Saturday, 18 May 2013

5 reasons why all neutrals should want a Dortmund win.





1- Jürgen Klopp- Is there a more likeable manager in world football than Jürgen Klopp?

Since Klopp came to Dortmund in 2008 he has dramatically improved a team that was only a few years earlier close to folding. He made shrewd signings such as Pizczek (on a free) Hummels (discarded by Bayern), Subotic (came from Mainz with Klopp) and numerous others. He transformed the team over just a few years, finishing 6th and 5th in his first two seasons. Then came the trophies, the first was a Dfl Supercup, beating Bayern in the final in 2008. It was clear he had certainly changed things for good. This is where his status elevated to a legend, from there he won two consecutive Bundesliga trophies and a German Cup last year, beating Bayern emphatically 5-2. 

Everything is likeable about Klopp, his team's style, his touchline passion, his relationship with the players and fans. He actually says interesting things in interviews unlike most managers of today. He is too good for any other team in modern football today, by that I mean if he leaves Dortmund, where is there that would match him so perfectly as Dortmund do. I just can't imagine him working under a Russian Oligarch or a Saudi Sheikh. But undoubtedly he will leave sometime, just hopefully not for a while yet. Hopefully we will see a Klopp Guardiola rivalry for a few years at least.

2- Dortmund's style 

A large reason so many neutrals have started enjoying and therefore followed die Scharzgelben is because of their aesthetically pleasing football. They attack quickly through quick passing and the front four combine to great affect. Add to that a great centre-back partnership in Subotic and Hummels, plus the ever reliable Pizczek and Schmelzer who both provide great attacking width. They link well with Kuba and Reus and allow both the two attackers to drift inside. Gündogan has grown massively in the past two years, his midfield performances have been so good Klopp didn't put Nuri Sahin straight back in the team upon his return. Weidenfeller has been excellent too, yet has still not been called up for the German National team.


 Dortmund combine fast, incisive attacking when on the ball with a tremendous pressing off it. Similar to Barcelona in many ways, although Dortmund tend to attack a bit quicker when they have the ball. In the final it is likely Bayern will dominate possession, Dortmund will have to counter-attack, taking up space that Bayern leave. Problem is for Dortmund Bayern have no real weak spots. If Van Buyten plays, it could be him who Dortmund target as he's the weakest of the centre-backs.

3- A one off chance/ The Underdogs?

It has taken Dortmund time to build their team and now that they have reached fruition as shown by being in the Champions League final, naturally the big teams are now circling for many of Dortmund's finest. Götze is already off, Lewandowski almost sure to go with him. Hummels and Gündogan are the latest linked with moves away from the Westfalenstadion. So if Dortmund don't take this opportunity how long will it be before they are back in with a chance with such a great first eleven as is currently the case. Unlike Bayern who will be appearing in their third final in four years, Dortmund haven't got to the final since last time they won it, in 1997. It's hard to envisage Dortmund appearing so frequently in finals over the coming years. 

Bayern Munich are a very likeable team, they play well, are well run, although that really goes without saying as it's generally the case throughout the Bundesliga. They have masses of money compared to the rest of the league, this is what makes it such an incredible achievement Dortmund have surpassed even them, the mighty Bayern in the previous two years. Dortmund's financial restraints are a thing Bayern never have to worry about. In a way though Dortmund must be thankful for Bayern's vast wealth as the Bavarians loaned them around €2M back in 2003 when Dortmund were in financial turmoil.


At the start of this season Bayern paid €40m for Javi Martinez, while Dortmund paid €17m for Marco Reus although this was unusual, it was their biggest transfer since Márcio Amoroso back in 2001, a Bundesliga record at the time. Bayern actually failed in trying to sign Reus who chose his boyhood club instead. This was after Dortmund had just won the double, so more money was coming in, prior to that Klopp had only paid small fees for what have turned out to be very talented players, Lewandowski only €4.5m, Kagawa better still was only €350,000. Whoever Dortmund's scout is, he is deserving of a new contract after his work of the last few years.

4- Götze's parting gift

Just over 24 hours prior to Dortmund's emphatic 4-1 victory over Real Madrid the news broke of Mario Götze's impending summer transfer. It was the worst news at possibly the worst time. Maybe only the day before the Champions League final against Götze's new team could have been worse. Klopp took Götze to one side before the game and helped get him prepared for what he may face. It worked! Götze provided the assist for the first of Lewandowski's four and didn't seem affected by the news, nor did the team as a whole. 

This transfer was shocking as there had been no rumours of it coming and because Götze has been at Dortmund since he was a kid. It was not surprising that Bayern bought one of the best players in the Bundesliga, they have been doing this for years. But this transfer took someone right at the heart of Dortmund to their rivals. It showed a lack of loyalty on Götze's part, which is disappointing, maybe he thought Dortmund had gone as far as they could and the lure of playing for Bayern and under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola was too hard to resist. I have since heard that Götze turned down a mammoth offer from Man City that would have been more lucrative, whether this is true or not it's something to be thankful for that it didn't happen.


