Monthly Archives: December 2013

Man City 2 Liverpool 1: In-Depth Tactical Analysis

“As anticipated Pellegrini solidified his midfield by both switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation and having Silva as the third midfielder behind Negredo. This meant Nasri was placed on the left, adding another midfield body by drifting infield. With Zabaleta fit to start the home team re-established his fearsome wide partnership on the right with Navas. Rodgers continued with the same 4-1-2-3 formation as has been the case lately. The only change was due to Flanagan’s injury, he was replaced by Cissokho. However, in contrast to the recent games, Coutinho played closer to the touchline and only occasionally venturing infield.” Tomkins Times

Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool: Tactical Analysis | City keep Suarez quiet
“The festive season is loved in England because of the flood of matches that it brings, and the competitive spirit that the games are played in. Santa’s present to the football world this year was a terrific top of the table clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at the Etihad, as the Christmas leaders attempted to achieve the impossible; return from the Etihad with points.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical review of 2013: Strike partners in crime are bad news for defenders

“The return of the strike partnership. For a decade or so, it seemed inconceivable that a top team could play with a pair of forwards and still prosper. Operate with two forwards, the logic ran, and you surrender control of the midfield. International football always lags behind club football when it comes to innovation, but even there, by Euro 2008, 4-2-3-1 had become the default. Yet this season, front pairings seem to have returned to fashion. When Manchester City pair Álvaro Negredo and Sergio Agüero, that is a strike duo: it’s true that they may not play exactly alongside each other at all times, but neither can it be argued that one is operating in an attacking midfield role, as would be required legitimately to describe the formation as 4-2-3-1. Liverpool, similarly, have used Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge to great effect. At Atlético Madrid, Diego Costa and David Villa have thrived, while the Paris Saint-Germain pair Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez are working well as a pairing for Juventus – although in a system that uses a back three rather than a back four.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

With fatigue affecting Giroud, is it time for Wenger to spend?

“The period leading up to the January transfer window was supposed to be the time when Olivier Giroud proved that Arsenal didn’t need another centre-forward. Instead, the Frenchman is currently going through his leanest goalscoring form — seven starts — since joining the club in the summer of 2012. Giroud’s all-round game continues to impress, and Arsenal have learnt to make the most of his excellent link-up play, which he demonstrated when setting up Lukas Podolski’s fine strike against West Ham.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

The 54 Club – Italy

“As usual my parents escaped England for Christmas, thus shirking any festive responsibilities, and 2012 saw them wintering in Rome. Taking up their kind offer to join them I deliberately arrived late in December with the aim of fulfilling the dream of every child who grew up watching James Richardson sip coffee and hold the Gazetta Dello Sport aloft outside the Pantheon, watching some live calcio. With the winter break arriving I expected my options to be limited and would have been quite content to seeing one of the Roman teams play a basement dweller but luck was on my side and Roma had a home fixture against my childhood sweetheart, AC Milan.” Back Page Football

What has caused Borussia Dortmund’s disappointing form?

“Going into the winter break Borussia Dortmund sit fourth in the Bundesliga standings after collecting 32 points from the first 17 games. They are twelve points adrift of the defending champions Bayern Munich who have a game in hand. Even at just the halfway mark of the season, the title race appears over with the runaway leaders Bayern Munich seven points clear of Bayer Leverkusen having played a match less. Even with a managerial change, Bayern have simply continued from where they left last season.” Outside of the Boot

Russia and Ukraine merged league a small part of a bigger play

“In Soviet times a creeping network of veins and arteries kept the footballing and state machines in the eastern bloc beating together as one like some great socio-vascular monolith. Owned and run by government branches, clubs’ fortunes peaked and dipped contingent upon their utility to the Nomenklatura. In Bulgaria the military team CSKA were richly resourced from above whilst rivals Levski, historically synonymous with social resistance, were manipulated by the Interior Ministry to render them forever runners-up. Elsewhere Kaparty Lviv, a beacon for Ukrainian nationalism at a time when communism was creaking under the weight of its own bureaucratic waste, were shut down by the party leadership in 1981, seven years before state-favourites Dynamo Kiev were given permission to privatise and further entrench their legend as Ukraine’s famously immoveable object. Ask not what your country can do for you, and all that.” World Soccer

Liverpool’s midfield to thrive in absence of Steven Gerrard?

