Monthly Archives: September 2014

Screaming in their silence: Union Berlin fans deliver strong protest against RB Leipzig

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“As Sebastian Polter races towards goal and calmly slots the ball past RB Leipzig keeper Benjamin Bellot, close to 20,000 fans erupt in a cacophony of emotion at the Stadion An der Alte Försterei. Good has prevailed over evil, and order has been restored, if only temporarily. It’s a Sunday afternoon in September, and the 2. Bundesliga’s newest club has made the short two-hour trip to Berlin, sitting pretty atop the table, having gone unbeaten in its first five matches. Leipzig face an FC Union Berlin side lying firmly in the relegation zone after a winless start to their own 2014-15 campaign. The visitors are welcomed with a cold and hostile reception.” Bundesliga Fanatic


Rooney scores, gets ejected as Manchester United hangs on vs. West Ham

“Captain Wayne Rooney was sent off after scoring but 10-man Manchester United clung on to beat West Ham 2-1 in the Premier League on Saturday. It was just United’s second victory in seven matches under Louis van Gaal, coming a week after a humbling loss at newly-promoted Leicester. It had started well for Rooney when he put United in front after five minutes with a deft volley. Robin van Persie doubled the lead in the 22nd minute with his 50th goal for United, but West Ham pulled one back before halftime through Diafra Sakho’s header. The attacking trio of Rooney, Van Persie and Radamel Falcao combined well up front, until Rooney was sent off in the 59th minute for kicking out at Stewart Downing. At the back, United looked vulnerable once again, although injuries meant Van Gaal had to give 19-year-old center back Paddy McNair a debut. Of more concern to Van Gaal will be Rooney’s absence, which will last three matches if the dismissal is deemed to be violent conduct by the English Football Association.” SI (Video)

Premier League talking points: Wayne Rooney & a two-horse race
“Wayne Rooney’s red card for Manchester United will claim the headlines from an eventful Saturday in the Premier League. The United and England captain must now serve a three-game ban – but the good news for manager Louis van Gaal is that his 10 men held on for a crucial win against West Ham United to ease some of the wounds from the 5-3 collapse to Leicester City. This was among a number of key talking points from Saturday’s games. Here, we look at Rooney’s conduct and some of the day’s other significant incidents.” BBC

Brazil is having its ‘England’ moment

“This year was not the first time that England flopped in a World Cup in Brazil. The fall was even harder in 1950, when making its debut in the competition, England also failed to make it out of the group stage, this time going down 1-0 to United States, still one of the most remarkable results in World Cup history. Great winger Stanley Matthews was not selected for that game, and watched horrified from the stands. He was much more impressed by a trip to the newly built Maracana stadium to watch the hosts in action.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Tactical Analysis | Liverpool 1-1 Everton: Balotelli sub-par, Lukaku misused

“Liverpool 1-1 Everton | The Merseyside Derby is often an intense affair, topped off with an aggressive flavour and mixed with an air of resentment. This one at Anfield was thus a bit disappointing, with neither side catching the imagination and not allowing the usual narratives to flow. Though the headlines were made stunningly by both captains, the two sides failed to convince viewers and justify their ambitions for the season.” Outside of the Boot

Francesco Totti still providing eternal quality for his beloved Roma

“Francesco Totti had tears in his eyes as he lined up to face CSKA Moscow. The Champions League anthem had barely kicked in when television cameras picked out the Roma captain looking quite overcome. Three-and-a-half years removed from his last appearance in the competition, Totti had begun to wonder if he would ever get back here again. Never did he doubt that he belonged on such a stage. Totti turned 38 on Saturday, but remains as certain as ever of his own abilities. Asked on the eve of the CSKA game which teams in Europe would not want him in their starting XI, he replied: ‘Few of them’.” Guardian

Elite Force Is Back in Spain, Dominance Undiminished

Lionel Messi nets goal number 400 of his senior career. His teammate Neymar scores a hat trick. And Barcelona hits Granada for six. Cristiano Ronaldo takes his personal account to eight goals in one week with Real Madrid. Diego Simeone returns in full voice to the coaching area. His new striker, Mario Mandzukic, returns in a black mask nine days after fracturing his nose, and Atlético Madrid crushes Sevilla by four goals.” NY Times