5- The best fans in the world? 

Another aspect of what makes Dortmund so likeable to a neutral are their fans, thanks in part to having a 80,000 capacity, less in European competitions. Built for the 1974 World Cup, Westfalenstadion is a perfect stadium for football, stands tight to the pitch unlike so many stadiums with a mixture of terracing and seating. The South Stand (Südtribüne) is where most of the noise emanates, holding 25,000 fans I suppose it shouldn't be such a surprise. The banners too (see before the Malaga game) make it a great sight panning round at each stand before and during a game. 

For the final Dortmund have had 500,000 apply for it tickets, sadly only 24,000 are available to Dortmund and Bayern, with 27,000 going to UEFA sponsors, therefore only suppressing the all German atmosphere. Borussia Dortmund's popularity naturally has risen with the success they have achieved in the last few years, although Bayern still dominate when it comes to fans, with further success Dortmund's fan base will naturally only increase further. 

Various international players over recent seasons have further propelled Dortmund's following outside of Germany. Due to Pizczek, Lewandowski and national captain Blaszczykowski Dortmund have become more popular in Poland,  I have even heard of them being referred to as Polonia Dortmund. Shinji Kagawa has also definitely helped get them more attention in Japan too.

So this Saturday night, let's hope for a yellow glow radiating in the London sky.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

How to stop Barcelona

After last seasons meeting with Barcelona, Arsenal should have perhaps a better idea of how to try and deal with the Catalan giants when the two meet next week. Like last seasons quarter-final Arsenal play the first-leg at home before going to the Nou Camp in early March.

In the first-leg last season Arsenal were overwhelmed by Barcelona’s attacking prowess in the first-half before coming back to draw 2-2 thanks to Cesc Fabregas. Then in the second-leg they met a Barcelona who had Lionel Messi playing at another level, even for him! He scored all four to win 4-1. Barcelona had a weakened defence in this game after Carles Puyol was sent-off in the first game and Gerard Pique was suspended for accumulating yellow cards, meaning Gabriel Milito and Rafael Marquez came in. After his two goals at the Emirates Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t play due to injury, so Guardiola played Bojan Krkic. Their first eleven wasn’t close to their best which gave Arsenal hope. But even without Pique and Puyol Arsenal couldn’t do much to counter Messi’s heroics. What I have written below is by my reckoning some of the best ways to try and stop Barcelona play their way, which if Arsenal are to have any chance should try to do.


1. Stop Messi

Barcelona’s primary threat is without doubt Leo Messi. He has been the best player in World football over the last few years. If Arsenal are to keep Messi quiet they would have made their job much easier. Barcelona have shown this season that without the pintsized Argentinian they do not possess the same attacking threat and find it harder to break teams down. Against Levante they found it hard to break through a tough defence. For the first time in 10 matches Barcelona failed to score in the first-half. No doubt that Messi not playing was a reason why. What he’ll do like any great dribbler is drag defenders out of position, creating space for his team mates as well as making his opponents commit fouls.

Gael Clichy will be constantly running after Messi and will either have to move inside and track him or allow the Cbs to deal with him, or at least attempt. Clichy has not had the best season defensively and will need to produce a career-defining performance in order to nullify Messi.

2. Don’t give Iniesta and Xavi space and time

So much of Barcelona’s attacks stem from the two craftsman in midfield. Arsenal are likely to play Wilshere and Song together and both will have to track them and try and stop them dictating play. Wilshere has been an ever-present this season but at only 19 this game may be too much even for a player of his obvious ability to outclass his midfield opposites. Wilshere has played with Song for most of the season but despite his defensive side to his game, he’ll struggle against the likes of Xavi. Iniesta particularly can dribble superbly and like with the Messi/Clichy clash will either need to be tracked by Wilshere/Song or a CB could come forward. This though is where Arsenal may fall into a trap. In the El Classico this season Barcelona mainly due to Messi, as is often the case, ran at the Real defence committing players to come towards him, moving them forward and leaving space behind for others to run into. At the perfect moment he would make the perfect pass.

In this example leading to Barcelona’s third goal Messi draws Xabi Alonso towards him and plays a diagonal pass to David Villa. This example is down more to Messi’s passing ability and timing. But by drawing a defender or two you end up leaving the one defender or a small minority of the defence marking David Villa and crucially keeping Villa onside. He can then make a diagonal run away from his defender into the space left by the rest of the defenders.












Below Messi plays another diagonal pass to Villa, leading to the fourth goal.

















