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

August 18, 2018

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


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

July 13, 2018


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


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

July 13, 2018


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


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

July 10, 2018

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


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

July 5, 2018

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


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

July 4, 2018


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

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


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

July 2, 2018

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

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


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


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


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


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)


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


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)


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)


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)


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


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 E Betting Tips

June 6, 2018

“Brazil have been somewhat unpredictable over the past 20 years: they were highly fancied ahead of 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2014 and failed to lift the trophy, but were widely written off in 2002 and then won seven straight matches. This time around, they’re generally considered favourites – so, if the previous pattern continues, they’ll presumably prove underwhelming again.” 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


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


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


Chelsea’s struggles at both ends largely due to growing pains of Alvaro Morata, Andreas Christensen

March 1, 2018

“It’s been a peculiar and somewhat unusual week for Chelsea — two good performances in tricky contests against Barcelona and Manchester United, but little to show for their efforts. Having opened the scoring in both matches, Antonio Conte’s men will feel disappointed not to be taking a first-leg lead to the Nou Camp, and underwhelmed at being defeated 2-1 at Old Trafford. …” ESPN – Michael Cox


Tactical fouling is spoiling football – time for the rulemakers to stamp it out

February 9, 2018


“Football is often considered conservative with its rule changes, but in recent decades there have been various subtle but crucial alterations to the Laws of the Game, which are often overlooked. The back-pass law in the early 1990s, for example, forced goalkeepers and defenders to become more technically skilled, encouraging passing football. Stricter tackling laws, meanwhile, protected attackers from brutal challenges. …” ESPN – Michael Cox


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


Check their DMs: Fernandinho, Matic, and others key to a manager’s tactics

January 26, 2018

“Throughout the Premier League era, English football has never entirely embraced the defensive midfielder. In fact, the very concept has routinely prompted dissent from English fans. Traditionally, the English game has produced plenty of box-to-box midfielders and the natural urge was therefore to field two players in that mould together. David Batty’s outstanding performances for Leeds, Blackburn and Newcastle sides were often overlooked, as was Michael Carrick’s excellent work for Manchester United. Those two represented what managers wanted from defensive midfielders in the late 1990s, and late 2000s respectively. But how about the late 2010s? …” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


Alexis stars as Arsenal’s three-man defence excels in win at Palace

December 29, 2017

“Three quick thoughts from Arsenal’s 3-2 Premier League win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Thursday. …” ESPN – Michael Cox


Chelsea still in title hunt with dramatic comeback win vs. Watford

October 23, 2017

“LONDON — Three points from Chelsea’s 4-2 comeback win versus Watford on Saturday at Stamford Bridge that saw the defending champions avoid three consecutive Premier League defeats. …” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


Chelsea 0-1 Manchester City: Guardiola uses his full-backs & wingers to get De Bruyne into space

October 8, 2017


“Chelsea came into this game on the back of a midweek victory at Atletico Madrid, probably the tactical performance of the season so far – they showed defensive discipline, midfield control and completely outwitted Diego Simeone’s usually-formidable Atletico. The key was Antonio Conte’s use of 3-5-2, a modification upon the 3-4-3 that won Chelsea the league last season. This 3-5-2 allowed Eden Hazard to play centrally, and means Cesc Fabregas can be used in central midfield without Conte having to sacrifice one of his two disciplined defensive midfielders. Two big advantages. …” Zonal Marking


Gareth Southgate should switch England to a three-man defence

October 8, 2017

“It’s difficult to imagine a starker contrast between performance and outcome than England’s 1-0 victory over Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday night. The narrow win, sealed by Harry Kane’s last-gasp goal, didn’t really mask an uninspiring performance from manager Gareth Southgate’s side. But ultimately it means England have qualified for next summer’s World Cup. Preparation starts now: The FA immediately announced home friendlies against Germany and Brazil next month, knowing those dates wouldn’t be needed for playoff matches, while Sunday’s trip to Lithuania effectively has become another friendly, a chance for experimentation. And experimentation is crucial if England have any chance of reaching the latter stages in Russia next year. …” ESPN


