Monthly Archives: February 2014

The art of the goalkeeper well and truly mastered in Scotland

Craig Gordon
“The keeper: the last line of defence. With a hapless player between the sticks conceding goals comes easily, winning games does not. In Scotland something seems to be working its magic on the training pitch, with a succession of keepers receiving great plaudits and having much success. Jim Leighton; Andy Goram; Craig Gordon. All names which send the Tartan Army dizzy with delight. But why, with the recent failings of the national side as a whole, can the goalkeeper always be relied on with a sense of pride? It is a fact that has been overlooked by the big national media corporations; when the English bemoan the errors from Joe Hart, Scotland’s keepers continue to provide standout performances.” Backpage Football


Olympiakos 2-0 Manchester United: Olympiakos brave with positioning and pressing

“Manchester United produced their worst performance of David Moyes’ reign so far, and Olympiakos fully deserved their two-goal victory. Michel was without Javier Saviola upfront, so Michael Olaitan led the line. David Moyes selected his two most cautious options on the flanks, in an otherwise unsurprising team selection. Olympiakos weren’t outstanding on the night, but their overall gameplan worked effectively.” Zonal Marking

Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea: Mancini takes early action to correct his initial error

“Chelsea were completely dominant for the first half hour, but Roberto Mancini’s early substitution meant the game became more even. Mancini surprisingly named a 4-4-2 system from the start, with Izet Hajrovic on the right flank, and Wesley Sneijder tucking inside from the left. Jose Mourinho used Willian in the centre, two direct wide options down the flanks, and a mobile central midfield zone in the absence of cup-tied Nemanja Matic. Chelsea should have won the game in the opening half hour, but Galatasaray fought back commendably.” Zonal Marking

World Cup 2014: England Squad Selector – pick your 23 then compare with our choices

“Ever wanted to be Roy Hodgson? It’s a common condition. His is a life of easy charm, muted bookishness and lovely warm coats. But there’s one unenviable task looming for the England manager ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, and that’s picking 23 men to make up a squad capable of avoiding humiliation. … You can select your 23 using our interactive graphic, share and compare it with your buddies across social media, then see how it stands up in comparison with five of our World Cup experts. Henry Winter, Michael Owen, Paul Hayward, Alan Hansen and Alan Smith picked their 23 in December ahead of the finals draw. Who knows, perhaps Theo Walcott will still make it to Brazil?” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Rooney deal hints of Man Utd desperation at position of surplus

“A year ago, Manchester United faced Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. It drew 1-1 in Spain and then, for the return at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney was dropped. It was then that the rumors that Sir Alex Ferguson might be looking to get rid of him first began to take real shape. Twelve months on and United goes to Olympiakos for the last 16 of the Champions League with Rooney having just agreed to a hugely lucrative contract extension to 2019. The exact details remain unclear and although a headline figure of £300,000 a week has been reported – to begin when his existing deal expires in June 2015 – it seems his basic salary hasn’t changed much from the £240,000 he was on, with the remainder made up in bonuses and image rights.” SI

Alessandro Florenzi: Scout Report | Roma’s academy graduate settling into the first-team

“Roma supporters love nothing more than a home-grown talent making the step up to the first-team; with the likes of Alessio Cerci, Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti all coming through the club’s youth system. It would now appear that the Giallorossi have one more to add to that list, in the form of midfielder Alessandro Florenzi; who has been a shining light in what has been a fantastic campaign for Roma thus far.” Outside of the Boot

World Cup 2014: Iran’s hopes of glory in Brazil rest on a Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejhad – Gucci for short

“The January before a World Cup finals is a month of ambition and movement. It is the final chance players get to stake a claim for their respective national teams. Minutes matter more than glory, time more than honours. Suddenly a player that might have seemed out of reach in the summer becomes a legitimate target. Clubs and players alike roll the dice and take the risk. Even with such an underwhelming transfer window, one such move went largely unnoticed and under reported, yet its ramifications could have a say on the World Cup hopes of Bosnia, Nigeria, Argentina and, of course, Iran.” Telegraph

Champions League power rankings: English trio drop places following first leg defeats

