Archive for December, 2011
We excavate this snippet and republish this from our Friday piece as today’s action is about to get underway.
• Chelski vs. Europa’s Elite: Man City
Man City now have a but the Premiership trophy to focus on as they, too, departed the Champion’s League brackets this week and headed to Europa’s minor leagues.
In some ways on Monday it’s Old Chelsea vs. New Chelsea. Gone are the days when Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich splashed the cash on any brand soccer name that would look good–to him–on the back of the Blues uni (Ballack, Schevchenko).
Chelsea’s core (Lampard, Cole, Terry, Cech) is still intact and the Stamford Bridge crew are both better and worse for it.
On the positive side, there is still class–on field that is–with the aforementioned names.
Flipping to the negative side–with how firmly those critical-for-success players are entrenched–it is a poison pill for any manager trying to take over the ship and win some possessions for the trophy cabinets.
Chelsea are almost like the Yahoo of the Premiership. They still have massive talent and operational scale, but they need to clean house of the top players to re-position for success.
(BTW, Google (Manchester United) and now Facebook (Manchester City) have since passed Chelsea by while Arsenal–I’d guess you’d have to consider them e-Bay at this point–are still a thorn in their side.)
No bigger conundrum is than that of Frank Lampard. The man is consistent. He is prescient. He is an exceedingly smart player. However Lampard also plays what can be considered a “luxury position,” not unlike the “elephant” role on NFL defenses.
Just like the elephant role, Lampard’s role is one where he is typically relied on to make plays but do very little dirty work.
In the attack he has the advantage of trailing the play and either getting forward or issuing a shot goal after the workers in front of him have already cleared a path and set-up a table. Defensively Chelsea play high line, reducing the space that a midfielder needs to cover and play a holder (Obi Mikel, Romeu) tasked with snuffing everything else out.
So Lampard is well hidden and is well fed. His role can hide, but it can also be oh so much more if they shuffled the starting deck.
Another midfield situation in the Prem to watch.
• Serious A: Roma vs. Juve
(This section by coffee bean, The National and Serie A expert Eric Giardini.)
Monday afternoon sees Juventus travel to Rome to take on Roma to close out the Serie A weekend. The two clubs are heading in very different directions. Juventus are the last remaining unbeaten team in Italy and have a two-point lead over Milan and Udinese at the top. Last time out, Juventus made fairly routine work over Cesena 2-0. However, striker (and ex-Roma player) Mirko Vucinic picked up an injury in the match and is out until the new year.
Roma, on the other hand, are in a tailspin. Losers of two in a row (2-0 to Udinese, 3-0 to Fiorentina), things are not getting easier for the club who’s next two are against Juventus and Napoli. The buzz from the Eternal City is that these two matches are a make or break for manager Luis Enrique or he may find himself on the outs. Things are tougher, still, with the suspension of three players (Bojan, Juan, Fernando Gago) for red cards picked up against Fiorentina.
Just to make things worse, the long-term injuries to Simon Kjaer and Nicholas Burdisso means that Daniele De Rossi is looking like he will play out of position at center back.
Juventus should leave Rome with all three points, leading to further speculation on Enrique’s job status and increased panic on De Rossi and his ongoing contract situation.
Neil Blackmon examines why the skeptics about Dalglish’s tactics and managerial ability are likely wrong.
A year ago, as Liverpool stumbled out of the gate to a mid-table Christmas position, dark clouds swirled around Anfield and more than one commentator uttered the frightening “end of an era” cliché about England’s “other” most storied club. Roy Hodgson was sacked before he unpacked, and an American owner, the most cynically-viewed type of outsider in a parochial league gone global, John Henry, took control of the club. Henry promised the faithful in the mother country he would be “committed to winning” and “restoring Liverpool’s historic place” of competitive excellence, but such promises had been made before. Still, the man he backed to lead the Reds, Kenny Dalglish, was as fine a gesture of goodwill as any he could give to the wary faithful.
If anyone was to lead Liverpool quickly out of the coming darkness, surely it would, or should be, a former legend like Dalglish. Hiring an old legend or leader from the storied past is a time-honored show of good faith in sport. It doesn’t always work of course, but it buys you time. And when it does work, it’s all the more satisfying- in any sport. Johan Cruyff, in glorious fashion, led Ajax and Barcelona back to the promised land after arriving in troubled times. In 1958, Alabama football had won four games in three seasons and was lost in the wilderness. A championship coach and former Crimson Tide player, Bear Bryant, was hired to lead them. When asked why he left powerhouse Texas A & M to go to Alabama, Bryant responded, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you have to come runnin.’” Mike Ditka, a former Bears player, returned Chicago to the mountaintop as its head coach in 1985. And former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier returned home to Florida in 1990, taking over a program that had won zero championships in 80 years of football and winning seven in twelve years. There’s a certain passion that accompanies allegiance that makes a hire like Dalglish’s seem safe, or more likely to succeed.
Yet there were cynics, and there were (and are) fair questions. The most prominent of these involves criticism of Dalglish’s 4-4-2 system, with his beloved tucked-in winger. Indeed, even in 1990, the last time Liverpool won a title, there were questions to greats like the late Sir Bobby Robson as to whether that formation was dying, and the answers weren’t positive. Among the first to ask, and smartly diagram, this criticism was the great Jonathan Wilson, who while conceding the obvious—that King Kenny loved Liverpool, and there were few who questioned his ability to motivate and inspire—wondered if Dalglish’s hire would turn out to be a cautionary tale about the failure of conservative tactics in the Premier League’s gone global age where winning often involves being the best at a tactical chess match over 38 fixtures.
These questions remain, and judgment, as a whole, should be reserved. But a recent impressive run of form, a display on Dalglish’s part this campaign of tactical flexibility, and some film study suggests there is certainly reason for less than guarded optimism. Any discussion of Liverpool generates large-scale debate—such is life at one of sport’s most storied franchises. In my view, much of the debate around Dalglish’s tactical ability to lead Liverpool back to the promised land of the top four, however, ultimately turns on the answer to two questions.
First, as Wilson asked, Can the 4-4-2 still be successful today- or better put—the Bolton Test. Can the 4-4-2 be relied upon to grind out the necessary results against the Boltons of the world you absolutely must have to play the Benfica’s in the Champions League Group stages next autumn?
Opinions on this question are mixed. Wilson’s article was (oddly) inconclusive- but it did suggest (correctly) various limitations with the formation in today’s English football. Former Liverpool player Gary Gillespie is even more negative in his view, having gone as far as suggesting that Dalglish’s 4-4-2 is really not a tactical idea at all—and that in fact, when he was at Liverpool under King Kenny, players were told simply to “go out and play.” That sounds a bit like sour grapes from a former player who at best was a top-end backup, but it is a stern criticism nonetheless. And film study, at least in an isolated instance, validates that concern. Here we briefly look at Liverpool’s mind numbing 0-0 draw with Swansea City.
Our weekend preview is here. Enjoy the games.
A repub a video that has finally reappeared on YouTube. Busquets may hit the deck today. Alves may tumble.
But “Messi Don’t Dive:”