Monday, 14 July 2014

Personal 2014 World Cup Team of the Tournament

A month has passed by and it saddens me that the FIFA World Cup won't be around for another 4 years. What we have witnessed in Brazil in the past 31 days though, were nothing short of magic and shocks. Now the sad realization that I need to get back to Uni and start a new semester will definitely pull me down.

Many surely would have predicted Germany to be eventual champions and England having another humiliating tournament, but no one would have bet high on seeing Algeria progressing further than Spain. You never thought the Costa Rica would progress from a group with Uruguay, Italy, and England, let alone win it. But the shock of the tournament must go to Brazil losing 1-7 to eventual winners Germany in a Semi-Final in their own country. Surely that goes down to one of the most humiliating match they've played ever.

As even teams shining the competition, there were definitely players who did not do their reputations any harm, as listed below will be 11 players who personally, are those that performed brilliant in this World Cup. My XI will be fitted in a 4-2-3-1 formation because Germany used it to win the whole thing, and because I want to.

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Surely is now the best goalkeeper in the world. In a competition where most goalkeepers took the plaudits (Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Tim Howard, Sergio Romero, Rais M'Bolhi... and I'm just naming a few here!), the German keeper performed the best, and his Golden Glove award was well deserved. At times, he would sweep attacks like Beckenbauer, but then make saves like Kahn. The ultimate definition of the ultra-modern goalkeeper.

Rightback: Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina)

Contrary to the competition of best goalkeeper, there weren't many rightbacks to choose from. But having said that, Zabaleta was incredibly solid at defending against wingers as well as marauding the opponents box. It was a close choice between him and Germany captain Phillipp Lahm, but my choice fell to the best fullback in the Premier League as Lahm only played at this position for 3 matches, while being mediocre in midfield.

Centreback: Mats Hummels (Germany)

2 years ago, I slotted him in my Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament, and he's still a favorite of mine to date. Not only did he kept goals from coming, he managed to score 2 as well. It also doesn't kill to have a face like Orlando Bloom too. If the Ballon d'Or was based on looks, he would be a close second to France's Olivier Giroud.

Centreback: Ron Vlaar (Netherlands)

An Aston Villa defender who could actually defend, and he only showed it in the World Cup. He's one of those few cases that club form means nothing for national team as he did his best Gandalf impression for the Dutch all tournament long because no one was getting passed him that easily. Of all the players who surprised me the most in this World Cup, it had to be Vlaar and his for Feyenoord team-mates in defense (Stefan de Vrij & Bruno Martins Indi) who were sought to be the weak link in the team. Kudos to Ron!

Leftback: Daley Blind (Netherlands)

Again, everyone would have different opinions who the best leftback was in the tournament. Others would pick Argentina's Marcos Rojo or Germany's Benedikt Howedes, maybe even someone out of the ordinary like Mexico's Miguel Layun, but mine goes to non other than the guy whose name sounds like a news tabloid written in Braille. 2 assists in Oranje's 5-1 thrashing of Spain, including a goal against Brazil, on top of a cheeky smirk to boot, he definitely takes my vote (but not my heart just yet. That still belongs to Giroud).

Centremidfield: Javier Mascherano (Argentina)

The nation's best player in the World Cup by a mile. While Di Maria was injured since the semifinals, Masch single handedly kept Argentina in the game against the Netherlands. Even if he mostly plays as a defender for club, he definitely is a natural defensive midfielder as shown by his leading performances in the knockout rounds. The only thing missing was a gold medal, but he'll get a lot of them back with Barcelona.

Centremidfield: Toni Kroos (Germany)

The gap left by Pirlo in the knockout rounds was filled marvelously by Toni. He might not have the greatest performance in the final, but he was almost certainly the German's best midfielder in the World Cup with mouth-watering deliveries that lead to goals, to scoring a quick double in the semis against Brazil. If I was to give the Golden Ball to anyone in the tournament, no one deserved it more than Kroos.

Attacking Midfielder: James Rodriguez (Colombia)

Honestly, although he cost 45M from FC Porto to AS Monaco, he was never in my radar apart on Football Manager. But a month after, despite not being a forward, and the most debatable first name pronunciation, won the Golden Boot award after scoring 6 goals in 5 matches, including the Goal of the Tournament in a Round of 16 match against Uruguay. Probably was a shame that his Colombia side could not reach the semifinals, otherwise Hamez (or Jaimz if you prefer) might have scored more.

Right Wing: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

In the group stages, despite being 29 and bald, no one could keep up with his pace as defenders were left for dead in a foot race with Robben. On top of 3 goals and 1 assist, he won the decisive penalty against Mexico where he graciously fell on purpose and secured a Quarterfinal berth. Despite all the controversy surrounding him, he had a brilliant tournament which could have - and should have - scored more.

