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


The Five Kingdoms of Football

January 4, 2022


“… The Counter Kingdom. A week’s march leads your squad across a frozen tundra dotted with igloos. You show the locals your leopard ball and they kick it around clumsily on the ice. No one appears to know how to put it in the mixer, if they even understand what you’re asking about — it’s hard to tell. They speak in inscrutable tongues: Italian, Spanish, Broad Norfolk, Black Country. Frankly, these people seem less interested in playing with the ball than in keeping you from kicking it, which is a little weird, but as long as you don’t get too close they’re a pretty peaceful bunch. Farther up the snowy coast you meet a druid. …”
The Athletic
****The Athletic: Who never fouls? Who presses? Who hoofs it? What our data experiment says about your team
****The Athletic’s football analytics glossary: explaining xG, PPDA, field tilt and how to use them (July 2021)


Overperforming Real Madrid? Underperforming Barca? Analysing how La Liga season could unfold

January 2, 2022


“There are many ways to win in football — but scoring more goals than you really should have, while conceding fewer than would have been expected, is a pretty good mix. Real Madrid have definitely been outperforming their numbers over the first half of this La Liga season, both in attack and defence. These are two big reasons why Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been able to open up what already looks a potentially decisive lead over their challengers — eight points over second-placed Sevilla, an astonishing 17 to champions Atletico Madrid in fifth, and 18 to Barcelona in seventh (albeit with Real Madrid having played a game more). …”
The Athletic (Video)


Can Antonio Conte’s Tottenham spend in January?

January 1, 2022


“Tottenham announced their financial results recently and whilst the headline figures may have seemed depressing, can new manager Antonio Conte spend to improve the club’s chances of winning a trophy? Kieran Maguire explains why. Illustrated by Philippe Fenner.”
YouTube
ESPN – Tottenham’s Antonio Conte calls for January signings: We need to improve squad (Video)


It’s Too Soon to Panic for Manchester United and Ralf Rangnick

December 30, 2021


“Earlier this month, in the 54th minute of a Champions League draw against Young Boys, Manchester United fans serenaded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer—and not for the first time since he was sacked. This was strange for two reasons: First, it offered a loving kiss goodbye that no Premier League manager really gets to have—particularly one who was posted to the position for less than five years, and whose only contribution to the trophy cabinet in that time was a Europa League runners-up medal. Second, the future without Solskjaer looks brighter than it has on the Red side of Manchester in eight years, since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. For real this time. …”
The Ringer (Audio/Video)
The Athletic: What made Sir Alex Ferguson so successful? (Audio/Video)
The Athletic: ‘You win nothing without kids’ – Alex Ferguson’s obsession with youth
Guardian – ‘Not a problem of formation’: Rangnick bemoans Manchester United physicality
YouTune: Alex Ferguson: The Man, The Myth, The Manager


Tactical Theory: Analysis on marking systems

December 30, 2021


“With the constant evolvement of football tactics and with the defensive systems becoming more and more structured and organised, any football fan needs to understand the basics of defending in football. Defending is applying pressure, both as a player and as a whole team, on the opponent to prevent him from progressing forward to your own goal. A team can mark and press every player, but then there will be no room for error because when the marker gets passed, the team is immediately outnumbered. Then you can defend zonally, but you can’t let the opposition have all the time they want on the ball too. So there are a lot of defensive strategies applied by any team and for any particular match, according to the current circumstances. Football teams in the modern era defend as a unit, and every player is getting a particular defensive task in every game. …”
Total Football Analysis (April 2020)


Introducing the no-touch All-Stars

December 28, 2021


“For a minute this weekend against Chelsea, it looked like Conor Coady might have to come off. He had just made what could have been a game-saving tackle, reaching a perfectly timed toe around Christian Pulisic to snuff out an open shot from the top of the box, but Coady twisted his ankle while going to ground and had to be helped off the pitch. As play restarted without him, the TV crew talked about how rare it was to see Wolves without their captain. Since the start of this season, Coady has played 1,788 out of a possible 1,800 minutes for his club, plus three World Cup qualifiers for England. …”
The Athletic


