Fernando Hierro – Spain’s emergency manager with a pastoral touch

June 30, 2018


“The message arrived very late on the night Spain played their opening match against Portugal, so Miguel Linares did not see it until the following morning. When he looked at his phone, he says he could hardly believe it: it was from the national team manager, Fernando Hierro. The day before Linares had announced that, out of contract at 35, he was leaving second division Real Oviedo, where he had played for four seasons. During one of them – and not an especially successful one in 2016-17 – his manager had been Hierro, who now wrote from Russia to wish him well and offer thanks for everything he had done.” Guardian


50 Years Of World Cup Doppelgangers

June 29, 2018

“*FiveThirtyEight’s Modeled Event Soccer Similarity Index (MESSI) is a system that evaluates and compares player performances across 16 metrics. Each metric is measured on a per-match basis, and for each metric we calculate a z-score — the number of standard deviations above or below average for that World Cup. The similarity between players’ performances is based solely on the average between each of their 16 z-scores — in other words, comparisons match players who are good at similar parts of the game, but the model ignores details like a player’s age or position. Players must have played at least 30 minutes in a given World Cup to be included. Play styles are generated through k-means clustering. Only successful crosses, tackles, passes, take-ons and headers are counted, and tackles, interceptions and blocks are adjusted for the time of possession that the player’s team had during each match. Progressive passes and dribbles advance the ball at least 10 yards toward the opponent’s goal or into their box. Expected goals is the number of goals that our model thinks an average player would score based on the quality and quantity of shots taken, and non-shot expected goals is an estimate of the number of goals an average player’s non-shooting actions — passes, take-ons, interceptions, tackles and headers — would generate for his team.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup 2018: Analysing the tactical flaws England will look to exploit against Colombia in the Round of 16

June 29, 2018


“If it remains difficult to judge England’s level of ability, after two victories against below-par opposition and a defeat with a second-string XI, something similar can be said of Colombia for very different reasons. Jose Pekerman’s side have blown hot and cold, with a fine 3-0 win over Poland sandwiched by a 2-1 defeat to Japan and a nervy 1-0 win over Senegal yesterday. The Japan loss was influenced heavily by the fact Colombia were down to ten men for almost the entire contest, and the Senegal performance was compromised by star man James Rodriguez clearly being unfit, lasting just half an hour. It seems unlikely he’ll be fit to start against England, and certainly won’t be 100% fit.” Independent – Michael Cox


Arrogant Germany Accepts Its Shocking, Deserved World Cup Elimination

June 27, 2018


“KAZAN, Russia – Against Sweden, when Toni Kroos whipped in his late winner, the general feeling was that this was what Germany does. This was what it has been so good at over the years. Always, somehow, finding the vital goal at the final moment. Always somehow, finding a way through. This is the essence of being a Turniermannschaft–a tournament team–that no matter how badly actually plays, it always prevails.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

World Cup 2018: Germany boss Joachim Low admits side deserved to go out
“Germany manager Joachim Low says his side deserved to go out of the World Cup after they crashed out in the group stage in ‘historic’ fashion. The defending champions finished bottom of Group F after losing 2-0 to South Korea, the first time Germany have gone out in the first round of a World Cup since 1938. ‘This is something for us to reckon with,’ Low said. ‘This is historic. I am sure this will create some public uproar in Germany.’ Sweden won the group with a 3-0 win over Mexico at the same time, which meant Germany needed to win their game in Kazan.” BBC (Video)

Germany Flamed Out In Spectacular, Historic Fashion
“Say goodbye to another defending World Cup champion: Germany, the team that won it all four years ago, is officially out of the 2018 tournament. Despite ultimately only needing a win over South Korea — the fourth-worst team in the field, according to our pre-tournament soccer power index ratings — to advance to the knockout round, the Germans were upended 2-0 on Wednesday in what was easily the biggest upset of the World Cup thus far. (Going into the match, our model only gave South Korea a 5 percent probability of winning.)” FiveThirtyEight

Germany’s approach was football suicide – I’ve never seen such an experienced side so exposed
“England fans will have allowed themselves a satisfied smile as Germany made a shock World Cup exit. Some of those celebrations will not be so quiet. Opportunities to laugh at German football’s expense are rare. Such triumphalism should be accompanied with a warning. Remember what happened the  last time a German team were eliminated in the group stages of  a major tournament? It was Euro 2000. A restructure by the German football federation brought the World Cup 14 years later, as well as a few final and semi-final appearances in between. What has been clear over the course of three poor performances is that another rebuild of the German team is needed.” Telegraph – Jamie Carragher

Germany Is Out of the World Cup. Let’s All Laugh at Die Mannschaft.
“For the first time since 1954, Germany will not be exiting the World Cup’s group stage. South Korea stunned the defending champions 2–0 on Wednesday, sending Die Mannschaft to the bottom of Group F and out of the tournament for good. As a once unstoppable juggernaut heads home, the rest of the soccer world struggles to find a word to describe the joy it is feeling at Germany’s expense. While other nations ebb and flow between ‘golden generations’ and talent draughts, Germany chugs along with infuriating consistency.” Slate

‘Over and out’: media reacts to Germany’s World Cup exit
“In Germany. Niedergeschlagenheit (noun, feminine): Despondency. German football fans, who had never seen their country fall at the first hurdle of a World Cup finals before, will recognise it as they pick up their papers on Thursday morning. Their team, the holders and one of the pre-tournament favourites, finished bottom of Group F after a 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Wednesday. Bild. Germany’s most popular newspaper is ‘speechless’ as it contrasts its front page from June 2014 – after the national team inflicted a 7-1 semi-final defeat on Brazil on its way to winning the World Cup – with its Thursday edition. The headline is the same. The story is not.” Guardian


