Further Thoughts on Copa del Rey Clásico

January 20, 2012 — by Suman1


We watched Wednesday’s Clásico in its entirety with spirited company at WoodworkBK.  We had the sense then that Barcelona slowly took control after the early goal by Cristiano Ronaldo, and that Pepe was terrible.  Watch this extended highlight clip, which should reinforce the conclusions that (a) Barcelona completely dominated after about the 25′ mark, and (b) Pepe was a complete embarrassment–and not only for the already-infamous Messi hand stamp:

Real Madrid v Barcelona by vynylr


Pepe actually hurt Madrid with his play, and his theatrics yesterday matched those of Busquets last spring. He got that an yellow (~16′) for a gratuitous and cheap foul on Busquets deep in Barcelona’s half, and should have got a 2nd yellow for either his playacting at 64′ after Cesc outplayed him for the ball (listen to the Sky Sports commentators), and then of course the handstamp at 67′. So really Madrid should’ve been a man down for the last 25mins. Mourinho finally had to sub him off a little after that.

Even more significantly, he was completely rooted to the ground while Puyol streaked past him to score Barça’s first goal on that diving header at the beginning of the 2nd half.

It seems like he lost it mentally b/c he was getting outplayed all over the field–he’s just not that good on the ball, and not quick enough to contain Barcelona in midfield..

It will be interesting to see if Mourinho sticks with him after this.

Also: it looks like Carvalho was a fraction of a second pulling forward and kept Abidal onside for Barça’s 2nd goal. And then the Portuguese central defender had two really bad tackles in the final minutes of the match: one on Messi that got him a yellow, and a 2nd on Adriano in extra time that prob should’ve seen him ejected.


Spurs-Chelsea Battle Ends in a Draw

December 24, 2011 — by Suman


Another fantastic match between two teams near the top of the table Thursday at White Hart Lane–Spurs hosting crosstown nemeses Chelsea.

Gareth Bale gets wide for Spurs vs Chelsea

First from Sean, written in real-time during the first half:

What a low camera angle at the Lane. Used to seeing the camera a little higher in the stands for more of a top down look – I think this may have been a switch over the last decade or so in camera placement, where english clubs used to have more ground-level camera placement, while league like serie a have had higher placement. THe later was useful when coming up as our coaches would show us those games to watch the tactical formations. This low-to-the-ground look make sit harder to appreciate the shift of all players across the ptich.

Spurs have come out flying, dominating the first 5 minutes and setting up in chelsea’s half. A loose pass gives them a touch for the first time it seems but that didn’t last very long. Always a problem with this sort of domination against a team with drogba up front — counter attack very possible with the slightest complacence on spurs part….and as I wrote that Bale motors up the left and adebayor touches in the cross bravely. At this point my 3-1 prediction seems a little conservative.

Kyle Walker is a mystery to me, how has he done this season? Is he in for King? He had one good run up the right but otherwise I’m not sure what his deal is. Oh there is he rushing up the ptich and barging into Cole at the 36′. Doesn’t look like Cole has done much except handle the ball into a position to cross for that goal, and can’t blame Walker for that, so credit to him so far.

Tuned out for a second while I talked to the father in law about who everyone is on the pitch. and in that time Chelsea have leveled, and missed a great chance to go ahead. Spurs have taken their foot off the pedal, but considering Bosingwa is not in centerback I imagine they’ll get back on the attack soonish.

Oof and another sub needed from a muscle pull on the Chelsea side.

Got to get off for now… might return for second half action!

Coach Larry sent along some of his thoughts post-game:

Thought it was a good game, but the 1st was better than the 2nd.  felt far more even to me.  you feel Spurs had run of play, but at one point, ESPN showed Chelsea ahead in “chances” (whatever the hell that means) by something like 14-3.  Spurs had way more possession early, but Chelsea settled in, especially once Ferreira came in and did pretty well with Bale, as pointed by Zonal Marking (i think).
Lally’s line about Spurs being both lucky and unlucky sums it pretty well.  Considering Chelsea’s goal, the ball clearly struck Cole’s arm and bounced perfectly for him to run into space.  Was it intentional? No way.  Should it have been whistled? I think so.  My recollection (I’m too lazy to look this up) is an INTENTIONAL hand ball is cardable offense, while an INADVERTANT one is a foul when it provides an advantage.  Ball strikes your arm when it’s right in front of your body? who cares, it would have hit your body anyway.  Ball ricochets off your arm, straight into your path, behind the other team’s defense?  Foul.
JT of course had a fine match as he does when everyone feels he should be in jail.  Taking off VdV really discombobulated Spurs, as they seemed far less dangerous with fewer midfielders.  Still love wathcing Adebayor play, especially his clumsy fouling which would have had many other players sent off.  Chelsea cleared nearly every corner with a header just in front of the near post.

