Posts Tagged ‘ Beyond the Pitch ’

Old Futbol Buffet–Red Dawn

Manchester United 4  Newcastle United 3

Due to Winter Storm Euclid, I was able to watch Manchester United v Newcastle United in a highly entertaining match even though neither team played that well.  The confrontation produced seven goals and a dramatic ending.

From the not learning from previous mistakes department, Sir Alex started Giggs and Scholes.  I need to check the stats but that pairing usually results in dropped points, and for most of the match that looked to be the case again.  Carrick played well but struggled to control the game in the middle and Newcastle punished on of his giveaways as Ba’s shot went through Evans’ legs and de Gea teed it up for Perch to slam home.  United then responded but didn’t really threaten Krul’s net.

However a poorly defended free kick by Newcastle resulted in a United equalizer.  Newcastle maintained their composure and scored a controversial goal as a Simpson’s shot came in which Evans turned into his own goal trying do ward off Ba.  The goal was given, then not given, then given. Just before the interval Marveaux rattled the crossbar with a free kick which would have put Sir Alex’s men in deep trouble.

The second half was worse in technical terms with sloppy passing and movement preventing the Reds from putting the Magpies under pressure.  Evra’s equalizer was a little fortunate and Krul who had great performances last season against United should have done better.  Cisse punished United’s lax marking off a throw in as Obertan cruised down the left hand channel and squared for the striker who banged it home for the visitor’s third lead.

RvP squared the match again and Chicharito sealed the points after several missed opportunities.  United were fluid going forward but wasted far too many chances against Newcastle and Swansea.  The pessimistic part of me believes that the luck and the late goals will dry up, and if the Reds don’t tighten up defensively, another trophyless season awaits, as they will be exposed against better opposition both at home and abroad.

Manchester United 2  West Bromwich Albion 0

Sir Alex made several changes to the team, brining in Kagawa behind Welbeck, with Cleverley supporting Carrick.  Young’s hard cross was turned into the net by a WBA defender and from there United took control of the match without finding the second goal.  The Reds had several good chances on the half hour mark but desperate defending preventing another goal.  WBA enjoyed a brief spell just before halftime thanks to a series of set pieces.

There was a little more balance to start the second stanza but WBA still had a lot of men behind the ball.  The introduction of Lukaku changed the match in my opinion as his strength and energy upset the United rearguard.  My guess is that Clarke saved him for the second half to go against a tiring defense.  After all the possession, RvP finally put the game to bed with a lovely finish to seal the points.

Couple of player notes:

  • Welbeck was serviceable, with a decent workrate and interplay but he is still not top class.
  • Cleverly was iffy, providing energy but several turnovers and a lack of ideas around the 18.
  • Smalling keep things steady at the back, staying to his task but not providing the offensive oomph of Rafael.

Daniele of Red Rants watched a changed United team overcome a heavy pitch and determined opponent to secure three points and go into 2013 top of the table.  Kagawa’s return gives Sir Alex more options, especially with Rooney’s injury and Daniele feels that Valencia may need a rest.  But who would replace him?  Not the best game and much less drama than the Newcastle match, but the result is what matters.

Matthew Evans shared his thoughts on WBA’s performance for ESPN FC.  Despite several injuries, the Baggies regrouped in the second half and Matthew saw a better effort from debutant Thorne and some good play from Lukaku.

Midseason thoughts

United are seven points clear but the deficit is far from convincing.  The Red Devils have plenty going forward, especially with everyone fit but the attack can be stymied and will be shut down against organized and fit sides.  With the defense leaking goals, I can see narrow defeats in the spring that could cost them the title.  City continue to lurk and may lose the title only because their manager is substandard, but without a European distraction, there is every chance that the Citizens will close the gap.  Chelsea are an outside bet as Rafa has secured the defense.  If they can find the goals, they could mount a serious charge.

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Articles and Podcasts

Anto had Italian commentator Owen Neilson on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the Serie A at the Winter Break.  I have not been following the league at all this season, so I took the opportunity to catch up.  Owen and Anto acknowledged that Juventus are champions.  The Old Lady has a significant lead at the break, and the chasing pack are not strong or consistent enough to catch the Bianconeri.  As for Anto’s beloved Milan, they broke down the problems at with the Rossoneri, including the Brazilian clear out and the possible burnout of Stephan El Shaarawy.  Fiorentina and Roma are doing great things this season, while Palermo is struggling at the bottom.

Another league that has gotten away from me is the Bundesliga.  Raphael Honingstein provided a year in review of the German league for SI.com, focusing on the rise of Borussia Dortmund, who won a league and cup double and progressed from the Group of Death in the Champions League.  He also praised Marco Reus as player of the year and SC Freiburg for a fantastic year of results.  Raphael concluded with a look at the German National Team and their “traumatic” defeat at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.

