2021–22 UEFA Champions League

September 22, 2021


“The 2021–22 UEFA Champions League is the 67th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organised by UEFA, and the 30th season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to the UEFA Champions League. The final will be played at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was originally scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. However, due to the postponement and relocation of the 2020 final, the final hosts were shifted back a year, with Saint Petersburg instead hosting the 2022 final. The winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Champions League will automatically qualify for the 2022–23 UEFA Champions League group stage, and also earn the right to play against the winners of the 2021–22 UEFA Europa League in the 2022 UEFA Super Cup. …”
W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League, W – 2021–22 UEFA Champions League group stage
Guardian – Champions League 2021-22 draw: group stage analysis and predictions


No surprise Leeds lost to Manchester United, just look at the wage bills

August 19, 2021


Marcelo Bielsa
“The easy thing is to blame the manager. It has become football’s default response to any crisis. A team hits a poor run or loses a big game: get rid of the manager. As Alex Ferguson said as many as 14 years ago, we live in ‘a mocking culture’ and reality television has fostered the idea people should be voted off with great regularity (that he was trying to defend Steve McClaren’s reign as England manager should not undermine the wider point). Managers are expendable. Rejigging squads takes time and money and huge amounts of effort in terms of research and recruitment, whereas anybody can look at who is doing well in Portugal or Greece or the Championship and spy a potential messiah. Then there are the structural factors, the underlying economic issues it is often preferable to ignore because to acknowledge them is to accept how little agency the people we shout about every week really have in football. …”
Guardian: Jonathan Wilson
Man United 5-1 Leeds – Tactical Analysis – Pogba’s Masterclass
YouTube: actical Analysis : Manchester United 5 – 1 Leeds United | Solskjaer’s Tactics vs Bielsa


How Vienna coffee houses gave rise to a new era of intellectualism in football

August 11, 2021


Cafe Griensteidl in Wien
“The intellectual scene in football has taken a sharp upturn with the emergence of quality publications over the last half a decade that fearlessly delve into the niche and fascinating aspects of the game that may otherwise be overlooked. Alongside this, the rise of social media has allowed us to engage more intimately with tactical theoreticians and pundits, giving our understanding of the game’s nuances a chance to thrive. Essentially, we know more about football than ever before. It’s hard to imagine that we could trace the emergence of this facet of football culture all the way back to interwar Vienna’s coffee houses. It was here that the game became an intellectual pursuit, not just a sport, and it helped give rise to one of the most ephemerally wonderful international sides of all time. As well as being a movement about the unrelenting desire for growth and development, it was also one marred by tragedy. …”
These Football Times
Coffee Houses of Vienna: Birthplace of Intelligent Football – Jonathan Wilson
Coffee House rules – how football was shaped in Vienna’s cafes
BBC – Dancing over the edge: Vienna in 1914


The Names Heard Long Ago: How the Golden Age of Hungarian Soccer Shaped the Modern Game – Jonathan Wilson

August 2, 2021


“Jonathan Wilson’s eleventh book, The Names Heard Long Ago: How The Golden Age of Hungarian Football Shaped The Modern Game, once again sees the celebrated journalist and author delving into a fascinating part of football history, meticulously detailed, thoroughly researched, as one would expect from the architect of the football fanatic’s Bible, Inverting The Pyramid. The Names Heard Long Ago explores the revolutionary concepts found in early 20th Century Hungarian football and the subsequent spread of ideas, tactics and characters around the globe, often granting unprecedented success in the far-reaching countries in which they were adopted, and still found in the game today. It illuminates names of once-great teams MTK and Ferencváros, characters who had a profound influence on the game such as Béla Guttman, Dori Kürschner, and Imre Hirschl. …”
How 20th Century Hungarian Football Influenced The Game We Love Today
amazon


Breaking down England’s penalty heartbreak: At 10.49pm, Maguire slashes penalty home. At 10.54pm, everything changes