“At the age of 33, Steven Gerrard remains an integral part of the Liverpool team. So far this season, he has recorded six assists (joint second in the league) and averaged 2.7 key passes per game – third highest after the unstoppable Luis Suarez and the pass master Mesut Ozil. These qualities of the England skipper are hardly a revelation to anyone with an interest in LFC news. The question is – how do Liverpool perform in games of high intensity with Gerrard in the side? How do they deal with opponents pressing them high up? And equally as important, do Liverpool themselves press effectively enough with Gerrard at the heart of midfield?” Backpage Football

The Suárez Conundrum

“I first made it to Montevideo shortly after Richard ‘Chengue’ Morales scored the winning goal against Australia in a World Cup playoff in 2001. Ragged horses and carts danced through the streets like Lipizzaner stallions. Children begging on the streets got extra portions of Pollo Milanese from diners leaving fine restaurants. Beautiful girls shared their grappamiel. And posters of Chengue, a bare-chested Afro-Uruguayan, waving La Celeste (the iconic sky blue Uruguay shirt) were in every shop window. It was a poor, but proud city. On my second visit in 2007, I saw the remarkable progress of the country under newly elected President Tabaré Vázquez. Under Vázquez all social and economic indices were up. He was the first member of the left wing Frente Amplio to be elected President. Poverty levels plummeted, child hunger was greatly reduced, smoking in public places was banned and Uruguay confronted the crimes committed in the military dictatorship years of 1973 to 1985.” Road and Kingdoms

The 100 best footballers in the world 2013 – interactive

“Welcome to the Guardian’s choice of the world’s top 100 footballers for 2013. We asked our international panel of experts to name their top players in action this year and rank them in order of preference. You can see who the judges are and read how we compiled the final list here. Starting with No100 in the bottom right, click on individual players in the interactive to read more about their year.” Guardian

Pedro sparks Barca comeback

“Pedro scored a hat-trick in the space of eight minutes as Barcelona came from two goals down to beat Getafe 5-2 and return to the top of the Primera Division for Christmas. A much-changed Barca side, without the suspended Neymar plus the injured trio of Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, conceded twice in the opening quarter of an hour, with Sergio Escudero breaking the deadlock and Lisandro Lopez scoring a header.” ESPN

Arsène Wenger at Arsenal and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United prove the value of the ‘manager’

“Some self-admiring owners invade the dressing room, diluting the power of the manager, a damaging trend. If Arsène Wenger guides Arsenal to glory in the Premier League it would be a wonderful, well-timed triumph for the managerial profession. Managers are not just for Christmas. Even Wenger’s rivals would surely acknowledge privately the long-term benefit for their industry of the success of a manager who will have been in his job almost 18 years, who alone decides recruitment and loan policy, whose influence is so all-pervading at the Emirates that he even chose the wall colours.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

What’s next for Ronaldinho?

“Another magisterial free kick goal from Ronaldinho, this time against Guangzhou Everglade in the Club World Cup third place-off, serves as further testimony to the extraordinary depth of his talent. The way that he flitted around on the game’s periphery, even against a team from China, was an all too eloquent statement of how much of this talent has been wasted. What a puzzling enigma he is! The question is not easy to answer; should we be grateful for the fabulous moments Ronaldinho has given us, or frustrated that he could have delivered so many more of them?” ESPN – Tim Vickery

Georgia on my mind

“At around 20.45 local time on 12th October 2002 a power failure at the Mikheil Meskhi stadium in Tbilisi plunged Georgia’s Euro 2004 qualifying match against Russia into darkness. It wasn’t to be the last time that an energy shortage in the Caucasus would cause a blackout in the relationship between these two bitter rivals. Captaining Georgia that night was AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze, the young republic’s most famous footballing export, but even the defensive barricade that would go on to collect a Champions League winners medal barely three years later was powerless to intercede as he and his teammates waited with uncertainty in the Tbilisi darkness.” World Soccer

Football violence: a view from around the world

Spartak Moscow fans displaying a Nazi flag during a game at Shinnik Yaroslavl.
“Brazil: violence around games on the rise. Brazil ends 2013 with a record in football violence deaths. It was a miracle that nobody died in the festival of thuggery that took place on 8 December at the Atlético Paranaense v Vasco de Gama match in Joinville, during the last round of the Campeonato Brasileiro, whose shocking images were beamed all around the world. That, however, did not prevent Brazilian football finishing its 2013 season with the saddest of milestones: the 30 deaths in football-related incidents this year is the highest number in the history of the game in the country. What’s more worrying is that fatal cases have been rising steadily in the past few years. …” Guardian

World Cup – and outbreak of supporter violence – link Brazil and Russia
“In six months’ time the World Cup will land in the home of joga bonito clad in a Fifa-approved wrapping of sun, sea and samba. But the dark side of the beautiful game in Brazil was in evidence earlier this month, when images of running battles between fans of Atlético Paranaense and Vasco da Gama shocked the watching world. The game was being held at a neutral ground in Joinville due to previous clashes between fans of the two clubs, but within 10 minutes Globo was broadcasting close-up footage of supporters repeatedly stamping on the heads of their rivals and chasing one another around the stadium bowl. Following a long interregnum, the fighting was eventually broken up by armed security firing rubber bullets into the crowds and an army helicopter landing on the pitch, but not before several fans were seriously injured.” Guardian

