Monthly Archives: August 2011

Formation of the Future

Looking around the web, there seem to be three ideas for the Formation of the Future. These all hinge on current formations: 4-2-3-1 is the most commonly used, but most successful teams run a version of 4-3-3. The most successful teams are in Spain. The national team and Real Madrid tend to start with 4-2-3-1 formations, switching to a 4-3-3 if something goes wrong. Barcelona does the opposite.

The interesting thing about Barcelona’s variant is how deep Busquets and Messi play; the formation is really a 4-1-2-1-2 with wide forwards.

If you map the average position of the Barcelona players, several other things become apparent: the attacking play of the full backs, and the interchangeability of Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets. The three are all very close to  the center, with Xavi playing slightly higher up the pitch, and Busquets the farthest back.

So, the most successful soccer team of the day plays, surprisingly, in the ancient 2-3-2-3 formation (center-backs; full-backs and defensive midfield; midfielders; forwards).

They also play without a center-forward, continuing soccer’s trend of playing less and less forwards. In the early days of football, teams used 1-2-7, and 2-2-6 formations.

Another successful variant of the 4-3-3 also used no center-forwards: Manchester United, when they had Ronaldo and Tevez instead of Chicharito, played a 4-3-2-1, with Rooney dropping back to give the other two space. So, the logical formation of the future may be a 4-6-0, which has already been tested out by teams ranging from Real Madrid to Scotland.

But most teams aren’t as good as Barcelona and Manchester United. These teams also have a slow development: from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-1-2 (in Italy and Argentina) or a 4-2-3-1 (almost everywhere else).

What could makes sense is to reduce the pressure on the key player, the “1”, by dropping him behind the wingers, giving him more space and options. So, a        4-2-1-3 or 4-2-1-2-1 is the final possibility.

 

European Season: Week One

Norway v. Czech Republic: The Czechs have a lot to learn from this match. They especially need to fix marking problems at the back, and keep in mind that Cech is no longer the world’s best goalkeeper. In the few minutes they did get the ball, they showed no signs of creativity. It wasn’t the best performance by Norway either, but one that proved they belong among Europe’s top international teams.

Germany v. Brazil: A fantastic second half featured five goals, as two of the world’s best teams came to play. Unsurprisingly, Germany was better, but either team could easily have won it. In the end Germany did, but not until Gotze and Neymar both showed themselves to be up to the hype. Germany are the world’s best international team on current form, dispatching good and bad teams mercilessly as they continue to build for the future. Could they be Euro 2010 favorites? For Brazil, the result does nothing to extinguish any pressure on Menezes. They have a long way to go until 2014, and no qualifiers to prepare themselves with.

Fulham v. Aston Villa: This match summed up a cagey week one of Premier League action, even while Arsenal and Liverpool predictably stole the headlines. The away team defended, and found a niche on the counterattack, while the home team (Fulham) refused to put too many players into attack, just trying to get the season started by getting a point.

That said, it was great to have the Premier League back, with it’s unique style that makes for constant action. Expect a better week two.

U-20: Portugal v. Argentina and Brazil v. Spain: More Under-20 action, more penalty shootouts. Argentina really should have won: 3-1 up after three rounds of penalties, and shooting. They lost their cool, and with it their long winning streak in the competition.

I expected Spain to win with ease. They looked just like the senior team, in terms of style, talent, and mentality, scoring five goals in thirty-one minutes against Australia. But just like Argentina, they got a draw against less talented opposition, admittedly against the second-favorites, and had to trust their nerves to hold. They didn’t, and Brazil’s road to glory looked fairly easy, with Argentina and hosts Colombia also eliminated. Dudu was the hero, getting the second goal and the winning penalty.

U-20: Colombia v. Mexico: After 45 minutes, Colombia had played breathtaking football, in the typical South American style involving plenty of dribbling and attacking flair. But Mexico were ahead, with only one shot, a 50-50 penalty call. In the second 45, knowing they had to score, Colombia fell apart, even after a terrible goalkeeping howler gifted them an equalizer. The new scoreline didn’t last long, with Mexico adding a towering header, and fluke late goal, to win 3-1.

