Mourinho, Benítez and the Pursuit of the Past

January 22, 2022


“In the sudden flood of spare time he had after departing Manchester United, José Mourinho filmed a commercial for a bookmaker. A couple of years and a couple of jobs on, it is still running on British television. It still works, after all. Mourinho is still a household name in Britain. The ad’s central concept holds up. Mourinho’s acting might be just a little hammy — as you might expect — but it is quite deft, too. Looking as tanned and healthy and relaxed as we all did in 2019, he earnestly walks viewers through what it takes to be ‘special.’ The joke is that he should know: He is the Special One, after all. Get it? …”
NY Times


When Two Champions Leagues Titles in Eight Months Don’t Count

January 17, 2022



“Pitso Mosimane has done enough winning in the last year, plus change, to talk about nothing else. In November 2020, only three months after he was appointed manager of the Egyptian club Al Ahly, he won the African Champions League title. He did so by beating Zamalek, Al Ahly’s fiercest rival. The final was cast as the derby of the century. Nobody in Egypt thought it was an exaggeration. Eight months later, he repeated the trick. The calendar contracted and concentrated by the pandemic, Al Ahly returned to the Champions League final in July to face Kaizer Chiefs, the team Mosimane had supported as a child in South Africa. He won again. He was showered with golden ticker tape on the field, then presented with bouquets of roses by government grandees when he returned to Cairo. …”
NY Times


Conor Gallagher is a throwback to old-fashioned No 8s – and that could be what England are missing

January 12, 2022


“At a time when the England national side is blessed with several quality attacking midfielders excelling for clubs in the Champions League, Conor Gallagher probably isn’t the best of the bunch. He is, however, surely the most typically English. Gallagher has been the standout player for a rejuvenated Crystal Palace side, featured in many people’s select XI from the first half of the Premier League season, and has been one of the revelations of the season for Fantasy Football players. Palace fans want him to stay, Chelsea fans would like him to return from his loan, and England supporters were delighted to see him make his international debut in November against San Marino. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox


UEFA Champions League round of 16 classics

January 8, 2022


“Taking in José Mourinho’s touchline charge, La Remontada and plenty more besides, UEFA.com picks out a classic last-16 tie from each of the last 18 seasons. The 2021/22 UEFA Champions League is the 19th edition since the knockout round of 16 replaced the second group stage. UEFA.com picks out a classic tie from each of the past 18 seasons – all headline scores are aggregate. …”
UEFA (Video)


The Premier League Chose Festive Fixtures Over Safe Fixtures

December 23, 2021


“So, things are a bit of a mess in the Premier League: On Monday, Tottenham were bounced from the Europa Conference League by the governing body itself, UEFA, which awarded a 3-0 win to French side Rennes in the final game of the group phase. The match was supposed to be played on December 9, but a COVID outbreak among Tottenham’s players and coaching staff forced Spurs to postpone—the team’s third such postponement in just over a week. …”
The Ringer


WTF is Group G?

December 14, 2021


“… Needless to say, there was plenty more where that came from. Rightly or wrongly, the prospect of Lille, Sevilla, Red Bull Salzburg and Wolfsburg going head to head over the next four months was not exactly setting pulses racing. For The Athletic, that was only ever going to mean one thing: watching every minute of every Group G match. If you thought that would be a slog, prepare to be disappointed. Two Champions League records were set inside the first 45 minutes of the opening game, a Bulgarian referee made the worst penalty decision in living memory, a manager was sacked, a 28-match unbeaten run came to an end and a teenage striker showed why he is on the radar of every top club in Europe. …”
The Athletic


What Do We Mean by Good Soccer?

December 11, 2021



“Jesse Lingard was streaking away, the ball at his feet, on the right wing. Their legs weary and their hopes dwindling, Arsenal’s defenders heaved and hauled to keep up with him, as if they were running into a stiff wind. And on the other side of the field, Cristiano Ronaldo started to sprint. It was a true sprint, too, a track sprint, a coached sprint: starting in a low crouch, his back straightening as he reached full tilt, head held high, arms pumping. The clock had just ticked past 90 minutes, but there seemed to be a magnet drawing Ronaldo to Arsenal’s penalty area, some elemental force. …”
NY Times


The Data Day No 15: Our Rolling Football Blog

December 10, 2021


December 9: Villarreal qualified for this season’s Champions League despite not finishing in the top six of La Liga, the cutoff for traditional Europa League qualification. They did so by beating Manchester United in the Europa League final. And although they couldn’t chase down United to win Group F on Thursday, they did more than they needed to in Bergamo to carry on to the Champions League last 16 despite sitting 13th in La Liga. …”
The Analyst
SI: Champions League Group Ouster Is Barcelona’s New Bottom – Jonathan Wilson


