Monthly Archives: January 2014

Jose Mourinho: Chelsea boss wrong on 19th-Century football

“Jose Mourinho is an intelligent and articulate man and a talented manager, but he is not a historian. He said West Ham played “football from the 19th Century” after the Hammers’ defensive approach secured a 0-0 draw on Wednesday. Mourinho’s remarks were clearly meant more as a general slur alluding to the dark, unenlightened pre-Premier League days of English football than an accurate comparison to the game’s Victorian past.” BBC


‘We are Union, you are not’: Genuine fans saddened as criminals hijack the headlines in Sweden

“Football is as much about the 90 minutes on the pitch as spending time with your mates – an away match and one on European soil, heightens this feeling for the average fan. Pre-match drinks, a few songs perhaps and almost certainly exploring the cultural delights of a new country. However, a small minority from both sides used this game as a vehicle for violence. Let’s be clear. These people are criminals and should be dealt with. No true football fan throws flares at other fans, no true football fan throws a flare that narrowly misses their own goalkeeper and no true football fan rampages around Stockholm after a friendly looking for a fight. The behaviour described above, if proven beyond reasonable doubt, should see those people punished in the severest of terms. So far, this has been in the form of stadium bans.” Bundesliga Fanatic

The juggling act faced by all coaches

“On a phone in show recently a caller asked if players who had not featured in qualification should be taken to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He did not mean it in a sense that governing body should prevent them from playing; rather, he suggested, that it might be in the best interests of the coach to stick with the group that earned a place in the party. I cannot agree. The example that instantly came to mind was that of Italy in 1978. During the qualification process the sweeper was the veteran Giacinto Facchetti. Come the World Cup, however, he had been replaced – elegantly and successfully – by Gaetano Scirea. And a jack in the box striker called Paolo Rossi had also emerged as a domestic star, and went straight into the first team in Argentina ’78, with impressive results.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Tottenham’s midfield still a work in progress

“Manchester City’s 5-1 thrashing of Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night shouldn’t be used as evidence of Spurs’ lack of quality. Few clubs have the capability to cope with Manuel Pellegrini’s side in top form, while Spurs had two extremely tight decisions go against them, denying them an equaliser and reducing them to 10 men.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Liverpool 4-0 Everton: direct football and Sturridge wide-left helps Liverpool win easily

“Another high-scoring Merseyside derby – but this time, the goals were all at one end. Brendan Rodgers was without Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique, Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva, so had a patched-up back four, with Steven Gerrard in the deepest midfield role. Roberto Martinez welcomed back Ross Barkley, but was without both Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman. In an extremely intense, fast-paced match, Liverpool effectively sealed the victory by half-time.” Zonal Marking

Liverpool 4-0 Everton: Tactical Analysis | An all-out attacking Merseyside derby
“The match was billed as the biggest Merseyside derby since the 80s. Based on the stats and the positioning of both the sides, it certainly was. Rodgers’ Liverpool and Martinez’ Everton were having impressive campaigns, with both sides fighting it out for that coveted Champions League spot. The two sides played out a 3-3 draw earlier in the season, a match which some considered to be the most exciting of derbies in recent seasons. Expectations were high, intensity at another level, passion flaring and two young managers tactical brains put to the test, in the end, the Red side emerged victorious.” Outside of the Boot

Liverpool can look forward after derby thrashing of Everton
“Liverpool started the 222nd Merseyside derby looking over their shoulders at neighbours Everton and with a glance in the direction of Manchester United, fortified by Juan Mata’s £37m addition. They ended a thunderous night with their biggest Merseyside derby win since November 1982 and, at 4-0, the widest victory margin at Anfield against their rivals from across Stanley Park for 42 years. Manager Brendan Rodgers will seek satisfaction in those statistics – but of greater significance is that this evolving Liverpool team will feel they can gaze forward rather than back in the closing phases of the Premier League season.” BBC

QPR, Giggling, Mind Games and Greenford

“Researching the sporting history of a local area can be a frustrating and frequently painful experience. Perhaps worst of all is that persistent nagging voice that questions the relevance of the research itself. “What’s the point?” a little voice whispers, ‘Who actually cares?’ It probably doesn’t help when your area of interest is an untrendy town (Greenford), in an unremarkable area (Ealing) in a now defunct county (Middlesex). To confound it all, like a moth to a light bulb I’ve recently found myself inextricably drawn to a particular part of sporting Greenford, Birkbeck College sports ground, the former playing fields of the University of London’s Birkbeck College.” In Bed With Maradona (Video)

