Monthly Archives: January 2013

No North African side in the last eight

Algeria's Sofiane Feghouli and South Africa's Dean Furman
Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria
“Didier Drogba scored his first goal of the African Nations’ Cup to ensure Ivory Coast go into the quarterfinals on an unbeaten run in the competition. Their opponents in that match, Nigeria, and their place in the group was already decided but they surged back anyways from 2-0 down to draw level with Algeria. The group’s bottom-feeders left with their respect intact. Although Algeria failed to record a single win in the competition, similar to their 2010 World Cup, the much-talked about Sofiane Feghouli made his impact on the competition with a goal through a penalty and assist for Hilal Soudini. But Algeria’s disappointment was compounded with Tunisia’s exit which means that no North African team will play the quarter-finals of the 2013 ANC.” ESPN

Mali’s Seydou Keita hails ‘priceless hope’ brought to crisis-torn land
“For Mali, this is becoming a habit: win the first group game narrowly, lose to Ghana, do just enough in the third match to get through and set up a quarter-final against the hosts. What they did in Libreville a year ago, when they beat Gabon on penalties, they will have to do again on Saturday as they face a newly enthused South Africa in Durban.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Tiny Cape Verde is Africa Cup of Nations’ Cinderella story
“When Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes entered the press conference room in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, he found his team had gotten there before him. They were lined up on the dais behind the desk, bouncing up and down in glee as a African Football Confederation official sat sheepishly in the foreground, aware he had formalities to complete but unwilling to interrupt the jubilation. Defender Gege, wearing his shirt back to front, leapt on a chair and carried on dancing. Antunes, at 46 and a little too old for that sort of thing, initially looked a little uncomfortable but then, after some awkward shuffling, draped himself in the flag and began directing the celebrations. Usually, he directs planes.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Salomon Kalou, Ivory Coast eye missing Africa Cup of Nations title
“he Africa Cup of Nations has always been one of my favorite international tournaments, and for the first time it’s possible for fans in the U.S. to watch every game live easily and legally, thanks to ESPN3 picking up the rights. One of the biggest storylines is whether a remarkable generation of Ivory Coast players — Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and others — can finally get over the hump and win the tournament after falling short in each of the past four occasions.” SI


Galatasaray adds Sneijder, Drogba and intrigue

“You have to feel sympathy for Schalke fans this week. As they gathered around televisions to watch the Champions League second-round draw in December, they would have been content with a meeting against Galatasaray. There was the problematic trip ‘to hell’ to overcome, of course, but over two legs and looking at the two lineups, Schalke would have been confident of progression. But in the same week that Lewis Holtby’s transfer to Tottenham was brought forward, robbing Schalke of their inspirational attacking midfielder, Galatasaray completed one of the most remarkable double swoops in recent footballing history.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Galatasaray 2-1 Besiktas: Gala comfortably win the derby – now for Sneijder and Drogba
“Galatasaray outplayed Besiktas across the pitch – and were rarely troubled even after Felipe Melo’s red card. Fatih Terim was without right-back Emmanuel Eboue and left-sided midfielder Nordin Amrabat because of the Africa Cup of Nations, so played Sabri Sarioglu and Emre Colak. Johan Elmander started rather than Burak Yilmaz, and Wesley Sneijder was only on the bench. Samat Aybaba was forced to cope without striker Hugo Almeidia, which meant Filip Holosko was pushed upfront to play as a lone centre-forward, and Roberto Hilbert was moved forward to play on the right of midfield, perhaps to deal with Albert Riera. Mehmet Akgun made a rare appearance at right-back, while Gokhan Suzen came in at left-back.” Zonal Marking

Defining Relations

“Due to the forthcoming footballing encounter between France and Germany on February 6, which is part of the festivities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty ratified by France and Germany in 1963, this post will look at how relations between countries can be defined and shaped by treaties and agreements and if this is necessary at all.” Do not mention the war

‘Don’ Jupp and His Spanish Past

“Jupp Heynckes is one of the few people who probably has to employ a cleaning lady just for his trophy cabinet. Even as a professional footballer he has won almost every trophy there is in European football. The striker has scored most of his goals for the club that belongs to the city of his birth: Mönchengladbach. He scored 218 goals for Die Fohlen which combined with the 25 goals he scored for Hannover, where he spent three years, made him the third best goal scorer in the history of Bundesliga. Whilst being at Gladbach he won the German Bundesliga title for four times, the DFB-Pokal once and the UEFA Cup during the 1970s. He was also successful with the German National-team and can proudly call himself European Cup and World Cup champion.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Offsides, Part 1, Part 2

“Mirko Vučinić showed up to the first day of soccer season this summer with a mustache. It was a thin one, and it made him look like a character out of an Italian neorealist homage to the dignity of the working class—handsome and proud, and heroic because ultimately he is up against forces that are far too great for him to succeed. Vučinić is the starting striker for Juventus, Italy’s Serie A defending champion. To date, though, he may be most famous for dropping his shorts, placing them on his head, and running around the pitch in his underwear after he scored a goal in an international match against Switzerland in 2010. You likely wouldn’t see that in an Italian neorealist film. But that’s all right, because Vučinić isn’t Italian. He’s Montenegrin, and Montenegro has a story of its own.” The Paris Review – 1