In the semifinals, Brazil and Portugal won.

Real Madrid v. Barcelona, Leg One: When the pressure is off, a clasico can really be an amazing game. The two teams proved it, and Real Madrid has a lot to be proud of after this performance. The late introduction of Xavi was enough for Barcelona to edge possession, and their ability to score whenever they need to was very impressive.

Arsenal v. Udinese, Leg One: So much negativity surrounded the Arsenal camp this summer, but now the world finally had a chance to see them on the field, and judge for themselves. It turns out the criticism was justified. Arsenal labored but got the win. It won’t help. Their next three games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, and Udinese. The key stretch in their season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Barcelona v. Real Madrid, Leg Two: What to say about a brilliant game?

The key stats to take out of the series: Messi assisted or scored in all five of Barcelona’s goals- he’s not even at full fitness!- and Real Madrid had 26 shots to 13 for Barcelona. Both teams will take it.

Barcelona used a formation other than 4-3-3 for the first time in a long time, to get Fabregas a debut, and keep Xavi and Iniesta on. It created a brilliant creative midfield trio, but with Barcelona’s wealth of attacking options, a 4-2-3-1 seems too defensive for the regular. 4-1-2-1-2 is another option, created plenty of passing options, and giving Dani Alves plenty of space to roam. They basically play this formation anyway, with Busquets a deep-lying playmaker and Messi a deep-lying center forward. The only difference would be having two center-forwards, instead of zero.

Nine amazing goals, and the brawl at the end, which reminded everyone that these are not only the world’s two best teams, they are the world’s two biggest rivals.

Off-Season Review: Who hurt themselves?

1. Premier League Midfields: Manchester United’s midfield options are 37 year-old Ryan Giggs, unproven Anderson, injured Fletcher and Michael Carrick, while Manchester City also lack depth at the position. Arsenal have lost Fabregas and now look likely to lose Samir Nasri, and Chelsea could also use a midfielder or three. Even Liverpool don’t have an outstanding player, with Steven Gerrard’s career definitely on the wane. And farther down the Premier League pecking order, it just gets worse.

2. Inter Milan: Already behind AC Milan, Eto’o seems more likely to leave every day and a Sneijder transfer is still very possible. Inter are floundering in the transfer market, priced out of every big star.

3. Arsenal: The Gunners are in an even worse position right now; they looked likely to drop out of the top four before the ravage of injuries. They have many problems, all well-documented.

4. The Argentine Primera: As I suspected, the Argentine FA came to River Plate’s rescue. They are trying to change the league format, just as they did when a member of the Big Five last got relegated (San Lorenzo in 1981). This particular change could combine the first and second divisions, a move that will surely drop the quality of the league, which is currently one of the best in the world.

Guide to La Liga 2011-12 Season

The new season is only a few weeks away.

Today, I’ll look at six of the best Spanish teams and how the 2011-12 season looks for them.

VILLARREAL

GK: They brought in veteran Cesar Sanchez and he should do excellently this season. However, how many years does he have left?

D: Zapata, Musacchio, Marchena, Angel. A good defense, for Spain, but not great. Behind them, though, there isn’t depth, and this defense wouldn’t compete in the Premier League. All just like the rest of the team.

M: Despite Cazorla’s exit, they remain strong in the creativity department, with Cani and Javier likely to get more of a look. Further back, Senna, Mubarak, Valero, and Bruno play. Once again, depth is a big problem.

F: If Rossi stays, this will be the team’s strength. If not, Nilmar and Marco Ruben will be a downgrade, but not a huge on.

WHO TO BUY

Despite not having any major needs, they will need to make some signings this summer, to get at least one area of strength, or just replace the outgoing players.

1. Centre-Back-MEDIUM

2. Winger- MEDIUM

3. Forward- MEDIUM

4. Fullback- MEDIUM

5. Central Midfield- LOW

6. Goalkeeper- LOW

SLOWLY SINKING

Villarreal should enjoy it’s Champions League football, because it doesn’t look like it will be back next season, with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol, Sevilla, and Malaga ready to pass them. This was a team that seemed heavily reliant on its stars last season, with a good starting lineup and not much else.

