Michael Carrick as England’s Pirlo

Mark Ogden for The Telegraph:

But it is perhaps an indictment of the English game that Carrick’s qualities have consistently been overlooked in favour of more high-profile, attack-minded players such as Gerrard and Lampard.
Possession of the ball is crucial at the highest level of the game and Carrick’s awareness gives England the ability to retain the ball better than they have done in recent tournaments when he has been sat at home, watching on television.

Italy 1-1 England

Glenn Moore for The Independent:

Carrick’s arrival put England on to the front foot as he switched play and probed forwards, always knowing the next pass as soon as he took possession.

Cape Verde 2-0 Portugal

Telegraph Sport:

Portugal slumped to one of the most embarrassing results in their history tonight after losing at home to the Cape Verde Islands.

The tiny Atlantic archipelgao – which boasts a population of just 500,000 – defeated the Portuguese 2-0 at the Estádio António Coimbra da Mota in front of just 3,500 fans.

What We Learned – Gameweek 30

Stoosher, at All Things FPL:

While Steven Gerrard’s unconscionable red card paved the way for Manchester United’s 2-1 win at Anfield on Sunday, the first half was a superb United performance and deserved 1-0 HT lead. Juan Mata’s best performance in red may have a few knee-jerkers ready to pull the trigger, but Louis van Gaal’s measured post-game comments about finding ‘balance’ in the team should give pause. Arguably the best player in the Premier League just two seasons ago, and even with a season stunted by Jose Mourinho’s unwillingness to use him in the first half of last year, Mata has averaged 166 fantasy points per year in his first three full seasons. Unless you quickly checked, you are probably shocked to know he has 103 fantasy points to date this season as well as three double figure gameweeks. In only 19 starts. It will be a brave manager who decides to use 8.3 mil of budget on a player who is, seemingly, not yet nailed on, but if Mata does get eight more starts, well, you could see the Spaniard getting to 150 fantasy points and play a part as a massive differential given that most of his 6% ownership are probably ‘ghost ships’.

A Statistical Look at Defences

De Gea is having a terrific season, as per Football in the Clouds:

Goalkeepers are voodoo. Ask Everton. Pretty much, all of Everton’s under performance in the league is down to their inability to stop the ball. They sit dead last in save % (table below), while last season they were 2nd. Everton have been both, slightly lucky (6th lowest shots on target) and really unlucky (league low save %) this season. Both these metrics should regress but it is too late for it to matter, this season.

On the opposite end of the voodoo spectrum, we have Man United, who are getting away with it, this season. 8th in shots on target against and De Gea bailing them out. This United team are riding the variance of their goalkeeper. Will it last? Crazier things have happened.

Kebab Screamer

FourFourTweet:

This is something that they do week in week out, the old fashioned one two. Look as this bool gets played into him. Tommo hits it against him, sets it back nicely. Look at the swazz he puts on this as he puts it in the top corner.

Adolf Hitler Was Not a Schalke Fan

Andrew Bloch points out a fantastic response from Gerd Voss, Schalke’s PR man, to The Times’s apparently crazy claim that Adolf Hitler was a Schalke fan:

So we checked out and double-checked whether the club board between 1933 and 1945 had named a stand the “Führer Stand”, for example, and we watched every episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo in a bid to find a clue. Nothing.

Fight idiocy with fake idiocy. I like it.

Via Gordon Brunt at The Score.

The Bundesliga Survival Battle

Nice piece at Bundesliga.com reviewing the contenders in the relegation battle:

A clear division appears to be opening up heading into the final eight games of the 2014/15 Bundesliga season. With a rejuvenated Borussia Dortmund joining the battle for a place in Europe next season, those who have been left behind know they have a scrap for survival on their hands.

From 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 11th down to VfB Stuttgart in 18th, seven points separate eight clubs, two of whom will be dropping down to Bundesliga 2 in May with one more facing a play-off to stay up. bundesliga.com looks at the state of play in one of the fiercest fights for survival in recent years.

