In Ecuador, a Thriving Game and Prospects Galore

February 28, 2013

“It has been a difficult couple of weeks for teams named Barcelona in continental competition. Last Wednesday the Spanish version dropped a 2-0 decision to Milan in the Champions League. On Feb. 12 the Ecuadorean namesake — Barcelona Sporting Club — was denied three points in its Copa Libertadores opener when Nacional’s Álvaro Recoba set up Iván Alonso for a late equalizer in Montevideo, Uruguay. That Alonso’s goal came in the third minute of second-half stoppage time was not the worst part. Throughout the night there was a feeling Barcelona was not only going up against the Uruguayan champion, but the Chilean referee, Enrique Osses, as well.” NY Times (Video)

Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid: Real comfortable defensively and ruthless on the break

February 28, 2013

“Barcelona suffered their second major defeat within the space of a week, and Real are through to the Copa del Rey final. Jordi Roura brought in Jose Pinto for Victor Valdes in goal – as always in this competition. The rest of the side was the same as against Milan with both Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta in the side, despite David Villa’s impact against Sevilla at the weekend. Jose Mourinho chose Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos at centre-back, with Pepe on the bench. Gonzalo Higuain, as expected, started upfront. Real outplayed Barcelona. Their defensive shape was good, their breaks were typically direct and efficient. 3-1 didn’t flatter them.” Zonal Marking

Xavi is wrong: Barça have lost far more than the least important title
“Xabi Alonso took up his favourite position at the Camp Nou, easing into a seat in the stands and looking silently out across the pitch, feet up, job done. It was some time after Real Madrid had won the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg 3-1 against Barcelona, the clock ticking towards midnight, and the Camp Nou was quiet. The stadium had been emptying for a while, ever since Raphaël Varane headed Real Madrid’s third; by the time Jordi Alba scored Barcelona’s only goal in the 88th minute, there were not that many fans left to celebrate and those that were still there did not much feel like doing so.” Guardian

Bayern 1-0 Dortmund: Bayern dominate

February 28, 2013

“Arjen Robben’s superb goal won the game, but Bayern’s nine shots on target to Dortmund’s one demonstrates the home side’s overall dominance. Jupp Heynckes used the XI that triumphed over Arsenal last week, with one exception – Franck Ribery was out, so Robben started on the left. Daniel van Buyten was alongside Dante again. Jurgen Klopp was unable to call upon Mats Hummels, so Felipe Santana played alongside Neven Subotic. Kevin Grosskreutz got a start in midfield. This wasn’t a fascinating tactical battle, but Bayern were by far the better side – pressing well, mixing short intricate passing with longer balls, and featuring good variety and movement in the centre of midfield.” Zonal Marking

Bayern Munich finally gets over Dortmund hurdle in German Cup
” Robert Lewandowski, a reported Bayern Munich target, was the center of attention during Borussia Dortmund’s German Cup quarterfinal match at runaway league leader Bayern Munich. The Polish striker had a quiet game, however, much like his team: Dortmund was outplayed and outsmarted through large spells Wednesday night. The hosts could have easily won by a bigger margin, but it was fitting that Arjen Robben separated the sides with his beautiful first-half goal. Robben’s penalty miss against Dortmund in the 1-0 defeat at the Westfalenstadion sealed Borussia’s title win last year and rang in two more soul-destroying defeats in the Cup (Dortmund 5-2 win) and the Champions League (Chelsea win in penalties) finals.” SI

Tactical & Statistical Analysis: How has Steven Gerrard evolved under Brendan Rodgers?

February 28, 2013

“Steven Gerrard’s Premier League form tailed off a bit in the last two seasons under both Dalglish and Roy Hodgson. At 32 at the start of the season, some pundits may have been ready to write off Liverpool’s talismanic captain, but he has evolved under Brendan Rodgers and been a consistently good performer for the side this season.” Think Football

The day I realised just how difficult it is to be a Premier League referee

February 28, 2013

“Flags in hand, a group of wheezing scribes of questionable fitness are ‘crabbing’ their way left and right along the sideline of an indoor football pitch at St George’s Park, opulent home to the National Football Centre in Burton-on-Trent. As the verb suggests, the exercise involves shuttling sideways at speed in order to keep up with and constantly monitor play, while simultaneously providing a moving target for any projectiles that might be raining down from the crowd behind. The ability to ‘crab’ is an essential skill for any match official and one this reporter has since adopted to maximise efficiency while shopping in supermarkets that are long of aisle.” Guardian (Video)

Where Would Swansea be now with Paul Tisdale?

February 28, 2013

“Football is full of what ifs. What if Jonathan Howard’s “goal” for Chesterfield had been given against Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup final? What if Fergie had decided Cantona was too much of a risk to sign? What if Spurs’s chef had opted for a vegetarian curry instead of a lasagne before that game? And what if Paul Tisdale had taken the Swansea job…” thetwounfortunates

PSG 2-0 Marseille: PSG attack at speed, but fortunate to keep a clean sheet

February 26, 2013

“A closer game than the scoreline suggests. With injury problems in defence, Carlo Ancelotti named Sylvain Armand as his left-sided centre-back. David Beckham was on the bench. Élie Baup named an unchanged side from the XI that triumphed over Valenciennes last week. PSG’s four outright attackers combined effectively at times, but Marseille will feel they had enough chances to get something from the game.” Zonal Marking