Pressing is the Premier League’s big trend, but it’s not without its problems

December 22, 2016

“If Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool win the Premier League title this season, we might look back upon Monday’s 1-0 victory over Everton as among their most significant triumphs. It was a classic ‘the mark of champions’ win: an away trip to local rivals, a poor game, a below-par performance and a late winner. Liverpool supporters haven’t celebrated so hard for years. For neutrals who anticipated a good game at Goodison Park, however, Monday was a damp squib.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Champions League last 16: Tie-by-tie analysis

December 12, 2016

“1) Manchester City v Monaco. Pep Guardiola will be content with this draw, but Monaco are among the most exciting sides in Europe and perhaps the most underrated team in the competition. Leonardo Jardim has created an exciting side who have scored an incredible 53 goals in 17 Ligue 1 matches. Although Monaco share the goals around impressively, it is notable that Radamel Falcao has found his shooting boots again, scoring five goals in Monaco’s past two games. They are also tactically flexible, able to play both 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 effectively, as they demonstrated with 2-1 victories home and away against Tottenham Hotspur in the group stage.” Guardian – Michael Cox


Three at the back is a dream for Chelsea but a nightmare for Everton

November 6, 2016

“Tt is now five consecutive victories for Chelsea since Antonio Conte switched to a 3-4-3 system – 16 goals scored, none conceded – and this was their most impressive attacking display for years, a wonderful demonstration of efficient turnovers, intelligent running and intricate interplay. If there was any doubt about the difficulty of switching from a four-man defence to a back three, you only needed to look at Everton.” Guardian – Michael Cox


Jürgen Klopp teaches Liverpool the art of filling space dynamically

November 2, 2016

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“Liverpool remain a work in progress but it’s coming together promisingly. During Jürgen Klopp’s first campaign at Anfield the players adapted quickly to his high-energy, heavy-pressing system and regularly disrupted the opposition’s passing but they only sporadically formulated quick, incisive attacking moves themselves.” Guardian – Michael Cox, Michael Cox


Pep Guardiola wins tactical battle with José Mourinho in Manchester derby

September 12, 2016

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“José Mourinho was quick to criticise his players after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Manchester City. ‘A few players were below the level,’ he complained. ‘Sometimes players disappoint managers.’ But Mourinho’s tactical blunder was equally to blame for Manchester United’s poor first-half performance and their improvement after the break owed much to his change of formation. City’s most dangerous players in Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system are the two advanced central midfielders, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.” Guardian – Michael Cox

José Mourinho’s faith in Wayne Rooney faces biggest test in Manchester derby
“It’s probably just as well the Manchester derby is happening so early in the season. There’s only so much fevered anticipation, so much guarded politeness, so many unconvincing insistences that they get along fine that a league can take. Certainly, there’s only so often it can be pointed out that beating Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull or Sunderland, Stoke and West Ham is all very well but the real test will come in the derby.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


How Arsenal must play in order to beat Barcelona in the Champions League

February 21, 2016

“Arsenal’s clash with Barcelona has been billed as another contest between two sides in a continual series, but it’s actually been half a decade since the sides previously met. It was so long ago that Cesc Fabregas was still with Arsenal — never mind him joining Barcelona, being turned down by Arsene Wenger when he wanted to return to England and then winning the Premier League with Chelsea.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)


How will Pep Guardiola assess Manchester City’s current squad?

February 7, 2016

“Predicting Pep Guardiola’s assessment of Manchester City’s current squad is a trickier task than might be expected. Across his time in charge at Barcelona and Bayern Munich there are common themes and obvious concepts he insists upon — the simple concept of possession football being the most obvious example — but his favoured type of player has varied dramatically. It’s worth remembering, for example, that when Guardiola took charge of Bayern three years ago, the consensus was that he’d struggle to find a place for Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben — wingers rather than the wide forwards with whom he’d worked at Barcelona.” ESPN – Michael Cox


What would the Premier League look like if it were a knockout competition?

