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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
Mar 17, 2014

Rodgers' flexibility, Messi's 'record,' Bayern post-Hoeness, more

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti explains why Sunday's 3-0 loss to Liverpool was more painful than the average defeat.


Given the trends and the state of the two clubs, it probably wasn't so surprising that Liverpool should take all three points at Old Trafford. What is remarkable -- apart from the 3-0 score and the fact that there could easily have been five penalties for the visitors -- is how the various criticisms of Brendan Rodgers' team have somehow fallen by the wayside. Remember how Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger were clearly subpar and walking, talking liabilities? Remember how Lucas Leiva's injury was a harbinger of doom, because it meant Steven Gerrard's aging legs would now need to patrol the area in front of the back four? Remember how Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez would struggle to play together because neither man wanted to play wide? Much of that is now forgotten. That's what happens when you win five straight Premier League games and collect 26 of the past 30 available points. It's not as if the issues have evaporated completely. But what we've seen is how a clever manager who is willing to innovate tactically -- and who has the trust of his players -- can find schematic solutions. - Hirshey: Moyes' failure galvanizes opponents - FC TV: Nicol on Liverpool's win And that's what Rodgers did. This season, we've seen Liverpool line up in a 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and yesterday's diamond formation. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn't, but in all cases Rodgers has shown a willingness to find answers and a "can do" attitude that too many managers lack. Skrtel and Agger probably aren't the long-term answer at the back, not least because Rodgers doesn’t seem overly enamored with either. Lucas does provide Liverpool with more balance in the middle of the park. Sturridge and Suarez do present an unnatural fit when one has to start wide. But with a bit of nous -- and if you get them enough help to make sure they're not manhandled -- the two centre-backs can be very effective. Gerrard may not be a specialist a la Sergio Busquets, but he's clever enough and unselfish enough to play the position, particularly when he has Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen willing to help. As for the forwards, there is no biblical edict forbidding Liverpool from playing a front two. And, as a strike tandem, 43 goals in 45 combined starts tells its own story. Rodgers has his failings, too, but with the possible exception of Roberto Martinez, no manager has been as hands-on tactically this season as he has. And nobody has shown such a willingness to change and evolve.\ Messi's record doesn't matter; Barca's form does Why the fuss over Lionel Messi breaking Paulino Alcantara's goal-scoring record for Barcelona? The latter's mark included friendlies, because after all, there was no formal league in Spain until 1929, and Alcantara retired in 1927. Which means that apart from the odd Copa del Rey match and some local competitions, he mostly played friendlies, and the quality of opposition varied wildly. - Hunter: Humble Messi makes history ... again - Ledwith: Barca hit seven Messi, on the other hand, played at a time when La Liga was one of the top two leagues in the world, and he played in the Champions League facing the finest teams on the planet. And unlike in Alcantara's era, Messi's opponents are usually packed with the best players in the world. It's a fair point, and in many ways it's silly to compare the achievements of players who were born 90 years apart. But psychologically, Alcantara's record matters because it was the kind of mark that many believed would never be broken. And the fact that it was shattered by a La Masia graduate who, having reached 372 goals, will likely go on to reach 400 or 500 or maybe more serves as a reminder of how transcendent Messi is. In the here and now, what's more relevant is the way Barcelona bounced back after the defeat in Valladolid. They did it against a top opponent, which didn't require much in the way of motivation (Manchester City in the Champions League), and they did it against Osasuna in a classic "trap game," given that they had held both Barca and Real Madrid to draws this season while also beating Atletico. Tata Martino couldn't have asked for a better tonic ahead of the Clasico.