Posts Tagged ‘ Zonal Marking ’

Morbo Minute–And Now for the Second Half of Our Show

The halfway point has Barca well out in front with a string of surprises behind them in the European spots.  Valencia seems to be slowly climbing out of the mire while their opponents from the weekend, Sevilla, slide farther and farther down.  Down at the bottom, it’s too close to call and viewers will probably in store for dramatic final day scenes around the country.

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Malaga 1  FC Barcelona 3

When I saw Roque Santa Cruz on the teamsheet for the hosts I feared for their chances.  I still don’t feel the Paraguayan offers them much, and thought Saviola would have been the much better option, as his movement and quickness would have troubled Barca.  The visitors started with a strong team, the only major change being Mascherano in for Puyol.

Malaga pressed in a variation of a 4-3-3 and made the Blaugrana struggle in the early going.  The surface was a problem for both sides as there was constant slipping and it appeared as if the players were on roller skates.  As the game progressed, Malaga goalkeeper Willy was luck to stay on the field as he touched the ball with his hands (barely) trying to clear the danger.

The opener came from Camacho’s horrible backpass that Messi intercepted and put home.  I jotted down in my notebook that he did a lot of dribbling in the first half which allowed Malaga to keep Barca at arm’s length as the ball was turned over instead of being circulated.

In the second half, an early goal from Fabregas put some daylight between the two teams and from there the Blaugrana took over, making Malaga look quite inept at times.  The hosts were made to chase shadow for the second 45 minutes and their strong early work was undone by two mistakes—the backpass and losing Fabregas for the second.

A third was added by substitute Thiago before Buonanotte sent in a free kick.  The teams now face each home and away in the Copa, with the winner probably getting Real Madrid.  Will be interested to see how Vilanova and Pellegrini rotate their squads to take the competition seriously while keeping an eye on the league.

I visited Total Barca this week to get their thoughts on the match.  Maria Ines saw the Blaugrana rise to the challenge presented by Malaga, who pressured Tito’s men all over the pitch.  Once the visitors found their rhythm, they produced a couple of quite breath taking sequences.  In the end Malaga gave a great effort but the gap between the two teams was revealed.  Will Tito’s changes for the Copa matches close the distance or not?

Manuel Traquete did the player ratings for the site, which I felt were quite high. Barca had a decent game, especially in the second half, but in the first half, several players were not at their best , which allowed Malaga’s pressure to keep the game tight.  Busquets was probably worth the 9, not sure about Messi.  Felt that Alves might be closer to his best.  Still needs to improve his crossing.

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Articles

I was able to catch parts of the second half of Friday’s game between Athletic and Rayo at San Mames.  The visitor’s opening goal caught Los Leones cold.  The second was a diabolical cock up from the referee and allowed Rayo some space.  Athletic fought back but could only pull one back.

Sid Lowe used his weekly Guardian column to explore two items: one, Rayo Vallecano’s fantastic first half of the season, and two, the crazy La Liga schedule, which sees games stretch from Friday from Monday.  Rayo are just outside the Champions League places, filled with players found on the cheap who will probably be gone next year, but they just keep winning and may yet make their second European appearance.  As for the La Liga schedule, it’s crazy, with game times released only two to three weeks before the game take place and an onslaught that starts Friday night and continues all the way to Monday night, games seemingly every hour on the hour.  Of course if I was unemployed and could watch every game, might get used to that.

Phil Ball gave his half-term report for ESPN FC, looking at the biggest surprises thus far.  Betis’ amazing first half topped the list as Los Beticos sit in fourth place, led by the goals of Castro and the all action talent of Benat.  Phil’s team by team breakdown gives a quick snapshot at the turn and is worth the read.

With a title of Why La Liga Looks Like Michael Flatley, I had to give Tim Stannard a read at Football365.  He also looked at the halfway point of the season, echoing Phil Ball’s praise of Real Betis’ and Sid’s glowing words regarding Rayo before moving on to Valencia and the fact that the title is over.  As for his Riverdance reference:

A footballing Michael Flatley if you will. Whilst there’s not an awful lot of movement from the neck upwards to watch, there’s quite the hullaballoo of activity taking place just below if you care to look.

Speaking of Valencia, SlickR summarized the 2-0 victory over Sevilla for Club Valencia, as Los Che have stopped the rot and climbed back up the table, currently sitting seventh.  Two goals from main man Soldado were enough to overcome a rather lackluster performance by the rest of the team based on his player ratings.  Can’t imagine how bad Sevilla were.

Michael Cox returned from his Winter Break to analyze the game for Zonal Marking.  He noted that Valencia “enjoyed dominance of both possession and territory” and that the game lacked the quality and energy one would associate with this fixture over the years.  He picked out a couple of individual battles and noted that Reyes offered Navarro very little defensive cover, but did not have the harsh words for Banega that SlickR had.  In the end set pieces decided the match, which saw the losers fire Michel and bring Unai Emery back into the La Liga fold.

Chalk on the Boots examined Real Madrid’s poor performance at Osasuna.  Los Merengues were constantly caught offside, using a direct style orchestrated by Modric, who he noted has a better passing range that Ozil but does not have the lateral movement.  Time will tell if the Croatian will remain in the capital.  As for the hosts, their high line caused the champions problems but their lack of cutting edge cost them more points in this match and will probably cost them their Primera place.  14 goals in 19 matches will not keep them up.

