Germany, World Cup

Is Germany overrated? … Or are they misusing their players?

Jerome and Per pic for blogIt’s difficult to assess Germany’s play so for in this World Cup, and here’s why: 1, I don’t know if they would have dominated Portugal had Pepe not stupidly gotten a red card, 2, Germany tied Ghana (totally unexpected), 3, Germany beat the US one to zero (although they did control possession the entire game, and it was raining) – But still, have the Germans been as dominate as everyone accuses them of being? It’s a question worth exploring.

Germany’s an interesting team, today vs Algeria their defense seemed out of tune, and while this could be because Hummels could not start, I think it’s worth investigation. Per Mertesacker is not a fast player, and neither are Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes, furthermore, all three of them are natural center backs playing in a four man back line with Shkodran Mustafi – who is also not the most agile player in the world…

If you take that information into consideration and think about Germany’s first half display German team pic for blogagainst Algeria, one thing stood out for me more than anything else – the German midfield and attack didn’t have fullbacks overlapping on the right and left sides of the pitch to open up the field. And I’ll explain why that is a problem: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos are not midfield maestros that can dribble past a player or two with creativity that disrupts defenses and start attacks… They are both incredible midfielders, although they let Ribery and Robben do most of the creative work on Bayern – and Germany simply doesn’t have players (like Robben and Ribery) for Kroos and Schweinsteiger to supply the ball to. Furthermore, Lahm is not Pirlo, and can’t start attacks from the deep lying midfield position that he holds and has played for Bayern as well. Let me make my point in another way: FC Bayern are so successful because Alba and Rafinha support the attack, plus Robben and Ribery are World class players that plat at a level that Özil and Götze haven’t reached yet.

Germany looked shaky today, and had a lot of trouble dealing with Algeria’s fast paced players. Germany needed to adjust Lahm pic for blog– they need to start playing Lahm at fullback, and allow him to overlap on the right to allow Götze more space to operate and be creative – and the same can be said for Özil – he also needs players to overlap him on the left… Otherwise Kroos and Schweinsteiger will continue to take long shots instead of working the ball around to their playmakers on the wings…  If Lahm does switch to fullback for the rest of the tournament, Germany should use Sami Khedira as a defensive midfielder in front of Mertesacker and Boateng to shore up their defense.

When André Schürrle replaced Götze at half-time of their game today against Algeria, Germany seemed a bit more offensively equipped, and I think this is because he dribbles less than the likes of Götze and Özil, plus he’s a bit more athletic than either of them as well. But still, with all the fuss made about Germany, they should be more dominant than they were today as I thought that Algeria actually outperformed them for the better part of the first 90 minutes. Furthermore, Schürrle’s goal proved that he should start (he should also start regularly for Chelsea). Now that it’s all said and done, Germany can rest easy… But they can’t rest on their laurels and must learn from their performance in extra time that Lahm’s ability as fullback is crucial to their success.

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France, World Cup

No egos on France

This World Cup has proven one thing so far: That every team is a contender; it doesn’t matter if a team has a world renowned super star (or 2, or 3), or if a team has all the momentum in the world, any team is capable of losing at any time in this tournament. And, I must say, this World Cup has been that much more exciting because the “best” teams haven’t just eased their way through the competition.

We’ve already seen teams with huge expectations get knocked out of the group stage (Spain, Italy), and Benzema pic for blogwe’ve also seen teams like Brazil and Holland struggle against opponents like Chile and Mexico – teams that have performed much better than expected. Today, Nigeria continued that trend, giving the French an extremely tough time. I expected France to have their way considering how well they played in the group stage, yet Nigeria was more than up for the challenge – they fought admirably all game, and Vincent Enyeama had played extremely well.

The most interesting aspect of the French football team is watching their group of players come Pogba pic For Blogtogether as a team, especially after their last World Cup when everyone was so divided. The French team is eclectic to say the least, the ages and experience of their players are so different – Varane and Pogba are both aged 21, Benzema is hitting his prime at 26, Matuidi is 27, Giroud is 27, Cabaye is 28, Valbuena is 29, Evra is 33… but what seems to allow all of these players to come together is their lack of egos.

All of the players just named are stars in their own right, but none are insanely over-hyped. Worldwide, Benzema is perhaps the most well known – yet even he seems to have bought into this beautiful no ego/work hard mentality that has been established within the squad. Their team is the perfect mix of young France pic for Blogplayers wanting to learn, old players willing to teach through their experiences, and also players that are trying make more of a name for themselves on the world stage (Cabaye, and Valbuena) in particular. Furthermore, I think Valbuena has been their most important player as he is really stepping up as a captain
on the pitch that all players respect.

Another note: The French have been solid on set pieces, they have been great on the counter, and also
have played offense nicely within their opponent’s half. I’d go as far as to say that they’ve been the best team at the tournament so far, but hey, they were also in an easier group than many other teams with high expectations… but still, as I said in the first paragraph, every team has come to play at this World Cup, so I truly think that the French are a step ahead of the competition. That said, it’s been beautiful watching this French team play for each other, rather than just with each other.

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Holland, World Cup

Robben Mexico’s hopes… Does Robben deserve the Ballon D’or?

The Dutch’s two year pursuit of redemption after a terrible Euro campaign seemed in vain. 86 minutes in, down a De Jong pic for bloggoal, and unable to penetrate Mexico’s taught lines, the Netherlands seemed on the verge of an early trip home. Then came Sneijder’s kick, a bullet to the left side of the net; the yellow card against Marquez, and Huntelaar’s penalty shot.  Ten minutes from desolation, the Dutch reversed course and launched a party in the The Hague that will last throughout the night.

That said, it should be realized that while the Dutch won, they weren’t very convincing… When Nigel De Jong exited
the game, their formidable three center-back defensive scheme became quite shaky, and Giovani Dos Santos took full advantage with a beautiful individual effort (and when he was taken out of the game, I was quite surprised).

For the Netherlands, many lessons can be learned from this game, beginning with the fact that their back three should never play without a player like De Jong in front of them, and… Dirk Kuyt is a terrible right wingback…

Van Persie pic for blogBut anyways, although they performed extremely well in their first three games, the Dutch looked shaky today – after Mexico scored their first goal, their attack dropped back slightly and the Dutch were left with the ability to control more possession from within their opponent’s half – and quite frankly, they didn’t seem to have the ability to take advantage of that situation. Their first goal today was the result of set-pieces blunder on Mexico’s part, and their second goal came from the penalty spot… The Dutch won’t get so lucky when they play better teams, and Robben will no longer get the calls in the box that he expects – that’s why the Dutch must learn to rely on forms of offense other than the counter-attack and set-pieces.

Furthermore, I didn’t understand why Van Persie was substituted for Huntelaar (despite Huntelaar’s header pass to Robben pic for blog
Sneijder for the tying goal): Van Persie is a player that needs to be on the field at all times, especially in a Dutch system that relies so much on the attacking three that he, Sneijder and Robben make up. Huntelaar is a great player, but if world class Van Persie is struggling to get going, I’d find that Huntelaar would also have a lot more trouble finding a rhythm – especially as he hadn’t played in the previous three games.

If the Dutch can continue to win, I’ll shut up, but after today’s performance, and De Jong’s injury, I see them having a hard time advancing much further as the competition gets better. That said, I still look forward most to seeing how teams defend Robben moving forward, and how he responds. The World Cup stage has proven to be a place where players can make their careers, break their careers, and transform from world class stars, to world class legends. If Robben continues his fantastic form, he could win the Ballon D’or, and right now if the World Cup were to end today, he’d deserve it.

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Brazil, World Cup

It’s no longer Chile in Brazil

Chile has been a force to be reckoned with throughout the world cup – they manhandled a Vidal and Sanchez pic for blogdisappointing Spanish team, held there own against the Netherlands (who seems to be the strongest team so far) and they’ve played with grit and determination throughout the tournament. Their tenaciousness was truly evident today, as they disrupted the Brazilian attack all game.

In fact, Neymar didn’t seem comfortable in the first half when he arrived in the box with the ball… He kept trying to bring the ball back to his right foot which was very surprising considering that he’s proven to have a strong left foot strike (Spain is very aware of this – youtube Neymar’s goal against them in the confederations cup in the final last year). Chile’s defense held strong today against Brazil’s attack, but more importantly, their attack held their own against Brazil’s defense, and this had a lot to do with their midfield. Aturo Vidal might be the best box-to-box midfielder in the world – and quite honestly, he’s a linchpin in Chile’s lineup that a team like Brazil could have really benefitted from – because let’s be honest, Gustavo, Fernandinho and Oscar simply didn’t show up today and aren’t players that the Brazilian attack can run through.

Neymar Pic for blogThat said, Brazil need to find more of a rhythm considering their level of talent. The fact that a player like Lucas didn’t make their national team is quite disturbing, especially considering that Oscar had an extremely quiet year at Chelsea but still managed a starting World Cup spot (as a midfielder, rather than his more effective position on the right wing where he played best for Chelsea in his first season).