Tifo video: A guide to 3-4-3

December 26, 2021


“… Using a 3–4–3, the midfielders are expected to split their time between attacking and defending. Having only three dedicated defenders means that if the opposing team breaks through the midfield, they will have a greater chance to score than with a more conventional defensive configuration, such as 4–5–1 or 4–4–2. However, the three forwards allow for a greater concentration on attack. This formation is used by more offensive-minded teams. The formation was famously used by Liverpool under Rafael Benítez during the second half of the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final to come back from a three-goal deficit. It was also notably used by Chelsea when they won the Premier League under manager Antonio Conte in the 2016–17 season and when they won the 2021 UEFA Champions League Final under Thomas Tuchel. …”
W – 3–4–3
YouTube: Tifo video: A guide to 3-4-3
YouTube: Why is Germany’s 3-4-3 working so well? (June 2021)


Bruno Lage: Profiling Wolves’ Manager

December 23, 2021


“Wolves are consistent again this season under new manager Bruno Lage who arrived in the summer from Benfica, replacing his fellow countryman Nuno Espirito Santo who moved on to Tottenham Hotspur. Similar to Espirito Santo, Lage aims to play a hyper-compact system with three central defenders providing a strong foundation and wingbacks who provide width just behind or level with three forwards who lead the line. Examining Wolves’ season up to this point will tell you one thing concretely, they haven’t really skipped a beat since switching managers. At the time of writing, the club sit 8th in the Premier League with 24 points after 17 games played. Almost halfway through the season, Wolves look solid, consistent and difficult to break down, despite having not scored a ton of goals. …”
Breaking The Lines
The Athletic (Aug. 2021)
W – Bruno Lage


How do Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich teams compare?

December 22, 2021


“Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich set a new benchmark for what it means to win at Germany’s already most successful club, claiming seven trophies in just over 18 months. That winning feeling has very much continued under successor Julian Nagelsmann, but how do the two teams compare after six months under the young tactician? …”
Bundesliga (Video)
W – Hansi Flick


‘It was like kicking a piece of concrete’ – When goalkeepers used to hoof it

December 20, 2021


“Ah, the life of a goalkeeper. Sometimes you’re the hero, you have to do a lot of shouting and one mistake makes you a high-profile villain. It’s a strange life. In better news, you get to wear gloves in cold weather without any old boy pundits asking whether you’re ‘soft’. On top of all of this, you have to be able to play out from the back these days, start moves, pick out passes under pressure and often play very high and act as a sweeper. You need a full skill set. But it wasn’t always quite the same. A video emerged last week of keepers from the 1970s and 80s hoofing it. You might have seen it. If not, here it is. …”
The Athletic


The Barcelona Inheritance – Jonathan Wilson

December 18, 2021


“… His new book is The Barcelona Inheritance: The Evolution of Winning Soccer Tactics from Cruyff to Guardiola. Wilson takes his tactical knowledge and applies it to a specific coaching tree, albeit one that is quite famous. Johan Cruyff has traditionally been attributed with creating the modern Barcelona style of play. Even today, with every new manager, the questions are asked whether the new man can keep Barcelona playing the same tika taka style while churning out the next great generation of soccer talent every year. Wilson explores Cruff’s legacy through the men who succeeded him at Barcelona and in the Netherlands. …”
Review of Jonathan Wilson’s new book, ‘The Barcelona Inheritance’
Jonathan Wilson and The Barcelona Inheritance
amazon


Counter Attack

December 17, 2021


“Counter Attack is a football (soccer) strategy game which lasts for 90 minutes. The two players (‘managers’) each control a team of 11 players. Every player has a unique set of skills that the managers try to best utilize during play. Managers control how the players move, pass, dribble, tackle and shoot. Duels between players on the pitch – whether tackles, shots or headers – are determined by a combination of the unique player skills plus a dice roll. During movement phases, a sand timer is used to keep the pace of the game up. Counter Attack features everything you’d expect in a game of football, from corners to free kicks, penalties to red cards and injuries. …”
Revolution Beats (Video)
amazon


What happened to Philippe Coutinho?

December 16, 2021


“In 2017 Philippe Coutinho became one of the world’s most expensive transfers as he completed a move to Barcelona from Liverpool, where he had been the club’s joint top-scorer in the Premier League, and top assist provider. However, ever since then his career has fallen. What happened? Why? And where is he now? Seb Stafford-Bloor explains. Henry Cooke illustrates.”
YouTube
W – Philippe Coutinho


Can Napoli, Italy’s Romantic Title Challengers, Keep Their Dreams Afloat?

