Posts Tagged ‘ Juventiknows.com ’

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.

Old Futbol Buffet–Up and Running

Back in the saddle again.  The EPL kicked off on Saturday, and Mid Michigan United got together to watch Newcastle host Spurs.  The Spuds are my second English team so I was anxious to see how they would set up shop this year.  Plus I wanted to see if the Magpies first game since a surprise fifth place finish last year.

I walked into Buffalo Wild Wings and was greeted with a host of African descent sporting pulled back dreadlocks.  No not Edgar Davids.  Mario Melchiot.  What the what?  Found him very hard to understand (of what I could hear).  And where was AVB’s London Fog jacket?  Redoing his image perhaps?  Anyway people started trickling in and I ended up keeping my kid under control and talking to Damon Rensing, Head Coach of the MSU Men’s Soccer team for a while, so I missed almost the entire first half.  From what I could tell I didn’t miss too much.

One thing that stood out was Newcastle’s corner kick routine.  It seemed as if two players were slow dancing at eighth grade Catholic dance (enough room for the Holy Spirit in between) before being joined by a third player.  Very weird.

The second half turned out to be more entertaining as Ba got things started with a lovely finish.  Chances came and went before Defore smashed home after Krul made the initial save.  There was a hint of offside but no matter.  Then it was a race to the finish as the substitutes maintained the energy and the attempts on goal.  The decider came from two Spurs attacking players doing something idiotic—VdV and Lennon had Hatem Ben Arfa on lock down just outside the area but allowed him to wriggle his way between them.  To compound that error there was a slight trip and an awkward clattering that led to a penalty which HBA dispatched to seal the three points.

A decent game highlighted by several quality efforts on both sides and a moment of madness from Pardew who shoved the assistant referee for a supposed blown call.  Not smart.  Plus he couldn’t get the walkie talkie to work up in the stands.  By the way, why don’t coaches have to go sit in the corner aka the locker room like players?  Anyway, hopefully United get off to a good start Monday afternoon and then next weekend it is Liverpool v City.

Spooky’s song sheet for the upcoming season reads: patience and positivity as AVB tries to put together pieces which may or may not be in place yet.

Zonal Marking looked at the match, pointing out the impact Ben Arfa had on the match.  He also looked at Pardew’s tactical change for the Magpies at halftime when he switched to a 4-3-3.

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To get ready for the upcoming season, I listened to several pods, covering a wide range of topics.

Phil and Anto had Sandy Jardine on Beyond the Pitch to talk about Glasgow Rangers.  To be honest I had no idea who he was, but this Scottish legend discussed the current situation for the Scottish giant.  Unfortunate circumstances got them to this point, but there is hope for the future.

The gang at Juventiknows dedicated a whole week to Alessandro del Piero, including photos, posts and a pod devoted entirely the Juve legend.  ADP generated some many great memories and it was a joy to take a look back.

Finally, in an attempt to up to speed for the upcoming EPL season, I checked out the first pods from Men in Blazers and the Manchester United Redcast.  Roger and Michael predict a weird season on the horizon while the panel at the Redcast are pessimistic that the Reds can take back the title from the Blues of City.

Found some more stuff throughout the week . . .

Ben Lyttleton looked at ten possible EPL story lines for the upcoming season—from matching the drama of last year’s final day to all of the coaching to the players moving from team to team.

James Horncastle examinted the impact Conte’s suspension might have for Juve.

Old Futbol Buffet–Team of Destiny

I became an atheist shortly after 5pm EDT on Saturday.  How?  Why?  The 2012 Champions League Final.  How could a supreme being let a team of over-aged, racist, manipulating, selfish, underhanded players win one of the biggest trophies on the planet?  Not only win but consign Spurs to the secondary European competition and start a probable fire sale?  Not only win but beat their opponents on their home field to complete a horror treble (second in the league, runner up in the domestic cup, runner up in the Champions League Final) a la Bayer Leverkusen in 2002?  Not only win but let a disgraced captain—who hacked down an opponent in the semis to rule himself out of the game, who is up on charges of racism, who slept with a teammate’s significant other—lift a trophy of the highest order in football?

That first sentence was purely hyperbole for this post.  I disavowed God years ago.

I have no idea what happened in the game in terms of tactics and personnel.  I was at a bar with over 50 soccer supporters, drinking and ranting and yelling and taking pics and trying not to pull my ample hair out.  The first half flew by and was more entertaining than I thought it was going to be. Chelsea actually came into the game towards the end and were the best team for the last ten minutes.  A critical moment occurred when Gomez received the ball, beat Cahill and then blasted the ball into the stands.