Ireland 26 of Managing Madrid saw Real Madrid drop points as they travelled to Estadio Reyno de Navarra with a make shift lineup.  Without CR7 and Ozil, the team failed to trouble the hosts enough.  Di Maria did not have good game in his opinion but was glad to see Higuain pick up minutes, even if he didn’t pick up any goals.  With three consecutive games against Valencia due to the Copa, Mourinho’s men will need to pick up the pace before the epic confrontation with United in a month’s time.

Back to Doctor Sid, who commented on the extraordinary results of the Ballon D’Or, which saw the Best XI all named from teams in Spain.  While this might seem like a good thing, Sid pointed to a couple of troubling points: 1, no player from either Champions League Final team was on the dais; 2, no Spanish player has won since 1960, even more troubling as Spain have won the last three major competitions; and 3, of the eleven players, 10 came from the Big Two, which emphasizes the gulf between them and the rest of the league.

CBS’ 60 Minutes did a profile of FC Barcelona.  While there were some great shots of the crowd and inner levels of the Camp Nou, the piece seemed superficial.  Anyway, give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Finally, Connor Andrews updated readers on Villarreal’s plight in Segunda for El Centrocampista, as the Yellow Submarine struggle to return to the Primera.  Gone are Valero, Rossi, Nilmar and Diego Lopez and the team sits off the playoff places.  Can they return to the top flight?  Better yet, can they afford not to?

Table

Barcelona 19 18 1 0 44 55
Atletico 19 14 2 3 22 44
Real Madrid 19 11 4 4 25 37
Betis 19 11 1 7 1 34
Malaga 19 9 4 6 13 31
Rayo 19 10 1 8 -7 31
Valencia 19 9 3 7 0 30
Levante 19 9 3 7 -3 30
R Sociedad 19 7 5 7 3 26
Valladolid 19 7 4 8 2 25
Getafe 19 7 4 8 -6 25
Sevilla 19 6 4 9 -5 22
R Zaragoza 19 7 1 11 -7 22
Athletic 19 6 3 10 -16 21
Celta Vigo 19 5 3 11 -5 18
Espanyol 19 4 6 9 -10 18
Granada 19 4 5 10 -13 17
Mallorca 19 4 5 10 -15 17
Deportivo 19 3 7 9 -17 16
Osasuna 19 3 6 10 -6 15
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Old Futbol Buffet–Red Dawn

Manchester United 4  Newcastle United 3

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United 2  West Bromwich Albion 0

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

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

Couple of player notes:

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

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

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

Midseason thoughts

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

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Articles and Podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

Morbo Minute–Who’s Finishing Second?

Larry Bird arrogantly asked the locker room before 1988 NBA Three Point Contest–Who’s finishing second? Barcelona can simply look at the table after 16 matches and ask the same question.  Round 16 started slowly and was fairly muted on Monday in terms of goals, but in the middle were two fascinating games—Real Madrid v Espanyol and FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid—which produced drama and astonishing goals.  More on that shortly.

Thus far a couple of tiers have emerged in the table: Barca alone at the top, with the Madrid teams below them; then the contenders for fourth including Malaga, Betis, Levante and Getafe; the middle of the table sees seven teams separated by three points from 8th to 14th; finally there is the relegation zone with six teams under threat.   One more round before the holidays could change all that, but the teams are at the bottom are in real danger, with goals at a premium.

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Sevilla 0  Malaga 2

John Pelini analyzed Malaga’s tactics through the first half of season for El Centrocampista.  Los Boquerones have been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with full backs supporting the attack from wide positions.  Two holding midfielders control the central part of the field and supply the ball to a fluid attacking group that interchanges positions and likes to combine through the final third.  They have been able to turn some of their dominance into goals and results this season as they have progressed to the knockout stage of the Champions League and headed into the Sevilla match tied with Betis in fourth place.

I anticipated this contest as Sevilla needed three points to keep pushing up the table while Malaga looked to consolidate fourth place.  The first half was lacking in excitement, even with the hosts’ energetic start.  Negredo hit the post early and was a strong physical presence up top against Welington and Demichelis (no place for Onyewu, even on the bench).  Navas was active but had a hard time getting on the ball.  Defensively, the Rojiblancos were organized as they tried to keep track of the varied attack from the visitors.

As for Malaga, they were able to bring a little balance back to the match but lacked thrust in the final third. The attacking players interchanged positions in an attempt to create spaces and mismatches but Joaquin did not see much of the ball and Santa Cruz lacked the activity to cause much trouble.  How does RSC fit into this team?  Malaga don’t cross for him, preferring to keep the ball on the ground, and he doesn’t seem to show for the ball.  RSC was always a half step behind and had two chances in the match that a poacher or striker in a rich vein of form would have finished off. Anyway, Los Boquerones struggled to switch the point of attack from right to left, leaving Eliseu forlorn figure in the left hand channel.  The back line was strong after the opening scare as Negredo’s influence faded.

Demichelis opened the scoring on 48th minute as his hopeful header floated into the far post to give the visitors the lead. The method of the goal was surprising, because up until that point set pieces had rarely threatened the hosts’ goal. The corner kick appeared to be slightly overhit but the Argentinean center back somehow scored. Later Willy made a hash of cross and Rakitic went down as Camacho tried to clear.  Not sure if it was a penalty.  Maybe on a different day.