Below against Valencia earlier this season Iniesta drags four opposing players towards him and creates space for Xavi. Xavi plays it perfectly for him to run into the area onto and finish. The key here is that Iniesta plays a one-two with Xavi but none of the Valencia players track Iniesta after he has passed to Xavi. If one had they may have intercepted the pass but they all follow the ball, something Arsenal must not do.


















When Hercules played Barcelona at the Nou Camp near the start of this season they compacted their midfield and their forward Nelson Valdez dropped deeper to pick up Javier Mascherano. This gave Barcelona’s midfield less time on the ball and in doing so stopped the link from midfield to attack working as well as normal. In both games Barcelona have failed to win this season in La Liga, crucially perhaps Xavi has not played from the start. Against Hercules,  Keita and Mascherano played with Iniesta further forward. This means that Barcelona have less attacking threat from midfield, Xavi, however, came on in the second-half to replace Mascherano but still couldn’t get Barca back in the game.

3. Play Barcelona at their own game

Although Barcelona play scintillating football when in possession they work incredibly hard to get it back. They’ll harass their opponents into mistakes by surrounding the man on the ball and limiting his options to pass to. Arsenal should try and press them high up the pitch.

This example below is from Barcelona against Villarreal earlier this season. Alves, Busquets and Pedro surround Cani forcing him to pass and make a mistake. The problem doing it against Barcelona is that they pass the ball so well in tight spaces and they spread out and use the pitch so well. But it still can be done. Arsenal should push their two wingers up to force Alves and Abidal back, and if they do get past them, double up with a full-back. If Song and Wilshere were to come across to help they would then give Barca’s midfield trio more space to work. So rather than having 3 v 3 it’s just 3 v 2.

















Another example, this time against Real Madrid this season, Keita and Puyol enclose Ronaldo which forces him into a mistake, noticeably near the end of the match they’re winning 4-0.















4. Close down Pique and Puyol

Pique and Puyol often leave a much bigger gap than many other central defence pairings. Busquets can drop into this as he has done previously to make a three-man defence.
Dani Alves loves attacking and this will mean Pique may sometimes have to cover meaning Busquets could drop deeper to in-turn cover him. Abidal on the left doesn’t get forward quite as much. As mentioned previously, Wenger should try playing someone just behind Alves and exploit that space.

This is against Real Madrid, bottom left is Pique, bottom right Alves. This also shows how Barcelona love to use so much of the pitch as David Villa is positioned right on the touchline in the top right. By doing this they have numerous options for the player on the ball and they can stretch the opposing team to create space to pass into or run through the centre of the pitch.




5. Stop Alves 

Dani Alves is another key to Barcelona’s attacks and particularly to Messi’s. Whilst Messi more than often cuts inside as most inverted wingers do, Alves will race down the touchline offering an outlet to cross and provide another man in the attack to preoccupy the opposing left-back. When forward, others can play diagonal balls to Alves ,who times his runs perfectly, he can then pull the ball across for a tap-in as shown below.


Dani Alves is one of the best right-backs and can run all up the right for 90 mins without looking exhausted. Here is a particularly interesting article on Alves’ influence in one particular game:

http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/11/01/barcelona-5-0-sevilla-tactics/

An example below:

Xavi plays a perfect pass to Alves (bottom right) against Malaga last season.

















To conclude, Arsenal will have to play two of the best games under Wenger to get through. They’ll have to be incisive when they get the chance to attack and very disciplined in defence for sustained periods. They will go in as underdogs and considering this Barcelona team are arguably better than last years it would be an even greater achievement to win.


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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Relocation, Relocation