January 8, 2016

“At this early stage of the year, English football is all about knockout competitions: the busy festive period of league football is over, and instead we have midweek Capital One Cup semifinals, followed by the FA Cup third round. In fact, this year as a whole is also heavily based around knockout football, with the supposed offseason featuring three major competitions: Euro 2016, the Olympics and a bonus Copa America, too. Knockout football is interesting, in part, because it’s more likely to produce slightly unusual winners. Few would argue, for example, that Wigan were England’s best team in 2013 because they won the FA Cup. The element of randomness is precisely what people enjoy, and come to expect; the concept of a giant-killing in the cup competitions is arguably what the tournament is all about.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Euro 2016 lacks a clear favourite as France, Germany, Spain all flawed

December 17, 2015

“Euro 2016 will be the first-ever European Championships comprised of 24 teams, a format that opens up the tournament to the continent’s minnows. Yet assessing the runners and riders ahead of Saturday’s draw, it feels like one of the most closed European championships in a long time. There are three clear favourites who each have something obvious to shout about: France are the hosts, Spain the holders and Germany the world champions. Other than this trio, it’s incredibly difficult to make a case for anyone else triumphing.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Milner best suited to Liverpool wing, despite preference to play centrally

November 24, 2015

“Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Manchester City on Saturday, all eyes will be on Raheem Sterling. The young attacker’s decision to switch from Liverpool to City was English football’s most protracted, and controversial, transfer of the summer; but, going the other way, there was a more surprising move. James Milner was at Manchester City for five years, winning two league titles and two domestic cups, but elected to make the step down to join Liverpool. In many ways, Milner’s decision was understandable; often overlooked at City in favour of players with bigger reputations and bigger egos, Milner wanted to be appreciated, to feel like a central part of a major club. Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool offered him that opportunity, and Milner was immediately named the club’s vice-captain. The absence of Jordan Henderson through injury has ensured Milner frequently starts with the armband, too.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Football Weekly: Hungary qualify for Euro 2016 as England’s friendly with France goes ahead

November 18, 2015

“The podders reflect on the Euro 2016 playoffs and the rest of the international friendlies. Plus, Raúl retires, Paul Lambert heads to Blackburn Rovers and Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink remains in high demand. On today’s Football Weekly, AC Jimbo is joined by Jacob Steinberg, Michael Cox and John Ashdown to look back on the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with a bit of help from Jonathan Wilson, who was in Bosnia to see (or not) Ireland’s 1-1 draw with Dzecko and co in the fog, and then in Budapest to witness Hungary qualifying for their first major tournament in 30 years, and is now en route to Slovenia. Because that’s the sort of thing he does.” Guardian – Michael Cox, Jonathan Wilson, etc. (Video)


Mauricio Pochettino is building Spurs from the back, the opposite of Arsenal

November 10, 2015

“Once upon a time, pundits said that great teams were ‘built from the back.’ Concentrating on defence before attack was considered the optimum way to create a winning machine, but this has proved trickier in an era when almost every fan base is determined for their side to play ‘good football’ and managers aren’t given much time to impress. Besides, whereas great defending was once considered the domain of the back four, and maybe a screening midfield player too, it’s now a collective effort. Can great teams be built from the back if the defending starts from the front?” ESPN – Michael Cox


Premier League’s limitations shown by dull Manchester derby draw

October 28, 2015

“Everyone who watched Sunday’s Manchester derby agreed it was a largely terrible game of football. Well, almost everyone. The counter argument was launched by Gary Neville, Britain’s finest television pundit, who has genuinely helped change perceptions of football through his brilliant Monday Night Football slot. Neville was a fine defender during his playing days, the type of footballer who became top-class because his intelligence was built upon experience, rather than through incredible natural talent. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he’s a fine commentator and marvels at good defensive organisation.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Crystal Palace, Leicester, West Ham using counter-attack to great effect

September 27, 2015

“Manchester City and Manchester United are occupying the top two positions in the Premier League table, but the real story is the over-achievement of some exciting underdogs. West Ham United, Leicester City and Crystal Palace have been among the most impressive teams in the division and are all sitting pretty towards the top. Interestingly, the trio have something very obvious in common: they’ve all been excellent on the counter-attack. The statistics summarise the situation. These three sides are among the worst teams in terms of possession: West Ham with 45 percent, Crystal Palace and Leicester with 44. Only Tony Pulis’ West Brom (42 percent) are beneath them.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Alexis Sanchez could be the forward Arsenal have been searching for

September 10, 2015

“The revelation that Danny Welbeck will miss half the season — days after the summer transfer window ended without Arsene Wenger’s buying a single senior outfielder — prompted anger from Arsenal fans frustrated by the lack of a superstar striker. Olivier Giroud has improved since joining in 2012, but he is unlikely to hit 20 league goals, while Theo Walcott still doesn’t look like a reliable out-and-out striker.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Tactical dilemmas for Pellegrini and Mourinho before Man City vs. Chelsea

August 14, 2015

“Manchester City vs. Chelsea might be a title decider if it were played on the second-to-last weekend of the season, rather than the second overall. It’s highly unusual to encounter such an important match so early in the new campaign and this is a meeting between the past two Premier League champions, who happen to be the two favourites to win it again.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Samir Nasri talks to ESPN FC about Man City, Manuel Pellegrini, Marseille

July 27, 2015

“Manchester City’s Samir Nasri is highly unusual among modern footballers, for two very different reasons. First, he’s forthcoming with opinions. This is a player who, for example, who was confronted by paparazzi while on holiday in Los Angeles this summer and ended up having a discussion about the FIFA crisis, one in which he welcomed FBI intervention. Few other footballers dared utter a word about the saga. Second, Nasri is a relentless football watcher. One of the notable things about professional footballers is how few enjoy watching the game; they love playing, they love the dressing room banter, some enjoy the fame, but in general, they’re not great spectators. Nasri, however, spends most of his free time watching football.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Brazil’s inadequacies echoed by Neymar’s lack of patience against Colombia

June 18, 2015

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“Disappointment would have been bad enough for Brazil, but after the final whistle it became disgrace. Defeat to Colombia, followed by Neymar’s red card, may not resonate like the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-final last year did, but the shame is just as real. After all the talk of trying to find some sort of redemption in the Copa América, all the same old flaws were there, just without quite the same hysteria. This was a petulant, complacent, unimaginative Brazil and they now, almost unbelievably, must beat Venezuela in their final group game on Sunday to be sure of making it to the quarter-finals – and they will have to do it without the player on whom they have become so reliant.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Breaking down last night’s Colombia-Brazil nonsense with the power of GIF
“Last night, Brazil and Colombia met in a Copa América group stage game, almost one year after Brazil eliminated the Colombians in Forteleza in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. But this time was different. Colombia, having already succumbed to Venezuela in its opening game, managed to pull itself together and frustrate Brazil for 90 minutes, eeking out a 1-0 victory. Typically, that would be the story. Colombia exacts revenge on the Samba Boys. Or something basic like that. But that would be a disservice to the real story: These two teams wanted to murder each other, and they came damn close after the final whistle.” Fusion

Neymar’s brilliance and immaturity have been on display at Copa America
“There was a time not long ago when Brazil boasted countless world-class attackers. It was a time when, for example, Marcio Amoroso could finish as top goal scorer in Brazil, Italy and Germany, but count himself fortunate simply to be named in the Brazil squad. Mario Jardel scored 130 goals in 125 league games for Porto and collected only 10 caps, usually as a substitute. Giovane Elber, meanwhile, spent a decade banging in the Bundesliga goals and managed just 15 caps.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Wolfsburg 3-1 Dortmund: Wolfsburg comfortable despite rarely dominating

