The Reducer, Week 34: My Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me

April 26, 2012

“I will not invent light sabers. I will not be able to pull off the Ryan Gosling satin jacket from Drive if I decide to start rocking it. I will not grow old with the grace and dignity of John Slattery. I will not retire to an island off the coast of Dubai where I entertain myself in my latter days by watching robot greyhound races. Secretly, I fully expect all these things to happen. Hell, if it works for Roberto Mancini, why can’t it work for me?” Grantland

Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich: Bayern through on penalties

April 26, 2012

“Bayern Munich will face Chelsea in the final, after overcoming Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Jose Mourinho made one change from the first leg – at left-back, where Fabio Coentrao was left out after a difficult game in Munich, and Marcelo came in. Jupp Heynckes kept the same team from the first leg, in roughly the same formation. This game started brilliantly, but became increasingly cautious and then needed penalties to settle it. It was a very odd game with no overall pattern, so rather than the usual match overview, here’s ten disparate points…” Zonal Marking

Bayern Munich reach Champions League final after beating Real Madrid in dramatic penalty shoot-out
“It could still be a special one. Even without Jose Mourinho taking on his old Chelsea players, the 2012 Champions League final in Munich promises so much after Bayern Munich and Arjen Robben set up a May 19 date at their Allianz Arena home with Chelsea, Barcelona’s conquerors. So much for the Spanish inquisition.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Champions League Revenue – The Final Countdown

April 26, 2012

“Chelsea’s remarkable triumph over Barcelona in last night’s Champions League semi-final was a surprise, but no more than their old fashioned, backs to the wall display deserved. They might not have played the prettiest football, but the result made it all worthwhile in the end, as they could book their tickets to Munich for a sumptuous final against either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. You can’t put a price on nights like that.” Swiss Ramble

Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea: Chelsea do an Inter 2010

April 25, 2012

“Chelsea produced an astonishing defensive display – and still created chances – to progress to the Champions League final. Pep Guardiola made the surprising decision to drop Daniel Alves, bringing back Gerard Pique in defence. Isaac Cuenca was fielded on the wing, and Cesc Fabregas in an attacking central midfield role. Roberto Di Matteo named an unchanged XI from the side that won 1-0 in the first leg, and set out in the same shape.” Zonal Marking

Chelsea reach Champions League final as Fernando Torres has final word in 2-2 draw against Barcelona
“What a night. What a display of defiance from Chelsea after the dismissal of John Terry for kneeing Alexis Sánchez. To the delight of their fans up in the Gods, 10 men went to mow a meadow, and thrillingly, amazingly, they cut mighty Barcelona, the European champions, the team of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta down to size.” Telegraph – Henry Winter (Video)

Barcelona’s stunning failure to beat Chelsea: What does it all mean?
“Barcelona’s failure to beat misfiring, mismatched, misbegotten 10-man Chelsea was one of the most surprising and indeed troubling results in recent history. It calls into question everything we thought we knew about the sport. Pep Guardiola’s free-flowing tiki-taka merchants are supposed to be the greatest team on the planet, if not the greatest team in history. So what went wrong?” SI

Torres stuns Barcelona and books Chelsea into Champions League final
“There are many emotions inspired by Chelsea’s arrival in the final but, more than anything, it is sheer wonder. They refused to be cowed after John Terry’s red card and deserve their place in Munich on 19 May because of the heroism that went into a night of rare achievement and glory. As triumphs in adversity go, the night they went down to 10 men and knocked out Barcelona on their own ground will take some beating.” Guardian (Video)

Stoic Barcelona fans refuse to say that the Pep Guardiola era is over
“Something strange happened in the dying moments of the semi-final. Fernando Torres had just scored the goal that ended Barcelona’s hopes of reaching the European Cup final, his eighth in 11 matches against the Catalans. Defeated by Real Madrid in the league, relinquishing the title, Chelsea had now knocked them out of the Champions League. In four days, Barça had lost virtually everything. But no one left and no one whistled; no one stayed silent. Instead, the chant went up. Soon it was going round right the stadium: Ser del Barça és el millor que hi ha! Being Barça fans is the best thing there is!” Guardian

Guardiola decision imminent
“Pep Guardiola has revealed he plans to make a decision on his Barcelona future in the coming days. Barcelona have endured a hugely disappointing week, with the home defeat to Real Madrid on Saturday all but ending their hopes of winning the league and a 2-2 draw with Chelsea at the Camp Nou on Tuesday resulting in their exit from the Champions League.”