Marseille: The Bielsa Press quantified

Marseille’s coach Marcelo Bielsa
“Previously I have written about the metric which can help us quantify and assess the strength that a team used to press the opposition; Passes per Defensive Action or PPDA. An introduction to this metric, including its definition and what the numbers represent can be found in this article written in July. In a follow up article which looked at manager tendencies in relation to this PPDA metric  it was no surprise to find that Marcelo Bielsa ranked very highly amongst managers that incorporated a pressing game.  In fact, over the last four seasons across the Big 5 leagues only six managers used a more agressive level of pressing that Bielsa did.” Stats Bomb

Marcelo Bielsa restless but Marseille are early Ligue 1 pacesetters
“First, the caveats. It was only against Reims, who had the second worst defensive record in the French top flight even before Tuesday, and whose goalkeeper Johny Placide was hampered by an injury that forced him off at half-time. And Steve Mandanda did have to make a couple of decent saves in the second half after the intensity of the game had dropped. So Marseille fans must temper their excitement a little. But only a little.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Marcelo Biesla’s Marseille lighting up Ligue 1
“After a demoralising, disappointing 2013-2014 season for Marseille, the club knew that something needed to be done to address the situation. That decision saw talented tactician Marcelo Bielsa take the helm at Marseille. The former Argentine, Chile and Athletic Bilbao coach was appointed and started work after the World Cup. Marcelo Bielsa is a hugely respected figure in World Football and was hand-picked as a coach that could re-vitalise and energise this Marseille outfit that despite its sixth place finish insinuates great promise.” backpagefootball

Why Is the Premier League Table So Weird Right Now?

“Only one match in the Premier League this weekend ended the way most people expected. Amusingly, that was the biggest match of all: Chelsea’s cagey draw with Manchester City. Mind you, the path to that draw was about as dramatic as it gets, with a down-to-10-men City getting a late goal from, who else, former Chelsea icon Frank Lampard.” Grantland

Wobbly Liverpool, Everton have much in common ahead of Merseyside derby

“It feels like every time Liverpool plays Everton these days, the game is billed as ‘the most important derby’ for years. Ahead of Saturday’s Premier League encounter, both sides have more in common than usual; managers battling with early-season selection problems, defensive lapses, key players injured and unrealistic expectations after over-achievement last season.” SI

Aleksandr Mostovoi – A Legend In His Own Time

“…Mostovoi…busca posicion para el disparo…sigue el Ruso…Mostovoi…Gol,Gol,Gol,Gol,Gol del Celta…Gol de Mostovoi…” – This was the sound it used to come out of my old television set back in the final years of the 1990s every time I tuned in TVG (Televisión de Galicia) to watch a Celta de Vigo match. That faint satellite connection gave me the opportunity to watch some glorious moments of football that I will never forget, most of them performed by a true artist that I learned to admire and that, to this day, I believe was one of the most talented players ever to have played in the so-called modern football: the one and only Aleksandr Mostovoi.” Russian Football News

Diagnosing Liverpool’s Early-Season Slump

“After last season’s unlikely, high-flying, high-scoring, high-octane season, things are looking a lot more mundane for Liverpool at the moment. Their last two Premier League results have been pedestrian losses to West Ham and Aston Villa. Those defeats are bookended by a ludicrous last-second victory over Champions League minnow Ludogorets Razgrad and a League Cup match in which they needed 14 penalty shots to beat Championship side Middlesbrough.” Grantland

Scout Report | Tin Jedvaj: Leverkusen & Croatia’s young rising defender

“‘Niko Kovač (Croatia’s national team coach) and I speak a common language. He decided that I am needed in the team and I respect his decision, I am Croatia’s solider. I don’t play for the money, a transfer or a record. I just want to help as much as I can’ Darijo Srna, Croatia’s captain, said after the World Cup in Brazil. In 12 years of loyal service the versatile right back collected impressive 118 caps and scored 21 goals for Vatreni . He played at three European and two World championships. After this year’s World Cup in Brazil, where Croatia exited the competiton very early, some players waved farewell to the national team. Srna, although some expected otherwise, didn’t. He remained an integral part of the team and is now, motivated as ever, chasing his fourth European championship qualification.” Outside of the Boot

A new challenge: Udinese in Football Manager 14

“Regular readers of my FM posts and, indeed, those subject to my anguished diatribes on social media, will be aware that I suffered a catastrophe a few months ago. In the middle of my first season at Everton, having been offered the job on the back of my resounding success at Rangers employing a Moneyball-style transfer strategy, and in my second season at Manchester United which had generated this semi-fictional Moyes-trouncing piece in Pickles, I lost my saved games. They vanished from my computer quicker than Ali Dia from the Southampton match-day squad and I could not find them. And so, bereft, I wandered lonely through an unceasing interior monologue of woe and self-commiseration.” Put Niels In Goal

Who’s to blame for Liverpool’s defensive woes?