The second half reverted to the typical script. Barcelona, Bayern, whoever, dominated Chelsea but couldn’t break them down; Drogba became isolated; time ticked away.  I kept screaming at the screen for Munich to start crossing the ball, to start challenging the Chelsea rearguard.  Guess what?  They crossed the ball in for Muller to head home, a goal that had been coming for him.  Immediately Heynckes subbed in Van Buyten for Muller.  Made sense at the time but looking back that might have been the turning point.  Five minutes later, Chelsea had their only corner kick of the match, and of course Drogba got away from his defender to score.  On to extra time.

Basically Drogba committed two penalties in the last two Champions League games and got away with it.  His foul on Ribery was idiotic.  One, what was he doing in the box?  Two, what did he hope to accomplish?  Three, how could he have been so stupid?  Robben’s penalty was horrible.  Well struck but not nearly accurate enough.  As someone tweeted:  all those Germans and they let the Dutchmen take the penalty.  After that there was only one result: The Team of Destiny would beat the Team at Home.  I tweeted that and resigned myself to a Chelsea victory in the shootout.

Not much to say about the penalties other than Schweini missed his and that was that.  Epic against Real Madrid, he didn’t strike it well enough and allowed Drogba to step forward and seize the moment, which he duly did, sending Neuer the wrong way before sprinting the length of the field, ripping his jersey off and soaking up the adulation.

Chelsea—sixth in the league, on the umpteenth manager in the Abramovich era, still in need of squad renewal—are European Champions.  Those are the facts.  I can’t change them, no matter how much I want to.  All this game revealed to me is that I’m snakebitten this season.  Just that simple.  Barcelona went down to Real Madrid and Chelski; Manchester United had the title pried from their fingers in 120 seconds on #Survival Sunday; Juventus won the scudetto only after I stopped paying attention after four years of hardcore support.  So now my strategy for the Euros is to root for Portugal, ensuring that this group of talented but brain dead players can’t win the competition.

When in doubt, I refer to Zonal Marking for analysis.  ZM’s secret identity (Michael Cox) wrote this post for the Guardian shortly after the final whistle, identifying the key trends in movement and player choices, noting that Muller and Mata were critical the match.  As for the final result, the substitutes proved the difference.

Roger Bennett (@rogbennett) summed up the game as only he can with witty and incisive and confusing comparisons and metaphors, while noting that Cech had been researching Bayern penalties since 2007 (diving correctly on all six, saving three), but he hit the proverbial nail on the head towards the end of his post:

This cup was won by repeatedly summoning glory out of the jaws of defeat through collective endeavor, resilience in adversity, indefatigable belief and gutsy pragmatism. The public profile of some of its players may make Chelsea tough to love, but its achievement is hard not to admire.

Jonathon Wilson broke down the tactics of the game, noting that both teams got their formations right but the difference was in execution.  Both teams were without key players which forced interesting changes, with both teams coping—Bertrand doing admirably in such a big game and Muller and Robben swapping positions as examples—but Bayern didn’t convert their chances, Gomez being the notable scapegoat.  Chelsea rode their luck, made their chance count and then Cech did the rest.

Raphael Honigstein was in Munich for another Final Failure for Bayern Munich, as memories of 1999 came back, with an English team snatching the trophy from Die Roten.  There was talk of change, but for me only one change has to be made—Gomez.  Get a clinical forward and Bayern can truly threaten the big boys and be yearly threat.  That is all.

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A couple of pods regarding Manchester United and Juventus.

Bobby and Eddie at the Manchester United Redcast were like me in that they started to believe at 85 minutes and then the moment, and the championship, was gone. They moved on to discuss how MUFC might respond to another challenger like Blackburn, like Arsenal, like Chelsea. They finished with a hope that Chelsea would win so that the Reds could poach Tottenham players.

The gang at Juventiknows got the pod back together to discuss the scudetto victory.  They led off in terms of belief and where everyone celebrated the championship before moving on to praise for Conte and his preparation and flexible tactics.  The next topic was the transfer policy of Marotta for this season and looking ahead to what they need for next (ie Pirlo replacement).  They wrapped up with thoughts on next season, with more games and more expectations.

Paolo Bandini reviewed a Coppa Italia full of storylines—Juventus’ bid for an unbeaten double, Del Piero’s last game for Juve, and Napoli’s run at their first piece of silverware since Maradona.  In the end, Napoli ran out 2-0 winners and now face the future, knowing that key players could move on.