So closure comes, after much speculation and some huge moves, the transfer window has closed with an unbelievable final day.
Just two weeks ago Darren Bent moved from Sunderland to Aston Villa, a move at the time which many were questioning. He cost £18m plus and many thought this was a huge sum for someone who wasn’t even an England regular. What Bent has though is tons of goals, spread over 5 years. His record at Sunderland was great and therefore this transfer shouldn’t have raised so many doubts. Although he’s not an all-round forward by any sense he scores loads of goals and Villa have needed someone like to do that for years.
With Young/Albrighton one side and Downing the other Bent should have a field day. His goal against City being a prime example of his positional play and being ready to take any chance that may come his way. The deal also seemed great for Sunderland, they had sold a want away player for a much around double the fee they paid 18 months previously and Steve Bruce, a manager who has a history of bringing some great players in wherever he goes, could reinvest. He has since used the money to bring in Stephane Sessegnon (£6m) from PSG.
However a lot can happen in two weeks, Andy Carroll’s move from Newcastle to Liverpool didn’t seem to be the most likely of transfers back in mid-January, let alone for a record fee for an Englishman. On deadline day he cost Liverpool the small sum of £35m. An unbelievable amount for a player who has played only six months in the Premier League. Ok so the lad has promise and he is English which adds a bit to the cost, but seriously £35 million?
To quote Guardian writer Sean Ingle‘s tweet, ’Beware half-season wonders: Amr Zaki scored 11 goals in 19 games in the 2008/09 season. Andy Carroll has 11 goals in 20 games in 2010/11 season’. Why is it that the English players cost so much? Well Darren Bent seems cheap in comparison now, but is it just that they are home-grown and therefore count towards each teams quota of eight English players? The merchandising aspect of having an English star too make sense or perhaps even that he won’t get far for England in World Cups and European Championships, if the last few tournaments are anything to go on, for years to come and be in tip-top shape ready for a new season? Almost certainly the first reason.
When you look at Liverpool’s other big signing, Luis Suarez (£22m), you realise quite how astronomical the Carroll transfer is. Suarez unlike Carroll has played at a World Cup already finishing fourth and in 09/10 he scored 35 in 33 games in the Eredivisie for Ajax. You could make an argument that it’s a weak league and look at Alfonso Alves. Suarez didn’t look out of depth at the World Cup at all and finished fourth with Uruguay. What’s evident in the big final day moves is that loyalty is rare in football thses days. Andy Carroll signed a new 5-year deal with Newcastle in October and said ’All I have ever wanted to do is play for Newcastle United’. Which makes this move even odder.
However a day after his move Carroll claimed he had been asked to leave, a claim which was denied by Alan Pardew but does seem to be more than likely the case. To sell a player who is a boyhood fan shows how disloyal Mike Ashley is to his club. Pardew has said he can use the money in the summer, that’s if he is still there and if Newcastle drop down to the Championship the fans will have yet another reason to dislike Ashley further, will he regret the decision? They have lost their key forward and are now left with Leon Best, Shola Ameobi and the youngster Nile Ranger as recognised strikers. Only last summer, fresh from winning the World Cup, Fernando Torres said he was committed to Liverpool and that his loyalty to the club was the same as when he had signed. At the time it didn’t seem too convincing and now this. So Liverpool have had an up-and-down six months since but finally they seem to be on the up and he clears off. Money, impatience and his urge to win something in domestic football would be the presumable motive.
Another thing that strikes me about the Carroll, Suarez and Torres deals are that no doubt Liverpool needed more creativity and a player like Suarez who can play anywhere up-front fits perfectly, most likely the left for Liverpool but why did they sign Carroll for such a crazy fee when their season’s finale doesn’t appear to be looking too successful. They at best could finish in the top four, so why didn’t they wait until the summer to reinvest the Torres money? With that money in the bank they could have bought in a few players at much more sensible rates. As for Fernando Torres, where will he fit in at Chelsea? They play with Drogba up-front and Malouda and Anelka either side under Ancelotti. So what will he change to accommodate Torres too. This could be one of the most interesting problems to unfold. With the signing of David Luiz too Chelsea should now be stronger and have options at both ends of the pitch. Luiz, 23, cost 21m and plays primarily in central defence although has been known to play at left and right-back for former club Benfica. It’s unlikely that he’ll play much this season and so it’ll be hard to judge him early on. More likely is that Chelsea will find out just how good he is next season.
Out of the Torres and Carroll deals only time will tell who has got the better deal. But at this point I would think Torres without a doubt, even at 50 million could prove the most decisive in his new clubs season. What is certain is that when Chelsea play Liverpool this weekend it will have that extra factor of intrigue.
My top 5 January transfers:
Luis Suarez (Ajax-Liverpool)
A record number of goals scored albeit in the Eredivisie but proved how good he is in the World Cup.
Carlos Vela (Arsenal-WBA, loan)
An excellent acquisition for Roberto Di Matteo, although he has struggled at Arsenal, he has a great left-foot and needs to gain some confidence and consistency which a first-team position at WBA should give him.
David Bentley (Tottenham-Birmingham, loan)
A perfect player you’d think for Nikola Zigic. A great delivery which could prove to be a great asset in keeping Birmingham up. Could he come back to haunt Arsenal in the League Cup final?
Darren Bent (Sunderland-Aston Villa)
As said before, a proven goalscorer who could be as influential as Milner was last season for Villa.
Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg-Manchester City)
A languid footballer who already looks to have started a great partnership with Tevez and he should take the reliance of goals off the Argentinean too.

Afellay: A Hleb or a Cruyff?



