“There’s Nothing to Bloody Do in Europe!”

James Young for Soccer Gods:

Removed from friends and family at a young age and placed in an often alien landscapes, it is little wonder players have often found it hard to settle, particularly given that, historically, clubs did not always do all that they could for their new arrivals. The BBC’s South American soccer correspondent Tim Vickery has often recounted the experiences of the likes of Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel at Aston Villa and Argentina’s Hernan Crespo at Chelsea, early pioneers of the foreign legion that would soon take over English soccer. In those days, with a distinct lack of club liaison staff to help with the process of adaptation, the players’ greatest challenge was often not performing on the field, but working out how to call a mechanic or buy a washing machine.

It’s a fantastic piece. I was happy to see him quote the amazing Tim Vickery who has often spoken of the same issues in 5 live’s World Football Phone-in.

Figo a Candidate for FIFA Presidency

Chris Hearn for Outside90:

Luis Figo’s announcement that he too will run in the FIFA presidential elections in May might sound like an idealistic pipe dream to some, but for too long have those in privileged positions remained neutral while football’s core has been dealt blow after countless blow.

At least we have people coming forward, providing another option, despite the inevitability of Blatter’s re-election.

Friday Foreplay — Gameweek 23

My regular Fantasy Premier League (FPL) preview article has been published over at All Things FPL (ATFPL):

That’s where Giroud becomes a viable choice. He’s clearly Wenger’s striker of choice and offers a relatively cheap entry into an Arsenal team firing on all cylinders. Amazingly, he played his first full game last Gameweek in a season that has been riddled with injuries (and a red card). However, he has scored an impressive six goals in 620 minutes, a little under a goal per game. He’s a solid pick this Gameweek.

Check it out. There’s also loads more good FPL stuff at ATFPL.

Ivory Coast through to the Quarter-Finals

Jonathan Wilson for The Guardian:

Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, a team who had beaten them 4-1 in qualifying, was classic Hervé Renard. Perhaps there was a thought that he had his Zambia side play as they did because they were Zambia, defending deep and looking to win games by a single goal, but he has transplanted the mentality to Ivory Coast and – so far – it is working. “I know you want to see a team that is always attacking but there are few national teams like that,” he said. “Germany are always going forwards but we are not Germany; we are Ivory Coast.”

The Master of the Dark Arts

Mike L. Goodman and Ryan O’Hanlon for Grantland:

The arts Costa practices may be dark, but there’s not a doubt in the world that he’s a master of them.

Sheffield United 2-2 Tottenham

Henry Winter, reporting for The Telegraph at Bramall Lane:

Spurs are on their way to Wembley but they almost got held up in a snow drift and an ambush by a teenager. The blizzard drifting into Bramall Lane was followed by lightning striking twice in the form of 18-year-old Che Adams, who scored two quick goals and Spurs survived only because of the brilliance of Christian Eriksen and the new resilience instilled by Mauricio Pochettino.

Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool

Martin Samuel for Mail Online:

Chelsea were first to the punch. As they had been at Anfield, as they were once again. At no time in 210 minutes of cup football did Liverpool lead this tie. They had done enough to win, they had the chances, they played some lovely stuff — but Chelsea found a way and Liverpool did not. So that Ivanovic goal, as meaningless as it must have seemed to the neutrals, will have really hurt them.

It was a fantastic game, and one Liverpool could very well have won. They sorely missed a lethal presence up front—Sterling was dangerous but made bad choices in front of goal.

There were thrills, there were spills — Cesc Fabregas off injured after 50 minutes, having collided in a tackle with his captain, John Terry — and there were bellyaches, mostly around Diego Costa, who was twice accused of stamping on the foot on an opponent and later booked after a scuffle with Gerrard. The first offence looked more nefariously motivated than his second, on Martin Skrtel after half-time, but there may be repercussions if referee Michael Oliver says he did not see the initial incident with Emre Can and the FA get involved.

The first stamp was a clear red but the second one wasn’t as clear. I would wager Costa meant it based on his behaviour throughout the game. He was either ill-tempered coming into the game or was trying to get under the skin of the Liverpool players. Either way, he played a dirty game and should be retroactively punished by the FA.