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Uli Hesse wrote a great column about the final weekend in Germany, with results from the playoffs and the German Cup Final, where Dortmund thrashed Bayern Munich 5-2.  This result was the fifth straight win over the German power and was the most goals Die Roten have every given up in a final.  Uli kept with the stats with this stunner: Unless the French Ligue 1 produces 167 goals on its final matchday, the Bundesliga is once more the highest-scoring of the major European leagues – for the 22nd year in row!

Old Futbol Buffet–Blues, Yaya & Third Star

Originally I had May 5th all worked out.  Get up, go for a quick run, then head over to the pub for the FA Cup Final, and back to my house to get ready for a community event.  Plan the work; work the plan.  Then the FA decided to move the game to 5:15p local time, which threw off my finely constructed plans.  So I got up, went for my run, checked the score of the Arsenal game (HOLY COW!) and started my media blackout.  After the event, I took a nap and headed up to the pub to watch the replay.

I should have taken a longer nap or drank more at home or done something else because the first half made me want to poke my eyes out with a fork.  LFC were awful, playing 60 yard balls to a striker who is like 5’8”.  The Reds also could not play down the middle and constantly pinned themselves in the channels which led to turnover after turnover.  But Chelsea were not exempt from criticism either despite heading into the interval up 1-0.  Cech’s distribution was terrible as over back pass to him ended up as a throw-in at midfield.  Drogba had obviously been working on passing with his chest during training as that was only the way he could connect a dot.  Finally, I know Mikel does something, I just don’t know what it is.

The second half was a little better as some good build up play led to Drogba’s goal, with Skrtel and Reina very unlucky as the ball went through the Slovakian’s legs to give the goalkeeper no shot.  Carroll was immediately introduced and thought he played well.  I missed his goal.  Why? Liverpool played another wasted ball into the channel, so I immediately went back to my beer.  I looked up to see the big Englishman celebrating. After some more Liverpool pressure came the controversial non-goal.  To be honest, I still don’t think it was a goal.  Between the freeze frame and how the ball came out, just have to give Cech kudos.

In the end, Chelsea got the measure of the game right, doing just enough to ease past a poor Liverpool side.  And did I mention that Jose Enrique is shambolic?  Wow! What a bad game at the end of a poor season for the Spainard.  No way he’s getting a ticket to Poland and Ukraine.

John Brewin summed up the game for Soccernet, noting that Chelsea now has four FA Cups in six years, with four different managers.  As for the Reds, he focused on their poor start and a lack of presence from Suarez and Gerrard.

Zonal Marking saw the game as basically two completely separate games – Liverpool before Carroll, and Liverpool with Carroll, with Chelsea following their game plan and getting the result.

As for the league, Villa secured Premier League football next season (despite only winning seven times) and put a real dent in Tottenham’s chances for the Champions League.  Yaya led the way for City against Newcastle, scoring both goals to give every advantage to the Citizens next week.  United rebounded with a home win against Swansea(entirely predictable) and will now need a favor from former United great Mark Hughes next week.

The panel on the Manchester United Redcast tried to get excited for a final day in which the Reds are not in control.  They looked ahead to next season and identified five players to get rid of: Park, Anderson, Berbatov, Owen and the twins.  Funny as always, we’ll see how Sunday shakes out.

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What a day in Serie A.  After the Buffon blunder in midweek, which I feel partially responsible for*, things were tense as Juventus travelled to Cagliari for Match 37.  The game was moved to the same time as the Milan Derby, so that the league leaders played at the same time to increase the drama.  Juve took care of business, winning 2-0 while Milan fell 4-2 to Inter, results that meant the Old Lady was crowned champion officially for the first time since 2003.

Giancarlo Rinaldi tied this success back to the 2003 victory in his post for Football Italia, noting the presence of Conte, Buffon and Del Piero threading throughout both triumphs.

Paolo Bandini commented on the proceedings as Conte delivered the title for Juventus through a mixture of man-management and tactics.  Plus he hit the highlights of a crazy night at San Siro.

Juventiknows.com assembled some great videos and pictures of the celebrations.

The celebrations of Juventus’ scudetto game continue to hit the web, including this great video compilation from Sky Italia of the build up, dramatic moments at the end and raucous scenes afterwards.  Plus Del Piero wrote a letter praising the fans and the players who supported the club through thick and thin.

*I haven’t watched a Juventus game since mid-March and they have been winning almost every match, barely giving up a goal.  I tune in for the last 15 minutes of theLeccematch and watch in horror as Buffon loses the ball in front of the goal.  Had they lost the title, I may had to into hiding.