China’s Stadium Diplomacy in Africa

“In Maputo, the ‘Garden for Sculptors’ behind the Museu Nacional de Arte on Avenida Ho Chi Minh has become a kind of prison yard for Mozambique’s various Ozymandiases, a semi-public dumping ground where colonial monuments now crumble quietly away. A marble European baroness reclines in thick robes, the grasses growing up around her base. Both of her arms have been lopped off, but her amputated left hand still touches the midriff of a black male slave crouched in a loincloth by her side. Nearby, a decapitated Lady Justice presides over a small patch of weeds and bare earth. No longer public art, but not quite garbage, these are the monuments which were extracted like rotten teeth from the city’s squares and public buildings when Portuguese colonial rule finally ended, but which nobody could quite bring themselves to destroy.” Road and Kingdoms

The Case For a Sporting Director at Anfield

“In the past two transfer windows there have been a number of high profile targets that have slipped through the net. All of those targets had a recurring theme; they were all at the top end of a competitive market. It could be the case that we were right to walk away from deals for Willian and Salah, whilst we lost out on Mkhitaryan to Dortmund and Costa signed a new deal at Athletico. Sometimes, your first choice targets just don’t come off, and it’s much harder competing in the elite market with no Champions League football.” Tomkins Times

Bundesliga continues to break records as it grows

“As is customary ever year, the DFL (German League Association) released its annual report on the economic state of German yesterday and it further underlines the positive growth of not only the Bundesliga but German football as a whole with continuous record attendance and profitability. Much has been said about the performances of German clubs in Europe recently, along with the influx of young talents in first teams throughout the country as well as the performance of the national team but German football has also grown in leaps and bounds from a business and economic perspective in that same period. Growing attendance, economic prudence, sporting success and responsible cost control have resulted in record numbers across the board.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Player Focus: Gervinho – From Figure of Fun to Fan Favourite

“Before really getting into his Tuesday column in La Repubblica back in early December, Gabriele Romagnoli had a confession to make. ‘I love Gervinho,’ he wrote. ‘I will not be impartial. It’s necessary to write it with a heart between the subject and the direct object like in the NY logo… I am not a Romanista and I never succumbed to the ecstatic aesthetics of Garrincha, George Best or Gigi Meroni. Rather, it’s a sort of literary passion: the kind that makes you prefer Yanez to Sandokan [the protagonists of Emilio Salgari’s 19th century pirate novels] or Sancho Panza to Don Quixote. With poetic license, this is Gervinho, he’s a creature of ‘Gervantes’: a dreamer-squire, who drags the indolent hero beyond the limits of his fantasy.’ Reading that, it’s fair to say Gervinho has found an appreciation in Italy that he never did in England.” Who Scored?

Mr Big Bucks and the Mamelodi Sundowns

“On December 5th of last year, South Africans bade farewell to Nelson Mandela. In general the new republic’s founding father was remembered as a principled, but pragmatic political leader. Some media coverage, however, reduced him to a one-dimensional figure, at odds with the larger South African struggle. That Mandela advocated armed struggle and formed alliances with communists was conveniently downplayed by all sorts of political causes and personalities whose politics Mandela would have opposed while he was alive, but who now claimed him as one of their own. Mandela was also favorably compared to his former wife Winnie Madikizela. His time in prison, presented as character-building, was contrasted with her increasing radicalism and criminal actions in the 1980s. Most black South Africans, however, were not scandalized by Mandela’s one-time celebration of violent struggle or his communist leanings, or by Winnie’s complicated, but flawed, legacy, which was formed in a more compromising, violent outside.” Roads and Kingdoms

Brazil and its ‘relatively simple’ World Cup delays

“In a rare question-and-answer huddle with Brazilian journalists this week, President Dilma Rousseff pronounced with confidence that the beleaguered new football stadium in the southern city of Curitiba would ‘definitely’ be ready for the World Cup. Mrs Rousseff was speaking on the pitch at the Arena das Dunas in the northern coastal city of Natal, which she had just officially opened with a rather nervous kick of a ball from the centre-spot. It was a rare high-point for Brazil – and its World Cup organisers – after a disastrous week during which a high-level Fifa delegation had seen, warts and all, the state of the country’s readiness for the tournament that begins in mid-June.” BBC

River Plate v Boca Juniors: Argentina’s ultimate rivalry

“Summer is a hellish time to be in Buenos Aires. First, because the temperatures are enough to wilt even the strongest constitution – I type this whilst sitting in the living room in my pants, with the air conditioning on, and thanks to the 40 degrees Celsius outside, I’m still sweating. But for the football fan, there’s a more prosaic reason: from mid-December until early February, the Argentine league shuts down, and with clubs relocating to coastal resorts or holiday towns far from the capital to undergo ‘pre-season’ (I use inverted commas because technically, we’re actually halfway through the season), there’s no competitive football to enjoy.” World Soccer

Ricardo Bochini’s long wait to become Argentina’s legend of la pausa

Ricardo Bochini, El Bocha
“With five minutes of the 1986 World Cup semi-final remaining and Argentina leading Belgium 2-0, Ricardo Bochini came on for Jorge Burruchaga. He was 32, and had been omitted from the squads in both 1978 and 1982. This time, though, Diego Maradona had demanded that he be picked. Those five minutes plus stoppage time would be the only World Cup football Bochini ever played. As he trotted on, Maradona ran over and shook his hand. ‘Maestro,’ he said, ‘we’ve been waiting for you’.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Can Cabaye replicate his Newcastle excellence elsewhere?

