Posts Tagged ‘ Jonathan Wilson ’

Old Futbol Buffet–Every Day is Like Sunday

Title of this post is not my favorite Morrissey song (much prefer Glamorous Glue) but does the trick for this post.

Saturday was blocked off with stuff to do.  Worked around the house, made an appearance at the gym, and went to the circus with the family.  Sunday was for watching footy as I watched three and a half matches (United/Liverpool, Arsenal/City, second half of Atleti/Zaragoza, and FCB/Malaga), all with goals and varying amounts of quality and drama.  Spent the morning at Buffalo Wild Wings with Mid-Michigan United and we had a great turnout.  Probably 20-25 at its peak, but with Arsenal down a man and two goals, the place cleared out pretty quick.  Then I headed over to the Claddagh for some La Liga action as Barcelona continued their amazing run finishing the first half of the season with 18 wins, 1 draw and 0 losses.

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Manchester United 2  Liverpool 1

A tense beginning to the match but eventually MUFC put some passes together with Evra finding RvP just outside the six yard box to fire home on 19 minutes.  From there Liverpool offered very little but the Red Devils could not find the second.  Young’s injury, the results of another heavy touch, will cause Sir Alex problems over the coming weeks but could open the door for Nani.

Tangent: Let me just say I was wrong.  When the signing of RvP was announced this summer, I was like that’s great but who’s going to give him the ball from the center of midfield and who is going to defend when the Dutchman eventually loses it?  Turns out Sir Alex has fashioned a team that simply outscores their opponent.  Maybe he will address the other areas this summer but for the time being it looks like United have one hand back on the Premier League trophy and will provide a stern test for Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Credit to Rodgers for the second half set up and substitutions.  Sturridge’s introduction provided a partner for Suarez and the new man created plenty of chances.  Borini’s entrance was questioned by me but that front three caused the United rearguard all sorts of problems.  Add to that more energy and drive from the visitors and the game grew as a contest.

Could argue that a draw would have been the fair result as the hosts lost the plot in the second stanza. Sturridge wasted a couple of decent chances and Suarez could never quite free himself to create the decisive moment. Thought Wisdom has a decent match defensively, but his one scoring opportunity went horribly wrong.  As for United, Kagawa didn’t make much impact on the left, while Welbeck worked hard but squandered several goal scoring opportunities.  Felt that Carrick was particularly poor, with several passes put teammates in tough positions and leading to turnovers.

Cannot let my game notes go by with mentioning the appearance of Darth Mou/Emperor Palpatine at the proceedings.  Looking extraordinarily evil in his hooded jacket, perhaps he really has gone to the dark side as he tries to build his legacy at Real Madrid.

Bit colder than Madrid, Jose? Mourinho seemed to be struggling to reacclimatise during the first half

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Arsenal 0  Manchester City 2

The second game of the game had to be painful for the each team’s fans.  The Gunners got a man sent off early, managed to raise their game to compensate and then completely fell asleep to give up the first goal, a blast from Milner.  From there it was damage control and very little of the slick passing and movement was evident.  Every ball predictable and wasted, and a second goal from Dzeko put the game to bed.

For City, they should have scored more in this match.  Too many chances went begging and felt the blue side lacked energy for most of the match.  Kompany’s sending off (harsh in my opinion) leveled the game in terms of numbers but Arsenal were second best.

Really not much to say about this match, other than the appearance of Balotelli, reprising Wesley Snipes’ role from Demolition Man.  This guy can’t help himself can he?

Mario Balotelli

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Articles

Last week the Ballon D’Or was handed out and Gabriele Marcotti examined some of the quirks of the voting for ESPN FC, noting that not all countries voted, there are various criteria for voters, and not all voters watch the same amount of footy.  He acknowledged that the award is not scientific but felt that the Argentinian “deserved to be saluted.”

Jonathan Wilson called the individual awards such as the Ballon D’Or “insidious” at SI.com and wants readers to remember that soccer is a team game.  He does not deny Messi’s greatness but states

It is part of Messi’s greatness that he so regularly chooses the action with the lowest tariff of difficulty to complete any given task. He is capable of the flashy and technically complex, but if something simple will suffice he does that. He can be jaw-droppingly brilliant but is essentially efficient. Paradoxically, it’s because he is so undemonstrative, such a team player, that he is such a great individual.

Wilson was also on Off the Ball last week making his case and I agree with him in that the results in leagues and cups are what matters.