Milan 2-2 Roma: Tactical Analysis | Defensive & Positional Errors

“AC Milan have had a poor first half of the campaign and find themselves struggling to get into the coveted European spots. Roma, on the other hand, had a dream start to the season which saw them winning 10 consecutive games having conceded just 1 goal, before hitting a slight slump; they’ve won just 1 game in their last 5 Serie A matches, and are still unbeaten. AC Milan needed to start getting points to keep pace with those above them, or risk falling into mid-table obscurity. AS Roma needed points for a whole different reason, to ensure Juventus (who won 4-0 on the weekend) don’t runaway with the title again.” Outside of the Boot

Tactical Analysis: What radical changes should the new Spurs manager implement?

“Before delving into what the future holds for Tottenham Hotspur, one has to mention that Andre Villas-Boas had the highest win percentage since 1899 for any Spurs manager with 53.7% Whatever Tim Sherwood comes up with in his first match as interim coach for Tottenham, his tactics and the nature of the team he fields will very much be under the scrutiny of Spurs fans worldwide. Putting oneself into his shoes, one finds that the positives of the squad outnumber the negatives. Spurs have one of the more enviable squad in the Premier League in terms of depth. The squad blends solid, proven players (Moussa Dembele, Sandro, Jan Vertonghen) and unproven youngsters with great potential (Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Andros Townsend, Lewis Holtby).” Think Football

Landmark Victory For Rodgers’ Reds

“Well, that was unexpected. My pre-match fear about the Reds never doing well at White Hart Lane proved somewhat misplaced. Not for the first time, I was proved wrong. One post-match Tweeter seemed unusually keen that I admit I was ‘wrong over Rodgers’. Football writers are no different from terrace and armchair pundits in that we want to be right; we want to say something that rings true. After all, who wants to be wrong all the time? What kind of pundit would that make you? That said, football makes mugs of us all. Anyone who can’t see that is deluded. That said, I’m baffled as to how I’ve been wrong on Rodgers. I’ve remained fairly neutral; unconvinced either way, for much of the time.” Tomkins Times

Managerial departures: ‘Sacked’ seems to be the hardest word

“Aaah, how much simpler life would be if all our love affairs ended ‘by mutual consent’. But they almost never do, however much we kid ourselves. ‘Whose decision was it?’ they ask. ‘It was mutual,’ we answer. Hoping they didn’t notice the furtive eyes and the quivering lip. Hoping they didn’t notice the embarrassing public rows, the transparent lack of romance and the affair she had with that hedge fund manager who was funnier and better looking than you.” BBC

Top 50 Players in the World 2013: Part 4 – 20-11

“We’re getting to the business end of the Top 50 now with the players ranked 20th to 11th. Some of the world’s best playmakers are in this batch of players, as well as some clinical goal scorers. If you were to put together a 5-a-side team from the ten names below you wouldn’t need a goalkeeper because the opposition would never get the ball.” Backpage Football

What did we learn tacticaly about Gerardo Martino from Barcelona’s El Classico victory?

“When Martino strolled into the Camp Nou for the seventh time this season, the Argentinian was welcomed to 98,000 fans planted into their seats eagerly awaiting one of the most anticipated games of the year in which many neutrals would happily see the two giants contesting each other in the Champions League Final. An even more intriguing game rose when the line ups were revealed, with Sergio Ramos situated in Midfield, Lionel Messi on the right and even Javier Mascherano swapped to RCB, to contest Cristiano Ronaldo in transitions, which we will get more into detail later.” Think Football

Questions surround Tottenham’s search for a new manager

Tim Sherwood Tottenham Hotspur
“There was a change of manager, a change of approach and a change of personnel, but no change of luck for Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs dominated long spells of Wednesday’s Capital One Cup quarter-final against West Ham United, but Tim Sherwood’s first game since replacing Andre Villas-Boas in a caretaker capacity ended in defeat. Sherwood, who had been in charge of the development squad, went back to basics, selecting an attacking 4-4-2 that included only two of the players who joined in the summer. For a time it seemed to work, with Spurs getting the ball wide and causing West Ham problems. But gradually West Ham stifled the home side and, although Emmanuel Adebayor volleyed Spurs into the lead after 66 minutes, West Ham continued to grow through the game. In the end, the key player was, unexpectedly, Modibo Maiga.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Review: The Football Pink Issue 1