Left Wing: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Despite given the Golden Ball award from FIFA and wasn't even Argentina's best player in the World Cup (see Mascherano), there is no doubt that his country would never go through past the Group Stages if it wasn't for their beloved captain that is Lionel Messi. Four time Ballon d'Or winner just edges out club teammate Neymar and former club teammate Alexis Sanchez for a spot for his heroics and influence through out the tournament, even if he was out-marked in every knockout match.

Centre forward: Thomas Muller (Germany)

If Karim Benzema's France won against Germany in the Quarterfinals, we might not be even talking about Muller. 2010's Golden Boot winner, Thomas started the tournament with a hat-trick against Portugal in a false-nine role, eventually leaving Brazil with a tally of 5. And when he wasn't scoring, he was either making them or making space for his teammates to score. Muller's intelligence in the final to create space for Gotze to score the winner was the perfect interpretation of a false-nine you would ever see. Probably Muller would have deserved that Golden Ball accolade more than Messi does, but Muller would not mind at all if he wins the biggest prize in the end - as a World Cup winner.

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO basically that was my team. If you made it hear, thank you for reading and wouldn't hurt listen to your opinions.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Letting Moyes Off: Another Perspective

I've seen to many views on this situation. Whether positive or negative (mostly the latter), it seemed like everyone had their take on David Moyes' sacking from his job as Manager of Manchester United. And boy did it cause a stir.

Most of the blame for United's dismal season is sadly but understandably pointed at Moyes, but that shouldn't be the case. Not only did Sir Alex Ferguson end a magnificent 26-year-tenure last year, but highly regarded Chief of Executive David Gill also stepped down to take a job within the English FA. The guy that replaced Gill, Ed Woodward, looked like he did not know what to do and it lead to Moyes' collapse in the market. So Woodward should get the blame just as much as Moyes did.
Fig 1. A repost meme. But it sure hell is funny.
I am not going to criticize on his amazing record, or praise for the few things he has done. I am here to shed light on a few things that should have worked but actually just flopped. Pardon me, may I?

How did you only manage to sign 1 player in the summer?

David's summer activity resembles a 14 year old playing career mode on FIFA, they'll just offer anybody rated above 85 big money. The difference IRL, none of these players were available for sale and he just looked like a goof dreaming on huge players. Cesc, Herrera, Song, Bale, even Ronaldo were rumored to be a subject of a bid, and all they end up with was an inflated signing of Moyes' old employer, a hugely talented an influential Maroune Fellaini from Everton. But...

How did the same manager make Fellaini suck?
Fig 2. Marouane Fellaini, clapping the amount he cost.

I stand here say that I was a huge fan of Fellaini back in his Everton days. What he lacked in pace, he made up with strength, height, vision, and technique. Playing as a defensive midfielder for his country Belgium and an attacking bulldozer for Everton, he should have been what United were lacking.

But 8 months on, he is considered a flop. Not usually the scapegoat, but of course seen as out of his depths. The thought that the same manager could not get the best out of the same player amazes me, especially when David knows him so well.

Why stick with underperformers?
Fig 3. Tom Cleverley, scapegoat for United's torrid season.
Young, Valencia, Cleverley, Smalling (you can add Fellaini as well on that list). The BPL defending champions better performances this season when these players weren't playing actually, yet somehow the new Scot at the helm keeps insisting to field these one-dimensional players, and leaving talents like Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernandez, and wonderkid Adnan Januzaj on the bench. English winger Wilfried Zaha looked promising in pre-season but instead was loaned out to Cardiff, presumably he fell out because of rumor he was sleeping with the boss' daughter. If that was true, it was probably the only reason why David Moyes still found a spot for Ashley Young in the team.

Didn't Ferguson have a worse first season than Moyes?

Yes he did. But Ferguson was not taking over a team of Champions. In fact, the 1980s were bad for United, seeing Liverpool dominate the nation, and, the continent twice. United weren't a good side back then, but Sir Alex made them good in a few seasons after that.

Davey here however, is taking over a side that has just won the title for the 20th time in history - the most for any club. He's taking over a squad filled with medals around their necks and the reputation to equal. From being defending champions to no European football the next season takes some effort, but Moyes here seemed to do it with ease.

Should the gaffer's tactics be criticized here?

Yes, but that isn't my biggest concern. Even if the tactics were lame and up until the end of April, Moyes still does not have a real template on how he wants his team to perform, the blame should be pointed to every player in the squad, equally. They have not only let the manager down, but the club, the fans, and of course, theirselves. In the big games, most of the players did not seem to bother and play to the occasion and let the other title rivals win against them with embarrassing ease. I'm not much of a tactics guy, but how David is lining his players week in week out, they are never going to win anything. I thought it would be sorted out January, but up until April, it never looked like it was going to improve or neither did Moyes looked bothered to try.

Did Sir Alex Ferguson make the right choice?
Fig 4. The messiah.
He did - for his personal gain. I am no conspiracy theorist, but has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, Sir Alex personally chose Moyes so United sucked on purpose? Because if United were going to play bad without him, everyone will think Fergie's a God. And face it, Ferguson always wanted everyone to know that he's the boss around Old Trafford. Just don't let him overtake the helm again to detract from any Post-Power Syndrom and doing a 'Dalglish'.

Who will manage next?

I don't know. You tell me. For now, living legend Ryan Giggs will caretake up until the end of the season. After that, it is anyone's guess.

But did Davey make any good decisions during his tenure?

If you are talking about mid-game substitutions, not a chance. His best decisions were made off the field. He made sure Rooney was keeping put after rumors of leaving, and it showed how much of an influence he was first half of the season. He also signed Juan Mata in January, a talented Spaniard somehow unused in Chelsea's new Mourinho regime. The coaching staff saga is debatable, but having the balls to bring his own team of trainers is a plus for me.
Fig 5. One of the few lights in this season's management, and Wayne Rooney.

I don't hate Moyes, it just did not work out. If he had time, he would probably have his own style of play with his type of players, yet it probably would not lead to success. After the Fellaini and Mata signings, the United board could not let this man waste their money again, and even though that is harsh, business wise is totally understandable. Moyes might have a good career in the future, and his Manchester United stint will only go down as a taint. Good luck for you David Moyes, we know you tried, but your tries weren't good enough.

Monday, 31 March 2014

10 Football Opinions You Would Never Say 3 Years Ago

In 2011, Robin Van Persie was on the verge of being an Arsenal hero, Andrea Pirlo getting booted from AC Milan in what seemed to be the end of his career, Sir Alex Ferguson looked like he was going to manage Manchester United for another 20 years, and Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber were just another of those 'innocent child stars'.

Three years later, how wrong were all of those were? I would have looked like an idiot if I stood by with my opinions I made 3 years ago. Then there are these 10 opinions in the present that would have sound ludicrous in 2011. Imagine back then you heard this come out from someone:

1. Iker Casillas spot for Spain in 2014 World Cup is under threat.
Fig 1. Iker Casillas in his seat
Captain of La Roja's successful Euro and World Cup campaigns, the legend only 32 years of age, is sweating over his place at the next World Cup in Brazil.

He's not even playing for his club besides Copa del Rey and Champions League ties, and that could harm his confidence. No disrespect to Diego Lopez, he's done brilliantly as well in the net. With Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes on the verge of breaking the understudy status, Santo Iker will have to make way.

2. Jordan Henderson over Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley any day.
Fig 2. Jordan Henderson with Liverpool 
3 years ago, we would have thought Jack and Tom would be the future of England, while Jordan Henderson would be another overpriced young English midfielder back in 2011 when he moved to Liverpool for 20M. 3 years later, he's a mainstay in the Reds XI with Captain Steven Gerrard having the best season of his career so far.

Jack Wilshere hasn't developed as well as expected, while Cleverley has probably 'declined' to an extent even his own clubs fans are amazed how he's still getting picked with the form he is in. If these 2 players are picked ahead of Jordan for England's World Cup squad, plenty of critics will be heard for Hodgson.

3. Manchester United is going to finish outside the top 6.
Fig 3. Moyes Haters get creative
United are having a wreck of a season. Even if Sir Alex handed David Moyes a squad that was failing, certainly no one expected a campaign as bad as this. The team are filled with seasoned champions, yet they just can't seem to win more than 3 games on the bounce.

As a United fan myself, I must admit that Moyes' handling of the club has been atrocious this season, and it is fine to admit flaws in things you care about so much. But how most of his decision makings always seems to obviously disappoint. He needs to change his mindset, otherwise he goes.

4. Daniel Sturridge is a gifted goalscorer.
Fig 4. One of Daniel's signature choreography
Well, I always thought Sturridge is a #BEAST of a striker, I'm just surprised why Chelsea never gave him a fair chance and always played him wide and out of position. They rather spend 50M on a morale-ridden Fernando Torres than give him a start up front. To be fair, he always seemed selfish on the pitch, deciding to shoot rather than pass, and looked low on confidence.

However 3 years and a 13.5M Liverpool move later, things have changed. As of writing this post, he's second in the goalscoring charts only behind teammate Luis Suarez - who is having the best football he's ever shown. Would be a definite surprise if he was not to be included in the World Cup squad for England.

5. Pep Guardiola is nothing without his Barcelona team.
Fig 5. Pep predicting the number of goals Bayern will score in a game - 11?
The media and those peoples who consider themselves "experts" did not acknowledge Guardiola's influence on Barcelona too much during his tenure at Nou Camp where the Catalans basically destroyed every single team in sight and were the team everyone was afraid of. Most said he was lucky because he already had the best players in the world anyway so it would be easy for him and of course, Lionel Messi.

And then he moved on to Bayern Munich. Sure, he's taking over a team who won the Treble the proceeding year, so it was a big challenge to emulate - or even surpass - the previous team Jupp Heynckes built. And he has with some style. He's wrapped up the Bundesliga in March, unbeaten, and are front runners to defend their Champions League trophy. Barcelona? Well, they aren't as dominant post-Pep era. Next challenge - take a neigh-average club and turning them into world beaters in a season.

6. Massimo Moratti will be looking to sell his club.
Fig 6. Erick Thohir (left) and Massimo Moratti.
Ex-Internazionale owner, Moratti was always connected to the name of the club. He loved this club. Everything he did since he took over in 1995 was in the best interest of the Milan-based team. Under his presidency, Inter has won numerous titles, including 5 Scudettos and 1 Champions League medal.

18 years later, he has sold most of the club to an Indonesian businessman, Erick Thohir, and stepped down from his presidency. 3 years ago, you would have never thought of Inter Milan without the eccentric Moratti. Yet again, if Jordan Henderson could change, so can Inter Milan.

7. AC Milan is a club in crisis.
Fig 7. Silvio Berlusconi
Back in 2011, you would never see AC Milan being in mid-table 3 seasons ahead. A team with so much history, so much glory in past players, now suffering underachieving status. AC Milan, as we know it, is having an even worse season than what Manchester United is suffering.

Most of the blame must be down to owner and President, Silvio Berlusconi, has his focus divided with personal political ventures, and his love for young women. Rossoneri will hopefully improve next season, though. With a core players of Kaka, Balotelli, Montolivo, and El Sharaawy should be enough for the club to bounce back in campaigns to come.

8. Arsene Wenger is spending his money.
Fig 8. Arsene getting a bit angry
Le Monsieur was tight with his budget. Not because the club was in need of money, he just didn't feel entitled to spend it. He was on a project to develop players from scratch in the space of 5 years to become world beaters. But things have changed when that didn't work out. 

In the past 3 years, Wenger has spend big on players such as Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Gervinho, and the biggest of them all, German playmaker Mesut Ozil. Sure, they haven't won anything yet, but for the last 9 years, they haven't gone without trying, and this year might be different. If they still don't win a trophy, the Arsenal manager would not hesitate in buying again.

9. Seamus Coleman is the best right back in the league.
Fig 9. Seamus Coleman giving away kisses
This is highly debatable now, but you can't say that this season he has been one of the better performing right-backs this season, challenging Glen Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta in a best right-back category. This Irish wing-back 2 years ago couldn't even get into his national team Euro squad, and now he's giving Leighton Baines a run for his money in who's the better fullback in the team.

If I said that Coleman was the best right back in 2011, I would probably get a lot of "who's Coleman?" responses. But look at him now. He's getting forward, defending well, providing, and chipping in a few goals as well to his repertoire. Seamus has come a long way since his Sligo Rovers days.

10. It is gonna be their year.
Fig 10. PFA Player of the Year-bound Luis Suarez
It has been a running gag for about a decade, but it seems to me that this year may well be Liverpool's year. The scene is set perfectly for them to be a fairytale season. A World Cup year, captain Stevie G has won all but one trophy that he has craved for so long. Main striker Luis Suarez missed 8 opening fixtures but he's now the league's top scorer, and partner Daniel Sturridge is helping out well. Not to mention boy wonder Raheem Sterling showing why he's old enough to be a father of three and be a regular for a Premier League team. Not to mention rivals Man United having a stinker of a campaign.

Its April and with 7 games to go, they are on top of the table as of this post. Sure, Chelsea and Manchester City are not going to give up, but the only thing that can hurt a United fan the most this season is to see Liverpool lifting that trophy in May. That enough would be enough motivation for Reds to go on and win it.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Five Player Requirements that will Go to the World Cup.

Note: This article was posted earlier in the month (February 4th) at @PanditFootball (click here). The passage was posted in Bahasa Indonesia, but here I will post the original written article, in English, the way the writer originally intended it to be.