“For all the understandable excitement about the return of the Champions League, the vast majority of the second legs already feel very flat. It’s difficult to think of a season where so many of the last-16 ties were so one-sided at the half-way point. The nature of those results has led to a lot of discussion about the disparate quality of different leagues, but it probably says much more about the disparity between the super clubs and the rest. In a few cases, one or two of those clubs have been unfortunate to come up against another. So, where do they lie in the latest power rankings? Don’t forget the power rankings are done in order of anticipated likelihood to win the competition and qualify for the next round, taking into account both long-term results and recent performances. The root of them is that too much should never be read into any single result.” Mirror

Tactics Column: Arteta, Wilshere and Rosicky are Arsenal’s controlling forces

“It was Sir Alex Ferguson who once remarked that Zinedine Zidane didn’t ‘hurt’ teams enough. That is, although he could impose his personality on certain games such as the European Cup final in 2002 or in World Cup 1998, considering his stature, he should have done it more often. (Indeed, it’s a view that former France team-mate, Louis Saha, holds as well). As if doing it on the biggest stage wasn’t enough, undoubtedly Zidane’s greatest strength was his ability to dictate the tempo of a football match, killing teams slowly with each touch, pass and swivel, and a swagger which simultaneously propelled his team forward. However, that also led to part of his misunderstanding.” Arseblog

Football Manager meets Moneyball – season 1 with Rangers

“The new release of the latest installment of the Football Manager franchise has seen a commensurate flurry of pieces about this, to me, hugely gripping and enjoyable game. Now I am not going to turn this blog into one devoted to the game: for one, I think it’s quite dull to blog purely on one aspect of football culture, and I wouldn’t want to risk alienating people who do not enjoy playing it. The pleasure of Football Manager is, for me, largely private, especially given how little interest my girlfriend has in football full stop, let alone a simulation of it, but it did occur to me that it might be interesting to merge an idea that I have enjoyed thinking about with a game I love playing.” Put Niels In Goal – Season 1, season 2 (1st half), season 2 (2nd half), Season 3 (first half)

Cox: Cheerleading, not chalkboards—the REAL secret of Rafa Benitez’s success

“Last Thursday, Napoli travelled to Swansea City and played out a 0-0 draw in the Europa League. It is difficult to judge a first leg goalless draw in European competition: traditionally a draw is a good result for the away side, but a 0-0 leaves them exposed to a score draw in the return match, which would result in their elimination. As such, the reaction to the result varied significantly across the British press.” The Score – Michael Cox

Blackburn Rovers have Unearthed a Gem in Gary Bowyer

“When I last wrote of Blackburn Rovers in the autumn, my verdict was overwhelmingly harsh. After all, the imposters who currently own the club are still in place, the wage bill is exalted and the consequences of year upon year of over spending and declining attendances are beginning to bite hard. If there is a club whom Blackburn resemble in their current trajectory, it’s Coventry City, a team that patented the concept of slow decline before their demise became a head on rush into oblivion these past 12 months.” thetwounfortunates

Will the World Cup Return to the Democratic World?

“The Brazilians are pissed off and their protests are increasingly directed against the World Cup, and rightly so. Romário explained why: I supported Brazil’s World Cup bid, but even I am against it now. Their main complaint is that a lot of public money is poured into stadiums that many will turn into expensive white elephants. It happened in South Africa, which hosted the World Cup in 2010 and it will happen in Brazil as well. I’m also pretty sure that will happen in Russia and Qatar.” Soccer Issue (Video)

The Real Madrid Resurgence

“Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid side has gone from wounded giant to juggernaut, hunting down a potential treble after a 13-0-2 run in their past 15 La Liga matches. The team’s renaissance is a product of tightening up its defense, allowing only seven goals in its past 12 league matches, after allowing 17 in its first 13. So what has happened in the Real Madrid midfield to bring about this success?” Grantland

Happier, humbler Zlatan leading PSG on all fronts

“For once, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played it down with modesty. … To be fair, the Swede could have offered this retort Sunday because the stats would have demonstrated his point: 37 goals in 35 games with PSG this season, the best in Europe. Fourteen goals since the start of 2014; nobody tops that. Forty-six goals in 43 matches for club and country (nine for Sweden in nine games this season); ‎nobody has done more. And 10 goals in the Champions League this season!” ESPN

