Champions League draw analysis: Picks to make it out of each group

UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino, left, and UEFA Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti, right, remove the balls containing the names of the soccer clubs, during the draw for the Champions League 2015/16 play-offs, at the UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
“There was a twist to the Champions League group stage draw in Monaco Thursday. UEFA’s new seeding regulations meant that only reigning champions would be picked from Pot 1, leaving some dangerous contenders in the lower pots. And so it proved, as Manchester City was drawn with Juventus and Sevilla while Real Madrid drew Paris Saint-Germain and Shakhtar Donetsk. The draw resulted in some intriguing individual storylines, powerhouses going up against one another and the first steps on the road to the San Siro.” SI (Video)


Louis van Gaal’s possession obsession risks blunting Manchester United’s edge

“‘My worry,’ Louis van Gaal said after Manchester United’s draw against Newcastle on Saturday, ‘is that we have to dominate the opponent’. He was not bothered, he insisted, that his side had failed to score, and he felt no great urge to sign another striker despite the ineffectiveness of Wayne Rooney; rather he was happy because ‘three times we are the better team … We did it today, we did it against Aston Villa and against Tottenham. Against Tottenham was less but against Villa, Brugge and today we dominated’.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Roma v Juventus, a season defining game…already?

“It is only the second game of the season and we already have the spectre of a ‘season defining’ game as Roma and Juventus go head to head at the Stadio Olimpico. In previous years, this fixture may have been known as an early ‘title decider’, as Roma have been Juve’s closest challengers in the last two seasons (close in the sense of being seventeen points behind).” backpagefootball

Tactical Philosophy: Paco Jemez

“Born on the 18th April 1970 as Francisco Jemez Martin, to the son of a flamenco singer, Paco has always admitted that he would have followed in his father’s musical footsteps if he had the talent for it, however he has proclaimed that he had ‘neither the voice nor the talent for it’. Instead his father helped shape his career in a different way. With his father being an avid Cordoba fan, it was Cordoba that Paco joined, and made his debut in the Segunda Division B as an 18 year old as a tough tackling centre-back.” Outside of the Boot

Klinsmann faced with several options in picking U.S. roster for friendlies

“So much for the best-laid plans of national team managers. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann desperately wanted to avoid a playoff for CONCACAF’s spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. So he selected a Gold Cup roster stocked with veterans and promising younger players—the best available, he claimed—who comprised a ‘very, very strong group that can win this prestigious tournament.’ It failed. The U.S. was 2-0-1 but unconvincing in the continental championship’s group stage.” SI

Tactical Analysis | West Ham 3-4 Bournemouth: Cherries dominate with wide overloads

“Premier league new boys AFC Bournemouth picked up their first ever top flight win in a 7 goal thriller at Upton Park. The game was characterised by drastic swings of momentum for both sides, though on the overall balance of play, Bournemouth certainly deserved to win the match and were rewarded for their refreshing attacking bravery.” Outside of the Boot

It’s Not You, It’s My Tactics: Francis Coquelin and the Impossibility of the Defensive Midfielder

Francis Coquelin
“With the final week of the transfer window upon us, Arsenal still haven’t bought a defensive midfielder. (Drink.) And if that doesn’t change for the first time in what feels like a century running, it’ll be because Arsene Wenger has decided to ride with Francis Coquelin. Let’s just get this out of the way: Coquelin is not a great midfielder, and he never will be.” Grantland

The rise of Carpi: Serie A’s newcomers

“It has been a truly remarkable ride for Carpi over the last few years. Based in the northern province of Modena, the modest-sized club from the small industrial town from which it gets its name have enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past several seasons, one that has seen them return from the dead and climb up the ranks at a rate of knots, culminating in them gaining a place in Serie A for the first time in their history. Founded as AC Carpi in 1909, the club spent the majority of their life battling in the lower tiers of Italian football, finding it difficult to carve out any success in the provincial leagues.” Outside of the Boot

Is Lablatinière buying Ligue 1 happiness?