“For a midsized Premier League club — one of those clubs good enough to have top-class international footballers, but not so good that they’re cup-tied for European competition — it’s a bad month for your star performers to be hitting the headlines. The Premier League’s big clubs are circling and in the midst of the most unpredictable title race for years, one key signing could be crucial.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Quarterfinal: Roma-Juve 1-0

“No need to complicate things: both teams largely went for the same approach as in the league game which Juventus won 3-0. That Roma accepted that premise was surprising, in a sense, since it was a 3-goal loss. But apart from Roma’s struggles to create chances — which, as we would see, had been adjusted, or at least accounted for internally — it made sense, because on January 5th Juve “simply” capitalized1 on the few half-opportunities there were. Apart from that, they were, as last night, quiet and retreated. And it’s easy to see why Conte went for the same approach as at Juventus Stadium, because well, they’d won. That they weren’t set up to consistently threaten Roma was probably an acceptable price to pay for not giving away the counterattack situations Roma has made its bread and butter this season.” blogistuta

Are brilliant Bayern Munich making the Bundesliga boring?

“The German top-flight’s winter break should have been about rest and recuperation for Bundesliga players and coaches. But one question will have been driving them to distraction: how can we compete with Bayern Munich? After a five-week absence, the Bundesliga returns on Friday when the leaders – and defending champions – travel to Borussia Monchengladbach. Pep Guardiola’s men are seven points ahead of nearest rivals Bayer Leverkusen, with last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund 12 points adrift in fourth, as the second half of the campaign kicks off.” BBC

Verbal violence and the plight of the sane fan

“At some point, probably during the early 1960s, the nasty side of football was born and promptly garrotted its parents with the chain of its first birthday bike. And while we may not see much traditional hooliganism in the football of 2014, the hate lives proud and strong in the songs sung in stadiums across the country, making life tricky for anyone who thinks the term ‘meathead’ is not a compliment.” Backpage Football

World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero can shine in Brazil

“Federico Insua is one of those number 10 playmakers that Argentine football produces in such quantity. With a nice left foot and a good range of passing he is an interesting player, although at 34 his best days are now behind him. He was not quite good enough to impose himself on the European game – he had disappointing seasons in Spain, Germany and Turkey – but he has been a strong club player in Argentina, where he currently turns out for Velez Sarsfield.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Time for Man United to replace Nemanja Vidic?

“When judging a footballer’s probable impact over the next couple of seasons, there are certain rules you must never break. The longer you follow English football, the more reluctant you are to break them. Here are three…” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United: Tactical Analysis | Wide areas make the difference
“In a very important game at Stamford Bridge, United crumbled and lost points that they really needed. Chelsea on the other hand kept in touch with the leaders of the Premier League, and are only 2 points behind cross town rivals Arsenal. United made their way there after a win last weekend against Swansea finally ended a miserable run of 3 defeats. They were never favourites to win the game, especially with Chelsea being in really impressive form in the last few weeks. In the end, Mourinho and Eto’o did enough to ensure that United made the long trip back home empty handed.” Outside of the Boot

The Final Frontier: Technology in Football

“St.James’ Park Sunday 12th January, Newcastle United had just equalised against Manchester City in a keenly contested battle, and suddenly joy turns to uproar, the goal has been chalked off for offside. The crowd turn on the referee in disbelief. This is football, and this is football that belongs to the public. The City fans brief a sigh of relief and resume their vocal support and the Newcastle fans boo and jeer at the referee until he blows for half time. It was a decision no money could buy, it was a decision not based on financial background or profitability but perhaps a case of human error. Perhaps it was the right decision. It was a decision made in boiling pot and central to our culture, and more importantly the key to the beloved sport that is football. It gives the fans something they can all be involved in, something neither team can do about it. It is fate and it is football.” Outside of the Boot