December 15, 2021


“It seems to be a law of football that, in each league and each cup competition each season, there must be a romantic challenger: a team that may not necessarily have the best chance of success, but plays the game in such a way that they attract the affection of the average fan. In the past couple of years in Serie A, it has been Atalanta; this year, that mantle has passed to Napoli. Coached by Luciano Spalletti, whose trademark of thrilling football was first widely evident at Udinese in the mid-2000s, the Southern Italian side has much to love about it. …”
The Ringer


WTF is Group G?

December 14, 2021


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


The whip, the timing, the genius – Alan Shearer analyses Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool goals

December 13, 2021


Mohamed Salah is the best in the world right now. The best goalscorer and the best player, full stop. The little magician is doing his stuff in the best league in the world and he’s doing it against the best teams and in the biggest games, whether it’s Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United or Everton, Atletico Madrid or AC Milan. Week-in week-out, year-in year-out, Salah performs magic. How he came only seventh in the latest Ballon d’Or voting is anybody’s guess. There’s an obsession with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, which is understandable given how dominant they’ve been over the modern era, but if you gave me a choice of any player for my team today it would be Salah. …”
The Athletic (Video/Audio)


What Do We Mean by Good Soccer?

December 11, 2021



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


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

December 10, 2021


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


The rise of the underlap

December 9, 2021


“Imagine you’re Andrew Robertson in the Merseyside derby and you see Sadio Mane up ahead about to gather a loose ball at the corner of the box and dribble at the defence. You’ve got a quick decision to make. One thing you could do is hang back and let Mane try to beat his man one-on-one. After all, you’re nominally a defender, and if Liverpool lose the ball someone will have to stop Andros Townsend and Richarlison from counter-attacking up your flank. …”
The Athletic (Video)


Aston Villa: Why Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is heading back to Anfield next weekend on a high

December 7, 2021


“For Liverpool and England, Steven Gerrard was always a player who could change games. Now he is doing the same as Aston Villa’s manager. Sunday’s win over Leicester was Gerrard’s third in his first four matches at Villa, following a narrow defeat by defending champions Manchester City on Wednesday. He’s made an amazing start to life as a Premier League boss, but I am not surprised at all. I said when he got the job that I thought he was ready and would be a success, because of the job he did at Rangers. He put his own stamp on the club when he was at Ibrox, and he is already doing the same at Villa. …”
BBC (Video)


Xavi gets tough: Basic hotels, communal meals and early arrivals demanded by Barcelona’s new head coach

December 6, 2021


“Three weeks back at Barcelona, after six years away in Qatar, Xavi has already begun to set in place the deep structural changes he has long planned to make on and off the pitch at the Nou Camp. The most visible immediate changes have been with the team — in Xavi’s first three games in charge Barcelona have been playing with more confidence and intensity, pressing higher and harder, taking more risks, breaking forward with more players. The doom and gloom that surrounded the Catalan club through the final stages of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s disastrous presidency has also been replaced by a wave of positivity and optimism — a feeling that despite the club’s huge debts and unbalanced squad they have turned a corner. That feeling is also shared by Xavi. …”
The Athletic
Guardian: Xavi is the epitome of Barcelona brilliance but times have changed


Midfielder

December 6, 2021


Kevin De Bruyne
“A midfielder is an association football position. Midfielders are generally positioned on the field between their team’s defenders and forwards. Some midfielders play a strictly-defined defensive role, breaking up attacks, and are otherwise known as defensive midfielders. Others blur the boundaries, being more mobile and efficient in passing: they are commonly referred to as deep-lying midfielders, play-makers, box-to-box, or holding midfielders. The number of midfielders on a team and their assigned roles depends on the team’s formation; the collective group of these players on the field is sometimes referred to as the midfield. Most managers assign at least one midfielder to disrupt the opposing team’s attacks, while others may be tasked with creating goals, or have equal responsibilities between attack and defence. Midfielders are the players who typically travel the greatest distance during a match. Midfielders arguably have the most possession during a game, and thus they are among the fittest players on the pitch. …”
Wikipedia
TOP 10 CENTRAL ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS IN FOOTBALL RIGHT NOW
The 10 best midfielders in world soccer right now


