An Ode to Francesco

March 28, 2022


“It’s the 1992-93 season and Roma are not having fun. Vujadin Boskov replaced Ottavio Bianchi as manager in the summer but the team, despite the presence of some illustrious names, are not performing. The Giallorossi will go on to finish the season with 31 points (in the two points for a win era), just four more than the four teams relegated to Serie B. On 28th March, Roma are away at Brescia – one of the four teams who will finish in the drop zone. They are already out of Europe but they are through to the semi-final of the Coppa Italia. …”
The Analyst


How Xavi’s new-style 4-3-3 is helping Barcelona rebuild

March 27, 2022


“… To some fans it sounded ridiculous to praise players for losing to their arch nemeses, especially given how little results had improved since Laporta fired Ronald Koeman as manager and brought in Pep Guardiola’s supposed heir-apparent in Xavi. But in the 12 games since — the last 11 of them undefeated — Laporta has been proven right. If you had to pick a single turning point in Barcelona’s season, the moment some hidden switch flipped from post-Lionel Messi malaise to the start of an exciting new project, that January Clasico was it. …”
The Athletic


Analysing Europe’s free-kick takers: the good, the bad and the brilliance of James Ward-Prowse

March 25, 2022


Harry Kane
“My favourite would probably have to be Roberto Carlos, against France in 1997. Others might refer to Cristiano Ronaldo against Portsmouth in 2008, maybe Paul Gascoigne against Arsenal in 1991, or draw from the back catalogues of David Beckham, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho or Juninho Pernambucano. Yes, we’re talking about free kicks. We love them — or rather, we love it when they fly into the back of the net. It feels as though fans’ expectations are often quite high when you see a player line up a direct free kick but, across Europe’s top five leagues, the average conversion rate of a direct free kick has been just six per cent since 2016-17. …”
The Athletic


A Brief History of Dimitar Berbatov

March 23, 2022


“One the original luxury centre forwards, Dimitar Berbatov entertained all those that paid to watch him live. But run-ins with gangsters, and playing in the shadows of some of the game’s best players perhaps held him back from being one of the game’s greats. This is the story of Dimitar Berbatov. Written by Seb Stafford-Bloor, illustrated by Craig Silcock.”
YouTube
W – Dimitar_Berbatov


Domenico Tedesco’s RB Leipzig Revival

March 22, 2022


“On the 5th of December Jesse Marsch was relieved of his duties at RB Leipzig, becoming the first Bundesliga manager to learn of his dismissal whilst in a COVID enforced quarantine. The peculiarities of Marsch’s departure stole headlines, but the fact that it had come to this dreary conclusion left few surprised. Back in December, Leipzig had taken just 1 victory in their last 6 matches, and the squad’s discontent with the American’s radical tactical shift seemed to foreshadow the downfall long before it eventually happened. Thus, a new, but simultaneously well-known, face returned to the Bundesliga dugout. …”
Breaking the Lines (Video)


Being Oneself: Marcelino and Athletic Bilbao

March 19, 2022


“For fans across the world, football has long been a game through which they can seek a subconscious identity. Through what their clubs represent and what they stand for, fans look to find themselves somewhere there, and through appropriation, it becomes an extension of themselves. With that in mind, the potential success of a club like Athletic Bilbao will send a lasting message across the globe—largely because of its distinct social identity in Spain. …”
Football Paradise
Football Paradise: When Barca bowed to Athletic Bilbao – Giant-killing legacy of Fred Pentland (March 2018)
W – Athletic Bilbao

On this day but in 1930, Athletic Club achieved our Cup number 11. On June 1, 1930, the lions met Real Madrid CF in the final played at Montjuic (Barcelona) and won 3-2.


Passive or aggressive? Spread or smother? Using body poses to understand goalkeeper technique

March 17, 2022


“When Ryan Beal played as a semi-pro goalkeeper in Hampshire, there were a lot of things he had to figure out for himself. If a through ball put a striker in one-on-one, should he charge out or wait? Spread his body to block a shot or go to ground to smother it? Outfield players had experienced coaches to teach them the finer points of their position but a goalkeeper coach at that level was rare. Data wasn’t much help, either. Beal got involved with football analytics while studying for a PhD and now works with two start-ups in the field, AI Abacus and Sentient Sports. But the event data he could get his hands on as a student only recorded on-ball actions and players’ coordinates on the pitch, not the body movements that a researcher would need to study technique. …”
The Athletic


Evolving Expected Goals (xG)

March 16, 2022


Expected goals, or xG as it’s also known, provides fans with an insight into the quality of every chance in a game, and the likelihood of a goal being scored from them. Fast forward nearly a decade since Stats Perform first introduced the metric, and xG is now even more sophisticated. The advancement and depth of data collection in football is a process that is continually evolving. With each addition and improvement, we gain more powerful insights into what is happening on the pitch. These data points can be used as inputs to power more complex models and evaluate chance quality more accurately than ever before. …”
The Analyst


Remember Michu?