June 7, 2015

“Jurgen Klopp waved farewell to Dortmund with a defeat in the German Cup final. There were few surprises in Dieter Hecking’s team selection. Andre Schurrle continues to be left on the bench ,with both wide players in good form. Timm Klose has displaced Robin Knoche at the heart of Wolfsburg’s backline, while Naldo – who had been an injury doubt – was fit to start alongside him.” Zonal Marking


Atletico 0-1 Barcelona: the Messi and Pedro combination wins Barcelona the title

May 22, 2015

“Barcelona wrapped up La Liga with a 1-0 victory at the home of Atletico Madrid, the previous champions. Diego Simeone played his usual formation, but made a few changes from the team which drew 2-2 at Levante last weekend. At the back, Diego Godin returned in place of Miranda. In midfield, Thiago dropped out and Mario Suarez came in. Upfront, Fernando Torres got the nod over Mario Mandzukic.” Zonal Marking


Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus: Real attack through the full-backs but Juve hold on

May 16, 2015

“Juventus qualified for the European Cup final with a 3-2 aggregate victory. Carlo Ancelotti surprisingly dropped Pepe and shifted Sergio Ramos back into his favoured centre-back position, after an unsuccessful stint in midfield during the first leg. Upfront, Karim Benzema was fit to return, and otherwise it was Real’s expected side, with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal returning having been rested for the weekend draw with Valencia.” Zonal Marking

Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 2-2 Valencia | Valencia’s counter attacks and Real’s positional play
“The last clash between the teams ended in a 2-1 win for Valencia. This time in the Santiago Bernabeu, things didn’t quite turn out the way Ancelotti would have want them too either, as Real were down by 0-2 after just 30 minutes of the game. Thanks to a much better performance in the 2nd half, Real managed a draw courtesy a stunner from Isco, which was also the last goal to be scored ending the game at 2-2.” Outside of the Boot


Champions League semis showcase changing role of deep-lying midfielder

May 12, 2015

“This season’s Champions League semifinals don’t feature the four most outstanding goalkeepers, defenders, wingers or strikers in the world, but it’s difficult to argue with the selection of deep-lying midfielders. In Sergio Busquets, Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso and Toni Kroos, we’re being treated to an exhibition of probably the world’s four most revered footballers in that role. Between them, the quartet have won the last three World Cups and seven of the last 12 Champions League titles. More crucially, in different ways, they’ve helped redefine the nature of their position.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Bayern 1-1 Dortmund: Klopp floods the centre to harm Bayern’s build-up

May 3, 2015

“Dortmund progressed to the DFB-Pokal final on penalties following a 1-1 draw. Pep Guardiola started with a three-man defence, and surprisingly named Rafinha, traditionally a right-back, as the left-sided centre-back. Further forward, Mitchell Weiser was handed the right-sided midfield role for the newly-crowned Bundesliga champions, with Arjen Robben fit enough only for the bench. Thiago Alcantara returned to the head of a midfield triangle, so Mario Gotze was on the bench.” Zonal Marking – Michael Cox


Chelsea’s style contrasts recent Premier League winners but is not new

May 1, 2015

“All things considered, Chelsea’s draw vs. Arsenal on Sunday was an archetypal Jose Mourinho way of effectively wrapping up the Premier League title: a goalless draw away at your title rivals, and a couple of digs at the opposition manager after the match, which prompted a debate about what constitutes ‘boring football.’ The consensus, it appears, is that Chelsea have regressed since the start of the campaign, in terms of playing style, at least. Before Christmas, Mourinho’s side played a fluid, attacking, energetic style of football that surprised many as it utilised the assists of Cesc Fabregas, the dribbling of Eden Hazard and the power of Diego Costa.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Real Madrid 1-0 Atletico Madrid: poor Atletico transitions mean Real dominate the entire tie