Soccer Cities: Rio de Janeiro

April 24, 2012

“Rio de Janeiro may be the setting for world football’s showpiece event in 2014, at the newly refurbished Maracana stadium, but as far as domestic football goes the city has had to play second fiddle to both Sao Paulo and its neighbour Santos in recent seasons. Only two of the last 11 national championships have ended up in Rio, with Flamengo and Fluminense claiming successive titles in 2009 and 2010 respectively.” World Soccer

Liverpool 0 WBA 1: In-Depth Tactical Analysis

April 24, 2012

“Liverpool have won all five previous home games against West Brom in the Premier League without conceding a single goal. Going back further, the Baggies haven’t won any of their last 21 trips to Anfield (since 1967) in the top-flight (D4, L17). Overall, the Baggies have lost 10 of their 11 PL clashes with the Reds without troubling the scorers, winning the other 2-1 last season. Roy Hodgson’s win percentage as manager of West Brom (37%) is now higher than it was during his spell with Liverpool (35%). Liverpool have drawn a league-high nine home games this term.” Tomkins Times

Reading FC 2006 and 2012: a Comparative Perspective

April 24, 2012

“Reading’s extraordinary canter to the Championship title provokes inevitable comparison with the feat of their forebears of half a decade ago. The 106 points amassed by that vintage set a record and if we are yet to cover the 2005-6 Royals in our Great Football League Teams series, that’s not to ignore the best second tier XI of all time.” thetwounfortunates

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid: Real on brink of title

April 22, 2012

“Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner as Real Madrid effectively clinched the title at the Nou Camp. Pep Guardiola made two surprise decisions, playing La Masia products Thiago Alcantara and Cristian Tello – the former in midfield, the latter in a wide-left role. Gerard Pique was omitted again. Jose Mourinho was brave with his starting XI, selecting the same side that had underperformed in Munich in midweek, which meant Fabio Coentrao continuing at left-back.” Zonal Marking

La Liga review: FC Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 2, Or, You Win Some Clásicos, You Lose Some Clásicos
“So, here were are. Two defeats in a row, one in the Champions League semifinals and another that puts the Liga virtually out of our reach and sees our nemesis get a win at the Camp Nou. Disappointing? You bet. Unexpected? No, in spite what some delusional fans (whose memory doesn’t stretch beyond the last three years) thought.” The Offside (YouTube)

Cristiano Ronaldo shocks Barcelona as Real Madrid close on title
“Their hope lasted two minutes and nineteen seconds. Just when Barcelona thought there was a chance they might rescue the La Liga title, just as this stadium erupted into noise, just as the faith that had deserted them flooded back, Cristiano Ronaldo tore it all out of their hands again. Alexis Sánchez had given Barcelona a goal and a lifeline with an equaliser midway through the second half, levelling the scores after Sami Khedira had put Madrid ahead in the first half. But 139 seconds later Ronaldo brilliantly stepped around Víctor Valdés to make the return of the title from the Camp Nou to the Bernabéu all but certain.” Guardian

Tactics and the role played by religion in the shaping of the modern game

April 22, 2012

“After Brazil had won the World Cup in 1958 using a back four, the rest of the world were forced to react. Almost overnight the old-school W-M formation, which dominated tactical thinking almost everywhere else, seemed outmoded and needed revision. As a result, teams essentially took one of two routes – and the route they chose was determined almost entirely on national grounds, with that choice continuing to have an effect on the basic tactical template in those countries today.” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson

Liverpool 0 – 1 West Bromwich Albion

April 22, 2012

“Roy Hodgson’s West Brom completed the ultimate smash-and-grab raid to record their first win at Anfield for 45 years as Liverpool dominated but dropped yet more points at home. Had the hosts converted all their chances they would probably have made it into double figures but their season-long goalscoring problems cost them dearly once again.” ESPN

Quality lacking in London showdown

April 22, 2012

“The Premier League may still be the most celebrated domestic championship in the world, boasting a mystique that ensures it is one of sport’s most lucrative brands, yet games like this do little to dispel the theory that its standards are on the slide.” ESPN

Five Lessons from the Champions League Semifinals’ First Legs

April 20, 2012

“1. They Are Playing for the Champions League Trophy, Not Our Entertainment. It’s hard to pick one symbolic moment coming out of these first legs of the Champions League semifinals, so I am going to go with my favorite: Didier Drogba, writhing on the ground and clutching the Drogba family jewels, as no less an authority on ball-kicking than Javier Mascherano stood over him in judgment. Somewhere a jukebox played The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’.” Grantland

Barcelona stunned as Didier Drogba gives Chelsea Champions League hope with 1-0 first-leg victory