Offsides, Part 2
“Like Savićević, the Croatian Zlatko Kranjčar, fifty-six, had been a successful, offensive-minded player in his day, and one who understood the importance of international soccer. Nearing the end of his career in 1990 at the age of thirty-four, Kranjčar captained Croatia’s first national game of its post-Yugoslavia era. As a coach he led the Croatian national team into the 2006 World Cup. He had experience, and a lot of it. When Savićević hired him in 2010 as Montenegro’s new manager, it was Kranjcar’s eighteenth year of coaching and his twentieth job.” The Paris Review – 2

Braga 1-2 Benfica: Lima stars on his return

“Benfica produced a fine away performance to preserve their unbeaten Liga Sagres record. Jose Peseiro was forced to use an inexperienced centre-back combination of Vincent Sasso and Max Haas. The rest of his side was roughly as expected. Jorge Jesus was without Oscar Cardozo and Ezequiel Garay. Lima started alone upfront, while Ola John was selected on the left of midfield. Braga weren’t outclassed and had some decent moments, but intelligent attacking play and swift counter-attacking meant Benfica deserved their victory.” Zonal Marking

The 2013 African Cup Of Nations: Seconds Outs, Round Two

“The 2013 AFCON is neither the first nor last international football tournament to have an, ahem, ‘disappointing’ opening round of group matches. But that has usually been down to teams’ fear of losing their first game, something which the laws of football say you must not do. In South Africa, even when the attitude wasn’t fearful, the football was mostly dreadful. The second round had to be better. Didn’t it?” twohundredpercent

Tiny Cape Verde is Africa Cup of Nations’ Cinderella story
“When Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes entered the press conference room in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, he found his team had gotten there before him. They were lined up on the dais behind the desk, bouncing up and down in glee as a African Football Confederation official sat sheepishly in the foreground, aware he had formalities to complete but unwilling to interrupt the jubilation.” SI – Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan Wilson

Salomon Kalou, Ivory Coast eye missing Africa Cup of Nations title
“The Africa Cup of Nations has always been one of my favorite international tournaments, and for the first time it’s possible for fans in the U.S. to watch every game live easily and legally, thanks to ESPN3 picking up the rights. One of the biggest storylines is whether a remarkable generation of Ivory Coast players — Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and others — can finally get over the hump and win the tournament after falling short in each of the past four occasions.” SI

Germany’s most bountiful scorer can’t sniff national team

“Not long ago, the German national team was so short of decent center forwards that manager Berti Vogts had to dig out a German grandmother for (Brazilian-born Leverkusen striker) Paolo Rink and personally intervene with the government to secure Sean Dundee’s fast-track naturalization — even if the South African ended up never wearing the White and Black.” SI

Roberto Martínez: The Most Overrated Coach In The Premier League?

“As someone who firmly believes that style is substance – at least in football, anyway – it feels slightly uncouth to question a manager so committed to doing things ‘the right way’. However, Wigan’s results under Roberto Martínez have been so underwhelming for so long that it seems only right to put him under the microscope. A charismatic and charming operator, Martínez has established a solid reputation for the way he educates players, fans and reporters alike. Managers the calibre of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are happy to loan him their youngsters, believing that he will train them intelligently and progress their development into capable first-teamers.” Think Football

Arsène’s austerity

“‘Spend some f****** money!’ Arsenal fans chanted as their team lost again last Sunday at Chelsea. The cry echoed around the world on Twitter. Its target, Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger, had heard the argument before. Wenger, now 63, arrived at Arsenal in 1996 and led the club for eight glorious seasons. He has since led them for eight inglorious ones. Arsenal have won no trophies since 2005, and now stand a miserable sixth in the Premier League. The Frenchman is becoming a figure of derision. Many fans complain that Wenger refuses to buy the expensive players who could compete with Chelsea, Manchester United, or Barcelona, even though Arsenal have £153.6m in cash, an unheard-of sum for a football club. (Management firm Deloitte estimated last year that Premier League clubs had cumulative debts of £2.4bn.) Supporters are urging him to buy before the winter ‘transfer window’ closes on Thursday. He stands accused of practising football’s version of austerity – at a club that looks a model of financial good health.” FT – Simon Kuper

‘Mourinho or us’ report raises issues about Real Madrid, media

” Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez walked into the room at 1:01 p.m., looked up at the hundred-strong pack of journalists, the TV cameras pointing his way, and positioned himself behind the microphone. Then he made an announcement: ‘I am,’ he said, ‘going to break my own rule.’ The story was about to become the story. And as it unraveled, there was a brief glimpse of power and politics; the entente cordial was broken, and a battle began.” SI

Goalkeeper scores spot-kick to save Zambia

“Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene netted a late penalty after Nigeria missed one against him in the first half to rescue the defending champions from defeat at the Africa Cup of Nations on Friday. The 1-1 draw at the Mbombela Stadium between the two heavyweights in Group C leaves both teams perilously placed without a win but still with a chance to grab a quarter-final place early next week.” Four Four Two

Dropping Drogba pays off on dark day for the continent
“Drastic changes have yielded dramatic results in the tournament so far and the Ivory Coast were the latest team to benefit from that. Sabrui Lamouchi took a massive gamble when he decided to drop the talismanic Didier Drogba to the bench and replace him with Lacina Troare, but his team now sit on the cusp of the quarterfinals as a result.” ESPN

Highlights: Zambia 1-1 Nigeria
ESPN – Highlights: Zambia 1-1 Nigeria (Video)

The Soaring Blue and Black Lions

“A short drive south of Rome is a rather curious city, so very Italian and yet in all of Italy there exists no other city like it. It is a city whose football club has never before gone beyond the third division and yet which has produced one of Italy’s greatest ever goalscorers and one of the jewels in Maradona’s Napoli. But if you haven’t heard of Latina and its blue and black lions, perhaps you soon will. The team is within touching distance of playing in Serie B for the very first time. Latina lies less than an hour south of Rome along the historic Via Appia and is a very atypical city; rich in history and yet less than 100 years old. Founded by the Benito Mussolini-led Fascist regime in 1932, it was first named Littoria (after the fascio littorio) and was a grand symbol of the regime’s nation building program.” In Bed With Maradona

Can Pep Guardiola transfer his tika-taka style of play to Bayern Munich?