In the wake of poor seasons from Sporting and AEK Athens in Portugal and Greece respectively, UEFA.com profiled big names that have been relegated in the past—Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan and Marseille.  I remember when Sampdoria went down just after challenging for the European Cup in 1992.  Recently Leeds United have fallen on hard times, going from domestic and continental challenger to plummeting down the divisions, currently playing in the Championship.

Returning to Marcotti, he suggested in the Wall Street Journal that a Jorge Mendes United team might be a future possibility, with the super agent representing Mourinho and a stable of top talent—CR7, Falcao, Pepe and di Maria.  Soccer works differently than most American sports, so Mendes’ influence is unusual and with Real Madrid, there is an alarming amount of power.

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MatchDay Memory–The Big Two Part 2 (Memories and Tactics)

As for my personal involvement in the rivalry, the first El Clasico I can remember is the game after Figo switched sides in the summer of 2000.  I had loved him at FCB and was sad to see him go over to the Evil Empire.  I definitely didn’t have the hatred that the Nou Camp supporters showed when he returned to the Nou Camp, and I vaguely remember the famous Pig’s Head game that followed.  Tom Adams looked back at those days for Soccernet.

I have to admit that Clasico viewings between those games and the Pep Era were hit and miss.  Once I heard that Ronaldinho was actually cheered by the Real Madrid fans, I had to find highlights, during which I saw an amazing performance by Ronny, in a season that ended with the League and European Cup double.  Then in March 2007, I read the match report about the 3-3 draw and found snippets of the game, including a sick hat trick from Messi, but it wasn’t enough to keep Beckham and Real Madrid from winning the title that season.

I haven’t missed a League Clasico since Pep took over.  Some of the matches have been duds (December 2008 and November 2009) in which Real Madrid used an overly physical approach to nullify a Barcelona team in the ascendancy, while others have been Blaugrana Epics (May 2009 and the manita of November 2010).  Of course there was the Clasico Apocalypse of 2011, which saw the rivals play four times in 20 days.  I watched both legs of the Champions League semi and the league encounter but missed most of the Copa del Rey final (stupid work), although I did see CR7’s winning goal.  The Spanish Super Cups have been hard to schedule as they come during a ginormous work function, but in all in all, the games recently have been amazing on every level—drama, tactics, and technical ability.

Speaking of tactics, there have been several developments for both clubs during the recent years.  With Pep’s hire, the Blaugrana maintained the 4-3-3, which is part of the club’s DNA, but the former Barca captain added a level of pressing and increased fitness.  Possession became a means to defend, as opponents rarely saw the ball and were under constant pressure, eventually breaking under constant bombardment.  Width from outside backs allowed attackers to come inside and combine in intricately, leading to amazing goals of skill and precision.  Now that almost every opponent parks the bus, the team is confronted with their next progression.

Messi was slowly moved from his right hand berth to a more central role, starting as false 9, which caused backlines all sorts of problems.  Do you follow Messi into midfield?  Do you focus on him and allow Pedro and Villa to drive at you from the wings?  These days Messi has moved to almost a false 10 position with Fabregas stretching the play and Messi able to pull the strings and occasionally dribble at defenses.  Kxevin at the Barcelona Football Blog commented on this recent phenomenon.

Another player that evolved is Sergio Busquets.  Pep arrived and made the youth player the fulcrum of the team.  Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita have moved on as Busi has become vital to the success of the team. Andreas Vou looked at the evolution of Sergio Busquets for Inside Spanish Football.  Busquets has moved from the pivot to the third center back to the sweeper and back again, which has allowed the Blaugrana to constantly tweak the formation and approach.  Jonathan Wilson called him the 3 and a half after the first league Clasico of 11/12.

From a Real Madrid perspective, Los Blancos have progressed from an entertaining side that was open and scored lots of goals (but gave up plenty as well) to a pragmatic side that is a lethal counterattacking unit.  In the 2000’s the club made the mistake of selling Geremi and Makelele, players who snuffed out attacks, gave the ball to the creative players and shielded an aging backline.  The team was exposed time and time again and tried to outscore the opposition, which was effective to varying degrees.  After Capello squeezed a couple of titles out of a decent squad, the club floundered until Perez reinstituted the Galacticos policy, bringing CR7, Pepe, Ozil, Alonso, Benzema and a host of others.

