Tactical review of 2017: Pep Guardiola reasserts his version of post-Cruyffianism

December 29, 2017


“The year ends with Pep Guardiola ascendant, his juego de posición, evolved over time and amended and slightly repackaged for England, cutting a swathe through the Premier League, just as it overwhelmed all in La Liga and the Bundesliga. There will be the usual complaints about how much money has been spent and, more pertinently, about the origin of that money, but English football has never seen anything quite like this. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Alexis stars as Arsenal’s three-man defence excels in win at Palace

December 29, 2017

“Three quick thoughts from Arsenal’s 3-2 Premier League win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Thursday. …” ESPN – Michael Cox


Swapping your soul for a soulless bowl – lamenting the loss of old stadia

December 29, 2017

“My interest in football lessens every time a traditional ground with personality is replaced by a faceless bowl. As Tottenham Hotspur prepare for their first match at Wembley Stadium, I thought as a football fan, I’d express my feelings towards clubs who make the move from their respective grounds. A part of my football soul dies when a club thinks it’s a sensible idea to move from their current ground and replace it with a faceless, uninspiring arena in order to modernise. …” Football Pink


The Barca Way Spreads Far From Catalonia

December 29, 2017


“Everywhere you look, the fingerprints are visible. They are there in those places where the lights shine brightest, and they are there where the lights don’t shine at all. At the summit of the Premier League; among the rich and famous of the Champions League; at suburban schools in the United States; at provincial, second-tier clubs in China; at village teams in Africa: In every corner of the world and at every level of soccer, there are indelible traces of Barcelona. Wherever they are found, they are present for the same reason. Across the planet, the word Barcelona — the idea of Barcelona — has over the last decade come to connote not just success but beauty, too. That has inspired countless clubs, large and small, to try to distill and import the magic, to find someone to sprinkle a little of that stardust on them. …”
NY Times


From Pogba to Mbappe: Why Greater Paris is the world’s top talent pool

December 29, 2017

“PARIS — Nearly a decade ago, Arsene Wenger ranked the Paris region as the second-best talent pool in soccer after Sao Paulo in Brazil. But by now, the French capital surely ranks top. Here are just a few of today’s players raised in Greater Paris: Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, N’Golo Kante, Kingsley Coman, Blaise Matuidi and Kylian Mbappe, plus three other regular Paris Saint-Germain starters, the Algerian internationals Riyad Mahrez and Yacine Brahimi, and various Senegalese and Moroccan internationals who will play at the coming World Cup. In fact, the Ile-de-France (as Greater Paris is known) probably produces more talent than Asia, Africa and North America combined. Why? I ask myself that question every weekend. …” ESPN – Simon Kuper


Tartan trousers on the terrace: Why Scottish football needs to be punk

December 29, 2017

“Football in Scotland has remained a purist’s pursuit, our hallowed grounds are filled with hardened fans. The weather isn’t attractive and neither is the football. So what keeps people going? Pure and simple – it’s the love and passion of the game. The average attendances are high and getting higher, but the quality of football just isn’t improving, if anything, it’s in a decline and the light at the end of the tunnel is farther away than ever, so what’s the problem? The Scottish Premier League exports very few players to foreign leagues. …” Foolball Pink


FIFA’s Dirty Wars

December 21, 2017


“Toward the end of the 2010 World Cup, Julio Grondona made a prediction, or perhaps it was a promise, to a group of journalists in the gilded lobby of Johannesburg’s Michelangelo hotel, the five-star Italian-marble palace where FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, had established its tournament headquarters. Argentina had just been humiliated, 4-0, by the Germans, but Grondona wasn’t worried about the backlash. In 31 years as president of the Argentina’s national soccer association, he’d endured personal scandal, government turmoil, economic collapse, and the ardent passions of the beautiful game’s fans. ‘Todo Pasa,’ read the inscription on his big gold ring. All things pass—all things except, of course, Julio Grondona. ‘No one is kicking me out until I die,’ he told the reporters. …” New Republic


Arsène Wenger’s efforts to counter the counter cause Arsenal confusion

December 21, 2017

“Three weeks ago, before Arsenal lost to Manchester United, Arsène Wenger suggested playing a back three had helped his side combat the counterattack which, of all their many weaknesses over the past decade, has probably been their biggest. It was a claim that prodded interest at the time and has become more intriguing only in the days since. The truth of it will be severely tested on Friday as Arsenal face Liverpool who at the moment are one of the most dangerous counterattacking sides in the world. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 4-1 Tottenham Hotspur | Guardiola extends winning run to 16