ESPN FC 100: Messi, Lewandowski, Oblak among No. 1s; Premier League has most representatives

December 4, 2021


“For the sixth consecutive year, ESPN presents its annual ranking of the best men’s players and coaches in world soccer! Welcome to FC 100. As always, rankings are broken down into Top 10 lists for positions, plus a countdown of managers, in order to present the most meaningful look at talent on the pitch and the sideline. Whereas last year was dominated by Liverpool and Bayern Munich — the clubs combined for eight of the 10 No. 1 spots — the leaders in this year’s edition are spread across six teams, with none having more than two men on top of their respective category. …”
ESPN (Video)
Go to: Goalkeeper | Right-back | Centre-back | Left-back | Central midfield | Attacking midfield | Winger | Forward | Striker | Manager


The rise of Ralf Rangnick, godfather of German coaching, manager of Manchester United

December 4, 2021


“This week wasn’t the first time Ralf Rangnick had been interviewed for a job at Manchester United. Or that’s how it felt to him, at least. In the autumn of 2019, United’s football director John Murtough travelled to Leipzig to study the Red Bull football group’s facilities and corporate strategy. A proud Rangnick, eager to show off a Champions League club he had essentially built himself, hosted Murtough for eight hours, at the end of which the German sensed that the real reason for the visit might have been him. His suspicion that he had been sounded out was strengthened when he got word that an unnamed club was conducting background research into his working methods, tapping into his mentor Helmut Gross, a trained structural engineer turned tactical maverick, and Lars Kornetka, a long-time Rangnick collaborator, for insight into his footballing beliefs and his character. …”
The Athletic
W – Ralf Rangnick
YouTube: Brief History Of: Ralf Rangnick


Scipio Africanus and the Carthaginians: The Flank Dilemma in the Premier League

December 2, 2021


“… As funny as this may sound, the famous general was actually right. But the question is, how do you make the other bastard look dumb? Well… you deploy the best tricks up your sleeve to fool them. Let’s rewind back to the Third Punic War when Scipio Africanus ran a ‘clever trick’ on the Carthaginians at the Battle of Ilipa. Both the Romans and the Carthaginians had armies composed of their well-trained, homegrown soldiers and not-so reliable Iberian allies, almost half/half for each. For a few days, the two armies were camped close to each other and would come out during the day and form up. Scipio always put his legionnaires in the center and positioned his Iberians on the wings, whilst the Carthaginians followed their lead and did the same with their army and engaged in a staring contest. …”
Breaking The Lines


Marcelo Bielsa Is Right To Raise Doubts About The Future Of Football

November 30, 2021


“The hectic festive football schedule is a fundamental part of British society around Christmas. So much so that football fans always look ahead to who their teams are facing around the holidays and to them it is very much one of the best things around the Christmas period. But with the growing physical demands of the game and congested schedule, it may be time to sacrifice in the entertaining cluster of fixtures in quick succession to have matches filled with more energy and quality. …”
The Sportsman


2021 Copa Libertadores Final: Palmeiras 2 – Flamengo 1

November 29, 2021


“The 2021 Copa Libertadores Final was the final match which decided the winner of the 2021 Copa Libertadores. This was the 62nd edition of the Copa Libertadores, the top-tier South American continental club football tournament organized by CONMEBOL. The match was played on 27 November 2021 at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay, between Brazilian sides Palmeiras and Flamengo. Palmeiras defeated Flamengo by a 2–1 score after extra time in the final to win their third title in the tournament, and second in a row. As winners of the 2021 Copa Libertadores, they qualified for the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup and earned the right to play against the winners of the 2021 Copa Sudamericana in the 2022 Recopa Sudamericana. …”
Wikipedia
Libertadores 2021: The Final Chapter (Nov 25, 2021)
YouTube: Palmeiras (BRA) vs Flamengo (BRA) | LIBERTADORES FINAL HIGHLIGHTS | 11/27/21


