Tag Archives: professional soccer

Champions League – Knockout Round Summary for Today

Yesterday started the beginning of the knockout round in the UEFA Champions League.  In the two matches yesterday, both away teams scored critical away goals and secured results, all but guaranteeing them berth into the Round of 8.  Juventus won 3-0 at Celtic in a game where the score is no indicative of the competitiveness of the match.  Neal Lennon has rightfully complained post-match of the the Spanish center’s pro-Juventus calls, particularly the center’s allowance of Juventus’ grappling in the 10 corners Celtic had.  While Lennon is being criticized, it must be hard to watch your team getting mugged at your pitch when you have dominated possession in the game and created most of the goal scoring chances.  Yes, Juventus made the most of their breaks, and they are a solid team (I only wish Arsenal’s back 4 were that interested in defense), but Lennon has a right to be frustrated. He was left to wonder what the rules of the game are in Spain.  (There are some great quotes in there).  Here are some links reflecting the coverage post-game:

Lennon will escape UEFA Sanctions.

Lennon hits out at “pro-Juventus” ref.  

Keep in mind, Celtic had 53% possession and out-cornered Juventus 10-4.  Celtic had 17 goal attempts to 10 of Juventus.  You can see the Match Facts here. That being said, I think Juventus will be a tough out the next round too.  Their defense is that good.

In the other match, PSG scored 2 away goals while only conceding 1 against home Valencia.  I guess this is Ancelotti style — playing the Spanish club, PSG all but conceded the ball to the home team.  Relying on quick counters, PSG was able to score 2 with only 34% possession and meriting zero corners.  A frustrating game, to say the least, for Valencia who had 12 goal attempts but only 2 on target.  PSG, on the other hand, had 8 goal attempts on target.  It goes to show you that there is a lot of meaningless possession.

On a side note, the red card given to Zlatan was ridiculous.  As expected, UEFA is reviewing it.  I do not see it being upheld.  (Meaning, he will be back in the home leg).


Big matches on hand for today.  In the most hyped match of the round. Manchester United travel to Real Madrid.  This will be a quality match.  All the reports out of Madrid are that the team are in shambles, but they are still getting results.  Cristiano may not last the summer, Mourinho almost definitely is gone.  Manchester United, on the other hand, have catapulted to a sizable lead in the EPL, with Mancini all but conceding the title to them.  After losing the EPL last season on the last day to goal differential, Sir Alex goes out and gets the top goal scorer in the EPL – RVP.  How is that for management?  Today, power shifts back to England as Manchester United merit at least a draw away on their way to advance out of the knockouts to the 8.  United has a legitimate chance to win the title this season.

RVP can match Ronaldo’s quality.

Madrid’s season at stake.

Ferguson braced for Madrid’s “acid test.”

My darkhorse favorite for the title (yes, title) is in the other game today — the one no one is talking about.  Dortmund travel to Donetsk in the first leg of their tie.  This Dortmund team is legit.  The possess with purpose — always threatening.  Klopp has done a wonderful job with this squad.  This is the team that won the Group of Death, eliminating Man City and outplaying Real Madrid.  Mark it down now — this is a team to watch to go the distance, not just for some cute points.  As much as I want to watch the super-hyped match of the day today, I will be watching the eventual winners in yellow and black.  Bayern has walked away with the Bundesliga so Dortmund will give primacy to the Champions League.  Lookout!


Barca Playing 3 Fullbacks?

After watching El Clasico, it appeared that Barcelona altered the shape of their defense.  One of my favorite soccer writers, Jonathan Wilson, wrote an article about the change to a 3-1-4-2 in an article for The Guardian.  He also writes for SI and has a similar piece there.  Here are the two links:

Wilson starts by stating that tactics do make a difference.  For those that think “the best players” win out all the time, the history of the game is replete with examples of tactical evolution and examples of advantage gained from the same.  Wilson is a student of the tactical changes in soccer and outlines them in his book Inverting the Pyramid.  I summarized some of his ideas on possession style football versus kick and rush in the blog post here on  Soccer Thoughts titled “Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part I.”  

In El Clasico, the big change was Barca pushing their Right Back up (Alves — who Wilson says is more comfortable in attack anyway) and pushing one center back to right back to cover (Puyol) while using a holding mid (Sergio Busquets) to drop as additional center back when need be.  Wilson calls this a back line of 3 1/2.  Puyol then was able to handle Ronaldo and Busquets could move up and back as holding mid/center back to mark Ozil.  

Wilson’s book Inverting highlights every major shift in tactics all across the world.  Are we seeing another change now?  

Arsenal v. Olympique Marseille Game Review

The Day 3 Champions league match between Arsenal and Olympique Marseille was, for long stretches, sloppy.  Here are some of the links:

Most of the press write up is positive.  Trecker, on Fox, is negative and off-base.  His criticism and praise both seem misplaced.  To his credit, I do think the first half was sloppy for Arsenal as they were not in possession as much as they would have liked — and when they were, they were pushed back.  Arsenal has had a rough go at it since Summer after losing Fabregas and Nasri.  They struggled in early fixtures in the Premier League but are in the process of rebounding.

Wendy and I at Emirates on 9/23/11 (Arsenal v Olympiacos)
In the match yesterday, Jenkinson started at right back in place of injured Sagna.  Santos started at left back in place of injured Gibbs.  Sagna, more seriously hurt, is out for a few months so the right back position is one that needs sorting out.  Gibbs strained a stomach muscle in the last fixture against Sunderland.  

While the Santos transitions evenly for Gibbs, Jenkinson is a major downgrade at right back.  He must be a training monster because his play on the field has been unsteady.  Yesterday, he seemed to only have one thought — sprint with every ball played to him down the right line and cross, no matter the number of defenders in the box (or attackers).  His crosses were ineffectual.  He does add defensive energy, but lacks the tactical understanding of other options with the ball.  When Djourou subbed in, Arsenal upgraded their attack.  In fact, the lone goal was from a cross served with a good angle for which Gervinho played off (accidentally) and Ramsey finished.  Jenkinson would not have been able to play the ball as Djourou did because he would have robbed himself of the angle with the depth of his drive.  Djourou’s timing on the service provided a dangerous angle and options for the Arsenal attack.  

My critique of Jenkinson is that he is too one-dimensional in attack.  As a result, he pulls all of his teammates into his run and reduces the angles for scoring altogether.  It was clear the OM’s defenders knew what he was going to do with the ball too — as they happily accepted service time and again from him.  

I thought Song was great.  He did give up some balls with some poor decisions on angles and passing ideas, but his defensive presence was fantastic as usual.  Van Persie was not much of a factor and went long stretches without the ball.   He seemed frustrated at times (once even throwing up his hands when he was not served the ball while he was in the defensive line).  Truth is, he did not have a great match.  He was caught offsides in key moments and, when he did have the ball late near the top of the box, opted for a desperate shot rather than a more patient attempt.  

The center backs were stout and Koscielny impressive anticipating balls and disrupting passing angles.  Per Mertesacker gets lots of criticism for his lack of speed but I think, but years end, he will have a loyal following.  He has big game experience and has presence on the field.  

I am not sure what to think about Ramsey.  He seems to give the ball up a lot in the middle, but he has a knack for scoring.  He did it again here with a great strike in the 92nd minute.  

Great result away for the Gunners.  Anytime you can get 3 points in a Champions League match away from home is fantastic.