“Until recently, the picturesque town of Angers was known mostly because of its Plantagenet-era history and because of its tradition of being one of Europe’s intellectual centres. However, after achieving promotion to Ligue 1 in the 2014-2015 season, the city’s football club, SCO Angers, has once again emerged into the limelight, taking centre stage.” backpagefootball

Blackburn Rovers – Burning Down The House

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of Blackburn Rovers winning the Premier League, a magnificent feat that only five clubs have achieved. Things are very different these days, compared to that golden period when Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton were tearing defences apart, as Rovers now languish in the Championship following a disastrous takeover. In November 2010 Rovers were acquired by Indian poultry giants Venky’s, who paid £23 million to end the club’s long association with the Jack Walker Trust. The new owners also took on around £20 million of debt, subsequently converting £10 million into share capital.” The Swiss Ramble

Champions League: Celtic weakness cruelly exposed in defeat

“In the minutes after Celtic’s lame exit from the Champions League, the mixed zone at the Swedbank Stadium was like a hospital ward for damaged footballers. The visiting team trooped in with their pride hurting not just because of what their driven opponents from Malmo had just done to them but by what their own manager had said about them. When Ronny Deila accused his team of being ‘scared’ and ‘frightened’ on the night, it was as firm a kick to their collective solar plexus as anything the Swedes visited upon them.” BBC

Saturdays on the Couch, Week 2: Sluggish Wolfsburg

“…I wrote about how he was one of the coaches to watch in my Family Tree pieces but with quotes like the above and his quote in the same presser where he said: ‘Fundamentally, it is better to lose while playing well in the second half rather than win with the first half performance, as we really did not do enough.’ He is quickly becoming one of my favorite coaches.” StatsBomb

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 0 Liverpool 0

“… Both teams missed important first-team players, with Arsenal’s loss arguably the greater. Liverpool were without their captain Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana but their replacements – Lucas and Firmino respectively – played important roles in creating a different outlook which arguably suited the game more. After using a lopsided 4-2-1-3 for the previous two games, here – arguably due to the change from Henderson to Lucas – Rodgers opted for a 4-1-2-3 formation instead.” Tomkins Times

From Galáctico to Partridge: Why are we obsessed with trolling Michael Owen?

“As much I’m looking forward to the Premier League’s latest Saturday lunchtime kick-off, I can’t seem to concentrate on the screen. It’s the BT Sport logo in the top-right corner that’s causing me the problem. As soon as I see it my thumbs take over in a flurry of muscle-memory. It seems like I’m not alone. Within minutes, Twitter’s trending topics reveal that the eyes of the whole country have been yanked from the big screen at the front of the room to the small screen in their hand. Michael Owen, it seems, gives us all absolutely no choice but to tweet about him. Indeed, by the time the weekend’s over, criticism of his commentary has already hit the back pages, with stories that are little more than the journalistic equivalent of a playground pile-on.” Four Four Two (Video)

Player Analysis: Sergio Busquets against Athletic Bilbao

“In the 1st leg of the Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona had huge problems dealing with the high-press of Bilbao in Barcelona’s own half-pitch, while also employing a man-marking system. Athletic were also very centrally compact playing with a 4-4-2, which Barcelona could not penetrate, conceding 4 goals through different pressing approaches of Bilbao which eventually led to counter-attacks against the then destabilized Barca defense.” Outside of the Boot

Italian football’s stadium problem

“Italian football has been the sick man of Europe. The phrase was once used to describe the Ottoman Empire, with which Italian football has similarities. Like the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, Serie A is living off past glories. Its Constantinople was the San Siro, where great Milan sides once battled it out, but now plays host to two pale imitations. The Ottoman Empire was behind the great powers of England, Germany and France, whereas now Italy is also behind England, Germany Spain and France.” backpagefootball

Taking the temperature of Manchester United

“Making observations based off one game and presenting them as fact is reactionary pulp, especially when players and teams have anywhere between 37 and 50 games left, including cups, to rectify mistakes, build chemistry and become comfortable with themselves, each other and the system they play within. Three games in, and little more than guesswork is still the most prevalent manner of forecasting the next nine months of soccer.” backpagefootball