Kazakhstan 0-3 Iceland

Mail Online:

The former Barcelona and Chelsea marksman received a pass from Johann Gudmundsson and the 36-year-old slid the ball into the corner of the net to notch his 25th goal for his country and his first since 2009.

Bjarnason headed the second from a cross by Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson 12 minutes later and the same player then completed the scoring in stoppage time when his shot went in after taking a big deflection.
Iceland now have 12 points from five games while Kazakhstan are rooted to the bottom of the group with one.

The fairy tale European Qualifiers continue for our Icelandic team. They are now a point behind the Czechs with twelve points after the first round, five points ahead of Netherlands in third and seven ahead of Turkey in fourth.

There is a real and good chance of Icelandic mens football team qualifying for their first major international tournament under coach Lars Lagerbäck.

Hughes Buries It

From Copa90’s Twitter account:

Mark Hughes signs contract extension at Stoke. Whatever he goes on to achieve, this will always be his finest moment

What a strike.

Via the always excellent Kelly Welles at The Football Ramble blog.

Some Sweet Goals and Moves

Dan Stelly and Jacob Klinger for Howler Magazine:

Alliterative wunderkid BIRTALAN BOTOND of Bekescsaba burnished his Puskas candidacy with this ridculous behind-the-back volley. If Zlatan were a human, he’d be impressed.

“Do West Ham Stick or Twist?”

Charles Pulling for Back Page Football:

A marriage of convenience it may have been, but Allardyce’s time at West Ham has, for the most part been a success. Allardyce has delivered on his targets of achieving a return to the premier League and solidified that status, all operating under less-than ideal financial constraints. This season West Ham have – despite Karen Brady’s comments – exceeded all expectations in terms of success in the league.

The stick Sam Allardyce gets makes no sense. He’s a good manager, could perhaps be considered a great one, with a proven track record of managing poor to medium teams to consistent results above expectations. He’s never got a chance to manage one of the elites so we do not know how he would do with a squad full of stars.

Nevertheless, West Ham are looking to replace him, according to Pulling’s article. Interestingly, Pulling cites the popularity of Slaven Bilić to be a reason for West Ham’s board to pick him as Allardyce’s successor:

One element that would make the former West Ham defender attractive to Gold, Sullivan and Brady would be his popularity with West Ham supporters, the ownership being acutely aware of the vitriol regularly aimed at the current boss.

That’s not a good reason. I don’t think the board would be too concerned how the supporters feel about a new manager — I hope not at least, they should be more concerned about picking the “right” man for the job.

Anyway, great piece by Pulling.

England 4-0 Lithuania

Dominic Fifield for The Guardian:

So what, then, of Kane? The Tottenham Hotspur debutant was granted the last quarter of the contest, just as the first Mexican waves were whipping round the stadium, but even with the contest long since settled his impact was remarkable. His first touch was a neat lay-off for Ross Barkley. His second was to nod a first senior international goal 78 seconds into life at this level. “Time is on his side,” Hodgson had said prior to kick-off, though the Spurs striker’s career is being played out at breakneck speed at present. The Azzurri, even when not at full strength given they play a qualifier against Bulgaria on Saturday, will be a completely different proposition to this hapless Lithuanian lineup but, even so, this was a cameo to justify all the hype.

What a season for Harry Kane. He must feel like everything is going his way.

Zlatan’s Incredible Header

Ryan Rosenblatt for Soccer Gods:

That is how he scored for Sweden on Friday. He made it rain and dampened the pitch. Then he made the ball find his forehead.

Australia 2-2 Germany

Paul Brown for Outside90:

For German Manager Joachim Loew it was all about trial and error and it is obvious that he is trying to build a team that is tactically flexible, but a team cannot develop this in training alone.

“The Crazy Championship Title Race”

Mathew Burt for Just Football:

This season’s Championship title race is turning into one of the most hotly contested leagues in European football with the quest to secure a golden ticket to the Premier League almost impossible to call.

