How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Hate Tata

Well, that was… something?

Tata Martino came out with his gala XI and played right into Diego Simeone’s hands. The 4 central midfielders plus Messi and Neymar is something that works against teams that want to counter or get possession, but against Diego Simeone’s Atletico, it was ineffective. This was a Madrid team without Arda Turan or Diego Costa, so they were supposedly there for the taking. However, Martino had other ideas.

Not only was the gala XI deployed, but Tata decided to come out with a few wrinkles (wrinkles I was initially in favor of, truth be told) and started Messi on the right and Fabregas as a false nine. To recap, in the most important game of Barcelona’s season, Tata Martino decided that Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s most important player, should play a peripheral role.

Hindsight is 20/20, and again, I was in favor of this lineup to start with, but as soon as Atletico scored, something – anything – had to be done. We needed two goals against a squad we could barely muster one against, and Martino deputized our most important player to the right, which, I mean, works against Real Madrid and their fickle midfield, but against Atletico? No.

I’m not saying Messi didn’t shit the bed tonight; I’m not saying the entire team, a team that so far this season has showed up to the important games, didn’t collectively shit the bed. They did. But the manager has to realize this.

I think Martino is a dead man walking, and I also think he knows it. He’s been marginalized too often this season, shitted on by journalists, cules, and Pep sympathizers ad nauseam. He’s as good as gone next year, and a lot of the players will follow suit.

This season is lost, already, in my opinion. Even if Barcelona win the league, even if they defeat Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey, this season is filler.

What’s more, Tata will field the same lineup against Real next Wednesday. He might even get a result, a meaningless trophy in a season devoid of meaning. For the time being, Barcelona fans will rejoice. They will love sticking it to the capital.

Little do they know the joke is on them.

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What Happened This Weekend?

Oh, man. We had a lot of good footy this weekend. Time to do a roundup.

Premier League

Manchester City 4-1 Southampton: Dominant win for the hosts, to the surprise of no one. Stevan Jovetic was on target in Manchester City's 4-1 win over Southampton.Stevan Jovetic scored!

Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham: Felix Magath, the wonderful, wonderful Magath. Whenever he gets in a fi–sorry. Hugo Rodellaga’s winner on 86 netted three points for the Craven Cottage side, who are five points adrift of safety.

Cardiff City 0-3 Crystal Palace. Tony Pulis has done a really good job at Palace, and barring a total collapse, it appears as if Selhurst Park will get another year of Premier League football.

Newcastle United 0-4 Manchester United. The Magpies were destroyed by Juan Mata and Manchester United, as the Red Devils are making a late surge for a Europa League spot. Good luck on Wednesday.

Chelsea 3-0 Stoke City. Jose Mourinho’s side can’t win the title anymore (per the Portuguese’s admission), but they can try their darndest! Two points behind Liverpool with six to play.

Everton 3-0 Arsenal. The Toffees beat the Gunners soundly at Goodison Park, bringing wenger-facepalm-599635them within a point of the final Champions League spot. Arsene Wenger has some work to do to ensure Arsenal’s run of Champions League disappointment appearances continues.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool. How much credit does the penalty spot get if Liverpool lift the trophy next month?

La Liga

Atlético Madrid 1-0 Villarreal. Atleti stay top, thanks to Raúl Garcia’s 14th minute header. Barcelona at the Calderon on Wednesday.

Barcelona 3-1 Real Betis. Three goals for Lionel Messi, and the Catalans keep pace in the league.

Real Sociedad 0-4 Real Madrid. Since their 2-1 loss at the hands of Sevilla, los merengues article-0-1CDE55D700000578-792_634x487have scored 12 goals and conceded zero while thrashing Rayo Vallecano, Borussia Dortmund, and now Sociedad. They travel to Dortmund on Tuesday for the first time since Robert Lewandowski emasculated them last April.

Málaga 4-1 Granada. A Champions League quarterfinalist a year ago, the Rosaleda side staved off relegation by pounding Granada, who are now just three points clear of the drop zone.

Bundesliga

Augsburg 1-0 Bayern Munich. IT HAPPENED. BAYERN LOST. LET’S ALL WRITE COLUMNS ABOUT HOW PEP HAS MADE THEM WEAKER.

Serie A

Cagliari 1-3 Roma. Things are getting interesting atop the Italian league, as Roma are within five points of Juventus…

628x471Juventus 2-0 Livorno. And now they’re not. Fernando Llorente brace takes care of that.

 

 

 

Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain 3-0 Reims. The hosts were rampant on the mid-table side, as they prepare for their Tuesday clash with Chelsea in London.