Michael Cox (aka Zonal Marking) jotted down his 10 moments from 2012 for ESPN FC.  What a year.  Chelsea winning the Champions League (reading Michael’s comments I was reminded of Robben’s missed penalty in extra time—aargh!!); Spain’s wonderful performance in the Euro 2012 Final against Italy; CR7’s crushing goal at the Nou Camp that secured the league for Real Madrid; and Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations. I admit that I didn’t watch a single minute of the tournament, but I knew about the story.  The death of Zambian National Team actually made it in to SI way back in the 90’s, and I can still remember reading the article and trying to imagine the pain of losing an entire generation of players.  20 years later the promise was fulfilled and what a moment for the players and the country.

On the latest episode of The Big Question podcast, Aaron discussed the future of college soccer with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer.  Both agreed that there is no one answer for how the college game fits into the puzzle of American Soccer.  I think Travis summed it up best, saying that “There are different paths for different players”.

I follow college soccer even less than MLS and went to my first college game in years last fall to support MichiganState and the Red Cedar Rowdies.  Didn’t see much in terms of next level talent, but there were two UConn players that I could see having a chance. The elite players in America need to be Europe. That has been my stance for several years.  To be the best, you need to play with the best.  Having said all that, the college game is another road to the professional game for the next tier or two of player.  The MLS has to draw from somewhere, but financial considerations and conference realignment may have something to say about the collegiate game in the near future.

Old Futbol Buffet–Opportunity Missed

Swansea City 1  Manchester United 1

Sunday morning provided an entertaining match with the home fans in full voice.  Swansea played an excellent match, putting United under pressure, but one of the visitors’ few attacks resulted in a goal after set piece.  Evra headed in RvP’s corner but Britton maybe should have done better on the post.

From there United had a brief spell of pressure before Swansea took over.  Their play—composed, dynamic and incisive—eventually generated a goal as Evra switched off (and the defense in general) and de Guzman’s shot was saved by de Gea but Michu tapped home.  A second goal from the hosts seemed on the cards but never materialized, and United was able to get back into the match briefly before halftime. 

The second half saw United take control, and a trait of the Reds this season has been economy of finishing, but Sunday was just had a bad day at the office as they didn’t take advantage of several half chances in the opening 15 minutes with Rooney particularly wasteful.  In addition to poor finishing, a fine defensive performance from Vorm, the Swansea backline and a couple of crossbars prevented the Sir Alex’s team from taking all three points.

In terms of teams and players, Swansea were fun to watch.  Routledge and de Guzman did well and Michu gave a focal point to attack, especially the first half. The put in an a great effort, but disappointed that Michu moved to midfield and Luke Moore up top as Laudrup went for more 4-1-4-1 to conserve energy and blunt United coming forward.  United was led by Carrick, who stroked the ball nicely and was decent shield for the back line.  Young was marginally better, and Giggs did well when he come on.  Maybe his introduction sooner could have unlocked the Swans.  Hernandez was poor. Several loose passes and a misreading of RvP’s pass kept him from making a genuine impact.  A real issued for the visitors was the lack of service from right hand channel, with neither Young, Jones nor Valencia providing the killer ball.

Final comment:  there should have been more goals in the match but draw was fair result.

Daniele of Red Rants saw United concede points against a spirited Swansea team.  He identified several things I picked up during the game, namely Young’s current contribution to the team:

The former Villa man seems to have made the left flank spot his own over the last couple of weeks, and repaid Fergie’s trust with a lot of hard work and some very intelligent runs across the box, but he still seems to be lacking the cutting edge necessary to provide the final ball.

In the end, the Reds created the chances but not the second goal which would have secured the points

Doron and Nik commented on the match as well for Stretford-End, noting that while Vidic was a welcome return, he is clearly rusty.  They also praised another fine performance from Carrick and the brief appearance of Giggs before moving on to criticize Valencia’s recent efforts and Rooney’s shift in this match.  They felt United were a little unlucky to not win the match and now the focus is on Newcastle United on Wednesday.

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Podcasts and an Article

Last week on Off the Ball, there was a great two for one pod, looking back at EPL history, both recently and over the years.  Last Tuesday, Eoin and Ken replayed Martin Tyler’s broadcast to Aguero’s dramatic goal that sealed the title for Manchester City at the end of 2012 season.  Martin spoke about his preparation into the match and how broadcasters never know where the story will take them.  This was followed by Philippe Auclair’s appearance to talk about his upcoming Thierry Henry biography.  Auclair revealed some insights into the nature of the talented French forward, including the drive provided by his father.  If it’s even half as good as the Cantona book, it will be worth the read.

Finally Roger Bennett examined the current situation at Liverpool for ESPNFC.  Most people believe that Brendan Rogers is on shaky ground, with Reds in 12th heading into the weekend and failing to make Anfield a fortress.  He spoke with former legends Steve Nicol and Steve McManaman, who identified a lack of goals and a lack of criticism as some of the manager’s failing thus far.  The next chapter will be the January transfer and whether Rodgers gets money to spend, and if he does, how wisely he spends it.

