Monthly Archives: March 2013

The FA & Racism: Hypocrisy is the Order of the Day

toby morison
“Probably the last thing English football wanted was another racism scandal, but it’s got one regardless. With Football Against Racism in Europe raising an official complaint about England fans for the abusive chanting directed towards him during the San Marino game, we’re set for yet another round of accusation, counter allegation and all-round ugliness. We have of course been here before – in a situation such as this, there are no winners.” 2nd Yellow

English football is racist, and the FA looks the other way
“Reporting from the Mall during the Queen’s jubilee celebrations last summer, I remember an impromptu rendition of God Save the Queen and feeling quite surprised that its fourth line wasn’t “No surrender”. If you’re used to hearing the national anthem at England football matches, you get so conditioned to those words being bellowed over the four notes between ‘God save the Queen’ and ‘Send her victorious’ that their absence is practically the twitch of a phantom limb.” Guardian

France 0-1 Spain: both sides use one wide player for ball retention and the other for direct attacks

“Spain recorded a narrow victory, and go one point clear of France at the top of Group I. Didier Deschamps used Patrice Evra rather than Gael Clichy at left-back, and the late withdrawal of Mamadou Sakho saw Laurent Koscielny start at centre-back. But the key change was higher up – from the side that defeated Georgia 3-1, Olivier Giroud was dropped, with Yohan Cabaye coming into the centre of midfield, turning a 4-4-2 into a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3.” Zonal Marking

Stuttgart 1-2 Dortmund: Tactical Analysis

“Borussia Dortmund travelled to play Stuttgart in a key game for the home team. Stuttgart sat in mid table before this game and needed to get a win, or least a draw in order to keep their challenge for the Europa League spots alive. Dortmund needed a win to tighten their group on second spot in the league table. The home side started with a make shift defence as some key players like Serdar Tasci and Cristian Molinaro, resulting in Felipe Lopez making only his 2nd appearance of the season. Stuttgart lined up with a 4-1-4-1 formation. This was done to stop Dortmund playing through their midfield with ease.” Outside of the Boot

Tactics: playing the game the “right way”

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“Certain ways of playing have become imbued with moral values, with certain styles becoming accepted as being the ‘right’ way to play, of representing ‘good’ football. For instance, when Oldham Athletic put Liverpool out of the FA Cup in January by playing a direct game based around the raw physicality of their centre-forward Matt Smith, there was much chortling about their robustness and how Liverpool’s delicate, academy-groomed youngsters ‘didn’t like it up ’em’.” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson

Leverkusen Missile Crisis

“Sensational title, eh? Here it comes–the outlandish claim of a rift between Bayer Leverkusen’s Tandem Trainer Saschimi Lewandyypia (see what I did there?) for the site hits! There’s a battle brewing in the North Rhine-Westphalia that might spell DOOM for Leverkusen’s remaining league campaign! Champions League football will be lost–lost I tell you!–if this is allowed to blister in the strengthening spring sun! What’s the limit on exclamation points to start a blog post, by the way?” Bundesliga Fanatic

Weak Barcelona hurt by Celta on their way to Paris

“Barcelona achieved a draw against Celta de Vigo at the Estadio Balaidos in Matchday 29 of La Liga. Cristian Tello and Lionel Messi scored the goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 71 percent of possession, created eight goal-scoring chances and attempted five shots, three of them on target. Surprise, surprise: Once again, Barcelona was considerably hurt by the international break. As a result of their efforts to try to achieve qualification for Spain for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba are now suffering from strained hamstrings and Pedro Rodriguez has sustained a tear in his right calf muscle.” ESPN (Video)

Villa in trouble as Reds hit back

“Aston Villa remain in the Premier League bottom three after Liverpool came from behind to claim the three points and keep alive their faint hopes of securing a Champions League spot. Villa looked on course for a third successive win after leading at the interval through Christian Benteke’s 18th goal of the campaign. But the Reds equalised through Jordan Henderson early in the second period and then skipper Steven Gerrard’s penalty sealed victory for the visitors.” ESPN

Montenegro 1-1 England: Montenegro start timidly but introduce attackers effectively

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“Branko Brnovic surprisingly started with a lone forward, but ended up with four outright attackers as Montenegro deservedly claimed a point. Brnovic’s selection was hampered by injuries and suspensions – Miodrag Dzudovic, Mitar Novakovic and Simon Vukcevic all came into the side. Roy Hodgson made significant changes from the side that comfortably defeated San Marino on Friday evening, with Danny Welbeck, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson returning. A game of two halves – England dominated against an oddly passive Montenegro, but were unable to deal with the increased attacking threat after half-time.” Zonal Marking