“Bayern Munich officially announced last week that they had hired Pep Guardiola to manage the illustrious club next season. Bayern’s interest in Guardiola wasn’t a secret. Last June Sport-Bild cited news of a meeting between then-sporting director Christian Nerlinger and Pep’s brother and agent, Pere Guardiola. But the news has shocked many pundits in the UK, who believed (somewhat arrogantly)that Pep was destined for a job in the Premier League.” Think Football

Riots kill 27 after fans sentenced to death

“CAIRO — At least 27 people, including two soccer players and two policemen, are dead after angry relatives and residents rampaged through an Egyptian port city Saturday after a judge sentenced nearly two dozen soccer fans to death for involvement in deadly violence after a game last year. The violence in Port Said erupted after a judge sentenced 21 people to death in connection with the Feb. 1 soccer melee that killed 74 fans of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly team.” ESPN (Video)

An Ayre of confidence at Liverpool

“Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre is a man who believes slow and steady wins the race. His club have recently emerged as one of the Premier League’s form teams. Only the Manchester sides and Chelsea have gained more points since the beginning of December. Buoyed by the extra gear Daniel Sturridge has provided alongside the effervescent Luis Suarez, Liverpool has shaken off an inconsistent start to the season and are now just seven points off the Champions League places. Yet the lifelong Liverpool fan was reluctant to dream about the possibility.” ESPN

The 2013 African Cup Of Nations: The Group Matches, Round One

“Blimey. They could have warned us Mark Bright was a British Eurosport analyst for the ‘AFCON 2013’. With the first group games being largely turgid, Bright had a lot of gaps in the action to fill. He chose to do so with ‘y’know,’ – an ironic nervous tic when discussing tournament nerves. He rattled them off at ten-to-the-dozen at first, eventually settling down to produce 178 during the 90 minutes plus stoppage time, although this was only 12 higher than Danny Mills, who also began with sentences which mostly were y’knows, before settling down to about two-per-minute. And if you think the football must have been bad for me to be able to count them, you’re right.” twohundredpercent

South Africa’s decline apparent as African Cup of Nations begins
“On June 24, 1995, South Africa won the rugby World Cup, a triumph detailed by the film Invictus. That was a remarkable triumph, and there is no decrying the symbolism of Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springboks shirt, delivering the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, black president and white captain united in achievement. This was the glorious moment at which the dream of the rainbow nation seemed achievable.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Roma 1-1 Inter: Bradley & Guarin sum up Serie A’s obsession drivers rather than creators

“A match that started strongly before fading in the second half. Zdenek Zeman didn’t feel Miralem Pjanic was 100% fit, so went for Alessandro Florenzi in the centre of midfield. Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni was without both Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito, so selected youngster Marko Livaja upfront. Juan Jesus, Yuto Nagatomo and Walter Gargano also returned to the side. The game was all about tempo – Roma looked very good in a frantic first 20 minutes, but as the game calmed down, it became more balanced.” Zonal Marking

Why Serie A has fallen out of love with the number ten

“Sunday night’s meeting between Roma and Inter was an underwhelming match. Despite being the most enticing fixture on paper of the Serie A weekend, the match drifted away after an exciting first 20 minutes, and ended as a scrappy 1-1 draw. However, the pattern of the game was interesting — it was played at a relatively slow tempo, interrupted by the occasional burst of sudden, end-to-end attacking. As both sides attempted to bypass the opposition defence quickly after half-time, the linesmen played as crucial a role as some of the players — there were 11 second-half offsides.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Valencia 0-5 Real Madrid: ruthless counter-attacking puts Real five up by half-time

“Real Madrid produced one of their finest performances under Jose Mourinho. Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde was without David Albelda and Joao Pereira, so Fernando Gago played a very deep midfield role, and Ricardo Costa was forced to move to right-back. Jose Mourinho named Fabio Coentrao rather than Marcelo at left-back alongside an unfamiliar centre-back combination, and selected Gonzalo Higuain upfront, possibly because of his excellent record against Valencia. Real utterly dominated the first half – they pressed well without the ball, and countered at incredible speed to produce a constant stream of goalscoring chances.” Zonal Marking

Statistical Analysis: How badly will Spurs miss Sandro?

“The new that Spurs midfield Sandro will be out for the rest of the season has come as a big blow for Spurs. Spurs coped well in their first game without Sandro, recording a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United. Many expect Spurs to sign someone, but with Parker filling in for Sandro on Sunday, can they cope in their absence?” Think Football

Liverpool 5 Norwich 0: In-Depth Tactical Analysis

“Both managers made some surprising decisions. For Liverpool, Rodgers selected Henderson on the left flank, in a very narrow role within what was a lopsided 4-2-3-1 shape. Because Reina’s clash with Kagawa in the previous match was more serious than first thought, the Spaniard had to undergo some nose surgery – so Jones started here instead. The other main surprise was to see Skrtel benched and Carragher starting. The rest was more or less as expected – Suarez playing just off Sturridge, Gerrard alongside Lucas in midfield and Wisdom continuing at right back.” Tomkins Times

Atlético Madrid’s facelift is complete. It’s time to take them seriously

Atletico Madrid
“Barcelona lost but no one said it; 24 hours later Real Madrid won, and brilliantly too, but still no one said it. Not this time. This time there was no Game On, no sign of the patented Crapping-yourself-ometer, no heebie-jeebies, no We’re Coming For You, and not one headline declaring: Hay Liga. Translation: There is [a] league. Perhaps because everyone agreed that there isn’t. There was a ‘We’re Back!’ but back where?  “The league hasn’t got closer in the slightest: there isn’t enough garlic in the whole of Spain for Barcelona to feel Real Madrid’s breath on the back of their necks,’ wrote David Gistau, speaking for pretty much everyone. Because here’s the bottom line: the gap is still 15 points.” Guardian

Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United: United stop Bale, but leave gaps elsewhere

“Tottenham finally managed a last-minute equaliser, after constant pressure throughout the majority of the game. Andre Villas-Boas used Scott Parker in the holding midfielder role, in place of the injured Sandro, who is expected to be out for the rest of the season. With Emmanuel Adebayor at the Africa Cup of Nations, Clint Dempsey played just behind Jermain Defoe, while Jan Vertonghen’s illness meant he was only on the bench.” Zonal Marking

Dempsey finally settling into Spurs role

“As Clint Dempsey finally managed to break through Manchester United’s stubborn defence on Sunday afternoon in Spurs’ 1-1 draw, the American wheeled away to the delighted home fans having scored his side’s decisive goal against the Red Devils for a second time this season. His 17 goals last season at Fulham won him a summer move to Tottenham. He may well be disappointed with a return of only five this season that has led a fair portion of the Spurs faithful to question the value of his signature.” ESPN

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal: Chelsea stronger in the first half, Arsenal better after the break

“Chelsea took charge with a commanding start to the game, then held on in the second half. Rafael Benitez was without Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel because of the Africa Cup of Nations, and David Luiz was injured. This meant Ramires and Frank Lampard was the only possible midfield duo, with three creators ahead. Fernando Torres surprisingly started upfront, rather than Demba Ba. Arsene Wenger was without wide forwards Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, as well as Mikel Arteta, so he started with the same XI that beat Swansea in the FA Cup in midweek. The game was all about the tempo of passing – Chelsea moved the ball quicker in the first half and dominated, then this suddenly dropped after half-time, allowing Arsenal back into the game.” Zonal Marking

Is there any way back for Harry Redknapp’s QPR?

“Wheeler dealer Harry Redknapp has been at it again at QPR. Last week he signed sought after striker Loic Remy, who scored on his debut at the weekend. QPR’s 1-1 draw with West Ham is the latest in a string of improved results under Redknapp, but with the club still rock bottom on 15 points, is there any way back for the club?” Think Football

Could the Old Firm ever compete across the border?

“The way forward for Scottish football is still somewhat blurred. League reconstruction talks have stalled while the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Premier League tear themselves apart from the inside. All parties agree change is needed, but that remains the only thing they can agree on. So considering the state of the Scottish game, is it time that Scotland’s two biggest and most supported clubs, Celtic and Rangers (known as the Old Firm), took care of themselves? Could a move to the Premier League finally come to pass? Ultimately, the chasm between the Old Firm and the rest of Scottish football is now unbridgeable.” ESPN

Africa Cup of Nations preview: Ivory Coast primed to fly or flop again

“Ah, Ivory Coast. As we approach kick-off in another Africa Cup of Nations, all we can say for sure is that it would be as foolish to back against Didier Drogba & Co as it would be cavalier to count on them. For the fifth time in a row the Elephants go into the tournament as one of the heaviest favourites, but this time no one will be surprised if they flop in timid or traumatic fashion. Bad luck and bad attitudes have been foremost among the factors that have led to seemingly the most gifted generation of Ivorian players losing the 2006 and 2012 Nations Cup finals on penalties and getting dumped out of the two tournaments between by opponents who turned out to be sharper and more balanced (Egypt in the 2008 semi-finals and Algeria in the 2010 quarter-finals).” Guardian

The African Cup Of Nations: Back So Soon?

“Whether it was a sign of maturity or resignation, it was good to hear so little moaning from Premier League clubs about losing African international players to Africa’s Cup of Nations, especially given the decision to move the biennial tournament away from World Cup finals’ years by holding tournaments in 2012 and 2013. But Premier League clubs have accepted their temporary depletion of playing resource with relatively good grace, with the minor kerfuffle over Tottenham’s Emanuel Adebayor down to the player’s selection uncertainties – the Togolese striker being dropped for criticism of the team’s management before being re-instated at the behest of their football federation chief.” twohundredpercent