April 19, 2012

“It may not prove a knock-out blow but Drogba has given Chelsea a fighting chance, especially if they defend like this again. They travel to Catalonia next week refusing to pay homage. To the delight of their highly vocal fans, Chelsea’s defending was immense. This was not anti-football; few of the game’s dark arts stained Chelsea’s play, barring Drogba’s occasional theatricality. There was little shirt-pulling, no filthy challenges, no baulking. Chelsea just defended well. If this had been AC Milan, Inter Milan or anybody else from the land of catenaccio, the headlines would have bubbled with paeans for such defensive virtues.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona: Chelsea score the type of goal they were trying to score, and the type Barcelona were trying to prevent
“Didier Drogba’s goal in first half stoppage time gave Chelsea a surprise victory. Roberto Di Matteo brought in Raul Meireles, with Salomon Kalou dropping to the bench and Juan Mata moving wide. David Luiz was injured, so Gary Cahill played at centre-back, and Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. Pep Guardiola didn’t select Gerard Pique, electing to play Adriano at left-back, so Carles Puyol could play in the centre of defence alongside Javier Mascherano. Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas both started. Chelsea rode their luck and Barcelona squandered chances – but overall this was a very disciplined display from Chelsea, and an extremely impressive defensive performance.” Zonal Marking

Chelsea’s Golden Night: Barcelona Are Brought Down To Earth At Stamford Bridge
“They came,they saw and they kept possession as ever, but this time they couldn’t quite conquer. Barcelona arrived in West London this evening with the sound of a Spector-esque wall of praise ringing in their ears. They’re a great side. Indeed, if it is possible to draw comparisons across the different eras of the game, then they might just be the greatest of all time. Tonight, however, when they turned on the tap in the expectation of at least a trickle of goals, they found it to be blocked with a defensive performance so obdurate that it sometimes felt as if the Chelsea defenders were only one step away from bricking up Petr Cech’s goal and having done with it.” twohundredpercent

Drogba grabs winner as Chelsea beats Barca 1-0
“Didier Drogba swept the ball into the net late in the first half, and Chelsea managed to hang on. With an inspired performance, the Blues beat Barcelona 1-0 Wednesday night in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal and set up a must-see second leg of the total-goals series in Spain next week. Either Barcelona will move within a victory of becoming the first back-to-back winner in more than two decades, or Chelsea will have the opportunity to win Europe’s top club title for the first time.” SI

Chelsea v Barcelona: five talking points
“Barcelona had the more accomplished players against Chelsea but Roberto Di Matteo’s ‘perfect game’ was essentially ugly but effective” Guardian

Football In Lebanon

April 19, 2012

“Football in Lebanon is a curious thing. Both a unifying force and a potential spark for sectarian violence. When Lebanon faced the UAE in their final group match in the third qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup, the country came to a standstill. Pupils were given the day off school, shops closed and the bars were packed. With the opportunity to qualifying for the final round for the first time in their history, the entire population congregated around television sets.” In Bed With Maradona

Anglo-Italian relations

April 19, 2012

“Back in 1992 West Ham looked on enviously as Sheffield United kicked off against Manchester United on a sunny day on the 15th August to start what is now the richest league in the world. The Hammers had been relegated at the end of the previous season and now had to fight their way back onto the top table, in a similar situation to this season although the Free bet sites at the time would have not been so genorous about an immediate return as they have been this term.” The Ball is Round

From Ashley Young to Carlos Tevez to Hillsborough: how Twitter has transformed football

April 18, 2012

Venetian School, Francesco Guardi
“From Ashley Young’s unpopular testing of Newton’s theory of gravity at Old Trafford to some Chelsea fans’ ugly chants and Juan Mata’s ‘ghost goal’ at Wembley, Sunday demonstrated graphically how much the match-going experience has been transformed by the social-networking revolution.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid: what type of player to use as the number ten?

April 18, 2012

“Mario Gomez scored very late to give Bayern a slender advantage going into the second leg. Jupp Heynckes’ major decision was as expected – Toni Kroos played in the advanced midfield role, with Bastian Schweinsteiger deeper. Jose Mourinho played Fabio Coentrao at left-back, rather than Marcelo. Bayern were the better side over the course of the game here – Real started poorly, got better in the second half, and then conceded a late winner when the game seemed to have died.” Zonal Marking

The Question: how did Bayern Munich outflank Real Madrid?
“There can be tactical errors and miscalculations, of course, but it’s rare that things are as black and white as that. More often there are options, choices of emphasis and at times what is usually a strength can become a weakness. Even the very best players can, on occasion, become a liability.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Alessandro Del Piero and Juvenntus – An Enduring Love Story

April 18, 2012

“On the 25th March 2012, Alessandro Del Piero scored his 288th goal for Juventus. The diminutive forward wheeled off and celebrated as if he was a novice to the art of goalscoring, performing his traditional celebration; tongue out of mouth with an almost crazed look on his face, running towards a section of the adoring Juventus’ public.” In Bed With Maradona

Queens Park Rangers – Hoop Dreams

April 18, 2012

“This has been a pretty good season for teams promoted from the Championship with Swansea City and Norwich City attracting many plaudits, so it is a little strange that Queens Park Rangers have not received much praise, especially as they actually won that division last year, playing some thrilling football en route to the title. In many ways, this is understandable, as they have been involved in a relegation battle for much of the season, but there’s more behind the lack of warmth than results on the pitch.” Swiss Ramble

Something in the water?

