Friday, 11 April 2014

Atletico Madrid Played it Smart against Barcelona

Many football fans want to see the game played in ‘the right way’, with teams passing the ball, showing flair and scoring plenty of goals.

Atletico Madrid’s triumph over Barcelona in UEFA Champions League quarter-finals will probably be labelled as anti-football by lovers of ‘the beautiful game’ but Diego Simeone’s team succeeded in playing smart.

Simeone’s team did attack early on in the game and Koke scored the solitary goal after just five minutes.

Once Gerardo Martino’s side got into the match, Atleti was pegged back but the defence held out. Simeone’s men defended resolutely and attacked only when it was necessary.

It is a great rarity for any team to dominate Barcelona in possession so ‘parking the bus’ was the best option for Atleti.

Atletico Madrid also happens to be a bogey team for the Catalan giants so if there was one team that stood a chance of beating Barca, it would be Los Colchoneros.

It is very easy for neutrals to criticise a team who wins by playing defensive. Usually that criticism is aimed at Italian teams, probably because they have had enough talent to beat teams by attacking the opposition or because they get unstuck when they sit on 1-0 leads.

Despite their form in La Liga, Los Colchoneros were the underdogs in this quarter-final tie. Although Barca has shown signs of decline in the last two seasons, any team that includes Neymar, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Bayern Munich is probably the only side in the last couple of years to smash Barcelona in possession in the last few years, as illustrated in its 7-0 aggregate win in last season’s UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

Atleti is not the type of side that can go on a passing carousel. What Simeone’s side did was limit Barca’s space and the impact of its stars, especially Messi.

To win playing beautiful football is great but not everybody can do it. Atletico Madrid didn’t need to out-pass Barcelona to beat the Catalans.

Simeone came with a plan and stifled Martino’s team. Call it defensive or ugly but Simeone used his brain. He was smart.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Match Comment: Melbourne Victory 1-1 Sydney FC

Melbourne Victory drew with Sydney FC on Saturday night and it was a scrappy game to watch.

The 1-1 draw showed two things: Victory don’t know when to shoot and the Sky Blues don’t know how to counter-attack.

Kevin Muscat’s side played their usual possession game but it was guilty of playing one pass too many, which is one of the drawbacks to playing a possession-heavy style.

Players are so focused on passing and being unselfish and as a result, they don’t know when they should stick to the gameplan or show some arrogance.

The Victory players needed to be more willing to shoot when an opportunity presents itself. Slow movement in possession gives the opposition defence to set itself up and Melbourne showed that last night.

Excessive passing from Melbourne allowed Sydney to block the Victory’s avenues to goal and the Sky Blues’ defence was well-marshalled by Sasa Ognenovski.

The Sky Blues are not a fast team and they proved it again last night. Frank Farina’s team played in the 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield and it soaked up pressure more than it tried to create play.

Whenever Sydney won the ball, the transition from defence to attack was slow. Having a 39-year-old Alessandro Del Piero does not help in that aspect but with his technique and vision, he can make a decisive pass to a teammate in space.

Richard Garcia and Joel Chianese weren’t great threats on the wings and the best wide player for Sydney was Ali Abbas, who is playing as a makeshift left-back.

Abbas’ did go from hero to zero, making the error which resulted in James Troisi’s goal, but he played a massive part in creating Chianese’s goal for the Sky Blues. Out of all the Sydney’s players, at least he provided some direct running with the ball.

Victory will persist with their high-possession game but they need to test opposition goalkeepers more frequently. Even if they don’t think, they should be more instinctive.

Sydney looks like a team that need a rebuild but as things stand, Farina needs his team to be quicker. Even if its not in terms of running, the Sky Blues need to be quicker in ball transition.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

It Should Be Sydney or Nothing for Del Piero

Alessandro Del Piero should hang up is boots for good if he can’t stay at Sydney.

He has had an amazing career and despite playing in a struggling Sydney FC side, he has still provided A-League supporters with moments of magic but “the Harbour City” should be “Pintericchio’s” final stop as a player.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Sky Blues won’t be extending Del Piero’s contract for another season and that the US and Japan are likely targets for the 39-year-old.

He was earning about AU$4 million a season and there was talk of him becoming player-coach with Sydney FC. That would have been ideal for him because he could build the team around him and do it in a manner that would really suit him. He would also have greater presence and control over his teammates.