Now, Santi Cazorla has left, and Rossi and Senna could leave, as well.  Villarreal are despeatly holding on to Rossi, and no wonder, but a big pile of cash will probably get him, and will probably come, with the Aguero trade likely to shake the transfer market into motion.

Pastore, Aguero, Sanchez, Bojan and Coentrao are out of the way, and a bid for Rossi will be coming.

Villarreal can, truthfully, point to it’s long history of selling key players to Barcelona and Real Madrid and bouncing back, something it shares with Valencia.

But bouncing back and finishing in the top four aren’t always the same thing, and Villarreal shouldn’t be expected to do the latter this season.


VALENCIA

This team, on paper, is better off, as the memories of the two Davids, Villa and Silva, begin to fade.

GK: Like most Spanish teams, they have a rather risky policy of only having one good goalie.

CB: Adil Rami, impressive new addition from Lille, could make an interesting partnership with Ricardo Costa to strengthen Valencia’s weakest point, it’s defense, last year.

FB: Bruno, Mathieu, and Miguel are a more than adequate threesome to rotate into the fullback slots.

W: Teams in Spain tend to play through the center, but if necessary Valencia can use the wings. Juan Mata, if he is still at the club next season, Pablo Hernandez, and Ever Banega can all play wide.

CM: Unai Emery was harshly criticized as being too defensive last year, and it would be interesting to see what this squad could do if they played more attacking players. If the Juan Mata saga ends in their favor, they would have a true number 10 to work with.

They have both attacking and defensive players in midfield: Alberda, Costa, Banega, Parejo, Jordi Alba, Topal, and Ferghoul are currently in the squad.

F: Aduriz is a quality starter, but there is a lot of pressure on him. Soladado and Piatti are the others.

WHO TO BUY

A top drawer striker is high on the wish list, since the midfield could have a breakout year.

1. Forward- HIGH: It’s not really a weakness, but a world class player who can finish off the midfield’s creations would really help the offense.

2. Centre-BackMEDIUM

3. Goalkeeper- MEDIUM

4. Winger- LOW: Villa hasnt been replaced, but Silva has. The only problem: The replacement, Mata, may soon be leaving. Once more, Manchester City has been linked, but Arsenal is more likely.

5. Fullback- LOW

6. Central Midfield- LOW: While definitely not at the level of Barcelona and Real’s midfields, they won’t be upgrading this part of the team.

ATLETICO MADRID

GK- David De Gea is gone, but they still have three bright young goalies: Coutois, on loan from Chelsea, is seen as the next Petr Cech, while Asenjo just won the Euro U-21. Finally, there is Robles, unlucky to be third choice.

CB- An interesting selection of centre-backs with Codin and Perea, both on show at the recent Copa, the cream of the crop. The coach may prefer Dominguez Alvaro or Mirando, though.

FB- Silvio and Felipe Luis, both good attacking fullbacks, should start, and Valera and Antonio Lopez back them up. All are mostly undistinguished.

W- Juanfran provides quality, Fran Merida versatility, and Jose Reyes a combination of the two. He is inconsistent, though.

F- Forlan, starting to get inconsistent, is still far ahead of the rest of Atleti’s striker. The youth team also has some intriguing options.

WHO TO BUY

1. CM- High, if they want to return to the Champions League

2. F- High: Diego Godin got a Spanish passport, put they still have too many non-EU players to chase Aguero’s potential replacement.

3. FB- Medium

4. GK- Medium: They could use some experience.

5. CB- Low

6. W- Low

BIG LOSS FOR ATLETICO MADRID

Bye-bye, Aguero, bye-bye all but the slimmest of chances of making the Champions League for this ofter under-performing, always under pressure, team. And the squad isn’t great.

Sure, in Tiago and Elias they have a blossoming midfield pair, in Juanfran a lively winger, in Forlan a good striker, in Godin and Luis Perea a decent centre-back pair, three fine goalie, and some transfer hopes.

On the other hand, the fullbacks and most of the midfield are just average, Forlan is aging, and without a high-profile strike partner, and depth is hard to find.