These players were overmatched by the FCB machine and it took the arrival of Mourinho and a couple seasons of his discipline to pay dividends.  Now the squad defends as a unit, wins the ball and launches lighting swift counters with CR7, Di Maria, Ozil and Higuain or Benzema.  Angel Di Maria was signed to give balance to the attack and switched from right midfield, his position at Benfica, to left mid.  Occasionally he and CR7 switch but Di Maria’s cutting inside encourages interplay between the lone striker (Higuain or Benzema) and attacking midfielder (Ozil) and also allows Marcelo to overlap.  As for Ozil his transfer provided a more dynamic option to Kaka.  The German, who basically plays the same position for Germany, drifts side to side and pulls the strings. His teammates react by alternating positions, and opposing defenses are forced to make decisions against an attack full of dynamism and energy.

In the back Sergio Ramos has moved from right back to center back.  Carvalho was a Mourinho signing to help him build his power base but injuries and lack of form saw him slip out of the team.  Arbeloa has been serviceable on the right hand side, which has allowed for the emergence of a Pepe/Ramos pairing, full of speed and aggressiveness.  Frustration at FCB’s dominance led to several cards but both have been under control lately.  It is breathtaking to watch and their current shape took them to a league championship and within a whisker of the Champions League Final.

We now enter a period when the two teams are considered the best in the world and will lock horns home and abroad in the search for glory.  Plus several subplots give texture to the battle between the clubs.  How long for Mourinho?  He has never led a team beyond three seasons.  Along with that, can Mou lead Los Blancos to La Decima?  Can Tito keep this cycle going or will he be at the wheel as the Blaugrana fade once more before rebuilding?  Will we see a Real Madrid/FC Barcelona Champions League Final, setting up the greatest confrontation between two biggest sports clubs/franchises/teams in the world?  I can’t wait to see what this season and the near future holds.

Morbo Minute–Atleti Show Their Stripes

Another round, another Barcelona victory.  That story line can be put to bed until March when we’ll see if fatigue or a push from Real Madrid or focus on European glory slows the Blaugrana juggernaut.  As for the rest of La Primera, the panel at Inside Spanish Football pod named Cristiano Ronaldo their Player of the Week, as he scored their Goal of the Week and was the only bright spot in another wise dour Madrid Derby.  They also touched on Valencia not treating their manager, a former player during a very successful time for the club, with respect before moving on Getafe’s third straight victory and other news and notes.  Don’t want to forget to mention Joel Campbell’s cracking goal for Betis as Los Verdiblancos built on their victory over Real Madrid and are now in fourth.  Plus Malaga’s third kit made an appearance in their loss to Getafe.  Electric lime might not be the proper identification, but whatever the color, not attractive.

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FC Barcelona 5  Athletic Bilbao 1

Los Leones came into the match after a rescheduled Europa League game in midweek so I was concerned about their energy levels, but the team started well and maintained a great deal of composure despite being without Muniain.  Unfortunately, once the visitors got over midfield, everything broke down, with Aduriz and Ander having very poor games, losing their footing and constantly turning the ball over.

In time, the hosts simply overwhelmed Athletic pushing players forward, interchanging positions and pressuring them all over the pitch.  Once FCB broke through, off a direct corner of all things, there was only one result.  The Blaugrana immediately scored another goal and created wonderful chances throughout the half, culminating in a simply stunning goal from Adriano with the last kick of the first period.

The second half saw Llorente come on for Aduriz but the big forward had even less of an impact on the game, as Athletic tired, leading to less pressure and organization and poor interplay from all players.  FCB took it down a gear but still scored twice.  Iniesta laid off a skillful pass for Fabregas; Ibai scored a fine consolation goal; and Messi added his second of the night to complete the scoring.

A couple of player notes.

  • Thought Iniesta started poorly but eventually was unplayable.  What he can do in tight spaces is beyond comprehension.
  • Ramalho was had a ‘mare at right back.  Chased shadows and lost possession for a majority of the game.
  • Adriano played on his opposite side.  Some debate on why he started instead of Montoya, but he made a great run for his goal and showed tremendous energy throughout the match. Definite glue guy for the team.

With Atleti’s loss, the Blaugrana are now six points clear at the top.  A result against Los Colchoneros just before the winter break and FCB can start looking at trying to retain their Copa del Rey title as well as regaining the Champions League.

