City’s Vulnerable Defence

Danny Pugsley for Metro:

That City failed to score (especially at The Etihad) was a huge surprise given the scarcity of such of an event and resulted in the questions about their lack of goals. The more worrying concern though is at the other end of the pitch, where the vulnerability in their play is so stark at the moment that a side possessing any sort of attacking threat appears capable of brushing City’s defensive efforts aside.

For all the plaudits City’s attack has garnered, most of it deservedly so, since Pellegrini took charge, it is the defence which has continued to be the platform for much of their success. This not includes the back four but the two central midfielders Pellegrini opts for. But despite strengthening both positions in the summer by bringing in Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando the unit has gone backwards.

Stoke 2-3 Southampton

Jon Culley for The Independent:

The former Feyenoord striker’s confidence is bubbling, as could be witnessed as he collected a pass from left-back Matt Targett, a 19-year-old playing in only his second match, checked inside and, with Marc Wilson standing off him, curled a lovely shot from 25 yards that was too much for Asmir Begovic and clipped the right-hand post before nestling in the net.

What a start to the English season for Pellé. He’ll not maintain this form but will still have had a tremendous impact.

“Therefore, Blatter’s Words Don’t Make Any Sense”

Chris Murphy, quoting Carlo Ancelotti at CNN about Sepp Blatter’s comment that Manuel Neuer should win the Ballon d’Or:

“It has surprised me what the FIFA president has said and it appears he is unable to keep his mouth shut,” Ancelotti told a press conference on Tuesday.

Glorious.

Liverpool 2-1 Swansea

Chris Bascombe, writing for The Telegraph:

Balotelli had been summoned from the bench on 77 minutes, but it felt more in hope than expectation. He’d scored once in eleven games and in some previous appearances had been little more than an exhibition in the art of disinterest.

Then Fabio Borini scurried down the right wing and delivered the kind of cross his compatriot has been fantasising about. “Finally,” he tweeted at full time. Finally, indeed. It was all about Mario for the right reasons, a neat finish in front of The Kop.

Dejan Lovren’s headed winner in the fifth minute of injury-time sparked the kind of celebrations usually reserved for the glorious European nights, but in the context of where Liverpool were heading it’s doubtful Brendan Rodgers has felt more relieved.

German Recipe for Organic Success Pie: Gladbach 0-0 Bayern

Raphael Honigstein for The Guardian:

Ever since Favre took over in 2011 to save the team from the drop and lead them to a sensational fourth-placed finish the following season, the side have become the latest poster-boys for the joys of organic growth, German-style. The recipe is simple, finding the right ingredients less so. Take one tactically astute manager, add half a dozen slighty-ahead-of-the-curve signings like Sommer, Hahn, Kramer and Max Kruse, bulk up the squad just enough to deal with the odd high-profile defection (Dante, Marco Reus) and sprinkle everything with fantastic support and a strong sense of togetherness. Voilà.

Tottenham’s Culture

Speaking of Neville and Carragher, here’s yet another clip with a great point on preparation. Watching them analyse the matches gives us some wonderful insight on what the good managers must do; in addition to coaching their own team, preparing your team for the opponent.

On the material itself, Neville destroys Tottenham’s focus and culture.

Via Balls.

Carragher and Neville Masterpiece

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville are outstanding TV analysts. This clip, where they analyse the Manchester United vs Chelsea game, has it all: Intelligent tactical analysis, a dissection of a set-piece, and a note on the mental aspect of the game. They really are a fantastic pairing and a gift to us football nerds.

Via Back Page Football.

Silva Still Underrated

Ryan Keaney for Goal:

David Silva was a highlight for Manchester City as they stuttered to defeat against an ever-improving West Ham United.

In the second half, the Spaniard was able to operate in a free role and he started to pull the strings of the game for City even before they had fallen two goals behind the Hammers.

He then produced an individual moment of brilliance to give City a fighting chance of getting something from the game. All five of Silva’s Premier League goals in 2014 have come away from the Etihad Stadium.

In fact, he has scored two goals and assisted two more in three Premier League appearances at Upton Park against West Ham.

The best playmaker in the Premier League.

