The Best of Football Writing in 2012

“Before we move forward, let’s take a step back. 2013 will bring new stories, and writers will continue to unveil value in the context of our day-to-day lives. But before we jump ahead, we really should take a step back. The internet is a wonderful place, but our constant consumption of content allows us to forget which stories were truly compelling, creative, well-researched, and told with conviction. For the second year in a row, I have compiled what I consider to be a list of the best writing in football. This year, I called upon some of the game’s most influential voices to reflect on how writing best interpreted, dissected, and brought meaning to the beautiful game. Consider this project to be a sort of anthology. The games will be remembered in history, but our reactions and our stories could have been forgotten. Instead, they’re here.” A Football Report


Blatter Critical of M.L.S. in Interview

“FIFA President Sepp Blatter is many things — we’ll pause this post briefly so you can insert your own description here — but he is apparently not a fan of Major League Soccer. In an interview with Al Jazeera that was broadcast on Saturday, Blatter was critical of both the league and the development of the sport in general in the United States. The comments came as part of a larger discussion about FIFA’s role in developing the game around the world.” NY Times (Video)

Snapshot: Applause For The Brave Amateurs From Germany

“Borussia Mönchengladbach’s first journey into European action earned them the respect of their professional opponents. German sides have throughout the existence of the European Cup Winner’s Cup been involved in a number of memorable matches: Fortuna Düsseldorf’s 4-3 loss to a legendary Barca side in the final of 1979 or Werder Bremen’s win over Arsene Wenger’s AS Monaco are certainly highlights to cherish. The list goes on. The competition itself got off to a bumpy start in the 1960/61 season though. Only ten cup winners chose to participate in the first edition of the competition. Borussia Mönchengladbach were amongst those ten teams, and were lucky enough to go past the first round on a walk over draw. The luck ran out when it came to the quarter-final draws. Bernd Oles’s side had to go up against Scottish cup champions and greats Glasgow Rangers.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Tactical & Statistical Analysis: Why are Premier League teams struggling to defend?

“Top Premier League teams have seemingly had difficulties defending this season. This weekend alone we saw a goal glut in the Premier League which is great entertainment but less good for the competitiveness of the Premier League on the European stage. Manchester United of old, Chelsea under Mourinho and Benitez’s Liverpool side achieved relative successes mainly as a result of a solid back four and a strong defensive record. With Benitez this was particularly the case in Europe, as well as when the club finished 2nd in the Premier League. Managers now a days seem to put less emphasis on defensive play and spend more time attacking. Manchester United for example have struggled defensively but instead of bringing in a holding player or a defender they purchased Premier League top scorer Robin van Persie.” Think Football

Best of 2012: Zambia’s championship

“In 1993, a plane carrying the Zambian team to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal stopped for refueling in Libreville. Shortly after takeoff, it exploded and crashed into the sea off the Gabonese coast, killing everybody on board. Kalusha Bwalya, the great star of that side, was not on the plane because he played in the Netherlands and was making his own way to Dakar. He helped put together a new side and went on to become president of the Zambian Football Federation.” FOX Soccer – Jonathan Wilson

Forget Terry, Mata is the main man at Chelsea these days

“The determination to make a good first impression under a new manager always galvanises a group of players, and Chelsea’s squad have become well-accustomed to this concept in recent years – forced to adapt to the methods of André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benítez in quick succession. Few have started each era as impressively as Juan Mata – he scored on his debut under Villas-Boas, then struck the first goal of the Di Matteo and Benítez eras. With the rotation at centre-back, the inconsistency of the central midfielders and the struggles upfront, Mata has been a key player under all three coaches, and has consistently delivered in the final third.” Life A Pitch – Michael Cox

UEFA Financial Fair Play

“Over the last 20 years European soccer has gone through an exciting but dangerous period of global expansion. When Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV signed the English Premier League to a $115 million television rights deal in 1992, he set the European club sport on a terror of worldwide expansion. The Spanish Empire of the 1700s is the only conquest that rivals the expansion of European soccer.[1] With the additional capital, individual clubs could grow. More potent, though, was the exposure the clubs garnered worldwide through the advent of technology. This exposure turned community institutions into global brands that have been wielded with a capitalist’s fist. The dangerous part is that this expansion has gone unregulated.” Soccer Politics

Rafa Benitez can succeed with Chelsea if the fans give him a shot

” Something very strange happened last week, something so unusual it’s tempting to think it unique: a football manager made a joke. It was proper joke. Not an anecdote, or something contrived and worked on days in advance, but a genuine, spontaneous quip that was genuinely amusing. There is often laughter in press conferences but usually it’s polite or sycophantic depending on your point of view; often, hearing a manager trying to be funny, you’re put in mind of Dr. Johnson’s line about the dog walking on its hind legs: it’s not so much that it’s done well but that it’s done at all. But this was a proper gag. Odder yet, it was cracked by Rafa Benitez.” SI

For the Sake Of Playing

“On Saturday, December 29th 2012, two football clubs from Glasgow will take to the pitch at Hampden Park to play the unlikeliest of matches. Glasgow derbies attended by tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of spectators around the time of New Year have been a tradition in Scottish football for well over a century, and yet this fixture will not feature a certain world-famous team in green and white hoops. It will be an older, more historic fixture, all but forgotten prior to the extraordinary 2012-13 Division Three season, and shall provide a strange and fascinating insight into how Scottish football might have developed in a parallel universe, where Queen’s Park FC had not held on in the face of changing times and priorities to its cherished amateur status, and had cleaved to its place as the country’s pre-eminent and most innovative football club.” In Bed With Maradona

Tactical Analysis: Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes’ natural successor?