While it’s still up, this 20min highlight clip is well worth watching:


Update: See also our friend & lifelong Spurs fan John’s PoliticalFootballs post on the midweek matches and a look ahead at the Boxing Day fixtures.  Here’s what he had to say about his team drawing Chelsea at home (which gives you some context to Larry’s great line above):

In similar news [to the Suarez-Evra controversy], John Terry found out he was going to face criminal charges over his alleged racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea’s match with QPR in October – his teammates did not wear t-shirts in support of their captain, but he did put in a fantastic defensive performance in his side’s 1-1 draw away at Tottenham.  Spurs had dominated the opening exchanges in that game and were deservedly 1-0 ahead after Bale’s great work on the left-wing set up Adebayor for the opening goal – but their defence went to sleep for Sturridge’s equaliser and the second half was dominated by the away team.  Both teams had excellent chances to win it – Ramires had a free header six yards out for Chelsea, but (thankfully) directed it wide of Friedel’s goal – and in the end the draw ensured Tottenham are London’s top club at Christmas for the first time since the city was called Londinium and being sacked by Queen Boudica and the Iceni.


Initiation Project Begins – Jid Responds

December 21, 2011 — by Suman


Remember how yesterday we wrote about our friend that we’re aiming to initiate into the cult of football?  (No? Read this real quick.)

Well, we emailed that link to him–not only did he read the post, when we asked if he clicked through and read the three links we posted (one each for MessiBalotelliDempsey) he replied via email (and gave us permission to blockquote):

i just read them all.

i definitely like your cross-section.

i had no idea messi is only 22 … looks and plays like a wise old owl. as you predicted, i instantly fell for the dempsey story of a gifted (texan?) american cutting his teeth until finding success in the premiere league. as for the italian/african UPPERCASE!! phenom from grantland, all i can say is awesome. i cant wait for his highlights to live up to his hype.

awesome post.

You can tell the guy knows sports, and sounds like he’s up for our little project.  This will be fun.

I promised him a YouTube clip in this post. I’ll do one better and offer up two

The 1st is a compilation of highlights from Mario’s short stint at Inter Milan (2007-2010, i.e., when he was 17-20 years old); that one is titled, oddly, “|►|Mario Balotelli-The Indisciplinate boy” (something lost in translation from Italian perhaps?). The 2nd is from his current tenure at Manchester City (Aug 2010 – ), titled “Mario Balotelli | The good, bad and funny | 2010/2011”:


202 Messi Goals–Video

November 4, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

Leo scores 202 goals for Barcelona. Incedible.

Pelé, in a recent interview, called Lionel Messi the best of the current generation, but saved the ultimate all-time-best plaudits for himself, referring to himself in the third person throughout (naturally). The royal we, we were amused.

Messi has been incredible for Barcelona. Less so, perhaps, for his home country but give the guy a break. Perhaps that makes Messi and Pelé inversions of one another, in a way. Pelé, meet Bizarro Pelé, or perhaps the other way around.
Regardless, check out these 202 Messi goals, no filler. Credit, I believe, goes to Jack McRobert, as his name fills the upper right hand corner annoyingly and conspicuously throughout. (Subtle.)

Question: The musical accompaniment, does it drive you crazy or not? Discuss.

I recently checked myself into a piano trauma hospital. I’m not saying there’s a direct causal connection. Except I am.