March 15, 2022


“Perhaps no player has had such a sudden and unexpected impact at a team like Michu had at Swansea. A bargain from Spain that Sir Alex Ferguson had ‘never really heard of’ lit up the Premier League in his only full season in South Wales. But how did Swansea find him? And what happened to him after that season? Seb Stafford-Bloor writes, Henry Cooke illustrates.”
YouTube
The Athletic: Michu on his friend Haaland & turning down more Premier League riches ‘for love’(March 2020)
W – Michu


Roman Abramovich: What do Russian owner’s sanctions mean for Chelsea?

March 14, 2022


“The future of European champions Chelsea is uncertain after sanctions were placed on Russian owner Roman Abramovich on Thursday. The billionaire has been in charge since 2003 but had his attempts to sell the club halted by the UK government, which has frozen his assets. What does it mean for Chelsea’s fans, players and staff? BBC Sport explains how the situation will affect those associated with the club. Abramovich was sanctioned by the UK government as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government believes the billionaire has had a ‘close relationship for decades’ with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, links Abramovich has always denied. …”
BBC (Video)
NY Times: At Chelsea, Nervous First Steps Into an Uncertain Future
NY Times: Britain Freezes Assets of Roman Abramovich, Creating Crisis at Chelsea
Guardian / Jonathan Wilson – ‘It was so emotional’: Yarmolenko on his tears for Ukraine after West Ham goal
Guardian: Stamford Bridge hosts dark day for those who care for football’s soul
New Republic: Is Soccer on the Brink of a Moral Awakening?

Hammers ahead Andriy Yarmolenko, born in Ukraine, scored his staff’s opening objective within the win. With Russia’s invasion on Ukraine persevering with, there isn’t a doubt that his coronary heart is heavy and hurting.


Five defeats in a row but Potter says it’s ‘not all doom and gloom’ for Brighton. Here’s why he’s right…

March 14, 2022


“A month ago, Brighton and Hove Albion had only lost four league matches all season. Suddenly they’ve lost five games in a row, four of them without scoring. This is the first time since Brighton’s promotion in 2018 that they’ve lost five straight Premier League games, and depending upon which Tottenham side shows up at the Amex on Wednesday, it could soon be six. Brighton have too many points on the board (33) to be nervously looking over their shoulders, and performances haven’t been wretched enough to consider this a full-blown crisis. And considering Liverpool’s current form — eight Premier League wins in a row — a 2-0 defeat here was hardly a disaster. So here are some reasons for positivity. First, Brighton started excellently on Saturday. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox


Paris Saint-Germain and the wreckage of another Champions League calamity

March 12, 2022


“On Wednesday evening, moments after the final whistle in Real Madrid’s Bernabeu, the Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the club’s sporting director Leonardo descended into the bowels of the stadium. It is now almost 11 years since Al-Khelaifi’s state-backed Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) acquired PSG and, despite spending in excess of £1 billion on incoming transfers, the Champions League trophy remains elusive. This season, a devastating final half-hour from Real’s French striker Karim Benzema turned the round-of-16 tie in favour of the Spanish team, enabling a side led by former PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti to recover from a 2-0 aggregate deficit and eliminate them from the competition. …”
The Athletic (Audio/Video)


Milan: The Resurrection of the Rossoneri

March 8, 2022


“The iconic red and black silks, the cross of Saint Ambrose painted across their crest, the magnificent amphitheatre that is the San Siro – Milan are a side steeped in European footballing history. With seven European Cup and Champions League titles to their name, Milan are the second most successful club in the competition’s history behind only Real Madrid (13). The Rossoneri are also the third most successful club in Serie A, having won 18 league titles, yet the last of those came over a decade ago in 2010-11. Since Massimiliano Allegri departed for Juventus in 2014, Milan had seen seven permanent managers take to their San Siro dugout before the appointment of Stefano Pioli in October 2019. All this in addition to three different club owners in that same period, leading to a fall from grace for a club once considered among the European elite. …”
The Analyst