“Self-propelled football writing on the internet has been up and running for some time now and while a number of sites have now established themselves as reliable go-to sources of articles, a recent phalanx of writers has emerged in their wake. Enter The Football Pink, stewarded by Mark Godfrey. The publication has attempted to tackle head on the issue of how to make money in a field assailed by the slings and arrows of open access by requiring its readers to stump up a modest amount of money for each of its issues – hence, each offering is available on Kindle for 99p and Joomag for $1.50. It’s an intriguing experiment and The Football Pink is already on to its second issue, with no shortage of promising writers queuing up to offer their thoughts on a range of subjects.” thetwounfortunates

“The Football Pink is a group of football obsessed writers and bloggers who bring their opinions, musings, observations and stories from all over the world to fans of ‘The Beautiful Game’. We also produce a quarterly e-magazine which can be downloaded to Kindle or Kindle apps.” The Fooball Pink

Face to face: Fernando Roig

“Fernando Roig: Totally. The first thing is the fans; they didn’t appreciate what it was to have a first division team in the city. Now they do. Then there’s the club. We made mistakes but we’ve been able to rectify them. We have dropped the budget to a level that is sustainable. We cleared the debts that were outstanding, effectively set the clock to zero and balanced the budget. Then there’s Marcelino, who is a very good coach who can take us forward in the next few years. Going down can never be seen as a good thing, but it has been positive in some aspects.” World Soccer

Super Sunday in South America, with five titles up for grabs

“South America staged its Super Sunday at the weekend – five domestic titles were up for grabs. In Argentina the fixture computer had played its part. Four teams still had a chance of glory, and they faced each other in a dramatic double header. Two draws meant that San Lorenzo, with the Pope’s blessing and an interesting crop of youngsters, came out on top. There was even more drama in Uruguay, where three teams went into the last day with a chance. Favourites were traditional giants Nacional, with a relatively straightforward home game against little Fenix. They took the lead, and with rivals River Plate losing they seemed well on course.” BBC – Tim Vickery

What makes an offence dynamic? Here’s a checklist…

“Tottenham’s 5-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday proved to be the final nail in Andre Villas-Boas’ coffin — the Portuguese coach was sacked less than 24 hours later, to little surprise. It was one of those astonishingly one-sided games, between two sides apparently well-matched on paper, that prompted a debate about what was more important to the result: Liverpool’s brilliance or Spurs simply being woeful. Inevitably, it’s a combination of both. But it’s difficult to ignore Tottenham’s sheer tactical stupidity. Playing a high defensive line with an unfamiliar and slow centre-back partnership, against the Premier League’s best goalscorer who loves running in behind opposition defences, is one of the most curious managerial decisions of the season.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Are Premier League chairmen really becoming more ruthless?

“On Monday, Andre Villas-Boas became the fifth Premier League manager to be sacked this season when he was dismissed by Tottenham. Just two days earlier, Steve Clarke was shown the door by West Brom. It represents a big leap from the last four seasons when clubs seemed to be prepared to play a slightly longer game. By the end of December 2012 only two managers had gone – Mark Hughes at Queens Park Rangers and Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea. The year before, Steve Bruce’s departure from Sunderland was the only casualty at Christmas.” BBC

It’s a squad thing – Part 1

Gary Neville instructs England players in 2006
G Nev exhorts his boys.
“In the first of two posts, Jonny Sharples picks his favourite squads, from the nearly men to the gloriously overachieving. Managers are often heard discussing the importance of having a squad: the depth of it, the balance of it, the blend of it. If you get the right mix of players and you could challenge for, and sometimes win, trophies; get it wrong and you could see fall outs within the squad and trouble on the pitch. Sometimes, though, the squad that a manager brings together can just been really fun or really interesting. It can capture your imagination and strike a chord with you for nothing more than being exciting or having a somewhat cult feel. I decided to pick five of my favourite squads that, for whatever reason, have stuck in my head throughout the years. Each squad is selected on the basis of a particular season or tournament that they were brought together, reflecting the temporary nature of players being teammates one minute and opponents the next…” Put Niels In Goal – Part 1

Napoli 4-2 Inter Milan: Tactical Analysis | Benitez counters Mazzarri

“Napoli came in to this match after suffering a heartbreak exit from the Champions League, despite winning 2-0 against the in form Gunners and amassing a total of 12 points in the group stage, which included a victory over Napoli. Rafa Benitez’s men were now relegated to the Europa League had the task of making the most of their league campaign in order to play Champions League football again next year. A 3-3 draw last match day against Udinese saw Juventus and Roma pull away at the top. Inter Milan started the game four points behind Napoli. After three consecutive draws (Bologna, Sampdoria and Parma) in the league, Inter look to close the gap and give Napoli a fight for their much yearned Champions League spot. With Fiorentina leapfrogging in front of them after a 3-0 victory against Bologna earlier that day, three points against Napoli was massively crucial for Walter Mazzarri’s men.” Outside of the Boot

