Sunday, January 22, 2012

How can you beat Barcelona?

I would argue that the only way to beat Barcelona is to beat them at their own game. I.e. press more, work harder and pass better.

Admitedly this is not an easy thing to do, but how many teams have
attempted it? The closest anyone has come to this was Arsenal last year and until Van Persie got sent off they could have done it.

What surprises and frustrates me is that this Barcelona team and their way of playing will fade away rather than other teams attempting to better them.

Can’t Real Madrid find the players to do so? Or Manchester United? Or Inter? The only team I see moving in the right direction with a good positive attitude and commitment to PLAY football is Manchester City as much as I hate to admit it, although they have started to falter of late.

Of course this depends on the managers. I would argue that Mourinho did better at Inter and probably had a better team there than he does at Real Madrid, if you look at the team as a whole rather than a couple of players Mourinho’s Inter side was much more balanced, and hard working, which helps. Unfortunately, successive maangers at Inter have proved unworthy of inheriting such a good group of players. At Real he has a lot of superstars but still has gaps and the talent is not evenly spread across the squad, their centre midfield is not fantastic and that has been the difference between them and Barça.

Alex Ferguson plays his brand of football and it is a style that can be attractive at times due to its efficiency especially at scoring goals in the Premiership, but they no longer have Scholes and Ronaldo and they have not been replaced, even if I do think that Cleverley will eventually become very important in that midfield, it’s a transitional period at Old Trafford. It’s remarkable that they are doing as well as they are still. Chelsea are in a uncanny similar position of transition as well. Their best players are getting old and slower and have not yet been replaced.

Real Madrid do really have a team of stars, which Mourinho is trying to turn into a team. This season already there are the beginnings of it and that small improvement has made them much more dangerous and the reason they are sweeping aside most teams in La Liga. And the Champions League.

Except Barcelona.

Any other year, any other era, they would probably be the best team in the world right now.

Unfortunately, there is Barcelona. Barcelona are not simply the best team in the world but probably one of the best club sides ever, if not THE best team ever (there are arguments how well they would match up to the mechanical orange of Holland circa Cruyiff or Brazil 1970).

Unsurprisingly though, with a team of World Cup and European Championship winners, plus the best player in world, again who could himself be the best player ever! How scary is it that Messi is only 24??

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Arsenal - Sunderland

A much more encouraging performance by Arsenal in a lot of respects, but especially confidence. Throughout the first half they were dominant and looked they'd score with every attack, but then Sunderland scored and the jitters returned. They were much better in the second half mentally and looked assured.
However. There's still a lot of problems. Defending is still not great, the last 15 minutes of the first half when the players got a bit nervous there were a number of mistakes, especially when Jenkinson got caught in possession and the keeper came out of the area.
Jenkinson played pretty well though, and that was actually his only mistake of the game, he was good going forward and his crossing was excellent apart from the one time when, paradoxically, he had time and he scuffed it. On the right particularly he had no help whatsoever from Walcott who for me was poor. Don't if his positioning is something that he's bring instructed to do because he goes up to the striker position and there's a massive gap on the right which means Jenkinson has no one to pass out, and consequently, means he has no protection from Walcott.
The main frustrating aspect for me from Arsenal in position is that there are so many times when the midfielders push too deep too quickly and the defenders have no one to pass to, Arteta and Rosicky have got to come to get the ball and make themselves available.
The only player doing this was Song but the poor guy had to perform defensive midfielder, box to box, wingbacks cover, central defender cover, he was everywhere a fantastic performance.
But of course the name on everyone's lips will of course be the captains' Robin van Persie. The man is Arsenal's best player and it shows, every touch is pure class, his goals on the day superb. It's just a shame that so often he's devoid of support and, let's face it, intelligence around him. What a difference somebody like Mata would be.
A final mention to Gervinho who had a good first half and caused all sorts if problems, disappeared after the break though.
Not much to say about Sunderland, didn't try to win the game and completely abdicated to attack, the only positives were Larsson's free kick, a moment of pure genius you'd be hard put to find a better one all season (that is until RVP in the second half!) and Sessegnon who worked really hard.
A lot still to do at Arsenal but certainly on the ascendancy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Portugal's Euro 2012 qualifying