“English football has always prided passion, heart and determination – to the extent where it may even overshadow talent. Rather the grit than the glamour. Amongst this rubble of resolution there is always the glint of a rough diamond that catches the eye. This such diamond was picked up, dusted down and sent for polishing twenty eight years ago. A fourteen-year-old, Salford-born boy was scouted by one of football’s most prestigious clubs – Manchester United. They had welcomed the most iconic ginger-haired player to the world of football. A moment all purists would forever be grateful for. Paul Scholes is possibly the most undervalued treasure of football’s over century-long existence. Ironic to say that, as he has been considered the best central midfielder of his generation, by Pep Guardiola no less. A generation that has seen talents like Alonso and Pirlo grace the game.” Think Football

Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top

“Normally, nostalgia is evoked by watching a movie, looking at photos or merely by way of conversation. It’s not, however, normal for someone to come back and do exactly the same thing again. That’s how it felt when Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal in the January of 2012 and, against Leeds United in the League Cup, scored in exactly the same way that he had made a trademark.” The Arsenal Column

The 100 best footballers in the world – interactive

messi ap poll
“Welcome to the Guardian’s choice of the world’s top 100 footballers. We asked our 11-strong international panel of experts to name their top 30 players in action today and rank them in order of preference. Once the lists were submitted, the players were scored on their ranking by each panellist: a No1 choice allocated 30pts, No2 29pts and so on down to selection No30, given one point. In a four-part series online and in print we will reveal the results. Starting with No100 at the very end, click on the individual player in the interactive below for our writers’ argument for their placing in the 100. And you can read here how we came to ranking the hundred and a blog on the top 10 here.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

The Renovation Of Videoton

“Twenty-six long years have passed since Hungary last participated in a major footballing tournament. It was the World Cup of 1986 in Mexico and even though confidence was high, the Magyars crashed out in the group stage after disappointing results to France and their bitter foes, the Soviet Union. In 1985 Hungarian football was at the centre stage of European football as a small side named Videoton from Szekesfehervar in Western Hungary shocked the continent to reach the UEFA Cup final after beating English giants Manchester United along the way. A 3-1 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the final was to be expected, but nonetheless, it took nothing away from the achievement of the players who became the first Hungarian side to reach a major European final since Ferencváros ten years earlier.” In Bed With Maradona

The Bundesliga in 2012 – A Statistical Overview

“The end of the Hinrunde and this past week’s German Cup matches rounded off an action packed and interesting calendar year in German football. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were the Bundesliga’s most talked about and dominant teams while Germany made all the headlines in the summer (some good, some bad) with their record breaking run of games and the contentious loss to Italy at the EUROs. collected some of the most interesting stats of 2012 in the Bundesliga, ranging from the fastest goal scored, the quickest sending off, the most fouled players and much much more.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Book Review: The Long Way

“A week away from this season’s FA Cup third round, it seems appropriate to look back to A. E. Greb’s account of the 2011-12 competition, published in the Summer as an eBook, a collection of the blog posts which accompanied his ten month peregrinations and which concluded with Chelsea’s win over Liverpool in May (at this point I’ll admit that the result of that particular encounter had escaped me – and this from a boy who could at one point tell you all the showpiece occasion’s goal scorers between 1965 and 1996.)” thetwounfortunates

La Liga review: Malaga bounce back after UEFA ban

“On Sunday evening Real Madrid traveled to Malaga, with their opponents fresh of the news they will be banned from Europe next season for unpaid debts. Around an hour before kick off the baffling news broke that Iker Casillas, the club captain, had been dropped to the bench. This was the first time in ten years the goalkeeper failed to make the starting XI due to a technical decision.. The match got underway with the away side in control, but at half time it was 0-0, due to Ronaldo producing a good save from Willy Caballero, before missing an open goal. The second half was a different story as Malaga took control, and the recently crowned Golden Boy of 2012, Isco gave the home side the lead.” Think Football

World Soccer People of the Year: Herve Renard

“The man behind the most poignant football story of the year was once sacked by Cambridge United and spent several years getting up at three o’clock in the morning to take the rubbish out of buildings. Flamboyant Frenchman Herve Renard, the unlikely leader of the unlikeliest winners, had been a senior coach for only four years when he led a little-known Zambia squad of mainly home-based players to their first African Nations Cup title.” World Soccer

Venezia and Happy Endings?