\ David Moyes is going nowhere Any further comment on Manchester United now is, in many ways, superfluous. The message from the club is always the same. David Moyes' job is safe. Even if they get knocked out by Olympiacos on Wednesday. Even if Manchester City reach double figures in the derby. Even if they finish mid-table -- and 10th place is just six points away -- the manager won't change. The fundamental question is whether this is a club valuing "stability" and "giving Moyes a chance," or whether they're following the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If you believe Moyes (and his boss, Ed Woodward, because he is as responsible for this situation) is the kind of man who can learn from his mistakes, then it makes sense to continue. You're too far gone to change things now, and besides, it would cost you a bundle. - Mitten: Fans' patience wearing thin - Goals: LFC 3, Man Utd 0 (U.S. only) On the other hand, if you think he's somehow cracking and wilting -- and only those who work with him every day can judge that -- then you yank him in the summer. The other big issue is whether or to what degree you involve Sir Alex Ferguson in any decision over Moyes' future. The impression is that this "half-in, half-out" Sir Alex isn't helping things. Every time the cameras turn to him during a United game, it's a reminder of what once was. Perhaps added to the long list of mistakes that were made in the past nine months, you can add this one: Maybe Sir Alex should have been told that he either sticks around in a hands-on advisory capacity, including dealing with the media and fans, or he stays away from Old Trafford and makes a clean break. Bayern impacted by Hoeness news Maybe it was club president Uli Hoeness' empty seat, staring down on them from the stands, after his conviction in Germany for tax evasion. Or perhaps it was the knowledge that beyond the rhetoric, when half of your back four is made up of reserves -- and, with all due respect, when those backups are Diego Contento and Daniel van Buyten -- it's bound to have an effect elsewhere: players become that much more conservative, runs are that much more tentative, passes that much less crisp. Whatever the case, Bayern turned in arguably their worst 45 minutes of the season in the first half against Bayer Leverkusen. In fact, it was the visitors who created the better chances. Normal service was restored just before and after the break thanks to the reliable Mario Mandzukic and a spectacular free kick from Bastian Schweinsteiger before Stefan Kiessling's consolation goal at the death. No reason to worry, at least with regard to the performance. The concern is how the absence of Hoeness -- who has been at the club in one capacity or another since before Pep Guardiola was even born -- might affect matters going forward, particularly when it comes to the delicate personal relationships that exist at a club like Bayern, where few are short of an opinion when the going gets tough. - Schaaf: Bayern go 50 unbeaten But then Hoeness' conviction was a long time coming. There was plenty of opportunity to prepare and come up with some kind of strategy. And you have to trust the fact that the club did just that even though it does feel as if we're now in uncharted waters. Mourinho right to gripe about the ref Sometimes Jose Mourinho, like other managers, has a go at officials to mask his own -- or his team's -- deficiencies. Other times, he's dead right. Paul Lambert's Aston Villa played very well in the 1-0 victory, but Chris Foy's decisions were horrible. Joe Bennett should have been sent off for hauling down Ramires early on. Willian's second yellow probably wasn't even a foul, let alone a booking. And unless Mourinho said something truly horrid to Foy, it's tough to understand why he was sent to the stands late in the match following the Ramires tackle, which Foy actually got right -- it should have been a straight red and possibly worthy of a further ban. - Worrall: Blues see red in Birmingham - Watch: Mourinho questions Foy Of course, refereeing errors go both ways, and Chelsea have often been the beneficiaries as well -- just ask West Brom fans. But what was interesting was Mourinho's suggestion that perhaps Foy should not be asked to referee any more Chelsea games for the foreseeable future, given that last time he did so -- against QPR in the infamous Terry-Ferdinand game -- he also sent off two of his players. That's a real slippery slope to go down. The message to Mourinho ought to be loud and clear: complain about the referee as much as you like, particularly when he has a rotten day. But don't tell the PGMOL whom to appoint or, at least, don't do so in public. Rossoneri in the wrong? Milan's Ultras had promised a protest after Sunday's game with Parma and that's just what they delivered. The 4-2 home defeat only gave them even more reason to be angry -- though to be fair, the match was altered by Christian Abbiati's early red card. The fans’ anger is mostly directed at Adriano Galliani, for obvious reasons. But some of the players got plenty of stick as well. Leaders of various Ultras groups asked for a face-to-face meeting with manager Clarence Seedorf and