Spoiled.  Simply put that is what Barca fans are at the moment says Kxevin from Barcelona Football Blog.  The Blaugrana are now on top of the league in record breaking fashion, a league that has decided to stop fearing FCB and tried to take the game to them.  Action, reaction.  Repeat.  In this case, Tito Vilanova has made the team more direct, less patient and focused on results.  One thing that Pep’s teams did not do in the last season or two was step on the throat.  This current squad rips the throat, dismembers the opponent and revels in the bloodbath.  A couple of nervy moments at the beginning of the season have given way to a run of form reminiscent of the amazing run of the 2010/11 campaign with win after win.  Yet Real Madrid still came back.  Tito’s real test will be rotating the squad to maintain the results and the awe inspiring play while keeping a little in reserve for the trophy with the big ears.  Let’s see where things in stand heading into March. Fans are still spoiled though.  And it won’t last forever.

(Tangent.  This goes for FCB and Manchester United.  Once Fergie goes at Old Trafford, United will begin the slow descent into mediocrity.  Gone will be Father Figure, the manager who strikes terror in everyone involved, the veteran hand who has seen everything, and the gaffer who can instill confidence and fear in equal measure in his players.  So with Barca.  The Golden Generations can’t last forever.  Time is almost up for Puyol and Xavi, with Villa and Iniesta to follow.  Then you have the Messi/Pique/Fabregas group.  The Argentinian will be the focus and that may be the problem.  Without a strong supporting cast his influence can be reduced.  Argentina National Team anyone?  Then you have Pedro, Montoya, Busquets and Thiago.  Can that group reach the heights of their predecessors?  Can they do it with the veterans to lead them? Can they do without heavy investment from the squad?  Barca has always hit a lull before remerging.  Van Gaal gave way to a barren period before Rijkaard led them to glory.  But the Dutchman failed to retain the titles of 2006 and eventually gave way to Pep and a simply historic period of success that we have not seen the end of.  But it will end.  Always has, always will be.  What is the next chapter?

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Real Madrid 2  Atletico Madrid 0

What a disappointment.  Atleti came into this match with their best chance in a long time of ending the hoodoo and Simeone sent out his troops with one thought—foul the shit of the Los Blancos.  I understand the approach, get into Real’s head, get them off their game and sneak in a goal, but Atleti did very little in the way of attacking.  With only four or five shots (that might be generous) the visitors focused on the physical attack, with Diego Costa leading the way.  If this had been an NBA game, he would have fouled out early, but at least he came to play, not backing down from the hosts and trying to drive forward.  Falcao channeled his inner Rivaldo after the Sergio Ramos love tap.  Nothing there.  You’re a big, strong lad.  Get on with it.

Mourinho put out a full strength eleven, and while Ozil was ok, maybe a little better than his 45 minutes against Real Betis, I felt that Di Maria had some nice individual moments but maybe he could have combined better. After minor flare ups from Pepe and Sergio Ramos due to Atleti’s robust style, the defenders were firmly in control.  The Special One stated that he didn’t know his team earlier in the season.  Yet he continues to roll out the same players. Seems like he should make changes to startle the underperformers into doing a little more.

Cristiano’s goal was spectacular.  I can’t remember the last time he scored one like that, but it reminded me of the goal he scored for United against Pompey, maybe 2008 or 2009.   Simply unstoppable.  Real Madrid found their rhythm in the second half, with nice interchanges in the final third, which kept the visitors pinned back.

The match was reminiscent of the Barcelona and Real Madrid battles early in Pep’s reign, in which Real would just foul and foul and foul, hoping to stop FCB by brute force rather than by organization, anticipation and tactics.  In the same way, Atleti tried to outmuscle rather than out play Real.  Maybe if they had tried to play straight up, their reward might have been a Real Madrid Manita, but for all the hype and expectation, this match was a huge let down.

One last note, going back through the lineups, I saw Carvalho was on the bench.  I didn’t even know he was still on the squad.

Managing Madrid saw Ronaldo open the scoring which forced Atleti out of their shell and from there Ozil took full advantage.  These two players have had recent success against their crosstown rivals and again they rose to the occasion.

Martin Rosenow reviewed the damage for Atleti Fans.  Ronaldo’s goal took the wind of Los Colcheneros and with Luis Felipe out due to late injury, the team never got going. Nine straight derby losses.  Ouch.  However, still firmly in second and well above the chasing pack for third.  If Atleti can hold on to Falcao, they will have a small window to replace Valencia as the best of the rest.  However if the Colombian goes, I fear they will fall away again.  We’ll see.