Malaga finally got separation on 70 minutes as Joaquin made a lung bursting run through the middle and was awkwardly taken down by Fazio, who earned a red card and a penalty for the opponents.  The move was set up by RSC’s run wide (an example of what I would like to see) and then the Spanish winger filled space down the middle.  Eliseu (surprise choice) stepped up and buried it, giving the visitors a commanding 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to go. Saviola immediately came on for Joaquin who had worked his socks off.  The game tailed off and Malaga are in fourth, ahead of Betis on goal difference, while Sevilla are 13th, now behind Bilbao, who are finding points.  Expected a better match, or at least a better performance from Sevilla.

Paul Wilkes analyzed the game for La Liga UK.  In the end, Sevilla paid the price for squandering the chances of the first half.  Michel’s double substitution early in the second half was blunted as Rakitic went off injured and Fazio was sent off, leaving the manager with no additional subs to get back into the match.  One thing Paul noticed was Demichelis moving into a defensive mid position in the second half.  To be honest I missed that.  Pellegrini’s men withstood an early battering and managed to capitalize on their few opportunities to secure three points on the road.

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FC Barcelona 4  Atletico Madrid 1

As Morrissey says, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.  Opponent gives FCB fits for a while but eventually capitulates.  Atleti played a brilliant first half, toning down the physical approach used in the derby.  They added a layer of intelligent and swift counterattacks, which saw them isolate mismatches between the forwards and the Blaugrana rearguard.

Playing a narrow, compact 4-4-2, they frustrated Barca for over thirty minutes, with the hosts barely getting a sniff of goal while El Tigre got closer and closer.  Los Colchoneros took a deserved lead but Adriano pegged the visitors back with a stunning effort and proved his worth yet again.  In a team full of stars, the Brazilian has scored vital goal (six this season, including the solitary goal against Valencia), played all across the back and provided energy and width and competence in every match.  Busquets’ goal was so composed it makes you wonder what he can’t do. . . besides chase down Falcao on a breakaway.  (Sidenote: again Barca has gone with direct corners, which resulted in another goal.  Will be interesting to see if they use that tacitc in the knockout rounds of Europe where they will encounter bigger, stronger teams.)  That goal turned the match as FCB came out full of confidence in the second half and proceeded to pass Atleti into submission.  Messi’s sumptuous finish finally gave the cules some breathing room and from there it was something of an exhibition.

Atleti were second best, and that’s because they are the third best team in the league.  Maybe if Falcao had been more clinical in the opening exchanges, the game might have gone differently.  But he didn’t.  They are worthy of the “best of the rest” this season, a spot occupied lately by Valencia, but they simply can’t compete.  Starved of the oxygen needed to burn against a great team, the legs finally went as they couldn’t tackle what they couldn’t catch and couldn’t attack without having the ball.

I simply hope that FCB win the lot.  The league is over.  Barring a catastrophic injury to Messi, this team will cross the line early and regain one of their crowns.  The question remains as to whether they can retain the Copa and reclaim the Champions League.

Kxevin posted on Barca’s victory for Barcelona Football Blog while nursing an ankle injury, which was a result of celebrating Adriano’s golazo.  He commented that Atleti did everything they had to yet were still down 2-1 at halftime.  Why?  He sees the difference in the Blaugrana this year thusly:

Last season, you could give Guardiola’s Barça the ball, like a plaything with which to amuse a child. They would pass it around, make wondrous things with it, but you would mostly be okay as long as you retained your shape and didn’t do anything silly. Give Vilanova’s Barça the ball, and it will kill you, because it is impatient. It shoots from distance, it rushes the box, it eschews the magic of tika-taka for one dude saying to the others, “Watch this!” And the longer Vilanova’s Barça has the ball, the more likely it will kill you with a moment of magic.

He does remain readers that Barca hasn’t won anything yet but if the team continues their wondrous passing and maintains a ruthless attitude, it’s only a matter of time.

Martin Rosenow, writing for Atleti Fans, saw Simeone’s troops tease fans before succumbing to a deeper and more clinical Barcelona team.  Still as Martin points out, having a chance to finish with 40 points before Christmas as opposed to the 19 last year is nothing to gripe about

Zonal Marking saw Simeone’s 4-4-1-1 keep a relatively passive Barca at bay and made the point that perhaps Atleti scored “too early” and FCB had time and motivation to move through the gears.  Looking at Barca’s goals– the first goal was long-distance scorcher, the second was from a set-piece and the fourth from an inexplicable defensive mistake—there may be a case that the visitors could have a better shot at the Calderon in May.

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Articles

I caught the second half of 2-2 draw between Real Madrid and Espanyol at the Bernabeu.  Ireland 26 of Managing Madrid saw the hosts dominate large portions of the match but still share the points.  Callejon started up top with CR7, Modric and Ozil behind him, but Mourinho brought in di Maria at the start of the second half as Los Blancos reverted to a more traditional line up.  Madrid battered Espanyol for most of the second stanza but failed to capitalize after Coentrao’s go ahead goal.  I thought Ozil had a fantastic second 45 minutes, as he drifted from the middle to the right, which created space for others to run into.

