The Barcelona Legacy: Guardiola, Mourinho and the Fight For Football’s Soul – Jonathan Wilson

April 11, 2021


“Wilson’s historical study gives fans a keen, thrilling insight into the philosophy of the game’ The New Yorker Manchester, 2018: Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho lead their teams out to face each other in the 175th Manchester derby. They are first and second in the Premier League, but today only one man can come out on top. It is merely the latest instalment in a rivalry that has contested titles, traded insults and crossed a continent, but which can be traced back to a friendship that began almost 25 years ago. Barcelona, late-nineties: Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team is disintegrating and the revolutionary manager has departed, but what will come next will transform the future of football. Cruyff’s style has changed the game, and given birth to a generation of thinkers: men like Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Laurent Blanc, Frank de Boer, Louis van Gaal, and Cruyff’s club captain Pep Guardiola and a young translator, Jose Mourinho. …” Kinokuniya Book, The Barcelona Legacy Podcast (Audio), amazon


Eddie Howe: Tactics, Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth

April 5, 2021


“In January 2018 Bournemouth beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a result their manager Eddie Howe described as their ‘best result’ since their promotion to the Premier League. They remained level at half-time, despite Bournemouth demonstrating signs of promise during the first half, and then took the lead when Callum Wilson scored six minutes into the second half. Junior Stanislas then doubled their lead, before former Chelsea defender Nathan Aké scored their third, securing all three points. A year later, incidentally, Howe oversaw a 4-0 home victory over the same opponents, on that occasion managed by Maurizio Sarri. Most recently – in December 2019 – they won again at Stamford Bridge, this time when Frank Lampard was Chelsea’s manager.”  The Coaches’ Voice (Video), BBC – Jan 2018 (Video)


Soccer Is Learning To See The Whole Game

March 29, 2021


“Imagine you’re at a soccer game, and just as the opening whistle blows, the power cuts out. The stadium goes black. Eventually someone rigs up a single spotlight and the game goes on, but the light can only follow the ball. You can see who’s making a pass or a tackle, but as for what the other 21 players are up to, you’re in the dark. That’s basically what most soccer data looks like: clear information about what’s happening on the ball and a total blank everywhere else. For such a big, messy sport, that can be a problem. No less an authority than Johan Cruyff once said the test of a good player is: ‘What do you do during those 87 minutes when you don’t have the ball?’ …” Five Thirty Eight (Video)


Liverpool’s slump: a story of burnt-out brilliance and the need to go again

March 15, 2021


“The story of Liverpool FC’s wild, thrillingly committed Premier League collapse has been told mainly in numbers so far. And to good effect. Deprived of crowds, staging or a wider emotional palette, that basic outline – 38 points down on last year; 68 home games unbeaten versus six defeats in six – has captured the starkness of a complete sporting immolation. This is a train that has simply stopped. Better to burn out than fade away, and it has to be said no one has ever won and then lost the Premier League title quite like this. It is easy to forget that 14 games and nine wins into the current season Liverpool were five points clear at the top of the table. …” Guardian, ESPN – Liverpool’s horrible season: How can Klopp & Co. turn it around?, Guardian: Fabinho back in his rightful midfield role and all is well for Liverpool


Penalty shoot-out

March 13, 2021


Steven Pressley scores for Hearts against Gretna in the 2006 Scottish Cup Final shoot-out
“A penalty shoot-out (officially kicks from the penalty mark) is a method of determining which team is awarded victory in an association football match that cannot end in a draw, when the score is tied after the regulation playing time as well as extra time (if used) have expired. In a penalty shoot-out, each team takes turns shooting at goal from the penalty mark, with the goal only defended by the opposing team’s goalkeeper. Each team has five shots which must be taken by different kickers; the team that makes more successful kicks is declared the victor. Shoot-outs finish as soon as one team has an insurmountable lead. If scores are level after five pairs of shots, the shootout progresses into additional ‘sudden-death’ rounds. Balls successfully kicked into the goal during a shoot-out do not count as goals for the individual kickers or the team, and are tallied separately from the goals scored during normal play (including extra time, if any). Although the procedure for each individual kick in the shoot-out resembles that of a penalty kick, there are some differences. Most notably, neither the kicker nor any player other than the goalkeeper may play the ball again once it has been kicked. …”
Wikipedia, YouTube: The Science of the Penalty Shoot-Out | Documentary, YouTube: 5 INCREDIBLE Penalty Shootouts | Longest Ever Record & Adrian’s Winner | Emirates FA Cup, Guardian: What’s the difference between a penalty and a penalty shootout penalty? (Video – 2016)


For Liverpool, Everton Loss Is a Shock to Klopp’s System

February 24, 2021


“It is every week, now, that Liverpool seems to lose another little piece of itself. An unbeaten home record that stretched back more than three years disappeared in January, spirited away by Burnley. The sense of Anfield as a fortress collapsed soon after, stormed in short order by Brighton and then by Manchester City. The golden afterglow of the long-awaited Premier League crown that arrived last summer has been dimming for some time, but it darkened for good last week, with Jürgen Klopp conceding the Premier League title while still in the bitter grip of winter. …” NY Times, BBC: Liverpool 0 – 2 Everton, YouTube: Liverpool v. Everton | PREMIER LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS, Liverpool forced into unseen revamp as Jurgen Klopp makes backroom changes (Video), W – Merseyside derby