If Del Piero actually leaves Sydney, what will he try to achieve? Playing at 40 will be a demanding task and the MLS and J-League are stronger and more established leagues than the A-League. The only plus for him to join one of those leagues is if he wants to earn more money than what he does with the Sky Blues.

He is already struggling with fitness issues. When he does play, he will stay on until the final whistle but he hardly runs. That aspect of that game is gone and therefore he has to rely on his technique and football smarts. Can he really be expected to cruise on the ball or walk into spaces in the J-League or MLS?

The A-League is still a developing league and although Sydney as a team has failed to live up to expectations in the last two seasons, Del Piero has been great for the Sky Blues and the A-League in general.

He should focus on creating his brand more in Australia and Sydney should look at it from that perspective too. If a Serie A, UEFA Champions League and World Cup winner like Del Piero can play in the A-League, so can other stars from the past.

Hopefully Sydney can make the finals and the board can change their minds for Del Piero’s and their own sake. If he can’t stay, he shouldn’t go on playing.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Watch Diamanti's Goal

Melbourne Victory lost to Melbourne Heart in the A-League last night but cast your mind back to Wednesday night’s match against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League.

Kevin Muscat’s side lost 4-2 to the reigning champions despite leading 2-0 at half-time. Coached by Italian World Cup-winner Marcello Lippi, the Chinese side were inspired by another Italian on the pitch.

Alessandro Diamanti levelled the scores and he also sealed the win with the fourth goal on his debut for Lippi’s team. The clear pick of the lot was the goal that he scored in the 65th minute to level the scores.

After a corner, Victory tried to clear the ball out of defence. Adama Traore’s lob out of defence found a Guangzhou player who headed the ball to Diamanti. The Italian attack made a 180-degree turn and his angled drive from distance flew past Nathan Coe in the Victory goal.

As stunning as this goal was, 7News Melbourne did not show it. Usually on free-to-air television in Australia, if a spectacular goal is shown on the news, it would come from the A-League or English Premier League.

Leigh Broxham’s superb volley to make it 2-0 to Victory was shown on TV on Thursday night’s news but the other goal shown was the one Guangzhou shown to pull it back to 2-1. None of the other goals were shown, particularly Diamanti’s cracker.

What was even surprising was that after the Fox Sports’ broadcast of the match they showed five of the goals but Diamanti’s first goal was bizarrely omitted.

Perhaps it is best not to go into conspiracy theories so if you watched the match, don’t forget that goal. Diamanti showed great technique to score a goal like that and young Australian kids watching that goal should try to emulate him and practise scoring those types of goals.

If you didn’t see it live, watch the goal because it is worth looking at.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Taggart and Williams Should Be in the Socceroos Squad

Adam Taggart and David Williams are in the race to be leading goalscorer in the A-League and both players should be considered for the Australian national team.

Both forwards have scored nine goals each for Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Heart respectively and they will also have age on their side.

After the reliance of veterans in the Holger Osieck era, Ange Postecoglou has gone for a more youthful approach with the Socceroos.

These days Australia does not have many star strikers playing in major leagues around the world. In the previous decade, there was Mark Viduka, who was playing in the EPL, and John Aloisi was playing in La Liga for Osasuna and Alaves.

Robbie Kruse is at German club Bayer Leverkusen but he has been ruled out of the World Cup with a knee injury.

The quality of the A-League has improved since its inception in 2005-06 and with the amount of young Australian players coming through now, Postecoglou wouldn’t have too much to lose by calling-up players actually based in Australia.

The attack in particular is one part of the squad that Postecoglou can call upon players from A-League clubs but what makes Taggart and Williams stand-out?

Taggart will be 21 years old when the World Cup is on. He has experience playing for the Young Socceroos, he is regularly scoring goals for a team struggling on the A-League table and he can score from any distance or angle.

Sometimes he has also been moved to the wings in order to accommodate him but he is scoring more goals than experienced teammates like Michael Bridges and Emile Heskey.

Another option I’ve considered is Williams, who is playing in an in-form team and under returning Heart coach John van’t Schip, he is probably realising his potential now.

Twenty-six-year-old Williams can play as a winger and as a striker and five of his goals have come under van’t Schip, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 against Wellington Phoenix.

His pace and agility have been a real headache for defences and he is useful even as a super-sub. Williams could be having a purple patch now but if Williams continues scoring and the Heart get into finals contention, Postecoglou should keep his eyes on him.