Mando (The Ball is Flat) saw Los Pericos grab a late point at the Bernabeu as Real Madrid conceded on yet another set piece.  He makes the point that Mourinho doesn’t quite have the loyalty that he had at his former teams, and while I agree to a certain extent, Chelsea got off to a slow start during the 2007/08 season, which saw Abramovich get rid of the Special One.  Mourinho’s schtick wears thin with everyone, and this will definitely be his last season in the capital.  The question now is: will he make it to the end of the season?  As for Espanyol, another point towards safety for Aguirre’s men.

Sid Lowe reported on fantastic match that saw Barca all but seal the league as it was the tiger versus the flea, and the flea prevailed again.  Barca continue to make the amazing ordinary—controlling games with metronomic passing and scoring astonishing goals.  The result leaves Real Madrid clutching at the cups as Mourinho searches for La Decima to add to his legacy before exiting for the next challenge.

Phil Ball focused his attention on the game between Mallorca and Bilbao, which saw the hosts slump to another defeat.  Phil put Los Bermellones’ run in perspective: Mallorca have now gone 11 league games without a win (two points from 33), plus three cup matches either drawn or lost. Aduriz, a former Mallorca player, scored the goal against Caparros, former Bilbao boss, as these two teams appear to be headed in different directions.

Frank Tigani drilled down into Mallorca’s poor run for Football Espana.  The goals of Tomer Hemed have dried up, leaving Mallorca with no punch as goals are shipped at the other end.  14 goals in 16 matches have seen them slip into the relegation zone, and Caparros has gone from a possible contract extension to the chopping block.  The islanders have a fight on their hands entering the New Year.

Looking ahead to the January transfer window, Francesc discussed Barca’s current strategy—promote from within—for ESPN FC.  Still feel they lack depth at center back unless they plan to play Bartra more in the second half of the season.  Further injuries to Pique and Puyol will put a possible dream season at risk.  Other than that, Xavi and Tello have signed until the 2016, which does two things: for Xavi, it keeps the midfield maestro part of the club to educate his successors; for Tello it gives the predators hovering around the player a number from which to negotiate.  The young forward is in a tough situation.  FCB will probably continue to play Sanchez because of the money spent, which reduces Tello’s chances for minutes.  Add to that the Villa factor and it’s hard to see how Tello gets on the field.  If Villa is unhappy, ship him off and get Tello on the field and by this time in 2013, FCB should make a decision.

Old Futbol Buffet–Shin of Samir

This match was all about momentum.  Sir Alex set out United with a clear game plan, building on the success at StamfordBridge.  Defend, counter, score, repeat.  To be fair, Rooney’s first was a scuffed shot, but the second was the result of Nastasic being out to lunch as the Reds drove forward.  And just like the match against the Blues, even at 2-0 up the game was only heading one way.  Minutes away from halftime, I was praying for the whistle, and when Barry’s shot fizzed wide just before the interval, I thought United might be able to hold on.

In the second half, the game changed in an instant.  The Red Devils went from a virtually unassailable 3-0 lead to a white knuckle 2-1 advantage.  The pendulum had swung to the hosts and everything favored City.  They had the athletes, the speed and the momentum.  And United had Ashley Young and a lack of soccer IQ.

Now I don’t want to get off a rant here but . . .

What a woeful performance from Young.  Turnover after turnover after turnover; constantly going to ground; lack of defensive cover for Evra.  But the worst was that in the final minutes of the game, he switched flanks, latched on to a long ball and just had to not give it up.  What does he do?  Gives it up.  He must go at the end of the season.  United need to rebuild their flanks, as Valencia is the only consistent performer and he is perpetually injured.

Moving on . . .

United didn’t know how to close out the match.  Ahead for the first time in ages, not having to outwork, outfight, outscore their opponents, they lacked the composure to finish the game off.  The Reds couldn’t take advantage of City being stretched and were lucky to escape with the three points.

Look at City’s goals.  They got in behind the United defense as Evra fell asleep and then Tevez showed amazing poise to layoff for Yaya after a mad scramble.  On the corner, Young was watching Zabaleta as he smashed in a shot through Jones’ legs (through the legs was another theme of the match).

Side note: Mancini will get some gas for not starting Tevez but in this instance I support the Italian manager.  Aguero and Balotelli were causing problems and could have caused more had Balotelli decided to give more than maybe 50%.  City had a lot of possession but weren’t too dangerous, but what this pairing did was set up the substitution of Tevez, especially after Evans went out.  Mancini brought on the energetic Tevez and was close to turning the match around until the dramatic winner.  It could be asked would the result been different with Tevez from the off.  Maybe.  But if City were down 2-0 and Mancini had brought on Balotelli, then based on his performance, the Citizen would have not even got back into the game.

Did United deserve to win?  Conflicted.  Draw probably would have been the fair result, maybe even a City win.  Looking back at the season thus far: a gift at Liverpool, a steal at Chelsea, and a taut encounter at City with a fortunate deflection.  Is this the steel of champions or the luck of paper tiger?  In the season of the weird, we won’t know until May.

Doubt if I will read a fairer report of the game than Suffering Bruin’s post on Bitter and Blue.  He acknowledged that Young’s goal should have stood; he castigated the fan who threw the coin at Rio; he also acknowledged that if Tevez had started and Kompany was on the field , things might have gone differently; finally he wanted viewers to appreciate the fact that Tevez could have gone down when Evra was pressuring him, but did not.

Over at Red Rants, Daniele compared RvP’s impact to that of Cantona, as the Dutchman saved United (again) after a hard fought performance at the Eithad.  He correctly pointed out that Sir Alex played with more purpose (read: attack) than last spring’s away fixture, which saw United pack the midfield, slump to defeat and eventually concede the title.  Reading the report I was reminded that Young set up the first goal so have to give him so credit but still ready to drive him away from Manchester.

Finally Zonal Marking saw United sit back and counter and the Reds executed the approach to full effect.  Likening the game to the Chelsea match a couple of weeks ago, Rooney would drop into the midfield so that the center mids wouldn’t be overloaded.  Once winning the ball, the Red Devils were very direct, which caused the two goals.  Tevez’s introduction changed the game as the center backs chased Tevez and Aguero around with Carrick and Cleverly being passed around, letting the Citizens run at United, never a good thing.  In the end, poor set piece defending created by the substitutions created a frantic ending, with United securing the points.

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Following the Manchester Derby, Mid Michigan United held a FIFA 13 Tournament, a combination of fun, one year birthday of the group, and a fundraiser for Ele’s Place.  I had never played the game on the Xbox or the Playstation so didn’t rate my chances.  Playing as Manchester United, I held my own against my opponent, who used Valencia.  My lack of offense and defensive organization was eventually punished as I lost 1-0 to eventual champion Cody, a 20 year old college student at MSU.  He won the tournament in the final against a seven year old.  Yes seven.  All of the 30 somethings fell to the wayside and the younger generations triumphed, but a great time for a great cause.

Finally, after watching the Barcelona match, I played an indoor game.  Down 5-2 at half, we roared back to win 8-6.  I chipped in with a goal but that was about it.  I am really surprised that my off season workout of drinking beer and watching soccer is not paying dividends.  Ugh.  Time to get back at it.

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Articles and Pods

Due to a #FF from Scott the Red, I found this post at Man Utd Tactics about the changing personnel and formations from the first Premier League winning side until now.  Sir Alex won his first title using a 4-4-2 with wingers and high/low forwards.  From there he moved to a narrow 4-2-3-1 culminating in the 2002/03 Premier League winning side.  Since then he has moved oscillated between the 4-4-2 and 4-3-2-1 win depending on Rooney’s position (and fitness and mindset) and the central midfield pairings available.  This season Sir Alex has even tried a 4-3-3, which makes sense since he has so many attacking players.  Of course this only works with Welbeck and Hernandez in advanced positions.  They simply cannot play on the wings due to a lack of technical ability and defensive cover.  Seems as if the gaffer is adding this formation to his repertoire for games in which United are favored.  Long term, he needs to find a center midfield general and shore up the center of the defense.  As the author states:

The history of United’s changing tactical approach since Keane left the club can be summed up as an attempt to overcome the loss of Roy Keane with an interlude where the tactical approach was completely changed to exploit the brilliance of Ronaldo.

Future success will be determined by strengthened the middle.  If this continues to go unaddressed, no number of world class strikers will be able to save the Red Devils.

Last week marked one year since the death of Brazilian star Socrates.  Fellow MMMSL Over 30 competitor tweeted out his post from last year in remembrance.  To be honest, my only knowledge of the player is from occasional references from Tim Vickery on World Football Phone In, but Peter’s post and video from YouTube were a nice introduction to the player.

A week after the trial balloon of a 64 team Champions League was floated, Gabriele Marcotti laid out a revision of the current system.  Basically the two best first place teams would move on right to the quarterfinals, while he proposed a play-in system for the four best third place teams against four worst second placed teams.  My first instinct is no.  Seems very NFL-ish to me.  European soccer is foreign to Americans because of its straightforward nature.  Normal numbers (16, 8, 4, 2), home and away, move on.  (Away goals is a little confusing.)  Plus why should third placed teams have any second chances?  They already drop into the Europa League. (I’m assuming Gabriele’s plan would eliminate that option).  Anyway, keep it as it is.  Yes there are dead rubbers on Matchday 6, but that there was also the drama of Celtic and Chelsea.

Chris Bevan profiled American Oguchi Onyewu for the BBC.  Currently on loan from Sporting, he has landed on a Malaga team defying expectations after a summer of confusion and uncertainty.  Winners of their Champions League Group and currently fifth in La Liga, Los Boquerones have generated excitement both home and abroad.  Gooch has made six appearances for Malaga thus far.  At 30, there is some question whether he is part of Klinsmann’s plans for World Cup Qualification.  His strong, physical presence will be needed, but is fully healthy?  That’s my question.

Speaking of UEFA, word came down that the association plans to hold the 2020 European Championships all over Europe.  Debates regarding the format both make compelling cases: a single or joint venture incorporates visiting fans and the hosts while the new arrangement will allow countries in general and selected cities in particular a chance to participate in this great competition.  I’m open minded at this point.  Strike that.  I don’t really care because with the expansion to 24 teams from 16, it doesn’t really matter at this point.  This is a money grab as most things are.  So UEFA, do what you’re going to do.

Finally, A recent podcast I’ve found is The Big Questions, hosted by Aaron Stollar.  Part of the North American Soccer Network, Aaron looks at issues beyond who won, who lost and news of the day.  On Episode 10, he had Alexi Lalas and Leander Schaerlaeckens on to speculate about what the game of soccer will look like in 50 years.  They examined the fight between international football and club soccer; the speed of the game; the future of US soccer and the possibility of robots.