April 18, 2012

“It was a great weekend for football headlines in South America’s southern cone. In particular in Argentina, which we’ll get to in just a moment, but no piece about the weekend just gone would be complete without at least a passing mention of Salvador Cabanas, who turned out for his boyhood club in Paraguay’s third division on Saturday to make his return to professional football 26 months after he was shot in the head in a Mexico City nightclub. An amazing comeback.” ESPN

Roberto di Matteo Brings Chelsea’s Dysfunctional Family Back Into Line

April 18, 2012

“Chelsea will take the field at Stamford Bridge this evening for the first leg of a Champions League match against Barcelona which must surely rank amongst one of the more unlikely to be played all season. The sacking of Andre Villa Boas was supposed to draw a line below the competive side of Chelsea’s season, an acknowledgement of the failure on the part of the directors of the club in terms of their last managerial appointment. Roberto di Matteo, promoted from the shadows to shepherd what had given every impression of being a thoroughly dysfunctional team through to the end of the season before handing over the reins to the latest winner of the annual new Chelsea manager lottery.” twohundredpercent

Celebrity Entropy

April 16, 2012

“It’s a short career, sports superstardom, which means that the world accumulates ex-great athletes at a fairly remarkable pace, one a year at least, as if time itself were an aging athlete out fielding fly balls — Elway, Sampras, Shaq, Ronaldo, thunk, thunk, thunk. At any given moment there’s a significant population of ex-sports superstars milling around in the weird background of culture, the part that’s half after-party and half wax museum. You could throw a dinner for them, the living retired great athletes, and fill a pretty good-sized hall. I’m picturing Yogi Berra trading fake punches with Muhammad Ali, MJ smoking scornfully in the corner booth. Maradona face-down in a cake.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Liverpool 2 – 1 Everton

April 16, 2012

“Liverpool’s much-maligned record signing Andy Carroll went some way to justifying his huge price with the goal which put his side into their first FA Cup final since 2006 and ended the dreams of Everton in the all-Merseyside encounter at Wembley. The £35million striker had endured a testing afternoon, heading one straightforward chance wide, but came up with the winner four minutes from time at Wembley.” ESPN

Five points on Liverpool 2-1 Everton
“Liverpool fought back from 1-0 down to book their place in the final. Kenny Dalglish went with Andy Carroll upfront and Luis Suarez behind. Jordan Henderson started on the right of a four-man midfield, and at the back Jamie Carragher was selected at centre-back, which meant Daniel Agger moving to left-back. David Moyes selected Magaye Gueye on the left of midfield, Darron Gibson in the centre of midfield, and Phil Neville at right-back. This was a rather poor game lacking in technical quality – the goals came from two huge defensive mistakes and then a set-piece. There were a few individual areas of interest, however…” Zonal Marking

Liverpool 2 Everton 1: In-Depth Tactical Analysis
“This was to be the fifth FA Cup semi-final between the two Merseyside giants. Everton won the first (in 1906), but Liverpool have progressed through the last three. No other fixture in FA Cup history has seen more than three semi-finals. On all three occasions Liverpool have beaten Everton in an FA Cup semi-final, the Reds have gone on to lose the final. [not so keen on that one Mihail – time to end that sequence] Liverpool and Everton have been drawn together 16 times before in FA Cup history, with The Reds emerging victorious on nine occasions and the Toffees on seven.” Tomkins Times

Liverpool’s ‘work in progress’ must translate into Premier League success, starting at Anfield
“A record of only five home wins, as many as QPR and Blackburn Rovers, is too poor for a club with a proud European past and enduring Champions League ambitions. As Kenny Dalglish observed on the day Liverpool reached the FA Cup final by beating neighbours Everton 2-1, his team remain a ‘work in progress’. They won on Saturday but it was a semi-final long on noise but short on technical poise, Luis Suárez apart. Overall, Liverpool have the framework of a decent team.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Chelsea’s change in defensive system under Roberto Di Matteo

April 16, 2012

“The major change at Chelsea under Roberto Di Matteo has been the difference in the wide positions, stemming from a combination of the change of style, and the change of formation. Andre Villas-Boas wanted 4-3-3 and lots of pressing – therefore the job of the wide players was to close down the full-backs, and they defended high up the pitch. Villas-Boas then started playing with Juan Mata as a central playmaker, but the formation remained more 4-2-1-3 than 4-2-3-1 – a minor difference, but the wide players were still staying high up the pitch, even as Villas-Boas went from a heavy pressing game to something more cautious.” Zonal Marking

