Monthly Archives: March 2015

The good thing about the Qatar 2022 date change

Brazil Soccer WCup Netherlands Argentina
“When cities put forward a bid to stage the Olympics, the date of the Games is an explicit part of the proposal. IOC members know what they are voting for. This, of course, was not the case in the race to stage the 2022 World Cup. An inspection group carried out a detailed study into the bids, and put the information at the disposal of FIFA’s Executive Committee – which proceeded to take little notice. They chose Qatar with barely a thought for the logistical problems and world football has been in a bind ever since. It would seem that some sort of compromise is being worked out. A conventional June/July World Cup presented the obvious problem of extreme heat, and so the tournament is set to be staged in November and December.” The World Game – Tim Vickery


Can Gerardo Martino end Argentina’s cup drought with Copa América glory?

“When Santiago hosts the final of the Copa América on 4 July this year, it will be 22 years to the day since Gabriel Batistuta received a quick throw-in from Diego Simeone, turned away from Mexico’s Raúl Gutiérrez and curled a brisk left-foot finish into the bottom corner of Jorge Campos’s net. It was a goal that meant Argentina defended their continental crown; it was also the last time that any Argentinian scored a winner in a major international final.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Against sanitised football – part 1

“It is awful, jarring, a scraping fish bone stuck in a football fan’s gullet. It is a cringe-worthy television advert produced by Qatar Airways, starring the players of F.C. Barcelona. If the advert did not exist, it would have to be invented. There is no other existing piece of media that better encapsulates the worldview of football in the market age. It is forty seconds of distilled ideology, crystallised at its purest. The advert begins by zooming in on a mystical never-never land ‘F.C. Barcelona Island’- an island taking the form and colours of the Blaugrana crest. On this island, Lionel Messi and co. arrive at the airport. It is one of those ultra-modern airports, a sparkling structure of flowing glass so universal in its blandness that it could belong to any country. An IKEA airport. The sort of airport that countries build to try to prove to the world that they’ve made it.” backpagefootball, backpagefootball – Against sanitised football – part 2

Netherlands and Spain’s recent World Cup meetings have grown a rivalry

“Most football rivalries originate from geographic or political concerns, but the most intriguing are often those based purely upon football. In this respect, the 2010 and 2014 World Cup matches between the Netherlands and Spain, who meet again in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, have been significant enough to form a brand-new rivalry on the international stage. Before the 2010 final, these two countries had never previously met at a major tournament. They’d faced one another in friendlies, in qualifiers and in the Olympic Games of 1920, but there were no previous encounters to set the scene, to provide a backdrop for a chance of competitive revenge.” ESPN – Michael Cox

A Journey off the Beaten Track to Unterhaching

“Having booked my trip to Munich to see FC Bayern take on Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Allianz Arena, I started to consider my schedule for the weekend. With Bayern playing on the Sunday evening and my arriving on the Saturday morning, my immediate thought was to look for a game taking place in the city that afternoon. Having trawled through the fixture list, I found two matches: Regionalliga Bayern side VfR Garching against FC Eintracht Bamberg 2010, and the third division match between SpVgg Unterhaching and Stuttgarter Kickers.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Eight wins out of eight – are Brazil a team reborn post-World Cup?

“When they sadly packed away their yellow shirts last July, most Brazil fans must have thought that it would be some time before they would be reaching back into the wardrobe for that particular item. The astonishing 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany was then followed by the reappointment of the snarling Dunga as national team coach. Morale was low. Fast forward eight months, though, and the mood is more upbeat. Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Chile at the Emirates Stadium in London means that Brazil have now won eight consecutive matches.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Montenegro v Russia – Nightmare on Black Mountain

“I honestly thought I was dreaming as I followed the events on Friday night. I was on the overnight train back to Voronezh, still suffering from a wee bit of a fever, and honestly believed that I was watching an amazingly bad action movie from the 1980s. The idiots who turned up to put on a show of ‘Slavic’ force on Friday night in Podgorica, made a mockery of what sport should be. From inappropriate chants to throwing flares, knives, coins and stones, what should have been a straightforward international match between two not-unfriendly nations, turned into an inferno.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: France 1-3 Brazil | Brazil reverts to a familiar formation, France’s midfield dip and more

“While it is foolish to read too much into friendly results, especially with both sides missing key players, Brazil’s visit to the Stade de France last night provided for some compelling viewing and should give both managers much to think about. With the hosts missing Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Hugo Lloris, as well as Mathieu Debuchy, and Brazil without the Paris Saint-Germain trio of David Luiz, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura, injuries limited both teams’ overall effectiveness, even as both Dunga and Didier Deschamps sought to achieve continuity by using their preferred formations. France, as hosts of Euro 2016, won’t play a competitive match until next year, and while Brazil do have the Copa America in a few months, the bottom line from this encounter seemed to be to encourage familiarity, trying out different players in a fixed system, as no changes were made until deep into the second half, Brazil already 3-1 up.” Outside of the Boot