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Nothing Was The Same (Only It Really Was)

“We live at the moment in a permanent assessment from everybody, and definite judgement. We find plenty of people can [criticise]. I don’t do that too much. Let people assess and judge. They know much better than I do. We get on with it.” – Arsene Wenger 

It’s fair to say that Arsenal haven’t had the best week. After a disastrous 6-0 drubbing by Chelsea – in Arsene Wenger’s thousandth game at the club no less – they drew in emphatic fashion with Swansea after a Mathieu Flamini own goal in the last seconds of play. It would be alarming if we haven’t seen this before, but since it’s Arsenal, it’s really the norm. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and after watching that display, we can really say that Arsenal under Wenger are who we thought they were. They’re not deep enough to compete with the big boys at this level, they lack a leader, and they have reached the stretch of the season where every year it seems they fall from grace in spectacular ways. As soon as I saw Arsenal’s March fixtures I knew they weren’t going to win the league. It was a stretch where they would have to face behemoths like Chelsea and City while also playing mighty Bayern in the Champions League. That normally doesn’t end well for Arsenal. Especially not this late in the season. There has to be an assessment of Arsenal before next season. Wenger needs to realize that he needs to strengthen his squad, both physically and mentally. Arsene Wenger is a stubborn fella, so maybe someone else needs to do that criticism for him. Whether that means parting ways with Wenger as a manager (I wouldn’t) or relieving him of some of his other duties at the club (Arsenal really is Arsene Wenger’s club more than anyone else’s – no director of football, no scout network; it’s all Arsene), a change has to be made.

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Chelsea’s Campaign Kicks Into Gear

Jose Mourinho’s second stint as Chelsea manager didn’t start out so well. He was alienating his “star”, he was dropping points left and right, and Chelsea’s style of football was quite boring. Fast forward to February, and lo and behold, Chelsea are top of the table. How did this happen?

Michael Davies, a Chelsea fan and cohost of the Men In Blazers podcast (WARPIG), often said that Mourinho looks like he is running a campaign. Jose, like Sir Alex before him, knew exactly what he needed to do to win the league, he said. It doesn’t matter if Chelsea dropped points in the big games; they’ll make them up. It’s not a big deal if they lose a game or two down the road (after all, this isn’t La Liga); it will even out in the end.

So far, every thing has been going great for Mourinho. Juan Mata, the alienated star player is gone, sold to Manchester United in January for thirty seven million pounds after being branded a luxury that wasn’t going to fit in Mourinho’s plans.  In his place came Mohammed Salah, an Egyptian winger who terrorized Chelsea at Basel in the Champions League, and Nemanja Matic, a Serbian defensive midfielder who terrorized Yaya “The Beast” Toure when Chelsea played Manchester City on Monday.

The jury is still out on Salah, but Matic looks like the real deal. Forming a solid midfield three with David Luiz and Ramires, Matic gives Chelsea’s creative players (read: Hazard) the freedom to attack with reckless abandon. The defense is solid, sitting deep to mask the lack of pace in both Terry and Cahill. Ivanovic is a solid defensive right back and Cesar Azpilicueta, a natural right back, has made Ashley Cole all but a memory.

Their strikers still can’t score, but with Eden Hazard in the squad, they really don’t need to anymore. All Mourinho is asking of his strikers is to work hard and track back, which is probably why Samuel Etoo is preferred to Fernando Torres – even before Torres got injured.

Jose Mourinho took a frail, defensively weak Chelsea squad and remade it in his image. Chelsea is defensively solid and while their offense isn’t exactly Bayern Munich’s or Manchester City’s, they can more than hold their own – as they showed at the Etihad on Monday.

Mourinho may not have a juggernaut, but he may just have enough to be a champion.

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Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1: Meet The New Generation of Liverpool FC

Skrtel

(Note: I apologize for not being able to keep up my previous share of posts on EDIZD. I’ve been writing on an intermediate basis for Back Page Football in the last month or so and I write on a weekly basis on Baller Mind Frame about the NBA. Plus I’ve been swamped with school so my posts for this site have dried up immensely. My honest plan was going to be to not post anything on this site until school was done in late April and get set for the 2014 World Cup but seeing as I have a bit of a break, I owe a post of some sort. I can’t promise how many more posts I can contribute for EDIZD until late April/early May but I’ll try to squeeze some in.)

If you managed to wake up bright and early to rest your eyes upon the TV for some SACCER, you were privileged to something special. The score line from this game was very much indicative of what happened at Anfield. This was an ass kicking of the highest order, a kamikaze of whirlwind attacking football from one side that brought the title leader to their knees. All that wasn’t accomplished on Liverpool’s end was a clean sheet, but this was a masterstroke fueled by perhaps the next generation of Liverpool FC.