Le Classique

February 10, 2021


Le Classique (French pronunciation: ​[lə klasik], The Classic) is the name given in football to the rivalry between French professional clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille. Equivalent to Spain’s El Clásico, the fixture is the biggest rivalry in France, and one of the most notable in world football. Security measures are taken ahead of their matches but violent episodes still often occur between fans when they meet. The clubs are the two most successful clubs in French football , and the only French teams to have won major European trophies. PSG and l’OM were the dominant teams prior to the emergence of Olympique Lyonnais in the 2000s, and are the most followed French teams internationally. Both clubs are at or near the top of the French attendance lists each season. …” Wikipedia, Kylian Mbappe speed vs Marseille 2021 | Mbappe goal OM- great pace 36km/hr and run (Video), PSG are still searching for an identity under Mauricio Pochettino


Numbers, Knowledge and Better Set Pieces: a View Into Soccer’s Future

January 2, 2021


“Everything that happens at F.C. Midtjylland is quantified. Well, almost everything. Every game played by every one of the Danish soccer club’s teams produces data points in the thousands. Each training session, from the first team to the preteens in the academy, is recorded and codified and analyzed. The only exception is a game that happens on Fridays at lunchtime, pitting two teams of staff members — coaches and analysts and communications officers and sports scientists — against each other. It is a chance for everyone to let off steam at the end of the week, a reminder of the importance of having fun, said Soren Berg, Midtjylland’s head of analysis. …”
NY Times


Liverpool show they have resolve to retain title in season of trench warfare

November 23, 2020


“Retaining the title is hard, proverbially harder than winning it the first time – although that clearly to an extent depends on what you’re up against. But if Liverpool do become the 27th side in English league history successfully to defend their crown, they will have done so in conditions more different to the initial success than any of their predecessors. Quarter of the way through the season, their record unbeaten home run extended to 64 games, they are level on points with the leaders and, despite all their injuries, look by far the most likely winners. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta

August 13, 2020


“Our faith will never fade” reads the inscription at a gathering spot for Atalanta’s most devoted supporters.
“BERGAMO, Italy — … It was hard to believe it was happening at the time. It is even harder to believe it happened now. That day was, possibly, the proudest in the modest history of Atalanta. A great tide had made the short journey from Bergamo, the prosperous, pretty city where the soccer team is based, to Milan for the first leg of their Champions League, round-of-16 tie against Valencia. Atalanta had never breathed such rarefied air. It had, in truth, scarcely even contemplated it. The whole town, it seemed, had been transplanted for the night. …”
NY Times
NY Times: The Champions League Returns With a Plan for Everything


Exclusive interview: “The job was a joy rather than a chore, a real labour of love.”

July 27, 2020

“The bond between football and the media has become so interwoven over recent decades that it almost resembles a co-dependent relationship. Media organisations need football’s never-ending supply of drama to fill their expanding sports pages and attract readers, while football would not have grown into the attention-seeking behemoth we know today without the media. Both are utterly reliant upon each other. Therefore, it may come as a surprise that the Football Association only appointed its first press officer in 1977. Football during that era could hardly be described as innocent; hooliganism was prominent while the first black players were met by monkey chants and thrown bananas. However, it does seem quaint that nobody within the FA felt the need before to appoint somebody with the responsibility of handling the media. The man they selected, Glen Kirton, proved to be an inspired choice. During twenty-five years with the FA, Kirton experienced some of English football’s most iconic moments from Italia ’90 to Euro ’96 and worked closely with some of the game’s biggest characters. …”
Football Pink


The Barcelona Inheritance: The Evolution of Winning Soccer Tactics from Cruyff to Guardiola – Jonathan Wilson

June 21, 2020

“From Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ to the epic rivalry between Guardiola and Mourinho, a gripping chronicle of the rise and fall of Barcelona’s dominance in world soccer. Barcelona’s style of play–pressing and possessing–is the single biggest influence on modern soccer. In The Barcelona Inheritance, Jonathan Wilson reveals how and why this came to pass, offering a deep analysis of the evolution of soccer tactics and style. In the late 1990s, Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team was disintegrating and the revolutionary manager had departed, but his style gave birth to a new generation of thinkers, including Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho. Today, their teams are first and second in the Premier League, marking the latest installment in a rivalry that can be traced back twenty-five years. The Barcelona Inheritance is a book about the tactics, the personalities, the friendships, and, in one case, an apocalyptic falling-out that continue to shape the game today. …”
amazon


Football is all about speed: The growing importance of coaching

June 15, 2020

“I moved to Barcelona in January 2008, six months before Josep Guardiola took over as the head coach of FC Barcelona. It was the beginning of four years of tika-taka. Although I have always liked Real Madrid more than their rivals, I was somewhat seduced by the style of football played by the Catalans, especially Messi, Iniesta and Xavi; the latter in that period deserved to win one of Messi’s Ballon d’Or. After a year of watching tika-taka, I grew tired of the often pointless sideways passing of the ball. The worse part was that, at times, it seemed as if Barcelona were unable to change their tactics, as a growing number of opponents had learned how to play them. I started to wonder whether Guardiola’s rigid belief in ‘one-system-fits-all’ was not only ruining the extraordinary players’ freedom but also showing a lack of tactical skills. …”
Football Pink