July 12, 2021


“It’s brutal sometimes, football. One by one, the players went to Bukayo Saka. They told him it would be OK, that they were proud of him, and that he should be proud of himself, too. They told him there was no blame and, even as they were saying it, they must have known their words made little difference. Maybe, in time, Saka will come to understand that, yes, he ought to be proud he played with such distinction during Euro 2020 that he was trusted, at the age of 19, to be part of the penalty shootout which decided the final between England and Italy. For now, though, what can anyone say to console a player who has suffered this kind of professional trauma? …”
The Athletic
NY Times: How Italy Beat England to Win Euro 2020 (Video)
Leaving Euro 2020 – Brian Phillips
BBC: ‘Out of despair, Italy have brought joy to a nation’
NY Times: After Defeat, England’s Black Soccer Players Face a Racist Outburst
Marcus Rashford mural vandalised after England lose Euro 2020 final
Guardian: England battle for survival instead of control as deep-lying issue resurfaces – Jonathan Wilson
W – UEFA Euro 2020 Final
NY Times: In the Big Euro 2020 Game, I Knew the England I Was Rooting For


Andriy Shevchenko’s modern methods have revolutionised Ukraine

July 3, 2021


“Five years ago, Ukraine lost 1-0 to Poland in Marseille to complete a miserable Euros campaign in which they lost all three games and failed to score. Their football was leaden and uninspired, predicated on three lumbering holding midfielders and the vague hope that either Andriy Yarmolenko or Yevhen Konoplyanka might do something spectacular. Yarmolenko remains but as Ukraine prepare for a European Championship quarter-final, almost everything else has changed beyond recognition. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Croatia 3-5 Spain (AET): Alvaro Morata scores in extra-time to book Euro 2020 quarter-final place

June 28, 2021


“Alvaro Morata’s extra-time goal helped Spain secure an extraordinary 5-3 victory over Croatia in a pulsating Euro 2020 last-16 tie in Copenhagen. In a game full of twists and turns, Luis Enrique’s side dominated the early stages but fell behind in bizarre circumstances when goalkeeper Unai Simon’s miscontrol caused Pedri’s 49-yard backpass to bounce into his own net (20). Spain fought back, scoring three goals without reply through Pablo Sarabia (38), Cesar Azpilicueta (57) and Ferran Torres (76), but Croatia, who appeared out of it at that point, staged a remarkable comeback to send the game into extra-time. …”
Sky Sports
Guardian: Luis Enrique’s Spanish revolution takes nerve-shredding step forward – Jonathan Wilson
ESPN – Euro 2020: Spain show character in spades again, as Morata, Simon inspire extra-time win vs. Croatia (Video)


Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)

June 28, 2021


Thorgan Hazard
“Cristiano Ronaldo had the all-time men’s international goal scoring record and the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in his sights, but he hadn’t reckoned on a stubborn and resilient Belgium side, who defended solidly and provided the game’s most outstanding moment of technical quality. Here, The Athletic’s Liam Twomey and Tim Spiers pick through the major talking points… The stage was set for Cristiano Ronaldo. His team, his tournament, his Euros, his next goal record… but for once, he failed to take the spotlight. … But while the elder Hazard brother’s improved rhythm should be cause for optimism among Belgium supporters, he wasn’t the hero of this particular night. Thorgan shattered Portugal’s ultra-cautious game plan from 25 yards with one magnificent swish of his boot late in the first half. …”
Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Ronaldo draws a blank, Hazards come to the fore, Pepe loses his cool (again)
Guardian: Thorgan Hazard strike sinks Portugal and puts Belgium in quarter-finals
Guardian: Cristiano Ronaldo exits but does not have the look of a man whose race is run – Jonathan Wilson
NY Times: Relief for Belgium Comes at Ronaldo’s Expense


Euro 2020’s flying full-backs show risk-free football is not the only path to victory

June 25, 2021


Lukaku & De Bruyne
“… Which is perhaps a polite way of saying a little bit boring. But then most successful international sides are, based on the construction of a solid base and a couple of gifted creators who can extemporise upon that – or at least they have been. The sophisticated models that dominate at elite club level take time to instil. To press effectively in the modern game takes weeks of repetitions on the training ground so that players know instinctively when to hunt the ball and when to ease off. And pressing is pointless if it isn’t coherent: it’s just players running about. It works only if conducted in packs: one or two men to the man in possession, a wave of others blocking off his options, either by closing down opponents or the passing lanes. …”
Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Belgium’s attacking riches bail out creaking back line against Denmark