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Pods

Ken Early interviewed Roy Keane for Off the Ball and they discussed Keane’s future while also revisited the Irishman’s bust up at World Cup 2002.  Things get frosty.

The panel at the SI Soccer Roundtable wrapped up the Manchester Derby and looked at the battle at the bottom going into the weekend.  Plus they discussed Hodgson’s hiring for the England job.

Another great pod from the World Football Phone In.  Couple of highlights:

  • The legacy for Poland and Ukraine after Euro 2012 especially as Ukraine are struggling with infrastructure.
  • Status of Brazilian league and the CBF and possible call ups for 2014.
  • Anderson trade for James Rodriguez from Porto.
  • Great venues. Vallecas, Velodrome, La Bombonera, etc.

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Article

A friend on Facebook and twitter posted this article.  It struck me as interesting because of the political and ecopinomic comparisons that seem to be ignored by the uniformed.  I really don’t care if you hate soccer.  That’s fine.  I don’t enjoy other sports but I don’t go around railing against.  There are dozens of games; you can’t like them all.  Just keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you have a platform like Beck orRome or Kornheiser.

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Europa League Final

To be honest I missed first 15 minutes of the match, getting my son situated and all that at the pub, so didn’t even see Falcao’s opener live. After that Bilbao had plenty of possession but lacked the necessary quality in final third. The second goal was a stupid turnover and then an amazing finish from Falcao. To be fair Los Leones were slipping all night with both goals indirectly caused by defenders playing on roller skates.  Bielsa went right to the bench for the start of the second half, but it didn’t do much to change game. Eventually Diego completely killed the game off with the third goal minutes from the end.

Overall, Simeone’s side got everything just about right.  An early goal, disciplined defending from all players and a quick, dangerous counterattack.  For Athletic, Muniain had a good game but wasn’t able to influence the game enough; Ander was poor; Llorente was isolated; and Amorebieta struggled all match.

Zonal Marking assessed the game, noting that Atleti’s early goal set them up perfectly to sit back and counter.  With Bilbao having a hard time breaking through the middle and also not being able to stretch the play wide, the winners were able to absorb pressure and get forward quickly, with special praise given to Falcao.

Billy at AtletiFans.com reveled in the fine performance of Los Colchoneros, appreciating the actions of the rearguard, Diego and Falcao.  Their twelfth win a row in this competition saw Atleti raise a European trophy for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, at the Athletic Bilbao Offside site, the title of Jack’s post match wrap said it all—Heartbroken. Maybe the occasion was too big for Los Leones as their sharp, incisive game was blunted by an organized Atleti team.

Old Futbol Buffet–A Loss, A Draw and A Win

These posts usually focus on the EPL with a smattering of Juventus information and analysis, but this weekend was all about El Clasico.  Saturday was spent nervously anticipating the big game (thank God I did not get up for Arsenal v Chelsea), in part because of the need for a win and in part due to the slightly unnerving loss to Chelsea in midweek.  I showed up to the bar early to watch Spurs lose AGAIN, as they could fall from third to sixth in a matter of weeks.  Don’t even know where to start with them.  But back to the confrontation between the two Spanish Super Powers.  Thousands of words were written before and after, and I won’t try to add to the deluge (too much). I also won’t try to break down tactics or drill down on the stats or put this game into the context of almost 100 years of conflict.  I’ll just concede the title and move on.

Barca’s team selection was surprising, especially Tello and Thiago, but exciting because the Blaugrana were going for it, aiming for the only result that would help them—a win that would cause a nervous breakdown in the capital.  However, Tello struggled.  He provided width, but lacked the final ball and his finishing was poor, to be kind.  Thiago came into the match, and in the second half I thought he had more impact as he dribbled the ball out of deep midfield.

Real Madrid’s first goal was a cluster, as Valdes could only kill the ball in front of goal and Puyol just didn’t hoof it out.  I helped organize an El Clasico Watch Party, and the crowd was pretty pro Barca so there was a lot of face palming at that moment.  A sense of doom and resignation was setting in until the equalizer, during which the place went nuts, but the celebrations were cut short after CR7’s goal.  The winner, stunning in swiftness and execution, was a confluence of factors: Ozil out wide, CR7 cutting in the middle, Puyol, Masch not coordinating their efforts, and Valdes out of sorts.

Barcelona’s goal was scrappy, but it was the result of driving at Madrid instead of passing side to side or negatively, which made the game feel like an offense versus defense drill.  Against Chelesa, the Blaugrana had tons of possession and were dangerous, just didn’t finish, while in the game against Real, they had possession but were blunt, not sharp, and relatively easy to manage for Los Merengues.