Andy Mitten sat down with fan legend Pete Boyle at Bishop Blaize on a recent United We Stand podcast.  Boyle has a unique role in pregame festivities as he starts the songs and then leads the short march to Old Trafford.  Recently he was able to have a short chat with Eric Cantona and even got the former legend to stop by the pub for a couple of minutes.  Great insight into fan culture that is hard to get/comprehend here in the States.

Former NY Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing was on Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the heyday of the NASL, his playing career and the NY Red Bulls.  My only knowledge of the player was from the Once in a Lifetime documentary so it was interesting to hear stories about Pele and Munich and playing in New York.  As for the current NY franchise, Shep preached a message of stability and suggested bringing in Bob Bradley to steady the ship.  Fascinating conversation and well worth the listen.

Old Futbol Buffet–No Tip for the Spanish Waiter

Manchester United 3  QPR 1

I missed the Manchester United game against QPR on Saturday morning.  I wasn’t too chuffed as I figured United would cruise against the worst team in the league this season. I checked the score at halftime, which was 0-0, and got a little worried, but when I saw the full time score of 3-1, I assumed that the Red Devils had shown their quality and picked up the three points.  Looks like I was wrong.

Dan asked the question—Will the real Manchester United please show up?—for Red Rants, as United put in an awful first half and a dynamic ten minutes during the second half to win the match against QPR.  Fletcher’s return and goal were a welcome sight but the Red Devils continue to slog through the season.  Maybe they are saving everything for yet another push in the second half of the season.

Scott saw a mixed performance by United and gave his reactions on the Republik of Mancunia, with Anderson helping to turn the tide when he came on in the second half and the back five playing pretty well.  He wonders about Ashley Young’s future as his current contributions are lacking.  He also commented on using Chicharito as an impact sub, which I totally agree with, and both Scott and Dan from Red Rants wonder why the hell is Sir Alex playing Welbeck on the wing?

One final note.  I said last year after the City game (you know the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the noisy neighbors) that Evans would never play for United again.  I admit I got that one wrong.  This season has helped keep the backline together as he and Rio play week in and week out while injuries in the defense mount.

John Gidman was on a recent United We Stand pod to reflect on his playing career, including his time at Manchester United from 1981-1986.  Great interview by Andy Mitten discussing the drinking culture, which is a time long gone in the history of English football, replaced with strength training, personalized menus and world class training and facilities.

I also listened to Andy’s audio diary from the Galatasaray game.  Great on the ground commentary, with quick interviews with fans and former players.  He also gave a brief history on United’s trips to Turkey, including his deportation in 1993.  The atmosphere at the match sounded overwhelming, but it seemed as if the away supporters had a great time.  Definitely give it a listen.

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Chelsea 0  Manchester City 0

This match fell on a holiday weekend so the Mid Michigan United group didn’t plan anything, but after our wonderful (read: drunken and obnoxious) outing on Wednesday for the Champions League game between Manchester City and Real Madrid, we decided to get together for this game.

What a waste.  If I wanted to throw away another two hours, I would have watched Avengers again like I did Saturday night.  For all of the talent on display, this was a game about bravery, or lack thereof.  Clearly neither manager wanted to lose this match and give up any more ground to each other or Manchester United.  Rafa wanted to get off to a positive start by getting at least a point on the board and he accomplished that.  Maybe the fans will eventually get onside but Robbie is still on the brain.  Many fans were holding small Rafa Out signs and other banners praised RdM.  Unfortunately for the audience, neither team was particularly sharp in front of goal, with Torres spurning a couple of good chances and City creating from wide positions but always heading at Peter Cech.

Since the game was not that enthralling, everyone turned to their phones to check other scores, catch up on the witty banter on twitter, and do anything to keep from gouging out their eyeballs.  One of the topics that came up was the revelation about Kolo Toure’s alleged affair.  Not only was he cheating on the mother of his children, before and after their marriage, he didn’t even use his real name, instead assuming the character of Francois, the African used car salesman.  The details in the Mirror story are hilarious and incredible fodder for ESPN’s next dramatic series—Playmakers EPL Edition.

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David Beckham

Grant Wahl put David Beckham’s impact on MLS in perspective, as the former England international will likely move on from the league after the MLS Cup Final.  His arrival led to immediate and high profile headlines but his first couple of seasons had a stop/start rhythm, plus the occasional fan in the stands interaction.  The last couple of years I have read that he has been a model professional for the league and could end up with back to back Cup titles.  (Note, if you haven’t read Wahl’s book The Beckham Experiment, pick up a copy.)

Here were my original thoughts about Beckham coming to America:

David Beckham is coming to America. Still amazed at how his talks with Real Madrid broke down in 72 hours. Why is he coming here?  John Brewin from Soccernet explains.