MLS season guide: Predictions for MLS Cup, MVP, Golden Boot and how to watch

March 6, 2022


“MLS is back, and earlier than ever before. The league’s 27th season starts this weekend with a full slate of games to close February – a start date that was necessary in order for the season to end in time for the 2022 men’s World Cup. The past offseason has seen a new expansion team – Charlotte FC – build its inaugural roster, and exciting new arrivals like Lorenzo Insigne, Xherdan Shaqiri, and too many high-potential signings from South America to list in full here. Our American soccer staff has been following all of these developments closely, and we’ll continue to do so all season long. …”
The Athletic (Audio)


Jürgen Klopp relieved as Liverpool ‘dig deep’ to sink West Ham and cut gap

March 6, 2022


“David Moyes took a few tips on Sevilla from Jürgen Klopp as he looked ahead to West Ham’s trip to Andalucía in the Europa League on Thursday. The Scot should have taken more from Anfield but Liverpool, as they must, found a way to maintain the pressure on Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. Liverpool were far from their convincing best but that will not unduly concern Klopp when presiding over a run of 12 consecutive wins in all competitions. The club’s 600th victory in the Premier League owed as much to West Ham profligacy as Sadio Mané’s predatory instincts and several rescue acts from the Liverpool defence. …”
Guardian
Liverpool 1, West Ham United 0 – Match Recap: Reds Continue Racking Up Wins
The Athletic: This Liverpool juggernaut lives to compete for every prize
YouTube: LiverpooI vs Westt Hann 1−0 – Extеndеd Hіghlіghts & All Gоals 2022


Tactical Analysis: Napoli vs. Barcelona (Second Leg)

March 4, 2022


“Thursday night’s tie between Napoli and Barcelona saw the latter put on an absolute clinic in attack. It was a performance that pressed the rewind button, reminiscent of the philosophy which made Barcelona one of the most dominant teams of the 2000s. What were the dynamics behind this? Early in the game, Napoli implemented a 4-3-3 press in order to match/outnumber Barcelona in build-up. Here, Barcelona responded by matching Napoli’s 1st line of defense using a make-shift back 3. Using a back 3 allowed 1 fullback to advance creating a wide overload as such. …”
Breaking the Lines


Could this technology solve offsides forever?

March 4, 2022


Ever since VAR was introduced, the area that has come under the most scrutiny is the application of the offside rule. FIFA have come up with an idea they hope can solve contentious offside decisions – semi-automated offsides. But what is that? How will it work? Seb Stafford-Bloor explains. Henry Cooke illustrates.
YouTube


Bruno Lage finds right connections at Wolves to shrug off Portuguese struggles

February 28, 2022


“The temptation when Bruno Lage was appointed by Wolves was to assume it would just be more of the same: another Portuguese manager, another Jorge Mendes client, at a club with a strong Portuguese core. If managers from the German school of hard-pressing are the most modish appointment for an aspirational modern club, Portugal’s disciples of Vítor Frade and periodisation are not far behind. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
W – Bruno Lage


Football Manager: Answering the questions you’ve always wondered

February 22, 2022


“When you’re deep into a game save in Football Manager, sometimes you often wonder how many other people are carrying out the same actions as you. You’ve just signed a new player, but how many other people are backing that wonderkid your coaching team says has five-star potential? It’s 3pm on Monday but you’ve already spent 15 hours of that day playing FM. How many others are in that boat? We spoke to the team at Football Manager to answer the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. All data below relates to information derived from Football Manager 2021. Football Manager 2022 is still a “live title”, so concrete data is not yet available yet. …”
The Athletic


Van Dijk’s dominance and Konate’s best performance make Liverpool good bets to reach the Champions League final

February 20, 2022


“In a tactical sense, Liverpool’s 2-0 victory away to Inter Milan felt like a very modern contest. The game was played at a frenetic tempo, both sides looked to push up and press the opposition whenever possible, and there were various moments when the defences seemed set to play themselves into trouble on the edge of their own penalty areas, such was the defensive effort of the attacking players. In situations like that, sometimes the defenders themselves are slightly anonymous — they hold a high line, position themselves to sweep up if the press is beaten, but find that their job title is slightly misleading and they don’t have to do much actual defending. …”
The Athletic (Audio)


Forge FC 0-1 Cruz Azul – Match Analysis

February 19, 2022


“While they won’t be overly pleased with the result, Forge FC continue to showcase just how far soccer has come in Canada, going toe to toe with Cruz Azul in their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League this season. Cruz may have dominated the match, but Forge put up a valiant fight to the end, and could have easily secured an important result on a different day. Here is our tactical analysis of Forge’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Mexican giants Cruz Azul, and how the Hammers should progress into the second-leg. …”
Mastermindsite