REAL MADRID

GK: One of the best in business.

CB: To get this over quickly, I could just repeat my previous comment for all the units of Real’s team, but this is the weakest, if weak is an acceptable word for the Portuguese duo of Carvalho and Pepe.

Sometimes, Mourinho uses Pepe as a midfielder, which leaves only Albiol and youngster Varane. An injury, and even he will get a few games.

FB: Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Arbeloa, and Coentrao: two quality starters and two quality backups, enough for any squad. Marcelo could play winger, but the competition for places there is just as fierce. The only question: Who starts? A rotating system might work, with Mourinho then able to judge who is in form before any big games.

W: With Real’s huge squad list, they even have 4 wingers competing for often non-existent places. They have one world class player, Di Maria, one of Spain’s many promising youngsters, Pedro Leon, plus new signing Altintop, and Roysthon Drenthe, fresh from being Hercules’ star player, who is now likely to be the fourth option.

CM: A hopeless tangle. Creative midfielders Gago and Kaka spent much of last year on the bench, and Granero and Canales are still on the fringes of the squad. Diarra and Xabi Alonso are their defensive midfielders. Ozil is sure to start, and Khedira and Sahin are also in the mix.

F: It doesn’t look much different than last year for Mourinho, which could mean more battles with the club, although he is now director of football.

You can add Ronaldo to the midfield mix too, since Mourinho still won’t play him up top, leaving Callejon, the new signing, who frankly doesn’t fit in very well, Benzema, good but likely to start on the bench, and Higuain, the starter. But was the injury a fluke, the kind that could happen to anyone, or is he injury prone?

WHO TO BUY

I won’t write how much Real need each position- you could argue they don’t need anyone, but, to keep pace with Barca, they do.

1. F- But not really,because Mourinho should play CR7 up top, if Benzema and Higuain are unavailable. Kaka is another option, but an Adebayor-like loan is likely.

2. CB

3. CM- Only because this is the most important position, the one that always needs upgrading, and their midfield isn’t at Barca’s level yet.

4. W

5. GK- I often rank goalie 5th or 6th because the starter often plays in every game. Either you have your starting goalkeeper or you don’t, and Casillas remains in contention for best goalie in the world. On the other hand, he will need to be replaced eventually, and what if he gets injured?

6. FB

REAL’S BIG YEAR

When talking about Real Madrid, you have to talk about Barcelona. The two teams are far, far ahead of the rest of Spain, even the rest of the world.

Despite the signing of Alexis Sanchez, Real arguably has more reason for optimism.

Last year, Jose Mourinho joined the “Galacticos II,” but realists noted that the team would need a lot of time to gel to reach Barcelona’s level: Most of Barca’s team had played together in La Masia.

There was one major problem in Mourinho’s first year: How would the fans react to his defensiveness? Wasn’t Real Madrid the team that always required style as well as success?

First, style: Nobody can match Barcelona, but for those who think Mourinho was too defensive, look at the stats: his team scored the most goals per game in Europe’s 25 biggest leagues, frequently scoring 7 or 8 a game.

Only against Barcelona did Real Madrid defend, and with good reason. When they tried to play, they lost 5-0. When they defended, they scored one less goal in four games.

In the league, success was lacking: they actually did no better than Pellegrini’s team had. But, for Real Madrid, “success” means success against Barcelona, and Mourinho did well enough in the two cups.

Regardless, the fans fell for Mourinho like no coach ever before, and the whole point was moot.

Well, Mourinho had the year he said he needed. And with Barcelona sure to respond next year, this is Madrid’s big chance.

In the transfer market, Real have been better. They added defensive depth, with Varane and Coentrao, which was the big weakness of both teams.

Actually, depth in general is an issue for Barcelona. And while Real added five decent players, Barca added one, albeit a superstar.

In the end, none of it really matters. Both teams can beat the weak opposition. All the transfers, the pressure, the preparation is for two big El Clasico’s.

BARCELONA

Likewise, in Catalonia, much of the preparation is for those two big matches. For good or for ill, Real Madrid has a deeper squad, which might gain it a couple of extra points in games against “everyone else.”