Nigeria vs Argentina: Ever Banega’s return frees Lionel Messi from creative duties to inspire victory

June 27, 2018

“Argentina required a late goal from a hugely unlikely source – the right boot of Marcos Rojo – but their approach throughout their 2-1 victory over Nigeria was at least an improvement upon past displays. How much credit manager Jorge Sampaoli can take remains questionable, however, after various reports Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano are effectively now running the dressing room.” Independent – Michael Cox

What’s wrong with Argentina? We now value ‘balls’ more than talent
“So many things are wrong with Argentina we do not know what is wrong; so much is happening no one knows what is happening. You could start an article on the news pages with that same line but they fit on the sports pages too because these are turbulent times for our football. It was not always like this. For many years, football made up for our long political, social and economic decline.” Guardian


From Elimination to Elation: Argentina Somehow Staves Off Early World Cup Exit

June 27, 2018


“It’s probably best not even to try to make sense of it. You have Lionel Messi in your side. You bring on Sergio Aguero to play alongside Gonzalo Higuain in front of him. You have taken off Angel Di Maria. You have just brought on Cristian Pavon. None of them look like scoring. Passes are misplaced. The shape has gone. Every attempt to advance, it seems, runs into a Nigerian wall. It’s the same story as against Iceland, as against Croatia. All of the ball, no penetration. And then the goal comes. You make all your plans, you squeeze in as many gifted forwards as you can, and somehow the vital 86th-minute winner is scored by Marcos Rojo turning up with no justification whatsoever to volley in a rare accurate cross from Gabriel Mercado. With his wrong foot.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Argentina Takes Its Bad Self to the Knockout Round
“With time running out and his team on the brink of group-stage elimination, everyone in the world knew there was only one man Argentina could count on to find the winner against Nigeria. Yes, Marcos Rojo, the versatile defender who made nine Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season. Scorer of four goals in the last four years for club and country. Perhaps the last person you might expect to save his country by scoring a late goal, other than Argentina forward and chronic international choker Gonzalo Higuain. Rojo’s claim, made in an interview after the game, that he told his teammates he was going to score is either a sign of a healthy, functioning ego or grounds for a psychiatric evaluation, even considering that one of those four goals in the last four years was the winner against Nigeria in the 2014 World Cup.” Slate

Argentina Survived the Group Stage. But How Far Can Messi Carry Them?
“On a team with Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Ángel Di María, few would have predicted that Marcos Rojo — yes, that Marcos Rojo; the one who scored just one goal in four seasons with Manchester United — would be the hero who put Argentina ahead of Nigeria and into the knockout stages.” The Ringer


Brazil, Spain, Germany, France failing to find attacking balance

June 25, 2018


Brazil – Neymar
“Football tactics are generally considered a mere necessary evil in football, discussed purely in terms of hampering individual freedom and disrupting opposition play. But tactical planning is also about attacking, about creating the right balance between different concepts to create a cohesive, harmonious but varied threat in the final third. Finding the balance in attack, combining different concepts and formulating how they come together smoothly is the most fascinating element of football strategy. An all-round attacking force offers various qualities: runs in behind, width to stretch play, movement to create gaps in the opposition, late runs from midfield, a target in the middle, a player between the lines to link play, and some degree of long-range, goal-scoring threat to ensure you don’t actually need to penetrate the defence. Limited to only three or four attacking individuals, however, coaches have a tricky balancing act. So far, none of the four favourites for World Cup 2018 — Brazil, Spain, Germany and France — have found the right balance.” ESPN – Michael Cox


The Sleepers To Watch In The World Cup Knockout Rounds

June 25, 2018

“The World Cup is not traditionally the tournament for underdogs. The trophy has been lifted by just eight countries — and five of those have won multiple times. But there’s usually enough room for a few Cinderella stories to creep into the knockout phase: Bulgaria (1994), South Korea (2002) and Turkey (2002) were unexpected semifinalists, while Cameroon (1990), Ghana (2010) and Costa Rica (2014) crashed the quarterfinals. At least one country seems to do this every four years. We see three teams that could fit the bill this summer. Before the tournament, each of them had no greater than a 3 percent chance of winning it all, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model, but each has performed well so far and could make a strong run in the knockout rounds.” FiveThirtyEight


Chaos as Poland falls to earth with a bump

June 25, 2018

“It seemed to come completely out of the blue. Poland, a side that had stormed through the Euro 2016 qualifiers, made it to the quarter finals of the main tournament, qualified again easily for the World Cup, in the top 10 in the world rankings, blessed with world class players like Robert Lewandowski, have somehow tumbled out of the World Cup with a whimper not a bang, totally devoid of any of the qualities that have been their trademark over the last four years or so. How did this disaster happen?” Rightbankwarsaw


Why do African countries hire non-African football coaches so much?

