Posts Tagged ‘ A Football Report ’

Morbo Minute–Back to Work

La Liga returned from the Winter Break and the goals were plentiful. Again no scoreless draws, with a crazy game at the Bernabeu, a thrashing at the Nou Camp, a dramatic turnaround at Los Carmenes (Granada) and three points for Depor under new manager Domingos Paciencia.

After Round 18’s results, a greater net has been cast around relegation candidates as six teams are within four points of each other at the bottom.  This aspect of the league will probably be the story of the season along Levante’s quest to return to Europe.

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FC Barcelona 4  Espanyol 0

Before we get talking about the game, (not much to say), glad to see that Alves and Alba found their razors over the festive period.  Cesc, however, was still doing the quasi-beard thing and I’m still looking for confirmation that he got a new tattoo on his elbow.

The first half was a feast of attacking play as Barca put their city rivals to the sword in under 30 minutes.  Los Pericos came out in a narrow 4-1-4-1 with Forlin shielding the backline.  The visitors conceded width allowing Iniesta to hang on Barca’s left hand fringe ready to attack.  Espanyol’s central players switched off and allowed Xavi to walk in and turn in Iniesta’s cross to open the game. From there, Pedro scored two (hopefully getting him back on track) before Messi converted a dodgy penalty.

After that, tactics and the result went out the window.  Espanyol had very little to offer and FCB tried for 40+ minutes to get Pedro his hat trick, which went unfulfilled due to two very tight offside calls.  The defeat was Aguirre’s first in charge of Espanyol and keeps them firmly in the relegation battle.  As for the Blaugrana, they continue their record setting season thus far.  Dropped points are on the horizon but for now they are out of sight.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog worried about this match, identifying the possible ingredients for failure: holiday break, resurgent opponent with something to play for, rust.  In the end Barca overwhelmed their opponents, putting them under pressure from the first moment to the last.  The second half, as he rightly noted, was a testament to this team’s hunger and desire.  With the match all but over, every turnover was immediately challenged, Valdes kept a clean sheet with a big save and the search for another goal continued.  Kxevin encourages everyone to keep watching, to keep admiring, to keep appreciating.

Chalk on the Boots focused on the passing of Busquets and the movement of the Barca players in the demolition of Espanyol.  Iniesta and Fabregas interchanged on the left, supported by Alba, while Pedro cut in from the right, all the while Messi drifted around the field.  At its peak, the dynamism was breathtaking.  Add to this a poor effort from the opponent, which he also touched on, and you get Sunday’s scoreline.

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Podcast, Articles, and Kits

Inside Spanish Football produced a winter break podcast, which broke down the season month by month.  Then the panel shared their moments of the season thus far.  Definitely worth a listen as it put the opening months in perspective and set the stage for the rest of the season.

Phil Ball returned to Spain just in time to stop by the pub for Real Sociedad’s visit to the Bernabeu.  Mourinho went with Adan again only for the young keeper to be sent off and replaced by Saint Iker.  Prieto’s hat-trick was not enough as the hosts survived with a makeshift defense (Arbeloa, Varane, Carvalho and Essien) and playing with 10 men for 80+ minutes.

I was able to catch the last nine minutes plus injury time so I missed all off the goals.  Prieto’s finishes were nice but a lot of attention was given to Ronaldo’s free kick.  It was well struck but the goalkeeper really should have done better.  Any touch by Bravo and the shot would have been saved.

Los Merengues gained two points on Atleti to cut the gap to five, but alarm bells must be going off in the defense.  Real Madrid has given up 20 goals this season, conceding 10 in last four games.  They now turn their focus to the return Copa match against Celta.  Down 2-1, Real Madrid will need to put their internal conflicts behind them in order to progress.

Sid Lowe also examined the Real Madrid/Real Sociedad game for his weekly column, noting the special circumstances with which Iker Casillas arrived on the scene over 10 years ago: coming on as substitute in the European Cup Final and taking over for Canizares before the World Cup after the Valencia keeper injured himself just before the tournament.  Since then Saint Iker has been an institution and Mourinho has been playing with fire by demoting him to the bench, and the Special One looks to burn all of his bridges before exiting the capital.

Kaushik took over for Madridista Mac at Real Madrid Football Blog, lauding the midfield performance of Alonso and Khedira and giving special praise to CR7, who was captain for the match.  This game also saw the return of Higuain, giving Los Blancos much need depth as they fight on three fronts.

For the other side of the capital, Martin Rosenow recapped the game for Atletico Fans and saw Los Colchoneros give up a late equalizer away to Mallorca.  The visitors were without Miranda, Turan and Falcao, and manager Diego Simeone was pleased with his team’s performance, which including fine efforts from Diego Costa, Koke, Tiago and goalscorer Raul Garcia.  Atleti should progress in the Copa and then get back at it against Zaragoza on the weekend.