African Cup of Nations Preview: Group D
“Group D: Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tunisia, Togo. This looks the most difficult group having been labelled the `Group of Death` by most football pundits. Ivory Coast, Algeria and Tunisia are all powerful football nations in Africa. Togo can’t be taken for granted either, they can boast of some talented footballers who can win games individually such as Adebayor. This is also a very tricky group and very difficult to predict, but I will be brave to make my prediction. I see Ivory Coast and Tunisia advancing from this group. Tunisia play as a team and most of their players play together in the local league. Ivory Coast have some of the best players in World football and will likely put in a strong showing again.” Think Football

Soviet giants have enjoyed mixed fortunes since the Iron Curtain fell

“The domestic football league of the old USSR was a vast, vibrant, and powerful competition, containing as it did clubs such as the Moscow giants Dynamo, Spartak, CSKA – and occasionally Torpedo – as well as influential teams from the republics, like the Dynamos of Kiev, Tbilisi, and Minsk. Evidently, the league would have been exceptionally strong and closely contested – it was so strong, in fact, that it rose to second place in UEFA’s league rankings.” World Soccer

Barcelona’s Valdes doesn’t deserve vitriol for leaving club

” Víctor Valdés is leaving Barcelona. On Thursday, the agent for the club’s longtime No. 1 goalkeeper released a statement through the Spanish news agency EFE announcing his “irrevocable decision” not to renew his contract with the club beyond summer 2014 when he will be 32. It is exactly a month since Barcelona announced that Xavi and Carles Puyol will finish their careers at the club, having signed new deals. Lionel Messi, too, signed an extension to 2018, when he will be 31. Valdés will not be following suit.” SI

Liverpool 5-0 Norwich City

“Norwich must be sick of the sight of striker Luis Suarez as he scored his seventh goal in three matches against them to help Liverpool return to winning ways. The Canaries’ nemesis, after hat-tricks in his previous two outings against them, struck the second after Jordan Henderson’s well-taken opener. New £12million signing Daniel Sturridge became the first Reds player since Ray Kennedy in 1974 to score in his first three matches before Steven Gerrard’s strike and Ryan Bennett’s own goal completed the rout.” ESPN

A Profile of Pep Guardiola: What Bayern Munich Can Expect from the New Boss

“Today’s announcement of Pep Guardiola as new Bayern München coach for the next season will most likely have every single Bayern fan dancing around their living room. To many it might come as a surprise, but to those of us lucky enough to have seen Guardiola rise from a young kid pushing for a place in Johan Cruyff’s Barça in the early 90s to one of the most successful coaches in football, it all makes sense.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Pep Guardiola confirmed as Bayern Munich coach on three-year deal
“Bayern Munich have announced that Pep Guardiola will become the club’s new coach when Jupp Heynckes’ contract expires this summer. Bayern revealed that Heynckes, 67, will stay on in his post until the end of this season before retiring, at which point the former Barcelona coach will take over on a deal that runs until June 2016.” Guardian

Directors of Football: The Case for the Defence

“Drectors of football have a pretty bad rep in English football – as illustrated by our article last week on their role at lower league clubs. There have also been plenty of inglorious appointments further up the tree, including Damien Comolli at Liverpool and Dennis Wise at Newcastle United. But there have been success stories. Nicky Hammond at Reading has been courted by Arsenal. West Bromwich Albion’s Dan Ashworth was poached by the FA. The latter’s replacement was appointed earlier this month; Richard Garlick has big boots to fill at The Hawthorns. But what factors have made the roles performed by Hammond and Ashworth a success?” thetwounfortunates

African Cup of Nations Preview: Group B, Group C

“Ghana, a power house in African football, are seen as clear favourites to top this group; whilst Mali and DR Congo also will probably contest the second qualifying slot. Niger can be classified as the underdogs as they don’t have the quality to match the other teams in this group, but in AFCON there is always room for a surprise. The game between Congo and Mali could prove crucial for both sides, who as stated will want to qualify second, behind an experienced and talented Ghana side.” Think Football

“Zambia are the defending champions going into the 2013 AFCON tournament, which will be their 16th appearances in the AFCON. Their unbelievable underdog victory against African footballing fiants Cote D’Ivoire last time round captured the imagination of football fans Worldwide, leaving many fans to wonder how the Zambians can fare in South Africa. On the 27th of April 1993, the Zambia national team were on their way to play Senegal in a World Cup qualifier when the plane crashed and killed all 18 players on board, plus the coach and backroom staff. That team was the best Zambia has ever had and potentially one of the greatest in African history.” Think Football


“It is the 24th of April 2000 in Argentina, and the turn of a new millennium has seen the continued upturn in fortunes of Club Atlético Excursionistas, a Primera C side who have racked up ten successive victories under director técnico Néstor Rapa. Sitting pretty at the top of the table, they have a home clash versus Club Comunicaciones at Pampa y Miñones, the 8,000 capacity ground that hides, camouflaged, in the Belgrano neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.” In Bed With Maradona

Reactive Rodgers

“It’s peculiar that a disappointing first half, followed by a positive showing after the break, is consistently regarded as a ‘promising’ display — even if it ends in defeat. Perhaps the improvement points the way forward for future matches, but is it any easier to recreate a second-half performance than a first-half performance?” ESPN – Michael Cox

A good blend of youth and experience is the key to success

“The Frank Lampard affair which seems all too likely to spill over into the John Terry and Ashley Cole contretemps brings into focus again the whole complex matter of age. Who is too old and who too young for success in a football team? It is that once elegant centre back for Scotland and Liverpool Alan Hansen who has told us on television ‘You’ll win nothing with kids’.” World Soccer – Brian Glanville

