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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read
Apr 28, 2014

Mou's winning gamble, great Prem race, Seedorf's Milan mess, more

FC's Alejandro Moreno compliments Jose Mourinho for getting Chelsea players to buy into the 'parking the bus' tactic.


Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers joked that in Chelsea's 2-0 win at Anfield on Sunday, Jose Mourinho had "parked two buses." I doubt anyone would dispute that. But it really shouldn't be another excuse to open up the seemingly endless debate over "anti-football" or entertainment versus winning at all costs. Mourinho did what he's done before at Anfield: He went uber-defensive and tried to hit on the counter. Not because it's necessarily part of his footballing philosophy but because he felt the conditions and circumstances warranted it. The return leg of the Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid is around the corner. Mourinho and the club evidently prioritize that. And it makes sense because after the home defeat to Sunderland, it would take a minor miracle to swing the league. So he rocks up at Anfield with an XI containing no more than three first-team regulars but, more importantly, with Nemanja Matic, John Obi Mikel and a 35-year-old Frank Lampard in midfield. It's rather hard not to set up defensively when you've got that trio in the middle of the park. Plus a centre-back (Tomas Kalas) making his league debut for the club. Plus a left-back (Ashley Cole) making only his second start in three months. And a second-string front trio (Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah and Demba Ba). What did you think was going to happen? It's quick and easy Mourinho logic. Once he decided to prioritize the Champions League (and rightly so), this was the logical next step. Keep it tight and play on the counter. If you can nick a goal, great. If they beat you, who cares? You have a ready-made alibi in the form of the players you could not or would not start -- Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres, Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Ramires, John Terry, David Luiz and Petr Cech -- so a defeat won't be a big deal. In fact, it will allow you to roll out the whole story about how Rodgers is your protégé (the media lap that stuff up) and annoy your nemesis, Manuel Pellegrini. - Hirshey: Liverpool collide with Chelsea's bus - Brewin: Mourinho stuns Anfield - FC TV: Hislop on "The Hypocritical One" The rest is chatter. Presenting this victory as some kind of tactical master class is silly. It's not quite as bad as analyst Steve Nicol put it on Sunday night -- "any dubber can put 10 men behind the ball" -- but it wasn't a particularly sophisticated defensive system. It couldn't be when you've had only a couple of days to train and your back four was thrown together. What it boils down to is that Mourinho's setup at Anfield was a gamble, but of the kind that has little downside because, as I said above, even a defeat could have easily been shrugged off. But still, a gamble. There's a reason that few teams line up with the kind of formation and philosophy Chelsea showed at Anfield, and it's that if you go a goal down, it's lights-out. It becomes very difficult to transform yourself from a team built to defend to a team capable of chasing the game. Mikel and Matic aren't going to turn into box-to-box players at the flick of a switch. All it takes is a defensive mistake, a bad call by the referee, a moment of genius from Steven Gerrard or Luis Suarez or even an unlucky deflected shot, and you're in a hole from which you probably won't be able to escape. Mourinho was vindicated with the three points, but in reality, it won't have made much difference either way. The goal remains the Champions League. Prem race is great for neutrals The result at Anfield, coupled with Manchester City's win at Crystal Palace, potentially sets up another Premier League title decided on goal difference -- assuming that both Liverpool and City run the table. That would obviously favor Pellegrini's crew, but looking at the remaining fixtures, you still can see both teams possibly dropping points. Liverpool do not match up well in terms of personnel and style with Palace, although Rodgers joked that facing this Chelsea side would afford him good preparation for facing Tony Pulis' side. - FC Writers: Who's winning the Premier League? - FC TV: The title race's final weeks Psychologically, bouncing straight back after breaking a streak of 11 consecutive Premier League wins can be tricky. Equally, City face a trip to Goodison Park and Everton. On paper, an open game suits Pellegrini, who can make his superior quality count. But Roberto Martinez has tripped up plenty of big fish this season. It's just a hunch, but this may yet turn into a three-way race to be decided on the final day of the season. Which would be great for neutrals. Alves shows composure, but racism issue remains When Dani Alves -- who has been on the receiving end of plenty of racial abuse over the years -- found a banana at his feet during Barcelona's come-from-behind 3-2 win at Villarreal, he wasn't flustered. He reached down, peeled away the skin and took a big bite out of it. The Barcelona defender was praised for his calm, cool-headed and elegant reaction, which only highlighted the stupidity of whoever threw the banana. And that's fine. It worked for Alves. - Corrigan: Spain still ignorant to abuse - Report: Barca back Alves - Hislop: No room for racism But we can't lose sight of the fact that not every black or mixed-race player will react with his composure. Different folks react in different ways, but nobody ought to put up with racist abuse in his or her workplace. The Vine of Dani Alves eating the banana quickly went viral. You would only hope the Villarreal