How Van Gaal has made his “philosophy” count for Man United

“If you come at the English with a philosophy, you best not miss. After all, failure to make high-minded ideas count will always count against managers who dare to stick their heads above the pulpit and define themselves as thinkers in one form or another. Andre Villas-Boas was far from blameless when it came to his two Premier League dismissals at Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but his profile as a bookish, bright young analyst hardly helped to endear him to his new public. Similarly, Rafael Benitez’s exotic preferences for zonal marking and stringent squad rotation marked him out as a foreign oddity ripe for derision. Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers both receive plenty of ridicule for their love of concepts and scholastic mannerisms when the results begin to dry up.” Squawka

Listen Here, Cristiano: Sir Alex Ferguson’s Email to a Madrid Star in Crisis

“Listen here, lad, Don’t think for a tinker’s red second that I don’t know exactly how you feel, finding an email from me. I know, Cristiano. If there’s one thing they could say about me, it’s that I always knew what my boys were feeling — better than they did, most times, not that it took a chess master to out-think Gary Pallister. And yes, son, you’re still one of my boys. Now and always. Not a transfer fee on earth’ll win you a move from that club. So quit grimacing at your screen like a Kirkcaldy bricklayer with his first taste of chicken vindaloo. Sit down and pay attention. Bloody laptop’s probably got rhinestones on it.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

Miguel Herrera is facing a very stressful summer

“The most famous image of Miguel Herrera shows the Mexico head coach going super saiyan. Exuberant goal celebrations like that one have gone viral since his Club América days, but the most popular depicts Herrera twisting and yelling before the edit kicks in to make him transform in Dragon Ball Z style. When Mexico entered the global spotlight at last summer’s World Cup, the gifs made Herrera El Tri’s biggest star.” Soccer Gods

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: both sides threaten but Barca superior at finishing

“Barcelona moved four points clear at the top of La Liga thanks to Luis Suarez’s winner. Sergio Busquets was only fit enough for the bench, so Javier Mascherano played in the holding role, with Jeremy Mathieu the left-sided centre-back. Otherwise, the team was as expected. Xavi Hernandez had surprisingly started over Ivan Rakitic in the reverse fixture, but Luis Enrique didn’t replicate that error, so we had the unusual sight of Barcelona without either Busquets or Xavi, the two players who usually control this game.” Zonal Marking

Book review – The Soccer Diaries by Michael J. Agovino

“Ever wish you’d chronicled your life as football fan, from that very first enlightening moment to whatever stage of infatuation, loathing or ambivalence you’re at now? Well, Michael Agovino has sort of done that – only in retrospect. The Soccer Diaries reads exactly as you’d expect given its title; it’s a journal – of sorts – taking us through his life as a soccer fan. In all probability, Agovino should never have written this book at all. Not because of a lack of quality, but because his background weighed heavily against him even knowing what soccer was.” Football Pink

March Men-ness update: It’s time to decide this month’s real final four

“If you’re wagering on March Men-ness, respect one universal truth: The Round of 16 is no place for upsets. If the favorites fold, that’s going to come later, when any newfound hotness will thrive on the momentum of knocking out old studs. To open the tournament, though? The big boys always bring it. Yesterday, no favorite favorited more than Arsenal, who destroyed Tunisia’s Esperance in your Round of 16 votes. Borussia Dortmund? Juventus? They also enjoyed huge victories, so the flood of votes didn’t necessarily come from one fan base. These Englishmen, Germans and Italians all saw their refined features rewarded with easy wins.” Fusion

Ireland and Poland renew friendship that has brought fond memories for blazers

“Jackie Carey is said to have written in his official report to the FAI on the game between Ireland and Poland in Katowice in May 1958 that it was ‘fitting that our association should be the first to resume international games with this predominantly Catholic country.’ This curious observation raises a couple of points. The first is: What on earth was the team ‘manager’ on about? The Poles had been back in international football for a decade by the time the game took place and their first post-war attempt to qualify for a World Cup, which included a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union in front of 93,000 in the same stadium where Ireland played, had only ended the previous year with a play-off defeat by the same opponents in ‘neutral’ East Germany.” Irish Times

Eight Bells: Football on Television

“1. Football at the Arsenal (1937). Exactly how much effort the BBC put into television during the medium’s infant years is a moot point. Take the opening day of their regular service, on Monday, 2 November 1936. At 3pm, the curtain went up for pompous welcoming speeches by various BBC grandees, blowhards and windbags. After a whopping 25 minutes of programming, the station paused for its first interval. Another 35 minutes and it was time for closedown, followed by large G&Ts all round, then a siesta. Thanks, BBC, you pissed-up shower of indolent toffs!” The Blizzard