Ticket Prices And The Costs Of Having An Opinion

“Sixty-two, it would appear, may just be the magic number. It is starting to feel as if battle lines are being drawn in the ongoing debate over the extent to which ticket prices for matches have spiralled out of all control, and if last Sunday’s match between Arsenal and Manchester City was notable for anything in particular, then perhaps two stories to have followed in its aftermath have proved to be particularly instructive in terms of showing us who will be on whose side as the argument rumbles on. First up is the small matter of the deselection of the referee’s assistant who seemed to summarise the frustration that so many supporters are feeling at the moment over not only the issue of ticket prices, but also concerning the attitudes of the people that have been the chief beneficiaries of the money that has poured into the game over the last couple of decades or so: the players themselves.” twohundredpercent

Revisiting the Price of Football
“There comes a point in every football fan’s life when the “sod it, I’m not going moment” occurs. For some Manchester City fans, contributing £62 to Arsenal’s coffers was a step too far. For me, spending £25 to sit in a rickety away end at Brisbane Road on a cold December afternoon watching Exeter toil against an equally uninspiring Leyton Orient side proved beyond even my levels of tolerance and fanaticism. Despite the game being only a short ride away on the Central Line and no other plans, it was too much. I stayed at home. But this isn’t about Arsenal, or Manchester City, or even Leyton Orient (although if Barry Hearn really wants to attract locals away from West Ham, he might want to consider lowering his prices a little), no matter how much the debate has descended into partisanship. While it’s quite easy to pick examples of equally high prices at Arsenal or, say, Spurs, this obscures the real issue – that ticket prices in general are too high and, especially in an age of austerity, risk pricing out the next generation of fans.” twounfortunates

Ridiculous! Ticket prices are getting out of hand.. but it’s not just an Arsenal problem
“The best thing to happen this week has been the highlighting of ticket prices in football. Make no mistake – it’s not just an Arsenal issue even though this Sunday’s game with Manchester City has put it on the agenda. City returned 912 tickets – priced at £62 – from their allocation of 3,000 for the game at the Emirates. I must admit that I find that remarkable. That City fans are staying away from a crucial game against one of their biggest rivals in a game which has significance in the title race. Football is like a drug. Following your team is expensive but it’s also addictive. The other team not to sell out at the Emirates on a regular basis has been Wigan. Not a major shock as they have a small fan base. Newcastle didn’t either last month. They, like City, have some of the best and most passionate fans in the Premier League. But it was December 29, just after Christmas and three days after another costly trip to Manchester United. It is expensive being a football fan. Ridiculously so. It’s getting out of hand. And most bloggers, tweeters and supporters point to Arsenal as being one of the most expensive.” Mirror

The Question: Has 4-2-3-1 lost its gloss?

“Football, as Sir Alex Ferguson noted last week, moves in cycles. He was talking about clubs and nations, about how certain places suddenly produce a great generation of players, but it is true as well of formations and styles of play. After the rise of 4–2–3–1 to replace 4–4–2 as the world’s default, the backlash is well and truly under way. As so often, the key lies on the flanks. The history of football tactics is, to a large extent, the search for space and when the centre is crowded it is on the less crowded wings that the key battles are fought.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Man United survives battle of midfield; more EPL thoughts

“1. Packing the midfield. Soccer formations are easy. You have to have a goalkeeper. That’s obvious. Forget three center-backs; a four-man defense works best. It’s in the balance between midfield attack that some coaches grown confused. The answer is to pick a five-man midfield to ensure possession and a two-man attack to make sure that possession is not wasted. A team playing that formation would win nearly every game. Some might object that this would be because it had 12 players on the field, but that’s the sort of stupid quibble with which small minds react to paradigm-challenging genius.” SI

Arsenal’s problems go beyond referee’s borderline decision

“There was something refreshing about Arsene Wenger’s take on the red card shown to Laurent Koscielny nine minutes into Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday. For once — and this is a criticism directed at virtually all managers, not Wenger in particular — he didn’t take the easy way out and blame the referee. It would have been simple — justified up to a point, even — to say that the game had effectively been decided by Mike Dean’s decision to send Koscielny off. That the defender committed a foul by hauling Edin Dzeko down is beyond doubt, but there is a question as to whether Koscielny denied him a clear goal-scoring opportunity; Dzeko, after all, did not have control of the ball and would have had to bring it down before Wojciech Szczesny came to clear.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

African Cup of Nations 2013 Preview: Group A

“The Africa cup of nation which is the biggest football tournament in Africa, will kick off in South Africa from January 19th to February 10th 2013, promising to be an incredibly exciting tournament. As always the case at the AFCON, last year was filled with some beautiful football, great goals, drama and passion. Zambia surprisingly emerged as winners of the last edition after defeating favourites Ivory Coast in the final. The last time they reached the final was in 1994, just a year after 18 of their national team members died in a plane crash as they took off from the Gabonese capital Libreville. For Zambian football it was a devastating plane crash. Coincidentally last year final also took place in Gabon.” Think Football

Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool: United press

“Manchester United dominated the first hour, then hung on in the final stages. Sir Alex Ferguson named Danny Welbeck in his starting XI, with the out-of-form Antonio Valencia on the bench. Jonny Evans was out injured, so Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic played at the back. Brendan Rodgers kept Daniel Sturridge on the bench, preferring Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling. Liverpool fought back in the second half, but took too long to get going, and United dominated the majority of the game.” Zonal Marking

