The Copa del Rey final promises a great deal this term, as the sub plots alone make for an intriguing battle where there is more on the line than just the famous trophy. Barcelona will look to salvage a disappointing season and send off their much loved manager with a trophy, whereas Bilbao will look to make up for their disappointing Europa League defeat to Atletico Madrid.
Bilbao and Barcelona are historically the two most successful sides in this competition with 23 and 25 wins respectively. However Athletic, winners of the first ever Copa del Rey, has not won the trophy since Javier Clemente’s aggressive 1980’s side lifted the trophy in ‘84.
The sides last met in the 2009 final where Barcelona prevailed with ease, 4 goals to 1, with Yaya Toure’s equalising wonder goal worth re-watching again alone.
The game will be hosted in the Spanish capital, at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderón stadium, a venue which adds another layer of intrigue to this clash of the two municipalities. Barcelona is the capital of the fiercely proud Catalan region and Bilbao is the capital of the Basque country, both regions which claim a degree of independence from mainland Spain and its federal capital Madrid. Bilbao’s independence even stretches to the football club, with the famous cantera policy of only fielding players who have grown up in, or more recently have family ties to the region.
Barcelona have certainly had the tougher route to the final, narrowly beating Real Madrid in the quarter-finals and then Valencia in the semis, 3-1 over two legs. Bilbao alternatively faced Segunda Division B side Mirandes in the semi finals, comfortably winning 8-3 on aggregate over the two legs.
Athletic’s recent form has been sketchy and is reflected in their La Liga position, marooned in mid-table as a consequence of the cantera policy, meaning the small but talented squad can struggle when fatigue and injuries set in, or if top scorer Fernando Llorente is not at the races.
Bielsa admitted personal failure following his sides hugely disappointing Europa League final against Atletico. Yes, Radamel Falcao was in a ruthless mood, and most teams would have struggled to deal with the Colombian in that mood. Nevertheless, Bielsa admits that he played into Atletico’s hands, saying “We wanted to play a certain way but we didn’t create the ideal scenario for this, our opponents managed to turn the scenario into one which suited the way in which they aspired to play.” Tiredness and a lack of cutting edge in forward areas made for a lethargic display which, if replicated against Barcelona will certainly end in another runners up medal for the side from Bilbao.
Barcelona has uncharacteristically suffered from a similar malaise this season though. Without the goals of David Villa the onus has fallen too often on Lionel Messi, with little support coming from his teammates. The gap between Llorente and Messi and their team mates are huge, Messi with 50 to Alexis Sanchez’s 12 league goals this season and Llorente’s 17 to Susaeta’s 6.
Bilbao were soundly beaten by Real Madrid on May 2 to allow Madrid to lift the title. Defensive lapses, such as a comically silly handball early in the game from Javi Martinez which was let off by a similarly stupid (and arrogant) penalty kick from Ronaldo, led to a comfortable 3-0 canter to victory for Real. Athletic followed this up with a 0-0 draw with Getafe, finishing a poor run of three results which started with a 2-0 defeat to relegation candidates Real Zaragoza.
The two finalists league battles this season ended 2-2, with a late Messi goal salvaging a point for Barcelona, and a 2-0 home win for Barca against a Leones side without key players Llorente, Iker Muniain, Ander Hererra and Fernando Amorebieta, but in which they managed to keep Barcelona’s share of the ball to a relatively paltry 55%.
Marcelo Bielsa will have to quickly turn things around if he is to avoid a huge double disappointment after he has established Bilbao, and himself, as global favourites this year. The team has drawn wide support in this country in recent months after strong showings against Manchester United, where Llorente was inspired, and for a more ‘English’ style of play than the Barcelona model, which the national team so attempts to replicate. The maverick Bielsa has been rewarded for this mix of dogged determination and some sumptuous build up play by links to the vacant Chelsea post and with Barcelona, before Tito Vilanova was awarded the role.
Bielsa’s side will need to show some British grit and determination to hold out Barcelona and will no doubt look to Roberto Di Matteo and Chelsea’s recent Champions League heroics as a model for success. Indeed a dogged defensive display and counter attacking through the pacey Munian, Susaeta and midfield duo of Ander Hererra and Oscar de Marcos will possibly be the favoured approach from Bielsa. However for this to work will require a Didier Drogba like effort from star target man Llorente, who must hold up the ball and finish off the moves if his side are to hoist the trophy that Sergio Ramos dropped off a bus last year.
Barca on the other hand have regrouped following the double disappointment of the Champions League exit to Chelsea and relinquishing of their La Liga title to Real Madrid by grouping around outbound manager Pep Guardiola by beating rivals Espanyol 4-0. Barcelona’s recent run of three games could not contrast more with Bilbao’s, notching three wins with an aggregate score of 15-1 over Rayo, Malaga and Espanyol respectively.
The Catalan club will be keen to make amends after losing a fiery final to Madrid last season, where a heroic performance from Iker Casillas should act as inspiration for Bilbao’s Gorka Iraizoz, who was in magnificent form against Madrid despite conceding three goals.