England manager Roy Hodgson needs to wake up to some harsh realities as spectre of World Cup play-offs looms
” England are in a dark place, a potentially damaging and hugely expensive place. They trail to bullish Montenegro in the race for automatic qualification, face the possibility of a play-off against France and risk losing out on the 2014 Brazilian bonanza of £26m to the FA and £100m to the nation’s economy. Hodgson is confident of overtaking Montenegro, who lead Group H by two points, but the spectre of the play-offs should really focus his thoughts sharply. November’s two-legged examination of psychological, tactical and technical strengths must be avoided. Hodgson needs to stop clutching at draws and start winning, instilling a more assertive culture in his players and his own response to difficulties.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Valdés steps up in Casillas’ absence, backstops Spain past France

” The camera kept focusing on Iker Casillas, but his replacement took center stage. High in the stands at Saint-Denis, Spain’s captain sat watching his countrymen play France, a broken finger having denied him the chance to make his 144th appearance; down on the pitch, Víctor Valdés was the man chosen in goal instead. Like Casillas, he was about to prove decisive. For some he was about to prove a discovery — at the age of 31. Spain traveled to Paris knowing that if it did not win it risked not making it to Brazil in 2014; the world champions, unable to defend their crown.” SI

Four Thoughts: U.S. earns hard-fought point at Estadio Azteca

“Four thoughts after the U.S.’s 0-0 tie against Mexico in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier: • The U.S. got a Golden Point in the vaunted Estadio Azteca. Sixteen years after the U.S. got its only competitive point against Mexico in the history of this stadium, another group of committed Yanks pulled off the same feat, earning a deserved tie in the Thunderdome that used to be the U.S.’s house of horrors. Mexico was a remarkable 68-1-6 in World Cup qualifiers in the history of the Azteca, but El Tri hasn’t played well here lately, and the U.S. weathered a storm of Mexican attacks down the right side (targeting left back DaMarcus Beasley) and kept its mettle in the most difficult of road environments. It’s amazing how much can change in a week.” SI

Venezuela 1-0 Colombia: Venezuela keep two upfront & offer a consistent threat on the break

“Venezuela recorded an important victory to strengthen their chances of qualifying for their first-ever World Cup. Cesar Farias made two changes from the side which lost 3-0 to Argentina. Cesar Gonzalez replaced Luis Seijas on the right, while Fernando Aristeguieta played upfront rather than Frank Feltscher. Mario Yepes was out, so Luis Perea came in at the back. Jose Pekerman pushed Juan Cuadrado forward to the right wing, with Juan Zuniga at right-back. Venezuela deserved this victory – they were forced to withstand pressure as Colombia dominated possession throughout, but the home side produced more goalscoring opportunities.” Zonal Marking

Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

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“Reigning South American champions Uruguay recorded their third consecutive 1-1 home draw – their participation in Brazil remains in the balance. Oscar Tabarez fielded a familiar core to this side – Edinson Cavani was only on the bench, with Diego Forlan behind Luis Suarez upfront, the combination that won Uruguay the Copa America final against Paraguay in 2011. The major news was in the centre of midfield, where Tabarez played Nicolas Lodeiro rather than a second defensive midfielder. Uruguyan-born Gerard Pelusso selected a cautious 4-4-2 formation for bottom-placed Paraguay, having experimented with 4-3-3 earlier in the qualification process. Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez were together upfront, while Ricard Ortiz pushed forward to the left of midfield. This game started slowly before gradually developing into something quite interesting – mainly because of Tabarez’s constant chances.” Zonal Marking

Analyzing the Strengths and Weaknesses of Germany’s Formations

“Against Kazakhstan Germany lined up without a recognized striker in a competitive game for the first time in its history. It was a landmark tactical decision that symbolized both a growing talent pool of attacking midfielders in German football and the acclimatization to a generational trend in football tactics. With more and more of these versatile and technical attacking players being integrated and Löw expanding his tactical arsenal, just what are Germany’s options going forward? Let us examine the various tactical formations Löw has used and at his disposal and the strengths and weaknesses of each in the context of Germany’s continuing development as a team.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Croatia 2-0 Serbia: brave decision to use Kovacic in midfield helps Croatia dominate the game

“Croatia’s two strikers – Ivica Olic and Mario Mandzukic – scored a goal apiece before half-time, to win an incredibly hotly-anticipated derby. Igor Stimac’s major decision was the surprise selection of 18-year-old Mateo Kovacic for his international debut in the centre of midfield. Sinisa Mihajlovic used Ivan Radovanovic as a holder, and Alen Stevanovic rather than Dusan Tadic on the left. Marko Scepovic played upfront, although he lasted less than ten minutes. Why Croatia v Serbia? Well, for both political and football reasons, this was an absolutely huge fixture – especially the meeting between fierce rivals Stimac and Mihajlovic. For the incredible background to the story, read this excellent summary – with that in mind, the main feature of the match was its surprisingly sporting nature.” Zonal Marking

USA did it in 1994, why not Qatar?