December 21, 2017

“Pep Guardiola guided his Manchester City side to their sixteenth consecutive victory in the Premier League with a dominant victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Mauricio Pochettino’s men were seen by many as the league’s best hope of ending City’s dominant run, but Spurs ended up leaving the Etihad Stadium on Saturday on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline, having been totally outclassed across all four phases of the game. …” Outside of the Boot


Milan misery intensifies amid defeats, finance questions and ‘moral violence’

December 21, 2017

“You could not blame Milan fans for enjoying a moment of schadenfreude. They had endured abundant humiliations already this season, from the 4-1 mauling at Lazio through to the last-gasp draw against pointless Benevento. It was time for somebody else to suffer. Better yet that it should be their neighbours, Inter, who had begun the weekend top of the table. …” Guardian


Celtic: Hearts deliver ‘boot up the rear’ to Rodgers’ ‘invincibles’

December 21, 2017


“Had you ventured into the Tynecastle Arms on Saturday night and asked every last Hearts fan in the place for their most optimistic scenario for the meeting with Celtic the day after, the chances are that none of their boozy dreams would have been as big and as fanciful as the trippy reality. Harry Cochrane was 10 years old the last time Hearts beat Celtic. Fellow midfielder Anthony McDonald was 11. For 20 games going back five-and-a-half years, Celtic had lorded it over them to a painful degree. Eighteen victories and two draws; 62 goals scored and nine conceded. …” BBC (Video)


In an Unforgiving Sport, They Minister to Hearts and Souls

December 21, 2017

“The work is done over a quiet cup of coffee, in the privacy of the physiotherapist’s room, or through a brief chat on the touchline after training. It might be no more than a quick text message or email, asking if everything is O.K. It is supposed to take just one day a week, but in reality it means being on call, 24/7, even years after the work has supposedly ended. It is entirely voluntary, and wholly unpaid. It can be sad and troubling: dealing with addictions and pain, fear and death. But it can be joyous, too: helping with births and marriages, healing wounds and building relationships. Most often, though, it is simply being there: a shoulder to cry on and an ear to bend, the one person in the relentless, ruthless environment of professional soccer who is not concerned with how well you are playing or how many goals you have scored. It is why many players, and so many teams, treasure the discreet presence of a club chaplain. …” NY Times


FM18 Project: Scouting Guide

December 21, 2017

“No matter what level you start at on Football Manager 2018, it’s imperative that you get your recruitment right. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that your scouting department is working effectively to provide you with accurate reports on potential targets. Here are a few ways to get the most out of scouting on FM18… Upon joining a new club on FM18 one of your first priorities should be to evaluate the staff you’ve inherited and decide who to keep and who to get rid of. It’s a cruel world, football. …” The Set Pieces


Lokomotiv Moscow on track for unlikely Russian Premier League title

December 21, 2017

“Should Lokomotiv Moscow make good on the lead they have taken into the long Russian winter break then they will be the fourth different Premier League winner in that country in the last four seasons. Russian football might not be of the highest quality, but it’s certainly up there when it comes to intrigue. …” Back Page Football


The Three Epic, Early Champions League Showdowns

December 14, 2017


“The draw for the Champions League round of 16 is set, and even though the first games will not be played for two months, we already know that at least one true European power will be eliminated before the quarterfinals kick off, and a couple more elite clubs could be in trouble. This is because the Champions League draw pitted some of the best teams in the world against each other in early clashes. According to Soccer Power Index, six of the nine best teams to make the knockouts have been drawn against each other. These three matchups — each of which consists of two games, one at each club’s home grounds — should give the Round of 16 a new level of drama. … ” fivethirtyeight, NY Times: Real-P.S.G. and Barcelona-Chelsea in the Champions League, YouTube: The Three Epic, Early Champions League Showdowns


Tottenham’s staying power in question as economic gravity pulls hard

December 14, 2017

“Gravity can be annoyingly persistent. Mauricio Pochettino, as so often, said all the right things after Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 win against Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday. He is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Manchester City. He is ‘positive’. He promised Tottenham will ‘enjoy it’. They will go to the Etihad Stadium to win. Which is all well and good. Perhaps Tottenham will end both Manchester City’s run of 15 successive league wins and their own miserable record in away games against other top-six sides. Perhaps they will, at least temporarily, return a flicker of excitement to a title race that seems all but run. However, there is a lurking sense that none of it really matters. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Liverpool 0 West Brom 0: Jurgen Klopp’s side fire blanks after Dominic Solanke ‘goal’ is cancelled out

December 14, 2017

“The full-time march from the touchline to referee is becoming frustratingly familiar to Jurgen Klopp. If a contentious penalty decision irked him after Sunday’s Merseyside derby, a handball ruling to deny Dominic Solanke his first Liverpool goal left him cursing another home draw. It is difficult to know who had most trepidation at the final whistle at Anfield: referee Paul Tierney as the Liverpool manager sought his attention; or TV interviewers seeking Klopp’s assessment. In fairness to West Bromwich Albion, they were deserving of their point and would have been considered unlucky had Solanke’s 83rd- minute strike stood. …” Telegraph


Ostersunds FK: Rise of Swedish club under English manager Graham Potter

December 14, 2017


“Rewind to July in Istanbul, and a little-known team from Sweden stand on the brink of history as the clock ticks down on the second leg of their Europa League qualifier against Turkish giants Galatasaray. With five minutes remaining, Ostersunds FK chairman Daniel Kindberg rises from his seat and makes his way down the steps of the Turk Telecom Arena to join his players in celebrating a 3-1 aggregate victory – the biggest result in the club’s history. Kindberg knew the players would have to handle the final whistle right, just as they had the 180 minutes of football that preceded it. …” BBC (Video)


Season of instability will tell us a lot more about Zinedine Zidane

December 14, 2017

“Going into Saturday’s clash with Sevilla, Real Madrid had been experiencing their worst La Liga start since 2008. Questions were being asked of Zinedine Zidane. Despite his incredible European and domestic success in the last two years, there are still those who doubt him. And while the 5-0 thrashing dished out to their hapless weekend visitors was a timely reminder of their capabilities, questions remain about the champions and their manager. …” Backpage Football


Bundesliga Fanatic Exclusive Interview with Mainz attacker Pablo de Blasis

December 14, 2017

“The Bundesliga Fanatic recently had the opportunity for an exclusive interview by Abel Meszaros with 1.FSV Mainz 05’s versatile Argentine attacker, Pablo De Blasis, in late November, 2017. Born in La Plata, the 29 year-old began his career with the famed local club Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, the side founded in 1887 that claims to be the oldest footballing club in South America. Pablo is in his fourth season with Die Nullfünfer, and his known for his runs down the sideline, his durability, intensity and enthusiasm, having now featured in 90 Bundesliga matches. …” Bundesliga Fanatic


Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn’t the world copied it?

December 6, 2017


A man receives clean syringes after being given methadone at a clinic in Lisbon.
“When the drugs came, they hit all at once. It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use – bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners – Portugal was in a state of panic. … The crisis began in the south. The 80s were a prosperous time in Olhão, a fishing town 31 miles west of the Spanish border. Coastal waters filled fishermen’s nets from the Gulf of Cádiz to Morocco, tourism was growing, and currency flowed throughout the southern Algarve region. But by the end of the decade, heroin began washing up on Olhão’s shores. Overnight, Pereira’s beloved slice of the Algarve coast became one of the drug capitals of Europe: one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time, but the number was even higher in the south. …” Guardian


Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United | Heavy man orientation and poor spacing

December 6, 2017

“The Gunners vs The Reds. A fixture once regarded as the pinnacle of English football in the mid to late 90s has been relegated to second rate status. The teams were the dominant Premier League sides around the turn of the century but both have dropped off in the last few years. Arsenal started as expected with their now customary 3-4-3 system with Lacazette starting (in a big game finally). Arsenal’s game plan was to play a cautious possession game where they got men forward in limited numbers and hoped to score. …” Outside of the Boot


Nigel Pearson interview: On the challenge at Belgian club OH Leuven

December 6, 2017

“Nigel Pearson is back. On a cold, overcast December morning he supervises OH Leuven’s practice session at a modest training complex enclosed by woodland. The canteen has received a lick of paint and Pearson selects a few photos to dress up this home from home for the manager and his players. A small group of journalists quiz the former Leicester coach about his move to Belgium. He looks content and relaxed, even when the questions become repetitive. Leuven is a provincial town, home to one of Europe’s oldest universities and, perhaps more famously, Stella Artois. …” The Set Pieces


Liga NOS Talents: Beyond The Big Three

December 6, 2017

“When most people think of the Portuguese league, they think about youngsters and exciting, creative players. Overall, I think they’re right: wingers and attacking midfielders are our thing and, whether they are Portuguese or foreigners who came to make the jump, this is very much a hunting ground for the European elite. …”” StatsBomb


Uruguay get the luck of the World Cup draw

December 6, 2017

“Both Brazil and Argentina were hoping that last Friday’s World Cup draw would put them in Group B. From a logistical point of view, it would have been the best bet; not a great deal of travelling during the group phase, and, for the group winner, an entire knock out campaign restricted to Moscow and Sochi – perfect for teams who aim to be based in Sochi (Brazil) and just outside Moscow (Argentina). …” World Soccer – Tim Vickery


Serie A gets a title race but Juventus remain the team to beat

December 6, 2017

“Before last Friday night’s clash with then league leaders Napoli, Massimiliano Allegri had insisted that despite his side being four points off the pace, they were not in trouble. Juventus’ 1-0 win at the Sao Paolo, a ground where they have only won one of their previous 13 fixtures, served to nicely underline the point. Gonzalo Higuain’s 12th minute strike inflicted a first defeat of the season on their flying hosts, indeed their first home defeat since February. …” Back Page


Applause at the Draw, but Will Russia Keep Cheering?

December 3, 2017


“MOSCOW — Half a million fans — by current, suspiciously optimistic, estimates — will descend on Russia next year for what Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, has already decreed will be the ‘best’ World Cup in history. Every single fan, he has decided, will have “an amazing experience.” Billions of dollars have been spent on new, or renovated, stadiums to host the finest players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Friday promised a ‘major sporting festival of friendship and fair play.’ …” NY Times, The Ringer: The Four Must-Watch Games of the 2018 World Cup Group Stages (Video), NY Times – World Cup Draw: Group-by-Group Analysis


Identifying Ligue 1’s Next Breakout Talent: Houssem Aouar

December 3, 2017

“The summer of 2017 was when big named players from Olympique Lyonnais left for greener pastures. Alexandre Lacazette finally made his long-awaited move to Arsenal, Corentin Tolisso left for Bayern Munich, Maxime Gonalons took his talents to Italy and signed for Roma. Even Rachid Ghezzal, a player who was equally as frustrating as he was brilliant, left for Monaco on a free transfer. While it might be a bit much to claim that this was going to be a new era, it was clear that there was a distinctly youthful approach occurring, with the club once again tapping into its famous academy along with the youthful players they bought as replacements for the departed. …” Stats Bomb (Video)


Take It Easy: The Politics of Walking Football

December 3, 2017

“In February this year, the FA released a comprehensive set of rules and regulations – the ‘Laws of the Game’ – centered around the principles of no running, no over head-height kicks, and minimal contact – for Walking Football. First played in 2011 by the Chesterfield FC Community Trust to prevent the social isolation of older men and help them get more exercise, the popularity of the sport took off after a 2014 Barclays TV ad. Today there are nearly a thousand walking football clubs (WFCs) registered in the United Kingdom. A year ago, Chitra Ramaswamy, writing for the Guardian, somewhat prophetically connected the ever-growing sport to the increasing popularity of the ‘slow movement’. …” In Bed With Maradona


Next Generation 2017: 60 of the best young talents in world football

December 3, 2017


“From Vinicius Júnior, who has already signed for Real Madrid, to ‘the Romanian Donnarumma’ the Guardian identifies 60 of the best players in the world born in 2000. Check the progress of our 2016 class | 2015 | 2014 … and check out our Next Generation 2017 picks for the Premier League …” Guardian


Copa Libertadores 2017: Classy Gremio Worthy Winners

December 3, 2017

“With the first half of the decisive Libertadores final second leg drawing to a close, Gremio’s excellent Luan produced a moment worth of winning any competition. The 24-year-old support striker found space on the left and drifted in-field towards a retreating and uncharacteristically ragged Lanus backline, before effortlessly waltzing past a couple of defenders and exquisitely dinking the ball over Esteban Andrada to make it 2-0 on the night and three ahead on aggregate. …” Outside of the Boot


Arsenal served up familiar mistakes and Jose Mourinho ensured Manchester United were waiting for them

December 3, 2017

“Arsenal are never as vulnerable as when they’re optimistic. Three wins in a row and no goals conceded, added to Tottenham’s recent woes, had nudged the Arsene Wenger crisis-o-meter away from ‘must go’ towards ‘may have another campaign in him’ but whatever hope may have been beginning to kindle within the Emirates were brutally stamped out within 11 minutes. What makes it worse is that it was all so familiar as Arsenal’s Jonah Complex struck again. …” Independent – Jonathan Wilson (Video)