Clubs, Real Madrid

Ramos rallies Real against Atletico

There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Real Madrid had been the better team than Atletico in the first leg of their Champions league matchup. They truly came out of the tunnel firing on all cylinders, and had a load of chances – one of which Bale (at his price tag and skill level) should have finished. That said, Atletico stayed true to their gritty nature, pulling off a defensive victory to grab the draw. Lucky for them, going into this second leg, they knew that a 1-1 draw would be enough to secure the victory, and they also knew that Modric and Bale were unable to play due to injury.The stars aligned in their favor, and going into this game I really expected them, with their experience and tenacity, to come through with a victory.

At the same time, visions of the future had me second-guessing myself: It’s so easy to imagine Cristiano bagging a brace, being the hero, and moving onto the next round. That being said, this would require that Jese and Isco (Bale & Modric replacements), come into the team and play like experienced veterans – and that Javier Hernandez uses his outstanding work rate to makeup for the skills that he doesn’t have (and that Benzema does have) … And to be honest, that’s what I thought would be most interesting about this game — even more than the Cristiano vs. Juanfran battle – which is always an awesome match. But then…. I saw the starting lineup… Javier Hernandez up front with Ronaldo, with James, Kroos, Isco, and of all people, Sergio Ramos all playing behind them… The back four was a bit more normal, with Pepe replacing the midfield Ramos, but I didn’t know what to expect from this lineup… and I was really surprised that for the most part, it worked.

Real’s lineup was a cautious one, but smart one, Hernandez had a decent chance but miss kicked it in the first ten minutes. And then at one point he flicked a nice pass to Ronaldo, who kicked it wide with his left foot. He also squandered a chance towards the end of the first half, but as we all know — he later made up for it with an awesome assist.

Throughout the game, Sergio Ramos really controlled the tempo from midfield – he Chicharito Champions League goal
possessed the technique and passing to keep up with the midfield teammates around him, and he played well under-pressure from the Atletico midfield. I truly think that he won the game for them – I mean… he also drew the red card that completely turned the tide for Real. It seemed as though the red card gave Real the confidence to attack and use the space available to them, and the one-two that Ronaldo played with Carvajal was truly representative of that. That being said, Chicharito deserves so much praise for his effort,  not because he scored the winning goal, but because he kept up with the always fit-as-a-whistle Ronaldo, and his positioning was outstanding. He’s truly the unsung hero that probably won’t get as much credit as he deserves for his performance, because at the end of the day, Real is Ronaldo’s club (and he always gets the credit).

Real Madrid CelebratingBack to Ramos: As a midfielder he reminded me of Xabi Alonso, only a fitter, more and more dominating Xabi Alonso. He’s one of the feistiest players in the world, and it looked like he loved being in the thick of the action at midfield. He won so many aerial battles, and though he isn’t as gifted as a passer as Kroos, James or Modric, he can certainly hold his own.

Moving forward though, Real must continue to win with like this… It’s not going to be easy without Bale, Benzema or Modric and this game could have easily gone either way. Whereas Barcelona can win it all through their chemistry as a unit, Real’s injuries put them in a very different position to the one that they were in last year: they must win through adapting: And Carlo Ancelotti understands that – thus the risk of using Ramos at midfield. I trust that Ancelotti has the the brains to continue to put together on-the-fly starting lineups, but I sincerely doubt today’s Real Madrid, could beat Barcelona or Bayern in their current form.

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Clubs, FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain

Barcelona dominate PSG, again.

I’ll be completely honest – the first leg of Barcelona vs. PSG was somewhat of a joke: Ibrahimovic, Saurez LuizPSG’s world class striker: suspended… Verratti, PSG’s pace-setting-midfielder: also out… Thiago Silva, PSG’s world class defender: came off early with an injury… His replacement David Luiz (fresh off an injury): did not look fit for the pace of the game. And, this caused a total lack of team chemistry, and it showed – Barcelona had 68% possession in that first matchup, and Luis Saurez made their entire defense seem (and feel) insanely ill-equipped with his spectacular goals. In summation, PSG didn’t have a proper go at Barcelona in the first leg, and this lead me to believe that in the second leg they would come out swinging. Against Chelsea, the shear tenacity of their players lead them to victory – but in this game, they were just outmatched, and outclassed.