The rise of the decoy penalty taker

February 18, 2022


“You may have noticed a slightly unusual event during the final of the Club World Cup between Chelsea and Palmeiras. After Chelsea were awarded the extra-time penalty that would eventually seal the trophy, Cesar Azpilicueta grabbed that ball and stood by the spot, for all the world looking like a man who was about to take the kick. Around him swarmed mild chaos, with the Palmeiras players vehemently protesting against the VAR-awarded penalty while also doing their best to put off the man with the ball in his hands. …”
The Athletic


Is Your Striker’s Scoring Streak Legit?

February 17, 2022


“Diogo Jota controls an inch-perfect clipped through ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold expertly on his chest, his first touch taking the ball across Ben White who now knows he cannot possibly touch the Liverpool man. Aaron Ramsdale rushes out and flings himself at Jota’s feet, but not before the Portuguese striker deftly dinks the ball over him into an empty net. It’s Jota’s second of the game, and Liverpool now have a commanding 2-0 lead over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final. No Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – they’re both at the African Cup of Nations. No problem. Jota has picked up the slack brilliantly. …”
The Analyst


Cox: Rangnick and Hasenhuttl’s shared philosophy has a shared weakness

February 16, 2022


“Unsurprisingly, the first meeting between Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick and Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, formerly colleagues at RB Leipzig, felt a lot like a Bundesliga contest. There were lots of turnovers, quick transitions and end-to-end moves. Southampton’s bravery in possession was responsible for most of the chances — at both ends. Hasenhuttl started with the 4-2-2-2 formation he’s generally persisted with throughout his time in the Premier League — and the formation Rangnick failed to successfully install at Manchester United. The away side’s ‘box’ midfield caused Manchester United problems, because it left them outnumbered in central areas. …”
The Athletic: Michael Cox


The Rebuild: Celtic’s Class of 2021-22 Could Achieve Greatness

February 15, 2022


“2020-21 was miserable for Celtic. Rangers won the Scottish Premiership title at a canter, with their tally of 102 points 25 more than their city rivals – a record gap by the Gers over Celtic in a league season. It ended nine years of Celtic dominance in the league, while they failed to win a trophy for the first time since 2009-10. Celtic’s season was such a disaster, that next week marks a year since that Neil Lennon resigned as manager after leading them to back-to-back Premiership titles in 2018-19 and 2019-20. …”
The Analyst (Video)


Bundesliga 2021/22: An early look at Domenico Tedesco’s RB Leipzig – tactical analysis

February 14, 2022


“This is a difficult season for RB Leipzig, who lost the head coach Julian Nagelsmann with key players leaving during the summer. Fresh faces such as Jesse Marsch from RB Salzburg, Achim Beierlorzer returning from Mainz 05, with new players including André Silva, Joško Gvardiol, Mohamed Simakan, and Benjamin Henrichs joined the team. However, things did not go according to plan as they never looked like a side that could challenge the second place in the Bundesliga, while they were knocked out very early in the UEFA Champions League group, after losing to Manchester City and PSG. Therefore, the higher-level authority of Leipzig decided to react by parting ways with Marsch. Soon, they appointed Domenico Tedesco as the new head coach and handed him a contract until June 2023. In Tedesco’s first three games, he obtained 1W1D1L, which was not particularly impressive, but there were interesting tactics behind it. …”
Total Football Analysis (Dec. 2021)
Domenico Tedesco – RB Leipzig – Tactical Analysis
W – Domenico Tedesco


Brighton’s Brussels Blueprint: Union Saint-Gilloise

February 12, 2022


“In the outskirts of the south of Brussels, an underdog story like no other is taking place. After an almost half-century exile from the Belgian First Division A, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise sit top of the table in their very first season back in the top-flight for 48 years. However, this is not a typical tale of the rise of a minnow, this is the renaissance of a fallen giant. With 11 league titles to their name, Union Saint-Gilloise are the third most successful club in Belgium. …”
The Analyst


What Kind of Club Would Everton Like to Be?