1994 WORLD CUP FINAL
“The latest debate in World football is getting ugly. A political agenda is being created. A heated discussion on culture. Questions are being raised over just the nature, ethics and customs of the host nation. As Marina Hyde puts in her piece for the Guardian ‘football may finally be about to go to war’. And this unfortunate chain of events has taken away the beauty of this beautiful game, and put it into a cringe-worthy and down right embarrassing situation. The respect that this ‘World’ sport demands, its very synonym of a ‘Global’ game may seize to exist.” Outside of the Boot

The Heart and Soul Of Khalilou Fadiga

‘Bouba Diop is there!’ … There is a short but telling pause. John Motson, one does sense, must have been comfortable in the knowledge that nothing would shock him on the pitch that day, that in the world of football he had simply seen too much. And yet the commentator older than time itself, and whose trademark sheepskin coat is probably even older than that, is lost for words. He is forced to repeat himself, this time louder, certainly, but somehow more hesitant, more noticeably taken aback. … ‘Bouba Diop is there!’ Again, momentary silence.” In Bed With Maradona

U.S. victory at Estadio Azteca no longer impossible challenge

“Is Estadio Azteca losing its mystique? It seems like a crazy question ahead of the U.S.’s much anticipated World Cup qualifier here on Tuesday against archrival Mexico (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Univision). After all, Mexico has lost only one World Cup qualifier at the Azteca (vs. Costa Rica in 2001) in the history of the stadium, which was built in 1961. Nor has the U.S. ever won an official game here, managing just one tie in 1997.” SI

With such a weak England squad were England’s golden generation under-appreciated?

“England smashed San Marino 8-0 on Friday night, which might lead some fans to get a sense of renewed optimism in their county’s ability to make a mark in Brazil 2014. However, in perspective, despite the fact 8 goals were scored, this was an incredibly low quality opposition and we cannot really read much into the result. What was striking about the squad that faced San Marino and has been selected for the qualifiers is how weak it is, particularly after Rio Ferdinand dropped out. This is in stark comparison to the wealth of quality England had between 2004 and 2010 during the ascent of the ‘golden generation.’” Think Football

Sinisa Mihajlovic embodies the bonds broken by Balkan wars

Croatia fans
“The wind howls down a bleak street in Croatia’s Borovo Naselje, lashing the rain against the garage door that Sinisa Mihajlovic’s father had to replace every few weeks because of the force with which his son practised his free-kicks against it. It is not just the garage door that has been replaced. The whole house was destroyed during the Yugoslav war. Mihajlovic, wonderful and controversial footballer and now manager of Serbia, is defined by the war, adding another layer of complexity to the already incendiary meeting between Croatia and Serbia in World Cup qualifying on Friday night.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Croatia v Serbia: the sporting rivalry – in pictures
“Ahead of Friday night’s World Cup qualifier between neighbours and long-standing enemies, Croatia and Serbia, Alex Fenton-Thomas reviews some of their most hostile sporting encounters of the past two decades”
Guardian

Croatia beat Serbia in bitter World Cup qualifier between Balkan foes
“Croatia beat Serbia 2-0 in a highly charged 2014 World Cup qualifier on Friday, the first match as independent states between the bitter Balkan foes since their war in the 1990s. Serbian players were greeted with nationalist chants – including ‘Kill, Kill the Serbs’ – from the packed Maksimir stadium, where thousands of riot policemen were deployed to prevent trouble from the home fans.” Guardian

Assassin. War Criminal. Football Club Owner.
“In 2006, FK Obilić Belgrade, the only team to have ever been crowned champions of Serbia that wasn’t Red Star or Partizan, were relegated from the Serbian top flight. Five more relegations over six seasons followed, meaning a team, who at the start of the 1998/99 season drew 1-1 with eventual finalists Bayern Munich in the Champions League qualifiers, kicked off this season playing seventh tier football. All this in a country whose top two divisions are the only two that aren’t regional.” Slavic Football Union

The Blood of the Impure

“The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is, if you think about it, a pretty nasty song. It dreams, in one of its more memorable verses, that the ‘blood of the impure’ will ‘irrigate our fields.’ It’s a rousing anthem, to be sure, and I myself can frequently be heard humming it to myself in advance of a match being played by Les Bleus, or as I ride my bike or do the dishes. I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to find a French person (at least if you hang out, as I do, with too many intellectuals), who can actually sing it without irony. And yet, over the past 26 years, the question of whether a particular subset of French men – those who play on the national football team – sing the Marseillaise under certain conditions has been a rather unhealthy obsession in France (we’ve blogged about it before, when Kinshasa-born flanker Yannick Nyanga sobbed uncontrollably during the anthem ahead of a rugby match vs Australia last year).” Soccer Politics (Video)