“Following Liverpool’s disappointing 3-1 defeat to West Ham came Brendan Rodgers’ admission that Liverpool might be unable to compete for the title. Perhaps, he conceded, Liverpool ‘peaked too early’ last season. ‘Peaked’ is a rather unfortunate word to use — the best, Rodgers surely believes, is still to come. Nevertheless, it underlines the fact Liverpool punched above their weight in 2013-14, despite falling at the final hurdle. They started the season as outsiders for a Champions League place, they finished it devastated not to have won the title.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Appreciating Mesut

“At the highest level, there are relatively few footballers who warrant having teams and formations constructed around their style and abilities. Almost every player would benefit from a system set up especially to accommodate their strengths and weaknesses, but those who deserve that kind of special treatment are the ones who, with such support, feed as much or more into the rest of the side as is fed to them – those who enhance their team mates, and whose talents can help take their sides to a higher plain. Of course, there can be a danger in building for the needs of an individual. The most prominent being ‘what if that individual is missing?’, which Arsenal learned to their cost in the case of Cesc Fàbregas, both while he was at the club and the years immediately proceeding his departure. The other major issue being if that central figure is struggling for form, and how the rest of the team will have to cope with that.” Arseblog

Tactical Analysis | Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea: Two well organised sides

“Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea | Most people’s predicted top two for the season met at the Etihad; two sides with arguably the best squads in the league with two of the best managers to handle them. Mourinho went with his tried and tested approach for these big games, Pellegrini responded by containing the most threatening duo of the away side.” Outside of the Boot

Dilemmas of Football Ownership: Marching on, Direction Unknown

“As we move into Day Three of our Football Ownership series, Gary Hartley tries in vain to make some sense of what, exactly, Massimo Cellino is up to at his beloved Leeds United. It’s not particularly new, this football clubs subsumed by rich men’s egos thing. It’s just that in the presumed halcyon days, the egos were more the Rotary Club, cigar on Sunday type of affair – vaguely but not entirely unapproachable, with no offspring on Twitter. Things are different now; we’ve supported or allowed the cult of moneyed personality, accepting that since it’s all ultimately a game, we can in turn allow our game to be gamed. Sigh. But hey, down at Elland Road, at least our rich man has a personality. Right? You with me? Right?” thetwounfortunates

The sporadic Scottish football round-up: First installment

“Hello and welcome to the first of a semi-regular review of the Scottish football season so far by your friend in pie Meat Filled Pastries (@MFPTasty). So what’s been happening up north, well apart from the whole referendum business in many respects it’s business as usual, well almost. Let’s review. European competition is something that starts in July and finishes in August north of the border, St. Johnstone repeated last years feat of beating a team that some people of heard of only to be knocked out by a team only yours truly and anyone looking for Slovakian bargains in Football Manger will have heard of while Motherwell went one better and didn’t even bother winning a game against a team nobody had ever heard of. Aberdeen fared better comfortably beating Daugava Riga, who one assumes were part of Latvia’s attempts to integrate rugby into their national sporting curriculum, before perhaps getting the best Scottish result in Europe so far this season by beating Groningen over two legs.” The Football Pink

Reviving Benfica: The Return Of Bela Guttmann

“Early in August, Bela Guttmann returned to Lisbon to be greeted at the airport by a wildly enthusiastic crowd of players, directors and fans all hysterically delighted to welcome him home. For the Hungarian born, naturalised Austrian, ‘home’ now is surely Lisboa, for although it is now more than three years since he quit, it has never ceased to be clear that Guttmann left his heart with Benfica. This being so, it becomes difficult to understand why he left in the first place, for there was never any suggestion of the directors sacking him, or another club attracting him. His resignation, announced so sensationally in London, where Benfica were to meet Tottenham Hotspur in the Semi-Final of the European Cup only 24 hours later, was a typically Guttmann touch for while the decision had been made months before, he withheld the announcement until it could bring the maximum benefit to Benfica.” In Bed With Maradona

Measuring Strength in Depth – Part 1

“I have previously talked about the idea of an elements model. This had 30 elements grouped into Physical elements (e.g. Strength, Speed, Height, etc.), Mental elements (e.g. Concentration, Vision, Patience, etc.), and Technical elements (e.g. Tackling, Close Ball Control, Accurate Long Passing, etc.) that could be grouped together in a huge variety of combinations, like the ingredients for a multitude of meals.” Tomkins Times

Sark FC – the worst team in the world?