February 12, 2022


“Here’s a list of Everton’s managers since Farhad Moshiri became the club’s biggest stakeholder in 2016: Ronald Koeman, David Unsworth, Sam Allardyce, Marco Silva, Duncan Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benítez, and, as of the end of January, Frank Lampard. Setting aside the turnover, there’s a breadth of philosophy here that any big club with aspirations to be bigger would find ungainly: Each of these managers employ a vastly different approach to soccer, and taken together, their appointments tell us that Everton has no clue what kind of club Everton would like to be. Maybe that’s the problem? …”
The Ringer (Video)


Don’t look down: the battle to avoid the drop

February 11, 2022


“Will Sean Dyche steer Burnley to safety again? How much of an impact will Newcastle’s January signings have in their bid for survival? Can Bruno Guimaraes be their saviour? And what about Frank Lampard and Everton — are they too good to go down? With at least 15 games to play for the teams in the Premier League’s bottom seven there is still so much to play for. Burnley are bottom but are only three points off safety, and they have plenty of games in hand over some of their rivals. …”
The Athletic (Video)


Cold-blooded Barcelona subdues Atletico with Tiki-Taka brilliance: Data and Tactical Analysis

February 11, 2022


“Barcelona dismantled Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou by becoming the first team to score four goals past them, since December 2012. This was Atletico’s one of the worst defensive performances in the Diego Simeone era. Colchoneros took an early lead in the 8th minute through Yannick Carrasco but it lasted just three minutes. The breath-taking equalizer by Jordi Alba assisted the Catalans to maintain the impetus in the first half and score another two goals, in the remaining half. …”
News 9 Live
YouTube:Tactical Analysis : Barcelona 4-2 Atletico Madrid | Xavi And Simeone’s Tactical Battle


Football Positions Are Evolving

February 10, 2022


Are positions relevant in the modern game of football? How can Alexander-Arnold, Matty Cash and Tomiyasu all be listed by the same position? Do we need more terms to describe players? Or do we need to look at the game in a different way? Alex Stewart explains that to better understand the game, we need to think about roles rather than positions. Illustrated by Henry Cooke.
YouTube


Tactical Analysis: Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund

February 9, 2022


“After spending the start of the decade in the shadow of the Premier League and La Liga, German football enjoyed a resurgence in the mid-2010s. 2013 saw an all-German Champions League Final between Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich, whilst the following year saw Joachim Löw’s Die Mannschaft write their names into the history books with the World Cup trophy in Brazil. When Klopp took charge of Dortmund in 2008, the club was in a financial hole and had been nothing more than a modest, lower-half side, finishing 13th in the previous season under manager Thomas Doll. Klopp, then 41, rejected interest from Bayern Munich to captain the ship at the Signal Iduna Park. …”
Breaking the Lines (Video)


Africa Cup of Nations review: sorrow, anger and Mané’s redemption

February 8, 2022


“Our writers relive their highs and lows of a tournament completely overshadowed by the Olembe Stadium tragedy. … This Cup of Nations was played under a shadow from the moment eight supporters died outside Olembe Stadium a fortnight ago. There is no excusing what happened at a venue surrounded by vast spaces and the depressing sense remains that its causes will be swept under the carpet. After driving back to Yaoundé the following day and speaking with Romaric, who had been in the ground and encountered people who had been caught up in the crush as he left, the horror of what had occurred started to become clear. A subsequent visit to the emergency hospital brought some harrowing testimonies; these are, sadly, the words and images that linger. …”
Guardian
The Athletic – Cox: Italy-esque Senegal shackled Egypt with five men – they were deserved winners (Audio)
****An African Cup of Nations Primer
NY Times – Africa Cup of Nations: Soccer Tournament Offers Joy Amid Coups and Covid
AFCON 2021: The Review
W – 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
YouTube: Senegal vs Egypt | AFCON 2021 FINAL HIGHLIGHTS | 02/06/2022, Cameroon vs Egypt – CAF African Cup of Nations 2022 2:10:39

Fans from Burkina Faso, which recently underwent a coup, rehearsed their dances and drumming before Wednesday’s semifinal.


When Underdogs Fulham Nearly Won The Europa League

February 4, 2022


Roy Hodgson’s Fulham had just survived relegation from the Premier League by goal difference. Two season’s later they were 4 minutes away from winning the Europa League. This is the story of how Roy Hodgson assembled a team of experienced and responsible players, defied the odds by beating some of Europe’s giants, and fell at the very last hurdle in extra-time to Atletico Madrid. Written by Seb Stafford-Bloor. Illustrated by Craig Silcock.
YouTube


Aubameyang, Xavi and Barcelona: Is this going to work?