So how is this for Becks?  He has something that will defy age—ball striking ability. No one in the US has ever seen anything like this. Sure Joe Midfielder might score a great free kick or switch the point of attack, but can he do it consistently and with pinpoint accuracy? I doubt it. Becks can. It’s amazing. Yes, Becks is “slow”, but that can be compensated for. When I watch MLS, you can easily counteract the speed of the 19-23 kids by using a footballing brain. Possess, see the field, pick your moments.  Not run at 100 mph and hack everything in your path.  Becks can do all of that.  LA needs a team of solid defenders, a combative defensive mid to carry the water for Becks, and two hard working outside mids.  Forwards? Can you stand in front of the goal and let the ball bounce off of you? Yes. Then you can play. Becks is then free a la Zidane to just do whatever. Think Valderrama with TampaBay. Not the fastest guy ever yet he was effective because he was technically gifted and footballing smart.

What does this mean for US soccer. It’s a decent pick up. He will put fannies in the seats, temporarily, until the novelty wears off. That’s fine. Is Becks going to anchor the future of US soccer? I hope not. No one player can do that. This is the first salvo fired by the MLS. Yes, you—30 something decent European based player—can play here in the US. $250M is a ridiculous number to start at. When the next fading European superstar asks where’s my money, I’m not sure what the answer is going to be. If the MLS continues in this fashion, they will go the way of the NASL. So we’ll pay you an outrageous amount of money if you can play and sell tickets. The second part is key. We’ll give you money if you can make money. If you can’t, you’ll have to wait until you’re past 35 or not get the major cheese. Simple equation. You dig? The MLS has to continue this strategy, I just don’t know where they’re going to the money.

Despite my mancrush on the former England captain, I never went to watch him play.  Outside of his first appearance against Chelsea in the summer of 2007 and the occasional snippet here or there, I didn’t even watch him play.  His arrival didn’t change my MLS viewing habits.  Robbie Keane didn’t. Rafa Marquez didn’t.  Thierry Henry didn’t.  What would change my viewing schedule?  More time in my life.  Short of that, better quality on the field.

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Podcast

Daniel Taylor was on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss both Manchester teams as they battle for the Premier League title.  Mancini’s future was examined as the Italian manager struggles to live up to high expectations, especially in Europe.  Daniel and Anto also touched on the England National Team as qualification for World Cup 2014 heats up.

Old Futbol Buffet–Spuds Smashed

This weekend was hit and miss in terms of footy.  Saw some La Liga action on Saturday but missed the North London Derby and United’s shock defeat at Norwich.  Did manage to catch the second half of the Juventus game though and was 0 for Sunday due to working the concession stand at the MSU basketball game and then having church.

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Arsenal 5  Tottenham Hotspur 2

I wanted to see the game but due to the 745am EST kickoff and life intervening, I missed it.  I woke up and checked the score: 3-1 to the Gunners.  Scrolling through the updates, Adebayor scored the opening goal and then got sent off 18 minutes in.  Several people tweeted that it was the striker’s best performance for Arsenal and that the Gunners should have evened things up by putting on Andre Santos.

The Arseblogger was content to ignore the tactics of the game and focus on the result.  The former Arsenal striker was the focal point, both of the blog post and the match.  As for the Gunners themselves, Cazorla and Wilshere were picked out for praise and Giroud was amongst the goals again.  5-2.  That is all.

For a Spurs perspective, I read Spooky’s latest post at Dear Mr Levy.  The fragility of Tottenham Hotspur—caused by missing players, the chopping and changing of the defense and the mismanagement of the transfer window—was exposed as the Gunners took Spurs apart.  Spooky was happy that AVB went for it even with ten me but the crucial period before halftime meant there was only going to be one result.

Zonal Marking examined the game noting that AVB surprisingly went with a 4-4-2 that used power and pace going forward and a high line defensively.  The Portuguese manager stuck with the approach, moving to one forward but his team tired, conceding the game just before the interval.  He switched to a 3-4-1-1 in the second half, but after the initial pressure wore off, the Gunners picked off the visitors.  Special mention was given to Walcott, not only for his goal but for his play on the right hand side, combining with Giroud and allowing Sagna to overlap.

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Juventus 0  Lazio 0

I watched the Old Lady for the first time this season, catching the second half on Saturday.  A couple of things: loved the all black kit.  The numbers and names are sharp and really pop off the back of the kit.  Loved the 3-5-2 formation.  Wingbacks getting involved.  Center of the pitch under control. Juve dominated the proceedings, although they did seem susceptible to the counter.  Despite their energy and chances, the ball would not go in, and that led to two dropped points.  @agiamba tweeted after the match that it was a good performance but the goalie made three great saves.  Agree to a certain extent.  They were in control but poor crossing and some poor finishing kept this game from being won.  The bianconeri have bounced back from defeat and still lead the league by four points over Inter.

