with play

“There could have been plenty of talking points in Germany following the Bundesliga’s ninth round of games at the weekend. Bayern Munich’s continuing, and almost ridiculous, dominance, for instance, or the sudden insurgence of the cellar dwellers, as the bottom three teams all won away from home. Instead, almost everyone – from coaches to pundits like Franz Beckenbauer to the viewers of Werder Bremen announcer Arnd Zeigler’s cult call-in show on regional television – were debating one particular aspect of the rulebook.” ESPN

English Football’s Map of Europe

“EURO 2012 Qualifying may be over for the time being and although England are in second place behind Montenegro, here is a little glimpse of your average Englishman’s perception of European footballing nations. This is English Football’s Map of Europe by our friend Charlie Anderson (@lucianosays). Be sure to have a look at his site (Things Fall Apart) as well. I think it’s just about right, yeah? It’s all about coming out as the moral victor.” A Football Report

Andy Gray Questions Whether Barcelona Could Handle Stoke or Blackburn
“I admire Lionel Messi’s incredible skills as much as the next soccer fan, but I’m not a member of the recent love fest in the British media where they’ve heralded Barcelona as the greatest team ever. They’re up there, no doubt, but I question Messi’s talent when he comes up against the tough teams either in the Champions League or World Cup, where the Argentine routinely disappears in matches whenever he’s faced against a tough opponent. So many of the opponents that Messi faces in La Liga look like Swiss cheese, allowing the best player in the world too much space to dart in and out before pulling the trigger to score wonderful goals.” EPL Talk

Barcelona Couldn’t Do It On A Wet Wednesday At Stoke
“We’ve all done it at some stage. Pose a hypothetical and often incomprehensible scenario to our fellow co-workers or a friend down the pub in order to back-up an already suspect football related argument. Compared a team of the past to one of the present, constructed a parallel universe where all shots hitting crossbar and posts go in, removed a key player from a club and modified their future results accordingly or, in Andy Gray’s case, cherry picked teams of vastly different stature and speculated on the outcome.” Sabotage Times

Bad start for new Argentina coach

“Last Tuesday when Venezuela beat Argentina in the second round of South America’s World Cup qualifiers it was historic, but hardly surprising. Venezuela have been making dramatic strides, had home advantage and were taking on an especially vulnerable Argentina side – whose 4-1 win at home to Chile the previous Friday may have disguised the fact.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Latin America’s power struggle
“Just a few rounds gone and, of the nine teams in contention, only two have yet to win a game. The other seven already have one success to their name, but nobody has two. The figures don’t just show it, they shout it: World Cup qualification in South America is more competitive than anywhere else on the planet.” ESPN – Tim Vickery

From the Secret Rulebook

“Expressions of regret at missing a chance to score require, in almost all circumstances, contact between (a) one’s two hands and (b) one’s head. It is never appropriate to employ one hand only to demonstrate one’s dismay and/or wrath. Parts of the body other than the head may be touched, but only after manual contact with the head. All appropriate hand gestures will employ bilateral symmetry. The repertoire of approved gestures — to be used immediately after popping the easy header over the bar, scuffing the volley into the turf, or dragging the simple side-foot shot well wide of the gaping net — is as follows…” Run of Play

The Rendez-Vous. A Bagatelle for Arsenal in Russian Landscape
“Anyone who has crossed from the leafy district of Hertfordshire to that of Brockhall Village will probably have been struck by the sharp difference between the natives of the respective provinces of Arsenal and Blackburn. The peasant of Brockhall is short, stooping, sullen; he looks at you from under his brows, lives in flimsy huts of poplar wood, does labour-duty for his master; never goes in for trade; eats badly, wears pleated shoes. In Hertfordshire the peasant pays rent and lives in spacious cabins of pinewood; he is tall, with a bold gay way of looking at you and a clean white face; he trades in oil and tar, and on feast-days wears boots.” Run of Play

Media punta power

“Pride of place this week goes once again to Levante, who stay second behind Barcelona on goal difference after beating Malaga 3-0 in the duel of the new-teams-on-the-block. It’s true that Malaga lost their goalkeeper Willy (he might have to change the name on his shirt if he ever gets signed by an English team) after half an hour to a sending-off, but Levante proved themselves perfectly capable of taking full advantage, winning a game with lots of symbolic meaning attached to it.” ESPN