Tactics/Formations:

Lineups and formations for the two weren’t unexpected. Liverpool lining up in what perhaps could be best described as a 4-1-2-3 with Gerrard playing his customary role playing just in front of the back four in Toure/Cissoko/Skrtel/Flanagan. Coutinho and Henderson combined played up front with Coutinho the more adventurous of the two. Up top lied the three of Suarez/Sturridge/Sterling. On Arsenal’s end was their customary 4-2-3-1 with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting his second straight start after his scintillating performance vs Crystal Palace but this time in a more advanced position alongside Ozil and Cazorla.

What happened:

Well, a lot of things happened, quite a lot. It was a fast beginning for Liverpool as a surgical Steven Gerrard cross off of a free kick position on the left hand side was finished by Martin Skrtel which opened the flood gates for Liverpool less than a minute in. There’s been plenty of discussion as to the importance of Steven Gerrard, what his role should be and the tactical challenges that he sometimes brings. Those are valid concerns, and it’s something I even dedicated a few hundred words to http://backpagefootball.com/steven-gerrard-and-the-fascination-with-change/69041/ . But the idea that Liverpool are better off without Gerrard is a bit much considering the shaky depth they have on their side, something that was exposed during the Christmas break. His crosses are still delightful, and the first two goals were in part the result of Gerrard flinging in crosses inside the box for Skrtel.

The second for Skrtel was more so his individual exploits in the box.

Skrtel

Skrtel

 

SkrtelSkrtel has scored all of his goals in these type of situations this yr. Scoring two goals off of dead ball situations in one game is something that won’t happen often, and luck has some parts in what can happen in these situations.

Sterling’s 3rd goal was a mere tap in, the by-product of Jordan Henderson pressuring Mesut Ozil in the midfield, starting a counter attack that led to Suarez’s tasty squared pass for Sterling. The truth is Liverpool easily could’ve scored four or five goals in this twenty minute span. Toure shanked an open net (Kolo Toure did something wrong, water is wet) off of Suarez’s wonder self-volley strike that hit the post, and Sturridge didn’t complete his breakaway chance on Wojciech Szczesny just a minute before.

Sturridge though didn’t have to wait long though as he potted away Liverpool’s 4th goal off of Coutinho’s  nice through pass. The goal scoring dried up at that point, with Sterling and Arteta’s goals coming in the second half when the match was all but assured and done.

You Can Win With Kids:

Suarez and to a lesser extent the SAS partnership have understandably been the leading story of the Liverpool season. Suarez in particular is having a remarkable season, the best the Premier League has seen in ages, and he himself was as good as one could be without scoring a goal, but the trio of Coutinho/Sterling/Henderson were outstanding, each bringing qualities that highlight their importance for Liverpool going forward.

Henderson has been a great distributor of the ball for Liverpool this yr, and the link up plays he’s provided for the likes of Suarez and Sturridge are a staple for Liverpool viewing watching. He was 28-31 in midfield passes, and he created numerous chances overall.

Skrtel

Stats here are provided via Four Four Two

Henderson according to Whoscored had 3 key passes and the Flanagan to Henderson/Henderson to Flanagan were the second highest Liverpool passing combination at ten each.

Coutinho might’ve been the best player on the pitch and perhaps what’s even more promising with him is the potential he’s displaying as more of a box to box midfielder than a number ten.

Skrtel

He created five chances in open play and set up Sturridge for his goal. Perhaps an answer to Chelsea having the likes of Oscar and Willian as attacking midfielders who’re very adapt defensively, having two players like Coutinho and Henderson can allow Brendan Rodgers to resist the temptation of having to play a back three to accommodate the SAS duo.

Sterling was magnificent on the left wing, playing perhaps the best match he’s ever played. He registered a 9.46 rating from WhoScored, scoring two goals, producing three dribbles and had a 100% shot accuracy (5-5). It was a glimpse as to how dangerous he can be when his gifts in terms of technical ability and his speed on the flanks worked in total harmony. He gave Arsenal major headaches, especially their back four. What’s scary with the trio is they’re still not at the peak of their powers, Sterling especially considering he and I are the same age.

