Monthly Archives: March 2012

La Copa De La Espana Libre

1937 map showing the areas held by Republicans in white and Nationalist areas in grey
“In 1937, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Republican areas of Spain formed la Liga del Mediterraneo (the Mediterranean League) and la Copa de le Espana Libre (the Free Spain Cup) as the national league was suspended. These competitions mark a period many in Spain would like to forget, but one club wants them officially recognised. The competitions are just as important because of the teams that were omitted as they are for those that took part. Held in the Republican strongholds of Valencia and Barcelona, the most notable omissions were Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.” In Bed With Maradona


Talking Tactics: What Barcelona can expect from Milan in San Siro

“Barcelona travel to Italy this week in the Champions League to face Serie A leaders AC Milan, having scrapped through 4-3 on aggregate against Arsenal in the last sixteen. Arsenal suffered from a poor first leg, where they lost 4-0 and were tactically played off the park, but this was turned around in the second leg as Wenger was willing to pinpoint Milan’s weaknesses (lack of width and an over reliance on counter attacks) and exploit them. Here are five things Barcelona can expect from their visit to the San Siro…” Just Football

All Elbows and Ugly

“Because he looks ridiculous, is a streaky player, has pixie cheekbones despite being 6-foot-7, reads as ‘posh’ and ‘soft’ in a sport that complicatedly worships killers with no nerves in their knuckles, has a sense of humor, is married to a woman who is noticeably hotter than he is, and tends to be photographed in the process of transforming himself into comedic aerial hieroglyphs — e.g., this, and this and this — Peter Crouch gets a bad rap. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that Peter Crouch is not often judged with the benefit of nuance.” Grantland (Video)

The downward spiral

“Late March, and if you listen carefully you can – in the parlance of a certain puce-cheeked knight of the realm – hear the sound of bums starting to squeak. So, time to cast an eye over the teams who this May are most likely to be swapping the preening pros, plastic fans and prawn sandwiches of the Premier League for the Bovril, goal celebration music and cheerleaders of the Championship. In descending order…” thetwounfortunates

Liverpool: Kenny Needs To Copy Newcastle’s Transfer Strategy

“After transforming his side’s fortunes last season and investing significantly over the summer, expectations were high for Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool heading in to this season. Unfortunately, the season has not played out as the Anfield faithful had hoped it would. The Reds have been something of a Jekyll and Hyde side: still unbeaten in cup competitions and well on course for a domestic cup double, but infuriatingly inconsistent in the Premier League and far from where many had expected them to be. They slumped to their fifth defeat in their last six league games – an uninspiring, lethargic 2-1 loss at home to relegation battling Wigan – and fans are beginning to turn on the very man that has long been revered as royalty at Anfield.” Sabotage Times

Milan 0-0 Barcelona: lots of little battles

“Both sides created chances, neither found the net. Max Allegri was without various players, most notably centre-back Thiago Silva. However, Robinho was fit to start upfront. Pep Guardiola named Carles Puyol at left-back, and used Seydou Keita in midfield with Cesc Fabregas only on the bench. A brief summary of the tactical battle? Milan often did well to crowd out Barca’s attacks, but Barca should have stretched them more. There wasn’t a key battle, nor an overall tactical theme – but instead plenty of small areas of interest.” Zonal Marking

Milan frustrates Barcelona in Champions League draw
“AC Milan held Barcelona to an entertaining 0-0 draw on Wednesday in the opening leg of the quarterfinals, the first time in 30 matches and more than two years that the Spanish team had been held scoreless in the Champions League. The last time Barcelona failed to score in the Champions League was in the 0-0 draw with Rubin Kazan in November 2009.” SI

Antonini delighted to deny Barcelona
“A timely tackle from Luca Antonini proved crucial in allowing AC Milan to hold FC Barcelona 0-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, and the Player Rater Top Player told ‘I’m happy and proud about the way I played and we played.'” UEFA (Video)

Champions League goalless draw gives Milan hope for Barcelona leg
“As Massimiliano Allegri pointed out after watching his side hold Barcelona to a goalless draw on Wednesday night, two of the possible results at the Camp Nou next week will see Milan through to the semi-finals of the Champions League. A win would be good, but a draw with goals would do just fine.” Guardian