FIFA May Regret a Qatar World Cup After All

When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, an evaluation report expressed concerns about the health and safety of players and spectators in the heat.
“Since 1930, every World Cup has been played during the months of June and July, with the occasional match as early as May. Last week, FIFA confirmed that the 2022 tournament, in Qatar, will be held during the winter, with the final scheduled for December 18th. When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, in 2009, an evaluation report expressed concerns about the health and safety of players and spectators in the heat—daytime temperatures reach over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Despite the warnings, in December 2010 the FIFA executive committee selected the country as its World Cup host. Allegations about vote-buying and bribery (not to mention human-rights abuses) have plagued FIFA and Qatar ever since.” New Yorker

Five key games to watch as Euro 2016 qualifying matches resume

“… The final lap of the domestic season is just about to begin, and suddenly everything stops and the attention is wrested to Euro 2016 qualifiers and friendlies. International competition often feels like an interloper in the modern game but never more so than in this window when, after four months off, it suddenly returns and everybody has to remind themselves about a whole other set of narratives. Here, then, are five key fixtures in the upcoming European championship qualifiers…” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Poor top-level management will eventually see Córdoba relegated

“At 90 minutes, when the pitch invasion started, Córdoba were staying in the Segunda Division for another year as they trailed Las Palmas 1-0 in the play-off that would send the winner to the top flight for the 2014/15 season. At 99 minutes, when order had been restored, Córdoba were heading to the big league as Uli Davila tapped in an away goal that made history; for the first time in 42 years the club from Andalusia would be among football’s elite.” backpagefootball

From the Catenaccio to the 3-5-2: Italy’s love affair with tactics and strategy

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Gianni Brera
“Greg Lea takes an in-depth look at catenaccio, the 3-5-2 and an obsession with tactics and strategy tell us about Italian history and culture. ‘In twenty minutes here’, Rafael Benitez exclaimed at his first Napoli press conference in 2013, ‘I have been asked more tactical questions than in an entire year in England’. Italy has always been that way. Whereas in England the mainstream media talk more of psychology and man-management, Italians love to dissect strategies and theories, fans and journalists forcing coaches to explain their plans in the most intricate detail.” Outside of the Boot

Outplayed once again, Klinsmann’s USA sees repeated theme in Denmark

“The U.S. national team was outplayed comprehensively during Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Denmark. But the fact that the Americans were so close to leaving NRGi Park in Aarhus with a win or tie would surprise only those who haven’t been watching coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team over the past couple of years.” SI

France 1 Brazil 3

“Brazil recorded their seventh successive victory since their 2014 World Cup humiliation as they came from behind to beat France in Paris. Raphael Varane powerfully headed in Mathieu Valbuena’s left-wing corner to put the French ahead. But Oscar equalised when he linked up with Roberto Firmino and poked the ball past France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Neymar made it 2-1 as he collected Willian’s pass and shot past Mandanda before Luiz Gustavo headed in a third.” BBC

Tactical Analysis: Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | How Barca exploited half spaces

El Clasico has become perhaps the most high profile fixture in club football. The historic rivalry between the clubs, the battle for supremacy between Ronaldo and Messi along with a star studded supporting cast, the possible implications in the title race all combine to form a heady mixture of apprehension and euphoria. The world waits with bated breath for kickoff only for it to be taken away by the plethora of talents on the pitch.” Outside of the Boot

Luis Suárez’s Validating Strike Lifts Barcelona Past Madrid
“Last October, Luis Suárez made his debut for F.C. Barcelona in a disappointing 3-1 loss to Real Madrid. He was substituted during that game after a long ban that had prompted questions over whether he could return to form and justify the record transfer fee that brought him here. On Sunday, Suárez repaid at least part of Barcelona’s investment by scoring a spectacular and decisive goal in a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in the latest Clásico between the two giants of Spanish soccer. With the win, Barcelona opened up a 4-point lead over Madrid at the top of La Liga, with 10 games remaining in the season.” NY Times

Euro 2016: Crucial week for UK & Ireland teams on road to France

“England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all return to international action this week – and all have realistic hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. The five nations have never qualified for the same major international tournament before but, after a four-month break, they can all enhance their prospects of reaching next summer’s tournament in France with positive results. Why is there such hope? For a start, the finals has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams. But a solid start from all five sides to their qualification groups has also offered encouragement. Could it finally be that Wales and Northern Ireland play in their first European Championship? Can Scotland compete in a first major tournament since 1998? This week’s matches will represent the midway point in qualifying, so just how realistic is the prospect of all five making it through to France?” BBC

Soccer Analytics – Do They Belong in the “Beautiful Game”?