June 23, 2018

“It seemed strange when in the run-up to Afcon 2013, Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi forcefully criticised African football associations for their preference for white coaches. That when Zambia, until this week the great success story of African football, had Hervé Renard to thank for masterminding their unlikely triumph last year in Libreville. Yet Keshi has a point. The success of Zambia under Renard should not obscure the fact that African football administrators have always failed to appreciate and make use of its own resources and talent. This is true of football as it is of Africa’s national economies.” Africa is a Country


World Cup 2018: How Belgium Became Cool

June 22, 2018


“The only true Belgian, goes a long-running joke, is the king of the country. Riven by tensions between its French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish, and with the identity of Brussels largely defined by it’s being the capital of Europe, rather than Belgium, the country’s existence as a unified nation often seems tenuous at best. But in the last decade, another national institution has come to symbolize what it means—or, at least, might mean—to be Belgian: the national soccer team, known as the Red Devils. Packed with star players well-known from their professional careers in the English Premier League (considered the world’s best), the national squad is also notably for its diversity, with many players from immigrant backgrounds. In 2014, the Belgian pop star Stromae wrote an anthem for the Red Devils and released a playful video with the coach and players. Heading into this year’s World Cup, the team embodies the contradictions, and possibilities, of an uncertain nation.” NYBooks

Belgium’s Last Stand
“In the span of about 30 minutes in the second half of their opener against Panama on Monday, Belgium displayed the heights of their potential, and the purest distillation of their flaws. After a first half with more squandered opportunities than most teams have in a full game, Belgium capitalized when Dries Mertens smacked a volley from the corner of the box past Jaime Penedo and into the back of the net. Just over 20 minutes later, Romelu Lukaku doubled his team’s lead, and then six minutes after that added a third goal for good measure. It was what happened between the Belgians’ opening goal and their second that was cause for concern.” The Ringer (Video)


Shambolic, frenzied, anarchic – and Argentina crisis has Messi at its heart

June 22, 2018


“It was in 1913 that Racing became the first non-Anglo side to win the Argentinian league title. For much of the century that has followed, Argentinian football has defined itself in opposition to the English, distancing itself from its British heritage. And yet, under pressure, in their frenzied desperation on Thursday, Argentina resembled nobody so much as England. This was shambolic. Too many players tried to do too much themselves. There was altogether too much running, too much frenzy, too many fouls conceded as they desperately tried to regain possession, too little thought. By the end, as Ivan Rakitic casually rolled in a sarcastic third for Croatia, Argentina were gone, any semblance of defensive structure blown to the winds.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

World Cup 2018: Jorge Sampaoli’s approach was an utter disaster that rendered Lionel Messi useless
“There was always a danger Argentina might flop at World Cup 2018, but it shouldn’t have been this pitiful. If Argentina were going to go down, they were going to go down fighting, with coach Jorge Sampaoli a noted advocate of aggressive pressing, attacking football and quick combination play. If those tactics exposed them defensively, it was a risk Sampaoli was willing to take. But the approach Sampaoli stumbled upon somehow provided all the drawbacks without any notable positives. Argentina didn’t press high, they didn’t attack relentlessly, and it’s difficult to recall any passing moves worth mentioning, yet they were still hopelessly open defensively, conceding space on the outside of their three-man defence readily. Only poor Croatian finishing prevented them from taking the lead earlier.” Independent – Michael Cox

Mentally and emotionally burned out, Lionel Messi crumbles under the burden of carrying Argentina at the World Cup
“By the time a humiliated Argentina emerged from the dressing room in Nizhny Novgorod, it was late – in so many ways. A stony-faced Lionel Messi at least led the way here, but this time with ample support as the entire squad followed tightly behind…and right on through the mixed zone without stopping once. Argentina were at last singing from the same hymn sheet in this World Cup by not saying anything all.” Independent

As fighters, as entertainers, as a team, this Argentina project has failed
“On 21 June 1978 Argentina’s World Cup defeat of Peru went down in history as one of the most controversial games ever. The goalfest and intelligent football that unfolded on that cold night in Rosario, as the wonderful Mario Kempes found his feet on his home turf of yesteryear, were eclipsed by allegations which kept conspiracy theorists and investigative journalists busy for years. Argentina, aware they needed to win by at least four goals to progress in their home tournament, triumphed 6-0 amid rumours that an exchange of grain between the countries had been brokered in the dressing room. They went on to lift the trophy.” Guardian (Video)


Russia Is Not This Good — Right?

June 22, 2018

“Before the 2018 World Cup kicked off last week at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, much had been written about why Russia was so bad at soccer. A convincing 5-0 opening match win over Saudi Arabia — Russia’s first win at the tournament since 2002 also matched its largest margin of victory at a World Cup — surely helped to allay some of those criticisms. But there was still no looking past the fact that the host nation ranked 70th in the FIFA world rankings and was looked at by bookmakers as a relative long shot to win the whole thing.” FiveThirtyEight


An Exorcism 40 Years in the Making

June 21, 2018

“It’s been 48 hours and I still can’t believe it: On Sunday, against all odds, Mexico beat Germany, reigning World Cup champion and undisputed machine of world soccer, in a stunning display of tactical brilliance, athletic prowess, and pure sporting hunger. Over the past decade, the Germans have methodically altered their approach to the game through an unprecedented development program that has radically altered the way the country plays the sport, teaching youngsters to forgo pure German strength and embrace possession and flair. The experiment reached its pinnacle four years ago in Brazil, where Germany destroyed the home team at its own game and won the tournament handily. The rest of the world could only watch in awe.” Slate


World Cup 2018: Diego Costa strikes lucky to down Iran and help Spain keep pace with Portugal

June 21, 2018

“Of course it was Diego Costa who broke the deadlock. He is a forward who bursts dreams as casually as others pop bubble-wrap, a player who, when his mood is right, gives the impression of being able to muster a goal from almost any circumstance. Half-chances, penalty box ricochets and opportunities wrestled from opposing centre-backs are his meat and drink. For 55 minutes, Spain had been held at arm’s length.” Independent – Jonathan Wilson


World Cup 2018: VAR helps tournament reach 10 penalties – so is it working?