Ever since Xavi’s been replaced in the starting lineup with Rakatic, Iniesta has experienced somewhat of a revival – and the way he set up Neymar’s first goal today is purely an example of that. Rakatic tracks back and it gives Iniesta and their defensive unit cover in ways that Xavi wasn’t able to do over the last couple years as he’s gotten older. When Mascharano plays defensive mid for Barcelona, both Iniesta and Rakatic are more easily able to attack with reckless abandon, but I believe Enrique started Busquets today because he’s a but more technically savvy than Javier at maintaining possession. But back to Iniesta… in his golden days he used to glide through defenses with unbelievable precision, and I truly thought he lost that ability as he’s gotten older, but it seems as though he can still turn on the flair. Neymar Second Goal

Over the last couple years Barca have been rebuilding… and last year, Xavi was no longer himself, Neymar was still settling into the club… and they simply didn’t have time to jell together as a team. This year, Neymar has completed his transition into a left forward, Messi has gone back to his right forward position – where he started his career – and no longer needs to exhibit the work rate of a center striker, because that’s where Saurez comes in. Furthermore, at the right forward position, Messi is more likely to come into midfield to set-up his teammates for the attack, something that he does better than anybody else in the world.

PSG have a lot to work on, they truly missed Thiago Silva again, and the injury that’s kept Luca Moura out has been devastating. He is truly a player that needs to be used more – not many players can dribble through teams like he can, and the offense needs to work through him. The next round of the Champions league will be one to watch, especially as Barca continues to roll through the competition, let me know if you think they (or another team) are the favorite in the poll below.

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Clubs, FC Barcelona

The El Clasico Review

I know I’m a little late here, but the El Clasico was unbelievably defining, not just for Real Madrid, but more so for Barcelona. They had so many opportunities to score during this match, and they will continue to have more opportunities as long as Luis Enrique doesn’t switch back to his rotational lineup. The cohesion that Barca displayed was top-notch, and Messi, despite ending the game without a goal, lit up the soccer world with his performance at the right wing/forward position (where he started his career).Messi El Clasico

While Rakatic and Mascherano ran up and down the field constantly, Iniesta was free to be a bit more creative, and while he no longer glides and shifts like he used to, he still was able to spot the correct passes throughout the game. Rakatic would support the team in attack when necessary, and Mascherano seemed content playing back in front of the center backs, leaving Dani Alves and Jordi Alba the chance to do what they do best (support up the flanks).

Real weren’t terrible… in the first half. In fact, the game should have been a draw – considering Bale was onside for his “offside” goal. That being said, for the most part, Real were lethargic, despite a moment of sheer brilliance by Benzema to setup Ronaldo with his goal. Ronaldo had one more opportunity earlier, but he just couldn’t finish as the post denied him the brace.

Real seemed to miss something this game: Isco and Modric are great players, but they’re not pacey, and they’re certainly not able to produce speedy runs like Di Maria, or just put themselves in the perfect position to score goals like James Rodriguez. And Kroos is like Xabi Alonso, but much more attack oriented (which can be good, but not against quality teams like Barcelona). Real will need James moving forward, and they will need Modric to get back to full fitness since his injury – while he has been playing well, he doesn’t look as great as he was last year. It will be interesting to see how the calm Ancelotti handles his team moving forward, especially considering Bale’s lack of form. Saurez El Clasico Goal

Barca on the other hand… Suarez is the missing link on that team – he finishes chances with such precision, and he has the pace and technique to keep up with both Messi and Neymar. I’d go as far as to say he’s just as good a dribbler as Neymar (call me crazy). Barca seem to be on a roll, and with Messi being used on the right, and coming back into midfield to help create chances, Barca truly look unstoppable at the moment.

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Clubs, Real Madrid

Ballon D’or: Victorious Cristiano and the ceremony’s lack of recognition for other players

Without a shadow of a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the Ballon D’or for his efforts this Cristiano Ballon D'or 2014past year – everyone knows that, except there is one issue that grinds my nerves: there is so much bias in the footballing world, and the media plays such a huge role in both that, and in picking the winner, that the true meaning and expectation of a Ballon D’or is somewhat screwed up. What I mean by that is this: There is no science to how the Ballon D’or winner is selected, and while I suppose there can’t be, it still hurts me to see how much of an affect an individual’s goal scoring record, media attention, and media speculation can affect the outcome… There is so much emphasis put on the La Liga title race, the feud between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, that much of the world forgets about other players, and leagues (and how effing competitive the Bundesliga and Premier league are).