“There is a revolution happening in the world of sports, but it is not happening on a field or a court. Rather, the revolution is happening in the Excel sheets and the computers of statisticians and analysts who are tracking every play in sports today. In an age where the accessibility of data and the ability to analyze it quickly has reached team managers and coaches, the question remains, ‘How will analytics affect the sport of soccer?’” Soccer Politics

What Analytics Can Teach Us About the Beautiful Game
“Sports analytics, no matter the field’s renegade posturing, has now been around long enough to have its own pieces of conventional wisdom. Baseball’s cognoscenti know all about the primacy of on-base percentage over batting average, and they’ve also come to realize once-treasured strategies like bunting and stealing bases are best used sparingly. In basketball, the mid-range jump shot is slowly being phased out as an inefficient relic of antiquity. Spreadsheets are shaming football coaches into rolling the dice more often on fourth downs.” Five Thirty Eight

Aston Villa – Lost In The Supermarket

“For a club of Aston Villa’s rich history, the past few years have been profoundly depressing, as they have spent most of that time at the wrong end of the Premier League table, desperately trying to avoid relegation. Their managerial merry-go-round has failed to improve matters, merely bringing their own version of doom (Alex McLeish) and gloom (Paul Lambert). This has been matched by a dismal performance off the pitch with the club bleeding money through some hefty losses, financed by the American owner Randy Lerner pumping vast sums of money into Aston Villa – with no tangible success. Little wonder that this toxic combination has caused Lerner to put the club up for sale.” The Swiss Ramble

Lionel Messi Is Back on His Game

“It has been a pleasure to watch Lionel Messi playing with Barcelona during the past week, in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time. When I profiled the Argentine superstar for the magazine in June of last year, just before the World Cup, he was in a bit of a funk. As one Argentine writer told me at the time, ‘It’s like he’s tied up.’  Messi had been having a (relatively) poor year with Barcelona, his club team in Spain, and there was a noticeable lack of spark in his play. He was hurt earlier in the year, and plagued by drama off the field at Barcelona, but nobody knew what the real root of the trouble was. He just didn’t look like himself.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United | United’s pressing, early dominance and more

“The fixture between Liverpool and Manchester United is one that demands global attention. As a spectacle, it is England’s riposte to El Clasico, Derby della Madonnina, De Klassieker, and so forth. In short, it is a very big deal. The animosity between the cities may have its roots in issues beyond the football pitch but it is on it that it finds a platform to express itself. Thus, a game between the two sides is always plagued with intensity and a smorgasbord of emotions. The traditional giants may not be fighting for the ultimate prize of the title but they are 2 of the teams in the running for a spot in next season’s Champions League. The result at Anfield may not prove be the defining moment in the race but its importance didn’t have to be underlined ahead of the game.” Outside of the Boot

Together and alone: Camus’ football philosophy

“Camus’ aphorism, often misquoted as ‘what I know most surely about morality…I learned from football’, is a favourite of high-brow fans of sport and t-shirt printers everywhere. It is, of course, a reference to his experiences playing in goal for the RUA, the Algiers Racing University football team, and the Montpensier Sports Club. He started playing for them at the age of fifteen and quickly made a good impression. Jonathan Wilson’s beautiful book on ‘keeping, The Outsider, the title of which is surely a conscious echo of Camus’ novel, describes in detail some of his recollections of playing. He was praised for his bravery and his abilities in goal, and was even once knocked out taking a powerful shot straight to the chest, a forewarning of the tuberculosis that would force him to hang up his gloves and, from that point on, only participate in football as a spectator.”Football Pink

Spain’s tabloids are always partisan, but it’s peak slant ahead of a Clásico

“The first rule of Clásico club: Take everything you read with a pinch of salt. With three points, the La Liga title and those famous bragging rights at stake between Barcelona and Real Madrid, anything goes on the Spanish press’s playground as judgment day looms. Punching in Barça’s corner are Catalan newspapers Diario SPORT and Mundo Deportivo, while Madrid is counting on Marca and Diario AS.” Soccer Gods

Simon Mignolet vs David de Gea: Why it’s closer than you think

“Eternal foes Manchester United and Liverpool lock horns once again on Sunday afternoon in the biggest derby match for years, with the chance of a top-four finish up for grabs alongside the pride of two of English football’s most successful clubs.” Squawka (Video)

Golden goal: Paolo Di Canio for West Ham v Wimbledon (2000)

“If you came here looking for a brief recap of Paul Weiland’s 2006 film, Sixty Six, then you are in luck. The story of a Jewish boy whose Shabbos spirit was dampened by his barmitzvah tragically falling on the same day as the World Cup final between England and West Germany in 1966 (spoiler alert: England win in controversial circumstances) was a niche topic that was met with mixed reviews, but it struck a resounding chord with me.” Guardian (Video)

Sepp Blatter says protesting sporting events doesn’t work. Sepp Blatter is wrong.