What does Theo Walcott, Javier Zanetti, Ronaldinho, Nani, and Mario Balotelli have in common? They all once were controversially not selected by their national coach.

Fig 1. World Cup
Sure, even with the large number of 736 players called up to represent 32 different countries in the World Cup this summer, the number of players that will not participate is an even higher number. Even stars that have nailed their names in the biggest leagues of Europe, including the names above, has been in that position.

These players' exclusion could be cause by different reasons, namely; injury, internal conflict with the head coach, or simply because the coach thinks "he's not good enough". However, the nations from the five aforementioned players had a disastrous World Cup campaign four years ago. Sure, it could be caused by a horrific team performance overall, but it could due to the lack of contribution of these players.

The 2014 World Cup will be no different. There will be surprising inclusions and exclusions. For every Emile Heskey, there will be great inclusions such as Angel di Maria. And for every Karim Benzema, there will be considered 'better' exclusions like Raul Gonzales.

Then, what components are in there in a squad? What types of players will be called up for their respective nations? For your pleasure, I have categorized them into five different criterias.

Criteria #1: Reputation

Reputation is the first trait in every single national squad. Players with a huge reputation will always be called up by their head coach strictly because they are considered to be the star that will guide the nation towards success. He could go through a dismal season, or just healed from a injury, but if he is known to be one of the best in the country, no way he will be left out of the a tournament this big.

Don't think of names like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo because they have proven their large rep. Try names like Wayne Rooney or Lukas Podolski.
Fig 2. Lukas Podolski
Rooney is regarded as England's best striker, while Podolski is the golden boy of Deutschland for a long time. Even if they have gone through a torrid season, they will not fear for their place in their respective national team set-up.

Don't believe me? Ask David Beckham in World Cup 2002, or Fernando Torres in Euro 2012.

Criteria #2: Form

In the last on or two seasons before an international event, the consistency and performance of a player will influence strongly to getting a nod for a team spot. But not all in-form players will be called. Because unlike the first criteria, if you don't have a big reputation, you probably won't go. Just like the case for Darren Bent in South Africa 2010.
Fig 3. Pedro (left) and Sergio Busquets
Yet, teams that fill their team with in-form players will help the team greatly to achieve success, or at least reaching the finals. Cesare Prandelli's choice to bring Antonio Di Natale and the Juventus defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini guided Italy in a run to the Euro 2012 final. The back-in-the-day not-so-famous Barcelona contingent with the likes of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and Pedro Rodriguez played a part in Spain's 2010 World Cup triumph.

Criteria #3: Merit

They don't have a rising rep, and their form is nothing special, but because of a low stock in a certain position, he gets a chance to play for their national flag. It doesn't mean that they're bad or they don't deserve it, but there must be a reason why they aren't as popular like the first type or as consistent as the second type.

This attribution will usually be associated with an understudy goalkeeper like Victor Valdes. He may not be famous like Iker Casillas, but his record in Barcelona's net (albeit not entirely on his own) is impressive. So I say he strongly deserves his spot.
Fig 4. Victor Valdes (right)
This case might be slightly different to Robert Green's case when he was recruited by Roy Hodgson in the Euros 2 years ago. Even though at the time he was playing in the Championship with West Ham, his inclusion wasn't much of a surprise because there wasn't any other 'keeper who merited a place.

Even so, the case of deserving or not deserving of a player's inclusion to a squad usually isn't such a big problem. National team coaches knows better than us mere mortals.

Criteria #4: Young and Talented

Fig 5. Pele (center)
This type is usually rare, but could come in handy. Players that are eligible for this category are those who are under 23 y.o., and has not become an integral part of either club or country. Players in this category are usually called up to have competition experience, like Ronaldo in the 1994 World Cup and Theo Walcott in the 2006 edition.

Besides gaining personal reputation, the players of the fourth type could actually become a secret weapon. Examples include Michael Owen back in 1998, Thomas Muller in 2010, even Pele in 1958 version of the competition.
At such a young age, these three players became stars for their nations. Even at the tender age of 17, Pele alone helped Brazil win at his first international competition. Not bad for a kid.

Criteria #5: Wacky Wildcard

The fifth type is usally the devil of every team. His inclusion to the team is considered so absurd because he does not fit into any of the four types above. He doesn't have the fame, he's not young, his performance for his club is considered bad, and there are many more players that deserves to be called up above him from his country.

But for what ever reason, the coach brings him anyway. Some say that his inclusion could be caused by a conspiracy or an something out of an illuminati theory. But deep down we know, it was all down to the manager's error of judgement. The less from this category, the better the chance of a good tournament.

