Thursday, May 29, 2014

Inexplicable




Ed is not amused:

o Let's not kid ourselves, the Landon Donovan omission is a disaster for the US team.  I like Jurgen Klinsmann, but there is no explanation as to why he would leave the best soccer player in US history off the team.  The explanation he gave -- that the other players at his position were just a little tiny bit better -- isn't good enough.  If it's close, you take the guy who has more world cup goals than Lionel Messi.  Donovan played great as recently as the 2013 Gold Cup, and I take him at his word that he did well in the recent tryouts.  I think it's clear, punctuated by the odd tweet by his son, that Klinsmann didn't like him.  It is impossible to arbitrate that dispute.  However, good coaches deal with players like this and get the best out of them.  See, e.g., Harry Redknapp (I cannot imagine Landon Donovan is tougher to manager than Emmanuel Adebayor).  Win or lose at the World Cup, this decision was a stinker for the team and for US soccer.

o Spurs have just hired former Southampton Coach Mauricio Pochettino.  The Argentinian guided Southampton to new heights.  That said, he had talent on that team -- Lallana, Rodriguez, Shaw, even Lambert, were all excellent players.  Southampton's style seemed to be similar to that of Pep Guardiola's.  The team pressed high on defense and possessed the ball on offense.  Similar, but not the same, as the possession wasn't as obsessive as Barcelona's.

Monday, May 26, 2014

La Decima




Scott's favorite team may have slipped up in their quest for the Premier League title, but his second favorite team secured a famous late victory in Portugal to secure their tenth European crown:

Over a decade after their last European Championship, Real Madrid finally have their Decima. The final score of 4-1 doesn't even come close to representing the game itself which made fans everywhere swivel from hope to frustration to begrudged admiration to near hopelessness to renewed hope to determination to elation to celebration. Of course, whether your Madrid is Real or Atletico, the order of those emotions change in a significant manner. At the end of the day, Atletico's yeoman efforts deserve the respect and admiration of all fans. But the quality and depth of Real outlasted them in the end.

It was clear from the start what Atletico's gameplan was - occasionally possess but more often chip long or go for the through ball, all while making sure that some amount of all-white uniform gets sullied on every tackle and challenge. I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a team so consistently ticky-tack foul on every coming together. An elbow here, a shove there, a swipe at the ankle or calf and the occasional  hip check for good measure. All so consistently borderline fouls that, despite what seemed like a light snow of white jerseys draped over the pitch, only a few of these chippy challenges were called, and correctly so. But the impact on Real's game was remarkable and effective - no rhythm to build up to clear chances. Combine this aggressive play with an Iker Casillas error (despite Brad Friedel's attempt to defend him) and an overwhelming imbalance of "wanting it more" for the first 60 minutes, and Atletico were deservedly ahead.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We Are in The Champions League -- A Liverpool Story

photo by Firegroundvia PhotoRee


Liverpool fan Scott puts his selective editing skills to work:

"We Are in The Champions League"

If only we could pick out the most important words in that title.  In the end, the game that hurt the most, that 3-3 defensive collapse to Crystal Palace, ended up being a moot point since a victory would not have been enough.  No, ultimately, it was Voldemourinho’s Chelsea who squashed Liverpool’s dreams of a first title in 24 years.  The Reds, of course, contributed to the final standings with a panicked attack against the Blues, the aforementioned collapse to Crystal Palace and the nearly fatal wobble against Newcastle on the final day.  But it was all over after the Chelsea game.

It was also nearly over in the Newcastle game after a seemingly legitimate goal by Luis Suarez was disallowed (was the ball stationary?) before the Magpies stormed ahead via a Martin Skrtl own goal.  Fortunately, Liverpool regrouped and equalized and then surged ahead on the end of two immaculate Steven Gerrard free kicks.  First Daniel Agger then Daniel Sturridge met the GPS-positioned deliveries to slot home past a helpless Tim Krul.  Then, tables fully turned, it was Newcastle that imploded with 2 red cards and a lack of discipline certainly not befitting any army, Toon or otherwise.

