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

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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Real Madrid

Real Madrid finally got it right… La Decima… And Ronaldo can get his third Ballon D’or

Carlo Pic
Real Madrid finally found a suitable formula this year, and it’s been so unconventional that it’s somehow become practical… To start, Carlo Ancelotti has been exactly what Ronaldo’s needed, a manager with a calm demeanor that has never gotten too full of himself to take away the spotlight from his number 9. And, the other thing that they got right – Gareth Bale – a player that shines in big games where Ronaldo does not…

Whereas Ronaldo seems intimidated and swept away by being on center stage (despite the fact that he loves to be there) during huge matches, it seems Gareth Bale is intrepid and thrives off it. He veins are ice cold and he never seems taken aback by the fierceness that comes with a big match.

… Back to Ancelotti, his starting lineup this year draws some comparisons to Barcelona’s over the better part of the past decade… Di Maria acts like Iniesta, weaving his way through defenders from center midfield to help start attacks, and sometimes finish them. Modric is like Xavi, he can make the right passes and knows when to join the attack and stay back with Alonso. And, Xabi Alonso (who I believe has been their most solid player this year, despite his somewhat long injury absence this campaign) is a jewel in front of Ramos and Pepe – his positioning, attentiveness, and awareness are absolutely outstanding. Let me put it this way, Sergio Busquets (who plays a similar role with Barca, and I think is massively overrated) has nothing on Xabi Alonso…

Let me repeat myself, Real Madrid finally got it right – and this has huge ramifications on their fiercest rival and counterpart Barcelona, specifically, their gem, Leo Messi. Real has a team that’s young enough to shine for at least the next five years. Barcelona’s needs a complete overhaul, Xavi should not start anymore (Barca can’t run their attack through him anymore), they need someone with more attacking pop. In other words, they need to transition to a system of attack with faster buildup… Neymar doesn’t thrive in a system that appreciates possession like Barca’s, in fact, I’d venture as far to say that if Neymar were to be on Real, and Bale on Barca, Neymar would have excelled just as much (if not even more) this year. Furthermore, Messi is only 26 years old, he needs to be part of an attack that emphasizes speed, and some semblance of the counterattack, instead of a pure possession. I know these guys are all long shots, but Barca need to buy someone like Reus, Lucas, Bernard, or Julian Draxler… and they never should have let Thiago move to Bayern… But let’s move on… Real Madrid’s success this year has huge consequences on the football world… Specifically on Leo Messi…

First of all, Ronaldo is probably the happiest man alive at the moment… He knows better than anyone whatRonaldo Pic the Le Decima means… yes, that’s right, another Ballon D’or… Which of course can be solidified with a great performance at this summer’s World Cup… The only thing standing in his way, and perhaps his worst nightmare, would be for Argentina to lift the World Cup. That said though, I do believe that if Diego Costa shines this summer, he could also be a huge contender for the Ballon D’or next year as well… But anyway…

Ronaldo’s stats this past campaign have been nothing short of miraculous, 51 goals in 47 appearances vs. Messi’s 41 goals in 46 appearances (in all competitions)… Ronaldo scored 17 of those goals in the Champions league alone, a record that he now holds over Messi. Here’s the interesting part that needs to be emphasized: For the first time in forever Ronaldo is holding his own destiny in his hands… In other words, this year will not be one where he has to wait for Messi to slip-up or get injured in order to get crowned his third Ballon D’or, but rather he must maintain his current form to reach that success – and all signs point to him doing just that.

Bale PicThe additions of Carlo Ancelotti and Gareth Bale couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in Ronaldo’s career, and they couldn’t be more perfect fits. As previously stated, Ancelotti is calm, and he lets the players be themselves – unlike Mourinho, Ancelotti could give two damns how vain his players are and how often they stare at themselves in the mirror. In addition, Mourinho gives off a sense of knowing better than anyone and everyone else, Ancelotti does not – and this does wonders in the Real Madrid dressing room… this allows them to focus on one and only task – winning football matches… In other words, when you have players like those on Real, that already possess swagger, you don’t perpetuate or challenge their sense of entitlement with a manager that has more swagger (Mourinho), and that, my friends, is why Ancelotti was successful this year – he let the players be themselves, he treated them like adults, and he listened to them rather than assuming he knew better than them. No better example is when Real wanted to sell off Di Maria with the idea that it would help finance the purchase of Bale… Ronaldo requested that Di Maria stay and Ancelotti (and Perez) listened… and now Di Maria is a starter.