June 17, 2021


Kevin de Bruyne, a second half substitute for Belgium, turned the game on its head.
“Perhaps this wasn’t the game for making proper judgments. Belgium were in the desperately awkward position of being the other team in the face of a great outpouring of Danish emotion, and for half the game they struggled in that role. But the introduction of Kevin De Bruyne, back after surgery on the facial injury he sustained in the Champions League final, changed everything. But beyond talk of the difficult emotion of the occasion or of De Bruyne’s brilliance, there are other issues for Belgium. Going forward after half-time, they looked like the side that had scored 40 goals in qualifying. Romelu Lukaku, the isolation of the first half ended, was exceptional. …”
Guardian: Jonathan Wilson
De Bruyne inspires Belgium comeback win after Denmark’s Eriksen tribute
The Athletic’s 10 Euro stars – Kevin De Bruyne: Belgium’s man on a mission (June 9)


France Doesn’t Stray From Its Championship Formula In Beating Germany to Open Euros

June 15, 2021


“There is something slightly odd about this France side, in that the scores of its games so rarely reflect what has just happened. No team seems quite so often to hammer an opponent by a single goal. Germany may have won the shot count and the possession battle in Tuesday’s 1–0 triumph for Les Bleus in the teams’ first match of what’s the competition’s most difficult group. But this was rarely a game Germany looked like winning, with it never quite able to put France under pressure and always appearing vulnerable to the counter. Ultimately, an own goal from Mats Hummels, who had scored the winner at the right end when Germany beat France in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, was enough, but Adrien Rabiot hit a post, Karim Benzema had a goal ruled out for a tight offside and Kylian Mbappé did as well, albeit for a slightly more obvious infraction. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson (Video), Guardian: Paul Pogba full of bite and craft even after Antonio Rüdiger tries a nibble, Joachim Löw’s Legacy (Video, June 12 2021), NY Times: France, So Deep and So Dominant, Finds One Goal Is Plenty


Euro 2020 Power Rankings: France the Clear Favorite—but Then What?

June 11, 2021


“Five years removed from Portugal’s coronation just outside Paris, the next European Championship begins on Friday, and with it comes the quest for the 2016 host and runner-up to make amends and follow a World Cup title with another triumph—and for 23 other national sides to do something about it. France is as good if not better than it was when it lifted the World Cup trophy in Russia three summers ago, and after an extra year’s wait due to the pandemic, it’s out to confirm its status as the world and region’s preeminent team—it’s No. 2 FIFA world ranking notwithstanding. Before the competition begins, with Italy facing Turkey in Rome, we examine team form, ability and outlook based on the draw to rank the 24 contenders vying to be crowned European champion (group opponents listed in order of when they’ll play in the opening stage). …” SI – Jonathan Wilson, Guardian: At the Euros, winning teams can start badly. It’s how they respond that matters, ESPN – Euro 2020 preview: Picks, scouting reports, must-see games, biggest ‘upset’ teams and much more (Video)


Joachim Löw’s flawed planning leaves talented Germany at the crossroads

June 6, 2021


“At least now there is no future to work towards. After 15 years as Germany manager, Euro 2020 will be Joachim Löw’s seventh and last major tournament. There is no need for him to have an eye on the next cycle: his only job is to get the best result possible in the here and now – and to rescue a reputation that took a battering in Russia. Löw is a World Cup winner who helped to oversee the great stylistic transformation of German football and for that, he deserves enormous credit. But he also led Germany to their worst World Cup in more than eight decades and, given the extraordinary quality of players available, it is hard to avoid the sense that he has underachieved in recent years. …” Guardian


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

April 11, 2021


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


Champions League’s Last 16 Will Be Quite Telling

December 16, 2020


“By the time the UEFA Champions League’s knockout stage begins, much could change. A winter transfer window will have come and gone, though with COVID-19 impacting club finances across Europe and some already having spent big in the summer, it remains to be seen how substantial the forthcoming moves will be. Barcelona will have held its club presidential elections, a pivotal moment for a giant in turmoil and one that could have plenty of say in how the club operates moving forward. Influential players currently out injured should return, and the form, fitness and focus levels of clubs will certainly vary to what they currently are. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson


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

November 23, 2020


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


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

June 21, 2020

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


Bayern Munich Maintains Its Bundesliga Dominance While Undergoing a Rapid Transition

June 18, 2020

“Confirmation of an eighth successive league title came with a 1-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Tuesday, secured with yet another Robert Lewandowski goal and a brilliant late save from Manuel Neuer. Bayern has clearly deserved it. In recent months, Bayern has been the best team in Germany. Since the Bundesliga’s restart, it has been remorseless, winning seven league games out of seven and racking up 22 goals in the process. …”
SI


Carlos’s 1986 World Cup foul and the value of rethinking our villains

April 18, 2020

“Football can give you completely the wrong idea about people. One incident in one match can skew the perception. For years I thought I hated Carlos, the Brazil goalkeeper who pulled back Bruno Bellone after the France forward had gone round him in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final and somehow went unpunished. How, four years after Harald Schumacher’s horrendous assault on Patrick Battiston, could that glorious France – Platini! Tigana! Giresse! – be cheated once again by a goalkeeper? Carlos’s offence had nothing like the raw violence of Schumacher’s, but it was cynical. And so, for compounding the injustice of Seville 1982, he went on the blacklist. …”
Guardian


Yuri Semin: the man who can’t say no when Lokomotiv Moscow call

October 5, 2018


“Never go back, they say, but Yuri Semin has never been somebody to place too much store by conventional wisdom. He is 71 now, his eyes more watery than ever, and this is his fourth stint in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow. In total, he’s managed them for more than two decades. To a large extent, Semin is the club and that they are playing Schalke in the Champions League on Wednesday is to a large degree down to him.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Champions League group-by-group guide: English quartet well placed

September 4, 2018

“Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs should squeeze through tricky groups while Manchester City’s task looks relatively straightforward” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Sergio Agüero embraces defending to erase Pep Guardiola’s doubts

August 26, 2018

“Manchester City beat Huddersfield 5-1 in an FA Cup fifth-round replay in March last year. Sergio Agüero scored twice but post-match discussion centred largely on whether he had a future at the club. Pep Guardiola had made it clear he felt there were elements of the Argentinian’s game that did not fit with his vision and had brought in Gabriel Jesus with a view, it seemed, to easing him out.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Manchester United lack clarity on and off the pitch – nowhere is that clearer than in the centre-back department

August 26, 2018

“DIEGO Godin, Harry Maguire, Yerry Mina, Toby Alderweireld… as each Brighton goal flew in on Sunday, Manchester United’s inability to land a centre-back came to seem more and more of an error. United were shambolic at the back, lacking leadership and organisation, an open door through which Brighton seemed not quite to be able to believe they could keep walking. For United that is a deeply worrying sign, for if there is anything Jose Mourinho has historically been good at, it is organising his back four.” Unibet – Jonathan Wilson


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

July 17, 2018


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


Luka Modric’s Croatia Success Story Comes With Complications

July 13, 2018

“There is an image of Luka Modric that sums up everything he has meant to Croatia in this World Cup. He had missed a penalty against Denmark in the round of 16, squandering the chance to win the game in extra time before a shootout. In the shootout, his penalty was poor, nervously prodded straight down the middle. Luckily for him and Croatia, Kasper Schmeichel had dived, and the ball had just enough curl on it to evade goalkeeper’s trailing leg. He returned to the center circle, lips pursed with relief, but as teammates congratulated him, his eyes barely registered them. He was in his own world, perhaps already looking ahead to the next challenge, perhaps aware that had he missed–he of all people, the leader of his nation–it would all have been over.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