February 3, 2022


“Xavi used to be an idealist. Two years ago, from the comfortable remove of Doha, he pontificated on what sort of forward suited Barcelona and who, in particular, did not: Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. ‘Aubameyang will kill you in open space,’ Xavi told the press. ‘But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces. It’s not easy to think of players who have adapted well to Barca. Samuel Eto’o was perfect, as is Luis Suarez right now.’ Ah, well, nevertheless. …”
The Athletic


Serie A: How Does Each Team Play?

February 2, 2022


“Internazionale have recovered well from the loss of manager Antonio Conte and star player Romelu Lukaku this summer, as they top the Serie A table by four points with a game in hand on the chasing pack. Despite the arrival of Simone Inzaghi as manager, Inter have largely stuck to the playing style that served them so well in 2020-21, with the club remaining one of the slowest and most intricate in style this season. However, it’s Napoli who have become the most patient in building the play in Serie A this campaign since the arrival of Luciano Spalletti in Naples – a change from last season’s more direct style under Gennaro Gattuso. …”
The Analyst


The Making of Jurgen Klopp

February 1, 2022


We all know how Jurgen Klopp has turned Liverpool FC into a behemoth of a football club, and how he broke Bayern Munich’s monopoly of German football with his Borussia Dortmund team. But little is known about his origins at Mainz. How he was thrust into a team without a manager, how he made a relegation favourite of the second tier into a Bundesliga competitor, and how he reinvented the german-footballing-style. This is the story of Jurgen Klopp at Mainz, told by Seb Stafford-Bloor. Illustrated by Alice Devine.
YouTube


The rise and fall of three-man defences and what it tells us about the Premier League

February 1, 2022


“The two managers who have defined English football’s recent craze of using a three-man defence are Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel. In his debut campaign at Chelsea, 2016-17, Conte became the first manager in half a century to win the English league title with a back three. Four years later, Tuchel used a similar system at the same club, meaning Chelsea became the first team in two decades to win the European Cup with a three-man defence. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox


How do you value a player?

January 30, 2022


“Last year a Premier League club invited their scouts to a training day where one of the exercises focused on valuations, starting with the price of a large latte from Starbucks. Everyone had to log on via an app and enter the value. A pint of beer in the local pub was next, followed by a four-bedroom detached house in a particular town in the north west. … What is Mbappe worth with six months remaining on his contract? Actually, what is any player worth? …”
The Athletic


Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis: Evolution, Not Revolution

January 28, 2022


“Holder of the highest ever win percentage at four different clubs in LaLiga – Villarreal, Real Madrid, Malaga and now Real Betis – Manuel Pellegrini wears his crowns lightly. With the exception of his time in Madrid, where being thrown out is in fact the norm, the Chilean arguably has hero status at all three of the others. For a man who has lived through the heat of Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires and Madrid, each its own brand of pressure cooker, Pellegrini’s demeanour remains demure, his manner stoic. This latest escapade brings all the baggage of a big club that is often outperformed by both its rivals and its own expectations….”
Breaking the Lines


How can we make Europe’s big leagues more competitive?

January 27, 2022


“There are still four months remaining in most European domestic leagues, but the big titles are largely already decided. It’s a situation we’ve become accustomed to: the rich clubs wrapping up the league by the turn of the year, allowing them to concentrate on what really matters to them, the Champions League. Winning the title, the fundamental point of holding a national league system, is barely a story, and tense run-ins are largely a thing of the past. …”
The Athletic


The Analyst Diary: January 24

January 26, 2022


“Nature Abhors a Vacuum. The last Burnley Premier League game to contain a goal of any kind was their 3-1 defeat at Leeds on January 2. They next play a league game a week on Saturday, the omni-postponement clasico against Watford. So that will be at least 34 consecutive days mid-season that Burnley Football Club will have neither scored nor conceded. That’s the first time that’s happened in the Premier League era, but it’s one of those detested concocted stats because, as we know, the run actually only covers three games. …”
The Analyst


The Aston Villa Revolution Will Be Televised

January 25, 2022


“You’ll be shocked to learn that a lot of soccer coverage, maybe even most, is results-driven. For instance, we were exactly 22 minutes away from another dispatch on the fragile Manchester United restoration project; Ralf Rangnick’s vulnerable, developing creation meekly pressing its head out of an awkward cocoon stage against lower-table opposition. They were winning 2-0 at Villa Park, and the second Bruno Fernandes goal, thumped in off the crossbar, felt like something wriggling free. But United still lack the ability of other big clubs to put the game out of sight, and Aston Villa are surprisingly resilient. …”
The Ringer (Video)


Football and cryptocurrency sponsorship: is the free-for-all over?