“TOMOS KNOX looks at the plight of the team from the tiny Channel Island as they search for more ‘international’ recognition. It’s 2003, and the Island Games, an Olympic themed tournament for islands all over the world, is just about to begin. Hosted in Guernsey, it includes triathlon, sailing, basketball, and of course, football. The opening ceremony, held on the seafront in St Peter’s Port, was a far cry from the multi-million pound Olympic Games ceremonies, but it still attracted thousands of people. Instead of parading around a monsterously large stadium, the 2,500 competitors and officials walked from North Beach to Albert Pier, drawing applause from the crowd. Among the 23 islands were Greenland, debutants Bermuda, and Sark. Although the latter had competed in previous editions of the Games, this was to be the first time that they would enter a football team. …” The Football Pink

Stuart Gray lifts dark clouds from Sheffield Wednesday

“It’s only seven years since Sheffield Wednesday took a Manchester City team containing Joey Barton to an FA Cup third round replay. That was probably the best Owls team since relegation from the Premier League and a lot has changed since, on both sides of the Pennines. City have added some billionaire owners, two League titles and a few cups while Wednesday are have just about clawed their way back to the same position after another stint in League One and a brush with financial meltdown. Yet Owls fans can go into tonight’s League Cup third round tie optimistic that they can make an impact at the Etihad.” WSC

Inzaghi’s AC Milan still has work to do after loss to Juventus

“Heading into the matchup between AC Milan and Juventus, the talk was of Milan’s high-scoring start to the Serie A season under former playing idol Pippo Inzaghi. The optimism was to prove short lived, however, as Juventus, winners of the Italian title for the last three seasons, asserted its authority with a cool, muscular display that silenced a noisy San Siro. Here are three thoughts on Juve’s 1-0 victory…” SI

The story so far: AC Milan’s good start to the season
“Milan has gotten off to a solid start this season; they have garnered all six points in their first two games against Lazio and Parma. There were plenty of questions prior to the season regarding attacking options, concerns over the mercato performance, defensive issues, and how this team would perform under new management. Though it is still extremely early in the season, some of these questions may have already been answered.” Outside of the Boot

La Liga: Levante UD 0-5 FC Barcelona: Match Review

“FC Barcelona cruised to an emphatic 5-0 victory over La Liga strugglers Levante UD at the Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday evening, overcoming stormy conditions to run riot against Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side. While it took the Blaugrana over half an hour to break the deadlock, they were in complete control from the outset against Los Granotes and Neymar’s 34th minute opener was not only well-deserved, but a long time coming.” Barca Blaugranes

Manchester City 1 Chelsea 1: Frank Lampard comes off the bench to upset former club and save the champions

“Frank Lampard holds a special place in the Chelsea record books and in the hearts of their fans. Even when their club’s all-time leading scorer, ‘Super’ Frank Lampard, equalised for Manchester City here, Chelsea supporters continued to sing his name. He cost them two points but had given them 13 unforgettable years. Lampard will always be in credit in their ledger of loyalty. At the end of a contentious, slightly surreal encounter, Lampard walked over to thank the away fans, who waved banners and chorused his name again in return. Little sportsmanship resides in football in the cynical modern era so it was an impressive reaction by the Chelsea contingent.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Lament For A Lost Scotland

“Only those who have to take off their shoes when they want to count to twenty will ever believe Scotland will one day win the World Cup. There is more chance of Ronald Reagan being voted Man of the Year by the Russians than Scotland achieving total global success. This line of thinking, of course, will shock no one. Just over five years ago Ally MacLeod brainwashed the Tartan Army into actually believing the world was about to be conquered in Argentina and Bruce Rioch was only a fortnight or so away from claiming a very expensive and coveted chunk of gold. Let’s not dwell on that nightmarish episode. Scotland’s balloon wasn’t so much punctured as blown to smithereens. There was an eruption of eggs on the faces of the Scottish fans who genuinely believed Scotland would overcome all the obstacles that stood in the way of their heroes. Peru and Iran changed that state of mind.” In Bed With Maradona (Video)

Supporting Coventry City: An Emotional Investment

“The more out of hand the marriage between the Premier League and Sky has become, the more I’ve followed Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea et al with an acute sense of alienation. I’m captivated by Premier League football, but it feels distant and remote. If money is limitless and winning every game is a basic expectation, where, as a supporter, do you find joy and exultation? It all seems so routine, the hype machine so hollow and formulaic. I don’t believe in a hierarchy of fandom, but increasingly I feel that those of us following football outside of the Premier League’s top six or seven operate in a separate sphere, where a degree of perspective remains and regularly visiting football stadiums is still viable.” The Inside Left (Video)