Dempsey heads top-15 list of American performances in Europe

April 16, 2012

“Let’s come right out and say it: Clint Dempsey is having the best season ever by a U.S. international in Europe. With his late equalizer against Chelsea on Monday, the Fulham sniper now has 16 Premier League goals this season. The only Premier League players who have more goals in all competitions than Dempsey’s 22 are Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero.” SI

End of the road for Ronaldinho’s Flamengo

April 16, 2012

“While Europe’s Champions League is down to the last four, the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, is whittling down its field to the 16 teams who will go into the knockout phase. Twelve places have so far been filled, with some high drama along the way. For a few sweet seconds, for example, Flamengo of Rio thought they had saved themselves from elimination.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Levante 1 – 2 FC Barcelona: Barcelona Squeaks By and Keeps League Hopes Alive

April 16, 2012

“A late brace from Messi kept Barcelona in the title race for the La Liga ahead of the big El Clasico match up this coming weekend. Not at their best, Barca still managed to secure victory against a compact disciplined Levante side thanks to Leo and the strong backline.” The Offside

The Hero Of Berne

April 13, 2012

“The phenomenon of association football had already swept through the United Kingdom and some parts of South America at the start of the twentieth century. The English influence had made a crucial impact in the development of the game globally and British clubs were considered the benchmark. However while most British clubs which were founded for football only, German sports clubs were involved in a host of different activities; in particular, gymnastics.” In Bed With Maradona

Liverpool: Did buying British cost Comolli his job?

April 13, 2012

“Since taking over at Liverpool Kenny Dalglish has spent almost £100 million on buying the ‘best’ of British players within the Premier League in a bid to instigate an overhaul of Liverpool and return them to their former glory. Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Adam, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll were all brought in to start a British revolution at the club.” Just Football

Moneyball Statistics and Damien Comolli

April 13, 2012

“In the latest ‘Secret Footballer‘ column in The Guardian, the unnamed Premier League player made some very interesting claims about which statistics are valued by Liverpool’s former director-of-football Damien Comolli…” Tomkins Times

Rangers: The Good, The Bad & The Loopy

April 13, 2012

“You can say what you like about Scottish media coverage of Rangers’ financial crisis but you’re certainly spoilt for choice. Unfortunately, that choice is all-too-often between parallel universes, with a tangential universe thrown in every time club owner Craig Whyte is within range of a microphone (Whyte’s common criticism of HMRC as “living on a different planet to the rest of us” is top-of-the-range irony, I’m sure you’ll agree. The announcement of the shortlist of Rangers’ bidders and the administrators’ report to creditors on consecutive days last week provided plenty of scope for media sources to reveal their contrasting takes on affairs, and their common ignorance.” twohundredpercent

Dortmund 1-0 Bayern: six point lead

April 13, 2012

“Robert Lewandowski’s clever flick put Dortmund six points clear of Bayern – probably a decisive lead at the summit of the Bundesliga table. Dortmund were still missing Mario Gotze, who got the winner in the reverse fixture between the sides, and Sven Bender – but there was no surprise team news from Jurgen Klopp. Jupp Heynckes was without Bastian Schweinsteiger, so Luis Gustavo partnered Toni Kroos. In defence, Philipp Lahm was over on the right, with David Alaba at left-back.” Zonal Marking

Samir Nasri still not good enough

April 13, 2012

“Manchester City’s title hopes effectively ended at the Emirates on Sunday. For Samir Nasri, returning to his old club, it was a particularly painful way to lose the title. Nasri has appeared at the stadium three times in 2011-12. The first occasion was on the first day of the season, still in an Arsenal shirt. Arsene Wenger had an injury crisis, and even though Nasri was about to depart, Wenger had to play him. He was booed by his own fans.” ESPN

The Question: is Steven Gerrard good for Liverpool?

April 11, 2012

“When Steven Gerrard came off the bench against Newcastle United on 30 December and transformed a 1-1 draw into a 3-1 win, the assumption was that, with their talisman back after an ankle injury, Liverpool would kick on. That win took them to fifth and with Chelsea and Arsenal faltering, Newcastle seemingly beginning to feel the effects of their comparatively slender squad and Tottenham being Tottenham, a challenge for Champions League qualification, perhaps even third place, seemed probable.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Win fails to paper over cracks

April 11, 2012

“Ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous. Liverpool’s Wembley warm-up consisted of an evening of engrossing ineptitude on as strange a game as even they, and even the beleaguered Blackburn Rovers, have endured in their surreal seasons. It concluded in suitably peculiar fashion as the outnumbered, the out of favour and the out of position somehow contrived to earn only a second win in ten league games.” ESPN

La Liga review: FC Barcelona 4, Getafe 0, Or, For Abidal, For Revenge, For The Four Points!

