In the friendly against Mexico, the first half was perhaps the most fluid 45 minutes of play in recent history for the USMNT. Although the match ended in a less attractive manner, the change in the first half from recent fixtures was fun to watch. This comes after the USMNT made coaching changes that seemed aimed at changing tactics since a tactical coach is what Jurgen Klinsmann needs by his side. Given Klinsmann’s postgame comments, it is clear that tactics have become a focal point for the USMNT.
The team came out in a 4-4-2 that abandoned the normal one striker lineup with Jozy Altidore up top. Often Klinsmann moved to a pairing of strikers around the 65th minute with much success. The four midfielders across the pitch is a lot different, and Brad Davis‘ start was a bit of a shock. However, he cut in selectively and showed why he is valuable on an important set piece. The dynamic of that 4-4-2 could be different with an energized Landon Donovan, especially given the spacing provided great lines for crisp passing.
A subtle difference that was pointed out on the broadcast is how the USMNT handled corners. They had two or three players near the keeper to create disruption. One player beating their mark is all that it takes to net a goal. That was evident on Michael Bradley‘s goal as he beat his man to the back post with two players in front of him. In the past, one of the center backs would make a run to the post to hopefully open up space behind him. The system of already being in place seemed to occupy more players and distract the keeper.
Obviously those tactics faltered in the second half as Mexico came back from two goals down and the USMNT was unable to deal with substitutions and tactical changes on the other side. After the game, Klinsmann said that the team needs to have two or three different systems for the future rather than starting the same way. That means not always starting the same way and ending the same way as has been the standard over the last year. So expect a 4-4-2 again and even more tactical changes moving forward to Brazil.
It was announced earlier today that the Spanish giant Barcelona faces a two-window transfer ban due to violations regarding transfers of non-Spanish minors. The violations called into question the registration and participation of certain players in national competitions as well as the transfer of “young players who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse” while abroad. Despite the ban, Barcelona should remain competitive in Spain and continue to contend in the Champions League. The real impact of the ban reverberates through England, Germany and other European countries.
Barcelona will still have Messi and Neymar as well as many other stars to fuel their team. They also have a great academy and youth system that will allow them to identify future contributors from within the system. There are some questions on defense, including aging Carlos Puyol‘s impending departure. Now he will likely have to stay with the club, so the staff must decide if it is too early to give Marc Bartra the starting job. In general for Barcelona, this ban makes it harder to lower the average age of its team.
However, in a global sense, this ban has ripple effects. Mönchengladbach keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and young Croatian phenom Alen Halilovic were set for moves to Spain this summer. Now the bidding wars will open up. David Luiz has been linked heavily to Barcelona, so now the other clubs that are interested in his services have one less team to outbid. Diego Costa is another target that will likely go elsewhere.
There are also a few players who seemed to be on the way out but will now likely have to stay with Barcelona. Alex Song was expected to leave this summer given his lack of playing time. Xavi and Dani Alves are much more likely to stay with the team. Barcelona also wanted to revamp the back line yet find good deals for Puyol and Gerard Pique. The teams and leagues that were interested in their services are out of luck.
Expect Barcelona to remain competitive based on their talent and youth system, but remember the ban as you watch the summer silly season kick off. Barcelona will fight the charges from FIFA, who has yet to truly investigate many clubs for these types of infractions.
United vs City – Reflections
1. City wanted it more from the off. 46 seconds in and it was 1-0 to the team in Blue and I was left watching through my hands for the next 20 minutes, it honestly could have been 3-0 mid way through the first half United were that poor. Silva and Toure were destroying Cleverly and Fellaini leaving Carrick and the rest of the defence in complete confusion.
2. The team selection and formation from United was wrong from the start. When I saw Cleverley in the starting line-up I was genuinely saddened. I couldn’t work it out, I was literally asking myself what is he doing starting Cleverley and Fellaini in the middle against Toure, Silva, Navas, Fernandinho and Nasri. When Pellegrini saw that he must have rubbed his hands in total glee. A domination was on the cards before the whistle had been blown, turned out to be true.
3. When he realised after 10 minutes he had made his mistake and readied Valencia to replace Cleverley why did Moyes then bottle it. Cleverley wasn’t the worst player in the 1st half that envious honour went to the forgotten 4th Supreme who was probably the worst player on the pitch last night. £27m not well spent. He should have been sent off as well for a blatant elbow in Zabaleta’s face. How he got away with that one I will never know.
4. City look immense going forward and solid at the back. United’s defence couldn’t get near Silva and in trying to do so freed up Toure and Nasri to get at the back four. The third goal is a perfect example of that, Toure strolled toward the box and hit a lazy looking shot past De Gea without looking at all troubled.