January 22, 2022


“Up until now, football’s relationship with cryptocurrency sponsorship has felt like a complete and utter free-for-all, with no rules whatsoever. Slowly but surely that is starting to change. This week the UK government announced plans to crackdown on misleading ads for cryptocurrency companies, which would treat them like ads for other financial products, a move that could have far-reaching implications in the world of football which is increasingly dependent on the booming sector. Meanwhile Spain is leading a similar charge in the EU. …”
The Athletic


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


Case Study: Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt

January 20, 2022


“Egypt is one of the most successful teams in Africa, a country known for its attacking-first style of football (especially under Hassan Shehata’s leadership) and that has won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times. … Taking over from former manager Hossam El Badry, whose period witnessed a great fluctuation in performance, this heightened pressure on Queiroz has proven to be successful. The technical staff includes Diyaa El Sayed, Mohamed Shawky, Essam El-Hadry, and Wael Gomaa, as well as performance analyst Mahmoud Seleem. This piece will look to investigate all aspects of Egypt’s play, including how players fit the game model and training sessions used in the process. …”
Breaking the Lines
W – Carlos Queiroz


Cliques in football dressing rooms: The good, the bad and the ugly

January 19, 2022


“‘When it comes to dressing-room dynamics, one of the major issues you’ve got is that there’s no other industry in the world where, on the most important day of the week, over 50 per cent of the workforce isn’t used for the big moment,’ a Premier League coach tells The Athletic. … We are talking about dressing-room cliques: why they form, what damage they can do, and how managers can try to prevent divides and schisms from creating bigger problems. …”
The Athletic


AFCON 2021: The Stats So Far No.2

January 18, 2022


“Each team have played two games at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations – some have already qualified for the last 16, some have very little hope of going any further. What have we learnt from the opening two matchdays so far? …”
The Analyst


How do you value a football club?

January 16, 2022


“Imagine you are looking for a new house. You want something modern and you know what part of town you would like to live in — somewhere central and with growth potential. You are not quite ready to start traipsing around places yet, so you start your search online and you quickly find something that looks right up your street and is just about within budget. Hold on, what’s this? The same place on a different website for 15 per cent more? Oh no, it’s on this other website for 70 per cent more? Woah, here is something saying the owner will only listen to offers of twice as much as the first price! How much does this place cost? Can I choose the price I like? …”
The Athletic


When football’s laws are so inflexible, referees’ gaffes are harder to swallow

January 16, 2022


Tunisia’s coach Mondher Kebaier remonstrates with the referee Janny Sikazwe at Africa Cup of Nations
Janny Sikazwe made a mistake and ended up blowing for full time after 85 minutes of Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations meeting between Mali and Tunisia. Forgetting to stop the watch during a water break (if that is what happened) is an understandable error – particularly given he was subsequently taken to hospital suffering from heatstroke – and one that could easily have been rectified. As it was, though, Sikazwe, an experienced referee who took charge of the 2017 Cup of Nations final as well as Belgium v Panama and Japan v Poland at the 2018 World Cup, looked rattled. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
The Athletic: Three final whistles, two penalties, a dubious red card and a potential replay – the AFCON game mired in controversy (Audio)


Coutinho’s downward spiral: how it went wrong for Barcelona’s record signing

January 14, 2022


“‘All Barcelona fans, all around the world, are very excited about getting to know Coutinho,’ said Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, as the Catalan club’s new record signing was presented at the Nou Camp in early January 2018. … That welcome has not aged well. Flush with the money from selling Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record €222 million the previous summer, Barcelona could have targeted any player they wanted. They fixed their gaze on Coutinho, and would not let go until Liverpool had haggled the fee up to €120 million, plus another €40 million in add-ons. For all that money, Barcelona have so far got 106 games, 25 goals, and 14 assists. … But the move has actually been a disaster, for the club and the player. …”
The Athletic


Roma 3 Juventus 4 – unpicking the chaos and fallout from an instant classic

January 13, 2022


“It was a match to savour before new restrictions come into effect in Italy which will limit attendances at Serie A games to 5,000 fans for the next fortnight. Either the Italian Football Federation consented to it or prime minister Mario Draghi was prepared to shut down the league until the international break at the end of the month as cases of COVID-19 continue to spike. Roma supporters have been turning out in droves for games at the Stadio Olimpico this season. …”
The Athletic