April 11, 2012

“In all my time as a football blogger and fan, I’ve seldom if ever have had to deal with a more frustrating man to predict than Pep Guardiola. Mathematically speaking, there are only so many combinations of players that he could conceivably play, and yet trying to guess his line-ups is a harder task than that of a defender trying to mark Messi.” The Offside (YouTube)

The Reducer, Week 32: City’s a Sucker

April 11, 2012

“Manchester United 2, Queens Park Rangers 1. Arsenal 1, Manchester City 0. In the 13th minute of Manchester United’s game with QPR at Old Trafford, a slashing Ashley Young felt a creaky, possibly arthritic old hand on his back. Considering the hand belonged to QPR defender Shaun Derry, who looks like he punches tree trunks for fun, it was a relatively light touch. And considering that Young was offside, Derry probably thought his contact would be forgiven by the wave of the linesman’s flag. But no matter; Young, in his first season playing with United, knew what he felt and knew where he was on the pitch. And he went down.” Grantland (YouTube)

A more mature Podolski set to prosper in Premier League

April 11, 2012

“It’s been a very good season for Bundesliga strikers. Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez and Klaas Jan Huntelaar from Schalke 04 are head-to-head in the race for the leading goal-scorer trophy, with 23 league strikes each. (In all club competitions, the two of them have netted a combined 74 times so far). Polish attacker Robert Lewandowski has emerged as a key factor in Dortmund’s title challenge (17 goals) while Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen, 16 goals) and Martin Harnik (Stuttgart, 14 goals) is almost single-handedly keeping his team in contention for a Europa League spot.” SI

Real Madrid 0-0 Valencia: lots of chances, no goals

April 11, 2012

“Real Madrid dropped points at home despite dominating. Jose Mourinho gave a rare start to Raul Albiol against his former club, and played Karim Benzema on the right wing, with Angel Di Maria on the bench. Unai Emery was without Roberto Soldado, and made five changes to the side that drew with Levante last week. The centre-back duo of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami, who have been excellent this season, was the only part of the side that remained in place. This match really should have had goals, with both sides missing big chances.” Zonal Marking

How to find the right coach

April 9, 2012

Marcelo Bielsa
“In one week last month, the British newspapers reported on names in the running to be the new Chelsea coach. Pep Guardiola, it was reported in some quarters, will be offered a contract worth £40 million ($63M) after tax, while The Times reported that Laurent Blanc was the front-runner. Jose Mourinho is still a target, claimed the Daily Mail, while The Mirror had Marcelo Bielsa snubbing an approach, via intermediaries, from Roman Abramovich. Four coaches, all at the top of their profession: but each with totally different philosophies and visions about how the game should be played, how their players should be treated, and, presumably, how they would approach their role if they worked at Stamford Bridge.” SI

Gone but not forgotten: football in the Spanish Civil War

April 9, 2012

“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.” World Soccer

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City: City lose the midfield battle – and probably the title

April 9, 2012

“Mikel Arteta’s long-range strike settled a match Arsenal could have won by more. Arsene Wenger made one change from the side that lost to QPR last weekend. Aaron Ramsey, who looked uncomfortable out on the left in that match, was dropped and replaced by Yossi Benayoun, a player who more naturally drifts inside from the flank. Roberto Mancini was without David Silva, so used Samir Nasri, James Milner, Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli, who almost always starts big games ahead of out-of-form Edin Dzeko. Pablo Zabaleta played at right-back, with Micah Richards on the bench.” Zonal Marking

La Liga review: Real Zaragoza 1, FC Barcelona 4, Or, Battle in a Field of Flowers

April 9, 2012

“Let us get the complaining out of the way first, so we can focus on the football or what passed for it last night. It’s one thing to keep the pitch at your stadium at a length and state of irrigation that favours your particular style, but it’s something completely different to force visiting teams to frolic through meadows in full flower like a footballing version of The Sound of Music; soon, teams will be growing carnivorous plants around their goals in an attempt to stop Messi.” The Offside (YouTube)

It’s not a results business is it?

April 9, 2012

“So much pressure is put on sports players to perform. Win at all cost seems to be the motto at all levels of the game we should love. And why should we love it? Because it at the end of the day it is supposed to be a past time, something to enjoy, to relieve our stress of an ever increasing hard life. But there is more to life than the pursuit of winning. There is enjoyment.” The Ball is Round

Santos continue to punch above their weight

April 9, 2012

“If the Titanic was too big to sink, then Santos FC would be too small to shake the world – flawed logic on both counts. On 14 April, 1912 – the very day the Titanic hit an iceberg which caused it to sink – Santos were founded, beginning their rise to become one of the most remarkable clubs in football history. Santos represent a relatively small city, with a population of a little more than 400,000, which grew to prominence as the port through which much of Brazil’s coffee was exported. An hour’s climb away is the metropolis of Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest city, with more than 11 million inhabitants.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Liverpool 1 – 1 Aston Villa

