My “El Clasico” preview piece for BallsyBanter.com.
F@()@(*g lucky, and undeserved. That about sums up Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Anderlecht in the Champions League.
For all the Sky Sports commentators blathering about Anderlecht being a young team etc. etc. the only time that really looked to be the case was when they gave up what should have been a surefire victory.
By the way commentators, it’s quite annoying hearing constant chatter about Arsenal rolling over their “much weaker” Champions League opponents on the night. Almost seems like you didn’t know much about them which, granted, I’m not going to say I know a whole lot but enough to know it was never going to be an easy game even from day 1. A positive result was even more in doubt after the crap that was on show against Hull City over the weekend.
Before we go into anything else, let’s wish Arsene Wenger a happy belated birthday. I’m sure your wish came true because the only thing you could have wished for was for your team not to embarrass themselves. Except, they did.
So as not to turn this into a rant let’s look at the positives.
The Chilean is confirming his status as one of Wenger’s best signings in recent times, and may well become one of the best ever. Yet again, he was most threatening Arsenal player on the pitch and the winner, or anything positive for really, wouldn’t have come without his contribution.
Okay, Kieran Gibbs’ goal was fantastic, and very suprising, but I guess sometimes you need that in the game of football.
Wenger’s use of six midfielders was also a bit baffling when you consider the three players who came on, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Tomas Rosicky still didn’t feature. The omission of the Ox was understandable after his 90 minutes against Hull but why not give one of the other two a start? It couldn’t have made things any worse.
Sure, Podolski got the winner but he and Campbell did little else. That’s down to lack of playing time. Given how poor he has been when on the pitch so far this season it was a shock to see such an important contribution. World Cup winners do have little extra I guess.
Arsenal were pretty toothless throughout the game until the dying minutes and you would think it’s because they lacked the extra attacking punch another forward or winger would have brought even though Aaron Ramsey is direct. By the way, how long until the pitchforks from the fickle fans come out again for the Welshman?
Things weren’t much better in defensive midfield or defense as Mathieu Flamini’s occasional snarling at teammates was a bit comical, while 3/4 of the back four were culpable for the Anderlecht goal. Nacho Monreal let the cross come in a bit too easily, Per Mertesacker was basically in no-mans land marking no one in particular and Calum Chambers got sucked in as Andy Najar snuck in behind. Nothing much to do there expect continue to shake our heads and wish time travel was available.
Continuing with the defensive theme, Anderlecht 17-year-old midfield starlet, Yoeri Tielemans, has the makings of a fantastic player. Wonder who will win the race for his signature.
The weekend brings a trip to Sunderland and fans hopeful of pouncing on a Sunderland side still recovering from their 8-0 hammering.
Professionalism is the key here as you dont want to underestimate an angry cat. The Black Cats will be keen to appease the fans at home so things will more than likely be difficult.
Until next time.
Great piece here from FourFourTwo’s Rory Smith.
I’d agree with pretty much everything in there especially the fact that Dan Levy’s poor decisions along with Manchester City’s monetary might has led to the gap increasing. Not that I’m too bothered about Tottenham’s future success.
Still can’t see how Mauricio Pochettino expects to get by with just Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane as forwards. Definitely one of the weaker Tottenham sides in recent times, yet they still held Arsenal to a draw.
League play resumed after the international break but it seems one team in particular, Sunderland, was still on holiday. We already looked what was an interesting international break, and the impending return of Luis Suarez.
Let’s take a look at this weekend’s results for the bigger clubs across Europe’s top five leagues.
Primeira Liga(No Games) and Eredivisie(Round 9)
There were no games in Portugal this weekend so moving on.
It was a pretty quiet weekend, at least in terms of shocking results, in the Eredivisie. PSV picked up and extended their lead to x points as a result while Feyenoord also picked up a win. Ajax drew with an FC Twente side that is the only unbeaten side left in the league, and steadily climbing into the top three.
Ligue 1(Rounds 10)
Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Marseille all won over the weekend while Lille lost. A couple matches weren’t without some talking points as Edinson Cavani got sent off for his celebration, while Marcelo Bielsa decided he wanted to wake himself up a bit and sat on a cup of hot coffee. His reaction is hilarious. All these results mean Marseille stay top of the league with a seven point lead. PSG are within striking distance though, and if things continue to progress then it’ll be a fun game when these two meet. Monaco, meanwhile, are slowly climbing up the table.
Ligue 1 highlights here
Serie A(Round 7)
Things got a bit tighter in Serie A this weekend with Juventus dropping points in a draw with Sassaoulo. That, coupled with Roma’s win, means just one point separates the duo who will clearly be battling for the title throughout the season. The other main teams look well short of troubling these two currently, though Milan did pick up a win and Inter drew with Napoli when they faced each other. Both Milan sides are in transition, so results are as expected, but Napoli’s early form is disappointing. Juventus still lead the league by one point over Roma with Sampdoria rounding out the top 3.
Serie A highlights here
The title race, if there ever really was one to begin with, is well and truly over in the Bundesliga. That may seem a bit disrespectful to teams who are generally considered contenders, and those surprisingly close to Bayern Munich now, but it doesn’t look likely that anyone can knock the Bavarian giants from the top. Bayern won again this weekend and were matched by Schalke, however Bayer Leverkusen dropped points in another high-scoring draw. The big result of the weekend was another loss, the fifth in the league in fact, for Borussia Dortmund. They are already 2 losses away from their highest loss total since the first of their back-to-back title wins few years ago. We take a further look at why they are going through their struggle and decline here.
Bundesliga highlights here
La Liga(Round 8)
The top five spots in La Liga are currently occupied by the top five teams in La Liga. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla are part of that group, and all won in pretty comfortable fashion during the weekend. The other member, Valencia, lost 3-0 to Deportivo in what they will hope is only a blip after a solid start. Barcelona and Real Madrid don’t currently occupy their familiar first and second place positions but that may change depending on results at the weekend. “El Clasico” is looming, and we shall see which of these teams have adapted best all the changes during the summer. Also, there’s the possibility of Luis Suarez snacking mid-game as he hungrily searches for goals.
La Liga highlights here
Premier League(Round 8)
We have to start the Premier League piece by highlighting Southampton’s incredible 8-0 defeat of Sunderland. I remember when Arsenal shot off a 7-0 once(sigh). In other news, Chelsea continued to trot along with a win, minus Diego Costa, and were somehow joined by a Liverpool side that scored only one goal in a game that had five goals overall. That’s the Premier League for you. Sergio Aguero aka Manchester City dismantled Tottenham 4-0, while Arsenal were, well, crap in a 2-2 draw. Manchester United did their best to continue replicating the boys at the Emirates with a draw as well.
Premier League highlights here
Until next time.
This article, courtesy of WhoScored.Com’s Ben McAleer, takes a good look at why Borussia Dortmund has disappointed so much since back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12. The article’s been out for a week or so now but is even more interesting to look at as the club’s woeful domestic form continued this weekend.
Here’s some of my thoughts on the issue.
While I’d agree with the overall premise of teams going through cycles, it’s still a bit baffling with this particular team. Looking at, say, Barcelona recently or Manchester United currently, both club also endured multiple personnel changes on and off the pitch. For Dortmund it has ultimately been just two pieces gone, and lots of replacements.
It definitely can’t be that the loss of two players, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze, has affected the club so much. Sure, there would be disappointment from all around, especially their former teammates and coach, but they are professionals. Obviously their quality has been hard to replace but now the club has the likes of Henrik Mkhitaryan and the return of Shinji Kagawa to help in Gotze’s stead, and Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos for Lewandowski. There’s also Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
The only question mark I had for that quintet was Immobile, as I stated in my transfer roundups way back when. He showed good talent last season but that was just one season. He’s really done little else apart from his goal against Arsenal. As McAleer mentions, though, the defending from the front has probably been the biggest problem so far.
Immobile and Ramos are the two newest additions, Lewandowski the newest big departure, and they need time to adapt. It is still early in the season yet but we are seeing just how important that part of Jurgen Klopp’s plan is.
Some blame has to go to Klopp too. He hasn’t really introduced a “plan B” a la a certain Arsene Wenger, and should be just as upset with himself as he is with his squad. Injuries have played their part as well, again down to the style of play, but everybody team deals with that. Again, just ask Arsenal.
The winter break can’t come soon enough, and if Dortmund can muster some semblance of form they should return to the usual position in the top 3 by the end of the season. The title is, unfortunately, well out of range at this stage.
Alexis Sanchez good. Everything else bad.
That’s basically the best way to sum up another wonderful day at the office for the Gunners.
A 2-2 draw with Hull City, the team beaten in May to end the trophy drought, has certainly heightened the inquest on what exactly is going on behind the scenes at Arsenal. After a week in which Arsenal’s Annual General Meeting(AGM) saw the fans leave frustrated as usual as you can note here, here and see some key takeaways here.
Injuries, a lack of defensive depth and an ineffectiveness going forward have become the main talking points for the club so far this season. Same old, same old. At least there’s no Mesut Ozil to blame this time around, and not for some time either.
There’s really not much to say about the game beside the fact that it was quite boring, frustrating and disappointing from an Arsenal point of view. I expected it to be a game of worries given the defensive situation but figured our attacking quality might see us through. Alexis Sanchez’s early goal raised those hopes but then a masterclass in ineptitude.
Welbeck scored as well and is off to a solid start but Sanchez continues to make the case of being the best signing in the last two seasons, yes including Ozil. He’s definitely been a better signing than that new fitness guy.
Why Arsene Wenger continues to persist with the 4-1-4-1 is a mystery. It does make sense in games like this against weaker opponents, with the two central midfielders further forward but we continue to be so light in already weak area. Flamini was fouled more than he wasn’t on that first goal but the way Mohamed Diame waltzed through the defense is cause for concern.
In other news, Arsenal is one of the most the most credit-worthy clubs in football, and may be going taking a bit of a “MoneyBall” approach to things moving forward considering this article from the Guardian on the club’s 2012 purchase and use of a football data analytics company.
Arsenal’s hopes of a title, for anyone who still somehow harbored such thoughts, is officially over. The race for the top four is on already but there’s really no telling who has the best chance at that right now.
This is supposed to be a run of games that provides maximum points with Hull City followed by Anderlecht(away), Sunderland(away, wonderful timing there) Burnley(home) and Anderlecht(home) again.
We’ll see how the team bounces back in the Champions League.
Until next time.
As usual football is always interested in the next big talent, and the Guardian has provided a pretty decent list here of some young stars in the game.
The title does say 40 of the best young talents as we know for all those that do get noticed there are probably twice as many who don’t. Obviously a couple of minutes of a YouTube clip isn’t concrete evidence of how these players quality and potential but there’s definitely some noteworthy moments.
Might be looking up some of these guys when Football Manager 2015 comes out. :)
Diego Costa, with his goal-scoring prowess, big-money move, dodgy hamstrings and newly chosen nation, has been one of the main stories in World Football recently.
One of the biggest topics surrounding the Chelsea forward was his decision to choose Spain over his native Brazil on the international stage. The decision came before the 2014 World Cup, and fans of his home country made their feelings known during the tournament with vociferous boos when he was on the ball for Spain.
That reaction was an interesting one as you feel that Marcos Senna and Eduardo, two of many other Brazilian-born players who sought the international experience elsewhere, would not, and, in Eduardo’s case, did not face anything similar. Senna’s case is particularly interesting as he was an integral part Spain’s Euro 2008 squad.
It is Costa, though, who, thanks to his ability and increased profile, basically chose where he wanted to play where the other two players were limited by the competition they faced.
He’s continued to put himself in the forefront with a fantastic start at Chelsea with nine clubs in nine games. His latest victim, Arsenal, came right before the international break. That break, and Costa’s current position in the limelight, provides an interesting topic to look at.
Did Diego Costa make the right decision to choose Spain over his native Brazil on the international scene?
Both nations are going through changes at the senior level but, just as he is with Spain now, Costa would be a primary player for his native Brazil. He is one of the most in-form forwards in the world and one whose style makes him a must-have the way the game is progressing.
We’re not really concerned with why the decision was made, though if you’re interested some Costa’s thoughts are put to paper in this article from the BBC, but whether it was the best choice for him internationally. Three things that need to be considered where that’s concerned are how he will fit into the team’s chemistry, their style of play and potential success on the international stage.
The best international team in the last few years, Spain, had such chemistry mainly due to the core of Barcelona players in the squad and the masterful man-management of Vicente Del Bosque. Recent World Cup Winners, Germany, also boasted of off-field practices that enhanced the team’s ability to play together in Brazil.
One needs to look no further than Costa’s current team, Chelsea, to see the potential for team chemistry that can be created in either side.
Costa already has two Spanish international teammates, Francesc Fabregas and Cesar Azpilicueta, at Stamford Bridge, and his budding on-field relationship with Fabregas should be especially beneficial for him, Fabregas and Spain. There’s also his knowledge of former Atletico Madrid mates Koke, Juanfran, Raul Garcia and others who may or may not see time for Spain in the near future.
The Brazilian contingent at the club consists of Filipe Luis, Ramires, Oscar and Willian. All those players should be a part of their national setup for years to come, not to mention the likes of Lucas Piazon and Wallace who could break through. Costa will develop relationships with these players and could have formed a core group for Dunga, or whoever is in charge for Brazil.
Judging how the two teams play is a bit easier as Spain, despite proclamations of the death of tiki-taka, still look to dominate possession despite missing the influence of chief architects; Xavi and Xabi Alonso. Brazil is definitely the more direct of the two, and probably more suited to Costa’s game.
A look at their most recent fixtures show the contrasting styles of the two sides.
Spain, surprisingly, lost to Slovakia in what was an extremely lively performance from Costa. A mixture of solid goalkeeping and lack of chemistry with some of his teammates made it another goalless night. That game was, as Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe states, indicative of the troubles arising from introducing Costa into the Spanish setup. The Chelsea man did eventually break his duck against Luxembourg while Spain played a more direct game.
It’s difficult to foresee a player of Costa’s talent failing to adapt to the Spanish style, though, but it does seem Vicente Del Bosque is willing to be more direct to get the best out of his best forward.
In their two friendly games against Argentina and Japan, Brazil’s more direct play was clear.
They have benefited from some poor defending in the higher profile game against Argentina, and you’d feel that Costa would have put away the chances Brazil’s striker on the day, Diego Tardelli, did. The game against an experimental Japan side highlighted the importance of Neymar but that shouldn’t be an issue as Costa played a support role to the prolific Radamel Falcao at Atletico Madrid.
In the case of style it may be a bit of moot point.
What it really comes down to is the category that’s most difficult to judge. Which team will have the better future?
Both sides are going through a transitional period, Brazil infinitely more so, and have plenty of competition within their respective confederations to contend with.
At first look Spain is, rightly, well ahead. The major problem they have is changing their style but there is no shortage of talent ready to replace the old guard. That was on show against Luxembourg but there is still a lot of experience with players like Fabregas, Gerard Pique and David Silva in the mix.
Brazil has Neymar leading the way along with a conveyor belt of young talent but questions will arise over inexperience, midfield creativity and goalkeeping.
Player selection issues aside, Brazil’s overall problem is the need to appease a demanding fan-base and recapture a football identity that provides beautiful, and successful, football.
So did Costa make the right decision?
It’s too early to tell given that Costa’s only played seven games for Spain so far, with only just over half of that number being competitive.
That question may not be fully answered until the 2018 World Cup as it presents the easiest chance for side-by-side comparison. In the meantime one can look at how the sides fare in the 2015 Copa America, Euro 2016 and, if they make it, the 2017 Confederation Cup as well as any possible friendly meetings in between.
We can do nothing but keep an eye on one of the major talents in World Football and the two nations he’s inextricably linked with.
Getting ever closer to that release. Should be fun.