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Finally, what a weekend for MSU soccer, both varsity and club.  The Men’s team travelled to South Bend on Sunday after defeating ClevelandState on Thursday.  The Spartans fell 3-0 but finished the season strong, winning the BIG 10 Tournament Championship.  As for the club teams, tweets came across my timeline late Saturday night that both the Men’s and Women’s club teams won their respective National Championships.  Amazing accomplishment.  Congratulations to Scott, Dan and all the players.  Make sure to read Dan’s recaps of the women’s games.

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Articles and Pods

Gabriele Marcotti joined Anto on the Beyond the Pitch to discuss current storylines in Serie A, including Juventus’ European challenge, the success of new Inter manager Stramaccioni, the problems at AC Milan, and De Rossi’s future at Roma.  Highly informative as usual.

Jonathan Wilson profiled Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu for SI.com.  Very interesting backstory as he moved from the pitch to player manager to challenging Steaua’s dominance in the 80’s.  Now he has the Ukrainian champs on the cusp of the round of 16 of the Champions League and poised to make a run in the competition.  Although Lucescu favors youth, he has a veteran backline that may make the difference this time around.

Finally Steve Rushin wrote on entertaining piece for SI.com contemplating the question: What if life was more like soccer?  The possibility of extra time, brandishing red cards, “diving”, and moving your focus on to the next challenge are all possibilities.  Have to say my favorite part was this:

After all, the single greatest existential quandary that humans face in life also bedevils soccer: Once you leave the game, you are not allowed to return.

Morbo Minute–Round 11

Another great week of La Liga action with plenty of goals and talking points.  Not much changed at the top of the table but things are getting very nervy at the bottom with Galician sides perilously close to dropping back down.

Malaga 1  Real Sociedad 2

Malaga, who qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League midweek, began the match with a strong lineup. Real Sociedad were without Griezmann but stacked the team with players ready to put in a shift.  The first half was full of energy but lacking in quality.  Carlos Vela gave the visitors a dream start and then the team defended with men behind the ball in central positions.  They appeared to concede the width which frustrated the hosts in two ways: key players could not get on the ball in the congestion and attackers converged on top of the box and could not connect the final pass to create an opportunity.  But an equalizer did not come as the Real Sociedad did not clear a corner and Saviola danced through and smashed the ball home.

Xavi Prieto put the visitors back in front 15 minutes into the second half as the ball deflected into his path off of Onyewu (making his first start in La Liga and trying to get his career back on track) and the captain dribbled around Willy to score.  Santa Cruz came on for Portillo as Malaga looked to get back in the game.  However Malaga were lucky to have 11 players on the field as Iturra could have received several yellows in a short period but escaped with only one booking.  At this point the visitors were playing with almost six at the back and Los Boquerones were not able to ask the right questions.  If anything they regressed and did not create enough opportunities to trouble them, with Isco’s attempt the only one I can remember.

Real Sociedad climbed out of the bottom to twelfth while Malaga remained in fifth as the Betis defeat kept them within touching distance of fourth place.

On a side note, I loved the kits in this game.  Real Sociedad looked very Dutch with their bright orange tops and socks with black shorts while Malaga mimicked Argentina with the light blue and white vertical stripes.

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Articles and Podcasts

Last season it seemed as every other article was about the financial chasm growing between the Big Two and the rest of the league.  Tim Stannard compared the so called problems of FCB and Real Madrid with the real financial and sporting crises faced by Depor and Osasuna.  Both of these teams have had moderate success in the recent past but money talks and these clubs are getting more and more quiet.

As for this season, there have been two stories: Atleti’s fantastic start fueled by Falcao’s exploits and the Real Madrid cantera crisis.  Sid Lowe touched on the latter after giving the literal blow by blow account of soggy, physical, dramatic Levante/Real Madrid encounter.

Phil Ball showcased some of the players at the twilight of their careers a couple of weeks ago.  This week he looked at some future stars and how things have turned out for them—Canales and Krkic (not well); Isco and Ander (going from strength to strength); Muniain and Ruben Pardo (jury still out).  Part of the conundrum is how to bring them through.  Too early, burnout and injury; too late, career stalls or develops too late.  For every Messi and Raul, dozens never quite make it.

Javier Hernandez identified some of the best players in La Liga thus far based on statistics for El Centrocampista.  Outside the top three (Messi, Cristiano and El Tigre) there were some surprises.  Malaga had two players in the list—goalkeeper Willy and defender Demichelis.  Javier also mentioned Leo from Rayo (no real surprise) as well as Joaquin and Pizzi, with being very influential in creating goal scoring opportunities.  One player that he mentioned was Oscar Gonzalez of Valladolid.  Honestly I don’t think I’ve seen a Valladolid game yet this season so I need to get on that.  Anyway, check it out and see if you agree.