Milan hold Barca in stalemate
“AC Milan held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the teams’ Champions League quarter-final at the San Siro. Milan should have been ahead just after the kick-off as Robinho found himself in space in the area, but he was unable to keep his close-range volley down.” ESPN

Bayern take big step towards semi-finals

“Marseille’s decision to field third-choice goalkeeper Elinton Andrade backfired as his mistake gifted Bayern Munich the opening goal in their Champions League quarter-final. The 32-year-old, preferred to number two Gennaro Bracigliano with first choice Steve Mandanda suspended, allowed Mario Gomez’s shot to squirm under his body in the 44th minute of the first leg at the Stade Velodrome.” ESPN

Kalou secures vital away win for Blues
“Chelsea may not be as good as they used to be but even a makeshift line-up was strong enough to put them in touching distance of the Champions League semi-finals. There was as little to fear from Benfica as Didier Drogba allegedly indicated, the side that helped eliminate Manchester United producing arguably one of the most toothless performances ever witnessed in a quarter-final home leg.” ESPN

Benzema brace puts Real on brink of semis
“Substitute Kaka sparkled and Karim Benzema scored twice as Real Madrid finally broke down Cypriot underdogs APOEL in Nicosia. The Brazil international was introduced in the 63rd minute and set up Benzema for a 74th-minute opener before tucking away fellow sub Marcelo’s excellent cutback eight minutes later.” ESPN

Nándor Hidegkuti

“Harry Johnston was an outstanding defender who played nearly twenty years for Blackpool, mostly as a center-back. He was so good that in 1951 the FA named him footballer of the year. He played for his country as well, making his last appearance in 1953, at Wembley, against the upstart Magyars from Hungary, but that would not be a good day for Harry. The problem was Nándor Hidegkuti.” Run of Play

European Championship Stories: 1996 – A Whole New Ball Game

“It almost goes without saying that the near-death – and very much beyond – experiences suffered by English football during the 1980s shaped the game that we watch today. There was a time – a period from the middle to the end of that decade – when the definite feeling that this was a game on its last legs became tangible. Crowds dwindled to somewhere beyond what might have been considered the bare bones, whilst an unhappy trinity of disasters carried both a literal and symbolic loss, with deaths that represented scores of personal tragedies alongside a wider sense of corrosion in what had been the nations number one pastime.” twohundredpercent

Ivan Jovanovic’s devotion to detail takes Apoel into unknown territory

“The path of Ivan Jovanovic’s career was determined by a fighton a dusty field in a low-key competition in East Germany in 1988. He wasn’t even on the pitch, having been substituted 10 minutes from time of an Intertoto Cup tie (in the days when it consisted of eight groups of four, with no knockout stage and no winner) between his side, Rad Belgrade, and Carl Zeiss Jena. He played no part in the brawl but when Uefa handed out punishments his role as captain was taken into account and he was banned from European competition for two years.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

For better or worse? How Havelange’s global vision changed football

“Laid low by an infection, former Fifa president Joao Havelange is gravely ill in a Rio hospital, where no doubt he is profoundly irritated at being forced to interrupt his daily routine of swimming 1,000 metres. At the age of 95, Havelange remains a force of nature. Over 30 years ago he used his strength to change world football.” BBC – Tim Vickery

This is Türkiyemspor Berlin

“Izmirspor was founded by a group of Turkish immigrants in 1978, and by the time the club changed its name to Türkiyemspor in 1987, the club had risen meteorically to the Landesliga, then the fourth tier of German football. Attendances for the level were remarkable, with around 1,000 fans present for most games, and an incredible 11,949 (or even more – plenty of fans without tickets found their way into the stadium) for the big derby with Hertha BSC, as the Old Lady’s slump to the Oberliga (then 3rd division) coincided with yet another promotion for Türkiyem.” In Bed With Maradona

Point By Point – Liverpool FC Health Check

“After my last piece (access here), this is a slightly simplified – but not simplistic – breakdown of what’s working, and what’s going wrong. As in-depth as that previous piece was, I got the predictable angry emails saying that I’d purposely missed this and overlooked that. I’ll start with an old chestnut that some see as an excuse, but others see as circumstance.” Tomkins Times

Failure to Cohere

“Around 11 p.m. last Monday, Caleb Porter was wearing a pained, tight expression, like a man who’d elaborately prepared an orange for eating – peeled it, scraped its white resins off the delicate inner skin, sectioned it; perhaps opened a beverage suitable for the side; sat himself somewhere comfortable, with entertainment, orange and beverage at hand – only to find that the orange was not an orange all along, but was instead an artistic evocation of one’s career hopes vanishing forever, and so every choice thereby proved wrong in that moment. No orange, but an orange-suitable entertainment. And orange-suitable beverage! But no orange. His expression pained and tight. In short, a man in crisis.” Run of Play

Cologne 1-6 Borussia Dortmund

“Borussia Dortmund capped a memorable week by hammering Cologne 6-1 to restore their five-point cushion over Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga table. Coming on the back of reaching the German Cup final after defeating Greuther Fürth on Tuesday, Jürgen Klopp’s side were simply too good for Ståle Solbakken’s relegation battlers, who end the weekend just one point above the drop-zone. This result is also the joint-worst in Cologne’s history of home games: the other side to have ever beaten them 6-1 in the cathedral city? Borussia Dortmund, this time in 1994.” Defensive Midfielder

Liverpool’s Recent Decline: Time For A Clean Sweep?

“What is now starting to become a familiar hush fell over Anfield on Saturday afternoon as Liverpool huffed and puffed their way to another home defeat, this time at the hands of Wigan Athletic. Whilst this result didn’t necessarily qualify as the shock of the season, it was another sign that a club that has been in the headlines more than most since last August is continuing to derail, with only the inconsistency of those below them in the table keeping them in seventh place in the table. Moreover, some – perhaps many – of the clubs supporters are now having to do what they may previously have considered the unthinkable: question Kenny Dalglish.” twohundredpercent

Sone Aluko inspires Rangers to victory over nine-man Celtic

“There will surely never be another Old Firm occasion as curious as this. Five goals and three sendings-off almost seemed like minor details. Celtic crossed Glasgow looking to take the victory which would confirm their status as the champions of Scotland. By full-time, the Rangers support celebrated as if they had secured the league flag and the visiting contingent bounced around while pointing out the wider reality. In this city, one-upmanship takes on an altogether new meaning. Supporters of the two city rivals simply love any opportunity to hurl abuse at each other, and most certainly to gloat.” Guardian

The Joy of Six: the Old Firm
“Six classic Glasgow derbies, including a title decider, two cup finals, 31 goals, a riot – and four players being charged by the police” Guardian

Green shoots of recovery for Scotland?
“Spanish-born Jack Harper, a midfield star in Real Madrid’s illustrious academy, and Chelsea Under-18 forward Islam Feruz, are two players at the forefront of a new wave of gifted Scottish youngsters that also includes West Bromwich Albion’s Scott Allan, Falkirk’s Craig Sibbald and Celtic’s James Keatings.” World Soccer

Rafa Benitez in no rush as he waits for the right opportunity to return

“Seated in a restaurant on a quiet afternoon, Rafa Benitez laughs as he tells the story of how he first stumbled into coaching. No, not the injury problems that forced him into early retirement as a player at the age of 26 and subsequent entry into Real Madrid’s coaching staff — but how he got involved with coaching one of the boys’ teams at his daughter’s school in Liverpool.” SI

Roma from the beginning

“As any Roma fan should know, three clubs were merged together in the summer of 1927 to form the club now known as AS Roma. What may be less well known is that the merger was initiated by a member of the Fascist party, who had taken power five years previously, and that Lazio were the only side to oppose the move and remain an independent club.” World Soccer

The hate-filled Derby of Italy

“Recent weeks and months have seen a real deterioration in the previously cordial relationship between this season’s leading protagonists in Serie A: Milan and Juventus. The two most successful clubs on the peninsula have descended into a petty back-and-forth squabble that leaves neither looking particularly dignified and both in danger of turning what should be a truly engaging title race into an Italian version of the Spanish clasico, the histrionics of which spoil what is undoubtedly one of the world football’s most prestigious encounters.” ESPN

Chopping and Changing at Blackpool

“Ian Holloway’s introduction of three substitutes in the 64th minute of yesterday’s 3-1 defeat at Reading seemed like a strange tribute to Barry Fry, master of the ‘threeplacement’ in his heyday at Birmingham City. That said, it’s also a sign of one of Blackpool’s major problems this season; a campaign that has, nonetheless, been punctuated with lots of good things.” thetwounfortunates

Lionel Messi scores his 55th goal of season as Barcelona beat Mallorca

“Lionel Messi scored his 55th goal of the season as 10-man Barcelona beat Mallorca 2-0 for their seventh consecutive league win. Messi, who broke Barcelona’s all-time scoring record on Wednesday, netted from a poorly defended free-kick to become the first player in a top-level European league to score 55 goals in a season since Sporting Lisbon’s Mário Jardel in 2002.” Guardian

Luis Suarez: 9 or 10?

