Sunday, December 23, 2012
Europe's meanest defences: Bayern, Juventus, PSG, Malaga and... Stoke (LAURA WILLIAMSON, 23 December 2012, Daily Mail)
Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth have started every Premier League game in central defence for Stoke this season. Compare that to Steven Caulker of Spurs, who has partnered Michael Dawson, William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen. [...]
Stoke’s back four seem to squeeze the final third of the pitch, leaving no space behind for their opponents to exploit. It took Tottenham at least 20 minutes to realise Jermain Defoe was not going to be effective playing as the most advanced striker because there was no opportunity to sprint on to a through ball - or anything delivered over the top.
Emmanuel Adebayor was sent up to do aerial battle with Shawcross and Huth, but there was no chance for Defoe to pounce on the second ball.
WHO’S GEOFF CAMERON?
Stoke’s right back on Saturday used to play for Rhode Island Stingrays. The USA international has been quietly impressive since his move from Houston Dynamo last summer. Not many players frustrate Gareth Bale so much that he moves to the right wing.
Aaron Lennon had no chance on Saturday, did he? Stoke’s back four lines up like a rugby second row: Cameron (6ft 3in), Huth (6ft 3in), Shawcross (6ft 3in) and Wilkinson (5ft 11in). They seize advantage at corners and set-pieces and force opponents to play the ball to feet.
Rodgers delighted with improving Downing (ESPN Star, 23rd December 2012)
Downing has now started seven of the last eight matches, five of which have come in the league after previously making just one start in the opening-day defeat at West Brom.
His brilliant reverse-pass was instrumental in setting up Steven Gerrard for Liverpool's important second after Martin Skrtel's superb volley.
Then came the moment he had waited for, smashing his first league goal for the club he joined in July 2011, before Luis Suarez scored his 11th league goal of the season in added time.
"He is a good guy, he comes in every day to work hard and you saw his technique and quality yesterday [Saturday] but equally important was his fight," said Rodgers of Downing's display.
"He was clever in his pressing and I spoke to him again the other day just to thank him because in the last few weeks he's played left-back, left wing and right wing and he hasn't moaned and groaned he's got on with it.
"He is playing well at the moment and he fully deserved his man-of-the-match award."
Liverpool's win moved them up to eighth, their highest position of the campaign, and within five points of the top four.
...that Downing had created 60 scoring chances since arriving but the team had converted none.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Stand-in Shelvey hailed after leading Liverpool to victory at West Ham (LAURIE WHITWELL, 9 December 2012, DailyMail)
‘In this country it’s always been traditional — the target man.
‘But 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey was dropping into midfield, combining to make the fourth man and being a threat when he was in the box. Great credit to him because there was a lot of pressure on him, people trying to compare him to Luis Suarez.’
Asked if he had feared the loss of the 13-goal Uruguayan would prove critical, Rodgers replied: ‘You guys did. For us there was no drama. My focus was about the collective. We must share the goals, we must share the workload. I had great belief we could create goals and score goals. Even without Luis you’ve seen the quality in the team and the fight.’
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The extraordinary story of Raheem Sterling ( MARTHA KELNER, 27 October 2012, Daily Mail)
His journey to one of the most fearsome cauldrons in football began almost 5,000 miles away in a notoriously dangerous district of Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived until he was six, when he emigrated to Britain and settled with his family on one of London's toughest estates.
His remarkable story is a glorious example of how parents, schools and football clubs can combine to turn sporting talent into success in even the most difficult circumstances.
Chris Beschi, who taught Sterling at Vernon House Special School, says it is testament to his strength of character and the support system around him that he is on the path to fulfilling his sizeable potential.
'He came to Vernon House because he was having problems in mainstream primary school with his behaviour,' said Beschi. 'He was definitely the kid in the school who had a kind and innocent passion about him. He had a happy nature that would sometimes tip over into anger.'
Beschi added: 'I remember saying to him as a 10-year-old, "If you carry on the way you're going, by the time you're 17 you'll either be playing for England or you'll be in prison". It was a harsh thing to say and I don't think it was a defining moment for him, but I definitely felt it was true.
'There wasn't going to be a middle ground for him. He wasn't going to be some guy working as a mechanic or a labourer. He was always going to be remarkable.'
Sterling was the tiny boy with a huge smile in a class of troubled youngsters.
Beschi would walk a mile with them every week, across a trading estate, to take pictures of a building site where often nothing much changed at all.
It took far longer than anticipated but, before Sterling's eyes, the new Wembley Stadium was completed.
The iconic arch became a backdrop to his junior football career, visible from his home on St Raphael's estate in Neasden, north-west London, where he shunned gangs to play five-a-side with friends, and the Copland High School playing fields, in nearby Wembley, where he honed his game.
Last month, Sterling, already an England Under-21 player, sat on the bench at Wembley with Gary Cahill and Michael Carrick as an unused substitute in his first senior call-up.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
I’VE BEEN FASCINATED—OR should I say terrified—by Argentina’s violent brand of soccer since 1996, when I saw the Buenos Aires team Boca Juniors play in their notoriously tight little stadium, La Bombonera. Boca is famous for the quality of its play but also for its fan club—La Doce, the 12th Man—which has occupied the same north terrace for half a century, always standing, always singing, usually fighting.
That night, Boca fans began the match in style, igniting Roman candles that spewed red flames, sparks, and smoke over their heads. Enormous blue-and-gold flags unfurled from the upper levels. It was intimidating to watch from the opposite end, where I stood with a few thousand supporters of a team called Gimnasia, 50,000 people hating on me and my new friends.
The unaccountable happened: the unheralded Gimnasia handed Boca its worst defeat in half a century, a 6–0 stomper that sent waves of Boca fans crashing against the fencing that protected us. Trash and cups filled with urine rained down on us. Fleeing with Gimnasia fans, I found the streets of a great capital awash in cavalry and tear gas.
Don’t cry for Argentina. Brazil may be more famous as a soccer nation, the beautiful game embodied today by the 20-year-old juggler Neymar. And Europe remains soccer’s center of gravity: English clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea rule the global bandwidth, and Spanish clubs have ruled the pitch, bringing home two European championships in the past five years.
Yet, often enough the Europeans get there with an Argentine: Barcelona’s striker is the shaggy-haired, fertile-footed Lionel Messi, the dominant player of this age. Sergio “Kun” Agüero and Carlos Tévez, who led Manchester City to this year’s league championship, are both Argentines. So is Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore. In 2009, Argentina surpassed Brazil as the world’s top producer of soccer talent, farming out 1,700 players to professional leagues abroad. Soccer goes deep here—the first league was founded in 1891, the third-oldest in the world after England and the Netherlands.
But what Argentina really excels at is not so much the play of soccer as the bloodsucking financial exploitation and mob atmosphere that accompanies it. Corruption, of course, is nothing new in the sport. Italian teams are suffering their second major gambling scandal in six years, with reports of one player drugging his own team. Sepp Blatter, the four-time president of soccer’s global body, FIFA—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association—has set a low standard, trailed by clouds of bribery allegations and the same marketing scandal that recently brought down Brazil’s longtime soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Not enough 'Fergie time'! Sir Alex blasts referee Foy after Spurs defeat (SPORTSMAIL, 30 September 2012)
Sir Alex Ferguson has called for time keeping to be taken out of the control of referees after complaining about the amount added on during Manchester United's 3-2 defeat to Tottenham.
