“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
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
“A COFFIN STOOD stiff and isolated in the bowels of the Nou Camp as 11 Irishmen shuffled past in quiet disbelief. On their way through the famous corridors on a mild October evening en route to the away dressing room, the cohort of Shelbourne players passed by a museum, a dentist, a morgue and, puzzlingly, the most idyllic of chapels inside of which sat a wooden box. They were 1,300 miles away from Tolka Park, situated snug in-between endless rows of brick houses on Richmond Road in Drumcondra, but it felt so much more. This was a different planet altogether. …” the42
“1) Neymar pledges PSG future. Time for a bit of a giant media reverse with beep-beeping and hazard lights in full effect. Neymar is going nowhere next summer except to Russia for the World Cup and no doubt a lengthy vacation in Brazil. His club boss says it, his manager says it, the footballer’s ‘people’ say it and heck, the football says it too. The player is ‘2000% percent’ going to be playing with PSG next season, whether the French club wins the Champions League or not. ‘I’m happy with my team-mates and I’m happy at PSG,’ was Neymar’s message after Saturday’s 4-0 win over Montpellier. So back off, Real Madrid and pack away any sneaky ideas in a bag marked, ‘not in a million years’. …” Bein-Sports (Video)
“Thirty years ago this summer, Gary Lineker came to the end of a highly successful first season with Barcelona. Signed from Everton after his exploits with England at the 1986 World Cup, where he won the Golden Boot, he was an instant hit at Camp Nou, scoring a match-winning hat-trick against Real Madrid in the Clásico and finishing his first season with 21 goals. …” The Blizzard
“In just a scant few days the La Liga teams will return from their truncated winter rest. Before we dive head first into the home straight of the season, let’s take a look back at what the first chunk of games has taught us, shall we? This isn’t technically the halfway-point as Spain’s domestic break comes after 17 games rather than 19. Don’t worry though, we’re not about to let that get in the way of a good ol’ rummage through the numbers! …” StatBomb
“… Go back to the summer of 2017 and many wondered if Andrés Iniesta was even first choice anymore. At 33 years of age, it could have been argued that the Spaniard had given all he had but the reality was that a change of system was needed to get the best out of the club captain. Ernesto Valverde deployed him in a position that does not require a large amount of running whilst still allowing him to see plenty of the ball. His importance to the team is once again obvious and while he will continue to pick up injuries, he has missed 40 days through injury this season, the reduced amount of KM covered should lessen his time out and allow him to be ready for the final stages of the season. …” Barca Blaugranes