Valbuena has earned his chance with France

“France doesn’t share Argentina, Brazil or even Italy’s relentless obsession with the number 10, but having boasted the most celebrated creative midfielder of recent times, Zinedine Zidane, the number has since taken on extra importance. Since Zidane’s theatrical retirement in 2006, France’s No. 10s have hardly fit the mould. Sidney Govou, the speedy winger who never fulfilled his vast potential, wore it at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 while striker Karim Benzema inherited it for last summer’s European Championships. In all three tournaments, France disappointed: two group stage exits and a quarterfinal elimination. Perhaps they need a proper No. 10. And that’s where Mathieu Valbuena comes in.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Criciúma’s return to the big time revives memories of past glories

“Heading south from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and football hotbed it is a little over 500km before you reach the state of Santa Catarina. Bordering Argentina to the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east it is one of the smallest in the country. Despite this it boasts a strong economy largely fuelled by tourism thanks to a few hundred kilometres of golden beaches and large areas of wildlife and even snow-capped peaks further inland. Santa Catarina proudly claims to have the highest standard of living in Brazil and possibly all of South America. However on the football pitch it lags well behind its larger neighbours in the heavily populated South East of the country.” World Soccer

England’s centre back problem

Sweden v England - International Friendly
“It seemed inevitable that when Roy Hodgson had to choose between John Terry and Rio Ferdinand last year, the manager would eventually end up with neither. Whatever your views of Terry’s international retirement, or Ferdinand’s decision to turn down his call-up this week, citing an ‘intricate pre-planned programme,’ this is typical England. When forced to choose between two options, England always gets the worst of both worlds.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Portugal, Spain under pressure as UEFA World Cup qualifying resumes

“The first round of UEFA World Cup qualifying is nearing its halfway point with 53 nations vying for 13 spots at Brazil 2014. The nine group winners will qualify, plus four of the group runners-up after two-legged playoffs in November. Here’s the rundown as qualifying continues, starting with matches Friday …” SI

Didier Drogba omission signals end of Ivory Coast golden generation

“Nothing in football is ever entirely definitive but, if there was any doubt that Ivory Coast’s golden generation came to an end in Rustenburg in February during the Africa Cup of Nations, it was removed by the omission of Didier Drogba from the squad to face Gambia on Saturday. Ninety-six games and 60 goals after he made his debut against South Africa in 2002 Drogba will not even be part of the squad, although whether he has been dropped or asked to be left out remains unclear.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

How Soccer Explains Israel

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“On the last Saturday in January, with most of Israel shut down for Shabbat, Beitar Jerusalem FC — the only soccer team in the Israeli Premier League to have never signed an Arab player — announced that it had picked up two Muslim players from Chechnya: Dzhabrail Kadiyev, 19, and Zaur Sadayev, 23. The first response from fans was nonviolent but brutal: At the team’s next match, members of Beitar’s proudly racist ultras group La Familia unfurled a giant yellow banner in Teddy Stadium’s Eastern grandstand. It read, in a surreal echo of Nazi terminology: ‘Beitar Will Be Pure Forever.’ The next response was arson.” Grantland

Is Thiago Alcântara the bridge to FC Barcelona’s future?

“Catenaccio, Samba, Tiki Taka – Italy, Brazil and Spain have as deep-rooted an influence on the game as any nation. They’ve lit up world stages, produced some of the finest players and imprinted themselves on the Annals of football history. They’ve amassed a colossal ten World Cup triumphs between them. Imagine a player with the characteristics from this trio of football’s supremacy. Italian born, Brazilian parentage, Spanish bred. Thiago Alcântara seems like a beast set unto us, conveyed from the fires of Mordor with the heat of the Spanish blood coursing through him. I may be getting slightly carried away.” Think Football

Book Review: IBWM: The First Two Years

“Put simply, In Bed with Maradona has defined football blogging in recent years. Founded in 2010, the site isn’t the longest lived on the scene, but it rivals the Frick Collection itself in its sheer eclecticism. Acting as a welcoming platform to a host of impressive writers as well as the occasional mediocre one, the good humoured openness of Jeff Livingstone and his team has provided a rallying point for those interested in the less travelled byways of the game, while a thin layer of streetwise cool has prevented the site from sliding full scale into geekdom.” thetwounfortunates