The Southampton blueprint and its success

“Southampton recently beat Newcastle 4-0 in what is to going to be their third season in the Premier League after Nigel Adkins took them to Saints back to the Premier League with back to back promotions. Adkins was sacked in the first season but since then, Southampton have managed to not drop straight back down to the Championship and have done so by impressing fans and pundits alike.” backpagefootball

The realities of life after Arsene Wenger at Arsenal

“In the wake of yet another pasting by legitimate opposition, it seems that some Arsenal supporters feel that Arsene Wenger’s time at the club needs to come to an end, or that it needs to come under massive amounts of scrutiny at the very least. While I can affirm that I have firmly placed myself in that camp, it still must be realized what that could potentially mean for the club moving forward; it may not be all apple pie and dandelions like so many are expecting.” Outside of the Boot

Atletico Madrid’s unsung hero: Gabi

“A game of football is punctuated by moments of spectacular nature. The overhead kick, the unbelievable save, the superhuman burst of pace are all instances that take the breath away. However these headline hogging events are simply a small part of a grand narrative. In terms of overall importance to the outcome, the role of the defensive midfielder is sadly ignored at times. Marvyn Paul addresses this by heaping praise on Atleti captain, Gabi.” Outside of the Boot

What’s the reason behind PSG’s current struggles?

“Usually clubs with wealthy benefactors aren’t simply attempting to buy success. They’re also attempting to buy style — and it’s extremely difficult to achieve both. … Paris Saint-Germain is a peculiar case, because there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis upon playing beautiful football. Since QSI bought the club in 2011, the results have been excellent — PSG have won the title for the past two seasons and have performed reasonably well in Europe, too.” ESPN – Michael Cox

The Confusing Case of Ribery’s “Retirement”

“Rarely do footballers come around that experience a whirlwind trip to the top of the heap, get embroiled in a dirge of controversy, and somehow maintain a level of play that allows them to weather the massive storm. Franck Ribery is no ordinary soccer story, and his play is always anything BUT ordinary. The Bayern Munich winger, now 31, has amassed every success possible at the club level, and has accomplished all of this while being a huge part of the French national team that has not found the success that Ribery experienced in 2006. So, when a player like Ribery decides to lower the curtain on his international career, the process would seem relatively simple.” SoccerPro

Where next for Alejandro Sabella?

Alejandro Sabella
“What do you do if you’ve just managed a team that reached the World Cup final? The truth is that you probably don’t go and manage in the English second tier, and particularly not for a chairman as prone to sacking coaches as Massimo Cellino. The reports linking Alejandro Sabella, who left his post as Argentina manager after the defeat to Germany in the Maracanã, to the vacant position at Leeds United all cited the 59-year-old saying he had ‘unfinished business’ at the club after his disappointing season there as a player in 1980-81, and it is the case that the only other club team he has managed, Estudiantes, was a side he had played for.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

In Champions League, Bulgarian Club Is All Fight

“There must be an absolute fortune to be made for the psychologist who could affect what goes on inside the heads of players on a big night of Champions League action. Who can explain why Arsenal, whose team has played in this tournament for 17 consecutive seasons, should appear so stricken by fear or inertia that it failed to compete on every level in Dortmund on Tuesday night? Sure, Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion is a mighty cauldron, a sea of yellow and black raucously supporting their team, Borussia. But so rampant were the bees of Dortmund and so submissive was Arsenal that the 2-0 victory by the home team could, without exaggeration, easily have ended 7-0 or 8-0. On the same evening, in another of Europe’s most imposing stadiums, Liverpool needed a questionable penalty three minutes into injury time to see off Ludogorets Razgrad, 2-1.” NY Times

Growing Pains: Real Madrid

“It is always a tough ask to think of how to improve upon a Champions League winning campaign. However, when you couple the capture of the CL crown with a third place league finish (in a league with only three actual competitors), there is definitely room for improvement. So, how do Los Blancos gear up for a year of possible improvement? By selling two of the most important players in their side…and by avoiding their biggest weaknesses in the transfer window. Still, if any team can still succeed, it has to be Madrid…right?” SoccerPro

Roger Schmidt is slick and a former auto engineer and just might turn Bayer Leverkusen into a contender