Athletic play Barcelona at 2100 UK time on Friday May 25th
Chelsea are currently preparing for their biggest game since the heartbreaking penalty shoot out loss to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final. This year they must travel to Germany and defeat Bayern Munich at their home ground, the Allianz Arena, if they are to lift the trophy they all crave so badly. Roberto Di Matteo faces the biggest game of his managerial career bar none, and will be hard at work fine tuning his approach to the game already, but here are Scott Carey’s thoughts on what the FA Cup holders must do if they are to lift the big eared trophy on Saturday night:
1. Contain Mario Gomez
Chelsea are missing their influential captain and strongest defender in the form of John Terry following his idiotic red card for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the semi-final and have only two, semi-fit, very young centre backs to step into the heart of defence for the final. Chelsea will hope that Gary Cahill is fit, and brave, enough to step into Terry’s shoes, and his main task will be to mark the dangerous German international Mario Gomez out of the game.
Cahill is the better physically equipped to deal with the threat of Gomez than his potential defensive partner David Luiz on Saturday. Leaving Cahill to nullify Gomez will allow Luiz to do what he does best, roam around the back cutting out threats and mopping up around him. With a lack of really dangerous breaking midfielders (Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are hugely talented but won’t predominantly be playing high up behind Gomez, however if Thomas Muller plays there will certainly be a dual threat to contend with and John Obi Mikel will be required) Chelsea will hope that taking Gomez out of the game will allow the full backs to do the next thing on this list…
2. Restrict the wingers
Bayern Munich are blessed with two of the finest wingers in the game today. Chelsea will be all too aware of the threat Arjen Robben poses cutting in from the right. Chelsea are well equipped to deal with the flying Dutchman in the form of world-class left back Ashley Cole, who will know what Robben wants to do and will back himself to contain the threat in what is undoubtedly THE key battle of the evening, followed closely by Cahill v Gomez and Boateng v Drogba (which I am coming to).
On the other flank, if he plays, Jose Bosingwa will have to deal with the more unpredictable Franck Ribery. The tricky Frenchman is a different player to Robben in that he has more tricks in his locker and is more prone to roaming, a dangerous modus operandi against Bosingwa, who can be liable of lapses of concentration. Bosingwa is good against pacey wingers, he has shown this against Gareth Bale on a few occasions, but the more subtle approach of Ribery could undo Chelsea.
3. Win the midfield battle
Yes it’s a footballing cliche, but with Jupp Heynckes and Roberto Di Matteo expected to play the same 4-2-3-1 formations they have deployed much of the season expect the game to be tight. The two target men will need to win their individual battles and the key battleground will be out on the flanks. Both teams will want to dominate possession, Bayern especially as they are on home soil and will probably play higher than Chelsea.
When you get two matching systems it is vital to dominate the centre of the pitch and this battle will be intriguing come Saturday night. The most likely match ups will be Schweinsteiger and his German international teammate Toni Kroos v the resurgent John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard. This promises to be quite a tight match up, with both teams relying on Schweinsteiger and Lampard to pull the strings in the middle and both oppositions keen to restrict the time and space to allow this. This, like all the battles to be had on Saturday, is one that Chelsea can win, but I for one simply cannot call it.
4. Pick the right wingers
Strangely enough the flanks have become Chelsea’s weakest area of the last couple of seasons. Gone are the days of Robben and Damien Duff terrorising the opposition. Now Di Matteo has to select between the four options of Florent Malouda (a doubt for the game), Daniel Sturridge, Salomon Kalou and Fernando Torres to operate either side of Didier Drogba, with Juan Mata expected to take up a key central role behind the big Ivorian. Arguably Chelsea’s biggest loss for this tie is Brazilian Ramires, whose injection of pace and guile, as well as some key finishes, have helped them achieve an effective counter-attacking game.
Di Matteo must select wisely here, the temptation to go all out with the goal threats of Sturridge and Torres is an option, however the tracking back that Malouda and Kalou offer may be just as necessary against the attacking threats of the Bayern full-backs and the aforementioned danger men Robben and Ribery. For me Kalou is the obvious but unpopular choice as he offers a bit of both. My money is on Torres taking up the opposite flank, but this one is down to Robbie.
5. Unleash the Drog
Anyone who has seen the recent Avengers Assemble film could see Di Matteo channelling Captain America in his pre-game team talk. Captain America, while tactically assembling his army for the film’s final battle scene carefully instructs each member of his ranks, before reaching the Incredible Hulk whom he tells simply to do what he does best: “smash.”
Di Matteo needs Didier Drogba to be at his unplayable best against a weakened Bayern backline if he is to get anything from the game. Chelsea will be hoping for no more subtlety in Drogba’s approach than that of the giant green Hulk as he looks to smash his way through the German defences.
Bayern will be a side demoralised after a hugely dissapointing 5-2 German cup final loss to Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund are officially the best team in Germany at the moment but to put five past Bayern was a great achievement, and one that Chelsea can take heart from. In particular the performance from Dortmund’s lone Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who bagged a hat trick, will spur on Didier Drogba.