“This season, Liverpool have not won enough games because they have not scored enough goals. What started out as “one of those days” (Stoke away, 24 shots, 3 clear chances, 0 points), became a blip (Norwich home, 29 shots, 2 clear chances, 1 point), became a season-long malaise. By the time we played Blackburn at Anfield (27 shots, 5 clear chances, 1 point), there was little more than a resigned shrug from Liverpool fans.” Tomkins Times

Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea: Mancini gets one substitution wrong, then two right

“Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko helped turn a 0-1 into a 2-1. Manchester City were without Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, so Micah Richards moved into the middle. Mario Balotelli continues to start ahead of Edin Dzeko in big games, while James Milner was left out with Samir Nasri preferred. Roberto Di Matteo played Fernando Torres upfront, Ramires on the right and John Obi Mikel in the holding role. John Terry was out.” Zonal Marking

Arsenal to Consolidate Third?

“Robin van Persie has almost singlehandedly kept the team afloat until now, with 26 league goals and 5 in the Champions League. But now he’s got real help, as in a real team behind him. In the event of a top-four finish, perhaps his future may yet lay in the red half of North London.” Cult Football

Newcastle United – Life In A Northern Town

Cheick Titoe
“What a difference a few months can make, especially at a football club. Newcastle United fans endured a turbulent pre-season, as they saw the heart and soul of their team leaving for pastures new with Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton making their way to London and José Enrique joining his former colleague Andy Carroll at Liverpool.” Swiss Ramble

The Birth of AS Roma

“As any Roma fan should know, three clubs were merged together in the summer of 1927 to form the club now known as AS Roma. What may be less well known is that the merger was initiated by a member of the Fascist party, who had taken power five years previously, and that Lazio were the only side to oppose the move and remain an independent club. The driving force behind the merger? To create a new, Roman club that would unite Rome’s numerous clubs and provide a strong southern opponent to the dominant northern clubs.” In Bed With Maradoma

Arshavin looking ‘better and better’ as Zenit close in on Russian title

“Anybody who thought the two draws with which Zenit St Petersburg began the third – and final – part of this marathon Russian season might signal a dip in form, opening the possibility of a realistic title challenge, was rapidly disabused on Friday. Dynamo Moscow were third in the table and had lost only twice in 17 home games this season; they seemed a genuine threat. If they could even have held Zenit to a draw, CSKA could have closed to within four points with a win in the Moscow derby against Spartak. CSKA fulfilled their part, winning 2-1, but Zenit were imperious, winning 5-1, keeping the gap at six points and, by the manner in which they did so, emphasising just how far they are ahead of every other team in Russia.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Panathinaikos 0-1 Olympiakos: match abandoned with Olympiakos on top

“Olympiakos are closer to the league title after this game was abandoned because of crowd trouble ten minutes from full-time. Panathinaikos coach Jesualdo Ferreira played Konstantinos Katsouranis as his highest midfielder, with Cedic Kante and Josu Sarriegi the centre-back pairing – the first time they’d started together all season.” Zonal Marking (YouTube)

Going South? Celtic & The English League System

“It is one of the most commonly recurring stories of modern football. Should Celtic and Rangers be allowed to leave the Scottish league system and join the English football league system instead? It’s an emotive subject, for sure, and it’s one that seems to divide both supporters and administrators, with the only people that are certain of which way they would like to go being those that run Glasgow’s two giant clubs, who would like to utilise the vaster resources that would be open to them as a result of being in the more lucrative English system than they would get from remaining in England.” twohundredpercent

Brazil’s championship needs a licence to thrill

“Before Ian Fleming made his name writing the James Bond books, he was eclipsed by older brother Peter, a derring-do adventurer of the type Michael Palin might have been born to satirise. Peter Fleming was part of an eccentric expedition into the Brazilian jungle in the early 1930s, which he wrote about in a book best remembered for its stand out line. ‘Sao Paulo,’ he mused, ‘is like Reading, only much further away’ – an observation which does, of course, depend on one’s starting point, but which contains an excellent piece of insight.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Quantifying Progress, From Roy To Kenny