Top 50 Players in the World 2013: Part 3 – 30-21

“The third part of the Top 50 Players in the World 2013 sees us move into the top 30. There’s plenty of green arrows in this instalment of the countdown, testament to some of the huge strides made by some players in 2013. Five different leagues are represented here – the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.” Backpage Football

The real cost of hosting a World Cup

“You don’t often see people consciously building a white elephant, but that’s what I witnessed in Brasilia last year. Smack in downtown, on the main avenue of Brazil’s tropical capital, workers were finishing off a stadium for 70,000 people. The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is one of 12 stadiums for next year’s World Cup. And even before the tournament ends, it will be redundant. No club from Brasilia plays in the two divisions of the Brazilian national league. Even what passes for the local powerhouse, Brasilia Futebol Clube, plays only in the local state league, in which the average game draws fewer than 1,000 fans. Nor will the Rolling Stones regularly visit this city in the middle of nowhere to fill the Nacional. Brasilia might as well tear down the stadium after the last World Cup game and save itself maintenance costs. So could other host cities such as Manaus, Cuiaba and Natal.” ESPN – Simon Kuper (Video)

Tactics: inverting the triangle

“The designations given to formations rarely tell the whole story. For example, when does 4-4-2 become 4-4-1-1 become 4-2-3-1? And what if the right-sided forward tucks in to allow the right-back to overlap, but on the left the forward stays wide and the full-back sits back, sometimes shuffling into the middle to form a de facto back three. How would that be denoted?” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson

The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

“It seems like footballers have taken these words to heart. What we watch these days expecting volumes of excitement and sentiment from the Beautiful Game is accompanied by plenty of acts which are deemed unsportsmanlike, shallow, tarnishing and disgraceful by many. To be fair, it’s what humans have done for thousands of years: proceed in the path that is most profitable to us. Interpreting this in football terms, what we have are plenty of performances that are concentrated purely on gaining an unfair advantage, all of which, mind you, have been worked around and worked through the laws of the game.” Outside of the Boot

Heat is on for all but Argentina

“And so after the trip way out west to Cuiaba to take on Chile, it’s the frozen wastes of the south for Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos. Winter can bite a little bit in the cities of Porto Alegre and Curitiba, where Australia will face Netherlands and Spain respectively. Whoever wins Group B is then in for something of a shock – up to Fortaleza in the north east for a second round match, which is due to kick off at 1pm local time. It will probably be hot enough to fry. A Brazilian first division game would never get going at such a time. A few days ago I was on a TV show with Tite, who has just stepped down from a hugely successful spell in charge of Corinthians – and who could well be the next Brazil coach, once the 2014 circus has packed up and left town.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Burnley manager Sean Dyche eager to take Championship leaders into the Premier League

“Sean Dyche strides from Burnley’s training pitch on the banks of the River Calder, having taken his Championship-leading players through a detailed and energetic session in advance of Saturday’s trip to third-placed Leicester City, and marches into a modest building that resembles a Lancashire village hall on the outside but Nasa on the inside. It is all sports science, mission statements on the wall and borrowed hi-tech running machines. It is clear there is far more to Dyche, the 42-year-old former centre-half, than the general perception. His shaven-headed, physically imposing presence belies a sophisticated approach to the game, a hunger for knowledge and a determination to change critical views of English coaches.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

The Far Post: In Glasgow, a Rival’s Lament

“Last year the sad, mad, brutal and beautiful series known as Celtic versus Rangers came to an end after an unbroken 125-year run. Proud Rangers—one of the oldest, grandest, richest clubs in world football—simply ran out of money. The reasons why this happened would not be unfamiliar to sports-watchers anywhere on earth: greed, envy, and overspending all played a role. There were unique local wrinkles—the Scottish media all but ignored the calamity at the same time as it was being masterfully reported and dissected by anonymous bloggers, especially the unnamed author of a suspiciously well-informed blog called Rangers Tax Case. But the demise of the august club, which was sent to the lowest league in Scotland last year, raises more universal questions for those of us who, like the RTC blogger and me, wear Celtic’s green colours. Should we gloat? Should we grieve? What does it mean to support a team whose greatest and only rival is gone?” ROADS & KINGDOMS

Football fixing claims: When is ‘match-fixing’ not match-fixing?

