The Premier League TV Deal – Master And Servant

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“Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is a man accustomed to dealing with large numbers, but even he struggled to believe just how much his negotiating team had secured in the latest auction for the rights to broadcast his ‘product’ in the UK. The amount was an astonishing £5.136 billion for the three-year cycle starting in the 2016/17 season, which represented a 70% increase on the current £3 billion deal. This was a lot more than most analysts had expected, especially given that the current domestic TV deal had itself increased by 70% compared to the previous agreement. The magnitude of the increase was a testament to Scudamore’s ability to generate vast sums of money for the 20 Premier League clubs, but we could have done without his false modesty: ‘Am I surprised? Of course, the little old Premier League, doing quite well here.’” Swiss Ramble


The quest for the Ligue 1 crown

“Ligue 1 only has 12/13 games left to decide a domestic champion, something that in the past two years was as easy a question to answer as whether the sky was blue. Paris Saint-Germain is the two time defending champions, a club that have won the last two French domestic titles by an average of 10.5 points. A club filled with stars amongst stars in Ligue 1 and Europe: Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Verratti and more.” backpagefootball

Juventus must find a way to cope with Dortmund’s pressure

“The greatest aspect of top-level European competition is the opportunity to witness contrasting footballing styles face one another; pleasingly, despite the globalisation of football and the increased movement of players and coaches across borders, obvious differences remain between Europe’s best leagues. The obvious example from this week’s set of Champions League fixtures is the clash between Borussia Dortmund and Juventus in Turin on Tuesday night. Whereas some of the second round ties are frustratingly familiar — Manchester City vs. Barcelona, PSG vs. Chelsea, Schalke vs. Real Madrid — these two sides haven’t met since the European Cup final of 1997. The clash of styles should be fascinating.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Dimitar Berbatov eyeing one last hurrah as Monaco tackle Arsenal

“Perhaps no player has ever looked quite so much as though he ought to be playing for Monaco as Dimitar Berbatov. Forget the reality of an under-supported club sustained by Russian money and tax breaks, playing on top of a car-park; if Monaco really were a club representing the playboys of the Côte d’Azur, all yachts and deck-shoes and meaningful glances over the champagne cocktails, Berbatov would fit right in. Throughout his career, his demeanour has been of a mysterious loner in a white dinner jacket leaving a casino in the early hours, his bow-tie long since undone.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Boring Winners and Long Ball in England Boring Winners and Long Ball in England

Robin van Persie, of Manchester United.
“Earlier this month, Louis van Gaal, the manager of Manchester United, showed up at a press conference armed with an unusual prop: printouts of statistics from his most recent match, a 1—1 draw against West Ham United. West Ham’s coach had accused van Gaal of playing “long ball,” a tactic that involves repeatedly sending long, searching passes forward to opportunistic strikers, hoping for a lucky bounce or knock-down near the goal. Long ball eschews the beauty of intricate passing play and coördinated counter-attacks for trial and error: more often than not, the passes are headed out of play or kicked back down the field by the opposing team, caught by the keeper, or go out of bounds. The approach calls for tall, muscular center-forwards who can overpower defenders to win the ball; the rest of the team hangs back so that they can immediately launch the ball forward after the play and try all over again. While long ball can be very effective, particularly for teams of lesser technical ability, it makes for deadly dull viewing.” New Yorker

Never forget your roots – Palmeiras’ illustrious history

“One of the most successful clubs in Brazil, Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras have won eight league titles, as well as two Copa do Brasil trophies. The champions of South America in 1999, having beaten Colombian side Deportivo Cali to claim the Copa Libertadores, with their success culminating in the awarding of ‘Best Team of the 20th Century of Brazil’ by the Sao Paulo State Football Federation, they are a club of immense power and wealth. Palmeiras’ team is predominantly Brazilian, with ex Bayern Munich and Inter Milan defender Lúcio among their ranks. Apart from a smattering of Chilean, Argentinian and Uruguayan players, their squad is entirely made up of footballers from the ‘Futebol Nation’.” backpagefootball

Van der Vaart’s drawn out goodbye – The story of a disappointing end

“He should have been one of the last missing pieces of the puzzle when Hamburger SV purchased him back in 2012. Rafael van der Vaart was the long-lost son of the HSV fans and he finally made a return to the Imtech Arena on the last day of the transfer window during the 2012/13 season. The club’s sugar daddy, Klaus-Michael Kühne, opened his wallet to extend a loan for the purchase of one of his favourite players. The Red Shorts paid 13 million Euros for the Dutch playmaker, which to this day is still the record transfer fee paid by the club. Back then things were seemingly getting sunnier for the club.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Everything you need to know about the 2015 Copa Libertadores