“After a series of poor league results, including three defeats in a row for the first time in nearly a decade, stern questions were being asked of Kenny and his team’s management of Liverpool, probably for the first time; were the most suitable players purchased in the summer, have the tactics been right, and so on.” TomkinsTimes

Any Given Saturday

“INT. DRESSING ROOM – EVE. We are somewhere in the bowels of a large football stadium. Several staff and 23 players – three lions on all their shirts – sit around looking nervy, or nervously applying ‘product’ to hair (hair shaped like one of those asymmetrical postmodernist sculptures named after abstract nouns – Courage, Trust, Camaraderie – and habitually found outside civic buildings, which, within a generation, have become discoloured, unloved, and appropriated by skateboarders).” Run of Play

Champions League draw sets up a potentially epic Real-Barca final

“Wow. I’m not sure the Champions League draw could have been scripted any better. Real Madrid and Barcelona can’t meet until the final. And that’s good because a 2011-12 Champions League decided by a clásico, the seventh of the season, would be unprecedented and special, not to mention “right” in the sporting sense: these two are the best teams in the world right now. But that’s a hypothetical. We’re not there yet, of course. Barca and Real still have to play their way to the Allianz Arena in Munich. And there’s plenty that can go wrong between now and then.” SI

Strange events in La Liga

“Uuuuf … as the Spanish say. Where do we start this week? Well perhaps with a rather unusual theme, at least as far as La Liga goes. It seems to have been a recurring topic throughout the week, set off by Jose Mourinho complaining once again that the Bernabeu is too ‘cold’ and that the stadium needs to get behind its players to a greater extent. ‘Never mind about me’ he said, adding that he wanted the supporters to mostrar mas carino (show more affection) to the players, and support them through thick and thin.” ESPN

Fenerbahce 2-2 Galatasaray: Fenerbahce score two great goals, then go too defensive

“Galatasaray are close to the title after an impressive comeback in the Kıtalar Arası Derbi. Fenerbahce coach Aykut Kocaman has named an XI similar to this all season – ten of the positions featured his most-used individual in that role. The exception was Moussa Sow, who only arrived from Lille in January, but has been a regular upfront since. Miroslav Stoch has shared the left-wing position with Caner Erkin, while Serdar Kesimal competes with Fabio Bilica and Bekir Irtegun for a place at centre-back, but this was a typical Fenerbahce XI.” Zonal Marking

Stoke undone by dynamic duo

“Kenny Dalglish’s innate, instinctive reaction is to defend his charges, whatever the accusations levelled against them. He can appear especially touchy when the players in question are his signings. But even those accustomed to a defiant Dalglish forming a protective shield in front of an under-fire footballer were taken aback by the Scot’s January justification of Stewart Downing’s recruitment when he said: ‘He is better than what I thought he was.'” ESPN

In Adoration: Five Years With Barcelona

“Whether they are your team or not, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are enjoying football during the time of one of the world’s greatest ever club sides. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona deserve their place in any list of finest teams and London based photography firm Divar and Aguilar have been with the Catalan club throughout the current golden era…” In Bed With Maradoma, Gallery – 2, Diver & Aguilar: Blog

The Reducer, Week 28: Manchester City Gets the Shakes

“You know it’s not exactly a scrapbook-worthy weekend of football when managers are reduced to bemoaning what they deserved or how they were the better team or how they ‘bossed it’ (I see you, Martin Jol) following a loss or a draw. Coming at the end of a week where there was plenty of talk about England’s place in European football’s pecking order — what with Arsenal going out of the Champions League and both Manchester sides losing in the Europa League — the weekend’s action did little to quell murmurs that the Premier League is no longer the premier league.” Grantland (YouTube)

The Banal Hero

“‘Men walk as prophecies of the next age,’ the celebrated essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. The Real Madrid boardroom fell silent. ‘We will not miss Makelele,’ harrumphed Florentino Perez at last, snapping his fingers for Emerson to be escorted from the room and for a more expensive essayist to be brought in.” Run of Play

Is Spanish soccer the best in the world?