Now I didn't watch the game but as soon as I saw the score on skysport news my first thought was here we go again. So a few points:
1. Portugal, similarly to England, always seem to do it the hard way, it's no surprise, many times this has happened. In fact, I would say we have been spoilt of late, 15/20 years ago we did not think we should always qualify top of our groups or qualify at all! But yes, with this team we should have done better, the fault? FPF, undeniably. For sacking Queiroz at the wrong time. For hiring a poor replacement and for taking their time getting Bento in.
2. Bento. I'm not a fan, and I think the mood and confidence of the players has to be his sole responsibility. Carvalhogate. Bosingwa not called. Danny citing "personal resons" for not playing yesterday. What is going on? Also hi team selection is suspect at times but it's also up to the players to step it up.
3. Ronaldo, world class player wants to be better than Messi. For the national etam he's always poor. True, you can argue that Messi is also poor with Argentina, but I don't think you can compare his performances his national squad with Ronaldo's, they have their own problems with national managers but I would venture to say that he's done a lot better. Ronaldo always looks uninterested and down on his colleagues, he's so selfish it's untrue. It seems it was another typical performance by him yesterday.
4. Defence. To be fair to Bento, he was missing Pepe and Coentrão, by far the outstanding players. Bar Carvalho but let's not go there. But, if Portugal had a decent defensive midfielder this might be alright because he could shield the defence, the fact is we don't. You can try to play Meireles there but he's just not that sort of player, the best man for the job is Pepe, but I would like to see Ruben Amorim being tried there, unluckily for him Benfica has Javi Garcia so he never gets a look in at club level.
5. Depth. Does Portugal have enough good players to fill in when the main ones are injured? Are there any good young players around? I would say kind of and maybe. Of course the second line isn't as good as the best players, that is true of any nation in the world, does Spain have replacements for Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas that are as good as them? Of course not. Young players, well to be honest I really don't know, I have not been keeping up with the whole of portuguese leagues, but one things is for sure, the Under 20's did bloody hell in the Summer so why not? They just need their club managers to either believe in them and play them or allow to go out on loan so that they can play, many great Portuguese players benefited from going out on loan, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto e more recently Coentrão.

In summary, in an ideal world, Bento would resign and another manager would come in and rescue Carvalho from exile. Better yet, ideally, Mourinho would take over!

But seriously, Bento has to be given the chance in the play-offs, it's no shame, and Denmark are a good team, they may not have world class players but they are much of a team than Portugal have been since oh Euro 2004? Unfortunately then, Scolari was great at man management and getting a team but so bad tactically it was painful. Can we find someone in the middle?

I think with a bit of luck Portugal should win the play-offs and make it to the European Championship but I do not believe we will do all that well with Bento there and without a Team, not players, Team.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

England to get an English Manager?

This whole idea of having an Englishman is common in England, as is common to blame the foreigners for everything, it was like that after the World Cup, too many foreign players in the league no good young talent etc. Now I know I'm biased being foreign myself, and I think this idea of blaming the foreigners it's an easy one and more of a cop out. To be fair I would probably agree that national team players and managers should be local nationals but modern football is not like that, and I have no problem with getting the best man for the job.

Which leads me to who I think SHOULD be the next England manager but won't. Unfortunately I think the FA is what's standing in the way of England's success. One has only to remember the issue with Ferdinand's drug test years ago. The FA does not want an opinionated manager that wants control over the whole of the development of English football. If they did, Mourinho would have got the job before he went to Inter after Sven left, allegedly he produced a dossier over what he wanted and needed to take England forward, it was simply too ambitious for the FA. Similarly, a man that has great knowledge of English football and players, is a good tactician and a great motivator, Martin O' Neill was also disregarded before the appointment of Capello, Martin simply takes no prisoners, that does not sit well with the powers installed at the FA. Both Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson would bed the next two outstanding choices but once again they would want to oversee and have much more control than the FA are prepared to concede.

So England will not get the best manager they should get for the role. They will get someone from outside, like Capello, attracted to the money and a chance to prove themselves internationally but that are not going to be too much of a hindrance. But obviously, because the powers that be at the FA are spineless, England will get their English manager because that's what the press and fans are calling for, regardless of their suitability for the role. Redknapp would do well to motivate and lift the spirits of the players and deal with national press, but I fear he would be found wanting against the good teams tactically. Pearce, who is being groomed right now for job is I think the most likely candidate, he's an unknown quantity but he does have a lot of passion and has worked with good managers.