“Seven years ago, Roger Schmidt worked in a machine shop. He was an automotive engineer. In his spare time, he managed Delbrücker SC, a semi-pro team in the Fußball-Oberliga Westfalen, then one of Germany’s regional fourth divisions. This past Tuesday, he stood on the sidelines as his team, Bayer Leverkusen, took on Monaco in the Champions League. Not a bad career move, right? From the machine shop to the Champions League in under a decade.” Fusion

To Escape Fighting in Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk Takes an Indefinite Road Trip

“Plumes of thick black smoke and a rapid-fire echo of explosions rose into the afternoon sky. Several hundred people from eastern Ukraine, almost all of them men in black T-shirts and balaclavas, were singing nationalistic songs as they threw smoke bombs onto the soccer field in front of them. They were members of the Shakhtar Ultras, a group of hard-core soccer fans who support Ukraine’s champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, anywhere they play. On this sunny August day, they were watching the Donetsk derby between Shakhtar and Olimpik. But the match, like all of Shakhtar’s matches these days, was not taking place in Donetsk, which has been battered by months of shelling. Instead the fans traveled hundreds of miles west to the capital, Kiev.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 1–2 Atletico Madrid | The usual pattern flows

“The 3rd Derby between the two sides already this season recording an important win for Rojiblancos and a dramatic fail for Real Madrid in their second consecutive game with only 3 points out of 9 conceding 6 goals in two matches. … Every time Real Madrid faces Atletico we’ve seen some characteristic features that both coaches deployed in the match in order to exploit the weakness of the other. Simeone is always trying to make the field very narrow so that none of Real players have much time on the ball whilst Ancelotti responded in attacking from the wings depending highly on fullbacks for stretching Atletico’s narrowness.” Outside of the Boot

Five things we learned this week in Ligue 1

“The drought continues – Paris Saint-Germain go three away games without a victory. PSG fans ‘It’s a problem’ replied an abrupt and clearly agitated Salvatore Sirigu in his Canal + post-match interview. The problem of course that the Italian international, who signed a new four-year contract with PSG this week, was referring to is his club’s lack of conviction on away trips this season. So far, PSG have performed impressively in their opening matches of the season, however they have failed to do better than drawing in their first three away matches.” backpagefootball

Bayern Munich are well equipped in midfield with Xabi Alonso’s inclusion

“Bayern have no shortage of central midfielders in truth. Bastian Schweinsteiger leads the contingent with Javi Martinez, Sebastian Rode, Thiago Alcantara, Pierre Højbjerg and Gianluca Gaudino, who are outright central mids but are also given support from the two wingbacks, Captain Philipp Lahm and David Alaba. That makes it a total of eight players who can play the CM role, but in truth only two are needed. With Xabi joining the list, it makes it nine. Nine players fighting for two spots when all are fit; that’s the epitome of squad depth, and more.” Outside of the Boot

What to expect in the Champions League this season

“Autumn is my favourite time of year. The weather starts to get cooler, the leaves change colours and all that nonsense, but the main reason is clear: the group stages of the Champions League begin. It is a time when hope is high, a time when people will walk into school or to work and brag about how they know that their team will go all the way this year, and claim Europe’s biggest prize. Of course a lot of banter will follow; especially after those first day jitters get out of the way and your team, let’s say Chelsea, succumb to a home defeat for their first game against FC Basel. But that is the fun, and beauty, of the tournament. In the beginning, every team has a chance; every team has that hope, however realistic or utterly unimaginable it may be, that they will make a good run of the tournament. This season, some new faces come into the Champions League, some new, and some very familiar. I will take a look at what we can expect to see this year in Europe’s most prestigious club competition.” backpagefootball

Meet Your Continental European Champions League Contenders

“It’s Champions League time. To help you get set up, we’re going to go on a brief tour around Europe, to get you up to date on all the major non–Premier League teams. Our tour will take us through Germany, Spain, and Italy, with a brief stop in Paris to round things out.” Grantland (Video)

A Generation Lost For the Golden Jaguars

“Amidst the usual release of FIFA Rankings recently lay a statistic which only a keen-eyed observer would notice: the biggest drop in places had been awarded to the small nation of Guyana, a Caribbean country geographically located in South America and neighbour to one the most famous footballing nations of all: Brazil. Guyana was a team which only two years ago, reached their furthest ever point in 2014 World Cup qualifiers, and were giving Mexico a run for their money at the Azteca Arena after previously eliminating Caribbean powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago. Yet fast forward to 2014 and the National Team now finds themselves comprehensively losing to St Lucia and St Kitts & Nevis in recent Caribbean Cup qualifiers. The question therefore is: how did this decline occur?” In Bed With Maradona