“Lionel Messi scored five goals in a single game last week, becoming the first player in the Champions League ever to do so. Most were impressed; some were not. Against Bayer Leverkusen, they said: So what? It is a familiar argument — and one that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular have been forced to confront time and time again. Between them, they have racked up astonishing goal scoring figures, breaking records at every turn — Messi has scored 50 goals already this season, Ronaldo 40 — but the nagging doubt lingers. Yeah, they say, but against who?” SI

Where do Premier League sides attack from?

Southampton, UK
“In an individual match, it’s easy to see that a side have a bias towards one particular flank. In Monday’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, Arsenal constantly attacked down the right, with Theo Walcott staying wide on that flank, and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain moving inside from the left. That was surprising when you looked at the opposition, because Newcastle were likely to be more secure down their left (where Jonas Gutierrez protects his full-back well) than down the right, where the ill-disciplined Hatem Ben Arfa was reluctantly fielded. But the bias towards the right, while exaggerated in that game, is actually typical of Arsenal this season, and in the last couple of years.” Zonal Marking

On Distant Fandom

“On April 2, 2011, India won its second Cricket World Cup. But unlike most other cricket fans, I didn’t watch the final in its entirety. For a ninety-minute stretch, I was watching Manchester United produce a typically wondrous comeback against West Ham United. It was a significant win without which any joy at India’s triumph would have been unmistakably sullied. Even though I was born and raised in India my attachment to a soccer club — one that I’ve never seen play in the flesh — was stronger. When, a few weeks later, on May 14, Manchester United clinched its 19th league title and surpassed Liverpool’s long-held record, I felt transcendent joy.” Run of Play

Chelsea 4-1 Napoli: Napoli unable to defend crosses

“Chelsea produced an impressive display to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals. Roberto Di Matteo chose a rough 4-2-3-1 system, with Daniel Sturridge wide on the right, and Ramires tucked in on the left. Walter Mazzarri named his expected side – Juan Zuniga in ahead of Andrea Dossena was the only small debate in his selection. Zuniga got the nod, but then had to move to the right once Christian Maggio picked up an injury, and Dossena came on down the left. This was an entertaining game with either side being ‘ahead’ in the tie at two separate points – Chelsea came out on top, though it wasn’t a particularly enthralling tactical battle.” Zonal Marking

Bayern 7-0 Basel: Basel’s brave strategy vaguely logical, but their application of it disastrous

“Bayern stormed into the quarter-final after a comfortable victory. Jupp Heynckes decided Bastian Schweinsteiger wasn’t fit enough to start – he was on the bench. Luiz Gustavo played in the middle with Toni Kroos ahead, Philipp Lahm switched to right-back, with David Alaba on the left. Heiko Vogel made one change from the first leg, bringing in Cabral for Benjamin Huggel, so Basel were back to the XI that beat Manchester United last year. Basel started off pressing high in the first five minutes, but then retreated into a deep shape with two banks of four behind the ball.” Zonal Marking

The Question: Why is balance more important than symmetry in lineups?

“Humanity seems to have a built-in regard for symmetry. It was what William Blake admired in the tiger and it explains, various surveys have claimed, why certain faces are considered more attractive than others (Denzel Washington and Cate Blanchett, apparently, have the most symmetrical faces in Hollywood). The instinct with football teams and formations has always been to set them out symmetrically – a 4-3-3 with the shuttling players neatly flanking the anchor and the wingers placed precisely on their touchlines, or a blockish 4-4-2 that becomes two lines with a line half the length set centrally atop them.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Bernd Leno: After Messi

“Lavish, extravagant and most importantly, abundant levels of praise have been heaped upon Lionel Messi and the magic of his ability. However, as is so often with great victors, the story of the defeat is often lost or forgotten. Rarely does the question arise, “what about their opponents”? Has anyone thought about them in the context of this footballing master-class? There have been countless teams to fall under the proverbial sword of Barcelona’s play and recently it was Bayer Leverkusen who stood out in defeat. Although slightly altered in terms of personnel, this was a side that had beaten Bayern Munich by two clear goals the weekend before their encounter in the Nou Camp. Yet for the majority of their time in modern football’s colosseum they were mere pedestrians. The collateral damage that so many sides effectively become during and after playing Barcelona is extremely interesting, not merely because of the impact it may well have on that team’s season but also on an individual’s career.” In Bed With Maradona

