Posts Tagged ‘ Jose Mourinho ’

Strip Club–Extras Edition

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I’m a Juventus guy and it took a lot of lubrication (read Honey Brown, Newcastle, and Summer Shandy) to get me through this post, but I felt I had to get this out.

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Inter entered the 2010-11 campaign as the kings of Italy and Europe.  Mourinho had led the club to a historic treble that included the elimination of FC Barcelona in the semis of the Champions League (thank you volcanic ash) before a comprehensive victory over Bayern Munich in Final.

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Of course the Special One left shortly after lifting the European Cup to attack his next challenge with Real Madrid.  Enter Rafael Benitez.  After relatively successful stints at Valencia and Liverpool, Rafa would take the reins of a team looking to stamp their authority in all competitions.

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The Spaniard only lasted until December as poor form in the league could not make up for winning the Italian Super Cup and FIFA Club World Championship.  Leonardo took over, leading the Nerazzurri all the way up to second in the league and another Coppa triumph against Palmero.  However in the Champions League, Schalke hammered the Italians in the quarter-finals, winning 5-2 at San Siro and 2-1 at home.

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Their away kit for the 2010-11 season is stunning.  But divisive.  Comment threads across the interwebs sway between the extremes of love and hate.  I fall in the love category.  I have a knockoff away jersey from a couple of years ago that is simple and elegant in all white.  This top takes that basic, beautiful foundation and adds the sinister symbol of the city of Milan and the club Internazionale—the serpent.

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From the Inter Milan Wikipedia page:

Animals are often used to represent football clubs in Italy, the grass snake, called Il biscione or Serpente representing Inter. The snake is an important symbol for the city of Milan, appearing often in Milanese heraldry as a coiled viper with a man in its jaws. The symbol is famous for its presence on the coat of arms of the House of Sforza (who ruled over Italy from Milan during the Renaissance period), the city of Milan, the historical Duchy of Milan (a 400 year state of the Holy Roman Empire), and Insubria (a historical regional area which the city of Milan falls within).

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The entire strip is clean and sharp, and this post from Soccer Bible has some nice pictures and descriptions.  I haven’t done any searching for this jersey, but if I could find a really good deal on it, I might consider buying it.  I may not ever wear it, but just having it hanging in my closet might be enough.  Yes.  I know. I have issues.

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Random Wandering–Manchester City’s Growing Pains

So Manchester City, current Champions of England, are out Europe.  Not just the Champions League but the Europa League as well.  Instead of progressing this season, it could be argued that the Citizens have regressed, finishing last in the proverbial Group of Death, and my initial response as a Manchester United fan is to laugh at their misfortune.  Despite several seasons of massive spending, City still cannot contend in the world’s premier club competition.  And then it hit me.  At 3 in the morning.  Maybe I was being a little too harsh.  United didn’t hit the ground running after claiming their first top division title for 26 years.  So I did a little research and here’s what I found.  I will let the facts speak for themselves.

United’s reentry into Europe came in the reformulated European Cup renamed the Champions League.  Knockout ties whittled down the participants to eight teams, with the top four progressing to another knockout round.  United dispatched of Kispest Honvéd before meeting Galatasary in the last preliminary round.  A 3-3 draw at Old Trafford saw the English Champions travel to Istanbul where they were met by the famous Welcome to Hell sign.  The Turks ground out a 0-0 result and knocked out the Red Devils.  Not the greatest start for the storied club.

The following season saw them go straight into the Group Stage after another format change.  Some better results were not enough to overcome a 4-0 thrashing at the Nou Camp and United were out again.  The 1995/96 campaign was even worse.  Runners-up to Blackburn in the league they entered the UEFA Cup and promptly lost to Rotor Volgograd, despite Peter Schmeichel scoring.

From there, the Red Devils found their feet, making the Champions League semi-finals in 96/97 and 97/98 losing to Borussia Dortmund and Monaco respectively.  Of course 1999 was the season of seasons as United won the treble, for their first European Cup title since 1968.

Looking at City,  I am using the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited in September 2008 as my starting point.  Due to a Fair Play entry, the Citizens competed in the UEFA Cup, reaching the quarters before falling to Hamburg.  A decent result but I really don’t count their participation because it was the summer of 2009 when the ADUG started flexing their financial muscle.

No European competition for the 09/10 season but a fifth place finish in the league earned them a place in the new Europa League.  Winning their group, they eventually went out to Kyiv in the round of 16.  Better but not great.  After finishing third in 10/11, the blue side of Manchester finally got a taste of Champions League football.  A tough group saw them finish third and but they failed to make the most of their second chance in the Europa League, losing to Sporting in the Round of 16.  But progress.

After a dramatic last day of the 11/12 campaign, Manchester City entered the Champions League as actual Champions but were promptly drawn into the Group of Death, featuring three other league champions—Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.  A stunning fight back from the Los Merengues saw the Citizens start off a bad foot and things never got any better.  After drawing at home with Dortmund, City suffered a paralyzing blow by losing to Ajax.  They could only manage a draw in the return match against the Dutch at the Etihad, a dire draw with Real Madrid and then lost to Dortmund to finish bottom of the group on three points.

I would consider 2012/13 a step backward for City.  Not being in the Europa League is not a big deal; in fact, it enhances their chances of retaining the title or possibly going for a Domestic Double.  Their performances in a very tough group were disappointing.  Between questionable buys over the summer and Mancini’s curious tactics, I’m not sure if this team will rebound.  They have the squad, of that there is no doubt, and they don’t even have the foreigner rule to deal with, which hamstrung Sir Alex for years.

Richard Jolly proposed ten reasons why Manchester City crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition.  He cited a lack of quality signings, a tough draw, a dramatic conclusion to the opening match away to Real Madrid, injuries, and poor defensive marking before moving on to issues with Mancini.  Jolly questioned the Italian’s tactical tinkering, player selections and failure to find the team’s balance in Europe.  This is the manager’s job and Mancini simply isn’t up to it.

And that’s not me—pouty, bitter, self-righteous United fan—saying this.  James Restall broke down Mancini’s European record over the last decade for the Telegraph.  Starting at his time at Fiorentina in 2001/02 to Lazio to Inter to City, his best performance was a 2004 UEFA Cup Semi against eventual winner Porto.  At Inter he eventually found the formula for progressing out of the Group Stage but could not get past the Quarter-Finals despite having a pretty stacked squad and very little in terms of domestic competition.  (Mourinho stepped in and won everything after Mancini resigned/got fired.)

So now what?  Following the United trajectory, the 12/13 European campaign would be the low point (a la 95/96) as the team starts to find success, needing a little luck to finally get over the line.  This indeed may be case but it won’t happen with the Scarfed One.  With Mourinho having one foot out the door at Real Madrid, his installment could be what drives the Citizens towards Manchester United-like success on all fronts.  Trouble is, history tells us that Mou only stays at a job for three years.  The Portuguese manager could get City to the Promised Land, only to leave in some sort of media/management/player shit show.  But if he could deliver . . .

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.

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