“Football is never far away from its next scandal and allegations of match-fixing certainly dent the reputation of the beautiful game. But is it right to call the recent claims of wrongdoing ‘match-fixing’? Sam Sodje, a former Portsmouth player, was filmed by an undercover reporter claiming he could arrange for footballers to be booked for a £30,000 fee and a sending-off for £50,000 to £70,000 in order to facilitate betting fraudsters. Six people have been arrested, including DJ Campbell, the Blackburn Rovers striker. Emotive terms like ‘plague’ and ‘cancer’ have been used in the media and there have been calls for fixers to be banned for life, but why has no-one asked whether it is actually possible to make substantial amounts of money by betting on yellow and red cards?” BBC

Argentina all set for epic four-way tussle in final-day title cliffhanger

“Whatever else is wrong with domestic football in Argentina – and it is a lot – it does have the huge advantage of being extremely competitive. Going into the final weekend (although a number of teams are already finished) of the Torneo Inicial, the top four are separated by two points – and are playing each other.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Moyes firmly in Ferguson’s shadow as shaky Man Utd wins CL group

“The strangest thing about Manchester United this season has been the disparity between its European and its domestic form. A 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk — shaky as United was in the first half — ensured David Moyes’s side topped its Champions League group, but all that victory did was temporarily ease the pressure. And that, to an extent, is Moyes’s problem at the moment: the story, as was always likely, has become that of his struggle to replace Sir Alex Ferguson and every result, every performance, every utterance now is refracted through the prism of that narrative.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Unconventional playmakers to decide Milan, Schalke’s UCL fate

“For those who yearn for the days of simple, old-fashioned knockout football throughout the duration of the European Cup, there are two standout contests among the eight matches on Wednesday, the final day of the Champions League group stage. Whereas the matches in Group F are interdependent — as is also the case in Group G — there are simple, winner-take-all contests in Groups E and H between second and third, with the first-place side already qualified and the last-place side out of the running. There will be no checking other scores, no working out goal difference, no looking up rules about head-to-head records. The knockout stage has effectively come early.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Milan 0-0 Ajax: Milan hold on with ten men

“Riccardo Montolivo’s early dismissal meant Ajax spent an hour trying, and failing, to break down Milan’s deep defence. Max Allegri made huge changes from the side which drew 2-2 at Livorno, bringing in six players – Stephan El Shaarawy was the most eye-catching inclusion, although he didn’t last long. Frank De Boer also made a few changes. Bojan started upfront against his former club, while Daley Blind was at left-back with Christian Poulsen coming into the midfield. This was far from open, but it was certainly entertaining. Montolivo’s red card forced both managers to change their plans quickly, and overall Ajax – the side needing the win – were unimpressive in their attempts to score.” Zonal Marking

Champions League: Which teams have qualified for the last 16?

“Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United are all through to the last 16 of the Champions League. All four German clubs – holders Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke – progress and join Spanish trio Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the knockout phase. AC Milan will be the sole Italian representative after Christmas as Serie A leaders Juventus could only finish third in Group B.” BBC

Massimo Bonini – Watercarrier To the Stars

“Defensive midfielders are often underrated: they are, indeed, underrated to the point where they become overrated and one man, Claude Makelele, even has a role in football named after him. But there is one man, one watercarrier, one mediano, who can perhaps lay claim to being one of the most underrated players of all time. On 14th November 1990 in a the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle, San Marino, a 31 year old midfielder by the name of Massimo Bonini made his full international debut playing the first half of a 4-0 defeat to Switzerland in a Euro ’92 qualifying game.” Put Niels In Goal

Infographic: The Boys in Brazil | England at the World Cup

“The stage is set for the greatest show on earth and the ball is rolling. The countdown has begun for the grand World Cup in Brazil next year, as the beautiful game goes to its spiritual home. Of course, it’s inevitable that the competition would attract interest, but a few old men in suits hogged all the World Cup attention this week. The draw for the competition was released, and the customary search for the group of death ends with Group D. Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica find themselves pitted alongside England.” Outside of the Boot

Roma 2-1 Fiorentina: everything down the wings

“Roma ended a run of four draws with a victory over Fiorentina in a highly entertaining match. Rudi Garcia’s side was as expected – Adem Ljajic continued to play the Francesco Totti role against his former side, while Dodo was still at left-back in place of Federico Balzaretti. Vincenzo Montella moved Juan Vargas forward to the left flank having excelled at left-back against Verona in midweek. Manuel Pasqual returned at left-back, with Joaquin making way and Juan Cuadrado switching flanks. Alberto Aquilani returned in place of Matias Vecino in midfield, while David Pizarro was only fit enough for the bench. This game was most interesting for its overall pattern, rather than for the specifics of either side’s play.” Zonal Marking