Messi still has some way to go before he can be considered the greatest
“As the plaudits shower on the gifted Lionel Messi, why do I keep thinking about Ron Clarke, a largely forgotten Australian athlete? A middle distance runner who, between Olympiads, set record after record, but who, when it came to the Olympic Games themselves, never came close to a gold medal? Anticlimax after four years anti-climax.” World Soccer – Brian Glanville

Five areas of interest in Everton 1-0 Tottenham

“This was another interesting clash between David Moyes and Harry Redknapp. Their tactical battle at White Hart Lane last season was fascinating, and this game followed a similar pattern of Moyes responding to Redknapp’s decisions. I’ve written about the difference between the two over at the Guardian, using the battle between Gareth Bale and Seamus Coleman to sum up the two managers’ styles.” Zonal Marking

Neymar a match for Messi on Day of the Goal

“A Brazilian journalist this week came up with the thoroughly sensible idea that 7 March henceforth be commemorated as world football’s Day of the Goal. It was not only the date on which Lionel Messi chalked up his five for Barcelona in the Champions League; in the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, Neymar of Santos also added a magnificent hat-trick of his own.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Tactics: Zambia combine spirit with organisation

“Oscar Tabarez and Herve Renard may not obviously have a lot in common. With his sober ties and thoughtful limp, the 65-year-old former schoolteacher Tabarez looks like he should be the precinct chief in a seventies detective series, while the flamboyant, 43-year-old Renard’s long hair and unbuttoned shirts make him look like the passionate lead in a 19th-century romance. And yet, in the past year, both have taken unfancied sides to continental tournament triumphs, and both have done so with similar methods.” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson (YouTube)

European Championship Stories: 1988 – Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold

“There can be few things more tiresome in international football than war analogies. Sometimes, however, they are inescapable and this can be no more true than in the case of European nations which once pitched up against each other on battlefields, only to find themselves facing off against their former allies or rivals for decades afterwards. In the case of the Dutch national team, the complex nature of its relationship with its neighbour – and former occupier – Germany has come to manifest itself through an occasional series of gladiatorial matches between the two national sides.” twohundredpercent

Inter’s Treble Was the End, Not the Beginning

“Beleaguered Inter Milan dragged themselves back from another near disastrous defeat at home on Sunday. Diego Milito this time was charged with pulling the game level against Catania. They had been two goals down but the comeback tasted as bitter as a defeat due to the performance once again screaming of inadequacy.” In Bed With Maradona

Football – the last bastion of Social Democracy?

Hubert Robert – Architectural Composition with the Pantheon
“I know what you’re already thinking. That I’m going to argue something entirely inarguable. That in between skimming the dressing room copies of Nuts and Zoo the average Premier League footballer is more likely to clutch a well thumbed copy of Ayn Rand’s hymn to self interest, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ than the collected writings of Tony Crosland. And you’d be right of course. Modern football is awash with greed – with car swerving prima-donna Ashley Cole its own John Galt – a rifle toting poster boy for the ‘we’ll do what we like’ generation.” thetwounfortunates

Liverpool luckless at Black Cats

“Nicklas Bendtner’s second goal in a week secured a 1-0 victory for Sunderland over Liverpool as Jose Reina endured another miserable afternoon on Wearside. The Denmark international pounced from close range with 56 minutes gone to fire the home side ahead after strike-partner Fraizer Campbell’s shot had twice hit the woodwork with the Spaniard unable to do anything about it.” ESPN

Manchester United 2-3 Athletic Bilbao: United unable to deal with pressing and high tempo

“Athletic produced an extremely impressive performance, and take a decent lead back to Bilbao. Sir Alex Ferguson left out the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck, and went with Javier Hernandez upfront, and a combination of Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans at the back.” Zonal Marking

APOEL v Lyon a good example of when the away goals rule creates a defensive game

“Despite the ultimately exciting method of victory, and the novelty of having a Cypriot club in the final eight of the European Cup, the APOEL v Lyon game was actually a dull spectacle. This was true in both technical and tactical terms. Technically, the sides finished with fairly low pass completion rates (71% and 74%), and tactically neither changed much throughout the game. Even when it did look as if the coaches might shake things up, when APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic switched from two strikers to one striker, and Lyon boss Remi Garde did the opposite at the same time, the sides continued to play in much the same manner.” Zonal Marking