In mid-November, PSV and Barcelona confirmed the transfer of Ibrahim Afellay for around €3 million. The first question evoked by this transfer is, do Barca need another attacking-midfielder? This is the team that beat their closest rivals 5 nothing in El Classico two weeks later. What could this team gain in buying another midfielder?
They bought Javier Mascherano in the summer and he has barely featured so far. When one considers he cost around €20 million, that is a lot to spend on a player who is not a regular. Will the same be the case for Afellay, although he cost very little and he will surely start as a sub and will primarily be used as a sub for most of the season.
Who is he replacing in the long-term?
The likelihood is that he will slowly replace Xavi as he’s 31 in January, although he doesn’t look like losing his masterly touch anytime soon. Afellay can play most places in an attacking position with the exception of playing as a striker. He is a perfect player in many ways for Barcelona, a small lightweight player who is very tidy on the ball, although he hasn’t come through the famed La Masia, like many in the current red and blue. But growing up in the Netherlands and being nurtured into a style of football of which Barcelona is the supreme master, the two should fit perfectly.
The Hleb factor
After a great season with Arsenal in 2007/08 Aliaksandr Hleb signed for Barcelona. He looked to be a good signing: creative, agile and technically sound, Hleb was the stereotypical Barcelona footballer. At Arsenal he usually played on the left or right wing in a 4-4-2, and he had great success in the Premier League with the Gunners. I always felt Arsenal let Hleb go for far too little and still do. He was bought and sold for around the same amount and for the season preceding his departure he, along with Rosicky, Fabregas and Flamini, formed a strong bind in midfield. They looked great and obviously Wenger didn’t have enough faith in Hleb or failed to convince him to stay, but at the time it looked to be Barcelona’s gain and a big loss for the Gunners. The problem perhaps with Hleb was he was there between managers but also he didn’t get a long run of opportunities, as there were few injuries or loss of form to the players in his position(s). Only the other day the Birmingham manager Alex McLeish, where Hleb plays, said “He took a bit of beating mentally with the Barcelona experience”. He also said “I never spoke to him about it but Alex himself said he’s got to rebuild his confidence”.
The reason I picked Hleb a comparative footballer is that he joined Barcelona on a high and seemingly lost it all after sitting on the bench once he got there. Technically, Hleb is a similar player to Afellay and he also faces the same problem of forcing his way into an already established Barcelona midfield. Afellay does have age on his side and hopefully this will mean with time he will be used more. For as much as I love watching the current Barcelona team, I also hate to see a talented player wasted on the bench as Hleb was. If this occurs then surely he’ll go off somewhere else, but for at least a season he will have to be patient.
The first Dutchman at Camp Nou:
Arguably the most famous Dutch player ever, Johann Cruyff enjoyed huge success at the Nou Camp, both as a player and manager. He was the star of Dutch football in the 70s, the team which created the term, ‘Total football‘. Cruyff was also very successful as manager at Barcelona and won 4 La Liga titles in 8 years. He is currently the manager of the Catalan football team a feat that goes to show his love for the area. What he achieved there should inspire Afellay, who is another Dutch star in a long line to play at Barcelona. Ronald Koeman, Frank De Boer, Marc Overmars and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst to just name a few. Cruyff on average scored a goal every 3 games, a superb record. Ibrahim Afellay’s start at Barca will be intriguing and even if he isn’t quite as good from the start as Cruyff it’ll go a long way to keeping the Dutch tradition up whilst achieving as much or even more than his compatriots.
A good enough squad?
When you take a closer look into Barcelona’s squad you see how it is full of young academy products. If Iniesta or Xavi gets injured there aren’t too many established players who could fill the role. Adriano is a useful utility player but functions as a DM or LB. Seydou Keita is their only option to fill this role but doesn‘t offer the same threat or incisiveness . However it would take some performance to keep a place from Iniesta or Xavi. Pep Guardiola has previous poor relations, as despite his immediate success with Barcelona, Guardiola has not bought particularly well. Ibrahimovic and Chygrynskiy both didn’t work in the team, although I personally thought Ibrahimovic had some good moments. Barcelona effectively paid the two Milan clubs 20 million and gave them Eto’o and Ibrahimovic. A staggering amount of money in order to lose. But now after two years it appears Guardiola may have found his perfect squad.
Overall I feel it’s a good move for him, what he will gain from playing and training around such a great array of players can only help. Chances for him will be slim at start and he must take them. He will now be a small fish in a big pond unlike at PSV where he had become a huge fan favourite. Unlike Hleb he is a bit younger and  joins at a time when Barcelona are dominating football. If, like Hleb he doesn’t make it, he can move on knowing that he has been at a club playing scintillating football and that not many others would come along and walk into the team. Whatever does happen  no doubt it’ll be worth following Ibi.

Monday, 20 December 2010

FC Copenhagen: European adventures




A European adventure.




For many this season FC Copenhagen were an unknown quantity, most observers from outside of Denmark knew little about them or how they would fair. The majority of the football world having seen their Champions League group would have expected them to at best make it only to the Europa League. A group containing Barcelona, Rubin Kazan (Russian champions) and Panathinaikos (Greek champions), looked a hard one for Copenhagen to get out of. Copenhagen have no great stars unlike the other three teams, they have a fairly small transfer budget and have never previously got past the group-stages.