April 24, 2015

“Javier Hernandez struck in the 178th of the 180 minutes in this European Cup quarter-final, but Real had been the better side throughout. Carlo Ancelotti had a mini-injury crisis, with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Marcelo all out. This meant Javier Hernandez, Fabio Coentrao and Isco were all recalled, although the replacement for Modric was more surprising – Sergio Ramos was fielded in the middle alongside Toni Kroos, as Ancelotti’s system was more 4-4-2, or 4-2-2-2, than 4-3-3.” Zonal Marking

We Can Play Defense, Too: Real Madrid Bring a Katana to Atlético Madrid’s Knife Fight
“The eighth Madrid derby of the season was not for the faint of heart, but they never are. So what gave? While it took until the 87th minute, Carlo Ancelotti found a way to beat his crosstown rivals for the first time this year. Why was Real Madrid able to win a match that was less a soccer game and more a late ’90s brawl between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat? It probably has something to do with this: Real scrapped their pretty attacking approach and got down and dirty with some defense.” Grantland


Netherlands and Spain’s recent World Cup meetings have grown a rivalry

March 31, 2015

“Most football rivalries originate from geographic or political concerns, but the most intriguing are often those based purely upon football. In this respect, the 2010 and 2014 World Cup matches between the Netherlands and Spain, who meet again in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, have been significant enough to form a brand-new rivalry on the international stage. Before the 2010 final, these two countries had never previously met at a major tournament. They’d faced one another in friendlies, in qualifiers and in the Olympic Games of 1920, but there were no previous encounters to set the scene, to provide a backdrop for a chance of competitive revenge.” ESPN – Michael Cox


Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: both sides threaten but Barca superior at finishing

March 28, 2015

“Barcelona moved four points clear at the top of La Liga thanks to Luis Suarez’s winner. Sergio Busquets was only fit enough for the bench, so Javier Mascherano played in the holding role, with Jeremy Mathieu the left-sided centre-back. Otherwise, the team was as expected. Xavi Hernandez had surprisingly started over Ivan Rakitic in the reverse fixture, but Luis Enrique didn’t replicate that error, so we had the unusual sight of Barcelona without either Busquets or Xavi, the two players who usually control this game.” Zonal Marking


Dortmund 0-3 Juventus: deep defending and quick countering

March 19, 2015

“Juventus produced a classic away performance to win this tie comfortably. Jurgen Klopp named his default 4-2-3-1 formation. Kevin Kampl made his Champions League debut on the right, with Henrikh Mikhitaryan on the left flank – neither are natural wingers, and both prefer to drift inside. Soktatis Papastathopoulos started at right-back, with Lukas Piszczek still out following the injury he collected in the first leg.” Zonal Marking


So, Louis van Gaal, what exactly is your Manchester United ‘philosophy’?

March 16, 2015

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“Something very strange is happening at Old Trafford. It not so much that the grumbling is growing louder, despite Manchester United sitting fourth in the table having lost only twice in the league since the turn of the year, it is who is lined up on either side of the debate. On the one hand, unconvinced by a string of scratchy displays, is a section of the media and public arguing that the spectacle needs to improve. On the other, demanding we look at the results, is Louis van Gaal, a coach who for a quarter of a century has been dogmatically insisting that aesthetics are vital to football and that journalists and fans never look sufficiently at the process.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Ángel di María seems an uninterested bystander at Manchester United
“Manchester United’s defenders have committed some shocking errors this season, but the manner of the two concessions in Monday’s 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal must have been particularly alarming for Louis van Gaal. The problems originated from United’s right flank, where they struggled all evening. The most dangerous player in the opening minutes was Alexis Sánchez, fielded on the left of Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 system. Up against Antonio Valencia, a winger who has been fielded at right-back remarkably frequently considered he has never looked remotely comfortable in that role, it looked set to be a mismatch, especially after Sánchez cut inside easily for the game’s first half-chance.” Guardian – Michael Cox