Australia does not have any big stars playing for big clubs and with the Socceroos in a transitional phase, Postecoglou looks keen to play young players, particularly locals.

If Postecoglou doesn’t want to go for strikers in the lesser known league around the world, there are two forwards in Taggart and Williams that would be worthy of Socceroos caps.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Barca's Loss is a Great Thing for La Liga

Barcelona’s loss to Valencia on the weekend in La Liga is a great thing for Spanish football.

For anyone who thinks this post is just to run Barcelona down for the sake of it, it is not. That can be left to internet trolls, or more specifically, Madridistas.

Barca’s 3-2 defeat at home to Los Che has also given Atletico Madrid the lead outright on the Spanish league table. Los Colchoneros have 57 points now and Barca is on 54.

This Barcelona defeat is important for two reasons: like in the 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals last season, it shows that Barca has flaws, and a result like this will help keep the concept of a three-horse race for the title in Spain alive.

For the last 25 years or so, La Liga has been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid and only Atletico Madrid in 1995-96, Deportivo La Coruna in 1999-2000 and Valencia in 2003-04 have broken the hegemony.

The Barcelona side of recent years has been a great side and it has been very influential too. Barca players have formed the nucleus of the Spanish national team and now there are many teams around the world trying in vain to copy the tiki-taka.

Barcelona still has some great players and perhaps Lionel Messi’s injury troubles have halted its progress this season. Let’s not forget that Xavi is in the twilight of his career. Despite the arrival coach Gerardo Martino and Brazilian superstar Neymar, this might be another sign of Barca declining.

That call can’t be based on one result but if Atletico maintains its momentum, Diego Simeone’s side would be a worthy winner of La Liga.

Los Colchoneros defeated Real Sociedad 4-0 in the latest round of La Liga action and despite not having the big names like Barca and their city rivals Real Madrid, Simeone has an excellent team at his disposal.

Stars such as Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Radamel Falcao have come and gone but players such as Thibalt Courtois, Arda Turan, Diego Costa and David Villa have arrived and Atletico is now a title contender.

Barcelona lost on the weekend but anyone who wants to see another side win La Liga would jubilant now.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Match Review: Melbourne Victory 0-5 Sydney

Melbourne Victory lost 5-0 again and this time it was Sydney FC who gave Kevin Muscat’s side a hiding.

Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero was the star on Australia Day, scoring two goals for Frank Farina’s side and he could have score more.

As good as Sydney was, Melbourne looked uninspired and arguably made Sydney look better than what it really is.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

·         the encounter last year was billed by some people as “Del Piero Day” but Marco Rojas stole the show in a 3-1 win to the Victory. This time Del Piero was the clear star of the show. Aside from his two goals, he showed great skill, intelligence and poise throughout the match. He punished Victory for giving him too much space

·       there was so much space, Sydney’s full-backs were able to go forward with freedom. Sebastian Ryall’s solo goal to make it 3-0 epitomised that freedom

·       the Victory midfield and attack did not click. Andrew Nabbout made some runs but struggled to link-up with his teammates. Kosta Barbarouses was invisible for most of the time and James Troisi made one notable pass to Archie Thompson early in the second half, which the veteran volleyed over the bar

·       for those outside of Australia reading this, there is an advertisement on Australian television about women’s rights and the line at the end of the ad is: “Violence against women: Australia says ‘No!’” Sydney’s fans targeted Melbourne’s veteran striker Thompson, who still manages to win caps for the Socceroos and after Victory’s insipid performance, they chanted: “Archie Thompson: Australia says, ‘No!’” Such comments would be considered to be tasteless, especially comparing two diverse topics but Sky Blues fans were adamant that Thompson shouldn’t be considered for another call-up for the Socceroos

Muscat must consider changing his tactics for the match against Perth Glory on Friday night. The 4-2-2-2 with two attacking midfielders, two wide forwards and no centre-forward worked under Ange Postecoglou but the current Socceroos coach is a shrewd tactician, unlike Muscat. The 4-2-3-1 would be adequate and Rogic must start in the attacking midfield trio.

Farina can be happy with the performance of his team but facing a rejuvenated Melbourne Heart on Friday night might offer a different challenge. Michael Mifsud is likely to squander a plethora of easy chances but Mate Dugandzic and Harry Kewell should pose a threat to the Sky Blues defenders. At least offensively, Sydney can rely on some Del Piero magic to make them tick.