Lazio 2-1 Roma: Full-backs give Roma the early advantage but Lazio nick it late on

“A game that turned on a red card and penalty decision – Luis Enrique won the early battle, but Eddy Reja’s side came through for him in stoppage time. Reja chose his usual shape, a cross between a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-2-3-1. Hernanes was the playmaker, Djibril Cisse a left-sided forward, and Alvaro Gonzalez deeper on the right. Enrique was without Francesco Totti and David Pizarro started on the bench, so Miralem Pjanic played as the number ten in, broadly, a 4-3-1-2. A victory for Lazio, then – they had the better of the game overall, but great credit should go to Enrique for his bravery throughout the fixture.” Zonal Marking

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United: little technical quality in open play, goals from set-pieces

“A poor first half was followed with a more positive second, but neither side stamped their authority on the game. Kenny Dalglish went with the expected side – Steven Gerrard returned to play just behind Luis Suarez, with Dirk Kuyt in the side on the right. Sir Alex Ferguson’s line-up was far from expected – he used Phil Jones in midfield, with Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Nani all on the bench. Liverpool probably had the better of the game – 15 shots (to United’s 11), five on target (to United’s two) and more clear-cut chances. The overall tactical battle was uninteresting, however – static, pedestrian and cautious for the majority of the 90 minutes.” Zonal Marking

Ferguson shuffles his pack at Anfield
“By the end, Sir Alex Ferguson had reverted to type. He had introduced attacker after attacker, seen Manchester United score the latest in a long line of late goals and witnessed and withstood an eventful finale. Quintessential Ferguson? Perhaps, but earlier he had illustrated he is the oldest chameleon in the business. The advocate of experience doubles up as a champion of youth, the apostle of all-out attack venturing into the realms of the defensive strategist. United, the side with 14 goals in three previous games against title rivals, opted for Operation Stifle.” ESPN

Liverpool have good day at the office as owners seek an equitable life
“Until this week there was the sense of it being one long handshake – one big nod to the Kop tradition – but now Liverpool’s new owners are getting down to business, coveting a larger share of overseas TV rights and bemoaning the cost of modern players.” Guardian

Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney show why they must both take their place on plane to Poland
“Ever since Rooney’s eviction from a rain-lashed field in Montenegro nine days ago, Welbeck’s star has risen higher and higher. He started against Liverpool, a delight to those United fans who viewed the “19” on his back as a reminder to their hosts of Old Trafford’s title collection. Capello has confirmed Welbeck will feature prominently during England’s ensuing friendlies as the coach seeks the “solution” to Rooney’s absence for the group stage in Poland and Ukraine. Only 20, Welbeck signalled his promise with a selfless 90 minutes.” Telegraaph – Henry Winter

La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 3, Racing de Santander 0, Or, The Good Kind of Zombie Movie

“It’s a well-known fact by now that Barça doesn’t do well on the return from international break. With a small squad, mostly formed by players that are required to put a show with their NTs all over the world, Guardiola usually has to deal with a bunch of jet-lagged, sort-of-kind-of injured zombies on dates like this. No wonder that Barça goes from picking 81% of the points in play, under normal circumstances, to a measly 50% on FIFA virus days.” The Offside (Video)

Barcelona 3 – 0 Racing Santander
“Lionel Messi reached another Barcelona landmark with two more brilliant goals to inspire his side to victory over Racing Santander. The Argentinian added the finish following a slick one-two with Andres Iniesta to move clear in second on the Catalan club’s list of all-time top goalscorers. And he rounded off the scoring with a simple finish after Iniesta had produced an outrageous piece of skill and shot against a post.” ESPN

World Cup rights bidding to have major implications for U.S. soccer

“Next Wednesday is one of the most important days of the next decade for soccer in the United States. That’s when bids are due in Zürich, Switzerland, for the U.S. broadcast rights for World Cups ’18 and ’22. ESPN, NBC and Fox are expected to bid for the English-language rights, while Univisión and NBC-owned Telemundo are expected to be in competition for the Spanish-language rights. After the bids are submitted on Wednesday — there will be no formal presentations, as there were for the Olympic rights bids earlier this year — the FIFA executive committee will meet on Thursday and could reach a decision on the winners as soon as that day.” SI