Christian Streich – SC Freiburg – Tactical Analysis (2021-22 Edition)

December 10, 2021


“After back to back top ten finishes, SC Freiburg are now flying high toward a Champions League position in the German Bundesliga. Christian Streich’s team have played some fantastic high pressing, high tempo football, beating some of the best teams in the league without any genuine stars in their side. So following up from our tactical analysis of the team last season, we take a look at how Christian Streich has revolutionized Freiburg in 2021-22. …”
The Mastermindsite


Zenit St Petersburg’s Ozdoev strikes late to deprive Chelsea of top spot

December 9, 2021


“Once again Thomas Tuchel was left to reflect on Chelsea’s inability to take care of the small details. The European champions are not playing with the right attitude at the moment and although they almost got away with it this time it was not a surprise when they ended up relinquishing top spot in Group H to Juventus after this chaotic draw with Zenit St Petersburg. …”
Guardian
Guardian – Champions League roundup: Atalanta v Villarreal snowed off; Juve top Group H
YouTube: Zenit St Petersburg vs. Chelsea: Extended Highlights | Group Stage


Who owns Barcelona?

December 8, 2021


“Barcelona, unlike their Champions League rivals, are not privately owned and cannot attract private investment. They are owned by their fans – known as members or socios. What are socios? Who makes the decisions at Barcelona? Why has this type of ownership led to their current financial predicament? Written by Alex Stewart. Illustrated by Philippe Fenner.”
YouTube (Video)


How Barcelona lost their soul

October 31, 2021


“‘This won’t last forever,’ Pep Guardiola said during his final season as coach of Barcelona’s first team in 2012. ‘Sooner or later, we will stop winning. Then is when we will have to see if we have faith in the way we are and the way we play.’ Barcelona had grown used to winning at that point — during Guardiola’s four years as coach they lifted 14 of the 18 trophies available, including two Champions Leagues and three La Liga titles. Everyone around the club was also proud of achieving such success with a team based around homegrown youth products, while playing an attractive style of football they believed was rooted firmly in their club’s unique ‘Barca DNA’.  Almost a decade later, it is fair to say that Barcelona have stopped winning. …”
The Athletic (Video)


Why Can’t Man City Fill Their Stadium?

October 29, 2021


“Following the high octane clash between Man City and RB Leipzig in the Champions League that ended with 9 goals, Pep Guardiola called out the fans for their lack of attendance. And there were a lot of empty seats, but why? Written by Seb Stafford-Bloor, illustrated by Marco Bevilacqua. …”
YouTube


Manchester United’s Perfect Feedback Loop

October 22, 2021


“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the mood to play the hits. Manchester United’s most ardent fans, he said, were ‘the best in the world.’ The players who had the privilege to wear the team’s colors were the ‘luckiest’ on the planet. And, of course, there was the inevitable nod to history, to the club’s ‘habit’ of clawing victory from the maw of defeat. Solskjaer was glowing, and with good reason. United had just given Atalanta a two-goal head start in the Champions League and recovered to win regardless. Cristiano Ronaldo had delivered, yet again. United had been at the bottom of its group at halftime, flirting with elimination, but now it sat comfortably at the top. The fans sang Solskjaer’s name as he gave his postmatch television interviews. …”
NY Times


Xavi, Pirlo Or Conte? Who’s The Right Manager For Barcelona As Koeman Nears Exit?

October 1, 2021


“It was predictable. After the summer shambles and behind the scenes chaos that unfolded at the Camp Nou, Ronald Koeman’s position has constantly seemed under threat and now after a Champions League hammering at the hands of Benfica, it appears he will leave the club. His brief spell at Barca saw them win the Copa del Rey last year and finish third in La Liga, but without Lionel Messi and co, they have found life more difficult. Their Champions League campaign has consisted of two 3-0 defeats and although they are still unbeaten in the league, three draws against the likes of Cadiz and Granada have left fans frustrated. So with Koeman’s departure all but sealed, which candidates can lead the club through this rebuild? …”
The Sportsman


Chelsea’s loss at Juve illustrates the challenges Tuchel faces in fighting for titles domestically and abroad

September 30, 2021


Leonardo Bonucci in action for Juventus against Sampdoria.
“Thomas Tuchel probably didn’t need a reminder of the difficulty in competing on two fronts this season, but Manchester City and now Juventus have given him just that in the space of five days. The chaotic circumstances surrounding his arrival at Stamford Bridge in January — replacing fan favourite Frank Lampard and thrust straight into a condensed schedule made more unrelenting by COVID-19’s impact — created a degree of breathing space in the Premier League that helped propel them to Champions League glory. Tuchel was of course under a degree of pressure to secure a top-four spot last term, but he harnessed that rarest of things under owner Roman Abramovich — a sense of freedom arising from lowered expectations — to galvanise this group to an improbable European success. The dynamic is different this time. …”
ESPN
Guardian: Tuchel and Chelsea are failing to capitalise on Lukaku’s specific threat
YouTube: Juventus vs. Chelsea: Extended Highlights, Bayern München vs. Dynamo Kyiv: Extended Highlights, Zenit vs. Malmö: Extended Highlights, Atalanta vs. Young Boys: Extended Highlights, Benfica vs. Barcelona: Extended Highlights, Wolfsburg vs. Sevilla: Extended Highlights


In One Moment, Messi and P.S.G. Make It All Work

September 30, 2021


“Lionel Messi picked the ball up in that spot, the one that has served as the starting point for so many of his finest moments, the one that he knows so well that it might as well be his spot. It has, for 15 years, been his base camp, his happy place: a few yards inside from the right touchline, a few yards from halfway. He was standing still as he controlled it. He had been standing still for some time, by that stage. Paris St.-Germain had taken an early lead, through Idrissa Gueye, and had spent most of the rest of the game desperately trying to fend off Manchester City’s unrelenting attacks. …”
NY Times


Champions League roundup: Sheriff Tiraspol shock Real Madrid

September 28, 2021


Sheriff Tiraspol shock Real Madrid
“The Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win away against Real Madrid in the Champions League, snatching a shock victory thanks to a sensational 89th-minute strike from Sebastien Thill. The competition debutants Sheriff went ahead against the 13-time European champions in the 25th minute with a header from the Uzbek midfielder Jasurbek Yakhshiboev, who narrowly missed a chance to double the visitors’ lead later in the first half. …”
Guardian
YouTube: Real Madrid vs. Sheriff: Extended Highlights, AC Milan vs. Atlético Madrid: Extended Highlights, Porto vs. Liverpool: Extended Highlights, RB Leipzig vs. Club Brugge: Extended Highlights, PSG vs. Man. City: Extended Highlights, Dortmund vs. Sporting: Extended Highlights


Analysed: Are Barcelona the new Stoke or are Stoke the new Barcelona?

September 25, 2021


“It’s fair to say that the atmosphere at Barcelona is not exactly rosy at the moment. The off-field chaos is impossible to ignore, with debts of over €1.2 billion meaning one of the world game’s most famous clubs faces the very real prospect of bankruptcy. Of course, such huge financial difficulties have spilt onto the pitch, with Barcelona forced to offload some of their most prized assets — including Lionel Messi, the best player in their history (which is saying something when Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff have also worn their colours). This was always going to lead to a drop-off in quality in Barcelona’s performances on the pitch, but the fans still expect more than they’re getting. …”
The Athletic (Video)
Barcelona’s 54 crosses in one dreadful game – how Koeman’s side are ‘playing like Stoke City’


Tactical Analysis: Manchester City’s Underlaps

September 22, 2021


“Adherents to the rather loaded term of positional play perceive football to be a game of dynamic spatial occupation. Subsequently, players will move in relation to the ball carrier and their supporting teammates. These reference points mean movements carry implications when working under a 5/7 zone structure which provides the framework for optimal creation of passing angles and maintenance of connections. Movement and subsequent vacation of space sends a signal to rotate, typically on the horizontal axis. …”
Running the Show


2021–22 UEFA Champions League

September 22, 2021


“The 2021–22 UEFA Champions League is the 67th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organised by UEFA, and the 30th season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to the UEFA Champions League. The final will be played at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was originally scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. However, due to the postponement and relocation of the 2020 final, the final hosts were shifted back a year, with Saint Petersburg instead hosting the 2022 final. The winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Champions League will automatically qualify for the 2022–23 UEFA Champions League group stage, and also earn the right to play against the winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Europa League in the 2022 UEFA Super Cup. …”
W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League, W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League group stage
Guardian – Champions League 2021-22 draw: group stage analysis and predictions


Eredivisie Overture: Part One

September 20, 2021


PEC Zwolle vs. Feyenoord in happier, safer times. 16 February 2020
“The Dutch are a society littered with contradictions. Rising waters threaten a country largely below sea level, but it was Amsterdam that served as a breeding ground for the very capitalism which constructed our climate crisis. Nationalism inherent in the Dutch psyche sees Germany as an ‘other’ when in reality the relationship between the two countries is as close as any. The Netherlands became famous in the football world for a revolutionary change in the perception of the game. Today, however, their current state of football is defined in many ways by conservatism. It’s not unlike a nation-state to find itself drowning in its own conflict. …”
Football Paradise


Liverpool have enjoyed a more iconic fightback against AC Milan – but this was still immensely satisfying

September 20, 2021


“If there is one nagging concern about Liverpool’s ability to compete for the biggest prizes this season, it surrounds the depth of Jurgen Klopp’s squad compared to those of their rivals. It’s a lively topic brought into sharp focus by a quiet end to the transfer window and the subsequent loss of Harvey Elliott for most of the season with a serious ankle injury in last weekend’s win over Leeds. Klopp has a star-studded starting XI capable of beating anyone but does he really have enough in reserve to be able to handle the challenges ahead? Will Liverpool pay the price for not splashing the cash this summer? A thrilling 3-2 victory over AC Milan in their Champions League opener at Anfield last night added weight to the Liverpool manager’s bullish claims that he’s got what he needs. Tougher tests lie ahead but this was a productive evening for some of those on the fringes. …”
The Athletic, W – Jürgen Klopp
Liverpool floored by Elliott injury but Klopp will not let negativity creep in, W – Harvey Elliott
Sadio Mane’s Liverpool century (Video), W – Sadio Mané
Loris Karius: Dogged by misfortune or his own worst enemy?, W – Loris Karius
YouTube: Is Trent Alexander-Arnold A Midfielder?, W – Trent Alexander-Arnold


Shearer meets Carroll: ‘I thought I would finish my career at Newcastle. I’ve still got so much to give’

September 18, 2021


“The first time Andy Carroll left Newcastle United, he was flown to Liverpool in Mike Ashley’s helicopter. Funny what a £35 million transfer fee can get you. The second time was a bit of a contrast; no announcement from his hometown club, no chance to say goodbye or empty his locker at the training ground and definitely no helicopter. Just a contract tailing off and a cold, familiar silence. Andy isn’t bitter. Football rolls on, a hype-powered juggernaut, and the big man wants to roll with it. At 32, he doesn’t have a club currently, but he is keeping himself fit, training every day and waiting for a chance. …”
The Athletic


When a Fairy Tale Is Disputed Territory

September 16, 2021


“Edmund Addo sank into child’s pose in the middle of the field, his forehead touching the turf, his arms outstretched in front of him, a gesture of supplication and thanks. About 60 yards away, euphoria had overwhelmed his teammate Giorgos Athanasiadis, his legs buckling as two colleagues tried to help him to stand. Their coach, Yuriy Vernydub, danced on the touchline. They were all relatively recent arrivals to Sheriff Tiraspol: Addo, a Ghanaian midfielder, and the Greek goalkeeper Athanasiadis had joined this summer; Vernydub predated them only by a year. Still, though, they knew what this meant to their team, which had been waiting for this moment for two decades. …”
NY Times
Sheriff Tiraspol: Who are the Moldovan minnows making their Champions League debut?
W – FC Sheriff Tiraspol
YouTube: The Football Club Without A Country: The Story of Sheriff Tiraspol


2021-22 UEFA Champions League Group Stage

September 11, 2021


The map is a standard location-map showing the locations of the 32 qualified teams in the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League Group Stage. There are several other aspects to the map page… 1). Groups A through H… At the very top of the map are the eight 4-team groups of the Group Stage, arranged with with each club’s home-country flag shown alongside. 2). Allocations vs. Qualified teams, by country… At the left side of the map page, Allocations (by member-nations) are shown, via a list of the top 41 UEFA Member-Associations in their current [2021-22] Country Co-efficient ranking. I stopped at 41 (out of the 55 total UEFA member-nations) because #41 is the current ranking of Moldova, and Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova was the club from the lowest-ranked country to qualify for this season’s tournament. This is the first time a club from Moldova has qualified for the elite competition that is the Champions League. But it is not really any sort of fairy-tale story of a David making it into the realm of the Goliaths. …”
billsportsmaps


A World Cup Every Two Years? Why?

September 10, 2021



“This is soccer’s age of the Big Idea. There is an incessant, unrelenting flow of Big Ideas, ones of such scale and scope that they have to be capitalized, from all corners of the game: from individuals and groups, from clubs and from leagues, from the back of cigarette packets and from all manner of crumpled napkins. The Video Assistant Referee system was a Big Idea. Expanding the World Cup to 48 teams was a Big Idea. Project Big Picture, the plan to redraw how the Premier League worked, was a Big Idea. The Super League was the Biggest Idea of them all — perhaps, in hindsight, it was, in fact, too Big an Idea — an Idea so Big that it could generate, in the brief idealism of its backlash, more Big Ideas still, as the death of a star sends matter hurtling all across the galaxy. …”
NY Times


Fans don’t want legacy clubs dominating or state-funded clubs, so can football ever be happy?

September 4, 2021


“OK, so let me get this straight. We don’t want blue-blood clubs, like Liverpool and Manchester United, dominating for decades at a time and we are deeply suspicious of how enthusiastically these aristocrats embraced financial fair play (aka, Operation Drawbridge). When it comes to winners, we want to spread it around a bit — we like disruption. But we do not want these new challengers to be funded by oligarchs or sovereign wealth funds — unless it is our club, then it is completely fine — and we are not too keen on American investors coming over here and expecting to make some money. Is that right? If it is, many of you are going to be disappointed. But you will not be the only ones. …”
The Athletic


Case for the Planet: Football Needs to Think

September 3, 2021


“By any football club’s standards, 2020 was a catastrophic year. Pandemic-driven shortfalls caused by the absence of fans has left clubs across Europe cash-strapped. The continent’s superclubs are no exception. Last month, The Financial Times reported that Inter Milan are rushing to raise $200m in emergency funds to cope with a €102m loss last season. In Catalonia, the world’s highest earning club are in crisis, off-loading players and staff to mitigate the effects of amassing debt and an income shortfall of over €200m for the 2019-20 season. …”
Football Paradise


Why this season’s Champions League draw should see more glamour ties than usual

August 28, 2021


“The frantic pace of the football calendar means one can often overlook particular checkpoints until they have arrived. … Marc Albrighton is still somehow only 31 years old. These are all things that slip out of the back of our footballing minds, only to swing back into view during quiet moments when we finally get to have a cup of tea and go over the facts at a more sedate pace. … Six more places in the competition’s group stages will be decided this week but, of the 26 sides that we know will feature in Thursday’s group draw, there will be some difficult challenges ahead. Here’s The Athletic’s guide to how it all works. …”
The Athletic
Champions League Narratives: Looking at the major talking points from the group stage draw


Chelsea Tactical Analysis: Thomas Tuchel vs Previous Managers

July 25, 2021


“Thomas Tuchel’s entry into the Premier League as Frank Lampard’s replacement is seen with a lot of hope by the Chelsea faithful. Tuchel is a coach who has proven himself at the highest level and has managed the very best in the business over his last four stints. The German manager is an out-and-out football coach and he works quite intricately with the teams he has managed and the personnel he has worked with. … Antonio Conte would deploy a three-man defense with two wide centre-backs. The wing-backs would shuttle up and down the flanks. They’d join in attack and that’s why Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses were a hit under the Italian’s tutelage. Now, Tuchel has taken a bit of both worlds and fused them together into a system that has worked like a charm so far. …”
sportskeeda (Feb 2021)
YouTube: The Difference Between Tuchel & Conte’s 3-4-3 | Tuchel’s Tactics vs Conte’s Tactics (July 2021)
W – Thomas Tuchel, W – Antonio Conte
Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea – Tactical Analysis (March 2021)
Kante’s renaissance: How Tuchel restored him to role he starred in under Ranieri and Conte (May 2021)


The Super League Thought It Had a Silent Partner: FIFA

May 22, 2021


“Tucked away in the pages and pages of financial and legal jargon that constitute the founding contract of the Super League, the failed project that last month briefly threatened the century-old structures and economics of European soccer, were references to one ‘essential’ requirement. The condition was deemed so important that organizers agreed that the breakaway plan could not succeed without satisfying it and yet was so secret that it was given a code name even in contracts shared among the founders. Those documents, copies of which were reviewed by The New York Times, refer to the need for the Super League founders to strike an agreement with an entity obliquely labeled W01 but easily identifiable as FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. …” NY Times


Money, Power, and Respect at the Champions League Final

May 10, 2021


“The grand spectacle is almost upon us. Real Madrid, the great but ancient empire of European soccer, have been swept aside for now; Paris Saint-Germain, the fast-rising upstart, have faltered in their ascent. As Chelsea and Manchester City, their respective conquerors, prepare to contest the third men’s UEFA Champions League final between two English teams, there is a sense that they are announcing another next great rivalry. … Now, Foden has been coached by Pep Guardiola for only a few seasons. Yet he is such an accurate embodiment of the Spaniard’s footballing philosophy—tactically versatile, endlessly fluid in his movement—that he seems to have been working with him since he was able to walk. … Both should be leading figures for their club for several seasons to come. …” The Ringer (Audio)


Europe Plunders Paris for Talent, and P.S.G. Pays the Price

April 7, 2021



“Paris St.-Germain could not, in the end, have sped Tanguy Nianzou along much quicker than it did. He was captain of the club’s under-19 side when he was only 16. He was called up to the first team at 17, training alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and the rest, and soon made his debut. He even started a game in the Champions League. And still, despite all those opportunities, he left. Nianzou had just turned 18 when, on July 1 last year, he was presented as a Bayern Munich player. P.S.G. did not even have the solace of being able to pocket a premium fee for a player it had nurtured. Nianzou’s contract was expiring. He walked out of his hometown club for nothing. …” NY Times


Yuri Semin: the man who can’t say no when Lokomotiv Moscow call

October 5, 2018


“Never go back, they say, but Yuri Semin has never been somebody to place too much store by conventional wisdom. He is 71 now, his eyes more watery than ever, and this is his fourth stint in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow. In total, he’s managed them for more than two decades. To a large extent, Semin is the club and that they are playing Schalke in the Champions League on Wednesday is to a large degree down to him.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Bayern Are Fine, but the Bundesliga May Not Be

October 5, 2018

“The problem with Bayern Munich is that they’re too good. That’s why the specific problem is that the team has now gone three games in a row without winning, including a shocking 2-0 defeat away to Hertha Berlin is a problem at all. Those three matches (one in the Champions League and two at home domestically) mean that Bayern, for the time being have dropped out of first place. Cue the crisis debate.” StatsBomb


Champions League: Neymar’s Hat Trick Powers P.S.G. in Rout

October 5, 2018


“Paris St.-Germain’s attack overwhelmed Red Star Belgrade, 6-1, in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Neymar scoring a hat trick that included two brilliant free kicks. P.S.G. Coach Thomas Tuchel went with his strongest lineup up front, with Neymar, the World Cup star Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di María. They all scored in the first half except for Mbappé, who had to wait until the 70th minute for his goal, created with some more deft footwork by Neymar.” NY Times


France may have conquered the world but PSG find Europe a little harder

September 16, 2018

“What jolly scenes those were in the Stade de France last week as Les Bleus’ World Cup-winning squad and 80,000 fans serenaded N’Golo Kanté, football’s most self-effacing superstar and, apparently, its most adorable card cheat. Yes, it’s been all whoops and giggles in France since Didier Deschamps’ team added a second gold star to the nation’s shirt this summer. But the return of the Champions League this week is a reminder of a sorrier facet of the country’s football history – its incorrigible haplessness in European club competition.” Guardian


Champions League group-by-group guide: English quartet well placed

September 4, 2018

“Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs should squeeze through tricky groups while Manchester City’s task looks relatively straightforward” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Liverpool: Why Trent Alexander-Arnold can back up the hype

August 22, 2018

“A Champions League final and a World Cup appearance at 19 years old – Trent Alexander-Arnold is doing big things at a young age. So what is it about the Liverpool teenager that has got everyone excited? The boy who grew up just minutes away from Liverpool’s training ground and has been at the club since the age of six has already made 47 first-team appearances, as well as representing England at every age group from under-16s upwards.” BBC


Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool: freak goals hand Real their third straight European Cup

May 29, 2018

“Two crazy goalkeeping mistakes and an all-time great goal from substitute Gareth Bale earned Zinedine Zidane his third European Cup in three attempts. Zidane decided to use his diamond midfield here, meaning Isco started instead of Bale, with Karim Benzema leading the line. Jurgen Klopp’s side was as expected – injury problems meant he didn’t really have any selection dilemmas. …” Zonal Marking – Michael Cox


Real Madrid’s Champions League Triumph Defined By Bale’s Heroics, Salah’s Injury

May 27, 2018


“KIEV, Ukraine – The decisive goal, scored with a Gareth Bale overhead kick moments after he had come off the bench, was brilliant, and the two Loris Karius mistakes that gifted Madrid goals either side of that were ghastly. But there was no doubting what had been the decisive moment as Real Madrid won its third European title in a row and its fourth in five years with a 3-1 triumph over Liverpool. As Keylor Navas went to take a goal kick, Mohamed Salah slowly subsided, sinking with a desperate sadness to the ground. It looked bad, and confirmation soon followed from Liverpool’s medical staff. He had not recovered from an injury suffered a couple of minutes earlier and his final was over after just half an hour. As Salah walked off, his face crumpled in tears, his right arm hanging awkwardly limp, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos both consoled him, but the truth is his departure had been Ramos’s fault. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson


Zinedine Zidane Has the Wins at Real Madrid. Where Is the Praise?

April 29, 2018


“MUNICH — Unlikely as it seems, it may be time to consider the distinct possibility that Zinedine Zidane — winner of the Champions League in each of his first two seasons as a manager, and now on the brink of guiding Real Madrid to the competition’s final for a third year in a row — may be quite a good coach. That his brief managerial career has thus far delivered eight trophies in not quite 30 months should have made that perfectly obvious, of course; by this stage, the fact that he could steer his team to a 2-1 victory at Bayern Munich in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal should barely be worthy of note. Zidane the coach, not unlike Zidane the player, has known nothing but success. …” NY Times


Mohamad Salah Stands Tall, but Liverpool Cracks Door for Roma

April 29, 2018

“LIVERPOOL, England — Of all the teams Mohamed Salah has claimed as his victims this season, of all the defenses Liverpool’s irrepressible striker has shredded, A.S. Roma had a head start. After all, Salah spent two years in the Italian capital before moving to England. He trained alongside Roma’s defenders every day, played alongside them every week. When they came face to face with Salah in the first leg of a Champions League semifinal at Anfield on Tuesday night, they would know all of his tics and his tells, his flaws and his foibles. …” NY Times


Roma send Barcelona out of Champions League: ‘Debacle’, ‘ridicule’, ‘fall of an empire’

April 13, 2018

“There is certainly a consensus among the Spanish media: Barcelona got what they deserved in Rome on Tuesday night, suffering elimination from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for the third consecutive season after an abject performance. Having a 4-1 first-leg lead overturned by a Roma team 21 points off the pace in Serie A was the last thing Barca expected, and it will take a while for reality to sink in as the Catalan giants come to terms with one of the most shocking results in the club’s recent history. …” BBC


Bayern: The Invisible Giants

April 13, 2018

“Sports Burst knows exactly how it feels to be overlooked, ignored and underappreciated for its greatness. After all, it looks at its readership stats every day. Basically, the column is Bayern Munich this week. While the world was clucking and fretting over the demise of Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus in the Champions League and oozing over Liverpool and Real Madrid, the Germans did their thang by qualifying for the final four of Europe’s top club competition, without anyone really noticing. …” BeinSports (Video)


Juventus’ Near Miracle Against Real Madrid Ends in Controversy

April 13, 2018

“MADRID — Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus’s veteran goalkeeper, has lived through all the highs and lows of soccer, from winning the World Cup with Italy to getting relegated with his club because of a match-fixing scandal. But even by such standards, his exit from the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night will rank as one the most dramatic events in his career. In the dying moments of the game, Buffon was shown a red card for angrily protesting a penalty that allowed Real Madrid to advance to the semifinals of the competition. …” NY Times


Cenk Tosun On Eating Scouse, Everton Fans & The Liverpool Derby

April 6, 2018

“Cenk Tosun left the club he grew up supporting as a kid for Everton in January. Tosun parted ways with Besiktas after winning back to back league titles. The striker helped guide the Black Eagles to finish the Champions League group stage as undefeated leaders but turned down the chance to take on Bayern Munich in the Last 16 for an adventure in Merseyside. …” Turkish Football


Liverpool’s stunning first-half salvo leaves Manchester City’s hopes on rocks

April 5, 2018


“For Liverpool it was one of those nights when perhaps they reminded themselves why the banners fluttering on the Kop included one carrying the message ‘European royalty’. All three of their goals were scored at that end. They swept Manchester City away during a first-half blitz and will go into the second leg in such a position of strength it is difficult to see how Pep Guardiola’s side can possibly save themselves. …” Guardian


Are Ticket Prices Ruining The Champions League?

April 5, 2018

“Football fans are increasingly marginalised by the modern game. Most recently, a spike in ticket prices for European fixtures has made the headlines. We went out to Bayern – Besiktas and Sevilla – Manchester United to see how fans feel ripped off by the prices of Champions League games, and see what they want UEFA to do about it.” YouTube: Are Ticket Prices Ruining The Champions League?


Barcelona’s Piqué and Suárez rub it in after Roma’s own-goal gifts

April 5, 2018

“Roma scored three at the Camp Nou but their chances of reaching a first Champions League semi-final since 1984 are slim. This time it was not Lionel Messi who scored and while Luis Suárez ended his year-long wait for a Champions League goal, it was two own goals that set Barcelona on course for a first-leg victory. …” Guardian


Champions League quarter-finals: tie-by-tie analysis

March 18, 2018


“We run the rule over the last-eight matches, including the all-Premier League duel between Liverpool and Manchester City, and predict who will triumph …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The Inverted Sheepdog

February 27, 2018

“I’m standing just outside the Barcelona dressing-room door at Wembley, about an hour after Manchester United have been defeated 3-1 in the 2011 Champions League final. The dancing, singing and beer-drinking in the Catalan dressing-room have only just died down. I’ve been charged with interviewing two of the winning players, with the trophy, for the final Champions League Weekly television programme of the season and there is a desperate need for a player to emerge from the fiesta. Getting them agree to the damn request is another thing again. …” The Blizzard (2012)


Disjointed, vulnerable and slow: Barça exposed by Chelsea’s tactical rigour

February 22, 2018

“The first leg, you suspect, went just as Antonio Conte would have wanted it to go – apart from the bit about not playing a square ball across your penalty area to Andrés Iniesta with 15 minutes of a Champions League match remaining. But that is the problem with great tactical plans: they always rely, ultimately, on that most fallible of species: humans. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The ‘Two Worlds’ of the Champions League Keep Drifting Apart

February 22, 2018


Sadio Mané and Liverpool put five goals past F.C. Porto last week.
“As he readied his players to face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League last week, F.C. Basel Coach Raphaël Wicky realized he had a problem. Ordinarily, Wicky would dedicate one training session shortly before a game to a shadow match: On one side, his likely starting team, and on the other, 11 squad members slotted in to simulate Basel’s forthcoming opponent. They would line up in the same system, adopt the same style, play in the same patterns. The aim of the exercise is to familiarize the first team with the challenge that lies in wait. …” NY Times


Arsenal Is in Crisis, but a Signing Changes the Mood

February 4, 2018

“On Tuesday evening, Arsenal suffered another one of those indignities that tend to pockmark its seasons. This time, the humiliation came in the driving rain of South Wales and at the hands of Swansea City: facing a team at the bottom of the Premier League table, Arsenal dominated the game, monopolized possession and then went and lost anyway, 3-1. For Arsenal’s fans, these defeats have become wearily familiar in the last decade or so, as Arsène Wenger’s two-decade reign at the club has drifted into a sort of managed decline. They have turned Arsenal into a place hard-wired to treat every disappointment as an existential crisis. …” NY Times


Cristiano Ronaldo Is Human After All

January 22, 2018


“We’re doing this again, huh? Last summer, Cristiano Ronaldo began to walk toward the exit of the Santiago Bernabéu. He even turned the door handle—only to, and I’m guessing here, realize that, along with the value of the British pound, his scoring rate was about to plummet. Brexit has consequences, and so does trading Marcelo for Ashley Young. Although Spanish authorities dogged him for the (reported) €14.8 million he hid in a shell company in the British Virgin Islands, he eventually came back to Spain after a summer vacation ready to … uh, oh boy. …” The Ringer


Spontaneity and excitement are being eroded in increasingly Big Six-dominated Premier League

January 19, 2018

“When Leicester City won the Premier League two years ago it felt like a watershed moment. In a division where the gulf between the haves and have-nots had never been greater, the 5,000/1 outsiders Leicester had pulled off arguably the greatest ever upset in English football history. …” Telegraph


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


Tactical Analysis: Barcelona 2-1 Sevilla | Barca’s diamond-esque shape hands them victory

November 21, 2017

“Despite being written off by many this season after the loss of Neymar and rivals Real Madrid’s dominance last season, Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona side came into this game at home to Champions League chasing Sevilla in inspired form. 9 wins from their opening 10 games and Lionel Messi in the form of his life had shut up many critics as they cruised towards their 3rd league title in 4 years with a 4 point lead over 2nd place Valencia and 8 points over bookies’ title favourites Real Madrid in 3rd. …” Outside of the Boot