“FIFA ‘President for Life’ Sepp Blatter wants all of you people talking about World Cup boycotts to know: He’s not trying to hear that noise. According to Blatter, boycotts are nonsense. The only thing that can heal the demons plaguing the world is the glorious, magical FIFA World Cup. It’s Robitussin for the masses.” Fusion

The British influence on the Bernabeu – where it all began

“Real Madrid are, without doubt, a club with the most illustrious of histories in world football. Nothing confirms this more than the capturing of the long-coveted 10th European title in their history in 2014, lauded amongst Madridistas as ‘La Decima’. But, where do we come in all this? How can we savour just a small slice of this wonderful story for ourselves? Despite being the most Spanish of clubs, Los Blancos have had numerous British players litter their amazing history. Ask any knowledgeable football fan to name some of those players and they will rightly list names including David Beckham, Michael Owen, Gareth Bale and, possibly, Laurie Cunningham.” Football Pink

Being Branislav: How Ivanovic Became One of the Best (and Unique) Players in the Premier League

“Look at Branislav Ivanovic and you won’t see the modern conception of a full-back. He’s no Dani Alves, getting to the end line, pumping in crosses, and pinning back opposition wingers. No, he’s a physically intimidating slab of Serbian sinew, with a questionable haircut and legs like two Doric columns. A glance at Ivanovic recalls the days when everyone who played defense really wanted to play defense — to make two-footed tackles, to launch clearances into the stands — and not do much else. Except Ivanovic defies that old-school classification, too. In fact, the 31-year-old seems to defy any classification. A right back on the team sheet, Ivanovic has become one of the best in the world by doing it his own way.” Grantland

Swansea City – A Design For Life

“The past few years have been pretty successful for Swansea City. After becoming the first Welsh club to gain promotion to the Premier League in 2011, they have since firmly established themselves in England’s top tier, finishing 11th, 9th and 12th in the three seasons since then. During this period, they have also won the Capital One Cup, which qualified them for the Europa League, where they reached the knockout stage before being eliminated by Napoli. In the process, they have continued to follow a prudent financial strategy As the club explained after promotion: ‘Our long term goals will cater for Swansea City remaining as a top flight club, but not in any way that puts the company’s financial stability at risk. This remains paramount in our management philosophy.’” The Swiss Ramble

Dortmund 0-3 Juventus: deep defending and quick countering

“Juventus produced a classic away performance to win this tie comfortably. Jurgen Klopp named his default 4-2-3-1 formation. Kevin Kampl made his Champions League debut on the right, with Henrikh Mikhitaryan on the left flank – neither are natural wingers, and both prefer to drift inside. Soktatis Papastathopoulos started at right-back, with Lukas Piszczek still out following the injury he collected in the first leg.” Zonal Marking

Manchester City Was Ready for Lionel Messi, or So It Thought

“The moment that encapsulated the game came after about 40 minutes. Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s wizard in residence, had the ball near the sideline. James Milner, a sturdy Manchester City midfielder, approached. Messi caressed the ball with his foot. Milner tried to shuffle along. Suddenly, the ball was through Milner’s legs, Messi was off behind him and Milner collapsed onto his rear end, unable to stand up against Messi’s bag of tricks.” NY Times

Tactical Analysis : Marseille 0-0 Lyon | Tactical variety on display in captivating draw

“Despite being marred by crowd trouble and a fair bit of controversy surrounding several key refereeing decisions, Sunday’s scoreless draw between Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais may be even more important for what it can tell us about each squad’s approach. Billed as one of a pair of massive matches on the weekend, the other being Paris Saint-Germain’s visit to Bordeaux, the stakes were raised considerably when Les Girondins managed to scrape a 3-2 win in a match similarly marred by poor refereeing. A win by the home side would move them ahead of PSG, only one point behind their rivals, while a victory for Les Gones would see them seven clear of Marseille with just nine matches to play. Coupled with Lyon’s vastly superior goal difference, a loss would see Marseille all but eliminated from the title race. Thus, the stakes were high, and, buoyed by a record crowd at the Stade Velodrome, we were treated to a deliciously feisty encounter.” Outside of the Boot

English failure in Europe is an indictment against the Premier League

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“There are wholly unrelated and individual reasons why England’s clubs all failed to achieve positive results this week in the Champions League. There always are. Arsenal throwing away a 3-0 lead at home was a freak result (in statistical terms, at least), Liverpool seemed to play for a narrow defeat in Madrid, Chelsea weren’t under any real pressure to win at Maribor and Manchester City … God knows. But a look at recent seasons suggests that these shocks should no longer come as a surprise. Since leading UEFA’s country coefficient rankings in 2007-08 — the year of the all-English Champions League final in Moscow — Premier League clubs have slowly but steadily chalked up less impressive results in European competitions.” ESPN