June 20, 2018

“… The introduction of video assistant referees was one of the major issues heading into this World Cup and, as expected, it has been a near constant talking point during the first round of games. Four penalties have been given using VAR, while England and Brazil both had cause to be unhappy with the system. Like it or not, it is certainly having an impact – 10 penalties have been awarded in 17 matches. The World Cup record is 18 for an entire tournament.” BBC (Video)


Europe And South America Are Growing In Soccer Power — That Wasn’t Supposed To Happen

June 20, 2018


“If there’s been a dominant trend in the first week of the 2018 World Cup, perhaps it has been how well European nations from beyond the continent’s traditional giants have performed. Iceland, Switzerland, Serbia, Sweden, Croatia and Russia are all off to a strong start. This should be no surprise. Only two nations from outside Europe and South America have made the World Cup semifinals (the United States in the inaugural competition in 1930 and South Korea in 2002). In 20 previous World Cups, only 12 countries have reached the final — all from Europe or South America — and only eight sides have won the tournament.” FiveThirtyEight


The race for the Golden Ball is not all about Ronaldo, despite his matchday one heroics

June 20, 2018

“WORLD CUP 2018 was widely hyped as the tournament where Leo Messi might finally taste success at international level, after several disappointments in an Argentina shirt. After one complete round of the World Cup, however, it’s his long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo who is the competition’s outstanding performer so far, after his hattrick in Portugal’s electrifying 3-3 draw with Spain. A World Cup hattrick is, in itself, a very rare occurrence. There were none in 2006, one in 2010 and two in 2014, so Ronaldo’s treble was clearly a significant achievement. It was also an unusual hattrick comprised of a penalty, a free-kick and a goal from open play.” UniBet – Michael Cox


Tunisia 1-2 England: Southgate’s men hold their nerve, stay patient and find a way to win

June 19, 2018

England defeated Tunisia 2-1 in Volgograd courtesy of good organisation in two different respects: a cohesive, unusual system in open play, and pre-planned set-piece routines. The former ensured England dominated, the latter provided the goals. Gareth Southgate has consistently deployed this 3-5-2 system since England clinched qualification for this tournament, and it’s proved difficult for opponents to cope with late midfield runs. While the three-man defence has made something of a comeback in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons, partly thanks to Antonio Conte’s impact at Chelsea, it’s generally structured as a 3-4-3 rather than 3-5-2, with two holding midfielders screening the defence, and two inside-forwards drifting inside.” Independent – Michael Cox

Tunisia 1-2 England: Southgate’s men hold their nerve, stay patient and find a way to win
“‘There are infinite routes to goal,’ the Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez said after his side’s win over Egypt last Friday, ‘and all of them are equally valid.’ It’s just that the one England preferred to take – twice – was a Harry Kane header from a corner (much as Uruguay had opted for a Jose Gimenez header from a corner). There’s something a little odd about this bright new England, with its back three, its passing, its ace and its modernity scoring two from that most traditionally English of methods, but Gareth Southgate will not care and nor should any England fan. What was most impressive here was not so much the goals as the method.” Unibet – Jonathan Wilson


Sweden Moves on From Zlatan Ibrahimovic, But His Specter Still Looms

June 19, 2018

“NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia – There will come a day when this Sweden team can rid itself of the albatross of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it has not come yet. Sweden beat South Korea 1-0 on Monday, its first victory in the opening match of a World Cup since 1958. Two draws will see it through to the last 16 for the first time since 2006. It may not have been particularly fluent, but Janne Andersson’s side was compact and coherent, controlled the game and applied enough pressure to win. Yet even as the final whistle blew there were whispers on social media: what if Zlatan were there?” SI – Jonathan Wilson (Video)


World Cup 2018: How Mexico stunned Germany by exposing their full-backs and harassing Toni Kroos out the game

June 18, 2018


“The first four days of World Cup 2018 have featured a string of impressive underdog performances, largely about sitting back and frustrating the opposition. Iceland’s defensive-minded approach worked well against Argentina, Switzerland were content to soak up pressure against Brazil, and both recorded unexpected draws. Mexico’s approach in yesterday’s 1-0 victory over reigning champions Germany, however, was braver, bolder and ultimately more successful. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has been criticised for his constant chopping and changing, but while he might be reactive, that doesn’t mean he’s defensive. Here, he used a 4-2-3-1 system, rarely seen throughout Mexico’s qualifying campaign, in order to nullify Germany’s strengths and expose their weaknesses.” Independent – Michael Cox (Video)

World Cup 2018: Germany ‘crestfallen’ as shock Mexico defeat is called ’embarrassing’
“It was a defeat that left Germany ‘crestfallen’, was described as an ’embarrassment’ by the country’s media and even triggered an earth tremor, such were the celebrations in Mexico. World Cup holders Germany looked a shadow of their usual selves as they were humbled 1-0 in Moscow – and the result could have been much worse for them. But despite the loss – the first for a German team in a World Cup opener since 1982 – coach Joachim Low remains confident that his side will progress to the knockout stage in Russia.” BBC (Video)


Belgium 3 – 0 Panama

June 18, 2018


“Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium proved too good for World Cup debutants Panama in the opening match in England’s Group G. After a goalless first half, Belgium, ranked third in the world, finally broke Panama’s resistance when Dries Mertens steered in a spectacular volley. Panama, 55th in the rankings, had a chance to snatch an equaliser but Thibaut Courtois was quick off his line to save Michael Murillo’s shot with his legs.” BBC (Video)

World Cup 2018 tactics: Roberto Martinez in danger of putting Belgium’s star-shaped pegs in square holes
“Roberto Martinez has been criticised by Belgium supporters for many of his tactical choices amid concerns this crop of superb talent might be in the hands of the wrong person. Martinez’s exclusion of Radja Nainggolan – the third best player in Belgium, according to Martinez’s predecessor Marc Wilmots – was… confusing. Nainggolan retired from international football as a direct result. But – and there is a but – Martinez won the FA Cup with Wigan once. So he must know what he’s doing. Right?” Telegraph