Writing football, writing history

“In this article, I want to look reasonably briefly at the writing of football, largely as a point of departure for other articles I hope to write at some point. Writing about any facet of football is essentially constructing a history of football. This has inherent problems, and it is perhaps best to look at these problems by treating the writing of football as you might treat the writing of any historical account, by looking at it through the lens of historiography. The first issue is with the primary material, football itself. No one can cover everything. There are too many games, too many levels, too many tournaments. Even in one single game, the multiplicity of events makes holistic reading impossible. Much of what happened in the past was poorly recorded, and we are left with fragments.” Put Niels In Goal

Hernanes: The unsung hero of Lazio

“Beginning his career at Sao Paulo in 2005, Hernanes had won many trophies with the Brazil superpower. The midfielder had netted a sum of 28 goals in 184 official games and assisted many more. Hernanes is very effective on the pitch and the price tag of more than €11 million paid by Lazio was the cutest of examples to prove the Brazilian’s quality. Eddy Reja, who took the head coach role at Lazio from the struggling Davide Ballardini in early 2010, has taken the praise for landing this talented Brazilian midfielder in Italy.” Backpage Football

Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Goalkeeper

“We all know it: goalkeepers are different. And good thing, too. They prompt a special affection or loathing from fans, and even their nicknames—a solid indicator of devotion—carry a yearning that other players struggle to match. The Iron Curtain (Rinat Dasaev), the Always-Standing Little Hercules (Aldo Olivieri), the Elastic Wonder (Ángel Bossio) the Ballet Dancer with the Hands of Steel (Vladimir Beara). Even at their most obscure or unimaginative —the Cat of Prague (Frantisek Planicka), the Cat of the Maracanã (Antoni Ramallets), the Black Panther (Lev Yashin), the Black Spider (Lev Yashin), the Black Octopus (Lev Yashin) —these alter egos suggest a mythical quality not easily dismissed. Our fascination with the position—and the oddballs and iconoclasts it attracts—has spawned a small library of books, ranging from how-to manuals, histories, and manifestos to novels and memoirs. A survey of the literature takes us deep into the soul of the game and reveals the onlookers as much as it does the keepers themselves.” Howler Magazine

Monumental Rivalry

“Summer is a hellish time to be in Buenos Aires. First, because the temperatures are enough to wilt even the strongest constitution – I type this whilst sitting in the living room in my pants, with the air conditioning on, and thanks to the 40 degrees Celsius outside, I’m still sweating. But for the football fan, there’s a more prosaic reason: from mid-December until early February, the Argentine league shuts down, and with clubs relocating to coastal resorts or holiday towns far from the capital to undergo ‘pre-season’ (I use inverted commas because technically, we’re actually halfway through the season), there’s no competitive football to enjoy. Still, this is Argentina. And so it is that, amongst the phalanx of meaningless kickabouts involving the likes of Argentinos Juniors against a Uruguayan second division side playing two halves of 35 minutes each way in front of a crowd of ten people, we also have some equally meaningless – but far more famous – fixtures. Saturday night will bring the first of three (three!) pre-season friendlies between River Plate and Boca Juniors.” In Bed With Maradona

Chelsea v Man Utd: What if United had chosen Jose Mourinho?

“When Manchester United were plotting the line of succession to Sir Alex Ferguson, it was the Scot himself who had the casting vote. The two men touted – albeit briefly – were managers who find themselves in opposition at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when United meet Chelsea. Ferguson went in favour of his fellow Scot David Moyes when many thought United might go for the more combustible, but also far more successful, Jose Mourinho.” BBC

Juary enjoying hero status in Avellino and Porto

“Back in the early eighties Italy was the centre of the world of football and would remain such for the best part of a decade. The richest clubs in the world played in the Serie A and, in turn, these attracted the best players. Juventus had Platini and Boniek, Napoli played to the tune set by Maradona whilst Milan had the trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. Even a small club like Udinese could attract a player like Zico.” Worad Soccer

The Crucifixion Of David Moyes

“The floodlights are blinding. This is after all, a stadium of light and its illumination is searing. There is no place for me to hide my nakedness from its hostile radiance. Beads of sweat weep down my furrowed brow but I cannot mop them. My hands have been nailed. Flesh sandwiched between metal and wood. Bones shattered, blood spattered, a mortal man broken and left to slowly rot on this very public cross as spectators, both faithful and non, jeer my every pained movement. I stretch every sinew to delay the inevitable feasting of the scavengers on my still-beating heart.” Dispatches From A Football Sofa

Defensive woes continue to hinder Rodgers and Liverpool

“It is a concept their watching owner ought to find easy to understand. Liverpool are a team of two halves. John W. Henry comes from a sport in baseball where the division between offence and defence is clearer than it usually is in football. Not at Liverpool, however. Even if the nuances of the beautiful game are lost on a businessman with a greater grounding as the owner of the Boston Red Sox, it should be obvious his other sporting investment are terrific going forward and threaten to be terrible at the back.” ESPN