Bundesliga This and That: Random Thoughts on our Favorite League – Week 2

“After two matchdays, which club is currently best in the Bundesliga? Two weeks into the season, only Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern Munich and Bayer 04 Leverkusen still carry perfect records, with BvB tops in the table due to their +8 goal differential.  Are they the best so far, though?  Personally, the answer is a qualified yes — no goals allowed, incisive play, and a whopping 53% conversion rate of shots on goal (eight goals in 15 SOGs), while Roman Bürki has been perfect in stopping opponents’ SOG (three saves in three SOGs).  Dortmund look more robust, healthier, than they did all of last season.  Their only blight thus far was the almost-ambush in Norway Thursday in Europa League action by Odd Grenland, who notched three early goals before Die Schwarzgelben answered with four. One could say that Thursday’s match was a learning experience for Thomas Tuchel, and fortunately, a rather inexpensive one.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

“Starting the game, Barcelona were coming up against a familiar opponent. The Catalan club have already played Athletic twice this season thanks to the Supercopa and the wounds from that defeat are still fresh. Therefore you would expect a lively start from Barça as they look to seek revenge but the opening stages were all a bit tame. Athletic were smart about absorbing the early Barcelona pressure and neither side registered a shot on target during the opening minutes. The high press of the Basques succeeded in limiting Barcelona’s ability to create clear-cut chances.” Barca Blaugranes

After the Fall: As Juventus Dominates, Serie A Needs Both Milan Teams to Be Competitive Again

“What’s next for Serie A? Last year — with Juventus’s run to the Champions League final and five Italian teams in the Europa League’s Round of 16 — seemed like a big step forward for a league that has struggled to keep up both financially and competitively with other major European brethren. Yet something was missing: The red-and-black stripes of AC Milan. And now this year, for the first time in 60 years, neither AC Milan nor Inter Milan has qualified for European competition.” Grantland

José Mourinho thrives on tension but after two years it becomes a problem

“José Mourinho is a manager who thrives on conflict, someone who is never happy unless there is something to be unhappy about. Or at least to pretend to be unhappy about. ‘Mourinho,’ as Manchester City’s chief executive, Ferran Soriano, said when explaining why Barcelona opted for Pep Guardiola in 2008, ‘is a winner, but in order to win he guarantees a level of tension that becomes a problem.’ Tension is simply how he operates. If it isn’t there, he has to create it and he isn’t too bothered whom he hurts in doing so.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Chelsea doesn’t have the depth to win the Premier League

“Chelsea cake-walked its way to the Premier League title last year. All the usual challengers were either in a state of transition (Manchester United and Liverpool), apparently lacking motivation (Manchester City), or being Arsenal (Arsenal). Having kept all the important pieces of the same squad together, and with questions still hovering over its rivals, Chelsea is (was?) heavily favored to repeat as champions. But judging by the evidence on display in preseason and in the Blues’ first two performances in the league, we should probably pump the brakes on those predictions.” Fusion

Is Brendan Rodgers actually any good?

“This is something of a make or break season for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Even a man with his levels of self-confidence must realize that he could find himself out of a job if Liverpool has another season like the previous one. For all the various moving pieces involved in a successful soccer team, the buck ultimately stops at the manager. If a team with trophy-winning ambitions repeatedly fails to win any trophies, heads usually roll.” Fusion

Tactical Analysis | Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth: Combination play down the right

“Liverpool started off their home Premier League campaign with a less than convincing win over newly-promoted Bournemouth, aided by a controversial debut Anfield goal for summer signing Christian Benteke. The Reds named an unchanged eleven from last weekend’s win over Stoke City, while Eddie Howe effected two changes in his Bournemouth side, bringing in Eunan O’Kane and Max Gradel for Dan Gosling and Marc Pugh respectively. Liverpool lined up in their  customary 4-2-3-1; Adam Lallana’s position was more central while Philippe Coutinho started on the right. Jordan Henderson and James Milner formed the central midfield pairing, with Henderson sitting slightly deeper than Milner.” Outside of the Boot

La Liga preview: Can Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao overtake Barcelona?