In my preview of the season, I opined that the extra games would catch up with Barcelona, and I feel that my thoughts are being validated.  They have reached the final of the Copa del Rey, the semis of the Champions League and participated in the Club World Cup this season, so as the Blaugrana hit crunch time, they are missing that extra gear, which allows them to put the necessary distance between them and their opponents.  Is this the end of Pep’s team?  We won’t know until it’s over and the heights are hit less and less frequently.  But look at next year.  Sanchez has been a decent signing and will continue to make an impact.  Cesc should be back to full fitness, both mentally and physically, which should give the manager more options.  Hopefully Pedro will back on song and Villa will be back from injury.  Plus the cantera players will learn and improve and add dynamism to the team.  Tello will learn from this match; Cuenca will continue to improve; and Thiago will grow as the heir to the midfield three.  Continuing on to next year, both teams dropped points this season and will drop points next year, but the rivals keep putting pressure on each other to be great and both will be at each other’s throats for silverware next year.  And that’s all we can ask.

Zonal Marking wrote an excellent summary of the game, noting that Barcelona did not have enough directness in the game (until Sanchez and Pedro entered) and were not clinical enough in front of goal.  Real’s set up was typical, 4-2-3-1, and they executed a brilliant game plan, which included a mixture of pressing and sitting back and swift counterattacks.

John Pelini at El Centrocampista had similar thoughts, noting that Messi did not have enough support in attack as teams are crowding Messi in an attempt to blunt the Barca attack.  Mourinho picked the same 11 as he played against Bayern and was rewarded with an effort that produced key goals, finely tuned counterattacks and organized defense.

On to Sunday . . .

United v Everton at Old Trafford was early Sunday morning, and I figured that it would be a drab 1-0 home win.  So I got up, started cleaning the house, checked the score: 1-1 at halftime.  Not great but . . . Next time I checked, United was up 3-1.  Great.  Title 20.  Check.  But then I refreshed and to my horror, I saw the score was 4-3 to United and while I was scrolling through the commentary, Everton equalized just before the death.  With City beating Wolves 2-0, the gap is down to three, setting up an epic confrontation next Monday.  I’m taking the afternoon off to focus on the game that will determine which half of Manchesterthe trophy will reside.  Can’t wait.

Andy at the Stretford-End.com enjoyed the exciting match, including an impressive performance from Fellaini.  He wondered if Ferguson might have gotten the substitutions wrong towards the end as United looked to add a fifth instead of protecting the three points.

Later that day, Juventus hosted Roma in a key match for both sides: Juve in their quest for the scudetto and Roma in their fight for a European spot, with an outside chance at third, the last Champions League spot.  My son had something that afternoon so I followed the game on twitter.  The Juventini were all over it, letting me know that Vidal had put the Old Lady up 1-0.  Shortly after Vidal scored a second, then Stekelenburg took down Marchisio, got sent off, and Pirlo converted the penalty kick. Milan’s draw and Juve’s 4-0 win puts the Old Lady up by three points.  With just five matches to go, the black and whites are close to a 28th title after years of suffering.  I think to fail now, Juventini might be more heartbroken than the relegation to Serie B.  Forza Juve.

Aaron recapped a devastating performance by the Bianconeri at Juventiknows.com.  High marks were given to the five man Juve midfield that ran the show and overwhelmed their opponents, while the defense has solidified into the best unit in Italy, only giving up one goal in the last six games and 18 for the season.

Finally, Grant Wahl did a feature piece on Brad Friedel, who has started every match for his clubs (Blackburn, Aston Villa and Spurs) since the beginning of the 2004/05 season.  An amazing reward for dedication, fitness and desire.

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Podcasts

The World Football Phone In on 4/14 was fantastic.  The panel explored why they loved this game; the Brazilian striker Fred and his prospects of playing at the World Cup; the rise and fall of the Uruguayan National Team, from the dominance of the 20’s and 30’s to their footballing wilderness to a fantastic performance at World Cup 2010; and the success both on and off the field of the Seattle Sounders.

Janusz Michallik was on Beyond the Pitch to look at the issues of the day.  His comments on the eventual use of video replay were interesting, in that the broadcasters will demand it in order to justify huge contracts for a game that is decided fairly.  Straightforward and opinionated, Janusz gives an interesting perspective on players, teams, leagues and topics.

Old Futbol Buffet–What I Missed

My life has been super super busy.  I have been trying to keep up on events going inEurope, which has been tough.

Two Saturdays ago I spent six hours at the local bar watching Chelsea v Spurs, Arsenal v Aston Villa (with an eye on Liverpool v Wigan) and then Real Mallorca against FC Barcelona.  Needless to say a nap was on the cards afterwards.