Mikel and Anderson: victims of a distrust of creativity

“In Chelsea’s match with Manchester United this Sunday afternoon, arguably the most fascinating battleground will be the central midfield zone. That is entirely common in matches between two big clubs, but usually because of the vast quality on display. This weekend’s match is different, as both teams are weakest in that very position: the central midfield, the heart of the side. There are injury problems: Chelsea may be without Frank Lampard while David Moyes will probably still be unable to call upon Marouane Fellaini.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Benfica 2-0 Porto: good midfield pressure and quick attacking from the home side

“Benfica went top of the league with a controlled, confident victory at the Estadio da Luz. Jorge Jesus played his usual outfield players, although in goal Artur Moraes was unavailable so back-up Jan Oblak played instead. This was Nemanja Matic’s final game before his return to Chelsea. Paolo Fonseca played Carlos Eduardo at the head of his midfield trio, with Lucho Gonzalez deeper, and Josue and Steven Defour on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi was at centre-back, rather than Maicon. Benfica were clearly the better side throughout this contest, more organised without the ball and more purposeful in possession.” Zonal Marking

The Basque Connection

“The Basque country is something of a historical relic. The region was never conquered by the Romans and the Basque language, bears no resemblance to any other living language. The Basque people are notorious for doing things their own way and have fought fiercely for decades to protect their local customs from the imposition of Spanish culture. This independent spirit extends to the region’s biggest football club, Athletic Bilbao. The club, nicknamed Los Leones (“The Lions”), are a unique organisation in world football, having achieved considerable success whilst preserving their core traditions and maintaining close ties to their local community.” Back Page Football

Are economic hardships in Brazil set to overshadow the 2014 World Cup?

“The lead up to a World Cup is a period where fans of the sport are filled with excitement and a child-like enthusiasm for a game; a game where nations compete in arguably the biggest competition in world sport. The years leading up to this colossal event are filled with building up hopes and expectations as they soar to an unrealistic level; hopes which come with the apprehension of the nightmare scenario which could be beheld or the joyous dream option which many will pray for well in advance. All this adds to the sheer spectacle a country puts on for the fans and players, and no other country has a carnival reputation like Brazil. However, in these modern times, it seems passion and zeal for the sport is not enough as money matters are playing a more important role than ever before. Brazil 2014 is not immune to this, and is possibly the most economically analysed World Cup in history.” Think Football

Julian Draxler: Scout Report | The next big Bundesliga talent

“We’ve learnt in the past few years that Germany produces some of the best talents of World football. It is the DFB’s insistence on home-grown talents that has seen the national team flourish, and clubs like Bayern Munich to dominate the European stage. A look through the sides in the Bundesliga throws up a whole host of emerging talents; but the one that catches the eye more than all the others, is a certain Julian Draxler.” Outside of the Boot

Juan Iturbe: Scout Report | The special ‘Juan’ from South America

“It’s taken a little longer than expected, but Juan Iturbe is finally starting to realise his enormous potential that led him to being dubbed ‘the new Lionel Messi’ only a few years ago. Of course, when any big talent emerges from Argentina, they are instantly dubbed and hyped up to be the next Maradona or the next Riquelme.” Outside of the Boot

The Best of Football Writing in 2013

“This is the third year that The Best Football Writing list (2012, 2011) has come into existence. We’ve seen blogs come and go, as well as writers rise and get the recognition they deserve. 2013 was no exception, but the continued domination of social media in sport created a new landscape for writing. With a flood of information hitting us every day, it can be difficult to find the long reads amongst a pile of memes. This year’s list was the hardest to compile, but there was hardly a shortage of quality writing. In fact, we were overwhelmed with tweets and emails recommending great writing in football.” A Football Report

New Film Series, “30 for 30: Soccer Stories”, Surrounding 2014 FIFA World Cup on ESPN

“ESPN Films, creators of the critically-acclaimed 30 for 30 film series, will premiere a new series in April surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup on ESPN. 30 for 30: Soccer Stories will include a mix of standalone feature-length and 30-minute-long documentary films from an award winning group of filmmakers telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape. In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazil’s rich culture will be featured throughout ESPN’s FIFA World Cup programming.” ESPN

In first coaching role, Seedorf faces daunting task at Milan

“After the news had broken that Clarence Seedorf was to be the new manager of AC Milan, the Curva Sud ultra group erected a banner outside the club’s old offices. Its message was simple: ‘Seedorf, no grazie.’ Given that it’s only two months since the ultras were confronting players over poor performances, there’s something unexpected and slightly touching about their on-going support for Massimiliano Allegri, who was dismissed following Sunday’s 4-3 defeat at Sassuolo after a little over three seasons in the job. The Curva Sud have been consistent in this, though, acknowledging the turmoil behind the scenes at the club, and releasing a statement in May in which they explicitly stated they didn’t want Seedorf or any other manager who lacked experience.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Player Focus: Berardi’s Seamless Progression to Serie A Stardom

