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.


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”:


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 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.


Football as Art: Gareth Bale Animated

March 23, 2011 — by Suman

This fantastic video was making the rounds of the footy interwebs last week–animator Richard Swarbrick (@RikkiLeaks) with an dreamlike impressionistic rendering of Gareth Bale’s Champions League performances vs Inter Milan:

This blew up especially after it was listed at #1 among “Our Favourite Things This Week” by Guardian Football–they specifically linked to the Run of Play’s post of it, titled “Bones Like Ghost” (“If there were a channel that showed live matches in this style, I might forget what living people looked like”).

For those of you that somehow haven’t seen the “IRL” version of Bale v Inter, see here. Though that video clip, like most of the hundreds of soccer highlight videos on YouTube, has a jarring soundtrack–which is a regrettable phenomenon that Run of Play addressed in an earlier post: “On Soundtracks“:

It’s a universal in football that the only people who take the time to find every single Dennis Bergkamp goal on film and then edit them together into an attractive looking YouTube-length clip listen to either emocore, pop schlock, or trance/house music.

Finally, whenever we revisit Bale v Inter, we’re reminded of Gazzetta dello Sport’s line–still the best of 2010 by our estimation.  Translated from the Italian by the Daily Mail: “‘He is devastating. How else can you describe him ? He doesn’t have one extra gear but three. This time he didn’t score but he assisted. He is a force of nature.”

"L'Inter crolla col Tottenham. Bale scatenato. Benitez: "Troppo veloci"


Ghana’s Andre Ayew Scores Le Classique Winner

March 23, 2011 — by Suman2

Andre Ayew celebrating his winner vs PSG

Our preview of Olympique Marseille‘s visit to Old Trafford a couple weeks ago focused in large part on their young Ghanaian striker Andre Ayew (and by extension his famous father Abedi Pele).  And then we told you to watch Le Classique this past weekend.

Well, hopefully you’ve been listening to us.  Although Marseille disappointingly couldn’t score against Man U, you would have been watching for Ayew in Sunday’s match, and he did deliver, scoring a beauty of a goal OM over their capitol city rivals PSG:

Video: Ligue 1 Highlights: Marseille/PSG

Ghana SoccerNet has a Ayew-centric match report here.  For a review of Marseille’s season, see ESPN SoccerNet’s Ligue 1 columnist compare OM to French soap opera Plus Belle La Vie.

We’ll be watching for Marseille’s remaining Ligue 1 matches, to see if they can catch Lille at the top of the table (or conversely, hold off Rennes and Lyon to ensure a return to the Champions League next fall).  A match to circle on the calendar: Lyon visits Marseille on May 5.


International Friendlies Today – France v Brazil, Argentina v Portugal, Denmark v England

February 9, 2011 — by Suman

A More Meaningful France-Brazil Match Than Today's (12 Juin 1998, Paris)

There is a full slate of meaningless international friendlies today, with the European and South American powers in action in some attractive matchups (Guardian blogger Paolo Bandini, in a bit of hyperbole: “Is this the best night of friendlies ever?“).   Moreover, most of those matches available for viewing here in the US (at least on ESPN3).

We may peek in on France-Brazil, Argentina-Portugal, or even Denmark-England.   Especially since the storyline for that latter one, at least from the English point of view, seems to be young Jack Wilshere’s first start.  Fabio Capello did nothing to manage expectations of a nation looking for yet another savior by mentioning “Baresi, Maldini, Raúl” when asked about Wilshere.

Such expectations which have been building his performances in the early stages of the Premier and Champions Leagues last fall. For example, here is another Guardian columnist back in October, writing that he’s “nervous about Jack Wilshere, teenage midfield scamp and current bearer of the title of most promising young footballer in England. Watching Wilshere set up Arsenal’s first goal against Partizan Belgrade [in September] with a brilliant backheel, two thoughts sprang to mind. First: Wilshere is really good. And second: how are we going to ruin him?”

(We’ve indulged this tangent about Wilshere since its further fuel for our ongoing internal debate about his role in the Arsenal lineup; see here.)