Atleti is one of many clubs in La Liga struggling to find a shirt sponsor.  Their last set sponsor was Kia, which cut ties in 2011, so I was surprised to see something across the chests of the red and white jerseys.  Based on a post at Atleti Fans, the club signed an agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Not sure what Land of Fire on but if the club is getting money, then more power to them.

Finally, Chalk on the Boots analyzed the game, correctly stating that the match was “instantly forgettable” with 42 fouls and very little in terms of attacking fluency.  He identified a couple of key factors to the match: Ozil’s lack of space against a compact Atleti side (until the game opened up in the second half); Cata Diaz, usually a centerback, played at left back, which sacrificed an element of attack; and a lack of wide service for Falcao and Costa.

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Articles

Sid Lowe focused on Pellegrino’s dismissal in his weekly column.  After standing by several coaches in the past, President Manolo Llorente fired his manager as the fans have begun to turn on him.  Backed by the players, there are elements of fear and lack of long term planning in this decision and now it is up to Valverde to improve their league position while contending in the Copa and the Champions League.

La Liga Loca also discussed Pellegrino’s termination on Football365.  As everyone said at the end of last season when Emery was let go, be careful what you wish far.  Despite relative success, Emery was let go, and, after the club failed to get AVB, Llorente turned to Pellegrino.  The Argentinean didn’t last long and now the club is faced with financial and managerial instability.

Phil Ball wondered how the seemingly laid back Tito Vilanova gets the Blaugrana to press and attack and bamboozle opponents.  Their record start has been inspired by a historic individual performance and an indefatigable team effort.  He then moved to the Madrid Derby, where Simeone showed a possible lack of tactical nous.  Phil also touched on the cult of Mourinho as his window of influence and abrasiveness is closing.  He concluded with Pellegrino’s firing and the reemergence of Javier Aguirre at Espanyol.

Listened to an old Off the Ball pod (11/21) with Graham Hunter, in which he discussed CR7’s future at Real Madrid.  The winger’s contract is running out and this prompted a conversation about whether the club should sell the Portuguese player (could go to City or PSG) and possibly buy Neymar.  The players are not like for like in terms of footballing ability but there is something to be said in terms of star power.

Staying with CR7, Jonathan Wilson made the argument in the Guardian that Ronaldo is the reason that Real Madrid won’t win La Decima.  While he concedes the former Manchester United’s great physical skills, he notes some glaring weaknesses in his game that could keep him from being part of a great team.  Isolated as defensive laxity, Wilson notes that full backs create disadvantages for the rest of Ronaldo’s teammates causing undue pressure and goals. On Off the Ball last week Wilson went as far to say that Ronaldo would not be in his starting eleven because “he doesn’t know how to play football.”  His premise is that systems and groups win rather than one player who demands the ball, demands the players and demands the accolades.  Definitely a provocative argument, especially in a world that sees the current landscape as Messi v Ronaldo.

Finally, My Golden Great is a series that Football Espana is developing, where the site looks back into the history of the league to identify wonderful players of years past.  Recently Sam Marsden picked out Rivaldo’s year just before the end of the millennium.  Right in my wheelhouse, as this was the time when I started following FCB and La Liga with some regularity.  I remembered his amazing performances against United in the 1998/99 Champions League Group Stage and some phenomenal goals in the following campaign, both home and abroad.  The Brazilian ended up winning the 1999 Ballon d’Or award after a great year for club and country.  I was able to find his Barca goals from in and around that season.  As Tim Vickery always says, Rivaldo might be involved 50 times in a match.  48 times he’ll drive you crazy but the other two are simply amazing.

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.

Old Futbol Buffet–Couch Potato Edition

Saturday was a beautiful autumn day in Lansing, with citizens out and about shopping, enjoying the weather and tailgating for the big MSU/OSU football game.  How did I enjoy the day?  Sat inside a home or bar and watched over eight hours of footy.  The day began with the 7:45am Arsenal v Chelsea and ended with the 4pm Sevilla v FC Barcelona match.

Arsenal 1  Chelsea 2

Arsene Wenger probably did not sleep Saturday night.  The Gunners are the most eye catching team in the Premier League at the moment, yet the results are not following.  The hosts dominated the European Champions but were sucker punched twice and got nothing from the match.