April 9, 2012

“Luis Suarez’s late header prevented a fourth successive league defeat but it only served to paper over the cracks of another faltering Liverpool performance. The Reds went into the game on the back of six losses in seven matches, their worst sequence for almost 60 years, and with criticism mounting on both the players and manager Kenny Dalglish. Fragile confidence was eroded further when Chris Herd put the visitors ahead early on but a much-needed win for the midlanders, for whom relegation worries have been growing, proved beyond them.” ESPN

5 reasons why football needs Antonio Cassano

April 6, 2012

“Football has had some difficult and distressing issues to deal with recently, from Villa Park to Somalia to White Hart Lane, but there was at least some encouraging news this week after it emerged that AC Milan striker and everyone’s favourite croissant eater Antonio Cassano has been given the all-clear to resume playing football. There were fears Cassano might never play again last October when the 29-year-old fell ill on the plane home from Milan’s 3-2 win against Roma. The Italian striker was hospitalised with ’stroke-like symptoms’ which ultimately required heart surgery to repair a small cardiac malfunction.” Just Football (YouTube)

Dalglish’s muddled tactics have confused Liverpool

April 6, 2012

“The best tacticians leave the opposition guessing. Kenny Dalglish has certainly done that so far this season – the problem is, often his own players are as flummoxed as their opponents. It’s odd that Dalglish has no consistent shape or strategy, because it appeared that his project at Liverpool was going to be based around cohesion. Before becoming manager for a second time, Dalglish had been working at the club’s youth academy, where there has been an attempt to replicate Barcelona’s development of youngsters.” Life A Pitch

That They May Face the Rising Sun

April 6, 2012

“André Alves Leso and Guilherme Vinicius Jovanelli Moreira, in all likelihood, had never met Jefferson Firmino da Silva. But the three had more than a little in common. All were young, working class Brazilians. All were members of a torcida organizaa group, André and Guilherme of Mancha Alvi Verde (Palmeiras), Jefferson of Inferno Coral (Santa Cruz). And all now can be added to Brazil’s staggeringly long list of murder victims.” World Soccer

Simon Kuper Interview: Author of Soccer Men

April 6, 2012

“I recently chatted with Soccernomics co-author Simon Kuper to discuss several topics regarding world soccer. Kuper, whose latest book Soccer Men is now available in stores, talked about what impact (if any) soccer has on politics, as well as how he began his career in journalism.” EPL Talk

Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport

Cisse proving a big hit at Newcastle

April 6, 2012

“They have seen Papiss Cisse’s like before. They know what it is to cherish a number nine in these parts. But though this is the club of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Jackie Milburn, it is Andy Cole who springs immediately to mind when the Newcastle United supporters watch Cisse play. Not since Cole have Newcastle boasted a striker so potent, so direct and so gloriously uncomplicated.” SI

Positioning and movement of Aimar, Mata and Gaitan in Chelsea 2-1 Benfica

April 6, 2012

“Chelsea have progressed into the Champions League semi-finals after a 2-1 victory over Benfica, winning 3-1 on aggregate. The game wasn’t as interesting as it could have been, mainly because of Benfica’s indiscipline. Javi Garcia’s clumsy tackle on Ashley Cole resulted in a penalty and an uphill struggle, then Maxi Pereira picked up a silly second booking to leave Benfica down to ten men before half time. They struggled on manfully, and did well with ten, but the game (and tie) was a little disappointing.” Zonal Marking

Barcelona 3-1 Milan: Guardiola goes with a 3-3-4

April 4, 2012

“Barcelona weren’t at their best, but were fairly comfortable after scoring their third. Pep Guardiola brought in Isaac Cuenca to stretch the play on the flank and used Cesc Fabregas in a free role, with Seydou Keita and Alexis Sanchez dropping out. Max Allegri recalled Ignazio Abate at right-back, but otherwise kept the same team from last week. This was an odd game – Barcelona predictably dominated possession but struggled to create chances in open play…yet still scored goals and weren’t particularly troubled after the third goal, in the 53rd minute.” Zonal Marking

The Question: what marks Pep Guardiola out as a great coach?
“There is a strangely persistent idea that Pep Guardiola is not a great coach, that a great side somehow fell together beneath him for which he bears about as much responsibility for it as, say, the man who turns the lights on at the Louvre does for the Mona Lisa. He has fine players of course, but you wonder how many of them would truly prosper away from the Camp Nou. Even the greatest of them, Lionel Messi, looks a different player when he turns out for Argentina.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Champions League review: FC Barcelona 3 – 1 AC Milan: round two! *ding ding*
“Round two of the quarter-finals and plenty of drama in this leg too. This wasn’t Barça’s best performance of the season by any means, but they got the job done and yet more haters crawled out of the woodwork. Hi, guys. Barça’s starting XI was: VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol – Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta – Messi, Cesc and Cuenca. I’m sure there were a few eyebrows raised, but this was a welcome relief compared to the lineup for the first leg against Milan.” The Offside