A Guide to 4-4-2

November 27, 2021


“One of the most traditional formations in football, the classic 4-4-2, has fallen out of favor with many of the top sides around the world. Why has it fallen out of favour? How can it be used effectively? Written by Eric Laurie, illustrated by Philippe Fenner. …”
YouTube


What’s so special about the half-spaces? (With help from Rene Maric)

November 25, 2021


“Back in 2014, Rene Maric was a football tactics blogger training a team of amateurs when he got curious about a geometry he’d come across in coaching circles. Managers like Jurgen Klopp and Ralf Rangnick didn’t just divide the pitch into vertical halves or thirds. They talked about five horizontal zones running the length of the field, like the ones Pep Guardiola chalked on his training pitch at Bayern Munich to help guide players’ spacing and movement. The outside zones were easy to name; those were the wings. The middle was the middle. Germans had a specific term for the two bands in between: halbraum, or ‘half-spaces’. Maric admitted it was ‘not a good word’ in English, but for lack of any better ideas, the name stuck. He wrote a long post for Spielverlagerung on what made these two extra zones worth paying attention to. …”
The Athletic
Guardian – From chatroom to the bootroom: Rene Maric’s very modern coaching journey (Sep. 2018)
W – René Marić


Analyzing Xavi’s First Game as Barcelona Manager

November 25, 2021


“Xavi finally made his debut as a coach in the Barcelona dugout. Since the departure of Lionel Messi at the beginning of the season, it has been evident that this season is going to be very difficult for Barcelona. As Antoine Griezmann was released on the transfer window deadline day, Barcelona’s star-studded forward line suddenly began to cross the line into agony. It appeared that Ronald’s Koeman’s dismissal was only a matter of time. Xavi finally made his debut in the Barcelona dugout after a short spell of 3 matches by Sergi Barjuan. However, the path in front of Xavi is not smooth at all. Barcelona has been out of the top four in the league table for a long time, and the threat of being eliminated from the Champions League group stage is quite real. In this team, Xavi does not have a specific target man except Luke de Jong, but his performance should not persuade Xavi to include him in the lineup. …”
Breaking The Lines


Cox: City can beat elite teams without a prolific forward – it’s against the cautious sides it becomes a problem 

November 23, 2021


“Sometimes it feels like every Manchester City game is a test of whether playing without a prolific forward is viable, and the consensus can swing wildly from one match to the next. But City’s upcoming week might demonstrate why. On Wednesday, they face Paris Saint-Germain — a side averaging 62 per cent possession in Ligue 1, and naturally attack-minded by virtue of having multiple superstar forwards. Either side of PSG’s visit, City host Everton and West Ham United, two of the more cautious sides in the Premier League. Everton are averaging just 41 per cent of possession, the fourth-least in the league, and while West Ham are more positive in that respect, only Newcastle United pressure the opposition less frequently in the final third than David Moyes’ side. City’s next three opponents are typical of their managers. …”
The Athletic – Michael Cox


What has gone wrong at Southampton?

November 21, 2021


“Southampton were once known for their savvy in the transfer market and their dedication to promoting from their youth teams. But Southampton – ‘savvy in the transfer market’ became Southampton – ‘a selling club’, and in recent years they have been unable to reproduce the talent they have lost. How did they form a team of such talent? Why haven’t they done it since? What is their plan going forward? Alex Stewart explains, Philippe Fenner illustrates.”
YouTube


‘I have ambition to manage an elite team, but I am in no hurry’ – Xabi Alonso happy to learn at Real Sociedad

November 21, 2021


“‘My role here is fundamental,’ Xabi Alonso tells The Athletic as he shelters from the rain by a pitch at Real Sociedad’s Zubieta training ground. The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder is now back home in the Basque Country, at the club where he developed as a player and where his current job is to coach the youth team, Real Sociedad B (which they all call Sanse). … The evidence suggests that Alonso and everyone else working at Zubieta have indeed been getting this right. Very right. Real Sociedad’s first team are top of La Liga, Alonso’s Sanse are the only youth team playing in the adult Segunda Division. …”
The Athletic