Perhaps though the fact not many people gave them a hope as Barcelona and Rubin were favourites allowed them to go about their business quietly without unwanted pressure. They started their campaign with a late win against Rubin at home. A close game which gave them a great start to the group stage, it must be remembered that they beat Manchester United in the 2006/07 Champions League, however, finished that season at the bottom of their group. This year they have had to play Barcelona back-to-back and did not at all look overawed by the occasion either time. 


At Parken, their home ground they were worthy of their 1-1 draw and should have been playing against ten men when Valdes came racing out to make a clearance and got nothing on the ball. He instead smashed Dame N’Doye in the face with his right leg. A challenge which was incredibly given as a foul against N’Doye one of the strangest decisions ever to be made. Quick thinking Jesper Gronkjaer rushed over to see if his team mate had swallowed his tongue as he had been knocked out by the impact. A few seconds later he thankfully regained consciousness. It recalled Harold Schumacher’s unpunished attack on Patrick Battiston. Barcelona seemed to underestimate their opponents who even at the Nou Camp only conceded two, the first being a magnificent long-range Messi effort similar to one against Arsenal last season. The second goal was fairly scrappy by Barca’s standards, an Abidal cross which bounced up and down a few times and finally reached Messi who finished with ease. 


Whilst the score was 1-0 N’Doye produced a moment of sheer beauty when in one movement he controlled a long ball and turned Carles Puyol and crashed a volley against the bar. It was a moment which if it had gone in and been scored by Dennis Bergkamp, we’d all be talking about for years to come. Cesar Santin his fellow strike partner then failed to head the rebound in the open goal. Another huge chance fell to Cesar Santin when he was sent through on goal in the left channel, the Barcelona reserve keeper Pinto whistled and Santin naturally presumed it was the referee blowing for an offside. But no, Pinto was suspended for two games. After the incident Pinto was seen gloating on camera, had Santin not been put-off he would have been through on goal when Copenhagen were losing by only one goal. Although it was unlikely that FCK would have beaten FCB or even gained a point the chance was there.


The main men


So this season the forward pairing has either been Santin and N’Doye or N’Doye with Jesper Gronkjaer just behind. The latter choice has been more favourable to manager Stale Solbakken in the Champions League. But often Santin has been brought on to change things up and give the elder Gronkjaer a rest. Santin who was bought from Swedish side Kalmar FF in 2008 has steadily scored for the last few seasons before exploding this season with 13 goals in 16 appearances. He can play anywhere in an attacking position, often he tends to drift about when played upfront with N’Doye. He’s currently linked with a move to Galatasaray, if Turkish websites are to be believed, which would be detrimental to Copenhagen’s so far brilliant season. 


Dame N’Doye too is being linked with other clubs including an array of English teams. Since his move from OFI Crete two seasons ago he has been a revelation, in his first season he managed only 2 in 11 appearances but this season he rapidly established himself with 13 in 18. A player who possesses a great finish and quick feet, N’Doye has after many years at different European teams come it seems to fruition. Another notable player is midfielder Martin Vingaard, a Danish international who has a good goal scoring record and has provided some telling crosses so far this season, he was the architect behind Dame N‘Doye‘s 86th minute header which won them their opening game of the Champions League this season.


The next step


On Friday Copenhagen were drawn a tough second-round tie against Chelsea. As underdogs they will not be expected to beat Chelsea, but as their Champions League exploits have demonstrated so far they will benefit from the lack of expectation. Their manager Solbakken said about the tie "We have not been beaten at home in the Champions League and we have played Barcelona and Manchester United" so they will not be afraid of the task in hand, or at least one of the tasks. 


With the first-leg in Denmark they must put simply use their intimidating home stadium to gain an advantage as I don’t imagine them outscoring Chelsea in London. The major problem is the break in the Danish season which will mean Copenhagen will not have played a competitive game since their final group game on 7th December. What it will give them, however, is an extra long period to prepare tactically and study Chelsea. Still it would be an incredible surprise if they made it to the quarter-finals. Whatever does happen, from here on in it’s all new ground for FCK and all in the Stemningstribunen (Atmosphere stand)








Harry Bronsdon


http://arandomball.blogspot.com/

Monday, 5 July 2010

World Cup previews.2


Germany- Spain




Spain


Spain, the European Champions started the tournament with one of the shocks of the early rounds when they lost to Switzerland 1-0. Despite losing they dominated but couldn't find a way through a solid Swiss defence. Vicentre Del Bosque brought on Jesus Navas in the second-half for David Silva and even he could not find a deciding cross. Xabi Alonso's thunderous strike rattled the crossbar but this was the closest they were to getting anything. After the match most people hailed Ottmar Hitzfeld as a tactical genius, failing to mention some of the good fortune that went their way. Credit should go to Switzerland however Spain were simply not cohesive enough in the final third and crucially they could not get David Villa involved enough.