Exploring the next 20,30, 50 years of American soccer, a possible North American league was discussed.  Hate this.  Travel is the biggest consideration.  Could you imagine Seattle away to Mexico City (2800+ miles)?  The panel also touched on the changing demographics in this country and how that will affect the USMNT.  Finally, time was spent on the structure of MLS, with promotion and relegation not really a possibility due to the financial investment of the owners. Great insights and opinions.  Definitely worth the listen.

Morbo Minute-And Then There Were Two

Round 13 saw FCB and Atleti win again, Real Madrid fall out of the title chase, Malaga consolidate their credentials for fourth and Sevilla crash back to earth; while at the bottom, all three teams lost.

Saturday I crammed in a lot of La Liga action.  I have given beIN Sport a lot of grief for their crappy internet site, crazy programming schedule and highlights hosts, but I will give them credit for two things: an amazing HD picture and their 90 in 30 show.  I was able to catch the end of Rayo Vallecano/Mallorca show before watching the condensed version of Real Valladolid against Granada.  All of this was in preparation for the Real Betis/Real Madrid and Malaga/Valencia double header.

Leo Bapistao had a fantastic last five minutes for Rayo.  He scored the opening goal with a fine finish from the corner of the area and absolutely skinned the Mallorca defender before setting up Delibasic for the second.  In the other game, Valladolid put plenty of pressure on Granada before the visitors rebounded.  Unfortunately Granada were blunt in attack throughout the game, and a powerful goal from Manucho for the hosts settled the proceedings.

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Malaga 4  Valencia 0

Despite my best efforts, I knew the score of the match before the TV replay kicked off.  As I didn’t know the details, I anticipated Los Boquerneros putting the visitors to the sword with slick passing and crisp finishes, but the longer game went, I wondered when the goals would happen.  It was 1-0 (8th minute goal from Portillo) for over 70 minutes before the hosts put three past Diego Alves in the last quarter of an hour.

Couple of initial thoughts as the match kicked off.  Why didn’t Soldado start for Los Che?  (Per Club Valencia, Ruiz and Soldado were suspended; Pererira, Mathieuand Canales were all injured.)  Valdez is a totally different proposition, and not a good one.  Another thing that I (and everyone else) notice was that the pitch at La Rosaleda was in horrible condition.  Too many games?  Weather related?  Groundskeeper asleep at the wheel?  Finally, Valencia wore their new third kit, which looked pretty sharp, sort of a Valencian twist on the Ajax kit, with a black top accented by a horizontal orange stripe, orange shorts and black socks.

For the match itself, neither team was particularly sharp going forward or energetic around the pitch.  Both squads had tough Champions League matched midweek, so that wasn’t really too much of a surprise.  Valencia were just disappointing as a whole.  Guardado continues to underwhelm.  Maybe he’s having an off day every time I watch but this isn’t the same player I see for Mexico or watched for Depor a couple of years ago.  Malaga had the upper hand for the most the match and should have ended it much earlier.  Playing more of a 4-4-2 than I had seen previously, they constantly pinned back the visitors and deserved the three points.  Didn’t feel Isco was not up to his usual high standards this season (others disagreed), but his goal was well struck.

Chalk on the Boots produced an extensive and informative breakdown of the match.  Both teams started nominally in a 4-4-2 with a support striker (Joaquin for Malaga and Banega for Valencia).  While the Spaniard moved wide and allowed others to fill the space, the Argentinean dropped off into midfield which isolated an ineffective Valdez.  Moving on, Malaga were organized all over the field and only poor finishing kept Los Che in the game.  This was contrasted by Valencia’s lack of cohesion throughout the pitch.  Other points were addressed but I wanted to make one final note.  He mentioned that Valencia had not won an away league match since March 2012.  I double checked and confirmed that.  Ouch.

Zonal Marking praised Isco’s performance, noting his position of “central winger”, which allowed him to combine and overlap the defenders of Valencia.  He disagreed with Pellegrino’s choice of Banega instead of Jonas to support Valdez and the visitors never got in rhythm.  He also stated that the game should have been over as a contest in the first half, but the end result reflected the difference in the two teams.

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Real Betis 1  Real Madrid 0

Once again, the champions went to Seville and lost 1-0.  Earlier this season, an early goal and a valiant performance from Sevilla saw Los Merengues fall.  This round, Benat fizzed in a shot on 16’ and the visitors could not find the equalizer.

The match was not easy on the eye.  I’m sure the fans were looking for a response after last week’s 5-1 loss in the derby, and Pepe Mel and his squad provided one.  The Verdiblancos were organized in defense and deliberate in attack and were able to take all three points from the Evil Empire.  Benat and Canas shielded the back four, who were able to keep Real Madrid offside all evening.  Going forward, the hosts settled for the long diagonal ball to Salvador Agra and Juan Carlos.  Although this resulted in turnover after turnover, it kept the ball from central areas were the Madrid center mids could get on the ball.  The front three rarely got involved and the goal came from a poor clearance from Di Maria after a throw in.  He lumped the ball into the middle, Benat glided past Khedira and found the back of the net.