Team Focus: Home Providing No Comfort for Stuttering Roma

“Full of himself, Sky Italia’s garrulous orator in chief Fabio Caressa made a gag at Roma’s expense before Monday night’s game with Sampdoria at the Olimpico. Doing a shift on the network’s sports news channel, he claimed to have exclusive pictures of the team’s final training session. ‘Very intense,’ he said as a cue to roll the VT. It was a promo of zombie drama The Walking Dead. As a joke it didn’t go down particularly well with the club and the fans, a precious few of whom, perhaps taking themselves a little too seriously, threatened to tear up their subscriptions.”  WhoScored?

Attendance worries have quietly disappeared for Major League Soccer

“Worrying about attendance figures has long been an American soccer obsession. Supporters religiously fretted over single-game crowd counts, average attendances, season tickets sold, advance ticket sales for that upcoming friendly, and the rest. We all did a little touchdown dance every time a big soccer crowd filled the bowl or whenever an attendance record fell. I’m not sure what comparing MLS attendance figures to leagues around the world ever told us about actual, popular appeal – but that sure didn’t stop us, did it? But these soccer times, they are a-changin’. Seems so, anyway.” Soccer Gods

Scotland’s newest player has never been to Scotland

“Standard practice when being called up to a play for a country other than your birth is to stress your heritage, your love of your adopted land and how its blood courses through your veins and its culture through your mind, despite the terrible luck that saw you exit the womb elsewhere. Such a stance is a little tenuous from Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, though, as Scotland’s latest call-up has admitted that he has never actually been to Scotland.” Fusion

So, Louis van Gaal, what exactly is your Manchester United ‘philosophy’?

“Something very strange is happening at Old Trafford. It not so much that the grumbling is growing louder, despite Manchester United sitting fourth in the table having lost only twice in the league since the turn of the year, it is who is lined up on either side of the debate. On the one hand, unconvinced by a string of scratchy displays, is a section of the media and public arguing that the spectacle needs to improve. On the other, demanding we look at the results, is Louis van Gaal, a coach who for a quarter of a century has been dogmatically insisting that aesthetics are vital to football and that journalists and fans never look sufficiently at the process.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Ángel di María seems an uninterested bystander at Manchester United
“Manchester United’s defenders have committed some shocking errors this season, but the manner of the two concessions in Monday’s 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal must have been particularly alarming for Louis van Gaal. The problems originated from United’s right flank, where they struggled all evening. The most dangerous player in the opening minutes was Alexis Sánchez, fielded on the left of Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 system. Up against Antonio Valencia, a winger who has been fielded at right-back remarkably frequently considered he has never looked remotely comfortable in that role, it looked set to be a mismatch, especially after Sánchez cut inside easily for the game’s first half-chance.” Guardian – Michael Cox

The British influence on the Bernabeu – where it all began

“Real Madrid are, without doubt, a club with the most illustrious of histories in world football. Nothing confirms this more than the capturing of the long-coveted 10th European title in their history in 2014, lauded amongst Madridistas as ‘La Decima’. But, where do we come in all this? How can we savour just a small slice of this wonderful story for ourselves? Despite being the most Spanish of clubs, Los Blancos have had numerous British players litter their amazing history. Ask any knowledgeable football fan to name some of those players and they will rightly list names including David Beckham, Michael Owen, Gareth Bale and, possibly, Laurie Cunningham. While there have been varying degrees of success amongst those who have left these shores, Bale – the most recent export – has had a prolific first season and a half at the Bernabeu, including scoring the decisive goal helping to secure La Decima in Lisbon in 2014.” Football Pink

Harry Kane shows clubs should not discard players too early

“Many magic numbers are being thrown around about Harry Kane, adding up to why the Tottenham Hotspur striker is being feted as such a strong candidate for the players’ Player of the Year and the writers’ Footballer of the Year. Numbers like four. Kane has just become only the fourth man to win back-to-back Premier League Player of the Month awards, joining such illustrious names as Robbie Fowler, Dennis Bergkamp and Cristiano Ronaldo.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

The Barrabrava – Crusaders Turning Exploiters

“As I read Christopher Gaffney’s Temples of the Earthbound Gods, one issue that particularly struck me was the excessive nature of the barrabrava, the fierce fan group that exists in most of the Argentine and South American football clubs. In the book, Gaffney suggests the unclear, shady relationships between the clubs and their barrabravas, or barras in short, and some of the borderline illegal actions that the barras take that is veiled under the name of passion and footballing identity. For instance, the level of physical violence that the barras have reached a point where the barras of each club have their signature means of violence – rubber mallets in San Lorenzo or umbrellas in Independiente, for example – and yet their clubs have remained reluctant, even sympathetic towards such acts.” Soccer Politics (Video)