Seismic Event: Mexico Stuns Germany at the World Cup

June 17, 2018


“MOSCOW — Hirving Lozano’s first-half goal and sturdy second-half defense gave Mexico a 1-0 victory over Germany on Sunday, providing the first major surprise of the 2018 World Cup. It was hard to recall a bigger result for Mexico, which has hosted the World Cup twice but has never advanced past the quarterfinals. Germany, the defending World Cup champion, has won the tournament four times, and was expected to seriously challenge for a fifth crown in Russia. But the Germans seemed flummoxed by the Mexicans’ speed and directness in the first half, and they couldn’t find a reply to Lozano’s goal.” NY Times

Mexico Just Taught Germany a Lesson: Never Win a World Cup
“The World Cup had its first great game on Friday when Spain and Portugal dueled to a 3-3 draw, and it had its first upset on Sunday, when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano gave Mexico a stunning 1-0 win over Germany. Mexico’s gameplan from the start was to rely on a counter attack to pressure their opponents, and Germany allowed them an unimpeded path. They pushed a high line—and stuck with 31-year-old Sami Khedira, a once rangy but now limited midfielder—in the middle to keep Mexico out of the box. Khedira is a step slower than he was four years ago, and Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger aren’t around to clean up for his mistakes.” The Ringer

He’s Got a Winning Record. So Why Do Mexican Fans Want the Coach Fired?
“PASADENA, Calif. — A few weeks ago, Juan Carlos Osorio, the coach of Mexico’s national soccer team, sat in the sunny courtyard of a Beverly Hills hotel, nursing a cup of coffee and reliving the moment in 2016 that very nearly derailed his 20-year journey from a small club on Staten Island to his first World Cup. Osorio, 57, had just presided over the most humiliating defeat in Mexico’s history, a 7-0 demolition by Chile in the quarterfinals of the Copa América, the world’s oldest international tournament. It was the sort of loss that gets a coach fired, especially in Mexico — provided Osorio didn’t quit first.” NY Times

Joshua Kimmich leaves a Philipp Lahm-shaped hole in the Germany defence
“There is no position over which the opinion of supporters and football managers can clash more starkly than full-back. Fans invariably love a marauding type who gets up and down the wing, dives into tackles and is generally both no-nonsense in defence and a swashbuckling attacking presence. Note the cult hero status that was quickly bestowed last year on Sead Kolasinac at Arsenal and note too how Arsène Wenger very quickly decided that he would rather stick with the more positionally disciplined Nacho Monreal. Telegraph


Swiss hold out to neutralise Brazilian firepower and earn share of points

June 17, 2018

“… Lionel Messi endured a misstep in his opening game with Argentina against Iceland and his former Barcelona team-mate, Neymar, experienced similar frustration on a night when Brazil had cause to bemoan a couple of costly decisions that went against them. The highlight of the game was an arresting 25 yard strike from Philippe Coutinho but the main talking points centred around a push on Miranda by Steven Zuber before he equalised for Switzerland early in the second half and the denial of a Brazil penalty late on.” Telegraph

Switzerland’s Zuber heads controversial equaliser to deny Brazil victory
“This was not how Brazil had scripted it. The five-times world champions were in control thanks to a trademark Philippe Coutinho screamer and the first step to avenge the trauma from the previous finals looked set to be sure-footed. Yet one lapse was all it took for Switzerland to crash back into it – Steven Zuber heading the equaliser – and, with a priceless result within their grasp, they were in no mood to relinquish it.” Guardian

In Brazil, Soccer Madness Seems to Be Moving in Reverse

With social and political problems weighing heavily, Brazil’s enthusiasm for the World Cup is not as high as in recent tournaments, even though the team is among those favored to win it. Children are still playing, though.
“RIO DE JANEIRO — There may be no better barometer of Brazil’s enthusiasm — or lack thereof — for the World Cup than Jorge Rudge Street. Every four years, months before the start of the tournament, which Brazil has won more than any other country, residents spend their nights painting murals and hanging green and yellow pennants between light poles along the street, in the working class neighborhood of Vila Isabel. A big screen is set up for watch parties that often include performances by famous musicians. Not this year.” NY Times


Portugal vs Spain: Cristiano Ronaldo shows new side to his game in classic clash of World Cup styles

June 16, 2018

“Formulate a checklist for the ideal World Cup encounter, and Portugal 3-3 Spain would tick every box: a historic rivalry, an early goal, a high tempo throughout, tremendous technical quality, both sides leading at various stages, a couple of stunning strikes, and a late twist. It was an aesthetically remarkable game, a consistently entertaining game, and also a strategically fascinating game, not because of formations or substitutions, but because Spain and Portugal attacked in entirely different ways.” Independent (Video)


World Cup Scouting: David Silva

June 15, 2018

“The first marquee match of the 2018 World Cup is Spain against Portugal. The match had enough drama to stand on its own merits, one of the favorites to win the tournament playing against the current champions of Europe, and that was before a chaotic 48 hour whirlwind laid waste to Spain’s camp. In the space of two days Spain’s manager Julen Lopetegui was hired to manage Real Madrid, announced the news suddenly before it leaked, and then was fired over how it all went down.” StatsBomb


How Russia’s counter-attacking showed pointlessness of possession without purpose