Benfica 2-2 Porto: four goals in the first twenty minutes, then Matic and Fernando dominate

“An absolutely crazy start was followed by a much cagier, quieter period – both sides retained their unbeaten record. Jorge Jesus selected Lima as his second striker, and Nico Gaitan rather than Ola John on the left of midfield. Vitor Pereira was without his outside-right James Rodriguez, a significant loss. In his place, midfielder Steven Defour played out of position. There were three distinct phases in this game – (1) a goal-crazy opening 20 minutes, (2) Porto dominance for the rest of the first half, (3) a stronger showing from Benfica after half-time.” Zonal Marking

Valencia 2-0 Sevilla: two Soldado goals from corners

“A disappointing game between two sides that have regressed over the past couple of seasons. Ernesto Valverde named an unchanged side from the XI that won at Granada last time out, which meant Andres Guardado continued at left-back. Michel also selected an unchanged side, from the 1-0 win over Osasuna. Valencia dominated the ball and eventually broke through – but really, this was a good demonstration of why the two sides have underachieved this season.” Zonal Marking

United add to Reds’ inferiority complex

Michael Carrick Manchester United
“Liverpool, mind the gap. They just can’t ignore it. After a match that suggested, at differing points, that the distance between them and Manchester United’s was as slender as the half a yard Nemanja Vidic had strayed offside when he touched in the league leaders’ winner or as large as the 61 points that have separated the two clubs over the past 18 months, Brendan Rodgers raised the subject.” ESPN

Van Persie edges striker duel
“Striker Robin van Persie came out on top in the battle of the Premier League’s top scorers as Manchester United emerged from a tricky test with a 2-1 win against arch-rivals Liverpool. The Holland international continued his remarkable scoring spree with a close-range effort in the first half which was doubled after the break by Nemanja Vidic. Liverpool substitute Daniel Sturridge overshadowed team-mate Luis Suarez, who began the day one behind Van Persie on 15 top-flight goals for the season, by marking his league debut for his new club with a second goal in as many matches and had a chance to snatch a point late on, but United held on, if somewhat unconvincingly.” ESPN

Obliging Liverpool leave United’s Michael Carrick to rule the roost
“Perhaps Brendan Rodgers should have been more audacious from the start. There’s no exact science, nobody could say for absolute certain that the outcome would have been different, but then you think back to how timid Liverpool were in the first half and it’s tempting to wonder what might have happened if they had shown even a touch more ambition. It’s true, as Rodgers said, they can be encouraged by those parts of the game when Manchester United suddenly looked a little vulnerable and the crowd was starting to get restless. But sporadic glimpses are not enough.” Guardian

Robin van Persie gives Manchester United superiority over Liverpool
“English football’s most illustrious rivalry produced yet more regrets at Old Trafford but this time they originated from a wildly fluctuating contest only. It must be progress. Brendan Rodgers rued Liverpool’s failure to turn up until the second half and Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United’s inability to score ‘three or four’ when strolling in the ascendancy. Ferguson, at least, had the consolation of inching closer to title No20 at the expense of his fiercest foe.” Guardian

Barcelona set points record as Lionel Messi scores in win at Málaga

“Barcelona, the unbeaten leaders, ended the first half of the La Liga season with a record 55 out of a possible 57 points when Lionel Messi scored one goal and had a hand in two more in a 3-1 win at Málaga. An 18th victory in 19 games for Tito Vilanova’s side restored their 11-point lead over second-placed Atlético Madrid, who secured a 10th win in 10 home matches this season with a 2-0 success against Real Zaragoza.” Guardian

Barca – 3, Malaga – 1
“Barca continued with their excellent start of the season with a well fought 3-1 victory against Malaga away from home. At the half stage of the season, we now have a huge 55 points out of 57 points. We have won all our away games this season in La Liga. Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the first half, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago completed teh scoreline for Barca. With Villa ruled out due to injury, Tito went with a front three of Messi, Pedro and Iniesta. Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Busquets made the midfield. Alba, Pique, Mascherano and Alves made up the defense. Pinto, Puyol, Adriano, Song, Thiago, Sanchez and Tello made up the bench.” All About FC Barcelona

Die Dritte Nationalmannschaft

“Most football fans can recall two German national teams, East and West, participating on the international stage prior to the demolition of the Berlin Wall. But, for a while, a third German national team existed. In modern Germany, Saarland is a small federal state along the border of France and Luxembourg. In the past, the political identity of this state has been the cause of a tug-of-war between France and Germany. After World War II, Saarland came under the administration and jurisdiction of France as the Saar Protectorate. Its highly valuable coal industry was one of the reasons why the French government showed great interest in the area. During this period, Saarland had its independent political identity and its own constitution and between 1950 and 1954, it was accredited by FIFA as a separate footballing nation.” In Bed With Maradona

Football Book Review: Behind the Curtain by Jonathan Wilson

“In this book, Wilson tackles the perennial question of why Eastern European football isn’t very competitive with Western European, both at the club and national levels. Some things have changed since its publication in 2006, but, in general, the nations discussed—Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia—are still in the situation he describes. At 300 pages, it is not an in-depth history of football in any of these countries, not by any means, but it gives the reader an overview of football during the communist era and in the first fifteen years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the title suggests, it’s a travelogue. He discusses matches he’s seen and people he’s interviewed as a football journalist and puts them into the greater historical context.” Bundesliga Fanatic

