Do teams value the ‘magic of the cup’?

On a crisp February evening, 5,000 locals packed into Sutton’s stadium to watch their team play Arsenal in the FA Cup. A team full of superstars took to the pitch to face a Sutton side which included a 20 stone, 45 year-old goalkeeper who took to devouring a pie at the 70th minute. And it was fantastic.

There was an atmosphere that would put most stadiums to shame, and the match did not disappoint. Sutton gave a good account of themselves, despite losing 2-0, even hitting the bar with a spectacular effort. The only thing better than the match, is what it represented. Only in cup competitions can a team with a wage bill of £400,000, compared to Arsenal’s £140 million, stand up to Premier League giants.

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More and more each year, so called ‘big’ teams are criticised for not taking cup competitions seriously, fielding significantly weaker and younger teams. They prioritise the riches of the league over the glory of the cup. However, there is more than one way to look at this dilemma.

The upsets which make cup competitions so memorable, usually happen when a bigger team fields a weaker side, giving minnows a slightly higher chance of victory. Even this year, the likes of Liverpool have crashed out due to over-rotation of their squad. In their loss to Wolves, seven changes were made compared to their previous fixture.

This provides not only opportunity to lower league teams, but also means teams who succeed in the cup are the ones who take it seriously. Even tonight, Arsenal who have won the FA Cup twice in recent years, named a strong first-team and even brought on Alexis Sanchez late on. So next time a team does not take a cup competition seriously, don’t worry, they won’t win it anyway.

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Premier League – Who will beat the drop?

It’s that time of year. Valentines day. Which can only mean one thing – the debate begins as to who will be relegated from the Premier League this year, obviously.

Lets meet the contestants:

Middlesbrough

Now despite being one of the most boring sides in history, Aitor Karanka has organised an average squad into one which doesn’t score, but doesn’t concede either. One of the better looking relegation sides, Karanka will be hoping their genuine talents such as Ramirez and Traore explode between now and May.

 

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We almost scored – can’t be having that

 

Leicester

How the mighty have fallen. In a tactical sense Leicester City are lost this year and look completely demoralised compared to last season’s fairy-tale. Amartey and Ndidi have proved ineffectual replacements for Kante, whilst Huth and Morgan look like they have aged 10 years in 9 months. The worrying thing for Leicester is that there looks to be no stopping this slump in the final chapter of their incredible story.

Hull City

Marco Silva, or ‘that foreign one’ to Paul Merson, looks to have given Hull City a new lease of life. The loss of Snodgrass will no doubt have been crippling to Silva’s squad but Hull will be hoping their new-manager-bounce will last until the end of the season if they have any hope of staying up.

Crystal Palace

It wouldn’t be a proper relegation battle without Big Sam’s presence, not even the small obstacle of the England job was going to stop this icon. However, it seems this year he may have bitten of more than he can chew as Palace look woeful as a team. They seem too reliant on moments of genius from the likes of Cabaye and Zaha and considering their consistency, it won’t be enough.

Sunderland

I can’t imagine anything more demoralising than your manager going into a post-match interview and essentially giving up. Now imagine it happening every week – welcome to Sunderland. Sunderland should have followed in Swansea’s lead and cut their managerial losses early. However they stuck with David Moyes, who seems to be waiting for the sack which never comes.

 

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“What do you mean I need to stay until May?”

Predictions:

18th – Leicester

19th – Crystal Palace

20th – Sunderland

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Predictions for 2017

No matter what is going on in the world, it’s nice to know there are some constants. For example, Sam Allardyce will always return to his beloved relegation battle.

The rest is uncertain- so here are my top predictions for 2017.

  1. Monaco to win Ligue 1

With the ‘new Thierry Henry’ up top with 18 year-old Kylian Mbappe feeding off Falcao who is back to his best, Monaco have racked up an incredible 75 league goals. With PSG stumbling and Balotelli inevitably going off the rails at Nice, the league is looking pretty for Leonardo Jardim’s exciting side.