SB Labs: Camera Calibration

April 29, 2020

“Camera calibration is a fundamental step for multiple computer vision applications in the field of sports analytics. By determining the camera pose one can accurately locate both players and events in the game at any time point. Furthermore, increasing the accuracy of the camera calibration will in turn increase the accuracy of any advanced metric derived from the collected data. One of the applications where camera calibration is essential is player tracking. …”
StatsBomb


Football Manager 2020 guide: The best formations and tactics you need to try

April 22, 2020

“You’ve been unveiled at the ground holding a scarf above your head. You’ve posed for photos with the chairman and been asked the awkward questions about that one player who appears to be running his contract down. Now what? The first and most important chore of any budding football manager is to bring your philosophy to life. Football Manager 2020 has a range of set templates and styles but trying to find a healthy balance between them can be like, well, trying to manage a squad of egos and prima donnas. …”
FourFourTwo


Jurgen Klopp’s early years and how he could have coached Manchester United

April 22, 2020

“At Liverpool, it was Brendan Rodgers. At Borussia Dortmund, it was Thomas Doll and at Mainz, Jürgen Klopp’s predecessor went by the name of Eckhard Krautzun. That’s not how Klopp usually describes him. ‘When he sees me,’ Krautzun explains, ‘and there are other people sitting around, he says ‘this is the guy who sent me to Tunisia, to a foreign country where I couldn’t speak a word of French to sit around in that stadium trying to scout a player!’’ It is just one of a number of anecdotes the 76-year-old is happy to tell about Klopp, whose subsequent reign at Mainz was regarded as a resounding success. In his first coaching job, Klopp saved the club from relegation after succeeding Krautzun, before taking them up to the Bundesliga for the first time three years later. …”
the set pieces


Formations and systems in football

April 18, 2020

“The core of football tactics is the formation of the team. In football (soccer) the formations are classified in names consisting of numbers that represent defenders, midfielders and attackers (the goalkeeper is unnecessary to involve in this tactical aspect). Here are some of the most utilized formations in football presented in a historical overview. Formations are simplified ways to describe a team’s positional tactic schematically. As Jonathan Wilson writes in Inverting the Pyramid: ‘designations of formations can at times seem a little arbitrary. Just how far behind the main striker does the second striker have to play for 4–4–2 to become 4–4–1–1? And how advanced do the wide midfielders have to be for that to become a 4–2–3–1?’ …”
Football History


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


Vítor Frade and the world of Portuguese managers in the game

October 5, 2018

“Rarely has relegation proven to be as beneficial to the manager who failed to avoid it as that of Hull City. By the time that their drop from the Premier League was confirmed on the 14th of May 2017, Marco Silva had become one of the most highly regarded coaches in England. Relegation had looked inevitable when he got the job yet he managed to give the club some hope and pride through the attacking football he managed to impose on the team.” Footyanalyst


The Tantalizing Talent of Lille’s Nicolas Pépé

October 5, 2018

“It’s still early. Even with seven or eight games already played in Europe’s biggest leagues, the sample size is too small to come to concrete conclusions. A hot or cold streak can still change a club’s underlying numbers and their season projections in a meaningful way. But by this point, trends can develop. And things that have persisted over the duration of the season to date warrant further investigation. It’s possible to being to what’s likely to continue from what won’t. This is especially important when talking about young players who have performed at a higher level from last season and are perhaps in the beginning stages of ‘making the leap.'” StatsBomb


The Best Two Way Premier League Players

September 30, 2018

“Looking for players that contribute on both sides of the ball is often a difficult task. Separating out tactical responsibilities from player abilities, and individual shortcomings from schematic ones is always hard. Does a player not track back because he’s lazy or because he has instructions to remain high up the pitch? Does a midfielder keep passing it sideways because he cannot pick a forward pass or because the manager’s approach calls for conservative possession?” StatsBomb


Bundesliga Roundup: Schalke is Bad, Werder Bremen are Good and Favre is Favre

September 30, 2018

“The Bundesliga is in full swing. Bayern Munich, to nobody’s surprise, are way better than everybody else. Despite a late slip against Augsburg leading to a 1-1 draw, they remain by far the best team in Germany. Here’s what’s going on in the rest of the league.” StatsBomb


Claudio Taffarel on Alisson, Ederson and the history of Brazilian goalkeeping

September 16, 2018

“There’s a touch of Ginga about Alisson Becker: he moves with swagger, relieved from the chains that, in the past, often reduced goalkeepers to contorted figures. Liverpool’s No.1 invites opposition strikers to apply pressure before dribbling past – or even chipping the ball over – them. He displayed his great dexterity in the Reds’ 1-0 victory over Brighton, but his approach backfired against Leicester when Kelechi Iheanacho intercepted his improvised Cruyff turn and teed up Rachid Ghezzal for a simple finish.” The Set Pieces


The financial cracks in the foundations of German football

September 12, 2018

“A problem exists in German football. The latest crisis finds its origins in the foundations poured over the last dilemma nearly two decades ago. Following victory at the 1996 European Championships, Die Mannschaft imploded. Defeat in the World Cup Quarter Finals in 1998 was followed by first round elimination at the 2000 European Championships. Germany is not a nation to take such setback lightly. In the next decade, German football was revitalised at grassroots level.” Backpage Football