In their next match knowing after that loss they really had to win they beat Honduras 2-0, thanks to a Villa double. They went through top after beating many neutral favourites Chile 2-1. This game changed dramatically after David Villa's first time strike from just inside the Chilean half after goalkeeper Claudio Bravo came racing out to clear the ball. Only for Villa to hit a looping first-time shot into an unguarded net. Before this Chile had been the better team with Spain finding it hard to get a foot on the ball. However this goal and Estrada's sending-off left them needing a miracle. Spain scored a second and then after an early second-half goal from Chilean Millar simply played out the remainder of the match with both teams knowing that they were going through.

Into the second round and Spain met Portugal and after much effort they found a way through from their man of the tournament, probably man of the last few years, David Villa. Spain controlled this game for the large part and deserved to go through. They still haven't however fully convinced many as they have lacked goals and have relied on Villa's goals. Against Paraguay in the quarter-final they only won it thanks to another Villa goal, although perhaps the credit should equally be split between him and Andres Iniesta who made a burst into their opponents box before teeing up Pedro who in-turn hit the post. Villa then placed the ball into the far corner and it finally went in via both posts. However Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo missed a penalty which may well have totally changed this game early on. Straight away Xabi Alonso had the chance to put Spain one up, but had to retake his penalty, which he scored, after the referee deemed that players had encroached the area. The next time Villar saved and then within seconds tripped Fabregas, yet Spain weren't going to get another penalty so soon from this referee.

The semi-final against Germany will perhaps be an easier game than playing against a defensive team but going forward Germany, even without Thomas Mueller pose the back four problems.

In the middle Schweinsteiger and Khedira will be responsible for tracking Xavi and Iniesta which may leave more room for Alonso to dictate the game. As you would expect with a World Cup semi-final every part of the pitch is going to have duals between some great players. David Villa versus Philip Lahm will be particularly fascinating as both have had magnificent tournaments so far.

Formation:

Spain play a 4-2-3-1 with Torres up-front although Del Bosque has hinted at dropping him after a poor run of games. My preferred team would be the usual back four, just one holding midfielder and then four in midfield (Villa,Xavi,Iniesta and Navas/Silva) and Llorente alone up top.

Germany preview to follow.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

World Cup previews.





Netherlands v Uruguay:

Uruguay, the story so far:

To many the Netherlands are huge favourites in this tie, however Uruguay should not be forgotten about as they went through the group stage with ease. After perhaps one of the most dreary games of the finals, against France they flattened South Africa's hopes by stylishly beating them 3-0. And in the final group game they beat a strong Mexico side, who had just beaten France comprehensively, by one Luis Suarez goal.

After comprehensively getting through the group-stages they faced a plucky South Korean side. Although they were a technically gifted team who did worry Uruguay for a while, Luis Suarez's superb goal proved enough to send them out. From the South Africa game onwards Uruguay have impressed me with their superb defence, tough midfield and Suarez's dogged work-rate and with Forlan carrying on from a superb club season. In the South Korea game Uruguay only attacked when they really needed to otherwise trying to contain their opponents. Overall they deserved this victory, few had complaints. However their next game was to be quite a different type of victory.

Ghana had got through to the quarter-final as the only African team and therefore gained most of Africa and the neutrals support. In the early stages Uruguay looked the slightly better team until suddenly Ghana started playing some quick attractive football without producing a goal. That was until Sulley Muntari's long-range strike on the cusp of half-time gave the Black Stars a well deserved lead. As the game went on the whole of Africa must have thought their dream would come true that was until Diego Forlan's free-kick made it 1-1. With no time at the end of extra-time left Suarez made a great save on the line, only it was with both hands. He was sent-off and Ghana's Asamoah Gyan had the chance to win the game with the penalty. He hit the bar and the game went to penalties and Uruguay won. Perhaps every team is deserving of a little luck and this was certainly Uruguay's.

The bad news is that both Luis Suarez and Jorge Fucile are suspended for this game and will mean Uruguay will require some new players to come in and perform to the level that their compatriots have already. Suarez who scored 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax last season will be a huge miss and one which many in the Netherlands will be happy about whilst others will want to see him play against many of his team-mates. The responsibility for goals shifting between Forlan, Cavani and Abreu.

Formation

Uruguay started the World Cup with a 3-5-2 but it has since moved to a 4-3-3. They have two galloping wing-backs in Alvaro and Maxi Pereira who provide width and a constant threat. With three up-front they attack well as a whole unit and keeping the ball well high up the pitch.