Inter 1-1 Milan: Milan should have been out of sight by half-time

February 26, 2013

“Inter upped their performance after a terrible first-half display. Andrea Stramaccioni gave a rare start to Ricky Alvarez on the left, after his impressive performance against Cluj in midweek. Diego Milito is out for the season, so Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio started upfront together. Max Allegri made changes from the victory over Barcelona – Mario Balotelli, cup-tied in Europe, returned in place of Giampaolo Pazzini, while Riccardo Montolivo played in Massimo Ambrosini’s deep-lying role to allow Antonio Nocerino to play. Stramaccioni managed to alter things to get his side back into the game, but only Milan profligacy and another fine Samir Handanovic performance prevented the ‘away’ side from victory.” Zonal Markind

Gareth Bale the sensation who owes it all to Tottenham’s compact style

February 26, 2013

“Gareth Bale is playing brilliantly. He is quick and powerful, technically gifted and can strike the ball ferociously with his left foot. He self-consciously models himself on Cristiano Ronaldo and in terms of his drive for self-improvement and even his style of play, cutting in from the left flank, there is validity to comparisons between them.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

How Do We Solve A Problem Like Reina?

February 26, 2013

“Since the recent Symposium #7 (Should We Keep Pepe), there have been musings regarding Reina’s future at the club. Some say that he is a world class ‘keeper (on his day) and replacing him will be no guarantee of an upgrade. On the other hand, others have mentioned that his form has been dipping for three to four years now and it is more than a ‘blip’. Class is permanent, form is temporary, but for how long does that apply?” Tomkins Times

Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea: Chelsea stay deep, narrow and compact but City find a way through

February 26, 2013

“Chelsea played negatively, and afforded City too many goalscoring opportunities. Roberto Mancini surprisingly played Yaya Toure behind Sergio Aguero, a combination he’s rarely used this season. Jack Rodwell started alongside Javi Garcia, while Vincent Kompany wasn’t fit, so Kolo Toure started at the back. Rafael Benitez used Demba Ba instead of Fernando Torres. John Terry was on the bench, as were Cesar Azpilicueta and Oscar, with Branislav Ivanovic used at right-back and Ramires on the right of midfield. City dominated the first half but broke through in the second, after Mancini turned to his bench.” Zonal Marking

Case for the defence: Is Liverpool’s passing game a necessity?

February 26, 2013

“Since the beginning of the World Cup competitions in 1930 up until WC 2010, four football nations made it consistently to the finals; Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany. Any world cup final had at least one team of that quartet. Brazilian football fans lazily labelled their football rivals. The Germans, as a ruthless tasteless well-oiled machine, the anti-football counter-attacking Italians, the heirs of the “catenaccio,” which translates literally to “door-bolt.” The Argentinians were not kindly branded after Maradona’s televised admission of sedating Brazilian players in WC 90 and an open court admission of a political deal between Peru and Argentina in WC 78 to knock out Brazil from the semi-finals. On both occasions Argentina knocked out Brazil out of the competition.” Think Football

Where has Africa’s creativity gone?

February 24, 2013

“The former Cameroon captain Theophile Abega died in November, aged just 58. He was one of the great midfielders of what now seems a golden age of west African football; a period that lasted for about two decades, from the start of the 1980s, when it appeared that African teams might seriously challenge for the World Cup.” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson

La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 2, Sevilla 1 – Change Is Possible!

February 24, 2013

“Barça needed a pick-me-up after the painful Milan loss (and before Clásico week begins), and instead they got a hard-won victory, which points-wise amounts to the same, but not when it comes to reassure the worried fans. Roura has finally discovered rotations, and yesterday he indulged quite a bit, playing VV, Alves, Mascherano, Piqué, Montoya, Song, Thiago, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi and Villa. There were surprised comments from some non-Barça sources at seeing Piqué, Iniesta and Messi starting, but a) Messi always starts; b) it’s a Liga match against Sevilla, not a meaningless friendly where you can rest everyone; c) even in non-crucial matches before crucial matches, it’s always been the custom to play at least one ‘first XI’ player per line, so as to not lose shape completely.” The Offside (Video)

Tactical Analysis: Why are Manchester City so far off United?

February 24, 2013

“Manchester City are now 12 points behind leaders United and looking increasingly unlikely to retain their Premier League title. Their home game against Chelsea on Sunday could be crucial, but if United beat QPR on Saturday they could go in to the tie 15 points off the pace. So where has it gone wrong for Mancini and his side?” Think Football

4-4-2 Managers and 4-4-2 Fans

February 24, 2013

“If you, as a football fan, recognise the shortcomings of 4-4-2 (the system, not the magazine), then that leaves you a few genes short of being a ‘proper bloke’ and certainly unpatriotic in the extreme. Here, we welcome back John Dobson, a regular chronicler of Yorkshire football, to point out how fan pressure must not be allowed to hold sway at Bootham Crescent.” thetwounfortunates

England’s World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore: 20 years gone, but never forgotten

February 24, 2013

“Across town at Wembley, setting for Moore’s finest hours, the flag of St George will fly at half-mast. A skilled surgeon operated on Moore’s colon in 1991 but the cancer would not yield. It spread to the liver. Moore never complained. He simply set about delaying its pitiless impact. Eventually, on Feb 15, 1993, England’s World Cup-winning captain released a statement, revealing his illness was terminal. Two days later he was at Wembley, commentating on England’s game against San Marino for Capital Radio, his collar turned up to hide his paleness. A week later, on Feb 24, 1993, Moore passed away. He was only 51.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Milan 2-0 Barcelona: Barca completely nullified