As for Los Blancos, one word poor.  The visitors had problems moving through the gears, a combination of Betis’ efforts and a lack of urgency from the Real Madrid.  Ozil got off to a great start, moving laterally to open space for other players, in particular for Khedira, who made late runs to unbalance the Betis defense, but after that Ozil was off the pace and was replaced at halftime.  In the second half Kaka and Modric were introduced, as well as Callejon for Di Maria.  Eventually Mourinho went with three in the back, moving Sergio Ramos up front, and their strategy devolved into Coentrao launching balls from the left center back spot into the penalty area.  The champions started with a full strength eleven, and maybe it was post Champions League fatigue, but maybe Mourinho should have freshened things up to match the energy of the hosts.

Pepe Mel did not turn away from the fan disappointment throughout the week, saying that he and players needed to “endure the downpour” from the fans, which Olly Dawes talked about for Football Espana.  A brilliant, if fortunate, result will hopefully get the fans back onside as Betis pushes on for a European place.

Adam of Forever Betis dismissed the vocal minority who were displeased heading in to the game and complimented Pepe Mel for getting his team to produce an effort that was praised by Mourhino.  He was also glad to see the goalkeeper Adrian bounce back after a poor performance last week.  Finally he acknowledged the efforts of the make shift center back paring of Amaya and Dorado, who gave their all in keeping a clean sheet for the hosts.

Tim Stannard wanted the Real Betis fans to get some perspective.  Yes the team played poorly against Sevilla but look at their standing in the league.  Far from the expected relegation battle (only promoted last season), the Verdiblancos are challenging for Europe and play some attractive stuff.  He wonders if the same fans who verbally abused the players last week will cheer them after the brave victory against the champions.  Doubt it.

Madridista Mac took some time to decompress after Real’s poor performance at the Benito Villamarín before posting on the Real Madrid Football Blog.  He had many of the same comments as I did about the team’s performance in general (lackluster, not good enough) and some of the players specifically (Ozil and Di Maria).  He also addressed Mourinho’s comments but felt that the manager was merely speaking the truth.  Should be an interesting derby.

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Articles

Sid Lowe made an interesting point about how opponents set up against Real Madrid in his weekly column for the Guardian. As teams do against FCB, Real Betis gave the Evil Empire possession and did not allow them to counter.  Their Formula One football (credit Real Madrid Football Blog) can be frustrated against banks of defenders and attackers who are very conservative.  Doctor Sid also talked about the huge task ahead of the champions if they want to overhaul the Blaugrana as well as Malaga’s fine performance against Valencia and Falcao amongst the goals again.

Phil Ball discussed La Liga’s recent TV schedule wrinkle as Round 13 kicked off with Real Sociedad hosting Osasuna on Friday night.  This led into a response to Mourinho’s comments for the fixture list for this round, with Real Madrid having to play Wednesday/Sunday while FCB played Tuesday/Sunday. Finally he praised Isco’s performance against Valencia and wonders where the midfielder will be playing next year.

Gareth Nunn laid out some interesting thoughts for Forza Futbol concerning the presentation of the La Liga product.  The scattergun TV schedule (Friday through Monday); late kickoffs (9,10, 11pm); and the state of the playing surfaces are all factors contributing to fans staying away and TV viewers being less than impressed.

Barcelona Football Blog’s review was provided by Levon who saw Levante hang on for a half before conceding to a Blaugrana onslaught.  FCB, fielding a team of all La Masia products, put four past the hosts and kept their three point lead over Atleti while increasing the gap to eleven over Real Madrid.  Iniesta was the star of the match, scoring once and providing three more.  Levon also acknowledged the influence of Cruyff over the years, with his arrival in 1973 paving the way for future glory and Sunday’s historic teamsheet.

Graham Hunter took things one step further.  In his wonderful post for ESPN FC, he used the results from the Barcelona and Real Madrid games and wove a compelling argument that a single philosophy is the way forward for sporting institutions.  Using FCB’s playing style as his paradigm, he briefly traced the steps from Cruyff to Van Gaal to Vilanova.  Reminding readers that Van Gaal promoted some of the core group despite results, the club has now reached a point where they can play eleven former students from La Masia and win.  Then he holds the mirror up to Real Madrid.  Mourinho, on staff at Barca under Van Gaal, has a system but that system isn’t working this year.  (Tangent: it could be argued that Mourinho is fixer rather than a philosopher.  His time at Chelsea and Inter as well as his time at the Bernabeu inidicate that he can come, forge a fighting spirit, but eventually he wears out his welcome with the club, players and fans and moves on.)  Los Blancos have regressed lately and have had differing approaches to team building over the years.  Hunter challenges the club to reevaluate their operations and look at instituted a unifying system that will pay off in the long run.  Fascinating article and well worth the read.

Finally, Mauricio Pochettino was the first manager to be fired this season.  Mando made the case at the Ball is Flat that although the club has had troubles both on and off the field, the manager was also responsible for the team’s performance and finally had to go.  He’s a big Espanyol fan so it was interesting to get his take.

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–Super Sunday

I spent the last nice fall day of 2012 sitting on a barstool.  Forget fresh air. Back to back EPL games followed by the Big 10 Championship game, fueled by beer and wings.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.  None of the games were high on quality, but the fellowship was top notch, full of banter and awkwardness.