WWC: Erica Turns on the Style

July 8, 2011 — by Mark1

Sure, Copa América has Messi, Forlán, and Neymar.  Yes, it will be a very interesting test for Mano Menezes.  Yeah, it’s nice to see the young Brazilian and Argie talent that’s been shining in leagues around the world.  And I’ll grant you that, despite lackluster performances from Brazil in its first game and Argentina in its first two, there are good reasons to expect both to put on an offensive show in this Copa America.  Both Brazil and Argentina are using very offensive schemes, and both have players who can make things happen. Plus the third traditional power in South American soccer, Uruguay, has a pretty good team, the one that went farthest in the last World Cup and the one with the best player from that tournament.  And we can’t forget Chile or Colômbia, both of which bring some interesting players.  There are lots of reasons to watch this Copa America.

But the best goal you will see this week has nothing to do with the umpteen forwards on Argentina’s roster or the other offensive stars playing in Copa America.  It’s from the Women’s World Cup, up in Germany where it’s warm (it feels weird writing that).

Specifically, from the Brazil-Brazil… er… Equatorial Guinea – Brazil (about 2/3 of the EqG players on the field were Brazilians) game played yesterday.  Not surprisingly in a game between two teams with Brazilian players, this goal was scored by a Brazilian.  It was a real Brazilian Brazilian wearing Brazil’s colors.

Oh, OK, you say.  It must be Marta.

Surprisingly, no.

Just watch what Erika does to score the first goal.

Then watch it again and marvel at how natural she looks doing this unbelievably difficult thing PERFECTLY without having time to plan or prepare for it.  Oh. Mah. Gahd.

If anyone beats that at all in either of these tournaments, it’s likely to be Marta, but I doubt even she will do it.  She was involved in both of the other goals in the EQG-BRA game, both scored by Cristiane.  She had a nice assist on the second goal and was fouled in the area, leading to the third on the PK.  She let Cristiane, who hadn’t scored in the tournament before the second goal in this game, take the PK and get to two goals.  If I understood correctly, if Marta had taken it and scored, she would have become the all-time highest goal scorer in WWCs, like Ronaldo is in the men’s version.  I guess she figures she’ll still have time to get there.


El Clásico Series, Part 3: Champions League 1st Leg

April 27, 2011 — by Suman2

Pep: Decir la verdad al puto jefe!

Just when you thought El Clásico couldn’t get any more heated, Pep Guardiola took the rivalry to 11 in his press conference yesterday in Madrid. But the real battle of Mourinho contra Guardiola will take place on the pitch later today, with the 1st leg of the Champions League semifinal. It will remarkably be the 3rd meeting in the past 11 days between Guardiola’s Barcelona and Mourinho’s Real Madrid (following the tense 1-1 draw in a La Liga match on April 16 and Madrid’s dramatic 1-0 Copa del Rey victory a week ago), and the real battle will be the tactics the two managerial masterminds deploy today, in light of the past two matches–and in light of key absences for both squads.  Here’s what you need to get ready for today’s match:

If you have time for nothing else, open up this post of ours from last November, containing both sides’ squad lists; also open up Marca’s very cool interactive graphic showing “Los sistemas de Mourinho y de Guardiola“–though given the injuries and suspensions, today’s starting XIs will not be any of the ones shown there. Keep reading..

If you’ve got more time, and haven’t been following our El Clásico coverage, catch up on last November’s initial La Liga meeting here and here (“This game more than any other has divided the CultFootball brain trust, with one faction supporting the brilliant arrogance of the establishment side and the other hoping the subversives from the north can one-touch their way a million times to victory.”). That match of course produced a stunning 5-0 victory for the Catalan club–what we called “Tiki-taka to La Manita” (that post includes two sets of video highlights from that instant classic El Clásico).

Like the rest of the footballing world, we’ve got loco for El Clásico over the past two weeks. Our preview of this four-game series is here.  These words still hold true–but a couple key names mentioned here will be absent today due to injury (Iniesta for Barça, Khedira for Madrid):

So which team is in better form? Through most of the season it was clearly Barcelona, but they’ve seemed a tad shaky of late while Madrid are looking pretty comfortable on the pitch. Madrid have also had an entire season to learn Mourinho’s defensive principles…then again Barça tend to have their way with what seem at the outset to be the most prepared of teams.