“As with any city whose economy is reliant on tourism, Venice has a strange relationship with its visitors. The money that these bring is welcome but their presence – especially the noise and chaos they create – isn’t. Given that it once was a seat of power that controlled large parts of Europe, its current status as a piece of antiquity to be gawked at perhaps renders the tourists all the more irritating to the locals. Not all tourists are the same, however. Certainly not those who come with promises of restoring some of the city’s glory even if this comes through a football pitch.” In Bed With Maradona

Corinthians: brilliance in solidity

“Corinthians truly are the sum of their parts but they will need to buy themselves time inside Chelsea’s half to do justice to the nature of their football. Incision, precision and an ability to maintain shape both when attacking and defending are the identity of this side. Players are rotated, the formation is tweaked and yet coach Tite (pictured below) knows his game plan will be adhered to. Sitting pitchside in the October balm of the Joaquim Grava training-compound on the outskirts of São Paulo, Corinthians coach Tite knows what elements his team needs if it is to triumph against Chelsea two months later in Yokohama. In fact, Tite has been clear about this since, well, who knows: perhaps since his team’s July conquest of the Copa Libertadores which settled the identity of South America’s representative to be sent to the Club World Cup. Conceivably, it could even have been as far back as May when Corinthians’ participation was yet uncertain and Didier Drogba and Company conjured up an east-bound ticket from Munich. This is because, beyond the vagaries of micro-tinkering in the face of impending opponents, Corinthians know what they play at, and play it well.”

Lionel Messi finishes 2012 with 91st goal

“Lionel Messi concluded his record year with his 91st and final goal of 2012 in Barcelona’s 3-1 win at Valladolid on Saturday, which the team dedicated to ailing coach Tito Vilanova. Messi scored in the 59th minute by dribbling between a defender’s legs before making it 2-0 after Xavi Hernandez had opened the scoring two minutes before halftime. Barcelona’s players wore T-shirts before the game with messages of support for Vilanova, who had throat surgery to remove a second tumor in two years on Thursday.” ESPN

Liverpool demolishes Fulham 4-0

“Liverpool winger Stewart Downing had a rare day to remember at Anfield as his first Premier League goal for the club wrapped up a comfortable victory. Only last week the England international had said he may leave Liverpool next month after manager Brendan Rodgers said he could go. If that was the incentive to put himself in the shop window it worked as he registered his first league assist in setting up Steven Gerrard — after Martin Skrtel’s opener — and capped his performance with a goal of his own before Luis Suarez added an injury-time fourth.” ESPN

The re-invention of Catenaccio: The evolution of defensive tactics

“Attack, Attack, Attack. As the tireless cliché goes: football is an art form – creative and elegant. That’s what we want it to be, anyway. Never have football teams been so heavily criticised if they didn’t exhibit The Beautiful Game in its glorious entirety. It seems passes are being praised more than goals. And as for the appreciation for a solid tackle? – You may just earn yourself a yellow card for applauding it. Football is a changed sport. A more frantic, frenzied game. Complete reverence to forward play, along with, what seems almost like, a disregard to the defensive side. In 2009 only two, of the thirty two teams in the Champions League group stages, managed to keep their average number of shots conceded per game below 10. Disregard.” Think Football

Tactics for Beginners – No. 6

“A new found fluidity. We talked about stretching and squeezing space when in and out of possession, and I can see how the front and back players can do this by pushing up, dropping back, and pulling out wide. But being in the middle, aren’t the midfield limited in how much they can stretch and squeeze space?” Tomkins Times

2012-13 Scottish Premier League

“This post is a continuation of my recent new category, ‘Eng-Map/Attendance/Kit Badges’, which is now called ‘Engl. & Scot. – Map/Attendance/Kit Badges’. I decided to open up the category to include Scottish clubs because in my first post in this category, {which was on the 2012-13 Premier League here}, I mentioned Celtic and Rangers right off the bat (in the third paragraph in the above link). And I don’t have any other category which includes both English and Scottish clubs, so I thought I should have at least one. The essence of this style of map is the depiction of facsimiles of each club’s current home jersey badges, and those badge-facsimiles can be seen at the top of the map page (with the clubs placed in alphabetical order). From Historical Football Kits, ‘Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League 2012 – 2013 [the kits of all 12 Scottish Premier League clubs]‘. billsportsmaps

Sturridge not the answer for Liverpool

“There were gasps of surprise the country over when last week’s Premier League results came in and Aston Villa had won 3-1 at Anfield, but it was just further proof that Liverpool are currently a club in transition. People seemed to assume when Brendan Rodgers came that he was going to turn it around instantly – that just isn’t realistic. He’s got a young team and I think the players and fans need to have maximum patience at the moment – there’s no quick overnight fix. A match against notoriously poor travellers Fulham this weekend, therefore, comes at a very useful time for Brendan & Co.” ESPN