Ravi and Elisa of Forza Futbol reviewed a week of ups and downs for Spanish teams in Europe.  For FCB, they wondered if the weakness of the league is catching up to them.  I don’t think so.  If anything, most teams have prepared the Blaugrana for the defensive wall they faced in Scotland but few teams were as organized in both defense and attack as Celtic.  Plus it is hard to hit the heights so often as last year made painfully obvious.  Los Blancos ran into a tough match up in Borussia Dortmund, as the Germans speed, technical ability and youth combined with Real’s injuries has led to the dropped points.  As for Valencia, DDay is next week against Bayern Munich at the Mestalla, and Malaga are through after getting a draw at San Siro.  In the Europa League, two of the three teams have a real shot at progressing with Athletic all but out.  However that’s probably for the best.

I love the Barcelona Football Blog.  Their posts are consistently passionate, insightful and wonderful to read.  A recent post on the state of the Blaugrana defense was fantastic.  The moderators examined why Barca have been giving up so many goals this season and their reasoning looks at all factors: injuries (especially to Abidal), lack of height, the approach of other teams, and a lack of complementing players. I really enjoy writing like this, writing that digs down into an issue as opposed to the crisis/record/glory of the day.

Madridista Mac saw EPL veterans Essian, Alonso and Ronaldo lead Los Merengues over Levante in a game worthy of lower division English football.  Additional praise was given to Callejon, given a rare start due to the injuries, and Mac didn’t pull any punches when it came to Albiol and Di Maria.  Of course most of the coverage went to Morata who scored the winner.  This led to Mac’s breakdown of Mourinho’s comments on the cantera and what it means for the club.  This will probably die down in a couple of weeks but it does make you wonder if the club are re-examining their youth policy.

Finally, Sid Lowe was on Beyond the Pitch to discuss La Liga.  The Doctor started with FCB.  This team doesn’t quite have the control of the Pep teams.  He used the word negligence and this negligence concedes corners and free kicks that they don’t deal with all that well. The importance of Busquets was also touched on, as was the signing of Song, which didn’t really address the issue the Barca are facing.  As for Real Madrid, the winning for club and country has possibly taken the edge off and a lack of concentration may be responsible for many of the goals.  Plus there may be a tacit prioritization of the Champions League over La Liga this season.  Sid mentioned that bridging the gap between defense and attack could be Los Blancos’ biggest tactical shortcoming this season. They moved on to discuss Malaga’s amazing run thus far lead by Pellegrini.  Of course Atleti’s great start was mentioned spearheaded by the goals of Falcao and the focus of Simeone.  Sid and Anto wrapped up by looking at the situations at Athletic Bilbao and Real Oviedo.

Old Futbol Buffet–Footy Free

This weekend, I did not watch a single game.  You’re welcome.  Why? You ask.  By me not watching I created an environment of drama and goals.  Chelsea on 4-2 at White Hart Lane; United won 4-2 against Stoke; City grabbed three points at the death against WBA; Barcelona won 5-4 at the Riazor; and Valencia stole the match late at home against Athletic Bilbao.

Spooky at Dear Mr Levy saw Spurs’ start slow in part due to the absence of Dembele and Bale, rebound with a higher tempo second half but in the end capitulate due to defensive lapses.  Watching the highlights, what was Walker doing in the second half?  Not tracking, not marking, not shielding the ball out of play.  Spooky addressed and asked for patience towards the young player.  As MOTD stated, Spurs asked questions (at least for a little bit) and the Blues responded.

James Martin of ESPN FC summarized an open game in which he felt that Chelsea stepped it up.  See above.  Walker went missing and gave Chelsea plenty of room to operate.  James mentioned Gallas’ struggles as well as his clearances led to two of the visitor’s goals.  In the Blues won three more points as they look to cement their claim as title contenders.

Danny at Bitter and Blue saw the Champions (still have a hard time writing/saying that) grab all three points at the Hawthorns.  Despite Milner being sent off in the first half, City took the game to WBA and were eventually rewarded.  Stat Attack from Danny:

Eight of City’s 17 goals this season have been scored in the final five minutes, with five of these netted in the final five minutes. Nine of Dzeko’s last 11 goals have been to earn a draw or get the win.

This last statement led to Danny wrapping up the post.  Is Dzeko a super sub or what?  Have to say that watching the run in to last season and the early part of this season, he fits the bill.  After Aguero, Tevez, Silva and Balotelli run defenders ragged, he steps in and seals the deal.  The storyline will be whether he remains happy with that role.

Musa Okwonga of the Manchester United Blog for ESPN FC looked at the attacking triangle of Welbeck, van Persie and Rooney for Manchester United.  The three of them combined for all four goals, showing a cohesion that could put the Reds back in to the title chase.  Unfortunately the defense still needs shoring up and may ultimately prove the deciding factor come May.

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Articles and Pods

During the international break, I skimmed the internet, visiting sites previously unknown or ignored in my routine.  I came upon a post on Bleacher Report about players that United might get rid of in January and possible replacements moving forward.  Out: Nani, Josh King (striker I don’t know too much about), Bebe (forgot he was even on the team), Macheda, and Robbie Brady (a possible left back option going forward but if he wants to stay in contention for Ireland, he needs to be playing).  Who to bring in?  Hangeland to rebuild the center of the defense and Strootman to strengthen the center of midfield.  Yes to all of the above.