Brazil failed to emphasize the importance of creativity in the midfield, and instead have relied far too much on on moments of brilliance from Neymar this entire World Cup – and while that’s worked to an extent, this is the first time in a long time that a Brazilian squad lacks many players with that Brazilian Neymar-esque flair. In the past,Lucas pic for blog Brazilian teams have showcased a balance of flair and grit, but this year has been more about the flair of one man (Neymar) as opposed to that of the entire team. This was nowhere more evident than in their game against Mexico where it was proven that Neymar can’t do it all on his own.

In the second half of today’s game against Chile, players like Bernard and Lucas (had he made the team) should have been backing up Neymar in the midfield – especially because Oscar continues to be a non-factor (and let’s be honest, his first goal of the tournament should/could have been defended better).

Brazil Defense pic for blogA further note: With Brazil’s defense known to be so solid, they can afford to field more attacking midfielders.

Chile dominated the second half of the game, Neymar didn’t have as much space, and Jo was incapable of easily finishing off of a great cross from Hulk in the box… Brazil has never been known to have a bulky striker spearheading their attack… This is something that needs to change – I’d like to see Neymar up top, with Hulk on the left and Oscar on the right… In this way, Neymar is truly the focal point of the  Brazilian attack (although the one concern I’d have is that he would not be able to roam around as much as his current role allows). That said, it’s still a risk that I believe would pay off dramatically.

Extra time in today’s game was quite interesting, with Vidal out due to fitness, Chile lost some of it’s offensive prowess, and this ultimately lead to Brazil’s domination in the extra half hour. But, as we all know, despite that domination – the game ended at the penalty spot – where, despite the admirable performance of both teams, Brazil won.

Reflections: Neymar has played admirably at the Word Cup, if he brings Brazil all the way, and can continue scoring where Fred and Jo cannot – he should be a candidate for the Ballon D’or (especially with the lack of support he’s getting from Oscar).

One thing that can be taken away from this game is that the tournament as a whole will not be a cakewalk for Brazil, and they cannot afford not to play at the top level for the rest of it.

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Italy, World Cup

Ciao Bella Italy

Italy vs Uruguay was quite a boring match – Until of course Saurez bit Chiellini, and the Italian defense squandered a header goal to Godin (a player that’s been outstanding for Atletico all year).

Saurez pic for BlogSaurez should surely face some retribution from FIFA for being the “Cannibal” that he is biting Chiellini. Honestly though, the ref bit Italy far worse than Saurez ever could – because Marchisio’s red card seemed completely unwarranted.

That said, Italy bit themselves in the foot when they took out Balotelli with the fear that he’d get another yellow card and be sent off due to his temper. Balotelli presented a physical challenge to Uruguay’s defense that the smaller Immobile did not. Throughout the match vs. Uruguay, and the entire World Cup, Italy has had trouble finding an attack – Costa Rica beat them, and they could only just beat England by one goal. One reason for this has been Marchisio’s ineffectiveness as an attacking mid supporting Balotelli.

Marco Verratti was Italy’s one bright spot throughout this Verretti pic for bloggame, and World Cup. He should have played further up, in Marchisio’s role, especially as he proved today his ability to dribble past defenders to start attacks from the back in his role next to Pirlo. Cesare Prandelli tinkered around with his team too much during Italy’s three games, and should have figured out his best lineup before the World Cup began.  It will be interesting to see Prandelli’s response to Italy’s first round exit, especially considering that Italy’s defense (known to be a stonewall) was quite unbalanced throughout. His decision to start three center backs in the back today was interesting, especially knowing that they only needed a tie. Rather than shore up the defense, three center backs seem to be their downfall – throughout the game Chiellini had been up the field on the left which seemed to be a ridiculous role for such a purely defensive player.

Another note from today’s game: Immobile failed to perform, and could not take down many through balls that Italy dejected picPirlo perfectly sliced through the defense, but… I can’t blame him, it takes time to establish a rhythm with a team, and he should have started all three games or had more time to gel before being inserted upfront.

Furthermore, some younger players like the tall and speedy Cerci should have played a bit more – Pirlo would have had a field day passing the ball to him and Balotelli as they both played upfront. In other words, Balotelli and Cerci are both 6 foot plus, technically sound, and remarkably quick, the perfect players for Pirlo to play the ball to, unlike the shorter Immobile.

Also, for readers in the US, follow me on twitter (link above) for a chance to win a World Cup Soccer ball!

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England, World Cup

England battled admirably… but should have utilized Wilshere

Rooney Pic for blogBefore almost every world cup it seems that the English media make a fuss about how their country is finally strong enough to be tournament champions  – but this year has been an odd exception. I haven’t heard dramatized stories or discussions about how and why each player is finally ready to step to the main stage, but rather, I’ve been exposed to stories that describe how talented, young and hungry their team is -and I’ll be honest, it’s been super refreshing. England didn’t dominate Italy during their last world cup match, but they played with a youthful passion and conviction that synced up with the English media’s perception of their talent, and let me repeat, it was super refreshing.

I enjoyed watching England’s young players battle with a ferocity that seems to have motivated Sturddige Pic for Blogand given life to Rooney, and in doing so, heightened his level of play. One problem though: Rooney needs to play up top with Sturridge, or be the lone striker as he did the season before Van Persie arrived at Man United. Rooney’s positioning at this World Cup as a left attacking mid has been somewhat baffling, especially considering that Sturridge is faster, left footed, and able to outpace many players if given that space on the left.

But back to Rooney, England needs to let their younger players do all the work for him – his goal today against Uruguay came because all of the younger players worked the ball around and gave it to him for an easy finish in the box. Rooney is a natural in the box, he needs to finish off goals, not start them – and it’d be interesting to see him play side by side Sturridge in the next game (just as Saurez does with him on Liverpool).

Wilshere pic for blogThat said, it’s easy to notice Wilshere’s lack of inclusion in this England squad – he’s an attacking midfielder that should have been utilized more in this World Cup, especially considering his big game experience when to Lallana and Barkley’s lack of it. Wilshere is England’s future at midfield, and deserves more of a chance, furthermore, he could have fit perfectly into Rooney’s left attacking mid spot and dished the ball forward to Rooney and Sturridge – something Roy Hodgson should have considered before England’s second game.

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Spain, World Cup

Spanish Secession in the World Cup

Dejected Iker Pic for BlogAs you know, Spain lost 5-1 to the Netherlands in their World Cup opener last week – and I must be honest with you, when I saw their starting lineup going into the game, confusion rippled through me. Xavi was behind Diego Costa, with Silva occupying the right attacking mid position… and Iniesta the left. Behind them, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets (two midfielders with great positioning, but ultimately playing the same role)  behind them – and honestly, I questioned why César Azpilicueta, a left back, was playing right back, when Jaunfran (who played an insanely important role for Atletico this past year, helping them win the league and get to the Champions league final) was on the bench.

Assessing Spain’s failure in this game is quite simple (and I’ll explain why throughout this post) – like Arsenal – they had way too many midfielder playmakers, and too few attackers. Last week Xavi said, “We (Spain) will live and die by Tika-Taka,” but what Vicente del Bosque needs to realize is this: if he doesn’t field more attacking talent, Spain ultimately commit Tika-Taka suicide.

Furthermore, Vicente del Bosque should have picked either Xabi Alonso, or Sergio Busquets to stand in front his defensem and used a box to box midfielder in front of one of them to pick up the slack and serve as the conduit between their attack and their defense… Just as Modric does for Real (Xavi used to do this, but now is too old for such a role). But, here’s what needs to be realized: Gabi (although older) and Koke of Atletico Madrid really deserved roles as starters in this world cup, THE FUTURE IS NOW for Spain, and clearly Barcelona’s (and Spain’s) lack of success can be partly contributed to two things: 1, their fear of change, and 2, their inability to capitalize on Atletico’s success this past year, and use the  players from Atletico that have performed at the top level all year (and last year).

To be fair, it’s not totally Vicente del Bosque’s fault, the Spanish media would have grilled him had he not picked the right team on paper (the team that has been the most dominant over the past decade), but if Barcelona’s lack of success this year was any indication, he should have known better than to field a midfield that was left trophyless at club level this past year.

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Fast forward to today, Vicente del Bosque started Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets together (again), omitted Xavi, choosing attack minded Pedro instead (which I agree with), and omitted Pique for Javi Martinez.

Vicente del Bosque did right by picking Pedro over Xavi, but should have started Martinez instead of Xavi Alonso or Busquets, and in front of Ramos and Pique – Javi Martinez needs to be used in his natural position, and where he played best for Bayern two years ago. Furthermore, when Koke came in at half-time in today’s game against Chile, Spain’s play completely transformed: they played more of the second half within Chile’s side of the field and their offensive energy instantly heightened. That said, they still lost, and only managed one goal (through a penalty) so far in this world cup, which is unacceptable and a sign that changes must occur.

Vincent de Bosque Pic for BlogTo review: As is life, everything gets old, and ultimately becomes more ineffective… This is the case with Tika-Taka, and the players that mastered it (Xavi, Iniesta etc.)

Survival is about adaptation, and like I said, THE FUTURE IS NOW, and the “now” has been dominated by teams with success over the past year (Altletico, and it’s Spanish players). A couple more points: This was the world cup that Isco should have taken over for Xavi, plus Navas, after a successful year at Man City, needed to be on the team as well..

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