Germany in 2012: Near misses in Europe, domestic brilliance

“It was the year of broken dreams. First, Bayern Munich wrote nine out 10 chapters of their own fairy tale, before running into a horror twist at the very end: losing the Champions League final, in its own stadium, against an ultra-defensive Chelsea, on penalties. A month later, it was Germany’s turn to get it all wrong against Italy in the Euro semifinals. In purely domestic terms, however, German football shone.” SI

Madrid-United the gem of Champions League Round of 16

“A dramatic Champions League Round of 16 draw was made Thursday morning in Nyon, Switzerland, giving football lovers exciting matchups to look forward to in February and March. Part of the drama of drawing the eight pairings now comes from not knowing exactly how the teams will be playing when the games come along in eight weeks’ time: confidence, injuries and general form could all change the picture between now and then. Not to mention the longer-than-usual three weeks between first and second legs. Here is a breakdown …” SI

Zenit St Petersburg take first confused steps away from prejudice

“Let’s imagine that fans of Sunderland (and I use the example purely because that is who I support), tiring of the constant churn of the transfer market, decide that enough is enough and they want their team to do things differently. They get together and hammer out a manifesto which they then post as an open letter to the club hierarchy. Among a number of points about the need for absolute commitment and an abhorrence of cheating, they suggest they would rather the club focused on local players.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

How 2012’s flops can turn things around in 2013

“From astonishing last-gasp title victories to historic international success stories, 2012 has been a fascinating year of football — but not everyone has enjoyed it. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have taken their performances to another level, but others will be pleased to see the back of this year. Here are 10 players who have underperformed in 2012 — and how they might turn their form around for 2013.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Barcelona 4-1 Atletico: Falcao’s opener wakes up Barca

FC Barcelona v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga
“Atletico started the match excellently, but still lost 4-1… Tito Vilanova chose Alexis Sanchez rather than David Villa on the left of his attack, and Adriano started rather than Daniel Alves at right-back. Despite the failure of the 4-4-2 at the Bernabeu, Diego Simeone again selected that system after Atletico’s 6-0 win over Deportivo last week. Miranda replaced Daniel Diaz at the back. Atletico started the game very nicely, staying compact, pushing up and restricting the number of chances Barcelona created – but eventually crumbled.” Zonal Marking

The football tactical trends of 2012
“In 1872, the 11 Queen’s Park players who made up the Scotland national side looked at the England team they were about to face in the first international fixture and decided they had to try something out of the ordinary. England were over a stone a man heavier and given the head-down charging that characterised the early game, that was a significant advantage. What Scotland had to do, it was decided, was to keep the ball away from England, to deny them possession and thus control the game.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

La Liga Review: Is the La Liga title race over already?
“After a thrilling weekend of La Liga action the title race may be over, but the chase for the top four, and the relegation battle are amazingly close. The big match of the weekend saw the top 2 face off, as Barcelona hosted Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp, and despite the away side taking the lead they eventually succumb to a 4-1 defeat. Colombian striker Falcao gave Atletico the lead in the 31st minute, before a terrific strike by Adriano, and a Sergio Busquets goal gave Barcelona a halftime lead.In the second half the inevitable happened, and Lionel Messi netted a double to kill off any chance of a comeback, giving Barcelona a flattering 4-1 win.” Think Football (Video)

Corinthians 1-0 Chelsea: Corinthians disrupt Chelsea’s passing and pinch a scrappy goal

“Corinthians lifted the World Club Cup after a typical 1-0 win. Tite left out his number ten, Douglas, and instead selected Jorge Henrique to play a disciplined role on the right. Rafael Benitez moved David Luiz to centre-back with Branislav Ivanovic going to right-back. Frank Lampard and Ramires started in the middle, and Victor Moses was chosen over than Oscar. Chelsea had their chances – particularly late on – but overall Tite’s strategy was effective, particularly in a negative, spoiling sense.” Zonal Marking

New year brings new goals, perhaps new club for Drogba

” Timing a retirement is hard enough for anybody; for sportspeople, used to the rush of victory and the adulation of the crowd, to the routine of training and a preposterous income, and facing perhaps 60 years of post-playing life, it must seem almost impossibly daunting. In terms purely of narrative, Didier Drogba probably should have gone in May after the Champions League final. It seemed the perfect ending. He had been at the club eight years, and had been striving all that time for European glory. He’d been sent off in the 2008 Champions League final and banned for the ferocity of his protests after Chelsea had lost to Barcelona in the 2009 semifinal. Munich was his redemption. He headed the 88th-minute equaliszr and then rolled in the final penalty.” SI

Identity crisis: America’s dual nationalities face a tricky choice

“Fans of the United States national team have a tradition of eager impatience upon the release of the squad for any game. When the squad was named before their game against Russia last month there was general surprise to see the re-inclusion of Nuremberg’s Timmy Chandler, sparking the latest chapter in a raging debate about football and identity.” World Soccer