Chelsea 2-2 PSG (aet): Blanc continues with starting approach despite early red card

“Paris Saint-Germain adapted excellently after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s dismissal, and progressed on away goals courtesy of two headed goals from their centre-backs. The most surprising name on the Chelsea teamsheet was Oscar, who was preferred over his fellow Brazilian Willian. This hinted at Jose Mourinho’s preferred midfield format. In defence, Gary Cahill was selected instead of Kurt Zouma, who has recently impressed both in defence and midfield. Nemanja Matic was fit to return in the holding role.” Zonal Marking

When they mattered: Ipswich Town’s brighter days

“Ah, Ipswich! Famous for, well, not much. Being the 42nd largest urban area in the UK? Birthplace of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, extreme metal band Cradle of Filth vocalist Dani Filth, and 1980s pop prancer Nik Kershaw? Home of the world’s first commercially powered lawnmower, built in 1902? Winner of the Cleanest Town in England award in 2007?” Soccer Gods (Video)

Champions League: Chelsea lose ugly against Paris St-Germain

Chelsea v Paris St Germain - UEFA Champions League Second Round Second Leg
“Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has turned the trick of winning ugly into an art form – but there is no merit in losing ugly and that is exactly what his side did as Paris St-Germain deservedly dismissed them from the Champions League. As the cards stacked up against PSG, the need for an away goal piled on top of the harsh first-half dismissal of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was the Premier League leaders who cracked under pressure, a fact acknowledged by a despairing Mourinho in the aftermath. In a last-16 second leg that was dramatic and dreadful in equal measure, Chelsea made an undignified exit on away goals after a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge and a 3-3 aggregate result. It was an eyesore of a performance that also demonstrated the dark side of a fine team’s personality.” BBC

Lunacy in London: PSG Go Full OMG and Knock Chelsea Out of the Champions League
“Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain came into yesterday’s Round of 16 match notched at 1-all, with the London club holding the away-goals tiebreaker after the first leg. Thirty-one minutes into the game, PSG’s Swedish superhero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was given a questionable red card, and then Chelsea, propped up by a one-man advantage, strolled … into a thunderdome filled with UFC-level off-ball high jinks and Brazilian center backs with plutonium foreheads. The match went off the rails again and again and again, ultimately ending in a 2-2 extra-time draw, which sent the Parisians on to the next round. We’ve rounded up the most madcap moments from the midweek mania — but before we get to them, a quick word from Zlatan.” Grantland (Video)

Chelsea set a standard PSG’s still trying to achieve
“When, in 2011, Paris Saint-Germain became another club to win the lottery, there were a few examples to use as an indicator of its future. Manchester City, bought in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group, has won two English Premier League titles, while Málaga, purchased by Abdulla Al Thani in 2010, had its ascent tempered by a near implosion. But it’s Chelsea, the first to undergo a similar overhaul, that has become the most powerful of them. One of the first clubs since the turn of the millennium to be bought by natural resources, Chelsea’s won Champions League, Europa, and England (three times) since Roman Abramovich became the club’s avatar. Chelsea and PSG might go into Wednesday’s Champions League tie with the scores level, but in other respects, Chelsea lead the French side by some distance.” Soccer Gods

Jose Mourinho: Chelsea will win Premier League title
“Chelsea will win the Premier League title this season, manager Jose Mourinho has predicted. The Blues were knocked out of the Champions League by Paris St-Germain in midweek but lead the top flight by five points with 11 games remaining.” BBC (Video)

UEFA: Chelsea 3-3 Paris St-Germain

Wingers: A dying breed?

“If you look back at some of the great sides of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, they all utilised out and out wingers. The 1997/98 Arsenal side had Marc Overmars, whilst Manchester United’s treble winning side had Ryan Giggs and David Beckham running the flanks. Further abroad, Luis Figo played as a winger for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. All of these players were the type of wingers who would hug the touchline on the side of their favoured foot, and either beat their man and cross from the byline or swing in early crosses for the striker. However, in the last 5 years or so, this type of winger has diminished, and although their are some exceptions, such as Juan Cuadrado, players like this are more of a rarity these days.” Outside of the Boot

Werder Bremen’s rebound will mean little if it can’t reach Champions League

“Poor Werder Bremen. When struggling, its woes went unheard, so loud were the laughs at Borussia Dortmund’s expense. But when soaring, in comes Wolfsburg, knocking in five goals two weeks ago to crunch Werder’s near-success into a throw-away sentence at the end of a paragraph. All this team wants is someone to notice it, damn it, but in this league of showoffs and scrappy strugglers and this weekend’s hedgemonic opposition, Bayern Munich, people are constantly swiping left when encountering the insipid green diamond that is Werder Bremen.” Soccer Gods