Netherlands:


So far the Netherlands have not been a particular aesthetically pleasing team, they got out of their group with relative ease and quite comfortably beat Slovakia in the second-round without ever really impressing. Their stand-out result so far is knocking out the five time winners Brazil. After starting the game badly and conceding a poor goal they made an impressive comeback due mainly to some awful defending by Brazil.

Arjen Robben has definitely made a difference in that they have someone very direct and may become slightly too dependent on him from now on. Against Brazil he tormented Michel Bastos  throughout and angered Robinho with his theatrics. Eventually getting Felipe Melo so infuriated that Melo trod on his leg and got sent-off. Making the game that bit easier for the Dutch. However they had numerous chances to kill the game off at 2-1 namely when Robben, ready to shoot, had the ball stolen away from him from Dani Alves. Defensively they improved vastly against Brazil later on in the game and valiantly kept them out. It is going to be a tough test against the Uruguayans, however having Robben fit makes such a difference to the way they play. Fucile's absence too will mean that Martin Caceres will most likely cover meaning Robben will have a chance to run at a player who has had little match action recently. I expect the Dutch trio of Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie to be too much for the Uruguayan defence and the two central midfelders Arévalo Ríos and Perez. 


What many in the Netherlands would like to see in this match from the start is Eljero Elia play in Dirk Kuyt's inside left position. Although Van Marwijk is most likely to keep the same team minus De Jong and Van Der Wiel who are suspended. This could mean Andre Ooijer could move to right-back with the return of Joris Mathijsen in the centre. Replacing De Jong will be Stijn Schaars. Uruguay would do well to concentrate their efforts on attacking the right-back Ooijer who has played there before but is hardly the most agile now unlike the youngster Van Der Wiel. 



Formation:


The Dutch have played  4-2-3-1 with Sneijder as the playmaker and I would expect them to keep this shape. However if they do not play Schaars they could possible convert to 4-1-3-2 with Huntelaar playing alongside Van Persie.

 

I would not be surprised if both teams do score, Uruguay without Diego Lugano, the captain, will not be nearly as sturdy and the Dutch's has not been convincing throughout. For Van Bronckhorst and Ooijer this will be their last tournament and it could well end in a great finale. However if they are to become World Champions next week I would be amazed if they do so without conceding from now until the last whistle of the World Cup.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Top 5 games of World Cup 2006:

In my opinion, in no order, here are my favourite games of the last World Cup:

1) Germany 4-2 Costa Rica, Group stage:

A brilliant opening game, full of great goals and poor defending. From as early as the sixth minute the goals flew in. Thanks to poor defending Philipp Lahm was allwoed to cut inside onto his right foot and score a cracking opening goal of the tournament. From there most would have expected a comprehensive victory for the hosts but Costa Rica came back into the game thanks to a Paulo Wanchope goal. Within minutes however Miroslav Klose's tap-in restored the lead and in the second-half he increased the margin with another tap-in. Wanchope again punished a poor back-line to bring Costa Rica back into the game once more, however Fring's drive settled it although started a debate as to who had scored the better goal, his or Lahm's.

A game which demonstrated Germany's attacking superiority which continued throughout the tournament. Whereas Wanchope provided a reminder of his goal scoring ability.



2) Germany 0-2 Italy AET, Semi-final:

Many peoples best game of the tournament, both teams played out an attacking treat as Italy eventually prevailed. From slow build-up to counter-attacking this game had various types of attacks which made it so exciting. The need for a goal was even greater in extra time as Italy knew they couldn't go against the Germans in a shoot-out, they were simply never going to win.




3) France 3-1 Spain, Second-round:

A game in which France were transformed after three tepid performances in the group-stages. David Villa's penalty was overturned by Ribery when clear to finish. Then in the second-half a galvanised France improved and went ahead thanks to Viera's header and fittingly Zidane finished the Spanish off with a clever finish. A game which surprised most as Spain had been devastating up until this and favourites to go to the final. France though seemed to be heading home early yet again but instead found a performance that no-one expected.



4) Argentina 2-1 Mexico AET, Second-round:

A game which started brightly with Mexico scoring before Argentina equalised with an own-goal. The game then had chances for both before being decided by a magnificent goal.



5) Czech Republic 0-2 Ghana, Group stage:

The Underdogs go through



Thanks to Miralem Pjanic's goal Lyon reached the next stage of the Champions League beating their opponents Real Madrid over the two-legs. A game which might have been so different if Higuain's first half shot gone a foot to the left, but Lyon for all the openness in the first-half grew in confidence and actually looked more like scoring as the second-half went on and then Pjanic almost completely settled the game in the 75 minute. Lopez and Delgado had far easier chances to settle it later on but couldn't. However Lyon prevailed and now look forward to dreaming of returning to the Bernabeu in May.