Leicester ran away with the league last season, but this time around there are still around eight teams, who will have serious designs on playing in the top flight next year.

Following last weekend’s matches just six points separate the top six as the top of the table changes from game to game. Let’s takes a look at the runners and riders as the season looks to go down to the wire…

Serie A Relegation Battlers

Marco Jackson at From Inside, Right:

The first year is a bit off, as its the year Juventus were relegated, but the rest makes interesting, if not definitive reading. Less and less often, at this stage, are teams making a break for survival, so credit to Sassuolo last season. It was about now they re-hired Eusebio Di Francesco, as I recall. You should be able to view the image full size.

“The Modern Day Rise of Borussia Dortmund”

Andreas Yena for Outside90:

Klopp believes his side plays “beautiful football” with “speed, strength and energy in a legal way.

“Hard but fair duels, hitting posts and the bar with a lot of chances and corners. That for me is beautiful football,” says the manager.

“There are a lot of people who say that the way Barcelona play is beautiful, playing back and forth across the pitch and then when Messi gets the ball it’s a goal. That for me is not beautiful though.

“In terms of beauty and attractiveness, what I like is something a bit flawed, a bit rough. That’s our game.”

Those That Nearly Made It

Andy Mitten for Bleacher Report:

I trained with the first team for the pre-season in 2004. All those players were at a top level physically, mentally and psychologically. They knew they couldn’t afford to make mistakes. I saw Ronaldinho doing unbelievable tricks. That destroyed me. I’d think, “They’re too good; I can’t get to this level.”

Great stories. Well worth the read.

Van Gaal’s Masterclass

@flyingwingback for Spielverlagerung:

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Louis Van Gaal gave us a tactical masterclass in not only avoiding Liverpool’s pressing, but using it to his advantage too. United are now five points clear of Liverpool, but will also have their eyes on their other rivals, Manchester City, who they are still just two points behind.

Liverpool weren’t quite as bad as I’ve probably made them out to be but may need a little re-think in tactics when they play top sides they looked very easy to defend against. Champions League qualification is now looking unlikely and Rodgers will probably leave at the end of the season if they don’t make the top four.

Marcelo’s and Messi’s Battle in the El Clasico

Will Stratmann for Licence to Roam:

It’s hard, then, not to say that Messi won his individual duel against Marcelo, especially once his first-half assist is factored into the equation. But that shouldn’t take away from the Brazilian’s performance, as along with Benzema, he was definitely one of Real Madrid’s best afield. One could, in fact, easily mount an argument that he outperformed his more illustrious opponent in front of the 98,760 people in attendance, but whichever way you look at it, the battle that took place between Messi and Marcelo down the flank definitely flavoured this iteration of El Clasico – and in a good way, too.

Pellegrini’s Job Shouldn’t Be in Danger

James Yorke at Stats Bomb:

Plenty more media commentary has had a quick look at the table and spotted how close Arsenal and Man Utd are to the top two and in particular City. They have then presumed that City’s position in the top two is under threat and they are vulnerable to challengers. The numbers just don’t support this analysis. The trouble for City is mainly in perception, which is of course functionally irrelevant. Their season last year was so fluid and goal laden that any normal regression would look underwhelming. That they have regressed yet still maintained huge shot dominance is actually impressive. Their shot ratios over this year and last are now almost identical and it has been their raw conversion that has fallen off. No other team in the league approaches 8 shots and 3 shots on target over and above their opposition. Their current record of 18-7-5 is only six points behind their comparative record from last year of 21-4-5 and whilst I could easily be wrong I will be surprised if the owners rescind Pellegrini’s contract. Certainly they shouldn’t. There is no Champions League heritage to protect, disappointment there has no prior measure of success and the team remains very talented and strong.

Arguing Against the Away Goals Rule

Tommo Newton putting forth a great argument that we should do away with the away goals rule, writing for Four Four Tweet:

So the away goal causes exactly what it set out not to do, stifle good football and force teams to think about not conceding at home, rather than actually trying to score goals. It leads to a nervy first leg where the home side don’t want to commit men forward, and the away side are more than content to sit back, absorb the pressure and take a draw, rather than trying to win the game, a dull first leg is usually a by-product of the away goal rule.

He makes more good arguments:

As previously mentioned, the rule was introduced in the 60’s to offer a fairer tie breaker than the toss of a coin. In those days, it was the fairest way. Now we have extra time and penalties, which are a much fairer and relevant way of settling ties. Both the beautiful game and the world in general are unrecognisably different to what they were back in those days, and the away goal was a much harder feat, that’s because European away days were very, very different back then. Pitches were varied in size and quality which would completely alter a team’s play. Whereas now the standards of pitch are so advanced that playing on the surface away from home isn’t too dissimilar from playing at home. An away day was a lot more uncomfortable, playing in a completely unknown place, were travel was a lot harder and crowds more hostile.

I hadn’t thought too much about the away goals rule — it’s so entrenched in my mind as a European Cup competition basic — but Tommo makes a great case. I would not be against making the experiment of skipping it. For fairness sake, the extra-time in the second leg should also be scrapped but it is likely too much to also cancel.

Mata and Herrera Should Play More for Manchester United

Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

Given how influential those two players have been once given consistent playing time — and considering how big-ticket transfers, like Ángel Di María and Radamel Falcao, have struggled — it’s enough to make you wonder how far up the table United might be had van Gaal started playing the Iberian pairing from the get-go.

Supporters Hold Back Balotelli

Carlo Campo for The Score:

Judging by Balotelli’s initial reaction, he was more than prepared to receive a second yellow card by retaliation. But luckily for Mario, some quick-thinking supporters restrained him to prevent a classic Balotelli-esque incident from unfolding.

Liverpool’s best performer of the day, that supporter.

Mata’s Brilliance and Gerrard’s Folly

Richard Jolly for ESPN FC:

If Gerrard encapsulated the bad-tempered nature of this most ferocious of rivalries, the match was settled by the calmest man on the pitch. Juan Mata can bring equanimity to even the most frenzied of occasions. He lent class, scoring an opener with nonchalant precision, following a similarly incisive pass from Herrera, and the ultimate decider with enviable flair. A scissor kick prompted mentions of Mark Hughes, United’s greatest volleyer of his generation, and, since it followed Angel Di Maria’s chip, it almost amounted to a £100 million goal. Di Maria cost £59.7 million, Mata £37.1 million.

“Moneyball Goes Dutch”

Motez Bishara for CNN:

Spend-thrift baseball executive Billy Beane — made famous by Brad Pitt’s Oscar-nominated portrayal in “Moneyball” — is taking up a position with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar.

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

Barcelona and Real Madrid have traded places; they may also have traded roles. Four points ahead eight games ago, Madrid are now four points behind after Barcelona beat them in a chaotic, open gamein which it was the Catalans who scored with a header from a corner and a goal on the break. Jérémy Mathieu and Luis Suárez got them and if Barcelona ended this match on top, chasing a third goal that would have seen then not only climb four points clear but also equal the head-to-head goal difference with Madrid, for much of the night they had held on.

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United

Sam Tighe for Bleacher Report:

Emre Can was the man who challenged for that ball, and he lost out. And that set a tone for the rest of the afternoon as the Belgian became an easy outlet for David de Gea and Co. to hit. Multiple passes were threaded through to him, and United began building play through Fellaini from his position in left-central midfield, attracting the press and then flicking it out to the right in space.

It’s something Internazionale used to do, building on the left then switching to Maicon on the right with space to run into; it’s a devastating tactic if you can hold it long enough to attract markers then free your spare man.

Interesting conclusion. If true, it would mean Mata’s goal was planned out — an outlet to Fellaini, who passed it sideways to Herrera, who in turn threaded the ball to Mata to score.