“On the face of it, the Spanish Super Cup suggested this season might be different. Barcelona, who won the treble of league, Copa del Rey and Champions League last season, was beaten 4–0 in the first leg by Athletic Bilbao and, back at the Camp Nou, managed only a 1–1 as it attempted the impossible task of overturning that deficit. Is Barça in crisis, could Athletic mount a serious challenge, is this the year when Spain becomes more than a two and a half horse race? Probably not.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

An insight into Football Scouting: Interview with Neil McGuinness

“Neil was a professional scout with Celtic for many years and has worked under Neil Lennon and Ronny Deila. He has now taken a role working for the Qatar national team at the Aspire Academy. His role there is to scout for the players who will potentially represent the Qatar team at the World Cup in 2022. He was responsible for bringing in the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Stefan Johansen in terms of signings at Celtic. We thank Neil for his time and valuable insight.” Outside of the Boot

Graft, grit and Northern beauty

“Sir Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby, Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Howard Kendall, Don Revie, Sir Bobby Robson: it’s a long and impressive list, but far from an exhaustive one. The common thread that links them to one another? Yes, they are all British, but more specifically, they’re all from either the North East of England or Scotland. So what, I hear you mutter. … It’s my assertion that, as they did not inherit, at birth, the specific qualities and traits needed to stand out in the cutthroat world of football but must possess them in order to break into that sphere in the first place, then it must be their upbringing and the environment of their formative years that defined them. So, it is to the North East of England and Scotland that we must look for those ingredients that shaped the young men who would eventually become legends.” Foofball Pink

A History of Volatility: Jose Mourinho Says He Wants to Stay at Chelsea, But He Says a Lot of Things

“The last two weeks at Chelsea have already pushed the club’s title-winning 2014-15 season way out of view. First, they opened the campaign with a home draw against Swansea City. Then, Jose Mourinho relieved the team doctor, Eva Carneiro, of her sideline duties under dubious circumstances. And in the first game without Carneiro nearby, the defending champs got smoked by Manchester City, 3-0, and now sit five points back of the top of the table. During the loss, for the first time in either of his stints at the club, Mourinho subbed out his captain, John Terry, at halftime.” Grantland

Ipswich Town – Forever The Same?

“One of the most surprising sides in last season’s Championship was Ipswich Town, who managed to reach the play-offs on a shoestring budget. Although they were eliminated in the semi-finals by local rivals Norwich City, this was a great achievement that highlighted the progress made under Mick McCarthy. When the experienced manager replaced Paul Jewell in November 2012, Ipswich were bottom of the Championship, but McCarthy successfully guided the club out of the relegation zone to finish in a comfortable 14th place. His first full season ended in a respectable 9th place in 2013/14, before he broke Ipswich’s many years of mid-table finishes by leading them to the play-offs.” The Swiss Ramble

Is Turkish football hampered by a dominant ‘Big Two’?

“Forty million Euros. That is what Turkish Super Lig club Fenerbahce have spent in summer transfers this season a scenario which was all but unimaginable not so long ago. Of course the bulk of that cash was utilized in acquiring the services of the former Manchester United duo of Robin van Persie and Nani who are aiming to resurrect their careers at the Istanbul based club.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis | Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea: Alternating attacking methods from the home side

“The build up story was that the champions were visiting the runners up, and the two managers, Mourinho and Pellegrini were resuming an intense rivalry. The post mortems however, were very different, as Chelsea fans lamented the lack of spirit and the utter fragility of their seemingly powerful squad. Manchester City dominated the game from start to finish, making a lasting impression in the minds of many, not least the current champions.” Outside of the Boot

FC Barcelona Power Rankings: Week Two

“The timing of the Supercopa de España ensured that this week’s power rankings were pushed back a day to Tuesday, which means that we have a total of three competitive matches on which to rank the squad. Of course, there have been some ups and downs over the course of those 300 minutes of football, so this might get controversial… Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Barca Blaugranes