Ghana and Algeria through to the Quarter-Finals of the AFCON

Tom Sunderland for Bleacher Report:

The Black Stars came from a goal down to score two of their own in the final 17 minutes of their clash against Bafana Bafana and win the group, while Algeria’s 2-0 victory over Senegal sees them take second place

Juan Riquelme Retires

A brilliant piece by Marcela Mora y Araujo for The Guardian:

Players such as Riquelme embody the reason I love football. Romantic notions of the role of the No10 in Argentinian football say this is the position where the thinking takes place: the player who pauses. His critics often dwell on the fact that he did not run much (César Luis Menotti: “Since when do you need to run to play football?”) and in Argentina many of his opponents have labelled him pecho frío, literally cold-chested, apparently a phrase born among the gauchos to refer to a horse unwilling to pull a heavy cart and much used in football to describe players who go missing or fail to give the impression of making much of an effort.

Read it or mark for later reading. Do not miss.

South Korea 2-0 Iraq

Sebastian Hassett for The Sydney Morning Herald:

South Korea, unbeaten in this tournament, and having yet to concede a goal, will be a mighty combatant. Australia shouldn’t need any reminding. They lost to the Taeguk Warriors 1-0 in Brisbane.

Of course, the UAE could spring a huge surprise on the Hunter, but even then, the Koreans’ case for success is strengthened. They’ve been the most disciplined and structured side at this tournament, perfectly complementing their fabulous individual talent, headed by captain Ki Sung-yueng and the wonderboy himself, Son Heung-min.

I dare say it’s the dream final. The home team against the best team of the tournament so far. The South Koreans would be favourites, but Australia have have home advantage. Will be interesting.

Australia 2-0 UAE

James Maasdorp for ABC Australia:

Goals came from unlikely sources in Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson as the Socceroos did what was required in front of 21,079 fans to set up a showpiece final against South Korea.

Tunisia and DR Congo Reach AFCON Quarter-Finals

CNN:

Players from Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo embraced each other in celebration as both sides played out a 1-1 draw to book their passage into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

In a tense finale to Group B, all four teams still had the chance to qualify for the last eight until the final whistle went in a goalless draw between Cape Verde and Zambia in torrid conditions.

Chelsea 2-4 Bradford

Michael Calvin for The Independent:

Kurt Zouma was made to look lightweight by Jon Stead and James Hanson, while John Obi Mikel’s weakness as a defensive shield was more marked than ever. Loïc Rémy was utterly anonymous, a poor foil to Didier Drogba who, at 36, is no longer protected by the force field of his reputation. “The good thing about playing consecutive matches without many days in between is that when you lose you have to focus immediately on the next game,” Mourinho said. “There’s not a lot of time to be moaning or analysing the bad one, so let’s move on.

Manchester City 0-2 Middlesbrough

Danny Pugsley for Metro:

And for all the prioritisation and juggling of competitions is the biggest frustration. Whilst one or two fringe players came into the side this was no weakened side. City were even largely in control over the first 45 minutes yet fell away after the break and Middlesbrough were deserving of their win.

There may be no long term ramifications of the defeat (although a third successive defeat should it occur at Stamford Bridge would see a sharpening of the knives) in terms of their hopes for the remainder of the season but this defeat, in isolation, has dashed hopes of success in one of the four competitions they contest.

Manchester United’s Need for Defenders in the 3-4-1-2 Formation

Will Stratmann at Licence to Roam:

Equally imperative, it seems, is the need to bolster the club’s stocks at centre back. Following the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand – two players arguably not suited to van Gaal’s style anyway – United are desperately short of numbers in this position, especially if they plan to persist with the use of a back three. So dire is the situation, in fact, that van Gaal was forced to play Darren Fletcher at centre back in a recent friendly against the LA Galaxy.

Old, but quite interesting in how Van Gaal’s team is currently playing.

Real Madrid Sign Lucas Silva from Cruzeiro

Suromitro Basu for Sportskeeda:

Real Madrid have confirmed the signing of Lucas Silva from Cruzeiro Esporte Clube in Brazil. The 21-year old leaves the club, after signing a five and a half year deal with the Los Blancos.

Silva will be presented to the Bernebeu faithful on Monday, after undergoing a medical at the club. The transfer fee is said to be in the range of € 14 million, which will be split between multiple third party owners.

Cambridge United 0-0 Manchester United

Michael Cox for The Guardian:

Louis van Gaal started with a midfield diamond, despite saying that system often made the coaching team “twitch our ass on the bench” earlier in the week. Manchester United’s build-up play was dreadfully slow: Cambridge allowed their centre-backs time on the ball, and some of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo’s forward passing was remarkably wayward.

It was a rather dire affair, but that is exactly what Cambridge wanted. They were excellent in defence. Organised, hard-working, and intelligent in their movement, they denied Manchester any space in the final third until they became tired in the last 20-30 minutes of the match.