Here’s a list of some of the matches of interest:

2:15pm Denmark vs England
2:30pm Netherlands vs Austria
2:45pm France vs Brazil USAESPND
2:45pm Germany vs Italy
3:00pm Argentina vs Portugal FIFA.comGolTV,
3:30pm Spain vs Colombia

A France-Brazil matchup is a good reason to look back at the famous Final Coupe du Monde 1998, which took place on the 12 Juin 1998 in the Stade de France (Paris):

Update: For reference, here are the squad lists for a few of the matches, which are now in progress.


France: Lloris; Sagna, Rami, Mexes, Abidal – A Diarra, M’vila – Menez, Gourcuff, Malouda – Benzema.
Subs: Mandanda, Carrasso, Réveillère, Koscielny, Sakho, Clichy, Cabaye, Matuidi, Diaby, Gameiro, Hoarau, Rémy
Brazil: Julio Cesar; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Andre Santos; Elias, Lucas, Hernanes; Renato Augusto, Pato, Robinho
Subs: Gomes, Neto, Breno, Luisao, Marcelo, Rafael, Anderson, Sandro, Jadson, André, Hulk


Denmark: Sorensen, Christian Poulsen, Jorgensen, Agger, Simon Poulsen, Jacobsen, Kvist, Eriksen, Krohn-Delhi, Rommedahl, Bendtner.
Subs: Lindegaard, Wass, Kjaer, Silberbauer, Schone, Vingaard, Junker, Lorentzen, Enevoldsen, Pedersen.
England:Hart, Johnson, Dawson, Terry, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Wilshere, Walcott, Rooney, Milner, Bent.
Subs: Green, Walker, Cahill, Lescott, Baines, Downing, Parker, Barry, Young, Defoe,
Carlton Cole, Stockdale.


Weekend Highlight Reel: Arsenal Blow a 4-Goal Lead; Joey Barton Still a Thug

February 8, 2011 — by Suman

Cheik Tioté: From the Ivory Coast to Belgium to Newcastle Hero

The much-hyped Chelsea-Liverpool game Sunday of course didn’t live up to the hype (a surprising but desultory 1-0 victory for Liverpool)–but there was a bunch of exciting action over the weekend. Let’s start with Arsenal visiting Newcastle.

The Gunners scored 3 goals in the first ten minutes against Newcastle (Walcott 1′, Djourou 3′, van Persie 10′), added a 4th in the 26th minute (RVP again), and held that 4-0 lead until the 68th minute–and subsequently collapsed to end the game 4-4. Newcastle was sparked by not one but two penalties in their favor, both converted by Joey Barton–who also helped Newcastle gain a man-advantage for nearly the entire second half.

Sean called it back in August: Joey Barton is a cheap thug.  Barton’s vicious tackle on Abou Diaby early in the 2nd half led the Ivorian Frenchman to retaliate with a throwdown, which of course got Diaby a straight red (Diaby was filling in for an injured Alex Song).

That said, Newcastle’s 4th goal was especially impressive–a volley by 24-year-old Ivorian midfielder Cheik Tioté in the 87th minute.  Tioté arrived in Newcastle this summer after winning the Eredivisie title with FC Twente and playing for the Ivory Coast in the World Cup (see the Guardian’s Saturday interview from last October: “I miss Africa but Newcastle is perfect for me“.

Here is a game report, and here is video (always lucky when we get a BBC MoTD clip on footytube–watch the match highlights followed by some in-studio match analysis by Gary Lineker et al):

As usual, we solicited the thoughts of our favorite Gunners fans in the Rockies:

The Newcastle game might be a classic for the neutrals. Apparently no EPL team has ever surrendured a 4-0 lead. It was a lesson in sports-psychology. (I’ve been there, my own emotions led to the St. Xavier brawl! HA!)

Gunners: still young, emotional, and needing leadership. But they’re hardening their skin, and taking less and less shit from opponents. I hope for great things in the next 2-5 years…

I wasn’t that upset, I chuckled a few times as Arsenal folded. But they gained a point on Man Utd, and Abou Diaby did his best to put Joey Barton in his place. Pushing Barton’s head toward the pitch is worth a red and a point, eh?