Eight Out of Work Managers Revisited

“The serious lack of imagination shown by Football League chairmen continues to fuel the managerial carousel. Almost three years ago, we were bemused by Paul Hart’s arrival at Crystal Palace while the likes of Alan Irvine, Brian Laws and Darren Ferguson played musical chairs. Two and a half years on and it’s Dougie Freedman, Mick McCarthy and Dave Jones making sideways moves, as well as Laws again. The message is – don’t be out of a job for too long or you’ll be viewed as yesterday’s man.” thetwounfortunates

Least Said, Soonest Mended: Brendan Rodgers, The Press & Liverpool’s Transition

“Pride, they say, comes before a fall, and for the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers there may be no greater fall this season than that which occurred at Anfield yesterday afternoon, as his team was outplayed by Aston Villa to bring to an end the feeling that Liverpool were, perhaps, finally starting to turn a corner this season. The starting point for making this claim hadn’t been particularly strong, though. Single goal wins against Southampton and Udinese were workmanlike rather than spectacular, whilst the late comeback which brought a win at West Ham United last weekend rather overlooked the fact that his team had already turned a one goal lead into a one goal deficit already that afternoon. Sometimes as a manager, the rub of the green will go your way and two goals in four minutes towards the end of last weekend’s trip to London – one of which was an own goal – was proof of this.” twohundredpercent

Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hamburg

“BAYER Leverkusen cruised to a victory over Hamburg this afternoon in the final round of 1. Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break. Goals from Stefan Kießling and André Schürrle gave the second-placed home side a deserved 2-0 half-time lead against their visitors, who struggled to get into the game. The away side’s players weren’t helped by the system being deployed by their coach, Thorsten Fink, with Leverkusen’s coaching duo Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä playing an extra man in midfield, and getting their players to pressurise the right areas of the pitch.” Defensive Midfielder

Mancini goes back to the future

“This was Roberto Mancini’s 2012 game plan against his 2010 tactics. A comprehensive win for his present against his past showed that while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it did not work for Alan Pardew. Before adopting his 4-2-2-2 formation, Mancini became known during his first full season in charge for fielding three defensive midfielders even though, with Yaya Toure in a more advanced role, it was actually only two.” ESPN

Bayern Munich 1 – 1 Borussia Mönchengladbach: Weathering Tropical Storm Bayern

“Bayern ushered in their latest presumptive Bundesliga title with all the fury of a tropical storm, only to have Borussia Mönchengladbach survive with a well-earned 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena. After Bayern’s 2-0 derby win over Augsburg last weekend, the Bavarians have been all but declared Bundesliga champions (and rightly fully so) for the 2012-2013 campaign, given the 11 point gap between them and Leverkusen, as well as the 14 point gap between them and Dortmund. However, if this final match of the Hinründe was Bayern’s early victory lap, it was uninspiring for Jupp Heynckes’ legendary side. Although Gladbach was “out everything” (shot, possessed, passed, etc.), they played a focused game, mostly limiting Bayern to middling-quality chances on goal. Particularly, Lucien Favre’s Die Fohlen were well-organized and coordinated with their two back lines of four. Gladbach’s got to be happy with their form: two wins and two draws in their last four of the Hinründe.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Liverpool 1 – 3 Aston Villa

“Aston Villa exposed Liverpool’s flaws and the flakiness of their challenge for a top-four place by inflicting the Reds’ worst home defeat for more than three years with a 3-1 win. Christian Benteke scored twice, either side of Andreas Weimann’s well-worked goal, before Steven Gerrard’s late consolation as the hosts’ three-match winning run was ended in surprising fashion. It was the first time Villa had scored more than once in any half of league football this season and extended their own unbeaten run to five matches, with only a second away win in 17 away league games.” ESPN

Messi’s Brilliance Transcends His Numbers

Levante UD vs FC Barcelona
“It was Pep Guardiola, the former manager of Barcelona, who once suggested that Lionel Messi should be observed instead of dissected. He is, after all, widely considered the world’s greatest soccer player, not a biology project. ‘Don’t try to write about him,’ Guardiola said. ‘Don’t try to describe him. Watch him.’ Last Sunday, Messi set an international record by scoring his 86th goal in a calendar year, for both Barcelona and the Argentine national team, delivering an average of one goal every four days, more frequently than a starting pitcher takes the mound, as often as Starbucks opens a new store in China. But Messi is best appreciated, Guardiola admonished, in the virtuosity of the moment, not against the backdrop of history and statistics. Soccer, like figure skating, demands art as much as sport. This is not baseball, where numbers mean so much that they seem to carry a moral weight. Soccer’s beauty is that it surpasses mathematics, or, in Barcelona’s case, conjures a sublime human geometry of triangular passing and movement.” NY Times

A Record 40 Years in the Making – Lionel Messi breaks Gerd Müller’s record
“It was a record most did not expect to be broken in their lifetime yet the history books have been rewritten by a player who just turned 25 this summer. Gerd Müller was 27 when he set a world record that remained untouched for 40 years and 16 minutes into Barcelona’s game against Betis Sevilla this weekend the prodigious Lionel Messi equalled Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year. Almost inevitably and with the sports world holding its collective breath, less than ten minutes later he broke it with the eventual match winner. Somewhere in Munich meanwhile a sixty-seven year old Gerd Müller nodded in approval, knowing that the torch had finally been passed on four decades later.” Bundesliga Fanatic