June 14, 2018


“There will not be many occasions when Saudi Arabia’s players have enjoyed 62 per cent of the possession on the home turf of a European opponent and yet for much of the first half, as the world watched Russia kick-off its own tournament, the team in green had the ball. This is the way that so many modern managers aspire to play, and when they watch the best teams in the world it is easy to see why. Possession football is well established as the game’s purest form – the right way to win and perhaps even the right way to lose.” Telegraph

The Goal That Sealed Russia’s Latest Victory on the World Stage
“Watching the first game of the World Cup, an entirely lopsided affair between Russia and Saudi Arabia, burdened with the knowledge that the U.S. national team had not qualified for the tournament, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a sports-world reiteration of our country’s broader failures on the international stage. As was recently revealed in a detailed report from The Ringer, America’s absence was the product of factors that, these days, ring familiar: blithe incompetence (especially in the former manager Jürgen Klinsmann’s seeming inability to manage the personalities on his team) and an institution-wide focus on everything but the common good.” New Yorker

Pomp, absurdity and goals galore get Russia’s show off to a delirious start
“Take that! On opening night in Moscow the World Cup turned a full-flush red, setting off like a train inside a periodically delirious Luzhniki Stadium. Every tournament needs a fully functioning host nation. The fear had been that an ageing, stagnant Russia team might bleed a little life from the World Cup right at the start. In the event it all went off like a dream. There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin. A commendably short opening ceremony played out like a homespun Saturday teatime TV oddity.” Guardian


Nine Reasons Why Brazil Will Win the World Cup

June 14, 2018

“… They’re among the betting favorites, but the Selecao still haven’t quite emerged as the favorite. ‘As good as Brazil are, they’re still arguably underrated,’ said Omar Chaudhuri, head of footballing intelligence at the consultancy 21st Club. There’s a chance we’ll get to July 15 and wonder, as we watch Neymar lift the World Cup trophy, how we didn’t see it all along. So, to prevent that from happening—and to risk some relatively minor, low-stakes, online embarrassment—here are nine reasons why Brazil is gonna win it all.” The Ringer (Video)


A World Cup Sleeper May Be Lurking In Group H

June 14, 2018

“Group H is potentially the most interesting in Russia this summer. While the average group difference in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index score between the best and worst teams is about 25, Senegal’s SPI rating of 66.0 is only 14.5 points lower than Colombia’s 80.5. Poland (73.3) and Japan (71.4) are rated very similarly in the middle of the group. On top of this, the teams are filled with exciting attacking players from Europe’s strongest leagues: Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Colombia’s James Rodríguez (Bayern Munich), Japan’s Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Senegal’s Sadio Mané (Liverpool) will all be battling to make an impression on the world’s biggest stage.” FiveThirtyEight


The History of Lionel Messi and Argentina vs. the World Cup

June 13, 2018

“In Argentina, it’s a gambeta. Derived from the gaucho literature of South American cowboys, the word was initially used to describe the distinctive running motion of an ostrich. Before the industrialization of Argentina’s Pampas, the vast grassland that covers most of the nation’s northeastern pocket, wild-riding gauchos served a vital purpose in an era when farmland had yet to be systematized: They looked after cattle. But as the story goes, the British eventually arrived with their barbed wire, the concept of ‘fencing’ was introduced, and the gaucho didn’t matter anymore.” The Ringer (Video)


Mexico May Need To Beat Germany To Have Hope — Good Luck With That

June 13, 2018

“Germany, the defending World Cup champion, is one of the favorites to win the tournament — FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index ranks Die Mannschaft third behind only Brazil and Spain. Although their personnel may have evolved over the past few years, the Germans still maintain a style of methodical possession football that has been consistently successful on the world stage over the past 15 years. They don’t face any particularly fierce challenges in this relatively soft group; they were rather lucky to catch Mexico in a down year, a tame Swedish side and a South Korean team that is one of the weakest in the field.” FiveThirtyEight


Belgium And England Headline The World Cup’s Most Lopsided Group

June 13, 2018

“Group G is one that neutral fans would be forgiven for skipping until the final round of matches. Given the overpowering, Premier League-fueled strength of Belgium and England compared with minnows Tunisia and World Cup first-timers Panama, this group is really about who finishes first. And unless something miraculous happens, this is likely to be decided by the match between the two giants on June 28.” FiveThirtyEight


Brazil Got A Lot Better Since The Last World Cup

June 12, 2018

“By Brazilian national team standards, the past several years have been rough. The Selecao were blown out by Germany in the semifinals of a home World Cup and failed to make the finals of the Copa America in either 2015 or 2016. But the numbers suggest that brief lull is over: Brazil, the favorite to lift the cup in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, is once again the best team in the world.” FiveThirtyEight


France: Shine on you crazy diamond

June 12, 2018

“France are undoubtedly one of the strongest team in the competition. With a deep squad overloaded with talent and individual quality, they are one of the teams to watch this summer. The team has a lot to make up for after the lost European Championships on home soil two years ago. The talent pool got a lot stronger, in fact I would struggle to pinpoint either position as their clear weakness.” Discovering football one day at a time


Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?

June 12, 2018


“Lionel Messi still has not won a senior international tournament.1 His Argentina was defeated by Germany in the last World Cup and lost on penalty kicks to Chile in the final of the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016. La Albiceleste will be looking to win Messi the trophy he deserves, and for the first step on that journey, the team has been drawn into an entirely winnable group with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.” FiveThirtyEight


World Cup favourites choosing defensive-minded midfielders over deep-lying playmakers

June 11, 2018


“The most fascinating tactical development over the past few World Cups has been the increased popularity of the deep playmaker. Having nearly become extinct around the turn of the century, it’s notable that recent World Cup winners have generally depended upon a great creative influence from deep.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


France’s Group-Stage Tuneup Will Tell Us Whether It’s A Contender

June 9, 2018

“Group C is all about France. The issue isn’t so much whether the team will qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup. Rather, it’s what France’s play over its matches with Peru, Denmark and Australia will say about its chances of winning the whole tournament.” FiveThirtyEight


Russia 2018: Group G Betting Tips

June 9, 2018

“Group G is arguably the most predictable in this competition – because, to put it frankly, Tunisia and Panama are two of the weaker sides at the World Cup. England and Belgium both have serious flaws, particularly in defence, but it would be hugely surprising if they struggled to get through this group.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


Can Morocco Squeeze Past Spain Or Portugal?

