In the absence of one here, I’ll post a link to my Clausura previews.
(and a small feature for MirrorFootball): http://www.mirrorfootball.co.uk/opinion/blogs/mirror-football-blog/South-American-football-blog-Will-Juan-Sebastian-Veron-s-football-career-have-a-fairytale-ending-by-Ed-Malyon-article864373.html
No, he didn’t suddenly act on his lustings for the Arsenal midfielder, it’s just a cross between early-noughties crooners Travis and the story of Mario Balotelli’s lively beginnings in England.
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.
It’s time for Africa. Again.
18 months since the world focussed its gaze on Africa for Earth’s greatest footballing showpiece, a smaller proportion of that world will once more set its eyes there for the African cup of nations.
Much like the Copa America, something I watched all but three games of last summer, it seems to be quite a niche tournament that few people really get into.
What interest there might have been in the tournament will also have been impacted upon by the lack of some of Africa’s leading football nations. Winner of the last three CAN tournaments, Egypt, failed to qualify, as did Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa. With four of those being some of the traditional heavyweights of the continent, there’s no doubt that the interest levels (not to mention the TV revenues) will have been damaged, but it gives us a chance to see some other emerging nations.
In much the same way as traditional minnows Venezuela and Peru shocked everyone in the CONMEBOL showpiece last June, there is the opportunity for the likes of Zambia, Gabon and Guinea to do the same.
Cesar Farias got Venezuela to where they are by being organised in defence and looking to score on the counter. The challenge for the likes of Zambia will be to recreate this model, and they have the tools in their playing squad, it’s a case of whether the management can instill the discipline and system.
Of course, there are other ways to succeed, they may wish to go all out and attack, something we could see from tournament big guns Senegal. Blessed with the majority of their strength in the forward department, it will be interesting to see how they use the talents of Demba Ba and Moussa Sow when Papiss Cissé and Dame N’Doye are knocking on the door. The temptation must be to play at least three of their talented quintet, and expect them to be direct given that they do lack midfield craft, despite having an abundance of graft with N’Daw and Diamé playing in the middle.
This is where Ghana really have the edge, and they are rightful favourites to return to the summit of African football. From the evidence of Brazil’s friendly in Gabon, the pitches aren’t of a great standard, so slick passing football won’t be particularly easy. Regardless, the strength, guile and all-round game of Kwadwo Asamoah and André Ayew is something none of their major rivals for the tournament can compete with. Avoiding the facile stereotyping of African players as willing, enthusiastic runners, Sulley Muntari and Anthony Annan both have extra strings to their bow which take them to a different level to many of the other midfielders in the competition.
The Ivory Coast, of course, will be in with a chance of winning it too. Captain Didier Drogba will possibly be making his last appearance at a major competition if the Elephants can’t qualify for Brazil in 2014, so having never won the African Nations Cup, he will be hoping to get his first major honour in that famous orange shirt, and his country’s first for twenty years.
Even without Romaric, Emerse Faé and Guy Demel, it is a squad that nearly rivals Ghana for all-round ability. They certainly boast more going forward than defensively though, and Didier Zokora and Cheick Tioté’s ability to screen their defence may be just as crucial as the roles for forwards Drogba and Doumbia. Their roster is deepest in the wide areas, where the likes of Konan, Kalou and Gervinho all impress in Europe’s biggest leagues (aguably Gradel too) and Abdulkader Keita is an experienced Champions League winger.
Morocco are a side on an upward curve once more. Without a World Cup appearance in quite some time, there is a mix of players both approaching and enjoying their respective primes in a midfield that has a real cutting edge to it. Belhanda is part of the Montpellier team that lies second in Ligue 1, and Anzhi’s pair of Mbark Boussoufa and Mehdi Carcela provide flair and pace whether they are utilised wide or through the middle. Marouane Chamakh has disappointed Arsenal fans since his free transfer from Bordeaux, but on this stage he won’t be lacking in confidence as he does in England’s top flight.
There is also the mystery aspect of teams like Niger and Botswana (who are tournament debutants). Burkina Faso claim to have a 16 year old Chelsea midfielder whilst the club denies knowledge of the same individual! In many ways, swathes of Africa still form part of Europe’s footballing blind spot, and as I did in Argentina last June, I would love for those traditional expectations to be blown apart by the emergence of newer footballing nations, the opportunity is there…
The precision is just ludicrous.