Troubles for Arsenal?:

Heading into today’s fixture Arsenal had a .553 TSR and a PDO of 1123, numbers that aren’t exactly very indicative of a title leader. However they’ve produced a blistering .651 TSR in the EPL since the beginning of 2014 before the Liverpool match. Their PDO over that time was 1143, which would be even higher than Man City’s season long 1136. Looking at a 5 game sample size can be a bit harry in terms of putting stock into a team’s TSR, but what lies ahead for Arsenal is trouble. Here’s Arsenal’s fixtures until the beginning of April:

Feb 12 2:45 ET Arsenal  v  Manchester United Emirates Stadium Premier League
Feb 16 11:00 ET Arsenal  v  Liverpool Emirates Stadium English FA Cup (Round 5)
Feb 19 2:45 ET Arsenal  v  Bayern Munich Emirates Stadium UEFA Champions League (Round of 16)
Feb 22 10:00 ET Arsenal  v  Sunderland Emirates Stadium Premier League
Mar 1 10:00 ET Stoke City  v  Arsenal Britannia Stadium Premier League
Mar 8 10:00 ET Arsenal  v  Swansea City Emirates Stadium Premier League
Mar 11 3:45 ET Bayern Munich  v  Arsenal Allianz Arena UEFA Champions League (Round of 16)
Mar 16 12:00 ET Tottenham Hotspur  v  Arsenal White Hart Lane Premier League
Mar 22 8:45 ET Chelsea  v  Arsenal Stamford Bridge Premier League
Mar 29 1:30 ET Arsenal  v  Manchester City Emirates Stadium Premier League
Apr 5 10:00 ET Everton  v  Arsenal Goodison Park Premier League

With the injuries that Arsenal have been facing, having to go navigate through this hectic of a schedule is almost unfair. Arsenal to this point have survived every challenge put past them in ending a near decade cup drought, earning plaudits for displaying a steel that had previously been absent. Their shot ratio numbers are rather pedestrian, similar to Manchester United last year but their attacking methods to some extent accentuate a below .560 TSR with the amount of attacking third passes/touches they produce (which has been correlated to future goals scored).

Conclusion:

Liverpool were at their devastating best on this day, playing at a pace that Arsenal simply couldn’t keep up. Arsenal looked slow, Arteta and Wilshire looked overmatched, and they couldn’t muster up anything attacking wise on this night. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the second straight week was Arsenal’s best player, though this time it carries rather insignificant meaning.

Brendan Rodgers deserves credit for the pressing that Liverpool displayed, and though I’ve argued about how much meaning formations and tactics really have, Rodgers deserves some levels of credit for the way he’s brought up Sterling and put him in the right place to succeed. The idea that Liverpool are now suddenly in the title race again as a result of their performance is pushing it to some extent. Having to make up six points to catch Chelsea is a tough thing to ask though strangers things have happened. Liverpool do play Manchester City on April 12 as well as Chelsea at home in late April. Liverpool are the favorites to nabbing the last Champions League spot, and who knows, perhaps the miracle happens and Liverpool will be able to raise the English Premier League trophy on their home grounds when they play Newcastle United on May 5.

 

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Falcao’s Injury and Monaco’s Options

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Wednesday’s Coupe de France tie between fourth-tier side Monts d’Or Azergues and AS Monaco resulted in a 3-0 win for the Monégasque, but it was most definitely a Pyrrhic victory for the visitors. Star striker Radamel Falcao was dealt a severe knee injury late in the first half of the win, and the torn ACL he sustained will keep him out…well, a while. The club has not yet indicated how long the Colombian international will be sidelined, but Falcao has undergone an operation to repair the knee, and the general consensus is that he will miss not only the remainder of the Ligue 1 season, but the World Cup as well.

The Falcao injury is tough for Colombia, as the 27 year-old sniper is his country’s best. Should he miss this summer’s festivities in Brazil, the Colombian team will need to rely on Porto marksman Jackson Martinez (who is a fine scorer in his own right) to handle primary scoring duties. But more than that, José Pékerman’s men are looking to make a splash in their first World Cup since 1998, and not having Falcao available would put a dent in their dreams of international glory.

Monaco will also be impacted by Falcao’s bad knee. Despite some fluctuations in form and prior injury concerns, El Tigre is second-place Monaco’s leading goalscorer, with nine tallies in 17 league appearances. Monaco’s attack has been inconsistent this campaign; despite also adding João Moutinho and James Rodríguez in the summer window, the attack has been plagued by chemistry issues and poor health, registering only 34 goals in 21 league contests. In fact, the club as a whole has been hit hard by injuries; only two players, centre-back Ricardo Carvalho and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, have played every league contest.