Lewandowski benefited from some superb service by Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa against a Bayern side that don’t operate with a strict holding midfielder, a weakness Chelsea may look to exploit through their talented playmaker Juan Mata on Saturday. Bayern had their full roster of defenders available against Dortmund and still ended up conceding five goals, Chelsea will hope they can replicate this by taking their chances in Munich.
In his column for the Daily Mail today Martin Samuel highlights Drogba’s unplayable streak. At his best, and so often in the big games, Drogba’s physical approach can wreak havoc. Bayern are without German international Holger Badstuber for the final and will most likely deploy a holding midfielder in his place, probably Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoshchuk if Belgian heavyweight Daniel Van Buyten isn’t fit in time.
Drogba is coming to the end of his Chelsea contract but has been in devastating form at the back end of this season, turning in two such ‘unplayable’ performances, firstly making Tottenham’s William Gallas look foolish in his side’s 5-1 win and then again against Martin Skrtel, no wimp, in a triumphant FA Cup final. Drogba will prove a handful for any defender on his day but will need to remain cool and composed and not let the occasion get to him, this could be his last chance.
6. Stay cool
And on that note Chelsea as a side must stay cool and composed. The ‘disgrace’ of Tom Henning Ovrebo against Barcelona in 2009 and the heartbreak and tears of John Terry’s penalty miss in Moscow in 2008 mean this is an emotional game for all involved, especially the old guard of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Drogba for whom this may be their last chance at elite European glory.
Decisions may not go their way and the home crowd in Munich will be deafening, but if they can stay focused and get at Bayern this is a battle they can win. Be calm my jangling nerves.
Bosingwa – G. Cahill – David Luiz – A.Cole
Mikel – Lampard
Torres – Mata – Kalou
Rafinha- Jerome Boateng – Tymoshchuk – Lahm
Schweinsteiger – Kroos
Robben – Muller – Ribery
By Scott Carey
curse: A solemn utterance to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.
Football is a superstitious game. Be it wearing the same shirt to a game after you won last week, never changing a winning team or entering the field of play backwards a-la Daniel Sturridge.
We try to make sense of football because it is so hard to make sense of. The game is organised chaos at its absolute best, and this is why we love it. The irrational theories, superstitions and day to day conjecture that surround the game are what make it so great. As rational human beings we like to try and explain away these phenomena as much as we buy into them but some just seem to defy explanation and really get inside the head of football fans.
One such ‘curse’ that has really caught the eye as of late is that of the Chelsea number 9. Stretching back to the days of Tony Cascarino in 1993 a whole host of number 9s have tried and failed to establish themselves as Stamford Bridge favourites (for a full run down of the trials and tribulations of the modern day Chelsea number 9 visit the Football Supernova). So, is the Chelsea number 9 shirt really cursed or do these players just sink under the burden of history (and money) that the shirt represents?
Fernando Torres may be suffering from a significant bout of existential and professional doubt. His case of ‘the yips’ has left him unable to hit the target let alone execute with the sort of composure he was capable of at Atletico and Liverpool. His touch has deserted him and the goals that made him famous have gone too. So is the lack of confidence that is so often cited the problem with Torres, or is there something more sinister a foot? Could it be possible that Fernando Torres and the Chelsea number 9 really are cursed?
Theory number 1 –
Perhaps the jilted Liverpool fans, so consumed by the sense of abandonment that followed the departure of their favourite Spaniard, banded together and invoked the cosmos to strike down Torres in all of his future endeavours. I imagine this invocation to look like a heartfelt rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone but performed in a darkened room, all holding hands in a circle but altering the lyrics to You’ll Never Score Again.
Theory number 2 –
A jealous kit man at Chelsea HQ, so incensed by the realisation that these preening prima donna’s, ginger haired midfielders and Khalid Boulharouz could make in a week what he does in a year that he cursed the shirt, stitching his bitterness into the very lining, so that no no.9 would ever succeed at the club again.
N.B This disgruntled kit man must have arrived soon after the departure of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but we are getting to him.
Theory number 3 –
The last great number 9 at Chelsea Football Club scored so many goals, was so vastly popular and adored that there was no room left for another 9 to take his place (false or not) and so the once magical shirt lost its power forever more. However this theory does not lie true with the counter example at St James’s Park of the Newcastle number 9 shirt, a magical item of clothing which imbues its every wearer with the ability to score goals, be it the great Alan Shearer to Andy Carroll and Papiss Demba Cissé.
Discounted theories include that Fernando’s flowing blonde locks, Samson like, were the source of his goal scoring power and that when he died it brown this power was lost. However the return of the blonde hair has done nothing for his fortunes. Also the theory that he is in fact “half a boy and half a girl” is yet to be proved but was also an accusation that was in place during his glory days at Liverpool.
Whatever the case, curse or confidence crisis, the sight of this video is still able to have even the most ardent sceptic questioning whether there is in fact a curse on the Chelsea number 9, Chelsea fans, look away now:
By Scott Carey
Golazo: A goal scored in soccer (football) that is seen as colossal, thus the joining of the two words to make a Spanish portmanteau.
Plain and simple: This weekend was a Golazo fest. Not only did Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi embark upon a magnificent bout of one up manship with a fine backheel and freekick respectively but we also have a volley straight from a corner which will have all of us screaming SCHOLES as if we are back in the playground and another fine goal from the magnificent Robin Van Persie in a scintillating North London derby on Sunday. Enjoy:
- Cristiano Ronaldo v Rayo Vallecano
- Lionel Messi free kick vs Atletico Madrid
- Deco’s ‘definately not a cross’ wonder-strike
- Robin van Persie curler vs Tottenham (13 mins)
- SCHOOOOOOOOOLES – Oh I mean Giovanni Marchese as the Italian left back channels the ginger master with a fine 25 yard volley straight from a high arching corner kick
- As volleys go Michel Bastos’s effort vs PSG was worthy of Golazo status as well this week as he showed fine technique to swivel and generate huge amounts of power with this strike (3mins, 15 seconds)
- And not forgetting the best of them all, Lewis Dunk vs Liverpool. The quality of the first touch, the audacity of the second and the sheer desperation of the third, simply sublime (6 mins)
…Oh and Charlie Adam boomed a penalty at Wembley, what a hit son, what.a.hit
Chelsea and their under fire manager go to the cauldron Stadio San Paolo tonight hoping to get a positive result against one of Europe’s most incisive attacking sides. The meticulous tactician Andre Villas Boas will have to be at his best to nullify the multi-pronged attack of Napoli, while also going after that all important away goal. Whatever happens it will be a game of intrigue and high stakes. Here are some of the key areas from which the game will be won and lost for Chelsea.
Play narrow at the back
Andre Villas Boas will undoubtedly know in his own mind how best to counter the unorthodox 3-4-3 of Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli but his strategy will depend a great deal on whether his players can implement the tactics and remain patient and disciplined in what will be imposing surroundings in Naples.
After his performance at right back against Birmingham I would expect Branislav Ivanovic to start again in the role tonight so that Chelsea can narrow their back line and close out the narrow front three of Lavezzi-Cavani-Hamsik.
Furthermore the two central midfielders or high wingers will have to track the marauding runs of Napoli’s tireless wing-backs so that any threat from wide is nullified. This will stop the home side from turning defense into attack to their typical quick and devastating effect. If there is one thing we know about Napoli it’s that they carry a threat all over the pitch but if they can be funneled down the center and Edinson Cavani can be effectively smothered out then Chelsea will have their best chance at keeping things tight.
Napoli boast talent all over the pitch, especially in attacking areas. However, it is the Uruguayan poacher Cavani that is their main threat, and far and away top goalscorer with 15 in 22 games so far this term. Operating in a fluid front three Cavani will always look to break into the box but will also interchange with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik into wide areas, making him very tricky to pick up.
Cavani is a lethal goalscorer and is in confident mood ahead of the game, Chelsea will need to be very aware of his movement in the final third if they are to keep him quiet while also remaining aware of the threat from elsewhere on the pitch. Hamsik will have to be closed down quickly and it is vital that Chelsea funnel Lavezzi into wide areas where he is less dangerous. Napoli’s Maradona elect can tear any defender apart in a one on one battle so it is vital to push him wide and slow his stride, another reason why I feel Ivanovic would be the obvious choice at right back for this game so that he can impose himself physically on the Argentine winger.
As most of Serie A, and increasingly Europe, knows, smothering Cavani can be easier said than done when he is in the mood. Chelsea will have to leave one of the two center backs to take responsibility for Cavani whenever he comes central, leaving the rest of the team to pick up the other runners. This marking assignment will be extremely tricky and if AVB opts for David Luiz alongside John Terry then he will have to decide whether Luiz is mentally up to the task or to deploy his best defender, Terry, in a man marking assignment. Alternatively Gary Cahill could be asked to mark Cavani leaving Terry or Luiz to clean up the remaining threat, a prospect that may worry Chelsea fans but one that will help nullify Napoli’s outstanding goal threat.
Score a goal
This is vital. Against the back three of Napoli width will be the key to bagging that all important away goal. Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata, assuming they start in wide areas, will have to work hard to shake the tireless wing backs Christian Maggio and Andrea Dossena in order to get one on one with their center back. If they can get one on one this will allow opportunities to drive into the box and serve Didier Drogba, who will be isolated against the skipper Paolo Cannavaro, his most likely marker, creating opportunities to score.
Promisingly for Chelsea fans will be this piece by Zonal Marking on Fiorentina’s attempts to unsettle the established Napoli system in September of last year. The article points out “that Napoli’s shape was properly stretched and brought out of shape, something we’ve rarely seen opposition managers achieve over the last twelve months. A key part of this – although not the only factor – was that they faced a wide front three, quite rare in Serie A.” Chelsea’s wide front three looks perfectly equipped to cause problems but will need Sturridge and Mata to be at their best to get any change out of a miserly Napoli rearguard.
Napoli will try to wear Chelsea down and hit on the break, it’s what they do and Walter Mazzarri won’t be springing too many major tactical surprises. Chelsea will need to be disciplined, leaving a holding midfielder back to shield the defence against oncoming counter attacks and break up the swift passing in the final third (but you may want to ask Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong just how hard this can actually be in practice).
Chelsea will also have to play with a deep line as was so effective against Valencia earlier in the group stages. Napoli have great pace up front and Chelsea fans will be worried that Napoli could tear them to shreds if the high line is deployed, much like Arsenal did to devastating effect earlier in the season.
In an ideal world the holding role will be the job of the more mobile Michael Essien but Obi Mikel and Oriol Romeu may be selected as Essien works back towards full fitness, in what could be a torrid night for the youngsters. This approach may limit Chelsea’s forays forward but it is vital that they don’t let the game get away by overloading in attack, instead they will have to rely on the individuals up top to snatch the goals rather than build up through the side and leave gaps over the pitch.
Chelsea will also want to take the sting out of the game early. Napoli have been magnificent in the big games this season, beating Inter and AC Milan 3-0 and 3-1 respectively and getting big results against Manchester City and Villarreal in the Champions League. The crowd and team will be up for the occasion and Chelsea will want to maintain possession early on to calm things down, however even this has proved beyond Chelsea in recent weeks and one sloppy pass in their own third of the pitch could negate the intention entirely, these are the fine margins this level creates. Making the most of their man advantage in the middle of the park and getting the ball in behind Napoli will be vital and it is here that patience will hold the key.
Gary Cahill: The case against by Scott Carey
1. He is exactly the same player as John Terry
This may seem a bit harsh as Cahill seems to be a pretty good lad but in footballing terms he shares many similarities with the England captain. Both fit the mould of a traditional English centre back: good leaders, physically imposing, capable of chipping in with the odd goal and strong and committed in the tackle and aerial duels.
Strong to the first ball and best when the ball is in front of them, Cahill and Terry are both vulnerable to the ball in behind which has been causing Chelsea so many problems as of late, with Arsenal taking advantage to the most devastating effect in their 5-3 win.
What Terry really needs, particularly with AVB at the helm, is a surrogate Ricardo Carvalho. This being a positionally astute defender who can clean up the second ball and cover in behind. Contrary to popular opinion this role does not require pace, as Ricky proved, but rather a very specific and specialised skill set. The worry with a Cahill – Terry partnership will be that they become extremely flat as neither one performs this role and will therefore be as vulnerable as the current set up to the ball in behind.
2. His goals have inflated his stock
Cahill has proved to be quite an astute finisher at the top level and has scored 13 goals in his 130 apps for Bolton, including a fine goal last week against Everton and a brace against former club Aston Villa. However, as this well researched piece by The Football Front shows, Cahill’s stats in key defensive areas such as tackle success and pass completion are far lower than JT’s and Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott.
A Moneyball, Billy Beane like analysis of Cahill would certainly point towards an inflated value as he has not been brought in to score goals (they have Torres for that) but to plug a leaky defence. He may look comfortable on the ball and in front of goal but his tackle success rate is poor by the standards of his England compatriots.
However the silver lining for Chelsea fans will be his relatively good interception rate, showing his ability to read the game, and his reported £7m price tag, meaning his value may be inflated but he isn’t going to break the bank or prove an embarrassing, expensive mistake. Still, the under fire David Luiz is one of the best readers of the game and racks up plenty of interceptions, it is his positioning and concentration levels that are not up to scratch, two very tricky abilities to master and to quantify through statistics.
3. Bolton have conceded the most goals in the league
With Gary Cahill an ever present entity at the heart of the defensive with the worst record in the league (46 goals conceded and it’s not even half way through the season yet) only so many excuses can be made regarding the deficiencies of his team mates to keep the opposition out.
He may be technically and physically gifted but is Cahill the kind of committed defender who is hell bent on stopping the opposition at all costs? Will he throw his body on the line to get blocks in and master the art of playing dirty when the time requires it as the best centre backs (Nemanja Vidic, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry) have done? These may be the questions which Arsene Wenger asked himself when he baulked at Bolton’s £20m valuation of the player in the summer.
Yes the responsibility to marshal the defence and the protection offered up either side and in front of him will be of a higher ilk, and Chelsea will dominate more games he takes part in now. Nevertheless this record simply speaks for itself and is a worrying indication of his basic ability to stop opponents in their tracks.
Gary Cahill: The case for by Ed Malyon
1. A tactical point
Much has been made this season of Chelsea’s high line, particularly in their early Premier League games under new boss Andre Vilas-Boas. As the pressure built, the Portuguese boss was forced to change his game plan to one that suited his players – betraying his philosophy, but a necessary dose of pragmatism. He discussed this in a press conference, claiming there were three levels of ‘block’ the high, medium and deep ‘block’. Now, of course this could be true, but at Porto his game plan was to press high throughout the team, and obviously that necessitates the advancement of the defensive line. Seemingly the key issue with his desired tactic is John Terry, a player who is so obviously not cut out for defending high up the pitch. They switched to a medium block and got better results, but there is little doubt that Vilas-Boas would prefer to revert to type, and this is where Cahill may come in. In this case, it is an intelligent transfer as Cahill is a player who is far better equipped to play higher, with no better stat demonstrating this, than the fact that his awareness and management of a defensive line have seen him win more offsides per game than any other defender in the league.
2. The price
As far as value goes, £7m for an international centre-half isn’t bad going. Especially one that is still to reach the prime of his career, and one who had such a strong season last year. Granted, he hasn’t performed especially well this campaign, but Owen Coyle’s side does seem to be lacking in a lot of areas, and he is alongside Zat Knight, a defender strong in the air but very questionable in other areas. Considering clubs were offering double that for his services last summer (a sum Bolton deemed insufficient), there is little argument that despite the current lull in big-money transfers (PSG excluded), he represents value, perhaps not just in what he offers now, but what he could offer over the span of his five and a half year deal.
3. He has all the necessary building blocks
With defenders, it is sometimes foolish to look into stats too much. Alex Ferguson found this out when he first dabbled with the idea of basing transfers on statistical analysis and sold Jaap Stam. He later admitted that he’d made an error on this, and the fact that the Dutchman was making fewer tackles was not due to his decline as a footballer, more that his positioning was better. Cahill is a player who is quite clearly in a different situation. Apart from ‘goals conceded’ it’s hard for defenders from top sides to feature high up the defensive rankings due to a lack of work, Cahill – of course – did not have these problems at Bolton. Only four defenders have made more clearances per game this season, only two have blocked more shots. This does not tell you the whole story but it does tell you something, and that is that he does get there to make the blocks, and he does get the ball away from danger. These, as well as his ability to catch players offside, make for the beginnings of a useful defender, and allied with higher-level experience (particularly in Europe and in internationals), he could become a very good all-round centre back.
Eduardo Vargas confirmed what most of the scouts in the world have suspected by scoring a tremendous double to secure his side, Universidad de Chile, their first ever Copa Sudamericana title. Now, with Europe’s biggest clubs paying attention, is he ready for the step up?
The young 5ft 9in striker looked hungry last night. In the third minute Vargas brought the ball infield, drifted past opponents before moving the ball wide and getting himself into a goal scoring position. The subsequent half volleyed left foot finish looked off-balance but the power generated could only come from a deft execution. Vargas kept coming at his opponents, he had earned this moment, playing a neat one two and hitting a stinging shot which nearly doubled his sides lead before the fireworks went off, quite literally in this case, thanks to Gustavo Lorenzetti following in the rebound.
However the real fireworks were saved for last. In the 87th minute Vargas (no.17) picked up the ball 35 yards out and showed his phenomenal burst of acceleration and close control, somehow maintaining his balance to leave three players in his wake and dink the ball over the goalkeeper. It was as good a final flourish as you will see on a football pitch and could prove a difficult sign for much of the football world to miss.
Vargas was subsequently awarded player of the tournament and ended with 11 goals, a new record. Almost more impressive is that he pipped Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez to become Chilean Footballer of the Year 2011. His agent, Mark Griffiths, has gone as far as to say that Vargas is a more complete player than Sanchez due to his better goal scoring record.
Dan Edwards asks the question in his excellent piece for Goal.com whether Vargas will use his recent fine form to manufacture a big move to Europe, with Chelsea seemingly in the driving seat for a January move, despite strong interest from Inter, Zenit and CSKA, or stay in Chile and become an idol for a club that is crafting its own fantastic narrative.
Under the tutelage of Argentine Jorge Sampaoli, a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, they are playing free flowing football that has got the sort of results only Pep Guardiola and the AVB of last season could hope to muster. They are currently on a 32 game undefeated run and following this title the club could go on to a historic treble with the Apertura and Clausura still up for grabs. If he stays for one more year Vargas could be central to a Libertadores challenge and make himself a legend in his home country by placing this Universidad side firmly into the history books.
Like Neymar and Lucas Moura before him Chelsea have been linked with several skilful South American forwards as of late as they try to adapt their squad to match AVB’s style. However Brazilian sides are finding themselves better equipped to resist European bids for their star assets so it seems the Portuguese coach has turned his attention to Vargas to add to his increasingly Samba strewn squad, money may well talk in the end.
With the impending departure of Nicolas Anelka, as well as Didier Drogba’s contract dispute and the falling stock of Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou, AVB will be keen to get a forward with Vargas’s pace and versatility into his squad as soon as possible. At 22 he also fits into the club’s current transfer policy.
The worry will be that Chilean football is not up to Brazilian let alone European standards and that Vargas is a big fish in a small pond. The last time Chelsea tried to pluck one of these from out of the water they ended up with Mateja Kezman (25 games, 4 goals). Vargas’s two goals in nine games for Chile does show promise against higher opposition though, especially as one came against the world champions Spain.
Chelsea will have to move fast if they are to secure this highly sought after signature and it may finally be a case of putting their money where their new philosophy is.
The talented 22 year old lit up Ukraine’s recent thriller of a friendly against Germany and is being widely tipped as a future European star. However without proving himself outside of his native Ukraine the question all the scouts will be asking is: Is he next Shevchenko or the next Voronin? Scott Carey sets out to find out
Most people outside of Ukraine may have been asking the same question as I was on watching the highlights of the midweek 3-3 thriller against Germany, who is that no.19? The answer was the exciting winger Yevhen Konoplianka who tormented Germany’s burly defence with his electric pace and direct running all evening.
In a game with plenty of great goals the highlight came through Konoplianka when he launched a one man counter attack, collecting the ball smoothly in his own half and driving at goal before rounding German goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler with consummate ease. It was the explosive run and cool, confident finish of a young Andriy Shevchenko, and certainly something for the locals to get excited about.
It is testament to how stagnant the pool of Ukranian talent has become as of late that Andriy still leads the line for his nation. A legend in his own right, his talents were on the weane at Chelsea where he managed just 9 in 48 games (any Torres jokes and your dead) three years ago. At Chelsea he often looked as if he was running in treacle, and apart from the odd flash of brilliant finishing, at 35 he is without doubt a spent force.
The emergence of Artem Milevskiy offered a brief glimmer of hope for the national fans but his career never took off as it was initially expected and, at 26 years of age, he remains at Dinamo Kyiv with a solid but uninspiring 1 in 3 goal ratio. It is a worrying example for the new batch of attacking talent emerging in Ukraine.
Like their Eastern Bloc neighbors, the Czech Republic and Hungary, fresh talent is proving hard to come by in large batches and golden generations, such as can be seen in the current Belgian national side, don’t look like emerging any time soon.
Alongside the unfortunately named Andriy Yarmolenko, who plays alongside his namesake at Dinamo Kyiv and opened the scoring against Germany, in Konoplianka Ukraine have two prongs of what could be a promising future attack. Both are capable of playing across the front line, however Yarmolenko’s size advantage (he stands 6’1 to Konoplianka’s 5’9) could see him in a central striking role.
The scouts are already circling both, with Yarmolenko the more widely lauded before the Germany game having been linked with Juventus and Milan, the latter coming following the recommendation of Sheva himself.
Yarmolenko has been in sparkling form for Dinamo this term, where he wears no.9, leading his esteemed colleagues Shevchenko and Milevskiy in the scoring charts with eight in 15 appearances to Sheva’s four and Artem’s three. He already has six senior international goals in 17 appearances.
At 22, each this summer may prove to be the start of that next vital step for Yarmolenko and Konoplianka. Taking it and all the subsequent temptations won’t be the hard part but succeeding at the next level is a whole different question.
Clinging to saviors may not be healthy for the national side as a whole or the psyche of the anointed one but it is these crumbs of comfort and exhilaration which must be grasped if the national game is to ignite the hearts and minds of the modern football fan.
So what’s he like? Small and pacey with an eye for goal. But we’ve all heard that before, he bears more than a passing resemblance to a right footed Messi when on the ball (but we’ve heard that before too). Konoplianka’s most obvious attribute is his pace and close control as opposed to the outright trickery of someone like Eden Hazard, although that’s not to say he won’t throw the odd stepover when the mood takes him.
When combined, all of these attributes allow Konoplianka to launch very swift counter attacks. Possessing a fantastic change of pace he is able to skip past men or allow them to overrun so he can skip inside and burst away. Similar to the little master he has great balance and a surprising upper body strength when he comes into contact.
Most often he operates from the left hand side where he will always look to cut inside and get shots off with his right foot. However he did show some flashes of top quality vision and ability to cross the ball in the game against Germany in midweek (watch this video from the 20:00 mark onward to see all of these skills on show).
For a player who is so willing to shoot on sight he must improve his goal ratio at the risk of becoming another talented but wasteful winger. Outcomes are the only economy at the top level and despite his ratio of one in seven at club level being worrying three international goals in 13 games is promising and he is certainly young enough to improve this area of his game.
Verdict: Looks a fantastic talent and a player certainly capable of hurting the best defenders in the world with his explosive pace, as he has shown on the international scene. Nevertheless a step up to the big leagues must come sooner rather than later if he is to prove himself worthy of the hype.
Football has plummeted back into the dark ages.
Far from being successfully “kicked out” racism has crept its way back into the footballing mainstream, with even the former paradigms of virtue John Terry, Luis Suarez and Sepp Blatter becoming embroiled in unsavoury instances where handshakes have been passed up in favour of foul mouthed tirades.
It is in these times of crisis where we need the voice of reason, someone who knows how the game should be played, in a good honest fashion where the man with the ball is getting cut down whatever his skin tone.