Manchester United 0-1 Newcastle United: Pardew beefs up his midfield and Newcastle dominate possession

“Manchester United lost their second consecutive home league match for the first time over a decade. David Moyes made seven changes from the side that lost to Everton in midweek. Wayne Rooney was suspended and Michael Carrick was still injured, but Robin van Persie returned. Alan Pardew moved away from the 4-4-2 system that had beaten Chelsea and Tottenham in recent weeks, bringing Vurnon Anita into the midfield and leaving Loic Remy alone upfront. Moyes’ side had been a touch unfortunate against Everton in midweek, but here they were simply outplayed by a superior unit.” Zonal Marking

Tactics Board: van Persie lost in the deep
“There was a time, not many years ago, when many were not convinced that Robin van Persie was a sole, or main, striker. Now it feels a little strange when he is deployed in a deeper position.” ESPN (Video)

Manchester United 0-1 Newcastle United: Tactical Analysis | Newcastle’s organized display piles on the misery for Moyes
“Both sides came into the game on the back of disappointing losses in mid-week and Saturday’s early kick off gave them a chance for quick retribution. For the home side, the performance against Everton wasn’t the worst of the season but for a variety of reasons (tactical analysis here) they came up short. For Newcastle, their impressive renaissance and charge up the table was halted midweek by Swansea and in normal circumstances, a trip to Old Trafford on the back of a 3-0 loss should be a daunting prospect. However, Old Trafford hasn’t been the stronghold that Manchester United fans have been used to and Newcastle proved just that.” Outside of the Boot

Arsenal 1-1 Everton: Everton passing impresses but Arsenal offer more pentration

“Arsenal extended their lead at the top, while Everton extended the Premier League’s longest unbeaten run. Arsene Wenger was still without Bacary Sagna, so Carl Jenkinson played instead, while Theo Walcott was still on the bench. Roberto Martinez named an unchanged XI from the side that recorded a famous victory at Old Trafford in midweek. Everton were highly impressive throughout the first half, although ended up searching for a late equaliser.” Zonal Marking

Arsenal 1-1 Everton: Tactical Analysis | The Pressing Game
“With some of the title contenders like Chelsea, City and Manchester United dropping points the previous day, Arsenal had the chance to extend their lead at the top to 7 points, a truly remarkable figure in a season that’s supposed to be the tightest in a while. It wasn’t going to be easy pickings though for the Gunners, as their opponents were the in form Everton.” Outside of the Boot

Top 50 Players in the World 2013: Part 1 – 50-41

41 Gerard Pique (▼ 40th)
“We’ve tallied the votes and taken opinions on board so now it’s time to reveal the Top 50 Players in the World for 2013! In the first part of this year’s countdown there are six new entries; players who showed a dramatic improvement over the course of the past 12 months.” backpage football

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Leverkusen Blunt Dortmund attack to take crucial points

“With Bayern Munich predictably marching ahead in the title race, the chasing pack had a very important match on Saturday night. Leverkusen travelled to the Signal Iduna Park to face the third placed side, Borussia Dortmund.” Outside of the Boot

Five talking points from Matchday 15
“In yet another goals-galore Bundesliga weekend, Bayern Munich finally satisfied the expectations of a free-scoring victory with a ruthless display at helpless Werder Bremen. Bayer Leverkusen continued to follow the footsteps of the Bavarians as they secured their most impressive win of the season to slump Borussia Dortmund to their second home defeat in a row. Borussia Mönchengladbach leveled their namesake on points after former Königsblauen midfielder Raffael’s sensational goal helped them to a comeback victory against fellow European football seekers, Schalke. The Brazilian wasn’t the only one to score against his former club, as Konstantin Rausch’s first goal for Stuttgart ensured that his former employers, Hannover, are still chasing their first point away from home.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Celtic suspend fans after damage to Motherwell’s Fir Park

“Celtic have suspended 128 fans from their matches and relocated 250 season-ticket holders following damage caused to Motherwell’s Fir Park on Friday. Seats in the South Stand were damaged while smoke bombs and flares were also thrown during Celtic’s 5-0 win. The Green Brigade group of fans on Sunday said it regretted the scenes and admitted that it should have better policed its section of supporters.” BBC

2014 Fifa World Cup: Gary Lineker’s guide to the eight seeds

“England have been drawn in Group D for the 2014 World Cup, meaning they will face seeded team Uruguay as well as Italy and Costa Rica. Hosts Brazil are in Group A, reigning world and European champions Spain are in Group B and three-time champions Germany are in Group G. Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, speaking before the draw was made, takes a closer look at the eight seeded national teams…” BBC