The Writer & The Economist: An Interview with Soccernomics’ Authors

“Two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to conduct a Skype interview with Simon Kuper (from Paris) and Stefan Szymaski (from Ann Arbor, Michigan). It couldn’t have been a better representation of how global soccer had become – me, being a recent convert and blogger through watching digital TV feeds from England, talking to men located halfway around the world who had grown up watching and writing about it for a living. What ensued was a nearly fifty minute conversation on all the topics covered in their latest edition of Soccernomics: how the partnership works so well between two writers from very different schools of writing, why the Moneyball approach failed at Liverpool, their thoughts on financial fair play, and how match data is transforming the game. They offered me a few insights into what they might include in the next edition of the book, as well as what they’re working on in the immediate future. They even gave me their thoughts on the Robin Van Persie situation at Arsenal and their predictions for the Champions League final and European Championships. In all, it is 7000 words of insight from two of the preeminent authors in soccer journalism today.” Forbes

Horncastle: Udinese’s dedicated lone away supporter against Sampdoria reveals turnout issues in Serie A

“Arrigo Brovedani walked alone so that his team Udinese didn’t have to when they played Sampdoria in Genova on Monday night. ‘Walked’ is used in a figurative sense here. Because Brovedani actually drove. ‘I just got in the car and went,’ he said, as if a 500km, five-hour trip from his home in Spilimbergo in the northeast corner of Italy near the Slovenian border, all the way across to Genoa in the northwest was like venturing out to the corner shop to get a carton of milk. In truth, Brovedani had to be there on business. He works for a wine company and had meetings to attend to in the area. That they just happened to coincide with an Udinese game couldn’t have turned out any better. As an away fan, obtaining a ticket without the much-maligned and controversial tessera del tifoso identity card wasn’t easy. Many would rather not go and watch football than get one and forego their civil liberties and be treated with suspicion. Yet Brovedani was undaunted.” The Score

The forgotten story of … Heleno de Freitas

“For most in Brazil, what happened in the Rasunda Stadium in 1958 was a gleeful affirmation of what they had always known. They were the world’s great football nation and beating the hosts, Sweden, in the final was vindication after the trauma of the defeat to Uruguay in the Maracanã eight years earlier. In an asylum in Barbacena in the state of Minas Gerais, patients clustered anxiously round a radio as the game entered the final minute. A cross came over, Pelé rose and made it 5-2: the world title was confirmed. Patients and staff celebrated together – all except one. In his room, alone, Heleno de Freitas filled his mouth with cigarettes, lit them all and tried to smoke himself to death.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Heleno de Freitas
“Heleno de Freitas, nicknamed Prince Cursed, (born 12 February 1920 in São João Nepomuceno, Brazil; died 8 November 1959 in Barbacena) was a Brazilian footballer. The striker spent most of his career with Botafogo, scoring 209 goals for the club, most with his head. In 1948 he transferred to Boca Juniors in Argentina, but returned to Brazil the following year, winning the 1949 Campeonato Carioca with Vasco. He ended his career with América in Rio, he played only one match for the club and it was the first and last game in the Maracanã. He died in 1959 in a sanatorium in Barbacena.” Wikipedia

Inter 2-1 Napoli: Cassano & Insigne the key men but Guarin provides the most important contributions

“Inter leapfrogged Napoli and into second place in Serie A. Andrea Stramaccioni was without Walter Samuel, so moved Esteban Cambiasso into the centre of defence. Walter Mazzarri brought Christian Maggio back into the starting line-up, but otherwise named an unchanged side. This was a good, open game of football – Inter stormed into a 2-0 lead and although Napoli fought back, they couldn’t quite find an equaliser, partly thanks to some fine Inter defending.” Zonal Marking

Roma 4-2 Fiorentina: Roma attack three v three

“An extraordinarily open game at the Stadio Olimpico. Zdenek Zeman named an unchanged side from the XI which defeated Siena 3-1, which meant Daniele De Rossi was only on the bench after his return from suspension. Vincenzo Montella was without two key players – Stevan Jovetic and David Pizarro. Adem Ljajic was also out, so Montella surprisingly named Juan Cuadrado as a support striker behind Luca Toni, bringing in Mattia Cassano on the right. Ruben Oliveira replaced Pizarro at the bottom of the midfield. 4-2 wasn’t unfair, but a better reflection of the match would have been 7-4…” Zonal Marking

The rise and fall of the great British football comic

“In a number of areas, British comics are enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment. There are a slew of intelligent and inventive indie comics creators, particularly working in the autobiographical field, in print and online. British writers and artists are again among the foremost talents pushing the envelope in the mainstream superhero field. And even 2000 AD is going through a fresh purple patch of critical acclaim and publicity for both the weekly comic, and the cult hit Dredd movie adaptation.” New Statesman