“With the last of the group spots now finalised, the 56th edition of the Copa Libertadores – South America’s equivalent of the Champions League – properly gets underway this week and, as ever, it promises to be full of drama, excitement and shocks. The vast distances, not to mention the range of altitudes and climates, make it a highly challenging, unpredictable and captivating contest, while also offering the opportunity to catch a first glance at some of the continent’s emerging prospects. Argentinian side San Lorenzo won their first ever title last year, breaking the run of Brazilian triumphs and capping a remarkable turnaround for a club on the brink of relegation just two years before. With the last three victors being first time winners, could we see another maiden champion? Or will one of the established giants reclaim the continent’s top club prize? The following comprehensive group by group guide will take you through all the contenders.” Outside of the Boot (Part 1), Everything you need to know about the 2015 Copa Libertadores (Part 2)

Human rights official identified as one of fans involved in Chelsea race storm

“A human rights official has apologized for his part in an alleged racism incident involving Chelsea supporters on the Paris Metro, but has insisted he is not a racist. Richard Barklie was one of three men identified by the UK’s Metropolitan Police in a video showing what appears to be a group of Chelsea fans preventing a black man from entering a train, following the English club’s UEFA Champions League game against Paris Saint Germain last Tuesday. The group of supporters can be heard chanting on the train: ‘We’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it.’ A director of the World Human Rights Forum, Barklie has issued a statement through his lawyers admitting his involvement ‘in an incident when a person now known to him as Souleymane S. was unable to enter a part of the train.'” CNN (Video)

Extreme behavior is still tolerated in the name of supporters culture
“‘So-called fans’ is a phrase that springs into action when clubs want to separate a tiny minority of badly behaved supporters from the rest. It suggests that miscreants who heap shame on themselves, and by association their club and their sport, are divorced from the game: not really part of it; an extremist fringe of interlopers. The phrase has been aired frequently in the wake of the racist incident involving Chelsea fans on the Paris metro. The usage is understandable, but it’s naive at best, disingenuous at worse. Because in my experience of attending maybe 700 matches in England, it’s precisely their status as fans that encourages a small percentage of people to believe they have the right to behave badly.” Soccer Gods

Comeback at Cruz Azul hints Chivas may not be terrible

“It was a tactic Chivas manager Chepo de la Torre had tried before. Mostly out of options in Saturday’s match at Cruz Azul, he turned to it again. Down 1-0 late, one of Mexico’s greatest clubs was in a position that’s become all too familiar – one of desperation. Without a result against La Máquina, de la Torre’s team would be even with Puebla near the bottom of the relegation table, with only recently-promoted Universidad de Guadalajara separating the Guadalajara giants from Liga MX’s relegation spot.” Soccer Gods

Parma’s downfall pains a city and its people and there is little cause for hope

“Faustino Asprilla is not a man who prefers to dwell on the negatives in life. Not if his Twitter account is anything to go by, at any rate. A quick scan of his last 10 days online reveals a chaotic mix of Oscars commentary, support for Colombian athletes, and coarse visual gags. That and photos of himself grinning. Grinning at a carnival, grinning on a boat, grinning while surrounded by half-naked women (warning: the last one is not something to click on at work). On Friday he posted a photo of himself grinning on a football pitch, too, and wearing the colours of his former club, Parma. But for once, Asprilla’s accompanying words lacked their customary exuberance. ‘Very sad to see what’s happening to Parma,’ he wrote.” Guardian

Javier Mascherano: Barcelona’s Voice in Defence?

“Mascherano’s quality is not in doubt. He is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and proved that in last year’s World Cup in Brazil as one of the best players in the tournament. So highly was he rated as a teenage talent that he prodigiously made his senior Argentina debut before his senior club debut for River Plate. The bite, aggression and intensity that he plays with is married to leadership and an exquisite level of tact that comes from his perceptive game-reading ability. Allied to all that is the technical ability and technique to contribute positively to his team’s build-up play from the back, which was one of the prerequisites to him joining Pep’s Barça.” Outside of the Boot

Four things we learned from Liverpool’s impressive 2-0 win away to Southampton

“A fascinating battle between two of the Premier League’s greatest tacticians made for a match of constant tactical tweaks and two vastly different halves of football. Ronald Koeman may have shown greater tactical nous initially, but Brendan Rodgers – reacting and adapting as the game developed – proved to be the greater strategist.” Squawka

Luis Suarez shines as Barcelona provider for Lionel Messi & Neymar

“With just seven goals in his first 22 games for Barcelona, at first glance it appears former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is struggling to adapt to life with his new club as he prepares for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg at Manchester City. Indeed, with just four goals from 15 La Liga appearances, in terms of scoring this has been the least productive domestic campaign of Suarez’s career.” BBC