5. That brings me nicely on to Yaya Toure. What a player he is. He doesn’t look like he is doing anything with any real effort, he seems to stroll around just knocking the ball about like he is playing in his back garden with his kids. Yet everything he does makes a difference, it is efficiency personified. City have one of the best central midfielders in world football of that I have no doubt.
6. In a combined United / City team I think only De Gea and Rooney would have a chance of getting into the starting line up. City man for man are better in pretty much every position. Not only that but Pellegrini knows the system he wants to play, he has the best players in their positions and his tactics are bang on the money. If, and it’s a big if, you manage to get past the midfield you still have Zabaleta and Kompany to get past. Demechelis isn’t the best defender nor is he the worst, he has a mistake in him each match he plays but with the rest of the defence around him 95% of the time he can get away with it.
7. City are favourites to win the league in my book. Arsenal are next in line to try and maintain what is an excellent attacking side and with the way things are going at the moment for the Gunners I fear for them at the weekend, could be another hammering for them if they are not careful this weekend. After a good start and mid season they have dropped in form and in morale and look dangerously open in defence in recent weeks. The way Man City are hitting their stride now Arsenal could be in for a tough time.
8. I hate to say this but it’s time for David Moyes to go. It hasn’t worked at all. Every sign of improvement is wiped out pretty sharpish and United are back at square one. He just doesn’t have the tactical nous, the motivational skills, the drive this United team need to get the best out of them, with that team a top class manager would have been able to get more fight out of them. I am not saying another manage could have gotten a victory because I doubt it highly but the players just look pissed off, confused, de-motivated and uninterested. There is nothing to lose in getting rid of him now and getting someone in with real talent to get the best possible finish from the season and a full pre-season to shape the team properly.
9. It is a sad thought that before kick off I was just praying United didn’t get a battering.
10. It is an even sadder thought that with the current system in place United don’t look like they are ever going to challenge again.
Manchester United Aim to Continue Winning Ways
Manchester United attempt to drag themselves back into the title race as they welcome league leaders Arsenal to Old Trafford on Sunday. Eight points separate the two clubs after ten matches, with Arsenal impressing immensely while David Moyes and Manchester United have experienced some growing pains in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
A defeat would see the Red Devils fall eleven points off the pace and leave them more than likely chasing a Champions League place rather than the championship. Recent weeks have seen Manchester United start to look like a more solid outfit with the bright spots being Shinji Kagawa’s contributions and the return of Nemanja Vidic. Chances may have been spurned left and right against Real Sociedad in Champions League action this past Tuesday in a 0-0 away draw, but the team’s performance was improved and followed up on last weekend’s positive display against Fulham in a 3-1 win at Craven Cottage.
Manchester United have quietly put together an eight-match unbeaten run and defender Chris Smalling has explained that his side are confident of taking care of business when Arsenal come to town. “I don’t think there are any must-win games at this stage but it is still obviously a massive game”, admitted the defender. “We are at home and we have to be the favorites to win. We have to take the game to them and show that we are the team that wants to win and close the gap.”
Arsenal Winning Over Doubters
Are they for real? Can they last the pace? As the season progresses, Arsenal continue to have questions thrown at them as observers try to gauge whether such an incredible start to the campaign can be sustained. This past week has been considered the toughest yet this season with matches against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United all crammed into eight days. So far so good though for Arsene Wenger’s side as the Frenchman has seen his team sweep aside Liverpool in convincing fashion at the Emirates Stadium and then go on to produce a battling display at Dortmund, which resulted in a fine 1-0 win over last season’s Champions League finalists.
The last test of a revealing week into how good this team are now awaits at Old Trafford. Defeat could bring out the doubters once again, but there is a real belief amongst all involved with Arsenal that this current side could be the one that ends eight years of trophy-less pain.
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey, currently in the best form of his career, insists there will be no shortage of confidence on the part of the visitors. “It is going to be another massive game – this was always going to be a big week for us and we couldn’t have got off to a better start. Hopefully now we can go to Old Trafford and finish the job off”, the Wales international said. “It would be massive. We are feeling really confident at the moment and we’re in good form in the league, so why not go there and win?”
With Manchester United’s recent improvement after a difficult start, this match is certainly the highlight of the Premier League weekend as it always is. The Red Devils have looked far from convincing at home, while Arsenal have looked good wherever they have been this season. Still, the home side will fancy their chances of a win thanks to the prolific duo of Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. It might be considered a mini-shock though should they find a way to claim the three points against an Arsenal side that appear to be the real deal this season and are firing on all cylinders at the moment. Manchester United’s title hopes could be dashed by a defeat and judging by Arsenal’s superb form and high confidence at the moment, conditions could point to another big Arsenal victory. Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal.