June 7, 2018

“Group B features what could have been one of the World Cup’s unexpected teams to watch in Morocco, whose 72.3 rating in FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index places the Lions of the Atlas as the 18th best in the world, tops among all teams from Africa and ahead of more touted underdogs like Iceland and Peru. In Group A, Morocco would be the story. But an unfortunate draw matched it with defending Euro champion Portugal and perennial power Spain.” FiveThirtyEight


Russia 2018 Group D – Betting Tips

June 7, 2018

“Two teams at this World Cup appear gloriously unpredictable: you wouldn’t be surprised if they reached the semi-finals; equally, crashing out at the group phase is eminently possible. The first is Portugal, and the second is Argentina. The link is obvious: underwhelming sides with plenty of defensive question marks, but captained by an all-time great. But whereas Cristiano Ronaldo tasted success with Portugal at the European Championship two years ago, Leo Messi is still searching for a first taste of international glory – the Olympics notwithstanding – for Argentina.” Betting Tips – Michael Cox


Russia 2018: Group B

June 4, 2018

“The defence is arguably the best in the competition. Even if Dani Carvajal isn’t fit, Cesar Azpilicueta is a fine replacement, with left-back Jordi Alba crucial for offering thrust and speed from the left. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique aren’t friends off the pitch, but remain reliable as a defensive partnership, and David De Gea is surely the best goalkeeper at the tournament. There’s a slight question over Sergio Busquets, who is more isolated in this system and is increasingly lacking mobility. Nevertheless, Spain are rightly strong favourites for this group and probably overpriced to win the World Cup overall. …” oddschecker – Michael Cox


Russia 2018: Group C

June 4, 2018

“Judge the 32 World Cup sides purely upon the overall standard talent within the squad, and France might be the most feared squad. But despite – or perhaps because of – Didier Deschamps’ strength in depth across the pitch, he’s struggled to decide upon his best XI or formation. The problems from Euro 2016, where France reached the final but Deschamps struggled to choose between 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1, might be apparent again here. In a team blessed with versatile, quick attackers and energetic box-to-box midfielders, one of France’s key players might be someone completely different – Olivier Giroud. There’s no guarantee he’ll start, especially because he’s such an effective Plan B, but Giroud is perfectly suited to the slower nature of international tournaments, especially in matches where France will play against a deep defensive line. …” oddschecker – Michael Cox


England blow hot and cold against Nigeria after Gary Cahill’s quick start

June 2, 2018

“The encouraging news for England is that Harry Kane is looking sharp, Raheem Sterling seems remarkably unaffected by all the recent scrutiny and, if Gareth Southgate’s team can play in the World Cup as they did here during the opening 45 minutes, perhaps it is not too outlandish to think they can make a decent impression in Russia, after all. Unfortunately that tells only part of the story and, with England, there always seems to be a cloud attached to every silver lining. Two-nil ahead at the break, Southgate’s team looked on course to win with ease. …” Guardian


Claudio Suárez picks his all-time Mexico XI

May 29, 2018


“In goal it has to be Jorge Campos. Like me, he played in three World Cups and also played in over 100 games for the Mexico national team. In my opinion, he was the best goalkeeper that Mexico has ever had. My first centre-back is Rafael Márquez because of what he has done in Europe with Barcelona, where he won four league titles and two European Cups. He has played over 140 games for the national team too – and he could feature in a fifth World Cup! Carlos Salcido was an extremely efficient centre-back and was so effective in over 120 appearances so he earns a place in my team. …” Guardian


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

May 29, 2018

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


How to Find Footballing Beauty in the Age of Stats

May 29, 2018

“Can you really blame them? Technological advances meant that the most casual hobbyist could put up a blog that looked roughly as reputable as a specialist site and skim information from around the world. Distribution channels — social media, podcasts, and Fan TV-type video — multiplied. It’s a fun hustle for those who can make it work. This development hardly troubled traditional football media, which has always internalized the bare minimum from its challengers whilst fending them off. It did, however, change the language of football fandom. Your average fan now speaks in the sweeping, definitive language of a talking head, interpreting everything — who did what now; who should be signed; who should be fired, because someone should always be fired — through the prism of whether it helps a team. …” StatsBomb


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

May 27, 2018


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


Coherent, convincing and modern: Gareth Southgate offers touch of hope

May 18, 2018

“Know ye by this press conference that we, the FA, consent to the contracting of World Cup squad-ship between our dearly beloved Gareth and his brave 23-man selection. Although obviously not Jack, Joe, Adam or Jonjo who are on this occasion gutted to miss out, but for whom the door is never closed, and all the lads are still very much in the frame going forwards. …” Guardian (Video)


Sunderland’s hall of shame: club’s (mostly bad) signings under Short

April 29, 2018


“These are all the transfers/seasons that post-date May 2009 when Ellis Short assumed full control of Sunderland. Short did take a controlling interest in the club in September 2008 but we have not included recruitment between then and summer 2009 as, at that time, he delegated transfer business to Niall Quinn and the Drumaville consortium also still had a limited say.” Guardian


Will Carlo Ancelotti be Italy’s next manager?