Freiburg 1-2 Hamburg

“Hamburg remain bottom of the table despite beating fellow strugglers Freiburg in a mistake-laden game at a sunny Badenova-stadion. Interim coach Frank Arnesen needed to guide the north German side to a two-goal margin victory to haul themselves out of 18th spot, but the win at least moves the club level on points with Freiburg and Augsburg. However, if the home side hadn’t been so wasteful in front of goal in the second half, they would have won this game comfortably. Despite producing a wonderfully disciplined first half performance, Hamburg’s defence fell to pieces in the second half, and were ultimately bailed out by their deadly attackers. HSV have now won two of their last three games, and incoming coach Thorsten Fink will have seen enough from this performance to suggest that his new team are too good to go down.” Defensive Midfielder

Brian Glanville on the importance to England of Wayne Rooney

“And so: no Rooney. Not at the beginning of the European finals which now may or may not take part in disorganised Ukraine as well as Poland. Nor the ensuing friendly at Wembley against Spain. A match from which Fabio Capello has logically enough excluded him.” World Soccer

Euro 2012: Wayne Rooney’s three-match ban a major headache for Fabio Capello
“The nightmare deepens. Rooney has been banned for the group stage of Euro 2012 and England’s manager, Fabio Capello, faces the biggest decision of his tenure over whether to select somebody who could prove only a tourist at the tournament. Rooney was said to be ‘shocked and disappointed’ at the three-game ban. Capello himself was understood to be ‘stunned’ when the news from Nyon was broken to him, a reflection on his conviction that Rooney would receive only 90 minutes in purdah and how grievously he felt the lengthened loss of such a talent. Yet this largely unlovable Italian is not paid £6 million a year to clamber on to the nearest window-ledge at the first hint of adversity.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Fabio Capello has to make big decision over Wayne Rooney for Euro 2012
“Fabio Capello has been forced to consider leaving Wayne Rooney out of his squad for Euro 2012 after Uefa’s control and disciplinary body handed the England striker a three-match ban that will rule him out of the group stage of next summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.” Guardian

No longer underdogs, Ghana need to become a more complete attacking force

“When you’re an unfancied side, playing reactive football is natural. It’s how successful underdogs at international level have set out over the past decade, with Greece in 2004 the obvious example. In aesthetic terms they were mundane, but their strategy of defending solidly and breaking quickly was clearly extremely useful. Their key goals came from set-pieces, but they did have an emphasis upon direct football in open play. Venezuela and Paraguay both overachieved at this summer’s Copa America with a not dissimilar style of play, and for various reasons, it makes sense for the underdogs to play this way.” Zonal Marking

Kubala’s legacy at Barcelona

“Lionel Messi could become the standalone second highest scorer in Barcelona’s history on Saturday night as the Spanish champions take on struggling Racing Santander – Messi needs just one goal to pass Ladislao Kubala’s 194-goal record in all competitions. César still stands in his way but, while the 24-year-old continues to press his claims as a Barcelona great, he still has some way to go to overhaul the legacy that Kubala left when he played his last game for the club on August 30, 1961.” ESPN

Book Review: An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish

“Although perhaps too much can be made of the so-called language of football, it’s true that the game possesses its fair share of linguistic quirks. The Football Lexicon, co-authored by occasional Two Unfortunates contributor John Leigh, did a marvellous job highlighting these and the overuse of the word ‘adjudged’ as well as the currency of Hollywood Passes, playmakers and those mysterious channels displays the oddness of the sport’s idiom.” thetwounfortunates

Excerpt: ‘An Illustrated Guide to Soccer and Spanish’
“Soccer in the United States, just like the country itself—even if the National Team and some, um, less liberal sections of the population have yet to fully realize or embrace it—is being shaped by Latino culture. Just listen to Jurgen Klinsmann, the new—and German!—head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, in his introductory press conference. We really don’t have an identity as a soccer-playing nation, but as we, hopefully, start to develop one, Latino culture will and should have as big of an influence as any.” Good Men Project

amazon: An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish

Comolli helps to guide the statistical revolution at Liverpool

“This Saturday will mark the anniversary of Fenway Sports Group’s takeover of Liverpool and it comes just a few days after UK magazine FourFourTwo published its annual Football Rich List. The magazine ranked FSG owner John W Henry at 20th in the list, and calculated that each Premier League point Liverpool had earned since the purchase has cost Henry a whopping £7.5 million ($11.7M). (The team it beat last week, local rivals Everton, comes in at £48,000 per point, given that owner Bill Kenwright paid £20M for it in 2004.)” SI