Liga MX Tres Puntos: Mexico preps for Ronaldinho, Mier hurt, America slips

“Eight weeks into the 2014 Liga MX Apertura – otherwise known as the last eight weeks before Ronaldinho Mania takes over Mexico – Club America remains at the top of the table after a hot start. There’s more to that than meets the eye, though. The team seems to be heading in the wrong direction with an attack that has stumbled ever since leading scorer Raul Jimenez bolted for Atletico Madrid.” SI

Usage Rates: A Primer

“If there was one over-arching principle for analyzing soccer statistics, it might be “context is king.” For example, Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna averaged 54.5 passes per 90 last year and West Ham’s Mark Noble averaged 53.2 passes per 90. Intuitively, our first reaction is probably that both players exhibit roughly the same level of passing influence—with maybe the slightest of edges given to Sagna. But we are not controlling for the fact that Arsenal led the EPL with 569 passes per game while West Ham was second from bottom, averaging 326 passes per game. To adjust for this disparity we take each player’s passes per 90 and divide it by their team’s passes per 90, thereby creating a pass usage rate for each player.” Statsbomb

Soccer Fans Supply Strong Voice in Scottish Independence Debate

“In this city defined by the rivalry between its two biggest soccer clubs — Celtic and Rangers — there were no team colors on display Sunday night as fans filtered into a gloomy pub to watch Scotland play Germany in its first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championship. There is, however, more than soccer to talk about at the moment. Scotland is wound tight, waiting to uncoil next week, when the country will vote on whether it should be independent from Britain. The debate has generated the kind of tension and engagement usually reserved for soccer rivalries in Scotland, and in fact the country’s stadiums have become key battlegrounds for the yes and no campaigns.” NY Times

Scotland – when politics and football clash
“The Scotland independence referendum centers mainly on political and social issues, but as is often the case, the implications run far below the surface. One such area is the beautiful game itself. While many follow football in an attempt to forget about the problems of the world, the current climate in Scotland makes it impossible to ignore the reality of the impending referendum – from aggressive chants to verbal attacks on Scottish players, Scotland’s football takes first stage on the referendum.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City | Efficient Citizens again, defensive woes for Gunners

“Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City | Arsenal came into the game after a rather disappointing end to a window that did see them capture a man that has everything to prove, and a disappointing draw with Leicester. Manchester City had a quiet end to the window, much like their previous game which resulted in a shock home loss to Stoke City. Three points wasn’t crucial at this stage, but could prove to have been as the season wore on.” Outside of the Boot

Manchester City display direct, rugged edge at Arsenal
“In strategic terms, Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini is a subtle manager, more likely to change the balance of his team with a minor alteration rather than a sweeping, dramatic shift in formation. His starting XI for the 2-2 draw against Arsenal, however, was a surprise. Without Yaya Toure in midfield, he was forced to select Fernandinho and Frank Lampard, both starting their first game of the campaign. The Brazilian looked rusty, and Lampard struggled to cope with the speed of the game. Both were eventually substituted on a booking — although Fernandinho had recovered to become one of the second half’s standout players.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Champions League: Will an English club win this season?

“There was a time, in the not too distant past, when English clubs feared only each other in the later stages of the Champions League. Such was the dominance of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool that one or the other of them reached seven out of eight Champions League finals between 2005 and 2012 and they claimed nine out of the 12 available semi-final places between 2007 and 2009. How times change. As the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition get under way on Tuesday, English clubs find themselves fighting to re-establish themselves at the top table.” BBC

The long haul in South America is yet to begin

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“While the 2016 UEFA European Championship qualifiers commenced this week, the cream of South American football was running around in mickey mouse games that will have little bearing on what will occurs next year when the likes of Brazil and Argentina play for something far more important than bragging rights and some cash to stock up the coffers.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Premier League, Week 4: Handing Out Credit and Blame for City, United, Arsenal, and Liverpool

“What a weekend. Manchester United won, 4-0! Alan Pardew personally ensured that Newcastle lost, 4-0! Arsenal’s beautiful attack scored two goals! Arsenal’s woeful defending gifted Manchester City two goals! Liverpool lost! So many unexpected things happening all at once. Let’s wade through the weekend’s results using a little game I like to call ‘Credit or Blame.’” Grantland

Assessing Dutch football’s European chances

“With both the Champions League and Europa League group stages kicking off this week, what impact will Dutch sides AFC Ajax, Feyenoord Rotterdam and PSV Eindhoven make in their respective competitions? First things first: How did they get there? Ajax have made the groups this year by winning the Eredivise, as first place automatically qualify for the Champions League. Last season’s second place Feyenoord had a chance to qualify for the Champions League, but crashed out to Turkish giants Besiktas; they lost 5-2 on aggregate. Therefore Feyenoord had a chance to enter the Europa League, in a qualifying match against FC Zorya Luhansk, who Feyenoord defeated 5-4 on aggregate.” backpagefootball

Can Jack Wilshere profit for England where Gerrard and Henderson lost?