Let me put it to you this way, if I were to decide on the top three best players in the world last year shortlist, I would no doubt put Diego Costa and/or Toni Kroos on that list (and probably take out Messi)…  Costa won La Liga last year, lead his team to the Champions Cup final, and scored a hell of a lot of goals. Kroos won the Bundesliga and the German league with Bayern, and the World Cup with Germany. And,  as we all know, Messi didn’t win anything, but he did make it to the finals in the World Cup (and scored a lot of goals last year)… As well all know, Cristiano won the Champions league, the Spanish Cup final (which he didn’t play in), and scored a hell of a lot of goals.

The question that remains though, is this: how do you set yourself apart from the rest of the pack when you’re not in a position to score a lot of goals? Clearly it’s not win? Because, if you win, the guy that scores all the goals is still going to be crowned the Ballon D’or Champion. It’s kind of messed up, isn’t it?

I’m of the opinion that too many players aren’t garnering the love, respect and admiration that they deserve in this age of football. Unless you possess the flash, flair, goals, and more importantly: the media intrigue, you will never really be crowned the best player in the world. Again, let me reiterate, I think Cristiano deserved it this year, but there needs to be new metrics for measuring the success of and impact of other players on the field like the midfielders and defenders in the world, and how they contribute to the success of everyone around them. It’s sad that over the last couple years, the media has dramatized a feud between Messi and Ronaldo, rather than marveled at the fact that Manuel Neuer revolutionized his position, becoming the first of his kind as a sweeper keeper.

All that being said, I could be completely wrong on this Ballon D’or debate. In other words: perhaps Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in fact just that much better than everyone else in the world and perhaps historically it’s been an award that’s given to attackers — But, if that’s the case, then they should have a best player award for each position, and I don’t mean individual position, I mean one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one attacker. Fifa, the media, and the world would eat up the intrigue involved in three separate awards. Furthermore, players like Neuer, Kroos, and Lahm would get the recognition that they truly deserve.

Such a system would motivate younger kids to be the “best defender in the world,” rather than have a whole generation of young players obsessed with being on the pitch as attackers – which would be awesome, because I don’t think their are that many pure defenders anymore, something I discussed this blog post about Carlos Puyol last year.

Anyways, let me know if you agree through taking part in the poll below 🙂

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Clubs, FC Barcelona

Messi is not being played right, and neither is Barcelona

I know it’s been a while since I posted an article, and I apologize for that, I recently started a new job and I’ve been rather busy – but let’s get back to football, too much has happened over the last couple months. I’m going to start with Barcelona…

The situation at Camp Nou is dire, but it’s not as dire as the media will have you believe. Barcelona are still alive in every competition, and their team, although aging, has more than enough talent to survive another transferless window… but, the real question (and the only question) that one must ask: Why isn’t Enrique managing his players correctly!?

Luis Enrique Blog PhotoLuis Enrique’s defiance is somewhat unfounded — when has a constant rotation of players in and out of the starting lineup ever created team cohesion on the field… and in the locker room? You can make the argument that the genius Josep used to rotate players all the time, and still does at FC Bayern, but lets be honest people – he doesn’t do it after he’s figured out what’s working (except of course for his tactical blunder against Real last year in the Champions Cup). But anyway, the issue with Enrique is that he doesn’t know what’s working, and he’s not giving himself the chance to find out.

There is no doubt that the arrivals of Ivan Rakatic and Jérémy Mathieu were much needed, but it’s unbelievable that Enrique would constantly rotate Rakatic in and out the starting lineup, especially with the older, former stalwarts Xavi and Iniesta and not allow for Mathieu to get comfortable in the center of the defense in a partnership with Pique! Let me explain why…. two reasons: 1) I don’t often agree with Sergio Busquets, but Barcelona do need to be taller and more physical, so they must allow Pique and Mathieu to play at center back together, and 2) did anyone not see how effing spectacular Javier Mascherano played at his natural position, defensive midfielder this past summer at the World Cup? If he were to play in front of Pique and Mathieu, they would be an extremely fearsome and aggressive group. Furthermore, at a deep defensive mid position, Masherano would allow for Alves and Alba to do what they do best, attack from the back.