A good example for this type would be Vincenzo Iaquinta back in 2010. He only played 15 times and scored 6 in the Serie A in the season prior to the proceeding World Cup, but the Italy manager at that time, Marcelo Lippi, called him anyway and started all 3 games. He did score a penalty, but Italy were knocked out in the group stage.

The newest example from Euro 2012 could be the inclusion of ex-Liverpool winger Stewart Downing. In the 2009/2010 season, Downing did not score or even assisted. But whatever Roy Hodgson saw in him, it was enough to call him up to represent England. "Luckily" Downing never left the bench at the competition, but England went out in quarterfinals anyway.
Fig 6. Vincenzo Iaquinta
I would assure you that every national squad in Brazil 2014 will have at least four of the five categories of players mentioned earlier. I reckon in June, when all teams are finalized, there will still be controversial coach selections. This article's main purpose was to make you to prepare for any surprise. But you'll never know, right?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Predictable Rant from a United Fan

I 4-1 would not like to be a Manchester United fan by now.

Sure, not the most creative wordplay ever made but it describes what most United fans feel like right after their humiliation of neighbors Manchester City at Etihad. A poor performance from back to front, they were lucky not to lose more than the 4-1 scoreline suggested.
Fig 1. United talisman Robin van Persie
United were without lead goalscorer Robin van Persie who was injured. In his place, Danny Welbeck gets a start, but he was ineffective for most parts of the game. Manchester United looked very blunt without the Dutch striker and it seems at times Wayne Rooney was driving the team forward on his own. No RvP, no party.

Enough with the background. Let us start the ranting shall we?

Let us start from the most worrying aspect of the team; the wingers. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. One is more right-sided than a hardcore Republican, the other confuses a swimming pool with a penalty box. I am amazed how they are still getting game time when we almost lost the league last season because of our lack-lustured wingers. Valencia reverting to his old #25 shirt did not convert to his old form, while Ashley Young has done absolutely nothing since his double against Arsenal 3 YEARS AGO in that 8-2 win at Old Trafford.
Fig 2. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, in their better playing days.
It is amazing how Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj, who impressed in pre-season, did not even make the bench. We still even have Nani, the least disappointing winger last season, and he didn't move from the dugout. Manager David Moyes should try and give these three players more chances then Valencia and Young. Heck, I saw the Indonesia U-19s match before this and their wingers were MORE effective then what I witnessed at Etihad.

Most United fans would argue that Shinji Kagawa needs to play too. He has shown what he could do back in his Dortmund days and glimpses of that talent came out last season when he wasn't injured that much. Marouane Fellaini sure is a physical player, but the Japanese playmaker would give the team more creativity - a thing that lacked so much in the Manchester derby. Kagawa isn't even a winger and I bet that he would have given a better performance than Young or Valencia.
Fig 3. Shinji Kagawa pleading his case to be played.
Our defense was quite terrible as well. You don't leave out criticism for the defenders if you concede 4 goals. The marking was poor, the efforts were woeful, and the organization was just as bad. Rio Ferdinand might have the experience, but his legs aren't quite what they used to be. Nemanja Vidic has always been a brick wall, but he was beaten time and time again by Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. Not to mention the declining Patrice Evra or the unlucky Chris Smalling on left-back and right-back respectively. Moyes, again, has a lot of homework to do.

During the match, after conceding a fourth, in need of goals, Moyes decides to bring on Tom Cleverley for the ineffective Ashley Young. I think Cleverley is a great player, but not a player you rely on to make or score a goal. Considering Moyes had Kagawa, Nani, and Javier Hernandez as well on the bench, he puts Cleverley. What's worse was that was the only substitution David Moyes made in the game. It reminded me when England was trailing Germany 1-4 back in 2010 at the last World Cup, when they were in search of goals, then-England Manager Fabio Capello introduced Emile Heskey. A player DEFINITELY not known for his goalscoring prowess.

Fig 4. David Moyes looking sharp as ever.
At times like these, it is easy to blame the gaffer for everything. Sure, Rome wasn't built in a day, but the people would like to see progress. I am definitely behind David Moyes and his tenure here, and I would like to give him time to impress me. But if United keep playing like this for the rest of the season, he needs to change this team from back to front.

But credit is where credit is due, Manchester City had a fine evening. The interchanging of Aguero, Negredo, Samir Nasri, and Jesus Navas were great. They have the greatest spines in England with Joe Hart in goal, Vincent Kompany at the back, Yaya Toure in the middle, and Aguero on top. They will be devastated if they don't win the league, while United will be lucky enough to finish third. Congratulations to Manchester City for taking the bragging rights in town.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Stubborn Guardiola and Thiago Alcantara

There's a popular saying that that men will always seek improvements since they are never content. Another popular quote is that sometimes the grass is always greener on the other side. But there is also another saying that too much of anything is never good. This is not an attempt to write a philosophical article, it's just that it seemed like the best way to open this particular piece.