Football vividly captured, illustrated and written in gold.
“In Bed With Maradona (IBWM), is certainly not your average football site, nor are they only obsessed about ‘El Pibe’ or the Brazilian midfield maestro Sócrates. They’re leaders in a growing direction of a football writing that transcends time, which we often like to call ‘philosofooty’. IBWM explores the cultural heart of the game, extracting stories that are unlikely to be found anywhere else.” A Football Report

The First Two Years Jeff Livingstone
“Growing up in North East England in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, football was a trip to St James’ Park to see my local team, Newcastle United. While it was cheap for my dad to take me, the standard of football in the old English Second Division wasn’t the greatest. Uninspiring? Maybe, but it didn’t matter.” Ockley Books

The Scramble to Finish Rio de Janeiro’s 2014 World Cup Soccer Stadium

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Workers remove mud after heavy rains outside Maracanã Stadium. March 6, 2013
“Here’s the plan: On June 2nd, a bronze statue of Pelé will be unveiled at the inauguration of Rio de Janeiro’s renovations, just before Brazil defeats England in a friendly soccer match. Weeks later, Brazil will win the Confederations Cup on the same field, portending the glorious final match next summer when the national team returns the World Cup to this hallowed ground. Yet with fewer than 100 days until the Confederations Cup begins, the stadium is unfinished—and sometimes underwater—after months of delays and weeks of unwelcome thunderstorms.” The Atlantic

La Liga: Revolutionaries against the Dictatorship

“Syria, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and many others have recently experienced revolutions as the people have grown tired of the existing rule. Tired of being looked down upon and having to play to the ruler’s tune. Change was needed, and while others have tried and failed, the modern times brought change in the country. A similar movement is on going in the World of Football as well. The Spanish La Liga often claims that its the Best League in the World by citing the various stars on show. The likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Falcao and the rest of the FIFA XI really makes a case for itself. But critics allege that Spain’s primary division is a dominion of two football clubs. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dictated terms in the Iberian country for some years now, showcasing an array of talent and a stronghold of the trophies for the past few seasons. While the two Spanish giants are the only likely contenders for the La Liga crown, it has to be asked, is it really that closed and ‘boring’ a league.” Outside of the Boot

Michael Owen Announces He Is To Retire From Soccer At The End of the Season: The Daily EPL

“Michael Owen has announced that he plans on retiring from soccer at the end of this season, aged 33. The former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and now Stoke City striker has decided to hang up his boots after a stellar 17-year career. Owen won the Ballon D’Or in 2001, as well as medals for one league title, 3 League Cups, 1 FA Cup, 1 UEFA Cup and much more. At Liverpool, he made 216 appearances and scored 118 goals. Michael Owen played 89 times for England scoring 40 goals at an international level. Owen has scored lots of memorable goals in his career, but perhaps this one — for England against Argentina, in the 1998 World Cup — will go down as his most famous one…” EPL Talk (Video)

Friendly fire: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods, leadership, acumen in question

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Carlos Bocanegra went to sleep on the evening of Feb. 5 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, expecting to play his 111th game for the U.S. national team the following afternoon. Entering his seventh year as captain, the 33-year-old center back had been training with most of the projected starters and was by far the most experienced defender at U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s disposal.” SI

Statistical Analysis: Has van Persie been the difference between Manchester United and Manchester City?

“Other than the long transfer saga revolving around where Eden Hazard would ply his trade in the summer, there was the drawn out battle for Robin van Persie’s signature. Many neutrals and pundits felt that van Persie would follow former team-mates Sami Nasri and Kolo Toure and join Man City, which led to some surprise when van Persie joined title rivals Manchester United, despite the fact Rooney had scored 27 league goals the season prior. This addition to an already impressive front-line has been a key factor in United’s current 15 point lead over Manchester rivals, City. But has van Persie made the difference between the clubs?” Think Football

Southampton 3 Liverpool 1: In-Depth Tactical Analysis

“Both teams lined-up largely as expected (with identical 4-2-3-1 formations), except a few niggles for Liverpool prevented them keeping an unchanged XI. The Saints made only one change from their last game at Norwich, Clyne returned to right back, Yoshida moved central and Jose Fonte was on the bench. Pochettino continued with his usual template: a converted centre-forward on one flank, the other occupied by a more natural wide man, looking to add numbers in midfield.” Tomkins Times

Allah’s Back Heel

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“The tendency to categorise and rate the footballing talents Africa has produced is something of a modern phenomenon. This is due in part to the perception that African players have been somewhat late to the party in terms of making an impact on a global stage. As such the majority of the ‘greatest African footballers’ lists are weighted greatly towards players of the mid- 90s onwards, give or take a dancing Cameroonian. One player who is consistently overlooked is Mustapha Rabah Madjer. A player of unheralded finesse and technical ability on the pitch, only matched by his combative nature off it. His footballing attributes led to him becoming not only Algeria’s greatest footballing export but also a symbol for a nation to latch onto as it searched for its identity. Madjer was born in the costal city of Algiers in 1958. The city was at the epicentre of the Algerian independence movement, which sought to throw off the shackles of French colonialism. A bloody and vicious war was fought between the various factions and the French troops sent to maintain order – a war that resulted in Algerian independence and the fall of the 4th French republic.” In Bed With Maradona