The other English managers, or British even, I fear are not qualified, simply because in fairness to most of them, they have not the chance to prove themselves, Allardyce, Pulis, Coyle, Pardew, even Moyes, all of whom have done great jobs but never at a top team. The most qualified is of course Steve McLaren who did well with Twente, but has once again self-destructed his career with catastrophic appointments at Wolfsburg and Forest.

England do really need a Mourinho or a Wenger, someone to think long-term, who can take risks, can handle big egos, and reform the system. But before that can happen the FA must change first.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The First Clássico FC Porto - SL Benfica

Eve though I didn't watch the first half I thought Benfica played pretty well. Prior to the game I had predicted a 1-1 draw, and I think the 2-2 draw reflects the parity of the two teams.

What most impressed me about Benfica was their composure, coming out of the interval 1-0 down, then equalising but going behind almost immediately, but never lost their cool just kept plugging away and plugging away and found a second to equalise, a pretty decent goal by Gaitan after a great pass by Saviola.

I was surprised Jorge Jesus replaced Nolito and Aimar when he decided to make changes and bring on Saviola and Bruno César, I thought he might replaced Witsel instead and perhaps Gaitan, as Nolito was looking quite dangerous and had just provided the pass to Cardozo´s first goal in the Estádio do Dragão. I guess the manager wanted to keep tactic discipline with Javi Garcia and Witsel in the middle and Saviola certainly plays closer to Cardozo than Aimar. Gaitan looks better on the left (after all he played there all last season) and his movement and finish for the goal was good, Jesus read the game well and his decisions worked.

But as I said what most impressed me was Benfica's calm approach to the game, away at Porto, simply kept attacking and playing their game, despite finding themselves behind twice. A mature performance from a good team that looked assured on the ball and with solutions on the bench. A good season could be in the offing for the Eagles.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The foolishness of the Press

We all know fans can be fickle and the Press can exaggerate but it's difficult not to be swayed by the myriad inundation of news and reports and opinions, and as a fan to be content with being patient and not be disgruntled when the team underperforms.

I don't want to over emphasise this point or labour on it too much, I'll just leave a concrete example of how wrong people can get it sometimes.

The idea to write this post comes as I depart for holiday to Portugal tomorrow, having had to postpone my trip that stopped me from being at Estádio da Luz for Benfica- Manchester United tonight, so I was reading on the result of 2005 when Benfica against all odds manage to stage an unlikely turnaround and win the game.  I have since found out that it was the only time Benfica had done so and I was lucky to have been present in the stadium that night, with friends, and the feeling of exultation was palpable, regardless of how transient and deserved it was.

A particular report, I was reading  just now, had launched a scathing attack on Sir Alex Ferguson. The year was 2005, Manchester United were in middle of a barren spell without wining the league, and the writing for this reporter was on the wall: "There will be a reckoning that takes place in private and it is likely to see Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure at Manchester United terminated at the close of the season."

These are strong opening words from someone at The Guardian, a newspaper I generally hold in high regard, but not reporter is free from doom scenarios and indeed being wrong. It's hard not to draw parallels with Arsenal's current situation. Manchester United were experiencing difficult years, stories of Ferguson's retirement abounded and the club had just recently been bought by the Glazers. Chelsea's dominance since the arrival of Abramovich and particularly José Mourinho meant that it was difficult to look beyond Chelsea for a credible alternative to the title, and it looked as though Manchester United were a club on the downside, a manager on the brink of either retiring or being sacked, a club in financial peril due to the amount of debt the owners that transferred to the club.

Well, two years later, Ferguson found the winning formula once again and the turned the club around, going on to win the Premiership three years in a row and last year also, managing to reach the final of the Champions League three times and winning it once.

It's true that Arsenal's barren spell has lasted longer, six years not four, the club has also been bought and it looks incapable of competing with the best teams in the league, moreover, Arsenal has to contend not only with Chelsea and Abramovich, but also Manchester City and their owners from Abu Dhabi who seemingly have even deeper pockets than the Russian in London. 

But, with UEFA's new financial regulations coming to play next year it could yet prove that Arsenal's sustainable model may prevail, and the team, though less apparently competitive than in previous years has shown last night that it is good enough for the likes of the German champions, which for a team that has had their confidence shattered by a freak 8-2 three weeks ago is no mean feat. 

In conclusion, do not believe all the press says at face value, and do not despair after one bad result, even a poor season. Sir Alex Ferguson is the proof that faith in a successful manager means that quite likely he'll know what to do to make the team return to glory and trophies.

Link to The Guardian report: