Monthly Archives: April 2010

Unashamed Mourinho plots Barce revenge

A late Gerard Pique goal saw Barcelona beat Inter Milan 1-0 at the Camp Nou, yet it is the Italian side who go through to the Champions League final at the Bernabeu after winning 3-2 on aggregate.

Many are now praising the Inter boss Jose Mourinho as the “master-tactician” (Henry Winter). Yet with Barcelona having 86.4% of possession tonight – a CL record –  it’s hard to agree.

Yes, Inter played the majority of the match with ten men, as the former Barcelona midfielder Motta received his marching orders after appearing to hit Sergio Busquets with a trailing arm in the opening half.

Yet, a defensive philosophy – with time-wasting compulsory – was always a priority for the Italian side. Another staggering stat was that Inter had 67 completed passing, compared to Barcelona’s 555.

What Mourinho did, and what he also attempted at Chelsea when they faced Barcelona in 2007/08, was to unashamedly send a team lacking any offensive intend.

If being a master-tactician involves ordering 11 professional footballers to stand behind the ball at all times, feign injury, forget the simple logistics of taking a throw-in or a free-kick, then there’s no doubt that Mourinho is the master. But then so too is Phil Brown (arguably a poor man’s Mourinho).

Not wanting to play and attempt to beat Barcelona at their own game is generally viewed as clever. Think Burnley going to the Emirates and playing offensive, open football against Arsenal, hopeful of some kind of result. Silly really, wouldn’t you agree.

Mourinho was only going to beat Barcelona on his own terms. But that doesn’t mean Inter are better – or played the superior football – than Barcelona over the two legs. Far from it.

Mourinho’s tactics were only going to be as effective as their deceitful display allowed them to.

Time-wasting, trickery, committment and, to some extent, astute positioning, were all part of Mourinho’s unashamed master-plan. Only Mourinho dares abandon his team’s usual playing style, in favour of victory. A bold move which pays huge dividends, seeing as it’s Inter in the final and not Barcelona.

But let’s not allow tonight’s contest to get lost in translation. Mourinho showed tonight that he has many admirable facets, and a few unruly ones.

A winner? yes; a passionate leader? indeed; an unashamed tactician? 100%.

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auxerre v marseille: I’OM have more to lose than us

Friday is almost upon us. Ligue 1’s game of the weekend – perhaps of the season so far – sees second-placed Auxerre entertain league leaders Marseille. And already the mind games are underway.

Auxerre’s Stephanie Grichting feels his side are the only team capable of stopping Marseille from winning the league, which adds extra significance to this weekend’s contest.

Should Auxerre defeat Marseille for the second time this season, all is to play for; however, a I’OM win, would see the current leaders open up an unassailable eight point advantage with only three games to play.

Deschamps has already said Friday’s match is “an important one”, whilst Jean Fernandez just seems happy to have his side participate in such a massive duel.

Speaking after the 3-0 victory away to Toulouse last weekend, Fernandez said: “Next Friday we take on Marseille at home in front of a sell out crowd. It’s a great game for our players who deserve it.”

He may be playing to the cameras, suggesting that all the pressure is in fact on Marseille, which ‘keeper Olivier Sorin has also worked upon igniting.

The 29-year-old told reporters this week that Marseille have more to lose than Auxerre – which is true. No one ever thoght Auxerre would be where they are at this stage of the season, fighting for the title, and with a realistic opportunity of gaining a CL place for next season ahead of juggernauts Bordeaux and Lyon.

Auxerre’s 13-goal frontman, Jelen, is more cautious than optimistic.

Speaking to Ligue 1, Jelen defiantly claimed “we can win the title” before instantly disagreeing, “but we have to be realistic. Finishing in the top five spots would already be great”.

Again, Jelen could well be easing the pressure off an inexperienced Auxerre team, who last won the league back in 1995-96.

Yet, in front of a sell out crowd, with all the hard work already put in, I’m sure the manager and his players do not want to turn up and get comprehensively beaten by Marseille.

Three precious points are on the table, and after scoring four against Lorient, then three against Toulouse – whilst still maintaining the best defensive unit in the league – there’s every chance Auxerre can upset the odds.

In other news, reports suggest Gabriel Tamas’s loan move to West Brom will soon be made permanent. The Romanian has impressed since arriving at the Hawthorns in January, and I for one will be sad to see Tamas leave.

The 26-year-old’s Auxerre career has never really taken off, yet loan spells in Romania and England have seen him put in his fair share of imposing displays.

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Unrivaled Messi rightfully earns plaudits ahead of teammate Xavi

Sid Lowe has a point. The Guardian’s Spanish football correspondent wasn’t the only one to observe the telling contribution Barcelona’s midfield general Xavi has made to his side’s current superlative performances.

Lowe heralded Xavi’s most recent dazzling performance in the El Clasico against Real Madrid, then concluding that without the 30-year-old, Barce wouldn’t be Barce.

Against Madrid the pass master picked the perfect occasion to exhibit his most pertinent powers, beautifully assisting both Barcelona’s goals in their 2-0 win that sees them gain an invaluable head-length lead in the title race.

Yes, most have been hasten to praise the magical displays of Lionel Messi, with the possibility of neglecting the role Xavi plays for the side. But as majestic as Xavi is on the ball, Messi’s innate ability to score at will, is hard to replicate.

Xavi is like a churlish child who wishes to have his toy at all times, lost and disgruntled whenever someone else has it. But passing successfully a record number of times, I’m afraid, wins you games not titles.

If you single out Xavi and suggest he’s key t Barce’s successes, you’re then ignoring the steely contributions of the Catalan’s centre-half pairing in Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. Both have imitiated defensive robots at the back, rarely putting a foot wrong, with the two working tirelessly to triumphantly thwart Real Madrid’s Ronaldo last weekend.

Then there’s Daniel Alves, whose pace and trickery in defence and attack makes heavy duty work for the opposition’s left side.

Between 1999-2004 Barcelona failed to win a trophy. Xavi started his Barce career in 1998 and was ranked as one of Spain’s most prized youngsters, with the ball and the world at his feet. But for all the midfielder’s technical talent, more was needed if his team were to win the league.

That arrived in 2004 – Messi’s first senior season at the Nou Camp. Although Messi wasn’t the Messi we droll at now, his tenacity and fearlessness against the biggest and meanest defences made many stand up and realise something special was on the horizon.

Xavi, however much he represents the admirable pass and move ethos at Barce, is replaceable. Cesc Fabregas is waiting in the wing and someone very much a part of the same school of thought as Xavi – a player who loves to dictate play and the outcome through his dominance in possession.

Yet Fabregas – with 15 assists in 27 games this season – can also grab his fare share of goals. 15 goals this season makes him Arsenal’s top goalscorer, and with the 22-year-old looking more beefier these days, the midfielder’s ability to finish as well as start moves makes him a hotter prospect than Xavi ever was.

But is there another Messi out there?

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Didier Deschamps will spare Liverpool’s blushes

With a matter of five games remaining in the Premier League, the end of the season is almost upon us. Which means that many clubs will already be plotting their revival on the next.

Out with the old and in with the new, will ordinarily be the order of the summer for most clubs as they seek reinforcements amongst their playing squad. Only this summer may yet see the biggest movers and shakers in football occur in the dugout.

Only one team wins the league, and so 19 teams will be classified as losers – particularly if you happen to finish in the bottom three. However, this year comes a fourth team that have extra cause for concern.

Underachievers

Liverpool were acknowledged as serious title contenders having run Manchester United close the previous season. Nine months on since the opening day of the 2009/10 season and Liverpool face not only losing out on yet another Premier league title; they also seem in danger of becoming the biggest underachievers in 2009/10, by failing to finish fourth and, therefore, missing out on the final Champions League qualification spot for next season.

Liverpool sit glued to sixth position in the league, six points adrift of Manchester City in fourth, having played a game more. With only four matches remaining for Rafa Benitez’s men – bar a miracle – Gerrard and co will have to brace themselves for yet another stint playing in the good gestured Europa League.

However, Liverpool may find themselves heading into the competition as reigning champions, if they manage to get past Athletico Madrid and either Hamburg/Fulham in the final. But such a feat will do little in softening the blow to Liverpool’s star players, particularly if other clubs – i.e. Chelsea or Manchester City – come in for them offering not only vast amounts of money, but a quick-fire return to Europe’s biggest stage.

Yet, will that be an incentive for Torres and Gerrard to remain faithful to the Merseysiders? Unrest at boardroom level continues to disrupt the club, with Benitez becoming increasingly impatient at the lack of support from the board – particularly financially.

Benitez Juventus bound

But the board argue Benitez has had ample money to spend in order to create a Liverpool side that should be equipped to sustain a strong charge on both the league and Europe’s biggest prize, every season. Failing to win the league and also losing out on Champions League qualification, arguably places more blame on the manager than the men upstairs.

Even disgruntled Liverpool fans are starting to vent their anger at the manager, with many suggesting the Spaniard has achieved all he can at the club.

Reports indicate Benitez is heading out of Liverpool and the English game – towards pastures new in Italy. Juventus seem the popular choice amongst the tabloids, yet such small-talk remains unreliable.