Player Focus: Kahn and Van der Sar Inspiring Cillessen’s Progression at Ajax

“It’s somewhat fitting that the loneliest position in football is identified with the number one. In some circles the role has transcended beyond traditional convention, but one contemporary exponent is following a well-trodden path. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and at this moment in time the Oranje’s goalkeeper jersey belongs to Jasper Cillessen; it’s been that way for the last 16 months. It’s a testament given the many challengers breathing down his neck and ready to pounce, but so far he’s shown no signs of resting on his laurels. Competition after all breeds excellence.” Who Scored

The 6 Archetypes of Center Backs

“Clichés are very useful for regularly appearing football pundits who have little to no knowledge of the modern game. Take television’s Glenn Hoddle, the man who believed prior to last summer’s World Cup that England’s best XI had Gerrard and Lampard in a double pivot. Actually it probably wasn’t even a double pivot, I think it was Four Four fucking Two. Pundits like Hoddle rely on clichés to sound like they know what they’re talking about and use them liberally across the footballing encyclopedia from transfer assumptions to formational prejudices. So I’ve started to expose these clichés (and the pundits who peddle them) with the only position on the field that seems to do any defending nowadays: The center back.” 8 by 8

Champions League Shakes Bundesliga Teams Awake

“The Champions League appears to have an effect similar to smelling salts in rousing the consciousness of Germany’s top clubs. Bayern Munich somnolently came out of the midwinter break at the end of January, losing heavily and uncharacteristically in the league. But on Saturday, sensing that such lethargy would be exposed in European competition, it went flat-out against Hamburg. Arjen Robben danced down his wing and cut in to score, once with his left foot and once with the right. Thomas Müller, looking at his sharpest since the World Cup final last summer, also scored twice, as did the substitute Franck Ribéry. Oh, and Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski got in on the act, too.” NY Times

The Men Behind the Curtain: Inside FIFA’s Sinister (and Pretty Entertaining!) Presidential Race

“Let’s be clear up front: Sepp Blatter is never going to lose a FIFA presidential election. Never. He’s not going to lose the one in May. He’s not going to lose in 2019, if he decides to run — which looks unlikely, but then, we said the same thing four years ago, back when he, you know, promised never to run again if he was reelected. He’s running again, and he’s going to win again, too. If he wants to rule FIFA forever, it’s hard to imagine what could stop him. Get ready for the debate about whom the moon of Ganymede bribed to host the 2480 World Cup.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Milan fans deserve your condolences, because their team is unrecognizable

“Last Saturday, soccer fiends across the globe were licking their lips at the line-up of matches in Europe. There was a North London derby, a Merseyside derby, a Madrid derby, and over in Italy, defending champion Juventus was hosting Milan. The Merseyside derby was an unspeakably dull affair, but it was still not as disappointing as the showdown in Turin. It was hard to watch Juve-Milan without a tinge of sadness. Milan — one of the most successful clubs in the sport, remember –wasn’t even at the races. This wasn’t just a case of Juve’s players being more motivated, or superior coaching, or even a one-off result for the ages. The bianconeri’s win over its once fierce rivals was much worse than a historic pasting. Sadly, the 3-1 win felt … routine.” Soccer Gods

Everton’s problems move to the front

“Everton enjoy a weekend off as many of their Premier League rivals switch their focus on to the FA Cup fifth round. If results go in favour of the clubs at the bottom of the table then, when the Blues return to Premier League action on Sunday 22nd February, they could be just two points clear of the drop zone. Despite enjoying something of a return to form over recent weeks, they are now facing the prospect of becoming embroiled in a relegation battle following their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in midweek.” Football Pink

Euro 2012: Croatia 0-1 Spain | Epitome of the Control of the Game

“At first glance, this may appear a strange game to select as representative of what is arguably the greatest international side of all time. Spain, capable at times of the most gloriously intricate football, produced a cautious and tentative display in their final group game of Euro 2012, and were only sure of qualifying at Croatia’s expense when substitute Jesus Navas netted in the 88th minute. Yet this match best epitomises what this Spanish team stood for: control of the game via possession of the ball.” Outside of the Boot

Ivory Coast win Africa Cup of Nations in penalty shootout against Ghana

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“Could there have been a more unlikely hero than Boubacar Barry? He was the reserve keeper, the relic of the past, the clownish figure so often blamed for Ivorian failure. Elevated to play in the final only because Sylvain Gbohouo had suffered a thigh strain, he seized his opportunity in a ridiculous, hilarious, remarkable way, saving two penalties and then scoring the decisive kick in the shootout himself.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