various players: Kaka, Ignazio Abate, Mario Balotelli, Nigel de Jong, Michael Essien, Daniele Bonera, Sulley Muntari and Giampaolo Pazzini. They got a 15-minute audience and reportedly it was as much about urging them to work harder as it was a dressing-down. The players took it on the chin, even those who had been booed, and promised to give their all, while the Ultras said they would continue to provide support. At least for now. - Paul: Deflating defeat - FC TV: Fans' protests growing louder - FC TV: Seedorf has few options I'm all for players and coaches being accountable to supporters. In fact, for some guys, looking the folks who pay your wages in the eye can be as humbling as it is helpful. It can be a reminder that after you drive off in your Ferrari or retire to days of golf and lounging by the pool, these guys will still be there, cheering on their club. But I wonder about the wisdom of granting the audience to the Ultras. Why them? Why not the other tens of thousands of season-ticket holders? Or the millions of fans worldwide? My fear is that the Ultras got their 15 minutes simply because they shout the loudest and are the most menacing. And so they become self-appointed "fan representatives." If you're going to do this, cast a wider net to get opinions that are representative of your entire support. Not that the message from Milan's rank-and-file would have been much different. Arsenal show grit at White Hart Lane Wait: Weren't Arsenal supposed to be a soft touch? Weren't they a team that had to "play pretty" and "dominate opponents" to win? The Gunners did neither at White Hart Lane on Sunday and still came away with a 1-0 derby win over Spurs. Wenger had mitigating circumstances -- injuries to Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil -- and he'll be happy with the three points. - Cross: Arsenal built on firm foundations But it's still interesting to note how Arsenal won by doing precisely what many said they could not: score an early goal, defend stoutly, show faith in your centre-backs and take what you can on the break. Real's pre-Clasico struggle Real Madrid's Clasico warmup was a tougher-than-expected affair in Malaga. The difference in their 1-0 win was Cristiano Ronaldo's strike, his 37th of the season and 25th in La Liga. It wasn't pretty and, as Carlo Ancelotti said afterward, Real "can't be expected to win 2-0 or 3-0 every week." - Rigg: Points over performance What we did see, though, is a willingness to mix it against an opponent that for long stretches played out of their skin. Gareth Bale looks to be getting stronger, too, and Raphael Varane looked as sharp as ever (expect him to see more minutes in the stretch run). The downside? Pepe confirmed, once again, that his screws can come loose, as evidenced by a dreadful tackle on Duda, which should have been red twice over. Also, Karim Benzema picked up a knock. He'll likely miss Schalke, but should be back to face Barcelona. Veterans guide Juve through tough game Juventus had a real scare at Genoa before the old guard secured the three points in a 1-0 win. Gianluigi Buffon had to save Emanuele Calaio's penalty and Andrea Pirlo had to conjure up one of his trademark free kicks. - Rzouki: Pirlo maintains the streak It was an intense, entertaining game with a Genoa team that showed no fear. And that may not be coincidental. Genoa are clear of the relegation battle, they were at home, they had nothing to lose and they went for it, pushing Juve at every opportunity. It made Antonio Conte's men uncomfortable, particularly because most Serie A opponents, understandably, clam up against the bianconeri. Maybe that's the way to play Juventus. Attack them. Which, coincidentally (or not?) is exactly what their Champions League opponents did. And we know how well that strategy worked. Farewell to an all-time great Rivaldo retired this past week at age 41. That may come as a surprise, because to many he virtually dropped off the face of the Earth when he moved to Greece a decade ago, or at least when he opted to join Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor in 2008. But no, Rivaldo continued, turning out for Mogi Mirim, Sao Paulo and Sao Caetano in Brazil and -- rather unusually -- Kabuscorp in Angola (the latter choice was as much motivated by religious and social reasons as footballing ones). - Duarte: Rivaldo finally feels the love There was a time when Rivaldo was arguably the best player in the world. And yet, with a somewhat introverted personality, without a commercial hype machine behind him and with some of his more dubious later career choices, he faded from view pretty quickly. Even at Barcelona, where he did his best work, he was somewhat forgotten by the advent of Ronaldinho, and later, Messi. Which is a shame because if we are to judge players on what they actually do on the pitch, he should go down as one of the all-time greats.