World Cup: 25 stunning moments … No3: West Germany 1-0 Austria in 1982

“You have to pity the youth of today. They were born to banter, they think it’s normal behaviour to tell complete strangers on the internet what they have had for their tea. And worst of all, they have never experienced proper World Cup villainy. There was Luis Suárez’s handball in 2010, yes, but that was a fleeting moment from an individual rather than an extended body of work shared between a whole squad. The World Cup – which is about great stories as much as great football – is so much richer when a team leaves the rest of the football world raging with impotent frustration.” Guardian

Sticks and Stones

“Jose Mourinho knows how to lie in a way that sounds deeper than the truth. Of his many usefully unscrupulous talents, this is one of the most useful and least scrupulous. He says things that he knows are untrue, and that you know are untrue, and that he knows you know are untrue, but that somehow or other just stick. In 2005, during his first run as the manager of Chelsea, he called Arsene Wenger a ‘voyeur’ when the Arsenal boss publicly questioned Mourinho’s transfer policy. It wasn’t fair, but neither is poetry. The jibe captured something weird and curdled in the impression the hawk-eyed Wenger makes; they were still talking about it in England eight years later. No one actually believes Wenger spends his free hours gazing into the rear courtyard, but that’s not the point. The goal of Mourinho’s lies isn’t to persuade you to believe anything. It’s to hit you at a level below belief, to shock your sense of reality into thinking it agrees with his.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

From The Mind of Xoel: Barça Loses: Barça Now at Liga Crossroads.

“From the ecstasy of beating Manchester City 2-0 on Tuesday night, to the agony of losing 3-1 against Real Sociedad on Saturday, FC Barcelona has had a roller coaster of a week. In this article, Xoel Càrdenas gives you his take on the loss, Tata’s mistakes, and why this is the turning point for FC Barcelona’s season.” Barca Blaugranes

La Liga: Real Sociedad 3-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review
“A passionless Barcelona stepped on the historical inhospitable pitch at Anoeta in San Sebastian and were ran over by Real Sociedad. Gerardo Martino’s rotation policy backfired in Basque Country as goals from Alex Song (o.g.), Antoine Griezmann and David Zurutuza were more then enough to see of Barcelona whose only reply came from Lionel Messi.” Barca Blaugranes

Reds edge Swans in Anfield thriller

“Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge netted twice each as title outsiders Liverpool edged a seven-goal Anfield classic against Swansea. Brendan Rodgers’ side continue to be plagued by a porous defence but moved within four points of Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea after emerging victorious from one of the games of the season.” ESPN

Fearing relegation, Fulham panics, turns to eccentric Magath

” If you think you’ve made a mistake, perhaps the best thing to do is to admit it and look to make amends as quickly as possible. But sacking a manager, then sacking his replacement 75 days later while getting rid of two other coaches you’d only just brought in, does look, as Rene Meulensteen said shortly after he’d been ousted from Fulham, like ‘pressing the panic button.’ Fulham lies at the bottom of the Premier League table, four points from safety with 12 games remaining, its fate in the hands of one of German football’s more controversial figures. Felix Magath won two doubles with Bayern Munich and then, astonishingly, he led Wolfsburg to the Bundesliga title, yet nobody who played for him ever seems to have enjoyed the experience.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Book Reviews – Clough and tumble

“Brian Clough, the greatest English manager never to manage England, old Big ‘Ead, mad as a box of frogs but brilliant with it, is without doubt one of the most interesting characters in football history. He is someone I have become a little bit obsessed with, if truth be told. The scale of his achievement with Derby and Nottingham Forest is matched only by the absurdity of some of his behaviour, the outlandishness of his outbursts, and the extraordinary pathos of his descent into alcoholism. In this piece, I have looked at two different books about Clough, stylistically different and yet complementary, to find out what we can learn about the green-tracksuited guru.” Put Niels In Goal

Bergkamp Statue Revealed: “Henry Himself, Would Argue That Dennis Was Better.”