How to Stop Chelsea

Michael Cox for The Guardian:

Fàbregas’ performance was his quietest in a Chelsea shirt as he struggled to find space in advanced positions, but it was particularly interesting United paid such close attention to Matic. The defensive midfielder is Chelsea’s most physically intimidating midfielder but he is also effective at starting passing moves from deep. Not only was he marked closely by a United midfielder but Robin van Persie also spent the first half positioning himself close to the Serb, denying him opportunities to receive the ball from Chelsea’s centre-backs.

Carvajal Excellent Against Barcelona

Edward Stratmann for Licence to Roam:

The way he aggressively closed down and tightly marked him was pivotal in limiting the former Santos attacker’s influence. The physical full back always let Neymar know he was there too, putting in him some rough challenges, as he wouldn’t relent from his assigned task.

In addition, the support he received from his teammates when marking Neymar was absolutely vital. James would cover for him when needed and track Mathieu when the Frenchman went forward so Carvajal could focus on Neymar, while Modric would often take over marking Neymar when he dropped deeper, allowing Carvajal to keep his defensive shape.

Stick a Fork in It

Andi Thomas and Alex Netherton for The Mirror:

Anyway, that’s all beside the point. (Don’t know why you brought it up, to be honest.) The point is: Van Persie took what would have been a tidy future and messed it all up. Any late result-shifting goal kills off the match reports, of course, and the pre-written light-hearted Diary entries, but in this case the whole country was set to proclaim Chelsea champions. With City losing earlier in the weekend; with Arsenal, United, Tottenham and Liverpool looking various shades of inadequate; with their nearest competition coming from Southampton and West Ham.

Poor old football writers.

Frankfurt 4-5 Stuttgart

OhMyRaul for Sportskeeda:

But, Stuttgart had no intention of going back home with no away points. With scores at 4-3, two late goals from Timo Werner and Christian Genter put Stuttgart back on the winning side again, handing them all the three points.

Crazy result.

Drogba Still Doing a Job Up Front

Martin Samuel for The Daily Mail:

The real victim here, though: Chelsea’s third-choice striker. Without Manchester United’s equaliser and Ivanovic’s red, the headlines would have belonged to Didier Drogba, as Chelsea’s match-winner. Life in the old Drog yet. Who would have thought it?

Rejoining in the summer, Drogba was considered to be on very much a sentimental journey under Mourinho. We should have known Chelsea’s manager does not do sentiment, even in mellowed middle age.

Shorn of Diego Costa with a virus and his understudy Loic Remy, injured against Maribor, Mourinho sent Drogba into the fray, kept him there for 90 minutes, and watched in quiet vindication as he all but won the match.

One mighty leap in the 52nd minute took him above Manchester United’s puny defence and should have given Chelsea a six-point lead over their rivals. What he has got to offer?

A muscular presence and eye for the main chance that may never be dulled by the years. Drogba is 36. He could be 86, and you would still fancy him to outjump Rafael from a Cesc Fabregas corner, which is what happened.

Storey’s Insights on United and Chelsea after the Match

Daniel Storey for Football 365:

On United:

It was an odd display from United, without that being intended as an insult. They played at a higher level than in any other game this season, and yet none of Van Persie, Di Maria, Juan Mata nor Adnan Januzaj were effective beyond a competent level. Instead they relied on guts and attitude, attributes rarely apparent since the departure of Alex Ferguson.

On Chelsea:

It felt as if there were no more questions left for Chelsea to answer. No Diego Costa? No problem. Cesc Fabregas off form? Pffft. Cesar Azpilicueta suspended? We’ll bring in a £20m replacement.

Had Chelsea held on to their lead at Old Trafford, I would have been calling them inevitable champions right about now, wondering if any other side had the ability to even make this a two-horse race for the title.

As it is, Jose Mourinho will be cursing two points thrown away in the dying embers of a match against Manchester opposition for the second time this season. That represents the only blemishes on Chelsea’s record.

Great piece.

Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea

Phil McNulty for the BBC:

Van Gaal can rightly point to this as another of the improvements he is seeking – and it will also delight United fans who appeared to have given up on those late charges throughout the misery of last season.