Fig 1. Thiago Alcantara
Pep Guardiola - the new Manager of treble-winning German side Bayern Munich - declared his interest in signing Spain wonderboy Thiago Alcantara from his former employers Barcelona and is very keen on signing him. Although nothing is official yet as of the writing of this piece, reports have said that he is close to sign a 4-year contract.

I'm going to be mainstream on this article and say that I do not approve this move at all. Not because of being a United fan and is pissed that he would rather go to Allianz instead of Old Trafford, but because of the wealth of talent in midfield Bayern already have in their locker room. This side has a squad depth in every department which makes even Real Madrid and Barcelona jealous of. The last thing either of those clubs would want to do is strengthen the Champions League holders.

Fig 2. Bayern Munich's Champions League Final Line-up
Above is the line-up former Manager Jupp Heynckes fielded at Bayern's last season's Champions League Final. Note that classy defender Holger Badstuber and midfield maestro Toni Kroos were out injured. The team that played brilliantly against Borrussia Dortmund wasn't even their best team and still were able to win. Javi Martinez, who tackled and passed the whole night, was covered by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who played in front of the defense, were a perfect compliment to the hard working mentality of Thomas Muller that night, who also had the flair of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on each flank - the former scoring the winning goal and made another - nicely foiled their main striker Mario Mandzukic for every chance that came his way. Again I will state, this is not their strongest team. Kroos' absence shows how well of a team Bayern actually created.

Lest you forget that Luis Gustavo's name has not even been mentioned yet. The Brazilian was part of a strong, mobile midfield trio that won last month's Confederations Cup, and even he only made it on the pitch at that final in the 90th minute. Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri also was on the bench but he didn't even make on to the pitch. Oh yeah, I must have neglected to tell you that they also signed Mario Gotze this summer. So those 5 spots in midfield will be challenged by 9 world class internationals. The last thing they want is more competition. Oh hang on...

Fig 3. Pep Guardiola
Thiago may not be first choice back at Nou Camp, but the aging pair of Xavi and Andres Iniesta should give him more first-team chances next season. It's hard enough to get into the first team at Barcelona, let alone at Bayern. Their midfield is so blessed with talent, you can't help but say "too many midfielders is not good". 

Guardiola though claimed to the press that he promises Thiago will be a mainstay in the Bavarian's midfield. Okay, he's the one who has 47 caps as a player for Spain and won 15 trophies as a Manager, but with all the stars in his FC Hollywood, he still is keen on a fringe player in Barcelona. Even if my Football Manager CV is way better, it does not count as valid grounds that I am better than him, but of course I'm skeptic over this potential purchase.

Pep admitted that with the possible purchase of Thiago, Javi Martinez would be put in defense where he could emulate his days at Bilbao as a ball-playing defender. It seems like it solves a problem, but it doesn't. Bayern's defence was the strongest, only conceding 18 league goals all season. If Martinez were to play in at the back, who gets to sit on the bench? Dante or Badstuber? Jerome Boateng is like the first choice back-up in defence as he could play anywhere in the backline. His chances may be limited now with this choice of tactic. New signing of young defender Jan Kirchhoff would seem like a waste now if this were true.

Fig 4. Javi Martinez
Another problem with the potential arrival of Thiago is who would partner him, who moves into a different position, who goes to the bench, or who might just leave anyway. With Pep's admittance of Thiago being a key player, he might certainly partner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who could be the 'Busquets' of Pep's formation where he sits in front of the back four, straying magical passes between the opponents, and do his business thoroughly. This will leave Thiago to become the playmaker of the team, a sight which everyone wants to see after his amazing performance in the last Euro U21 competition where he was awarded 'Best Player of the Tournament' after a hat-trick in the final against Italy. Toni Kroos looks to be the best possible personnel between Schweinsteiger and Thiago, not to mention his dead ball skills would be handy.

Since Guardiola loves a man who works like a horse (in a professional way, not the literal meaning), then Thomas Muller would most likely be the man playing on the right-flank, a position that made him famous whilst playing for Germany in the 2010 World Cup. New signing Mario Gotze in my personal opinion would not be a bench-warmer at Munich as Pep - I believe - will play on the left-flank where Ribery is usually played. I expect both wings would get lots of rotation so the likes of Robben and Shaqiri would stay happy.