Messi and Rakatic pic for blogLet’s continue… supposing that Enrique gets his act together and plays Pique, Mathieu, Masherano, Alba and Alves the way I suggested… Barcelona still need to get there act together at midfield too, where I believe they are a still working to find a rhythm.  With Xavi and Iniesta getting older, and less mobile, Enrique needs to allow Rakatic to develop a role in Barcelona’s offense, rather than have Barcelona’s offense dictate what role he plays. Last year, when Rakatic played for Sevilla, he was one of the best midfielders in La Liga, and this year he always deserves a place in the starting lineup in every game for Barca. Because Rakatic does not possess the flair, creativity and and shiftiness of an Iniesta, he should play in front of Mascherano, where he would add height to a team that desperately needs it. Furthermore, he is young and plays with a level of vitality unseen in Xavi these days, and he would truly engine the attackers in front of him. Now to the top of Barca’s attack…

Barcelona’s attackers are lucky, they are so unbelievably talented that I don’t think it’s an issue for them toIMG_7437 speedily develop cohesion. That said, I do believe that they need to play roles that befit them, and not ones that center around what Messi wants to do. Let me explain, when Messi was rising in ranks, and won his four straight Ballon D’or trophies, he played a position that best benefitted the team. He started off on the right wing/forward in his early days (with Ronaldinho and Eto’o), and then moved to the false nine where he thrived most, and then over the last couple years has tried acting as a true number nine, which has had really unfortunate affects. Messi is best when he has space to operate with, and as a false nine under Guardiola, he dictated play so naturally that it was a role born for him, and him only. That said, last year he seemed to wonder aimlessly around the the box, waiting for his teammates to create brilliance that would unleash his goal scoring prowess — the two issues with that are clear, Iniesta no longer plays at the level he used to (so he can’t create as he used to), and in the false nine, Messi wouldn’t have to wait/rely on teammates to unleash him for goals, he would do it himself, and unleash the team around him.

Luis Enrique needs to realize that above all else. Alejandro Sabella realized it going into the summer’s world cup — he let Messi be the creator and the scorer, and reaped the benefits from it (so did Di Maria and Higuaín) as they reached the final against Germany. Furthermore, I mentioned this before, we all saw how Sabella unleashed Mascherano at the defensive mid, position, a role that he plays better than anyone else in the entire world. Enrique needs to realize this, and allow for Messi to take a similar role at Barcelona, where he’s lucky to have better attacking talent than that on Argentina this summer. He must be the Luis Saurez pic for blogmagician, and the scorer. As far as I’m concerned, as long as Messi plays the false nine, Neymar, Saurez and Pedro are all interchangeable at the left and right wing, and attacking mid position behind the false nine and in front of Rakatic. Basquets, Xavi, Iniesta all have great experience off the bench, and the young starlet El Hadadi is also worth a bench spot to add a spark when needed… But I don’t think he will have to, if Barcelona plays as I described. Otherwise, his players, his career, and his Barcelona team, will continue to underperform. The time is now to create cohesion, especially without the ability to buy players through this, and the next transfer window… If he fails, players will continue to grab at their head… If I were on the Barca board, I’d beg Alejandro Sabella to coach the team, he got the best out of Messi and Mascherano on Argentina, and could surely do the same for Barcelona.

Do you agree with my tactical ideas for Barcelona? Please let me know in the comments section below! I’ll be sure to respond! And feel free to answer the poll question below.

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Liverpool

Why Always Me will never walk alone…

Balotelli Man City PicWhy always me? That seems to be the question, and, the answer seems to be quite simple, really – because you make everything about you. Many players in the world would never get away with the mischievous crap that Mr. Balotelli has gotten away with in his career. He’s rubbed heads with Mourinho, who at one point called him “unmanageable,” and at another point, he even described managing him as a “comedy.” Even levelheaded Roberto Mancini’s had his fair share of fights with the kid, at one point even getting into somewhat of a physical altercation with him at the Man City training ground.

That said, at Milan last year, he was quite behaved, but is he really worth the risk for Balotelli Milan Pic
a Liverpool squad that’s bought into Brendan Rodger’s team mentality? I truly don’t know. The thought of Balotelli and Sturridge playing up front together seems rather mouth watering, but are they too similar of players? Will Balotelli give up on the pitch if things aren’t going right for him or the team? Those are questions that need to be considered…

Liverpool fans are known to be some of the best fans in the world. Above all else, they truly clamor over effort and work ethic on the pitch. As long as you give 100%, you’ll win over the hearts of their fans. But, does Balotelli play every game like it’s his last? Saurez truly embodied the mentality that Liverpool fans covet and relate to, like them, he’s a blue-collar guy. Furthermore, he plays every game with a passion that not too many players have, and that sometimes even he can’t handle (as represented by his three separate biting incidents). Plus, he produced on the pitch. Saurez worked for everything that he has today, not that Balotelli hasn’t, but Mario has been pampered his entire career, unlike his Uruguayan counterpart.