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

July 7, 2018

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


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

July 6, 2018

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


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

July 5, 2018

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


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

July 5, 2018


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

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


Neymar and Firmino take Brazil past Mexico and into World Cup last eight

July 2, 2018

“Beneath the fancy hair, the absurd solipsism and the antics of a latter-day Sun King, it is good to be reminded sometimes that Neymar is an exceptionally gifted footballer. It was his goal that broke the deadlock and if his influence on this game was far more positive than in any in the group stage, it was almost entirely because he played without that same furious determination to be the protagonist. But, of course, he is the same Neymar, the same diva who must always be the centre of attention. Just when everything seemed to be going well, just when it seemed there might be an argument he was growing into his role, he reacted ludicrously as Miguel Layún picked the ball from between his feet as he lay by the side of the pitch. Perhaps the Mexican midfielder did brush his ankle but the fourth official was roughly six inches away and saw nothing untoward, and neither did VAR.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


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


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


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)


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


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)


José Giménez’s late show snatches victory for Uruguay over Egypt

June 15, 2018

“Slowly, slowly, it had been coming. After 80 minutes in which almost nothing had happened, other than the non-appearance of Mohamed Salah, Uruguay had begun to increase the pressure. Edinson Cavani had a volley pawed away by Ahmed El-Shenawy then smacked a free-kick against the post before, with a minute to go, José María Giménez rose to meet a right-wing corner with a powerful header and Uruguay, for the first time since 1970, had won their opening game at a World Cup.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson, Guardian: Uruguay’s Diego Godín: ‘They kicked Luis Suárez out like a dog. It was unjust, disproportionate’


Who’s the Best No. 10 at the World Cup?

June 9, 2018


“In Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, Jonathan Wilson describes the symbolism of the no. 10 as “the ‘free-spirited epitome of the artistry of soccer.’ And while free-spirits have become fewer and farther between as more money’s been poured into the game and managers have systematized their tactics, the no. 10 is still typically given to the most creative player on the team. Or, in Poland or Nigeria’s case, it’s given to a defensive midfielder best known for his ability to make tackles and pass the ball sideways. But each team has its reasons, and so with all of the World Cup squad lists now officially released, we each ranked all the nos. 10 set to play in Russia this summer, tallied the results, and came out with the following list. No. 1 is obvious, but that’s about the only spot we came close to agreeing on. Yes, someone, who shall remain nameless out of our sheer fear for his safety, didn’t put Lionel Messi first.” The Ringer


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


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)


Champions League quarter-finals: tie-by-tie analysis

March 18, 2018


“We run the rule over the last-eight matches, including the all-Premier League duel between Liverpool and Manchester City, and predict who will triumph …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


A case of Dejan vu all over again for Lovren the Liverpool fall guy

March 13, 2018


“A long ball. Dejan Lovren steps tight to Romelu Lukaku, tries to shove him, fails to move him and drops off. Lukaku wins the header and Marcus Rashford scores. A long ball. Lovren steps tight to Lukaku, fails to unsettle him. Lukaku wins the header and Rashford, after the brief intervention of a block challenge on Juan Mata, scores. For Liverpool it was a case of Dejan vu all over again. This was not as bad as his performance at Wembley against Tottenham, when Lovren played as though dazed, but it was another game in which Liverpool conceded goals that, from a defensive point of view, came through the Croat. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Disjointed, vulnerable and slow: Barça exposed by Chelsea’s tactical rigour

February 22, 2018

“The first leg, you suspect, went just as Antonio Conte would have wanted it to go – apart from the bit about not playing a square ball across your penalty area to Andrés Iniesta with 15 minutes of a Champions League match remaining. But that is the problem with great tactical plans: they always rely, ultimately, on that most fallible of species: humans. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Mourinho’s Pogba problem deepens after Benítez overcomes his old foe

February 13, 2018

“The end was chaotic, Newcastle camped in their box with every block and clearance being roared to the rafters, but the tension of that final minute of injury time, and the similarly desperate scramble at around 80 minutes, should not allow the narrative to take hold that Manchester United were unlucky to lose. Rather they were desperately drab, short of inspiration, their forward line a strange bodge job of sparkly parts that do not really go together. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Pochettino puts team before individuals in Tottenham’s tenacious attack