Winning Over The World

“It says something about Egypt’s political scene, and something else besides, that the most popular authority figure in the nation at present was born in New Jersey. That would be Bob Bradley, the former Princeton star and U.S. Men’s National Team manager whose Egyptian national team currently sits atop of its World Cup qualifying group. Under Bradley’s leadership, the seven-time African champions appear headed to Brazil in 2014. In a country that’s currently not enamored of most people in positions of power, this has made Bradley both popular and the most visible American coach in the international soccer world.” The Classical

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United: possession versus counter-attack

Manchester City Manchester united
“Manchester United stormed into a 0-2 lead, City got it back to 2-2, then United pinched the win very late on. Roberto Mancini went with Mario Balotelli upfront rather than Carlos Tevez – the rest of his side was as expected. Antonio Valencia was surprisingly declared fit, so Sir Alex Ferguson chose the same XI he selected in United’s most comparable fixture this season, the 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge in October. In one sense United were fortunate to win the match because of the manner of their late winner, in another they were unfortunate not to be 3-0 up earlier in the second half. In a match of contrasting approaches, United carried out theirs more effectively.” Zonal Marking

Manchester City 2 Manchester United 3: match report
“Samir Nasri would be advised not to show his face around Manchester City fans’ haunts for a few days after failing to show his face when it mattered most in this epic derby. Embarrassingly and expensively, Nasri hid behind the wall, opening space for Robin van Persie’s winning free-kick. Such key moments can unlock trophy cabinets. Trailing 2-0 at the break, the champions had rallied impressively. Halfway through four minutes of added time, City just had to repel a free-kick to protect their 37-game unbeaten league home record, to ensure United were only three points clear. City’s wall was initially a gang of four. Gareth Barry and Edin Dzeko, the taller players, protected Joe Hart’s near post. Then came Nasri and Carlos Tévez, who suddenly broke away from the wall, seemingly to follow Wayne Rooney. And then there were three.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Manchester United’s fast breakaways down flanks cut City wide open
“In an age where squad rotation is widespread, it is entirely normal for a title-challenging manager to chop and change between matches, but rarely have Sir Alex Ferguson’s selection decisions caused such consternation among Manchester United fans. Too often this season, United have conceded the first goal and been forced to win the match from the bench – here, Ferguson needed to get his starting lineup right. His selection made sense – he turned to the XI he used at Chelsea in October, a decision made possible by Antonio Valencia’s surprise recovery from injury. That was a sign he wanted to replicate the display at Stamford Bridge, which was sealed by a fortunate goal, but featured some fantastic counterattacking throughout the match, with an obvious pattern. Chelsea were flooding the centre of the pitch under Roberto Di Matteo, so United broke quickly down the flanks, particularly the right.” Guardian – Michael Cox

Robin van Persie scores late winner as Manchester United beat City
“It was the kind of tempestuous finale that has come to symbolise these clashes and, out of the madness, Manchester United will cherish their six-point lead over the team that caused them so many hardships last season. But where to start? The final whistle alone felt like bedlam, with Carlos Tevez and Sir Alex Ferguson contemplating whether to prolong an old argument, Gareth Barry screaming at Roberto Mancini, Rio Ferdinand nursing a line of blood above his left eye and Phil Jones, already booked for inciting the crowd, determined to milk the moment some more.” Guardian (Video)

Man City 2 Man United 3
“There is Wayne Rooney, who became the youngest player to hit 150 Premier League goals, as he put his team two up in the first half. And there is the irrepressible Robin van Persie, whose 14th of the season won a fantastic game after City had threatened a Mission: Impossible comeback.” The Sun (Video)

Barcelona’s bogey team?

“Celtic made waves across Europe with their Champions League group stage win over Barcelona. While the result was a notable upset, it was in keeping with the Catalan side’s decidedly average record against teams from Scotland. Curiously, in 18 contests Barca have won six, drawn five and now lost seven against Scottish opposition. The Bhoys’ recent triumph was their second against the side from the Nou Camp, following on from a first-leg win in the 2003/04 UEFA Cup which helped them progress to the last eight of the competition. Back in season 1960/61 meanwhile, Hibernian’s 3-2 victory at Easter Road clinched a 7-6 aggregate win in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup quarter-finals. However, when it comes to taming Barcelona, one Scottish team have a record that many bigger clubs can only dream of.” World Soccer

Reds take an important step

“No Luis Suarez but, ultimately, no problem for Liverpool. Despite the absence of their most influential player and top scorer, Brendan Rodgers’ side proved capable of not only scoring more than two goals in a game for only the third game in the league this season but also coming from behind for the first time. Yet, although that impressive comeback puts them back into the top half and just four points off the Champions League places, it’s still hard to say where they actually are as a team. Was this win an illustration of the kind of progress Brendan Rodgers has been preaching about or a mere aberration borne of a series of oddities at Upton Park?” ESPN