Barcelona got very lucky with injuries last year, and they play more games than any other team, so depth could be the deciding factor is this championship race. Already, in the middle of August, is the two-legged Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid.

Meanwhile, they have a jinx against Atletico Madrid, a city derby against Espanyol, and an early game against rejuvenated Malaga.

GK- Again, the starter, Valdes, is fine, though he does have some positional weaknesses. Pinto is firmly established as the number two.

FB- Dani Alves is a star here, and the reason most Barcelona goals come from the right. As we saw in the Copa America, he isn’t as great as a defensive player, and needs the Barcelona system to flourish: lots of available passes, no wingers, and Sergio Busquets dropping back into defense.

On the other side, Abidal, Maxwell, and Adriano all have a good chance at starting. It will most likely be Eric Abidal, the most defensive of the three. He isn’t asked to be a star, but one of Barcelona’a soldiers.

W- Barca doesn’t use wingers: Afellay, currently injured, is the only one in the squad, although Hleb can also play here.

CM- Busquets is another soldier, but he also has a good range of passing. He definitely has a case for Barcelona’s most important player, making sure enough players defend, while feeding Xavi and Iniesta, the other members of the famous threesome, to start the attack.

Barcelona actually do have depth here; they just don’t use it. Keita, Hleb, Thiago, and Mascherano are an interesting group.

F- A fourth member has been added to the group which scores goals for fun: Villa, Pedro, Leo Messi, of course, and now Sanchez. After that there is a steep drop off in quality, although Kerrison and Jeffren are good players.

WHO TO BUY

1. CB

2. GK

3. FB

4. F

5. CM- Based on last season, they won’t use anyone other than Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta, no matter how many they buy. That could apply to the whole team, mind. We don’t really know, but Barcelona don’t seem to want depth.

N.A. Winger

MONEY-SPENDING MALAGA STILL HAS WORK TO DO

So, how does the team spending all the money rank compared to the other top sides of La Liga? They still have a ways to go before they reach third, it turns out, but the systematic overhaul of the squad is just what La Liga needed.

GK: Was good for a 13th place team like they were last year, but isn’t as good for a top-six team.

CB: Signings Mathijsen and Demichelis are the likely starters, adding to the best of a squad which overachieved just to finish 13th. The defense does have some interesting players on the bench, particularly Weligton.

FB: That overachieving team, though, is pretty much gone, as Malaga have made eight big signings so far this summer. Here, new signing Monreal can expect to feature heavily.

W: Once more, the new signings are the likely starters: Joaquin and Buonanotte have real quality, although the former is past his prime, and the latter hasn’t reached it yet. Eliseu and Duda have been forced to the bench, but can still make an impact.

CM: Underrated Toulalan, solid defensively, and good as a deep-lying playmaker, combined with #10 Baptista, Malaga’s best player last season, and high profile addition Santi Cazorla! Of the rest of the squad, underrated Sebastian Fernandez is the most likely to contribute of many players who can do so.

F: When the team was on fire at the end of last year, Rondon was the main reason behind it, and adding the experience of Van Nisterlooy- on a free transfer, no less!- looks like a masterclass. Isco and Jimenez are decent off the bench.

WHO TO BUY

Again I am struck by how bad the team was before the new signings. They will still likely buy a player, and are linked to everyone. Who should they chase?

1. GK- Medium

2. FB- Medium

3. CM- Medium

4. F- Medium

5. CB- LowB

6. W- None

AWARDS

Best Goalie: REAL MADRID              Best Defense: REAL MADRID

Best Midfield: BARCELONA              Best Wingers: MALAGA

Best Forwards: BARCELONA            Best Overall: REAL MADRID

FINAL STANDINGS

1. Real Madrid

Many things to take into consideration here including Real Madrid possibly focusing more on the CL, being able to get more points because of depth, but not looking likely to beat Barcelona head-to-head.

2. Barcelona

3. Valencia

4. Sevilla

5. Malaga

6. Villarreal

7. Athletic Blibao

8. Atletico Madrid

9. Espnayol