The key to a Madrid victory will be to limit Messi’s time with the ball. When his teammates have looked less than otherworldly this season, the little Argentine has stepped up his game to amazing levels. Very often it’s some combination of Iniesta and Xavi that pop open the defenses, with Messi finishing the movement, but Khedira and Alonso will collapse on them very quickly and it’ll be up to Lionel in isolation (and also finding Villa moving off the shoulder of his defender).

For Barcelona to walk away with the win they’ll have to retreat quickly when they lose possession (Madrid have a very quick counter attack) and not give Özil any time on the ball. The young German is a key link between back and front, and with him contained Barça can maintain their high pressing and look to turn the ball over quickly, as they do.

After the Copa del Rey, the observation that Barcelona seems a tad shaky while Madrid is looking increasingly comfortable holds a fortiori–as well as the tactical observations about Messi on the ball and Madrid on the counterattack, with Madrid’s defensive midfield “trivote” tasked with collapsing on the former, and Özil certainly a key to the latter. See our multipart film session on the Copa del Rey final for illustrations of these points.

Madrid’s trivote in the previous two matches consisted of Khedira, Xabi Alonso, and Pepe. With Khedira out, look for Lass Diarra to step into the midfield. Might we see Kaka make an appearance in the midfield, and/or Higuain up front? The Brazilian midfielder and Argentine striker have both been absent this season due to injuries, but both played well over the weekend in Madrid’s 6-3 blowout of Valencia.

ZonalMarking's Probable Starting XIs

For Barcelona, their stalwart defender Puyol returns to lineup, but both Brazilian left wingbacks (Adriano and Maxwell) have been left back in Barcelona due to injury. Add to this Eric Abidal’s continued absence (due surgery in March to remove a tumor from his liver, although remarkably he returned to training this week), and Barcelona will again be forced into a suboptimal lineup in defense. Look for Mascherano to stay in the starting XI, though it’s not clear if he’ll be playing wingback.  ZonalMarking speculates that Puyol will play on the left, while Mascherano will stay in the center.  In either case, Barça likely won’t get the forward width they get from Adriano or Maxwell–but that may actually be a good thing, as Puyol or Mascherano will stay home and be more likely to prevent Madrid counterattacks up that wing.  Hence, look for Madrid to concentrate even more on getting behind Dani Alves on the other side of the field–the diMaria-Alves matchup there is key.

Not having Iniesta in the midfield is of course a huge loss.  In his stead, it will likely be the Malian Seydou Keita who pairs with Xavi and Busquets–though we may also see the 20-year old “wonderkid” Thiago Alcantara in action. Up front it will be the usual trio of Villa, Messi and Pedro.

We leave you with video of Pep’s presser yesterday–we are confident we will be using the phrase “el puto jefe y puto amo” with regularity in the future:


CultFootball Film Session: Copa del Rey Clásico (Part 2)

April 25, 2011 — by Suman1

We went through the 1st half highlights of last Wednesday’s Copa del Rey Clásico in detail–highlights that were dominated by Real Madrid’s counterattacking.  But it was a game of two halves:

The second half was a different game entirely. Barcelona were rejuvenated by whatever spanking Pep Guardiola gave them in the dressing room, and they came out with the sort of belly fire you expect from the best team of their generation. Suddenly the game was stretched (in part because Madrid were pushing more into attack, but also because Xavi and Pedro were drawing out Pepe and Khedira more successfully) leaving Iniesta room to move through the middle.

Watch along as we detail the 2nd half highlights below:

Comments on 2nd half highlights:

The 2nd half highlights start off (at 7:06 of the video) with a great chance for Pedro from the left flank, created by Xavi and Iniesta (51′).  The tape jumps from that clip ahead to the 69′ (7:44), and a classic instance of Messi’s ability: he drops back to the halfline to receive the ball from Xai; three Madrid defenders converge on him (Pepe, Marcelo, Xabi), but he turns away and scampers across the field, turns away another Madrid tackler, and slots a ball through for Pedro–who does in fact put the ball in the back of the net and starts celebrating.  But the linesman had called offsides, and the explosion of Barça joy is cut short (“Explosión de alegría abortada”). The replay shows that Pedro was leaning just beyond the last defender.