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“There is an unhelpful idealism about international football, or at least about the way England approach international football. Everybody has their favourite to promote, the key creator who cannot be left out, the grand scheme that will secure success, and the result is often a terrible mish-mash – a team designed, if not by committee, then certainly with so many voices at play that a manager’s thinking can become clouded.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Growing Pains (The Weight Of Expectation)

“When a young footballer outgrows their youth academy and the time comes for them to impress on the senior stage one of a few things will inevitably happen. Whether the player is slowly transitioned into the squad, being afforded the odd substitute appearance, or is thrown straight in at the deep end – through necessity, as injuries thin the squad, or because the manager wishes to scrutinise the player’s mentality under intense pressure – both scenarios will give some indication of the player’s aptitude. Solid performances will enforce the manager’s trust as well as the player’s belief and their playing time will grow, eventually allowing them to slot seamlessly into the squad.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Italy: Inter blows out Sassuolo while Milan holds off Parma

“Mauro Icardi scored his first ever hat trick as Inter Milan thrashed 10-man Sassuolo 7-0 on Sunday for its first victory of the fledgling Serie A season, while AC Milan won 5-4 at Parma in a highly entertaining match, which saw both teams reduced to 10 men. New signing Paolo Osvaldo netted twice and Mateo Kovacic also recorded his first league goal for Inter, while Fredy Guarin capped off a fantastic day for the Nerazzurri. Sassuolo, which lost at home by the same scoreline in its first meeting with Inter last season, also had forward Domenico Berardi sent off for an elbow on Juan Jesus.” SI

Big Weekend Preview: Real Madrid’s mayday and Barça show true colours

“That was a long two weeks of nothingness with only a Ronaldo/Pérez spat-and-backtrack to keep the blog going for a fortnight. Spain’s rebuild is underway, nobody got fired and as far as La Liga can recall, Barcelona managed to avoid being investigated for some kind of tax/contract/signing misdemeanour. All very disappointing. Aside from all the posers detailed below ahead of the weekend to come, LLL is also pondering whether Valencia’s promising start to the season can continue at home to Espanyol and is keen to see if Villarreal can live without the injured Giovani dos Santos at Granada. In the meantime, here are some bigger fish to fry.” FourFourTwo

Scout Report | Bernardo Silva: AS Monaco and Portugal’s Young Attacking Midfielder

“Portugal has for some time now looked at itself as a country that competes far above its weight class in international football. It has produced three World Footballers of The Year. Its best result at a World Cup was third-place in 1966. And it lost a European Championship Final on their home soil just a decade ago. The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ that emerged in the early 2000s lifted many Portuguese fans spirits after several dark decades. However, this talented group of players that included Luis Figo failed to deliver the elusive senior title. But currently, there is a new generation of talented youngsters that could finally propel the modest European nation into the elite of global football.” Outside of the Boot

Manuel Pellegrini: How ‘The Engineer’ quietly fixed Man City

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“Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini had two players in tears at the club’s training ground five days before the Premier League opener at Newcastle. Yes, they were only 11. And yes, they were tears of joy at being invited by Pellegrini to watch City’s first team train at close quarters. But this touching little scene at Carrington provides a small insight into the affection in which he is held and the quiet, understated but tranquil atmosphere Pellegrini has brought to City in his 14 months in England. It is all in stark contrast to the turbulence of his predecessor Roberto Mancini, whose tenure was a boom time for local photographers. Daily they pitched up with their ladders, strode down the public right of way that runs down the side of City’s training complex, climbed the steps and waited for the explosion.” BBC

Scout Report | Damjan Bohar: Maribor & Slovenia’s lightning fast winger

“Maribor placed Slovenia on Europe’s elite football map once again. The smallest club in this year’s Champions League edition is preparing to fight the elite clubs as an underdog. Champions League football is a lifetime opportunity for the Slovenes, especially for the in-form winger Damjan Bohar, one of Maribor’s biggest prospects.” Outside of the Boot