A win was the only way to end this season, regardless of the second place finish.  The only thing that could have made it sweeter would have been a Suarez goal to catapult his tally above that of Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Alan Shearer’s for the Premier League scoring record.  Instead, he will have to be content in the company of those extraordinary players.  Although, others have said it but I will point it out again – Suarez accomplished his feat in fewer games and without the benefit of taking penalty kicks for his team.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Goodbye Ya Ya



Parting thoughts on the BPL season from Correspondent Ed:

o I can't help but be sad for Liverpool....  I was very sad for Gerrard and their draw  at Palace actually makes it easier. What a shocking and colossal mess they made of the last few games: the title was in their hands only to slip through.....  And who really wants to see City win the league?  Yuck.  Their's a team that it's just tough to like -- they still have that mercenary feel to them.  Maybe in a  few years....

That said, Ya Ya Toure, in addition to being a perennial member of the all-name team, is truly a great player and arguably the best in the League.  He looks most of the time like he's jogging awkwardly or painfully, but rarely loses the ball in possession or on a pass, has incredible speed (as demonstrated against Aston Villa) and terrific vision.  He is very much deserving of a championship and probably more attention in a soccer world that seems to focus only on strikers.

o I remain shocked at the sad sack finish of Manchester United.  I would never have bet them to finish behind Spurs -- and Spurs came in 6th!  Even Ryan Giggs couldn't inspire them to win out.  Is it possible that this was just a team that has hit the tipping point?  Whose players just aren't what they used to be?  How did Valencia, Nani, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, etc. etc., go from top tier world beaters to utter mediocrity?  It's difficult to say, and it will be interesting to see what happens to them next year.  At least they don't have that useless Europa League to deal with.

As for Spurs, well, this season was a tremendous disappointment.  In times such as these I like to recall Harry Redknapp, the Manager that was merely a "wheeler dealer" and was tactically insufficient.  So insufficient that he was able to get Spurs into 4th place in three of his four years.  Yep, he was no AVB....

At this point Spurs best hope would be for someone to come in to square away the squad.  Duplications and busts abound; it's time to clean house and put a squad together that makes sense.  And maybe dump Soldado.

o Chelsea was not a disappointment, and the Special One proved his specialness with the best run of all the BPL teams in the Champions League, as well as a terrific finish in the BPL.  This was a team that never had a striker, and whose best players -- Cole and Lampard -- are past their prime.  Mourinho didn't do anything extra special, he just didn't make mistakes and had a team of disciplined players.  Perhaps that simple formula says it all.

So goodbye for a summer BPL.  We will miss you.  At least when the World Cup isn't on......


This is farlieonfootie for May 10. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Historic Collapse: Liverpool 3 - Crystal Palace 3

photo by tobovia PhotoRee

 
There's always a danger in writing things off too early, but Scott is ready to throw in the towel on Liverpool's magical season:
 
I can certainly understand keeping the pedal to the medal when you are 3-0 up in order to eat into a goal differential.  And I can even understand keeping that pedal firmly under foot after conceding the first goal.  But after you concede the second, the players, if not the manager, should have locked things down, seen out the game and lived to fight another day.  They simply left themselves too exposed for too long against a quality, in-form side that had completely seized the momentum.

Many will argue that the title was lost in the Chelsea bus parking lot.  While that will likely prove technically true, it really felt lost when Liverpool capitulated in record time to yield a 3 goal advantage to Tony Pulis’ surging Crystal Palace.  If I was angry after losing to Chelsea, I felt a depression verging on the clinical after Monday’s game.  It is difficult (at least for now) to appreciate a guaranteed Champions League place when a silver chalice has been ripped from your hands.

After yesterday’s 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa by City, it seems even more silly that the Reds poured forward in a futile attempt to make up a yawning gap of goal differential.  But there I was, high-fiving both kids as we mentally calculated after each of the first 3 Liverpool scores.  And man were they looking like they would score 5 or 6.  A one-touch volley pass after the third was cause for overwhelming confidence.  Then we all nodded knowingly when Brendan Rodgers brought on a like-for-like substitute of Philippe Coutinho for Raheem Sterling, rather than a more defensive Daniel Agger.  Oh, in hindsight, what I wouldn’t do for a Daniel Agger around minute 78.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One Door Closes and Another Opens: Manchester United 3 - Hull City 1 -- Game Recap and Player Ratings

photo by berevia PhotoRee
 
 
On an evening in which time was called on the Manchester United career of club captain Nemanja Vidic -- and potentially on that of player-manager Ryan Giggs, as well -- youth was served in the form of striker James Wilson, who bagged a brace in his senior level debut to lead the home side to a 3-1 victory over Hull City.  After the game the crowd said an emotional goodbye to their widely-admired captain, and witnessed manager Giggs' request for the fans to continue supporting the club during the inevitable re-building that will follow at season's end. 
 
If the game marked the end of an era, the atmosphere at Old Trafford was strangely subdued for much for the evening, as if the crowd were contemplating the many changes to come and thinking back fondly on the magical memories shared with the players on the pitch.  David De Gea made a fine save to preserve his side's slim lead before the game was truly ended by Robin Van Persie's strike -- with the assist coming from none other than late-game substitute Giggs.
 
Herewith we look back at the individual player ratings from another special night at Old Trafford:  
 
De Gea: Would've needed some No-Doze before the half, but looked as if  any effects had worn off by the time Fryatt unloaded to pull back a goal.  Showed great reflexes to save the victory with twelve minutes left and the game still in the balance. 7.5

Valencia: Serviceable, at best. 5.5

Jones: Another dim-witted challenge saw him end up on the training table. 5.0

Smalling: A couple of nice clearances and interceptions after the half. 6.5

B├╝ttner: Nearly stranded his 'keeper with a very poor header. 5.5

Carrick (c): A fairly invisible performance, if we're honest. 5.0

Fellaini: Two headers in one half, with the latter accounting for the Belgian's first assist of the campaign. Should've scored after the break but saw Wilson put in his rebound.  Performance got worse as the evening drew on. 6.0

Kagawa: Misplayed passes were a specialty of his evening. 6.5

Januzaj: Denied a clear penalty only minutes into the contest and was unafraid to run directly at defenders. Looked electric at times with his play, especially in the second half. 8.5

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Damage Control: Manchester United 0 - Sunderland 1

photo by antwerpenRvia PhotoRee



The damage done to Manchester United under its former manager showed that it will take well more than a single week to undo, as a listless home side lost to Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday, the game and United's offense moving at a torpid pace throughout the afternoon.  Offering up a performance that looked as uninspired as it felt, the only silver lining for the club is that the most recent loss -- United's 12th of the season -- mirrored Tottenham's weak performance earlier in the day, and continued to insure that the Europa League will not interfere with the team's schedule next season.  

Herewith the individual performances in a match that will be glossed over very quickly in the season review DVD

De Gea: Uncharacteristically atrocious clearances in both halves. His best defenders after the interval were the goalpost and the bar. 5.5


Jones: Featured on offense as well as defense. 6.0



Ferdinand: Looked every bit of his 35 years today. 5.5



Vidic (c): Wide with his header and should've been dismissed for his tackle on Altidore near the final whistle. 5.0



Evra: He's trying but it just ain't there for him this season. 5.5



Nani: Consistently inconsistent and much too easily moved off the ball. 5.0



Carrick: Ventured further forward but lost Larson when it mattered most.  Too many poor, slow passes and turnovers to count. 4.5



Fletcher: Did next to nothing to stop the cross that led to Sunderland's opener.  It was an inspiring comeback, but it may be time to call time on his United career. 4.5



Young: A busy first half but unable to supply much quality. Looked better on the left than on the right, but we're using "better" in a relative sense. 4.5


Friday, May 2, 2014

Pusillanimous Posse: Thoughts on Chelsea's Time Wasting Antics Against Liverpool

photo by Michel Filionvia PhotoRee
 
Scott took quite some time to write this piece, but we wouldn't dare accuse him of time wasting:
 
Many of my fellow Liverpool fans are criticizing Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea team for “parking the bus” (a term that, apparently, Mourinho invented when previously deriding other teams for such tactics) against the Reds last Sunday.  While I sympathize and found the entire game an exercise in frustration, I will not be the hypocrite that Mourinho is and complain about overly defensive tactics.  As has been pointed out by others, we have all cheered our team’s defensive posture at one point or the other.  For me, the most memorable is the 1994 World Cup game when the US, even with a man advantage, parked the bus and threw away the keys in order to stay in the game with Brazil and only lose 1-0.  And I gleefully cheered every exhilarating clearance.
 