2015-16 Bundesliga Preview: Variety at the top, goals all the way through

“The Bundesliga was my gateway drug into the high-flying, groupie-gathering, time-sucking, spreadsheet-staring, decimal-point debating, fantastic world of soccer analytics. I was your run-of-the-mill World Cup and EPL viewer before deciding one day I wanted to know more about the soccer world elsewhere and simply chose the Bundesliga to follow for a year. I put $200 in a betting account and began working to beat the bookies. I read Colin Trainor here on expected goals and built my own model. I manually input shots from all these different zones and adjusted for schedule.” StatsBomb

3-5-2 or 4-1-4-1: What approach best suits Pep Guardiola’s Bayern?

“Predicting Guardiola’s approach may be one of the hardest duty a football enthusiast could undertake. But despite the alterations and flexibility, Alankrith Shankar has narrowed down the options to two wide-scoped approaches that the Bayern Munich could implement. New Year, new squad, same manager. Pep Guardiola is into the last year of his current contract at Bayern Munich and early signs show that there may not be an extension offered to the Spaniard unless he pulls off a treble that the fans and board have been wanting ever since he set foot at the club’s training grounds.” Outside of the Boot

Examining Olympique Lyonnais’ reformed attack

“It’s very, very early into the 2015-16 Ligue 1 season so any overarching analysis must be taken with a massive grain of salt. We’re only 5.3% through the season and as last season proved for a lot of teams, nothing can really be deciphered with any sort of validity until perhaps 10 weeks into the season. That being said, it’s been curious to see how Lyon has reshaped their attack for this season. Lyon sold winger/forward Clinton N’Jie for around €17 million after just completing his first season in Ligue 1 last season. Claudio Beauvue was brought on earlier this summer from Guingamp and Lyon only a few days ago signed Mathieu Valbuena from Dynamo Moscow.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: Athletic Bilbao 4-0 Barcelona | Bilbao’s 4-4-2 and pressing exposes Barca’s vulnerabilities

“San Mames is a notoriously hard stadium to play in, as visiting teams often find themselves wavering in front of the intense Bilbo crowd and team during the 90 minutes of the game. Since the first sound of the whistle, Bilbao approached the game with a robust and intense style. Playing hard, aggressive and direct, the first 10-20 minutes of the game did not see Bilbao risk anything in the build up, but instead preferred to play longer towards the opposing half, in order to force the high-lines of Barcelona to drop deeper. This long balls approach worked as it forced Ter-Stegen out of the goal to head it away, leaving his goal completely exposed which was duly punished by what may turn out to be a contender for goal of the season. San Jose got to the 2nd ball and shot directly into the open goal from 40 yards out, resulting in a 1-0 lead for Bilbao after 15 minutes of the Super Copa Espana.” Outside of the Boot

Record fourth straight Bundesliga title all but a given for Bayern Munich

“No team has ever won four German titles in a row before. Not in the Bundesliga, and not in the complicated days before the national league when the champion was decided by regional tournaments feeding into a knockout. When Bayern won a third straight title last season, it was the fifth time since a national championship was inaugurated in 1903 that a team had completed a hat trick. But nobody’s ever done four. This should be the story of a great quest, of a champion struggling against the entropic imperative to register the greatest run of sustained success in history, but it’s not. Bayern will, almost certainly, win the title.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Continental schism presents a tough question

epa04873815 Players of River Plate of Argentina celebrate after winning the Copa Libertadores Cup after defeating Tigres of Mexico at a soccer match held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 05 August 2015. EPA/David Fernández

epa04873815 Players of River Plate of Argentina celebrate after winning the Copa Libertadores Cup after defeating Tigres of Mexico at a soccer match held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 05 August 2015. EPA/David Fernández