The first Chelsea goal came out of nothing as Arsenal shambolically defended a free kick.  The Ox, on for the injured Diaby, left David Luiz open.  The Brazilian missed the header but Torres was able to volley home as Koscielny got twisted around.

The Gunners struggled without Diaby initially but eventually found their attacking strategy, which was to get into wide areas.  Eventually the alien known as Gervinho made up for last week’s debacle with a fantastic finish.  Halftime came with matters all square and Arsenal having every chance of winning.

They kept pressing after the interval but were wasteful in front of goal.  Arteta did a solid job of winning the ball back, but he was slightly culpable for Chelsea’s second goal. He was slow to react after losing the ball and put Vermaelen in trouble.  The resulting set piece was floated in by Mata and the bending ball was not dealt with. Then AFC put on their subs but these changes unbalanced the team, as the Ox ran around all over and Theo was marginal.  Giraud should have equalized towards the end but his effort hit the side netting.

Chelsea put in a veteran performance and the Gunners did everything but convert their chances. The Blues probably only had a handful of chances, scored two and Torres, who was meh, made a hash of a break away.  The back line for CFC was solid and Cech made two great saves.  As for Arsenal, Cazorla was decent but missed two chances outside the box.  Jenkinson was fantastic, showing real drive and determination at right back.  Still waiting for more from Podolski though.

The Arseblogger tried to keep things in perspective after the Chelsea game, noting that Arsenal were superior for most of the match but failed to take their chances and made mistakes at the defensive end.  Fair comment and I think the Gunners are a top four side, with one caveat—can they do it against the smaller clubs?  When they play Wigan and Stoke and Reading can they unlock packed defenses and maintain concentration for the one or two moments they are under pressure?  If the Gunners can, then they will be right there.  If not, then a fourth place (or lower) awaits them.

Zonal Marking was not impressed by this clash of London teams (although he was impressed with Oscar), focusing his analysis on the each team’s left side and Arsenal’s substitutions and shape after going down 2-1.  What I saw as Arsenal unbalanced after Diaby’s exit, ZM explained as a move to width as Ramsey moved inside and the OX, naturally a wide player, played in the right hand channel.   As for the Gunners finish to the game, their lack of shape (ie almost no linked midfield) allowed Chelsea to maintain possession and kill off the game rather than keep it the high tempo which kicked in after the Blues’ second goal.

Fulham 1  Manchester City 2

The Cottagers got off to a great start as Mark Halsey, the villain of last week’s Liverpool/Manchester United match, awarded a very soft penalty.  Petric converted and for 85’ minutes, it looked as if Fulham would hang on for a point.  But alas, the Citizens overwhelming talent won the day.

Kun Aguero canceled out the opening goal just before halftime and then Mancini threw on attacker after attacker in search of the winner.  Eventually it was Dzeko who won the points scoring almost immediately after his introduction with minutes remaining.

Big result for City given the outcomes of the day.  Unfortunately for Fulham, who tried to hold into the second half, Riise’s poor clearance created the half chance for Dzeko. David Silva was head and shoulders the best player on the field, gliding past defenders, creating chances and pulling the strings.  Special mention must be made of Brian Ruiz who did everything he could for the hosts.

I must have been watching a different game than Kristian of Cottagers Confidential.  He felt that Fulham deserved a draw.  True, they defended well and did whatever they could to stop the Citizens but they were hardly dangerous.  Also, he didn’t feel Ruiz did enough, which, considering the circumstances, he did all he could for the cause.  Fulham were surprisingly good for me.  As I told my mate, I wouldn’t have thought that Baird and Sidwell were a Premier League center midfield pairing, but they marshaled the game well.  The team as a whole was well organized and will give lesser teams trouble.

Suffering Bruin jotted down some thoughts after the game for the Bitter and Blue blog.  Can’t agree with him enough about using some sort of video to weed out fouls and resulting penalties like the one on Riise.  Despicable.  He also mentioned the lack of pace for City.  I don’t see it that way.  I see clever, technical players who are able to maintain possession in tight spaces and create chances in other ways (example would playing in Zabaleta in time and time again) rather than mazy or heaving runs from all over the pitch.  City are right behind the chasing pack and now turn their eyes toward Borussia Dortmund.