Tim Stannard commented on the return of La Liga for Football365.  Besides Barca’s destruction and Real’s crazy victory, he looked at Atleti’s possible prospects next season without Falcao and Turan and Betis’ continued success before concluding with Depor’s vital three points.

Garreth Nunn did a La Liga Top 11 for 2012 for Forza Futbol, with one small tweak—no Real Madrid or FC Barcelona players.  He has a much better grasp of the league than I do, so his picks made sense to me.  Imagine his proposed midfield—Joaquin, Isco, Benat and Turan. Wow!  I would have gone with Leo Baptistao up top instead of Vela but not sure how the young Brazilian striker did in the second of half of the 2011/12 campaign.

Peter Alegi turned me on to Spanish Football Tales, a blog that looks at snippets from the history of the Spanish league.  I read a post called the Tenerife Leagues, which saw Real Madrid surrender the league title to FC Barcelona two seasons (91/92 and 92/93) in a row against Tenerife in the most dramatic circumstances.  Nice slice of history and shows how narrow the margins of victory were for Cruyff’s Dream Team.

A Football Report released their best of football writing of 2012, broken into the following categories: Most Compelling, Most Creative, Best Research, and Best Storytelling.  The list is overwhelming and not sure when I’ll find time to go through it, but I clicked on Brian Phillips’ eulogy for Pep Guardiola from last spring as he examined the “cocoon of silence” created in a world of noise and hype and tension.  Not only did Pep fashion a team that was pleasing to the eye, but the players performed with a joy and a spirit that was captivating.  Eventually Mourinho came in and upset the balance, yet for a short period the Blaugrana were the greatest show on Earth and under Tito Vilanova they are returning to those levels.

Many times I have stressed that this cycle will end and hopefully everyone can enjoy this moment now instead of waiting for time to pass and being forced to remember, to put it back together.  It’s happening, right now. We are in the midst of a glorious epoch in footballing history.  Take a second to let it wash over you because it will be gone soon enough.

Couple of kit related items:

Tom Conn reported on Inside Spanish Football that Atletico have finally secured a shirt sponsor—Chinese communications brand, Huawei.  The company has partnered with the club in the past but now look to go full time.  Currently Los Colchoneros have Azerbaijan: Land of Fire across their chest.

According to Football Fashion, Celta Vigo will be changing kit manufacturer’s next season, switching from Li-Ning to adidas.  The brand with the three stripes is already getting a jump on proceedings and released a special kit that the club will wear against Real Madrid during the second leg of the Copa del Rey.

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Old Futbol Buffet–Vacation from my Vacation

Manchester United Mid-season Thoughts

Let’s face it.  United are lucky this season and one of two things is going to happen—they will ride their luck to regain their title and maybe win the FA cup (no way they win the CL) or the luck abandons them and they crash, ending the season trophyless again.

I watched all four matches of the holiday program, during which they earned 10 out of a possible 12 points.  Quick thoughts: Swansea they could have won but for some poor finishing; against Newcastle the Reds were fortunate to win; on a different day points could have been dropped against WBA; away at Wigan the Red Devils were the better side but the goals scored were somewhat fortunate.

A strong rugged forward is causing United problems.  Vidic has yet to return to form, so this type of player will be dangerous against the Reds.   As for the rest of the defense, I’m not sold on Rio/Evans at the highest level and Evra is just a mistake to happen.  Rafael has been a nice addition, giving pace and drive down the right hand channel but I fear for him against CR7 in the Champions League.

The midfield is another weak link.  Currently Sir Alex is using three players to man the outside positions—Giggs, Valencia and Young.  Giggs will suffice against lesser teams and Young always gives a good effort despite the lack of end product.  Valencia is the one that is troubling.  Lack of wide service has been an issue and will need to be improved on as the season progresses.  Surely Nani has been frozen out, so United might have to move Kagawa back outside to provide depth at the position.  Cleverly and Carrick seem to be central midfield pairing for now, with Scholes providing relief.  Down the stretch this will be a big ask and will probably cost United both cups.

Up top, the Red Devils have a wealth of option. Barring injury or a colossal loss of form, the attacking group will score goals.  Hernandez’s movement has been excellent; RvP has been economical in his chances; Welbeck provides a change of pace; and then there is Rooney.  If he could get hot, then the league is surely coming back to the red side of Manchester.

As for the cups, I think Real Madrid’s pace and movement will undo United in the Champions League.  Los Blancos midfield will tip the scales in this match, along with the club’s desire to win their tenth European Cup and Mourinho’s quest to add to his legacy.  The Reds will probably score but don’t think they will score enough to progress.  And I can’t see United winning the FA Cup because eventually they are going to run into a team that scores first and stays in front.  The late late show will be undone in a cup competition which will prevent another domestic double for Sir Alex.

