Brendan Rodgers, the beauty of 3-4-2-1 and its potency as a tactical weapon | Jonathan Wilson | Football | The Guardian

Brendan Rodgers, the beauty of 3-4-2-1 and its potency as a tactical weapon | Jonathan Wilson | Football | The Guardian

Some tactical talk from two of my favorite tactical writers. I don’t think 3 at the back will ever become a regular thing in the Premier League but it is interesting that mostly big teams have used it in recent times. That will likely be the tactical trend of the year, in the Premier League at least, especially if Chelsea continue to have such success.

Chelsea’s three-man defence the most intriguing tactical decision of the year

Barcelona Can End The Year On A High

The last international break of the season is complete and it comes at great time for Barcelona.

The fixture list at the beginning of the season saw the Blaugrana endure a few hiccups but the toughest tests were successfully negotiated. And by a few hiccups I mean a shock loss to newly promoted Alaves, at home, and another loss, somewhat less shocking this time, against bogey team Celta Vigo.

Regardless, Luis Enrique’s side sit second in the table only two points behind an even less impressive Real Madrid side. Barcelona have negotiated tough trips to Athletic Bilbao, Celta, Valencia and Sevilla already this season. They dropped points in only one of those games. Their two toughest away games, against Madrid and Atletico, are all that remain but visits to Real Sociedad and Villarreal should be treated with caution. While injuries remain a concern the likes of Gerard Pique, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba are on the verge of a return and there is now enough depth to cover for Andres Iniesta in midfield.

Barcelona’s first fixture upon their return sees them host Malaga and that game presents a great chance for Paco Alcacer to finally open his account with Luis Suarez out suspended. The remaining La Liga games in the year see the Blaugrana face Sociedad(away), Real Madrid(home) Osasuna(away) Espanyol(home). Barcelona should expect maximum points from all those encounters including the Madrid game. A home and away tie against Hercules in the Copa del Rey and Champions League matches against Celtic(away) and Borussia Mochengladbach(home) complete the calendar year.

Provided there are no further major injury worries or extreme drops in form among players then Barcelona will expect to be top of league entering 2017. There are still issues for the Enrique to fix defensively and a lack of control sometimes in games that can be attributed to no Xavi and an off-form Busquets. That’s why you have MSN though, and especially Messi on his current form.

Enrique will make sure his side is focused for every game until the end of the year and that should put Barcelona in a good position when 2017 begins.

What is the most important position on a football pitch? – ESPN FC

What is the most important position on a football pitch? – ESPN FC

There’s no right answer here. Well, maybe not. I can understand the author’s arguments at the end about goalkeepers but a very strong argument could be made for any one of those positions considered.  If I had to pick one it would be central midfield. They are at the heart of everything and, from my personal view, if you lose the midfield battle you generally lose the game.

Can regional leagues bring Champions League success to smaller clubs – ESPN FC

Can regional leagues bring Champions League success to smaller clubs – ESPN FC

There would be a lot of kinks to work out for this to come to fruition but you can see the benefits. Especially if there is a Super League in the future. It would be interesting to see all the proposed teams in regular competition with each other. I wouldn’t want to see their respective domestic leagues take a big hit as a result and I doubt those leagues would either. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to do this league without it being the primary source of qualification for European competition but again the domestic leagues can’t be fully left out.

It seems like this would only  really come about if the gap between the super clubs and every one else widens as expected given the recent changes in Champions League. We shall see

Is Jorge Sampaoli the Man to Replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona? | Bleacher Report

Is Jorge Sampaoli the Man to Replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona? | Bleacher Report

It’s probably a bit too early to be thinking about this but it’s definitely intriguing. You could see Enrique moving on or taking a break after this season and if he does there aren’t many options that come to mind right away.  Possibly Unai Emery or Paco Jemez. If Sampaoli continues to get Sevilla to perform as they have so far he wouldn’t be an easy target at all though.

 

Is the Premier League less predictable than other leagues? Not exactly | Football | The Guardian

Is the Premier League less predictable than other leagues? Not exactly | Football | The Guardian

I’ve been thinking about this since the beginning of the season. It’s still early days but some of the performances and results have been fascinating, and hopefully they hold up.

The topsy turvy nature of the Premier League is old news at this point but there is a valid argument that things are going as expected as the top six sides in the country currently occupy the top six spots. They’ll vary position etc throughout the season but you get the feeling that overall that won’t change.

As the article points out, there’s plenty going on in Europe’s other top leagues.

Newly promoted Red Bull Leipzig is right on Bayern Munich’s coattails while Borussia Dortmund sit in fifth. That’s down to underwhelming performances from those two. In France, Nice leads all comers with Mario Balotelli heading the attack, though their lead was cut to three points before the international break. Still, Monaco look likely to give Paris Saint-Germain a good run for their money this season. The Serie A remains the least suspenseful league with Juventus’ four point lead. AC Milan’s bright start to the season has made things exciting and there’s always the possibility that Roma and/or Napoli finally put up a good challenge. And La Liga is fun as always. Six points separate first from fifth and the performances of Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao mean things won’t be easy for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. They’ve all suffered shock results to lower teams already as well so there’s sure to be more drama as the season goes on.

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

Can Borussia Dortmund really challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title? | The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on Borussia Dortmund’s chances of challenging Bayern this season

Borussia Dortmund’s start to the 2016/17 season has been disappointing.

In a season in which Bayern Munich, regardless of their quality, are going through transition, the expectation was that Dortmund would provide a strong challenge for the Bavarian side.

Dortmund’s 5-2 win over Hamburg was their first Bundesliga win since September and Thomas Tuchel’s side enters the last international break of the year in fifth place. A record of five wins, three draws and two losses isn’t horrible, but slightly surprising.

One of those losses came at the hands of the Bundesliga’s surprise team so far this season, the newly promoted Red Bull Leizpig. Red Bull are currently Bayern’s sternest challengers, and are level on points with the champions, but have yet to face the juggernaut. The other teams above Dortmund include TSG Hoffenheim, who drew with Bayern at the weekend, and Hertha Berlin.

History suggests the cream usually rises to the top and these teams will eventually fall off but Red Bull in particular seem capable of pulling a Leicester, as it were. Dortmund, meanwhile, have their own issues to sort out.

The laundry list of outgoing and incoming changes at Signal Iduna Park makes the slow start somewhat understandable. Dortmund finished 10 points off the pace last season in second place but three key faces left during the summer. Any team would have found it difficult to replace the varied talents and experience of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Dortmund’s approach saw the club bring in players who have failed to live up to their full potential, like Mario Gotze and Marc Bartra, and wonder-kids like Ousmane Dembele. The effect has been mixed.

The stand-out performer so far from the new signings is Raphael Guerreiro, the Portuguese left back who has been extremely impressive in a midfield role. Both Dembele and fellow wonder-kid, Emre Mor, have shown flashes of their potential while Bartra put in some decent performances early on. Gotze and Andre Schurrle haven’t been hugely disappointing so far but more is expected from two well-established senior internationals. Marco Reus’ constant injury issues are further cause for frustration and one can envisage a much stronger side when all the senior players are fit and firing. In total, seven new players have been brought that have played a decent role so far.

Tuchel has tried to rotate things to keep players happy and that has played a part in the early form. Those decisions will help keep legs fresh towards the end of the season, but also means players like Shinji Kagawa have yet to find their best form. Consistency across the board has been a key issue for Dortmund so far this season.

There have been good signs from some players though, with Christian Pulisic continuing to progress well and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang retaining his prolific form. Aubameyang’s goals are the cherry on top of a league-leading 25 goals, to go along with 11 in the Champions League.

That attack hasn’t suffered too much after the departures but there is work needed in the defense.  The 12 goals conceded in the Bundesliga is the worst among those currently in the top seven although it is keeping in line with the 34 goals conceded in 34 games last season. More time to adapt to Hummels’ departure and the new talents to adjust defensively should fix that issue.

The January transfer will be key for Dortmund, as Tuchel will need to streamline the squad without ridding it of too much depth or quality. A place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League has already been secured and a decent run will be expected in the German Cup. Bayern will also be fighting on three fronts and their focus on the Champions League might leave them vulnerable domestically.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side has only shown glimpses of the imperious form that was on display under Pep Guardiola. The Italian’s track record in league campaigns isn’t the greatest and that has shown in Bayern’s rocky start. The league leaders will visit Dortmund when league play resumes and that game will show how much work needs to be done. It is only 10 games into the season, 11 after the derby is complete, but if Bayern find a groove it will be hard to catch up.

There is a long road ahead and certainly no need for Dortmund to panic. This is a youthful squad shorn of a few leaders, both through transfer and injuries, so some growing pains can be expected. Dortmund has the talent to surpass those ahead of them not named Bayern Munich. If the likes of Gotze, Schurrle and Reus provide the quality they are capable of then the end of the Bundesliga season will be a lot closer than previous seasons. A win against Bayern in their first meeting would be a good way to start. Dortmund bought for the future over the summer but they can get something out of the present as well.

Plenty To Watch For During the International Break

The final international break of the year has plenty of interesting story lines to look out for. World Cup qualifying will be on the agenda in all confederations and there will be some intriguing friendlies as well.

Some confederations, like CONCACAF, are just getting started but they do so with a bang.

CONCACAF

Mexico vs USA is the big game to start CONCACAF qualification and while it won’t be a death sentence for the loser it will leave an extremely bad taste in the mouth. If that side follows that up with another bad result then panic will set in but we shall see. Mexico, the US and Costa Rica are the favorites to progress but we’ll see what happens when things get started.

AFC

Qualification from Asia seems like a given for certain teams but, as of right now, Japan and South Korea area headed for the playoff where one, and possibly both, may not make it to Russia 2018. Of course, they’re only four games into a 10-game group so there’s plenty of time.

CONMEBOL

Things got really interesting in South American qualifying before the second half of qualifying even began. ESPN FC reported that Bolivia were forced to forfeit two results for fielding an ineligible player. That bumped Chile into the last qualification spot, the playoff one to be fair, with Argentina dropped to six. Brazil and Uruguay are well-placed at the top of the group with Colombia and Ecuador sandwiched between the quartet.

Things will shift even further with some big games in the next round. Colombia v Chile and Brazil v Argentina are the must watch games with both away sides needing a win. Uruguay host Ecuador as well, meaning all the top six play each other so that will be fun. Things don’t get any easier for Argentina as they play Colombia and Chile play Uruguay. (The major thing for Chile especially is Alexis Sanchez possibly missing out due to injury)

OFC

No offense to the Oceanic Federation but it is pretty much New Zealand’s to go through.

AFC

African qualification is pretty much just getting started as well and there are plenty of intriguing possibilities. DR Congo and Tunisia are off to a good start in Group A. In Group B, two of either Nigeria, Cameroon or Algeria will miss out. Ivory Coast are favorites in Group C as are Senegal in Group D while Egypt and Ghana will fight it out in Group D. The rounds will be halfway done by the time the international break is over so we’ll see whats what.

UEFA

There’s still plenty of time for things to change in Europe but there are some interesting games in these next rounds. England v Scotland and France v Sweden, Croatia vs. Iceland and Austria vs. Iceland are among those. Apart from that there are few teams already running against the wind such as the Netherlands, Ukraine, Denmark, Scotland, Wales and Austria. Group D is especially interesting with Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria all fighting it out.

Football Manager 2017 review – the best in the series, but only for dedicated fans | Technology | The Guardian

Football Manager 2017 review – the best in the series, but only for dedicated fans | Technology | The Guardian

Football Manager is the one game that sometimes supersedes FIFA as far as I’m concerned. The level of detail etc just continues to amaze.

I don’t agree that FM 17 is only for dedicated fans but I’m like an Apple customer at this point, I buy newest product every year with regardless of changes/improvements and am baffled when anyone criticizes it. I think the improved menus, increase in up front information and improved AI makes it a fun game for newcomers too, especially with the little helper thing on. I do agree that the addition of the social media feed and the lack of real explanation of the sports scientist and data analysts required more thought but I expect FM will improve upon these things as usual.

I’ll have my Arsenal first season update posted in a bit.

Football Manager 2017: the game made by 1,300 scouts in 51 countries