Reunions, stars clashing lead Champions League quarterfinal draw

“The Champions League quarterfinal draw took place Friday morning in Nyon, Switzerland, with the competition harder than ever to call. If Bayern Munich was the dominant side after its round of 16 first-leg win at Arsenal, the performances of Barcelona and Real Madrid in their second legs reminded everyone of the talent of the La Liga sides. Here is the rundown of the draw for the last eight …” SI

Bring Out Your Faithful

“Sad Landon, Existential Donovan, Forlorn Landycakes – call him whatever you like, there’s a lot of talk about Landon Donovan these days, and rightfully so. Start with tepid National Team performances under Jurgen Klinsmann, add in a less star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy, and dabble in concerns about the marketing prospects of MLS, and you’ve got a concoction that’s led us all to agree that the world is coming to an end, and that Donovan-mania – can we use the term Landonicism? – is our only refuge from the impending catastrophe.” futbol intellect

Match Fixing a Greater Threat to Football than any Super League Plan

“While the world and its blogger were getting hot under the collar this week about satirical articles on French football websites, men in Qatar with ties who don’t know anything and a man who probably only lives in Sheffield, a statement on the FA’s website points to the story which ought really to be ringing alarm bells for English football. It’s easy to focus on the big money story, the primal fears of wealthy Arab oil men buying ‘our’ game, but the likelihood is that the prerogative of short-term politics will win the day. There is no Dream league, the major European clubs appear to have dialled back on the breakaway rhetoric which they were employing after the FIFA corruption scandal first burst into life, and the likelihood of Qatar fomenting a revolution against football’s authorities is small. After all, why would they need a revolution when they can just buy themselves a World Cup?” 2nd Yellow

City’s back three come unstuck against Toffees

“EVERTON 2-0 MANCHESTER CITY: At a time when the back three is out of fashion in much of the world, Italy has a style of its own. Last week, the majority of managers in Serie A ignored the footballing orthodoxy that four players start in defence. This week, the Premier League’s most famous exiled Italian did likewise.” ESPN

The Saints get their Pope

“Crowds thronging Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday to welcome the new Pope knew that, quite apart from the fact his predecessor is still alive, they were witnessing an historic event. Francisco I (as he’s known on his home continent) is the first Latin American to become leader of the world’s Catholics, and also the first Jesuit. Of course, everyone who had their Papal fact-checking priorities right had only one question on their minds; which football team does this Argentine Pope support?” ESPN

Manuel Pellegrini and Fatih Terim back where they belong

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Fatih Terim
“By common consent, five of the eight remaining sides in the Champions League have a good chance of lifting the European Cup at Wembley in May. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Juventus — current league champions, imminent league champions or, in Juve’s case, both. The dark horse? Paris St Germain have performed well in Europe under Champions League specialist Carlo Ancelotti, and following their recruitment of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, their presence is no great surprise.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Arsenal’s loss the latest setback in EPL’s steady decline

“It was, in the end, heroic failure for Arsenal, undone only on the away goals rule — but failure it was. Bayern Munich was surprisingly sloppy — perhaps precisely because the first leg was so simple for the club — but Arsenal regained a significant amount of self esteem with its performance in a valiant 2-0 win that wasn’t quite enough. And so, for the first time since 1996, there is no Premier League team in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

quo vadis journalism?

“Is it a bad time to be a journalist? Not to mention becoming one? What are the chances in journalism today? Are there any? It might seem somewhat preposterous a question to ask from a young researcher but having researched almost 50 years of sports journalism in the last 5 years, there is some justification to ask such a question.” Do not mention the war

What are the potential consequences of Arsenal finishing outside of the top four?