That is not to say I wasn’t sickened by what I saw last Sunday, because I was.  But rather than bemoaning Chelsea’s overwhelmingly defensive tactics, I was downright offended by the pusillanimous posse’s cowardly, and even comical at times, time-wasting antics that began as soon as the game did.  Even the Semifinal One (I wish I had come up with that) himself got into the act when he gathered a ball off touch, pretending to help, but then kept hold to bleed extra seconds off the clock and slow down everything. 
 
Ashley Cole, in particular, should be ashamed to get a view of his ridiculous haircut in the mirror for quite some time.  He was finally carded toward the end of the game for outrageous time-wasting, but not before he had successfully tied his shoe, dropped the ball, moved the free kick, etc. and, at one point, purposely and obviously failed to catch the ball that was supplied to him by a Liverpool player.  Have some pride you loser.  I can’t wait to see what the England locker room is like next time he snaps a towel at Gerrard or Sturridge or Henderson or….
 
Of course, Cole (my son hates that he shares that name) was not the only one to purposely and shamefully waste time right from the start.  Mark Shwarzer needed a map and compass to properly place every free kick he took, before then yielding said free kick to a team mate who had to trudge through the invisible molasses that must have covered the field.  When Branislav Ivanovic stooped down to tie his already-tied boots in order to delay (again) taking a freekick, had I been a player on the field, I would have channeled my inner Suarez and bitten the Serb myself.

Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and the Champions League Semis

Ed finds that honky-tonk piano music inspires his creativity
photo by Epiclecticvia PhotoRee
 
Ed dishes on Pep, Bayern Chelsea, Atletico, and even Ricky:
 
Pep Guardiola may not have won the Champions League this year, but I think the hysteria regarding his possession based system and his being "outcoached" is comical.  Bayern won the Bundesliga in record time.  They've also made it to the final of the German Cup.  And to top it off, Bayern made the final four in the Champions League.  Pep is not exactly a Spanish David Moyes.
 
I did find something interesting -- the possession style was undone first by Atletico Madrid against Barcelona and then later by Carlo Ancelotti and his suspended left eybrow playing the part of the copycat.  Both teams used the 4-4-2, and both teams countered with aggression and purpose.
 
In the case of Madrid, Bale and Ronaldo did the damage.  And let's not kid ourselves -- these are the best left/right combination in modern football, and arguably ever.  Bale is simply built for the counter, leaving defenses with pressing outside backs extremely vulnerable on both sides of the pitch.  You simply cannot double or triple both of them, and to take your defenders out of the attack makes it difficult to have any width going forward.  I wonder where Real came up with this idea?  Oh, that's right, it was from Bayern Munich!   Playing the role of Ribery on the left is Ronaldo, and playing the role of Robben on the right is Bale.
 
So what did happen to Bayern?  I think the answer is simple -- Ribery hurt his buttocks and didn't return to form on time.  This allowed Real to triple cover Robben and to worry little about the Frenchman.  I think the American commentators to the game got it all wrong when they said Robben was the guy that really carried the team.  Robben was forced in this case to carry the team -- which he couldn't do -- because the guy that used to carry the team wasn't ready to go at all in the first game and was merely an echo of himself in the second.
 
Regardless, I don't shed any tears for Bayern.  While I like former Spurs' Modric and Bale (how about that, two guys on Real going for it all!), I have no patience for Pepe and his painful brand of petulance, flopping, and feigning injury to delay games.  I also never like the trophy squasher Ramos and his enormous ego.  But hey, Real is looking, well, real.