AFCON 2015 – the winners and losers
“The overriding theme of AFCON 2015 was undoubtedly one of Ivoirian redemption. Favourites for virtually every tournament across the last decade, Les Éléphants were perceived as being both fundamentally flawed psychologically and a disaster waiting to happen defensively. Yet under Hervé Renard – who in masterminding Ivory Coast’s victory becomes the first man to lift Africa’s most prestigious crown with two separate nations – they were a side reborn. The Frenchmen instilled both discipline and togetherness, alongside a sense of character that had long deserted the West Africans. A blend of youth together with the remaining fragments of the golden generation reaped dividends, as the previously much maligned Elephants visibly blossomed through the tournament’s progression – perhaps the seminal result, from a mental perspective at least, being a 3-1 quarter-final triumph over Algeria.” backpagefootball

Afcon 2015: Five lessons from the Africa Cup of Nations
“The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations came to a dramatic end on Sunday night when Ivory Coast sealed a thrilling 9-8 victory over Ghana on penalties. The win brought to an end a 22-year drought for Ivory Coast, and capped a tournament that was moved at the last minute and almost overshadowed by violence. But what did we learn? Here are five key lessons from this year’s competition.” BBC

Independent: In Pictures: Ivory Coast claims African Cup of Nations after epic sudden death 22 penalty shoot-out against Ghana

Deco’s Instrumental Display in Porto’s 2003/2004 Champions League Final Win

“‘He’s taught me many, many things. When he came to Porto he brought a new mentality. Many players didn’t believe it was possible to win the Champions League. I’ll never forget that. We had a good team but his narrow-mindedness showed us how to do well and win the big games.’ These were the words muttered by Deco as he mused upon the incredible belief that Jose Mourinho instilled into the Porto squad that won the 2003/2004 Champions League. And what a triumph it was. Along the way they knocked out the likes Manchester United, Lyon and Deportivo la Coruna before defeating Monaco in the final. The remarkable 3-0 win over Didier Deschamps’ men in the final showed just how far Mourinho had brought this side.” Licence to Roam

Tactical Analysis: Lyon 1-1 PSG | Spoils Shared at the Stade de Gerland

“Lyon may have dominated the French domestic scene in the noughties but times have changed and it has been PSG who’ve been the team to beat in the recent past. Lyon though have found the consistency they’ve been looking for since the turn of the decade and are right in the middle of a title race. To examine their credentials stood defending Champions PSG .” Outside of the Boot

Liga MX’s small city realities care not for improvement at Veracruz and Querétaro

“Friday’s match between Veracruz and Querétaro offered little to fans who prefer to spend their time near the top of the Liga MX standings, but average plods of the two not so good, not quite bad teams shed light on the tough times faced by the top flight’s smaller city clubs. While Veracruz has enjoyed a mini-renaissance so far in Clausura 2015, it is still near the bottom of the porcentaje (relegation) table. Dropping is more than a possibility. Meanwhile, Querétaro has new backers and brought in Ronaldinho but still languishes outside the Liquilla playoff spots. Both teams, badly needing a wins to kick-start their tournaments, were left sharing the spoils after a 1-1 draw. Can either really take heart in the result?” Soccer Gods

Soccer Gods – Liga MX

The continued doldrums of Lille LOSC

“It has been a disaster of a season for Lille LOSC. Through 24 weeks last season, Lille held down the third and final Champions League spot in Ligue 1 and had allowed the least amount of goals at that point. They were three points up on Saint-Etienne for third and eventually held off ASSE the rest of the way. Compare that to this season and the season has been a train wreck. Lille are 11th in Ligue 1 and are 17 points off both Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain for the second and third. It was fair to say that Lille would suffer some sort of drop off from form, seeing as they sold their best attacking player, Salomon Kalou in the summer transfer to Hertha BSC. Lille even with Kalou’s 16 goals last season only finished in a tie for ninth for goals scored.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal | Kane makes the difference in a competitive derby

“The 7th of February will be remembered at the end of the season as an important day for football, what with the sheer number of big games and derby matches on show. Fans had a ball with all the action on show. The day kicked off with Tottenham Hotspur entertaining their big London rivals, Arsenal. The atmosphere at White Hart Lane was charged, with fans looking to give their side any possible advantage in a game that was surely going to be very difficult. Both sides came into the match almost neck and neck. Just 2 points separated them, with the form books making for identical reading; Blue Square’s news feed showing exactly that.” Outside of the Boot