It is at times like this that we require the grace and sound judgement of Roy Keane, Sepp do the right thing, listen to Keano and stop being a clown:
And if you are stupid enough not to listen to the dulcet Irish tones and sound rhetoric, well then you will just have to deal with this:
You have been warned.
In his interview with The Sunday Times this morning Bilbao’s rising midfield enforcer Javi Martinez asserted: “People talk a lot about the Barcelona youth system; I’d say ours is just as good.”
Ah the exuberance of youth. Yes Martinez’s comments may be ever so wide of the mark but there is an element of truth in it. Bilbao’s extraordinary policy of recruiting and nurturing only players from the Basque region has seen the club constantly gracing La Liga as one of the three clubs (along with Real and Barca) to never be relegated from the top tier. Bilbao came into this tie with champions Barcelona on the back of a nine game La Liga unbeaten streak. Under the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa and with an excellent crop of youth players Bilbao have a succesful recent history at the top level, they have finished in the top ten in their last two seasons.
In Martinez, Spain’s triumphant U21 captain and the tournaments stand out player this summer, and young winger Iker Muniain, Bilbao boast two of La Liga’s brightest talents. Add fellow U21 star Ander Herrera and burly Spain striker Fernando Llorente to the mix and an exciting side comes into sight.
Martinez is arguably the star of the show, equally adept in defence or midfield he is strong, defensively astute but also blessed with the passing ability of a true senior Spanish international midfielder. The 23 year old travelled to South Africa with the senior side alongside the likes of Xavi and Xabi Alonso. Martinez is certainly more akin to a Sergio Busquets than either of these giants of the game but he certainly has a big future ahead of him, as highlighted by the recent raft of rumours linking the youngster with Manchester United as they look to bolster arguably their weakest area. Martinez was selected at centre half for this game against Barcelona but, as with Busquets at Barca, one cant help but feel he is wasted in the role, looking solid but not entirely comfortable and unable to really put his stamp on proceedings with his range of passing.
Barcelona lined up with their own youth product’s in Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pique and Cesc Fabregas, a line up which somewhat undermines Martinez’s comments. On a night where Real Madrid had already blown away Osasuna 7-1 Barca were determined to embarrass the basque club on this Sunday evening. David Villa and Alexis Sanchez both missed out in favour of Adriano and Andres Iniesta, who was given a free role coming in from the right hand side and often exchanging position with Cesc.
Barca started well but Bilbao stayed strong and looked to launch forward when possible and it was one of their rising Spanish stars who showed bags of quality to grab the games opener. Ander Herrera collected the ball on the edge of the box before taking one touch and curling the ball home past a flailing Victor Valdes, maybe Martinez was on to something…
However it just had to be that child of Catalonia, Cesc Fabragas, to respond for the visitors, rising brilliantly to place an un-saveable header into Gorka Iraizoz’s net for an instant response and his fifth goal in a Barcelona shirt already.
Bilbao knew they had to work extremely hard and remain committed in the tackle if they were to get anything from the game and indeed you could often see the forward players tracking back to help their side deal with the passing and movement of Barca. The movement of Muniain and the physicality of Llorente posed the greatest threats to the Barca back line.
In the second half the lashing rain started to show on the surface of the pitch with puddles forming and making the slick passing of both sides far more difficult. With target man Fernando Llorente in the side Bilbao were able to turn to the longer ball, with the likes of Herrera and Muniain buzzing around the second ball and looking to latch on to balls over the top of the Barca back line.
Bilbao also looked to keep it narrow and compact at the back, closing the space and making it really difficult for Barca to find a route to goal with the ball not fizzing around as they would like it to do. This may have influenced the decision making of Pep Guardiola, taking off the pass master Xavi for the more direct approach of Alexis Sanchez with half an hour to play.
Bilbao’s own exciting winger Muniain was deployed on the right hand side where his skills were only seen in glimpses and in tight areas. A strange tactical decision as the diminutive winger could have been more of a goal threat playing in his usual role on the left or even playing off of Llorente further up the field.
However, it wasn’t sumptuous skill that got Bilbao their second goal but sheer work rate and a huge slice of luck. Following some tentative defending from Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal the two combined to see the ball ricochet into their own net off of the unwitting shin of Fernando Llorente.
Barca had to respond but Athletic remained determined and resolute at the back to hold firm during the inevitable final onslaught, with some vital saves from Iraizoz’a legs as he had done a few times throughout the 90 minutes.
But it was not to be for Bielsa’s side. Burly centre back Fernando Amorebieta was shown a second yellow for a fairly innocuous challenge on the half way line and soon after a defensive mix up allowed (who else?) Lionel Messi to arrive with typically exact timing and an unerring finish to take the edge off of Bilbao’s celebrations. An unfortunate way for the game to end but still a fantastic result and Bilbao will certainly maintain the bragging rights in the aftermath of what is so often a fantastic La Liga clash.
Report by Scott Carey