“Putting Their Lives on the Line”

Adam Jones for talkSPORT, quoting Ben Foster:

Foster, who has overseen four top flight shut-outs in a row, was quick to pinpoint the team’s rearguard action as the defining factor in their upturn in fortunes.

“It’s always a tough game against Southampton no matter what and at times it wasn’t enjoyable and you have to dig in,” said Foster.

“That’s four clean sheets on the bounce now and its lovely to know you have the players in front of you who are putting their lives on the line.”

West Brom 1-0 Southampton

Aiden Cusick for 90Min:

It took until the 75th minute for Southampton to muster a shot on target through Morgan Schneiderlin, as they failed to score for the fourth time in five matches.

Tony Pulis really is a defensive master, but that is shocking from Southampton.

“Measured to Perfection”

Mikey Traynor for Balls:

Everton are comfortably in front against Young Boys in their Europa League tie at Goodison Park, and it’s largely thanks to this Darron Gibson assist.

“Largely” is a bit generous, given the tie ended 7-2 on aggregate, but it’s all about the pass. What a beauty.

Everton 3-1 Young Boys

Lyndon Lloyd for ToffeeWeb:

Everton are into the last 16 of the Europa League as the last British representatives after easing past Young Boys thanks to two goals by Romelu Lukaku and one from Kevin Mirallas.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 27

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

Ángel Di María is a strange Fantasy beast as his points keep rolling in despite underwhelming performances, both from the Manchester United team and himself. He had three double-digit Gameweeks in the first five games but has neither registered another one nor scored since Gameweek 7. Stoosher is not impressed, as covered in What We Learned, but Di María still has eight assists, second only behind Cesc Fàbregas, and is seventh overall in points per game (5.11) for midfielders. His case is perhaps tied with United fortunes, as if you believe Louis van Gaal can get more out of this United team, Di María is likely to part of that solution.

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

Sometimes It’s the Players’ Fault

Sarah Winterburn, for Football 365, arguing that City’s terrible first half performance against Barcelona was more the fault of the players than the manager:

It was not a consequence of the formation that Gael Clichy found himself in space and then delivered a perfect cross for the man in row G. Or that the rapidly unravelling Vincent Kompany could not resist the urge to chase the ball into midfield rather than track Luis Suarez. Or that City won the ball only five times in 19 attempted tackles during a first half when they appeared mesmerised and overawed. Or that Sergio Aguero made a mockery of pre-match claims that his talents match those of Suarez and Neymar with 45 minutes of anonymity punctuated by frustration.

Leverkusen’s Gegenpressen and Atlético’s Setup

Tom Payne for Spielverlagerung.com:

Atletico lined up in a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 formation which was one of the main surprises in the build-up. Although the 4-5-1 is common to Simeone’s side, it is certainly their secondary formation to the 4-4-2(-0) and is often used for in-game changes and not as the starting shape.

I think the reasoning for this was almost entirely in reaction to their unique opposition.

Theoretically, a 4-5-1 would support their central control in possession against Bayer’s pressing. When they change to a 4-5-1, the extra midfielder allows for greater combination play to break through the centre of the pitch, especially when the wide players are inside the half-spaces.

In addition, it decreased Bayer’s ability to utilise counterpressing as an attacking tool. Although this has been less so in comparison to Schmidt’s Salzburg, situationally they can use vertical passes to densely populated areas of the pitch when the possibility of success isn’t great, but hope to at the least regain possession immediately through counterpressing. This will leave the opposition temporarily disorganised as they react to regaining possession, allowing for more incisive attacks.

There’s much more in the piece. Great read if you are interested in tactics.

Juventus Go Direct

Will Stratmann with a fine analysis of the Juventus vs. Dortmund game for Licence to Roam:

Yet while Dortmund struggled from their possession play, Juventus were very efficient when playing directly from the back. Their first goal, for instance, came after Bonucci half-directed his clearance into the path of Alvaro Morata, who then quickly played a 1-2 with Carlos Tevez, his strike partner. And with Dortmund’s right-back, Lukasz Piszczek, contributing to attack and thus caught upfield, the Spaniard was able to run along the left and shoot from a tight angle, with Roman Weidenfeller’s subsequent spillage allowing Tevez to tap-in during the 13th minute.

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

Goal.com:

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.