Vialli on Wenger’s Tactics

Aaron Flanagan for The Mirror:

Vialli on Sky Italia describes Arsenal’s performance as “tactical suicide”

Sums it up nicely.

Arsenal 1-3 Monaco

Sam Wallace for The Independent:

Approaching his 19th anniversary at the club, Wenger does talk as if this team had just been handed to him to manage in the last few weeks. But he knows their flaws as well as anyone else and he seems unable to change them. One of Arsenal’s key deficiencies was the finishing of Olivier Giroud who snatched wastefully at his chances while the veteran Berbatov tucked his away with the stately calm of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.

It’s so strange seeing Wenger’s team make the same mistakes again and again. Given that, he can’t blame the players. Surely it’s an institutional thing by now.

Leverkusen 1-0 Atlético Madrid

Hakan Calhanoglu’s second half stunner rocked 10-man Atletico Madrid and gave Bayer Leverkusen a 1-0 first leg lead in the last-16 of the Champions League.

The Turkey international’s wonderful strike proved enough to separate the sides at the BayArena, with Karim Bellarabi instrumental in the build-up.

City’s Tactics All Wrong

Martin Keown for The Daily Mail:

Manuel Pellegrini wants his teams to play with two strikers.

That’s his philosophy but it left Man City exposed, especially in the first half.

They only played one striker in this fixture last year, so he clearly wanted to go on the offensive. But David Silva and Samir Nasri are not designed to chase and press teams.

They needed one striker sitting deep but with two further forward and the City midfield chasing shadows, Barcelona could dominate.

A bit simplistic, but true nonetheless.

Juventus 2-1 Dortmund

Gerard Brand for Sky Sports:

Carlos Tevez put the Italian side ahead early on before a defensive mix-up gifted Dortmund an away goal through Marco Reus in the 18th minute.

Alvaro Morata scored against the run of play two minutes before half-time to regain Juve’s lead, but despite having the better of the chances in the second period, the hosts could only take a one-goal lead to Germany.

Manchester City 1-2 Barcelona

Daniel Taylor for The Guardian:

Perhaps the most dispiriting part for Manchester City came from that unmistakable feeling that, if anything, the gulf has widened. They have suffered plenty of times in this competition but has there ever been a time when the imbalance of talent has felt so extreme and they have been so grateful to be spared an even more harrowing ordeal?

Ouch but true. Barcelona were that good. During the first half it looked like Barcelona could score at will and were just toying with City. That the game only ended 1-2 is a massive let off for Pellegrini’s men. City’s manager will have to come up with a different tactical plan for the second leg in Spain.

Coutinho’s Strike

Saransh Gehlot for Sportskeeda:

Southampton 0-1 Liverpool: Philippe Coutinho (3’)

Liverpool took the lead as early as the 3rd minute when Philippe Coutinho got the ball. He pushed it to one side to make way for a shot and let fly a piledriver that went in off the crossbar to stun the home crowd.

A belter.

Barcelona 0-1 Malaga

Jake Meador for Just Football:

Diego Simeone has shown Europe how to beat Spain’s two giants. The model is relatively simple, though executing it is not:

  • Sit deep and stay compact so as to eliminate space for high skill players in attacking central areas and force the attack wide.
  • Move as a unit left or right to follow the ball and limit the opponent’s time and space on the ball.
  • Use quick, powerful players in advanced attacking roles that can lead quick bursting counter attacks when given opportunity.

Malaga did each of those things spectacularly well on Saturday. Defenders Weligton and Marcos Angeleri as well as goalkeeper Carlos Kameni deserve a great deal of credit for their role in the Islander defense. Obviously such an approach won’t make for exciting, attacking football but it does put a team in a position to compete with richer, more talented opponents. It also sets them up to benefit when the opponent makes a mistake, as the Catalans did several times today.

It’s not a new formula; it’s the basic formula for sitting deep and catching teams on the counter. The brilliance of Atlético Madrid has more to do with nuances in the tactic and the constantly brilliant execution.

Southampton 0-2 Liverpool

Greg Stobart for Goal:

The Liverpool manager claimed in his post-match interviews that referee Kevin Friend was “excellent” and “all of his decisions were correct” – but Rodgers has clearly been taking lessons from his former mentor Jose Mourinho in the art of media distraction.

Got lucky today, but they seem to be perfecting the art of winning, no matter how bad they play. It’s a valuable skill.

Underrated Manager, Allardyce Is

Keith Satuku for Off the Post:

West Ham also adopted a high pressing game to deny Spurs the space to play out from the back. Diafra Sakho led the pressing by occupying the hosts’ central defenders. In central midfield, Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate pressed as advanced central midfielders, while Song worked just in front of the defenders where he policed the space in between the lines.