"Explosión de alegría abortada"

Another beautiful Barça thru-ball creates another great chance (8:43, 75′): Busquets with a great pass from the center line to Dani Alves, who’s further forward than any other Barcelona player.  He cuts back and finds Messi, who’s run into space at the top of the Madrid box.  He gets off a good shot, but Casillas saves well–and here’s an example of where ” the counter attack of Madrid started to look more like desperate clearing rather than pointed reply.”  Watch the sequence after Madrid boots the ball up off Casillas’ rebound–Barcelona plays keep away for about 20 seconds in the crowded middle of the pitch, evenutally leading to another great chance for Pedro.  The ball goes tiki-taka from Dani Alves to Busquets to Xavi, who dances around a challenge from Marcelo, gives it back to Busquets.  He finds Iniesta, who one-touches to Messi.  Messi once again skips through a few Madrid defenders, shifting the play from one side to the other, and finds Xavi in a bit of space. He puts Pedro in, and he nearly scores by chipping Casillas–but the Madrid captain just manages to swat it away with his fingertips.  Casillas keeps Madrid in the game a few minutes later, when another sequence of Barça possession leads to another great chance, this time for Iniesta off a quick give-and-go with Messi (9:45, 81′).

Madrid does create two chances in the last five minutes of regulation.  A good tackle and quick pass forward (by Xabi? 10:22, 87′) to CR7 leads to a strong run at Barça’s defense by Adebayor.  Ronaldo runs behind him and up the left flank; Dani Alves is tracking him, but gets turned around when it seems like Adebayor might get through to goal himself.  Adebayor lays off for Ronaldo, who’s seemingly in on goal once again, but again Alves is able to recover just in time to block Ronaldo’s shot.  The last chance is created by Ronaldo, who despite his missed opportunities keeps working hard.  He picks up a loose ball in the middle, finds diMaria on the left; the Argentine cuts in, creates a bit of space between him and Dani Alves just outside the box, and sends in a curling shot that Pinto palms over.


CultFootball Film Session: Copa del Rey Clásico (Part 1)

April 22, 2011 — by Suman2

Sean’s excellent postgame analysis of Wednesday’s tense and memorable Copa del Rey final included the video of Sergio Ramos dropping la Copa under the bus.  Here is video from the match itself, followed by some micro-analyses of key sequences in the 1st half.  We’ll follow up with commentary on the 2nd half and extra time highlights over the next couple days.  Certainly prior to the next El Clásico (3 of 4)–back to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday, for perhaps an even bigger match–the 1st leg of the Champions League semifinal matchup.

Comments on 1st half highlights:

The first highlight (0:00-0:50 of the clip, 11′ of the match) illustrates Madrid’s quick counterattacking in the opening half.  The play is created in the initial 10 seconds–we suggest you watch that segment a few times: notice how Madrid left winger diMaria picks up the ball in a crowded space along the touchline and quickly splits a couple Barça defenders. In particular, he gets behind Barça’s attack-minded right wingback Dani Alves; the diMaria-Alves matchup on this side of the pitch is one to focus on.

Özil (#23) is initially standing inside towards the center, but as soon as diMaria breaks through, Özil sprints up the inside left channel, finding a seam of space in between Barcelona central back Pique (#3) and left wingback Adriano (#21).  It’s a great run by Özil, with credit also due to diMaria for slotting the ball through into Özil’s path.  Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo is initially on the far side of the field very close to diMaria, but he sprints behind Özil’s run into the empty space in the center–the space that’s opened up when Pique steps towards diMaria’s penetration and Adriano chases Özil across.

Turkish-German Özil vs Brazilian Adriano

Özil receives the through ball on the left flank, does a little pirouette, and chips the ball over and across onto Ronaldo’s foot–note how the ball floats just over the head of Pique.  The Catalan center back did well to recover towards the middle in an attempt to track Ronaldo’s run, but Özil’s ball was measured just right.  Just those few seconds–the run, the turn, the pass– show the creativity in Özil’s movement, vision and passing that’s earning him such as praise in his first year at Madrid.

With a better first touch CR7 should have created an excellent chance to score here.  Imagine how different the game would have been had he put Madrid up in the 11th minute–but his first touch betrayed him, and the ball skittered almost to the touchline.  Ronaldo did well to still put the ball on net, but from a sharp angle, and by that time Barça’s defense had recovered, and Mascherano cleared off the line.