The morning started with Manchester City hosting Tottenham Hotspur.   I should have stayed in bed.  Same storyline—City’s opponents score early, City eventually wake up, Lamppost for the win.  (I called it as soon as he came on.)  I still don’t know if City are playing with three or four at the back but whatever the system, they look disjointed.  (Zonal Marking saw a back four morph into a back three with the introduction of Maicon.)  I rarely see fluidity in their play yet props for overwhelming an opponent and securing three points.  As for Spurs, imagine if they had a little more soccer IQ.  They are a glorified high school team, full of athletes and effort, but have almost nothing in terms of gamesmanship, like how to close out a match or turn things around when plan A isn’t working.  Lennon needs to go.  His lack of a finished product is holding this team back.  If you can’t cross, can’t score and only sometimes come back defensively, then you’re just another Nani.  As people noted several times throughout the game, I didn’t even know Dempsey was out there.  It was his turn to wear the invisibility cloak and, with two out and out wingers, he rarely saw the ball.  On the positive side, Adebayor was a real presence up top and nearly got Zabaleta sent off.  (Spooky at Dear Mr Levy gave a comprehensive breakdown of the past, present and future of the club.  Well worth the read.)

One thing that did bother me was Mancini’s slump pout in the first half.   Really?  You are going to be a big baby when you have a ridiculous amount of talent at your disposal and you can’t figure out how to win?  What do the pre-Mourhino Inter and the current City have in common?  Struggled to win the league despite a vastly superior team and were underwhelming in Europe.  And the same manager.

Another side note.  The commentators mentioned that Huddlestone was growing out his hair for a charity, in effect not cutting it until he scores.  So. . . you’re a rare scoring (eight goals in 210 career club appearances) central midfield player who has a hard time getting a consistent run of games (less than a dozen appearances for the club in the last two seasons).  Nice gesture, but you might want to rethink the terms of your contribution.

Next up was Chelsea against Liverpool.  If I had written the storyline before the game, you would not have believed me.  Blue Racist scores.  Red Racist takes out Blue Racist.  Red Racist equalizes.  The Reds came out in a 3-5-2 with Carragher anchoring the middle.  I’m pretty sure he was supposed to be put out to pasture a while ago.  As someone tweeted at halftime, LFC had 63% of the possession and were not even in the match.  (Chris at Famous CFC bemoaned the missed chances that should have killed off the game.)  Maybe a little more even in the second half as Liverpool outworked Chelsea and confused them by lacking any coherent shape.  (Ed at the Liverpool Offside blog saw Rogers tweak his first half lineup to generate a little more offensive punch.)  Johnson and Enrique were all over the place, with Sterling moving side to side.  And Suso just found the ball and promptly turned it back over.  The Blues in the last week have drawn with Swansea, eked out a win against Shaktar and shared points with Liverpool.  Is another November tailspin upon us?

Finally, Michigan State and Michigan battled for the BIG 10 Men’s Soccer Championship.  The conditions in Evanston were comical, with 35 mph winds causing any ball moving left to right on the TV screen to hang in the air and any free kick needing a place holder to keep it from rolling.  MSU used the wind to their advantage in the first half, pinning back the Wolverines and getting a screamer from Adam Montague.  The tide predictably turned in the second half, but the Wolverines weren’t too dangerous.  As time ticked down, UM threw more and more forward and were lucky to not be caught on the break.  Eventually a throw in was flicked on twice and T.J. Roehn scored on a lovely touch past MSU goalkeeper Zach Bennett.  At the end of regulation I had to go, so I missed Sean Doherty’s blast in minutes in to OT that won the tournament title (all goals here) for the Spartans and qualified them for the NCAA Tournament.  Congrats to Damon, Kylie and the squad.

Not a day high on sexy futbol but through the roof in the terms good natured chitchat, zingers and interesting talking points.  Besides the post election break down, time was given to racism in sports, upcoming hot yoga classes, how long Brad Friedel will actually play, the baldness trend in US goalkeeping, Cedrick’s Hope Solo interview, and how to wear a scarf like Roberto Mancini.  But nothing could top I’shawna’s declaration that she would happily be a baby mama for a professional athlete.  Direct quote: I got bills to pay.  So Raheem Sterling, if Liverpool comes to the US next summer for their pre-season tour . . .  (Note:  I’shawna wants it be clear that she will be the baby mama for Micah Richards.  This needed to be clarified.)

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Articles

I mentioned Nani earlier, and Mark Payne commented on his long term future at Manchester United for ESPN FC.  Diminishing returns and stalled contract talks could see the Portuguese winger at a new club in January or next summer, with Juventus a possibility.  I have never really liked him, constantly claiming that he is another CR7 . . . without the goals.  Doesn’t play defense, dives, takes ridiculous shots and turns the ball over a lot.  I am personally willing to drive him to the airport and hope that day comes soon.

Speaking of the Red Devils, Scott the Red saw United come back for the eighth time this season.  Smalling and Young had disappointing first halves, but Chicharito saved the day and De Gea made his presence felt.  Now if they could just stop leaking goals.

Received a little US soccer history over the weekend.  Found the article Homeless at 100 from David Wangerin for Howler Magazine via the Original Winger, which gave a quick overview of the associations that existed shortly before the American Amateur Football Association established itself in 1913.  The title of the article comes from the fact that the US Soccer Hall of Fame exhibits and materials are being stored at a warehouse for the time being, a sad commentary on the sport’s history in this country.  Hopefully one day it will find a permanent home so that everything—great players, accomplishments, keepsakes and the Association’s dirty laundry—can have a home.