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
“‘Every remaining game is a Cup Final’ is a phrase most commonly used by teams in the bottom five of the table around this time of the season. But, the phrase is arguably applicable to Arsenal as well. Arsene Wenger has his work cut out just as much as the likes of Harry Redknapp, Paul Lambert and Roberto Martinez, as he too faces an uphill struggle to remain within a particular elite. Falling short of entering the European elite is something very difficult to recover from. Just ask Liverpool Football Club who have an illustrious history in the competition, yet finished 7th in the League in 2010, only to be followed by three seasons without Champions League football.” Think Football

The story behind the ups at downs at ‘crazy’ Inter

“Andrea Stramaccioni’s phone is vibrating. The Inter coach fumbles around his pockets for it. Caller ID reveals that club president Massimo Moratti is on the line. You’d maybe expect there to be some trepidation. All week, Stramaccioni had read in the papers, seen on the TV and heard on the radio that Moratti was apparently considering sacking him if Inter didn’t improve in the second leg of their Europa League tie with Tottenham on Thursday and their trip to Sampdoria on Sunday.” ESPN (Video)

Pressure, yet again, in return to Southampton

“When Liverpool travel to St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton on Saturday, there will be a sense of deja vu; a nagging feeling they have been here before. Their subconscious is not playing tricks on them, for they have been to St Mary’s before. From its opening in 2001 until the Saints’ relegation in 2005, Liverpool visited four times, losing three, all by two goals without reply.” ESPN

Barcelona 4-0 Milan: Villa plays centrally and allows Messi space between the lines

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“Barcelona recovered from a 2-0 first leg defeat. Jordi Roura (perhaps with help from Tito Vilanova) used David Villa upfront, with Cesc Fabregas on the bench, and played Javier Mascherano rather than Carles Puyol. Max Allegri kept things close to the first leg XI – Mathieu Flamini replaced Sulley Muntari, with Riccardo Montolivo moving to the left of the midfield trio. Upfront, with Giampaolo Pazzini injured, M’Baye Niang played upfront. Barcelona were excellent in the first half here – and although the home side’s strategy was slightly confused after the third goal which had tipped the balance of the tie, Milan didn’t have an answer for their unusual system.” Zonal Marking

Embattled Villa seizes opportunity in Barcelona’s comeback
“David Villa took two touches, one with his right foot and one with his left, and took his chance like a man that was never going to miss. Smooth and precise, lethal. Just like Villa always did. With the first touch, he controlled the ball and eased away from his marker in a single move, letting the ball come across him; with the second, opening out his body, he curled it past AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and into the far corner, so far from the goalie that he did not even bother moving.” SI

2014: A Very Brazilian World Cup?

“In an ever-increasingly globalised world, national football teams offer a rare beacon of consistency and separation, a unit that cannot be corrupted or diluted, influenced or relegated. Fans can embrace their shared culture and nationality, with no fear of players being poached or tempted away by bright lights and bulging pay packets. The national identification allowed by international football also drives the assimilation and acceptance of diverse racial groups into modern society, predominantly in Western Europe. Countries are building squads that reflect the growing diversity of their nations, particularly in the poor, urban youth; the breeding ground for so many of the world’s footballing superstars.” In Bed With Maradona

Liverpool 3 Tottenham 2: In-Depth Tactical Analysis

“Rodgers made only one change from the last game against Wigan. Sturridge returned to fitness and replaced Allen, with the shape reverting to the usual 4-2-3-1. However, Reina was injured so Jones had start in a goal. For Tottenham, Lennon missed the game. It was always going to be interesting how Villa-Boas chose to replace him. As it played out, Dembele was moved to the right flank with Livermore partnering Parker in the centre. The other two changes (compared to the Arsenal game) were anticipated and part of the usual rotation, pre and post a Europa match. Lloris and Dawson replaced Friedel and Gallas respectively. Bale remained central, which meant Sigurdsson and Dembele were playing in narrow positions off the flanks (something that had certain ramifications on the whole tactical battle). The team’s formation looked the usual 4-2-3-1. But given that on the flanks there were two natural ball-players, playing on their wrong foot (hence looking to come infield), the shape predominantly morphed into a sort of 4-2-2-2.” Tomkins Times

Lazio 0-2 Fiorentina: Ledesma shows how not to play the holding midfield role – again role

“A familiar, assured passing performance from Fiorentina – but a rare away victory. They leapfrog Lazio into fourth. Vladimir Petkovic was without right-winger Antonio Candreva after his red card against Milan last week, so moved Alvaro Gonzales to the flank and used Ederson in the middle. Lorik Cana started at the back, in place of Giuseppe Biava. Vincenzo Montella selected his 4-3-3 formation. Alberto Aquilani was unavailable in the centre of the pitch, so Giulio Migliaccio started in his position, while Nenad Tomovic played at right-back. Fiorentina were clinical here – dominating the opening period with clever passing triangles, then playing possession football in the second half to seal a relatively comfortable victory.” Zonal Marking

Schalke 2-1 Dortmund: squeezed game allows full-backs forward on the overlap
“Schalke won the Revierderby with an excellent first-half display. Atsuto Uchida came back into Jens Keller’s side, with Marco Hoger moving forward into midfield in place of Jermaine Jones. Jurgen Klopp recalled Mats Hummels – although he didn’t seem 100% fit and only lasted half the game. Klopp left out Marco Reus, presumably because of rotation after a busy couple of weeks for Dortmund. This game was amazingly attack-minded in the opening stages, and almost solely about the flanks, with all four full-backs playing attack-minded roles.” Zonal Marking

The Question: is the away-goals rule counterproductive?