Whatever happens at Old Trafford in the repeat match, Cambridge can be proud of their work on Friday.

A Part of the New Tottenham Spine

James Yorke with excellent analysis of both Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen at Statsbomb:

This makes him [Eriksen] a fixture in the top 20 in the league in this metric, Tottenham’s chief contributor and one of the higher rated creative types. In fact, he’s managing to maintain his rate despite the fact that Tottenham are recording an average of 2 shots fewer per game this season compared to last. His influence is increasing and he deserves to be mentioned in a similar breath to other feted creators such as Silva, Di Maria, Fabregas, Nasri, Hazard and Ozil.

Kane also comes out highly rated in he piece. It looks like Tottenham have found at least two players to from a new spine under Pochettino.

Asian Cup Semi-Finalists

Richard Farley reporting for Soccergods:

The upset becomes even more remarkable when you consider how it happened. This wasn’t the case of an upset UAE redefining perceptions of the underdog. Instead, Japan outshot the Emiratis 35 to 3. It put eight shots on target to the UAE’s two. Twenty of Japan’s shots came from inside the box, and Japan had 68.1 percent of the game’s possession. Yet thanks to a ninth minute goal from Ali Mabkhout (his fourth of the tournament), UAE held the lead for 72 minutes in regulation, with only a late goal from young Japanese midfielder Gaku Shibasaki allowing the heavy favorites to survive into extra time.

UAE, Iraq, South Korea, and Australia are through to the semifinals. Australia v Japan would likely have been a better game, but what a result for UAE.

Tim Cahill’s Stunning Bicycle Kick

Goal:

Tim Cahill proved his value to Australia once again with a spectacular opening goal as the Socceroos eased past China 2-0 in Brisbane.

Stunning.

AFCON Update from Bleacher Report

Tom Sunderland:

After all four teams took an equal share of the spoils in their first outings, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations’ Group B bastions were separated on Thursday thanks to Tunisia’s win over 2012 champions Zambia.

Day 6 of the tournament brought about last-gasp drama as Georges Leekens’ side left it late to seal their first three-point haul of the tournament, with Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo primed to clash later on.

Premier League Projections

Jimmy Coverdale regularly published an interesting update to the STATS Premier League projection tool over at BSports Stats Insights:

The projections detail the probabilities of each club winning the title, qualifying for the Champions League and drop down to the Championship. There are events that will occur during the campaign that will have an influence on the performances of team, so the STATS projections will therefore be updated throughout the season. Injuries will play their roles, as will luck and transfers prior to the end of the January transfer window, and that’s not forgetting the strength of the remaining schedule.

Jay Beatty’s Delightful Serenation

Richard Farley for Soccer Gods:

Here’s the best thing you’ll see today: A young boy seeing a dream true. That the dream was made possible by a club helping a rival fan with Down’s syndrome is remarkable in its own right, yet that background seems almost secondary to the pure elation of Jay Beatty.

What was the last time you saw somebody this happy?

Indeed. Just lovely. Wish we could see more of this attitude in football.

Barcelona 1-0 Atlético Madrid

Michael Cummings for Bleacher Report:

Following a scoreless first half, Atletico seemed set to hold on for a creditable draw at the Nou Camp. But with seven minutes remaining, Sergio Busquets won a penalty that led to Barca’s winner. Messi missed the spot-kick but slotted in the rebound in the 85th minute to give Barca a slim advantage heading into the second leg.

Tottenham 1-0 Sheffield United

Barney Ronay for The Guardian:

On a cold, often fretful night Tottenham drew just enough incision from a room-temperature attacking performance to take a lead into the second leg of this Capital One Cup semi-final. It was a cup tie best described as rugged, as for long periods a well-drilled and energetic Sheffield United midfield pressed and harried and denied Spurs any space to create chances for an attack led, to little effect, by Emmanuel Adebayor.

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Adrian Houghton for Outside90:

62% possession against Chelsea is nothing to be chuckled at, despite Jose Mourinho’s typically negative tactics away from home against a big team. The Reds never allowed Chelsea to find their feet throughout the 90 minutes, always in their face, making wholehearted challenges and desperately trying to win the ball back at will. It was a blueprint on how to beat Chelsea; energy, tenacity, aggression and intricate passing.

On the other hand, it was an indication that Liverpool are on a steady path to becoming a formidable outfit. The success and longevity of a team is built through a blend of youth and experience, and in Liverpool’s ranks they certainly have a great degree of promising youngsters to compliment seasoned veterans.