“It’s a long journey, Cariati Marina to Modena. Almost the length of Italy. By car, it can take you eight or nine hours. Quite the road trip. But Domenico Berardi was keen to make it. He wanted to visit his brother Francesco who was studying there at university. So off he went up north. This was in 2010. It was a trip he’d never forget. Like many students, Francesco was involved in a five-a-side league. While Domenico was in town, he invited him to play. Only 15 at the time, the lads he came up against were bigger, stronger and older than he was, but not to worry. Berardi dominated.” Who Scored?

The Ballon D’Or and why objective player rankings are pointless – The State of Analytics

“When Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon D’Or, this blog’s resident pro-Messi troll came out of the woodwork using a crude homophobic play on Ronaldo’s name to make a series of rambling arguments as to why the Portugal and Real Madrid winger shouldn’t have won the top prize in world football. I won’t reprint those comments but I’ll give you the gist of them—Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because he was sent off in the Copa Del Rey final against Atletico, Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because Mesut Ozil created most of his goal-scoring chances (which of course doesn’t explain his incredible goal-scoring record since the German international went to Arsenal), Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because he didn’t make enough assists, didn’t have the same goal-per-game average as Messi (not even a decent metric as we’ll see), didn’t win ‘trophies’.” The Score

Keith Hill and the ‘never go back’ maxim

“These quiet mid-January weeks used to be devoted to anticipation while we waited between rounds 3 and 4 of the FA Cup and if many will have you believe that matters Premier League and transfer window are the only ones worth thinking about as Burns Night approaches, quite a few of us still hark back to the old days. Not least Rochdale, who along with thoughts of the world’s greatest knockout competition, are also relishing a promotion battle in League 2. Here, Stuart Howard-Cofield, curator of the Grumpy Old Fan website and contributor to The Football Pink, runs the rule over ‘Dale – you can follow Stuart on twitter here. A quiet revolution in the hills.” thetwounfortunates

Barcelona, Atlético’s tactical clash ends in a stalemate

“All season, it’s been impossible to separate Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. They’ve chugged along at the top of the table, trading blow for blow, and when they met in the Copa del Rey, they exchanged a pair of draws and Barcelona went through only on away goals. They couldn’t be separated on Saturday either, a tight goalless draw leaving Barcelona top of La Liga at the halfway point by virtue of having a goal difference five better than that of Atlético.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: different styles but similar lack of invention upfront
“La Liga’s top of the table clash was intense and intriguing, but ultimately goalless. Diego Simeone named his expected side, with right-back Juanfran available after his suspension was overturned. Despite Lionel Messi’s return in midweek against Getafe, he wasn’t risked from the start – he joined Neymar on the bench, and Cesc Fabregas played as the false nine. A draw was a fair result – both sides’ gameplan was clear, but the defences came out on top.” Zonal Marking

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis | Atletico’s Physicality versus Barca’s Passing
“The top 2 in Spain faced off for the first time in the league this season, in a clash that generated almost as much hype as most El Clasico’s. This season, Atletico have surprised one and all with their tremendous run in the league, staying 5 points clear of their city rivals Real for this long. Barcelona have been imperious, scoring almost at will, despite the absence of their talisman, Messi, and new acquisition Neymar. One of the meanest defences in the league was up against a free flowing attacking force, and it made for a great spectacle.” Outside of the Boot

Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic: football’s new superheroes

“The other night, I was standing outside the players tunnel before a Paris Saint-Germain game when Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked past. It was scary. Up close, the Swedish forward looked like a superhero: 1.95m tall, a chest the size of Pamela Anderson’s and the hungry glare of a man who has done his exercises, eaten his greens and had his afternoon nap every day for years. Today’s great footballers are incomparably fitter than their predecessors. But their perfection goes beyond the physical. This is the best time in football’s history to be a star. The game has been restructured in their service. When the Golden Ball for the world’s best player of 2013 is awarded on Monday – most likely to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid – it will resemble an Oscars ceremony in the golden age of Hollywood.” FT – Simon Kuper

Regal Rodgers and Mediocre Moyes

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to look down on Manchester United. Funnily enough, it’s quite a nice feeling. It may not last, of course, as football’s like that – you may laugh, but someone always laughs later (and no-one laughs last) – but right now I can’t help but feel that ‘we’ have got the better manager and they have got the bigger problems. In fairness to Moyes, there were challenges – maybe even poisoned chalices – at United: replacing a club legend who bequeathed a mixed squad (albeit one containing plenty of talent, and one capable of walking the league in 2012/13). I’ve never thought Moyes to be a bad manager, but like Roy Hodgson, he always struck me as unremarkable, and ultimately that means uninspiring.” Tomkins Times