2. Aguero to leave City

Let’s face it- Chelsea have already won and Sunderland are already relegated. So let’s make a tastier prediction and say that should Gabriel Jesus continue his impressive form, one of the Premier League’s greatest ever players will leave Manchester.

 

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One of very few world class players – too good for the bench?

 

At 28, Sergio Aguero has little time to waste on the bench and with his unquestionable ability it is likely a move will happen, perhaps to a team that can deliver that elusive European trophy he undoubtedly deserves.

3. Bayern will stroll Bundesliga, but struggle in Europe

As per every season in recent history, Bayern Munich will be crowned champions without breaking a sweat. However under closer inspection, Ancelotti’s philosophy seems to be lost in translation in Germany.

 

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Raise a brow if you had £10 to face Arsenal again

 

Combined with an aging side, with Lahm and Alonso already deciding to hang up their boots at the end of the season, it seems neither Guardiola nor Ancelotti will be able to guide Bayern to European glory as of yet.

4. Trump to be impeached within a year.

Just for funsies.

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3 Things 2016 Has Taught the Football World

It’s been a funny old year. And by funny I mean horrendous, for politics, the environment, and for celebrity deaths. But never mind all that, one thing that never fails to give us a reason to smile is football. Here’s three things that the beautiful game has taught us over the past year.

Never Doubt an Underdog

The first half of 2016 belonged to Leicester City. Under the wing of Claudio Ranieri, they became Premier League Champions at odds of 5000/1. If there is one thing that Leicester’s famous title win taught us, it is that even in an age of bewildering transfer fees and super-clubs, any team can still win.

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Leicester provided one of the biggest upsets in modern football history.
Since then Leicester have seemingly inspired more teams around Europe to challenge the dominant clubs. At the end of 2016, RB Leipzig are a win away from Bayern Munich. In Ligue 1, OGC Nice sit five points above last year’s runaway winners, PSG.

When Done Right, Three-at-the-Back is a Winner

As covered in last week’s article, Conte’s 3-4-3 is currently tearing up the Premier League. Few managers have flirted with similar formations before, and fewer still have succeeded. Pep Guardiola is proof that even the best coaches struggle, with his attempt to rotate between a three and four man defence at Bayern Munich being hit-and-miss at best. When coming up against Barcelona in the Champions League, Bayern found out the hard way that the best teams will exploit any extra space left by an absence of full backs. This makes Chelsea’s 2016 squad all the more impressive as they have shown the rest of the world how it’s done.

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Brilliant? Yes. Invincible? Not Quite.
Some are just in it for the money

The news in July that Graziano Pelle swapped Southampton for Shandong shocked and angered many. The Chinese club offered Pelle an eye-watering £260,000 a week, making him the sixth best-paid player in the world. With Carlos Tevez now making the swap, China now has four out of the top ten best paid players in the world and throws up arguments to debate (and possibly future articles…). The fact remains that for all the passion in football, some are just in it to make a living.

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Probably looks cheerier now he makes enough to buy a Ferrari every week.

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Tiki-taka to Total Football: Tactics which changed the game

One of football’s most overused cliches is ‘90% of sport is mental’. Now whilst seeing Messi using speed, technique and flair to hammer teams week in week out might make you disagree, there is an aspect of truth.

It’s no understatement to say that tactically advanced teams hold an advantage. So let’s have a look at some of the most successful tactical masterpieces ever to be chalked up.

Total Football

Rinus Michels’ ‘totaalvoetbal’ revolutionised football tactics throughout the 1960’s and 70’s during his tenure with both Ajax and the Netherlands squad. In principle it was simple: any player was trained to play in any position.

It’s strength was that it completely destroyed the defensive ‘catenaccio’ style of play at the time, based on close man-marking. Michels’ team could change at will, confusing defenders who were man-marking and creating space to attack. In defense, the team would press as one fluid unit.