Newcastle's Danny Simpson heads the ball during the Europa League first leg against Anzhi
“Imagine that on Tuesday night, rather than playing that late free-kick short so Milan lost possession and conceded a fourth goal, Robinho had hurled it into the box. Imagine Philippe Mexès had jumped for it, the ball had taken the merest brush off his pony-tail and that had been enough to take it past Victor Valdés. That would have made it 3-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate and Milan would have beaten Barcelona on the away goals rule.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea: United storm into an early lead, then Chelsea dominate

“Manchester United appeared firmly in control for 20 minutes, but substitutions helped Chelsea get back into the game. Sir Alex Ferguson recalled Wayne Rooney, using him behind Javier Hernandez, with Shinji Kagawa left and Nani right. Jonny Evans also returned. Rafael Benitez surprisingly named Ramires and Frank Lampard in midfield, allowing him to play three attackers, including Victor Moses, behind Demba Ba. Cesar Azpilicueta was at right-back. United took an early lead with goals from Hernandez and Rooney, but then seemed to stop playing – and Chelsea could have won it late on.” Zonal Marking

Lyon 0-0 Marseille: A bad reflection of Ligue 1, and a bad result for Ligue 1

“PSG were the real winners, as 2nd versus 3rd played out a boring goalless draw. Remi Garde was without Anthony Reveillere, so Mohamadou Dabo played at right-back, with Samuel Umtiti on the left. Clement Grenier dropped to the bench, with the more defensive-minded Gueida Fofana starting instead. Elie Baup was without Morgan Amalfitano, so used the pacey Modou Sougou in his place. Otherwise, his side was as expected. This was desperately poor – two negative sides apparently content to play out a goalless draw, in a match featuring just three shots on target.” Zonal Marking

Spot-on Gerrard settles thriller

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“Luis Suarez edged the battle of the player of the year contenders as he scored and earned the match-winning penalty to eclipse Gareth Bale and keep Liverpool’s slim top-four hopes alive with a 3-2 victory over Tottenham at Anfield. The Premier League’s leading scorer drew first blood with his 29th of the season – and 22nd in the top flight – and, although his opposite number had a hand in both of Tottenham’s goals, the Uruguay international had the last laugh by winning the late spot-kick from which Steven Gerrard scored.” ESPN

Analysis – Schalke Rule the Ruhr After Win Against Borussia Dortmund

“Schalke pulled off the double against their regional rivals by winning the 142nd Revierderby 2-1. Goals from Julian Draxler and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the first half overcame a visibly fatigued Dortmund side that were outplayed despite Robert Lewandowski’s goal in the second half. The win was Schalke’s 400th home win in the Bundesliga and lifts them into the final Champions League spot for the time being while Dortmund continue to struggle following matches in Europe. After an extended slump Schalke have now won three straight and are unbeaten in their last five competitive matches.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Boost for Barcelona ahead of Milan clash

“Barcelona achieved a valuable 2-0 win against Deportivo La Coruna at the Camp Nou in Matchday 27 of La Liga. Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi scored the goals for the Blaugrana, which enjoyed 71 percent of possession, created 12 goal-scoring chances and attempted 12 shots, seven of them on target. This result helps the Catalans keep their comfortable lead at the top of the table for yet another week.” ESPN

Dean-Richards: Wayne Rooney can get over being called a failure

“Today Alex Ferguson moved to reassure everyone that Wayne Rooney will still be at Manchester United next season, so let me tell you before anybody else does—Twitter, Facebook and Real World aside—that Paris Saint Germain will be lucky to have him. Yes, that’s right, at United, he’s a goner, of that there can be little doubt. He probably wasn’t left out of their lineup against Real Madrid on Tuesday to prove a point, but if anything that makes his situation at the club more hopeless: nobody at Manchester United is out to get Wayne Rooney; it’s more that nobody at Manchester United cares about Wayne Rooney. And for Wayne Rooney that must be quite hard to hear, because he is Wayne Rooney.” The Score

The Interview: Just Football meets Liverpool FC Academy Director Frank McParland

“Frank McParland is a Liverpool man through and through. In fact, let’s widen the lens. Frank McParland is a football man through and through. A student of the game who has been involved with football at all levels from youth coach to team analyst to scout, team manager and now Academy Director of Liverpool Football Club, his passion for the sport shines brighter than the sun on the clear, mild winter’s day when I sat down to interview him in Qatar, where Liverpool’s under-18 team were taking part in the Al Kass International Cup.” Just Football