The Bayern Supremacy: The most attractive club in the World

“The abundance of football talent that’s on display for the entire world to see week-in week-out is unreal. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that so many players sustain the same level of performance over the span of the entire season. The quality of players in a club in a given season predominantly defines its chances of winning silverware in that season. However, in my opinion, success isn’t measured merely by the number of trophies a club has in its cabinet. There are other facets – such as a good reputation, loyal fans, consistent performances, etc., which can be built only in the long run. Therefore, a club that produces generations of quality players that consistently win trophies, creating history at every possible turn, is a lot more respectable and likable than clubs that achieve success overnight.” Outside of the Boot

Why can’t Juan Mata and Jose Mourinho just get along?

“It would have been an enormous shock for Juan Mata last summer, when he realised he had been deemed unsuitable for the strategy of the incoming Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho. Not only had Mata been consistently exceptional throughout his first two seasons in English football, he’d also thrived under three different managers — and, arguably, in four very different systems. The first system was under Andre Villas-Boas, an ideologue who refused to compromise his major beliefs during his period at Chelsea. This involved a high defensive line, and transferring the ball quickly into attack. Mata had a huge responsibility — he arrived as the main playmaker for a club who’d been without a player of his creative potential for years, arguably since Gianfranco Zola in the pre-Abramovich days.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Atletico Madrid proving tackling can be a quality

“This weekend, Atletico Madrid host Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in the biggest game of the European season so far. The two sides are level on points, and therefore it is literally a top of the table clash – La Liga’s rules mean teams are separated by head-to-head results rather than goal difference, and therefore having not played each other this season, the sides can’t be separated. Halfway through the season, La Liga’s best two clubs are neck-and-neck, joint first.” Zonal Marking

Lionel Messi: Are Barcelona a better team without him?

“Barcelona manager Tata Martino faces a major selection dilemma as he prepares for Saturday’s table-topping La Liga meeting with Atletico Madrid. Don’t feel too sorry for the Argentine boss, though, because Martino is contemplating the ultimate ‘nice problem to have’ as he wrestles with the conundrum of how to accommodate fit-again compatriot Lionel Messi in his team. Messi is just back from a hamstring injury, having made his return in spectacular fashion with a two-goal substitute’s outing in Wednesday’s 4-0 thrashing of Getafe in the Copa del Rey.” BBC

Putting the big bucks to better use

“There are some interesting firsts in Irish media history, one of them is the first live field sports broadcast in Europe on the national radio station, 2RN as it was then, which covered a hurling match between Galway and Kilkenny. This was not without controversy though; the GAA worried that live broadcast of the game could affect attendance and insisted that the coverage of the game start only after a post kick-off delay. This was not unique to the GAA; in Britain such was the concern that radio or TV coverage could affect the all-important revenue generating gate receipts that for decades conservative forces in the FA and club ownership fought against the regular live broadcast of matches or even of extended highlight packages.” Backpage Football

Whatever Is God’s Will: Juary

“Back in the early eighties Italy was the centre of the world of football and would remain such for the best part of a decade. The richest clubs in the world played in the Serie A and, in turn, these attracted the best players. Juventus had Platini and Boniek, Napoli played to the tune set by Maradona whilst AC Milan had the trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. Even a small club like Udinese could attract a player like Zico. If the Serie A was the cream of world football, then Avellino was the curd. Promoted to the Serie A for the first time in 1978, they had defied expectation by staying there year after year despite being billed as relegation favourites at the start of each season.” In Bed With Maradona

Afro-Europe in the World Cup

“It isn’t fair. Though Africa has more countries and a larger population than Europe, the continent only has five berths in the World Cup compared to Europe’s thirteen. And they had to fight for that: it was only a boycott in 1966, led by Kwame Nkrumah, that changed the policy that allowed only one spot for either an African or an Asia team. There are all kinds of justifications, of course, offered for this inequality. And it will likely to a long time for change to happen, and then it will come incrementally. While we wait patiently for institutions to change, however, the world has a way of rendering a kind of justice. Post-colonial migration has created a loophole of sorts in FIFA’s global apportioning of representation. This year, there will be two additional African teams in the competition: France and Belgium. If they are going to the World Cup at all, it is thanks to goals scored by the children of African migrants: Romelu Lukaku for Belgium, and Mamadou Sakho for France. I’m not sure if these old colonial powers deserve the help, but they’ve gotten it: Africa has come to the rescue. In fact, it might be worth giving new names to these two football teams: Françafrique and AfroBelgica, perhaps?” ROADS & KINGDOMS – Laurent Dubois