Occasionally I’ll check out the Pitch Invasion podcast.  Episode 8 looked back at the found of the Chicago Fire, with Peter Wilt, the founding General Manager of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club recounting the forming of the club, including the badge, the name (original name was going to be Chicago Rhythm?), the kit and development of the supporter culture.  I remember going to early games at Soldier Field, actually cheering against the home team so that I could support DC United.  Good times.

The USMNT has moved on to the next round of qualifying after a tougher than expected semi-final round.  A lot has been written and said in the last week regarding Klinsmann’s time in charge, just over 14 months.  I listened to two podcasts that examined his time thus far: Beyond the Pitch and Men in Blazers.  Both pods touched on the fact that a massive sea change has not occurred under the German and that is big ideas have not become concrete actions.  Alexi Lalas was on Men in Blazers to discuss this as a former player and current pundit, which made for an interesting conversation.

Finally, Grant Wahl looked at the emergence of beIN Sport in theUS and Europe for SI.com.  The network has the US rights to several leagues—Italian, French and Spanish—plus it has picked up USMNT away games, which previously were impossible to find.  From a US viewing perspective, the channel has essentially combined GolTV and Fox Soccer Plus, with the real losers being the German Bundesliga (still on GolTV, which has been dropped by DirecTV per Wahl’s article) and the English Championship (Bueller, Bueller).

But another loser may be the American soccer consumer.  BeIN has all of these leagues but only one feed.  (Sorry, that’s not fair.  They have the Spanish feed but guess what?  Americans would like to watch games with English commentary.)  My question is this: How do you show everything?  A recent example was the massive one time convergence of rivalry games that occurred two weeks ago: El Clasico, the Milan Derby and PSG v Marseille.  Here’s what beIN chose to do in their infinite wisdom: viewers only got to see the second half of the Milan Derby live as it was shoehorned in between El Clasico and the French game.  What?  That will be the norm as important games in Italy and Spain are typically shown in late afternoon Eastern time.  With no online platform, you can only see the live games that they show.  The rest are shown on delay, and in the internet age, they should be able to do better.

Every time they make a decision between leagues, they piss off people.  A couple of weeks ago, the Juve/Roma game (typically a big rivalry game, especially more so this year with Zeman in charge of the Romans) was not broadcast live.   The Juventini were PISSED and with good reason.  This is a big game and fans were not able to see it live, having to go into media blackout if they wanted to watch it without knowing the result.  Where will the channel put their focus as they to strike a balance between all of the leagues?

So far we’ve got a terrible name, poor distribution and only one screen for three important European leagues.  Can’t fix the first one without MAJOR re-branding.  I pray every day for a better name.  Distribution will be fixed over time.  I can’t believe that they won’t be in more homes by next summer.  Comcast will come around and so will AT&T.  As for the third, that’s where it gets tricky.  If they don’t add an online option to provide customized viewing and then we are at their mercy as I see it.  Maybe I want to watch Getafe v Osasuna or Genoa v Catania or Le Havre v Sochaux.  And I can’t because it conflicts with another match in another league.  And there is no option beyond illegal internet feeds.  That doesn’t seem right.

On top of all of this, is their pursuit of the EPL.  If they get that, everything I have mentioned will be negatively affected at a rate of 10, while causing the probable collapse of FSC.  While I don’t really like the channel (studio shows, graphics, choice of live Champions League games), you can’t argue with the access they provide to the game—constant repeats, online options, two channels. If they go away then beIN has a virtual stranglehold on the American soccer viewer.  I’m not really in favor of that.  Not only do I find that wrong on a very basic level, but basically I’m swapping Rob Stone for that annoying skinny blond that is constantly on in between games doing her best deer in the headlights routine.

Old Futbol Buffet–Diamonds are a Reds’ Best Friend

After gorging myself last Saturday on soccer, I took the day off and got some stuff done around the house and on the blog and tried to watch an entire season of Community.  Sunday, however, I headed up to the pub for Newcastle United v Manchester United and FC Barcelona v Real Madrid.

Newcastle United 0  Manchester United 3

What a start.  The passion and drive were stunning; a complete turnaround from last week.  Sir Alex went with a younger and more energetic midfield, playing in an unbalanced diamond, and put Newcastle under pressure from the off.  You would have made a ton of money if you had taken Evans and Evra to score for Manchester United.  But the Magpies responded by getting the ball wide, stretching the MUFC diamond and taking hold of the game.  Plus the lack of possession, a higher line of confrontation and more pressure kept the Reds from extending their lead until late.