“When Jonathan Wilson entered Partizan stadium in Belgrade, he was frisked so efficiently that the police even took his Lemsip. That didn’t diminish his passion for the former Yugoslavia, an obsession that he blames on cold war spy movies and childhood holidays in Montenegro. Since then, he has huddled in brutalist football grounds from Slovenia to Azerbaijan, Sofia to St Petersburg, watching innumerable matches while working as a correspondent for a now-defunct website and the Financial Times. Behind the Curtain recounts his travels and gives a little footballing history of each country, focusing on prominent clubs or memorable incidents. Wilson obviously retains a particular affinity with the Serbs: he writes an unusually sensitive character sketch of Sinisa Mihajlovic, one of the most reviled men in European football, and even admits a sneaking warmth for the Delije, the hooligans closely associated with Arkan.” Guardian

“It was Christmas Eve and all through the house, nothing was stirring – because everyone had eaten too much barszcz, carp and cake during Wigilia dinner. When the time came to look under the Christmas tree for presents, little Decoy’s eyes lit up, as he saw what Santa Claus had brought. Mikołaj knew that Decoy liked reading books and also liked football, so it was a pleasant surprise to see books about football wrapped up neatly. One of the books received was ‘Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football’ by Jonathan Wilson. Wilson is a football journalist who writes for Sports Illustrated and the UK-based newspapers The Independent and The Guardian. He specialises in writing about football tactics and also football based in ‘Eastern’ Europe – i.e. those countries lying behind the Iron Curtain before 1989/90. His articles analysing tactical nuances on the Guardian website prove particularly popular with readers there.” Polandian

8/26/2012 – Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football – amazon

The Champions League’s Effect On Lower League Attendances

“Furthering the figures I had for Oldham and Brentford the other week, I wanted to extend the figures out to cover a larger number of teams. After a lot of weighing up either way and looking at the numbers, I elected to avoid teams that had been in Tier 2 in my timespan (because the figures would end up being skewed by the visits of ‘bigger’ teams – there’s already an element of that with Leeds, Norwich and Southampton having toured League One, but it would really fill out the spaces if I included Championship teams).” From Inside Right?

How have Spanish players contributed to Swansea’s success this season?

“Neighbouring England, in the west is a small country called Spain. Wait, that’s not quite right. It’s Wales. With a look at the Swansea team sheet that could be a warranted mistake. There is yet another evolution taking place in South Wales: with Brendan Rodgers’ legacy a platform that has seemingly been neglected to build upon, Michael Laudrup is stamping his authority on the team and club as a whole. Swansea are even more exciting, effervescent and ambitious than ever before.” Think Football

PSG, Lyon, Marseille lead Ligue 1 fight

Lucas Moura
“Last season in Ligue Un, Paris Saint-Germain began as clear favourites. Spending half the money in the world will have that effect. But as it turned out, the well-drilled, tight-knit club in Montpellier proved superior; their small squad’s morale had an alchemic effect on players such as John Utaka, while at the same time Olivier Giroud and Younes Belhanda were revelatory. Montpellier deserved their title but without them — and without Giroud — the standard in Ligue Un meant that this season, few predicted anything other than a PSG victory. Given they had signed Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was safe to assume that their quality, regardless of form, would carry them to the title if the remainder of the league remained as poor.” ESPN

Will Man City take a negative approach (again) vs. Arsenal?

“Recent matches between the Premier League’s big clubs have often been goalfests, but Manchester City’s trips to Arsenal in recent seasons have been dreadfully dull. Roberto Mancini has always played remarkably defensive football, and his side haven’t registered a goal in three attempts at the Emirates. The 0-0 draw in April 2010 is a contender for the most underwhelming Premier League game of recent years: Arsenal’s title challenge had collapsed dramatically and motivation had vanished, while City made no attempt to win the game. Mancini was content to play out a goalless draw, confident his side would defeat Tottenham to secure a Champions League place — although that plan eventually backfired.” ESPN – Michael Cox

High-five: No Messi, no problem

“Barcelona achieved a solid 5-0 win against Cordoba Thursday in the return leg of the Last 16 round of the Copa Del Rey. David Villa and Alexis Sanchez (braces) and Thiago scored for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 63 percent of possession and attempted 20 shots, 12 on target and one that hit the post. The Blaugranas qualified for the quarterfinals, where Malaga awaits, with an aggregate 7-0 victory.” ESPN

Beautiful Games: nostalgic paintings by Paine Proffitt

“In the latest part of our weekly series we bring you the work of American artist Paine Proffitt. Since moving to England 10 years ago, Proffitt has focused on portraying working man’s life. ‘Football is central to who we are and where we come from,’ he said. Proffitt’s paintings are inspired in part by surrealism and cubism, and are created using layers of acrylic on canvas. The colour and texture is steadily built up over a period of several days before the details, collage elements and lettering are added. Proffitt was commissioned last season to produce the cover artwork for West Bromwich Albion’s programmes and is this season working with Port Vale and Aberdeen.” Guardian

Tactical Analysis: Do Arsenal need to sign a ‘natural’ defensive midfielder?

“Much talk has been made of Arsenal’s transfer options lately. M’Vila from Rennes has been consistently linked, with the club also constantly linked with strikers and attacking players. Whilst it is difficult to ascertain whether the club are going to get M’Vila, or even want him, the question remains, do Arsenal need to sign a defensive midfielder?” Think Football