But if Liverpool decide to part company with Benitez, they will do no better than filling the position with the Marseille manager Didier Deschamps.

Despite telling reporters that he will shun the French national team in favour of honouring his two-year contract that he signed at the beginning of the current campaign, it may be a little harder to ignore Liverpool should they seriously put together a proposal to poach the Frenchman.

If Liverpool only take a glance at Deschamps’ managerial CV, they will soon realise it will be a punt worth taking.

Miracle man Deschamps

Deschamps started his managerial career at Monaco. The former Monaco midfielder led the side to the French League Cup title in 2002/03 before guiding them to their first Champions League final in 2004, eventually losing out to the special one’s Porto 3-0 in Germany. The following season started badly and quickly fell apart, with Deschamps resigning after a heated disagreement with the club’s president.

Role on Juventus in 2006 and all that tasteless baggage of the Italian side being relegated to Serie B after being found guilty of match-fixing their way towards the Scudetto title. No bother. In comes the Frenchman to take the Old Lady back to Serie A at the first attempt. Add winning the Birra Moretti Cup – after defeating Inter and Napoli – and you have Deschamps working miracles yet again.

Unsurprisingly, Deschamps resigned shortly after Juventus were confirmed Serie B champions. Unsurprisingly, it was reported the Frenchman left Juventus due to ongoing clashes with the board.

A return to Marseille was next up for a manager who already had a reputation of being his own man. Deschamps signed a two-year contract last summer, and nine months into his first season as manager, Marseille currently occupy top spot in Ligue 1. Many are now backing them to stay there come May, suggesting a possible league title to go along with the Coupe de la Ligue they won back in March – the club’s first major trophy since 1995.

It seems Deschamps’ expertise lies in rejuvenating clubs from the depths of despair. Ask any Liverpool fan today, and they’ll tell you Anfield has seen far better days. The club are seeped in despondency, with an uncertain future very much a reality.

Come the summer, should Liverpool appoint Didier Deschamps as their new manager if Benitez leaves, it will be the club’s most astute signing ever.

But should Liverpool part company with Rafa Benitez? And if so, is Didier Deshamps the right man to take Liverpool back to winning league titles?

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Styles grabs late winner

Elliot Styles scored a last-gasp winner as AFC Hornchurch beat Ashford Town 1-0 in the Ryman Premier Division at Bridge Avenue.

It was the Urchins 10th home league win of the season that sees them move up to 7th in the table, three points adrift of a playoff place.

And despite a lethargic opening 45 from both teams, it was Hornchurch who looked the most likely to conjure up a smash-and-grab victory in the closing stages.

The first opportunity of the match fell to the Urchins, when Styles latched onto Billy Coyne’s long throw-in, only to head across the face of goal.

A quarter of an hour gone, and the away side had their first attempt on goal – albeit a wasteful one.

The lively Brian Haule gained possession inside the box, did well to neatly side-step Styles, yet somehow managed to slice his effort off target when under no pressure whatsoever.

Little width from either side saw the game become congested, as tackles and misplaced passes became increasingly frequent as opposed to chances at either end.

When the Urchins’ Mervin Abraham was put clean through by strike partner Ross Wall, Ashford’s goalkeeper, Craig Ross, came out the traps quickly and brave to thwart Abraham.

With a minute to go before the break, it was Abraham again who had a glorious chance to break the deadlock.

Sam Sloma did well to retrieve possession for the home side, and then swiftly played Abraham down the left. The striker made little work of skipping past a challenge from defender Russell Canderton, before having his strike strongly palmed away from Craig Ross, with his headed rebounded effort cleared.

The second half followed on from the first. The home team continued to press for that all important opener, whilst the away side were becoming increasingly frustrated by their own lack of power in the final third.

For all their tidy approach play and combative performance in the middle of the park, Ashford were lightweight once faced with a resolute Hornchurch defence.

Debutant Tommy Black almost scored on 53 minutes. The former Arsenal midfielder capped a fine team move by striking hard and low, only to be deflated by an in-form Craig Ross who got down early to tip the strike around the post.

But the home team always looked more dangerous from set pieces, and on 53 minutes, they thought they had taken the lead.

A Black inswinging free kick from the right found an unmarked Styles who headed emphatically past Cross. Only delight was quickly turned into despair, as the assistant referee ruled the goal out for offside.

Both Rickie Hayles and Michael Spencer had chances to score for the hosts, whilst Hornchurch ‘keeper Darren Behcet became another agitated spectator in the second as the game seemed to be finishing all square.

Deep into four minutes of injury time, up popped Urchins captain Styles to head home a Black corner kick to send the home team and their fans into pandemonium.

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