Benfica’s Brazilian import-export connection

April 4, 2012

“If they were unable to do it in front of their own fans, can Benfica manage to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this Wednesday? Some might make the point that they were hardly at home last week. The Lisbon giants kicked off without a single Portuguese player – and with an extraordinary complement of nine South Americans in their starting line-up, plus another on the bench (alongside a Brazilian-born Spaniard), and one more ruled out by injury. And that is not even the half of it. Benfica have a further 17 South American players out on loan with other teams.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Dazed and Confused: A Liverpool Nosedive

April 4, 2012

“I’ve been saying for many months that I don’t quite know what to make of this Liverpool side. And it only gets more confusing with the passing of time. I always felt that I knew where I was with Rafa Benítez’s Liverpool, even if the ride could still get bumpy. And I certainly knew where I was with Hodgson’s: desperate to parachute off. (The Croydonian was a successful Cessna pilot who looked terrified and confused at the controls of a Boeing 747. What does this lever do? – ah, drop Daniel Agger in place of Soto Kygriakos.) This is different.” Tomkins Times

The astonishing career of Giorgio Chinaglia

April 4, 2012

“The saddening death of an old acquaintance Giorgio Chinaglia evoked so many memories. It was an astonishing career, begun obscurely in South Wales where he once was obliged (by club fines) to steal milk bottles from doorsteps for his breakfast, to triumphs with Lazio and the 1974 Campionato thanks largely to his goals, to disgrace in the subsequent World Cup in Europe.” World Soccer – Brian Glanville

Giorgio Chinaglia 1947-2012
“The legendary Lazio, Italy and New York Cosmos striker Giorgio Chinaglia has died, aged 65. Chinaglia was a member of the infamous yet hugely talented 1974 scudetto winning Lazio side, where his fiery temper and penchant for mayhem were not out of place. Having played most of his early football with Swansea (he had been brought up in Wales), Chinaglia was considered no great loss to the Welsh side as he headed home for national service and Serie C club Massese in 1966.” In Bed With Maradona

Juventus 3-0 Napoli: 3-5-2 v 3-4-3

April 4, 2012

“Juventus were by far the better side – they move two points behind leaders Milan. Antonio Conte, as expected, moved to 3-5-2 with Paolo De Ceglie the left wing-back. There was a surprise upfront, where Alessandro Matri was left out, and Marco Borriello partnered Mirko Vucinic. Walter Mazzarri’s first XI is always easy to predict, and there were no surprises in the usual 3-4-3 shape. The reverse fixture was goal-crazy (although a fascinating tactical battle too) – this was much tighter, and less interesting than it should have been. It’s rare to get a formation battle like this – although Conte has generally played a three-man defence against a three-man defence – having done so twice against Udinese, and now twice against Napoli.” Zonal Marking

A League Built On Fear

April 4, 2012

“The Russian Second Division can be a hard place for a footballer to ply his trade. Pitiful levels of support, matches in stadia which barely qualify for the term, and even the regionalisation of the league into five zones fails to compensate for the huge distances often travelled in the build-up to matchdays. With salaries understandably low in the country’s lowest professional league, it is little surprise that teams struggle to keep squads together between seasons, and that clubs on the periphery struggle to stay afloat – when the likes of First Division sides Luch-Energiya Vladivostok and Baltika Kaliningrad are fighting to survive, prospects are bleak for teams further down the pyramid.” In Bed With Maradona

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

April 1, 2012

“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. When Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards made his recent remarks about Fifa “stealing football from the English”, there can be little doubt that he had 1974 in mind. That was the year that Havelange unseated England’s Sir Stanley Rous to become Fifa president.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Barcelona 2 – 0 Athletic Bilbao

April 1, 2012

“Barcelona kept within six points of Primera Division pacesetters Real Madrid with a 2-0 home victory over Athletic Bilbao. With Madrid thrashing Osasuna 5-1 earlier in the evening Barca needed a victory to keep the pressure on Jose Mourinho’s men and they duly delivered thanks to goals either side of half-time from Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, who struck from the penalty spot.” ESPN

FC Barcelona 2, Athletic de Bilbao 0, Or, Play It Like It’s 2009!
“…It did seem like Pep had the Milan match in mind, as he played VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Iniesta, Thiago, Alexis, Messi and Tello; we were lucky that our one and only, precious, fragile LB was declared just hours before the match. In the bench, Pinto, Puyol, Keita, Xavi, Pedro, Cuenca and Montoya; Cesc was left out of the squad because apparently he has a small problem (back? left leg?) and Pep wanted him to be ready for Milan.” The Offside (YouTube)