Saurez Balotelli PicSince he was a youth player, Balotelli’s antics have been put up with due to two things, his immense skill, and potential. But, now that he’s hitting the age of 24, that potential should have already been realized. Here’s what I mean by that: Had he already become world class as many expected, he wouldn’t have moved around so much, or been sold to Liverpool for a measly 16 million pounds. To put that in perspective, Barcelona bought Saurez for almost quadruple that price. And there’s a reason for that – although he’s sometimes just as ill-tempered, he’s also quadruple as talented. You can disagree with me there if you like, but, I’d stubbornly defend my point. The good news for Liverpool fans is that like Balotelli, Saurez came over to Liverpool when he was only 24, and over the course of the last three years, he’s developed into a world class footballer. So, Mario could conceivably do the same. But, because players of Suarez’s calibre are so rare, it’s hard to imagine that Balotelli will end up getting any better than he already is. I suppose Rodgers and the team around him will have a lot to do with his development.

Perhaps the best thing Balotell has to look forward to at Liverpool is the opportunity to play with such a young crop of talent. Balotelli crying picHe can grow with Sturridge, Henderson, Coutinho and Sterling. He can develop both in training and on the field with them. One moment that really stuck with me, was when he cried at Euro 2012, it expressed his desire for success, and if Rodgers can take him, and influence him to a point where the energy that he exerts into his silly antics is instead inserted into his energy on the field, he could be an awesome signing.

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Arsenal FC

Arsenal should buy Di Maria

Di Maria Sanchez pic for blogCall it a long shot, but I’m going to put it out there anyway, Arsenal should buy Di Maria. I don’t care what you, or anyone else thinks, if Arsenal is going to win this year, or next, then they need to invest in talent more than once in each summer transfer window. Furthermore, his purchase would be a huge blow to every other team out there, and propel them to the next level. 

I’ve never been so excited about discussing something that probably won’t happen, but hey, excitement is best shared, right? Let me explain how much of an effect a purchase like this could have, on both Arsenal, and the entire footballing world.

1: By flexing their financial muscle one more time this summer, Arsenal not only prove to every club that they are not Arsene Wenger pic for blogto be messed with, but they also prove to all the players out there in the world that they’re in it to win it, and in doing so, become an even more desirable destination for both youth players, and world stars alike.

2, Di Maria is world class, put him on the opposite side of Sanchez, and allow Arsenal’s already incredible midfield of player makers to feed him the ball – and he’ll thrive even more than last year. Furthermore, Di Maria was unhappy at being played out of position at Real – at Arsenal, he would not only play on the left wing, but he’d be forced to take on more of a scoring role, similar to the roles Ronaldo and Bale have at his current club. At Arsenal, no longer would he be in a supporting role on the pitch, he would effectively be the main man, and main goal scorer. Plus, off the field, he would be Arsenal’s Batman, rather than Ronaldo’s Robin.

Ozil Arsenal pic for blog3: Di Maria’s talent is off the grid, he deserves more recognition. I wrote a post in the past about how ridiculous I think it is that Real seemed to have overlooked his importance to the team this past year (read that article here). Di Maria, if given more recognition, and a leadership role at Arsenal, would not only improve, but become a legend. 

4: He and Sanchez are engines – they would cause so many issues for opposing team’s defenses as their batteries never run out. And, with Ramsey (another engine) playing behind them, Arsenal would become crazy good and instantly become title contenders. Call me crazy, but Wenger could also experiment with Walcott at Striker if he purchases Di Maria. I’ve always thought Walcott would be better employed their, instead of at the wing. Plus, Ozil is familiar with Di Maria’s style of play, and getting those two back on the same pitch together would be a site for the eyes. 

5: Last but not least… why not? If you have the money, and the talent, and you’re goal is to win trophies, then why not? Furthermore, Di Maria would make the team bucket loads of money.

Anyway, as I’ve said, this transfer probably won’t happen, but, Arsenal have the funds to make it happen, and that’s what is so frustrating about it. Through purchasing Di Maria, Manchester United effectively drop out of contention for the next couple years in my opinion. The majority of Arsenal players are mid twenties, hitting their prime, Manchester United are in a rebuilding phase, and taking players of Di Maria’s calibre off the market, would really affect both rival, and football stars, as they would want to play with high profile guys like Di Maria, Ozil, and Sanchez. Let’s make this happen folks, repost this Facebook and get them to do the same, we gotta create a buzz around the idea that his transfer could actually happen!

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