“This weekend, whilst a lot of the British press are passing judgements on Arsenal’s current star signing, arguably the greatest Gunners arrival of them all is set to be honoured outside Emirates Stadium. As a big name with a similarly big price tag in 1995, Dennis Bergkamp had a slow start adapting to a new league, but went on to be revered by Arsenal fans. Certainly in the Wenger-era, few would argue that Thierry Henry is the greatest player for the Gunners. Henry himself, would argue that Dennis was better.” Sabotage Times

Responding to Klinsmann, U.S. players say it’s opportunities they lack – not belief

“If it can be measured or tested, Jurgen Klinsmann has measured and tested it. From strength and agility to VO2 max, pattern recognition, sleep and caloric intake, U.S. national team players have been subjected to an unprecedented amount of quantitative analysis under their thorough and ambitious coach. As Klinsmann has claimed repeatedly over the past two-plus years, it’s all designed to help forge players who can compete at soccer’s highest level.” SI

Champions League Team of the Week

“The first set of Champions League fixtures this week all went according to script as far as the results were concerned, with all four away sides taking large strides toward the quarterfinals with wins. Not only that, but none of the home teams were even able to register on the score sheet, and three of them had men sent off to make their improbable tasks near impossible.” ESPN

Relying on over-the-hill defenders: An explanation

“When Manuel Pellegrini announced his team sheet for Tuesday night’s match with Barcelona, there seemed one obvious weak link — Martin Demichelis. It wasn’t just that the Argentine was in the side at centre-back, a position he’s struggled in throughout his short Manchester City career; it was also that Pellegrini wasn’t playing an extra holding midfielder. Some suggested Javi Garcia might start deep in midfield, in an attempt to minimise the space afforded to Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s main threat.” ESPN – Michael Cox

AC Milan 0-1 Atletico Madrid: Tactical Analysis

“The 2 teams that clashed in this particular round of 16 clash have had wildly contrasting seasons up until this point. While the home side have been disappointing, and recently sacked Allegri and replaced him with club legend Seedorf, Atleti have been on an upward curve ever since the excellent Simeone has control at the Calderon. The clash was always going to be interesting, as the great European team took on the greenhorn that is Atletico.” Outside of the Boot

3. Liga Week 25 Review

“A rare occurrence took place in Matchday 25 of the 3. Liga and that was that there was not a single draw in all of the 10 matches that were played. This is most definitely a first for this season and something which hadn’t happened in the league since Matchday 24 of the 2010/2011 season. There must be something about February. This meant that big advantages were made or lost in this week, the former at the top of the table and the latter at the bottom. Also, all ten of the victories were one-goal advantages, which resulted in tight matches that were unresolved until the whistle went, some of them crucial three points for the victors.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Socceroos a crucial test for Ecuador

“Millwall’s stadium in South London might seem a strange spot for the 2014 FIFA World Cup to begin, but that is the way that Ecuador sees it when it takes the pitch there against Australia on 5 March (Thursday morning AEDT). Ecuador coach Reynaldo Rueda is well aware that the World Cup comes with a level of mental pressure which can stew the mind and freeze the legs. Four years ago the Colombian coach took Honduras to its first World Cup since 1982. His players, then, belonged to a generation which had never experienced anything like it. The first two games passed them by. Only in the third match, by which time it was already too late, did Honduras display its true colours. The same thing happened to Ecuador on its World Cup debut in 2002. And the fear is, after missing out on South Africa 2010, a similar problem might strike Ecuador’s latest generation.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Felix Magath: ‘Hellfighter’ could be perfect fit for Fulham

“Fans of Felix Magath liken him to a demon headmaster. One of his former players claims he was more like Saddam Hussein. Another one dubbed him ‘the last dictator in Europe’. None of this sounds good. Perhaps Dimitar Berbatov, who left Craven Cottage in January, learned of the imminent arrival of Fulham’s new manager in a premonition and got spooked. ‘Pack your bags, Mrs Berbatov, we’re moving to Monaco.’ Certainly, the notoriously sedentary Bulgarian striker is better off out of it.” BBC

Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona: City weather the storm before Demichelis tackle changes the tie

“Goals from Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves gave Barcelona a significant lead going into the second leg. Manuel Pellegrini unsurprisingly switched to a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1 formation, but surprisingly named two left-backs in tandem, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov. Fernandinho was fit to return in midfield, while Martin Demichelis played at the back. Tata Martino was cautious with his team selection, playing Andres Iniesta on the left of a front three, with Cesc Fabregas in midfield. Barcelona enjoyed unprecedented spells of possession for an away side at the Etihad, but failed to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances in the first half – before Demichelis’ rash tackle at the start of the second half changed the tie.” Zonal Marking

Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis | City make a case for themselves but organised Barca take full advantage
“A number of fixtures from the round of 16 stood out, but the most attractive one without doubt had to be the one between Manchester City and Barcelona. These 2 are probably the 2 best teams in their respective countries, and are both relatively free scoring sides. The presence of so many of the world’s best players only added to the glitter of the occasion.” Outside of the Boot

The Question: how can Arsenal’s tactics tame Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich?