“Buenos Aires giant River Plate won its third Copa Libertadores title earlier this month, beating Tigres of Mexico 3-0 on aggregate in the two-legged final. Some in Europe were gripped by the fact that this triumph came only four years after the club had been relegated to Argentina’s second division. In reality, though, there is no need to be astonished. Such wild oscillations have become almost par for the course in the South American club game. The previous winner of the Libertadores was another Buenos Airies side, San Lorenzo. It did not go down to the second division. But it came very close. In the middle of 2012 it was forced into a play-off to determine its first division survival. It won – and two years later it was champion of its continent.” The World Game – Tim Vickery

Tactical Analysis: Barcelona 5-4 Sevilla | How Barca created space in the middle by playing out wide

“Last season treble winners Barcelona came up against Europa League champions Sevilla in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. For what was expected as a mouth – watering game by many, I’m sure they weren’t disappointed with the final outcome.” Outside of the Boot

Three Lingering Questions After Manchester City’s Win Over Chelsea

“There was plenty of good football played this weekend, from Stoke’s thrilling comeback against Spurs, Arsenal’s righting of the ship against Crystal Palace, and another impressive performance from Swansea. But the main event happened Sunday, when Chelsea traveled north to face Manchester City. The home team registered an emphatic 3-0 victory, but there are still some lingering questions that need answering …” Grantland (Video)

Early Skews, Man City Impress And Other Stat Stories: EPL Week 2

“We’ve hit the crucial juncture of two (!) games now and already firm story lines are appearing around the media. Simple hooks are readily available to explain any positive or negative deviation, depending on which direction a team appears to be turning. Take Southampton; last season they conceded four or more shots on target on 14 separate occasions and yet in only five of those games they conceded twice or more. In all those matches combined, they ran a pretty much bang on league average 70% save percentage.” StatsBomb

La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1: Who will win titles?

“From managerial changes at some of the continent’s biggest clubs to long-running transfer sagas, it has been a hectic summer of activity across Europe. The season has already begun in France, Germany kick off their league campaign this weekend, while Spain and Italy start the following week. So what has changed? Who are the new faces to watch out for and, crucially, what does it all mean for the title races in Europe’s major leagues?” BBC

Record fourth straight Bundesliga title all but a given for Bayern Munich

“No team has ever won four German titles in a row before. Not in the Bundesliga, and not in the complicated days before the national league when the champion was decided by regional tournaments feeding into a knockout. When Bayern won a third straight title last season, it was the fifth time since a national championship was inaugurated in 1903 that a team had completed a hat trick. But nobody’s ever done four. This should be the story of a great quest, of a champion struggling against the entropic imperative to register the greatest run of sustained success in history, but it’s not. Bayern will, almost certainly, win the title.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Henrik Larsson: Humble and hungry for success as a manager

“He walks into the room overlooking the pitch at Helsingborg’s Olympia stadium, sticks out his hand and apologises for being late – about two minutes late. To most of us, it’s nothing but, then, Henrik Larsson has never been like most of us. To a footballer whose greatness was built, in part, on the back of impeccable timing, two minutes is two minutes too long. He hasn’t changed, not much at any rate. He’s 43 but still looks fit enough to waltz on to the pitch at Celtic Park and light the place up one more time. Football is now something he plays for fun with his mates once a week in an over-35s league. But his new life as a manager? That’s a different story. That’s the thing that envelops him now.” BBC

Juventus – From A Whisper To A Scream

“By anybody’s standards Juventus enjoyed a highly successful 2014/15 season. Not only did they capture the domestic league and cup double, winning the Serie A title for the fourth year in a row, but they also shone in Europe. There was a reminder of past glories as they eliminated Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund on the way to reaching the Champions League final, where they only succumbed to mighty Barcelona after a closely fought encounter. These achievements represented something of a triumph for the Juventus board and especially Andrea Agnelli, who had been appointed President in May 2010 after a disappointing season when the club only finished seventh, thus failing to qualify for the lucrative Champions League.” The Swiss Ramble

Tactical dilemmas for Pellegrini and Mourinho before Man City vs. Chelsea

“Manchester City vs. Chelsea might be a title decider if it were played on the second-to-last weekend of the season, rather than the second overall. It’s highly unusual to encounter such an important match so early in the new campaign and this is a meeting between the past two Premier League champions, who happen to be the two favourites to win it again.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Summer in Milan and another changing of the guard