Atletico Madrid’s Slow Start

September 12, 2018

“Atletico Madrid are off to a curiously slow start. It’s the rare year where there might be some cracks at the top of La Liga. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid means there’s a crack of daylight at the top of the table. But, three games in, the perennial favorites, Barcelona, and Ronaldo-less Madrid are perfect and Diego Simeone’s team has already dropped five points. Is there anything amiss with Atletico, or have their opening three games been the kind of fluke that the next 35 games will make everybody forget?” StatsBomb


Rafael Benitez & Manuel Pellegrini: Newcastle & West Ham bosses adjust to life at bottom

September 12, 2018

“Rafael Benitez and Manuel Pellegrini are two managers used to living the high life who now find themselves stranded in the Premier League’s bottom three with Newcastle and West Ham after poor starts to the season.” BBC


Tottenham’s Defensive Issues: Fixing the Right Side

September 4, 2018

“After a 3-0 victory at Old Trafford last Monday night, it would be easy to presume that Mauricio Pochettino would be overjoyed. In the moment, he made all the right noises but by the time Friday had come round and he was doing the pre-match press conference ahead of this weekend’s Watford game, his mood had soured. StatsBomb


Is Harry Kane Fine Now?

August 26, 2018

“Harry Kane scored a goal against Fulham last Saturday. It wasn’t a remarkable goal. Erik Lamela did most of the work driving through Fulham’s defense before freeing Kane on the left side of the penalty box. The Spurs striker cut back onto his right foot, shaking a defender to create enough space to finish precisely across the keeper, tucking the ball inside the right post. Fairly standard Kane type stuff. What makes that goal important is that for months Kane hasn’t been doing the standard stuff that turned him into a superstar.” StatsBomb


Unwavering in his philosophy, Marcelo Bielsa’s unique approach to the game is taking off at Leeds United

August 22, 2018


Marcelo Bielsa has never compromised his philosophy for anyone, after 30 years of coaching, and as he sits on top of a league he was told would be beyond him, why would he start now? Even after Leeds’ worst performance of the season last night at Swansea City, their 2-2 draw puts them just ahead of Middlesbrough at the top of the table on goal difference. It was a credit to their resilience, digging out a result when not playing well. But also to their ruthless manager, who hauled off key holding player Kalvin Phillips after 28 minutes, and left-winger Gjanni Alioski at the interval.” Independent (Video)


Carlo Ancelotti at Napoli: Tactical Approach & Key Players

August 18, 2018


“After three intense seasons in the Southern part of Italy, the love story between Maurizio Sarri & Napoli came to an end: despite the fact that they didn’t win any trophies (they eventually lost last season’s Serie A title race to Juventus despite racking up 91 points at the end of the campaign) under his tenure, Sarri built one of Europe’s most exciting teams to watch, using a 4-3-3 formation with a possession-based and attacking style of football. Despite losing the Tuscany-born coach this summer, the Partenopei found a rather decent substitute in the figure of Carlo Ancelotti.” Outside of the Boot


Harry Kane’s versatility for Tottenham makes him more than a pure goal scorer

August 18, 2018

“Let’s begin with a quiz question. Which club’s shirt number has been responsible for the most Premier League goals since the competition started in 1992? If you guessed Newcastle’s No. 9 shirt — they love their goal scorers at St James’ Park — you’d nearly be right. Were it not for a couple of seasons outside the top flight, Newcastle’s No. 9, with 298 goals, would be top dog. Manchester United’s No. 10 also features highly, with 297 goals, but was handicapped by being left vacant for a couple of seasons, while Arsenal’s No. 14 shirt (248) has been prolific this century but beforehand was worn by the somewhat rare goalscorer Martin Keown.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


Barcelona Season Preview: Messi the Great Facilitator

August 18, 2018

“By any realistic measure Barcelona had a dominant season last year. They won their domestic league by 14 points, while losing only a single game. They also won their domestic cup. But Barcelona are a club destined to fail to live up to expectations that only they can set. And what came to define their season, more than the raging success of their domestic campaign, was a stunning Champions League quarterfinal defeat to Roma. And so it is that the team which ran up 93 points in La Liga set about correcting for a failed season.” StatsBomb


Timeless Marcelo Bielsa’s Argentina: Lost chances and broken hearts

August 10, 2018

“Over the last few weeks, Marcelo Bielsa has been in the spotlight over his new role as Leeds United’s manager. A man whose character often draws comparison to a great philosopher rather than a football persona, his radicalism and man management is worthy of any admiration in football. But long before Leeds United, 2 decades ago to be precise, El Loco was in charge of Argentina. Following their exit from the World Cup in France 98, Daniel Passarella had stepped down from his post. Prior to this, the 1978 World Cup winning captain had put together a team that was brimming with excitement.” FootyAnalyst


Tactical Analysis: France 1-0 Belgium | Set Piece Decides Game Dominated by Determined Defences

August 2, 2018

“France sealed their place in the World Cup final for just the third time in their history after a narrow victory over Belgium on Tuesday. As is common in the latter stages of knock-out competitions, the reluctance of both teams to give anything away made for a cagey game with few risks taken, inescapably creating a situation where the first goal would essentially prove decisive. With both sides desperately trying to avoid being the team that makes the crucial first mistake, it is probably unsurprising that the source of the winning goal ended up being a set piece; a detached moment of attacking freedom away from the rigid, careful flow of open play.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Croatia 2-1 England AET | Tenacious Croatia punish England’s complacency