Fig 5. Thomas Muller (left) and Toni Kroos (right)
The assurance of an out-and-out striker in this team is never guaranteed. Even Mario Gomez has left the club and joined Fiorentina, leaving only Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro as the only recognized forwards in the first team. Guardiola's system never used a type of target-man type of striker, but Mandzukic isn't one of that despite of his stature being an ideal type of a target-man. Mandzukic is the type of forward that could lead the line by himself, but will come deep to get the ball, run around channels, set up shots for himself and others, and will pop up for a tap in/header. He might be given a go from the Manager, but during the season progresses, I predict Pep will eventually put Muller up front and put either Ribery or Robben on the spare wings. Since all of his wingers can play both flanks, this would not be much of a problem.

This leaves Luis Gustavo without any role in the team. He might be a key player for Brazil, but it seems that he will have difficulty breaking in to this team. What a luxury it may be to have a back-up player such as Gustavo, but if Thiago's move becomes a reality, Gustavo might think of seeking new pastures in order to keep his place in the Brazil squad that will host next year's World Cup.

Fig 6. Potential Bayern Munich Line-up 2013-2014
From this not-so-in-depth tactical analysis, Thiago's potential move to Bayern may work, but the balance of the club would take a huge plunge. We know he's got the talent to do so, but competition for places at Allianz ArenA is far tighter than at Nou Camp. If would not be a loss for either Bayern or Barcelona if he were to stay put, but it could be a potential loss for both sides if the move would happen. If he were to move, it is better if he actually transferred to a team where he would be the biggest star of them all. But if he does sign for Pep's new club, I would love to both Pep and Thiago to prove me wrong.

Monday, 29 April 2013

My "Non-PFA Team of the Year" Team of the Year.

Eleven names has been announced by the PFA to fill up their annual "Team of the Year" awarded to players who has shone the brightest this season. As expected, the team is filled up by big names and best players. Of course there are names that was not included in this team. Here are the players that myself would put in a "Team of the Year" and names that were listed in the original PFA XI are not in consideration.


Original PFA's choice: David De Gea (Manchester United)

De Gea has been outstanding this year, but Lloris has impressed me a lot. Ever since he finally took Brad Friedel's place in the Spurs line-up, the French goalie has been very well in reading the game. Turns out AVB's decision to let Hugo analyze the Premier League from the bench for the first few games was a good decision after all.

Right back:

Original PFA's choice: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)

I expected Zabaleta to be in the official TOTY, but Rafael deserves more than just an honorable mention. With all the United wingers playing like [insert swear word here], the boy from Brazil is the one who is bombing down the wings for them.

Center back:

Original PFA's choice: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) & Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)

Vertonghen has been the best defender this season, but Nastastic would have been a more deserving partner in the PFA XI. No offence to Rio. being snubbed by Woy has showed how his 'footballing reasons' were a bunch of [insert another swear word here], but Nastasic, who has just turned 20 this March, showed as much calmness as Rio has this season. David Luiz? Well he definitely knows more than a 5 year-old FIFA player in defending.

Left back:

Original PFA's choice: Leighton Baines (Everton)

Baines has been the best left-back in the league for the past few years now, but there is still a reason why Ashley Cole is still England's first choice in that position for the national team. Despite what most Arsenal fans would say, he's a living legend. This season is no different, and he deserves this mention. Speaking of Arsenal...

Right Wing:

Original PFA's choice: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Even if his name's pronunciation is debatable, there is no question he has been the best player Arsenal has this season. Hazard has been hot and cold all season, but Santi has been consistently playing good. He surely merits a PFA XI inclusion.


Original PFA's choice: Juan Mata (Chelsea) & Michael Carrick (Manchester United)

Michu is 'Signing of the Season' in terms of financing factors, while Dembele has been the Londoners motor in the middle of the park. Their exclusion is just a pity that Michael Carrick and Juan Mata exists. It is hard to debate on that.

Left Wing:

Original PFA's choice: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

It was hard for me to find someone to challenge what Gareth Bale has done this season from the left flank, but it was either Pablo or Pienaar who can come closest to being impressive from there. Me choosing Pablo is sorely based on how he easily replaced Scott Sinclair in the Swansea attack. I almost forgot that Sinclair is at City now.


Original PFA's choice: Luis Suarez (Liverpool) & Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

Both Suarez and van Persie being overlooked for the PFA Player of the Year award was a bit tragic. No striker has been more influential than these strikers, so for 2 strikers to be in this team other than them was more of a challenge for me.

Let me just say that Rickie Lambert is like a Grant Holt with ball skills and a more clinical shot in him, while Benteke is like Bent, but longer. Try to understand that joke. But in seriousness, both The Saints and The Villains respectively would not imagine if their star goalscorer would leave. Lets just leave it to that.