Messi, Neymar, Sanchez: In search of South America’s next star

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Angel Correa is leaving Argentina to play in Spain.
“For the crunch World Cup match against England last year, Uruguay were without their captain and centre-back Diego Lugano. In to replace him came Jose Maria Gimenez, a 19-year-old who had played in a grand total of one league match the previous season and one Copa del Rey fixture for Atletico Madrid. It is hard to imagine England, or another major European nation, throwing a youngster into the deep end in this way. But Uruguay had no qualms. Gimenez had been immaculate the previous year in the World Under-20 Cup, and that was good enough. This story helps to explain the importance of under-20 football in South America. There are plenty of others like it.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Hey, There’s a Yaya-Size Hole in Your Midfield: How Manchester City Fell Out of the Title Race With One Bad Month

“Shall we pour one out for Manchester City’s Premier League title hopes? Ah, the heady days of just a month ago, when City were gaining fast on Chelsea, climbing to within three points as the crowded festive period of the schedule got going. Now, six games later, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have slipped to seven points out of first, their title hopes generating only the faintest of blips on the life-support machine. A six-game stretch against Burnley, Sunderland, Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Hull does not a title make — but win only one and earn only seven points, and you can just about kiss any dreams of a repeat championship good-bye. Simply put, any team with designs on taking the Premier League crown can’t afford to drop any points against relegation fodder like Burnley and Hull at home and shouldn’t make a habit of doing the same against bottom-half teams like Everton on the road, either. So where did it all go wrong?” Grantland

Ode to Riquelme

“There are two kinds of greatness in sport. There are the freaks of nature, and there are players like Riquelme—tall, lanky, shoulders hunched, no blinding speed or intimidating power to speak of. Riquelme’s greatness isn’t defined by the highlight reel. The Argentine found beauty in the more subtle moments of the game. He carved up opposition defenses without them being aware of what was happening, dragged around the pitch like a puppet being made to dance by its puppeteer. You couldn’t recreate the things Riquelme did—and you wouldn’t even think to try them in the first place.” 8 by 8

Avram Grant putting his shirt on Ghana’s Africa Cup of Nations chances

Riot police shield Ghana’s John Boye and his team mates from objects thrown by Equatorial Guinea fans at the end of the first half of the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final.
“As the helicopter descended, Avram Grant glanced up, his face as cadaverous as ever, but seemed emotionless. Whatever he actually felt amid the violence that led to Ghana’s Cup of Nations semi-final against Equatorial Guinea being suspended for almost 40 minutes, his outward appearance was calm. When the smoke grenades cleared, fans were evacuated from two stands of the Estadio de Malabo and the bottles and other missiles were cleared from the pitch, the overriding sense was of the sang-froid with which Ghana had reacted.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Ghana players, fans pelted with missiles in win over Equatorial Guinea
“The Africa Cup of Nations semi-final between Equatorial Guinea and Ghana was suspended for almost 40 minutes on Thursday night after crowd disturbances that led to police evacuating part of the stadium with smoke bombs and a helicopter. In scenes that will colour what remains of the tournament, home supporters aimed bottles at Ghana players and supporters, and the visiting team were forced to leave and re-enter the pitch under cover of riot police shields either side of half-time. The crowd was largely dispersed, with reports that trouble continued outside the stadium after the match. Eventually the game was restarted in front of near-empty stands before the Gabonese referee, Eric Otogo, blew for full-time five minutes early.” Guardian

Martin Skrtel: A Statistical Analysis Amidst Contract Talks

“Martin Skrtel has been at Anfield for quite a while now and amidst talks of extending his contract, we look back at his performances starting from the 2012/13 campaign to the current one. Karthik Ramakrishnan statistically analyses the Slovak’s performances to give a better judgement on whether the 30 year old has improved over the recent years.” Outside of the Boot

Cristiano Ronaldo returned, but bad math says Real Madrid’s still better without him

“If last week’s numbers didn’t convince you, today’s result should have. Against intracity rivals Atlético, Real Madrid wasted all the momentum it cultivated in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence, celebrating the return of its Ballon d’Or winner with a 4-0 embarrassment at the Vicente Calderón.” Soccer Gods

Blurred Icon: Steven Gerrard’s Contradictory Greatness

“I’m thinking about the connection between a fan and an athlete — I mean the essential one, the basic identification, the feeling that the person in the red shirt is representing me out there. That some important part of me is wrapped up in another person’s ability to hit a jump shot, score a free kick, return a serve, make a tackle. It’s one of the simplest forces in sports; also surely one of the strangest, because why should I care whether you can catch a ball or not? Why should that have the power to make me happy or cause me pain? And yet I not only care whether you can, I feel involved when you do, as though my wanting you to do it somehow made you do it — as though desire made you my avatar.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Allez Les Éléphants!