Steven Gerrard is a period piece out of kilter with modern mores

“Welcome back, then, Steven Gerrard. For all the Premier League’s enduring celebrity tinnitus, the parping flatulence of its star fixation, the return of Liverpool’s captain has been relatively soft-pedalled. Gerrard, who has been suffering from groin‑related maladies, will play against Manchester United on Saturday, his first start since March. And, for once, the rather flaccid fanfare has offered an opportunity to put out a flag or two of one’s own.” Guardian

Ian Ayre, I Am *VERY* Disappointed In You

“I’ve always rather liked Liverpool. Hardly surprising really. In 1980s Essex, as they were in most of the Home Counties, they were the natural affiliation for all 8 year old boys. Indeed, until my dad took me to Roots Hall and turned me to the mediocre side, I had ‘Shankly Gates’ bedcovers. There, I said it. But there’s something about Liverpool that appeals to me even now, much to the amusement of other more cynical souls. I love the history, the ethos, Bill Shankly’s socialist principles, the Kop and their standing ovations for opponents who have pleased them.” In Bed With Maradona

France 1-1 Bosnia: Bosnia dominate first half, France lucky to get back in the game late on

“Bosnia were 15 minutes from topping the group, but Samir Nasri’s late penalty put France into Euro 2012. Laurent Blanc brought in Anthony Reveillere and Eric Abidal at the back, and Jeremy Menez came on down the right in a 4-2-3-1. Safet Susic also went with a 4-2-3-1 – albeit with some important modifications, explained later. Despite the result favouring France, Susic got things right tactically from the outset. Bosnia were much more of a force in the first half and can consider themselves unfortunate to have lost the lead late on – they allowed France few clear chances, though rash tackles meant set-pieces were always likely to be a way back into the game for the home side.” Zonal Marking

The McDonaldization of English Football

“Football ‘has always been‘, writes David Conn in The Guardian, ‘riven with contradiction between the amateur sporting principles of the game’s founding fathers and the professional carnival to which they unwittingly gave birth‘. This is undoubtedly true, and such a split is wider now than it has ever been. The chasm between the grassroots and the £100,000 salaries of celebrity players or £100 non-VIP tickets at the Emirates Stadium emanate from the popularity of the 1990 World Cup and the advent of Sky Sports soon after.” In Bed With Maradona

Preparing for yet another white elephant mega-event

“‘The whole country is celebrating a gift to all our people,’ Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych brazenly announced at last weekend’s official opening of Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, the 70,000-seat venue that will stage the Euro 2012 final. What a wonderful present indeed for the people of the economically crippled Ukraine! And a gift being something that you receive for free, one must assume that the estimated costs for the stadium of over £500 million did not come from the people’s pocket. Just as Shakira, who sang at the opening ceremony, no doubt waived her fee and showed up for the mere prestige of being there.” WSC

Classic Players: Ronaldo – A year in Catalunya

“As part of our ever expanding features this season, we introduce a new section to the website – the classics. As important as the current scheme of Spanish football is, and the future, it would be wrong to neglect its fine history. To overlook this area for us will be Mohamed Moallim, who becomes our chief writer on all things of a historical nature. Here he starts with a ‘phenomenal’ story…” Spanish Football

Tensions rise, sparks fly as Greece, Croatia go their separate ways

“Friday should have been a night of triumph for Greece. A 2-0 win over Croatia moved it back to the top of its Euro 2012 qualifying group, and a draw away to Georgia on Tuesday will guarantee the top spot in the group, while Slaven Bilic’s Croatian side has to go through a playoff. But the events in the stand that caused the match to be stopped for seven minutes cast a long shadow. None of Greece’s 11 national sports papers led with the hooliganism, but these were serious outbreaks, not something to be brushed under the carpet of a satisfactory result.” SI – Jonathan Wilson