Ancelotti is a magician, he didn’t show any excitement or get ahead of himself when Bale scored the tying goal against Atlético Madrid this past weekend… he remained calm and collected, and because of that, so did his team… 

Now, only two questions remain: who do you believe has been Real’s most valuable player this campaign? … And at which position should Real Madrid strengthen this summer?  Take a second to answer the poll questions below and in the comments section please let me know which player (at the position you answered in the poll question) should be bought.


FC Barcelona

Puyol’s replacement? Who should Barca buy?

It goes without saying that soccer has changed a lot over the last decade, it really has evolved to a point where attacking football is now sometimes viewed as the newest and best form of defense. That point is purely evident by taking a look at the most successful club and international teams over the past decade, Spain, and FC Barcelona.

Center Back Pic for blog

Both teams employed a Tika-Taka system that kept possession of the ball and gradually tired out their opponents to a point of submission (leaving very little for their own team’s defenders to do aside from passing the ball forward to their midfielders). All that being said, it seems Tika-Taka may have ran it’s course as evidenced by Spain’s failure to defend against the blistering pace of Brazil’s counter attack at the confederations cup, and Bayern’s humbling loss to Real’s similarly rough and tumble yet somehow systematic counter-attack in the Champions league semi-finals this year. Furthermore, both losses have pointed out something more interesting than the supposed death of tike-taka: The death of the pure defender, a player so sound that he alone can stonewall a counter-attack (or any attack) through brash ingenuity.

The pure central defender is hard to find these days amongst those considered to be some of the Puyol Blog Picbest at that position…  Vincent Kompany, Pique, Thiago Silva, Ramos, David Luiz, Koscielny (Dislaimer: Yes I know two are Spanish, and two are Brazilian, and perhaps Hummels is pushing slightly) are all very technically sound, and, in some ways, lack that killer defensive instinct inherent to central defenders that dominated the game throughout the 2000’s… Puyol, Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini, Thuram, Sol Campbell, Lucio, Walter Samuel…

In short, I miss all of those players a lot, and not because they are legends, but because they all represent an era that now almost seems ancient to the modern footballer, and football fan… and that hurts. (But, because football is so enigmatic decade to decade, I think we’ll see a new reliance on defense, and a new generation of pure defenders… or at least I hope). 

Going out on a limb here, I’m going to make the claim that had a healthy (and young) Puyol been on Spain’s 2013 Confederations cup squad, they would have beat Brazil… Here’s why: Puyol’s brilliance is derived from many qualities, but one quality that stands out far more than the others is his ability to purely and instinctively defend (without any desire or want to attack). And, purely relying on his defensive instinct, he saved both Barcelona and Spain on countless occasions with his last ditch tackles, positional awareness, and most of all, brash ingenuity.

Aside from Terry, Vidic (who are old and practically done), Georgio Chillieni and I hate to say it, but maybe even Pepe (when he’s focused and decides to be ultra-defensive and doesn’t flail around on the ground as if he’s on fire after being nudged ever so slightly by another player), I’m unsure if I can name many other players as purely defensive as the aforementioned ones that ruled the 2000’s… and this brings me to another discussion… Who should Barcelona buy to plant next to Pique in the center of their defense? It’s a perplexing question because I’m of the belief that they need someone purely defensive, although there really aren’t many players that fit that mold anymore (as is the point of this article). But, I can say that I wouldn’t try to sign David Luiz because they need someone more defensive-minded.

A couple of  candidates that I would suggest, Holger Badstuber, Matts Hummels, Eliaquim Mangala, Marquinhos (If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments section)

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