February 24, 2013

“Milan restricted Barcelona to only one shot on target – a hopeful effort from 25 yards – and pounced at the other end with a set-piece and a counter-attack. Max Allegri was without cup-tied Mario Balotelli, so Giampaolo Pazzini played upfront. Kevin-Prince Boateng replaced M’Baye Niang on the right, and Max Ambrosini returned to the side. Jordi Roura selected what appears to be Barcelona’s first-choice XI – Alexis Sanchez and David Villa on the bench, and Cesc Fabregas in his roaming free role. Aside from Victor Valdes’ return, it was the same XI that started the recent Copa Clasico against Real Madrid. This was a highly impressive display from Milan, and arguably the most convincing defeat of Barcelona since the current era started in 2008.” Zonal Marking

Bayern Munich Have One Foot in Quarterfinals After First Ever Win in London Against Arsenal

February 21, 2013

“Bayern Munich took took a big step in sealing qualification to the quarterfinals with an impressive away win against Arsenal. It was Bayern’s first ever win in London and thoroughly deserved on the run of play. Germany’s record champions dominated the majority of the match and again showed why they are one of the favorites to lift the trophy come May. Goals from Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Mandzukic capped off a performance that further underlines just how focused and determined Bayern are to succeed this season, putting them firmly in the the driver’s seat in this tie. It took a fortuitous corner to get Arsenal back in the game in the second half with former Bayern player Lukas Podolski taking advantage of a rare lapse in concentration but the Bavarians gradually resumed control and didn’t let go until the final whistle.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Arsenal 1-3 Bayern: Arsenal outpassed and outpressed
“Bayern took a commanding lead following a dominant first leg performance. Arsene Wenger chose to leave out Olivier Giroud, using Theo Walcott as the primary striker with Santi Cazorla right and Aaron Ramsey in midfield. Left-back problems forced Thomas Vermaelen into that position. Jupp Heynckes was without Jerome Boateng and long-term injury victim Holger Badstuber, so Daniel van Buyten was forced to play at centre-back. Arsenal made another poor start at the Emirates, and despite a promising spell for Wenger’s side after the break, Bayern always looked the better side.” Zonal Marking

Comedy of errors leaves Arsenal with more questions to answer
“Realistically, Arsenal was never likely to beat a Bayern Munich side that is cruising to the Bundesliga title, but what Tuesday’s 3-1 Champions League loss might have offered was comfort. Yes, there was always the chance of an upset, but, realistically, a promising performance would have done, something that said, yes, this team isn’t perfect, but it is on the right track.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Arsenal 1-3 Bayern Munich: Tactical Analysis of a Bavarian Battering
“Arsenal succumbed to a damaging 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, leaving their hopes of advancing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals hanging by a thread. The Gunners enjoyed a 20-minute renaissance in the second half but only managed to carve out one real chance which fell to Olivier Giroud, and their consolatory goal was a product of a corner that shouldn’t have been awarded. Let’s take a look at how this game was won.” Bleacher Report

England should look to Germany for inspiration, coaches
“It would be unreasonable to use Bayern’s dismantling of Arsenal as sole evidence of the Bundesliga’s dominance over the Premier League, but among various other factors, it has become increasingly clear that Germany will imminently become European football’s true power base.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Arsenal put to the sword by Bayern Munich’s game intelligence
“At the stroke of half-time, Bayern Munich had the chance to go an unassailable three goals up instead of the 3-1 scoreline it eventually finished. The Germans had possession of the ball at the back before they quickly switched it forward to the on-rushing Philip Lahm. As the full-back picked up the ball, Jack Wilshere stretched his arms out as if to say ‘how did that happen.’ Bayern Munich might have felt the same sense of bewilderment when Mario Mandzukic flashed a header wide from Lahm’s cross.” Arsenal Column

Barca have Milan mountain to climb

February 21, 2013

“AC Milan took a surprise first-leg lead in their Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona as they claimed a deserved 2-0 win. While Barca top the Primera Division by 12 points, Milan lie third in Serie A – but Kevin-Prince Boateng’s controversial opening goal set the Italians on their way at the San Siro.” ESPN

Barcelona’s black night draws ire as warning signs are ignored in Milan
“Jordi Roura’s words were bullish but the way that he delivered them was not. ‘We have total conviction that in Barcelona we’ll go through,’ said Barcelona’s assistant coach. “This is a bad result but this team deserves for people to believe in it. We are completely convinced: we’ll be at home, with our pitch and our fans. It is not impossible: we can turn this around perfectly.” He spoke quietly, flatly; as flat as his team had been. Through the doors, he could surely hear Milan’s fans singing.” Guardian

Wesley Sneijder’s step into the past leaves questions for Galatasaray

February 21, 2013

“After all the excitement and all the hype, Galatasaray’s big night in the Champions League fell rather flat. A Schalke side that has been in dire recent form went to Istanbul as patsies in the great narrative of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. But from the point of view of the home fans, they showed themselves rather better than had been anticipated, exposing the flaws that exist in this Galatasaray side despite their recent injection of glamour.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Schalke raise questions over Drogba
“Schalke have announced they have lodged an appeal with UEFA after Didier Drogba was selected for Galatasaray in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in the Champions League. The club tweeted: ‘There are doubts about the validity of the permission to play for Drogba in the Champions League. Schalke 04 reserves its rights and is looking into this.’ Drogba, 34, joined the Turkish side in January after claiming his contract with Shanghai Shenhua had been terminated as a result of a failure to pay his wages for three months. The Chinese club issued a statement on their website describing themselves as ‘deeply shocked’ by the move.” ESPN