The growing pains of U.S. soccer’s dominant supporter’s group

“… The American Outlaws is not the first U.S. supporters group of the modern era. That would be Sam’s Army, founded by Mark Spacone and John Wright in 1994. They began by organizing tailgates for important home World Cup qualifiers and traveled as a group to the 1998, 2002, and 2006 World Cups. (In 2006, I marched with Sam’s Army through the streets of Nuremberg on the way to the U.S.-Ghana game, chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.” It was fun but, looking back, the scene had some of the negative elements this article will cover.)” Soccer Gods (Video)

Round Table: The spring season of RPL

“1: What did the fall season teach you? Saul: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The wealthiest side is top and looks likely to win the league (despite not playing well as a team); Spartak are experimenting with a foreign manager and failing, having expected him to bring instant success; the new sides are struggling, including with their finances; Terek are mid table; further down clubs have begun to disappear from the league structure. Having said all that, I’m really looking forward to things starting up again in a few weeks. Aleks: The first half of the season showed that Spartak are doing better than is generally thought. They’re the only team that’s currently unbeaten at home. Despite not having stability up front, Dynamo are doing better than expected, and have so far made it farther in the Europa League than they ever have, joining a select few teams to have gone unbeaten in the group stage in the process. …” Russian Football News

Watch the 8 Best Goals Scored by Premier League Managers

“Sam Allardyce | Bolton Wanderers vs. Ipswich Town. 21 April 1979. Big Sam gets accused of being many things: long ball merchant, unambitious, over indulgent at the buffet. But I can only accuse him of abandoning an excellent mustache. While playing for Bolton Wanderers, Allardyce scored this thunderbolt of a header against Ipswich Town. In the early 2000s, Allardyce’s returned to Bolton as manager and would take them back into the Premier League and the Europa League. Sadly, the mustache did not come with him.” 8 by 8 (Video)

Blaming Bale or Missing Modric: Why Has 2015 Been So Awful for Real Madrid?

“Two months ago, Real Madrid had won 22 games in a row, they’d recently been crowned Club World Champions, and it seemed like they’d finally solved the inconsistency that plagued last year’s domestic campaign. In short, the defending Champions League winners were the best team in the world. Or, as Sergio Ramos put it: ‘Real Madrid is God’s team and the world’s. We are living a splendid and unique moment.’” Grantland

Roma 1-1 Juventus: Juve revert to a back three and sit deep

“Juventus played for, and achieved, the draw which means they remain firm favourites for a fourth consecutive Serie A title. Rudi Garcia’s side was largely as expected, with Francesco Totti playing the false nine role, and Adem Ljajic on the right flank. The only change from the Europa League victory over Feyenoord was in goal, where Morgan De Sanctis returned.” Zonal Marking

Bolivian Clubs Are at Home in Thin Air

“Tucked tightly among the high-rises of the Miraflores district of La Paz, Bolivia, the Hernando Siles stadium is one of those great South American dust bowls drenched in character. Yet few stadiums anywhere can match its home-field advantage: Nestled in the Andes at a lung-tightening 11,932 feet, it brings soccer to the very roof of the Americas. Last month, it was where the Brazilian club Internacional arrived only hours before kicking off this season’s Copa Libertadores, the South American championship. Internacional had planned to spend only 12 hours in La Paz to minimize the effects of the city’s altitude, but even that was plenty for the environment to take its claustrophobic toll.” NY Times

Lille: Tactical Negativity and a View of the Future

“Despite the money spent at Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain last season, the story of the season at the winter break in Ligue 1 last year was surely Lille, who had conceded only eight goals to that point, buoyed by a remarkable run of eleven games without conceding. That run had come to an end in a Week 17 loss to Bordeaux, as an unlucky deflection found the back of Vincent Enyeama’s net and Les Dogues stumbled to a 1-0 defeat on the road.  Quickly righting the ship, a win against Bastia and a more than creditable draw at PSG left the northern side only a point behind Monaco and four behind the leaders at the break, a fine achievement in Rene Girard’s first few months in charge, especially considering the team had been stripped of much of its offensively minded talent in the summer, with the departures of Dimitri Payet, Florian Thauvin and Lucas Digne.” Outside of the Boot

Liverpool – A Show Of Strength

“It was so close. Although Liverpool supporters would naturally have been disappointed that Brendan Rodgers’ team narrowly missed out on securing title winning glory in the 2013/14 season, objectively speaking their surge to second place in the Premier League represented great progress. Not only did they improve significantly from the previous season’s seventh, but they also qualified for the Champions League, a competition that has played an important part in the Reds’ famous history.” The Swiss Ramble