Strength To Strength For Jurgen Klopp’s Side
Borussia Dortmund are firing on all cylinders at the moment and will be eager to play Arsenal in the Champions League in front of their own supporters at Signal Iduna Park. Bayern Munich may be getting all the headlines so far this season with their own strong start under the direction of Pep Guardiola, but Jurgen Klopp’s team are proving they are more than capable of challenging in Germany and Europe.
After Friday evening’s sensational display in a 6-1 thrashing of Stuttgart, Dortmund are off to their best ever start to a Bundesliga campaign. Matters in Europe are similar with the club sitting atop Group F of the Champions League on six points, ahead of Arsenal and Napoli on goal difference. Though Arsenal have enjoyed a super beginning to their season as well, confidence is sky high in the Dortmund camp as the club have been able to pick up where they left off last season.
In-form Marco Reus believes that Arsenal pose a sterner test than Stuttgart, but is confident of his team’s ability to win. “We go into every game to win it”, he said. “But of course it´s going to be very difficult. Arsenal are strong in every position. But they will not want to sit back which could give us some space, though we will not get as many chances as against Stuttgart.”
Table Toppers Aim To Bounce Back
Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool proved what many have been speculating for a few weeks now and that is that Arsenal are genuine title contenders. Having opened up a five-point lead on the chasing pack on the domestic front, Arsenal now turn to the European stage where there is still business to be done.
Group F looks especially intriguing this season as Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli all have six points after three matches. The section, which also includes Marseille (on zero points), looks set to go down to the final day. Arsene Wenger praised his side’s quality after the Liverpool victory, but knows better than anyone that the time for backslapping is over with such a crucial European match to play. Having already lost to Dortmund at home, it is vital that Arsenal pick up something from this match as it could be problematic if they fail to do so.
The superb form of Aaron Ramsey has been one of the reasons Arsenal have been performing so well and he believes the Gunners will be a bit smarter in Dortmund. “In the game at Emirates, we were a bit naive – it should have at least finished as a draw”, said the Welsh midfielder, who continued by saying: “We switched off and they caught us on a counter-attack in the last 10 minutes and we paid the price, which will happen at this level. We will learn from that.
“We are confident. There were periods in the game when we felt very dominant and maybe could have scored a few but we will be a bit more streetwise going over there.”
This match didn’t disappoint a few weeks ago and it promises to be even better in Germany with more to play for. Every result and every point in this group will be crucial, and with these two teams amongst the continent’s in-form sides it has the makings of another cracking 90 minutes. To pick a winner is difficult; pit Dortmund’s great home record against an Arsenal side that broke their own consecutive away wins record earlier this season. There is quality all over the park for both, but perhaps, and only just, Dortmund have that little bit extra ruthlessness in front of goal to hold the slight edge coupled in with Arsenal’s lengthy injury list which could soon catch up with the Gunners. One could make the case for any result from this game and it should make for superb viewing. Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Arsenal.
Few teams are finding better luck at this moment than Barcelona. After three games in the Champions League group stage, the Catalans are top, with seven points from three fixtures. A win against Milan at the Camp Nou will ensure a qualification ticket to the next round, but Gerardo Martino’s men will have to be very careful as they will be facing a wounded side that have nothing to lose.
The Blaugrana enjoy an excellent record against Milan, as they are unbeaten when facing the Lombardi side in ten of the last eleven matches, with the only defeat coming last February at the San Siro. However, club forward Pedro Rodriguez has refused to take the Rossoneri for granted, stating that his side will have to be cautious on the night.
“We would obviously like to win the match. We are doing very well in the group, but this is a team that always demand a lot from us. We should be very attentive to everything that happens on the pitch”, he said.
At home, Barcelona have been free-scoring against Milan, as they have managed to score at least twice the last three times they have met the Rossoneri.
Things could not be any worse for AC Milan. While the Rossoneri are second in their Champions League group behind opponents Barcelona, they are in 11th place in the Serie A standings, with just three wins after eleven league fixtures. With three losses in their last six domestic games, Massimiliano Allegri is under a lot of pressure to turn his team’s fortunes around. Battered and facing an in-form Barcelona at the Camp Nou, the former Cagliari boss will not be doing himself any favours should he return to Italy with a loss.
The seven-time Champions League winners suffered a home defeat to Fiorentina at the weekend, prompting their coach to severely criticise his side as he called for future improvements.
“I have to find a solution to this situation because we have to do better. The last half an hour was embarrassing. It was the worst in my three and a half years at the club. We did not play well and we conceded goals in their only attack. We have to work harder to improve and look to improve the mentality of the team. The responsibility lies with me and we have to look analyse everything and prepare well for the rest of the season and not only the next important match against Barcelona”, commented Allegri.
Milan are in awful form going into this clash and they lack the proper preparation and will to tackle a team of Barcelona’s stature at the Camp Nou. Martino’s side are enjoying their football at the moment and they will grab another win against their European foes. Barcelona 2-0 AC Milan.