February 4, 2018


“‘It is an art in itself to compose a starting team,’ the legendary pioneer of Total Football, Rinus Michels, once said. ‘Finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers — and between defence, construction and attack.’ Michels mastered the art and the process of building a great team rather than simply gathering great individuals. It remains the most fundamental test of managerial quality. …” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video), Spurs have done everything right: if they cannot succeed, who can? Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Henrikh Mkhitaryan may rediscover the old spark amid Arsenal energy

January 22, 2018

“One game – or, more accurately, one half‑game – dominates the memory of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s time at Manchester United. In the league derby at Old Trafford last season, the first meeting in England of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, the Armenian looked lost. He was partly responsible for the opening goal because of the way he initially did not press Pablo Zabaleta and then finally went far too late, and he was withdrawn at half-time. He did not play for two months after that. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


The Current State of Football Podcasting

January 22, 2018

“On collecting the gong for best podcast at the recent Football Supporters Federation awards on behalf of The Guardian newspaper’s Football Weekly, Jonathan Wilson, founder of The Blizzard and author of numerous books including his history of football tactics, Inverting the Pyramid was seen to tweet: Podcast of the Year at the FSF Awards goes to Football Weekly. Nice to win, better to beat Judas FM. …” The Two Unfortunates


Mourinho’s charismatic authority brings success and instability

January 19, 2018

“Last season Eden Hazard observed that the main difference between José Mourinho and Antonio Conte was that Mourinho does not practise ‘automisations’. He does not have players practise set moves they can perform almost unconsciously that can be deployed at great pace when the situation demands. He organises his defence and leaves his forwards to improvise. That has been taken by some as evidence that Mourinho is no longer at the forefront of coaching – and perhaps it is – but it is also a detail that explains his entire methodology. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Roy Hodgson wields the Croydon Way to halt Manchester City juggernaut

January 3, 2018

“The technical areas were a study in difference. On one side was the pencil thin, shaven-headed figure of Pep Guardiola, arms folded, sleek in his black bomber jacket. In the other were two figures dressed in black but that was the only similarity between them. That football could have produced two such disparate groups, practically separate species, is testament to its infinite richness. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tactical review of 2017: Pep Guardiola reasserts his version of post-Cruyffianism

December 29, 2017


“The year ends with Pep Guardiola ascendant, his juego de posición, evolved over time and amended and slightly repackaged for England, cutting a swathe through the Premier League, just as it overwhelmed all in La Liga and the Bundesliga. There will be the usual complaints about how much money has been spent and, more pertinently, about the origin of that money, but English football has never seen anything quite like this. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Arsène Wenger’s efforts to counter the counter cause Arsenal confusion

December 21, 2017

“Three weeks ago, before Arsenal lost to Manchester United, Arsène Wenger suggested playing a back three had helped his side combat the counterattack which, of all their many weaknesses over the past decade, has probably been their biggest. It was a claim that prodded interest at the time and has become more intriguing only in the days since. The truth of it will be severely tested on Friday as Arsenal face Liverpool who at the moment are one of the most dangerous counterattacking sides in the world. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tottenham’s staying power in question as economic gravity pulls hard

December 14, 2017

“Gravity can be annoyingly persistent. Mauricio Pochettino, as so often, said all the right things after Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 win against Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday. He is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Manchester City. He is ‘positive’. He promised Tottenham will ‘enjoy it’. They will go to the Etihad Stadium to win. Which is all well and good. Perhaps Tottenham will end both Manchester City’s run of 15 successive league wins and their own miserable record in away games against other top-six sides. Perhaps they will, at least temporarily, return a flicker of excitement to a title race that seems all but run. However, there is a lurking sense that none of it really matters. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Arsenal served up familiar mistakes and Jose Mourinho ensured Manchester United were waiting for them

December 3, 2017

“Arsenal are never as vulnerable as when they’re optimistic. Three wins in a row and no goals conceded, added to Tottenham’s recent woes, had nudged the Arsene Wenger crisis-o-meter away from ‘must go’ towards ‘may have another campaign in him’ but whatever hope may have been beginning to kindle within the Emirates were brutally stamped out within 11 minutes. What makes it worse is that it was all so familiar as Arsenal’s Jonah Complex struck again. …” Independent – Jonathan Wilson (Video)