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Rinus Michels

Michels’ system propelled Ajax to three consecutive European Cups (1971, 1972, 1973). It worked so well for the Dutch National Team that they were dubbed the ‘Clockwork Orange’ and took them to the final of both the 1974 and 1978 Word Cup.

Tiki-Taka

One of Total Football’s greatest sons, Johan Cruyff, would later become a pioneer of our next great tactic – tiki-taka. Popularised under Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, the key to tiki-taka was a team small in height, but great in presence. With only Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique the two regulars over 6ft, Barcelona used nimble players to weave intricate passes through other teams. Passing and player movement were the basis for  Pep’s team who proved that height is not needed if the opponent can’t get near the ball.

Tiki-taka’s peak lead to European success for Barcelona, as well as a European Championship for Spain, followed by a World Cup in 2010. Eventually, tiki-taka was shut down with a tactic which has gone on to be used by teams today-the counter-attack.

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Is Racism an Inherent Part of Football?

Racism in football is a problem which never ceases to rear it’s ugly head. Just as it seems we are making progress, another incident makes us think twice. With campaigns like Kick it Out uniting footballers at least on the pitch,does the problem lie with the fans? Particularly our ‘pub culture’ towards football?

Between 2012-2015, 350 racial incidents were reported to UK police, with the majority  from grassroots. This is an alarming sign that racism in football is more a societal problem, a view shared by charity Show Racism the Red Card. Clubs condemn the actions of racist fans, an example being the lifetime ban given to four fans who refused to let a black man on the Paris tube after their game against PSG in 2015.

According to YouGov polls, fans are happy with how clubs act in punishing acts of racism with zero tolerance. On the other hand, the majority of the public agree that fans themselves can do a lot more to prevent the incidents. The problem, arguably, is that clubs can only act in retrospect. The solution offered by players such as OGC Nice striker Mario Balotelli, is to educate fans before incidents occur.

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Balotelli claims to have faced racist abuse in every country he has played in and has recieved over 4000 racist messages.

In a CNN interview Balotelli says that racism makes players ‘feel alone’, even in a stadium of thousands. He adds: “It is normal to insult opposition players, but not racist things.”

It seems that whilst racism is being tackled from the top, it is the fans who make up a large proportion of the problem. It is only logical that anti-racism campaigns turn their heads to educating the public if racism is to be abolished completely from football.
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Is Milan’s resurgence finally the return of Serie A?

Sunday’s 217th Derby della Madonnina summed up everything once synonymous with Italian football. A 2-2 draw full of intensity, passion and last minute drama. A 77,000 strong crowd under the San Siro floodlights brought memories of days where Italy was a European powerhouse. However, the lack of quality was a reminder that Serie A is a still a long way from those days.

ACMilan’s downfall was signalled by the inability to replace a team of aging world-class stars. Legends such as Seedorf, Nesta and Pirlo  were alienated by the club in order to save money. The river of cash from the 90’s had dried up. Milan’s demise was summed up by club president, Silvio Berlusconi’s reasons for selling key players, Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva – “We save €150m over two years.”

Inter too fell victim, their finances with losses between 1995-2011 totalled over €1bn. As other leagues flourished with TV deals, Inter’s revenue fell. President Massimo Moratti’s flamboyant spending was now impossible. Financial Fair Play meant they faced sanctions if they continued in this way,and so Inter quickly became a selling club.

However is there light at the end of this five-year tunnel?

Both clubs have overturned their philosophies, with Inter now under the eye of Chinese investors and Milan following suit. Milan’s Primavera is producing first team talent with Donnarumma and Locatelli teenage regulars. Under Montella’s wing, Milan finally have a style worthy their predecessors. Inter too, now have a stable financial platform to propel themselves. It seems it won’t be long before the two forgotten powerhouses are back in Europe’s elite.

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