For Italy’s ‘ultras,’ nothing black and white about football and racism

February 21, 2013

“Hardcore Italian football ‘ultra’ Federico is a Lazio supporter who happily admits directing monkey chants at black players. It is ‘a means to distract opposition players’ says Federico, a member of the Irriducibili (‘The Unbeatables’) group which follows the Rome-based team. ‘I am against anyone who calls me a Nazi,’ Federico told academic Alberto Testa, who spent time ’embedded’ with Lazio and Roma ultras for the book ‘Football, Fascism and Fandom: The UltraS of Italian Football,’ co-authored by Gary Armstrong.” CNN

Gazprom face UEFA stand off

February 19, 2013

“How does one begin to comprehend the manner in which football and politics have become so inextricably linked? It is disturbing to contemplate that such a truly global sport is quite possibly one of the most corruptible institutions in the modern era. It has got to the point where there are simply too many issues upon which we must turn a blind eye in order to replicate the perceived naivety of days gone by – with the game finding that its hands are increasingly tied behind its own back. Such a situation is glaringly apparent in Eastern Europe, where discussions have continued over the viability of the formation of a league system comprising of sides from Russia and Ukraine.” SFUnion

Five Great “Last 16” European Moments

February 19, 2013

“With the Champions League round of 16 underway, today on the blog Jonathan Wilson shares with us 5 great European moments of seasons gone by.” bettingexpert – Jonathan Wilson

Dean-Richards: Taking football’s talent-based moral utilitarianism to its natural conclusion

February 19, 2013

“Make yourself irreplaceable and you probably won’t be replaced. Ask Ashley Cole, who played pistols at dawn with an intern without telling him, but wasn’t sacked. Ask Carlos Tevez, who refused to play for Manchester City once, but had his second (or is it third?) chance against Chelsea. Don’t ask Jacob Mellis, the Chelsea reserve who thought that smoke bombs were funny and found out yesterday that his club (at least in public) didn’t, when they sacked him for using one. The factomundo is: Premier League morality is utility: if they want you, you make your own rules. Mellis was sackable because he wasn’t a first team player like Cole; Tevez returns to City because they’ve stopped scoring goals and he tends to do that when he’s not away in Argentina playing golf. It’s old news.” The Score

Show Me Something I Can’t See

February 19, 2013

“When I was a teenager in the 1970s, football was rarely shown ‘live’ on TV. If you couldn’t go to the game, the next best thing was to listen on the radio as the commentator described what the listener could not see. ‘This player passes to that player. One player tackles another player. Someone shoots and someone else saves’. You could tell when the action was moving towards one of the goals by the change of gears in the commentator’s voice. Moving from interested, through excited, reaching ecstatic anticipation (and usually rapidly deflating un-fulfilment). It was the listener’s job to provide the pictures in our own imaginations.” Tomkins Times

Cerci finally lives up to hype

February 19, 2013

“Every now and again Alessio Cerci still thinks about it. Why wouldn’t he? Things could have been so so different. Watching Manchester City dramatically win the Premier League title in stoppage time on the final day of last season, a part of him presumably thought that it should have been him. Roberto Mancini had apparently wanted to buy Cerci from Fiorentina ahead of that campaign. ‘He’s the best winger in Italy,’ the City manager supposedly said. Yet his interest in Cerci was quite surprising.” Pitchside Eurosport

Messi reaches another Barca milestone

February 17, 2013

“Lionel Messi struck his 300th and 301st goals for Barcelona as the Primera Division leaders overturned a half-time deficit to win 2-1 at plucky Granada. Barca dominated possession for the first 25 minutes, but were stunned when Odion Ighalo put the hosts ahead at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes. Messi tapped in a deserved equaliser five minutes into the second half, though, and then curled in a trademark free-kick 17 minutes from time to complete the turnaround and move Barca 15 points clear at the summit.” ESPN

La Liga Review: Granada 1, FC Barcelona 2 – A Good Omen, or a Bad Appetiser?
“We’ve conquered the appetiser, which would normally be a good sign in views to the main course, except that if we have this much trouble with Granada, even Bojan on Wednesday might be too tough for us. The good news is that Roura seems to have lost his fear of rotation and gave us an exciting starting XI: VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Cesc, Thiago, Pedro, Messi, and Alexis; that’s even more risqué than what I suggested in the match preview in that we got to see a midfield without Xavi (injured) or Iniesta (rested) for the first time in ages.” The Offside (Video)

Football – bloody hell

February 17, 2013

“In some parts of Germany, this past Monday was the most important day of the year – Rosenmontag. The name translates as Rose Monday and is the day the English know as Shrove Monday. Rosenmontag is the high point of the German carnival season and a bank holiday in the strongholds of this particular form of organised merriment, most of which are dotted along the Rhine. In Mainz, Cologne and Dusseldorf, literally millions of people take to the streets (and bars) dressed in fancy and elaborate, and sometimes bizarre, costumes to – as they stubbornly maintain – party, celebrate and have fun.” ESPN

Simon Kuper and the New Language

February 17, 2013

“About a week ago, Simon Kuper wrote an interesting but ultimately disheartening article breaking down the shortcomings of 21st century soccer, and the reasons he’s fallen out of love with the game. From materialism to tribalism, Kuper draws a contrast between the noxious atmosphere that permeates the modern game, and a sort of wholesome, unbridled joy that underlined the halcyon days of say, Maradona in the mid-1980s. While it’s understandable that Kuper gets queasy with the incessant chatter of pundits waxing about wages, transfer budgets and misunderstood tactics, it’s hard for me to believe that Kuper looks back and sees any sort of purity.” Futbol Intellect

The Dromedaries

February 17, 2013

“The politics of Western Sahara are complex. Spain renounced control of the territory in 1975 giving Morocco and Mauritania joint administrative control but the Polisario Front rebelled and announced a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with an exiled government based in Algeria. Mauritania pulled out and a 1991 ceasefire left Western Sahara largely in Moroccan hands but partly in those of the SADR. The territory has been in political limbo ever since, a story largely ignored by the mass media and the big nations who tend to overlook the divide and push for an agreement.” In Bed With Maradona

Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United: Real dominate but United withstand the pressure

February 14, 2013

Cristiano Ronaldo
“A headed goal for either side – and all to play for the in the second leg. Jose Mourinho chose Rafael Varane at the back, and Karim Benzema upfront – elsewhere, his side was as expected. Sir Alex Ferguson named a very positive starting XI, with four outright attacking players in the side – Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa both started. Jonny Evans played at centre-back rather than Nemanja Vidic. Real Madrid dominated in terms of possession, territory and shots – but both sides had chances to win the game.” Zonal Marking

Why would any manager want the Chelsea job?

February 14, 2013

“Talented Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp has essentially ruled out a potential move to Chelsea, claiming he is ‘definitely’ going to remain in Germany next season. This seems to be an intelligent move, given the certain risk attached with becoming the Chelsea manager. Klopp is only the latest manager to reject the overtures of the Stamford Bridge club with Pep Guardiola having out right snubbed the club in favour of taking the managerial role at Bayern Munich. With the tough demands of the Chelsea job, why would anyone want to manage them?” Think Football

Victorious Zenit St Petersburg set Liverpool a tough task at Anfield

February 14, 2013

“Relief for Liverpool came only from the terraces at Zenit St Petersburg. Fears of racist abuse from sections of the home support proved unfounded but the reputation of the Russian champions did not as they left Brendan Rodgers’ team with a major task to preserve their final hope of silverware this season. On current form or, specifically, current finishing, you would not bet on another Anfield recovery in the second leg.” Guardian

The Race for Europe: Which EPL Clubs Will Qualify for the Champions League?

February 13, 2013

“As it the Premier League table stands at the moment, Manchester United are looking set to snatch back the trophy from the blue half of Manchester. Twelve points clear with 12 matches to play is a rather large hurdle, but in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ This is certainly true of positions 2-6 and who will get the Champions League/Europa League places. What has made the top of the table so interesting this year is the continued form of both Tottenham Hotspur and Everton as well as the relative inconsistency of Manchester City and Chelsea. Tottenham are currently sitting in 4th place on 48 points followed by Chelsea with 49 points in third and City in second place with 53 points. That is only a 5 point lead for Manchester City with Tottenham set to play Chelsea on the road and City at home while Chelsea will also have to travel to Man City on Feb 24th.” EPL Talk

How is wrestling at corners interpreted in different European leagues?

February 13, 2013

“… If you are English and ask anybody in Russia about wrestling at corners, the discussion inevitably turns to a World Cup qualifier in Ljubljana in 2001. With the score at 1-1, Slovenia won a last-minute corner. The referee, Graham Poll, twice prevented it being taken to warn Russian defenders about shirt holding. When the corner finally came in, Viacheslav Daev tussled with Zeljko Milinovic and Poll, his patience gone, gave a penalty. While shirt-pulling and wrestling certainly goes on in the Russian league, the hangover from that decision means that it is seen as very much a British obsession. Jonathan Wilson” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Celtic 0-3 Juventus: Celtic cause problems in the first half, but Juve’s finishing far superior

February 13, 2013

“There was much to admire about Celtic’s performance, but they couldn’t sustain their early effort. Neil Lennon decided to use Efe Ambrose at the back, despite his participation in Nigeria’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations win on Sunday evening. Upfront, Lennon used three attackers – Kris Commons, James Forrest and Gary Hooper. Antonio Conte is still without Giorgio Chiellini, so Martin Caceres was on the left of defence, and Federico Peluso was the left-wing-back. Alessandro Matri’s good run of form saw him get another start upfront. An odd match – for spells in the first half Juventus looked genuinely rattled, and yet they had already gone 1-0 up with Matri’s early goal. Celtic’s first-half performance depended on energy and brave pressing, which resulted in tiredness late on.” Zonal Marking

Juventus silences Celtic’s rowdy audience, Zlatan red carded

February 13, 2013

“The Champions League returned to action Tuesday and despite two early goals scored by the away teams, both matches were compelling encounters. The games threw up some unlikely heroes and, as always, plenty of talking points. Here are a few: Marchisio breaks Celtic hearts: Celtic coach Neil Lennon said pre-match that his side did not play old-fashioned kick and rush football, and that much was true. In fact, it was Juventus who played the first long ball of the night, Andrea Pirlo’s third-minute pass from deep catching Efe Ambrose half-asleep and allowing Alessandro Matri to slot the ball past Fraser Forster.” SI

Interview Translation: Jürgen Klopp – “I don’t just want to win, I want to feel.”

February 13, 2013

“The Spanish newspaper El Pais took it upon themselves to find out the reasons behind Dortmund’s success by interviewing Jürgen Klopp. Here is our translation of their interview. ‘I don’t want to spend the whole day thinking about things that could still be better than they are’ says Jürgen Klopp (Stuttgart, 1967) to explain his compulsive optimism. The Dortmund coach, this year’s Champions League surprise package and German champion in the last two seasons, sports a smile with big teeth and starts to speak.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Five points on Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal

February 13, 2013

“1. Bacary Sagna typifies Arsenal’s defensive performance. The referee had barely put his lips to the whistle when Bacary Sagna punched both arms in the air and let out a cry of both jubilation and relief. Wojciech Szczesny crashed to the floor and held the ball tightly to his chest, knowing that all three points were finally secure. Sunderland had just pelted their 48th cross into the box and a little less than that many long passes, and Arsenal survived them all. When one of them did get through, however, Arsenal had Szczesny to thank (he also made some crucial punches to go with his saves), some wasteful finishing – and Titus Bramble.” The Arsenal Column

Nigeria 1-0 Burkina Faso: Nigeria triumph

February 11, 2013

“Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations following a typically tight, tense final. Stephen Keshi was able to select Victor Moses (who had been a doubt) but Emmanuel Emenike was injured, and replaced by Ikechukwu Uche. Paul Put, who has tinkered with his formations and line-ups throughout the tournament, was able to name an unchanged side after Jonathan Pitroipa’s suspension was overturned. This was a disappointing game, both in tactical and entertainment terms. Nigeria played better football, but there were very few shots on target from either side.” Zonal Marking

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Sunday Mba gives Nigeria victory at last
“It says much for the baffling politics of Nigerian football that a week before the Cup of Nations began there were moves afoot in the sports ministry to have Stephen Keshi replaced as coach. And it says much for the 52-year-old’s strength of character, his combination of thick skin, single-mindedness and good humour that he was able to ignore all the distractions so that he stood on the touchline in Johannesburg on Sunday night beaming as only the second man – after the Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary – to win the Cup of Nations as both player and coach.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Stephen Keshi has worked miracles for Nigeria, but will they keep him?
“Back in 2006, when Stephen Keshi was still manager of Togo, he gave an interview to a handful of journalists in a hotel lobby in northern Cairo. The first time I’d spoken to him, four years earlier in Bamako, he had been lying on a sun lounger by a swimming pool and, metaphorically at least, he still was. Keshi always gives the impression of being laid back. But for a moment, the hardness beneath showed through. ‘Some day,’ he said, ‘I will be coach of Nigeria and then they will know they have a coach.'” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Keshi avoids politics as usual by winning Africa Cup of Nations
“The Cup of Nations, in the end, was won and lost in the thunderstorm in Rustenburg. Nigeria had gone into its quarterfinal with hope but little concrete evidence of its abilities. Then it defeated the perennial favorites, Ivory Coast, 2-1 and discovered a profound sense that it would win the tournament. It went on to hammer Mali 4-1 in the semifinal before beating Burkina Faso 1-0 in Sunday’s final.” SI

Why I’ve fallen out of love with football

February 11, 2013

“A friend of mine says that when he’s driving and listening to one of the countless football programmes on talk radio, in which fans call in to rant about their team’s manager, opponents, referees, ballboys, et cetera, he feels the urge to phone in himself and say: ‘Have you ever realised it doesn’t really matter?’ That’s how I’ve come to feel about football. I played it until my left knee dissolved into pulp, and have written about it for 25 years, but now I often think: I don’t like the game any more. Partly, this is professional deformation: I’ve got too close to the adored object and seen what it’s really like. But partly, I’m suffering from a condition that is common among middle-aged men yet rarely discussed because it’s considered an embarrassing taboo. Football just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.” FT – Simon Kuper

Statistical Analysis: Is Jermain Defoe consistent enough for Spurs?

February 11, 2013

“Prior to the start of this season’s Premier League campaign, Tottenham supporters looked on nervously as the Emmanuel Adebayor transfer saga dragged on into August, wondering if we’d enter the season with Jermain Defoe as our only experienced first team striker. As it happened, we got Adebayor in before the window closed, but due to a mix of injuries, suspension, and lack of form, Adebayor was relegated to the bench while a red-hot Jermain Defoe banged in the goals for the first several months of the campaign.” Think Football

Futbol In A Baseball Park

February 11, 2013

“On Sunday 27th January 2013 the final of the Copa Centroamericana was settled by a firm header from Costa Rican defender Geancarlo González. The hosts extravagant celebrations in their modern national stadium belied the fact that it’s not the most prestigious international tournament. Held every two years and featuring the seven Central American nations, the prize for the participants is obtaining one of five places at CONCACAF’s Gold Cup, held in the United States later in the calendar year. Such was the competition’s lack of esteem, beaten finalist Honduras’ domestic league had a full programme throughout, and the only European-based players called upon were those on a winter break.” In Bed With Maradona

What Do We Want From FSG?

February 11, 2013

“To be the owner of Liverpool Football Club is to put yourself in a curious position. The owner has profound influence over the entire football club (it is their business after all) and therefore can generally influence the team, but they are unable to affect the team on the pitch in the specific way the manager and players do. Some try, and end up looking foolish most of the time; in 1998 Ron Noades bought Brentford Football Club and installed himself as manager holding dual roles at the club. He did manage to get the Bees promoted but subsequently left the club with debts of £8 million. Having no check on his power at the club may have massaged Noades’ ego but ultimately hurt the club substantially. But he is an interesting case study simply because of his narcissistic way of solving the owner’s riddle of how they can simultaneously hold all of the power and none of the power.” Tomkins Times