I’m interested to see if City can close the gap between now and the end of the season.  The opportunity will be there as United will drop points during the second half of the season.  Do the Citizens have a run in them or will they just fade away, conceding the title and content to keep the chasing pack at bay?

(Note: I missed the FA Cup match away to West Ham.  Looks like I missed quite the match.  United’s first goal was a team goal of the highest order while RvP’s equalizer was exactly what I spoke of in terms of economy of effort.  Trouble is, there will be added fixture to an already congested calendar.)

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Articles, podcasts and videos

The Men in Blazers recapped a hectic holiday period and examined the teams at the top in their last podcast offering.  Davo figures what we will know a lot by the end of the month as the top teams face critical fixtures.  Definitely worth a listen instead of watching dire FA Cup matches.  (Oops, looks like I posted a little too late for that comment.)

In the wake of Theo’s performance against Newcastle, Gabriele Marcotti used the Arsenal player as the template for the modern player.  Long gone are the days of one player, one club, and now every contract signed starts the clock for the next step—renegotiation with two years remaining and sale of the player to recoup, minimize or profit the club.  Arsenal and Theo couldn’t come to an agreement and now the leverage has shifted to the young attacker and the Gunners may lose yet another rising star (see Nasri, Song, Fabregas), only this time they may get nothing in return.

As for things in the colonies, Grant Wahl interviewed MLS Commissioner Don Garber in light of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s comments on soccer in the US.  One comment from Blatter was particularly strange: The league should have been recognized by the American society.  It’s been 18 years, it should have been done now, he said. But they are still struggling.  To be fair, the installation of soccer as the #1 sport in a country is a struggle where, as Garber rightly points out, We have sports in the U.S. that are as powerful here as football is in Europe or South America, and we have at least four that have been around for over 100 years. And all have had the benefit of building a fan base over many generations.

Garber and Wahl make several strong points for the status of US Soccer:

  • 19 teams (growth after a period of contraction)
  • 13 teams playing in soccer specific stadiums (as opposed to tarped off American football stadiums)
  • Relationships with local governments
  • Strong corporate support
  • In 2012 MLS did set its all-time average attendance record of 18,807, making it the seventh-highest attended league in the world.

Grant Wahl expanded on his Garber interview on the latest SI Soccer Roundtable.   He said the commissioner gave a very measured response to comments made by Blatter regarding the leagues in America and China. Wahl went as far as to call the FIFA chief a complete buffoon before moving to pushing the issue of why USSF supports Blatter in the first place.

Brandon Chiarmonte looked at the differences between a fan and a supporter in sports culture, focusing  on how American supporters have absorbed bits from all over the world to create die hard, fan driven groups across this country.  This short post does a great job isolating the differences and the importance of the supporter in the fabric of the game.

Along those lines, Pure Detroit wrote a piece on Detroit City Football Club, reviewing an amazing inaugural season and efforts being made for the upcoming campaign. Vive La Rouge!!

Moving on to kits, Football Fashion posted the Top 10 Selling Jerseys from World Soccer Shop:

1. FC Barcelona 2012/13 Nike home jersey

2. Manchester United 2012/13 Nike home jersey

3. Chelsea FC 2012/13 adidas home jersey

4. Spain 2011/13 adidas home jersey

5. Germany 2011/13 adidas home jersey

6. Real Madrid 2012/13 adidas home jersey

7. USA 2012/13 Nike home jersey

8. Italy 2011/12 PUMA home jersey

9. Mexico 2011/12 adidas home jersey

10. Liverpool FC 2012/13 Warrior home jersey

Surprised that Chelsea was so far in front of Liverpool, but the people at adidas have to be happy.  Five teams in the top 10.

Another Top 10 was the top 10 goals of 2012 from Fox Soccer.  Aguero’s goal was well taken and was monumental in terms of history but not sure it was the#1 goal of year.  While amazing, Cisse’s was quite lucky.  Have to say HBA’s was definitely up there.

Continuing with the year end stuff, A Football Report released their best of football writing of 2012, broken into the following categories: Most Compelling, Most Creative, Best Research, and Best Storytelling.  The list is overwhelming and I’m not sure when I’ll find time to go through it, but I clicked on Brian Phillips’ Soccer’s Heavy Boredom, which tries to describe to the non soccer watching person why crazy nutters all over the world stare at 22 guys running around some grass with very little results.

Finally, with a little extra free time due to some holiday vacation time, I found this top 25 Champions League Goals compilation from 2008 to 2012.  Sit back and enjoy.

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