“Perhaps there is some encouragement to be drawn for Arsenal from the fact that last time they played Bayern Munich, they won. Perhaps there is some encouragement to be drawn from the thought that, last season, Bayern only beat them on away goals, that no side came as close to eliminating Bayern from the Champions League as they did. But then you think back to the first leg, to Bayern’s 3-1 win at the Emirates, and the gulf between the sides becomes obvious. Arsenal have improved since then, but so too have Bayern and, under Pep Guardiola, they are as tactically flexible as any side in Europe.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

The Beautiful Language

“I had been in Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro state, for two days and already I was running out of things to do. School children ambled between shops whose wares they must have known by heart. In the sleepy town square, old men gathered to play dominos and chat, whiling away the hours under a winter sun rendered impotent by altitude. There is a mountain trail that weaves through a jungle before coming up for air above the canopy, eventually scrambling up one of the mountains that flank the town. You can almost see Rio itself from the summit; almost feel its sands between your freezing toes. The youth of Teresópolis migrates to the city during the school holidays to escape their parents and the cold. Eventually, even the tasty steaks, breads and fine local beers lose their charm. With little to do, I soon found myself wishing I could play soccer with someone.” Road and Kingdoms

Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris is Premier League’s supreme sweeper-keeper

“There was a moment during the first half of Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 win over Everton on Sunday when Steven Pienaar, drifting in from the left, sought out the run of Kevin Mirallas, cutting in from the right. He played what probably seemed a well-weighted through ball, only for a flash of orange to materialise to stifle the danger almost before it had gestated. The moment went largely unnoticed, particularly by comparison with the diving save he made from Leon Osman’s early drive, but this was Hugo Lloris at his best.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Can Bayern Munich Be Beaten?

“On Tuesday, Bayern Munich visit Arsenal in the first leg of the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League. Bayern are the holders of the European Cup. In Germany, they’ve won 19, drawn two, and lost none. They are 16 points clear of the second-place team in the Bundesliga, and their bench could walk into almost any starting lineup in Europe. Some have suggested that Bayern’s biggest obstacle to repeating as Champions League winners is their complacency, but then some seem to forget that Bayern are managed by one of the great modern managers in Pep Guardiola. Last weekend, Bayern beat Freiburg 4-0. After the match, Guardiola made Bayern train, playing a practice match against themselves. So, no, they won’t be complacent. The questions is, can they be beaten?” Grantland

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool: Arsenal more disciplined despite a rotated side

“Arsenal narrowly won an extremely open cup tie. Arsene Wenger rested various players ahead of the meeting with Bayern on Wednesday. The most interesting inclusion was striker Yaya Sanogo, making his first start. Brendan Rodgers brought back Daniel Agger in place of Kolo Toure, selected Joe Allen rather than Jordan Henderson, and also gave a runout to reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones. Arsenal were much improved compared to last weekend, particularly in terms of positioning and organisation.” Zonal Marking

Where Soccer Gets Made

“When the British ruled India, they had a habit of establishing garrisons in towns across the subcontinent. One of these was located in the ancient town of Sialkot, which now lies in Pakistan’s Punjab province, just shy of the Indian border. To amuse themselves, British soldiers stationed there would, of course, play cricket. But they played football, too, on the many stretches of carefully watered and manicured grass that can still be found across Sialkot’s cantonment area. According to a local legend, at around the turn of the twentieth century, the British officers managed to puncture their ball during a casual kick-about. Seeking a quick and cheap mend, they enlisted the services of a local Sialkoti cobbler, who readily agreed to try and restore the unusual object to its original full-roundedness.” Road and Kingdoms

Fiorentina 1-2 Inter: Palacio’s positional variation crucial in Inter victory

“Fifth-placed Inter won at fourth-placed Fiorentina, cutting the game between them to five points. Vincenzo Montella was still without Giuseppe Rossi and a host of defenders, with star midfielder Borja Valero suspended. Mario Gomez was fit enough to be on the bench, however, after a few months out – Joaquin and Josip Ilicic were upfront form the start. Walter Mazzarri named an unchanged side from last weekend’s 1-0 win over Sassuolo. Inter were the better side here – more organised without the ball and more purposeful with possession.” Zonal Marking

Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea: City stop Chelsea’s counter-attacks and win comfortably

“Manchester City gained revenge for their recent league defeat to Chelsea. Manuel Pellegrini’s side was very different from that match, with Costel Pantilimon, Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy, Javi Garcia, James Milner and Stevan Jovetic all included. Jose Mourinho’s, however, named the closest thing possible to the XI that won at the Etihad. John Terry was out, so David Luiz moved back and John Obi Mikel came into the midfield. City were significantly superior throughout, amazingly so given how how confidently they were beaten less than a fortnight ago.” Zonal Marking

The Most Righteous Team in England

“Niall Couper is UK spokesman for Amnesty International. If you follow the news, you’ll understand that means he’s a busy man. You’ll also understand why I, having never met him, was nervous about emailing to ask if he’d like a chat about football. He replied within three minutes: ‘Friday?’ I shouldn’t have been surprised. Niall Couper is a Wimbledon fan, and Wimbledon fans are always happy to talk football. In fact, it is their enthusiasm for the game that has made Wimbledon possibly the finest football club in the world.” Roads and Kingdoms

Carlos Tevez should be at his peak, but is destined for World Cup despair

“A vineyard near Mendoza, June 2011. The manager had just learned I was a journalist covering the Copa América and was determined to find out why I thought Argentina were underperforming – which is to say, she was determined to tell me why she thought they were underperforming. I suggested there was a superabundance of attacking talent, that maybe Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi couldn’t usefully play together. ‘Then we must drop Messi,’ she said.” Guardian -Jonathan Wilson

Semifinal: Roma-Napoli 3-2

“In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Matters trilogy, central to the plot is a knife. How, where, why and whose it is doesn’t matter, merely this: in the books, it can be used to carve out windows into different, parallel worlds. Only the bearer of the knife can detect the openings, and use it to slice open portals from midair where there were none. If there were such a knife in real life, Francesco Totti would be the one to wield it. As Benatia passed the ball to him over a distance of maybe ten meters, Totti dropped down to meet it and, without ever looking in the right direction, with one touch carved up an opening where there was none.” blogistuta

Michael Laudrup: What went wrong at Swansea for the Dane?

“Swansea’s decision to sack boss Michael Laudrup four days before facing rivals Cardiff has ensured this weekend’s south Wales derby is shaping up to be an even bigger game than normal. Under Brendan Rodgers and then Laudrup, Swansea have had two excellent seasons in the Premier League, capped by finishing ninth and winning the Capital One Cup last year. But since winning that trophy 12 months ago, Swansea have only won eight of 35 Premier League games, and lost 18. That is relegation form.” BBC

What does the modern day footballer stand for anyway?

“After seeing the somewhat refreshing images of Lazio’s outgoing midfielder Hernanes shedding a few tears with fans on January 30th, it made me think that this is quite rare. Now I don’t mean players crying with fans; I mean loyalty. Many fans I am sure will say that in the fast-moving game that there is no room for loyalty in football more. I’m sure most players believe this as well.” Backpage Football

Bale steps into Ronaldo’s spotlight

“From Gareth Bale’s off-field persona, you wouldn’t expect him to be a superstar. He’s shy, retiring, quiet and modest and, although his commercial activities have increased significantly to reflect his development into one of Europe’s most exciting players, he’s generally keen to evade the spotlight. In pure footballing terms, however, Bale is highly egotistical. Not in a rude, arrogant, spoilt-brat manner but in terms of his playing style. Many expected Bale to become a rampaging left-back, including the manager who made him a regular at Tottenham, Harry Redknapp.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Atlético Madrid’s rise to the top the perfect tribute to Luis Aragonés

Luis Aragonés
“Fernando Torres tells the story of the final minutes before the 2008 European Championships. Luis Aragonés approaches him in the dressing room in Vienna and looks him in the eye; the old man and the kid. The kid has not scored yet but no one knows him like the old man and this is a ritual he has performed once before. He raises a finger and ‘draws’ a cross on Torres’s forehead, twice. ‘Niño,’ he says, ‘you’re going to score today.’ Then he continues, pacing the dressing room, player by player, before speaking to the whole group together. After 50 years in the game, first as a player then as a coach, this is it.” Guardian

Team Focus: Belief at Sunderland Gathering Under Poyet

“About 20 years ago, I was drinking in a pub in West Jesmond when I was accosted at the bar by a grey-haired, grey-stubbled man who worked on the Hoppings, an annual fair that was held on the Town Moor in Newcastle each year. Learning I was from Sunderland, he sucked through the gaps in his teeth and shook his head slowly. ‘Sunderland,’ he said, ‘is what happened when they kicked the miserable people out of Newcastle.’ It may not be entirely fair, but it’s certainly true that optimism doesn’t come easily to Wearside.” Who Scored? – Jonathan Wilson

World Cup 2014: Uruguay fans are realistic but their side’s never-say-die spirit could see them spring surprise

“With a population of under 3.5 million, Uruguay’s two successful campaigns mean they have overachieved like no other nation in the history of the World Cup. Continental championships demonstrate that those two World Cups are no fluke; though squeezed between two giants in Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay have been champions of South America 15 times (including at present), more than any other side. Where does this overachievement come from? The influence of history mustn’t be underestimated. Uruguayans are proud of what they managed early in the international game’s history, and that pride leads to high standards for youngsters coming through today.” Telegraph

Barcelona 2-3 Valencia: Valencia rewarded for bravery on the counter-attack

“Barcelona suffered their first home defeat of the season, to a Valencia side who had the third-worst away record in La Liga. Tata Martino rested Andres Iniesta, and is still without Neymar. Valencia had a busy few days in the transfer window – mainly with players departing. Helder Postiga, Ever Banega and Andres Guardado have all left the club. Juan Antonio Pizzi selected a cautious XI with five players across midfield, including two holding midfielders, while Jonas was only on the bench. This was a peculiar game. Barcelona were utterly dominant for the first 40 minutes, with little sign Valencia were set to record an upset. This wasn’t exactly a masterclass from Pizzi, but elements of Valencia’s play – and particularly their bravery in getting men forward on the break – should be applauded.” Zonal Marking – Michael Cox

Can 2014 finally be Paulo Henrique Ganso’s year?

“On a radio show last week I was hit with a surprise question; who did I think would win this year’s Brazilian Championship? It is, of course, very early for predictions. The competition is not set to start until the end of April, and at this moment we don’t even know how many teams will be taking part. The controversy over the Portuguesa relegation rumbles on. But there was an instant answer that popped into my head. A big club without the distraction of the Copa Libertadores. A team that has recently made some very interesting foreign acquisitions. And a squad that already looks to have considerable depth, in some positions at least. That club is Sao Paulo. And leading their creative charge, with a coach who knows him and believes in him, is Paulo Henrique Ganso.” Sambafoot – Tim Vickery

Back in the Ex-USSR: Former Soviet Nationals in the Football League

“Amid the relentless cacophony of last Friday’s transfer deadline day, Radio Five Live’s needlessly exhaustive coverage did include an interesting discussion on the whys and wherefores of signing players from the former Soviet Union in the light of Liverpool’s failed bid to take Yevhen Konoplyanka to the club from Dnipro. Examples were given of underperformers from the one time Russian orbit with Martin Keown contrasting Oleh Luzhnyi’s ‘OK’ performances in an Arsenal shirt to that of the beast of a player who had had Marc Overmars running backwards during a Champions League tie against Dynamo Kyiv and the mystifying failure of Andriy Shevchenko to perform anything like his best for Chelsea – for the record, I think the Ukrainian national hero might be my choice as the most disappointing player I have seen play across three seasons of live Premier League football since 2006.” thetwounfortunates

Male Sports Culture

“I was about eight or nine and living in Holland when I began reading Voetbal International. It’s a weekly magazine (I think the best-selling weekly soccer magazine on Earth) that isn’t just for fans but is really a sort of trade magazine of Dutch soccer, read by players and coaches and club chairmen too. It’s the place where Dutch soccer discusses itself — and if you know the Dutch, you’ll know there’s always lots to discuss. Thirty-five years later, VI still drops into my mailbox in Paris every Thursday. The magazine connects me with my childhood: all the silly news about who Heracles Almelo is about to sign, or the FC Groningen full-back’s account of his rise and how he owes it all to his mom.” askmen – Simon Kuper

1950-51 East German Oberliga

“The East German Oberliga has a reputation for being one of the most manipulated sporting competitions the world has ever seen. The favouritism enjoyed by several big clubs in the 70s and 80s is relatively well-known, but the manipulation can be traced right back to the start of the league’s existence. Nothing illustrates the ridiculousness of the whole system better than the 1950-51 season.” Bundesliga Fanatic

La Liga: Valencia hands Barcelona a rare home loss

“Barcelona stumbled to a 3-2 home loss against Valencia on Saturday, giving Atletico Madrid a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the Spanish league. Barcelona’s decision not to sign a defender during the January transfer window may have backfired after Valencia took advantage of a lethargic, uninspired effort by its hosts at the Camp Nou, where former Spain coach Luis Aragones – who previously coached the Catalans – was honored after his death on Saturday. Barcelona led through Alexis Sanchez’s eighth-minute goal but Dani Parejo equalized for Valencia before the break.” SI

La Liga: FC Barcelona 2-3 Valencia CF: Match Review
“After a great start to the game that saw Alexis Sanchez lead Barcelona to a quick advantage, Barcelona were left frustrated by an incredibly efficient Valencia side that scored on three of their four shots on goal. Dani Parejo, Pablo Piatti and Paco Alcácer scored for the visitors, while Barcelona were only able to reply through a converted penalty by Lionel Messi.” Barca Blaugranes

Does Wondolowski have a realistic shot at Brazil?

“Even before the final whistle sounded, it was the question on everybody’s mind. Can striker Chris Wondolowski, who scored both goals for the U.S. national team in Saturday’s 2-0 friendly win here against South Korea, somehow grab one of the final spots on the Americans’ World Cup roster when coach Jurgen Klinsmann names his 23-man squad in May? The answer may actually lie in another question: Will Klinsmann take four forwards to this summer’s tournament in Brazil?” ESPN

Three Things: West Brom vs. Liverpool

” Liverpool’s progress for a top-four finish was stalled after a 1-1 draw at West Brom. Here are three thoughts from Sunday’s early Premier League clash … Fourth place was Liverpool’s for the taking. They were set to go four points clear of fifth-placed Everton and nine ahead of their slumping rivals Manchester United. Then Kolo Toure intervened haplessly, gifting Victor Anichebe a goal, and they were dragged back toward the pack. If Liverpool lose to Arsenal on Saturday, they could end next weekend in fifth place, which carries the gloomy promise of a place in the Europa League.” ESPN

Five big problems at Hamburg

“Another match, another defeat. And that’s an experience that HSV fans have experienced eleven times this season, eleven times in nineteen matches, which is form worthy of relegation. And that’s more or less where HSV find themselves, in 16th place and in a playoff relegation spot, just four points ahead of bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig and two in front of Nürnberg, who could go above them if they win in Berlin against Hertha tomorrow. The sacking of Thorsten Fink and the appointment of Bert van Marwijk seemed to have triggered some sort of response from the players with some encouraging performances and results but it’s five straight defeats for HSV now and they are in free fall towards the 2. Bundesliga. So, what exactly needs changing at HSV?” Bundesliga Fanatic

Naming It Right

“In a Facebook discussion a while ago, Markus Hesselmann, online editor of Der Tagesspiegel, a newspaper based in Berlin discussed the names of English football clubs in German media. Hesselmann argued that some over-correct people often reminded others that it is not Arsenal London but only Arsenal. While the correctionists do have a point in this case, it is important to remember that there might be people unfortunate enough to not know where this mysteriously called football club ‘Arsenal’ might be located. There are several ways to find out: asking some one around, google it or watching German television. Most often than not, Arsenal becomes Arsenal London. Hesselmann has a point as he later in the discussion thread stated that a journalist’s task is also to educate, without the journalist becoming an educator or teacher.” Do not mention the war