United’s first three minutes of the second half were what I expected.  Keep the ball, go cagey and grind it out.  And then everything almost went wrong.  Cisse might have been a little hard done by as his effort was cleared off the line by De Gea.  Still can’t say for sure that the entire ball was in, but the young Spaniard created the controversial moment.  There were two defenders there to handle it, and there was no reason for him to get involved.  NUFC continued to press, but to no avail, and then the proverbial bolt from the blue occurred as Cleverley with a shot-cum-cross put the game out of reach.

Despite the midfield changes, the goals came from set pieces and a moment of magic.  That’s a little worrying as few actual chances were created from the run of play, so there is still work to be done.  The key now for Fergie is to find a midfield balance that can control the entire field.

Couple of other notes. . .

  • Saw the best and worst of Rafael.  At the beginning of the match, he took a difficult goal kick out of the air, tight on the sideline, and combined down the line, which led to a stinging shot.  Then just before halftime, he gives a shit pass to RvP and is caught out.  Nothing came of it, but still.  He is getting better but is still prone to the occasional error that will be punished against better opposition.
  • Evans on the deck was worrisome, with the lack of depth and injuries mounting in defense.  With Vidic out, the pairing of Evans and Rio will have to get the Reds through.  If either of them go out, then Carrick may be called back into the backline, a move that could have damaging ripple effects throughout the team.
  • De Gea was still shaky on crosses.  Hard to see him cementing a spot if he can’t improve this aspect.  For now, I think he should stay on the line and let his defenders handle set pieces and trust that his reactions will save the day.

Ed Harrison, writing for NUFC blog, saw his beloved Newcastle come up second best in Sunday’s match.  I didn’t realize that the backline was makeshift, which, along with some poor marking, led to the opening goals.  The Magpies fought back, but the slow start and the non-awarded goal put the game beyond reach.  In a separate post, he identified the lack of depth and areas that need strengthening as Newcastle look to build on last season’s finish.

Nik and Doron reviewed the game for Streford End, examining how Fergie’s use of the diamond formation impacted the match.  This, combined with an energetic approach, led to United taking control of the game and settling into some sort of 4-5-1 in the defensive phase to close it out. High marks were given to Evra and Cleverley, while there is still some doubt over de Gea in goal.

Scott the Red from the Republik of Mancunia enjoyed a fine performance from the Reds, starting in the back.  Well not necessarily with De Gea but the back four.  Totally agree with him that Welbeck needs to finish off the chances that he creates for himself with his endeavor and that others set up for him through their interplay.  Rooney got Man of the Match.  He was good and put in a decent shift but I don’t know that he was the best player.  This might have been an instance where the team was so in tune with each other that no one player deserved it more than another.

Michael Cox of Zonal Marking broke the game down into three phases—United’s diamond establishing control; Newcastle’s reshuffle to a 4-5-1 to bring them back into the match; and Fergie’s alternation to a 4-5-1 in order to regain control.  The game was won in the opening 15 minutes and once the hour mark came with no goals from Newcastle, United saw the game out, with Cleverley’s audacious effort as icing on the cake.

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Articles and Pods

I have only watched one Juventus game thus far this season—2-2 draw away at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League.  I wrestled with where to put my time as a fan in this summer, and Juve has suffered.  I am keeping an eye on results and was glad that they crushed Roma in the previous round and came back against Siena to extend their impressive 46 game unbeaten streak in Serie A.

I follow several of the crew from Juventiknows on twitter so when they pushed a post on the tactical evolution of the Old Lady, I gave it a read.  Ratul’s synopsis is concise and informative.  Conte maintained flexibility throughout last season and his transformation from a 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 to 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 allowed a balance to be struck that brought the most out of the squad, which resulted in a Scudetto and near domestic double.  Highly recommend the post, especially as it examines the equation of tactics, technique and personality.

Antonio Labbate wondered what happened to the mystique around the #10 jersey in Italy in one of his recent posts for Football Italia.  #10 for me will always be associated with Alessandro del Piero and to a lesser extent Francesco Totti in Serie A.  As I thought about it, I had a hard time identifying legendary #10’s for Manchester United and FC Barcelona.  Off the top of my head I couldn’t name one over the last five to ten years.  (After a little thinking, Sheringham and Rivaldo.)

Phil and Doron had Tom Clare on the latest Manchester United pod for Beyond the Pitch.  Tom has written several books on United’s history and shared his thoughts on where the club has been and where it is going.  With his wealth of history and insight, it was a fascinating listen.

Robert Andrew Powell was on Off the Ball last week (10/4) to talk about his new book This Love is not for Cowards, which recounted his time in Juarez, Mexico—the murder capital of the world.  Fascinating account that described the safest place to be: a soccer stadium.

Finally, Anto and Nico had Ives Galarcep on Beyond the Pitch to look at the MLS stretch run, which sees San Jose enter the tournament as favorites but threatened by the Galaxy.  Plus is this the season Seattle makes progress?  And what to make of New York Red Bull?  Good stuff from all involved as usual.