Channeling my inner Yoda it seems.

Tottenham 2-0 West Ham

Matt Law for The Telegraph:

On the penalty decision, the West Ham manager said: “Alex has to keep his hands off him because he’s going to feel that contact and take to the floor. He’s got to.

Great comeback for Spurs but come on. It was a dive. No need to beat around the bush. He dove despite being a local hero. That’s what people do. Get over it.

The Battle for Third and Fourth

Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

There’s nothing confusing about how Manchester United play. They keep the ball to keep their opponent from scoring, and then after an hour, if need be, they start to open the game up.

What’s a mystery is how that philosophy has earned this side so many points. They’ve taken only the 10th-most shots in the league, managed only the sixth-most shots on target, and yet have the fourth-most goals. They’ve conceded the fifth-fewest shots and only the ninth-fewest shots on target, and yet they’ve let in the third-fewest goals. They’ve conceded almost nine fewer goals than projected by expected goals, the second-highest discrepancy in the league, and scored 7.55 higher than expected, which is also second. Chalk it up to Louis van Gaal’s magic, David de Gea in goal, or Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in attack, but whatever the explanation, this is not the kind of thing that teams, historically, can sustain. With so little cushion between United and the below-fourth abyss, doing what they’ve done won’t be enough to hold off the likes of Southampton and Arsenal.

Another fantastic piece by Goodman. The man is a genius.

Chelsea 1-1 Burnley

John Brewin for ESPN FC:

This might have been a good week for Chelsea but trauma has instead followed Tuesday’s creditable 1-1 draw in Paris. When Ben Mee nodded in Burnley’s equaliser to cancel out Branislav Ivanovic’s opener, it compounded their pain. The chance to go 10 points clear of Manchester City had been lost, and at a considerable cost beyond merely dropping two points.

It looks like someone else wrote the headlines for Brewin’s piece. For the section “Cuadrado fails to deliver”, this is the final paragraph:

And there were also signs that he is not afraid to make incursions infield to get on the end of the passing of Cesc Fabregas or Costa’s flick. His pace, again more electric than that of Willian, makes him a useful out-ball. Just after the hour, the Colombian left the field to applause as Willian resumed his usual position. He now has a highly credible competitor for his position.

A positive display and a creditable competitor for Willian and the conclusion is that he fails to deliver? Can’t believe Brewin wrote that.

Manchester City 5-0 Newcastle United

Rob Pollard for Bleacher Report:

Manchester City warmed up for their Champions League last-16 match with Barcelona on Tuesday with a thumping 5-0 win over Newcastle United, with David Silva scoring two goals and producing a wonderful all-round display. The Spanish midfielder now has nine league goals this season—the best haul of his career to date.

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-0 Bayern Munich

Richard Farley on the controlling nature of Bayern’s setup under Pep Guardiola, as witnessed in the away draw at Donetsk:

Those looking for value for their entertainment dollar weren’t impressed, even though they were likely watching in bars, on illegal internet streams, or by some other method that made their expenditure minimal. But given what Bayern showed, people should consider some begruding respect. For years we’ve been watching Barcelona aspire to this kind of control, and while the Blaugrana has often come close, there’s always been an element of vulnerability to the way it plays. At times that same vulnerability is there with Bayern, as we saw when it was recently dismantled by Wolfsburg. Yet with every month Guaridola’s on the job, every moment that players further master the system, Bayern gets closer. And more and more, from this weekend’s 8-0 to today’s performance in Lviv, München threatens to make performances like today’s its standard, both in Germany and abroad. While that standard didn’t translate to an overwhelming number of chances (only one shot on target), it did produce overwhelming control.

Work on Your Own Strengths

Gerry Wittmann:

Instead, it would wiser for the Bundesliga to work to its strengths. The league is very financially healthy, with revenues having grown by one billion euros within seven years, bolstered by the Bundesliga’s outstanding ability to attract corporate and commercial sponsorships. The emphasis on cost reductions, too, bolsters the league’s bottom line — for example, the Bundesliga clubs’ average cost for players in down to 36% relative to revenues, a gigantic plus for the Bundesliga as compared to the European average of player costs being 65% of revenues.

Reasonable piece on a likely overreaction by some connected to the Bundesliga.

Bundesliga Looking at Schedule Changes

Christ Winterburn for World Soccer Talk:

The current Bundesliga deal is rumored to be around four times smaller than the deal just signed to broadcast the Premier League — with the shocking statistic that the last placed Premier League team is set to earn a higher amount of domestic television revenue than Bayern Munich, German’s behemoth club.

