Sunday, February 22, 2015


Javier Mascherano – the last great Argentine hero (Juan D'Angelo, 2/22/15, Backpage Football)

Silent hero, a born leader, the mood engine of the team. These are just a few adjectives that the press has been used to qualify Javier throughout his career.

Surely Marcelo Bielsa saw what Almeyda did at the time, because in June 2003, and before Mascherano had even played a single game as a professional for his club River Plate, the “Jefecito” debuted internationally for Argentina in a friendly against his Uruguayan counterparts.

From that moment, Javier built a career worthy of a legend. From his first steps in River Plate up to these days in Barcelona, where he is a fundamental part of one of the best teams in history, “Masche” turned into a leader and a reference for his teammates.

One of its early discoverers, the Argentine coach Jorge Solari, said that,when he saw Javier in action during a match played in the small town of San Lorenzo (the hometown of a Mascherano) he was surprised by the commanding voice of that young boy.

The leadership shown by Mascherano is not based on intimidation and fear, as it was with Vinnie Jones and the “Crazy Gang” of Wimbledon. The Argentine midfielder is the example of everything good that should be a professional football player.

Javier gives everything in every workout, play every game like a final, is correct to the press without being condescending and, most importantly, knows when he should be a leading player and when it should remain in the background. the defensive midfielder who's so aggressive he's always one second away from a red card.  If Arsenal had such a player they'd have won some titles the past few years.

Monday, February 9, 2015


Jordon Ibe illuminates stalemate in Steven Gerrard’s final derby day (Andy Hunter, 2/09/15, The Guardian)

The 19-year-old signed from Wycombe Wanderers excelled on his surprise derby debut, only his second league start for Liverpool, carrying the threat to Everton throughout, striking a post with a venomous drive from 20 yards and almost capitalising on Sterling’s deflected shot across the goalmouth.

For 26 minutes Liverpool’s forward line contained Ibe, Sterling and the returning Daniel Sturridge. It’s a prospect that should alert Roy Hodgson and it reflects Rodgers’ inherent belief that British-born talent is not technically inferior to its continental counterparts. “Maybe I have too much belief in young players,” he admitted. “But part of me thinks you never know until you throw in a young player and it doesn’t matter what the game is. This is a real springboard for Jordon Ibe. I would have no qualms about playing Jordon now and there is no greater pressure than a Goodison game with that intensity and he was obviously man of the match. [...]

Liverpool’s clean sheet was the first time they have kept four in a row in the league under Rodgers and featured another commanding performance from Emre Can. 


How Philippe Coutinho became the key in Liverpool FC's 3-4-2-1 formation (Kristian Walsh, 2/09/15, Liverpool Echo)

The contrast before and after Liverpol’s switch in tactics – and therefore, Coutinho’s switch in position - is stark. Most notable of all is how the midfielder managed to create just five chances in 12 appearances before 3-4-2-1, but is now on 23 created in just nine; zero assists have transformed into four.

His shooting accuracy has also improved – 57% now, 45% then – having taken eight more shots at goal in three fewer games, though he’s scored the same number of goals (1).

His passing has not been as accurate, although he averages more passes now; an explanation also comes with the sort of passes he’s making.

In a more advanced position, he is taking risks and looking to feed his team-mates, rather than the risk-averse style which crippled his style earlier in the season. That is evidenced in his pass length also lengthening in the 3-4-2-1, as well as making six successful through balls – five more than he managed in his first 12 games.

He has also produced more successful dribbles (31 v 29) with a better success rate, and is fouled far more now in his advanced position.

The 3-4-2-1 is a curious system. At its optimum, it is a phenomenal mix of control and attacking balance - but if some key components are missing, replicating previous performances could prove difficult.

Coutinho is one of those players who turn the system into a winning one. His pressing is excellent, as his ability to find little pockets of space between defence and midfield – something this position allows him to do often.

He also has plenty of options in front of him. The striker, usually Sterling but soon to be Sturridge, is available; there will also his attacking midfield partner to his right. The wide men also push forward, as does one of the central midfielders. Coutinho fills his boots, and fires them towards the ball.

The space this movement creates also allows him to move further up the pitch. Coutinho is at his most dangerous close to goal. He has been tasked with improving in front of goal, but when his sights are locked on players to pass to, he is a dead-eyed sharpshooter.