Tottenham 2-1 Newcastle: all about Gareth Bale

February 11, 2013

“Gareth Bale scored twice in a match that started slowly, but turned into an exciting contest. Andre Villas-Boas handed a first start to Lewis Holtby – Jermain Defoe was injured, so Clint Dempsey played upfront. Alan Pardew named an unchanged XI from the side that beat Chelsea 3-2 last weekend. This was a relatively unexciting game tactically, but Bale’s half-time switch in position was very interesting.” Zonal Marking

The Second Coming Of Third Lanark

February 10, 2013

“Heard the story about the Glasgow based football club who ran into financial calamity and went bust? Of course you have, but this tale of woe isn’t about the collapse of Rangers, but a club whose name is woven into the fabric of Scottish football’s early days – Third Lanark. The club who were based in the city’s south side were founded in 1872 by the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers after the soldiers were inspired to create their own team by the first ever international match between Scotland and England at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow.” In Bed With Maradona

Tactical Analysis: Why are Chelsea playing so badly?

February 10, 2013

“Chelsea have been poor of late, there is no getting away from it. They have not won a game since beating Arsenal at home two weeks ago, losing one and drawing three in the mean time. Worryingly, one of those draws was to Brentford, one saw them crash out of the League Cup and the other saw them squander a two goal lead to Reading with just five minutes left on the clock. Despite remaining third in the Premier League, Chelsea are slipping, having won just two of their last six league games. The busy period over December and January, where the club played 9 games in each month, is now over and with just four games in February they must re-find form or risk falling out of the top four.” Think Football

Post Saddam, the future looks brighter for Iraqi football

February 10, 2013

“It was around eleven in the evening when the melody of gunfire and car horns erupted piercing (literally) the night sky. This is how the residents of Baghdad celebrate a victory for the national team, however what goes up must come down, not just the bullets in this case! The Iraqi national team had just squeezed past the hosts Bahrain (after extra-time and penalties) during this year’s biannual Gulf Cup of Nations semi-final. The celebrations were both spectacular and protracted. The ‘the lions of Mesopotamia’ eventually lost the final 2-1 to the UAE (after extra-time, once again) although the tournament had been a success for the nation and it’s near fanatical followers.” World Soccer

Soccer’s New Match-Fixing Scandal

February 8, 2013

“I am a midlevel Hungarian gangster. You are a Finnish referee. So here’s how it works. I get a call from a lieutenant in the syndicate — not from Dan Tan himself, the boss has to be protected, but from a middle man somewhere in Asia. Maybe Singapore, where Dan Tan is based; maybe someplace else. The caller says: We need so-and-so to happen in such-and-such soccer game. So I fly to Helsinki from Budapest and take a train north to Tampere, where you’ll be officiating a match in the Ykkönen, the Finnish second division, between FC Ilves and FC Viikingit. We meet. It’s not as if I’m lugging a duffel full of cash. The money will be laundered; we have the systems in place. I want you to be comfortable, after all.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Surprised by the match-fixing scandal? You shouldn’t be
“In The Hague on Monday when the director of Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, announced the preliminary findings of an investigation into the rigging of soccer matches, many observers were shocked. Nearly 700 fixed games. Several on UK soil. A transnational criminal conspiracy with an Asian syndicate pulling the strings. How could such a thing be happening? I knew how easily it was done.” ESPN

W – 2011 South Korean football betting scandal

W – 2006 Italian football scandal

W – 2011–12 Italian football scandal

W – 2005 Bundesliga scandal

W – Brazilian football match-fixing scandal

Does Liverpool FC Need a Leader?

February 8, 2013

“One of the big question marks around FSG’s ownership of Liverpool to date has been leadership – or lack of. There has been a reliance on a structure that has lacked experience of top level football at all levels. So does Liverpool need an experienced leader at the helm? Or are Ian Ayre and Brendan Rodgers capable of stepping up into the two most critical roles at the football club? The lack of experience at the club has been exposed a number of times during FSG’s tenure with avoidable situations such as the Suarez affair and the Duncan Jenkins mess. Both of these incidents could have potentially been avoided with a strong CEO in situ.” Tomkins Times

Schalke in crisis

February 8, 2013

“Three months is a long time in football. Back in October when Schalke 04 won at arch rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Ruhr Valley Derby, life looked rosy for the Royal Blues. They were third in the Bundesliga, seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich and just two behind surprise package Eintracht Frankfurt. Now they`re in freefall, a huge 22 points behind runaway leaders Bayern and ten behind champions Dortmund.” Bundesliga on Eurosport2

‘An absolute legend’: Former Liverpool players pays tribute to Jamie Carragher

February 8, 2013

“Jamie Carragher will leave a huge hole at Liverpool when he retires at the end of the season, according to former team-mate Jason McAteer. Carragher, 35, today announced he will quit football following his 17th Premier League campaign after spending his entire career at the Merseyside club. The former England international, who earned 38 caps for his country, is second only to Ian Callaghan in the club’s all-time appearance table with more than 700 Liverpool games under his belt.” Independent

Liverpool will miss Jamie Carragher, a rare breed who defied doubters
“The farewell is typical of Jamie Carragher in so many ways. His obligation to deliver for Liverpool shapes the announcement that an illustrious playing career will cease this summer, and the timing of it. There is no fanfare and no reflections on 16 years that brought two FA Cups, three League Cups, one Uefa Cup and, of course, one unforgettable Champions League triumph.” Guardian

Jamie Carragher and the ultimate one-club footballers
“Jamie Carragher has announced he will retire at the end of the season, bringing an end to a career spent entirely at Liverpool. One club men are a rare breed in modern football, but here we pay homage to the players who topped 500 games – and never played for another club.” Independent