April 29, 2018

“The deadline the FIGC gave for the announcement of the new Italy manager is fast approaching. Billy Costacurta, one of commissioner Roberto Fabbricini’s deputies, promised Giampiero Ventura’s permanent successor would be in place by May 20.  His former teammate and manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has always been the frontrunner. The last elected FIGC president, Carlo Tavecchio wanted him in situ immediately after Sweden qualified for this summer’s World Cup at Italy’s expense. …” Investobet


Vulnerable channels and 20 zones: the tactics behind Guardiola’s title win

April 25, 2018

“Ottmar Hitzfeld, the former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich manager, used to speak of the red zone, a central area of the pitch just outside the penalty box. Control that, he believed, and you controlled the game. If in your half you denied the opposition the ball in that space, they were forced wide and while crosses can be dangerous they are a low percentage route to goal. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)


The best players out of contract: Reina, Robben, Buffon, Can, Ribery, Wilshere

April 25, 2018

“The football season is coming to a close, which can only mean one thing: agents gearing up for business over the summer. The Premier League transfer window doesn’t officially open until 17 May but there are many out-of-contract players ready to pack their bags. Among them could include Jack Wilshere, who has been offered a new deal at Arsenal, serial Bayern Munich winners Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery and Liverpool midfielder Emre Can. But how much do you know about others who have performed well this season, according to the CIES Football Observatory? The research group has compiled a top-50 list based on six different areas for outfield players, including recovery, distribution, chance creation and shooting. …” BBC


Scouting Leon Bailey

April 13, 2018


“Chances are you’ve heard someone wax lyrical about Leon Bailey this season. The 20-year-old winger’s transfer from Genk to Bayer Leverkusen in January of 2017 wasn’t an attention grabber outside of certain circles but, since then, he has certainly gained many new admirers. Through 25 games Bailey has notched 9 goals and 6 assists in 1841 minutes, with solid expected numbers underlying that. He’s established himself as a mainstay in this resurgent and entertaining Leverkusen team. When everything’s clicking the lad is a thrill to watch, turning defenders inside out and causing widespread panic amongst the opposition. There’s still plenty of time for him to grow too. Whether it be this summer or next there’s no doubt the biggest clubs in Europe will be circling around the BayArena soon enough, large briefcases of cash in hand. So let’s take a look at what they’d be getting, shall we? …” Stats Bomb (Video)


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

April 13, 2018

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


Man United need a big game from Alexis Sanchez vs. Man City

April 13, 2018

“Alexis Sanchez’s January transfer to Manchester United was, on paper, among the most dramatic moves in Premier League history. There were three major factors to it. The first was the novelty of a genuine, real-life swap deal between Arsenal and United, two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. It was exciting simply because for all the tabloid rumours, such exchange deals barely ever actually come to fruition. But this time everything went through, and two high-profile footballers suddenly swapped lives. …” ESPN – Michael Cox


How to survive in the Premier League

April 6, 2018


“‘Don’t come within five feet of me during a match,’ Swansea City’s co-owner Steve Kaplan warns me. ‘And if we lose, which unfortunately has occurred so far this season quite a bit, it ruins my entire weekend. I’m not a pleasant person to be around.’ Long-suffering football fans will relate. But a few years ago, the softly spoken American, 59, barely watched the game, let alone allowed his mood to be dictated by it. …” FT


VfL Bochum – Eintracht Braunschweig review

April 5, 2018

“Hinterseer’s brace keeps all points in Bochum. Robin Dutt sent his squad on the pitch in the expected 4-2-3-1 system and VfL was the game defining team from the beginning. Braunschweig, on the other side, played in a 4-2-2-2 system, but Torsten Lieberknecht chose a strange solution to replace key striker Nyman. Abdullahi started in the Swede’s position and Reichel on the half left, with Kijewski left back. Basically, Eintracht played with two full backs on the left side, although there was also Zuck available, who would have brought more creativity. …” Bundesliga Fanatic


#IBWM100 For 2018

March 22, 2018

“As always, we’ve stuck with the format that served Don Balon so successfully for decades; 100 names and details of where each player is from. We’ll revisit the list next December to assess how 2018 has panned out for each of the players concerned. The process we use for selection remains exactly the same: We identify players born on or after 1/1/1996 and talk to scouts, coaches, players, journalists, fans and bloggers from around the world to get a clear a picture of exactly who we should be watching and why. This information forms our long list. …” In Bed With Maradona


The Men Who Stare At Goals By Alex Stewart

March 22, 2018


“The opening line of The Men Who Stare At Goal instantly resonates with every single Football Manager fan, lover or former player. Why do we love Football Manager? I, like many I’m sure, have spent countless hours of rage at the simulation game. Why aren’t my tactics working? Why does my star player want to a transfer? Does he not know we’ll build something special here? …” In Bed With Maradona, amazon


Identifying Ligue 1’s Next Breakout Talent: Tanguy Ndombele

March 18, 2018

“This feels like an annual thing I do with Lyon, where at least one of these type of posts is dedicated to their young starlets. It’s a credit to them that even though they’re having a mildly turbulent season, you can’t help but be excited at the young talent at their disposal. A lot of that is due to them having one of the best youth academies in European football. When the club was in a dire financial situation earlier this decade, they relied on their kids coming through and some of the academy graduates included Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, and Corentin Tolisso. Their academy has been ridiculous for quite some time in churning out elite young talents, and they’ve got even more talent coming up with Willem Guebels and Amine Gouiri. …” Stats Bomb (Video)