And despite Chelsea looking in control for the most part once they went ahead, it is to United’s credit that they never gave up pushing for that equaliser.

Chelsea are clearly the better team, but United’s display today was encouraging. Should they keep this spirit up and get their best team back from injury, they could well be worth the third or fourth Champions League spot.

Matić was outstanding and Fellaini too, strong in midfield today.

Liverpool 0-0 Hull City

Daniel Taylor for The Guardian:

Then a letter arrived for him at Rutland Prison and it was Keane reminiscing about the good times and what good friends they had been. Keane told him he wanted to help and “but for the grace of God, what’s happened to you could have been me” and he was true to his word. When Charles was released, he moved in with the Keane family. Keane took him to training at Sunderland and let him take a few drills himself. Charles is now signed up for his coaching badges and working as a part-time scout. Keane’s part in that rehabilitation would probably be unreported were it not for the former BBC journalist Simon Austin, a friend of Charles, writing a blog about it, on the simple basis he “thought it was a story worth telling”.

Completely unrelated to the game, but the piece was so good, and this story, that it became the quote.

Anyway, Liverpool are missing their spark from last season, Luis Suárez, as well as their high-press. They certainly had chances to finish the game as winner, including a last second chance fluffed by Balotelli, but Hull City defended well. They are in a fierce battle for fourth against Manchester United and can’t afford to lose points at home like this. They need to find their form fast.

West Ham 2-1 Manchester City

Matt Stanger for Football 365:

Six games into his spell, Mangala has arguably been at fault for four goals – including West Ham’s first on Saturday as he was shrugged off far too easily by Enner Valencia. The 23-year-old regained his composure in the second half, but the damage was done in an opening period pockmarked by alarming errors, both positionally and in challenging for possession.

He was indeed vulnerable at the back, but he is young and looks to have all the talent in the world to succeed. It’s more mental than anything, given his talents and, if he puts in the work, he will succeed in the league. Whether he will find form before City’s title chances are over for this season is another matter.

Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona

Nick Dorrington for Bleacher Report:

But before Madrid established their lead and turned on the style, it was Carvajal and Marcelo who were among their strongest performers in an excellent team display. They provided the platform for Madrid’s eventual success.

I would add Pepe and Ramos to that list. The whole of Madrid’s defence was excellent today. In fact, the whole team played well, an indication that Carlo Ancelotti set up the team correctly. A great game until Barcelona gave up with about 15 minutes to play.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 9

My weekly preview articles on the Fantasy Premier League over at All Things FPL, Friday Foreplay and Team News, have been published:

Graziano Pellè is this season’s Little Engine That Could as the little known Italian continues to score for club and country. A part of the official ATFPL team, Pellè five goals in three appearances at home bodes well for the game against Stoke as he continues to put up fine underlying numbers. In the last four Gameweek’s he’s notched up 19 goal attempts, with 17 shots in the box in addition to 7 key passes. In only eight Gameweeks he’s become a fine captain pick.

Check them out:

El Clásico Preview

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

The world’s most expensive player will not be there when Real Madrid and Barcelona emerge from the tunnel at the Santiago Bernabéu just before five o’clock on Saturday evening, but the world’s best will. So will the world’s second best, whichever way round you prefer to place them. The winner of the Ballon d’Or will be there, and the winner of last year’s Ballon d’Or. The winner of the European Golden Shoe winner will be there too – both winners of the European Golden Shoe. Plus the winner of the World Cup Golden Ball. And the World Cup Golden Boot.

The players at the Spanish giants are incredible. Apart from Bayern Munich, there is a huge gap between the giants in Spain and all other teams.

The State of Manchester United at Ferguson’s Departure

Rob Hughes for The New York Times:

However, Ferguson left his post rather abruptly after winning the Premier League with a team that, he surely knew, was in dire need of rebuilding. The defense was old, apart from the young Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. The leaders of Ferguson’s last line — Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra — have moved on to new clubs.

Ferguson’s own chosen replacement, David Moyes, lasted less than a year into his six-year contract, during which he made only two notable signings. Neither were defenders. He brought in Marouane Fellaini, a tall, ungainly Belgian midfielder, and the Spanish playmaker Juan Mata.