The Tactics behind Union Saint-Gilloise’s Belgian Title Challenge

November 16, 2021


“The Jupiler Pro League (Belgian first division A) has largely been dominated in recent years by just a handful of teams. You would have to go back to 1997 to find a champion whose name isn’t Club Brugge, Gent, Genk, Anderlecht, or Standard Liege. If you travel all the way back to 1935, you enter an era dominated by Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. USG won three titles between 1932 and 1935, and after hibernating for over 70 years, they are back at the top of the table. Only promoted last season, they currently lead perennial champions Club Brugge by 4 points. … Many interesting dives into the rise, fall, and resurrection of the club under Brighton chairman Tony Bloom have been written. Few though have studied the tactical setup of USG though, and how manager Felice Mazzu has swept aside the heavyweights of the Benelux. There’s a wholesome uniqueness about the attack, and a riskier edge to their defence. …”
Breaking The Lines


What it’s like to play for Steven Gerrard: Intense, obsessive winner and creates a ‘no excuses’ culture

November 14, 2021


Steven Gerrard has swapped the marble staircase of Ibrox for the concrete one that leads into Villa Park. They are two stadiums whose brick facades possess an enduring character and whose designs were concocted by the same architect, Scotsman Archibald Leitch. When it comes to talk of building things that last, though, they now have another common denominator in Gerrard, who arrives at Villa looking to make them into a force again, just as he did over his three and a half seasons in charge at Rangers. He is a manager seeking one final destination in Liverpool but who is plotting a path by restoring similarly grand clubs — particularly, those giants who are sleeping. ..”
The Athletic (Video)
The Athletic – Gerrard’s Aston Villa in-tray: Solve defensive issues, get more out of Buendia and Bailey, invest in youth (Video)
W – Steven Gerrard


How Football Actually Works

November 14, 2021


“The game of football can be divided, split, and broken down into many elements. But as a team, there are certain passages of play you will always encounter. In this video, we will explain the 10 categories of phases of play; In-possession, out of possession, transitions, and set-pieces. Explained by Eric Laurie. Illustrated by Philippe Fenner.”
YouTube


Patrick Vieira – Crystal Palace – Tactical Analysis

November 12, 2021


“After Roy Hodgson’s retirement from the game, many thought Crystal Palace were doomed for relegation. However, with a couple of new signings and a more energetic, attack-minded style of play, Patrick Vieira has taken Palace to new heights. While they sit just tenth place in the table, Vieira’s Eagles have now gone unbeaten in their last six matches, including a massive 2-0 win to set title-contenders Manchester City back a peg. Even in matches they’ve lost the season, the signs of what’s to come from Palace in the future are promising. So with that, here is a tactical analysis of Patrick Vieira’s new-look Crystal Palace. …”
The Mastermindsite
How Patrick Vieira’s Impressive Tactical Revolution Is Taking Shape at Crystal Palace (Sep 23, 2021)
W – Patrick Vieira


Why you should be watching… Napoli

November 12, 2021


“Luciano Spalletti is crafting a Napoli side with the characteristics of his recent predecessors. Possession-based and quick in attack, like the side of Sarri. Ruthless in defensive with a cohesive press, like the sides of Ancelotti and Gattuso. And as Alex Stewart explains, the first title since 1990 isn’t out of the question. Illustrated by Henry Cooke. …”
YouTube


‘You either improve or you die’ – What it’s like to play for Antonio Conte

November 9, 2021


“After the Tottenham squad had spoken to their colleagues at Chelsea about what to expect from Antonio Conte as head coach, some felt a degree of trepidation. This is perhaps understandable. After all, they would have been told about the ferocious work ethic, the instructions during training that are so relentless he has to constantly suck throat lozenges and the volcanic temper that can erupt when things are not going his way. Most who have worked with Conte have a story or two to tell. … But they will also be working with a head coach who likes to foster a team spirit and camaraderie, and demands that his squad become a tight-knit group. This is what it’s like to play for Antonio Conte…”
The Athletic (Video)
W – Antonio Conte


Rennes hammer Lyon and take aim at Champions League places

November 9, 2021


“On a weekend when the other teams in the mix for the European places stumbled – draws for Monaco and Marseille, a defeat for Nice – Sunday night fixture looked like an appealing one, with Lyon traveling to Rennes. It was no shock that the match would feature so much attacking play but it was a surprise that nearly 90% of it came from Rennes. They ran out convincing 4-1 winners to move up to fifth in the table, just a point behind Nice and Marseille. The result was something approaching a shock given Lyon’s impressive recent form and the fact that Rennes were missing a handful of important players. …”
Guardian