August 2, 2018

“Croatia reached their first ever World Cup final after a two-goal fightback against England. Goals in the second halves of normal & extra time from Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić respectively cancelled out the Three Lions‘ initial advantage courtesy of a Kieran Trippier free kick in what proved to be a very intense game.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Croatia 2-2 Russia | Modric and Rakitic make the difference

August 2, 2018

“You’d be forgiven if you didn’t expect the hosts Russia to reach the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup, yet here they were. After holding off Spain in the Round of 16, the Sbornaya met Croatia at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, who were looking to advance to the semifinals for the second time in the nation’s history. Russia had been playing in a 4-5-1 formation for all but one match this tournament. In what was considered an easy group, the defensive setup of a deep block and playing long balls and counter attacks proved successful, as they scored the second-most goals in the group stage with eight, tied with Group G runners-up England. Croatia’s tactics have been more varied on a match by match basis, with manager Zlatko Dalic often switching the formation and personnel.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Brazil 1-2 Belgium | Belgium Nick a Fortunate Win Through Decisive Counter-Attacks

August 2, 2018

“Brazil entered the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites thanks to their athletic and/or defensively astute central midfielders Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho, and the fearsome left-sided trio of Marcelo, Coutinho, and Neymar. Understanding the threat the latter threesome posed, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez instructed his side to overload the right section of their midfield. This ploy forced the three tricksters to play through clogged spaces or switch play to the under-supported Willian. Eventually, the difficulty of building these types of attacks led to losses of possession that Belgium looked to convert into dangerous counter-attacks; Hazard and Lukaku led the way in this department with their dribbling, hold-up play, and aerial duels. This strategy, along with a handy own goal, provided Belgium with a two-goal cushion – something they held onto for dear life as Tite’s second half adjustments allowed Brazil to created chance after chance in a valiant losing effort.” Outside of the Boot


Tactical Analysis: Sweden 0-2 England | Patient England seal a win over cagey Sweden

August 2, 2018

“Charles Onwuakpa writes a tactical analysis of the World Cup quarter final that ended Sweden 0-2 England. Sweden v England was certainly one of the unexpected quarter-finals at this World Cup considering both team’s performances so far at this tournament. England, who have showcased a very positive & proactive possession-based football under Gareth Southgate, finished second behind Belgium in group G and put to an end a 22-year jinx with penalty shootouts as they defeated Colombia in the Round of 16.” Outside of the Boot


World Cup 2018 Best XI: France’s Champions Lead the Top Players in Russia

July 17, 2018


“After 64 games and more drama than any World Cup in at least 20 years, there’s one piece of business left to do: Pick a team of the tournament. It’s been picked as a team that might function together rather than just the 11 best players, and to avoid the temptation of packing it with France’s champions, a limit of four players per country has been self-imposed. In a 4-3-3 formation fit for the world stage, here is our 2018 World Cup Best XI.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


World Cup 2018 goal celebrations: A statistical analysis of unbridled joy

July 17, 2018


“How would you celebrate if you scored at a World Cup? A jig by the corner flag, an emphatic sprint, jump and punch of the air, an emotional tussle with the goalnet, or just run as fast and far as you can until someone finally, gleefully leaps on you? Whether you’re a Milla, a Josimar or a Tardelli kind of guy, there are plenty of ways with which to physically revel in what, for most players, is the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime act of scoring on the world’s biggest stage. Goal celebrations – often just as complex, slow-motion-worthy and memorable as the goals themselves – are an art form. But, just like everything else, they’re moulded by cultural trends, context and just pure momentary instinct.” Telegraph


World Cup 2018: How Gareth Southgate’s tactical immaturity cost England their shot at the final

July 13, 2018


“For all the celebration of this new-look England side, Wednesday night’s 2-1 semi-final defeat by Croatia was characterised by an old failing: a refusal to adjust tactics to nullify the strength of the opposition and, more specifically, an insistence upon leaving two men upfront while being overrun in midfield. England started excellently, but their tactical inflexibility cost them a place in Sunday’s final. Gareth Southgate’s highly unusual 3-3-2-2 formation is essentially defined by two major features, which both contributed to England’s impressive first half performance.” Independent – Michael Cox


World Cup 2018: How France exposed Nacer Chadli and turned defence into attack to nullify Belgium’s flair

July 13, 2018


France’s 1-0 victory over Belgium wasn’t quite the match it might have been. With four of the world’s most exciting attacking talents on the pitch together, a variety of dynamic midfielders and centre-back pairings comfortable in a high defensive line, this could have been fast-paced, frantic, end-to-end. Instead, it was something different entirely, based around patience, turnovers and the odd counter-attack. It was intriguing rather than enthralling, and the first goal was always likely to be crucial. With the exception of Blaise Matuidi returning following suspension, Didier Deschamps’ starting XI is now set in stone.” Independent – Michael Cox


In Praise of Defensive Football

July 13, 2018

“A few years ago, at the beginning of a French course I was taking at Tel Aviv University, a new student entered the classroom. His face looked familiar. ‘It’s Dan Roman,’ I murmured to myself. Roman was a footballer who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, my beloved team. In 2008, he’d set up a heroic, last-minute winning goal against Hapoel in the Tel Aviv derby. I sat with the Maccabi Ultras that game, a devoted and fanatic supporters’ organization composed of a couple hundred half-naked teenagers. The memory of the obscene gestures I’d made toward the Hapoel fans at the final whistle was still wonderfully fresh.” Popula


France’s Benchwarmers Are Worth More Than Most Starting Lineups

July 10, 2018

“France enters today’s semifinal match against neighboring Belgium as the favorite to win the 2018 World Cup. At least on paper, though, France has been the least remarkable team of the four that remain: Les Bleus have scored fewer goals than each of the other semifinalists, they’ve possessed less of the ball than two of the other semifinalists, and they’ve taken the fewest shots.” FiveThirtyEight


Semifinal questions: How do Belgium counter France’s front three? England speed or Croatia possession?