“The last two seasons have not been kind to AC Milan. In 2013/2014, Massimiliano Allegri’s ability to get the best out of his average side ended, as he was sacked after a 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo in January 2014. Clarence Seedorf came, saw and did nothing and was replaced in the summer of 2014 by Filippo Inzaghi. Perhaps Milan were hoping for a similar effect that Antonio Conte had at Juventus, a legendary ex-player to galvanise a stagnant club. Whilst Conte had spent a number of years coaching in Serie A and B, Inzaghi’s managerial experience consisted of one year as coach of the Milan primavera side. His inexperience quickly showed, Milan’s season was simply atrocious on every level. The Rossoneri, with their eighteen league titles and seven European Cups, came a miserable tenth place, winning just 13 of 38 games.” backpagefootball

Tactical Analysis: Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur | United superbly compact, Spurs struggle in build-up

“The first game of the Premier League season matched up Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. Many supporters looked at this clash and saw it as one which was very suitable for the Barclays Premier League opener. Two managers who favour aggressive high pressure and attacking, proactive football along with a host of quality players on either side made this a tantalizing clash on paper. However, although the game promised much as a spectacle in the end the game was far from tantalizing. Both teams appeared nervy, wary of the ramifications that a poor start to a league season can have.” Outside of the Boot

England: Premier League [1st division], 2015-16 location-map with: 14/15 attendances, all-time seasons in 1st division + major titles listed./ Plus, a few words about each of the 3 sides promoted for 15/16 (Cherries, Hornets, Canaries).

England: Premier League [1st division], location-map with 14/15 attendances, all-time seasons in 1st division + major titles listed   Links… -Teams, etc…2015–16 Premier League (  -News, fixtures, results, table, etc…Premier League page at BBC. -My fav site for articles on the Premier League, etc…The ( -Table, fixtures, results, stats, etc… -Kits…Barclays Premier League 2015 – 2016 [home, away & alternate kits] (” billsportsmaps

Is it time for Rafinha Alcantara to have his Barcelona moment?

“Following on from Rafinha Alcantara’s goalscoring performance in the Uefa Super Cup final, the 22- year-old will be hoping for and expecting more opportunities in the Barcelona starting 11 this coming season. The final was a feather in the cap of Rafinha as he started such a high profile, important game in a position that is usually taken up by the great Neymar. However, due to the extraordinary condition of mumps that the member of last season’s record breaking forward trio was diagnosed with, Rafinha was somewhat surprisingly called upon to take his place as a left sided attacker alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.” Outside of the Boot

The Crisis of Noncrisis: Petr Cech and the Sorrow of Being an Arsenal Fan

“You know what soccer club isn’t in crisis this week? Arsenal, that’s what. Arsenal’s noncrisis, its state of not being caught in an irrevocable collapse, is the main talking point from the Gunners’ shock 2-0 home loss to West Ham on Sunday in their first game of the Premier League season. A disappointing result? Yes. Bad? Certainly. The sign of a club hurtling over the cliff’s edge toward the purple tentacles thrashing in the churning sea beneath? Not so fast, says the English soccer media.” Grantland – Brian Phillips

A new dawn at Newcastle United?

“The aftermath of a summer, which as Mike Ashley promised, was not devoid of activity at Newcastle United, began on Sunday with a credible two all draw against last season’s surprise package, Southampton. Any residual sympathy for the memory of John Carver and Steve Stone had vanished quickly with an encouraging first half display. New signing Georginio Wijnaldum quickly endeared himself to the fans soon after half time with a quite sensational header. Despite this, new manager, sorry head coach, Steve McClaren seemed to be frantically reaching for the phone at every break in play. Rumours his Geordie accent is already almost as broad of Paul Gascoigne’s have yet to be confirmed.” backpagefootball