Manchester United 2  Tottenham Hotspur 3

Much was made of Spurs poor record at Old Trafford so of course United crapped their pants and gave up a 23 year unbeaten run.  The Red Devils first half was utter dreck as their defense was exposed time and time again.  Vertonghen got things up and running, driving right at the United defense and no one picked him up.  His shot ricocheted off Evans and put the visitors up just two minutes in.

Things got worse minutes later as Bale beat Rio for pace and scored the second.  The opening 45 minutes showed a couple of things—Spurs have got real pace that unsettle the best teams; Giggs and Scholes can’t start and or play together at present; every time RvP goes down, the Red Devil Nation holds their collective breath.

The second half produced the usual United fightback, as Nani converted a fine cross from Rooney.  Dempsey immediately replied as Defoe wriggled free, setting up Bale, who unleashed a vicious blast that was only partially saved by Lindegaard and Dempsey tapped in.  Kagawa was able to quickly reduce the margin back to one but that was to the end of the scoring.  A fine effort from Spurs and despite dropping into a defensive shell, they left with all the points, their third league win in a row.

Rooney’s introduction gave the hosts a spark and he was terribly unlucky on his free kick that hit the post.  Kagawa is still positive but doesn’t play towards goal so his impact can be negated.  Scholes still has it but the team must be working around him for to influence the game.  The comeback was inspiring and depressing at the same time.  Southampton required an amazing effort and Liverpool needed the helping hand of the referee.  12 points from six matches and yet this team is nowhere near top form.  Only time will tell if this is the typically slow start and if real problems are on the horizon.

Spooky was thrilled with the result.  His thoughts at Dear Mr. Levy see a team starting to move in the right direction, full of speed and hunger and led by a coach coming into his stride.  I agree with him that Walker struggled and will need to improve defensively in order to shore up the defense, but with the firepower available, performances like the first half could be the norm.

Reading Doron’s comments at the Stretford End 24 hours after the match put things in perspective.  Besides praise for Scholes’ second half, the lack of presence in midfield, which affected the entire first half, and Rooney’s introduction, Doron addressed the fact that Fergie got the line up wrong, simple as that.  He will not make the same mistake next time.  My guess is that he will use a more athletic, high energy team that stretches Spurs as they exposed United in the first half.  He made the changes and almost salvaged something from the match, but the poor start and key moments went against the Reds.  His statement towards the end should be put on the United locker room bulletin board:

Why oh why can’t United start games like they seem to have to start second halves? In every game bar one in the league we’ve had to come from behind which isn’t good enough at all. Can’t the players be motivated from the off or is it more to do with Fergie picking the wrong team to begin with and having to make changes?

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MMMSL Over 30 Playoff Final

CCFC claimed the over 30 playoff title last night in a 4-3 in Double OT thriller over Grand Saints.  Down 2-0 early (Hagan and McNally?), we battled back to 2-1 (Christensen)  before halftime and then the two teams did their best Manchester United/Tottenham impression.  CCFC scored right at the beginning of the second half through James Glenn before Grand Saints responded moments later to make it 3-2 (Drauer?).

Later on Brett earned a penalty, which was converted by Wael Awad to make it 3-3.  There were several chances for both teams to win it in regulation but extra time it would be.  Not much in the first period, but early in the second session, Brett won another penalty.  Will Robinson slotted it home to put CCFC ahead.

We then had to survive an onslaught to run out winners.  Fantastic season for the lads.  12 win and 2 draws in the regular season (Champions) and playoff champions.  Our first double since 2006 that made the post match beers that much more satisfying.

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Articles

Jonathan Wilson commented on Liverpool’s start to the season (the worst since 1902) ahead of the weekend’s fixtures.  Their poor start may be down to two factors—tough fixture list (Arsenal, City and United) and conversion of chances (somewhere in the neighborhood of 6% before Saturday’s match).  On the plus side, while passes attempted remains static, their completion percentage is higher, so Rodgers may be having some sort of effect and the Reds are pleasing to the eye.  Wilson posits that: The good news for Rodgers is that passing, the absolute core of his philosophy, has improved, even given the tough start. The bad news is that individual errors keep undermining the effectiveness of the overall structure.  Maybe the season really did start on Saturday with their 5-2 thumping of Norwich.

Grant Wahl touched a couple of interesting tidbits in his weekly column for Planet Futbol.  Klose’s honesty (he admitted using his hand and got a goal overturned); Stuart Holden’s return to Bolton; Sounders vote of confidence of their GM; and Columbus hosting USMNT games.

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