The London Derby wasn’t that great of a game.  Spurs seemed to be completely out of sorts with Bale drifting inside while Mata seemed awfully subdued for the Blues.  There were very few moments of quality: Adebayor’s run down the sideline and Walker’s terrible run to goal; free kicks from Bale and Mata; and double save on VdV. 2 pts from last 15 for spurs.  They will be lucky to hang to fourth.  (Did manage make the FA Cup semis against Chelsea though.)

Arsenal ran circles around Villa.  Albrighton had one nice run for the Villains but that’s about all I can remember from the visitors.  Once Given let in a soft goal from Gibbs, the writing was on the wall.  The goals from Theo and Arteta were simply spectacular.

Midweek saw the return of the Champions League, with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea all but booked their places in the semis, with the gigantic clash between AC Milan and FC Barcelona still in the balance.  The game was entertaining but the surface and the lack of finishing kept the gloss of the game.  Zonal Marking examined the narrowness of FCB (until the introduction of Tello) and the organized pressing from the Rossoneri in his post.

The weekend in the Premiership saw more surprising results, with Arsenal losing to QPR and Wigan winning again in a dramatic last push to avoid relegation. Liverpool lost again but that’s not really a shock.  The biggest shock had to be Sunderland leading City 3-1 at the Eithad, before the blue team of Manchester pulled it back for a 3-3 draw.  If United beat Blackburn, then the Citizens may have kissed the title good bye.

The Men in Blazers pod this week was a mixed bag.  Roger’s phone line fromLiverpool was not stellar, but the banter on the previous week’s fixtures was great.  The guys spent a moment remembering Giorgio Chinaglia, who passed away last week.

Scott the Red is seeing his prediction for league honors come good in his post match wrap as United finally broke down a determined Blackburn team with two stunning goals from Valencia and Young.  I had the game on the background at work and, while it always looked like United were in control, there were some nervy moments.  As usual, I looked away and both goals were scored.  United have QPR on Sunday and if they win, surely City will feel the pressure against Arsenal.

One issue that has bothered me this season is Evra’s form for the Red Devils, which Doron addressed at stretford-end.com.  He examined all of the factors affecting the Frenchman—playing almost every minute this season, dealing with Suarez incident, negotiating the tendencies of the players around—and feels that United are lucky to have a player of his caliber.  Yes his form has dipped slightly but the rest of Europe would kill to have him.  Decent perspective, but next year Fabio has got to put up or shut up, so that Evra can be phased out.

In Serie A, Juventus thumped Napoli 3-0 to get within two points of AC Milan.  The title race is definitely back on and should be a fantastic finish.

Aaron and Marco of Juventiknows looked back at the Juventus game against Napoli which featured a comprehensive second half that produced 3 goals without replay.  Although Conte’s selections still cause some head scratching and face palms, you can’t argue with the results.  30 games unbeaten, two behind the leaders, and an easier run-in.  How great would it be if ADP ended his Juventus career by lifting the scudetto?

Speaking of dramatic title races, keep an eye on Portugal, Germany and Holland.  Epic finishes ahoy!!

PORTUGAL

Porto 60
Benfica 59
Braga 58

Ben Shave was on Beyond the Pitch to talk about the Portuguese League as the a dramatic run-in approaches.  Great information about the traditional powers and some of the surprising stories like Maritimo and Guimaraes.  They also discussed where AVB might land after his short time at Chelsea.

GERMANY

Borussia Dortmund 63
Bayern Munich 60

HOLLAND

Ajax Amsterdam 58
AZ Alkmaar 57
Twente Enschede 55
PSV Eindhoven 54
Feyenoord Rotterdam 54
Heerenveen 54

Finally, Jonathan Wilson looked ahead to England’s Euro 2012 campaign by reminding readers of the events of the last two years.  His verdict: And soEngland, with three months to go until Euro 2012, is without a manager, without a captain and, frankly, without much of a clue.

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Podcasts

Phil and Doron were back on Beyond the Pitch to look at news around Old Trafford, with the Reds picking up three vital points against Fulham.  Doron did an extensive look at Academy prospects and gave an update on the reserves.  Possible transfer window possibilities were discussed, focusing on Macheda and Berbatov.

Roberto Gotta was on Beyond the Pitch as well to discuss Serie A.  Inter took center stage as they have hired their 17th coach in 17 years.  Plus the guys looked at AC Milan down the stretch.