supporters who witnessed the man (or woman) who threw the banana would be just as quick in pointing him (or her) out to the authorities. That's the only way we stop this: by identifying the individuals who racially abuse and holding them accountable. Vilanova will be missed It feels reductive to talk about what Tito Vilanova achieved in football when there's a wife who has just lost a soul mate, children who have lost a father and friends and family who now have only memories. May he rest in peace. But if there's a take-home from Vilanova the football man as opposed to just the man, it's this: For all the talk of reputations and personalities, man-management and motivational skills, sometimes all a good man needs is a chance. All that most casual fans knew about him before 2012 is that he was Pep Guardiola's tactician and that Mourinho had poked him in the eye, run away and then mocked him afterward in a news conference. Yet in his one season in charge at the Camp Nou, his Barcelona side amassed 100 points despite Vilanova missing chunks of the campaign while undergoing treatment for his cancer. That's more than Guardiola ever achieved. Sometimes, all some people need is a chance. Atletico close to La Liga glory Often, winning titles is about suffering. Embracing the pain and the uncertainty -- and the luck, when it manifests itself. Atletico's 1-0 win at Valencia was fully deserved against an opponent clearly exhausted from Thursday night's Europa League game and incapable of generating a clear-cut chance. But that doesn't mean that it was easy. Not by any stretch. In fact, it took a mistake by Vicente Guaita for Raul Garcia (who else?) to break the ice and seal the victory, steering Gabi's pass past the flapping Valencia goalkeeper. No matter. Job done. Sometimes, even when you outplay the opposition that's all you get. - Corrigan: Three Things from Atletico's win It's another huge step in La Liga. Given the edge in the head-to-head with Real Madrid (Atletico won at the Bernabeu and drew 2-2 at home), it's effectively a four-point lead even if Carlo Ancelotti's men win their game in hand. Two more wins -- away to Levante and at home against Malaga -- and the trip to the Camp Nou on the last day of the season becomes entirely irrelevant. And Diego Simeone and his crew will have made history. Enjoy Giggs' United while you can Manchester United romped to a 4-0 win over Norwich in Ryan Giggs' debut as interim manager. Giggs described feeling "10 feet tall" as he walked out at Old Trafford. Norwich's futility helped, but United played well, showing the kind of verve and pace that were staples of the Sir Alex Ferguson era but often went missing under David Moyes. The feel-good factor is undeniable, but equally undeniable is the fact that next season's team won't look like this. Another manager -- possibly Louis van Gaal -- will be in charge. And, presumably, both Robin van Persie and Juan Mata (the former injured, the latter left out of Giggs' starting XI) will have to be accommodated on the pitch. - Payne: Giggs brings joy after division - Darke: New manager must be top-notch Take Saturday for what it was: an injection of confidence and enthusiasm. But it can't be something on which to build because next season will necessarily be different. Not better or worse, just different. Real win again, wait for Atletico to slip There isn't much to learn from Real Madrid's 4-0 romp over Osasuna beyond the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo can really smack a ball and that Carlo Ancelotti's team can be equally devastating in transition against a more defensive setup. - Train: Efficient win Having Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema out -- more of a precaution than anything with an eye toward Bayern on Tuesday -- meant the stage was clear for Ronaldo to do his stuff, and he responded with two neat goals. It's all Madrid can do right now: sit back, get their wins, make sure nobody gets hurt and hope that Atletico slip up. Frank de Boer is ready for a bigger challenge For those counting at home, that's four straight Eredivisie titles for Frank de Boer at Ajax, following the draw with Heracles in Almelo on Sunday. It's quite a feat when you consider that Ajax are a selling club, which means that De Boer has to replace players every year. First, it was Maarten Stekelenburg and Demy De Zeeuw heading out the door. Then, Theo Janssen, Vurnon Anita, Jan Vertonghen and Gregory van der Wiel. Last summer, Derk Boerrigter, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen. That's the reality facing historically huge clubs in second-tier leagues: They have to constantly reinvent themselves. Credit de Boer, but also credit the club's setup and organization that have ensured that a steady line of suitable talent at his disposal -- often on a shoestring, as evidenced by the club's net spend, which stands at plus $55 million over the past three seasons. At 43, de Boer is ready to be tested at the next level. In fact, he was probably ready last season. Immobile, Cerci a genuine strike partnership Ciro Immobile's goal in a 2-0 win vs. Udinese on Sunday brought his seasonal Serie A total to 21, and he has now scored in six straight games. It's not unusual to find a prolific center-forward on a second-tier side, which is what Torino are (no offense). What is unusual, however, is to find such a prolific striker on a second-tier side punching way above its weight. Torino are sixth in the table. And because high-scoring players on smaller clubs generally benefit from having everything go through them, it's equally unusual that Immobile has another prolific player alongside him: Alessio Cerci, who has 13 goals this year. Cerci and Immobile represent something that many thought was disappearing from the game in this age of lone center-forwards: a genuine strike partnership. The two