It’s a fine piece but these two arguments; that United’s team was broken and that Ferguson chose Moyes on his own; get trotted out time and time again without writers feeling much need to explain their reasoning.

Firstly, this “broken” team won the Premier League the year before with quite a margin. Sure, they probably overachieved and yes, they were in need of midfield and defensive players. But most teams are in need of some type of reinforcement during the transfer window and Ferguson would have expected Moyes and the management team to get in competent players. The fact they did not is not an indictment of Ferguson, but rather of Moyes or more likely the management at United.

Secondly, despite all of Ferguson’s influence I have a hard time believing that an empire such as United would allow Ferguson to pick his successor without some kind of consensus. Even player recruitment under Ferguson was cooperative work so surely the more important task of finding Ferguson’s replacement must have been the combined effort of a few select individuals.

Football Aging Curve

Jörg Seidel for Goalimpact:

Abstract: We found a strong Relative Age Effect in youth football. Yet many of the players that benefited from their relative age seem to fail to move to senior football because they lack their advantage among grown-ups. Football club could increase the efficiency of their youth programs substantially, by selecting player according to their talent rather than relative age. The minimum Goalimpact a player needs to achieve to have a realistic chance to become professional football player is 80. Yet older players often stay in business slightly below that age to.

Fascinating analysis, if somewhat obscure for most.

Anderlecht 1-2 Arsenal

James McNicholas for Bleacher Report:

What’s perhaps even more concerning is the way Arsenal struggled to create anything in attack. There’s no flow or zip to Arsenal’s play at present. Wenger’s team have all but lost their identity as great entertainers. Against Anderlecht, the out-of-sorts Aaron Ramsey was seen resorting to long balls into empty spaces. If Alexis Sanchez was a little guilty of trying to do it all on his own, you can hardly blame him.

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Hurricane Golazo blew into Anfield last night, Real Madrid sweeping aside Liverpool with a stunning display of attacking football. Cristiano Ronaldo struck a beautiful first, Karim Benzema added two more before the break, leaving Liverpool praying for another Istanbul against a Carlo Ancelotti team.

The miracle never came and, by the end, the Kop was applauding the magical men from Spain. Real were a class apart, almost a world apart at times.

Roma 1-7 Bayern Munich

Scott Saunders for FTB Pro:

The German champions cruised out of the Stadio Olimpico with a 7-1 win – after they hit five goals before the break – leaving the home team completely shell-shocked by the 36th minute.

Bayern have maintained their perfect record in the group and sit on nine points after three games. They will qualify from the group if they can win again in the reverse fixture which follows Tuesday’s clash.

Remarkable result.

CSKA 2-2 Manchester City

Nayir Chowdhury for Bitter & Blue:

The lead was doubled 9 minutes later when a pass over the top of the defense from Yaya Toure found Pablo Zabaleta, who headed back to Aguero. One well hit ball across the keeper found James Milner sliding in at the back post to make it 0-2 City. From there, City closed out the rest of the first half relatively comfortably as CSKA didn’t find any way to create a good chance in the remaining minutes. 0-2 City at the half.

The second half was another story, as City looked sluggish and complacent as the game progressed. Ambitious attempts from outside the 18 turned into better chances inside the box, and CSKA found their way back into the game. A through ball into the box behind a napping Mangala found Ahmed Musa, who slid a pass across to Doumbia to tap in to make it 1-2.

Barcelona 3-1 Ajax

Peter Mcvitie for Benefoot:

Ajax were completely outclassed in every way. The midfield was so easily cut through by the Spanish giants that it occasionally looked like it was in aide of Barca, rather than looking to hindering them. For the home side’s second goal of the game, Niki Zimling simply passed the ball to the nearest player in blue and red and stood still in resignation and despair. However, in that time, it had been moved on to Iniesta, who Zimling should have been marking, and the World Cup winner was able to take it on, pick out a pass to Messi, who Viergever had neglected, and the Argentine fired it in. From the first minute, they easily carved them open in the middle of the park.