Tottenham’s defeat of Real Madrid is a warning to Europe’s super-clubs

November 7, 2017

“It was one of the greatest nights in Tottenham’s history. It was better than beating Internazionale 3-1, probably the equal of those fraught nights in 1983-84 when Bayern Munich, Austria Vienna, Hajduk Split and Anderlecht were overcome on the way to the Uefa Cup. Almost whatever happens over the next three decades, it is safe to assume that in 2050 Christian Eriksen’s goal will still be included in the pre-match White Hart Lane montage as Danny Blanchflower’s voice, the crackle of time even more pronounced, explains once again that the game is about glory. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)


Ronald Koeman’s Everton story exposes shortcomings of the post-Cruyffians

October 27, 2017

“Long before he was sacked, a criticism of Ronald Koeman at Everton was that he seemed to regard the club as a stepping stone. ‘He called us Everton, he never called us us,’ as the former Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe put it on Monday. Koeman’s ultimate ambition, as he has made clear since he took his first steps in management with Vitesse in 2000, is to manage Barcelona. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Is José Mourinho’s negativity a product of his failure to make it as a player?

October 27, 2017

“It is a sad indication of the recent state of Liverpool that over the past couple of weeks they have seemed more significant as a test case for others than in and of themselves. José Mourinho took his Manchester United side to Anfield and, as he waited and waited and waited for the game “to break”, the watching world waited and waited and waited for something vaguely resembling action to break out. It didn’t and the game finished 0-0. Given Liverpool’s vulnerabilities and given Manchester City’s remarkable form, that felt even at the time like two points needlessly squandered. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tottenham show José Mourinho how counter-attacking game should work

October 23, 2017


Mauricio Pochettino had promised further surprises after his deployment of a 5-3-2 against Real Madrid, but perhaps the biggest surprise was that he kept the shape the same. There were other unusual aspects to the win – Tottenham Hotspur had not been ahead against Liverpool since March 2013, Harry Kane had not previously scored a league goal at Wembley and Spurs, at last, looked at ease in their new home – but none of those particularly came as a shock. Neither, in truth, did Liverpool’s defending. Two goals were conceded to simple balls in behind them, at least two more could have been, and two other goals came from the thoroughly predictable source of half-cleared set-plays. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Tottenham’s coming of age performance in the Bernabeu proves they are here to stay

October 18, 2017

“Perhaps Tottenham were slightly fortunate to get a draw in Madrid on Tuesday night, given that Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post and Hugo Lloris made a barely credible close-range block from Karim Benzema and a spectacular tip-over from Ronaldo. But maybe they weren’t. After all, as Brian Clough always used to say after a performance of particular excellence from Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper is a part of the team. Plus, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen both had chances to win it, Spurs should have had a penalty for Casemiro’s foul on Fernando Llorente and there was probably a foul in the move leading up to Serge Aurier’s stupid challenge on Toni Kroos that led to the penalty from which Ronaldo equalised. Nobody could realistically argue that Tottenham deserved to win, but it’s easy enough to conceive how they might have done. …” unibet – Jonathan Wilson


Jürgen Klopp eases Liverpool’s pressing game in the search for solidity

October 15, 2017

“It is not something you often have to consider but what if José Mourinho was right? What if, on Saturday, there was for once no bluff or manipulation, no attempt to provoke or deflect attention: what if the analysis he gave of Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Liverpool was straightforward and correct? …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


Argentina Savior Messi Enforces His Brilliance When His Nation Needs Him Most

October 12, 2017

“Twenty years ago, Lionel Messi, then a 10-year-old playing for a youth team at Newell’s Old Boys, headed into rural Santa Fe for a game against Pujato. These were always difficult, physical matches, and Messi took a kicking. … Messi has been getting the face on a lot recently. With Neymar gone, Ousmane Dembele injured and general chaos at the Camp Nou, it feels as though Barcelona’s perfect start to the season has been the result of him, fired by the ‘bronca’ that used to motivate Diego Maradona, dragging Barcelona forward almost single-handed. …” SI – Jonathan Wilson