2014 Fifa World Cup: A huge year in the history of Brazil

“Going back home from a game on the underground can be a fascinating experience. At first nearly everyone in the carriage has been to the match, which seems like the only thing that counts. This is soon diluted as fans get out and new people get on, at which point the mix can be interesting. A couple of months ago I was taking the tube back from a midweek game at Rio’s Maracana stadium. The local side in action had been Fluminense, the traditional club of the Rio elite, and a group of young, self-proclaimed playboys were drawing attention to themselves, banging a rhythm on the side of the carriage as they belted out their songs.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Juventus 3-0 Roma: Juventus sit extremely deep to prevent Roma counter-attacking

“Juventus took a big step towards a third consecutive title with a convincing victory over their closest challengers. Antonio Conte welcomed back Andrea Pirlo in the deep playmaking position, and was able to select his first-choice starting XI. Rudi Garcia had Francesco Totti back after injury, and opted for Adem Ljajic rather than Mattia Destro in the forward trio. Juventus created little in open play, but defended solidly and pounced at set-pieces – it was something of an ‘underdog’ victory, even though the home side started as favourites.” Zonal Marking


“The Brazilian state of Amazonas is one of the most awe-inspiring places on the face of the Earth. Home to an incredible array of plant and animal life it is undoubtedly one of the world’s most well-known natural wonders. Yet outside of South America, it seems few people are aware that in the depths of the jungle, there is a large city now home to over two million people. Even less celebrated is the fact that each year it holds what locals claim to be the largest football tournament in the world. Manaus is a city of contradictions. It’s a functional modern concrete metropolis yet leave the suburbs behind and you are engulfed by the vastness of the rainforest. In Manaus people go about their daily lives as they would in any big city in the world yet a few miles down the Rio Negro there are jungle tribes whose lives have changed little in centuries. The climate is stiflingly hot and humid all year round and it is well over a day’s travel by road to any other city. Yet despite the unlikely isolated location, people have been flocking to Manaus for decades and it continues to be one of the fastest growing and most economically thriving places in Brazil.” In Bed With Maradona

Venezia’s woes threaten to make football a relic in city of rich history

The church bell tower which overlooks the Stadio Pierlugi Penzo, home of Union Venezia
“The rain runs down the grimy windows of the vaporetto. Somewhere through the murk is the church of San Giovanni Battista and then the gardens where the Biennale is based. A quarter of an hour after leaving San Marco, we arrive at Sant’Elena. The most obvious landmark as you leave the vaporetto station is the bell tower of the church, an imposing brick rectangle that frowned down on the low floodlights that nestle in its lea. This is the Stadio Pierlugi Penzo, the home of the third-flight side Union Venezia. It’s the second oldest stadium in Italy, and it looks it. Opposite the main stand – which, thank goodness, has a functioning roof – it’s not immediately clear where the dilapidated brickwork of the stadium ends and the 15th-century monastery begins. On another day there might be a ramshackle beauty to the Penzo, with the masts of boats in the harbour visible beyond the north stand and the bell tower looming to the south-east. But as the rain teems down, it’s a damp, grey place.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

A Stadium in Greenland That’s More Than a Stadium

“On my recent trip to Copenhagen, Jennifer and I had the pleasure of visiting the Danish Architecture Centre, which sits near the quays of Nyhavn, surrounded by gleaming, angular buildings and the brick and timber structures of the old dock area. The Centre featured an exhibition on attempts by a quorum of Danish architects and their Greenlander cousins to develop homes and civic buildings for Greenland, which included a wonderfully bold cruciform airport and a multipurpose civic centre, which would include both space for theatre and local government, along with sports facilities. Much has been made of Iceland’s recent run in World Cup qualifying to an ultimately unsuccessful play-off place against Croatia. Iceland, like Greenland, struggles with bitter temperatures and frozen pitches, which can stymie attempts to play football all year round.” Put Niels In Goal

Manchester United, West Ham unable to escape FA Cup embarrassment

“At this stage, for Premier League teams, the FA Cup doesn’t much matter — unless you lose, and even then, only if you lose in particular circumstances. It seems barely credible in the modern context of the competition that, 24 years ago, a late goal from the substitute Mark Robins in a third-round tie away at Nottingham Forest was credited with saving Sir Alex Ferguson’s job at Manchester United. David Moyes, Ferguson’s successor, could have beaten Swansea City comfortably without it making much difference to his standing at Manchester United, but the defeat to Wilfried Bony’s last-minute goal amplified the general disgruntlement at Old Trafford.” SI – Jonathan Wilson