The Importance of Lucas Leiva
“This writer must confess, Lucas Leiva has never been his favorite Liverpool player. The Brazilian is articulate, tidy, and one of the best holding midfielders in the world. Still, my eye is shallowly drawn to flashes of genius, readily shown by those who have the luxury of playing high up field where every twist and turn could lead to a goal. It’s only natural, I tell myself. Amongst all the excitement of watching Luis Suarez twist and turn three defenders it’s quite easy to forget how much easier the Uruguayan’s job, and those of his teammates, is made easier by the Lucas’ presence. It’s all the more shameful because this writer has long considered himself too smart to be fooled by the myth of Brazil’s jogo bonito. The Seleção figured out long ago that the only way creative players flourish is with a strong base behind them. The true keys to World Cup success have always lain with players such as Gilberto Silva or Dunga. Hardly carthorses but players that excelled at the less glamorous part of the game. Still Lucas is overlooked. For shame.” EPL Talk

La Liga: Real Betis 1-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

“Barcelona had to dig deep to hold off the challenge of Real Betis and maintain their six-point lead at the top of La Liga ahead of next week’s clash with second-place Atletico Madrid. Barcelona had to dig deep to hold off the challenge of Real Betis and maintain their six-point lead at the top of La Liga ahead of next week’s clash with second-place Atletico Madrid. A brace from Lionel Messi not only ensured the Argentine’s place in history as the most prolific scorer in any given calendar year, but also secured the three points for the visitors who were forced to ride their luck at times after Ruben Castro pulled a goal back before half-time.” Barca Blaugranes

In Defence Of The Europa League

“Somebody’s got to say it. The Champions League is, for all the quality of football on show, a bit ‘same old, same old.’ Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, blah, blah… Oh, and Chelsea… usually. The Europa League, for all empty seats on show until its very latest stages, has more of the unpredictability of a genuine cup competition, even if the Iberian Peninsula is beginning to dominate those later stages.” twohundredpercent

Tactical Analysis: Is the role of the striker dying out?

“At the mention of Pele, Puskas, Muller and Eusébio, you instinctively think ‘goals’. They were both great goal scorers, and scorers of great goals. They lit up world stages, influenced generations, tormented defenders and forged an image of lethality at the mention of the word ‘striker’. You might even mistake them for hit-men; they were that feared. They are so well known, well remembered and well documented that it would be almost impossible to imagine football history without them. There would be a gaping hole in the Annals of football if we neglected them and their feats. But is it time that we overlook these types of players?” Think Football

Is Bayern Munich ready to ascend to Champions League winner?

“Bayern Munich made it a historic clean sweep of top-of-the-group finishes for the three Bundesliga sides in the Champions League with a 4-1 win over BATE Borisov on Wednesday. On Thursday, Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover and Mönchengladbach all qualified for the next stage of the Europa League. That’s another first: Germany’s top flight has never had seven teams involved at the international stage after the winter break.” SI

Mediocre Manchesters?

“On Sunday, Manchester United will make the short trip to Etihad Stadium for the Premier League’s most eagerly anticipated fixture. A local derby, 1st versus 2nd last season and 2nd versus 1st so far in 2012/13. How could this meeting be any better? Well, it would be improved if either were a good team – in the true sense of the word ‘team’. Not simply a collection of outstanding individuals but instead an XI comprised of like-minded players with mutual understanding, featuring reliable partnerships across the pitch. For a clash between the top two, the lack of identity, cohesion, framework and strategy from City and United is incredible.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Barcelona hopeful on Messi’s knee; Chelsea makes dubious history

“Lionel Messi picked up an injury while Chelsea made horrible history as the Champions League group stages concluded Wednesday night … 1. Messi injury spoils Barcelona’s night. What started as an irrelevant match for the Catalans took on an alarming importance as Lionel Messi was taken off on a stretcher with what appeared to be a left knee injury near the end of a goalless draw with Benfica at Camp Nou. With qualification at the head of Group G already assured, Barcelona rested numerous first-teamers for the match, which the visitors dominated in the first half. But Messi came off the bench in the 58th minute. He twisted his knee trying to beat Benfica goalkeeper Artur in the 85th minute and looked in considerable pain.” SI

Commons touch takes Celtic into knockout stages

“A Kris Commons penalty nine minutes from time took Celtic FC into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 for the first time in five seasons as a narrow victory against FC Spartak Moskva secured second place in Group G. The Scottish champions kicked off level with SL Benfica on seven points but needing to better their Portuguese rivals’ result to go through for the first time since 2007/08. All looked promising when Gary Hooper fired them into a 21st-minute lead only for a delicate Ari chip to bring eliminated Spartak level before the break. With time running out, Celtic pushed for a winner and were rewarded when Giorgos Samaras was impeded by Marek Suchý, Commons smashing his spot kick in off the underside of the crossbar to earn a result that, combined with Benfica’s draw in Spain, sparked joyous scenes at the final whistle.” UEFA