U.S. draws incredibly difficult group, but one filled with opportunity

“The U.S. had drawn Germany, Portugal and Ghana, the hardest opening-round group the Americans have ever faced in a World Cup. Germany, a three-time world champion, could easily win the tournament. Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, who may be about to win the Ballon d’Or as the world player of the year. And Ghana has been the destroyer of U.S. dreams at the last two World Cups, eliminating the Americans both times. Group G has easily the most difficult average FIFA ranking of any World Cup group: 11.25. Germany is No. 2, Portugal No. 5, the U.S. No. 14 and Ghana No. 24.” SI

USA’s 2014 World Cup group overflowing with history
“You wanted a World Cup group with some sumptuous storylines? You got one. The USA was drawn into a Group of Supreme Death with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, with Jurgen Klinsmann needing to gameplan for the likes of Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo while aiming to break the Ghana hex — just to reach the knockout stage. The amount of history that the USA has against its group opponents is staggering, too.” SI (Video)

German Nationalism Courtesy of Football

“The 20th century was a wicked roller coaster ride for Germany. Two World Wars, each spawned by high levels of nationalism, both resulted in German defeat. In the course of less than fifty years, Germany’s territory, economy, and politics were reduced to rubble, rebuilt, and then subsequently destroyed multiple times. Post World War II, the Allied Powers split Germany into two countries to separate East from West during the Cold War, with the very visible divide in the form of the Berlin Wall. Only with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did East and West Germany begin the process of reunification. So, where has that left German citizens?” Soccer Politics

World Cup draw musings: Travel plans, Dyke’s “doh” and happy Fab

“Shortly after the World Cup draw, the national team coaches and FA officials are herded into what’s known as the “mixed zone”. It’s basically a giant tent, with eight barricades, one for each group. The coaches stand behind the fence, with the media scrum on the other side, microphones and notebooks in hand. How much a manager talks depends on several factors. First and foremost is his personality and how in demand he is. Then there is something as basic as how many languages he can speak: if you’re comfortable in English and Spanish, you can go a very long time.” ESPN

AC Milan Crisis: What next for the Rossoneri?

“While teams like Juventus, Roma, Napoli were racking up points to fight it out for the title, Milan were sliding downhill, drawing and losing to teams they would have annihilated a few years back. Champions in 2010-11, Milan were flirting with the relegation zone as they had slumped to a lowly 13th in the table just 4 points off the dreaded drop zone and a massive 20 points off the table toppers, Juventus. Things were fairly quiet and subdued at the Via Turati in the summer; somewhat a relief after last seasons mass exodus with Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta et al putting their keys to their San Siro lockers on the table one by one.” Outside of the Boot

Football in Belarus and a tale of false promise

“It’s easy to forget that the all-conquering magicians of Europe Bayern Munich began their romp to the continental crown last season as the victims of a remarkable conjuring act. A startling result, which saw the grand masters beaten 3-1 in the former Soviet province of Borisov by a team who had never before tasted victory at Europe’s top table, might for all the world have been an illusion mechanised by Belarusian champions BATE for the benefit and bemusement of the world’s press. Not so much a rabbit out of a hat as a tractor, the likes of which are produced at the Borisov Auto Electric plant from where the club draws its name, bursting from the toe of a delicately stitched Bavarian stocking.” World Soccer

Heroes of the Neighborhood

“Klaus Störtebeker was not his real name. Any self-respecting pirate of the late 14th century picked his own nom de guerre, and Klaus of Wismar gave himself a moniker that means ’empties the mug in a single gulp.’ According to the legend, the mug in question would be about equal to four liters today. After a few years of wreaking havoc on the Northern European coast, Störtebeker was betrayed, captured, and brought to Hamburg for trial. He was beheaded along with 70 or so of his pirate brethren. When a Hamburg senator asked if the executioner was tired after all of this chopping, the executioner said he’d happily behead the whole senate as well. So a second executioner was brought in to behead the first. Störtebeker left a trail of blood (and gold: the core of his ship’s mast was full of it) in his wake.” Roads and Kingdoms

Manchester United 0-1 Everton: Tactical Analysis

“David Moyes faced his former club, Everton, since making the switch to Manchester United in the summer, at Old Trafford. Moyes has been highly regarded among the Everton faithful, up until his move to Manchester. The Scot, however, failed to record a single away win against the traditional (and now defunct) ‘big four’. Roberto Martinez has managed to better Moyes’ record in his first attempt. Everton, who have lost just 1 league game all season, proved to be more than just a match for the Red Devils, claiming their first win at the stadium since 1992. While Martinez has continued his good start to the season, his predecessor has found it increasingly difficult to live up to expectations at the top of the table, and finds himself under pressure once again.” Outside of the Boot