“Two of the teams I had huge hopes for in World Cup 2014 were Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana; sadly things didn’t work out as well for them as many of us hoped. But that’s why I’m super excited for this superclásico tomorrow, the final of the African Cup of Nations 2015!!! Judging from the record cover, back in 1984 Côte d’Ivoire must have not had the team that they have today; “La victoire est possible” is even more hesitant than the Mexicans’ “Sí se puede”; when you have to explain to your team that they *could* win, things might not be looking so good for you. But things are very different today, and I’m really hoping to see this golden generation finally get the big win. Plus, I’ve waited years for the right moment to share this record with you, this better be it! Allez Les Éléphants!!! La Pelanga (Video)

Tottenham never gets the fairy tale, but Pochettino, Eriksen and Kane are on the verge of rewriting that book

“We’ve all seen this terrible romantic comedy. Girl meets handsome, rich, charming guy and falls head over heels in love. Handsome charming guy turns out to be a raging douchenozzle. Through the pain of heartbreak, girl realizes that her real prince was her previously friend-zoned, not totally un-handsome buddy/neighbor/classmate with the heart of gold. Girl lives happily enough ever after. Meh. It’s always packaged as a fairy tale, but it’s bullshit. Unfortunately for fans of Tottenham Hotspur, they’re a bit like the girl in this movie: always getting a taste of the dream; always, eventually forced to settle for ‘good enough’.” Soccer Gods

Two things we learned this week in Ligue 1

“Wins for both of France’s deadliest rivals on Friday and Saturday helped to reignite the Ligue 1 title race this weekend, as PSG and OM moved within two points of the current league leaders Olympique Lyonnais. In the weekend’s first encounter, Paris Saint-Germain won their third game in a row against Stade Rennais at the Parc des Princes with a one-nil victory. On Saturday afternoon, OM entertained Évian Thonon Gaillard in a game in which they were red-hot favourites to win, but in the end just one goal separated the two sides, with the one-nil victory helping extend Marseille’s unbeaten run at home to twelve games.” backpagefootball

Are DR Congo’s leopards rising from a prolonged slumber?

“With less than half an hour remaining in their quarter-final duel with Republic of Congo, it seemed DR Congo’s less than flattering AFCON campaign was destined for an ungainly conclusion – having just witnessed their limited yet well drilled neighbours move into an implausible 2-0 lead. It was at that point however where the fixture’s landscape shifted, as Republic of Congo – who prior to this tournament hadn’t tasted AFCON victory in 40 years -seemingly froze in the face of the momentous accomplishment that was within their grasp. Within minutes Dieumerci Mbokani had halved the bewildered Red Devils advantage, as a DR Congo suddenly rediscovered an attacking mojo that had been non-existent up to that point.” backpagefootball

Ivory Coast survive wobble against DR Congo to reach Cup of Nations final
“Could it be that one of the longest waits in football is at last coming to an end? For a decade, Africa has expected Ivory Coast’s golden generation at last to reach fulfilment and perhaps now, as the Elephants approach their third final in nine years, the itch will be scratched. Yet perhaps this isn’t even the golden generation any more: after all, only four players remain from the squad that lost to the hosts in the final in Egypt in 2006.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Wolfsburg 4-1 Bayern: Wolfsburg nullify Alonso and switch play effectively on the break

“Bayern conceded four goals – as many as they’d let in during the entire first half of the Bundesliga season – and were completely outplayed throughout. Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking brought Daniel Caliguiri into the side on the right, which meant Vieirinha was pushed back to a relatively unfamiliar full-back role. In the centre, Max Arnold got the nod over Joshua Guilavogui. Pep Guardiola started with a 4-1-4-1 system. Mario Gotze was only on the bench, while Bayern continue to suffer from injury problems, particularly in midfield positions. Wolfsburg’s performance here was outstanding, and this was one of the best counter-attacking performances of the season.” Zonal Marking

FIFA candidates must heed past lessons

“Now that a few candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, at least the next FIFA presidential election should generate a healthy debate, something which seems to be in short supply on the subject. The European, and particularly the English, press go on and on about corruption scandals. There is much to applaud here. The most noble part of journalism is that which digs into stories and asks questions which make those in power uncomfortable. Moreover, corruption is clearly harmful, with corrosive effects on institutions and individuals.” The World Game – Tim Vickery (Video)

Matthias Sindelar – Man of Paper

“The long and illustrious history of football is now and again graced with men of pure genius. Footballing giants whose exploits are carried like a torch by fans from around the world; men who wrote their name in gold, footballers who live on in the memories of countless fans long after they have left behind this mortal coil. One man who deserves his place amongst this celebrated band of players is a virtual unknown outside his own country yet his story is one of the most compelling. A story that deserves to be heard, the tale of a great footballer and a great man, of loyalty, triumph and sadly, tragedy. Matthias Sindelar was his name and this is his story.” Football Pink

Breisgau Bulletin – Gladbach Recap and New Stadium Vote

“SC Freiburg have cause to feel a bit hard done by as they dropped their Tuesday afternoon match 1-0 away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. In spite of Die Breisgauer outplaying their opponents for much of the game it was Gladbach’s Patrick Herrmann who grabbed the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute giving the home side the victory by the very narrowest of margins. With the fight against the drop being so tight, the defeat was a real missed opportunity for Freiburg to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the relegation pack.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Mediocrity in Milan

“Through 20 Serie A matches so far this season, AC Milan and Inter Milan have the same number of points. A few years ago, this would mean they were neck-and-neck for one of the top slots in Italy’s first division. I mean, these clubs are not only based in the same city but have also both won 18 scudetti, or Serie A titles. This season, as they sit 10th and 11th place, they’re knotted in mediocrity.” Soccer Pro

The decline of Serie A
“For football fans over a certain age there is no greater fall in modern football than what has happened in Italy during the past fifteen years. Serie A, the top division of Italian football, seemed like an unstoppable force throughout the 1990s. Shown live on Channel 4 in the UK and Ireland every Sunday the league brought glamour and entertainment to a sport slowly emerging from the disasters of the 1980s and was a huge contributor to what football has become today. Serie A in the late nineties was, arguably, the greatest football league of all time.” backpagefootball

Russian football in crisis – part 1

“It was a typically Russian response, one that anybody who has worked here, or done business, with Russian companies will have experienced. Payday arrives, confidently you head out that evening and decide to remove some cash from the drinklink and you begin to boil. What was in your account the day before, hasn’t changed. It’s eight o’clock, so no good calling your boss or someone who can offer an explanation, worse, it’s a Friday and it dawns on you that your fridge is going to remain empty for another couple of days, at least. This is just the beginning. The end will be far more frustrating and depressing.” backpagefootball – part 1, part 2, part 3

We Went There: The Return of the Old Firm Derby

“There was a certain halfheartedness to the way Celtic manager Ronny Deila celebrated his club’s victory over Rangers after the full-time whistle, performing his now customary fist-pump routine in front of his own fans. Bragging rights don’t mean so much against such helpless opposition. The blue half of Hampden Park — the age-old, neutral battleground between Glasgow’s two bitter rivals — had emptied long before, leaving behind nothing more than the lingering air of factionalism and toxic bile that comes with every Old Firm derby. Police arrested 12 fans for alleged sectarian breach of the peace, with scuffles between supporters running into the night across the city.” Grantland

Hellas Verona: The Brigate Gialloblu

“Few cities and even fewer teams, have the ability to pierce fear into the hearts of opponents. The combination becomes much rarer, when the city has been awarded the status of World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the team has been on the fringes of its national league for quite some time. Welcome to Verona, the third largest city in northeast Italy, famous for being William Shakespeare’s setting for Romeo and Juliet and infamous for being a rat’s nest, when it comes to football. Verona, is a perfect example of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Italians.” Outside of the Boot

Bayern Munich – The Model

“Following the treble winning season in 2012/13, Bayern Munich enjoyed another year of success in 2013/14, once again securing the domestic league and cup double, while reaching the Champions League semi-finals before going down to eventual winners Real Madrid. The excellent season on the pitch was matched off it with revenue surging 13% to €487.5 million and profit before tax up to €25.9 million (€16.5 million after tax). Furthermore, all outstanding debt on the club’s Allianz stadium was paid off 15 years early.” The Swiss Ramble

Arsenal’s wealth of attacking options could prove decisive down the stretch

“For the majority of Premier League sides, winning is the objective and winning with style is an expected bonus. For Arsenal, however, winning with style has become something of a necessity; therefore, their 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on Sunday went down very nicely indeed. In truth, this was something of an open goal for Arsenal thanks to Villa’s staggeringly naive approach of pressing in midfield and playing with a high defensive line. The amount of space they afforded Arsenal was quite extraordinary, with gaps in front of, behind and between the two hapless centre-backs, Jores Okore and Ciaran Clark. Theo Walcott broke in behind within the opening minute to reach an Aaron Ramsey through-ball, and Arsenal repeatedly caused Villa problems with this simple approach.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Scout Report | Ozan Tufan: Turkey’s Hottest Prospect

“Turkish football’s productivity – unsurprisingly – is deplorable. Enes Ünal and Ozan Tufan are the hottest prospects right at the moment. When it comes to football, European clubs hesitate to make an investment on Turkish players. Some Turkish journalists call it ‘passport problem’ but for me, it’s all about reputation. Turkish players must tighten their belts and work harder than ever.” Outside of the Boot

Loan Deals, Backup Wingers, and Balance Sheets: Recapping the Premier League’s Drab January Transfer Window

“The January transfer window ended not with a bang, but with Aaron Lennon being loaned to Everton. Usually, the first month of the year is good for at least one panic buy from a big team looking to turn its season around — and occasionally, those moves work. It seems almost comical now, but when Mario Balotelli went from Manchester City to AC Milan in January 2013, he put that team on his back, scoring 12 goals down the stretch to propel the Italian giants into the Champions League. More often, though, the moves end up saddling a team with an overpriced, awkwardly fitting piece like Juan Mata at Manchester United. And every once in a while, a January signing will result in a Fernando Torres–size disappointment that, yes, in fact, you can see from outer space.” Grantland

Ivory Coast march on but this tale of two Tourés is far from pretty

Kolo Touré / Ivory Coast
“The good news for Ivory Coast is that they’re through. They’re not playing with any great fluency or style, but they have made it through to the quarter-finals, where they will face Algeria, and there is at least about them a sense of purpose and defensive resolve. “We will fight like elephants,” said Kolo Touré after a second successive draw had left them needing to win their final game, against Cameroon, to progress and if that means presenting a solid barrier, absorbing blows before prevailing through a goal based on raw power, they did just that. Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, a team who had beaten them 4-1 in qualifying, was classic Hervé Renard.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Guinea and Mali to draw lots for Africa Cup of Nations knockout place
“The final place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals will be decided by the drawing of lots after Guinea and Mali drew 1-1. Both teams had played out 1-1 draws in their previous Group D matches, meaning lots will be required to decide who finishes second and will face Ghana. Every match in the group finished 1-1 except Wednesday’s other match, in which Ivory Coast beat Cameroon 1-0 to qualify. It is a remarkable set of circumstances and one not seen at the Africa Cup of Nations since 1988, when the drawing of lots sent Algeria through to the knockout stage at the expense of the Ivory Coast. Bizarrely, the draw will not be made immediately but at a meeting of Confederation of African Football officials on Thursday.” Guardian

Analysis: Louis van Gaal’s 3-5-2 and Di Maria/Rooney Conundrums

“With Louis van Gaal at the helm, the 2nd half of the season was supposed to be when the new and improved Manchester United would show that they have well and truly embraced and mastered the Dutchman’s philisophy. However, a dip in form has seen a few questions raised about the tactics used. Rahul Natarajan explores the conundrums faced by the experienced manager.” Outside of the Boot

Ahmed Elmohamady tried his Diego Maradona impression, got caught

“Sometimes, the smart plays are the illegal ones, but more on that in a moment. For now, let’s take in what happened today at KC Stadium in Hull, where Ahmed Elmohamady drew the ire of a nation moments before halftime with this Diego Maradona impression. The great thing about this clip is not only what Elmohamady tries, but it’s the ensuing celebration, followed by the (unfortunately, predictable) moral outrage of the commentators.” Soccer Gods (Video)

You’d let Pellegrini date your mom, but you’d still hire Mourinho as your coach

“This weekend, the Premier League’s two best clubs face off in a match that will likely set The Narrative for the next couple of months. A win for Chelsea makes it champion-in-waiting, while a victory for Manchester City will lead to “Wait a minute, we’ve got a real race here!” headlines. Guiding each team is a former Real Madrid manager who has won the Premier League before, but although Manuel Pellegrini and José Mourinho are both highly respected coaches with clear ideas of how they want their teams to play, their personalities — their levels of assholery — are very different.” Soccer Gods

Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester City | Sluggish Chelsea hold off City

“When Jose Mourinho starts coming up with his quotable quotes, and the controversy pot is being stirred, you know you’re getting to the business end of the season. As we come closer to the end of the season, and the point where medals are distributed, the heavyweights all need to raise their game. Stamford Bridge was the scene of the battle between the league leaders, and the chasers-in-chief, Manchester City. The animosity between the two sides is quite apparent, given the rewards at stake. Pellegrini and Mourinho too, haven’t been shy of going at it in the past, with clashes between the duo dating back to their days in Spain. The two teams came into the clash in a charged atmosphere, thanks to the off field incidents involving a certain Diego Costa.” Outside of the Boot

Post navigation Real Madrid scored four without Ronaldo; bad math says it should continue playing without him

“Get it, Karim! Nothing says “our superstar is overrated” that than a type of strike normally associated with Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s recently-suspended star. But with the Ballon d’Or winner out for two games, El Real’s other star-worthy talents put on a show against La Real Sociedad, taking advantage of David Moyes’s trademark conservatism to put up a 4-1 win at the Bernabéu.” Soccer Gods