Chris Foy played four additional minutes in the second half at Old Trafford. [...]
But the Scot was furious at what he believed was a lack of injury time, which he felt did not take into account six substitutions and some time-wasting tactics from the visitors.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Teenage kicks could be right way for Rodgers to rejuvenate Liverpool (IAN HERBERT, 29 SEPTEMBER 2012, Independent)
Their dire failure to retain enough strikers when the transfer window closed last month is an outcome of a flaw in the club's senior management structure – the absence of a fully-empowered chief executive – which still has not been fixed. But the hole which was created in the squad has allowed some young players around the fringes to suggest, in convincing terms, that Liverpool possess the most talented teenagers in the Premier League.
If a side in which the Spanish 18-year-old Jesus "Suso" Fernandez may start are defeated by Norwich City today, then Liverpool may find themselves joint-bottom tonight. But ignore the bookies, should you hear them promoting short odds on Rodgers winning the sack race. Rodgers is building something very interesting and club owner John W Henry, perhaps the canniest mogul in United States sport, knows it.
If Liverpool finish 16th this season, as the club's playing foundations go in, Henry will accept it, and so will many supporters. The singing of Rodgers' name when the club were 1-0 down at West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup on Wednesday told us a lot. His decision to send on a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old at 1-1 revealed even more. This was a Liverpool who had not won a domestic fixture all season. However, their excellent football won through.
Young players like Raheem Sterling – raw, yet remarkably high on game intelligence – and Suso, a teenager possessing the coolness to set up a goal against Manchester United last weekend – are not of Rodgers' finding. Both belong to the academy system Rafael Benitez built up. There were a few bids for Suso on deadline day and only now is work under way to extend his contract, which is in its last year. But while using youngsters can buy a manager time, Rodgers has required depths of courage to give them a go and make them believe.
Andre Wisdom, a defender who stagnated like some others in the Kenny Dalglish era but shone in Liverpool's Europa League win in Berne last week, is in the same bracket, but the best may be yet to come. Look out for Jack Robinson, with pace and the tactical nous Benitez always wanted drilled into the Academy players, who has the potential to be a first-team left-back for a decade to come. Jordan Ibe may follow. There is some surprise around the England Under-17 ranks that Jerome Sinclair, who became Liverpool's youngest player, at 16 years and six days at The Hawthorns, should have accelerated into the team so fast. Even the Football Association had not seen that one coming.
"It's funny how things work out," said Rodgers. "Maybe it's fate. Maybe this is all part of the story. Sometimes things happen by design, others by necessity." He's a master of rhetoric and knows all too well that this fits a long Liverpool tradition.
....is why this team still has Johnson, Gerrard & Reina on the books.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Forza Pro : Video games meet reality in small-town Italian soccer (Brian Phillips, August 23, 2012, Grantland)
Football Manager is relatively complex and difficult to master, but it's still a video game, meaning it's basically amenable to the direction of human desire. Unlike reality, it wants you to win. So I was sad but not entirely surprised when the real-life Pro Vercelli went under. If anything, the club's collapse seemed to underscore its basic fragility and hopelessness, which had been what drew me to it as a video-game proposition in the first place.
I'm going to try to be really brief and precise about what happened next, because it doesn't need any adornment. In August 2010, the city of Vercelli transferred the defunct club's name, colors, and history — essentially its entire identity — to another, smaller local club, Pro Belvedere, which effectively became the new Pro Vercelli.5 Pro Belvedere had just been relegated from the lowest-tier professional league in Italy, but because of a vacancy, the newly reconstituted Pro Vercelli was allowed to continue in the Lega Pro Seconda Divisione. Improbably, they finished third. They lost a promotion playoff 5-4 on aggregate to Pro Patria, but then a slew of financial catastrophes (soccer economics = hurricane, remember) left several clubs unable to compete in the next league up, the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, the following season. A few months after it ceased to exist, Pro Vercelli was lifted by default into the Lega Pro I, its highest level of club football in more than 30 years.
There are two national leagues in Italian soccer, Serie A (the top flight, where teams like Milan and Roma and Napoli play in front of massive crowds and choreographed tifosi) and Serie B (the second tier). These are, from a media/money/attention standpoint, essentially the only leagues that matter. Because of their surprise promotion to the Liga Pro I, Pro Vercelli started this past season just one division below Serie B. They were in over their heads. They were also within sight of elite-level soccer for the first time in decades.
And after a few weeks, unbelievably, they started winning. Behind a surprisingly effective attack and a defense anchored by 19-year-old Alberto Masi, Pro Vercelli started outplaying teams with legitimate shots at reaching Serie B. Then, ultra-unbelievably, Pro Vercelli started winning enough that it seemed like they had a legitimate shot at reaching Serie B. Late in the year, they missed a chance to move into first place in the league and a guaranteed promotion spot. In the end, they were forced to play in a two-legged playoff against the heavily favored Carpi. Which — transcendently ultra-unbelievably — they won, thanks to a 3-1 comeback victory, on the road, in the second leg. You can watch the video; it's an amazing record. All these mad heroics going down in front of banks of empty seats.
Anyway, the result: Starting Saturday, when they open the 2012-13 season against Ternana, Pro Vercelli will play in Serie B, where they last appeared three years after the end of World War II.
It was surreal for everyone, I imagine, or at least for everyone within the vanishingly small group of people who were paying attention, to see Pro Vercelli — two seasons after being left for dead — come out of the mists to qualify for the second division of Italian soccer. It was doubly surreal for me, because it almost exactly mirrored what had already happened, three years earlier, in my game. Nail-biting comebacks, expectation-defying winning streaks, youth players blossoming at exactly the right moment, playoff victories against long odds — this was all straight out of my Football Manager run. The players had different names, and, fine, my fantasy world team hadn't been helped by other clubs going bankrupt,6 but otherwise? It felt like the same story.
I had chosen a team to save that couldn't possibly be saved in real life. And here they were, in real life, being saved.
Cameron ready for the big show (Ives Galarcep, AUG 30, 2012, Fox Soccer)
If his performance in his official Stoke City debut was any indication, Cameron is ready for the leap. He turned in a Man of the Match performance in Stoke’s 0-0 draw against the Gunners. Cameron’s length and quickness helped slow down Arsenal’s pass-happy attack, and he showed Stoke fans that he is a player ready to be a key part of the team right away.
“It was a dream come true,” Cameron said of his Premier League debut. “Not a lot of people have this opportunity and for me it’s an opportunity that I want to take full advantage of.
“Guys like Brian McBride, Joe Max-Moore, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Clint Dempsey. Those guys have paved the way for American guys to get the opportunity to play over here,” Cameron said. “They made the US players more respected in a way, and for me I’m just coming here, keeping my head down and working hard.”
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has made it clear that Cameron’s versatility was a key attraction in buying him from the Houston Dynamo. Cameron played almost everywhere but in goal during his five seasons with the Dynamo. Against Arsenal, Cameron featured in central midfield, where his ability to cover ground, pester opposing playmakers and ability to deliver quick probing passes helped him enjoy a strong debut.
The transition from MLS to the Premier League can be a difficult one, but Cameron credits playing for Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear, as well as his experiences with the national team this year, with preparing him for the big move. The result is a player with the athleticism, engine, size and skill to thrive in the Premier League.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Altidore nets two more goals in AZ win (Soccer by Ives, 8/19/12)
The U.S. Men's National Team forward scored two more goals today, both of the quality variety, in AZ Alkmaar's 3-1 win against Heracles. That gives him four in two matches, and gives him an outstanding start to the season.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Rodgers ready to build new-look Liverpool around returning Brazilian midfielder Lucas (DOMINIC KING, 21 July 2012, Daily Mail)
It was no surprise Liverpool's results dipped when he was out of the team last season and Rodgers is in no doubt how much the young man from Porto Alegre will offer.
'I have only been at the club a short period of time and when I arrived, people told me how special he was as a player and how special a character he is,' said Rodgers.
'But he is even better than that. When you meet him in real life, you see how hard he works.
'The injury he had should have kept him out for nine months but he is back two months early. You can only do that through two things – determination and hard work. He is the ultimate professional and he is going to be a brilliant player in my career here.
'I am just looking forward to seeing him back fully fit. But I know that every day he is fighting hard to get there. Not only is he a top footballer but he is a top guy as well. He is doing fantastic at this stage of his recuperation.'
To hear Rodgers speak so endearingly made it impossible not to think about the journey Lucas has been on.
Not so long ago, he was a figure derided by the Kop, one who was booed during a game against Fulham.
It would have been easy to give in but, instead, he kept fighting. After winning the club's Young Player of the Year award in 2010, he was almost sold after Rafa Benitez was sacked but, again, he knuckled down to be name the club's Player of the Year in 2011 and last season he was playing the best football of his career before injury struck.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Revolution 2 - 2 Sounders: Diego Plays the Hero, Salvages a Point in Stoppage Time (Corey E. Major, Jun 30, 2012, Bent Musket)
Eddie Johnson would soon spoil the Revs' party, however, as he netted a brace-both headers-in the ensuing 20 or so minutes. Johnson was a nuisance to the Revolution back-line all night, and frustrations were clear by the end of the match, particularly after Stephen McCarthy's beautiful tackle in the box to stop the former US International from potentially tallying himself a hat-trick.
The Revs were forced to throw everything at Seattle by the end, subbing in playmakers Kelyn Rowe, Fernando Cardenas, and Diego Fagundez in the hopes that at least one would provide a spark (Fagundez was even subbed in for Florian Lechner, moving the Revs to a 3-man back-line). It did end up being Fagundez who provided that desired spark, scoring a goal off of a Cardenas cross into the box with the very last moment of action in the game. "When you're losing," Fagundez said, "the first thing you think is ‘let's go forward and let's try scoring.' So, going in in the 81st minute, I was thinking ‘we need to score.' So, I just gave it all I had."
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Oranje's Crippling Egotism : Can the Dutch Footballers Learn Teamwork? (Markus Feldenkirchen, 6/13/12, Der Spiegel)
Dutch football suffers greatly from the diva-like behavior of its protagonists. Holland, which plays the German national team in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Wednesday, should have won many major championships by now. In no other country is the ratio of talented footballers to the total population as high. But the Dutch players have repeatedly failed because of their collective Achilles' heel -- their massive egos.
Sometimes at the last minute individual stars have decided to stay home in a huff because something or other didn't suit them. Players have also sometimes rebelled against their coaches, and they've often quarreled with one another. This year, too, trouble surfaced just in time for pre-championship preparations when Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar refused to accept that van Persie is the top striker and be satisfied with the bench, at least for now. Holland's key problem is that ego usually trumps unity.
Hardly any other football-playing nation is blessed with as much genius and grace as the Netherlands. But what it lacks is discipline and team spirit.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Robin van Persie (Henk Spaan, 6/02/12, Financial Times)
Van Persie expresses that great ambition in the accent of the Dutch street, a mix of Moroccan, Dutch-Caribbean and authentic Rotterdam. He talks with a generosity and concentration that makes him a joy to interview; always conveying the immense ambition of the top-class athlete. He simply has to win. When I interviewed him for the Dutch magazine Hard Gras, he told me: “I have a table-tennis table at home. Everyone who comes to visit has to play a set against me. I’ve resolved never to lose one. I just smack them away.”
And because he absolutely has to win, that will be Arsenal’s problem: convincing Van Persie that his enormous ambition coincides with that of his club. Do Arsenal really want to win the league? Do they really want to win the Champions League? Van Persie wants to, and if he doesn’t recognise his own drive in the club, he will look elsewhere, however much he and his family enjoy life in village-like Hampstead; however much he enjoys a meal in one of the neighbourhood restaurants with his Arsenal buddy Thomas Vermaelen.
Arsenal’s recent signings have not convinced. Andrey Arshavin was expensive, inefficient and unpopular in the dressing room, Marouane Chamakh a mistake, Gervinho inadequate for the Premier League. And manager Arsène Wenger’s protection of the young midfielder Aaron Ramsey, with his deficient view of the game and meagre statistics (only two goals and four assists all season), doesn’t help much either.
On the positive side, Wenger did buy the playmaker Mikel Arteta, who within six months has become a true Arsenal player, the bedrock of their passing game. Incidentally, instead of Ramsey in midfield, Arsenal could have had Van Persie’s compatriot Rafael van der Vaart. “Would you like to come and play for us?” Van Persie had asked him. Van der Vaart, then out of favour at Real Madrid, had not believed his ears. With Van der Vaart on the left, Van Persie would know exactly when and where to expect the ball. Unfortunately, Wenger didn’t believe in Van der Vaart, even though he would have cost just £8m – peanuts when compared with Arshavin’s £15m. Van der Vaart joined Arsenal’s arch-rivals, Spurs, in 2010 and has since scored four goals against Arsenal. In one game at White Hart Lane, he put the ball through the legs of his opposite number at Arsenal, Jack Wilshere, twice in 10 seconds, then stuck out his tongue at him.
Van Persie has repeatedly expressed his admiration for teammates Arteta, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. But he still misses the team’s former playmaker, Cesc Fàbregas, who, since moving to Barcelona, has been unable to find his old form. Van Persie calls Fàbregas’s assists “art”. He speaks lyrically about the frequency with which Fàbregas could put a forward unmarked in front of the keeper. Usually that forward was Van Persie.
“Cesc is slow, you know,” he told me. “With us he was one of the slowest. And yet he was the fastest of us all. He always thinks two seconds ahead. I’d sometimes think, ‘Why doesn’t the opponent take the ball from him?’ Then, peep, he’d do a little feint. At training once I was running three, four metres behind him. I caught up and thought, ‘Now I’ll get you.’ But with the point of his boot he gives – peep! – a tiny little pass for a one-two. That gives him another metre and a half. I catch up with him again, but – peep! – he suddenly turns away with a body feint. So irritating! We strikers could always expect a deep ball from him. Most midfielders look sideways first, and then maybe forward. Cesc always looked forward first.”
Cesc is still missed. Arsenal fans cannot expect another season – such as this – of 30 goals without a playmaker to feed Van Persie. In March 2011, when I came to London to interview him again, for a Dutch TV documentary, he told me that a team’s playmaker has to form a two-in-one unit with the striker. And Arsenal realise that Van Persie believes this. Not for nothing did their scout Gilles Grimandi recently watch Montpellier’s Moroccan playmaker Younès Belhanda. Not for nothing are the names of playmakers Eden Hazard and Yoann Gourcuff so often linked with Arsenal. But can they fill the hole left by Fàbregas’ departure? The only way that Van Persie can find the playmaker he craves could be by following the little Spaniard to Barcelona.
...but it is the Fabregas's & Alonso's they have trouble replacing.
Monday, May 28, 2012
England striker Andy Carroll impresses Roy Hodgson with his work in little and large act up front (Henry Winkler, 5/26/12, Telegraph)
While he mishandled the young striker all season, all you need to know about why the King was canned is that he didn't even start him in the Cup final.
Hodgson’s teams have always been built on partnerships and the Carroll-Young axis started promisingly. This was nothing radical from Hodgson, nothing that signalled much homage to the more fluid, possession-friendly modern systems. With a big man leading the line, feeding a smaller, nimbler accomplice, England were all 4-4-2.
Assuming Hodgson sticks with the same system in the Euros then the England manager faces an intriguing decision for the Ukraine game. On the basis that Wayne Rooney is expected to return straight away from suspension, does Hodgson omit the line-leading Carroll or the quicksilver Young against Ukraine? As Rooney prefers the No 10 scheming role Young may prove the loser.
Carroll seems cemented in Hodgson’s plans. He never stopped showing for the ball, helping out defensively as well in the attacking third, although he needs far better service. Barring one early delivery from Stewart Downing, Carroll was largely starved of enticing crosses.
While he mishandled the young striker all season, all you need to know about why the King was canned is that he didn't even start him in the Cup final.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
No plan B sees brainless Barcelona go down to courageous Chelsea: Barça, for all their possession and control, could not find a way around a Chelsea side who deserved to reach the final (David Pleat, 4/24/12, The Guardian)
Chelsea were brave. Barcelona lacked brains. Sometimes you have to be blockers, hackers and whackers to achieve your goal and Chelsea chased and harried to prevent the waves of Barcelona attacks overwhelming them. The Barça performance gave ammunition to opponents of tiki-taka, as they played overly patient football against a lion-hearted Chelsea, who were left a man short after John Terry's red card.
Having the ball for 70% of the game is a futile statistic if you lose sight of your purpose in the last 40 yards. Incredibly, for all their instant control and movement, Barcelona could not penetrate Chelsea and drag defenders away from the centre. If ever they needed a different approach, it was here.
Unable to hit diagonal balls due to not having a big striker, they also did not shoot enough from distance and dismally failed to hurt Chelsea in wide positions. Chelsea refused to budge from the centre and Barcelona lacked the cunning to get round the back. With no space behind Chelsea's defence, Pep Guardiola's side made few chances, particularly after Lionel Messi missed a penalty early in the second half.
What's the point of playing 8 midfielders?
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Moneyball works better at Stoke than Liverpool : The style of Stoke City, four points behind Liverpool in the league table, is a rudimentary example of soccernomics (The Secret Footballer, 4/13/12, guardian.co.uk)
Personally, I have always found it difficult to get past the basic assumption that if a team have the best players then they will invariably win more often than not. But the stampede of elephants in the room today is that of a dozen Premier League teams who are so evenly matched that many of their games are settled on set pieces or carefully choreographed training-ground routines in which meticulous preparation and statistical analysis can be the difference.
In open play, a huge amount of study, from my own experience at clubs, is devoted to the calculation of what are described as final third entries, penalty box entries and regains of the ball in the final third (see the pressing game of Barcelona and, to an extent, Manchester United).
Stoke City's style is the most rudimentary example of soccernomics on a football pitch. Each full-back generally looks for Peter Crouch on an angle (final third entry) and, in turn, the striker will attempt to cushion the ball down into the penalty area (penalty box entry) for his partner or a midfield runner. It goes almost without saying that the higher these two statistics are over a season, the more likely Stoke are to end up with a shot on goal.
Add to that Rory Delap's long throws and the team's height, which they seek to exploit on set plays, and it is no surprise that Stoke score many of their goals in and around the six-yard box, where they have a succession of players making individually tailored runs, as was the case at Villa Park on Monday night, when Robert Huth headed home Jermaine Pennant's free-kick.
Where the success of soccernomics is concerned, Stoke are a great example of the match-up that is required between a set of tactics and the players who have the attributes to execute them to the fullest.
The point of pairing Carroll with Suarez is that one can score with his feet, the other his head. But the crosses have been woeful, especially Charlie Adam, who serves no other identifiable purpose.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Andy Carroll scores as Liverpool edge Everton for place in FA Cup final (The National, Apr 14, 2012 )
Carroll – the club’s much-maligned £35 million record signing – glanced in a Craig Bellamy free-kick in the 87th minute to keep Liverpool on course for a domestic cup double.
It was the second time in five days that Carroll had come to Liverpool’s rescue after scoring an injury-time winner in the Premier League victory over Blackburn in midweek. [...]
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Carroll told ESPN. “I had a few chances earlier, but it was a great ball in from Craig [Bellamy] so I just had to score with that one.
“I’ve had some criticism but I’ve just kept on going. It’s a great feeling.”
Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, added: “He [Carroll] doesn’t hide and he takes criticism on the chin. That’s what we bought him for, to score big goals, and he’s delivered today.”
Sunday, April 1, 2012
NY, Lazio legend Chinaglia passes away (Fox, APR 1, 2012)
New York Cosmos legend Giorgio Chinaglia has passed away due to complications from a heart attack in Florida.
Chinaglia, the NASL’s all-time leading scorer with 243 goals, was 65.
Chinaglia was a star with Lazio in 1976 when he decamped for New York. Considered the greatest player in Lazio’s history, his move to the States was controversial and he was arguably the first player to join the NASL while still in the prime of his career.
...and how thirty years ago we used to complain that all he did was score, but if you watch guys play now you just wish any of them could put the ball in the back of the net. The selfishness that made him a great striker ultimately destroyed the Cosmos, but in later life, as a radio talk show host, he was generous with and deferential to fans.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Roberto Martínez's faith in system hints at brighter future for Wigan (David Pleat, 3/11/12, guardian.co.uk)
Wigan's second-half response was excellent, however. Victor Moses continued to chase and skillfully help Hugo Rodallega, whose finishing luck has deserted him. But the spur came from the gamble by the manager, Roberto Martínez, to leave his three-man defence isolated while coping with the threat of Norwich's two-man attack.
With neither James McCarthy nor James McArthur designated to sit and protect Wigan's defence, the visitors dominated play and fashioned more efforts at goal than the home side. Moses, in particular, was lively.
A team with a "nothing to lose" attitude showed increasing spirit, with Shaun Maloney, on as a substitute, playing a big role in their recovery. They could even have won the game had Mohamed Diamé, who also came on in the second half, not missed two wonderful opportunities.
Wigan are the only Premier League side that play a 3-4-1-2 system. It gave Norwich major problems, especially as their midfield had been lined up by the manager, Paul Lambert, in a diamond. This was a game, then, with no wingers, but there were two adventurous full-backs whose performances suggested that if Wigan can begin to take their chances, they can escape relegation. Twelve goals away from home this season before this match tells its own story.
The central midfielders matter more to your defense than the wing backs do.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Just how good is Clint Dempsey? (Simon Rice, 1 March 2012, Independent)
Yesterday the USA travelled to Genoa and beat Italy 1-0. It was the first time Team USA had beaten the four time World Cup winners – a winless streak covering 10 games and spanning 78 years. A remarkable result, albeit in a friendly, for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.
The goal scorer was Clint Dempsey, receiving a perfectly weighted pass just inside the Azzuri box which he was able to strike first time with his right foot, directing the ball past Gianluigi Buffon and into the bottom corner of the net. It was a moment of well timed precision that should take the Fulham midfielder’s reputation higher than that of his compatriots, past and present, and could perhaps see him soar into the realms only known by America’s national bird.
Last night’s strike was Dempsey’s 25th in 83 international appearances. That’s quite a remarkable return for a player more often than not deployed in midfield. To put it into context, Steven Gerrard has scored 19 goals for England in 90 appearances. Cristiano Ronaldo has 32 goals in 88 appearances for Portugal. Xabi Alonso has 12 goals in 93 appearances for Spain. For the Dutch, Dirk Kuyt has 24 goals in 85 appearances. Dempsey’s international record holds up against, and in many cases betters, the leading names in world football, players who play a similar attacking midfield role. At the 2006 World Cup, Dempsey was the only American player to score at the tournament. At the 2009 Confederations Cup, the Texan was on target as USA beat Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals. He scored again in the final, against Brazil. England fans will of course remember his goal at the 2010 World Cup – although Rob Green must take some credit for that one.
At club level, Dempsey’s record continues to stand up. His goal in Fulham’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool earlier this season saw him overtake Brian McBride to become the most prolific American goalscorer in the history of the Premier League. He has reached double figures this season for the second season in succession – a feat not easily acheived in England’s top flight. 24 players scored over 10 goals last season. Of those 24, only four (Dempsey, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Fletcher) have reached double figures so far this term. His exquisite chip against Juventus in 2010 as Fulham came back to win 4-1 against the Italian titans in the Europa League will forever be among the greatest goals witnessed at Craven Cottage.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The tragedy of Fernando Torres: Chelsea’s £50m striker has fallen prey to the malaise that every sportsman dreads: a catastrophic and inexplicable loss of form. But why does this happen to top athletes and how can they recover? (John Carlin, 2/17/12, Financial Times)
The mysteries of form may reside in the subconscious but it also appears to be true that the problem is worsened by thinking too much and, as a likely consequence, trying too hard. On this point Stransky, the two American sports psychologists and also a couple of other people I spoke to, in the football and tennis worlds, were all in agreement.
Santiago Solari, a recently retired Argentine international footballer who played for Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, said that all players went through a period when their form declined, though he was quick to point out that in his case it had never occurred on a scale comparable to Fernando Torres. “There are times,” Solari said, “when you feel as if you are an unstoppable phenomenon of nature. There’s a happy convergence of the mental and the physical in your game and your confidence just grows and grows. It all seems so natural. But then you have a bad game, and then another one and you start to get anxious, and you feel each time you go out and play as if you’re walking down a step, with one brick, and then another one, weighing you down. Before you know it you’ve walked down so many steps and the bricks have piled up to such a point that you feel as if you were lying buried under a big building.”
Francis Roig is a coach of Spain’s all-conquering Davis Cup team and also second coach to the no less triumphant Rafa Nadal. Loss of form is an affliction especially common in tennis, Roig said. “It’s tremendous the importance confidence has on your game. It’s tremendous also how a rival can smell that fear in you, how he loses the respect he might once have had for you, beating you when before nine times out of 10 you’d have beaten him. Look at Jim Courier, who was number one in the world for two years – “Big Jim”, they called him – and then one day it all went; he fell to number 60 and never got back. A sort of psychosis possessed him, a desperate need to return to being the player he had been, and he never overcame it.”
Jim Courier ranked number one in the world in 1992 and 1993 – 'and then one day it all went'
What should he have done? “One way to recover your form, though there is no magic cure I am aware of, is not to dwell on the negative aspects of your game, to forget that and focus on the things you’ve always done well in your career going back to childhood.” Roig, a keen football fan, sees Fernando Torres as an extreme case who has succumbed to “a dynamic in which everything you did before effortlessly becomes impossible, and then you try harder, working double as much, but things only get worse.”
“My guess,” said William Wiener of Torres, picking up on Solari’s and Roig’s points, “is that he is overthinking each move, that something in his mental processes is not as relaxed as it once was.” John Murray, who before becoming a sports psychologist was a professional tennis player, also attaches blame to “overthinking” and counsels that for Torres to overcome what he describes as “catastrophic performance anxiety” he must try to play as he did when he was a child, “happily, for fun”. “My hypothesis,” said Murray, who has addressed loss of form problems with leading American sporstmen, “is that his confidence is shattered, that his anxiety is such that the harder he tries, the worse it gets. And he may also be in denial, which is an especially horrible thing when the whole world knows what’s going on. He needs help.”
- Fernando Torres Woes - Who's To Blame? (football-talk.co.uk)
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Gerrard hails team-mate Carroll for 'man of the match' display (SPORTSMAIL, 19th February 2012)
There was the rare sight of Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll all starting a game together, and Gerrard hopes the end result is a sign of things to come.
'(Carroll) has been getting better and better in training and he was our man of the match today,' he said.
'We believe that the more we play together, the more we'll click. We're all good players and good players like playing with other good players. We're all on the same wavelength now.'
Carroll put the visiting defence under pressure all afternoon, contributing to the early own goal, before he got one of his own just before the hour mark.
'Every goal feels good, but it couldn't get any better today with the result as well and now we're through to the next round,' the striker said.
'We haven't played many games all together but we've been playing well in training and we put it into the game today.'
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1: match report (Jim White, 11 Feb 2012, The Telegraph)
Liverpool, with Spearing and Gerrard shielding their defence, played deep and conservative. For some reason eschewing the muscular approach that had unsettled United's keeper at Anfield a fortnight before, they played with Suarez on his own up front.
A swift break from the South American, terminated by Ferdinand's lunging challenge, was the sum of their attacking enterprise.
But then United, despite the occasional flourish from Rooney, Valencia and the excellent Welbeck, offered little more. This was a half featuring more square balls than a convention of Lego men.</blockquote>
Let's suppose for a moment that you can justify giving Stuart Downing a go...after twenty minutes you had to take him off because he wasn't helping Enrique cover Valencia, Man U's only dangerous player. Then when he got a yellow card you had your excuse. And there was no way you could bring him out for the 2nd half.
Meanwhile, if you're playing defensively you have to cover your bets on corners, so your best header of the ball has to be in the game. Carroll wasn't.
And, if you're playing for the0-0 tie, you don't even have Johnson and Enrique in the game. They're for going forward.
Terrible coaching job, again, today.
Monday, February 6, 2012
<a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/sports/soccer/blog/_/name/us_national_soccer/id/7546797/us-soccer-joe-gyau-poised-make-impact-hoffenheim-soon-national-team">Make way for Joe Gyau</a> (Brent Latham, 2/06/12, ESPN)
One of the more exciting young American attackers to come down the pipe since Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, Gyau has nevertheless been toiling in the relative obscurity of his German club's reserves since making the move to Hoffenheim in the summer of 2010. Given the perpetual American search for the country's first true superstar, that sort of under-the-radar development has in the past lent itself to urban myths which overestimate progress on limited evidence, until the player in question is released or moves on suddenly from his European club without ever sniffing the first team (such seems to be the case with Gyau's former teammate, Charles Renken, who last week completed a move from Hoffenheim to MLS).
But in Gyau's case, the murmurs about rapid progress have been confirmed. The Maryland native, and son of USMNT veteran Philip Gyau, has advanced at breakneck pace from the U-19s through the reserves, and turned up on the first-team bench coming out of the Bundesliga's winter break. He was even set to enter a match a couple weeks ago only to have the game end while he stood next to the fourth official ready to come on. Though he failed to make the bench in Hoffenheim's 2-2 draw over the weekend, a midweek German Cup match against second division Furth could be the perfect chance for a debut.
As sudden as it seems, the imminent first team bow is 18 months in the making for the 19-year-old. In that brief time in Germany, Gyau's raw talent and precocious dribbling skills have been polished, yielding a midfielder ready to contribute in one of the top leagues in the world.</blockquote>
- Goal: Yanks Abroad: Gyau Set for Hoffenheim Debut (goal.blogs.nytimes.com)
Friday, February 3, 2012
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/jan/30/major-league-soccer-future">Is this a brave new dawn for Major League Soccer?</a>: Players such as David Beckham have boosted the league but homegrown talent is vital for the future of MLS (Mike O'Donnell, 1/30/12, The Guardian)
<blockquote>But, of course, it is the emergence of domestic talent that is fundamental to the game's growth in any country, and particularly in one as patriotic as the US. It is hoped that the implementation of a league-wide youth development programme will bear fruit in the years to come – but who of the current crop of players look like having what it takes to eventually succeed Beckham as an MLS ambassador?<br><br>
While there should be no urgency to pronounce the arrival of the first world-class US or Canadian footballer, given how Freddy Adu failed to bear the colossal weight of expectation heaped upon his barely teenage shoulders, there is cautious optimism that Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo might make the grade.<br><br>
Shea, a 6ft 3in central midfielder, has already made 84 appearances for Dallas FC and a further nine at international level after impressing the US coach, Jürgen Klinsmann. The 21-year-old's performances in 2011 saw him shortlisted for the MVP Award and caught the eye of Arsène Wenger, who invited him to train at Arsenal during the MLS off-season.<br><br>
In a similar arrangement, Agudelo has also spent time in the UK this winter. The 19-year-old linked up at Liverpool with compatriot Marc Pelosi, who recently joined the Merseyside club's academy set-up from De Anza Force in California.<br><br>
Agudelo, a Colombian-born forward who is now a US international, became the youngest player to score for the senior team with the winning goal against South Africa last year. At club level, Agudelo has an ideal mentor in New York Red Bulls captain Henry, with whom he has already forged an impressive strike partnership.<br><br>
Are Shea and Agudelo a sample of the rich crop of young football talent emerging from within the MLS or further evidence – alongside transatlantic pre-season tours, the launch of football academies in the region and sundry commercial tie-ups (for example, LeBron James, one of the biggest sporting stars in the US, last year acquired a minority stake in Liverpool and has since become a walking billboard for their latest clothing lines) – of European clubs identifying a footballing superpower in the making and an ideal market in which to promote their brand?<br><br>
Danny Dichio, the former QPR, Sunderland, West Brom, Millwall and Preston North End striker, certainly sees evidence of the former, and believes it won't be long before a new generation of talented youngsters graduate to take their places alongside the likes of Shea and Agudelo. He should know. Dichio joined the MLS side Toronto FC in its inaugural year in 2007, before making 59 appearances for the club. Since retiring two years later, he has become the head coach of its academy team.<br><br>
Dichio says: "There is a strong current crop of youngsters coming through in the US and definitely Canada. Where we are in Toronto, we have a very diverse culture in the city, varying from Europe to South America and then Africa and Asia. A lot of these kids' parents are immigrants who have been brought up on football, so it is in their blood."<br><br>
That football is not in the blood of the rest of the population is the argument of those who believe that, for all the strides made by the MLS in promoting football and improving its standard, there will only ever be enough room in their hearts for their own version of the sport and others indigenous to the region.<br><br>
Perhaps with that in mind, the MLS has been tailored somewhat to audiences familiar with the mechanisms of American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. Peculiarities include player drafts, a franchise system (whereby players sign to the MLS itself rather than the clubs it owns), regional divisions (namely Eastern and Western conferences), and a schedule that includes a regular season and play-off fixtures.<br><br>
That there is no tier system, meaning no promotion and relegation, may seem a concession too far to many European observers. But, despite arguments that the existing model can stifle competitiveness while generating dead rubbers and surplus play-off games, Dichio says there's not much chance of it changing any time soon: "The North American fan loves the play-off system as they have it ingrained in all their sports. Relegation or promotion is not really heard of here.<br><br>
"The owners who are paying a small fortune for an expansion club now would not be happy to see their investment possibly go down to the second tier and hit their financial situation very hard."<br><br>
The formula, flawed or not, seems to be working. The MLS is now the third-best-attended sport in the US, after American football and baseball, and the tenth-most-attended football league in the world, above the English Championship, the Scottish Premier League and Brazil's Serie A. Although average attendances have remained in the 15,000-20,000 bracket since its founding year in 1996, total gates have doubled in that period to 5.5 million.</blockquote>
....why not have Premier League--and other European--squads loan their guys to MLS?
- Tim Ream and the MLS to EPL journey (guardian.co.uk)
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/9052216/Wolverhampton-Wanderers-0-Liverpool-3-match-report.html">Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Liverpool 3: match report (Brendan McLoughlin, 31 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)
The former Manchester City player was at the heart of everything the Reds created. Even when the Reds furiously protested for a penalty in vain when Emmanuel Frimpong nudged Charlie Adam inside the box it was Bellamy who had set up the chance.
Wolves sprung into action shortly before the break, though, as they offered a timely reminder of their capabilities.<br><br>
Michael Kightly and Steven Fletcher played a neat one-two before the winger unleashed a stinging low shot from the edge of the box which veered just past the post.<br><br>
The significance of the near miss became evident within seven minutes of the interval.<br><br>
Jose Enrique's exquisite volleyed pass from one box towards the other set Liverpool on the counter yet Christophe Berra, to his credit, managed to keep up with Bellamy in the pace race and clear for a throw-in.
Danger averted? Not by any means. Bellamy found Adam and his pinpoint delivery was converted by Carroll at the back post, the striker steering a shot low into the left corner.</blockquote>
Only the King and Carroll-haters will have been surprised to discover that when you give him help up front you get goals.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Kenny Dalglish can savour the week Liverpool's whole mood changed (Kevin McCarra, 1/28/12, guardian.co.uk)
...that when the manager was forced out of his defensive posture into an attacking one it radically altered the game. Playing an opponent with no striker who can create a shot and no central defenders who can stop one, it was unforgivable to play a lone striker yourself. All you had to do was account for Valencia and there was no chance of Man U scoring.
The King is simply overmatched by the modern game.
When Liverpool's followers look back on the week's events they will not be so dull as to debate the details. The surge that is pounding through their minds even now is of the momentum that Kenny Dalglish's side established after the interval here. It was reminiscent of the displays inspired in other days by the beaten manager.
Sir Alex Ferguson is more often associated with the ravenous ambition and limitless endeavour that distinguished Dalglish's men in the second half. The aftermath now sees the United manager at far greater risk of a trophyless campaign. The tie was not distinguished, but the sheer impetus of Liverpool hinted that their old standing need not be out of reach permanently.
Some aspects of what was, in truth, an unkempt match can be mocked, but the victors will think only of their vindication. The extra energy with which they pummelled their opponents late in the match spoke of a team that realised its moment had come. Andy Carroll was the epitome of that.
Once again he did not score but he helped to settle the outcome by acting precisely as he is supposed to do, glancing the long ball from his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, into the path of another forward, the substitute Dirk Kuyt, to hit the winner while Patrice Evra was stranded out of position.
If United's thoughts were drifting towards a replay by that time, most of the crowd would have been in a similar frame of mind. The hosts, however, borrowed from the Old Trafford repertoire by somehow insisting on victory. At such a moment we recognise the fallibility that the leading clubs hide from us most of the time.
It is a little disconcerting to recognise that Paul Scholes, a retiree until his sudden return to the field, was perhaps the most accomplished performer while his stamina held up. United got 75 minutes of the technique and sheer talent that bolsters a side. On this occasion, that did not suffice.
Liverpool were the inexhaustible force. Dalglish did everything in his power to sustain that intensity. The captain, Steven Gerrard, was even sacrificed after 72 minutes so that Craig Bellamy could bring more verve to bear. The latter, so important in sending the team to that Carling Cup final with his goal against City, would help in sustaining the momentum that proved too much for United.
...that when the manager was forced out of his defensive posture into an attacking one it radically altered the game. Playing an opponent with no striker who can create a shot and no central defenders who can stop one, it was unforgivable to play a lone striker yourself. All you had to do was account for Valencia and there was no chance of Man U scoring.
The King is simply overmatched by the modern game.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Carroll and De Gea backed after contrasting performances (Reuters, 1/28/12)
Andy Carroll finally shone and David de Gea had another nightmare in Liverpool's FA Cup fourth-round 2-1 win over Manchester United on Saturday with the former repaying his manager's faith and the latter being given the benefit of the doubt....which forced Dalglish out of his ridiculously defensive posture and put a couple minnows up front to feed off of the big fish. Once they finally get Gerrard on the same field with a three man front they'll get the best out of the big man, but knocking out their rivals was worth a significant portion of his transfer fee by itself.
Liverpool striker Carroll, who has struggled since a big move from Newcastle United a year ago, did not find the net but used his physical prowess in the area as Daniel Agger headed in the first and then set up Dirk Kuyt for the late winner.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Donovan delivers as Moyes' gamble pays out for Everton (TIM RICH, 28 JANUARY 2012, Independent)
As an hors d'oeuvre to Merseyside's FA Cup weekend, this had the look of a grapefruit with a cherry plonked on top rather than seared scallops in a balsamic dressing. Liverpool against Manchester United this afternoon will be rather more of an occasion but this proved a fascinating contest that managed to keep Everton's season afloat.
On a night swept by the kind of cold, bitter rain his time with Los Angeles Galaxy would not have prepared him for, Landon Donovan swung the match with two superlative crosses that were met by headers equally as good.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Liverpool 2 Man City 2 (3-2 agg): Hells Bells! Welsh wizard fires Reds to Wembley (SPORTSMAIL, 2/25/12)
Liverpool ended a 16-year wait for a return to Wembley as they held off Manchester City to set up a Carling Cup final against Cardiff next month. Former City striker Craig Bellamy was the hero for the team he rejoined in August, scoring the decisive goal 16 minutes from time....for playing such a negative team, given that they just needed to grind out a draw. But the reality is that Carroll should still start in that event because he's the best header of the ball on defense as well as offense. He cleared it repeatedly in the first match. The manager is the problem, not his striker.
The Wales international played a pivotal role throughout and will now face another former club - and city of his birth - Cardiff, as the Reds seek to end a trophy drought dating back to 2006. Watching Liverpool owner John Henry will hope it is the start of a revival at the club he bought almost 18 months ago.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Soccer's Heavy Boredom: It's true. Mostly nothing happens. Why do we keep watching? (Brian Phillips, January 17, 2012, Grantland)
So why do soccer fans do this? Assuming we follow sports for something like entertainment, what do we get out of a game for which the potential for tedium is so high that some of its most famous inspirational quotes are simply about not being dull?...but, it is mainly an awful set of rules that make the game so much more boring than the one it most resembles, hockey. The main interruptions to the fluidity of the game come from offsides calls, fouls in the box, and defenders putting the ball out of play. The three are easily dealt with. Establish a set offsides line, pretty high up the field, and once the ball is over the line every subsequent player is onsides. Establish a crease around the goal, into which offensive players may not intrude, which would not just get rid of the scrums in the goal mouth but force players to shoot the ball more. And allow a free kick, rather than a throw-in, on balls played out of bounds--a kick from the spot where the ball was played. The response to a bad game should be change, not acceptance.
I keep thinking about this question lately, maybe because I've been finding myself drawn to more and more boring games. This past weekend, I sat through the slow cudgeling death of Liverpool-Stoke. The final score was 0-0, but the final emotional score was -5. During Swansea's deliriously fun 3-2 upset of Arsenal on Sunday, I kept switching over to Athletic Bilbao's mundane 3-0 win over Levante. Why am I doing this? I thought, as Fernando Amorebieta whuffed in a gloomy header and Levante pinned themselves into their own half. But I kept checking back.
There are two reasons, basically, why soccer lends itself to spectatorial boredom. One is that the game is mercilessly hard to play at a high level. (You know, what with the whole "maneuver a small ball via precisely coordinated spontaneous group movement with 10 other people on a huge field while 11 guys try to knock it away from you, and oh, by the way, you can't use your arms and hands" element.) The other is that the gameplay almost never stops — it's a near-continuous flow for 45-plus minutes at a stretch, with only very occasional resets. Combine those two factors and you have a game that's uniquely adapted for long periods of play where, say, the first team's winger goes airborne to bring down a goal kick, but he jumps a little too soon, so the ball kind of kachunks off one side of his face, then the second team's fullback gets control of it, and he sees his attacking midfielder lurking unmarked in the center of the pitch, so he kludges the ball 20 yards upfield, but by the time it gets there the first team's holding midfielder has already closed him down and gone in for a rough tackle, and while the first team's attacking midfielder is rolling around on the ground the second team's right back runs onto the loose ball, only he's being harassed by two defenders, so he tries to knock it ahead and slip through them, but one of them gets a foot to it, so the ball sproings up in the air … etc., etc., etc. Both teams have carefully worked-out tactical plans that influence everything they're trying to do. But the gameplay is so relentless that it can't help but go through these periodic bouts of semi-decomposition.
But — and here's the obvious answer to the "Why are we doing this?" question — those same two qualities, difficulty and fluidity, also mean that soccer is uniquely adapted to produce moments of awesome visual beauty. Variables converge. Players discover solutions to problems it would be impossible to summarize without math. The ball sproings up in the air … and comes down in just such a way that Dennis Bergkamp can pull off a reverse-pirouette flick that spins the ball around the defender and back into his own path … or Thierry Henry can three-touch a 40-yard pass in the air before lining it up and scoring a weak-foot roundhouse … or Zlatan Ibrahimovic can stutter-fake his way through an entire defense. In sports, pure chaos is boring. Soccer gives players more chaos to contend with than any other major sport. So there's something uniquely thrilling about the moments when they manage to impose their own order on it.
Sing when you’re winning and especially when you’re not (Hunter Davies, 16 January 2012, New Statesman)
I was watching West Ham against Birmingham City and thinking, oh I do hope one if not both of them comes up next season, not because of the quality of their play, which is adequate, but the quality of the singing. West Ham fans sing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", while Birmingham belt out "Keep Right on to the End of the Road" - each song about 100 years old. Amazing really, for this tradition to have lasted.
“Bubbles", first heard in a Broadway show in 1918, became popular in the UK in the 1920s. It got taken up by West Ham when a new young West Ham player came on the pitch with a mass of curly blond hair who looked like the boy in Millais's portrait Bubbles.
“Keep Right on" was written and sung by Harry Lauder after the death of his son in the First World War. Not sure why Birmingham took it up - did they have Scottish players or connections? - but the sentiment does suit football supporting.
The best-known crowd song is Liverpool's "You'll Never Walk Alone", which dates from 1945 and was then sung by Gerry and the Pacemakers in the 1960s. Now it's sung by many other clubs across Europe.
Where else today do you hear such communal singing ?
Monday, January 16, 2012
Change of tack from Liverpool and Stoke leads to disjointed stalemate: Liverpool adapted to Stoke by changing their shape, then Stoke counter-adapted. The result was they both looked out of sorts ()
With their 3-4-2-1, Liverpool again dominated possession, and restricted Stoke to one corner. Again, Delap was on the bench, so throw-ins were not a problem until his late substitute appearance, and height in defensive situations was not a huge issue. Unlike last year, though, Liverpool did not dominate in the air – they won only 36% of aerial challenges....but even for him, not playing your best header of the ball against Stoke is idiotic. And Kuyt's problem was the one Carroll faces every game, which is why the criticism is unfair. He needs support in the box so he has guys to head it to.
Dalglish clearly did not want to play into Stoke's hands by playing Andy Carroll, a centre-forward dependent on his aerial threat. Carroll has not started home or away in the league against Stoke this season (although he did start in the Carling Cup) and Dirk Kuyt was instead chosen as the lone forward, as in the 2-0 win a year ago.
Kuyt has rarely been prolific in a Liverpool shirt, but his current goalscoring form is particularly bad – he has not scored all season, a fact that seems to have slipped under the radar because of the focus on Carroll. Regardless, Kuyt is capable of doing a good job upfront by holding the ball up, dropping deep and moving to the flanks, but he needs midfield runners to make this a worthwhile approach. Last year he had Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles behind him in the 3-4-2-1 formation – the latter opened the scoring with a rebound from the former's shot. Both were powerful, energetic figures who enjoyed playing in the centre of the pitch and driving at the opposition defence.
With Meireles no longer at the club and Gerrard playing deeper, Liverpool had Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson behind Kuyt on Saturday. They offered little support, with a situation after 11 minutes summing up their plight – Kuyt found himself on the ball near the byline, twice looked up for assistance, only to find that there was no one else inside the box.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
After Thierry Henry's fairytale goal one statue might not be enough (Oliver Holt, 09/01/12, Daily Mirror)
Thierry Henry ran down the touchline towards Arsene Wenger. Both men chased ghosts.
When they met, Henry wrapped his manager in a bear-hug and for a moment they leapt back to the days when they both were kings.
They took the crowd with them, back to the days when they were Invincibles, back to the days when Manchester United were in their thrall.
Back to the days before the drought and the doubt, back to the time when they fought for the title, not for a place in the top four. Back to a time before Manchester City had money.
What a moment it was. What a moment to be an Arsenal fan. A moment captured in time that was so much more than just the celebration of a winner in an otherwise ordinary FA Cup third round tie against Leeds United.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Paul Scholes's return to Manchester United highlights that club's cupboard of emerging talent is bare (Mark Ogden, 08 Jan 2012, Telegraph)
The fact that Ferguson has welcomed Scholes back - bizarrely, he is the first central midfielder to sign for United since Anderson arrived in 2007 - highlights the growing concerns about the future at Old Trafford.No central defenders, no central midfielders, and no forward who can create his own shot makes for a pretty useless youth movement.
Where are the emerging youngsters? If Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison are the future, then how long will they have to wait to prove it?
And although the Glazer family have insisted to Ferguson that money is there for new players, is it really as substantial as we are led to believe?
Would it have hurt the finances so much to have met Wesley Sneijder or Samir Nasri's wage demands last summer?
,br> If the answer to that one is yes, then the preferable option for Manchester United is to coax a former great out of retirement and apply a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.
Newcastle's Cheik Tioté leaves Wayne Rooney frustrated and forlorn: The Ivorian is the sort of midfield enforcer Manchester United need, especially with their key player under strain (Louise Taylor, 4 January 2012, Guardian)
For different reasons Rooney and Ferguson, too, have not always been on the same wavelength in recent times. While their frosty moments have tended to centre on non-tactical matters, the team's growing dependence on Rooney has created its own separate strains.
The player, so often asked to serve as a quasi Paul Scholes while still scoring most of United's goals this season, found himself operating very much as a striker here. He was deployed as part of a fluid front three also featuring Dimitar Berbatov and Nani and was liberated from deep-lying obligations to camouflage Ferguson's midfield deficiencies.
In theory this should have allowed him to indulge in some improvisation but Rooney ended the first half simply looking hot and bothered.
If his new hair transplant's resistance to the evening's capricious wind suggested that investment in such an expensive weave may have been worthwhile after all, his increasingly vocal complaints and irritable body language indicated that his recall was definitely not as advertised in the brochure.
Quite a bit before Demba Ba gave Newcastle a fully deserved lead later extended by Yohan Cabaye and Phil Jones's own-goal three reasons for Rooney's mood loomed large. On the odd occasions he did drop deeper in search of possession he was repeatedly interrupted by Cheik Tioté.
Tioté is very much the type of Roy Keane midfield enforcer Ferguson could desperately do with and there was little the outstanding the – along with Ba the key performer in an excellent home display – outstanding Ivorian enjoyed more than dispossessing United's leading scorer. And when Rooney moved nearer Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle's captain delighted in leaving him similarly frustrated.
>Dartmouth product Mkosana shines on first day of MLS Combine (FRANCO PANIZO, 1/07/12, Soccer by Ives)
That a Dartmouth player is at the MLS Combine is an accomplishment in itself. That a Dartmouth player shone on the first day of the event, which is notorious for being rough for most participants, is even more impressive.
Both those scenarios are where forward Luckymore "Lucky" Mkosana has found himself after a strong second-half performance in the first game of the 2012 MLS Combine on a chilly Friday evening in South Florida.
Coming off the bench at halftime, Mkosana helped lift adiPower (red) to a 3-2 win over Prime (green) by scoring a goal and then setting up the game-winner near the end of the 80-minute match.
"It felt really well to come out the second half and win it," said the 24-year-old Mkosana, who was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2011. "I think we started really good. First half, the guys set the pace for the guys coming in the second half, so we just continued to where we left off and I feel like we kept working hard until the end and that's why we won."
The 5-foot-9, 169-pound attacker stood out for more than what he did on the stat sheet, too. Mkosana had another hard shot from outside the 18 go just above the crossbar, played well with his back towards goal and linked up with teammates well.
A good first impression might be key to getting drafted for a player who spent his four collegiate years playing for an Ivy League team. Mkosana, who was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, joined Dartmouth after playing just one year of high school soccer at Kimball Union in 2007, his first year in the United States.
At Dartmouth, Mkosana was named to the All-Ivy League First Team each of his four years there. He had a breakout freshman season in 2008, scoring 11 goals in 18 games. His sophomore and junior years were not as strong statistically (he scored eight goals in 2009 and five in 2010), but he finished his time with Dartmouth by scoring 10 goals in 17 games in 2011.
Those numbers may have made him Dartmouth's all-time career leader in goals, but he is still a fairly unknown product, especially compared to some of the other players who he is competing with at the combine.
That does not faze him, though.