July 10, 2018

“The World Cup has reached the semifinal stage and it’s an all-European affair, with France facing Belgium on Tuesday, followed by Croatia vs. England the following day. Ahead of the final four, here is one key question that each team must answer.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Neymar Can’t Quite Copy Cruyff, Football Might Really Be Coming Home, and More Takeaways From the World Cup Quarterfinals

July 8, 2018


1. European dominance continues. When Germany won the 2014 World Cup, it was the first time any continent had produced three-straight World Cup winners. And after the elimination of Brazil and Uruguay on Friday, that streak will now extend to four. In 2002, it seemed like we might be seeing a challenge to world soccer’s established hierarchy. Senegal and the United States both made the quarterfinals, while South Korea and Turkey both advanced to the semifinals. Of course, it ended with Brazil and Germany, the two all-time great soccer-playing nations, in the final, but even that was something of a surprise, as they were ranked 11th and 10th, respectively, in the pre-tournament Elo Ratings.” The Ringer (Video)


Croatia scouting report: Luka Modric the key man but set-piece flaws abide

July 8, 2018

Set-piece frailties could play into England’s hands.  Luka Modric flagged up a weakness for Croatia without being asked. ‘We watched the [England] game today, we saw how good they are from dead-ball situations. We have to improve that element of our game.’ Freeze-frame Russia’s late equaliser from a free-kick and it is alarming just how much space Croatia gave their opponents. Seven of the 10 Croatia players in the area took up extremely deep starting positions, almost on the edge of the six-yard box. Just as significantly, none of them were ‘touch-tight’ on any of the Russian players.” Guardian


Pressing Issues at the World Cup

July 8, 2018

“One of the tactical questions heading into the World Cup was whether the modern popularity of pressing at club level would be replicated on the international stage. The best pressing teams are a meld of intelligent positioning and trigger movements, honed during hours on the training pitch, requiring intense and sustained athletic performance.” Stats Bomb


Tactical Analysis: Brazil 1-2 Belgium | Belgium Nick a Fortunate Win Through Decisive Counter-Attacks

July 8, 2018

“Brazil entered the 2018 World Cup as one of the favorites thanks to their athletic and/or defensively astute central midfielders Casemiro, Paulinho, and Fernandinho, and the fearsome left-sided trio of Marcelo, Coutinho, and Neymar. Understanding the threat the latter threesome posed, Belgium manager Roberto Martínez instructed his side to overload the right section of their midfield. This ploy forced the three tricksters to play through clogged spaces or switch play to the under-supported Willian. Eventually, the difficulty of building these types of attacks led to losses of possession that Belgium looked to convert into dangerous counter-attacks; Hazard and Lukaku led the way in this department with their dribbling, hold-up play, and aerial duels. This strategy, along with a handy own goal, provided Belgium with a two-goal cushion – something they held onto for dear life as Tite’s second half adjustments allowed Brazil to created chance after chance in a valiant losing effort.” Outside of the Boot (Video)


Eden Hazard’s World Cup brilliance could have long-term consequences

July 7, 2018

“There was a moment late in Belgium’s win over Brazil on Friday when Eden Hazard led a break. He charged into the opposition half, turned back inside and, as runners went by him, taking defenders with them, space opened up for a pass out to the left to the substitute Youri Tielemans. There was an overlap, a chance of a third goal that would have finished the game. Hazard saw it. He tried to play it. But his legs, for once, did not obey. The ball set off in the right direction but with nothing like enough pace; Marcelo intercepted. Hazard had essentially been too exhausted to pass a ball 40 yards. Like the rest of the team, he was spent.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Romelu Lukaku gives Belgium clue to solving mystery of beating Brazil

July 6, 2018


“After all that there was no need for Belgium to be so coy. Roberto Martínez and his team had talked their way into this quarter-final like underdogs, twirling in deference to the extent that it seemed fair to wonder whether they might at least simulate a little swagger. But who needs to strut around when they can play some of the most dynamic, coruscating counterattacking international football in years? And who needs to parade on to the pitch when they have prepared to effect the kind of victory that might define a generation’s work? They lined up with a plan and it has taken them to within two games of a title that would make good every prediction, every breathless think-piece, every confident statement about Europe’s emerging force of the decade. Now Belgium, for all their false dawns, have at last found their level. On the eve of the game Romelu Lukaku had puffed out his cheeks and made a show of having to think very hard indeed about any possible weaknesses Brazil held.” Guardian

Brazil knocked out of World Cup by Kevin De Bruyne and brilliant Belgium
“In years to come, when this stadium is a crumbling white elephant, they will sit in almost empty stands, hear the wind whisper across the marsh that surrounds it and believe what they hear is the ghosts of giants. In three games, Kazan has claimed the winners of 11 World Cups. First Germany went, insipid against South Korea. Then, in a full-blooded epic, Argentina were blown away by France. And then fell the biggest of them all, Brazil, outwitted and outbattled by Belgium, who will face France in Tuesday’s semi-final. Brazil had chances. A few ricochets in the box did not fall their way.” Guardian

Brazil sent packing: Kevin De Bruyne’s magic fires up Belgium to knock Selecao out of World Cup
“Great World Cup games can be the epic comeback tale and others, like this one, are about how one team stands firm in the gale of a relentless attacking force, although quite how Belgium hung on to reach the semi-finals and send Brazil home they may never know. It was another Russia 2018 classic, featuring a Belgium side who plundered two goals against their famous opposition twice in the first 32 minutes after which the men in the yellow shirts would spend the next hour in thrilling perpetual chase. Led by their little general Philippe Coutinho, and perhaps with a little longer at their disposal, it would have been Brazil in the semi-final against France in St Petersburg on Tuesday. But instead the last South American side are out, beaten by the shrewdness of Kevin De Bruyne on the counter-attack and Marouane Fellaini and his fellow midfield sentry Axel Witsel, the two unmistakeable guardogs of this Belgium team. This was the golden generation of Belgium against a country where every generation is golden, and the great attacking talent of De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku prevailed.” Telegraph

Thibaut Courtois’ Elastic Limbs Carry Belgium Into the World Cup Semifinals
“Belgium leaped out to a two-goal lead thanks to a Brazilian own goal and a surgical first-half counter from its front three of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne. It held on to upset Brazil 2–1 thanks to its star goalkeeper, the elastic ectomorph Thibaut Courtois. Courtois stands 6-foot-5, with most of that length apparently in his neck and shins. When he stands in goal, his wingspan looks nearly infinite. Never has a real human looked more capable of stretching his limbs in the Mr. Fantastic/Elastigirl manner.” Slate


Uruguay 0 – 2 France

July 6, 2018

“France are into the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006 after seeing off Uruguay with the help of a terrible error by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. In terms of excitement, this quarter-final tie did not come close to Les Bleus’ win over Argentina in the last 16 but will still be remembered for the contrasting fates of the two goalkeepers, with Hugo Lloris producing a contender for save of the tournament while his opposite number made a mistake that was even more memorable.” BBC (Video)

Deschamps holds golden ticket but faces tough double for France glory
“Advantage France. On a cool summer’s day in Nizhny Novgorod, jewel of the upper Volga, Russia 2018 turned a slight but significant shade of blue. There are different ways of announcing yourself as the most likely winners of a World Cup. With nine days to go before the house lights come up the ideal outcome for Didier Deschamps’ France would have been a loosening of the throttle, a moment for those delicious attacking talents to click together and illuminate the late stages. There is of course a basic problem here. For that situation to arise it would be necessary for Didier Deschamps’ France to be somebody else’s France.” Guardian


If Belgium are to beat Brazil in their quarter-final, how can they do it?

July 6, 2018

“There was a spell, for the first 20 minutes or so, when it seemed Mexico might be able to trouble Brazil. Carlos Vela was getting the better of Fagner on the Brazil right and it felt that Mexico, as they had throughout the group stage, were struggling to convert decent positions into clear opportunities. But the longer the game went on, the more it became apparent that Brazil were comfortably holding Mexico at arm’s length. That first 20 minutes, though, perhaps offers Belgium the best hope there is.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


2018 World Cup Predictions

July 5, 2018


“The World Cup is back, and so is another edition of FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup predictions. For those of you familiar with our club soccer predictions or our 2014 World Cup forecast, much of our 2018 forecast will look familiar. We show the chance that each team will win, lose or tie every one of their matches, as well as a table that details how likely each team is to finish first or second in their group and advance to the knockout stage. This year, we’ve added a few features to our interactive graphics. We have a bracket that illustrates how likely each team is to make each knockout-round match that it can advance to, as well as its most likely opponents in those matches. …”
FiveThirtyEight
Metafilter: it’s coming to someone’s home. (Video)


Possession lost on the World Cup stage as defences learn to adapt

July 5, 2018

“No side, perhaps, is ever so much itself as when it is going out of the World Cup. When teams – or at least those with aspirations to the title – fail, they tend to fail in their own way, and become too much of themselves: self-parody is a perennial danger. And so Spain and Germany went out of the World Cup after anaemic performances in which they seemed to fetishise possession rather than it being a means to an end. That doesn’t mean juego de posicion football is over, as some of the more excitable voices on social media have claimed; it just means that two teams who played football infected by Pep Guardiola had bad tournaments. Sides who play post-Cruyffian football won the league in Spain, England and Germany, while Napoli came second in Serie A.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Manager Oscar Tabarez Wields His Influence to Mold, Adapt, Embody Uruguay