NBC Retains Rights to Premier League in Six-Year Deal

“Two years of success broadcasting England’s Premier League proved a basic truth to NBC Sports: It would have to pay a lot more to keep carrying the league’s games. Now it will. Under a six-year agreement announced Monday that starts next season and is worth about $1 billion, NBC retained the rights to the Premier League through the 2021-22 season. NBC will pay steeply more for the package starting next season — the new rights fee basically doubles the annual cost of NBC’s current, three-year $250 million contract — but its willingness to do so was an acknowledgment of how the globally popular league has come to redefine NBC’s sports cable network, NBCSN, and also of the value NBC sees in Americans’ growing appetite for top-shelf European soccer.” NY Times

Live and Kicking: Soccer Games to Watch This Week
“As you settle in for another week of soccer viewing in your comfiest chair, spare a moment to think about the soon-to-be-weary legs of the players at Barcelona, which will soon be the latest victim of the club’s success. The soccer editor Andrew Das tells you what to watch.” NY Times

EPL season preview: Familiar four should compete for 2015-16 title

“The Community Shield is rarely a reliable gauge to anything–as Arsenal proved last season by cruising to a 3-0 win over Manchester City then winning only two of its opening eight games of the season–but what was apparent on Sunday was how many of the doubts that have been expressed about Chelsea’s capacity to retain its title were played out. Jose Mourinho’s side looked sluggish–perhaps simply behind Arsenal in terms of physical preparation, with a view to peaking later in the season and so heading off the spring fatigue it suffered last season–raising key questions about the depth of the squad. Arsenal, meanwhile, was sharp and eager, having apparently carried over the form of the end of last season into the beginning of this (but then again we’ve said that before).” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Always Lucky, Rarely Good: The Manchester United Story

“Manchester United were not a good soccer team last season — and they haven’t been for four or five years running. For a while, that didn’t stop them from winning. The end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure was marked by the outsize performances of under-talented squads, but when he handed the same team over to David Moyes, the magical carriage turned into a seventh-place pumpkin. With Moyes ousted after one season, Louis van Gaal came in, and the great United rebuild began anew under the urgent mandate to return to the top four and Champions League in any way possible. In typical United fashion, they finished fourth, but they did it on the back of results that outstripped the quality of their performances.” Grantland

Here’s how the 2015-16 La Liga season in Spain will pan out

“Season previews are the worst kind of sports content. They’re so lame. They tell you nothing because we know nothing. It’s part of the beauty of sports that we basically don’t know anything going into something. Soccer is especially difficult because the margins of victory are just much thinner, so unlike baseball or basketball, where over time you can make accurate predictions based on statistical models, in soccer you just can’t. But since La Liga is always pretty much the last of the leagues to start and since it’s pretty much been all quiet on the Western front for the past few weeks, we’re going to shove some pukey, cliche’d season preview content down your throats.” Fusion

In European Soccer, Usual Suspects Are Expected to Win

“The European soccer season gets under way in earnest in the days ahead. But as usual, there is something missing: true uncertainty about who will be on top when the season ends. While each of Europe’s top five leagues is made up of as many as 20 teams, only a few rich teams are seen to have a real chance at winning the league title. A look at bookmaker’s odds shows that for the have-nots, the chances of winding up at the top of the table are increasingly close to zero. In this exercise, the chances are calculated by translating odds to percentages — a team that is 2-1 has a 33 percent chance of winning the title, for example, and an 8-1 shot has an 11 percent chance. However you figure it, the deck is stacked against most of the teams in every race.” NY Times

How West Brom secured Salomón Rondón thanks to Vladimir Putin’s protectionism

Salomón Rondón’s move from Zenit St Petersburg to West Bromwich Albion began with a phone call from Tony Pulis to André Villas-Boas asking him if there was any talent in Russia he should be looking at. The Zenit manager replied that because of new restrictions on foreign players – a direct diktat, it is said, from Vladimir Putin, concerned by the national side’s poor performances in qualifying for Euro 2016 – he was having to offload Rondón. The 25-year-old Venezuelan, he believed, would thrive in the Premier League.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson