Category: General

Champions League goals flow freely as art of defending is lost across Europe

Champions League goals flow freely as art of defending is lost across Europe

Some great points throughout, as always, by Michael Cox.

A lot of European clubs, not just the big boys, want to play stylish, attacking football. Or, at least, they want to present the idea that they can. The 1-0 game between Atletico Madrid and Arsenal did seem boring in comparison to the Champions League semis but it was simply a matter of excellent defending by Atletico.  The idea of the club’s brand playing a part in that decision is very interesting and makes even more sense when you compare to international football.

Each continent certainly has stylistic similarities in terms of play but, ultimately, each international teams approaches the game differently. What makes the difference at the club level is that players spend months together learning each others patterns along with being constantly drilled in a specific style by their coach. There is much less time for international teams even during tournaments.

Perhaps that’s another reason the upcoming 2018 World Cup is yet to fully excite. There are sure to be some painful games early on as players, coaches etc get accustomed to each other again after exhausting seasons. Hopefully enough quality shines through and it doesn’t become a case of playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

AC Milan’s Vincenzo Montella under pressure in 2017/18 – The Boot Room

AC Milan’s Vincenzo Montella under pressure in 2017/18 – The Boot Room

My piece for the Boot Room on the pressure on Vincenzo Montella at AC Milan next season.

Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Zinedine Zidane, Unai Emery and Antonio Conte. What do these managers have in common?
They are among the elite managers who will be under enormous pressure next season for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, there is one man not yet in their category who will be on the hottest seat of them all next season: Vincenzo Montella, the manager of AC Milan, will head into his second season in charge with lots of eyes on him.
AC Milan have had the most eye-catching transfer window so far and there is still over a month to go. The Rossoneri capped of what has been a very decisive summer so far with the best signing of all the big teams.
Their capture of Leonardo Bonnuci brings arguably the world’s best defender to the San Siro and weakens a major title rival, Juventus, in the process. That is not a move many expected from a team that has finished in 10th, 7th and 6th in the last three Serie A seasons. Another big win for the Italian giants came with the extension of  Gianluigi Donnarumma’s contract.
One major reason Montella will be under pressure is the presence of new ownership.
Milan’s former owner, Silvio Berlusconi, and a group spearheaded by Chinese businessman, Li Yonghong, finalized the long-awaited change of ownership. The new owners and their executives have wasted little time in making their mark.
Milan’s CEO, Marco Fassone, and sporting director, Massimo Mirabelli, have adopted an approach that would make many a Football Manager aficionado proud as they have almost assembled a new squad in one window. Bonucci is one of 11 new signings by the club so far this summer.
All this means Montella has plenty of expectations to live up to in the new season.
Milan’s new owners may focus on a return to the Champions League in public. However, privately they will surely be expecting more. The board, the fans and the footballing public will want to see how Milan performs after a summer of significant change. Montella did well with what he had last season, winning the Italian Supercup and leading the team back to Europe, but this is an entirely different challenge.
The former Fiorentina boss will have to integrate his new signings, almost all of whom will play a key role, while ensuring the continued progression of youngsters like Davide Calabria and Manuel Locatelli. The experience of winning silverware last season will help while Bonucci’s leadership and experience will be vital.
Montella will also be tasked with ensuring that arguably the best team he has had in his career plays stylish, winning football in homage to Milan’s history. Whether or not the expectations will be fair is another matter.
The most even-keeled fans will be satisfied with a strong run at silverware in all competitions and a return to the Champions League. Still, it is not unthinkable that this mixture of talent could do better if Montella makes the right decisions.
Juventus will still be favorites as they continue to add talent and retain the league’s best tactician in Massimiliano Allegri. The Old Lady may be preoccupied with Europe this season, though, considering their recent heartbreak on the continent.
The jury is out on the other two major contenders. Napoli played some scintillating football yet fell short in key moments while the boost in productivity from Edin Dzeko could only do so much for Roma. Both sides will feel some measure of confidence after Bonucci’s departure but they have previously failed to capitalize on any moments of weakness from Juventus.
The fact that these teams have the easier Champions League schedule to contend with does work against Milan but the growing list of additions should provide Montella with the depth to compete. There is the possibility of more to come, as well, with the transfer window over a month away from closing.
According to Italian outlet La Repubblica, as referenced by reputable Spanish publications AS and Marca, Atletico Madrid may look at the possibility of loaning Diego Costa to Milan for the first half of the season should they sign him from Chelsea this summer.
With Carlos Bacca likely to leave, as reported by ESPN, the Rossoneri still need a quality striker to lead their resurgence next season. Such a move would heap even more pressure on Montella to get results.
Milan’s season officially begins with a Europa League qualifying tie on July 27. That will give Montella more time to get any kinks out of his side and, hopefully, get the season off to a positive start. The positive performances for some of the new signings in the most recent friendly against Bayern will heighten expectations.
The question of when the two sleeping giants of Italian football, Milan and Inter, would rise again has been constant in the last few seasons. Milan’s actions this summer suggest that time may have come. Montella’s task will be to ensure that his side lives up to the hype created by this summer’s activity.

Soccer in 2017 to be dominated by virtual reality and the continued rise of analytics – ESPN FC

Soccer in 2017 to be dominated by virtual reality and the continued rise of analytics – ESPN FC

I haven’t done a post like this in a while hoping to get back to doing it regularly. If’ you’ve read Soccernomics you know about Simon Kuper. There’s definitely some interesting thoughts in there. I can see the rise in analytics continuing but I don’t know about managers becoming less vital or Western Europe losing it’s dominance. If the latter happens it won’t be for a while yet.

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.


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.


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.


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)


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


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.


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.

World Cup Expansion Coming?…..

FIFA’s new boss, Gianni Infantino, definitely picked up some tricks from his predecessor.

It’s a given that campaigning in for any form of office comes with promises that are highly unlikely to be filled, right? One such promise that isn’t going away as far as Infantino is concerned, as reported by the Guardian, is the possibility of expanding the World Cup. In that sense he’s definitely taking things further than Sepp Blatter who seemed to mostly filled with talk when it came to this topic.

Sure, it was nice to see teams like Iceland and Albania perform admirably, or really well in Iceland’s case, in the recently expanded Euros but the flip-side was the overall level of football was very watered down. That was mainly due to team’s eyeing results with a microscope to navigate their way to the knockout rounds in a tournament that f$*#(@g  Portugal won. I wasn’t a huge fan of the CONMEBOL/CONCACAF mashup in Copa America either but it was at least more entertaining. (Admittedly, I think Iceland is no fluke as their start to 2018 World Cup qualifying has shown and that’s down to how they’ve built their program from the ground up in recent years).

Of course, the promise of expansion helps win a few more votes from countries that would very much like the chance to trot out in the world’s biggest sporting event besides the Olympics. At what cost though? Certainly the level of play, issues with scheduling etc. and the small fact that the current proposed deals would see a majority of teams play two years to take part in one game to fly back home. Would those playoffs bring plenty of interest? Yes. One could also argue that the countries new to the experience will get better the more they come up against top opposition. Would that really be the case if the majority of them are playing one-off games to even make it into the tournament proper? I doubt it but Infantino doesn’t.

“Whether it will be 40 or 48, it was a positive discussion. I don’t agree it will dilute the quality,” Infantino said. “I would like to remind you that in the last World Cup, England and Italy were eliminated by Costa Rica. The level of football is increasing all over the world.

“In a 48 team format, the quality would be higher because the 32 teams would have a play off. The quality would improve and not decrease in any way.”

The quality wouldn’t be higher because of one-off games though ratings probably would and FIFA’s pockets may bulge a bit more. And, to be honest, there’s only one expansion that makes sense. If you want more teams, Infantino, and more games and more money(which is what you really want) why not just go to 64 teams and rename it June/July Madness with the same top 2 from each group going through and then a knockout round of 32 onwards? I’m sure one of your successors will bring that up so let’s just get straight to it. Except, we’re forgetting one thing. Increased workload for the players after grueling club seasons would undoubtedly drain the competition of its increased quality.

Let’s not forget that some of these teams already play in playoffs to get to the big show. They may not mind the possibility of an automatic spot but that really wouldn’t be the case as they are likely to be first in line for one of those playoff spots. So what’s the difference?

I should be happy with the idea of more football every four years but seeing as I’ll probably be sneaking to watch those games at work or, staying up late/waking up early, I’m not sure my schedule can take it. I think 32 teams and a month-long tournament is enough, and especially so when we’re talking about a one-game playoff.

I’ve said my piece but the articles below offer some interesting, and contrasting, views on the proposed changes and its something we’ll continue to hear about until a decision is made.

World Cup expansion is reasonable, as long as it works for everyone

Infantino’s 48-team World Cup plan would be funny if it was not so serious


ESPN FC writers on how they would change football – ESPN FC

ESPN FC writers on how they would change football – ESPN FC

Some interesting suggestions here.

Some are highly unlikely to happen, like making wages etc. public or lessening the amount of games.  Others, such as “safe standing,” and paying attention the Club World Cup are kind of meh suggestions. The suggestions about ending the Europa League, reformatting the Copa America and having 10 players are definitely ways to change football but not really good ones to put it nicely.

The two most interesting ones for me were the regional leagues and changing the international break. The idea of regional leagues may be further along than you think, as per the Guardian’s initial look here at a possible “Atlantic” league in Europe. If a European Super League is coming then why shouldn’t other clubs assess things. I don’t think it would happen nor do I necessarily want it to happen but it is interesting to think about.

The changes to the international break would be huge though, and hopefully well-received. Instead of the stop start beginning and end of seasons annoying the majority, I think most parties would be fine with two prolonged longer breaks with friendlies, qualifiers etc. One would think a lot of countries might benefit from the increased time together, I’m looking at you England.

Next Generation 2016: 60 of the best young talents in world football | Football | The Guardian

Next Generation 2016: 60 of the best young talents in world football | Football | The Guardian

Aand, we’re back. Just going to ignore the fact I haven’t done shit for about 6 months.

Figure this is a decent way to start. Nice look at some of the future young talents in world football. Interesting to see the updates on the 2014 and 2015 lists.

I’ll be doing a lot more writing both here and other sites but posts like this will still be on here occasionally.

Euro 2016: the complete guide to every squad and every player in France | Football | The Guardian

The dominance of football’s superclubs shows no sign of ending – ESPN FC

The dominance of football’s superclubs shows no sign of ending – ESPN FC

Always a good read from Gabriele Marcotti and some great points throughout. I don’t think many supporters mind the big boys fighting it out for titles season after season but they don’t want repetition. We do like it even more when a Leicester City or Atletico Madrid surprise happens but I think most have already accepted the status quo.  Not that that’s a bad thing.