July 5, 2018


“Oscar Washington Tabarez is fascinated by history. Barely a press conference goes by in which he doesn’t, in one of his typically thoughtful answers, illustrate a point with an example from a previous World Cup. You wonder how that plays in the dressing room, in the modern world of celebrity footballers who, by reputation at least, care for nothing but their next fancy car or watch. But then you see Luis Suarez sitting next to him, gazing at his manager with rapt attention. If there were any doubt before that Tabarez is the greatest figure in post-War Uruguayan football history, it has surely gone now.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Uruguay is playing for you
“The knock came at four in morning on Sunday, April 15, 1984.  Dr. Vladimir Roslik of San Javier was informed by an officer of Uruguay’s 9th Cavalry Regiment that he was being arrested for questioning.  The next day Roslik’s wife was advised to collect her husband’s body from the Fray Bentos Hospital. Roslik, who attained his medical degree from Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow in 1969 was to be the last victim of Uruguay’s military dictatorship.” Africa is a Country


Kylian Mbappe in prime position for the Golden Ball despite just one truly good performance

July 5, 2018

“SOME feared the second round of the World Cup would prove underwhelming after an eventful group stage, but those fears now appear misplaced after a hugely entertaining four days in Russia. The second round featured nail-biting penalty shoot-outs, a major upset with Spain departing, and an all-time classic with France and Argentina’s seven-goal thriller. That game, with France prevailing, also proved crucial in the race for the Golden Ball. This round unquestionably belonged to one man: Kylian Mbappe. Fielded on the right of France’s 4-2-3-1 system against Argentina, he produced one of the most rampant, dominant performances you’ll ever witness at a World Cup.” Unibet – Michael Cox


England vs Colombia, World Cup 2018: Drop in performance raises question about Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous

July 4, 2018


“England finally ended their abysmal run in penalty shoot-outs with their second-round victory over Colombia, but a dramatic drop in performance towards the end of normal time raises a question about Gareth Southgate’s ability to influence matches tactically. Jose Pekerman spring a surprise with his team selection. Having previously used a 4-2-3-1 and experimented with a 4-3-3 in training, this was actually more of a midfield diamond. With James Rodriguez out, Juan Quintero played as the number 10, with Radamel Falcao upfront to the left, and Juan Cuadrado playing in a right-sided forward role. Quintero pushed forward to press England’s centre-backs three-against-three, but Pekerman’s approach was basically about keeping things tight in deeper positions, and guarding against England’s midfield runners.” Independent – Michael Cox

England’s unique 3-3-2-2 formation could cause Colombia headaches
“For all the optimism about Gareth Southgate’s side and their chances of winning the World Cup, it’s so often this stage — the first knockout round of a major tournament — in which England collapse. This is usually because England have appeared unprepared for the opposition’s approach, or at least too inflexible to guard against it. Germany’s counter-attacking speed wasn’t nullified in 2010. Andrea Pirlo’s deep-lying playmaking skills weren’t shut down in 2012. Iceland’s long throw proved fatal in 2016. Tactical naivety has constantly been England’s main problem.” ESPN – Michael Cox


World Cup 2018: How Blaise Matuidi laid the platform for Kylian Mbappe to put in the performance of the tournament

July 2, 2018

“Didier Deschamps appeared entirely unsure of his best system ahead of the opening game of this tournament, but recent World Cup winners have tended to suddenly find their optimum formation midway through the tournament. In 2002 Brazil clicked into gear once introducing a second holding midfielder, in 2006 Italy’s switch from 4-3-1-2 to 4-2-3-1 worked wonders, in 2010 Spain thrived once they added more directness and width to their attack, and Germany’s 2014 side changed considerably from their opening game to the final.” Independent – Michael Cox

Why Argentina’s road to World Cup failure is long, complicated and paved with greed and corruption
“… Sebastian Fest’s line in La Nación on the day of Argentina‘s World Cup 2018 elimination this weekend was so starkly poignant because it gets straight to the crux of the matter, cutting through every excuse offered and pointing straight to the institutional rot that is fundamentally to blame for Argentina’s ills. That bumpy road that ended in Kazan, Russia, in the baking summer of 2018 is our current waypoint but this path truly began all the way back in the mid-winter of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1978 on the day that the Albiceleste won their first-ever World Cup.” Independent


Kylian Mbappe destroys Argentina to send Lionel Messi and co home in World Cup thriller

June 30, 2018


“It is one of the gifts of being the most talented teenager footballer in the world that Kylian Mbappe makes fast defenders look slow and slow defenders look ridiculous, although in the end this was about bigger things than just a first half demolition of poor old Marcos Rojo. The 19-year-old’s savage turn of speed that won France the penalty for their first goal saw him flash before our eyes in real time while simultaneously the careers of half a dozen Argentinian defenders and midfielders were flashing before theirs. One of those moments that every old pro recognises when the legs are getting slower, the youngsters are getting quicker and the best they can hope for is to kick him before he reaches the area.” Telegraph

Welcome to Kylian Mbappé’s Coming Out Party
“It’s Kylian Mbappé’s world. We’re all just living in it—even Lionel Messi. Mbappé became the first teenager to score more than one goal in a World Cup knockout match since Pelé in 1958, as he tallied twice and drew a penalty. When the final whistle sounded, the scoreboard read 4-3 in favor of Les Bleus, and no player was more responsible for the victory than the youngest player on the field.” The Ringer (Video)

France 4 – 3 Argentina
“Kylian Mbappe announced himself on football’s biggest stage with two fine goals that gave France victory in a classic World Cup encounter with Argentina, and a place in the quarter-finals. Though much of the focus before the game was on Argentina superstar Lionel Messi, it was Mbappe who produced a brilliant performance that will linger long in the memory.” BBC (Video)