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


Sensible Transfers: Tottenham Hotspur

January 12, 2022


“In this Sensible Transfers series, In this series, we will analyse teams, identify problem areas, and suggest solutions in the form of incoming players. With Antonio Conte Tottenham Hotspur have already shown signs of improvement. But with Conte comes an expectation to sign players that fit his way of playing. Spurs have players in certain positions of genuine top class ability (for example, in attack), but have inefficiencies in defence and centre midfield. So who would Tifo sign? Seb Stafford-Bloor suggests solutions. Illustrated by Craig Silcock.”
YouTube


AFCON 2021 guide: The storylines, the underdogs and the games you won’t want to miss

January 9, 2022


“The latest Africa Cup of Nations is just around the corner. It’s been a long road to get here for a competition that has been moved around the calendar multiple times and, in the style of Euro 2020 last summer has the ‘wrong’ year in its official title, but 24 teams are now finally set to duke it out in Cameroon to become the next champions of Africa, with the tournament getting underway on Sunday, and finishing on Sunday, February 6. Here’s everything you need to know. …”
The Athletic (Audio)
NY Times: The Joy in Embracing the Unknown (Video)
New Frame: Behind concerns over Afcon is a culture of disdain
Predicting the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 Winner
GOAL – Afcon 2021 predictions: The contenders and the pretenders (Video)


The Importance of Speed in Modern Center Backs

January 9, 2022


“The hardest thing in life to live up to is expectations. In football, expectations on clubs, managers and players have never been higher. As fans, on top of expecting players to give their all-in games, we want them to be the epitome of perfection in their position. We expect strikers to be as equally proficient outside the box as they are inside of it. We expect midfielders to thread Xavi like through balls, cover the midfield like N’Golo Kante, and score goals like Frank Lampard. Now, these wild expectations have turned to centre backs. Beforehand, there was no requirement on centre backs to be fast; or even bring the ball out of defence. Reading the game well, putting in strong challenges, and winning aerial duels was enough. However, that has all changed. …”
Breaking The Lines


Freiburg Are This Season’s Fitting Bundesliga Darling

January 8, 2022


“This weekend, the Bundesliga returns from its winter break. It’s fair to say it hasn’t been a vintage season in Germany’s top flight. At the start of the season, there was some hopeful anticipation for a more competitive title race after each of last season’s top-six finishers changed head coaches. But when the league entered the break a few weeks ago, Bayern Munich held an all-too-familiar lead atop the table with a nine-point advantage over second-place Borussia Dortmund. It’s not a hugely surprising scenario. After all, Bayern have won the past nine Bundesliga titles. …’
The Ringer (Audio)


Sensible Transfers: Barcelona

January 7, 2022


“In this Sensible Transfers series, In this series, we will analyse teams, identify problem areas, and suggest solutions in the form of incoming players. Barcelona are still riddled with huge debt, and whilst they want to look dominant in the transfer market, the reality is they need to be selective with who they bring in. Xavi has returned as manager and promised a return to a ‘Barcelona-style’. So which players would fit into a ‘Barcelona-style’? Alex Stewart suggests solutions for an attacker and a left-back. Illustrated by Henry Cooke.”
YouTube


Analysing Mendy and Kelleher’s wonder saves and the importance of not backpedalling

January 6, 2022


“Chelsea came from behind to draw 2-2 with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as two of the outsiders for this year’s Premier League title kicked off 2022 with one of the most entertaining matches of the season. After an action-packed first 45 minutes resulted in all four goals, it was the goalkeepers that stole the show in the second half. Edouard Mendy was first called into action in the 57th minute, denying Mohamed Salah’s daring effort from range with a superb leap to his right. A minute later, Mendy made another big save to his right, to keep out a stinging attempt from Sadio Mane after a wonderful interchange between Mane and Salah found the Liverpool attacker free on goal. …”
The Athletic (Video)


Freiburg head coach Christian Streich: 10 years a Bundesliga treasure

January 5, 2022


“Freiburg head coach Christian Streich says football ‘never gets boring’ for him as he celebrates a decade in charge of the Black Forest side. That’s right, the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current tactician brought up 10 years in the job on 29 December, a remarkable achievement in what is famously a results-oriented and subsequently often a transitional role. There was a certain poetic elegance then, when the 56-year-old recorded his 100th Bundesliga victory as head coach in his team’s final game of 2021, the last-gasp 2-1 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 17 a fitting way of ushering in the anniversary of his appointment. …”
Bundesliga (Video)
NY Times: The Teachings of the Philosopher of the Black Forest (June 2020)
W – Christian Streich