Grant Wahl and Alexi Lalas discussed the US’s failure to qualify for the London Olympics on the SI Soccer Roundtable and what that might mean for the coaches, players and program down the road. Interesting thoughts and well worth a listen.

Graham Hunter and Jonathan Wilson were Off the Ball Tuesday to discuss the FC Barcelona v AC Milan. Wilson pointed out that FCB’s manipulation of the refs does not cover them in glory and feels that this year’s vintage is not of the same standard as previous years.  Hunter praised the Blaugrana and thoroughly enjoyed the encounter between the European heavyweights.

Old Futbol Buffet–Don’t Blink, You’ll Miss Something

Midweek

The tail end of the Holiday Program of the EPL was exciting and surprising. Arsenal somehow contrived to throw away a 1-0 lead against Fulham and Spurs picked up more points, but it was the matches involving the Manchester teams that saw the most fireworks.

I had the Manchester City v Liverpool game on in the background but it quickly caused me to stop working after a pulsating first half. The Scousers went down to early goal thanks to a turnover from Spaghetti Hair but responded with great fervor and were unlucky not to equalize. City punished them early in the second half and Liverpool looked to be out of it, despite dominating large parts of the game. A second yellow to Barry gave them a glimmer of hope which Skrtel quickly took away, giving up a penalty which Milner converted.

I’m not a Liverpool fan but I honestly don’t know what they are missing. Maybe it’s as simple as getting Suarez back. Henderson and Downing looked adequate and the back line seemed to be coping with the Citizens as long as the guys in front of them weren’t boneheads. Can they finish sixth? Yes. But so what? The club and fans will want more but how do you get from here to there?

Wednesday saw United away to Newcastle after the Reds shocking defeat to Blackburn. With the game at St. James’ and coming off a loss, I expected a focused reaction from Fergie’s squad. What I got was a thrashing. The game went back and forth, with each team having half chances to score before Ba scored with a clever finish. United came out after the assumed hairdryer treatment and were kicked in the gut as Jones gave up a dangerous foul and Cabaye slammed home the free kick. United kept coming but couldn’t take the Saran Wrap off the goal. Further damage was inflicted by a Jones own goal which completed a tough night for him and the Red Devils.

The Republik of Mancunia posted thoughts right after the match. This United’s second crisis of the season. I don’t think they can survive a third. For me, the second half of the season will come down to Rooney’s form and solving the midfield problem.

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FA Cup
Heading into the FA Cup weekend, I read an interview on soccernet.com with Macca. I was too new to footy to see the ’92 Final but watched in unspeakable delight in ’96 when King Eric hit the strike against Liverpool that delivered the Double Double.

Manchester City 2  Manchester United 3

In order to fit everything into my day, I waited until just after this game was over to watch.  I was able to stay in the dark, so when my friend asked me if I had seen the lineups, I said no, why.  Paul Scholes is on the bench.  What the what?!?

Stunned silence was my reaction to the first half.  City dominated the opening exchanges and then everything changed.  Rooney played a fantastic ball to Valencia in the right hand channel, continued his run, and then hit a lucky header that went beyond Pantilimon (who I had never heard of and boy was he a weird looking guy).  Then Kompany got sent off.  Have to say that red was harsh but City did well, creating lots of danger before Welbeck created a moment of magic.  As the ball hit the back of the net, I had no idea what to do.  What a reaction! What a goal!  All of the sudden United were cruising, with Rooney added a third after a comical penalty kick save. Halftime came with United up 3-0 and saw Silva leave the proceedings.  I would have taken of Nasri because he had the full on invisibility cloak on in the first half.

Kolarov opened the second half with a nice free kick to give City a lifeline, and the hosts continued to pressure their neighbors.  It seemed as if United thought the three goals were enough.  Even when Lindegaard made a hash and allowed Aguero to score, the Red Devils did not press for a fourth.  Their attempts at possession, supposedly amplified by the introduction of Scholes, allowed City chance after chance because United would invariably turn it over.  Anderson came on and could have gone at defenders but would lay off, which would lead to a turnover.  The Champions would hold on but not before several nervous moments and City will feel that Kompany’s red card was the only thing keeping them from the fourth round.

A brief note on TACTICS!!  Looks like City played a 5-3-1 in the second half with Savic directing traffic in the back and using wingbacks to add players in the attack.  Nasri was still invisible and eventually was subbed off.  Aguero was amazing, with pace and vision and trickery.  What a signing.  The Micah Richards as forward at the end was a interesting twist and almost paid off as he earned a free kick to give the Citizens one last chance.

Here are some thoughts from The Republik of Mancunia post match.

I usually agree with Zonal Marking’s analysis of matches, mostly because I’m paying enough attention to the matches or understand all of the ins and outs, but reading his summary of the City v United FA Cup match, I disagreed with his comments on the second half.

Michael gave six points for the game:

1.  De Jong was used as a single holder (agree) and was overrun at times (agreed).  As I stated during my thoughts right after the match, felt Silva was muted and Nasri invisible.

2.  The Giggs/Carrick partnership, while not physically imposing, shields the back line and positions itself well to start the attack, with Giggs having a good game.  Well sort of.  I didn’t think Giggsy was all that great, with several turnovers and lost at times.

3.  Ferdinand and Smalling are a pairing of similar centerbacks (agree) and Ferdinand, while not past it, is not the defenders he used to (agree).

4.  Ferdinand’s position was poor he played too deep.  (No arguments there)

5.  I saw the numbers of City’s formation in the second half a little differently but agreed with his sentiment that The energy of the wing-backs made up for the numerical disadvantage, and the freedom of the outside centre-backs to come forward with the ball worked well too.

6.  United wanted more goals.  Totally disagree.  Maybe for the first ten minutes are so, but once Scholes came on, the Red Devils were basically trying to City to death, which worked horribly because once the ball left Scholes and Carrick, a turnover almost immediately ensued.  I don’t think Scholes calmed United at all.  They took the foot off the gas, let City rest while they passed in front of them, and then turned the ball over to energetic outside backs and Aguero pace and power.  They should have stepped on their throats.  Even if they gave up another after the free kick, surely they would have scored 2 or 3 more.

As I was finishing my post, the 4th Round draw came out and United will travel to Anfield the weekend of the 28th.  Strap in.

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Articles
Lars at Juventiknows looked back at 2011, which saw the transition from a fearful, nervous side to a strong, passionate side full of belief in their goals. The signings of the summer have transformed this team, which has been infused with varying tactics and has been focused on the task at hand. There is still much work to be done, and they may still end the season empty handed but the club is trending upwards with positive results, a decent squad and the new stadium, which Lars states as follows:

While it’s impossible for us Juventini to completely shed the doubts and anxieties that linger after previous seasons, one thing is clear. Now more than ever, with a wonderful new Stadium, a good portion of great players, a medical staff that has so far been impeccable, a passionate and skillful tactician and leader of men at the helm and, most important of all, a reclaimed identity, going into 2012 the words of another great leader ring true: The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself.

Corruption in FIFA is not new news. Blatter’s attempt at cleaning house before he rides into the sunset with his Nobel Prize is just a PR campaign and legacy building as far as I can tell. A group of journalists, invited to be part of the investigation, declined and simultaneously ripped FIFA a new one.

Sports Illustrated looked ahead to possible stories Stateside in the upcoming year. Klinsmann sure. Olypmics, ok. But the one that drew my attention was possible moves for New England and DC to soccer specific stadiums, which is a must for these two franchises, considered elder statesmen in the league.

So Becks is remaining in the US. Yawn.  Fine, whatever.  I’m still not watching.  Grant Wahl retraces the steps from last October until PSG’s announcement last week that Brand Beckham was not coming to France.

Ernst Bouwes gave an update on the Dutch Cup match at the Amsterdam Arena between Ajaz and AZ, which was abandoned due to a fan running onto the field and getting the crap kicked out of him by the AZ goalkeeper.  In the end the game will be replayed from the start later this month.  Ernst had an interesting take on the match:

Goalkeeper Esteban may face a suspension as he is guilty of violent conduct, which is a red card offence. Although his kicks in the legs of the thug were wildly applauded and probably understandable, society cannot condone revenge, especially not from professional players for a world wide audience. He did it ‘in the heat of the moment’ and was even backed by the Dutch player’s union VVCS last night, but with the attacker on the ground Esteban may have walked away and let the stewards deal with the situation. The imminent danger was gone. Maybe many of us would have done the same, but in principal his kicks are morally wrong.

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Pods

The guys at Men in Blazers covered their 10 Burning Questions regarding the EPL as they came back from their holidays. Michael talked about the Robert Enke book, which has now gone on my wish list, as well as the vibe he got from Chelsea watching from the stands. I don’t know if Roger prepares his metaphors beforehand but man does he have a way with words and footy and pop culture.

On Guardian’s Football Weekly extra, the panel reviewed the strange results of midweek. Also they talked about the future of AVB at Chelsea and whether he is the right man for the job. Roberto Durate confirm railed against LFC and their many fans for their reaction to the Suarez ban. Finally Phillipe Auclair spoke about the situation at PSG moving forward.