Tag: futbol

Coach’s Corner: Defensive Masterclass from Aston Villa

So, you take a few days, you see some Champion’s League soccer, and still you wonder, how the heck did Aston Villa thwart Liverpool’s almost omniscient attacking force this past weekend?

You could go out on a limb and say Senderos lashing out at Ballotelli multiple times and Hutton putting in some timely challenges were defining factors in that game. But, if you asked me, it came down to one thing…

1) This man:

gabby a


And you say, “no way, soccer is a team sport, how could one man change it all.” Let me explain. Gabriel Agbonlahor changed the entire way Liverpool players. Going forward he is always going to be an issue. He is more athletic than he looks, he is strong, he is committed to the cause, he pressures the back four relentlessly and makes it difficult for anyone to get comfortable on the ball. Liverpool is a rhythm based team. The Reds need to complete some passes and string some joy together in order to feel confident and take risk going forward. If not, they lock themselves into defensive mode and hope to catch one on the break. One man doesn’t put Liverpool in that mode but Mr. Agbonlahor certainly tried to do do. But that is neither here nor there.


The real reason Villa’s performance was so impressive was because once Liverpool was able to break the pressure and have a bit of possession, this man once again created a massive problem for the Reds. It is well documented that Captain God, better known as Steven Gerard, has taken on a deeper lying playmaking role under Brendan Rodgers and can ping a ball anywhere he wants given time and space to do so. It is also well known that his athleticism is not what it used to be and that when taken out of games, Liverpool does not have another exceptional deep lying player with that kind of passing ability. You would hope that Jordan Henderson can eventually find himself there, but not yet. He isn’t ready.


Finally to my point about Gabby A. Whenever Liverpool maintained possession, he would sit on Steven Gerard. Watch the game again, take notice of Agbonlahor’s defensive movement and also his constant awareness of where Gerard is. He is constantly glancing over his should to find Gerard’s positioning and he never leaves his side until he knows someone else is marking him up. This does a couple of things:

1) It makes someone else try and make the game. In this case it was Jordan Henderson or one of the two centerbacks stepping forward. We all know that as much the modern CB is a ball player, they are in no way close to the technique or vision that Stevie G has. And when Jordan Henderson drops back he tends to try and continue to play short passes when at times it is a longer pass that will find more space for the entire team. Plus, Jordie enjoys one too many touches every now and then!

2) It forces Steven Gerard higher up the pitch. This in itself did a few things as well. It clogged everything up! It seemed like central areas were a nightmare to play through because they were constantly overloaded with Coutinho, Henderson, Gerard and one of the wide players tucking himself in. As weird as this may be, it looked as though Steven Gerard was uncomfortable in these areas further up the pitch.

The reality is, Gabriel Agbonlahor, whether by design or by coincidence, created mismatches and overloads all over the field that thwarted Liverpool’s usually potent attack. He forced players into areas they don’t want to be and was able to take the only chance they needed to win the game. Is this a tactic that teams will use in the future? I’m not sure, but I do know that it was a masterclass of a defensive performance from the Villains that made sure they got this result.




Future “Invincibles”?

Hello fellow soccer lovers.  This is my inaugural post here on the93rdminute.com, and as an avid Arsenal fan, I’m going to examine the current state of Arsène Wenger’s North London side and the future of the club.  Expect more BPL and MLS updates “every” Friday.

Arsène Wenger (image from telegraph.co.uk)
Arsène Wenger (image from telegraph.co.uk)

Arsène Wenger has taken a lot of flack recently for his reluctance to pay out huge transfer sums for big name players.  If you take a look at the reasons for his unwillingness to pay other clubs for talent, it all boils down to the boss’ business-like approach to managing his club.  Arsenal has finished top 4 in the BPL for 15 years in a row (absurd), developed a world-class youth program to raise talent rather than purchase it (easier said than done), and built a new stadium, Emirates Stadium (without emptying the till).  All of this growth should cost the club a “butt load” of money, but Arsenal has been turning a profit year in and year out.  No oil money, no Russian billionaires, just a stubbornness to run the club the way a Fortune 500 company would be expected to operate.

Emirates Stadium, Arsenal's new home since 2006.
Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s new home since 2006.

Arsène Wenger’s determination to retain Arsenal’s North London identity was realized via the 2003-2004 “Invincibles” season when the team went 26-12-0 en route to a BPL title.  Wenger was able to build a hard-nosed North London squad, and inject non-English talent to take the club from brilliant to extraordinary.  The French connection of Vieira-Pires-Henry accentuated by the class of Bergkamp and Ljungberg were a potent offense, which was made even more effective by the wall of English defenders: Sol Campbell, young Ashley Cole, and veterans like Keown and Parlour.  Don’t forget the summer signing of Lehmann, never hurts to add a veteran world-class keeper to an already excellent squad.  Wenger built an Arsenal side that was strong and skillful up the middle, speedy up the flanks, and impenetrable (26 GA in 38 matches) in the defensive third.

2003-2004 Arsenal squad by most apps in BPL

Reminiscing on the 2003-2004 team led me to the realization that this 2012-2013 Arsenal squad is not overachieving with all of its young players, it’s underachieving.  Wenger knows that the current team will probably not win the BPL this season, but they nearly have all of the puzzle pieces in place to do just that.  The core of the current Arsenal squad has developed a chemistry that at times has shown the true potential of Wenger’s team building (see here).  The similarities between the players in the legendary 2003-2004 squad and those players in the current Arsenal squad are uncanny:

  • Theo Walcott dominates the RW. Young Bergkamp anyone?
  • Mikel Arteta is playing the role of the strong holding central midfielder a la Gilberto
  • Santi Cazorla is the central playmaker, which Patrick Vieira did with reckless abandon
  • Lukas Podolski is the left-footed specialist aka Robert Pires
  • Jack Wilshere plays the creative and reliable Ljungberg role to a tee
  • Gibbs is the speedy young left back that has turned out to be better than expected *cough* Ashley Cole *cough*
  • Mertesacker and Vermaelen are the Campbell and Parlour of present, dominant in the air and the heart of the team
  • Sagna is Lauren, hands down, RB drifting up the flanks with an eye for goal but the ability to defend when necessary
  • Ramsey, Jenkinson, and Oxlade-Chamberlain fill in the gaps for this extremely young team

…but Giroud is no Henry, unfortunately.  Maybe it’s unfair to expect another Henry (ever), but Giroud is proving every game that he is the pure striker this team needs.  Like Henry before him, Giroud provides a spark that can fire up the entire squad, and he has a nose for goal, something you just cannot teach.

I am not saying this team will go undefeated in 2013-2014.  I’m not that bold, but I will say that if Arsenal’s streak of top 4 finishes ends this season, watch out for a veteran keeper signing this summer and a run at Manchester United next season.  Another 6 months of this team playing together, and playing well, should strike fear in the rest of the EPL.  Wenger’s at it again. Victoria Concordia Crescit


Group D Preview and Predictions

Group D is an interesting one to say the least. Ukraine, France, Sweden and England make up a somewhat strong group that is marred by injuries.

The Ukraine is behind on their Euro 2012 preparations. This does not exclude their own home squad. The Ukraine has not won a game since October of 2011. They lost to France and Sweden during their warm-up games for this tournament. That being said, a host country can never be counted out. (Just look at Greece) Still, the quality in the team is few and far between. If Andriy Shevchenko finds his form of old, maybe, just maybe Ukraine can sneak a draw in. I don’t expect to win a game during this tournament, even with the support of their home fans.

Sweden enters this tournament in good form, winning every game they have played in 2012. The competition might not have been overly competitive but wins against Croatia and Serbia cannot be discounted. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a boss. He is unstoppable when he wants to play. He attracts enough attention to give other forwards such as my personal favorite, Markus Rosenberg, a chance to make something happen. How reliable are the role players on the Sweden side in the clutch moments? I don’t think they are and Zlatan has been known to disappear in big games so I do not expect must noise from the Swedes. An all too injured England side could provide a way into the knockout rounds.

France is the odds on favorite in this group. They have had an excellent and undefeated 2012 highlighted by a win over Germany, in Germany. This was a tune up but still gives France confidence going into the tournament, something they really needed after the World Cup bust up that was as embarrassing as it was damaging for the country’s national side. France is the most well rounded team in this group and has the most depth. I expect them to get out easily and make a run to the finals. Benzema, Nasri, young gun Ben Arfa and an experienced back line are more than enough to make it happen.

England is in trouble. Injuries are unpredictable but that timing of England’s current woes could not have been worse. That combined with the John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Hodgson riff is enough controversy to cause major problems for this team. Rooney is out for the first two games so it will be up to young Danny Welbeck to provide the scoring. This situation is the perfect set up for an England team with no pressure or reservations to make an unexpected run for the title. Is it likely? No. But, England still has some talent and given that the group stage should be a breeze, England could hold solid and find ways to advance further into the tournament.

I expect France to win the group outright and England to sneak out in second. England needs to get a little bit lucky but if they can find a way to organize an inexperienced back line and find goals without Wayne Rooney running the show, they will grab two wins and move on. I expect little to no resistance from the Ukraine. Sweden is a potential dark horse here but I don’t see them making it out.


Chelsea Wins!! Does Di Matteo Keep His Job?

I hate to jump right into this but I think his name must come up in the “Who will be the next permanent (like that happens at Chelsea) head coach?” Chelsea, a team left for dead, amidst a dreadful season with no hope at any sort of medalage comes from nowhere to take both the FA Cup and Champions League titles. This is something special and definitely something that should keep Matteo at Stamford Bridge.

Now to the game. I didn’t watch it. Not by choice of course but due to some other soccer obligations. It was a gorgeous day here but all I was thinking about was how the hell is Chelsea going to win a game at Allianz Arena with a less than full squad, against a Bayern team that is as impressive as it is potent? Chelsea didn’t win. They advanced. That is all they had to do to crown themselves as the Champions of Europe. Bayern had 20 corners. None of them were effective. Chelsea had one and converted. Drogba was always the one that would score. Ribery and Robben were good, but not great, not clinical like they needed to be. Chelsea rode a wave of confidence and defensive posture that was incredible. It is not easy to shock a home crowd with a penalty kick victory. It does become a bit easier when your goalie is a brick wall and was sensational all throughout the Champions League tournament. Petr Cech deserves much of the credit for Chelsea’s run. He was the backbone of a stellar Chelsea defense that thwarted the most potent attacks. Chelsea somehow found a way to win. Congratulations to them. My prediction was close. The right team but not the right score and I got a few beers out of the deal!

Back to Matteo. Roman has to give this guy a chance. Give him half a season like he does every other manager and if he is not getting the performances he wants, get rid of him and go buy Pep Guardiola. It he continues to provide the motivation, inspiration and tactical brilliance that he has so far, Roman might have been gifted a talent he otherwise would have thrown to the dogs.

The Champions League is won. Chelsea are the champions. Di Matteo has hope. So do the Chelsea faithful. Now if only then can convince Drogba to stay.