Schalke 0-2 Real Madrid

Alan Duffy for Who Ate All the Pies:

Real Madrid produced a composed and dominant display away to Schalke in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday night, with their 2-0 victory putting them well in the driving seat ahead of the return leg at the Bernabeu.

Cristiano Ronaldo headed home the open for the Spaniards but it was this beauty from full-back Marcelo which was the highlight of the game. And on his weaker foot too!

Sweet rocket of a shot. Thunderbastard perhaps?

“Sepp Blatter Is Never Going to Lose a FIFA Presidential Election”

More from Grantland, now serious piece on the FIFA presidential race by Brian Phillips:

Blatter is loathed by soccer fans. Within the spectacularly venal and untrustworthy community of global football administrators, he’s considered especially slippery; ethically, he’s an orc at a goblin fight. He’s the public face of an organization that has spent the last several years air-running Wile E. Coyote–style over the 1,000-yard drop of a massive corruption scandal. None of this makes the slightest difference to his hold on power, because Blatter has spent his entire career transforming FIFA, at the structural level, into a giant machine for reelecting him — I mean him personally, Sepp Blatter.

The NBA Vines

Great piece over at Grantland. If you don’t care just do me a favour and check out Lance Stephensons’s cramp run. It’s chuckle worthy.

Bayer Leverkusen 4:5 Wolfsburg

Die Werkself had more problems in the defensive transition due t0 their use of limited fullbacks. This may seem stupid as surely not having your fullbacks high up the pitch would mean that you are more defensive solidly, especially being less vulnerable in transition. However, the fullbacks staying back meant that Bayer’s double pivot had to play high up the pitch to give them good attacking numbers. This meant that there was always a huge space centrally in front of the Leverkusen defence when Wolfsburg were breaking so their counterattack couldn’t be held up, so their defence had to retreat at pace. This is when problems are caused.

David Luiz and the Vanishing Spray

Mikey Traynor for Balls:

When PSG were awarded a free-kick outside the Chelsea area near the end of the first-half, centre-back-come-midfielder/general mad man David Luiz decided that he did not agree with the referee’s placement of the ball, and subsequent vanishing spray, so he decided that he could do a better job.

Funniest moment of the match.

Chelsea’s Defence Held Up

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

From Barcelona to Munich, Chelsea have been in these demanding defensive situations so many times that they seem to possess a default defiance setting. The personnel occasionally changes, Courtois replacing Petr Cech, but they avoid risks, concentrate hard, clear their lines, stand tall, time their tackles, cover each other’s backs and repel attacks.

In some ways this was Mourinho at his best. Chelsea were organised and resolute, despite being the worse team for most of the second half.

PSG 1-1 Chelsea

Daniel Storey for Football 365:

Instead, the midfield plaudits went to Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, amongst the most underrated players in European football. Verratti’s combative tackling is an effective façade for his excellent passing, whilst Matudi’s energy is hugely impressive. The Frenchman made more tackles than any other player on the pitch, and his wonderful left-footed cross assisted Cavani’s header.

Verratti was superb. I knew he was good, but didn’t know he was this good. If PSG play anything close to their second half performance in the second leg, they have a great chance of going through.

Block WTF

Kelly Welles for The Football Ramble blog:

Seven quid for QPR vs. Arsenal? In Block WTF?

“No, It Doesn’t Make Me Uncomfortable”

David Yaffe-Bellany for In For the Hat Trick:

For his part, Scudamore, who came under fire last year after the Sunday Mirror published sexist emails he’d sent to a lawyer friend, has made it pretty clear that he couldn’t care less about the plight of the working class. According to the Guardian, “Asked whether it made him uncomfortable to see clubs paying some players ‘half-a-million pounds a week’ while other members of staff earned below the living wage, Scudamore said: ‘No, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable.’”

What a guy.

Philippe Mexes Stars as Kenny Powers

Oli Baise for Back Page Football:

Out of the staggering 43 games he has missed through suspension in his career, about a third have been due to violent conduct. Simply put, the man loves a scrap—seemingly more than actually playing football.

And herein lies the tragic nature of Philippe Mexes. Much like how throughout Eastbound, it is implied that Kenny Powers’s return to the MLB is fuelled by his violent behaviour being marketable, rather than his on field talent, it seems that Mexes is becoming little more than a footballing shock-jock.

It’s more sad than funny in reality, but the Kenny Powers thing cracked me up.

Four Years of Football Stats and Four More

Omar Chaudhuri at 5 Added Minutes:

An optimistic prediction would be that by January 2019, half of the clubs in the top two divisions in England will be using and applying analytics in all aspects of the club, either through internal hires or external agents. More likely is that analytics will grow organically in a handful of clubs, perhaps starting in player recruitment or asset management, and slowly seeping into other areas like tactics or coaching. There are plenty of signs that this is already happening.