History of FC Barcelona

November 9, 2021


Barcelona’s Copa del Rey-winning squad of 1928.
“The history of Futbol Club Barcelona begins from the football club‘s founding in 1899 up until the present day. FC Barcelona, also known simply as Barcelona and familiarly as Barça, is based in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. The team was founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English, German and Spanish footballers led by Joan Gamper. The club played amateur football until 1910 in various regional competitions. In 1910, the club participated in their first of many European competitions, and has since amassed fourteen UEFA trophies and a sextuple. In 1928, Barcelona co-founded La Liga, the top-tier in Spanish football, along with a string of other clubs. As of 2020, Barcelona has never been relegated from La Liga, a record they share with Athletic Bilbao and arch-rival Real Madrid. The history of Barcelona has often been political. Though it was a club created and run by foreigners, Barcelona gradually became a club associated with Catalan values. In Spain’s transition to autocracy in 1925, Catalonia became increasingly hostile towards the central government in Madrid. The hostility enhanced Barcelona’s image as a focal point for Catalonism, and when Francisco Franco banned the use of the Catalan language, the stadium of Barcelona became one of the few places the people could express their dissatisfaction. The Spanish transition to democracy in 1978 has not dampened the club’s image of Catalan pride. In the 2000s – a period of sporting success in the club and an increased focus on Catalan players – club officials have openly called for Catalonia to become an independent state. …”
W – History of FC Barcelona
W – Joan Gamper
How society and politics gave us Catenaccio and Total Football
A Brief History Of FC Barcelona
Paulino Alcántara: Barcelona’s Filipino icon who blazed a trail for Messi
The importance of Catalonia – past and present – to Spanish football
In the pantheon of modern-day greats, where do Sergio Busquets’ unique talents rank?
YouTube: Barcelona, Johan Cruyff & Catalan Independence, La Masia: The History of Barcelona’s Academy

Barcelona face PSV in the 1977–78 UEFA Cup semi-finals. They also finished the season as Copa del Rey winners.


West Ham display the virtues of manager Moyes to shock Liverpool

November 8, 2021


“As Pablo Fornals ran on to Jarrod Bowen’s through-ball midway through the second half, the London Stadium fell into one of those pregnant silences that were probably the greatest loss of the time without fans. Over the course of what can only have been two or three seconds but felt far longer, you could almost hear the thought processes. First, was he going to get his shot in? Yes. Then, was he set to measure his finish? He was. Then, was his shot going to beat Alisson? It did, just about, carrying on into the net despite a hefty touch by the keeper. Is the London Stadium still disliked by West Ham fans? Perhaps it is. …”
Guardian: Jonathan Wilson
Guardian: Kurt Zouma earns West Ham victory as Liverpool run ends with Alisson errors
West Ham United 3-2 Liverpool – Tactical Analysis – How Moyes’ Men Claimed Victory


Examining Gasperini’s Tactics & Their Influence on Serie A, Part I: The Seeds of the High Press

November 7, 2021


Roma’s 2016/17 side played a classic Italian style that was Gasperini’s own introduction to senior football as a player in the seventies.
: “A Dutchman praising an Italy side beating his home nation is still a rare sight in football, but you heard the sound of that very pin drop after Louis Van Gaal’s praise this week. ‘For the first time,’ Van Gaal enthused at a Firenze press event, ‘I really loved watching an Italian team play.’ Roberto Mancini’s Italy walked away 1-0 winners against the Netherlands but, for those of us who’ve stuck with Serie A through its 21st century makeover, the manner of Mancini’s foot-ball—one featuring a team effort to win the back high and early—was nothing new. You could say current Serie A coaches Paulo Fonseca and—for a far longer spell of paying his dues over the last fifteen years—Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini have a hand in it. …”
Part I: The Seeds of the High Press
Part II: Moving From Year Zero to Club Legend
Part III: Building a Club Institution

A mid-season midfield partnership between Javier Pastore and Gianluca Mancini helped draw opponents into pressing Roma’s makeshift 4-3-3 phase while building up inside the Giallorossi half.