Ayre lauds ‘colossal’ Carragher
“Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has hailed Jamie Carragher as ‘selfless” and “a colossal figure’ after the defender announced his plan to retire at the end of the season. Carragher, 35, is leaving Anfield after more than a quarter of a century with the club he joined as a nine-year-old – and Ayre has refused to rule out finding another role at the club for the centre-back. The defender, who made his debut in January 1997, has played 723 times for Liverpool, placing him second only to Ian Callaghan on the club’s all-time appearance list.” ESPN

Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals: giants set sights on a return to power

February 8, 2013

“As the dust settles after the quarter-finals, the landscape looks strangely unfamiliar. The favourites, Ivory Coast, have gone; the hosts, South Africa, have gone; and Egypt, who dominated the tournament in the last half of the first decade of this century, didn’t even qualify. So the Africa Cup of Nations will go either to one of the traditional powers of African football, Ghana or Nigeria, both of whom nurse the pain of years without a title, or to a first time-winner, Mali or Burkina Faso.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Nigeria 4-1 Mali: a battle of attacking left-backs

February 8, 2013

“Nigeria qualified for the final by controlling the game in midfield and attacking with more speed. Stephen Keshi named an unchanged side from the XI that triumphed over the Ivory Coast at the quarter-final stage. Mali coach Patrice Carteron left out Samba Sow and Samba Diakite, with Mahamane Traore coming into the side on the left, and Mohamed Traore in the centre. Mahamdou N’Diaye returned in place of Adama Coulibaly. Nigeria dominated this match and fully deserved their victory.” Zonal Marking

Burkina Faso 1-1 Ghana: Burkina Faso dominate and win the game on penalties
“Burkina Faso upset the odds to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations final. Paul Put made various chances to the side which beat Togo – in came Artistide Bancé upfront, and Prejuce Nakoulma on the right. With two holding midfielders, Charles Kabore became the number ten and Jonathan Pitroipa moved left James Appiah made one change – Wakaso Murabak replaced Albert Adomah. Ghana went ahead but Burkina Faso deserved the win – they pressed well, passed smoothly and Bancé was magnificent upfront.” Zonal Marking

The Evolution of Cesc Fàbregas

February 7, 2013

“The Catalan grew up through Barça’s La Masia with friend Leo Messi and best friend Gerard Piqué. The talent of the young stars was clear but Fàbregas grew tired of his lack of promotion and made the bold move to Premier League side Arsenal. Under the influence of Arsene Wenger, Fàbregas devolved an edge to his game, learning new skills and combining them with the ones he learned in La Masia. The midfielder’s progress was much more rapid through the Arsenal ranks and by the start of 2008-09 season, Cesc was club captain.” Barca Blaugranes

Tactical Analysis: Are Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie reviving the strike partnership?

February 7, 2013

“Since the relative decline in the use of the 4-4-2 we have also witnessed a decline in Premier League strike partnerships. The days of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole appear to be long gone, with most side’s playing with just one central striker. But at Manchester United there are two top strikers scoring goals and playing in the same team; Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. The two players have scored a combined 28 league goals this season, which has been critical to United’s title surge, as the team have scored a massive 60 league goals, compared to 2nd place City’s 47 league goals. So are we witnessing a return to prominence of the strike partnership at Manchester United?” Think Football

Tactical Analysis: Why aren’t Manchester City’s strikers scoring consistently?

February 7, 2013

“Both of City’s goals at the weekend were scored by their strikers, but in truth, this merely masks the inconsistency of their front men this season. City have generally had a bit of a problem in the goal scoring department this season, compared to last season, which has arguably been a factor in the title race. Manchester United, who signed City target Robin van Persie have scored 60 league goals this season, compared to just 47 for City. A side with such attacking talent should probably be scoring more and much of this is down to a relative drop in form for City’s strikers, compared to last season.” Think Football

Leverkusen 2-3 Dortmund: Dortmund exploit the space in front of Leverkusen’s midfield, and in behind their defence

February 7, 2013

“Both sides had spells of dominance, but Dortmund were more ruthless in the final third. Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski named an unchanged side from last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Freiburg. Jurgen Klopp had Mitchell Langerak in goal rather than Roman Weidenfeller, with Felipe Santana in defence rather than Neven Subotic – both decisions forced upon him. Otherwise, this was his first-choice side. Dortmund started the game superbly, but came under significant pressure during the second half after Leverkusen changed to a more attack-minded formation.” Zonal Marking

Police Call Match-Fixing Widespread in Soccer

February 5, 2013

“Soccer is known throughout much of the world as the beautiful game. But the sport’s ugliest side — the scourge of match-fixing — will not soon go away. With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil drawing closer, a European police intelligence agency said Monday that its 19-month investigation, code-named Operation Veto, revealed widespread occurrences of match-fixing in recent years, with 680 games globally deemed suspicious. The extent was staggering: some 150 international matches, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America; roughly 380 games in Europe, covering World Cup and European championship qualifiers as well as two Champions League games; and games that run the gamut from lower-division semiprofessional matches to contests in top domestic leagues.” NYT

European police say match-fixing probe uncovers more than 680 suspicious soccer games
“A major investigation involving Europol and police teams from 13 European countries has uncovered an extensive criminal network involved in widespread football match-fixing. A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players, and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches. The activities formed part of a sophisticated organised crime operation, which generated over €8 million in betting profits and involved over €2 million in corrupt payments to those involved in the matches.” europol