of them make each other better, achieving a multiplier effect. And both could find themselves on the plane to Brazil for this summer's World Cup. Don't expect a Bayern Plan B vs. Real Madrid Bayern went into the weekend in much the same predicament, except they had even less to play for given that they wrapped up the title a long time ago. At half-time, a reshuffled Bayern team found themselves 2-1 down to Werder Bremen, winning 5-2 in the end, but the most worrying part was the way the two goals were conceded. Theo Gebre Selassie and Aaron Hunt both scored on the counter, exactly the kind of breakaways that Madrid specialize in and that Pep Guardiola needs to snuff out in midweek. - Schaaf: Bullish Bayern warm up for Real test "We're not going to beat Real Madrid playing the way we did in the first half," Guardiola said, stating the obvious. While much of the talk after the first leg centered on Bayern's sterility in the final third, the concern in the back of Guardiola's mind must be what happens at the other end. Bayern aren't going to overhaul their style of play from one game to the next, and if it means staring down a deep-lying Madrid defense in a battle of wills, so be it. But conceding a goal could mean lights-out for Bayern. Which is why Guardiola's challenge will be keeping the same defensive structure and simply executing better with the same personnel. Farewell to a lesser-known coaching legend The game lost another legendary coach this past weekend. Vujadin Boskov was 82 years old. While by the end of his career he became a sort of witty quote jukebox -- "My dog can play better than Jose Perdomo," "Great players see highways where others see only mountain trails" and "We were spectators except we didn't need to pay to get into the ground" -- before that, he was a globe-trotting managerial savant. Boskov had 16 managerial appointments in a career spanning nearly 40 years, taking charge of the likes of Real Madrid, Feyenoord, Roma and Napoli along the way. But where he made history was at Sampdoria, guiding a young team led by Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini to the Serie A title in 1991 and the Cup Winners Cup in 1989-90. A year after being crowned Italian champions, Sampdoria reached the European Cup final at Wembley, beaten only in extra time by Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team." One of Boskov's secrets was the ability to know when to micromanage and when to leave decisions to the players. When the squad make a decision and it's a reasonable one, he once said, it's best to let them have their way. They will buy into it more than they would anything you tell them. Legend has it that his Sampdoria side was much like that, with Mancini and Vialli having an outsized influence on tactics and lineups. It worked. And Boskov was intelligent enough to see that. Seedorf, Milan going down predictable, sad road So the media are now in full-fledged character assassination mode when it comes to Milan manager Clarence Seedorf, which seems a bit bizarre at first glance. When he was appointed, many noted how Milan had their very own Guardiola (potentially). Clever guy, part of the club's fabric, entertaining football, a perfect blend of many different footballing cultures, a young manager who would grow with the club. They kept it up even through some bumpy results. Then Seedorf's Milan win five straight Serie A games and the chickens come home to roost. A chunk of the veterans don't like him, his ideas don't make sense or are unworkable, he can't handle Mario Balotelli ... and so on. Remarkable how all this nastiness comes out even as the Rossoneri are winning games. - Paul: Milan's struggles continue vs. top teams If Seedorf was being pilloried during a winning streak, you could only imagine what would happen if Milan actually lost. Well, we found out on Friday when they fell 2-0 at Roma. Seedorf is now supposedly out of his depth, and nobody will speak out to defend him; he has -- they say -- lost the dressing room. Never mind the fact that Roma happen to be second in the table and losing two-nil, particularly when Miralem Pjanic scores a wonder goal, is something for which you can budget. Or the fact that he's working with a substandard and poorly assembled group of players, none of which he had any input in signing. Or that he has 29 points from 16 games, which may not be stellar but at that clip, Milan would be fourth had he been in charge from the start of the season. Or that the whole point when he was handed the team was that this was a long-term project. Instead, now he's apparently the source of all of Milan's ills. Everything is turned against him, everything is his fault, including Balotelli's rant at the time of his substitution. And there's not a peep from the club. Barbara Berlusconi, who reportedly championed his arrival, simply notes that she's not in charge of the football side. Adriano Galliani, who defended his predecessor Max Allegri to the hilt, says even less, at least in public. (Though you wonder what he's saying in private.) To add insult to injury, when Seedorf elected to speak out on Sunday, granting an interview to various media outlets (a session in which he actually spent most of the time sticking up for the club and Galliani saying his relationship was more cordial than was thought), the media -- evidently briefed by someone, I wonder who? -- were quick to point out that he hadn't sought authorization from the club before speaking out. The way Milan are going, you can see how this ends. A frustrated Seedorf quits or walks out at the end of the season. Galliani has his way and Pippo Inzaghi or someone like that takes the helm. And Seedorf pops up somewhere else and becomes a successful manager, leaving Milan to rue another missed opportunity. And for what? Because of egos and personality clashes above him.