The point is, Monaco already have problems with scoring consistently, and losing Falcao (despite his dip in form) will not help matters. Paris Saint-Germain are only six points clear at the top, but their formidable attack (Cavani and Zlatan have scored almost as many goals as Monaco’s entire team) combined with a massive +37 goal difference (compared to Monaco’s +20 GD) makes a complete collapse unlikely. Third-place Lille are winless in their last four league matches and have seen their goal difference fall from +14 to +11, but they currently find themselves four points back of the Monégasque. Saint-Étienne are eight points behind Monaco and missed a chance to gain ground on Sunday, losing 2-0 at Bordeaux. It may seem far-fetched, but a fourth-place finish would eliminate Monaco from Champions League contention and place them into the Europa League, a massive disappointment for a club that spent as much money as they did in the summer.

So how do Monaco strengthen their grip on second place without their leading goal-scorer, and assure themselves automatic entry into the 2014-15 Champions League group round?

There are options for manager Claudio Ranieri. They’re a little Picture 2more limited than they were, say, last week, but they’re still there. Ivorian striker Lacina Traoré sealed a loan move to Everton on Friday, and Stoke City are in talks (along with Crystal Palace) to sign Frenchman Emmanuel Rivière. Should a Rivière move be consummated, and assuming no shock acquisitions are in the works, Ranieri will be left with two forward options: Valère Germain and Anthony Martial.

Germain scored 14 goals for the 2012-13 Ligue 2 champions, but seeing as the move to France’s top tier necessitated a spending binge, the Frenchman has seen his time on the pitch severely compromised; he’s appeared in only seven games this season. The 23 year-old was reportedly in talks with Guingamp regarding a loan spell earlier this month, but it appears as if those talks have stalled, which is good news for Monaco.

Martial, who is currently out with an ankle injury, turned 18 in December, and the former Lyon forward oozes potential. He potted 18 goals in 30 appearances for France’s U-16 and U-17 sides, and has two goals to his credit in seven appearances for the U-21 side. He’s scored a further two goals this campaign, including this beauty at Guingamp on 14 December:

Rivière staying put would be the best news of all. The versatile 23 year-old is second on the team with eight goals, and is capable of playing in the midfield and as a striker. However, in this scenario, he will see time as a striker.

Ranieri’s contingency plan may or may not bear fruit, but the club remains in decent shape on the strength of their stingy defending. Monaco have conceded only 14 goals in 21 matches–only Saint-Étienne (13) have conceded fewer goals, and PSG are the only side conceding fewer shots per game. Also, Monaco are quite proficient at keeping the ball away from their opponents; their 57.4% possession percentage (62.3% at home) ranks second in the league.

The loss of Falcao certainly isn’t a positive thing for AS Monaco, but the club does have some depth at Falcao’s position, and they have the defending necessary to survive. Look for Monaco to cobble together a sufficient number of goals and continue to keep the ball away from their goal in holding off Lille for second place in Ligue 1.

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MVP Vs Best Player: The Endless Debate

In September of last year, I tweeted that I thought that Luis Suarez was the best player in the Premier League. While that doesn’t sound like heresy now, it really was in September as it was a forgone conclusion that Robin Van Persie was that guy. It was Robin Van Persie who led Manchester United to the title (easily, I might add) while Suarez’s Liverpool were in 7th place. So obviously, RVP was better. Which brings me to this.

While I don’t contend that RVP’s contribution to his squad makes him the most valuable player in the EPL, he was by no means the best. Want proof? Ask a United fan. 

The same United fan who will spew all sorts of stats about RVP’s 2012-2013 season will always discredit RVP’s best season, which was the year before when he was playing for Arsenal. That year? RVP was the best player in the league. However, that year Arsenal didn’t win the title so RVP was crap (or at least he was to the United fan). But I digress.

The main point of this is to show that the most valuable player is not always the best player in the league. While he would be in most cases, it is not mutually exclusive. 

I could give you examples from other sports, namely basketball, where in the six years Michael Jordan won a championship, he was MVP four times (he lost out to Charles Barkley in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997, then went on to destroy them in the Finals) or in the 2011 season, when LeBron James lost out to Derrick Rose then shut him down in the conference finals, but this is a football blog.

And thankfully, we have the great La Liga, a shining example of what life COULD be like if we separate the two. (I kid. La Liga should not be emulated, except in playing style. The league is a mockery.) 

This year, and for the first time ever I might add, the great minds of La Liga decided to create a new award, the MVP. Not content with having the Best Player award (or as an effort to get Cristiano Ronaldo to show up), they decided on creating a new award that relied on statistics (such innovators!), La Liga’s Most Valuable Player award. Ronaldo won that. 

“It is an honour and privilege to receive this great award for the Most Valuable Player — it motivates me to keep working harder,” Ronaldo said. “I am proud to be in the Liga BBVA. For me, this is the best league in the world and I am at the best club in the world. How could I not be happy? Hopefully next year I can win the award for the best player.”

Messi won that. 

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